Tension in 2007: A retrospective

We’re about to close out 2007 here at The Tension, but you’ll find no end-of-the-year lists or compilations (even if people are too busy to read during the holidays).
No, we’re about freshness.
Create something every day. It was one of my original 43 Things. And, surprisingly, this is the 406th post to Surface Tension in 2007.
Either a shitload, or a load of shit. Take your pick.
I don’t think I was listening (hell, I know I wasn’t), but a friend suggested that I didn’t need to post every day; that some of the posts were, well, “Maybe you should stay away from the computer some days.”
I don’t know. Sure, not everything was Wil Shakespeare, it wasn’t the scribblings of Freud, but that’s not the point.
The point was to create something every single day.
And at some point, this place to rant transmogrified into a creative sketchpad for me to doodle.
I wrote some original fiction and original poetry. Hell, I created 11 Fiction in 58 entries (little stories with exactly 58 words).
I looked back and wasn’t always happy with what I wrote. But it was honest. It was me.
(Here I go getting all reflective.)
The plan is to continue to post daily. It’s never felt like work. It feels good. Honest.
With that, why don’t we close out 2007 with an even dozen of Fiction in 58 titles:

First kisses
There’s pressure in first kisses.
Forget desires for minty fresh breath or whether tongue is appropriate. Worry is timing.
Her eyes are open, his too; it’s official, a real first kiss, but more like mashed smiles.
He leaves in careful critique, wishes for another chance.
She wishes she’d not blurted out a lame goodbye, hopes for another kiss.

Sunday Scribblings: "Now & Then"

Now & Then
Cowboy boots and shorts, BB guns and gasoline,
The boy does not seek out trouble, just the experience.
Impish and carefree, he pushes through life,
Takes it in, breathes it, like the very air that fills his lungs.

The boy ages and life begins its march to overtake,
With fear that seeps in, like afternoon shadows on sidewalks.
Doubt splashes against the boy’s mischievous, yet tender, soul,
With hesitation, sick waves of trembled black indecision.

A life so near to him is snuffed out too early,
A moment where all his heart's hope would be lost.
The man retreats into himself to seek the answers,
And finds the strength at moment’s last to grasp salvation.

The man remains imperfect, and still searches for meaning,
But now with the single-mindedness intent to make up for time lost.
And there are days, sunny and golden, when he conjures up the boy,
The impish one, the one full of joyous tomfoolery.

Goals: My improved 43 Things

Over at 43 Things, I've been editing down Things I accomplished in 2007 (like enter and finish a mountain bike race) and ridding the list of things that no longer fit my "demographic" (buy a bigger house and entertain more). I edited the list down to 20 Things.
For a week now, I'd throw new goals onto a list. I figure I'd update my 43 Things by the New Year.
And if the list didn't hit 43 Things, I'd be OK with that.
I surprised myself when I looked to see exactly 23 new goals on my list Friday, which have now joined the 20 leftovers.

Here's the updated list:
• Solo hike the John Muir Trail.
• Stop biting my nails.
• Attend a summer writers’ workshop, preferably the Iowa Summer Writers Festival.
• Volunteer more.
• Expand my circle of friends.
• Complete at least one crossword puzzle a week.
• Build time into my life to do absolutely nothing.
• Audition and perform in a community theater production.
• Extricate myself from the newspaper industry.
• Get a short story published in a literary magazine.
• Treat myself to an indulgence once a month.
• Switch from coffee to yerba mate.
• Take a yoga class.
• Let go of the past.
• Try snowboarding.
• Write more poetry and have it published.
• Work out every single day, rain or shine.
• Be more spontaneous.
• Do more with less.
• Go on a road trip with no predetermined destination.
• Mentor a child.
• Reduce my intake of products made of corn to fresh corn only.
• Freelance a story for a major publication.
• Write more - and longer - short fiction pieces.
• Rid myself of all the clutter in my life; be ready to move on a moment’s notice.
• Take a multivitamin daily.
• Buy a road bike and a kayak – and use them religiously.
• Never again eat fast food.
• Make my blog more literary in nature.
• Learn Italian.
• Step out from the black cloud that sometimes hovers above me.
• Learn to play the guitar.
• Take up target archery.
• Organize a game night with friends at least once a month.
• Take an art class.
• Read more poetry.
• Host an elegant, seven-course dinner party for friends.
• Learn enough HTML to make my blog three columns and freshen up the design.
• Be independent of credit cards by 2010.
• Get at least one more tattoo.
• Live in Italy for a year.
• Travel to all 50 states.
• Try "la Fée Verte" "the Green Fairy," or Absinthe on my 45th birthday.

What do you want to do with your life in 2008 - and beyond?

Fiction in 58 (prose for ADD)

So, I’ve been looking at summer writing workshops.
I’m pretty much settled on the Iowa Summer Writing Festival in Iowa City. The Iowa sessions won’t be posted until February, which has given me pause to look at what else is out there. There’s Fishtrap in Oregon; there’s Nghtwriters in Healdsburg, Calif.; and there’s Bear River in Michigan. It just has to be a fiction workshop.

Anyway, I’ve been working on a longer piece – the kernel of which started in church of all places and has a bit of eroticism about it, and just so you know I’m going to Hell for it probably – but it’s not fully hatched. Next week, maybe.
Today, you get another exercise in Fiction in 58.

Lust, confidential
“It didn’t go well,” he said, thumb and index finger stroking his brow.
“Darling,” she said as she slid her hands around his and pulled them to her lap, “you know better.”
Her palm connects with his cheek; the concussion makes him blink.
“Dating isn’t for amateurs.”
“Thanks. Thank you.”
“No more young sales girls, you hear?”

It all happened so fast

A nearly full moon cast depth and shadow onto clouds; Christmas clouds. Cold as it was, the stars on Christmas night seemed especially bright; extra-twinkly.
Good times and good cheer had been shared throughout the day. Families with families had welcomed me in, treated me like their own.
The streets were bereft of traffic. Street lights changed to green well before you got there, seeming to push you forward to a warm house, waiting pets.
Another stoplight, but this one's red.
On the sidewalk is a man. He was crouched on his knees and sat on his heels. Head bowed, it took me a minute to register that it was a man. And he was huddled inches from the roadway.
He looked up as the light turned green. From underneath a filthy stocking cap and beard, his eyes met mine.
In that split-second before my right foot went from brake to gas, automatic as it is, I thought to give him the money in my pocket. The leftovers in the back.
But the light was green and I went through. I picked up speed.
I can't help but think about this seed of time.
I can't help but think why I didn't just let the light cycle through again.
And help this man, with no home and no place. On Christmas.
And I feel somehow cowardly. Less of a man, a person.

Merry Christmas, one and all

Here at The Tension, we try to maintain some form of secular humanism.
My beliefs are mine; you are free to believe what you wish.
It's (mostly) a free planet.

But on a day like today, Christmas Day, with the garland and the tinsel and the shopping and the spending and the hubris of it all to remember the true meaning of the day.

Here's Linus, from "A Charlie Brown Christmas," with that reminder:

Life, in and out of focus

“And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years.”
- Abraham Lincoln

I think way too much about life. My life. What’s going on with my life.
What’s next. What was.
It is the season, I guess. The holidays, the end of one year, the beginning of another. The chance to reassess, plot, plan, scheme.

I worked on my 43 Things Sunday night; I deleted Things I’d accomplished and a few Things that I decided didn’t fit the “New Game Plan” (buying a new house doesn’t much fit any longer).
I thought about what I wanted to accomplish in 2008 and beyond. I thought about big goals and small triumphs. I thought abut where I wanted to be a year from now – and what changes I would have to enact, what sacrifices I would need to make – to draw up the new list.

Too bad life doesn’t come with instructions. You think one day that this goal seems pretty logical – trek in Nepal – and 365 days later you take it off he list (for the time being) because you’re having trouble deciding to buy groceries or gas with the money that’s budgeted.
Besides, if life came with instructions, they’d be weird.
“Do not take life is you suffer from anxiety of a low threshold of pain; life may cause periods of drowsiness; life also may cause periods of extreme adrenaline rush; stop taking life if you have an erection that lasts longer than four hours.”

For a time, when he skies were still dark and there wasn’t a hint of the coming sunrise, I worked on my 43 Things. I didn’t get so much depressed and I did overwhelmed. I went back to bed to ponder. Think some more about what I want out of this life.
I want it to count for something, sure. I want to make some difference, even if that difference is small.
I want mostly to be happy. To project that happiness to others.
To live.
The best possible life I can.

Sunday Scribblings: Christmas memories

I wrote the following in 2004. And while my marital status has changed, and along with it my responsibilities as a step-parent, these events still rank up there as most memorable Christmas memories.

Trees, tears and thanks for the memories
The luster was definitely off this tradition about the fifth time Juneau clipped the back of my knees with a 4-foot snag she hoped I'd fling back into the woods.
"Its your own fault, you know," Juneau's owner said of the stout chocolate Lab's fondness for retrieving just about anything. "You started it, you played fetch with her."
Throw a drool-covered stick a couple of times and you're Juneau's friend - for life.
Friendships can only go so far, especially with your best friend's pet.
Juneau also fond of scooping up ponderosa pine cones, the prickly kind that can rip a retriever's nose and lips to shreds.
What Juneau lacks in restraint, she made up in a single-mindedness to broadcast thick ribbons of spectacularly crimson blood to pant legs, children's parkas and gloves.
Try telling a 9-year-old girly-girl - convincingly - that blood comes out of a happy colored, yellow parka.
"Eeeeeewwwww, gross," my former step-daughter, protested as she marched from stump to stump to rest/complain/rest/whine.
And we were in the forest supposedly to have fun.
For the past few years, the one family joined another family to go into the woods and cut down a tree for Christmas.
Simple, right? That tradition has survived battling dogs, bickering siblings, a snowstorm, a hangover (not mine), one unfortunate pants-wetting episode (again, not me), a snowball fight that escalated into tears (not me), one lost saw, gloves that vanished, arguments over hats, a knee surgery and hobbled rehabilitation (and threats to take it easy), more tears, the inevitable, "I have to go pee," when you're a dozen miles past the nearest rest stop, some cursing (OK, a lot of cursing) and the annual vow never again to venture forth into the wilds of a National Forest for a $10 tree, when they sell perfectly good ones in parking and vacant lots all over town.
Time always fuzzes the memories. At the exact moment the first hot toddy is happily into your system you're warm, laughing and joking - and making plans for the next year.
Despite your better judgment.
And judging by the line that snaked out the door at the U.S. Forest Service office, hot toddies have clouded many an adults level-headedness, especially when it comes to taking children, dogs, wives, husbands and friends into the snow-covered hills to hunt Christmas trees.
"Stop being such a Scrooge," my ex-wife gently scolded (this after trudging a total of 50 yards into the woods when my former step-daughter declared that she was cold - and tired). "If nothing went wrong, it wouldnt be a tradition, thered be no memories, it would be just a trip."
Which is true, of course. Nobody says, "Remember that time we went to the forest and nothing happened?" Holiday memories - the fondest ones, it seems - tend to be built on gentle calamities.
These trips start with good intentions. Then a child starts hacking and coughing and we make an unscheduled stop to pick up tissue and cough medicine (only to discover the bottle doesn't come with a handy plastic dose cup and now we have to persuade her to chug-a-lug Benadryl), because we've discovered she's percolating with a 99.9-degree fever.
But, hey, were on the road and the dogs are in back of the 4Runner (whining as well, as its been a few weeks since they've gone for a ride in the car). And since, darn it, you're out to have a good time - or else - you motor on to join the hundreds of other families battling their own demons in the woods to cut down a tree that the cats back home will eventually topple when curiosity gets the best of them.
One National Forest Christmas tree permit: $10.
Gasoline to get to there and back with tree: $32.50.
Lunch for a cold and unruly mob, including toddies and hot chocolate (that one child will refuse to drink because it 'tastes funny'): $72.78.
Making memories that will torment your friends and family for decades: Priceless.

Holiday Fiction in 58

What a joy it is to have a fully functional computer again. Magic of the season, I guess.
It's getting down to it kiddies, I hope you've all been good. But if naughty is what you were going for, then that's OK too.

Here's a little Fiction in 58, holiday style:

Dad's fake beard
Darkness, pierced by twinkling lights, captured the boy’s attention. He let his gaze soften, loose sharpness as his eyes met the frost on the windowpane.
It was sprayed on. Their Christmas tree, plastic.
He turned, laid his head in his hands and stared at the ceiling.
Life sure was more complicated now, since he'd learned Santa’s true identity.

Mr. Fix-It shares tales of woe

Already late or a meeting, I pulled into the garage to feed the dogs and noticed the rather large puddle near the entry door. And under the water heater.
On further review, I find that the water heater is leaking.
But I need to feed and let the girls relive themselves, so I leave the water heater for the house, where I have to dodge piles of cat vomit.
I do not have time for this.
It is as if Linda Blair has visited my home playing Regan MacNeil from The Exorcist and projectile vomited in the name of Satan himself.
(Technically, no, they are not my cats. And shit like this moves them one step closer to a trip to the city animal shelter, no mater how horrible and cruel that sounds.)

I mopped up the spewage, duct taped the faulty seal on the water heater - Mr. Fix-It has at the ready, at all times, duct tape and Super Glue - and made my appointment.
Knowing that the situation at home would only deteriorate.

I have but two houseplants left in my house. I love houseplants. So do the vermin known as the cats. I can no longer keep houseplants to decorate my abode. Unless they are very high up, or I keep them in places where the door usually is kept shut. Like the bathroom. Where I found my dieffenbacia had been gnawed on. The plant is poisonous to pets, of course. But the little shits can't seem to remember that fact.
I just suspended their food for a day.
And turned attentions to the water heater. Where it is simply a matter of getting a new hose, shutting off the water and replacing it.
In-between all the other, normal, day-to-day things I need to get done today.

So, why not go over to the Meat-Eating Robot and peruse some delicious hominy recipes (better yet, please leave one of your own, I know he would appreciate it) or just watch this Christmas video, which I think is the best rendition of Little Drummer Boy:

Feeling like the weather

Bursts of wind blow raindrops onto windowpanes and sounds like animal claws on hardwood floors. The air rustles tree limbs that sway silent without the cover of leaves.
Overcast skies paint everything gray. The color is toned down, but please don't adjust your set, we're not having technical difficulties.
You rise to meet the day, the day meets you with this wet kiss and its all you can do to drag yourself to the coffee maker, the shower.
Cool, rainy, overcast weather has a power over me.
The power to toss a blanket over everything. Dull it down.
Maybe it's that. Maybe it's just the general lull in life at this particular time, this particular moment.
Lulls are built into each life, I know. Windless times when your sails can find no purchase.
Dull times when you move through the day, without it moving you.
I'm not depressed, even mildly. I've got plenty to do, plenty to see, but its like I'm caught in this gigantic box and the air is beginning to get a might stale.
There is a bit of stasis to my life; "a state or period of stability during which little or no evolutionary change in a lineage occurs."
Not that this is a bad thing.
Just kind of boring.

Like the weather.
Out-of-sorts, as this picture - taken by the Queen of Valkries - clearly shows:

Fiction prompts by Sunday Scribblings

In a search to improve/find new ideas for fiction writing, I stumbled on “Sunday Scribblings,” a blog set up by writers Meg Genge and Laini Taylor.
The idea is simple. Sometime before Saturday, the women post a prompt on the site, and writers use this idea to write. A journal entry, a piece of fiction, a slice of real life experience.
This week’s prompt is “dance” or “the dance.”
My plan is to post a piece of fiction, with a prompt from Sunday Scribblings, each Sunday.
Here’s the first installment:

He grips the collar of the vintage wool British greatcoat to his face and makes a warm pocket of air around his nose, his mouth.
The air is crystalline cold, and sizzles his lungs without some filtering.
The clouds hang white and heavy, cautionary, but he knows its too cold for snow. He thinks of it as a monochrome day; just another in a long line of days he passes through.
Lonely and alone.
This particular day, a Saturday near Christmas, finds the man clutching his coat to his face to protect his breath from the bracing air with singular purpose. He moves with a quick clip of dress shoes across asphalt. The shoes are handcrafted, stiff leather soles that clomp and grind across the lot, and he steps gingerly near where the plows have deposited the remnants of the last snow that’s gone dishwater gray and icy with the last, brief, thaw.
He’s had to park in the outer ring of parking stalls, between two pickups with lifts and, he thinks, tires monstrously too large. He knows that if he does not return to his stall first, he’ll return to find his sedan – not too old, but not too new, either - dimpled. The trucks have both taken spaces clearly marked for compact vehicles and he furrows his brow momentarily just thinking about it.
On this Saturday near Christmas at the discount retailer, where happy shoppers wheel consumer-laden metal carts through the lot in search of their own cars, he clomps across the asphalt. He does not care that it is a Saturday, not that it is near Christmas, or that he’s had to park in a spot which will require a significant hike in air so crisp.
His ancient orange tabby, Tonto, is simply out of food. And the discount retailer’s brand of food is the only thing Tonto will not turn a nose up to and walk away from, tail held high and twitching in utter defiance.
It is the sudden flash of sound and movement that stops the man in the greatcoat. He stares. He knows exactly why.
From around another line of cars, a couple push their cart through the lot. He’s driving, coat open against the cold and his hands are gloveless. She’s wrapped in layers, a cashmere wool scarf, the color of a caramel, covers her face.

Here the parking lot has a slight rise, followed by a grade of undetermined angle. He jumps on the cart for a ride and she runs up – black heeled boots click against the asphalt – and gets in one great push.
It is enough force to alter the man’s trajectory toward a bank of sorrowful snow that’s been pushed into clumpy piles.
The crash is unspectacular, but the man crouches and wheels sharply, as if he’s incensed.
He smiles, laughs and runs to the woman, still low, and throws his arms around her. His hands reach to just where the curve of her buttocks meet her thighs. He lifts her into the air and begins to spin.
She tilts her head back, her long brown hair waves free, the cashmere scarf falls away from her face and she screams.
He stops mid-spin and she tilts her head forward until she links eyes with him. The sudden stop throws her hair across her face. She lifts a few strands from her mouth with glove-covered fingers, buttery leather that match the scarf. Her full lips purse briefly, just before she catches him with a kiss that nearly knocks him off-kilter.
The man in the greatcoat signs, turns swiftly on his heel and hangs his head.
It is this dance between lovers he longs for the most.

SeeqPod Music is a widget with teeth

As an internationally famous blogger (who is so full of shit that my eyes are brown), the team over at SeeqPod asked that I test-drive its seek-out-and-play music search engine.
Tiny robots at the home office are employed to do a "music and video search so that anyone, anywhere can mine the deepest crevices and corners of the Web for media that is publicly available, yet not always easy to find."
It's totally, 100 percent free.
And it's legal.
The site, like Google and Yahoo!, does not host the information. It's a search engine, but it seeks out music and music videos that play in a stripped-down interface that's really idiot-proof. It's still in beta, and some things are a bit buggy like trying to use the shuffle play, but I am totally impressed.
Because you can save playlists and embed them right into your blog. Here's one, called Punky Brewster, I just put together:

SeeqPod Music beta - Playable Search

(If bad language offends you, DO NOT listen to the live version of "Anarchy Burger (Hold the Government)" as it is very bad.)

I typed in a bunch of artists; SeeqPod found most of them. And if it didn't, you get a message saying "We'll start looking for The Chesterfield Kings right now, please check back later."

Social Distortion's "Telling Them" track? Supposedly, it's a demo from around 1979. And it is a version I don't have, which confuses me, since supposedly Social D's first demo tapes were cleaned up and put out as "Mainliner: Wreckage from the Past." I listened to both tracks, back-to-back, and the one SeeqPod found is different, more raw. More like four kids cutting their first demo.
The Replacement's "10 Jailhouse Rock" track? It's a bootleg from a 1983 show at Fitzgerald's in Houston. If you ever got to see The Mats live, Paul Westerberg usually asked, "Any requests?" and the band would launch into a drunk-sloppy version of whatever caught Westerberg's attention. The Elvis Presley cover is pure, live Mats.

I found Angry Samoans (but, unfortunately, both versions of "Light it Up" won't play and someone made "Screwdriver" PG) and I found Leonard Cohen; I found The Chesterfield Kings for the Queen of Valkyries (SeeqPod's handy robots found four tracks in less than 10 minutes) and I found spoken-word stuff from Jello Biafra and Henry Rollins.

My one beef? Try to embed a playlist on a two-column Blogger template in the right-hand column and you'll cut off three-quarters of the player. The team needs a thinner player for two-column templates. But it is the best way to add music to your blog, a little background toe-tap whilst your guests ingest your daily ramblings.

If I had any money, I'd buy as much stock in SeeqPod as I could. The potential is that huge.
Check it out for yourself here.

Your misery makes me happy

Listen to the tales of others’ misery. It is highly therapeutic.
I spent part of Wednesday night listening to a couple people talk about how fucked up their lives were. One woman, not so much. She admitted that she was anxious a lot of the time, had been an anxious person since high school, and was now just trying to get a handle on it.
The other, a kid of 20, was all but defiant about the trouble he caused. I doubt he makes it to his 25th birthday.
They just wanted someone to listen, and on a Wednesday night that just happened to be me. Fine. They didn’t want their problems solved; it was as if they just wanted them acknowledged, listed, so they could start doing something about them (or simply ignore them).
“I’m fucked up and I don’t give a shit,” the kid said. “At least I’m not boring.”

Their misery really didn’t make me happy.
I was happy to listen.
And I was glad to know the arc or my life wasn’t so bad. Bumps and bruises and a few obstacles that I still have to figure out, but all-in-all, I have a life of richness and energy. Good friends, an interesting job, possibilities. The future looks bright, since I’m older, wiser – and willing once again to jump into the abyss with reckless abandon, just to see what happens.
I listen to others, and I no longer fear my own future.
(If that makes me some sort of vampire, so be it.)

I spent the rest of the night not pondering my life and future, but writing (while listening to Christmas carols).
The craft of writing. The want, the need, the desire to open the laptop (or, in this case, a borrowed PC), launch Word and see that white openness expand across the screen. The possibility of what would jump from my brain, to my fingers to the page.
Truth be told, I never used to think about Writing, the uppercase kind. I mean, I’ve always written. But I want to Write.

And in a few people’s tale of misery, I found inspiration. Not to write like a journalist and chronicle the terror and anxiety these people shared, but to listen to the human condition. And to try to make sense of it all.
Or, at the very least, farm its fertileness for stories of my own.
I turned off the lights, adjusted the pillows and let my mind wander.
(Two ideas were written down in the slatted-blind-light of the street lamp; two ideas that had nothing to do with the misery I had heard earlier; two ideas to flesh out, hang a framework of words to further my own destiny.)

Forced Fiction in 58

I say forced, because I am feeling a bit under the weather and I've got that whole hibernation thing going on (and thank you to the people who said they actually learned something about bears).
It's one of those days where my body's alarm clock kicked in at 4:30 (as in ante meridiem, or real freaking early) and my brain struggled in his haze to get up and write something really top-notch.
Two problems:
1. I don't feel like it.
2. I'm having to write on a borrowed PC right now, and I think it's really cramping my style.

So, what must I do in these extreme circumstances?
As Ms. Snarky Pants would say, "Harden the fuck up!"

So I challenged myself to some Fiction in 58. One with no past idea. I sat down with a cup of coffee and snagged an idea out of wherever my ideas are stored and ran with it.
(Of course, then you have to cut-and-paste and edit all the way down to 58 words, by christ. And that's tough; this thing ended at 69 words first go-round.)

And here it is. Feel free to tell me it's shit, 'cause today, it's not going to bother me (I'm already sore from a bad haircut I got on Monday and that's finally got my attention anyway):

Social Situations
He thinks of himself as self-conscious.
The deformity too grand.
At parties, where invites are steady, he moves in corners, shadows. He lets people unwind, grow anesthetized to detail. Only then does he speak.
What has this mash of DNA done to his life?
People talk of his wit, his humor.
Without a mention of his twisted limbs.

Ring of fire

I probably didn’t quite make his day.

“(Newspaper name), this is ThomG, how can I help you?”
“Did I read right, does our favorite outdoors writer have titanium earrings?”
“That wasn’t a misprint?”
“Oh, huh, I figured it was a misprint.”

I’m 44 years old. I’m fairly certain that the anniversary of having my ears pierced is close. A friend did them – both – while I was on Christmas break from the university.
Twenty-seven years ago.
She was working at the jewelry store while on her break from school. She did all the ear piercings. For years, she’d offer to piece a lobe. It was the 80s after all.
I relented.
She pierced my left lobe with a gold stud, told me how to take care of it.
I asked her about the other stud. The one that would go to waste.
“Would you let me pierce the other ear?” she asked.
I hate to disappoint.
And that’s how I wound up with both ears jeweled.
It was simply a matter of frugality.

I didn’t always wear two earrings. But the right hole never closed up. It was great when women would give me their earrings in clubs.
After the initial gold studs, I never wore gold again. Not my thing.
I had a little collection of silver hoops for a time. I lost them a lot, which was OK, since it was usually one I would lose. I’d just go with one hoop.
I ended up with surgical steel captured bead piercings in the early 90s. Both ears, full time.
Last year, I tried black niobium continuous loop rings.
But what I really wanted was titanium.
“It’s kind of hard to get, but I’ll see what I can do,” Billy said.
He came through.
I stretched the holes to fit the 10-gauge hoops about two months ago.
And promptly forgot about them.
They certainly do not define who I am.
It just is.

Let's all hibernate

Grizzly and black bears have it easy.
They hibernate for the winter – they’ll slow themselves down to take one breath every 45 seconds – and will actually gain lean muscle mass while they sleep.
(The truth about hibernation: Bears make a plug of hair, intestinal cells, poop and den materials so they don’t soil their beds; they still make pee-pee and poopy, but their bodies recycle it. Which is just way-cool.)

It gets cold and dark, and I want to hibernate, too (except for that plug thing, sleeping until daylight-saving time sounds like a weiner).
I slow down. I want to eat things I know are bad for me.
I in no way want to break a sweat.

These are the days when I need the swift boot to the backside.

Going cross on my own ass

"Dear Lord, lemme finish this lap, and I'll never swear again."
"Shit, ooops, shit, I mean, shoot, sorry, sorry, my bad, didn't mean it."
"Shit, this is a long course. Toto, have you seen the Tin Man?"

I completed my first-ever cyclocross race Sunday.

"Dear Lord, I meant what I said, lemme finish the second lap and I'll never, ever curse. I mean it, really this time.
"Is piss a curse? I don't think so. Piss, this hurts. Piss, piss, piss. Pissy piss piss piss."

Cyclocross is mountain biking and an obstacle course. It is a timed event. I rode the C class. Beginners. Thirty minutes to complete as many laps as I could.

"Dear Lord, please do not let me puke. That banana and the coffee is not going to be pleasant coming back up."
"Lord, scratch that, please let me hork up a lung. If I hork up a lung, they'll have to make me stop - and I'll look good doing it."

I did not finish last, which was my goal. I did not win, which I knew was next to impossible. I hadn't even been in the saddle for a month before the race.

"You know, the thing about cyclocross is, the hurt has a time limit," said a mountain biking buddy. "When the time is up, the hurt is up.
"But when you're out there, you are going to hurt."

Surprisingly, I don't hurt all that bad. I finished and feel good about it (knock that one off 43 Things list). Nearly 100 riders came out, there was a band and my friends were there. When I wasn't deliriously looking to barf up a lung, I could hear people ringing cowbells and giving me encouragement.
The party atmosphere was amazing.

Two weeks to practice for the next timed mayhem.
J-Zone makes hopping logs so damn easy.
I walked the same log.

Accepting those who are different

“Uhhhh, I hate to tell you guys, but some one really let one,” J says to the collar of his camo shirt, where he has buried his face to his eyelids. “And it really stinks.”
No one says a word. All anyone can hear is the rumble of the Dodge diesel, the squeak of the springs over the ranch road.
“I didn’t know you were such the sensitive type,” J.D. says from the driver’s seat, his camo hat slung low over his eyes.
And the four of us start to laugh.
“We told you what you were getting in for,” Mac says from the backseat. “Your own fault for falling in with the likes as us.”
I went on a disabled deer hunt Saturday, hosted by the local chapter of the state deer association. Two brothers, 16 and 32, would get their wish to hunt blacktail deer.
With one caveat: Put up with as much shit as hunters who are whole in body inflict on one-another.
No breaks.
No special attention.
(Other than the obvious; the hunters were allowed to shoot from the cab of the truck.)
Take the guff, dish the guff.
Be one of the boys.
The guides were rough-around-the-edges loggers; the hunter a wheelchair-bound 32-year-old.
He was shown no quarter. No one was.
And it was as it should be.
Four guys out to celebrate nature.
And fart and belch and give each-other shit.

Calm Tensions, more Fiction in 58

It is an interesting time at The Tension.
Not much in the way of excitement (or excrement) has befallen me. It’s been downright…calm.
Oh, there’s always some turbidity in the general vicinity, but as for right now, my trouser legs remain dry and pressed.
Frankly, I don’t know what to make of it.

The calm has allowed me to think of plots and pieces of fiction.
I scribble ideas, I try dialogue out in normal conversation.
(Some of you have been left to wonder – in a general WTF!?!? kinda way – why I wrote about erotic asphyxiation. Well, I was reading “Heartsick” by Chelsea Cain, which features a very nasty female serial killer. That, and it was part of an actual conversation I had recently. I have interesting friends, what can I say? I had to Google erotic asphyxiation, by the way. And, yeah, no thanks.)

Anyway, with nothing particularly horrid going on, it’s probably best to continue making shit up. And give you another installment of Fiction in 58:

Hormonal Women
The skin above his elbow is crimson, where she slaps him.
She does this to make a point.
“I’m hungry hormonal (slap) and I’m craving a burger (slap); it was different from last week (slap) when I was simply hormonal (slap, slap).”
He thinks to ask her to stop. But it would mean the end of her touch.

Message of the wind

The dogs, encased in fur, didn’t feel the wind.
But they heard it. Smelled it.
We’re in the field, the newly bulldozed, barren launch pad for suburbia, and it is late.
The wind doesn’t gust. It is one big blow from the south.
It carries with it dense moisture from the south, where the Delta is. In the summer, we call it a Delta Breeze, and it helps cool turgid valley air that seems to hang on everything come August.
On this night, the coolness, the damp, cuts through the wind-stopper long-sleeve shirt, the blue jeans.
The dogs do not notice the cold.
But are somehow excited by it.
The 24 acres have but a few giant valley oaks left to stop the wind. The gale cuts through them as well, shaking the remainder of leaves long gone brown. Somehow, most of the leaves remain attached, while a steady stream of fallen leaves tumble across the dirt and over slippers and paws.
The girls stand motionless, heads toward the south. The wind blows their ears back.
They sniff.
They listen.
There is something in this wind. A message.
That maybe only dogs can hear.
Even though I long to hear it too.

The power of talismans

In 1977, the year Star Wars came out, EMI dropped the Sex Pistols and gas cost .65 cents a gallon, I was involved in a religious war.
Actually, I was trying desperately to hold on to one religious talisman. After several failed attempts.
And for as long as I can remember, I’ve needed the comfort and security of a talisman (for this discussion, an amulet, a small object intended to bring good luck and/or protection to its owner).
I had a great one.
See, with first communion, I got a Saint Christopher medal. Sterling silver with a sterling chain. It managed not to lose it for years. Through all the little boy shenanigans I got into.
Then came 1977.
I lost the Saint Christopher medal.
My brother gave me a cross he got from Catholic school (I promptly lost it).
I bought a four-way medal (four saints on a cross) and lost it as it dangled through a metal dock on a lake – as I went to get up).
I bought a simple cross and lost it at the beach, where I took it off so I wouldn’t loose it.
Another cheap Saint Christopher medal (lost it).
It also was in 1977 that I started working at a jewelry store. The place had been on a corner of Main Street since the early 1900s. The new guy bought everything, including all the crud stuffed in the basement.
Whenever there wasn’t engraving work, my job was to go down there and poke around. Sweep. Set out rat poison.
It was dark and dusty space with all of five feet of headroom. Along one wall ran shelves of junk.
I bumped into the shelves most every time I went down those creaky stairs to the basement. And this time, a medallion hit the concrete and rolled into the darkness.
It came from a repair envelope from 1919.
It was a beautiful sterling silver Saint Christopher medal that had gone black with tarnish.
I was allowed to keep it.
It is around my neck right now.
And since 1977, it has been off my body less that 20 times.
(My last knee surgery, in 2002, I wasn’t allowed to wear it; I tucked it into my shoe and as I began to awake from the haze of the anesthesia, it’s the first thing I asked for.)
It is my most powerful talisman, and has kept me from harm a few times.
I have had several talismans throughout the years.
For several years, I carried a Lira given to me by a friend, Joe. Joe and I had breakfast together in Dallas at this great little diner. Joe was a Vietnam Vet, a Navy SEAL. He carried the Lira coin through two tours in Southeast Asia.
He gave it to me, he said, because I was in need of its magic.
It was magic.
Joe died a couple of years ago. I now keep the Lira safe in a drawer. I take it out, every so often, and rub the worn surface. I keep it polished.
I now carry two on my person.
My Saint Christopher medal, which I would say is my most cherished possession.
And a little coin the good doctor gave me.
The coin of Kallipolis. The name of Plato’s perfect republic. The coin is designed to represent the mind/brain as described in Plato’s writings.
The good doctor gave it to me, as he does to his patients, when we are ready to face the world with wisdom and dignity.
And a little talisman or two, for luck.

Indian gaming facilities

The Kangol-styled hat was on backward and his gray hair spilled from it. Cheap shades hid his eyes. And unfiltered cigarette dangled from his lips, framed by a dirty gray beard.
Other than the smoke that escaped his lips, the only other way you could tell the man was alive was the frenetic tap of the first two fingers of his right hand on the slot machine.
One of the high-roller machines by the men’s room. Top Gun.
Depression is a walk through an Indian casino at 2 a.m.
Elderly women attached to nickel slots by the slinky cord of their player’s cards. Thee elderly woman with a cannula under her nose, a bottle of oxygen at her feet in its own little wheeled dolly. She taps out code to the machine; it rewards her with sound.
The guy in the wheelchair. Not old, not young. Ruffled brown hair over the ears, thick bifocals over his goldfish eyes.
The old man, in the beer logo T-shirt to pricey for him to afford, his liver-stained hands that clawed a plastic cup full of nickels.
We were there to see the band.
In the restaurant/bar. Friends of the band members. Dressed for a night out, a quick change from softball, T-shirts and sweats and running shoes.
Smoke and grease and beer hung in the air, like sex sometimes does in a closed room.
There’s laughter, dancing in the bar. Flirting. Loud conversations over the music, the thump of the bass.
But when the band is on break, the bar comes with its own soundtrack. The designers tried to block it with the use of fountains, a water feature.
But the steady whirl of the slots – so much depression in those bings and whistles – overpowers everything.

A little fiction for you

This one kind of got away from me. I tried to sleep without finishing it. I think I should have stayed up a bit longer and just finished it.

An Unremarkable Life
He wore his hair close-cropped to his head, in the style of athlete Lance Armstrong, or pop singer Rob Thomas. The gray in his hair was centered in the sideburns, which he neither kept too long or too short, and at the temples.
It was a sweet, silver-colored gray. His father, who was still alive and now dating, had a full head of silver hair – as silky and flowing as mercury – that was as distinguished a color as the silverback gorilla at the zoo. Hairstylists a third his age clamored to cut and shape his mane every three weeks.
Of course, he would lose his hair, in the end.
His mother, who also was still alive, but living in Bar Harbor, Fla., was born of a man who lost every follicle of his reddish-blond hair as a young man. And he knew that the baldness gene comes not from the pater-familiaris, but his mother’s side. And that the bald he will become will be the waxy head kind of bald, with a tight, sculpture-garden weave of hair a half-inch to the top of his left ear around the crown of his head to one-quarter above the right ear - a defect not detected unless he wears the new Invisaline bifocals – in the new, hip Oakley titanium frames – and you can see that his ears are misaligned and the glasses list to the right and expose the right eyebrow, still yet impervious to the advance of the gray.
He does not grow his beard anymore in the winter months; it now comes in white and feeble-looking, like the men who play chess at the YMCA and bitch about the tepid coffee served in little Styrofoam cups, with powdered creamer, imitation sugar in pink packets and cheery-red stir-sticks.
He opts for the under-chin goatee, what the French would call a “petite goatee” or “chin scruff” sported by skate punks and certain, pimple-faced grocery baggers.
On him, he thought, it looks regal, more like Freud than the greasy grocery clerk, who still can’t seem to tell the difference between paper and plastic, even though you bring your own African-weave, Earth-friendly cotton handbag to the store as a show of consciousness and shit.
That’s OK. He’s trying to “fit in.” Be part of what he hopes is a global community, in an “it takes a village” moment.
The bagger neither smiles, nor nods, nor acknowledges his existence – in so much as a Frege-Brentano view of life, you know, logic, for logic’s sake.
Or, more succinct, he is part of the existential quantifier, which asserts the existence of some object with certain properties. He is a man. He is wise.
He is a wise man.
Secretly, however, he yearns to be an existentialist.
He wants nothing more than to create his own meaning, his own essence of life.
And skip the absurd.

Thought for the day

Sorry, kiddies, but I have a huge case of Zippy's disease.
I'm trying desperately to leap back into my life, after having it on hold for two weeks. All that nervous, anxious energy propels me forward. Into the office, to see what carnage awaits me there. Feeling bad for the carnage that's still at home.


Anyway, this passage is haunting me (OK, maybe not haunting, but I keep thinking about it). I read it recently.

"Life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short."

Agree or disagree?
Please discuss, or give me your thoughts.

Kill your television

I hate TV.
I mean, I watched my fill here in the Heartland, and I realized that a full 90 percent of what’s on is crap.
And I know there are people out there who plan their lives around television shows. Or they have a digital recorder and record every steaming turd out there.
Reality television is truly the worst.
And yet, I found myself watching “A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila” twice. It’s like a car wreck; you want to see the broken glass, the carnage.
I’m so ashamed.

Yes, there have been – and always will be – television that engages and entertains. “Twin Peaks?” Brilliant. “Arrested Development?” It started out OK, but lost steam fast. “Lost?” First season was great; now, I can’t even watch.

There is one show that I kind of wish I would have seen since the beginning: “Pushing Daises.” I was getting ready to go to the pub and caught a bit of this show. It’s quirky, the writing is top-notch and it has some weirdness.
But I’m certainly not going to change my life to see it.
I can always order it from Netflix.
See you in the out-of-doors, not in front if the idiotbox.

The swing of the pendulum

I’ve reached the point in this vacation where the pendulum has begun to swing toward all the shit I left behind.
And the worry.
And the confusion.
I actually don’t feel any trepidation in going back. I’ve had a great visit with first sister and really didn’t do much. I relaxed. I let my body heal. I ate and drank what I wanted to eat and drink and slept and just vegged. It was exactly what I needed.

A note on the pendulum; I can’t get caught in an extreme swing when I get back to Cali. I need to see my life with eyes wide open. I don’t need to make any decisions – I’ve already promised myself that I wouldn’t make any sudden moves until the first of the year, as it looms out there anyway – since there are things that need to happen for me to move forward anyway.
There are the little things I need to sort out. Things to do for myself and for others. For my happiness and sanity.

This latest swing through the Midwest (and the chance to step out of my life in Cali) has brought up an idea: I seem to be waiting for something. My next life, whatever.
And I can’t wait for something to happen.
I need to make things happen.
Which I will begin.
When I’m back.

Things to do in Iowa

Top 10 Things to do in Iowa in late November:

10. Eat things with lots of butter and cream that have their roots in Europe (more Spatzle? Hell, why not).
9. Drink.
8. Watch On-Demand movies.
7. Never go outside, because it's cold out (I didn't leave the house for two days).
6. Go outside, but pass from the warm car to a warm place, like a cafe to eat something with butter and cream, or to a bar and drink or to a movie theater to watch movies.
5. Read. I've just picked up Winson Groom's "Patriotic Fire: Andrew Jackson and Jean Laffite at the Battle of New Orleans;" I finally finished "The Terror" by Dan Simmons (and was mildly disappointed).
4. Drink.
3. Watch television, even if it's drivel like "America's Next Top Model" or America's Most Smartest Model" or - GASP! - "I Love New York 2" and actually begin to care who goes and who stays (Heather, Assburgers or not, is creepy and should go).
2. Turn on the gas fireplace, sit in front of it and torture the cat.
1. Go to a political rally. See actual candidates running for president (You can't go anywhere without seeing a candidate; Dennis Kucinich offered to pump our gas at the Kum & Go), and get your picture taken with front runner Hillary Clinton:

Horoscope (what does it all mean)?

"Don't let your emotions lead you in the wrong direction. Let go of the past and stop trying to turn a situation into something it is not. Make things happen that are positive and forward-thinking."

Pretty neat, huh? That's my horoscope for Saturday.
As much as I like it - as much as it is positive - I have no idea what it truly means.

I still wish a burning bush or the skies would part and a voice would boom and lead me forward.

Be thankful for change, challenges

She has no clue how powerful and successful and beautiful she is.

She has questions. Dilemmas. Challenges to face.
She, like me, is 44 years old and stands on the edge of life changes she cannot fully comprehend. She cannot see past the hurt, the anger, the pain – the absolute confusion – to what she will become.

“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.” - Anatole France

This is not an advice column. I can’t see my future, either. There are days that are filled true angst. True fear that drives all sorts of black thoughts. Demons that send us to places where we need not tread. Because to tread there is a waste of time.

“Death is not the biggest fear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive - the risk to be alive and express what we really are.” – Don Miguel Ruiz

In America, it is Thanksgiving. I give thanks for family and friends. For being on the edge of the precipice and not being able to see where I might land, if I take The Leap of Faith.

But be strong. Be fearless.
Find strength in my arms, my embrace; use it to go forward into the darkness, where the path is overgrown and the trail narrows.

“Do not be too timid and squeamish about your reactions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Trust, mostly, in yourself. Your strength.
The you in you.

“If nothing ever changed, there'd be no butterflies.” – Author Unknown

Even more Fiction in 58

First sister has put a moratorium on my blogging from Iowa. Restrictions.
"You can't blog about me."
I am in Iowa, where it threatens to snow. Low, gray clouds hang across the prairie and the wind's water content chills exposed flesh.
OK, I won't blog about the fams. Even thought it is Thanksgiving and where else can a writer mine so much rich human condition than surrounded by one's own DNA?
(I think I'm the most well-adjusted of the bunch, just so you know. We're all doomed.)

Here's a little Fiction in 58. I wrote it in a coffee shop, waiting for my niece's car to get an oil change (gotta earn my keep).

At Heart's Hope
The wind never stops.
It is, after all, a cemetery. Low headstones, wind-swept lawn, plastic flowers.
A place for the lost.
The grieving. The mourned out.
It’s an odd place to discover love.
But it happens. More than you know.
“I’m taking her to the Knights of Columbus breakfast,” he says with a wink. “After mass, of course.”

Photographic proof of a good time

The Loneliest Road in America, Highway 50, takes us east into Nevada

The shoe tree is outside of Fallon. Toss a pair yourself. There was a deer leg on it.

The truck, loaded down for a great road trip.

The Hot Springs Ranch at sunrise.

Man soup.

This photo does not do justice to Saturday's sunset.

A fun time was had by all. His new nickname is "Painted Desert."

"Are we there yet?"

Nevada smells like ass.
It gets better.
But Reno, Sparks, Fernley, Fallon, man there’s ass in the air.
“Dude, the water tastes like ass,” J-Zone said in Fallon.
(A note on Fallon: the town’s motto is “Oasis of Nevada;” I’ve been to an oasis once, and Fallon ain’t it. The motto should be, “Fallon, We got hit by the Ugly Stick. Twice.)
We’re in Fallon, truck laden with camping equipment and gear, to hook up with two teams from Sacramento to road trip into the desert. To soak in natural hot springs. To abuse our livers. To relax with friends.
“Where is this place?” The Warden asked.
I have no clue. In the desert. Take Highway 50 – “The Loneliest Road in America” – for 300 miles and take a right. Go 10 more miles and you’re there.
We were in the truck for nine hours, traveling at an average speed of 75 miles per hour (120 kilometers for our metric friends).
We were deep into Nevada.
Road trips with friends are so cool. I’d forgotten just how bad a car full of your friends can be. Tunes, coffee, Rock Star (triple strength; I asked the boys to not let me have another, as I started having visions), stories.
Men, together, are bad.
Very bad.
We travel down this impossibly long stretch of asphalt, and finally, the lead truck turned on his signal.
And in 10 miles down a dirt road (and a couple of Pabst Blue Ribbons) we’re at the ranch.
And the air is clear and cool and the sunset is beautiful. Stream rises from the springs.
And the air smells not of ass, but sage and dust and promise.

Attention to Detail Disorder

It’s an annoying habit. Probably. It doesn’t bug me so much, but it can really cheese off your friends.
Your female friends.
I’m an observer. Not a casual observer.
I look around, in most normal situations. Even if I’m talking to you, right to your face, I’ll break contact to look around.
OK, that’s probably really annoying.
But add a situation where there’s a lot of women walking around, and I’m just fucking lost.
And I can’t help it.
“Having a little trouble concentrating there?”
I was trying to listen to the conversation. I really was.
But the pub was filled with women who took full advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to break out all their cute tops. Spaghetti-strapped shirts. Low-cut blouses. Tank tops.
One woman had on what I can only describe as a tube top, black, that showed off her shoulders (I am a sucker for shoulders).
And no bra.
I am not dead. I looked.
“Man, it’s like having two sisters sitting at the table with you. Sucks to be you!”
Embarrassed, I vowed to concentrate on the conversation. And the woman in the tube top, black, that showed off her shoulders (did I mention that she was tall and had dark hair?) stood at the top of the stairs – in my direct line of site – to make a mobile call. She leaned on the wall and swept one of her long legs in front of the other.
“OK, I can’t help it. Not when they do stuff like that. I gotta look.”
“Do you need to sit over here? There are only guys out this way.”
“You can have one look. Soak it all in. Go ahead.”
Christ, it was just like having your sisters at the table.
Boots went so far as to draw the woman on a bar napkin. The Queen gave her a telephone number to give me. We all gave her name. Nikki.
“With two Ks.”
“And an I.”
I got the napkin, as a souvenir from the evening. It’s on my bulletin board. A reminder.
That I have an annoying habit.
I suffer from Attention to Detail Disorder.
So help me God.

Some fiction for your Wednesday

As long as I couldn't sleep, I might as well use that time to finish a little piece of fiction that's been troubling me. I didn't know how the hell to end this.
It came to me about 3 a.m.
Why was I up? I tore a muscle in my arm. Playing softball. Wicked bruise, from my wrist to well past my elbow. And it makes it hard to find a place to tuck my hurt wing and get any sleep.

Anyway, I finally finished this piece. Hope you like it.

The fountain cups of discontent
Frosties are the worst. Especially if they’ve been left to melt some, so you get warm froth – and a freezing center.
And it’s a bitch to get out of natural fibers. A pea coat. Jogging suit. Hell, even the ubiquitous T-shirt and jeans, for chrissakes.
I’ve taken to wearing Gore-Tex rain gear these days. Hood up, too. Better to be safe than sorry, I say.
Especially when you get pelted with fountain drinks.
On a somewhat regular basis.
Funny, it’s never a can or a bottle.
Fountain drinks. Always the fountain drink. Waxed-paper cup, or maybe one of those flimsy plastic cups from the nearest mega fast-food palace. Lids, straws, ice and a mixture of high-fructose corn syrup, flavor enhancers, citric acid – a lot of times caramel coloring – and simple carbonated water.
The mixture of high-fructose corn syrup to carbonation is called the brix, look it up. Or Degrees brix. The measurement, the mass ratio, of dissolved sucrose to water in a liquid state. It’s measured in the lab with a saccharimeter.
In the real world, it’s measured by the width of your ass, as you waddle from the convenience store with one of those flimsy, wax-covered cups.
Soft drinks. As opposed to hard drinks. A soft drink - or soda, pop or fizzy drink, as it is referred to in England - is differentiated from a hard drink because it has no alcohol in it.
Just lots and lots of high-fructose syrup. A corn derivative. The Coca-Cola Company and Pepsi both made the switch to HFCS, as it is known in the biz, in 1984.
It’s good to know your enemy.
Since fountain drinks are my sudden rain showers. And in my world, it rains several times a week. The high has been 17. The low, three. The average is 12.
I once was pelted with 27 fountain drinks - and one Frosty - at a high school basketball game. They had to send the janitor - with his yellow bucket and yellow cones with the little red stick-figure man slipping embossed on them - to clean up the mess.
“Boy, what the fuck are you thinking?” he said as I stood and watched. And got hit with the Frosty. The tannish-brown, bubbly glob just ran off the red Gore-Tex coat like a slug moves across concrete.
Clear is good. Clear comes out in the wash. Your Sierra Mists, your 7Ups – the Un-Cola, you know. Colas, if left longer than 30 minutes will leave a major stain, and will begin to eat through the copper studs in your jeans. Trust me, I know.
Root beer is unexpected, old-school. It is sticky.
So are those new “flavored” teas.
“I’ll order the tea,” you think, being all healthy and shit. When you might as well swallow a bag of sugar.
Milkshakes and frozen, carbonated drinks have their own category. Their own set of problems.
Milk solids rot and stink in natural fibers. Something to do with the lactic acid or something. Don’t get to a milkshake soon, and you’ll stink. I had to toss a nice London Fog overcoat because of a Jack in the Box Andes® Crème de Menthe shake once.
Hence, the Gore-Tex. The nice stuff, too. Mountain Hardwear, $500 worth of protection.
Frozen novelty drinks, your Tastee-Freeze, Slurpee, the venerable Icee, aren’t so bad. Unless any of the frozen drink finds a crease. A bit of Slurpee Fanta Orange Cream is cold and wickedly gross as it travels down your back.
Trust me, I know. I’m an expert on fountain drinks large and small.
Yeah, I bring it on myself.
Because around my neck, protected as it is by the Gore-Tex, is a sign, printed neatly front and back.
And it says,
“Fuck You”

This one's for mom

The second anniversary of my mother's death is Sunday.
I'll be in the middle of the Nevada desert, howling at the moon with friends.
I wanted to post this on the anniversary, but it's good no matter the date.
She knows she is in my heart.
I know she taught me to be the best person I can be.

I wrote this right after her death.

Lessons learned from a life guided by grace, humor and dirt
True, it was my father who taught me how to fish; but it was my well-manicured mother who showed me that dirt was good.
No, she didn't set me outside, pat my bottom and say, "go forth and make a mess." I was self-taught, a quick study.

She did grant me the latitude to figure out that these things are good: bare feet from March through November; fishing for bullhead with rotten chicken livers swung from a cane pole; campouts with friends along drainage ditches, where for dinner we'd steal watermelons and sweet corn from a farmer's field (what she didn't know never hurt her); and trees - most species - are for climbing.

All lessons absorbed on how life is supposed to be conducted (for me, anyway).

She also taught me to play hard, but play fair. Work past my potential, and have fun doing it. Be honest, be direct - and have a great sense of humor. Jump into everything feet-first, without hesitation. Be fiercely loyal to those around you who matter.

She also taught me that life isn't fair.

My mother, MarciaG, died at 1:45 p.m. on Nov. 18.

It was not, I am certain, the death she envisioned - in a hospital bed on a terminal arc from the complications of chemotherapy. My mother was an intensely private person. She didn't like people to make a fuss.

By the time I reached Nebraska, she was on a ventilator. As I entered her ICU room, she immediately tried to talk past the tube in her throat. The nurse and my dad said it was the first time she had responded to anyone all day.

"I can assure you she's chewing my butt right now for being here," I said. "Waste of a perfectly good airline ticket when she thinks everything is going to be OK."

The nurse and my dad looked at each other, smiled and dad said, "You know, he's probably right."

But everything was not OK. The side effects from that final chemo treatment were devastating - it killed all of her germ-fighting white blood cells. She developed pneumonia in her lungs and a yeast infection in her blood. Then her kidneys quit. We began to prepare for the worst.

As private as she was, my mom also was a huge, bubbling personality. She was the keeper of all the family stories - she told them so magnificently that my older sister wet her pants once (as an adult) - and she always had a new joke to share. My brother-in-law, tears streaming down his cheeks, said he would miss mom's e-mails; "How great is it to get off-color jokes from your mother-in-law?"

At her funeral - attended by some 300 people - Father spoke of how the G home - when her five children were little - was the epicenter of fun for all the neighborhood kids.

"It was a place to gather," he said, "but it was also a place where you knew the rules. Marcia kept a tidy home, and expected it to remain that way."

Clean and tidy, yes, but here was a woman who knew of my affinity for dirt - and indulged in the habit. Across the harsh winters of my youth, she kept two ice cream buckets full of rich Nebraska soil under the kitchen sink. I could dump those buckets on our newspaper-covered kitchen table and play to my heart's content - as long as I kept the dirt off the floor.

Yeah, she ran a strict house, aside from my dirt fetish. But she often had no clue what we did out-of-doors (nor did we tell her until the statue of limitations - we had all reached college age - ran out). "I'm surprised you all made it out of your teenage years," she often remarked.

One fall day, my brother and I were raking leaves when we got the bright idea to make huge construction-paper airplanes, light them ablaze, and fly them into the piles. Just as my brother let one flaming aircraft go, my dad walked out onto the porch and yelled, "What the hell do you think you're doing?!?"

I had slipped around the corner - lighter in my hand - through the garage and quietly sat down in our family room.

"Did you see what your brother was doing out there?" my dad bellowed.

"Nope," I said. "What did he do now - and how are you going to punish him?"

In those finals days, all her favorite stories where recounted - through laughter and tears.

While she could no longer tell them herself, she figured out a way to communicate volumes. With her eyes, her eyebrows, shrugs and nods, she let us know that everything was going to be fine. Even after she chose to forgo dialysis and succumb to the inevitable.

Her two journalists, first sister and I, were telling her an unbelievable (but true) catty story on the morning she died - my sister, while now a college professor, is still a pretty good storyteller - and I watched as mom followed along with the story. Yet her eyes were locked on my face. For an instant, I must have looked worried, stricken, for she tilted her head...

And winked.

I laughed. Then I cried. And I knew I was all right - and will remain so.

For I am my mother's son; and she left me with one more story to share.

A downsizing life

I’ve been busy, downsizing.
Thanks to the folks at the United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Sacramento, who will have a truck in my neighborhood on Tuesday, I can jettison a lot of crap that has accumulated over the past 11 years.
I get rid of stuff.
For charity.
There’s a certain good synergy to that, I think. And I’ve not been shy about boxing things up. Sentimental ties or not, I’m clearing the decks. Of a whole lot of just stuff.
Why? It just gets me one step closer to the next chapter of my life. The next big thing.
I’ve taken a lot of words to heart, a lot of deeds, too, and truly see the good in being this close to being so unencumbered with stuff to be able to jump at a moment’s notice. To do and be whatever I want to be.
There’s a certain freedom is bagging up sweaters you never wore – and never intend to wear – along with spare house ware and various knick-knacks.
I cleaned the drawers of papers and all the stuff that gets stuffed in drawers. I’m taking a break before moving to the garage.
To find more stuff to shed.
Like a skin of a snake.
In order to grow.

Tales from the beer league

Such a simple trickle; a line, from eye to just under the chin, hat looked like it was painted by brush.
Except it wasn’t. The blood flowed from a cut. A gash no more than three-quarters of an inch. But right on the eyelid, just below where her eyebrow curved.
A violent collision. The result of the carnage when two people – people, mind you – smash together from 60 feet. On a dead run. Head-to-head.
The impact sounded sick and wet, like an unripe cantaloupe tossed at a cement wall.
Softball really isn’t for sissies.
Friday’s game was complete carnage for Team Carmargo.
The Queen of Valkyries cut her eye in the collision with Huskerette (who suffered a severe cheek bruise – “That’s going to be one helluva shiner, huh?” – and a small cut across her cheek) going after the same pop fly.
“My head hurts,” the Queen said.
It should.
(We will only mention here, in passing, that she also suffered a wicked rug burn to the ass on the play as well.)
“You’ll need stitches,” the field manager said.
“She doesn’t need stitches,” a teammate said. “ThomG, what do you think?”
A butterfly bandage and maybe some Superglue. A doctor might have put one stitch in, maybe.
(I applied the butterfly tape myself. We'll chat later today to look at the Superglue option.)
Huskerette also suffered a nasty strawberry on her knee and an attempt to round third, only to take a tumble on the slick rubber surface.
Our Man in the Outfield, who suffered like 18 stitches in the first game after being hit by a line drive to the mouth, took a softball to the head. The stitches of the ball were tattooed red welts on the silver-dollar-sized knot.
In what I can only describe as the most unluckiest of plays I think I’ve ever seen.
He hit a solid line drive and was headed to third and decided to slide. The catcher had the ball on an attempt to stop a runner at home, and threw a rocket to third. Just as he began his slide, the ball caught him right in the forehead.
Had he not slid, the ball would have hit him in the chest; had he started the slide a millisecond sooner, the ball would have sailed high and into left field.
“At least I got a home run out of it.”
We lost, 18-12.
“But it was a good loss; I feel good that we scored 12 – and had a couple of good rallies,” Blind P Willie said.
As for me? I have a severely strained muscle in my left arm. I feel lucky (and sore mostly all over, but I have discovered liquid gelcap ibuprofen. Yummy.)
People actually pay for the privilege to do this.
Softball is really not for sissies. And beer drinking is nearly mandatory. Pitchers of the stuff, just to anesthetize the aches and pains.
We shut the place down.
“If you can actually feel good about that,” Blind P said.

Know before you judge

So much junk hung off the bike, it wasn't for riding. Just pushing. And through the downtown streets of my hometown, Herman R. Jeseph - everyone just called him "Buster" - pushed his bicycle heaped full of junk in all weather conditions. He wore cast-off clothing - layers upon layers - and always wore a cap. He was unshaven most days and smelled of harsh tobacco that he hand-rolled into cigarettes.

Buster was my hometown's Official Bum.

He, as my mother loved to say, "Just decided one day to drop out." In the world of my youth, Buster was a huge question mark.

He remains so, to this day.

My hometown had and still has about 23,000 residents. A farming community, mostly. In town today, homeless people hold up signs on well-traveled corners, smoke cigarettes and huddle against the elements and residents tend to look away.

But in my youth, everyone accepted Buster, our Designated Homeless Person, for exactly who he was.

A man. Without a traditional home.

When the weather turned cold and in eastern Nebraska, winter temperatures routinely drop into the minus category the jailers would leave the back door open to the courthouse, where Buster would curl up on a broken-down recliner someone rescued from a county office.

Business owners never complained to the city council, to my knowledge, of Buster's circular movements through the wide-sidewalked downtown (this was before Wal-Mart opened a SuperCenter on the east side of town, but downtown continues to hold its own, thank God).

No one cursed at him, spat at him, or even shunned their eyes as he passed.

Not in my recollections. People - from shop owners to police officers - were instead fiercely protective.

They asked how he was doing, or asked about some new trophy that seemed to collect on a series of ancient bicycles he bought at the Salvation Army. I remember scuffed boots that hung from the handlebars like fuzzy dice; the series of busted lawnmowers he cleverly had in tow.

I saw it all because I spent much of my adolescence downtown. The junior high school was a block from the start of Main Street; my mother worked for an architect who rented offices above a women's clothing store. It was the same store where at 13 years old I got my first job cleaning toilets, emptying waste baskets and changing the ballasts in fuzzy fluorescent lights.

A couple of years later, I moved two storefronts down to the jewelry store, where I engraved watches, silver wedding plates and Optimist of the Year trophies. One year, I engraved it "Opomist of the Year," which led my boss an Optimist himself to lament, "I'm optimistic you can get that corrected today." Downtown stores stayed open late on Thursdays, which meant I worked late, too. During dinner breaks, I'd cross the street to the pharmacy, which had one of those cool, old soda fountains (it's now a stereo shop).

Most evenings, there sat Buster, drinking a cup of coffee and eating a hot bowl of Campbell's Ham and Bean soup. The steam would rise into Buster's weather-beaten features, and his nose would run into the soup Drip by Drip by Drip.

Yet, no one was repulsed, especially the counter help. They asked how he was doing, poured him another cup of coffee. No one ever put a compassioned hand on his shoulder, however. He hated to be touched.

Once, and I wasn't a witness, but it's a pretty good story, a well-to-do woman in the community walked into the place with her boots clicking on the hard tile.

"You sound just like a cowboy on a wooden sidewalk," Buster bellowed from the counter.

Not missing a beat, the woman, who I will not name, replied: "Watch out, Buster, or I'm gonna ride off with your bike!"

Another interesting observation on Buster's eating habits - he never touched anything with his hands. He loved those chocolate-covered Easter bunnies and Santa Claus figures. He'd cut a chunk off with a knife, scoop it up with a spoon, dunk it into his coffee and plop it into his mouth. Soup crackers were dispatched in much the same manner, except he would stick the salty square into the soup with his spoon then retrieve it whole into his mouth, where it would slowly disappear, much like a wood planer works.

Buster's life and times intrigued me through high school. How, without a job, a place to live or the march to accumulate all the latest must-have items the rest of us coveted (in the late 1970s and early 80s, it was Atari game systems, eight-track tape players and digital watches), he made pocket change certainly enough to live on from society's cast-off junk.

Senior year, I got up the nerve to interview Buster for the school paper. He was wary, I remember, but answered my questions. He was born and raised in Fremont. He had kin, but not a wife or children.

I never worked up the nerve to ask why he was "homeless." I inquired of my mother a few years ago if she still had the clipping I was curious about. She told me that was a million words ago.

Buster's gone now, he died in 1984 at the age of 73. For a time, the courthouse displayed his bike, just as he left it at the Union Pacific Railroad depot where he passed, in a glass case. One year, the bike was put on view during the fair parade. The words on the float said, "We miss you, Buster." And so it came to pass that a whole town celebrated one homeless man.

What's the point? Nothing really.
Just celebrate who you are.
And celebrate those around you.
'Cause you never know what you might learn.

ThomG's Guide to Moody People

“You're just no fun to play with at the moment … So I'm just going to give you some space. I'm just sort of a puppy, and I need fun people to play with. If you're not playing, you're no good to me…”

Some people, sheesh.
They don’t know, or see, a mood when they see one. Or can’t fathom why anyone with so much going for them (HA!), has a dark cloud hanging over their head from time to time.
I am talking about the moody person.
(Of which I happen to be.)
I hereby present “ThomG’s Guide to Moody People:”

First off, we can’t help it. Most of us Moodies tend to wear our emotions out. This is messy. Throw in a mood, and it just gets, well, like a Jackson Pollock painting.
The dictionary defines mood as, “A state or quality of feeling at a particular time; a prevailing emotional tone or general attitude; a state of sullenness, gloom, or bad temper.”
A mood is different from an emotion. This is what Wiki has to say about mood:
“A mood is a relatively lasting emotional or affective state. Moods differ from emotions in that they are less specific, often less intense, less likely to be triggered by a particular stimulus or event, however longer lasting. Moods generally have either a positive or negative valence. In other words, people often speak of being in a good or bad mood. Unlike acute, emotional feelings like fear and surprise, moods generally last for hours or days. Mood also differs from temperament or personality traits, which are even more general and long lasting. However, personality traits (e.g. Optimism, Neuroticism) tend to predispose certain types of moods. Mood is an internal, subjective state, but it often can be inferred from posture and other observable behaviors.”
(Yeah, whatever. Moodies are independent and tend to have very highly-evolved brains, mostly in the frontal lobe. And are very sexy, too.)

Moodies are not bad people. We are not frightening. Just misunderstood.
We tend to like small gifts, including, but not limited to, candies, burned music from others’ CD libraries, fresh coffee, books, scented candles, lunch and the occasional pint of Guinness.
You should never attempt to run from a Moodie. Make slow, deliberate motions. If you must, walk away slowly. Throw in a couple of air kisses. Promise to go and get the Moodie a Rock Star or other energy drink.
And agree with everything a Moodie has to say. Shake your head in the affirmative a lot. Don’t butt in when the Moodie is on a rant; wait for your turn (Moodies will run out of oxygen at some point) and interject things like, “Yeah, she’s a real bitch,” or “Those fuckers don’t know what they have in a person like you.”
(Yes, by all means, swear around a Moodie; it makes us feel empowered and may lead to gleeful giggling.)
Above all, let Moodies wallow in whatever mood they are in. Wait five minutes, maybe 10. The mood will change.
But always play with us. We’re really quite cuddly, mostly.

Please Stand By

It was this, or nothing.
There was a post here about cowards who feel the need to stab a friend in the back (conveniently, when she's not around) to make sense of their own puny careers.
There was no point. There was nothing to gain.
So, intermission.

That's my theory, anyway

“Oooof, uhhh, shit!”
“What’s wrong with you?”
“I feel like an old man, trapped in a young man’s body.”
“You’ve got a young man’s body?”
“OK, a body with a young man potential.”

You know you are getting older when you need to gingerly load your ass into your truck, because your own glut muscles are still screaming at you from Friday’s softball game.
Who knew softball was such a rough-and-tumble sport?
Who knew that at 44, I would have so many aches and pains?
Hell, if I knew it was going to be this bad, I would have treated my body much, much better in my 20s.
There’s a lot that hurts on me. And it is totally my fault.
And makes for a good time to review.
Not the aches and pains part; start with my head and work down to my toe, yep that hurts.
But where I stand with a little challenge to get to 199 pounds by Jan. 1, 2008.
Not very close.
OK, it's not that bad.
I weight 221 pounds.
I may not make it, especially with the holidaze coming up.
Yes, it is my own fault. I let a lot of stress strain my muscles. Too many days when by when I could have been sucking free endorphins, but was curled up in a fetal position in a darkened room trying not to feel sorry for myself (it wasn’t exactly that bad, but writer’s license and all).
I ate a lot of bad shit. And I ate a lot right before bedtime (you want to know how Sumo wrestlers get so huge? They eat massive amounts of food, then go to sleep).
I am here to say I’m back on the wagon. I’m back working out every day. Eating right, passing up the donuts and the bowls of candy at work (even though there are Milk Duds in the bowl and wow, Milk Duds are near impossible to say no to).
I probably won’t make 199. Even in Wyoming's backcountry, expending energy like it was going out of style, my weight began to stabilize at 212.
And that’s all I’m looking for.
The interesting thing about the body is, if you exercise more than you eat, your body will come up with – on its very own – its correct weight. That’s the cool thing here. No diet pills or books or Thighmasters or any of that. Eat right, eat balanced and exercise. And your body will automatically find its correct weight.
That’s my theory, and I’m sticking to it.

Accidental fiction in 58

So I was having coffee with a friend and the following conversation happened. I got home and typed it up, it was so good. For shits and grins, I did a word count. Honest to God, it came in at 58 words.
Karmic, I think.
So it's not exactly fiction, but it does goes to show you that all great conversations are always better than any dialogue you care to make up.

Trouble with Canadians
“I don’t think she likes me, anyway.”
“Why is that?”
“I think maybe it’s because she’s Canadian.”
“Canadians, I think, tend not to like me.”
“That’s a pretty big country to piss off, don’t you think?”
“Well, maybe not all Canadians. Just female Canadians. I think maybe I’m too loud for them.
“So, there you go.”

Pets behaving badly

Transcript from an actual mobile telephone call:
“Ahhh, if you’re coming home, don’t use the front door. One of the animals made a mess in front of it.”
“What, crap, vomit?”
“Ahhh, that I don’t know.”
OK, the question is like asking a bachelor to chance a baby’s diaper.
But you gotta know what you’re walking into. Especially with pets.
Feenst has been here all of about two weeks and has been witness to every sorry-assed, disgusting, urpy detail of pet ownership.
Second day here, Scully decided to eat something she shouldn’t in the yard. A snail. And had a massive attack of diarrhea in her kennel.
Let’s just say uncooked escargot is a smell best left for wide open – and well-ventilated – spaces.
Between them, I think the cats have puked at least a half-dozen times. Hairballs, whatever.
Then there’s the cat’s ability to open doors and drawers.
“I was coming out of the bathroom and Indy was walking around and every cabinet door in the kitchen was open,” he said.
“Yeah, they both think it’s fun.”
I’m sure I’ve put him off pet ownership. For a very long time.
Transcript from another conversation:
“Did you know that one of your cats got in your bathroom and ripped up a roll of toilet paper?”
“I didn’t. Was it your bathroom?”
“No, yours. That’s what’s so weird. I saw that the door was open and looked in, and the cat had opened the cabinet door and got a roll of toilet paper out and just destroyed it.”
Yep, sounds like my cats.
New roll of toilet paper, individually wrapped.
Bastards kicked the shit out of it.
“At least when I let the dogs out, they go out and don’t do anything,” he said.
In a comforting voice. But one not seduced to actually get a pet.

Little Rabbit Fru-Fru

A crisp, cool night. Half a moon to illuminate the neighborhood. A frosty beverage and a comfortable chair to enjoy it in.
It was Halloween night, and sitting in a chair in the lawn is just asking for trouble.
But since most of the neighbors are Christian types, their children weren’t running around the neighborhood begging for candy (they were at Harvest Festivals at churches, copping feels with the "bad girls" in the janitor’s closet).
(I kid).
Just in case, I had a garbage sack filled with canned goods – none dented – to hand out to all manner of greedy little aberrations. And really, what parent can’t appreciate a can of dolphin-safe albacore tuna packed in water, or a can of low-sodium garbanzo beans for their sucrosed-out little monsters?
Anyway, the girls and I were taking in the world, daydreaming really, when a bunny came hippity-hopping into the yard.
Not a wild bunny.
But a domesticated, lop-eared, white bunny with black spots.
Trin stared at me with a look of shock and awe and let her pink tongue roll over her canines.
Who was I to quash thousands of years of instinct?
She took off like a white, heat-seeking missile. And so did the bunny – toward the other neighbor’s house. And disappeared.
Trin was perplexed. Hell, I was perplexed. Rabbit just up and vanished.
The neighbor came out for a smoke, and I asked her if she had seen the rabbit (I know, strange opening question, but it’s a strange life).
“You know, it’s been hanging around for about a month.”
You gotta hand it to this bunny.
Granted, bulldozing and then paving 24 acres of wooded field has probably tipped the predator/prey continuum, but I live near the river. There are hawks and owls and feral cats and coyote and fox and God knows what else out there looking for an easy kill.
Like a little white, lop-eared bunny with black spots.
“Hell, I can’t even get close to it,” the neighbor said. “Cute little thing, though.”
So of course now I’m totally rooting for the rabbit to stick around.

A glance, fleeting

The boots were black, leatherette, and reached to just below her knees and tightly covered her calves.
It’s funny what you see, at first glance.
A wrap dress. The pattern was black mixed with the color of a freshly peeled banana. On her neck, a dainty silver chain.
No ring on her left hand.
Clear polish on the nails, which were short, well-kept but not labored over.
Dressed to go out, she pushed a skinny girl through the crowded room. The girl, maybe 12, wore her corn silk-colored hair in a pageboy, the bangs held back by two hairpins. Her dress was black with silver sequins. A small purse hung from her shoulder, on spaghetti straps.
It was a night out for mother and daughter. A blues concert at our lovingly restored art deco theater.
The woman was tall, striking.
Dark brunette hair that flowed around her head as she moved. Dark eyebrows, nicely shaped.
Creamy skin, a tone that accentuated her every feature.
Her eyes. Oh, those eyes. Blue-gray and piercing.
Was I staring?
I was staring.
She returned my gaze, just once. I did not look away.
Friends said she had trouble written all over her.
I don’t know. I will never know.
Their seats were in the balcony, mine in the orchestra.
It was the first – and last – glimpse I got to take.

Slings and arrows

I have a new-found lust to sling arrows.
I went to target archery shoot Sunday at the local range. It was a 3-D trail shoot, meaning you walked through the oak-studded hills of the range and stopped to try and stick two arrows in each 3-D target from marked yardage.
All the targets had a Halloween theme.
There were 28 targets in all.
Now, I do not have a compound bow. They run like $500. And I’m left-handed, which makes buying one used all that more difficult. Do I want one? Hell yeah.
I am seduced by the power and the simplicity of the weapon system.
And I’m a natural.
While doing a story on archery in May, the folks at the range found out that I had “the eye.” They gave me one of the club’s children’s left-handed bow, a little teal blue number that pulls like 40 pounds of force on the string. No sights, you just have to go by feel.
I started sticking paper targets at 30 yards. Consistently.
"He's got the eye,," the 79-year-old instructor told me. "Kid, you're a natural."
“You want to warm up?” the club president said Sunday.
“Naw, let’s just shoot.”
"Oh, that's right, I remember. You just like to pull back and let fly. Shit, this aught to be interesting."
I have a healthy respect for guns. I have guns. I shoot guns.
But there is something just sexy about standing 30 yards from a target – in this case a little three-foot-tall green blob creature, the booger-man, with eyes and a nose and a round white target on its chest – and drawing that arrow back to your nose. Letting go.
And sticking the little dude right in the chest with an aluminum-shafted target arrow.
We had scorecards, and actually kept score on the top half of the range, but kind of gave it up. We were bullshitting too much and started making up our own yardage on certain targets.
“What the hell?” my buddy said at one station. “That’s not very scary, or very Halloween, if you ask me.”
On the target station were the busts of four prairie dogs. The targets were maybe a foot-and-a-half tall. We had to shoot from 20 yards.
My buddy managed to place both his arrows into one prairie dog; I hit another – and a hay bale behind the targets (I got a little tired).
“Oh, see, they are scary,” I said as we pulled our arrows. “Dave painted the eyes red. They’re demonic prairie dogs.”
After the shoot, one of the “range ladies” – she ran the concession stand – said she had a left-handed compound bow.
“It was my brother-in-laws and he shot it maybe twice. You’re welcome to it, if ever you want to mess around.”
Ooooohhhhh, I’m all about messing around.
Especially with ancient weaponry made even more dangerous with the use of pulleys and carbon-fiber components.