More is less

There can be only one.
As in corporation. And some day, we’ll get everything – from cable to cell service to electrical service – from this one entity.
For now, it’s best to fuck with the corporations that are duking it out.
Especially Internet service providers.
I’m paying $42.95 for cable Internet. (Large corporation) has brought DSL to the hood, with a same-service price of $24.95 a month, with three months free for a year (that’s $18.71 a month).
I called (large cable corporation) to say I wanted a price break.
Anthony, who sounded like he had a mouthful of rocks, said that I had the best package and price. He was a dick. I just asked, if he had a choice between $42.95 and $18.71, what would he do?
“I’ll transfer you to disconnect.”
Where Becky, a very nice young lady, told me that sure, she could give me my level of service – for $19.95 a month.
But that there would be a $10 fee, since I don’t have another service from (large corporation). And then, taxes and fees, I’m looking at $32.95.
“But, if you get basic cable – and you don’t even have to be home – I can give you the service for $24.95.”
“But I don’t watch TV.”
“No, you just have to get our basic cable tier for $3.98 – that’s 22 channels - and I can save you more money.”
It makes sense, and it doesn’t.
So the technician comes over and unlocks the cable box and flips a switch.
And I find I have expanded basic. Something like 70 channels.
“I’m sure you’re going to tell them about it,” Moonstone said.
Yeah, right.
Charity begins at home.

Fiction in 58

The idea came to me in bed.
Write a piece of fiction in 58 words.
(It sounded good, really smooth: Fiction in 58.)

It's a lot harder than it sounds.
I thought about changing to Fiction in 78 or Fiction in 108.
Then I stripped everything down. Every word had to drive the story. And I had 58 of them.
What do you think?

The Lies of Lovers
Sunlight, diffused. A quilt spread in soft grass gone golden.
Two young lovers.
A blade of grass in his mouth.
She chews gum, spearmint.
“In the war, I did grisly things. Shot a family’s pigs, just to hear them squeal.”
“In Prague, I’m Lady Tatyana, Dominatrix. For serious cash, I dispense spankings, humiliation, torture.”
“I love you.”

Slight tension on The Tension

Fish tacos are not the optimal pre-ride fuel. Not when it’s 98 degrees out. And the trail is loose, rocky – and steep.

Boots got to the top of another rise and fake-barfed water as I joined her. You know, a little ribbing for barfing on a previous ride (and sharing it here).
“You wanna see the fish tacos I had for lunch?”
“Eeeeeeewwwwww, no!”

Social bike rides are great. Not a helluva lot of speed, and you usually go as fast as the slowest rider. And at some point, everyone is the slowest rider.
This trail was brutal. I mean, I adore the men and women at the Bureau of Land Management for building a whole host of trails in Upstate California, but this was brutal.
Trail building by bulldozer.
“Is this a trail, or a fire break?” the Chancellor mused.
“I think this will blend in – when your kids are grown up.”
Cat 6 grader marks. Sharp rocks and loose dirt where your tires sunk in a good inch. The trail desperately needs a lot of rain. And that means wintertime.
Like four months away.
I am a giant whiner.
Next rise, I bailed.
“Sorry guys, just not my scene.”

I like to ride alone. I saw three doe, a giant garter snake, a small rattlesnake (which I nearly ran over), two friends who stopped to talk (one lunch invite) and an otter. I got to go at my pace.
I got to think.

And I have come to the conclusion that I feel somewhat compromised by The Tension from time to time. I mean, writing stuff down that is my life.
“You made it into a story I wrote,” the rider said. “It was about sharing. I’m not a big sharer and I’ve read your blog – I don’t think you’re a natural sharer – but it’s helped me share.”
Naturally, I’m fairly a private person. But this has been good for me.
I just get the feeling sometimes I can’t be as free as I want.
I mean, you want freedom, read Peas; chrissakes, that woman can write – really well – about anything.
I fear that I will make someone angry or someone sad by sharing everything that happens day-to-day. The highest highs and the lowest lows.
Even when those parties say they never read my blog anymore (but seem to know everything, every fucking detail, of my life).

And as I pushed through the northside river trail hills, I decided that I have struck a good balance here on The Tension. I mean, my life is messy and I create my own mayhem, which is fair game. Outside influences? I’ll let you know that the encounter is on the record. You have the option of telling me it's off-the-record.
It’s only fair.
Not everyone wants to share.

Healing hands

There’s no good way to explain this one. Not without you raising your eyebrows, chuckling suspiciously and nudging people.
We got on the subject of massage recently, and it was decided that we’d give round-robin massages; me and two women, one a certified massage therapist. This would be a learning experience.
“We’d be naked, are you OK with that?”
(Astronaut thumbs up.)
“I believe I can handle that.”
See, you’re raising your eyebrows right now. Evil chuckling. Nudging.
There was nothing sexual about it.
It was a learning experience.
In touch.
And I was talked into going first.

She took instruction well. She found pressure points and released stress and tense muscles. Four hands moved over tired muscles. I was on the edge of relaxation and sleep.
For two hours.
I highly recommend it.

We moved to her, skilled hands and my novice hands, kneading tired muscles. Ambient music played in the background.
And then it was our time to give back to the teacher. We apologized for being novices. She signed little sighs; I don’t think it mattered.

She got to keep massage table. Just, you know, for practice.

Free music, for chripesakes

Free music. A whole CD filled with 17 songs.
Maybe it's not your thing.
Maybe it is.
It's my version of tasty alternative.
I've got three more CDs to give away.

All you have to do is comment.
On my blog.
And send me an email adress, and we can work out the mailing.

Warning: Introspective post ahead

It happens whilst mopping.
Not every time, just sometimes.
The arc of the mop, the hot water, I get to thinking.
And thinking leads to…well, not so much as an epiphany, but a time of conscious reflection.
A plan of action.

Outward looking in, people probably think I have the life. And I do. I am happier now, in a sense, than I’ve been in years (just a different happiness). I have worked hard on myself and the results are good.
Maybe I’m finally growing up. Becoming the man I really always wanted to be.
One who now knows that it’s OK to be that 12-year-old kid, free and fearless and able to succeed at anything and everything he cares to try.

Inward looking out, I love my life. I love how it seems to be evolving. For the better.
It doesn’t mean, however, that it is easy. Life seldom is. And I’ve got a lot of shit going on right know. I won’t bore you with the particular details, suffice it to say that I have deep woes and worries. Problems that seemingly have no solutions.

The mop moves back and forth over the linoleum and I plot and plan. I make decisions based on what is best for me. I set timelines, deadlines, goals.
They all seem to make sense. I get a sense of wonderment about starting all the projects in my head.
Some will happen.
Some will not.
And I will celebrate the things I can do, without beating myself up for the things I cannot do.
But will try anyway.
That’s the trick about mop epiphanies; you can possibly have more, the next time the floor needs a good cleaning.

Stopped by The Man

“Do you know how fast you were going?”
It’s a stupid fucking question.
Especially when you’re The Man. Driving a black-and-white state patrol car equipped with lights, sirens – and radar.

“Do you know how fast you were going?”
And you’d like to say, “Pretty fucking fast – I mean, faster than the posted speed limit, right, since you lit me up, huh?”
Or is it meant as a rhetorical question?
Maybe to seek out reflection in the listener. To assert the obvious.

I was speeding.

I know exactly how fast I was going, but I didn’t tell The Man. I was doing 78.
In a 65 mph zone.
On the Interstate.
(I was late to get to help a friend move. Not watching what I was doing.)

Oh, I saw him before he hit his lights. Even my “Smokey and the Bandit” training kicked in; I moved out of the fast lane in-between two semi trucks. I exited at the next exit.
He followed.
He hit the lights.

“Do you know how fast you were going?”
And I launch into this oracle about my friends, my lead foot, my fiscal need to not get a ticket at this particular time.
He was my age. He smiled, at least.
And went back to run my license and registration.

“Just back it down, OK? You’ll get there when you get there – going the posted limit.”
I gushed thanks on The Man.
(Then sped off.)
I was just kidding.
I backed it down.
Lesson learned.

The bigger they are, the harder they fall

She says I was lights out, but I dispute it.
I think I was still having conscious thoughts.
She says my fingers were twitching – and that I was snoring.
“Did you enjoy your nap? You were so totally out.”
I dispute that I was out. But then again, I kinda maybe wasn’t quite there.

The day started with a pot of coffee and the dread of knowing that your day has been ordered straight from Hell. A main feature to write; a column to pen; design and construct my entire Outdoors section; and write a profile (like that character sketch of Bill, but a helluva lot longer).
Journalism is a funny thing; it’s like having to be creative on demand. Like pay-per-view movies on satellite. It’s fucking scary.

Just in case, I over-caffeinated, didn’t eat – counted out $2 in change for an afternoon Rockstar – and decided to completely ignore company policy and stream Sirius’ punk channel – very, very loud.

Sometimes, I just imagine my dread. Makes for a good working environment. Motivation by fear.
By 11 a.m., I was feeling cocky. All the Outdoors stuff was completely done – and I have managed to craft a column I actually liked (for once).
I dropped the seven quarters, two dimes and a nickel for a Rockstar (the sugar-free version, but hey, at least they put Rockstar in the vending machines) and wandered the newsroom a bit. With my shoes off.
“You look like a very happy young man,” a buddy said.
A young man headed for a shitload of self-imposed trouble.

I became a babbling idiot, hopped up on little sleep, coffee and God knows what they put in a Rockstar.
And I forgot that I had to give blood. At 3 p.m.
I got Taco Hell; two bean burritos, extra cheese, extra onion (yes, there are better burrito places, but by this time I was kinda sweating and my heart was thumpity-thumping).

And tried to write the profile.
Granted, I love writing profiles. But this one, I was told I had to have it done on Friday. I have a problem with authority. Hence, I had a problem with the motivation to write the profile.
I finished it, in spirit, but it still needs some tweaking. The editor was OK with that.

So now I’m in the big mobile blood-sucking bus, joking with the nurses and other co-workers. And I know there’s a blood pressure check in my future.
I had spent the afternoon writing the profile to fine, fine, musical standards like Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades,” Dead Kennedy’s “Viva Las Vegas,” NOFX “Franco Un-American” and early Replacements: “Buck Hill.”
Drinking copious amounts of water.
On top of the bean burritos.
To get my blood pressure to come down.

“One thirty over ninety,” the nurse said. “That’s a little high.”
“You don’t know the half of it.”
I explained myself. Explained that I was running on a pot of coffee, a Rockstar, two bean burritos – and a lot of work angst/adrenalin. And I was thinking about dropping another Rockstar (the vending dude refilled the machine, and gave me back the $1 I lost trying to buy little powdered donuts in another moment of weakness).
“You’re nuts.”
“You don’t know the half of it.”

There’s always a crash. Drug addicts know this. I knew this. I was burning fumes.
I picked her up to drop her off at her car – it was at the shop – and she followed me home.
I lay down on the bed.
Just to rest before going out (it’s always a running gag; the nurses ask if I know the rules after giving blood and I say, “Lots of drinking, lots of hot-tubbing and lift as much weight as possible;” we actually drank wine and sat in the hot tub at a friend’s house).

“Did you enjoy your nap?”
I continue to dispute that I was asleep.
“You were so relaxed. You were snoring.”
Maybe I was. Maybe I wasn’t.

Crash, bang, boom

You know what's coming. The exact moment when there's no forward momentum to carry you through.
And you can get your feet out of the pedals.
You're going to crash.
(Actually, you just sort of stop, shake a bit and fall over.)
You cannot change the fact that you are going to fall; you only have a choice onto which side you want to fall.

Always check your gear.
I ride with clipless pedals, meaning I have a little cleat on the bottom of my mountain biking shoes that fit into the pedals of the bike.
I was dicking around.
Reading Sports Illustrated.
When I noticed I needed to get a move on, or be late to meet up with friends for a beer.
I tossed on my stuff, put my shoes on, grabbed the bike, put the iPod headphones on, put the pack on and closed the garage door.
I clipped into the pedals, waved and said hello to the neighbors who where out doing yardwork and rode down to the end of the street - and the first stop sign.
And I could not get my cleats out of the pedals.

Momentum stopped, I wobbled a bit.
Then I fell. To the left. Toward the grass (and the false sense of security that it was softer than the pavement).
(Oh, I suppose I could have ridden home and grabbed a tree or something, but I didn't think of that.)
I have road rash.
I have contusions.
I have pride, banged up.

Problem was, I still couldn't get out of the pedals. And the bike is now sort of all over me, like a sexual position. I'm now at the point of working both feet, pumping them, to get free.
Finally, one.
Then the other.
Saturday's weenieness (and the constant clipping out) loosened both clips. Enough so that they just moved in the pedals. I took them off, tightened them up with my multitool, glanced around to see who might have witnessed the crash (nobody, thank God) and hopped back on the bike.
I didn't even brush myself off.
I didn't pick the rocks out of the road rash.
If you're going to do something stupid, you might as well wear the results. Like a badge.
But not of honor.

Dreams, recurring

The dream starts the same pretty much every time. I get home to find a very old man in an old-fashioned suit, sitting in my plastic Adirondack chair watering the flowerbeds.
Before I can ask what the fuck, he says, “ThomG, sit a spell and let’s chat.”
There’s no fear or trepidation. No anger. No confusion.
I sit. He smiles. He asks if I believe.
“In what?”
“In good things coming to good people.”
I say I’m skeptical. I tell him that it is in my nature to do so. That yes, I would hope good things come to good people, but that the good things in life come with a lot of hard work. That I’d love to have certain things, but that it just doesn’t happen.
“What would you like?”
And just to prove my point, I tell him I want to have a body that matches the image of myself in my head.
And it happens. I’m fit, toned – and my wrecked knee is 100 percent.

Recurring dreams, according to research, can be informative – and extremely important to decipher. Recurring dreams come for two reasons: The dreamer has a recurring pattern in waking life that has not been consciously recognized; or the dreamer has a cyclical area of unresolved feelings or concern.
“Whatever your recurring dream, you can assume it is reflecting something in your current life situation, even if the dream takes you back in time. Presuppose there is something useful and constructive within your recurring dreams, and examine the action and setting from a metaphorical perspective. These dreams can reflect the pieces of your life in a more meaningful whole, so sort through their action carefully. Examine the common dream themes to stimulate your personal associations to dream imagery, but remember, these descriptions are strong probabilities, not rules. You are the best judge of what your dreams reveal.”

I begin to ask for other things. My home is remodeled. I become a novelist. Family get their wishes answered; friends do as well.
And since my home is remodeled and paid off (and I’m a novelist, so I get my dream home, a little California custom cabin built on 10 beautiful acres) – I sell the old one for a $1 to a young couple with three children because it’s not only the right thing to do, but it feels good to help them when they’ve helped me with a simple gesture of including me for a holiday meal.
I am able to give my friend, a fantastic editor, the chance to edit my books – and other books for my publisher. A chance to work from home, work within a framework where he’d be fantastic.
I give a young man the sight back in his eye; this allows him to get his life back on track and become the man he wants to be.
I fix things for people.
And you know, there’s not much retribution, either. Not so much as you’d think. OK, a little. She simply gets all the bad karma back that she’s sent out into the world.
But it is minor, compared to the good that I’m able to do for myself – and my circle of people I love and trust.
It turns out being a very happy dream.

What does it all mean? What does it reveal?
If I am to be the best judge of my dreams, I’d say it means be the person I am finding among the layers.
That when I help myself, I can help others.

Character sketch

He sits under the awning of the old trading post, near the Indian Head gas and diesel pumps (PUMPS ARE OPEN NOW!), but closer to the door as to watch every coming and going. To gauge the pulse of the day by the number of people who buy beer, fishing equipment (GOT WORMS? GET YOURS TODAY! ALWAYS AT THE LOW PRICE OF $1.79) and ice cream novelties.
Curled up next to him on the park bench - the bench with its iron legs freshly spray painted black, its wooden slats recently re-varnished - is a tabby cat. Old and thin and completely, totally in love with Bill.
“How you fellas doing?” he says, stroking the cat’s head and nursing a black cup of coffee from the outpost that sits at the corner of Highway 70 and a busted-up ribbon of asphalt that leads to the lake.
“Doing good, how are you?”
“Doing just fine, thanks.”
“Looks like you have a friend, there.”
“Oh, she’s the boss.”

Bill is a refugee from the city. From Southern California – with its heat, its traffic, the crush of people. He’s been in this small Sierra Nevada county town since 1995.
He’s dressed in a striped, blue-gray short-sleeve shirt, old man jean shorts, scuffed brown lace-up shoes and short black socks. He wears a sun hat on his head – the kind that Gilligan wore on television – in gray, with a ribbon of blue and red stitched around the crown, for decoration. Bill has pinned two Veteran of Foreign War red poppies, and a white button with black lettering that extols the virtues of a life retired.
He’s easily in his 80s.

“They say in there that you’re the caretaker around here.”
“Oh, no, I just help out from time-to-time.”
And another couple come out into the sun to pet the cat.
“She looks like a mountain lion,” the guy says, smelling of beer at 9 a.m. “Uhhp, I guess you can tell I’m from the city, everything up here looks like a mountain lion.”
The cat moves from the bench to Bill’s left leg, stretches and makes herself as compact as she can on his thigh.
Her name is Hopper. Her fur is faded gray, like tarnished silver, just a hint of orange in the black tabby stripes.
Her eyes are large. And they are hazel-green.
Bill loves her and much as she loves him.
“She’s a stray. She used to run around here, run back-and-forth and no one could get close to her. I went to the deli case and got her some turkey. She let me get close, so I put her in the back, closed her up.
“Next morning, she’s still there and has been following me around ever since. Even when she doesn’t, all I have to do is ask, ‘Well, are you coming?’ and she’ll get a move on.
“I call her Hopper, on account that when I stand up, she’ll hop all over my legs to get up.”

Cars, recreational vehicles and logging trucks, filled with fresh-cut pine, rumble past the trading post. Bill leans back into the bench, further into the shrinking shade, and scans the southern horizon.
“Say, how close up can that camera of yours bring up those mountains?”
“With this lens, not very, but I have a bigger one that’ll bring them in close. Want to take a look?”
“Nawww. But you see that triangle up top, between that power line and the cottonwood? Up on the top?”
We do.
“I’m going to walk up there.”
“Now? Today?”
“No, just someday. That’s where I’m going to have my ashes scattered.”
There is a pause, an awkward silence and Bill takes a sip of coffee – it has to be cool – and takes his hand off Hopper’s head to rub the stubble on his chin.
It is the buddy who breaks the silence.
“Is she going to be scattered with you?”
“Oh, no, she’ll outlive me. For sure.”


A friend of mine went to the city for the weekend. He said someone was murdered five blocks from his hotel.
I went the opposite.
I hiked to an alpine lake. My first cast with my backpacking rod yielded a 10-inch brook trout.
I certainly have nothing against the big city.
The culture, the nightlife - the vibe, that certain pulse - of being where the action is.
But I much prefer being in the opposite.
I love the outdoors.

The trail started at 5,400 feet in elevation; the first of three lakes on this five-mile hike sat at 5,900 feet in elevation.
With just a daypack on, my lungs burned. A decent breath was hard to swallow. Then Twin Lake came into view. Created by a retreating glacier that scared the granite, the lake now is ringed by pine. Brook and rainbow trout glide in its cool waters.
And I am at peace. I am "home."
My lungs find the oxygen in the thinner air. We hike up to the next lake.
We hike up some more to the next, Tamarack Lake, with its rocky shoreline encased in pine and underbrush.
We eat a little lunch - hearty bread, hard cheese and Prosciutto, fat cherries and red wine in a Nalgene bottle - and I'm off to fish. Others decided to hike to the ridgeline, catch the view.
The view, I've seen.
The fish, now there's a pursuit.

The routine is simple: Cast, real, repeat. One cast left, one cast center, one cast right.
There is an absence of sound, except for the wind through the pine, the occasional call of an osprey in the treetops.
And I feel...
Simply, unexplainable, I am alive.
It is the place where I belong.
And I plot ways to be out here more.
I am sad that we won't be staying the night. That we won't sleep under stars, cook over small gas flames - but will have a little warming fire anyway where stories will be told. And even though it's early by city standards, you crawl into sleeping bags and sleep, because the night tells you it is time to sack out. To rest the weariness that is your life and just relax for one.

I have lived in cities. I have been part of the traffic, the culture, the nightlife. I have stayed up late to catch a show, then get a bite to eat that could very well be anything from Cuban sammiches to wood-fired pizzas to fresh sushi.
The vibe resonates; it make you vibrate.

And I have walked in the woods. I have lived there for a week at a time. Out of a pack that causes my back to sweat. In a tent of bright fabric, wearing the same clothing the next day (but rinsing out the sweat in a mountain stream).
The vibe here doesn't make you vibrate so much.
The vibe here is more relaxed. Less harried.
Less complicated. Much, much less complicated.

I am a man who finds his soul comforted by woodsmoke and strong breezes; freezing, snow-fed streams; dirt and pine pitch and granite.
I am home in the out-of-doors.

Mr. Weinie-Pants goes for a ride

The body is a most beautiful thing. Quite the piece of engineering.
A human machine.
You fuel it, you drive it, you get into wrecks with it.
Or, you don't fuel it. And you run out of gas.
Saturday, I rode the new Hornbeck Trail in Redding. It's four miles one-way and it's a kick. Pretty basic, for a mountain bike trail, but it has enough technical stuff to keep you interested.
I rode out and back, eight miles.
And I puked.
Mostly, I dry heaved for the last three-quarters of a mile.
It's called the anaerobic threshold, the place where the body can no longer flush away lactic acid in the bloodstream, which is the byproduct of the over-taxed muscles burning glucose.
Exercise hard enough, and you'll bonk.
Then, you'll puke.
I did the Hornbeck on a pot of coffee.
And a sammich. That I ate about 16 hours prior to riding.
I bonked, hard.
Then, the vomit (just once).
And the dry heaves (a lot).
I'm an idiot.

And a weinie.
I was hyper-concerned that I was going to fall (which I did). But I took several sections of this trail - a trail that is a true beginner's trail - off. As in off the bike.
A little hike-a-bike.
Like most all the uphill sections, the ones with the tight turns. The trail is so new that there's hay over a layer of dust. I made one mistake coming into a tight uphill turn and lifted up on the handlebars, when my front tire started to spin on the hay. I came to nearly a complete stop...
And fell over.
Didn't get hurt, didn't even draw any blood.
But I was ruined for the rest of the ride.
I weinied several tight turns.

And so there I was, out riding this fantastic trail, feeling good about being out - and just under the surface roiled some hefty anger. At myself.
For being a weinie.
And not taking care of the machine.
(And for not bringing my camera to record my wienie-ness.)
All I want is to lose another 20 pounds and regain the skill and confidence in a couple of pursuits I've put off for way too long. Mountain biking. Open-water swimming. Kayaking.
Practice makes perfect, this I know.
Eating well-balanced meals, several times a day, fuels the machine. Makes it go harder, faster, stronger.
It's a choice. One I have to create for myself.

(Oh, and everyone I waved at waved back. Most even said hello. Stevo, I think It's you, or the Lycra/Spandex.)


Sleep refuses to visit. For more than a few hours, anyway.
Friends tell me I'm stressed out. They tell me it is a sign that my mind is crisis.
They tell me to try a nightcap.
Warm milk.
Read a book by low-light.
Prescription sleep aids (which I appreciate, but there the ones that cause sleep-eating and sleep-driving, so the three given remain in the Ziploc sammich bag they were brought it; I don't want to go skitzo or anything).

I go to sleep just fine.
I then wake up. Hell, I feel rested.
Problem is, 3 a.m. is no time to get up.
So I stay in bed and try to find a comfortable spot and relax. think happy thoughts.
I guess i could use the time to my benefit. Work, write, clean house. But I'm fearful of that, too. What if I start getting up when my body thinks it needs to get up and I create myself an alternate reality? That would be bad.

A friend told me that my circadian rhythm was off. Probably. That's the body's 24-hour clock. I looked it up. I am having an irregular sleep-wake pattern.
The interesting thing is, research into chronobiology (there's a short-story in that subject) found that all cells in the body carry the circadian rhythm; but some respond to light and some - namely liver cells - respond to feeding.
That's where I'm all fucked up.
I don't have the whole of myself balanced.
I don't eat regularly.
Which throws off my workouts, hell, my work.
And I don't sleep.

It's interesting to know what you need to do to be a healthy, functioning human. Then ignore the fuck out of it.

'Did you want fries with that?'

Peach fuzz. And bravado.
Ahhh, youth.
The youngster (OK, too young to actually work behind the bar, by the looks of him) proudly put down a coaster and the drink. Black T-shirt, jeans, spiky hair. He had all the confidence of his age.
Which wasn’t much.
And he was fishing for compliments.
“Enjoy,” he said, eyeing the drink with raised eyebrows, a tilt of the head.
The mojito was in a pint glass. No ice.
And it was bubbling.
“What is that?” she asked, a smile spread across her face.
“I’ve got no idea,” I said. “Taste it.”
“Oh, you’ve got to try it,” she said. “It’s awful.”
And we call the waitress over.

“Anything the matter?”
“Yeah, this. There’s no champagne in a mojito.”
And so the bartender comes over to argue.
A mojito is mint leaves, muddled with sugar and lime juice, ice, two dashes of bitters, rum and club soda. A very refreshing summertime drink (I had my first in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, many, many years ago).
“There’s no champagne in a mojito,” I told the bartender.
“Uh-huh, yes there is,” he said. “But if you don’t like it, I can mix you up something else. The pomegranate martini is really good. We’re selling a lot of those.”

Dining should be about adventure.
It should not be about really bad service.
And bartenders who argue with you what’s in a drink (especially when the customer is older - and has tended bar in his life).
And I don’t mind speaking up.
(But in a nice way; it’s a critique, not a criticism.)
“Honey, it looks like you need something,” an older waitress said (after ours disappeared, it seemed, for days).
“Yeah, the owner would be great.”

The owner pulled up a chair, asked if he could sit. He looked beat to shit.
“How long have you been open?”
“Seven days now.”
“Uhh, you’ve got real service issues.”
“You don’t know the half of it.”
He told us how the restaurant had beat out all of his family’s places for first-day sales. How they ran out of everything. How two managers quit the first day. How this was his first go-round with a full bar in one of his places. About the waitresses who put in orders and walked out the back door – and never came back.
We talked about the restaurant business and how we hoped he would succeed. How the place was a no-brainer for a nice, inexpensive Italian place – right across the parking lot from an 11-screen movie theater – and how people in this area usually give a place one chance and move on.
“Just give us a second chance,” he said.
And the bartender put a huge margarita at his elbow.
I looked at her, she looked at me. And we laughed.
“You didn’t order that,” the owner said. “Shit. Now, there’s a table without their drink.”
We couldn’t help but laugh some more.
“Well, you want to try it?” he asked.
We declined.
“Well, I’m going to drink it. Hell, I need it.”
We’ll be back, but maybe not for the mojitos.
And maybe not for a few weeks.

Original or extra-crispy

The lights kick on, not gently, but brutally. The bluish tint assaults the eyes, the heat tickles every pore on your naked body.
The clamshell shuts and it’s just you in a world of bluish-purple. Decidedly a 2001: A Space Odyssey moment after HAL has been naughty and his brains picked apart and Dave’s hurtling through the mind-bending warp of Jupiter – alternating between views of himself as an embryo and an old man, eating mush – all set to some weird-assed music.
You’re shut in with Gorillaz singing “Dirty Harry" on the iPod.
The next thing you know, the heat and the light are way too much and you’re on the edge of twilight in your mind, that place that is sleep, but it isn’t, because your brain still registers it.
And your seven minutes is up.
That, for me, is tanning.
Well, insomnia tanning.
Vane, I know. I pooled my money - $45 – and bought an unlimited tanning package. Just to catch my fish-belly-white ass up to the reddish-brown healthy glow of my face, arms and legs (up to my knees, where the shorts stop).
“Duuude, you’ve got a hell of a farmer’s tan going on there.”
Don't I know it.
So much so, there’s a V that runs down my neckline, like a reddish-brown ascot, where I leave my cycling kit open and catch some rays.
I’m tanning. Just for 30 days. A month. And indulgence. Unlimited.
(Except, it’s not. The sign in the room warns that people should tan every 48 hours, but that you can tan ever 24 hours – at your own risk. But you can’t go twice in one day, that’s not allowed. So really, it’s not unlimited, but a 30-day pass.)
I figure I can get in every day until I like my color. And if I do go every day, for 30 days (George Hamilton, anyone?) that’s like $1.50 for each tan. And that’s much cheaper than beer or even a Rock Star every day.
I find it extremely relaxing. For seven minutes (which is all the time I’m allowed right now – building to a cap of 15 minutes).
I just want to be golden-brown all over. Not just my face, my arms, my ascot and my calves.
I can stop. Really.

Same as it never was

An old man walks his dog along a dusty trail.
The man has on a straw hat, a white undershirt. The dog, no leash.
They maneuver through the harsh first light of the day and shadows still cool with night.
A red-shouldered hawk cries. Mourning doves scatter.
The neighbor's female black cat, Lance, stalks something small and helpless.

There is a 24-acre field across the street from my home. Monday, it was home to skunk, opossum, hawks, ring-tailed cats, doves, quail, blacktail deer, mice, lizards and songbirds of different variety and color.
Tuesday, it will be bulldozed flat to make way for 54 homes.

Neighbors gathered Monday afternoon to complain about progress. How they all wished the city would just leave the field alone, or maybe make it a park. And while I felt the same way, I kept my mouth shut. This subdivision has been coming. For a very long time.
It is private land. It has always been private land. And at some point, homes.
Twenty-four acres of in-fill that makes perfect sense.

Except that the field belonged, in a sense, to all of us who have homes there.
No more letting the dogs roam free. No more getting the field glasses out to spy a ring-neck pheasant or an osprey. No more mountain bike rides, when I was just too tired to put the bike on the rack and drive somewhere.

I'll miss the place. Miss it terrible. The homes going up will look nothing like the homes that surround it (my home was built in 1964). They will be big. They'll likely be stucco. They'll have sodded lawns and sticks for trees.

The trees. That's the best feature of the field. The valley oak trees. Oaks so old, so gnarled, you just had to go put your hands on them.
"I'm glad to see they're saving so many of them," a friend said.
The ones that will escape the bulldozing are sectioned off with orange plastic fencing. Lots of oaks are wrapped in orange. Many are not.

As dawn broke, I sat and watched the field today. The last day as it was. The first day as it will not be. But the first day as it was always meant to be (in developer's terms).
I am sad that when I get home, it will look nothing like it did when I got up. And in a few months, it'll just be a web of asphalt that connect the 54 homes that will be built (of course, you can't complain much; the field was zoned for 78 homes, and the builder decided for larger lots).

Progress means different things to different people.
Life isn't static. It is constantly in flux.
And that includes a 24-acre patch of field.
No matter how much you'd love it to remain.
It will make way for homes and families and bike rides and basketball backboards and skateboard ramps.
It'll become a bigger part of my neighborhood.
And if it helps save a patch of real open space somewhere else, then I'm OK with that.

On writing well

"Are you so critical about everything you write?"
"Yeah, pretty much. I look on it as a festering pile of shit."
"I look at it and think, 'I wish I could write like that.' "

I am a writer. I mean, that's what I get paid for, and even my business cards confirm it.
But it is writer, small w.
I have a desire to be a Writer.
It is a strange and scary place where I now find myself.
Others who tell me I have oodles of talent for it. Nagging self-doubt says I'm not quite good enough.
And just a small body of fictional works to draw upon (but shitloads of true stories, a body of work that spans 22 years, and doesn't quite mean dick).
So I plot. I plan. I promise.

First Sister persisted, made me cross my heart and hope to die even, to look into the University of Iowa's Writing University.
Its two-year residency program for creative writing is the best in the country. Competition for slots is tough. Then, there's folding up your life and moving to Iowa for two years.
I'm considering it (before I'm 50).
I need to submit my three best short stories.
(I need to work on that.)
The university also offers its Iowa Summer Writing Festival, which included weekend and week-long writing seminars taught by published authors (most of whom are U of I Writing University grads).
I think this is as good a place to start, but I can't make any of the sessions this summer, what with work and vacation time already burned.

So, with the world's indulgence, I'm going to start writing down all the bits and pieces floating around in my head, start forming them into short fiction, and posting them here. I am going to make the public promise to attend next year's Iowa Summer Writing Festival.

All to satisfy a growing hunger inside of me to unleash what's inside. That singular voice that is me. Not for fame or money, either. I feel blessed that I have been given a gift to tell stories; it is the only thing I've ever wanted to do in my whole damn life. And I do it. And get a check for it, too.
But I want more than that. I want to be a novelist (and no, the guidebook doesn't count).

In "Stranger Than Fiction," Chuck Palahniuk's collection of true stories, he writes in the introduction:

"The one drawback to writing is being alone. the writing part. the lonely-garret part. In people's imagination, that's the difference between being a writer and being a journalist. The journalist, the newspaper reporter, is always rushing, hunting, meeting people, digging up facts. Cooking a story. The journalist writes surrounded by people, and always on deadline. Crowded and hurried. Exciting and fun.
"The journalist writes to connect you to the larger world. A conduit.
"But a writer writer is different. Anybody who writes fiction is - people imagine - alone. Maybe because fiction seems to connect you to only the voice of one other person. Maybe because reading is something we do alone. It's a pastime that seems to split us away from others.
"The journalist researches a story. The novelist imagines it."

That is the best explanation anyone - I mean anyone - has ever come up with to explain the difference in what I do vs. what I want to do.

And now it is time to start imagining my future. Find my voice. Step out of the comfort and chaotic energy of the newsroom for the loneliness of the writer's life.

(But all of you still get to come along.)

Holy Trinity

Pardon the silence.
Saturday was our local Relay For Life cancer walk. I walked for our team until 3:30 a.m.
And slept in.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Saint Francis of Assisi just might be the most popular Catholic saint in a long line of saints.
I'm going to have to agree.
Last Saturday at mass, Father asked up to share with those around us our name and what we'd like that person to pray for us. Usually, it is a quick handshake, no wishes (I think people just get a little self-conscious).
The little old lady reached her knobby hands to mine and asked, "What can I pray for for you?"
"My dog, Trinity. She got sprayed by a skunk and now has a real problem with her eye."
"Ohhh, I'm so sorry. I'm going to ask Saint Francis to heal her."
And I'm thinking, "Hey, not a bad idea."
I put my own silent prayers to the man.
So did a few other people last week.

And you're thinking, "yeah, right. Buncha freaks, praying to a long-dead Catholic saint to heal a medical issue."
When I took Trin into the dog opthamologist on Wednesday, the ulcer on her cornea was the worst it had been. New blood vessels had opened at the site - increased blood flow aids in healing - but the ulcer looked like it was getting bigger. The opthamologist showed me a crack in Trin's cornea below where she had irritated it.
It was healing on its own - and it wasn't.
We did decide to wait and see.
"Ulcerations like this usually take about a week to heal," the vet said. "I'm just not sure why this is taking so long."
Thursday morning, the ulcer - the blood vessels and the crack, were gone.
There's not any scarring on the cornea. It's like she had never been sprayed (except for that faint wiff of skunk that still wafts off her).

It is good enough that I when I'm around, she doesn't have to wear the plastic cone.

Saint Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals, is OK in my book.

"Rant:" A book report

I’ve had a penis for a little more than 44 years.
Standard equipment on the 1963-model ThomG, like lap belts or the AM/FM radio.
You know how to work it.
(Intimate with it.)
Ahhh, but when you learn something new about the penis, it’s a really great day.
That’s why I like reading Chuck Paluhniuk.
I just finished “Rant: And Oral Biography of Buster Casey.”
In it, one of the characters mentions that you can’t maintain an erection and eat at the same time. It is one of those moments that gives pause. And you think, “Really?”
An erection is basically just blood flow. And when you eat, that blood flow is needed for digestion.
(So don’t eat, if you want to maintain an erection.)

Rant is one mind-bender of a book. You can’t read fast, but you can’t help but want to read it. You can’t put it down, either.

Buster ‘Rant’ Casey is one fucked up individual. Someone you’d really like to get to know.
And you get to know him, after his death, through everyone else in the story. It’s an oral history, something very tough to do. And Paluhniuk delivers the goods.

Here are a few selected quotes from the book, destined to be as popular as any from “Fight Club:”

“The future you had today won’t be the same future you had yesterday.”

"After a good-looking boy gives you rabies two, maybe three times, you'll settle down and marry someone less exciting for the rest of your life."

"Some people are just born human. The rest of us, we take a lifetime to get there.”

“Nobody's all that original. Any lone wierdo comes from a big nest of wierdos. What's wierd is, you go to some pigsty village in Slovakia, and suddenly even Any Warhol makes perfect sense.”

"Life's greatest comfort is being able to look over your shoulder and see people worse off, waiting in line behind you."

ThomG says check it out.

That ol' physical rhythm

There is a nickel-sized abrasion on the underside of my left forearm, and a few other scrapes received from knocking into a manzanita bush Wednesday night while on a short mountain bike ride.
The big abrasion hurts like a bitch.
I couldn’t be happier.
Lest you think I’m into pain (I’m not), it isn’t the pain so much as it is the pleasure of how I got it. In the saddle on my mountain bike. Not paying real close attention to how close this bush was to the trail.
Because I was in a physical rhythm.
I was moving my body through a short workout (so I could then have a couple of beers with friends).
Being in a physical rhythm has become nearly as important in my life as eating (I don’t do either quite enough). A hike, a walk, a mountain bike ride, a paddle on the lake. Physical movement.
It does a body good.
While on my swing through the Midwest, I was promised wonderful workout rooms at the hotels where we were booked. Never believe the desk folks at either the Holidome, or the Best Western. One elliptical machine and one treadmill does not make a workout room. I think I took one walk the entire two weeks.
And I think that’s the big reason why I felt a bit surly.
I face a shitload of challenges in my life.
But they don’t nearly feel as crushing to me now. I face what I need to face, because I feel in a rhythm.
It sounds simple. A little hokey, right?
It’s the truth.
I crave exercise. The mind needs it. The body needs it.
The best workout I got in this week was a hike to the Top of the World, a 1,300-foot-elevation spot that overlooks the city. From this perch, you get this stunning 360-degree view. And you have to work for it. The trail starts at 750 feet in elevation and meanders through manzanita, oak and gray pine hills.
It took us a little more than two hours to go up and back.
Two of the best hours I’ve spent on this planet.
And yet, I am nowhere near the level of physical rhythm I’d like to be in.
And that’s the challenge. For me, for everyone who enjoys and understands their own physical rhythm.
Life comes at you pretty fast. The trick is to get out of the way long enough to recharge.

Roadtrip! (update)

A Boy and His Dog, On The Road:

Time elapsed in the truck: five hours, 41 minutes.
Number of songs played on the iPod: 103 (Dinosaur Jr.'s "Almost Ready" and The Replacement's "Can't Hardly Wait" twice each).
Time elapsed in the doggy opthamologist's office: 38 minutes.
Cost of the office visit: $115 (that's like $3.03 a minute).
(Total vet bills since May 29: $390.)
Gas (one tank) to get to Sacramento and back: $56.
One McCraptacular meal (breaking a vow never to eat fast food): $8.02 (Trin was treated to a bacon cheeseburger, plain and a few fries).

Piece of mind for Trin's eyeball: Worth every fucking penny.

The ulcer is still present, but it's healing. In the past 24 hours, much of her irritation has dissipated. She's kept it open without much squinting and no yellowish discharge. The eye vet dropped the dosage of antibiotic down to one drop twice a day, and cancelled the twice-a-day eye drops that dilate her pupil. We'll keep up with the oral antibiotic, as well as the oral painkiller for another week. And she'll see my Redding vet again in a week.

"We could go in two directions here," the opthamologist said. "Do nothing and let it heal on its own - it doesn't look too bad and there shouldn't be any scaring - and wait it out another week. Usually, these thing heal in a week's time, but she seems to be a breed that's sensitive.
"The other option is to do keratotomy," he added. "That's the other way to go. I laser a grid into her cornea and force it to heal. We do in in the office, we just numb the eye, and it takes about a week to heal.
"But I think I'd like to wait to see what happens. She's not going to damage the eye either way, and I can certainly do the surgery when I'm up in Chico next (cutting my drive time to two hours, roundtrip)."

Curious? Yeah, I was, too. Keratotomy - laser eye surgery on a dog - is $135. Again, well worth the price for the go-to action dog.

(Oh, and I let her take a shit on McCraptacular's lawn - and I didn't pick it up. My small moment of civil disobedience.)

Roadtrip! (unintended)

"As best I can figure, we get tested so that we know we can handle whatever comes our way. I get it in stages, but it never stops. The good is weighed with the absolutely abysmal, and then something fantastic comes along to continue the tipping and balancing of the scale."
In a couple of hours, I'm going to take Trinity to the opthamologist.
An animal eye doctor.
In Sacramento.
Nevermind that I'm missing an entire day of work - I do it gladly, if we can fix whatever's going on with Trin's eye - but this roadtrip isn't going to be cheap. And there's a little fear there. OK, a lot of fear.

My vet just didn't see much improvement. He seems to think there's still some foreign body floating around, irritating everything. That's why Trin looks like Popeye, with one eye in a permanent squint.
He deadened the eye and poked around again with a medical swab and tweezers. We couldn't find - or see - anything.
"It's time she go see the opthamologist - what's your schedule like?"
And he explaind that the closest eye vet was in Sacramento.
At least he got me in with the eye specialist quickly. It's a 21/2-hour drive to the office.
But since poking around the eye again, Trin has kept her eye open.

Just life, or another test?
Doesn't matter, really. Test or life, she's still my dog and I love her and I'd gladly take off work and roadtrip with her.

Dark Corners

It's been in the notebook for a little more than a week. It feels unfinished, somehow. I don't know. What do you think?

Dark Corners

Human frailty,
human nature,
breed dark corners.
Places where the light does not reach.
Not even the touch,
of another human,
or the warm fur of a favored pet,
can penetrate the inky blackness,
of dark corners.
It is the well of the soul,
where emotions get pushed,
to fester.
Dark corners,
the fuzzy edge,
that fringe of space
we all fear.

Ebb and flow

I’m supposed to have the skills now to conquer all that befalls me. The dexterity to maneuver through the dark times so that they don’t become so inky black, I get lost.
But shit rolls downhill, and I find myself on the bottom of a massive pile of shit.

The train wreck I feared happened. I intervened, because it was asked of me. The situation is fucked up, plain and simple.
And while I feel somewhat responsible (but not all that much), I did what I said I could do and no more. That others in this equation need to seek help if they were ever going to have a chance at a normal, healthy life.
And that’s all I am going to say about that.

I still have cause for concern over Trin’s eye. She woke up with yellow discharge Monday. The next vet appointment – and vet bill I can ill afford – is Tuesday.

First Sister dislocated her shoulder. Badly. I hate feeling helpless, when friends and loved ones are hurting. All I can do is sit 1,800 miles away and comfort her over the phone.

I also have a person mad at me, even if she's angry for no reason that I can fathom. But this isn’t really my problem. I remain a true friend, for whenever she needs me.

Lastly, well, it is a money issue and it came up and I have no explanation. Other than I don’t know. And I don't have it. And that’s all I’m saying about that, too.

At least I slept Sunday. Finally.
Then stayed up very late with someone who needed me.

And with this new ebb and flow of situations (and the emotions the invoke), I find that I have the comfort of friends who truly care for, and about, my well being. Even if I’m being a prick-bastard. Moody and sulky.
Life isn’t gumdrops and puppy dogs, this I know.
But I also know that my cycling through times like this – without being in the proper mood or have the proper desire to combat old habits – leads to more shit.
I want to avoid the suck.
So I channel the emotions - I feel them - and refuse to bury or ignore them. So they don't well up on me.
And I can better cope with the things I need to do, I want to do - and those things I refuse to do.

Dog decisions

Like children, if I had (biological) children, I love both my dogs – equally.
Each has a personality all her own, which is both exasperating and exhilarating.
On Saturday, I led a hike for a north state nonprofit group.
A hike. With dogs.
Trinity is totally out of commission. She doesn’t feel well – she seems to mope around like she’s in trouble and she isn’t – because of the ulceration on her cornea. The eye looks better; there’s no more gunk coming from it and she keeps it open for longer and longer. And she no longer seems to mind the huge plastic cone she has to wear like a halo around her head.
And Scully, well, I retired Scully last year from anything more strenuous from a walk around the flat neighborhood streets.
I was either going to go dogless, boost a loaner dog from friends or make the choice to take one of my dogs – one injured, one old.
I took Scully, and hoped for the best.
We had a great time.
First, I let her sit up in the front seat, which I had always done with her before Trin arrived (Trin is too excitable for the experience). She played nice with the six other dogs on the hike.
She made the entire six miles, without getting swept away in the creek, or flat-out quitting, like she did last year (same trail, too).
She did require a couple of Ibuprophen when we got back, but she’s fit and feisty this morning.
It so pained me to leave Trin, the go-to action dog that just never quits.
It pains me to see her suffering.
(All skunks are on my shit list and my Daisy BB gun is cocked, locked and loaded.)
She’s the one that has been reduced to being left behind.
And Scully gets to go play, hard.
At mass on Saturday, I said a little prayer to Saint Francis, patron saint of animals. Hey, it couldn’t hurt.
A little old lady in front of me, when we did the greetings, asked what she could pray for in my life. I told her my dog, and told her the story. She was touched. And I know she’s praying for Trin, too.
I can’t wait.
I can’t hardly wait until my pack is back at full strength.
Bounding across grassy fields.
Without a care, or cause for concern.

Touch (free-form poetry)

She believes in touch.
Craves it.
Loves to give the gift.
Of touch.

She moves from behind,
hands reach under a thin T-shirt.
And slowly caresses.
A bit of a scratch (she asked, and I gladly give up my secrets),
Nails rake a trail up my spine
and I arch, cat-like, automatic.
Hands wander to my chest,
and she rests her head in the curve of my neck.
Light kisses,
on ears (who can resist?)
A sigh, small and delicate, escapes her.

At times, she slips her hand to mine
entwines my fingers to her own,
fingertips to fingertips.
Traces knuckles with thumb and forefinger,
And laughs at my soft hands.

In bed, her hand traces figure eights on my chest
Wispy, like a walk through spider webs, it raises goose flesh.
And it is I who sighs.
Cooing, really.
At the power of her touch.