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.