Party favors

Flames danced against the darkened faces of the partygoers who huddle up next to the fire pit; a chilled evening punctuated with laughter and the clink of beer bottles.
Several conversations going all at once. Another cluster of people in the kitchen – the one room in any home that is sure to attract guests – and there’s another couple of people who spread mustard from around the globe onto fresh-grilled bratwurst.
An Oktoberfest party.
A gathering of friends.
I guess you’d say that I am in the suburbs of this particular group. That’s OK, I’m grateful for the invite, the chance to meet now people and see people I haven’t seen in some time and reconnect.
Nearly everyone, it seems, had the same idea and raided beer coolers all over town and brought a sixer of Spaten. Brewed in Munich, it is to Oktoberfest as brats are to good eats (there was even bacon in the potato salad – who can argue with bacon?)
Social situations intrigue me. I’m a listener until I get warmed up. I meander through differing conversations and don’t add much. Unless asked. Then I tell stories; I regurgitate all the strangeness that seems to follow in my wake.
A friend told me some sad news, but she is doing well in the face of it. I know exactly how she feels, and tell her that I’m there for her.
Another friend tells me I’m hot, that I’m looking good and asks, “How’s single life treating you?”
(Yes, it is a woman.)
“Everyone who has asked that has been a woman,” I said. “Why is that?”
She explained that women like to know feelings and emotions.
“It’s a lot more than, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’” she said.
The women ask if I'm dating, or ready to date - they all have friends - and I said I'm...open. Just kind of taking things easy, seeing how life shakes out and being open to new friends. They laugh and wink and tease.
There’s guy talk, too, more rough, unrefined. Surfacy stuff that produces nods and laughs.
The fire proves to be the greatest draw on a chilly Saturday night. Everyone moved toward its warmth, crowed into a circle where the din of the competing conversations melt together into big hum.
And as much as I don’t want to leave – the warmth of friends is even more potent that the logs that glow orange in the pit – I know I have to pull myself to leave. The time isn’t that late, but I have preparations to make. Things to pack. Sleep.
I say my goodbyes and give and receive hugs and kisses. The screen door closes with a click and even in the street, you can hear the party continue. Laughter.
And I smile.

My preparations are for a two-day paddling trip to circumnavigate the entire shoreline of Whiskeytown Lake Sunday and Monday. The Tension will be dark on Monday, until I get off the water.

It's an uphill battle

The Factor is patience.
I watched as the muscles and tendons in his calves churned the pedals on his Giant. I am behind, I am in labor and I am beginning to get frustrated.
I should be able to climb this trail. It is nothing more than a long, uphill grade. Stuff I've done numerous times.
Triumphs of the past beat on my present.
My friends should drop my ass.
The trek is auto-shifting, the result of a stretched cable or a derailer that needs to be tweaked. Another couple of pops of the gears, and I have to get off. I have to hike-a-bike.
Now, I am pissed.
“You got it, buddy,” The Factor said, his voice calm and low. “Let’s see if we can make the adjustment.”
The adjustment couldn’t be made, but at least we’ve got the lower gears working. So I can climb.
And there is more to climb.
The destination is The Top of the World, a flat spot on the western hills that affords a beautiful view of my city. The sun will set soon – we’ve all taken off our sunglasses – and the lights of the city start to come alive. Car headlights mingle with sodium vapor streetlights that start to activate.
I still feel frustrated.
The Factor, his voice calm, said he will get me better.
“It’s all about riding,” he said. “It’s all about getting out there.”
And it is.
On the downhill, the confidence began to return. The climbs, although frustrating, felt great.
Time is all I need, training.
And great friends to ride with.

Static cling (it's fear)

Static.
It’s killing me.
Not just the consistent buzz – the low hum – that causes interference in my life.
The other meaning.
Motionless: not moving or changing, or fixed in position.
I am beginning to get very paranoid about being motionless.
Not in a create-a-butt-crease-in-the-couch motionless, but being in a fixed position.
If I don’t affect change in my life, turn down the static and go dynamic (the opposite of static), I’m going to get another cosmic jackhammer reminder. One big fucking life wedgie.
And I am beat down.
I really am.
I’ve had about as many cosmic kicks I’d like. For a lifetime.
All I can say is that I am working toward a future.
The paranoia has had a most distasteful side affect: negativity.
My view of the world is a bit tainted, from time to time, with negative energies.
Look, people are concerned about me. More than I even thought possible. They ask – and I give them an honest answer.
And it comes out negative.
Fucking pisses me off.
Because I’m not, I don’t feel, negative.
It’s the static thing again. Forward motion means no wedgie, no negativity.

Oh, for those scoring at home, I have been divorced (officially) for a week now. Don’t know why I didn’t mention it last week.
And since, I’ve had people – actually, all women - ask me, “How does it feel to be single?”
Feels just fine.

Steppin' out

The general outlook is good.
Especially with storm clouds on the horizon, a shit storm, which I’m going to have to navigate. There is no going around this storm (or storms, depending on your perspective).
“How can you be so happy, with all you’ve got going on?” a buddy asked.
Secret weapon.
Nordic walking.
(And mountain biking.)
“Happy people don’t kill people,” I said.
Every day, I walk seven or so miles at a fast clip, before going to the office.
Endorphins dance across my brain, first thing in the morning.
I’ve done it now for 10 days straight.
Sure, I’ve had to get up early to do so, but what a difference exercise makes.
Sometimes, friends join me.
Most of the time, I am alone. The iPod is set to shuffle and I let my mind wander.
I daydream, mostly. I don’t ponder the problems, nor do I plot solutions. I can walk the river trail loop in 89 minutes; this is my time.
My time to stretch muscles and rest gray matter.
Open yourself up like this – day after day – and nothing looks so bad.
Besides, walk early enough, and the trail is alive.
I’ve seen bobcat, deer, a bald eagle, osprey, otter. The bobcat was amazing. It was young, maybe just weaned, and it was 15 feet in front of me on the trail. My first thought was feral cat, but no tail and ear tufts said bobcat. It didn’t bolt for the underbrush, but kept waking the trail – and turned to see if I was still walking. Finally, it moved silent into the blackberry brambles.
Enough cool things like that happen, and you can’t help being is a good mood.

Snap impressions

The bus drops them off and since there are no sidewalks in the neighborhood, they walk shoulder-to-shoulder in the street.
A boy and a girl, pre-teens, maybe 12 years old.
I drive the opposite way, and this is what I see when we pass:
Her hair is long and black and thick, parted in the middle. It shines in the sun.
His is moppish, black, with a wicked cowlick and tufts that bunch at his ears.
Her complexion is dark, almost olive.
He’s not fish-belly white, but there’s not a hint of even a summer tan.
She’s wearing a white shirt with blue stripes, jean Capri pants and white tennis shoes.
His T-shirt is white, with black rings at the collar and the arm holes. He wears baggy jean shorts and his black high-top tennis shoes look three sizes too big.
Her backpack is pink, slim, with black accents.
His is squarish, gray and so full, he walks with a slight stoop.
He wears wire-framed glasses in silver; the lenses are thick, bookish.
She’s explaining something to him; her arms go down to her knees and she works her fingers like she’s massaging a dog, instead of just air..
He looks at her gestures, then looks at me at the moment we pass.
He wears a daydream smile. Bliss, or as close as a human can get to it.
“She’s with me! She’s walking home with me!”
This is the look he wears.

Cold, hard feelings

There are those certain people in the world I wish would drop dead.
There, I’ve written it. I’ve thought it, now I’ve written it.
Doesn’t make me an evil mofo.
I’m just being honest.
And really, it’s not like I sit around and wish death on people. I don’t furrow my brow, clench my fists and strain my loins to send mind rays of death out into the universe.
There are just a few people who, if they were to be so kind and drop dead, I would be OK with it.
Cold hearted, yes.
Mean, yes.
I just can’t help it. Human frailties and all.

While catching up with a friend over dinner last week, I let it slip. I let it be known of my OKness with certain people dropping dead.
“You don’t mean dead, right? You mean just out of your life for good.”
“Nope. I mean dead. Like drop dead.”
“That’s really not good karma.”

And it isn’t. And I realize it. But I can’t help it.
“Why don’t you write down what you’d like to say to them, and be over it? Tell them off, just not to their face. Present it as ‘You know who you are, here’s what I think,’ but don’t direct it at any one person.”

And so I did. After having a couple of drinks with friends Sunday.
And they were to go up on The Tension. Right here, right in this spot.
But I looked at the list, and I just couldn’t do it. In the cool darkness, with the green glow of the clock radio that announced it was a bit past 3 a.m., I thought about it. Ten thoughts that were more-or-less vicious.
I couldn’t pull the trigger, as it were.
But writing it down, I guess, was just as good as saying it – or posting it.
And I’m over it.

ThomG explains the cosmos

I tried Saturday to explain life.
Over fish tacos and my favorite beer from Texas.
While Prince played a big show in Vegas, recorded on DVR, on TV.
I fear I may have failed, miserably.

For me life is a river. It has great width and tremendous depth.
We bob along, like a cork.
There is always a current pushing – call it spirituality or God or whatever – but we are free to swim with the current, against it, dive to its depths or explore two shorelines.
We are free – free will – to move through the river without simply going with the flow.
Problems present themselves as waves, logjams, eddies. It is best to avoid them, but sometimes you can’t figure out the current and you get swept in.
And that’s when all your survival skills kick in.

“I dunno. That’s what I think, anyway.”
“You know, Bono said life was a pony ride,” he said.

And there you go.
Life can be like a river.
Or life can be a pony ride.

Power animals

The conversation overheard concerned spirit animals.
“My spirit animal – the wolf – has been helping me make sense of a couple of things I’ve got going on.”
My first thought was, “Where can I get a spirit animal?”
And my second was “How come everyone seems to get assigned a cool spirit animal?”
(It’s like reincarnation; everyone seems to have been a Gladiator, or a princess or a Carthaginian general – never the poor sap who has to milk goats or cook or clean or whatever.)
There are a lot of animal species out there; they can all be guides, right?

OK, top 10 spirit animals (who apparently get all the work from central Shamanism): Eagle, wolf, bear, tiger, falcon, jaguar, bison, dolphin, owl and anaconda.

Middle-tier spirit animals: Salmon, fox, raccoon, rattlesnake, elk, hummingbird, coyote, lynx, horse and frog.

Bottom of the barrel spirit animals: chicken, platypus, muskrat, meerkat, sloth, gerbil, opossum, armadillo, cow and barn cat.

So say you really want a spirit, or power, animal – how does one go about it?
Google the problem, of course.
Man, getting a power animal is kind of a bitch.
Lots of steps, meditation and the like.
Or, if you’re spiritually challenged (or just really, really lazy), just take an online test.

My power animal?
The wolf.

Metaphysical Friends Justice League

I have a friend who dabbles in things metaphysical.
(Actually, thinking about it, I have quite a few friends who believe; she’s the one I trust however, since she’s a no-bullshit kinda gal who speaks from the heart – even if it is tough to hear.)
Her sister-in-law is a Wiccan High Priestess.
“I’ve dabbled,” she said.
A protection spell around her house. Crystals to “see.”
She told me about a fantastic reading she’d recently had.
Knowing, I think, that I would listen and not judge.
She told me that everyone around her – including herself – was in this upheaval of major change. Good things, bad things – a karmic shift of epic proportions.
The Earth’s energy was ready to kick some major ass.
A shift, she said, in the way karma used to work, to the way it works now.
(This great energy shift took place during the Harmonic Convergence in 1987, and the shift meant that you’d be paying your karmic debts in this life, not in the next.)
The person who did the reading told her to let go of something that was not of her current life. She was told great things. Meaningful things. Things of great insight.
And she has gone on to be filled with what could be described as “sight.”
Her sister-in-law came to her for advice and counsel.
At the end of the evening, when the wine was drunk and the dinner dishes put up, she rose and said it was time to go. We’d caught up – it’s been way too long between dinner dates – and I think we both felt good to have had the chance to spill (vent) to someone who wasn’t judgmental or a bullshitter.
We hugged, a tight and wonderful embrace among close friends, when in a little more than a whisper, she said:
“You’ll be alright.”
And I felt that it would be so.

Smells like greed

I smell a turd.
Festering.
Or maybe it's just more corporate greed.

It's Tuesday, so that means the day new albums drop and new DVDs are released.
I've been waiting for months for Grindhouse to hit the shelves. You know the Tarantino/Rodriquez double feature "Death Proof" and "Planet Terror?"
OK, I had heard that they were going to do it - and this has been a topic of chat sites and whatnot - but still, it pisses me off.
The studio will release both movies as singles, meaning we all get to pay $21.65 each to have two movies that were shown at the theater together.
And here's the bitch: I got into both for less than 20 bucks.
Kimbolina and I decided to go Dutch (it then would NOT be a "date") and I sprung for a malt beverage energy drink and Slim Jim for her, and a 24-ounce Olde English 800 for myself (yeah, we snuck beers in, so sue us). The movie was $7.75.
Death Proof gets released as a two-disc "director's cut" and is 30 minutes longer.
Planet Terror will be released in October.

It just smacks of tremendous greed, that's all I'm saying.
But the movies are so campy and so over-the-top that I have to have them. It's like owning "Fight Club" the novel AND "Fight Club" the movie.

Besides, Death Proof has Zoe Bell in it, and well, just might be worth $21.65 all by herself (yummy).

I spent Monday somewhat outraged (part of this whole distraction thing where I got a letter back in the mail I completely forgot to address and managed to dump the trash in the recycle bin and, well, I'm just fucking distracted) over the Death Proof DVD "scandal."
"Can you believe what they're doing with Death Proof?" I asked the arts and entertainment guy.
He looked up from a magazine profile and said:
"I don't really care. Not my thing. Didn't see it (in the theaters) and don't plan to watch the DVD."
Pfffffffff.

Distractions

I tried to watch Sunday Night Football, hell I had a bet on the game - sorry, no chicken wings and beer for you Dah-Veed – but I couldn’t sit still for more than 15 minutes at a time.
I took the dogs for a walk.
I contemplated calling people who had left messages all weekend (and ended up not returning a single call).
I’d check my email every 20 minutes.
I’d research stuff on the Internets every 25 minutes (and sometimes, after getting off, I’d remember what I wanted to look up in the first place – and go back on).
I am distracted.
It is not a good place.
I went to the grocery store Sunday specifically to pick up cat litter (the Sunday insert offered a two-for-one deal). I picked up some bread, some produce, some canned goods – and got all the way home without the one thing I went to the store for, which means a special trip today (if I can stay focused enough).
The distractions are fucking with the very fiber of my being. By most everyone’s observations, I am somewhat OCD; I would say that I am hyper-focused and hyper-organized.
Not being able to focus on a fucking football game for chrissakes, that’s irritating.
But focus I must. I’ve got shit to do. Friends who need things from me (my parents’ doctor wants to come out and fish in December; I’m hooking up all his guides) and things that must be done for work and outside of work.
I have no need – I have no desire – for my brain to be distracted.
Anyway, I promise that this week, I’ll post a bit of short fiction I’m trying to work on. Boots has seen a bit of what burped out Friday, and she seemed to think it was pretty OK.
I just hope I can stay focused to finish.

One Divine Hammer

"I'm just looking for
Just looking for a way around
It disappears this near
You're the rod I'm water
I'm just looking for the divine hammer"

- The Breeders, "Divine Hammer"

Boots said it best:
"You could write the book about your life, except it is very unclear how it all ends... Brilliant writer, in minor trouble, gets enormous COSMIC JACKHAMMER wielded against him. Where will he land?"

Where will I land?
Especially with a Cosmic Jackhammer.
Right in the ass.

If you look at the arc of my life for just a year - the last 365 days - the changes have been remarkable. Forces within my life and forces outside.
I guess if you were to look at a seminal moment, lets hook it to my dad getting run over by a car on Sept. 6, 2006.
Things blew up from there.
Each month, it was something different. Inside forces; outside forces.
Incidents that I have caused.
Incidents that have been caused upon me.
Incidents that haven't happened to me, but to friends and loved ones that have caused great stress and difficulties.

Where will I land?

This, I do not know. All I know is that I seek one Divine Hammer. to bang all day.
to construct a life that I can be happy with.
And proud of.

Working next to guys working for The Man

Saturday was community cleanup day in our creeks.
I got to work on my neighborhood waterway, Olney Creek.
Alongside five guys from the county’s work release program.
The little old ladies and gentlemen at check-in wore nervous faces when the guys got out of the sheriff’s truck in their orange vests with “INMATE” stenciled on the back.
“Can we talk with them?” a little old lady asked the sheriff deputy. “Are they OK?”
“Sure, they’re all OK,” she said. “They’re good guys.”
Two parole violations. A kid with a DUI. A guy with a domestic violence charge. And a kid with a long list of violations – his last a drunk in public and resisting arrest charge.
They worked their asses off, and talked a little about what got them to work for the county (the jail is so overcrowded that nearly 100 people do work release nearly every day in the county; hard labor mostly, but others worked on the county farm or washed county vehicles).
“I’m a veteran of Desert Storm,” one guy said. “My house got burglarized and the cops found weapons I brought home with me from the war.
“And I got fucking got busted for having unregistered firearms.”
Granted, he had a Desert Eagle .50-caliber handgun and a M1 (“I had it converted to fully automatic”), and the state reduced the charges to having unregistered ammunition.
“Is that a felony?” I asked.
“Yeah. I got 60 days. State dude wanted to give me 120, but the judge wouldn’t do it.”
(The saying goes, everyone in jail is innocent; but it ends up I know his wife and they’re very religious people and so I believe his story.)
The guy with the domestic charge was quiet. He quite probably was an alcoholic; he did say he was a seasonal firefighter and a laborer who I know works his ass off every single day.
The five got a break, and I kept quiet and listened.
“Fuck, I didn’t give The Man nothing,” the domestic guy said. “They wanted me to cop to disturbing the peace and drunk in public, if they reduced the domestic. Fuck that. They didn’t have nothing. I’d rather sit in jail. I don’t know why she made a big deal out of it anyway, I only hit her with a burrito.”
“What?” the other parole violator said.
“Fuck, she threw her burrito on the wall and I hit her with my burrito. Fuck, wasn’t all that big of a fucking deal.”
“I dunno dude, you get one of those pound burritos and you could hurt somebody,” the kid with the drunk in public said.
And everyone laughed.
The kid with the DUI looked lost and out of place in jeans, a T-shirt and his orange vest.
We were in the creek, hauling rounds of oak that workers had cut the day before. He kept to himself, but there’s just so much room in the creek.
“How many days did you get?” I asked.
“Forty-eight hours, but I have to do two days doing this. Two Saturdays.
“Know the kicker? I had to pay $67 to do this – 20 bucks a day and a $25 for whatever.”
“Man, that’s tough,” the guy with the ammunition felony. “I have to pay $5 a day – but I had to pay $300 for work release just to get out of jail.”

Pub night

“You’ve been looking at me all night, so I came over to say hi.”
Meagan is bold, brash – a 20something with this whole Meg Ryan thing going on – and she plopped down on the barstool next to me and extended her hand.
“I thought I’d see what you were up to, what you were all about.”
Was I looking? Yeah. It is hard to miss a woman in a black cocktail dress and heels, especially when her jublies kept trying to escape from the strapless front of the dress – and she kept reining them in with tugs and tucks.
Anyway, she started it.
I pulled up to the pub and walked to the door.
“Hey,” she said as she smoked a cigarette on a bench near the door.
“Hey.”
“Looks like you been working out.”
“Went for a little ride,” I said as I drew a thumb to the bike mounted on the rack.
“Cool.”
I was not there dressed to impress. My bike shorts were dusty, my T-shirt was a mess of salt rings (and I actually blew a big glob of snot on it; there’s three forest fires going on and the smoke is thick and I tried clearing my head with a snot rocket that was just poorly aimed), a hat to cover my helmet head and sandals.
I just wanted a beer and some conversation with like-minded individuals.
“Yeah, I noticed that there are a lot of athletes that come in here,” she said.
Meagan and Audrey, her friend and partner in crime, drew plenty of notice from the crowd. In black stiletto heels, Audrey was well over six feet tall; she wore a tight, fire engine red skirt slit to three-quarters up her thigh and a black bodice that cinched with red and black ribbons. Her jublies didn’t so much try to escape, as they were suspended in tight, round mounds near her throat.
And the tattoos. She was covered in ink; quality stuff that included the woman from 50s movie “Attack of the 50-Foot Woman” on her left arm – from shoulder to elbow.
The pair sat at a table where you had to walk 10 steps to get to. Every time Audrey climbed the steps – and she did it often – male bar patrons would watch (and the female patrons frowned).
“Man, that hair,” the guy next to me said.
Audrey had coal-black hair done in a 40s pinup style.
“I like it.”
“She’s been the topic of conversation all night,” he said. “I guess it’s OK, if you like guillotines and axes and stuff.”
Meagan said she and Audrey were apprentice makeup artists from San Jose. Audrey’s aunt was a big-time makeup artist in L.A. and they’d been training with her.
“New York, L.A., Vegas, Montana – we’ve been all over,” she said. “She finally said take a couple of weeks off, visit family.”
Both spent time here in junior high; both decided that visiting family would be a good thing. Until things got boring.
“Everybody is watching us,” she said.
“You are dressed in cocktail dresses.”
“Hey, sometimes a girl just wants to get out – our families were driving us nuts.”
“Well, there’s that.”
“Uh-huh. We just want to get drunk.”
Meagan continued to tell her story when a realization spread across her face.
“Oh, man, I was on my way to pee when I stopped to check you out.”
“The bathroom is up those stairs, all the way back in the hallway.”
“Oh, cool. So, you going to watch me walk up the stairs?”
“Only if you want me to.”
“Yeah, that would be cool.”

Pub night never ceases to entertain.

ThomG chats with a real, live novelist

“You thought journalism was fucked up, lemme tell you. Publishing, now that’s fucked up.”
I sat down for coffee Tuesday with a real, live novelist, and for the cost of a regular coffee and an apple fritter, I was treated to an insider's knowledge of a business I'd like to be in. So I listened. I asked questions.
“Basically, I’m just at a point of collecting advice from people,” I said. “Just trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.”

A former journalist himself (you never really get rid of actually being a journalist; it’s a lot like herpes), he told me – from his perspective – what it takes to write a novel. He didn’t dissuade me from trying, but he gave me a lot to think about.
A few great tips, which I have already begun to incorporate into my daily life.

Mostly, it was the reaffirmation I needed to begin planning and plotting a future. Whether in journalism, out of journalism, or a little bit of both.
“Man, I don’t know that I did all that much. Put an apple fritter in front of me and I’m good to talk for hours.”

The talk let me take a long look at myself – and my future – from the outside looking in. It gave me the strength to know that I am doing all the right things.
And that I was ready to step onto a path that would lead to a journey…
To my future.

Easy rider

At this rate, I’m going to end up lonely – and alone.
And fat.

Over the course of three days, I’ve turned down four invites to go ride and/or take a spin course (which is still a ride – but you don’t go anywhere).
OK, a couple of them, I was busy with other things. But twice, I turned down invites because I am unsure of my mountain bike aerobic/technical level.

I am a big weinus (according to the Urban Dictionary, a “highly irritable soft white domestic male”).

So I continue to ride by myself, where I am comfortable, but where I probably do not push myself to where my ability actually lies.
(Besides, I tend to fall an awful lot, and I can take the jokes and the scabs, but chrissakes it gets old.)

I don’t fear getting dropped. I mean, hey, we all have to ride at our own levels, and if I’m sucking ass you might as well ride on and not feel guilty about it, as I’ll get there eventually (probably covered in a few cuts and abrasions).

What I fear is disappointing other riders. It is no fun to be a weak link in anything. And the invites come from great people who I think would be inclined to sacrifice their rides to babysit me.

And so I am conflicted. I want to ride. I want to get better. I want to be part of the group, play in all the reindeer games.
But I don’t want to bring anybody down.

Suburban critters

The cat makes love to the vacuum cleaner.

In the pre-dawn darkness, not even the stampede of the dogs toward the back door will roust him from his spot on the vacuum.

Odd pet behavior is never good.

I fumble for the light switch and notice he's got something trapped under his paw.
Something that wriggles.
I pause, then go get a couple of pieces of toilet paper to investigate (if you have pets, you'll recognize the need to never pick anything up with your bare hands) and take it into the bright bathroom lights.

It moves like something in the throws of death. A worm, maybe?
Nope. Then it dawns on me.
It is about an inch-and-a-half of a tail from either a lizard or a skink.
Uhg.
I flush it down the toilet and now it's my mission to find the rest of it.
I moved the vacuum and a tiny skink slithers toward the step into the hallway. I gently put a thumb on the body and pick it up. It rests quietly on the back of my hand.
And it has its tail.
I've got hatchlings. Tiny lizards or skinks - at least two.
In the house.
The flower/herb beds in the front of the house are full of these things. Light coral colored, with a black and gray stripe down the body, like a Checker Cab. As they get older - the biggest one I've seen is about 10 inches long - the body turns reddish.
I open the front door and put the skink into the mint and it slithers off.
And go back to search for the other skink. Or others.
A 15-minute search turns up nothing.
I just hope the cat didn't eat the damn thing.
'Cause you know something like that is going to naturally come back up.

Motivational dyslexia

Something you should know about me: I have a strength of will that can be, most of the time, unmovable.
It is drive and desire that fuck it up.
Motivational dyslexia.
It’s when the drive and desire gets muddled in the course of living from minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day that the will is able to get knocked a bit.

I know exactly what needs to be done, know pretty much how it needs to be done – but there are those times when I am incapable of getting anything accomplished.

This became clear on Saturday, as I neared the last checkpoint during an orienteering course. I strayed off course and needed to traverse a ravine to get back to the final checkpoint. As I started to climb back out, I hit an 11-foot cliff. It was either go around and find a slot – or do a little bouldering.
The wall was lava rock, bumpy and filled with handholds.
I climbed the face; scrambled right up like I was 12 again.
I swung over the lip and started to laugh.
In October, I wouldn’t have done it. I couldn’t have done it.
Fear – and fat – would have prevented my even being out on course.
Since Oct. 13, 2006, I have lost 46 pounds.
Initially, some weight came off with stress of a divorce.
But then I adjusted my life. I started doing what my will wanted – mountain biking, hiking, backpacking, swimming, Nordic walking, kayaking and orienteering.
The weight continued to come off.
People began to notice. To comment – and compliment.
“Good to see you tonight... pays to show up at even the tiniest of get-togethers. BTW.... we all commented after you exited how good you looked.”

Then – without even realizing it – I was given such a fantastic and wonderful gift in Wyoming: A bigger base of fitness on which to hang everything I want to become.
Enter – and - finish a mountain bike race.
Accept an invite to be part of an adventure racing development team.
Have my will to be healthy and happy not be derailed by anything. Not even my own insecurities and failings.
(I am 15 pounds from my stated weight loss goal; I now know I have a lot more work ahead to build on my fitness base and fuck the scale.)

And so I spent the two weeks post-Wyoming (where I lost five pounds by the scale, but put muscle on my legs), not doing enough to keep the gift – or build onto it.

You get home after another bad day at work – where everyone is tense and anxious and they all want to pour it out on you – fully expecting to go on a ride or a long Nordic walk and life starts to happen. A new magazine comes in the mail; the phone rings; bills to pay, chores that need to be done (because you stopped to look around).
Next thing you know, the sun is going down and you’ve not fed your body – and mind – what you know it craves.
Exercise.
Fucking motivational dyslexia.
I promise myself to be better – the solid will portion of myself – but there’s always a detour. Another something to get in the way.
There has to be a balance.
And that’s the mission ahead of me.
It feels too good not to strike this balance.

Happy Fish Day

"I'm still accurate without sights up to a mile with a .380," the guide says.
And he's telling the truth. You just know he's killed a man with his bare hands; not because he wanted to - but he had to.

"When I was wounded, that's when I became an agnostic," he says. "they say that there's no atheists in a foxhole, but all I wanted was to get out of there - and know I had enough ammunition."

The guy's 62, former British Special Air Services Regiment soldier and can kick your ass, or just about any ass he cares to kick. Quiet, confident, it was one of the best fishing trips I've been on.

No fish were actually harmed on this mission.

But it looks as if I have another person to join my karass.

We talked and fished along the Sacramento River, right through town, where the big rainbow trout live (the fish I'm holding was 20 inches long). Turns out, we've got a lot in common.
Mostly, it is the survivor's mentality. A coolness that we can turn up and throttle down, when we need it.
The conservation went all over the place.
Women: "They're all fucking nuts, mate, every single one of them. But, fuck, what are you going to do?"
America: "I'm not a citizen yet - I'm legal, not an illegal alien - but I am an American. I love this country."
Fishing: "People here don't know what they have. Since I moved here 13 years ago, I've fished this river more than 2,000 days."
Mountain biking: "I've got a hardtail, a Merlin titanium. I love it, it's indestructible. We should ride sometime, but I'll tell you, I go my speed and that's it."
Backpacking: "Fucking love it. I'm glad to find someone else who's hardcore. What stove do you have?"
Life: "Fucking do what you love, eh? I work hard enough, but I love what I do. You've got it figured out, but a lot of people don't."

I'm telling you, it's great to have people enter your life. Keep you on the path - or show you a different route you may not have thought about.
Just by being themselves.

On writing (well, well, well)

First off, I don’t profess to know everything there is about the craft of writing.
I barely know anything.
I just know that I can (and sometimes, I leave it at that).
(OK, yes, I want more out of this gift, but that’s for another post.)

People who don’t write – and blogging is a fantastic way to put things down, I’ve come to discover from the genuinely great stuff out there – like to ask what it is like.
“Where do the ideas come from?”
“Where you get your inspiration?”
(“Just how fucking nuts are you, anyway?”)

My answers and observations: Writers are fantastic readers. Writers are chameleons who recognize great prose – and borrow styles to fit their own.
Writers have lives that are messed up, much of the time. Lots of shit happens, not just to them, but all around them.
Writers are observant of nearly everything around them, and will frustrate friends at coffee shops or out to dinner as they listen in to conversations at other tables and fidget and get distracted by the hubris of that moment in time.
Writers will notice things on you that you’d rather not have them comment on.

I am a morning writer. I feel fresh and relaxed first thing in the morning. Then the creativity tends to bleed out, once the day grows long.

There are times – just before I fall asleep and in the very early morning when I’m up and thinking – when the ideas come. A thought, an idea that’s not even sketched out into a plan. But the words form and begin to flow.
Most of the time, especially with news features, I can remember the sequence and get to work and write; with private stuff, I’ve taken to keeping a pad and pencil on my nightstand. I jot things down – I have vertical astigmatism and it allows me to “see” fairly well in the dark – just to make sure my thoughts don’t get erased with worry or stress or planning for another day (and it does happen).

There is a time, especially at night, where I know good ideas will happen. I’m in bed, relaxed and all is quiet and still. And as I lay there, my limbs get a heaviness to them. It is as my mind has made them swell; even when I know they are not any bigger, they feel like they are cartoon extensions of my body. Arms, legs, head.
If I get to this moment, to this point of heaviness, I let my mind go wherever it wants. Sleep will come soon, I am so relaxed by this point, but synapses fire in my brain and the words come. Ideas. Whole pieces of prose.
Sometimes, I fall asleep and remember to write the thoughts down before they flee from the morning light.
The good stuff, I’ve trained myself to write down all relaxed and heavy.

And those are the moments, when the heaviness pins me to the bedsheets and the words are whirring in my mind like a circular saw, when I feel absolute bliss.

Smite, smote - it was close

It was an extension of a conversation and it was not going well.
I used my Angry Voice.
And wasn’t getting much response from (insert your favorite deity here). And we were discussing some pretty hefty shit.
As hikers, we had come down some pretty nasty grade, through a forest fire that had scorched the landscape in 1988. Desolate and ugly. Hot and dusty.
Dead trees, like pick-up sticks, littered the landscape.
The group was tired; we were hungry; we were dehydrated.
And there was no way I was staying where the others half-heartedly searched for enough flat space to pitch tents.
“I’m going on a bit,” I said.
And huffed off.
To continue my conversation with God.
(And find a suitable place to pitch my tent.)
The trail got tougher as it zigzagged through the granite canyon. It really was quite beautiful. And I was having none of it.
Because I was really pissed off.
I stood at one spot, as the others called on the handheld radios to gauge my progress. Daylight was becoming a premium commodity.
And this spot just wouldn’t do.
Like a petulant child, I hurled my trekking poles down and screamed, “You know, I’d just like to catch a break, one fucking break here.”
OK, it felt good. But it didn’t solve my immediate problem.
(Nor any longterm problems.)
So I continued the conversation. I continued to use my Angry Voice.
And stumbled on a site that would have to do.
The storm gathered strength from the heat on the valley floor, and was roiling up the canyon.
The others got their tents up just as the first sheets of rain slammed in.
“Let’s keep the radios on. And we’ll cook dinner once the storm passes.”
It didn’t pass. It intensified.
Lightening lit up the tent fabric. Piercing thunder rumbled across the canyon walls.
We were at 9,000 feet in elevation (2,743 meters for our metric friends) and while not the tallest point in the forest, I have seen what lightening can do to people in nylon tents.
“OK everybody, make sure you don’t have any metal in your tents,” the radio crackled.
I snickered.
And realized that I still had my belt on; the one with the big metal buckle.
And gulped.
“You wouldn’t dare,” I said, aloud.
Lightening continued to flash, enough to illuminate the inside of the tent for an instant as I imagined the fury outside lying flat on my back.
And I thought, “Great, a blast of lightening, right at belt-level. Fry Mr. Happy. Perfect.”
I slid the belt off and stuck it in my boot.
“Smite me? No thanks.”
And I turned to lie on my stomach.
To effectively ground Mr. Happy (or so I hoped).
The storm didn’t blow itself out until the very early morning. We awoke to blue skies – “Bluebird weather,” a compatriot said – and all was well. I was alive, Mr. Happy was ecstatic (and still with me, whole), I was hydrated, rested, and I was ready to continue the hike.
I touched two fingers to my chest, where my heart lies, and pointed skyward.
Point taken.

Shades of gray

Used to be, I could define my life - reason it - in terms of black and white.
Good and evil.
Right and wrong.

Not anymore.

Whether it came from better deductive reasoning, better command of my brain cells or just life experience, I have come to realize that life is a constantly shuffling deck of cards – and that they are all gray.
Shades and shades of gray.
So much tarnish on every hope, dream and desire.

So you do the best you can. You navigate through the grayness, and try and make the best decision through fuddled (muddled) circumstances.
But decisions you have to make.
Indecision is death.
So you choose a path.
And you stick with the decision.

There is no right and wrong, black and white.
Just shades of gray.
The trick is to recognize the subtle differences.
Live your life the best way you can.
Be kind to animals and children. Give your chance to the homeless, before they ask. Hug friends and respect enemies.
Above all, love yourself.
(I guess that's pretty black and white, but it's easier said than done.)

Laboring: A ramble in several acts

It never feels like labor, but I do wonder (and worry) sometimes that my life won’t feed The Tension properly.
And then I have things unfold around and – and to me – and I then have a hard time trying to pen it.
Or not.
A lot of what happens gets passed around the old-fashion way: Storytelling. Swapping stories by voice only.
“But you write this shit down, don’t you?” a buddy said over beers in my front yard on Sunday night.
Oh, yeah. I write it all down.
“’Cause you can’t make shit like that up.”
And unfortunately for loyal readers of The Tension, the really, really weird shit doesn’t get published (and for that I am very seriously sorry).
Certain stories are off-limits.
My family is pretty much off-limits now (it’s too easy, trust me. That’s why I avoid it. Because you think your family is fucked up? Every family is a dysfunctional mish-mash of fears, phobias and foibles - and mine is no different).
Work, even though there’s certainly a lot going on, is off-limits as well. This is by personal censorship, which pisses me off, but I don’t care to talk about it.
Deeply personal things, I (for the most part) avoid.
I told Boots that I sometimes fear that enough weirdness won't happen, so I can continue to try and be really witty and amusing. Boring is boring.
But then I just go about my life and marvel – marvel – at the chaos I create (or meander through and witness).

It’s after 10 p.m. Sunday and my buddy and I are just shooting the shit over a couple of cold Sierra Nevada Anniversary Ales. The field across the street, the one that is slowly becoming 54 homes, has an open trench across the front (street side) portion to run gas lines. Every five feet, there are these metal barricades with yellow flashy lights on them. Every fourth barricade has an “OPEN TRENCH” sign on it.

WHAP, WHAP, WHAP, WHAP, WHAP
We watched as a white Toyota pickup with a brush guard mowed down the barricades. The kid swerved, then plowed into another line of barricades.
“Did that just happen?” my buddy asked.
"Yep," I said. "Just another day in the life."
The reason the kid needed to swerve? He was avoiding – barely – all the mailboxes. Which, I am pretty sure, would have elevated his stupidity from a misdemeanor to a federal destruction of property charge.

I’m in Safeway this week, near where the meat department becomes the produce department, when I spot the teenager driving the handicapped cart through the meat department. There are six other teens hanging on, lying prone on their skateboards.
It looks like one of those giant, slow-moving nurse sharks, with a bunch of lampreys hooked to it. The driver is smiling and I bust out laughing and shoot them a thumbs up.
No one moves to stop or scold them. Everyone just looked on aghast. One of the meat cutters stoped to watch, but all he can see is the kid driving the cart; the cold cases block his view of the teens near the floor.
So much as I know, they never got in trouble. They drove though produce and put the cart back near the doors.
Then each of them made a purchase, which I though showed great forethought for a bit of harmless fun.

Took the Trek out for another spin with my best bud J-Zone (who also rides Trek - and was eager to hear a few yarns from the weekend).
So here's the deal.
I took the Giant out Sunday and did a ride that I had completed with the Trek. On the Giant, I felt like I was rolling a boulder up a hill.
I’m keeping the Trek.
Hell, I won it fair and square.
I deserve it, with all the shit I've had to deal with.
It is nimble.
And it’s the tits, as far as custom paint job and high-end components (I just need Schtevo to come over and help me swap out my pedals since I’m a bike mechanic’s worst nightmare).
(P.S., if you click on my photo, check out my nifty Visenka socks.)
So if anyone is interested, I have a gently worn Giant Warp for sale.

Why men are so damn hard to figure out

Got back from a mini road trip on Saturday with full expectations to get things done.
Give the house a good scrubbin.
Bathe and brush two very stinky dogs.
Wash a load of clothing.
Unpack and organize (finally) all the backpacking gear that looks as if it exploded in the spare bedroom.
Start removing the wallpaper in said room in preparation to paint.
Get cleaned up and go to mass.
Get in a Nordic walk, for at least an hour.
Cook a healthy and nutritious meal.
Try for eight hours of sleep.

I watched about eight hours of college football instead. Unshaven in my favorite pair of sweats and no shirt, dirty, stinky dogs at my feet, eating microwave popcorn, a few Tootsie Pops and drinking beer.

I don't feel bad or ashamed or anything. I just wonder what's going to happen once the NFL cranks up. I mean, this is my first full season being single again, without a wife who said she didn't mind if I watched the game, but secretly fumed. I mean, I get all goose-bumpy with prospects of having the guys over for a couple of my hand-tossed pizzas, a few cold ones and a great pro football game.

Oh, yeah, the strippers.

So my very cute, very single (but way too young) neighbors came over Saturday afternoon and gave me their telephone numbers.
"We're having a party tonight and you are invited," they said. "We're just making sure to give all the neighbors our numbers, in case it gets too loud."
(They party often. Doesn't bother me. Doesn't bother the guy on the other side of them, since he's young and parties too. The cops have been called to the house before. I have my suspicions, but this neighbor swears he hasn't called.)
"We're grilling early. Come on over and get a beer."
"It's a bachelor party, if you want to know."
"They'll be strippers from 9 until 11 and I told the guys to let you in."
"We won't be there, of course."
"Stop on by."

Football kept my ass glued to the couch, even when I knew that right next door was free barbecue, free beer and strippers.

All hail the power of football.

Day of Be Happy Joy

Pardon the tardiness of this post.
I was outside, fucking around.
(But not getting paid for it.)

Then my Internets connection went dead (fucking cable company).

I digress. Everything is peachy once again.
And I have to say, I love the Japanese.
My old paper, Pacific Stars & Stripes, has a job opening up in its Tokyo headquarters. Yeah, I thought about it, for all of about two seconds. As fun as Tokyo was, you don't just up and move to Asia. Not without a lot of soul-searching and stuff like that (besides, it's a copy editor position, and I like to pass myself off as a writer).

It's been more than 20 years since I lived there, but the memories never fade. Mostly how translations get messed up from English to Japanese and back.

And their love for English sayings and phrases. True story: We were in a huge department store in Tokyo when my buddy stops to try out a fountain pen. There was a large pad of fine paper, and several pens to try out.
"Watch this," he said.
And wrote "My shit be hanging" on the pad.
Two days later, it was sequined on a T-Shirt in the same store.

Just for kicks, I tried Blogger's new profile match thingy, where you can like-minded people who share your interests. Over at Lein Girlz 3, Jege posted these funny Japanese stickers. I knew I had to get my hand on them.
"Why don't you just Google one of the phrases?" a co-worker asked.
Duh.

Over at Watashi Baka Da, you can get all sorts of fun shit - from keychains and T-shirts to stickers and patches - with great slogans.

You get the picture.
Anyway, they're fun - and meant to be funny.
And since it's Saturday - and you may be headed for a night on the town - I leave you with this (just be responsible adults, shall we?):