“A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!” ― Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time
“. . . in seclusion, she had secluded herself from a thousand natural and healing influences; that, her mind, brooding solitary, had grown diseased, as all minds do and must and will that reverse the appointed order of their Maker . . .”
― Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Monday, September 29, 1997
Let’s go skate
After another mind-numbing day at work I took the kids down to the parking lot by the school. Candy took off to run some errands with her friend that’s staying with us.
Lee wore his in-line skates, elbow and knee pads, and his helmet. Nicholas rode his new bicycle, sans training wheels, and his helmet, of course.
Lee had a lot of trouble with his skates. He doesn’t actually skate as much as run on the wheels; his little bow legs splayed out, blades akimbo. I don’t think the eight little yellow polyurethane disks turn at all. They are cheap lil’ kid’s skates and they don’t fit very well. Part of the plastic shell kept digging into his ankles. I worked with it as best as I could, tucking and adjusting.
Meanwhile Nick was looping around the parking lot with no trouble. He only fell once, when he couldn’t avoid a little pink bike one of the cheerleaders (I guess drill team is the proper term, a bunch of ’em practice on the lot every day; they were all down at the other end). I worked with him for a minute on his braking. He had been stopping by sticking his feet out. I helped him learn the joys of backpedaling into the coaster brake, leaving a stripe of black rubber on the tarmac.
And that was it, the high point of my day. Hours of grinding uselessness at work. Dinner, baths, writing practice (I helped Lee write out “don’t open until Sunday” – I don’t know why he wanted to write that, he said “sure are a lot of O’s in here”), then bedtime at home.
A father taking his kids out for a skate, a bike ride; it’s a cliché, a television commercial; life insurance, some new vitamin maybe. Except in the commercial the youngest kid isn’t whining about needing to go to the bathroom every two minutes. The skates always fit. The kids don’t fall. The father on the TV isn’t so worn out from work that every minute is a struggle to maintain contact with reality. They don’t show how your arms ache after carrying a heavy bicycle, a pair of skates, two helmets, a set of pads, all in your arms up the hill back to the house.
“The nice thing about doing a crossword puzzle is, you know there is a solution.”
― Stephen Sondheim
Looking back, one of my favorite times was in a past job, years ago, four of us would meet in the cafeteria at work for morning beak, and do the New York Times crossword puzzle together. We did this for years. I liked how Monday was fairly easy and the difficulty would increase as the week went on – we rarely could finish Friday’s during break. I’d take it with me and sometimes try and finish using the internet (cheating, I know) – working on getting better.
I was reminded of these good times when this went viral – you’ve probably seen it already – but just in case….
Saw something fun today. A cute little trick in the Sunday New York Times crossword: the central theme clue was “The better of two sci-fi franchises“, and regardless of whether you put Star Wars or Star Trek, the crossing clues worked.
“Only those who decline to scramble up the career ladder are interesting as human beings. Nothing is more boring than a man with a career.”
― Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918–1956
It had been a week since the company had issued new rules saying that employees working from home were required to have their cameras on during Zoom meetings. In addition, everyone was expected to wear AOA – “appropriate office attire.” Since Craig was an Assistant Associate Vice President for Corporate Policies and Procedures that meant a coat and tie. He did not wear pants, of course, and in invisible protest of the new rules he even stopped wearing even the boxer shorts he used to – sitting there in a gray suit and striped tie, naked below the waist.
A typical Zoom call would have fifty or more attendees but only four or five, the same four or five every time, would actually talk. Craig used to leave the meetings and go out for a beer, a walk in the park, or a beer and a walk in the park. He used a mouse jigger – a little USB dongle that would simulate a mouse movement every few minutes – to keep his status light green. If anything important came up he knew the meeting was recorded and he could revisit the content. He never had to.
But now, with the new camera policy he had to actually sit through the things. It was driving him crazy – hours and hours every day of the same farrago of virtue signaling, ass covering, and sucking up to superiors was mind numbing. No work was getting done. Craig had risen to his executive position because of his finely-tuned ability to avoid doing anything – getting credit for other people’s work – and dodging any blame for anything going wrong. Still, these remote working Zoom calls was throwing his uselessness back into his face and he didn’t like it. He preferred honestly goofing off over pretending to be useful
He spent the hours of the camera calls thinking of a way out and finally came up with a plan. A department store near his house was going out of business and selling everything. On a hunch, he drove over there and was able to buy a display dummy from the men’s department. He began to wear sunglasses and a ballcap on the meetings and tried to think about an excuse for this – but nobody ever asked – he doubted anyone even noticed. He stopped shaving and grew out his ragged beard.
A friend of his from college had gone to Mortuary school. He remembered watching the guy learn how to do makeup on model heads, learning how to make a corpse look like life. It creeped Craig out but after all these years it was useful to him. He dropped off the dummy, some photos of himself, and a wad of cash. It only took a few days and the work was done.
Craig lugged the dummy home and dressed in a suit and tie, cap and glasses, and propped in the desk chair – after a tiny bit of blur (a thin streak of Vaseline on the camera lens) the illusion was complete.
As a gift to himself Craig stopped by the big liquor store and bought a half-fridge worth of various craft beers. It would be fun to walk down to the park during meetings and figure out which ones were actually good and which were pretentious shit.
This went perfectly for a few weeks. He developed a route – a walk to a favorite picnic table – where he would sit and sip his brew. The only downside was a homeless guy that would sit at another table a hundred yards away. The guy was wrapped in a dirty blanket, no matter how hot the day was. He was there before Craig arrived and never left while Craig was there. Craig figured the guy would walk up every day from the encampment down where the creek ran into the thick scrub of the river floodplain. Usually they were the only two in this obscure part of the park. The guy never moved or said anything but it still bothered Craig – but even so, this was the most isolated spot, so he grudgingly shared his isolation.
Then one day the guy wasn’t there. Craig looked over and saw him on the ground beside the picnic table. At first Craig thought he must be sleeping, but his position looked uncomfortable – like he had just fallen like that. After he finished sipping his beer, Craig decided he’d better take a look. Sure enough the guy was dead. Cold and stiff. Up close, Craig was shocked at how young he was. What disaster or terrible personal flaw had led someone like that to this ignominious end?
The big question was what to do now? Craig had a vision of a newspaper article, maybe even a short section on a news program about how a dead man was discovered in a public park. Craig was afraid he might be interviewed, photographed, word would get out. He was, after all, supposed to be sitting in from of his camera on a Zoom call – not sipping beer discovering dead homeless guys in a park a short walk from his house. This probably wouldn’t happen, but could he take the risk?
Craig knew right away he couldn’t. He gathered his stuff together and walked home, a little quicker than usual. He dressed (and undressed) and, pausing his camera for a second, switched places with the dummy. As the Zoom meeting droned on, he sat there aggravated.
For the life of him, he couldn’t think of another spot to walk and sip his beer as good as this one, which he would definitely have to give up now.
Last year, of course, they did not have an event. I was excited this year to go back again.
Candy looked over the paintings that were listed on the facebook page and gave me a list of four to look for – pick one. There is no guarantee.
The DART ride down there was awful. Post COVID – the trains are overrun with insanity. I used to enjoy riding public transportation, but not any more. The cars reek of weed. Every car and every stop has at least on lunatic screaming and cursing.
There is track maintenance going on so the train had to empty and one stop, load onto a shuttle bus, ride to another stop, and get back on. The trip downtown took me almost two hours.
The worst was at the Lover’s Lane station. A lunatic roared across the platform pushing a stolen shopping cart full of shit – mostly broken pieces of plywood – cursing and screaming. He stopped a few yards down the line and stood there screaming and throwing stuff onto the tracks. When the train arrived, loaded and left, it paused at a street, waiting for the bar to lower, right next to this guy. He continued to scream the most awful obscenities while beating on the driver’s window with a big hunk of plywood. The train held several families on their way to the Mavericks basketball game – I doubt they will take the train again.
I made it to the gallery about an hour before the event was to begin – later than I planned, but I still was about the tenth person in line.
I always enjoy talking to the people in line and the hour went quickly. Luckily the weather was good – only a little chilly.
We all ran in and I chose my artworks. Unfortunately, the numbers were small and black on silver, and my ancient eyes could not make them out. I had trouble finding the artworks Candy had picked out – this slowed me down and by the time I reached the counter, three-quarters of the artworks were already sold. I discovered that I had written a number down wrong, and had purchased a random artwork (this has happened to me before – my handwriting is so bad when I’m rushed).
In the end, I had a good time, though I’m not completely satisfied with the two artworks I bought. But they will go onto the wall where my choices from the past are arrayed… and will look fine alongside the others.
But I still have this frightening feeling that everything is spiraling out of control… the world is going to shit.
“I can bear any pain as long as it has meaning.” ― Haruki Murakami, 1Q84
From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Thursday, December 10, 1998
Candy went out with some friends tonight, I stayed home with Nick and Lee.
I worked for a few hours, organizing the room. It used to be Lee’s but now is an office and guest room (Lee has moved into Nick’s room, Nick into the TV room). I am very happy to have a space with my computer, two big bookcases, fold out couch, and no television. I used the rearrangement as an excuse to try and get organized.
The books are now sorted. All the writing reference books; dictionaries, thesauri, quote books, books on grammar, books with ideas to help plow through writer’s block, are all arranged on one shelf that I can reach from my desk. Computer programming references are in another place, fiction that I intend to read in another, books I never intend to read are boxed, ready to send charity.
My computer desk is now neat and organized. I have too many floppy disks. I make these wooden boxes that hold a hundred or so each, I still didn’t have enough and bought some plastic boxes too. Floppies are like National Geographics, I can’t bear to throw them away ’til they go bad. You never know what ancient text file will become absolutely necessary to world peace some day.
Meanwhile Nicholas and Lee were up to something out in the living room. I kept checking on them, and they seemed to be alright. Things were quiet. Too quiet.
It was fine, they were devising a magic trick. They came back to fetch me, brought me to the living room, and had me sit in a certain chair, facing another large overstuffed chair that came with our couch. Nick was wearing a rust sweatsuit, Lee was shirtless with blue sweatpants. Nick wore Lee’s alien mask, Lee wore a hockey mask, both left over from Halloween.
The trick commenced. Nicholas tucked his brother down behind the other chair and began solemnly walking in circles around the furniture. He would have to climb over one arm each time before he dropped down behind.
It was a good trick, after awhile I noticed that it wasn’t Nick walking around anymore, it was Lee. They look enough alike that with the mask, you can’t easily tell them apart. Lee is shorter and had more trouble climbing over the arm of the chair, or I might not have noticed. Of course then I heard a lot of noise as Nick struggled to change his clothes unseen behind the other chair.
Sure enough, after what seemed like an eternity, the shirtless kid with the hockey mask jumped out and both took off their masks. I acted surprised to see they were switched.
I heated up some dinner for them and Nicholas explained, complete with diagrams on a piece of scrap paper, the inner workings of the complex trick. He said he had seen this on the Masked Magician’s show on television. “We can’t do most of his tricks,” Nick went on, “They are too dangerous.”
Now it’s late, I’m back typing in my newly organized room; I can see more open desk space than I’ve viewed in awhile. The kids are finally asleep and I will be soon. I guess we all have to look for magic wherever we can find it.