A Day of Zoom Meetings

“The evil in the world comes almost always from ignorance, and goodwill can cause as much damage as ill-will if it is not enlightened. People are more often good than bad, though in fact that is not the question. But they are more or less ignorant and this is what one calls vice or virtue, the most appalling vice being the ignorance that thinks it knows everything and which consequently authorizes itself to kill. The murderer’s soul is blind, and there is no true goodness or fine love without the greatest possible degree of clear-sightedness.”
― Albert Camus, The Plague

A little way farther down the wall is “Chomp”, also by Amber Campagna

Today, work was a day of Zoom meetings, webinars, and long lists of unanswered questions. Although I go into work every day there is an army of people at home writing PowerPoint presentations and espousing on what is better for everybody else.

Today was the day that Biden’s Covid-19 Mandate hit like a ton of bricks (yes, we employ more than 100 people and yes, we do business with the government) and a lot of folks are running around like chickens with their heads cut off.

I am fully vaccinated and have been for a long time. There are some people I know that are strongly opposed to the shot. There are more (mostly vastly younger than me) that are simply too lazy to get the needle. I don’t know.

Now that the best plans are laid – and I take a very close look at them – it really won’t make a difference until early next year. Really. It is all a dance, a show, virtue signalling. Take my word for it.

Box Office Poison

“Death is a funny thing. Not funny haha, like a Woody Allen movie, but funny strange, like a Woody Allen marriage.”
― Norm Macdonald, Based on a True Story

Funerary Figure (tau-tau) Dallas Museum of Art Dallas, Texas

I saw today that Norm Macdonald passed away. I usually don’t go all social media when a famous person dies. Especially since I don’t know the person personally – their death won’t really affect me at all. Their artistic output is still there. Now there are some exceptions – I still think about the music that Stevie Ray Vaughn would have produced….

At any rate, I have always been a fan of Norm Macdonald. He had that combination of unique dry odd humor and political incorrectness that is rare today. He will be missed.

I suppose everyone has their Crackerjack YouTube moments they can come back to when feeling a little blue. One of mine – one of my very favorites – was a Norm Macdonald guest stint on Conan with Courtney Thorne-Smith. I saw that Conan re-uploaded a good quality version onto YouTube today, in honor of Norm… and that made me happy.

I know you’ve probably seen it before – but if you haven’t here it is. Be sure and watch ’til the end – one of the best lines ever… I still wonder if it was really impromptu (never say to someone like Norm Macdonald “Do something with that, you freak,”) – I like to think it is.

Sunday Snippet, Trouble by Bill Chance

“If trouble comes when you least expect it then maybe the thing to do is to always expect it.”

― Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Kids love the reflecting pool. The water is less than a quarter inch deep.

One day he said he picked up a “warning.”
“What did you do?”
“I dunno.”
“Did you forget to raise your hand?”
“Nope”
“Did you break a rule?”
“Yeah, that’s it. I must have broke a rule. If you break a rule, you get in trouble. I got in trouble, so I must have broke a rule.”
“Do you remember what rule you broke?”
“Nope.”


He went on to say he didn’t like it when somebody was in trouble
“Cause the teacher STARES at us!”
A demonstration was made of the teacher’s stare, eyes narrowed, brows lowered, forehead slightly knotted.

It was pretty scary.

A Record of the Day

I guess everyone is thinking about twenty years ago today. I’m not a big one for that kind of forced nostalgia – but I do have my blog – and I thought it would be interesting to review what I wrote down at the end of September 11, 2001.

I keep hearing people say how they were shocked and how much their view of the world changed that day. Of course that is very true for the people that were directly affected… but for me… I’m almost ashamed to say I wasn’t shocked. I wasn’t even surprised. It seemed like something that was going to happen, we just didn’t know where, how or when.

The world always exists as a thin membrane between our daily lives and the void of chaos beyond. September 11, 2001 was a day that the membrane broke… more than usual.

The Daily Epiphany
Tuesday, September 11, 2001

A record of the day

We have awakened a sleeping giant and instilled in it a terrible resolve.
—- Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.

I stayed up watching TV way too late last night and overslept in the morning. Luckily, my work has a generous flextime policy; but I had some stuff I had to get done. The City of Dallas had some samplers and I had to be there before they picked up so I could collect my split samples for our own analysis. I pried myself from under the covers and stumbled into the shower – then shaved and dressed as quickly as I could. As I dashed out the door to the car I saw Candy’s mom watching TV in the living room. There was only a glimpse as the front door closed and the show cut away to breaking news of a skyscraper (obviously the World Trade Center) and some smoke. I started the car and headed out late into the heart of the morning rush hour.

Most people watched the horror unfold on television. I listened to it on the radio, tuned in as I fought my way around the LBJ freeway loop. I was at about the Garland Road exit when the second plane hit.

That was it, wasn’t it? The first plane… I kept hoping it was an accident or at worst, an isolated crazy person. When that second plane came in though, that’s when it was clear what was going on, that’s when the world changed.

I made it to work and to my desk. At that point I felt strangely isolated. The Internet was so bogged down I couldn’t get any news off of my computer. The only two ways I could find anything out were reports by phone from a cow-orker’s wife and text reports on my web-phone.

Finally, some guys came into my cube and told me the other building had a conference room set up with a television feed. We decided to head over there. I worried a little about the City’s sampling crew and considered dropping some sample bottles in case they showed up but decided it wasn’t a good day to leave an unoccupied plastic cooler sitting in a parking lot.

I shouldn’t have worried. Considering what we do at my work it was obvious that security was going to be tight. The whole campus was closed – nobody was getting in or out.

Simply crossing the street to the other building was an adventure. The security guard made us dump everything out of our pockets. She removed the batteries from our cell phones. “I know what I’m looking for, but you don’t,” she said. Then everybody was frisked – and a pretty thorough frisking, too. I think that’s the first time I’ve been searched like that – though it’s possible I simply don’t remember it before.

Finally seeing the television pictures in the conference room on the big screen TV… well, you know what it was like, you saw them too. The bizarre juxtaposition of such a beautiful, sunny day with the horror unfolding underneath. I remember being in the Trade Center, it was a calm warm day when I was there, two decades ago. They let us go on up above the observation deck and walk around on the roof walkway. I remembered the sheer size of the two towers and understood why the giant airliners looked so small – why the first reports thought it was private planes.

Both towers had already collapsed by the time we made it to the conference room. They kept rerunning the horrific footage of the crumbling structures hurtling down in a cloud of debris over and over. At that point there was still not very much information coming across from the Pentagon – many reports were that the plane had actually missed and had crashed into a helicopter pad next to the building. That’s always one difficult thing about watching a disaster like this (like this? There has never been anything like this) – the constant stream of rumor and speculation, the slow winnowing of fact.

We watched until it became numbing. By the time I walked back to my office the announcement was made that “the terrorists don’t appear to be targeting defense plants,” so we weren’t frisked again – though the site was still locked down tight.

I was actually able to get some work done – I strongly wanted to try and continue my ordinary responsibilities as much as possible. I talked to Candy on the phone, especially when the kids came home from school. They were doing fine – Lee was more or less oblivious and Nick very curious, but not upset or frightened. I talked to him and his major question was, “Why would anybody do this? Don’t they know what they are getting themselves into?” Nick has been fascinated with Pearl Harbor ever since he saw the movie and seems to see some strong connections here.

Cherry Bomb!

Hey, street boy, what some style?
Your dead end dreams don’t make you smile
I’ll give you something to live for
Have you and grab you until you’re sore

—-Cherry Bomb, The Runaways

Bottle cap from the bottle of Cherry Bomb! by Prairie Artisan Ales

Pre-Covid one time, I rode my bike to the Whole Foods at Renner and Plano road – it’s exactly five miles from the house, a nice round-trip. It’s my favorite bar – they have a craft beer growler room there and sell it by the glass too. It’s bright and clean and there are always interesting people there.

But most importantly, whoever manages the place has a good, strong touch in the beers he stocks. Of course, there is a nice selection of local favorites, but there is always a couple of interesting selections from out of town. So, this one time, I’m sitting there chatting with a young couple that had been there a while before I arrived and had been hitting the beers and were now into the wine selection.

Looking up at the board I noticed a dark beer listed called Bomb! from Prairie Artisan Ales in Oklahoma. One thing that jumped out at me was the 13% alcohol content – that’s pretty stout for a beer, even a stout. I ordered one and it was good. It was black as used motor oil and had notes of Oklahoma and petrochemicals.

“That’s pretty damn good,” I said to the couple next to me.

“Yeah? Well, we’ll have a couple,” they said to the bartender.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “You’ve had enough and that beer’s too strong, I’m going to have to say no.”

Well, that didn’t go over too well. I have a feeling that the place has some sort of tracking system and alerts the bartender when to cut off the customers. The two sure didn’t seem drunk to me.

At any rate, they paid their bill and stormed off in a huff. A while later they came by and showed me something. They had gone into the store and bought a whole six pack of Bomb!.

“Ha! That’ll show her,” he said to me.

After that little incident I’ve had a soft spot for Prairie Artisan Ales and Bomb!. Some of us have been talking about a road trip to Oklahoma to visit the place.

But Covid has ruined everything. I’ve barely had two beers in the last year and a half.

The other day, however, I stopped at Central Market for coffee and saw a display that included single beers for sale and I couldn’t resist a Cherry Bomb! by Prairie Artisan Ales. I packed the bottle in a cooler and took it to a party this weekend.

And it was good.

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, 100 Word Story, The Phone Call, by Janice Siderius

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

― Arthur C. Clarke, Profiles of the Future: An Inquiry Into the Limits of the Possible

Downtown Square, McKinney, Texas

From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Saturday, September 8, 2001 – Exactly twenty years ago. Wow… only twenty years ago… and coming up only three days from 9/11. It’s so strange reading my thoughts from the point of view of a semi-distant future. I talk about getting a new cell phone and a Pocket PC. An iPhone or a Smart Phone only a dream of the future..I (we) had no idea.

Saturday, September 8, 2001, Gadgets

The folks at work, in all their infinite wisdom, have bought me a couple of new cool toys lately.

I try to resist the temptation of becoming a gadget-freak. A fascination with technology is a powerful, seductive trap in this day and age, this best of all possible worlds. The underlying geek-gene is there, though, I can’t deny it. Plus, if somebody else wants to buy me cool stuff… so be it.

I was one of the last hold-outs against having a cell phone. When I finally picked one up with my new job, however, I was hooked. Especially with all the soccer stuff going on, with Candy and I hardly ever being home, driving all over the place, and with me stepping up my business travel, the cell phone became, finally for me, the irreplaceable part of life that it is for everybody else.

Now, they have replaced my run-of-the-mill phone with a new service, one designed for corporate, industrial use. It’s a Nextel phone, with the two-way radio and, especially seductive, internet access. I had to attend a training class, read a big thick manual, and spend hours punching little buttons and fooling around on web sites to set up and learn all the features of the silly thing.

I always thought web access on a cell phone was sort of useless, but it does have its geeky charm. I especially like the movie service. I can code in a film, punch in a zip code, and it will tell me the closest theater and show times, along with directions to get there. It has an amazing word-completion algorithm for entering emails from the otherwise-almost-useless numberpad.

The only problem is that it does not play cool songs when it rings (I had my old phone set to play the theme song from the old puppet TV show – Thunderbirds are Go). When I complained about this to our phone rep she replied, “This phone is intended for the corporate market, we don’t go for the cute sing-song stuff.”

The really cool gadget they bought me, though, wasn’t the cell phone, but a Pocket PC – a Compaq IPAQ. Compaq is apparently discontinuing the black and white units, offering them for an insanely low price, plus a fifty-dollar rebate, so I ordered one.

I think I like this one better than a color unit anyway. The screen is readable enough and the batteries last forever.

A Pocket PC definitely falls into the category of one of those things that you can’t imagine using until you get one, then you can’t imagine living without it. Especially Syncing it up with my PC – downloading maps, Avant Go,… geez, the free ebooks. It isn’t much for writing fiction or journal entries (my Alphasmart is perfect for that, anyway) but it is fine for writing short poems. The slow process of handwriting recognition actually helps the poetry process.

It’s a digital voice recorder and an alarm clock. It’s a crude sketchpad and a file transfer utility.

Of course, like all things addictive, there are add-ons and additions I want. At the top of the list is a big flashcard memory or two. That would let me use it as a killer MP3 player, perfect portable music. Next, a Targus folding keyboard – then I could use it for significant text entry. Then, especially in conjunction with that flashcard, there’s software. I’d love a powerful dictionary and thesaurus program. There’s even something out there that will turn the IPAQ into a programmable multi-function remote control.

Now that’s a gadget addiction.

And a piece of flash fiction for today:

The Phone Call, by Janice Siderius

What I learned this week, September 7, 2021

There’s lots you can cook up with the crawfish. Corn, crabs – or here, sausage, garlic heads, and taters. It all takes the spice and the flavor of the crawfish.

The Last Days of the Blue-Blood Harvest

Every year, more than 400,000 crabs are bled for the miraculous medical substance that flows through their bodies—now pharmaceutical companies are finally committing to an alternative that doesn’t harm animals.


13 easy ways to switch off from work at the end of the day

Are you struggling to maintain a work/life balance right now? Here’s how to switch off and reclaim your evening. 


(click to enlarge) Adam, by Emile-Antoine Bourdelle, plus admirer Cullen Sculpture Garden Houston, Texas

How narcissists climb the career ladder quickly

People with a high degree of narcissism get promoted faster, new research shows. Why?


The Secret to Happiness at Work

Your job doesn’t have to represent the most prestigious use of your potential. It just needs to be rewarding.


Drinks menu… the coffee looks good, but “Treats from the Teat” – I don’t know if that’s as catchy as they think it is.

Go ahead, have that third cup of coffee.

Downing up to three cups of coffee daily is associated with lower risks for stroke and death from cardiovascular disease, as well as death from all causes, suggests research presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in France last week.


Jars of Kimchi, half and full gallons.

Fermented foods for better gut health

Naturally fermented foods are getting a lot of attention from health experts these days because they may help strengthen your gut microbiome—the 100 trillion or so bacteria and microorganisms that live in your digestive tract. Researchers are beginning to link these tiny creatures to all sorts of health conditions from obesity to neurodegenerative diseases.


Downtown Dallas, Texas

The Filling Station on Greenville Avenue: From Bonnie & Clyde to Legendary Burger Place

I have been going to businesses in that building on Greenville Avenue since… maybe 1979 or so. I remember the old Filling Station – mostly for having a hot, fresh, fried mushroom and onion ring platter called “Nuts and Bolts.” The article is a little old – it was a Schlotzsky’s (one of my favorite fast-food sandwich places – its round fare resembles a New Orleans Muffaletta) for a few years – now that is gone. I’ll waiting to see what’s next… hopefully not a wrecking ball.

I never realized it was a historical hangout of Bonnie & Clyde.

Marketa Lazarová

Those who do not suffer can not experience delight.

—-Marketa Lazarová

Crepe Myrtle trunk in the snow

It was a long weekend and I had some time and decided to check out The Criterion Channel’s streaming collection and, for some reason, chose Marketa Lazarová. The blurb did say it was voted the best Czech film of all time – and that seemed to be enough reason to watch it.

It was not an easy film to get into. It is a three hour historical epic set in the late Middle Ages, full of snow and symbolism as early Christianity battled with the dregs of paganism for the hearts and minds of the peasantry. It is a brutal film – the initiating incident is the robbery of a coach in the winter by a band of bandits led by two brothers. A neighboring clutch of cutthroats tries to muscle in on the action. This sets up a three-way power struggle between the crown (a high ranking bishop is in the coach) and the two rival groups of bandits.

There is kidnapping, rape, dismemberment, a preternatural pack of wolves, a lamb’s head bouncing down a hill… and plenty of brutality and human humiliation.

I’ll spoil it for you – it doesn’t end well.

Still, if you have the patience for it, it is a great movie and an educational, emotional, and entertaining experience.

I think about this movie and try to compare it to… say, Avengers Endgame. Which is the better movie? What does that even mean? How can you compare the two?

I prefer Marketa Lazarová. The plot is not predictable. The characters are real (they act like real… if really nasty… people). The movie forces the viewer to think. I know that scenes from the film will haunt me for a long time (I know I watched Avengers Endgame… maybe twice… but I have no memory of anything that actually happened in it other than some fighting and Doctor Strange’s transportation fireworks circles).

So there are a whole bunch more Czech films on Criterion. I’ve seen Fireman’s Ball ( I have always been a huge fan of Milos Forman) and I think I’ll add a few more to my viewing queue.

So many movies, so little time.

Sunday Snippet, Emprise by Bill Chance

“As for me, I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts.”

― Herman Melville, Moby-Dick or, the Whale

Sailboats on White Rock Lake, Dallas, TX

Emprise

The thing is, in an isolated tiny town like New Solace, thrown out there lonely in the ice cold windswept plains, there weren’t very many opportunities to meet someone that you might desire. Anyone was lucky to find one. Stan and Emilia were lucky, but there was no other choice. Since they were infants, born on opposite sides of town yet less than a mile away, seven days apart, it was assumed they would grow up to be a couple. Not because of any imagined or real compatibility of their personalities, but because there simply was nobody else.

They married the day after they graduated from high school. Neither of them had ever seen the ocean so for their honeymoon they went to a warm, humid coastal town and decided never to go back to New Solace, even if it was home and they were needed at harvest time.

Stan found work stocking the shelves at a hardware store and Emilia worked in the grade school cafeteria, making huge pots of mashed potatoes and gravy. “Gravy?” she’d ask the children in front of her as they moved through the line with their trays with the already-filled ladle in her hand. They would make fun of her accent that had floated a thousand miles down from the far north. She came home from work hours before Stan and one day, she was waiting for him in front of their apartment building.

“Come walk with me, I’ve bought something,” she said. They had always been very proud of their apartment, although it was too small, cheap, and rundown… it was only a block from the ocean. There was a litter-spoiled bit of beach and a small marina – as cheap and rundown as their apartment. Emilia led Stan to the marina and asked him to close his eyes.

“What? I don’t want to fall off the dock.”

“Don’t worry, I’ve got your arm.”

They walked out over the water and then Emilia let Stan open his eyes. There was a moldy looking sailboat, resting at a slight angle in the water, tied to the Marina with old, greenish ropes.

“What do you think?” she said.

“What does this have to do with us?”

“I bought it,” she said, “While you were at work. Don’t worry, it was a great deal, we can afford it.”

“But what?”

“It’s a Catalina 22, a very common boat. We can fix it up, parts are available and cheap. We can go on an adventure.”

And that’s what they did. Stan was very handy with tools and had a nice discount at the hardware store where he worked. He scraped and painted and varnished and replaced. It was a lot of work and took almost a year but slowly the boat began to look like a shiny new vessel. Emila wasn’t very good with her hands and she figured her part was the planning stages. She was constantly looking up destinations and strategies. After consulting a bulky thesaurus she announced they would name the boat “Emprise.” Stan made a note to himself to look word up and see what it meant – but he never did.

“I think we need to sign up for sailing lessons,” said Stan.

“Naw, we don’t need that.”

“I think we do, they are available at the yacht club,” said Stan.

“Why? All that stuff is available online.”

The boat was gleaming, supposedly seaworthy, and almost finished. Stan took a few days off for the final touches. The afternoon was warm and he was exhausted when he fell asleep in the small cabin. He woke feeling the boat moving in an odd way and stuck his head out up and looked around. All he could see was waves. The sails overhead were out and Emilia was at the tiller grinning from ear to ear.

“While you were asleep, I decided to take ‘er out.”

“Where are we going?”

“I figured we’d do a loop, find an anchorage for the night.”

“But you don’t know what you’re doing!”

“It’s simple.”

But it wasn’t. Emilia wasn’t even sure how to read the compass – it wasn’t nearly as stable as it was in the instructional videos she had watched. The wind kept switching directions and getting stronger and stronger.

“Did you check the weather?” asked Stan.

“Why? Not a cloud in the sky.”

“There is now.”

They never found an anchorage and had to sail blindly into the night. In the pitch blackness the wind and waves rose and rose until they were caught in a full-fledged storm. The hot rain poured down and the warm sea flung itself up until the boat felt like it was being ground to pieced between the two and propelled by the wind over the edge of the world. Stan was beyond terrified and resigned to death several times. Luckily, in the darkness he could not see the eternal grin plastered across Emilia’s face and he would misinterpret her whoops of joy as cries of terror.

Stan woke to the morning heat of the rising sun to the confusion of feeling an odd texture under his body. He realized it was sand and he had been thrown onto a beach next to the broken sailboat.

“Stan, wake up!” Emilia was walking around, seemingly no worse for wear.

“We’re on an island,” she said. “I thought I’d let you sleep. I’ve been walking around, and it looks like there’s a house a bit down the shore. There’s smoke coming out of the chimney.”

Stan had never felt such a weary pain in every bone as he hauled himself up and walked with Emilia to the house about a mile from where they boat had floundered.

They knocked on the door and an older woman answered right away.

“Come on in, I have some coffee and breakfast,” she said as if they were expected.

The woman was Alice and she had lived on the island for ten years, five alone, since her husband has passed away. They walked together down the beach and looked long and hard at the boat but it was beyond salvage.

“Shame,” Alice said. “It looked like such a nice little boat. Can’t be helped, though.”

“But what can we do now?” asked Stan.

“Well, for one thing, you can stay here as long as you need to, or want to. I can use a handyman to keep up with repairs, the yahoos that come out from the mainland are all useless or thieves. There’s plenty of room. Plenty to eat. I can use some company.”

“Sounds great,” said Emilia.

“But we were looking for an adventure,” said Stan.

“But, you see, there are more ways to have an adventure than to go off across the world,” replied Alice.

Disney World Marathon

My son Lee’s friend Casey is making a series of Instagram short films for him, publicizing his charity to help him run in the New York City Marathon. Here’s the second one.

Please think about donating at this link.

Lee has always been a fan of Princess Vanellope – here’s a drawing he did of her.

Princess Vanellope – drawing by my son Lee