“Not just beautiful, though–the stars are like the trees in the forest, alive and breathing. And they’re watching me.”
― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
from Every Day Fiction
“Things are sweeter when they’re lost. I know–because once I wanted something and got it. It was the only thing I ever wanted badly, Dot, and when I got it it turned to dust in my hand.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned
As the Snowpocalyps died away I was excited because a package from Amazon was finally able to be delivered. It was something that I bought with my Birthday Gift Card – more expensive than I would have bought for myself. Something that had been sitting in my wish list for over a year. It was several days late, of course, but the shipping company emailed me a link where I could watch the delivery. A Google Map appeared on the screen with a pin on my house and a little truck icon moving around.
Watching the delivery truck move, knowing my precious package was there in the back, was addicting.
But it was nuts, the thing would come right up to my street and then flee. Sure, there was a warning at the bottom of the screen saying “Simply Because the Truck is Near, Doesn’t Mean Delivery is Imminent,” but really…. There is a large light industrial business area near where I live and I suppose it kept having to go back there for scheduled pickups.
I swear, at one point the little truck was only a hundred yards away – I know those local streets well because I ride my bike on them all the time – then I hit REFRESH and it bounded two miles away in a flash. This was more than I could take so I gave up and took a nap. As I was about to cross over into slumberland the dogs barked at the front door and Alexa started flashing white….
My package was here. All is right in this best of all possible worlds.
from 365 Tomorrows
“Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these?”
—-William Shakespeare, King Lear
Mark Campbell stepped off the train, alone, into the cold Autumn drizzle and walked the two long blocks through the crystal grid of skyscrapers to the theater. It looked like a gigantic metal cube – like a Borg spaceship that touched down into a wide depression along the busy street. When the city built the new hall Mark read all the articles about it and its innovative architecture. He always sat on the left side of the train so he could watch the construction when he rode by on his commute. He thought that it was so, so cool – but that he would never be able to afford tickets. But he discovered that with every new play that was produced the first night would be a “pay what you can” performance.
At 9 AM on a certain date tickets would be available online for the newest show and the buyer would decide what he would pay. Mark had a quick finger on the internet link and right on time would log on and buy a ticket. He would usually pay five bucks. It was essentially a dress rehearsal but Mark enjoyed the shows, although he didn’t have any luck getting anyone to go along with him.
The theater was like a normal performance hall turned on its side. The lobby was at the bottom of the descending slope, with the performance space above. The top floors were used for offices and rehearsal space. Mark waited in line at the bar to spend ten dollars on a tiny plastic cup of cheap white wine -mostly to have something in his hand as he milled around in the crowd waiting for the show.
The rest of the crowd was divided into couples or small groups, chatting away. Mark was used to being single at these events – but was still more than a little self-conscious.
Tonight, the show was Shakespeare’s King Lear. Mark had seen the play once before – twenty years earlier. He had taken his son to an outdoor summer performance. Mark’s son was only ten and he worried the play would be too complex and dense for the child. But his son loved it – there was enough sword fighting and action that he was enthralled, even if he didn’t really understand what was going on. In the infamous eye-gouging scene, an actor actually threw two grapes on the stage and then stomped on them. His son perked up.
“Hey, what just happened?” he asked.
“Oh, nothing, Nothing.” A father has to lie a little now and then.
The child especially liked the army scenes where they had a large crowd (probably every stagehand and a lot of local volunteers) moving through the trees around the outdoor venue with lamps and rattling swords. It was pretty impressive – he was a tiny bit afraid… just the right amount. He used to really love going to the Shakespeare plays and Mark wished they could have done more. They were so busy.
And now his son had his own life and better things to do than hang out with his old father.
While he milled around hiding at the edge of the crowd, pretending to look at the posters, artwork, and announcements attached to the walls, he noticed something odd. Near the entrance to the stairway to the seating above there was a large, bold card on an easel:
Nudity? In King Lear? What was that about? Mark didn’t give a damn about that, and the minute the bell dinged and everyone began moving toward their seats forgot the “warning” completely.
One cool thing about the venue is that the stage and the seating was suspended from the top of the building on cables and could be raised and lowered easily to convert the space into any conformation that the producers liked. He had seen quite a few – some were arranged like a standard theater with the seats in rows facing the stage, some were “in the round,” and some had a jumbled mixture of stage and seats with the play happening right among the audience.
Tonight that was the case. There was a single large stage, but the seats crowded in on three sides so that the action would be close to every observer. Mark couldn’t help but be excited at this innovative an intimate arrangement.
As the audience settled in around him two young women, probably college age, took the seats immediately to the left of Mark. They were very attractive and dressed to the nines. Mark couldn’t help but feel a bit of excitement to have such gorgeous people sitting right next to him – although he knew he was invisible to them… at best. These premiere performances often had large groups of attractive young people attend – theater students from local schools and colleges. Watching them left Mark with a bittersweet nostalgia for days gone long, long past.
The two chatted with the ironic, bitter, and sardonic tone that women like that use at times like that. Mark wondered what those two thought of Shakespeare. He had no idea. Even though they were sitting right next to him they lived in a world completely alien to his. Soon enough, the lights darkened and the play began.
It started out with a very spare stage – a wooden wall, a door, a heavy chair, and a candelabra. Mark noticed before the performance a couple of stagehands on hands and knees, carefully wiping the stage down, as if they were worried about bits of slippery water.
The play started very formal and stiff. The actors stood arranged around the seated king in symmetric positions and delivered their lines. It was all very good, but not very exciting. Mark thought this wouldn’t last – King Lear is an avalanche of a play; it delivers its punches full-bore – heavy and hard. It doesn’t fuck around. He worried that they had decided to go all old-school, plain, simple, and it was starting to get a little boring. It might be a long night of interesting but not very passionate storytelling.
Then, suddenly, about a quarter way through, the formal stylized play ended. As Lear was thrown into the storm of madness the wooden walls that formed the back of the stage fell forward into a tumbledown confusion, huge doors swung down from above and a gigantic torrent of water waterfalled down (sort of Flashdance style – on steroids) onto the King.
And all Hell broke loose.
Giant strobes went off above in bolts of terrible lighting, electricity crackled, while deafening peals of thunder roared from unseen speakers. The King was now mad, insane, completely unhinged. He ran around the stage and under the falling deluge until he was drenched to the bone.
And then with a bizarre deranged scream he stood at the front of the stage, soaking wet, and stripped of his clothes. All of them.
Mark suddenly remembered. “Ah, that was why they had the nudity warning,” he thought to himself.
The other actors began chasing the howling naked Lear around the stage and then they left it to begin running up and down the aisles and then even between the rows of seats – the audience would have to sort of stand to give them room to move by.
Mark had to smile. The actor playing Lear was no young man – his hair was snow-white and his face wrinkled from many, many decades. But he was slim, muscular, and still very toned for his age. He was athletic and quick, moving through the audience with a grace and speed that made it believable that the other actors could not catch him and run him to ground.
The naked actor was impressive in one other way. The King was very well endowed. Mark thought, “If I looked like that at his age, I’d be running around naked all I could get away with too.” The King moved down the very row where Mark was sitting, tumbling through, followed by his pursuers.
Then Mark noticed the two women sitting next to him. They were horrified. Stiff as boards, speechless, both of their mouths frozen in an identical rictus of terror. They were completely offended by this naked old man speeding around in front of them. Swallowed by a toxic mixture of anger and fear – this was not what they thought that they were going to have to deal with.
Eventually the others captured Lear, throwing a heavy cloak over him and pulling him offstage. The intermission came right after (stagehands rushed out with mops to dry the stage).
The two women stood and yelled out indignant protests to nobody and everybody. They were so apoplectic, “I can’t believe,” “I’ve never,” and “This is terrible,” were the only snippets that Mark could make out even though he was right there. In an enraged huff they stormed out of the building.
Mark wondered if they had seen the warning card in the lobby. He was amazed that anyone that on the outside posed as being so worldly and sophisticated could be so upset at the sight of a bare old man. Maybe that was it, they weren’t used, weren’t prepared for geriatric nudity. Maybe it was the mature equipment. Maybe their boyfriends will be viewed with less enthusiasm going forward. Mark really wished he could see the two women’s text messages – packets of outrage – they would send to all their friends.
The rest was crackerjack. The formality gone, torn to the four winds, the play was a tsunami of powerful madness, a foil for the King’s insanity and despair. The fourth wall was broken, with actors fighting in the aisles and lightning screaming through the theater. Mark noticed that even the sound effects added to the disconcerting craziness – every time the King’s mind took a turn for the worst, a crackling buzz came from hidden speakers above the seats – a subtle effect that enforced the impression of insanity and doom.
And then, the tragedy. As the inevitable doom unfolds, the tragic events set in motion by Lear’s egocentric arrogance in the first scene come to their conclusion, the horror sets in.
Afterward, spent, Mark trudged back to the station to catch the next-to-last train back home. He had enjoyed the play immensely. But the most memorable roles were played by the two young women next to him, offended and horrified by the well-endowed King.
“Ice burns, and it is hard to the warm-skinned to distinguish one
sensation, fire, from the other, frost.”
― A.S. Byatt, Elementals: Stories of Fire and Ice
Here in North Texas the temperature is above freezing now and everything is slowly returning to normal. The biggest thing now are all the busted pipes – I know more than a few folks that have tremendous water damage. We were without water for a few days – a frozen pipe somewhere – but when the thaw came the pipes held. We were without power for a few stretches – rolling blackouts – but those weren’t a big problem for us. It was sort of nice to be without electricity for a bit – the temperature dropped but it was an excuse to bundle under the blankets.
The saddest thing at our house was we discovered two frozen young rabbits in the yard as the snow melted. I’m sure there was a lot of that.
There is a wire photo going around of the water fountain behind the library here in Richardson – in articles like this one.
When I saw it, I remembered I had discovered it frozen five years ago and wrote a blog entry about it.
It looks like its a little more frozen this time, but it’s the same place. I do know the city leaves the water running to protect the pipes and it gets like this fairly often.
Here’s the fountain on a warm day along with my cargo/commuting bike:
Why are there 5,280 feet in a mile, and why are nautical miles different from the statute miles we use on land? Why do we buy milk and gasoline by the gallon? Where does the abbreviation “lb” come from? Let’s take a look at the origins of a few units of measure we use every day.
Is there anything that politics can’t ruin? The answer, it appears, is a resounding “no” as partisan conflict creeps into all areas of American life. Our political affiliations, researchers say, obstruct friendships, influence our purchases, affect the positions we take on seemingly apolitical matters, and limit our job choices. As a result, many people are poorer, lonelier, and less healthy than they would otherwise be.
Ford pumped out a lot of cars in the early 1900s, and by the ’60s there were so many vehicles on US roads that traffic engineers decided to add more lanes. Unfortunately, they were a bit overzealous, and many roads were expanded even when there was really no need. That left the country with a lot of overbuilt and unsafe roads that persist to this day.
‘Big Fan,’ Robert Siegel and Patton Oswalt’s ode to a sad New York Giants fan from Staten Island, is the best sports movie that’s not about sports ever made
I went ahead and watched this movie streaming on something or other. It was very good. I wouldn’t say it was completely pleasant – but it does make you feel something for a character that you wouldn’t usually give a shit about. And that’s something.
From Homer Simpson to Phil Dunphy, sitcom dads have long been known for being bumbling and inept.
But it wasn’t always this way. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, sitcom dads tended to be serious, calm and wise, if a bit detached. In a shift that media scholars have documented, only in later decades did fathers start to become foolish and incompetent.
In 1974, Roger Penrose, a British mathematician, created a revolutionary set of tiles that could be used to cover an infinite plane in a pattern that never repeats. In 1982, Daniel Shechtman, an Israeli crystallographer, discovered a metallic alloy whose atoms were organized unlike anything ever observed in materials science. Penrose garnered public renown on a scale rarely seen in mathematics. Shechtman won the Nobel Prize. Both scientists defied human intuition and changed our basic understanding of nature’s design, revealing how infinite variation could emerge within a highly ordered environment.
I have always been fascinated by Penrose Tiles. I think they look soo cool. I dreamed once of buying a small ceramic manufacturing facility and actually selling colorful Penrose tiles (darts and kites) so you could cover your patio with a non-repeating pattern. Some dreams are better off unrealized.
As someone who grew up 30 minutes outside the city, I never thought wild game would inhabit any part of the Five Boroughs. Seeing deer, coyotes, ducks, and other kinds of critters was common here in the wilderness areas and waters near my home in Long Island, but on the streets of New York? Our city centers continue to expand with development and urban sprawl, which means human infringement on animal habitat continues. So it’s not surprising that humans are encountering these animals within city limits more and more.
I live on a creek lot – there is a slightly wooded creek behind my house. It isn’t really a creek – it’s more like a ditch running down from the flood control ponds at the end of my block – but there is a jogging trail and no houses on the other side of my alley. I also don’t have the typical Texas tall wooden privacy fence – so you can see into the slightly wooded ditch from my back porch. If you go out at dawn you can sit there, sip your coffee and watch the coyotes running along the strip. I’ve read that they tend to live in the clumps of trees on the golf course a couple miles downstream. They come up at night for a duck dinner. So there’s coyotes, and ducks, and geese… and I’ve seen an occasional beaver (new trees have to be protected by wire mesh or the beavers will gnaw them down) back there too. Now that I think about it – owls and opossums and rats… (I’m not sure it those last two count as wild) are common. Plus we’re starting to hear more and more reports of bobcats.
“Some people turn sad awfully young. No special reason, it seems, but they seem almost to be born that way. They bruise easier, tire faster, cry quicker, remember longer and, as I say, get sadder younger than anyone else in the world. I know, for I’m one of them.”
― Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine
I’m sorry, but I never really trust anything that I buy from Etsy.
“If you trust in yourself. . .and believe in your dreams. . .and follow your star. . . you’ll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy.”
― Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men
I wasn’t going to do a blog entry today – I couldn’t. It’s been historically cold here and our power went down at four this afternoon – no computer, no internet. It was our first outage during the event – up until now we’ve been lucky. Actually, the worst is that we did not have water (frozen pipes) until about three today – I hadn’t taken a shower in four days and smelt like it. I was stretched out on the couch when all of the spigots we had opened started to spew at the same time. It was a wonderful sound. Even better is that we don’t seem to have any burst pipes (knock on wood).
I am bothered by all the whining, blaming, and finger-pointing going on. This is the coldest stretch in over seventy years (it dropped to five below zero F here – an unheard of temperature) – and it covers the entire state (Texas is fairly large, BTW) – there is no way they could be properly prepared for anything like that. Deal with it. Afterward, see if there are any corrective actions that need to be done.
In this ridiculous, hyperbolic time – all I read about are accusations of racism (it is claimed the power outages have been less in the more affluent areas, which is not true) – blame set on conservatives (they are more interested in cheap power in Texas) – liberals (the wind turbines in West Texas are frozen). I even read that carbon emissions and climate change are to blame for the record cold.
So when the power went out we built warm niches (I dug out my camping sleeping bag from the garage), opened some taps (wish I would have thought of that a few days ago) and bundled in as the temperature inside slowly fell. It wasn’t too bad, really, and seven hours later (to the minute, so I know it was a planned, rotating power outage) the lights snapped back on.
I went around setting things right then realized I could upload a simple blog entry before midnight. So here you are, a flash fiction for the day – a good one.
“The difference between sex and death is that with death you can do it alone and no one is going to make fun of you.”
― Woody Allen
When I was a little kid – kindergarten… maybe first grade – I remember finding a praying mantis at recess. I don’t, never kill bugs (except sometimes spiders) and nobody else would have – even at that young and cruel age. But someone said that praying mantises (what is the plural of “mantis”? manti? mantis’s? – so I looked it up) are protected by law and if you kill one the police will find you and levy a hefty fine, at the least.
I’m not sure why that made such an impression… but to this day, more than a half century later, I remember it, remember the bright green mantis and the other child seriously warning the rest about the protected status of the Mantis.
I still get a thrill when I come across one – they must be very special and rare to have a law passed to protect them.
“I think you still love me, but we can’t escape the fact that I’m not enough for you. I knew this was going to happen. So I’m not blaming you for falling in love with another woman. I’m not angry, either. I should be, but I’m not. I just feel pain. A lot of pain. I thought I could imagine how much this would hurt, but I was wrong.”
― Haruki Murakami, South of the Border, West of the Sun
“After being bombarded endlessly by road-safety propaganda it was almost a relief to find myself in an actual accident.”
― J.G. Ballard, Crash
He had a nice townhouse in the city, but Brian Newman spent every weekend at his girlfriend’s apartment, driving a hundred miles after work on Friday and back Monday morning before work. He would leave at five to be sure and beat the traffic. Brian was never a morning person and the Monday drive was difficult, but he had done it so many times over the last couple of years it became a familiar blur.
He was waiting at an ordinary red light with his left blinker on and his mind somewhere far away, but an oncoming truck still caught his eye. It was the middle of the summer and the sun was above the horizon. The truck was a big dump truck, red, faded, peeling, patched with rust. The massive front bumper, painted black, was an angry scowl. It was coming fast. Too fast. Much too fast.
It shot through the red light as if it wasn’t there. Brian felt his heart jump and wondered if the truck would swerve and hit him. He knew that there wasn’t anything he could do if it did.
Right then, a small white car moved in from the left, with its green light, and was hit broadside by the onrushing dump truck. The truck came on as if nothing was in its way. With a horrific sound of tinkling safety glass and rending sheet metal the car was pushed along until it was smashed between the heavy dump truck bumper and the stout light pole in the center median.
The pole snapped off and fell over but not before it brought the massive truck to a final halt. All that kinetic energy reduced the car into a wad of compressed metal like the foil left after a wrapped sandwich, ready to toss in the bin. Brian was in the left hand lane and as he looked out his side window the driver was only a few feet away across the hood and in clear view through the windshield as the light pole came through the side tearing him apart. Brian had a clear view of the man’s panicked face right before the collision crushed his skull, sending bone, blood, and brains in all directions.
The police interviewed Brian at the crash site and at the local office. Over the next week a parade of lawyers asked him the same questions over and over… “Did you hear brakes?” “Did the truck swerve at all?” “How long had the light been red?” “Did the truck sound its horn.”
It seems the driver claimed his brakes had failed. The suspicion was that the driver was on his phone and hadn’t seen the red light. It would be the difference in damages and possible murder charges.
“It happened so fast,” Brian said. “I don’t really know, I don’t know what happened.” He didn’t understand how nobody cared about what had happened to him. Just because he hadn’t been hit didn’t mean he wasn’t affected. The look on the driver’s face in that split second before he died haunted Brian. He thought they made eye contact. Brian was the last person he had seen, a complete stranger, before he died. There was not a scratch on Brian’s car but he had to go to the car wash and scrub off some of what looked like blood and a bit of what might have been skull bone.
Brian called his girlfriend and told her that he had to take some time off and stay at his place for work. She said she understood. He called his work and said he had to take some time off and was going to stay at his girlfriend’s. They said they understood and would sign him up for a workplace disability program.
The lawyers paid for a hotel in the town where the accident happened. Brian figured it was so that he would be available if the case, civil or criminal, ever went to trial. He wasn’t sure which lawyers paid for the room; the defense, or the truck driver, or the dead man’s estate, or the truck manufacturer, or the company that owned the dump truck. They all called him all the time, asking him the same questions over and over. They would always end with saying how lucky Brian was, to have so much violence and horror so close to him and yet to be unaffected. The truck did miss him completely, of course – even if only by inches.
He spent the time binge watching old crime shows in his hotel room or taking long walks around the perfectly ordinary town he was now living in.
As the weeks went by his girlfriend decided to make the man she had been seeing, cheating on him, for a year during the week while Brian was in the city at work her full-time partner. The man proposed and Brian’s old girlfriend accepted. She sent Brian a thoughtful and carefully-worded letter to say goodbye but Brian never opened the envelope. Though he didn’t know exactly what had happened he guessed the main thrust of things and didn’t care much about it.
His work eventually promoted the temporary replacement to take over Brian’s full-time job. Then, as the various cases were settled the lawyers told Brian that he would have to move out of the hotel. They were glad, however, to help him sell his city townhouse and buy a place in the town. Property values were less and he was able to get a small bungalow with a big yard and still have some money left over.
He didn’t need much and was able to find a simple, thoughtless position near his house with the town government and that was enough. Ironically, the job was vacant because it had been held by the man killed in the accident. Brian’s years passed in quiet, lonely peace. He never married, never left the town.
And never drove or rode in a car for the rest of his life.