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“Wait, I think I hear a sound…”

Monday, January 17th, 2011

Via Talking Points Memo, this reminder: the First Gulf War started on this date, 20 years ago…

The title comes from an approximation of the words spoken by American correspondents in Baghdad at the time the first bombs started falling… A friend of mine was giving a performance that night, a modernist electronic piece who’s name escapes me, but it calls for randomly-selected radio frequencies to be played at varied intervals over a mixed electronic and piano score. As he relayed to me soon after, on that night, every radio station that he tuned into that was carrying a broadcast was carrying the same live broadcast of that first bombing run.

He sat down at the piano, poised his hands above the keys, and the first radio signal that was broadcast right before he started playing was the CNN correspondent hearing the first explosions and anti-aircraft fire of the air war.

Twenty years ago, on this night, my friend gave one of the piano performances of his life, accompanied by air raid siren, ack-ack, and high-tech explosions. Music/static/bombing/static/music/bombing/music/static, for the entire piece.

“Wait, I think I hear a sound…”

Things that make me wish I was a better writer

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

You know how every now and then you run across a geode of a factoid – from the outside, interesting enough (Oh, look; a perfectly round rock.), but packed with Teh Shiny (Ooooh… shiny!)? Take this recent one I stumbled across, from a TODAY Show segment, Empty mansions are legacy of a mystery heiress.. Sounds like pretty fertile terrain in and of itself, doesn’t it? Rich, reclusive heiress; abandoned but immaculately maintained mansions across the country; family history of wealth wrenched bodily from the earth – and other humans. From such stuffs are all manner of literary goods woven, high and low. But for me, it was the first slide show of accompanying photos that had the info-geode.

It’s an unremarkable photo, really. Taken in 1910, it depicts a parlor or sitting room of some kind, overstuffed as only the wealthy Edwardians could do: damask and brocade everywhere, plaster rosettes and swags on the ceiling and wall panels, imported tiles on the fireplace, a tiger-skin rug. It’s really Gilded Age excess at its finest, workers-and-students-unite, to-the-barricades, excessiest:

1910 NY Times photo of Clark mansion, NYC (via The TODAY Show)

But it isn’t the photo as such that provided the geode moment. Sure, this would be the perfect setting for a Holmes vs. Moriarty encounter, or an outtake from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but those tropes are pretty well established. No, it was the photo’s caption:

High tech, 1910 style
Inside the childhood home of Huguette Clark. The Fifth Avenue mansion was a high-tech marvel for 1910, with electricity and central air conditioning. Powering it required seven tons of coal per day, brought in by the Clarks’ private subway line. (The New York Times)

Did you see it there? A private subway line. Where did it go? How many stops did it have? How many other private subways and rail lines were there under NYC? It wouldn’t have to be that big of a train – 7 tons of coal would need 300 or so cubic feet of space – but still… Private rail lines! Under Manhattan! And, implicitly, private steam generating plants! What more could a mad, Victorian genius want?

And for me, this will just be an irritation, a nagging little factoid laden with imagery and implications, begging to be incorporated into some steampunk fantasy or Victorian noir. Such beggary will fall on deaf ears; it joins a host of ignored, neglected, or otherwise ill-treated images, anecdotes, and impressions. The hidden shininess will have to wait for someone else to discover it.

observation.Random

Monday, December 14th, 2009

Over the weekend we went to the Seattle Children’s Theatre for their “In the Wings” program for Peter Pan. As one of the teachers from the SCT drama school lead the group in various drama-y, interactive-y exercises (for which I have somewhat less than zero patience, but okay… that’s what blogs and iPhones are for), she asked the kids what some of the benefits of not growing up would be.

Listening to more than one child pipe up with variations of “you won’t ever die,” it occurred to me that one of the more poignant aspects of Peter Pan (and perhaps one of the keys to its initial success) is that it takes place a few short years before Nibs, Tootles, Slightly, Curly, and millions of other boys will be permanently Lost in the fire, smoke, and mud of the Western Front…

I’m sure the Germans have a word for this…

Friday, October 16th, 2009

The feeling one experiences when an emotionally-charged event elicits conflicting impulses to respond.

“That’s not a real country. Where are you going?”

Monday, March 9th, 2009

On oh-dark-hundred Sunday morning, I dropped Doc* off at SeaTac for a flight to Dulles. She’s been training a lot of therapists in a new PTSD treatment technique, and this is no different.

Okay, this one is a little different. From Dulles, she was bound for Vienna, Austria; from Vienna, a flight to Erbil. From Erbil, a four-hour or so drive to Sulaimaniyah… Given the time difference, I’m guessing she’s arriving there right about now.

Okay, so maybe this training is a lot different.

She’ll be working with a couple of NGOs to translate training materials into Kurdish and Arabic, and to train community health providers to treat Kurds tortured by Saddam Hussein’s Baathists. The efficacy of her treatment will be compared to that of another short-term therapy.

This all came together very quickly, maybe over the span of a month or so… Her mentor from graduate school was initially approached to do this, and she recommended Doc. It’s exciting as well as good work – and as developing countries go, relatively safe even for Americans; how could we say no? So she’s in Kurdistan for two full weeks, with a couple days travel time and an extra day to decompress in Vienna on the way back.

Skype will be our friend…

(Title from Doc’s dad’s reaction when she told him “I’m going to Kurdistan for a training!” Yes, she was trying to deflect attention from the fact that this is legally still Iraq, even if Sulaimaniyah has been effectively independent since 1991. Obviously he didn’t fall for it, not that she really thought he would.)

[edited @ 1:00PM 9 March to add: they evidently ran into a sandstorm (!!!) en route from Vienna and were temporarily rerouted to Syria (!!!); she's safe on the ground in Erbil and spending the night in a hotel there. Well, we always knew it was going to be an adventure... (also edited to clarify that it's Vienna, Austria and not Vienna, VA - an improbable but not impossible confusion if you're familiar w/ Dulles & the Northern VA/Metro DC area.)]

*Doc: my wife. Got tired of always writing about her as ‘my wife’ when she’s got, like, an actual identity. And a pretty well-defined one at that (as this probably illustrates). Ergo, Doc.[back].

So…

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

I’ve been entirely unplugged for over a week… No news, no web, no cell phone, no nuthin’.

What have I missed?

Missed opportunities…

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

So the Ambiguously Gendered Cashier in our local natural foods store was making small talk as he* rang up my lunch, and he asked me if I watched the Superbowl this weekend. I was this close to telling him no, that I preferred my homoeroticism as text, not subtext, but I couldn’t quite do it.

Oh well. There’s always next time.

*he: black cardigan w/ white Oxford shirt, tenor voice, longish blond hair pulled loosely back, ‘sexy librarian’ glasses; me: black “<geek>” t-shirt, black hoodie, cut-off woodland BDUs, Chucks, and a days worth of stubble.

‘We,’ not ‘they’

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

School closings and restructurings naturally bring out the worst impulses in people. The desire to protect and preserve the familiar, even if it is somehow not to standard, is a strong one – who are these outsiders to judge our school? Our community? Are all schools being subjected to equally applied scrutiny?

Well, in the current round of proposed Seattle school closures, a lot of people feel that the answer is no, standards are being unevenly applied. Many of the proposed changes appear to disproportionately affect minority neighborhoods. They also appeared to target city-wide, alternative schools, such as The Boy’s.
(more…)

Ypres, 1915?

Monday, January 19th, 2009

Of all the weapons we’ve ever come up with, poison gas has to be one of the more horrific. It isn’t terribly effective as a weapon (too hard to control, too easy to protect oneself against, difficult to apply in concentrations needed to be effective) other than as a means of slowing down an enemy, or otherwise denying them easy access to part of the battlefield. But for those caught by it unprepared, the experience is ghastly:
this vision of a man-made Hell:

But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

Experiences like this easily led to poison gas quickly becoming a symbol of impersonal, industrial warfare along with the machine gun.
Given this history, I was surprised to read today that poison gas was not first used as a weapon in the trench warfare of 1915. It was the product of trench warfare, but from a distinctly pre-industrial era. Like, 3AD pre-industrial. And the first victims were the Romans:

Ancient Persians were the first to use chemical warfare against their enemies, a study has suggested.

A UK researcher said he found evidence that the Persian Empire used poisonous gases on the Roman city of Dura, Eastern Syria, in the 3rd Century AD.

The theory is based on the discovery of remains of about 20 Roman soldiers found at the base of the city wall.

[...]

The study shows that the Persians dug a mine underneath the wall in order to enter the city.

They also ignited bitumen and sulphur crystals to produce dense poisonous gases, suggested Simon James, an archaeologist at the University of Leicester.

[...]

“The Roman assault party was unconscious in seconds, dead in minutes[," said Dr James. ]

Damn. Viciously resourceful little primates, aren’t we?

Bi-phobia

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

Have you ever had one of those moments when you had a core belief challenged? (more…)

Who is Number One?

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

You are Number Six.

Patrick McGoohan died Tuesday at the age of 80.

No word on whether or not a bouncing latex ball was seen leaving the scene.

Death by beach ball

Sucks to your ass-mar

Friday, August 15th, 2008

“Hi. Are you [The Boy]‘s dad?”

No phone call that starts with these words can ever be a good thing. The best one can hope for with such a start is neutral. Good? Right out.

Today’s call was definitely not neutral.

“[The Boy] got in a fight and knocked out another boy’s tooth. We’re down at [nearby restaurant]; can you come get him?”

Oh yes. I most definitely can come and get him.

You can tell summer is winding down. The days are getting shorter, our haphazard container garden on the back deck is frantically trying to ripen with the occasional hot day, spiders cover every tree, the boaters on Lake Union try to squeeze in as many day trips as they can… and The Boy is definitely ready to go back to school. Has been for probably about a week. Late summer, Seattle style with a chez static twist.

This week he’s been at kayak camp. He was in it for a couple of weeks last year and loved it, so we figured it was a pretty safe bet again this year. The first week (the first week of vacation, actually) went really well. This week? Eh. Not so much. Yesterday he told us that another kid was picking on him, and asked me if he had to go back today… Not the most auspicious sign, but we told him that conflicts were part of life, dealing with it by not dealing with it wasn’t an option, it was only one more day, so go ahead and have fun and enjoy it. Besides, Friday is when the group paddles to [local restaurant], and you enjoyed that last time, right?

Yeah. That worked real well.

When I got to the restaurant, a knot of the counselors were talking…

“What happened?”
“I don’t know, I didn’t see…”
“Well, didn’t you…”
“Wait, there he is, there he is.” (pointing towards me)

Hm.

What I was able to get from The Boy was that there had been some name-calling, someone had thrown a life jacket at him, and then punches were thrown, whereupon conservation of energy dictated that a tooth be removed from the jaw of someone other than The Boy. From a flustered counselor, I got that The Boy’s been having a lot of problems this week, it’s been getting worse, and this was so unexpected, blah blah blah.

Well, if it’s been escalating, I wish we’d been told before it came to this, I said. We could have intervened.

Oh, not with these kids. It was happening with other ones. Huff. Bluster. Couldn’t see it coming. Blah blah blah.

Oh. Okay. I was able to find out that it was a baby tooth, fortunately. From a less flustered counselor, I got that as far as they could tell it was normal kid friction and frustration, and that this blew up without any warning signs. Okay, I can almost believe that. It still pisses me off that they let it get to that, but I can still see it.

The Boy’s lunch arrived at that point, so I took him off to the side and let him finish it. I couldn’t get much coherent info out of him, but informed him that there were going to be consequences once we got this all sorted out. I brought him home, had him change out of his wetsuit, and brought him down to the office so I could salvage some of my afternoon.

This evening, we finally got a coherent story. The first child, who we’ll call Instigator, was calling The Boy names. The Boy ignored him, at which point Instigator told another boy, who we’ll call Chump, to throw Chump’s lifejacket at The Boy. Chump, chump-like, complied. The Boy threw it back at Chump, who then rushed in for some close-quarter action. Other kids egged on the fight, and The Boy must have been holding his own, because Instigator jumped in at this point, and lost a tooth for his troubles. It was only at this point that counselors noticed what was going on and broke the fight up.

I’m inclined to believe The Boy – once he knows he’s in trouble, and he’s accepted that the punishment is going to be fair, he’s always been very honest about things, including stuff that he’s started or escalated. In this case, he carefully recounted points at which he could have backed out and gotten adult help (or at least quasi-adult help) to stop things; evidently, there were a couple of pauses in the fight; Instigator jumped in during one such lull. It seems that the counselors were too occupied getting the orders placed, handing off food, and herding kids out of the kayaks and in from the dock to the picnic area to catch what was going on before Lord of the Flies: Lake Union erupted; given what I saw (and overheard) when I arrived, I can believe that. But what makes it really believable to me was how indignant The Boy was that Instigator lied when the counselors stepped in. “He said I called him a vitch, and I didn’t! I don’t even know what that word means!”

Well. That’s interesting.

‘Bitch’ isn’t even remotely a standard term in our household, and on those occasions where it slips out, it’s always in a “Quit’ch’er bitchin’” context, never as a direct insult. So I’m finding it hard to get too worked up about a shit-stirring 8-year-old who thinks ‘bitch’ is a.) an acceptable insult of first resort and b.) an acceptable excuse for physical brawling.

Instigator, Chump, and The Boy all got sent home. The Boy is going to lose all his Legos for a week; we were also going to have him write something like “Fighting doesn’t solve anything” fifty times, but after hearing the full circumstances, well… for varying values of solve, it probably did solve something in this case; sometimes violence only understands violence. Not every problem merits the application of brute force, but sometimes… well… there you go. Tear up my application to join the Society of Friends, willya?

I don’t know what consequences Instigator will face at home, but part of me hopes that he’s learned that actions have consequences beyond those that might be inflicted by authority figures: sometimes when you stir shit – or get others to do it for you – you fall in, even when it seems like a sure thing.

Honestly, I doubt it; his style seems too practiced, too well-entrenched for this to have any immediate deterrent effect. I can only hope that whenever his tongue explores that gap between his teeth, he feels a little anxiety, a little doubt about trying to pull this shit again as he remembers that it actually cost him something physical, something tangible. Ultimately he may be able to rationalize it – and he probably will – but maybe, just maybe, there will be a tiny voice that whispers to him “are you sure about this? that last one didn’t look so tough, either…”

I can live in hope. What else can a parent do?

A bird in the bush

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

As I walked to work today, I saw a new one on me: a hummingbird fluttering around on the sidewalk. I didn’t know if it was injured or a juvenile – probably injured as August seems kind of late to me for juveniles – but it definitely wasn’t going to get itself airborne. I squatted to get a closer look; its beak was slightly agape, and its body pulsated as it breathed, whether from exhaustion or its own fierce metabolism, I had no idea. Its wings blurred to no avail, and it bumped along the ground.

It was under a tree, so I stood up and looked for a nest. Nada. Given the number of cats in our neighborhood, this little guy’s (gal’s?) hours were numbered – and probably with a value less than one at that. Cats, dogs, cars, raccoons, herons, rats, foot traffic; not a great place for a flightless hummingbird. I pulled out my phone and called the local Audubon Society chapter; a very genteel woman at the other end gave me a couple of numbers to try, her voice leaving an audio impression of blue hair and polite strands of pearls.

I dialed the first number as the hummingbird bumbled its way onto the grass. No answer. I let it ring some more as the bird flopped into the shade. 12, 15 rings… still no answer. As I tried the second number, the hummingbird heaved itself out of the grass and up onto the curb, coming to rest right above a storm drain.

For four or five rings, I held my breath, watched and waited. The hummingbird twitched, and fell out of view with a soft plop. Ah, shit. I sighed and ended the call; no one had answered, and now there really wasn’t much point. As I shifted my laptop bag back on my shoulder to resume my walk to work, I headed over to the drain and peeked in. From the bottom, emerald feathers glinted like some lost childhood treasure. I sighed again, and continued on down the hill.

The latter half of last week…

Monday, July 28th, 2008

…looked something like this:


Artist’s conception. Not to scale. No meteorologists were harmed in the posting of this blog entry.

How so? Well…

On Wednesday, after getting a tire fixed (drama!) and tying up loose ends at work (no drama!), I drove down to Portland to pick up The Boy & my wife, who were visiting family there. Upon my arrival, it was strongly implied by many present that I must have ‘made good time.’ At no time during the drive did I observe even a hint of redshift in the road signs, so I’m sticking to ‘not much traffic’ as a quite reasonable alternative explanation.

From Portland, we headed south to Cape Lookout a state park outside of Tillamook for The Boy’s introduction to Camping 101 (101. Get it? Tillamook. Coast. One-oh… Oh never mind.). The tent went up without a hitch, a fire was lit, dinner was cooked, s’mores were consumed, and beaches were combed. After a kinda-sorta-mostly restful night (We’re bringing thicker pads next time. And warmer sleeping bags.), a pleasant morning on the beach, and an entirely uneventful breakdown of the tent, we were on to our true destination: Beachside.

Why Beachside? Because I’m an idiot, that’s why of the Hobbit Trail. We read about it in one of those glossy regional magazines that lurk by the supermarket checkout, and in a moment of ill-considered whimsy (that is, without stopping to consider the driving distances involved), we all agreed that it sounded like a neat place to go, and that we should do it some time this summer.

“Some time” was Thursday.

Thursday ultimately involved stops at the Newport Aquarium, Mo’s for lunch, the Sea Lion Caves and, finally, the Hobbit Trail. Hectic, yes, but overall quite worth the trip. The remainder of the day was uneventful: the tent gave us no trouble, the fire lit easily (if smokily – I let myself get screwed when I bought firewood en route and wound up with a lot of not-quite-seasoned pine), local clams were turned into a reasonable cioppino analog, and more s’mores were constructed and consumed. It was almost enough to prepare one for the hard, unyielding bedtime embrace of Mother Earth.

Almost. Next time, much thicker pads.

Friday was Too Much Driving Day. Not being a total idiot, I realized that trying to drive all the way from the Central OR Coast to Seattle would be unpleasant. Very unpleasant. No, we decided to break the drive into two parts, figuring we’d spend the night in a hotel (yay!) in Portland or Astoria, depending upon which route we opted for. Somehow, sticking to 101 and heading for Astoria seemed like the more vacationy thing to do, so Astoria it was. And in Astoria, I thought it would be nice to make up for our poor choice of sleeping pads – which we did. With a vengeance. A sweet, fluffy, king-sized vengeance.

The remaining drive from Astoria was a pretty easy one, allowing for enough time to stop in Olympia and hit the farmer’s market for supper things. Even so, everyone was glad to come home on Saturday. Our neighbors showed how much they missed us by bringing over a plate of homemade cookies. Our dogs showed how much they missed us by excitedly peeing all over the kitchen floor.

After some careful consideration, I have to say that I think I prefer the neighbors’ approach.

But the story doesn’t end there… No, Saturday night was when I got to enjoy my birthday present: Nine Inch Nails tickets. We dropped The Boy off at the Science Center for a sleepover, parked in one of the Seattle Center garages, and ambled on over to Key Arena for an absolutely amazing show (for those of you who don’t know Seattle, the Science Center & Key Arena are all part of the Seattle Center complex where the Space Needle is). The opening band sucked, but Trent & co. were incredible.

So there you go: the whirlwind demi-week of vacation… Recovery time not included.

Wednesday Night Ice Cream Truck Blogging

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

Ever since we moved in, we’ve been suspicious about our local ice cream truck. Oh, sure – it’s the requisite converted white postal Jeep, with a cooler and a sound system, festooned with pictures of various and sundry icy treats in colors unknown to nature. The truck is legit. The driver on the other hand…

No, we’ve long suspected that ice cream is really the driver’s sideline. He would fly down our street at top speed (a blazing 30 MPH or more!), past disappointed kids too young to realize that the Doppler-shifted rendition of “Daisy” emanating from the truck sounded eerily like Hal being shut down by David Bowman. Our street is, to an ice cream truck, the ultimate target-rich environment: lots of kids, plenty of parents with pocket change and a nostalgic yearning to recapture fragments of their own childhood… And yet… Yet…

He would have none of it.

No, his preferred demographic appeared to consist of the dissolute drifters and street kids who congregate in Gas Works Park and the homeless car encampments along Lake Union. His other locale of choice, earlier in ice cream season, would be the local junior high school right around the end of classes. Hey, he’s just going where his market is, right?

Right. I’m sure it was nothing but Bomb Pops® all around.

And so it has gone for at least the last three or four years, late Spring through early Autumn, psychotically-warbled “Daisy” tear-assing past demoralized children. Oh, he’d stop for an adult, particularly women (for big breasts, he’d practically lay down rubber) – but an unaccompanied kid? Yeah. Forget it.

And so tonight, upon hearing the electronically distorted burbling of “Daisy”, well, we didn’t expect much. We joked about getting a dime bag, ignoring The Boy’s eager face. After all, it wasn’t like he was actually going to get the chance to pick anything.

But tonight, something was… different. He was traveling slowly. Appropriately, even. And then…

…he stopped! For some kids!

Huh. No shit.

I fished out a dollar and gave it to The Boy, who ran out to the street and flagged down the truck. The Boy got his Bomb Pop® and a “Ooh, good choice!” from the driver. When the boy next door came running out, the driver told him to wait a minute so he could pull the truck up to the house where the boy’s moms could see him. And there he sat while our neighbors’ kids got their ice cream.

Whoa. Clearly the pod people have taken our old ice cream driver. Or Seattle P.D. Either way, it’s a nice start to summer.