Showing posts with label experimental. Show all posts
Showing posts with label experimental. Show all posts

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Reality to Fantasy and Back

I want to explain some of the fantastic and mudune items that appear in my last post. This piece felt like a bit of Ready Player One. There are many references which may be unclear.

  • On Transit Road, in East Amherst is a former bar converted to a Church. I have no idea what kind of church, but there it is. My wife really did point it out to me. 
  • In Buffalo, it is common for people to tack on an "s" to words that should not have them. "Anywheres" is a horrible one, but we also say things like "Federal's" for "Federal Butch Shop". It's not entirely clear if we think that Mister and Missus Federal own the butcher shop or if we think we need to add an apostrophe because we dropped whole words. "Timmy runs", "Timmy ho's" and "Tim Hortons" are some of the more common language butcherings we perpetrate. 
  • The Peasant Dance and The Peasant Wedding by Pieter Bruegel the Elder are the source of many of the references in this story. If you enlarge the picture on the right, look at the two men carrying pies on the unhinged door. There is an extra foot or two people have 5 feet. The foot is wearing a shoe which doesn't match the boots of either men. Mysterious, eh? 
  • Fact: The very high booths are a reference to a bar named McBee's. (Again, that damned Buffalo "s".)
  • The picture on the wall matches McBee's style and mirrors Bruegel's styling of the Wedding painting, but is actually an image from the classic D&D module, X2 Château d'Amberville.
  • Bruegel is referred to as "the Elder", but he wasn't a friar or anything. 
  • Many of Bruegel's paintings depict The Church in a questioning way.
  • "Diamonddraught from the Land" is a reference to the Thomas Covenant Chronicles. It heals people. 
  • "Black Taquynian coffee imported from the Country of Torre" is a reference to the game Gemstones IV. 
  • Gemstone IV is entirely textual. Actually consuming coffee from a text game would be weird. 
  • The coffee referenced can be found in the town of River's Rest or simply "the Rest", which is referenced in the blessing prayer potion of the text. It is the reason that one word is capitalized after the comma. 
  • Elanith is not in Canada, it is the fictional world Gemstone IV and DragonRealms takes place in. 
  • The menus and dice are a reference to the many tables in various RPGs. 
  • "Scout. The Son of the Miller" was meant to sound like the name of a Tarot card. 
  • One of the ways of gaining experience in Gemstone IV is run messages. Destinations are random, as is payment. 
  • The die rolling is kind of reference to The Deck of Many things and how it is presented is how a Deck of Many things might work for a married couple. 
  • The blessing is a reference to classic Cub Scout and Boy Scout meal time prayers. My son is a Scout and lifeguard at a local camp.  
  • I'm a teacher who has taken over a classroom from an excellent teacher and mentor named Ms. Miller. This has happened at two different schools, three times. Weird how that happened. 
  • There is only one magic item table with an entry for 67-68 in the Efreet DMG . It's the Armor and Shield table, Splint Mail, +3. 
  • Believe it or not, passing down tradition like D&D has been going on for 3 generations, with more to come. 

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Tales from the High-backed Booth

My wife and I were driving for the sake of getting out of the house. We were rolling through East Amherst, NY. My wife is recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, so walking was out of the question but she had been in the house for far too long. So, a drive it was.

"Ow," she said for the hundredth time, for the hundredth pot hole on Transit Road.

"Sorry. Again," I said, "Also, for the hundredth time."

Kitty laughed a bit. "I wish it wasn't so dreary. And I wish I hadn't taken that hydrocodone."

"Well, if you hadn't taken that, I would have never gotten you out of the house," I said.

"True. But still, I wish it wasn't raining." She sighed.

"There's a Tim Hortons ahead." I've never been certain if "Tim Hortons" is grammatically correct, or if it needs an apostrophe or if it was the Buffalo "S" running amok. Verbally, you can't tell the difference, but in writing it gets flagged by the spell checker, every time.

As I pulled in for our usual Timmy run, Kitty began musing.

"I should've put something in my stomach before that pill," she said.

"A muffin? Maybe a breakfast sandwich?" I offered.

"Hey, that's weird." Her voice was dreamy, distracted. "They turned that old tavern in to a temple."


I didn't slam on the brakes, it was just the sound my brain made.

"What did you just say?" I demanded.

"That tavern, the one that looks like a barn. It's a temple, now." She pointed at a rough building across Transit Road.

The Peasant Dance by  Pieter Bruegel the Elder
It was an impressive structure, despite being so old. The roof was thatched and the second floor was made of reinforced wattle and daub, framed in dark thick timbers. The timbers were rough cut and stained, as was the central door. Around the door was more of that light colored wattle and daub and two matching holy symbols. A hex with an eye in the center and 7 lightning bolts radiating from the iris in every direction. 

What was especially odd was that the tavern's... er temple's other walls were made up of hay bales stacked up the rafters of the second floor. Someone had placed blue canvas under the bales to protect them from direct contact with the asphalt parking lot.

Kitty's eyes met mine and she sent one of those mental commands that only a spouse can do.

I swung the car around and crossed Transit Road. All six lanes, excitedly, but carefully. Equally carefully, I opened my wife's car door and helped her hobble to the entrance of the tav... temple. It was a trick getting her over the blue canvas, flapping in the wind and rain.

"Does it have a name?" Kitty asked.

"None, that I can see," I answered.

The door wasn't locked and we stumbled over the threshold; Kitty sucked air as her knee moved faster than the surgery would allow.

"Sorry," I said as I took her weight on my shoulder. Inside, by lantern light, I could see dark, rich colors and little else. There was a large rectangle, which I interpreted as a booth and table. We hobbled over and took a seat. We sat in the middle of seven high booths. For some reason, I moved to the seat across from Kitty, rather than next to her.

As I blinked in the relative darkness, I could see the booth backs were nearly six or seven feet high. We could only see a narrow slice of the room, like a hallway. Along the far wall was a high bar or a low wall. I couldn't tell which, but there was a lantern on that wooden bulk. The near wall was more interesting, it was made of hay. We both ran our hands across the prickly surface. A small tray of condiments was in the middle of the table, and inexplicably, there was a framed picture tacked to the hay bale wall. In the dark, I though perhaps the photo was of a couple or family standing around a table, but I couldn't be sure.

Kitty chuckled and said, "It's the Hydrocodone Tavern."

Unnerved by her chuckle I got up from my seat and moved next to her. A shadow loomed over us as a form blocked out the light of the lantern on the bar.

"Welcome to the Temple of the High-backed Booth." A zippo flared before my eyes. The friar lit a small candle next to the condiment tray. He was clean shaven, with ring of wild white hair around his head, but his scalp was bare, tonsured. He seemed to be wearing some sort of bearskin or perhaps a hair shirt. His boot steps were heavy thuds, even as he delicately shifted to the far side of the table to look at both of us. His look was full of judgement and appraisal.

He produced a pair of menus and two small black cups. Like the boots, they clunked solidly on the tabletop before us.

"I am Elder Bruegel, but you may know me as Peter." His voice was gravelly, like an old peasant's and his smile was slight like a wizened village elder.

"Diamonddraught from the Land, for the lady's knee. And Black Taquynian coffee imported from the Country of Torre, for the gentleman. Please consider your options carefully." He left the menus before us and faded back into the darkness.

"I'd say that was 'weird', but we're in an old bar turned Temple on Transit Road, ordering drinks," I said. "And there is a picture of the d'Amberville family standing around Stephen in a coffin."

"I don't want to know that. And I certainly don't want to drink this," Kitty indicated the cup before her.

"Yes, you do. Trust me."

She sniffed it. "It smells... powerful, clean."

I made a sound of assent.

"Trust me, it's better for you than what I have here. And this coffee is frickin' close to perfect." I fished around in the condiment tray for a half and half and raw sugar. A pair of percentile dice toppled out of the tray and there was a flare from my menu.

"What was that?" she asked.

"Something very good or very bad, I'm sure." I ignored the light from the menu and stirred up my coffee. I took a tiny sip. My whole face smiled as I remembered the last time I had this coffee.

"That good? You're face is going to stay like that if you keep smiling like that." Kitty tapped my nose and lips, smiling back at me.

"I haven't been to Elanith in forever," I said.

"Is that in Canada?" she asked.

"You need to drink, too," I said.

As I spoke she gently picked up the cup and sniffed it again.

"Trust me," I repeated.

She sipped the Diamonddraught and let out a deep, deep breath. Relief spread across her face. Although I had made her laugh and smile several times that morning, the creases of pain had let go of her forehead, dispelled by the giant's drink.

"Sir, the dice have been cast. Tell me your option." Elder Bruegel said. Funny, he had approached silently this time. It struck me as mysterious, the boots were gone, replaced by pointed shoes. A minor mystery I guess, because there was never any explanation.

I opened the menu and looked at it. It was blank but for one glowing line. I nodded at the option and it seemed fitting. Before I read it back to him, I asked a question.

"Elder Bruegel. Peter, sir. What is this place?"

"This is the Temple of The High-backed Booth. It is the place where one goes when one does not know what campaign they are on. It is the starting place of many adventures. But for people such as you, it is a resting place between adventures. As you know, at the level you two have attained, there is no magic and no miracles, but the ones you make. It is time for you to read me your selection," Elder Bruegel said.

Reassured, I read to him from the table in the menu.

"Number 67-68. Scout. The Son of the Miller," I read. I was pretty sure that if I had counted, there would be have been forty-nine blank spaces around it.

"So your adventure begins. Do you know what it means and what you must do?" Elder Bruegel asked.

I nodded.

"Do I get to roll?" Kitty asked.

"No. Any number of casts may be made in The Temple of the High-back Booth, but you are bound together in life and in this adventure," he said.

Kitty did not look happy at all. She was very disappointed not to be allow to play.

"My lady, it is very well, it more than suffices. Have faith. Take a chance today, like you did when he asked your leave, years ago," he said.

We only had a moment to hold hands and exchange nervous glances before Elder Bruegel returned with our food. He placed a covered platter before each of us and handed me a small bundle. It was made of parchment and wrapped with a wax sealed ribbon. Inside, I could feel cool metal.

"Do you know what to do?" Bruegel asked.

"Yes. I do." I answered. Before he could leave, I asked him for a blessing.

"Tireless guardian on our way,
"Thou has kept us well this day,
"While we thank thee, we request,
"Care continued, pardon, Rest."

"Thank you, Elder," I said. "That was beautiful."

Kitty smiled at him and he excused himself. That was the last we saw of him.

"Oh! It's perfect!" she exclaimed. It was a plate of strawberries, chocolate, tiny muffins and jams. "What did you get?"

"Bread. Want some?" I asked, but I already knew the answer.

She nodded and I broke it into pieces to share. She slather them with jam and we ate together, sipping our drinks. Just like we did on our honeymoon at Disney. The little jars of jam even had little Winnie the Poohs and Piglets, just like the jars in Disney did in 2001. I glanced around, half expecting a castle view out the window, but there wasn't even a window. A Disney Honeymoon is fantasy and this was real life.

"Is that the bill?" Kitty asked as she tapped the small package.

"Its... a form of payment. We paid in advance, I guess you could say." I answered as best I could. "We have to run the message to receive the reward."

As we drove home, the rain abated. Everything seems so much lighter and not just the sky. We felt lighter inside.

I gave the package to my son Paul, the scout.

Kitty asked, "What is it?"

"I don't know. Will see when it is done," answered Paul. He ran off to his bedroom with Elder Bruegel message.

Later that night, long after bedtime, Paul was done.

"I never would have gotten into models and games, if it wasn't for you dad."

I smiled. "I said the same thing to my dad. Probably more than once."

"It's a windmill," he said.

"What does it mean?" my wife asked.

"I think it is a sign. Millers used to be a place where people went to negotiate, with the actual miller-man acting as the moderator. It's a good thing to be, kind of the linchpin of society." I said.

"I don't care about that. I would like any thing you brought for me," Paul said.

"He's my boy, through and through," said Kitty as she gave him a hug.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Rejected Stories - Unwanted Snark

To keep the ball rolling, sometimes
you need to cut parts out. 
I have a file where I keep text that I find particularly interesting but useful to the task at hand. I use it as a prompt for other writing. This didn't fit because the narrator isn't the important person at this point in the story. You can file this under: "I wish this was fiction".

     The professor glared at us. The upside of being 44 years old and in college for the first time is, I am doing this on my own dime. I purchased a book, a seat and a professor. I don’t mind saying that if I have a need. The professors hate it, but word is out that I have the college’s customer service number. I’ve asked for the supervisor of two different deans. They frigging hate me. I can’t say I like me, either.
     My adviser is a double doctor. He has a Ph.D in Electrical Engineering and another in Adult Education. He is insufferable. We hit it off well. He told the 150 or so freshmen that if we wanted a different adviser, we would not be able to find a better one than he. 
     I snorted.
     “Did you have a better adviser in mind?” he asked.
     “Yes,” I said.
     “Your mom sounds pretty good,” I replied.
     At the time, thought I was sharp.
     It turns out his mom also has a Ph.D. And she is on the college’s board. I wish I had done some more research before opening my mouth.
     In retrospect, it was all fairly predictable. 

Saturday, August 17, 2019

All the right things, in three parts. Item three.

Back in 1996, I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing. The whole world was one big crazy snarl and I couldn’t figure any of it out.
One day, a coworker handed me a simple wooden puzzle. She got it from a vending machine and once it was dissembled, she could not get it back together.
It was so simple, I don’t know how she didn’t see the answer. I reassembled it and she pulled it apart as we talked. That little puzzle was passed back and forth between us, a dozen time or more as we talked.
It was so simple. Hold these pieces gently, like so, and the last piece tied it together. Pass it back, she pulled that piece and the whole thing came apart again.
23 years later, 18 of them married and it all works exactly as it did all those years ago. Kitty takes it apart and I put it together as we talk. I pull it apart and Kitty puts back together as we talk.
I have no idea where that little wooden puzzle went, but it works just the same.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Eulogy of Perception

When turned 11 or 12, my little sister gave me a hamster for my birthday. Over the years, he had a dozen different names. The last one was "Herman Vermin", from a very warped comic book I can't recall the name of.

I never got into the crazy cage thing, he lived in a glass tank his whole life. But I held him every night. I'd sit reading this or that comic book, while the hamster scurried around. He was really well behaved and hardly chewed the corners of the comics.

On a long holiday weekend, Herman started acting funny. Slow, tired. He wasn't looking good. All of my friends and family were away. I didn't have anyone to ask for advice. I took him to the vet. It was the first time I had ever taken a pet to the veterinarian. It was hard.

The guy asked what the problem was and I told him that Herman looked sick.

He examined Herman and said: "It's old age. They don't live so long. I think it's time for you to say goodbye."

I really didn't want to say goodbye. I held him for a long time before going to bed. On my wall was a picture of me and Herman back on my birthday, when I first got him. Compared to that picture of 11 or 12 year old me and Herman, he looked paler, thinner and smaller. I fell asleep, lights on staring at that picture, reflecting on the past and how much that little guy meant to me.

And in the morning, he was gone. He passed while I slept. I was mad and confused. How could I not have been there for him when he had been there for me over all the years.

I buried him in the yard behind my apartment.

Frustrated by loneliness, I called my sister in Toronto. I told her what happened, expecting a sympathetic ear.

"So, ah... Are Mom and Dad still in California?" she asked.
"Yeah." I said.
"And Doug?"
"Alabama for Reserves," I said.
"Hmm. Mark and Ryan?"
"Looking for a college. Visiting family," I said.

I was getting mad. Really mad. She gave me this hamster, when was she going to say "I'm sorry for your loss"? I had this damn thing for all these years. And now he was gone and I was all alone. I was in my own apartment, alone. Really, really alone for the first time in my life.

I felt emptiness filling up with fire.

"I'm sorry, Phil," she said.


"I'm so sorry. I hate to tell you this but hamsters only live about 18 months. Two years tops." She paused, and I felt my world sinking.

"Mom, Dad, me... all of your friends... we've been replacing that hamster every couple of years for over a decade. He died a long time ago. I'm sorry. But for someone who is so smart, you aren't very observant." 

"What the f..." I stammered.

"Hey, I'm your sister. It's what I'm here for. You're welcome."


Monday, August 5, 2019

Truth or Tall Tale Tuesday (TOT3) - 1 in 3

Molly’s husband asked if they had a thermometer because he wasn’t feeling well.

Her initial answer was “I am feeding two babies because I am their mother, not yours. I am not the keeper of thermometers so you need to go look in the bathroom.”

Several minutes later, her husband comes back downstairs and asks, “Do we really need three thermometers?”

She turned to see him with a glass thermometer in his mouth and replies “You have one in three chance of wanting me to answer.”

Molly is now officially the keeper of thermometers in her house.

***This is a switch up for Truth or Tall Tale Tuesday. This story is both true and not true. My sister in law relayed this tale to me at a party. She told it as true but was drunk. When I asked her about it later, she had forgotten all about it and was pretty sure it was a humorous story she made up.

Writing is Art

This section is for rough works, slightly better than drafts, but still incomplete experiments. As experimental works, they should not be taken as true, or factual, even though each item does contain a bit of fact. In many cases, these experiments have been abandoned because I couldn't figure out where they were going or in some cases, what the rules or boundaries were.

Occasionally, poetry will appear. I'm sorry, I'm not good at it but sometimes it pops into my head.


Again, this is a semi-fictional story about my time in high school. All of the named people are real, some of the facts are real, but the timeline and criticality of events has been altered to make an effective story. 

     In 10th grade, I had a homeroom teacher named Mr. Camhi. He was the 12th grade English teacher. How he drew that assignment was beyond me. He was exceptional at homeroom. In 9th grade, I had come up with a scheme to skip school that wasn’t merely good, it was unstoppable. I would come into Mr. Camhi’s class, turn in my note for the prior day’s absence and then turn in my book report for the week and write it on the chart in the corner. Each report was an extra ten points in my final grade, and there was no limit to the number of reports I could turn in.

     It didn’t take Mr. Camhi long to figure out that I skipped school as much as I read books. Back in 1987, it was not common for children to type homework, let alone use a computer. But, I did. Not only did he notice that, he also noticed that I skipped a lot of school. He did not notice that I made $10 a book report from classmates. He was merely a high school teacher, but I was a student of high schooling. I had everything figured out. Or so I thought.

     One day he commented that every book I read was science fiction and I should try something else. I couldn’t say that I was reading other things because someone would have picked up the fact that I was selling papers to fund my extracurricular activities. The funny thing was, I wasn’t really reading anything other than science fiction until Mr. Camhi called me out. Sure, I was writing book reports on the Great Gatsby, The Milagro Beanfield War, and the classic, Killing Mister Griffin for other students for weeks before Mr. Camhi caught up with me. I wish I could say I stopped, but the money was too good.

     But he did affect a change in my behavior. He gave me a book called The New Centurions. It blew me away. It is the story of a rookie cop and his African-American girlfriend, in LA during the 1960s. It could not be further from what I had been exposed to previously. I wanted to know more about this sort of American life, one so distant from me, that I had to put off my shenanigans to use the library at school.

     I lived in that room for months. I noticed every time I was in the library, Mr. Camhi was in the library, too. There was a noticeable lack of 12th grade students with him. He also carried around a bowl of salad. Usually, his appearance was preceded by a disappearance of the librarian. This man was skipping his lunch to keep tabs on a student that had stopped skipping school, but was skipping classes to read everything about racial issues from the 1960s, in the library. I didn’t mind if he didn’t. He was a very welcome person to direct my searches in the card catalog.

     As the 1960s came to an end, so did 10th grade. And with the coming of the new school year, I escaped Mr. Camhi’s watch. However, a second teacher became my keeper.

     Mrs. Cross, my Spanish teacher took on Mr. Camhi’s role. She would have me transcribe her notes and worksheets into Braille. I would spend a few minutes each day with Perkins the Brailler, before ditching out to Perkins the Restaurant. I hung out there so much that they offered me a job as dishwasher. The downside of this was, I couldn’t go there to skip school. They said as much, which was emphasized by the Amherst Police, who drove me back to school.

     I was rather diligent as her assistant. I made sure that she had not only her notes transcribed, but also had a steady stream of trustworthy students to escort her to and from classes, since I was occupied elsewhere.

     One day, she cornered me in her office. She complimented me on my transcription skills. I never made a mistake, in English or Spanish when Brailling.  She thought that was unusual since I couldn’t read phonetically. She was fascinated by how I was able to “read” items she asked me to transcribe for her class, while also struggling with simple handouts she had not let me read and memorize ahead of time. She commanded me to come to her office and transcribe those handouts. Another several months of truancy was wasted. Eventually, I wised up and transcribed the whole workbook so I could visit my new favorite daytime haunt, “Your Host”, on Main Street.

     Mrs. Cross whupped that out of me in rather short order. Since I had an unstoppable method of skipping school, I was rather frank with her as to where I spent my time. She asked me to steal her a menu, as she went there often herself. When I brazenly delivered it to her, as requested, she clucked her tongue. She asked, “Where is this from?”

     “Your Host,” I said.

     “You’re smart, but not that smart.” She held up the menu. “It hasn’t been ‘Your Host’* for quite some time. Can you tell me what is really called?”

     I was silent because I really couldn’t ¡SEE! where it what it said.

     “You have dyslexia and you don’t even know what you can’t see. Funny that you see for me and I have to see for you.”

     I wish I could say that I stopped skipping school, but I continued to be blind for a very long time.

     However, even blind, I knew that I had very special people looking out for me, seemingly, for no good reason that I could discern.

     In 2010, I returned to school and the blindness lifted. Thirty years after graduation, but not too late.

* Many of the local “Your Host” restaurants had opted to stay in business under the name “our Host”.

A (Fictional) History of Writing

This is work of fiction. It is a blending of real events, people and places. Every event occurred, but not in the order presented. Without the proper order, stories lack impact, Such is the way of the world. While much of this tale is based on my own experiences, the point of view is based on the challenges faced by a classmate of mine from Vietnam. 

For a child, the story is about victory. For future educators, it is about failure. 

     When I was in 5th grade, our school received its first computer, a TSR-80. When it turned on, it made a rattling noise and the screen filled with garbage. No one knew what to do with it. It was placed in a room, in the library, for student use. The students were given the manuals and the disks, but there was nobody to teach us what to do with it. After a while, the light was turned off and the door was locked.

     I was the odd kid at school. PS 95 was a Magnet AND an open school. Children were shipped to the Waterfront from all over the city, to classrooms that had no desks or walls. To stand out as an odd duck in that sort of environment is an accomplishment. And not a good one. I had a poor command of English as I had been brought up speaking Italian until age 5 or 6. By fifth grade, I didn’t so much speak English as nod at the correct times.

     I plucked up the courage to beg for the key to the computer room. Thankfully, the librarian lived down the street from me. She was friendly, but more importantly, familiar with my odd communication methods. It was less humiliating to plead with her than other people. A number of adults either ignore or mock me. My parents were called a lot that year.
     As an open school, students were instructed for the first and last few minutes of the day. All of the time in between, except for lunch and specials, was open study. Since I couldn’t read or write effectively, it wasn’t particularly hard to disappear into the computer room. I wasn’t going to produce anything anyway and I was not causing trouble, so where was the harm?

     I left the light off, locked that door and took a seat. Behind me, light streamed from the window across the floor. It was the first level playing field I had ever seen.

     I had seen the machine turn on and display garbage. Everyone saw the same garbage. We all agreed that no one knew what it meant. Except, I knew it had to mean something. So I turned the machine on.

     Nothing happened. No rattle, no lights, no garbage.

     Something wasn’t right. So I drew up my first program. If it had been in words and not in pictures, it would have looked like this:

     1. Turn on monitor.
     2. Turn on memory module.
     3. Turn on keyboard.
     4. Turn on the computer.
     5. Screen displays Garbage!

     Some of the buttons were hidden and other seemed redundant. The order of operation was key to switching on the machine. Those five instructions, button locations and their correct order took over an hour to implement. I felt drunk with success and returned to my class in IB feeling wonderful.

     Soon, I had discovered a book on programming in the library. It had the words “Don’t Panic” on the cover. It was for a completely different computer, for the wrong computer language and licensed quotes from Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It was a bit baffling, but by comparing it to the computer manuals, I was able to reason out how to make the machine work. After some trial and error, I knew how to boot the computer, load disks and save information. Then I began writing code. I was going to make a game.

     It was a Herculean struggle, oddly made easier by the strange Hitchhiker’s quotes interjected into the coding instructions.

     “Don’t Panic”.

     I knew I had seen those words someplace before. They were on a record cover, in the audio bins of the library. The record would say the words. Not just the words from the coding book, but other words. A whole story, just like the Star Wars record I had at home. Except better because they made me laugh.

     It wasn’t long before I had a record player on a cart, next to the computer as I plugged away at my game. It had seemed like an easy program, but since the book had the wrong language and syntax for the computer I had, it was harder than it looked. Many days, I would leave the room with a pad of graph paper covered in code and the record. The librarian said, “You know, you can keep the record for a week. You don’t need to return it every day.”

     Yes, I did. And I would be returning, every day.

     One day, I noticed a teacher from the 7th grade poking around the computer room door. She was always mean to me. She was one of the few staff that went out of her way to make me uncomfortable. She would ask questions I couldn’t answer, which ended in with me crying and a call to my parents. I hoped she would ignore me so I could finish my game. I was very afraid she would take the computer away from me.

     However, I felt more confident than I ever had in all my life. Mr. Gallagher, my teacher, had called my parents. He brought me to the phone so I could listen in. He said that I was participating. I was talking and reading. It didn’t look like they would need to hold me back.

     Not too long after that, the mean teacher, who’s name I might never have known, pounded on the computer room door. She yelled at me, accused me of stealing her cart and the record player. Even through the door, her voice echoed and boomed in the computer room.

     The yelling brought every adult within earshot. That was good because I was done and I wanted an audience. I opened the door, returned to the computer to press a button with a flourish. The drive whirred and words popped up on the screen:

     “Game time! Pick a number, 1 to 10.”

     The record player was forgotten. The fully functional program for writing language was the item for discussion.

Poem #2 Un Truco

This was an assignment for a class on Argentina, taught in English. The requirement was to create a tango, utilizing Spanish phrases. What was interesting was that each writer (including me) was not particularly knowledgeable about Spanish anything, let alone language. 

In my mind, these four items are superimposed on each other, not independent pieces. 

Dos Bailarines, vén y va.
Media vuelta, medio rechazado.
Todavía una pareja.
Aún abrazado.
Agujas susurradas
En azul frío.
Y naranja caliente.
Cada en un gancho.
¿Castigando a quien?
Titubeo. Escucha, una pausa.
Un descanso. Mira, una parada.
Retroceden, se tuercen.
Una amague arrepentida.
Antes de abrazar de nuevo.

One Trick
Two dancers, come and go.
Turn about, half rejected.
Still a couple.
Still embraced.
Whispered needles.
In cold blue.
And hot orange.
Each on a hook
Punishing whoever?
I hesitate... Listen, a pause.
A break. Look, one stop.
They go back, they twist in
An apologetic feint
Before they embrace, anew

One Trick
Two dancers, vén y va.
Media vuelta, half rejected.
Still a parejas.
Still embraced.
Whispered needles.
In cold blue.
And hot orange.
Each on gancho.
Punishing whoever?
I hesitate... Listen, pausa.
A break. Mira, one stop.
They go back, they twist in.
An apologetic amague.
Before they embrace, anew.

One Trick
The cabeceo and she nods.
He is half rejected.
Two dancers, vén y va.
Media vuelta,
Yet, they are still a parejas.
Still embracing, in the caminata for the people.
But whispered needle are traded.
Breathed, in cold blue.
And hot orange.
Each on a gancho.
What will happen at the Cortina?
I hesitate... Listen, pausa.
A break. Mira, one stop.
They go back, they twist in.
A swirl of feet, a sway of hem.
An amague of separation for the people,
Before they embrace, anew.
An amague of a cortina,
As each goes their separate ways.
The Tango is at its end,
But is it resolución?

Poem #1

I don’t do prose, poetry, or song. 
Not even on free beer and open mic night. 
At church, people move away when I sing. 
But I’ll give it a shot.  

I can’t bring you sunlight. 
You can’t taste tasteless water. 
Or discern greenie blue from bluey green. 
We don’t have our drinks for long.
Or the fire that alcohol brings.   
You can’t hold the infinite.  
Or can you? 
The only place I have, 
Is space between my ears.
The only thing you have, 
Are the echos of what has been.
We keep words, concepts and meanings,
To quantify all of I/You am/are. 
Do we hold the infinite? 
We do, within limits,
Called words. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

31 Notes for Writing History

I have written 100+ History papers in the past 6 semesters. I have collected some advice from my professors and personal experience, which I though should be shared:
  1. Learn to love double spaces papers, hate single spaced papers. 
  2. 12 point fonts are fine.
  3. New Times Roman is the default choice for a reason.
  4. The professor's style guide is best. Do not argue. 
  5. Oxford commas are impactful, important, and helpful.
  6. Staples are not be a good idea, they should be the law. 
  7. Number multiple page documents even when stapled. 
  8. Use the school directory to look up the professor's name. Spell it correctly. 
  9. Add your own name to spell check. 
  10. Do not merely spell check. 
  11. Do not use contractions. 
  12. "Extremely" and "huge" both mean "I need a thesaurus". 
  13. Dates do not have apostrophes. 
  14. "Very" is unnecessary.
  15. "Interesting" is not. 
  16. "Toward" is United States usage, "Towards" is British and Buffalo, NY usage. 
  17. History does not repeat, but sometimes it rhymes. 
  18. "Etc." is not worth using. There are better ways. 
  19. Foreign words are in italics. Foreign means it is not in an English dictionary. (Important if you are any kind of bilingual.)
  20. No first OR second person, unless the professor requires it. Thank them when they do.  
  21. The past is always in the the past tense.
  22. Do not confuse British for English. The same goes for others. If in doubt, look it up.  
  23. Do not confuse name places for countries.
  24. "Would" is a crutch or a mistake. Be careful. 
  25. "Led" is clearer than "Would lead". 
  26. Passive voice is painful, but not avoidable. 
  27. When comparing situations implicitly link subjects to periods. 
  28. Do not hide verbs.  
  29. Learn how write citation from memory.  
  30. Do not use clichés.
  31. Learn how to type special characters and accent marks manually.  
Bonus: "Thank you" means "thank you". "You're welcome" means "you're welcome". They are not interchangeable. 

Full of S*** on Valentine's Day

As a child, my favorite "toy" was a black corduroy tuxedo. It must have been a hand-me-down from lord knows who. It had black pants with a red stripe down the leg, and more importantly, a matching black vest.

With my toy blaster, it made the most epic Han Solo costume ever.

Not that I wore it for Halloween. It was my "Everyday Han Solo" costume. I wore it to school, I wore it church. I wore it winter, summer fall and spring. I wore the hell out of that thing.

I wore it until it was ridiculously small on me; and even then, I did not give it up. I willed that thing to fit me for the opening of Return of the Jedi. I managed to hold on to it for years, no matter how hard my mom tried to dispose of it.

I told Kitty this story, long before we ever got married. She laughed and said, "You are so funny, but so full of shit."

My only reply was to pull the sad, little suit out of my closet and show it to her. She was so shocked and surprised, her eyes rolled back into her head.

On this Valentine's Day, I don't have any eye rolling revelations, or a tux, or wacky surprises in the closet, Jennifer Kitty Viverito. Only a great story about fun times. Thank you, today and every day, for laughing with me.

New Unnamed Project - Meet Terra and Vera

When the semester ends, I start losing my writing skills. While writing science fiction and fantasy is wildly different than writing about history or social studies, any writing helps keeps some of those skills sharp.

Tonight's posts are two excerpts from a 7 character study. Terra and Vera are travelers on a space ship in the Epsilon Indi system. When we meet them, they are waking from cryogenic sleep. This story is fairly hard science fiction story. There is no faster than light travel, no artificial gravity, few habitable planets as we would like them to be.

One interesting plot point is that Epsilon Indi seems to have a Jupiter analog in addition two brown dwarfs. The Jupiter analog is where their ship was built, about 6.5 AU from the primary star. The brown dwarfs are 1,500 AU from the primary. Since there is no FTL, travel between these locations is tedious.

When the colonists left Earth, they traveled in generation ships. On arrival at Epsilon Indi, the colonists developed suspended animation to make travel in the system easier on the mind. One of the side effects of the technology is that the human mind has to be awakened before the body is brought out of cryogenic freezing. This experience would normally be painful and boring, so the ship's AI is able to generate a mindspace for the humans to exist in. This is called chimeric space. Chimeric in the sense that it is a dream or wish, unfulfilled.

Chimeric space has some rules. An AI controls it, but that AI cannot impinge upon it. Some robots can appear in chimeric space, but this is quirk of software. They are being informed of the output of a simulated version of themselves, rather than an actual participant like human.

Another quirk of this simulation is, it cannot be used to create mirrors. When a mirror is requested by the sleeper, they instead see an external view of themselves. Any mirrors that do appear have special coding to make them work correctly and cannot be simulated at a whim. The closest chimeric space can go to creating a mirror on the fly is giving the sleeper an external view of themselves. Since people can shift between internalized and externalized points of view, they have concept of "entopic" point of view, which merely means "in the correct place or way".

The sleeper has an idealized sense of themselves, the real world and the virtual world. A person in chimeric space is slowly adapting back to their sleeping body and will detect changes happening to them in the real world. Their sense of time is highly distorted, so becoming aware of someone dressing them seems to take days or weeks.

Terra and Vera have some commonalities, despite Terra being twice as old as Vera. Both were injured in war, both had cancer. Terra is a space ship captain and her brush with cancer was a known occupational hazard. Vera, on the other hand was irradiated by a weapon. As a consequence, she has any number of physical and mental problems, few of which most people can relate to, although through age and experience Terra can come close to understanding.

The title "Vera 1.0" is a consequence of her PTSD. She is reliving the past. When I get to it, "Vera 2.0" will take place along side of Terra's experiences. "Vera 1.0" is taking place in just seconds, like how dreams coalesce in the moment of waking.

This is very rough draft. I hope you enjoy it. As always, please feel free to share your feedback.

The Almost Ugly, Unicorn Princess Story

Nothing is ever perfect, until it is.

Within the first 24 hours of dating my wife, I did something unusual that has been a part of our lives ever since: I read a book to my wife. It was a passage from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. It doesn’t matter what page or passage, it was the one I meant, and it wasn’t a thing I intended to do. Nothing is so perfect, but it left a mark on us that still exists today.

Fast forward many years. My wife brought three wonderful children into this world and I made damn sure that I read to them as I did her. Reading is incredibly powerful. It requires no money, no power, no station or status but it can enrich a mind in ways that exceed all of those things.

I read to my kids and I still read to them even though they can do it for themselves. I read to my wife and I read for myself.

And sometimes, a tiny bit of magic can come from such a simply pleasure.

My daughter was born with a hemangioma. It was a strange, tumor-like structure on the bridge of her nose, about the size of a golf ball. Most of the time, they are very benign. Most often, hemangiomas do not require any treatment at all.

However my daughter, Cat’s hemangioma was different. Located on the bridge of her nose, there was the danger that it could affect the development of her eyes. Cruelly, this would not be direct damage to her eyes but a subtle impingement on her visual perception. Her brain would learn that something prevented sight in that space between her eyes and compensate by ignoring input from that area. If it wasn’t removed fast, she could have a large blind spot that her brain learned not to see. If that happened, there was a chance her sight would be destroyed.

(All that and it was unsightly. Having a child with a tumor on the face has the side effect of pulling every a-hole out of the woodwork to point, stare and lecture.)

As I mentioned before, hemangioma are structures that typically require no treatment. It turned out that our insurance didn’t want to treat it at all. My wife fought an epic campaign to make them understand why it was so critical to have this one, special case treated. She found the best doctor. She worked with him to get the best treatment while battling the insurance company into submission. Our daughter had the best care, from the best people at every step of the way. No BS. My wife, Jennifer really did it all.

At the time, I was doing the best I could to provide. I would work like a dog, come home and did the things that needed to be done. I did my part, the best I could. My place was to support. And I made damn sure that if the kids wanted a bedtime story, they would get it no matter how tired or frustrated I was.

I read The Hobbit in a sing-song voice. I read Watership Down because of the bunnies on the cover. I read The Last Unicorn over and over again as it was my wife’s favorite. Stupid, nerdy stories that were age inappropriate; but they put my family in magical, far-away places.

At the end of the day, Cat’s hemangioma was excised but she was not left unmarked by it. On the bridge of her nose was a scar. And it was more than a red splotch. To this day, she calls her scar “her marker”.

A couple of months after the her treatment, I found Catherine playing with two neighborhood girls. There seemed to be a small row happening on our front lawn. The girls were dressed as princesses, complete with copious amounts of make-up. It was comical, except my daughter standing between the other girls armed with a red permanent marker. The other girls looked very concerned.

“What are you doing,” I asked.

“Playing Princesses…. Unicorn Princesses,” Cat answered.

“Unicorn Princesses?”

“Yes, we all need markers”

“For what?”

“To be Unicorns.”

I took the marker away and Cat blew her stack. It was obviously nap time, but I had this niggling feeling that this was somehow my fault.

After a nap, I asked her what a “Unicorn Princess” was. Surprisingly, shockingly she explained that Unicorn Princesses were princesses that had a red marker on their foreheads where their horn used to be. If the other girls wanted to be Unicorn Princesses, they needed the same marker she had. Otherwise, they would simply be plain-old princesses.

Oh boy, it was my fault. And then some. I was so lucky I happened on the scene when I did. Otherwise I would be explaining a livid, semi-permanent, red mark to two sets of parents. That would be a very ugly conversation, indeed.

That night, situation defused, I read to my wife The Last Unicorn. I started where the trouble and the magic began:

“Molly smoothed the strange hair, and Schmendrick noticed on the forehead, above and between the closed eyes, a small, raised mark, darker than the rest of the skin. It was neither a scar nor a bruise. It looked like a flower.”

I can’t think of any other words that would be so perfect.

Short Story - Kitty's Whim and Horses

It started when Kitty wanted to ride horses. So one cold winter day, we were off to ride horses on a whim. Her horse was named Star and mine was called Chico. I can managed to mount a horse and saunter around, but I am far from experienced.

Chico was a majestic, deep brown horse, standing about 16 hands. I got on him like a champ. And I sat there for about 5 minutes smiling and admiring him as he admired me.

Well, no. He was sizing me up.

First, he twitched head to hoof. Then he spun, followed by a serious attempt to throw me. Since I was still attached, he took off like bolt of lightning racing over mud and snow, on the trail and then between trees. His final trick to get me off was to crash to a stop in a shallow pond and roll.

I managed to keep my seat through all of it, including in the part where he rolled over me in 18 inches of water, mud and ice. I somehow fell backwards against Chico's rump instead of being smashed forwards onto the pommel. Then we trotted back to the barn where the rest of the group was waiting.

I was terrified. So terrified, that the grin I had on mounting him was locked on my face. I couldn't speak because I had the wind knocked out of me. The people who were expecting a complaint or possibly a lawsuit were left the impression that I was completely unfazed by the horseplay. And off we went on the rest of the ride. Me, sopping wet, bruised and bloodied; others, happy, dry, and content.

After that, I was in with her.

Short Story - The College Job

In the early 1990's, I had a "job" watching the computer rooms at my school. I didn't take much effort, either it was nailed down or too old to be of use to the average student. I wasn't required to know anything about computers. Which was good, because I didn't.

One day, a guy who had interviewed for the very job I currently held came in the room. He knew a lot about computers and for whatever reason wasn't given the job. I think he had a relative at the school and it was a political thing. Anyone but him, as show of "fairness".

His sudden appearance set off alarm bells. He was acting oddly, fidgeting with stuff and moving from work station to work station. Since the room was fairly full, it was a distraction. If someone got up, he plopped himself in to the empty chair and fidgeted before moving on. Final, I asked him what he was doing.

He muttered something and turned bright red. It was clear he was both angry and embarrassed. I asked him to repeat himself and he shouted "I'm cleaning mouse balls."

I nearly died.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Welcome to The Cat's Old Apartment

Many years ago, I rented an apartment in West Seneca. It was far too expensive and way too small. While it wasn't awful, it was really marginal. It had a kitchen, living room, two bedrooms, a bathroom and a sitting area in an enclosed porch. The porch looked out on to the back of another house, so I didn't use it.

It was all unremarkable until I bought a cat. I hated the place but boy did that cat love the old apartment.

The first remarkable thing that happen was the cat could walk into rooms and vanish. She was Siamese so she was pretty vocal, even when not visible. Once she vanished, I could hear her but never find her until she chose to reappear. It was baffling. After a while, I got used to it.

One day while washing dishes, I opened a cupboard. The cupboard was annoying, it was a massive wooden structure 2-3 feet deep, yet opening the doors revealed that there was only about 12 inches of space to put things. I had assumed that the pipework was taking up the rest of the space. In any event, the cat entered the bottom cupboard. I bent over to grab her and guess what?

She wasn't there. I opened all of the cupboards and drawers as if there was a chance I was mistaken about her entering the only open door. I could hear her meowing, happily, but no cat in sight.

Then I heard it. Swish, clank. Meow! Swish, swish, clank! Meow.

I almost bolted from the apartment.

Instead, I grabbed a chair, a cup of coffee and sat down. I could hear the cat moving, sometimes from within the cupboard. But other times, the sound was coming from the bathroom or the bedroom, which was on the other side of the wall. Her movements were punctuated with that odd swish-clank! noise.

Three cups of coffee later, the cat reappeared from the cupboard I saw her enter. I noticed a small hole in the back of the cupboard, just big enough for a determined cat to enter. On closer inspection, I noticed many small holes, often no more than an inch or two in diameter in the back of each cupboard. Very odd.

The next day, I armed myself with a flashlight, paper, pencil and a ruler. A map like the one below was the result. This map is not to scale, it is more a schematic and from memory.

The first thing I noticed when mapping the old apartment was that if a door could open, it would often block another doorway. Annoying. Item 2, room dimensions didn't make sense relative to the exterior size of the house. And the cupboard was disturbingly disproportional to the room and interior storage space.

There was obviously a space behind it. Looking in the various holes revealed something disquieting. There were ropes, chains and pieces of cloth.

If I was the bolting kind, I would have been gone at this point.

With a little experimentation, I was able to determine the function of this odd cupboard. It was physically dominating in the room, obviously hiding a space behind it. Aside from the small holes, no bigger than a couple of inches, there were no larger openings. Nothing on the walls behind it nor the attic above or the apartment below. Violently opening or closing the cupboard doors caused air to enter the holes and made the fabric, ropes and chains swing noisily. It was meant to distract.

But distract from what?

In my bedroom, the cat had taken a liking to the closet. It turns out there was a secret passage way from the closet of one bedroom to the closet of the other bedroom. It was about 7 feet long. In bedroom two, there was an odd grill, which looked like a heater vent. Except, there was no central heat in this apartment. I had a gas heater awkwardly placed in the kitchen, nearly blocking bedroom 2's doorway. It turns out this grate could be pushed upwards to allow access to the bathroom.

In the bathroom, across from this grate was an inset shelf, no more than 3 inches deep. Pushing it allowed access to the large space labeled with a question mark. This area was about 10 by 10 and painted jet black. Or so it seemed. I entered the area without a light and as my eyes adapted, I noticed the shapes standing along the wall. And they were looking at me.

This time I did bolt.

When I worked up the courage to reenter the apartment, the cat was happily playing in this space so I had to go back in there. With a baseball bat and a very bright flashlight.

Someone had painted the walls with odd blue, pink, purple and mauve lines. They were not even and sometimes broken lines. At about head level, there were white ovals. Only the floor and ceiling were actually black. These shapes looked like people standing against the wall. How creepy.

In this space, I noticed two ladders. One went up and one went down. One lead to the basement and another lead upwards to a crawl space. It was horribly filthy and the wooden catwalk was only about 18 inches wide. I decided not to try my luck.

Later that evening, while sitting in the living room, I took a good look at the old fireplace. It had been sealed up years ago and was now a rather small but nice bookshelf. That matched the shelf in the bathroom. I pushed it and it slid back to reveal another space.

This area was a crawlspace with a ladder to one side, again with the odd paint job, which also covered a window. When a window's glass is painted over, the creep factor climbs by 101. I climbed up the ladder and noticed the same 18" crawlway leading back to the bathroom. This was no an attic of any kind, it was a catwalk above the ceilings. I could see that the area above the cupboard was sealed up with thick wood planks. Some odd bumps might have been the chains and ropes.

I have no idea what all of this was for. Maybe someday I will tell what my landlady said about the apartment and my friend's theories. But not at night. I don't want to think about it.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Epsilon Indi in Fiction - A World Building Exercise

In my latest work, so far unnamed, the heroes are bound for the Eighth Planet. The ship's AI has named this planet Urbian-Adams for the two people who "helped" discovery Neptune, Sol's eight's planet. The ship's AI is snarky as hell. Urbain Jean Joseph Le Verrier cranked some heavy math to pinpoint the planet for French observers, while John Couch Adams seems to have sent British observers on a wild goose chase. It was expedient at the time to make them co-discovers, but it turns out there was a lot of horse trading going on. There is a fascinating reading here about what really happened.

This is a hard sci-fi story, so the heroes are outbound from habitable worlds so that I don't have to describe them... yet. Except the question came up on MeWe.

So I need some scale here. Pales and Salus are huge brown dwarfs orbit each other. They are 1460 AU from Epsilon Indi and they orbit each other at a distance of 2.1 AU. They have no anlog in our solar system.

Kawal is named for 2060 Chiron's discover, Charles Kawal. This is a tiny body between Saturn and Uranus and it is classified as a small body and a comet. The ship's AI likes trivia. Additionally, the ship has been to Kawal before. It is fairly old.

Urbian-Adams is very like Neptune, while Minerva and Kawal are like Rhea and Dione. These planets are smaller than our moon and a mix of ice and rock. As mentioned before, there have been a manned mission to both planets.

Iuno Regina is a near Jupiter analog. It orbits much further from the star than our Jupiter. Either it is smaller than Jupiter and orbits at about 9 AU (like Saturn) or is more massive than Jupiter and orbits between 10-20 AU. I have selected the first, smaller mass planet.

Around this planet is Bacchus, which is one of many moons. Bacchus has a dense atmosphere and some sort of liquid on the surface. It is very much like Titan, which would be a good place for humans to have small outposts. There is no life, despite having mud and liquids on the surface. Vera memories take place here.

The trouble spot is Terra Mater. It is just .6 AU from the star. It does have an Earth-like atmosphere, called "The Stuff". Terra is much smaller than Earth, about 85% of Earth's radius but is far more dense. "The Stuff" is largely nitrogen, CO2 and O2. It is not particular dangerous, but also not breathable. Life on the planet has been stuck at Devonian level, where plants first took to the land and fish ruled the sea.

So what is the problem? First, from a story teller's point of view, I have a planet named Terra (Mater) and character named Terra. I need to change that. Second, if Terra Mater is just .6 AU from the Epsilon Indi, I need to cram 3 other planets inside that orbit. This means Apollo and Vulcan must be very low mass and close to the star. No more than 0.15 for Apollo. Neither is as big as Titan.

Duellona is a hell like world at about .25 AU. There are two problems with it. This is too hot and it is in a belt of asteroids. This belt of asteroids is far less dense than our solar system's asteroid belt, but a Venus sized planet sharing orbits with big rocks is not good. In the time line of the story, it known before the colony left Earth. It was visualized by a scout craft and all seemed well. At some point between the flyby and the colonists arrival, it was clobbered by a very large object, maybe several. The whole surface is a magma sea. The colonists have deliberately sent several probes to their doom there. Duellona is interesting but deadly. It is the most telescopically observed object in the solar system, merely for being striking.

The colonists on Terra Mater arrived by massive ion ships. As a consequence of not being able to land on the surface of the Terra and the danger of space rocks from Duellona, the colonists have decommissioned their ships' engines and power plants on any old rock that looks like it could be a danger to the colony. These rocks have been moved to Trojan orbits around Terra.

I figured I would share this world building as it won't appear in my story and will go to waste. The primary purpose of this exercise was character building, which meant limiting the scope of the setting. The heroes are stuck, but not trapped on a single ship going to a planet with no surface. This is the stuff of character building.

As a result of this world building, I have significantly altered my characters, "Terra" in particular. She is now named "Keira" and will feature more prominently in Vera's story.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Three Character Study - Moral Creatures

This document was written as 3 character study, where 2 of the characters are children. The main intent was to create a realistic seeming conversation including children. I did not want idiots or wunderkind. I think I succeeded, but in free writing, created a rather dark story.

The secondary intent of this post was to imbed a Google doc into a blogger post, as can be done with Google sites. It's a bit tricky, but I think I nailed it down.