I spent a good part of yesterday swapping back-up cds in and out of my drive, looking for an old file. I finally found an early version of what I was looking for, one of the letters that bill & I had sent out in a mass mailing to all our friends, sometime around 1992. here's a few quotes that I unearthed in the process:
potshots from ashleigh brilliant: I remember those astro-bright index-sized postcards with quirky slogans and line drawings from when I was in junior high school.
All I want is a warm bed and a kind word, and unlimited power.
from the ramayana
"Prince, do not worry over the future," said Guha, "or try to outguess fortune for it is hard enough to know what one is doing at the moment right now."
Since everything is but an apparition, perfect in being as it is, having nothing to do with good or bad, acceptance or rejection, one could well burst out in laughter.
from the Bal Shem Tov
Once a fiddler played so sweetly that all who heard him began to dance, and whoever came near enough to hear, joined in the dance. Then a deaf man who knew nothing of music, happened along, and to him all he saw seemed the action of madmen - senseless and in bad taste.
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
Gathered around this table in a circle of love, let us take time to offer our grateful thanks:
fred's uncle bill gave this blessing before we had our first thanksgiving meal of the day at phoenix coop. he found the original longer version out in cyberspace, by searching on "unitarian blessings." fred's family was quite interesting, and it was great to be around people of all ages, from kids to grandparents. (the student enclave where we live is dangerously monocropped.) fred's aunt used to be a bankruptcy lawyer in rockford il. it sounds depressing, but she said it was really gratifying to help people get their financial situation under control and move on with their lives. she must have been practicing well before women professionals were commonplace, but I didn't get a chance to ask her about that. I also got to catch up with kealynn and her mother (her father and brothers are out in the northwoods shooting at things).
we're just about to have our thanksgiving meal at rivendell. preparations started last night, with orelia and her sister making food for their family thanksgiving and pies for us to enjoy here in their absence. yesterday morning I went shopping for a set of shiny white matching dishes for the house, when I got home I washed them all and rearranged the cabinets so they would fit. then I cleaned out the refrigerator to make space of the impending avalanche of food and made soup out of the leftover shepherd's pie so we could start with a clean slate. (later I ate pizza with jamie and michael and watched two episodes of buffy with bill, orelia and liz.)
matt has the leading role today, he's in charge of the turkey (and the veggie alternative stuffed squash and the stuffing and the veggie alternative stuffing and the giblet gravy and the veggie alternative mushroom gravy and the mashed potatoes and the whisky sweet potatoes and the buttermilk rolls, and last, but most certainly not least, the homemade cheeseballs). he's been in the kitchen for most of the day, with a changing cast of supporting characters. in the morning I had both bread machines cranked up at the same time, making dough for parker house rolls and sweet pumpkin cream cheese jelly rolls. I also made cranberry relish with dried cherries, and took a turn at peeling potatoes, washed all the dish towels, and did dishes. then I hopped in the shower, grabbed the rolls, and headed for phoenix.
after we got back from thanksgiving part I at phoenix I ironed the tablecoth and napkins, straightened up the living room, set the table (which included searching peoples' rooms for wayward wine glasses), put out the food that was already prepared, and set up the drinks. Then I got the dishtowels out of the dryer, took out the compost, made some ranch dip, and helped with the fresh vegetable platter.
holiday != vacation
a "holiday" sounds like it should be a break from work, but then it turns out that there's all this extra holiday stuff to do, like visiting with your family and cooking and putting on nice clothes, so really you just end up substituting one kind of work for another. maybe it's even a net loss. if, like me, you don't work in the first place, then holidays are more work for sure.
bill figured this one out years ago. his grinchliness is no personality quirk, it's the calculated result of a rational decisionmaking process. I might finally be coming around to his way of thinking.
but he still has to get me a christmas present.
overheard in the kitchen
cheeseballs make me happy.
overheard in the kitchen
I did it! I did it! I did it! I did it!
I had a dream about shit the other night.
I was in a very deep claw foot bathtub, it must have been at 4 feet deep and it was almost overflowing. (I felt bad about wasting so much water.) I noticed there was an enormous rectangular agglomeration of shit in the water, the size and shape of small baking pan. I knew I was responsible, worried that someone else would see. I went to get the shit out, but it had gotten mixed in with the soap. I could see a layer of soft white soapy gunk embeddd in the brown mass. just as I was about to rub the soap/shit on my body I pulled the plug on the tub and woke up.
which is really a shame.
a few years ago I went to a Buddhist retreat with teachings on "dream yoga," the practice of the night, the use of lucid dreaming as a spiritual practice. developing the mental habit of being aware of when we are dreaming will aid us in maintaining awareness in the bardo, in the transitional state that our mind streams enter after death where future rebirths are determined. also, lucid dreaming allows a practioner to meditate to travel to beneficial spiritual environments like the pure lands while asleep.
because dream yoga focuses on spiritual practice, the khenpos only made one offhand remark about the tibetan system of dream interpretation: tibetans believe that dreaming about shit means that you will become wealthy in the future.
especially if you rub shit on your body.
bill & I have decided that a windfall of $1000 or more in the next 2 months will qualify as a dream prophecy coming true. christmas presents don't count. check back with me around january 23rd.
if jack kerouac were a color, what color would he be?
oh boy oh boy oh boy
just a few flakes swirling around, but
it's a start.
it's 18 F degrees out.
maybe I'll just stay inside and watch the snow through my window.
both nathan and pam recently sent me articles on how to increase traffic to your blog, but neither of them recommended the strategy that has worked best for me by far: changing the way that the website statistics are counted. one week ago, after discovering that my hosting service was only counting traffic to my index page, I added more counters and signed up for tracking through sitemeter. the result: twice as much recorded traffic from my host and more than three times as much from sitemeter.
the best thing about the sitemeter stats is that I can see what people were searching on if they click through from a search engine. I'm surprised at how many hits I'm getting from people searching on nerds/geeks/dorks/dork pride/etc. also, I get a lot of hits from people searching for facts about newts. (now I really feel like I need to add some more content to those pages.) is it possible that the nerd/newt community is underserved on the web?
the article that nathan suggested is part of a larger catalog of blog tips, many of them quite interesting. (tips 15 - 13 and 11 discuss attracting readers.) I was seriously tempted to start using blogging software for the first time when I went to mcgee's musings: see how clicking on the arrow reveals/hides the related information? I've always liked how the mathematica front end allows individual cells of text/code/output to be clicked open or closed (lots of other programs have this feature now), and thought that I should be able to do that on webpages; it's so much more convenient than going forwards and backwards through multiple pages.
activeRenderer and Radio UserLand would let me do the outline thing, and have comments too, but I'm still not sure about the software package route. okay, it's vanity, but I like having complete control over my page design. (I like the purple background, and I can read it just fine. but if you can't, this is for you.) I find the cookie-cutter sameness of blogs created with software packages, with that greyish-green microfont and those endless blogroll lists in the sidebars, slightly irritating and I'm hesitant to commit to a structure that I don't have any control over.
I also like existing outside the blogosphere: I can list the people I know who have blogs on one hand; I don't read a lot of other blogs; I don't blogroll; I rarely discuss things from other people's blogs. I was slightly horrified by the blog tip on content (#19) which recommends looking at sites that compile what's being written about/linked to on other blogs --- that kind of herd behavior strikes me as movement in the wrong direction. but then coming up with ideas for things to write about is not my problem, my problem is writing about all the ideas I come up with for things to write about.
my, my, somebody sounds awfully cranky today.
in the future, if you don't have anything nice to blog, don't blog anything at all.
I wanna do right, but not right now.
what I'm listening to:
(heading quote from 'look at miss ohio' by gillian welch)
I thought this was another example of jason's private brain calisthenics gone public, but it turns out that it was a team sport: bill kicked the ball into play and then jason ran it all the way down the field, with the ball in question being the question: what's your favorite element? here's the rivenroster:
jamie was out of town when the list went up on the board --- she got assigned boron in her absence, and then slothium for sleeping so much after she got back, so lithium was actually an improvement. both nathan and I chose heavy and unstable transuranic elements (file that under 'things that make you go hmmm.') the noble gasses were also popular favorites. orelia chose selenium because of it's association with the moon, but I would have picked titanium for her --- the name suggests titania, queen of the fairies, and its wikipedia entry notes that "because of both its inertness and its ability to be attractively colored, titanium is a popular metal for use in body piercing." matt chose thulium because he likes its atomic number.
if you're not sure what your favorite element is tom lehrer and mike stanfill can help.
gray skies: arkansas//kansas, part 5
bill was sick just before I left for my roadtrip, and on tuesday it seemed like I was about to get sick as well. I was exhausted and distracted, and my body felt weird and remote, my face slightly numb as if I had too much to drink and was just about to really start feeling it. I didn't go to yoga or improv; I stayed home in bed, staring into the blank space of my mind.
the cloudy dark distracted state of my brain bothers me even more than the physical symptoms of being sick. the lack of focus makes me feel like some key part of myself is absent, inaccessible. I'd be resentful, but that takes too much energy; all I'm left with is a bored peevishness to keep me company. (resentful kicks in later, when I'm starting to feel better.)
I felt better on wednesday, and I was able to finish everything in time to leave on thursday afternoon. unfortunately, my immune system started to melt down again in the car. by the time I got to pam's house I was fighting off a small infection in my right sinus, not the same disease that bill and jamie and some of my other housemates did battle with, but my old familiar winter-in-wisconsin post-nasal-drip sore-throat sinus fun-fest.
sudafed & mentholated cough drops are my choice of drugs in the day, zyrtec (a prescription antithistamine) at night; speedy counteracts sleepy in the morning and vice versa when I go to bed at night, but the net effect is always an energy drain. I mucked along, glad to see my friends, but not really getting up to speed.
each leg of my trip proceeded under low hanging gray skies, the dull light blanching color, shadow, direction, and time from my perception, the road and the sky converging into a featureless metaphor for my mental state. by the time I left lawrence for the final installment I felt like my consciousness was submerged in a sea of white noise. I had trouble making it from one end of a sentence to another and all my facts on file seemed misfiled, or simply nonexistent. the chattering information monkeys that normally scramble and swing through the dense undergrowth of my mind were strangely silent. it was kind of lonely.
I took the non-pythagorean route back to madison, heading straight east across missouri on 70, then north on 55, 51 and 39 back towards wisconsin. (road trips are not about efficiency.) I listened to another book on tape, and then music, as I drove. the muted sepia tones of the oak leaves and fallow fields along the highway were comfort food for my weary brain, for me, nostalgia always wears the faded colors of autumn.
but the gray sky continued to bear down on me. by the time I reached the flat lands of illinois, after having sat in construction traffic all around st. louis, I felt like I was sinking into a pit as vast and featureless as the sky.
I pulled over to get gas and call bill. I tried to explain what was going on, but instead of information all I managed to send across the phone lines was little packets of inchoate misery. bill absorbed it all and did his best to send back some positive energy, with a gentle reminder that I'd almost surely feel different later, maybe tomorrow, and his trademark humor: feeling bad about not being able to remember things? why don't you think of all the things that you can't remember as you drive?
bloomington is centrally located in the middle of illinois, which puts it solidly in the middle of nowhere. it is however, on the way from madison to fayetteville, offering me the opportunity to meet two of my instant friends, scott reynen and jessica montgomerie, in person. like fayetteville, bloomington has tree-lined streets with beautiful old houses hidden just blocks away from the floodlit strip mall nightmare of anywhere, usa. unfortunately, it was about 2 hours later than planned and long past dark when I got there, due to the construction around st. louis and my lackadaisical driving style. (I'm one of those annoying people who sets the cruise control exactly 2 miles above the speed limit and just leaves it on. at least I drive in the right hand lane.)
scott and jessica live in one of those great old houses that's been carved up into apartments, leaving winding corridors of rooms that are taller than they're wide. they were really gracious at my late arrival, and fed me the only real food I ate all day. I think I managed to do a passable imitation of a functioning human being, obscuring the more obvious similarities between my mental state and a bowl of pudding. because I had to eat and run, I wasn't able to bombard scott with the arsenal of technical questions I've amassed since I finished reading "the complete idiot's guide to creating an (html 4) webpage."
I felt better after real food and real people, and the darkness seemed much smaller and safer than the gray sky it replaced. I started thinking about california, about my officemate-in-crime steve, meandering through the underbrush of memory, until I came to a place where the foliage withered into a vacant dusty lot.
steve's friend dan, not dan curley, the other dan, with the long brown hair and the pheromone cologne, who lives on that ranch with his wife lauren, who used to be a dialysis nurse, who steve used to talk about all the time --- what the hell is his last name? steve used to call him by his last name most of the time, how could I not remember his last name? maybe it'll come to me, if I just don't think about it, I'll probably wake in the middle of the night and go, oh! that's it! except that I'm still waiting for all that other stuff I've forgotten this week to come back to me, like the name of that guy who got tenure at vanderbilt and the trail that mal and I qhiked down at the grand canyon this spring and my latest cholesterol count. dang, what is it with my brain? I'll bet I can figure it out. what letter does his last name start with? a, no, b, no, c, no ... xyz, no, mmmm, m, maybe it was m. yeah, I can almost hear steve's voice saying the name, it begins with m. malarkey? no, that's dan's behavior, not his name. mahoney? no, dan mahoney works with my father. mcmahon? that's my housemate jason's last name. m, m, m and then what a? e? i? o? u? probably not y. m-a and then what? b, no, not b, maybe c? ...
I pulled into a truck stop and called steve.
you mean dan cisco...how long have you been driving?...no, cisco does not start with m...no, you're not going crazy, you're just getting senile, that's all... I hadn't spoken to steve since I left california at the end of the summer, but it felt like we just picked up where we left off. the best thing about old friends is that they're glad to hear your voice when you call on friday night from a truckstop in illinois, even if it's just to let them know you're going senile.
I ate the last twizzler in the dark heading north on route 51. I bought a whole bag of twizzlers at the gas station in edgerton, on my first stop after leaving madison. I meant to get a regular candy bar sized packet, really I did, but the extra large bags were on sale for $1.04 right in front of the register. buying the extra large bag meant that somewhere along the miles of asphalt, between the truck stops and gas stations and non-existent coffeeshops and books on tape and infinite replay cds and oldies radio stations, I consumed a pound and a half of sugar, glue, and artifical coloring all by myself.
I think I'm done with twizzlers for now. and with driving too.
101 instant friends
yesterday marked the one year anniversary of my instant friends page, and the current, active version of my blog. the name comes from a little ditty bill made up one day when I was bemoaning my lack of friends:
instant friends...never be lonely
and remember, there's no limit to the number of times you can click that friendly little button and 'be my friend.'
I've been working on an index of past entries, and I had hoped to finish it and get an RSS feed up at the one year mark, but the additions to the list of things to do and write have steadily outpaced the completion of items already on the list. meanwhile, my email correspondence is sadly neglected as well. (bill is oh-so-sympathetic to my poor, time-deprived, out-of-the-workforce self.)
I'm determined to finish the final installment of my arkansas//kansas roadtrip though --- I've taken notes on every roadtrip I've been on over the past year, with the intention of turning them into blog entries. I used to keep them in my main blog html files, commented out; the notes took up almost as much space/weight as the actual entries. I didn't get rid of them until someone who was trying to help me with a technical problem actually looked at the source code and emailed me with an incredulous 'what the heck is all that crap in the middle of your code?'
the notes are still lurking on my hard drive in files called blog_notes, blog_ideas, blog_trip, blog_notes_current, blog_notes_new, blog_notes_other, and blog_notes_continued. while most of these bits are in no danger of ever reconfiguring the electrons of cyberspace or clogging up the capacity of unsuspecting ethernet cables, I will someday write the account of my last, and by far the most successful, scuba diving adventure with richard in monterey bay. right after I finish adding the three new ideas I had for blog entries today to the list. and commenting out the notes for the four other things I was going to write about today.
poodles are cool: arkansas//kansas, part 4
donna and rodger have two really cool poodles. the poodles are called geordi and dylan, but their real names are Greenwyn Geordi LaForge and Greenwyn Bard of Wales. when I was in kansas donna and I went for a walk with geordi and dylan everyday. they like to go for walks and are very well behaved. in fact, dylan is way better at following poodle commands than I am at giving them. rodger couldn't go for any walks with the poodles because he was in seattle. when donna went off to be an economist I got to stay home and play with the poodles and my computer.
poodles don't shed because they have hair, not fur. their legs look like they are made out of pipe cleaners, especially right after they have been brushed. they need to get brushed a lot or they turn into rasta-poodles. dylan and geordi also go to the poodle salon once a month.
poodles are bigger than you think. geordi and dylan are standard poodles. they run really fast and like to chase rabbits in the yard. but they still make good lapdogs. here is a picture of geordi and dylan sitting in donna's lap. they look extra big in the picture because donna is smaller than you think.
last christmas geordi and dylan came to visit me in wisconsin. donna and rodger came too. I took this picture. the picture used to show all of the messy stuff in my room but now it doesn't because I used a computer program called photoshop to make the stuff go away. I wish I had a computer program that would make all my messy stuff go away in real life, not just in pictures.
and I wish I had a poodle. because poodles are cool.
the deep end of the dork pool
just before I left for my road trip I dove head first into the deep end of the dork pool: I paid wil wheaton 10$ to put up a small ad for my website.
the ad linked to are you bisocial? because wil wheaton is mentioned as 'america's #1 bisocial celebrity' at the bottom of the page. I got 205 click throughs from the 5000 page views, 4%, (but not one new instant friend).
since the www was invented a lot of people have been thinking 'if only I had a nickel for everyone person who visited my website...' but this was more like 'hey why don't I pay a nickel for every person who visits my website...' it's the dot.ann business model: instead of making stuff and selling it, you make stuff and pay people to take it away.
however, for my 10$ I also got proof of something that I had suspected for some time: the traffic statistics collected by my webhosting service are shite.
several months ago the stats showed traffic to my site tailing off and settling on a plateau; the spikes that I used to see after posting comments to slashdot, etc. disappeared. the usual strategies of posting comments on other websites, spamming my friends, gnashing my teeth and whining to bill failed to bring my visitor count/self-esteem meter back up.
but when the tracking stats for the ad showed 205 click throughs while my host showed 48 visitors for the whole week I could finally prove that something was wrong. it turns out that they had only been recording traffic to the index on my main page, and not traffic that went directly to my blog or some other page. (I'm not unhappy with directNIC overall, it's very basic, cheap and easy to use, though their support guy did steer me wrong on setting up the tracking when I contacted them last december.)
anyway, on my detour through bloomington, il, (one of the as yet unchronicled portions of my arkansas/kansas road trip) scott recommended I try sitemeter.com, which is free and provides more information. plus the little logo that does the tracking is the same size as my eyeball logo (yes, those little gifs at the top of the page that look like funky radio buttons but don't actually link to anything are my right iris, post photoshop) so it fits right in the middle of the footer I put at the bottom of most of my pages.
I'm surprised at how much traffic I'm getting from google --- google really does rule the web. even the dusty corners of my website get a lot of traffic from search engines. (it might be time to dust.) the coolest part is that I can see what people searched on, like "backgammon freeload" and "side blotch lizard california." and I've climbed to the top of google's nerds geeks & dorks heap, at least for now.
while backtracking to the google referral links to my website, I came across ian r. williams article twilight of the dorks? at salon.com (they make you wait through a flash ad to read the article if, like me, you aren't a subscriber.) he's concerned that now that being a dork is cool, dorks will no longer be oppressed enough to make great art. as if I didn't have enough to worry about already.
It's important to define what I truly mean by "dork," just so he or she doesn't get casually lumped in with "losers," "burnouts" and "lone psychopath bullies." To me, the dork is somebody who didn't fit in at school and who therefore sought consolation in a particular field -- computers, "Star Trek," theater, heavy metal, medieval war reenactments, fantasy, sports trivia, even isolation sports like cross-country and ice skating. I'd also include the Anne Rice obsessed (goths), the car enthusiasts (gearheads), and the seemingly homosexual (gaywads).
I'd call those people geeks, not dorks, but he gets points for inclusiveness.
That dynamic is changing. These days, it's tough to find anybody who doesn't think they're a dork. Dork sensibility and "geek chic" have become so prevalent that even the least dorky have glommed on to the title -- not just because the digital revolution made heroes out of nerds everywhere, but because adopting the "nerd" label gives a certain street cred to everyone's early child development. Even if most of it is revisionist history.
oh yeah? well I was a dork back when it was still dorky to be a dork.
boring: arkansas//kansas, part 4
what can I say about the drive from fayetteville to lawrence?
I drove north. having learned my lesson in rolla and neosho, I did not attempt to stop in any small towns along the way. I drove right through carthage, past the turnoff for the precious moments inspiration park, even though they've added a new princess diana exhibit (one of the world's largest private Princess Diana collections! now at the Precious Moment's Inspiration Park! on display through December 2004!) since bill & I went last april. I wouldn't have been able to resist if the fountain of angels show had been going on, but it's closed for the season.
I tried to listen to another young adult novel on tape: "love me, love my broccoli" is about an idealistic animal rights junior high outcast who ends up going out with the cutest football player at school ... I guess I hadn't fully recovered from "the princess diaries" because even though I really really like broccoli I turned it off after 4 minutes. (fortunately, the sisters of mercy 'vision thing' tape was close at hand.) vegetarian/animal rights activist has become the default cliche for 'other,' at least for girls, in young adult fiction, the same way that dropping things is the default cliche for 'loser' in movies.
I merged onto a different highway and drove west. a twilight mist lay on the fields and a pale pink winter sunset washed across the sky. then it got dark. I arrived in lawrence.
chez pam: arkansas//kansas, part 3
the top ten things about visiting chez pam.
infinite repeat: arkansas//kansas, part 2
the sisters of mercy 'vision thing' was still looping around in the cassette deck when I left route 90. I was headed straight south on 39, an asphalt line bisecting the planar universe of illinois; even in the dark you can sense the flatness extending to the horizon on either side of the highway.
when I drive around town I keep one cd or tape in the car, set on infinite repeat. it picks up where I left off when I start the car, as if every errand I run is part of the same endless trip (*). but on truly endless car trips like this one I bring stacks of cds, and tapes, and lectures, and audio books, along with a few dozen novels I might want to read while stopped at rest areas. with miles of white line in front of me, I swapped in the first cassette of 'the princess diaries.'
'the princess diaries' is about a high school freshman who discovers that she is actually the princess of genovia and heir to the throne of a small european principality. this incredibly hackneyed plot is narrated in breathless over-inflected teenspeak: "OH...MY...GOD...you will NOT believe THIS...HE actually SPOKE to ME!!!!" by the same actress that stars in the wildly successful disney movie with the same name, and presumably, the same hackneyed plot.
okay, so neither the premise nor the presentation pose any threat of great art, but there were a few interesting bits: the would be princess of genovia's best friend makes repeated disparaging remarks about disney and disneyfication, and her imposing grandmere's 'princess lessons' include the key points of marxist theory. and it did keep me driving through the night, right through to to the predictable "the popular boy of her dreams turns out to be an insensitive lout while the sensitive boy who's been lurking by her side through the whole story turns out to be the boy of her dreams" ending. (oops, I just ruined it for everyone who hasn't read the book or seen the movie yet.)
I stopped for gas at a truck stop just outside of east saint louis about 11:30 PM. the fast food counters had already shut down for the night but the restaurant and convenience store were open 24 hours. there were three or four people who worked at the truckstop in the store, and a guy who was missing one of his canine teeth and seemed to know everyone there, and a few truck drivers passing through, talking on cell phones.
and they were all obese.
not fat, obese.
everyone except me, the man working behind the counter, and a man who walked in later with his 10 year old son. deep in my gut it seemed like there was something very wrong with the world, the lights were too bright, the sounds too loud, and the people too large --- all my usual reference points had warped into something unrecognizable. I felt disoriented, almost disturbed.
I know it was a small sample of people, maybe a dozen in all, but under the fierce glare of the fluorescent lights it seemed that they were all victims of some huge metabolic catastrophe and my mere presence qualified as a form of morbid rubber-necking. I quickly picked up a bottle of water and headed for the register. the man with the missing canine tooth joked with the people near the register, pointing out the non-regulation uniform of a young black man working there and detailing the specials being served in the restaurant that night. if this was a catastrophe, I was the only one aware of it --- I had pulled over at a truckstop on another planet, planet large. it's populated by a humanoid species similar to our own, but super-sized. the darkness and clean white lines of the road seemed safe and welcoming in comparison. I escaped from the convenience store, from the light spilling out of the glass front of the truckstop, and got back in my car.
I'm writing this (the scrawled notebook version) in john's countryside cafe in st. james, missouri. when I opened the door to the cafe a sudden wave of light and warmth, the sound of people talking, eating, living, washed over me, and I felt alone, disconnected from existence. I feel conspicuous now, writing at the counter with a weak acidic cup of diner coffee and my check waiting, my french toast long since consumed. the st. james police force, three officers, a man and two women wearing blue polyester uniforms a size too small, finish their coffee and get up to leave. the waitresses shuttle food and dirty dishes back and forth from the kitchen. it's time to go.
. . .
I had driven about 3 miles west on 44 when it occurred to me that I was getting sick. I could feel the weight of congestion and inflammation low in my right sinus, and it was creeping out to make my throat sore on the right hand side as well. I wanted to climb back into bed and take a nap. I decided to settle for a trip to the drugstore, a cup of tea and some quality time with my notebook in rolla, missouri, the next town along the way. bill & I had stopped in rolla on our way back from fayetteville a few summers ago. because it has a branch of the university of missouri we hoped it would have the usual positive externalities of academia: bookstores and coffeeshops. after driving through miles of uber-ugly strip malls we found the remnants of downtown rolla, which featured one attempt at a coffeeshop/ice cream store. it was closed at the time.
after stopping to get lozenges at kroger's, I drove through miles of strip malls looking for the remaining two blocks of downtown, which in my recall, were parallel to the main road somewhere off to the left after the university. instead I found the edge of town and the on ramp to 44 west, which propelled me back onto the highway two exits east of where I had exited. I was sure that rolla must be the ugliest little town in missouri, but I hadn't been to neosho yet.
I put hunter s. thompson's 'fear and loathing in las vegas' into the player: a one cd long radio play with hectic sound effects and a chorus of two voices screaming about bats and carnivorous reptiles. any lingering aftertaste of the saccharine sweet 'princess diaries' was replaced with the metallic edge of drug abuse. (and the menthol bite of cough drops.) next up was 'refuge,' a cd of buddhist chanting set to music by gabrielle roth and boris grebenshikov (**). the lingering aftertaste of 'fear and loathing' was replaced by the slowly repeating mantras of chenrezig, guru padmasambhava and tara.
I needed gas in neosho and I thought I would try again for a cup of tea and notebook time. the first gas was an outpost of the new walmart supercenter -- which meant that the bathrooms were located somewhere across a vast expanse of featureless asphalt and inside the looming facade of walmart. not a chance. I circumnavigated the depressed and depressing commercial streets of neosho in search of a hospitable stopping place, but ended up just getting gas, using the bathhroom, and heading back past the walmart supercenter onto the highway. neosho must be the ugliest small town in missouri.
at least that's what I think now, until the next time I drive through missouri and have to stop somewhere else.
(*) in the 3 years I have owned my current car, a black subaru impreza named hermione, I have had only 3 different cds/tapes in permanent residence in the player: 'american beauty' by the grateful dead; 'release vol 1' by the afro-celt sound system; and now 'vision thing' by the sisters of mercy. back to text
(**) 'refuge' has been on near infinite repeat on my laptop for about 2 years, and heads up my "most played" list on iTunes, and is followed these days by trance tara (more chanting), wilco, billy bragg, and gillian welch. btw boris grebenshikov, who sings on 'refuge,' is russia's number 1 celebrity buddhist, but he cheats at checkers. back to text
counterfactual: arkansas//kansas, part 1
just before I got to edgerton a portable highway sign flashed the message "2 hr cons. delay" ... "alt rte Hwy 51 S". the exit came up quickly, but was clearly marked with a route 90 detour sign. the traffic ahead of me slowed, but continued on right past the exit. the truck directly in front of me put on its blinker and exited. I put on my blinker and exited. at the bottom of the ramp, the truck turned right, heading away from edgerton and hwy 51. I sat for a few seconds at the stop sign getting my bearings before I turned left, following the detour signs. no other cars left the highway.
I stopped for gas in edgerton, and I asked the woman who was refilling the windshield washing stations if there really was a 2 hour delay on route 90. yes, she answered, there really is a 2 hour delay. and all those cars that didn't take the detour? they'll be sorry, she said, you want to take 51 S all the way into beloit.
I prefer driving on backroads anyway, and the fall fields were glowing and golden in the thin, slanting afternoon light. I stayed on 51 all the way to the illinois border, even though the detour signs pointed back to the highway in janesville. (making the turn would have required a quick lane change, and I thought 51 might take me past one of the 7 wonders of the midwestern word --- the janesville farm & fleet.)
as the afternoon faded to twilight and my brain fell into the rhythm of the road I became obsessed with the road not taken, with what happened to the people in those other cars headed south on 90, and what would have happened to me if I had just stayed the course. I had taken the road less travelled by, but had it made a difference? and why was my road the road less taken anyway? did I miss the next message on the flashing sign, the one that said "ha-ha. just kidding"?
51 runs parallel to 90, but there's a series of lights in janesville and then a few more in beloit. I figured the alternate route took 15-30 minutes more than the highway would have with no traffic delays. so really, even I was risk neutral (and I'm not) there only needed to be a 12.5 - 25% chance that the 2 hour delay would occur for the detour to make sense.
I'm not sure I could quantify my level of risk aversion in this case, but I know it arose from the fact that any delay I experienced on the highway would be accompanied by the psychological distress of knowing that I could have taken a detour but didn't, of knowing that I had given in to some twisted automotive version of peer pressure and joined a horde of internal combustion powered lemmings that was flinging itself past the clearly marked detour sign into a two hour long traffic jam.
or maybe all those cars just drove straight on into rockford, thinking, I wonder what that sign was going on about? there's no delay at all.
overheard at dinner
do you have any idea how hard it is to make someone's stomach explode?
I reformatted and updated my alt.personae page. I added 2 pages of pictures of stuff I built, in hopes of restoring some of the geek credibility lost with the ignominious deletion of my 'weekend.' I spruced up the main page. I updated the blog-O-rama archives and cloned a new b & w version of the recent archives as well. I inducted my latest round of instant friends, 9 in all, into my cyberspace record.
note that none of that actually qualifies as 'writing' which, combined with coffeeshop sitting, buffy watching, and my low moral character means that I didn't write anything all weekend.
it's monday. I'm writing. right now. right?
the erector shrine
I got the coolest thing in the mail last week: tom phillips sent me the instruction manual from a circa 1951 erector set, a fragment of his childhood recovered from his parent's attic. unforunately, the erector shrine that occupied a corner of the apartment in nashville has been dismantled and consigned to, yes, the mythical basement in cape cod. but tom's thoughtful present reminded me that I had scanned in some photos of the shrine last christmas with the intention of adding them to my website. and the pictures that bill took of the rollerscape set that I got for christmas made a great collage. (check out my awesome loop-de-loop.)
the erector shrine was a monument to one of my primary childhood traumas: being a girl. getting a doll carriage when I was 2 years old instead of the cool dump trucks that my brothers got. not learning how to use power tools. not having a chemistry set. or a heath kit. or a model airplane.
or an erector set.
but it's never too late to have a happy childhood, so when I saw a steel tec kit of a space station in the discount bin at toys 'r' us I scooped it up. build your own space station! hundreds of parts! motorized! how could I go wrong?
it did have hundreds of parts, and a motor, but not the hundreds of parts that were actually required to make the space station. the screws were too long and too few, as were the struts. it was the revenge of the discount bin. worse, the only thing that actually rotated in the original design were the two pathetic little plastic antennas.
but like my pal steve says, these aren't problems, these are privileges -- my opportunity to not only build my own space station but to design it too. and the whole thing would spin, to create artificial gravity, just like on a real station. I started with a sturdy square base to hold the motor, and then made a saucer-shaped station to sit on top of it. I added bits and pieces of old erector sets to the top and sides for that retro outer space look.
and then I turned it on.
a loud grinding noise filled the dining room. my space station sounded like a blender that had gone over to the dark side, like a blender with a death wish. it spun around so fast that the the station saucer and the (sharp! pointy!) pieces protuding from it were a gray blur. & the only way I could turn it off was to stick my hand underneath the spinning disk and feel around for the switch on the motor.
I was sure that there was something wrong with the motor, or that my freshman design effort was intrisically flawed. space stations are supposed to spin slowly and silently in the cold dark depths of outer space --- there's no way that a tiny, properly functioning motor and a few plastic gears could be that loud. but bill assured me that they most certainly could, and typically are. of course he only knew that because he's a boy and he had a chemistry set when he was a kid. and model rockets. and a telescope.
and an erector set.
dork factor V
slashdot recently ran a story about a five foot tall model of a saturn V rocket that actually flies! the description of the launch was so inspiring that I've included it here in its entirety. to get the full effect read it out loud, with enthusiam.
Here is what is going to happen when you are ready to launch it...
ooh baby, I need this rocket. I can start building it as soon as I finish the elf/renaissance/goth princess dress.
entries from 10.03