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Sunday, July 30, 2006


I'm sorry about the radio silence as of late, but my blog time has been infringed upon by other duties as of late, most specifically by a job.

Yes, that is right. You're humble servant has had to rejoin the laboring classes just so that his family can keep its collective head above the waves for the time being.

As a writer, I am thinking of it as being something of a spy mission. I go out into the world masking my true vocation behind a facade of craven sophistication and collect impressions for projects yet to be thought of. Over the last several weeks I have temped as a glorified file clerk (one day), a glorified data entry maven (one day), and my current position, about which more later.

The first assignment was supposed to last for three months but came to a screeching halt after the lady in charge realized that I was a middle-aged white guy and not a 20-something girl suitable for bullying. The official reason given for my dismissal was that I wasn't outgoing enough, although, in my defense, there really aren't many chances for extended conversation with a filing cabinet. And, to make matters worse, I had been told by the rep at the temp agency to wear a suit, which turned out to be overkill. I think between the suit, the grey in my hair, and the overwhelming presence of my personality, my days were numbered as soon as I shook hands with the insecure bat who runs the place. Life's like that sometimes.

My next venture into the life of a double agent came a couple of mornings afterward when I got a desperate call at 8:30 in the morning asking me to fill in for someone who had called in sick, which is temp code for "I've got an interview for a real job today." The company involved researches jury behavior so that trial lawyers can better manipulate 12 citizens, loyal and true. I spent most of the day transcribing questionnaires completed by people who participated in a study for a pretty good fee. A decent experience, nice people and all, but this is a company that does something that is an abomination to our legal system. Nothing erodes our liberties quite as efficiently as the cynical pursuit of a dollar.

For my current assignment, I have had to go deep underground. Literally. I am working in a mailroom. I hand-deliver parcels and pick up outgoing mail. I may be called upon, at any time, to move furniture or help the founder's son park his boat. The air is dank and the light fluorescent in this man-made cave, and there are times when I could swear that I am developing moss on my northern side. Still it is honest work and my supervisor couldn't be nicer, and I get to spy on the cube moles and the blowfish in the offices and even get to glance at the executives on the top floor. Yes, even a cat can look at a king.

Meanwhile, especially since mailroom workers are not deemed responsible enough to have Internet access, there is little time for blogging. I have been working on a short story featuring Michael Drayton called "Something to Remember Her By" in my spare moments with pen and paper. Wednesday was a good day for it, but the others not so much. Who knows what the coming week will bring?

And in the meantime, it's all research. Sometimes it's good to go underground.

Monday, July 24, 2006


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The Boyo one Xmas morning.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


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I had originally intended to write something on my political blog about the American Democratic experiment, which seems to be in its death throes as we speak, but a far more interesting subject came to mind while preparing my son's lunch. Spaghettios.

The boy could eat this stuff seven-days-a-week, and I can't blame him. I well remember being a big Spaghettios fan when I was his age. I think most kids, given the opportunity, feel the same. He actually got them for breakfast once, courtesy of his grandmother, and such an experience can forge a real bond between boy and G'maw. And, after all, she's the one who started it by asking him what it was he wanted for breakfast, anyway.

For those who equate nutrition with morality, I will gladly lie and say that these are a special kind of Spaghettios whose pasta is made from organic whole grains. The sauce has an organic tomato base that has been spiced with only the freshest, most natural spices, and the meatballs are made either from hard tofu curdled from only organic soybeans or carefully contrived from the remains of free range cattle. I am a specialist at keeping a straight face and can tell you this as calmly as I can discuss the weather.

That is not what fascinates me about Spaghettios, though. There are certain thermal qualities about them that I find enthralling. For example, they never take more than three minutes to heat, regardless of how they are heated. In the microwave, they can be served piping hot in one-and-one-half to two minutes. However--and this is the enthralling part--they can be heated on the stove in less than three minutes at almost any heat. No matter where I set the dial, the heat proves sufficient to have the Spaghettios bubbling in three minutes.

Now, sometimes, I get distracted and come back to the stove to find them scorching and burning in the pan. No problem. Just scrape what you can into the nearest bowl for serving and put the pan in the sink with a modicum of water. And, c'est voila, the scorched Spaghettios wipe away from the the bottom of the pan quicker than you can say "chemical additive." I don't know whether they're made from Teflon or what, but if they are, it is Teflon fortified with calcium and Vitamin D.

Strong bones and clean pans. What more could a parent ask for?

And now you'll have to excuse me. I need to prepare my lunch, the special Kraft Macaroni and Cheese made from organic whole-grain pasta and farm-fresh Wenslydale.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Bargain Hunt

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Everybody has a favorite show, and mine is a confection from England called "Bargain Hunt."

In case you've never seen it, I'll explain the rules. They're dead simple. The host (here in the US still David Dickenson, aka "The Duke," pictured above) gives £200 to two two-person teams. The teams are given one hour at a fair (what we might better term a flea market) in which to buy up to three items. These items are then sold at auction, and the teams can keep any profits, if any. Each team is provided an expert, usually either an auctioneer or an antiques dealer, for consultation.

The first part of the program (or programme if you want to get all British on me) shows the contestants going around and picking various items to buy. Typically, the contestants will find something they like, and then the expert examines it, describes it, and points out both flaws and wonders. The price is then revealed, and, usually, it turns out to be a bit high. The contestants (or sometimes the experts) are sent for a good haggle to try to gain a price that will guarantee a profit at auction.

The second segment is my favorite. In this, David Dickenson confabs with an auctioneer at the establishment that is selling the items, and they dissect the values and opine as to the chances for the various pieces to show a profit in that particular auction house the next day. David usually ends up pronouncing a particular item either "cheap as chips" or "all its money." "Cheap as chips" is a good thing.

The final segment is the actual auction. Each team is brought out in turn and the items sold. Most teams take a loss (but it's the BBC's money--what the hell!), but some teams make mild profits and they typically announce that they plan to donate them to the local pub. Occasionally teams make pretty good profits--over £200 in one case--but they are the rare exceptions.

David Dickenson is an extraordinary character, always tanned and wearing Italian suits. He has his own personal battery of cliches that he trots out ceaselessly--cheap as chips; a bunch of old tat; seems a bit strong for my money; the rules are dead simple; this is a bit of a licorice; this is what we call a Liz Taylor, many marriages, not all of them good--and part of the great joy of the show comes from listening to him talk.

I like this show, which comes on BBC America twice each day, and recommend it highly. It has a silly, carefree air about it and gives me a small shot of a wide variety of British dialects. With a time commitment of only 30 minutes, I find this show to be cheap as chips and think the viewer stands a good chance with it on the day.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Happy Birthday, Hermann

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Back when I was about 14 or 15, I decided to try reading a small, jacketless hardcover book my brother Rick had brought home called Demian. It was written by a German-Swiss writer named Hermann Hesse, and I think I started reading it because I was under the impression that it might have some racy parts in it. I ended up devouring it over the course of a weekend trip my parents and I made to visit my uncle, aunt, and cousins. At one level, it is a coming-of-age story, and I identified quite a bit with the protagonist, Emil Sinclair. There were also other themes and ideas, some of which I got, but most of which went sailing right over my head. Still, I loved it and had made a new friend in a German-language writer who had died when I was not quite three.

In the years since, I have read several more of his works, including four more novels and two long essays, "The Spa Visitor" and "Journey to Nuremburg." Each has impressed me and changed me, helped me to see the world slightly differently, with more compassion, I hope.

Herr Hesse would have been 129 today, had he lived. Happy birthday, Hermann, wherever you are.