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Mary Sue Mode

After carrying out our intricate plan to perfection, we took the Colonel out of the prison camp through the sewers. We came out in the farmlands outside. The Colonel was impressed. "You're the best I've seen," he told the team. "I never thought that scheme with the cabbage shipment would work."

We had a celebration back at Resistance Headquarters, but then it was time to get off planet. That's always tricky.

My Dream Best Friend patted my back at the ticket counter. "This one's on me," he said, pulling out a roll of tan and blue thousand-credit notes. (My Dream Best Friend was just like my real life best friend except he was black. It was probably makeup. Why they didn't just use a black actor was beyond me. This was just a movie, after all. It didn't matter if the person playing my best friend was my REAL best friend.)

I got my ticket and got in line behind the rest of the extraction team. They went through security without a question but the nice lady at TSA stopped me. "You've been on a lot of planets lately. We have to scan you. It will only take a moment."

So I stepped to the scanner- an oak podium with crystal spikes on the corners. It scanned me. Alarms went off. I heard my real name pronounced. Crap. Computer facial recognition.

"No," I said. "That is lousy writing. I hereby invoke Invulnerability."

The guards closed in. I batted the scanner aside with the back of my left hand and started toward the departure gate, tossing guards aside as I went.

"Why are you doing this?" an old guard asked me. I paused for a minute, and decided to tell him. "I hate it when a story ends with snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. They've killed the Swamp Monster twenty times and in the last scene he comes back from the dead and rips the hero's head off, roll credits. It's lousy writing and I will NOT have my story end like that."

"I see your point."

"Good. Now go, I have a starship to catch." I set him down, straightened his lapels, and went on my way.

Just as the departure gate came in sight they closed three foot thick steel blast doors across the corridor to stop me. "Oh no you don't," I said, and detonated them with a touch. But it delayed me just a bit, and when I got to the gate the door was closed. "I'm sorry, the aircraft has pulled away from the gate," the airline agent said with that fake sympathetic smile they have.

At this point I think I lost my temper.

I walked out of the terminal in a straight line. The building was a maze of TSA security theater, Imperial Stormtrooper strongpoints, and fast food joints, so it was impossible to walk through it in a straight line without causing critical structural damage, but I did anyway. Guards and stormtroopers tried to stop me. I tossed them aside over or through obstacles, as appropriate.

I ended by detonating a fifty foot section of wall and walking out onto the airfield outside. Wisely, the Empire didn't send anybody after me.

There was a man outside in a suit and fedora. "I see you did it your way again, Kid."

"Yeah, Frank, but now I need a ride out of here."

"No sweat. Take my Ercoupe."

"Thanks! Do you know how to pull the propeller through for me?"

"No need, it's the advanced model. It has electric start." He tossed me the key and wandered off with a tip of his fedora, singing something about "Fly me to the moon."

I got into the Ercoupe and started its 60 horsepower gasoline engine. I took off across the runway; a 1946 two seat light aircraft needs much less runway than a jetliner, and infinitely less than a starship. Once in the air I reached to the bottom of the control panel and flipped the switch to fire the rocket boosters, because you know every 60 horsepower antique airplane with a service ceiling of 13,000 feet has them, otherwise it could never achieve orbit. I pulled the wheel back. The nose came up and I headed for the stars.

I rendezvoused with the starship in orbit before they warped out. When I walked into the main lounge they were setting up for my wake.

"Hey, how'd you get here?" my Dream Best Friend shouted. "We thought you were a goner."

"So did I."

"The security alarm went off. The terminal went on lockdown. There were stormtroopers everywhere. There was nothing we could do. How'd you get out?"

I shrugged. "I had to engage Mary Sue Mode."

He stopped and stared at me, disapprovingly. "That's terrible writing."

"Yeah, I know," I said, snagging a flute of champagne from a passing waiter. "But I was provoked."
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A Day in the Life

As one of my co-workers said, we paid for a hot summer with that cold winter that never ended. We sure aren't getting it. It was about 50 degrees and raining this morning, expected high 56. I don't think it made it.

I was completely out of it all day. I have no idea why I was so tired. But first thing I did, I whanged my shin on something inside the Subie hard enough I was afraid the blood would damage my khakis. It is symptomatic that I can't remember exactly what I hit or how.

Work, coffee, and accomplished very little, if anything. I got through my inbox and decided what tasks I had to do, that was about it. I tried to read through some meeting notes I was supposed to review but kept nodding off.

Nothing's wrong that I know of. Some days you just can't get started.
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You Have Options

For a couple of miserable years I lived in the suburbs of Detritus, Michigan. It was the Motor City with a vengeance. The Ford kids beat up the Chevy kids. Both of these gangs beat up the few miserable Chrysler kids in the school. My father didn't work for any of the car companies, so everyone beat me up.

I have often said I'm glad I have forgotten the names of everyone I knew at that school. It means I don't feel guilty for failing to make the world a better place by hunting them all down and killing them. Did I mention that these were not happy times for me?

Be that as it may, being shackled to the Auto Industry had some interesting side effects too. For example, our games of marbles involved a lot of "steelies." These were large ball bearings that shop rats had brought home as toys for their kids. I never did find out whether the name came from what they were made of or from how they were obtained.

We also had some balls, in varying marble-like sizes, made of some brown-streaked material that looked more or less like limestone. I forget what we called them. Someone told me his dad got them for him out of one of the tumbler vats at the shop, where they were used to clean materials before assembly or something like that. I shudder now wondering what they might have been made of.

We heard all the shop legends too, of how bored shop rats might hide ball bearings inside the door panel of a Cadillac going down the line, along with a note that said "you finally found the rattle, you rich bastard." Or how if one of the assembly line workers ordered a new car, in a basic version, by the time it got to the end of the assembly line it would have every deluxe option in the book. Or how, on the other hand, some poor schmuck once ordered a Chevrolet bone stock, with no options at all- and crashed the inventory computer system for the entire plant. Nobody EVER ordered a car with no options at all. Nobody had thought to program the computers to allow such a possibility.

Option-buying couldn't have been any more different from today. Today even the most basic version of most cars will have a good radio, power windows, air conditioning, and a dozen other things which were expensive options or not available at all back in the day. The auto industry has twigged that it is cheap and easy to equip base models well, as long as they're all equipped the same way, and to offer upgrades as packages. When I bought my most recent car I could have had any number of individual appearance gadgets added at the dealership, but for individual items offered as factory options I think the only two available were a moonroof and a navigation package.

Back then options were individual items, except perhaps for a "power package" which might be power steering and brakes, or other such basic packages. And you really couldn't have a decent car without buying at least a few options. An engine big enough to actually move the car, an automatic transmission, a radio (AM only), power steering, power brakes, hubcaps, all were optional. At first, even the OIL FILTER was an optional extra on Chevrolets.

Air conditioning in cars was almost unheard-of. When I saw it, it was an after market add-on unit that occupied most of the space under the dashboard. When I first became aware of power windows they were an item of disgust, since who would be so lazy they couldn't be bothered to crank down a window?

In this era where you can hardly buy a toaster or a flashlight that doesn't have a clock built in, it may seem incredible that a car clock was a very expensive optional extra. Nobody I knew got them. There was always a flat plate in the dash, surrounded by a bezel of some kind, where the clock should go, but not a clock in there. Car clocks had a bad reputation, and well they might. They would have been a battery-driven mechanical clock, and you can only imagine the reliability problems of a mechanical clock subject to the heat, cold, shock, vibration, and dust inherent in an automotive installation. All the more so because the clocks were, supposedly, more complicated than most. Mechanical clocks are inaccurate, so you had to keep resetting the one in your car. Supposedly, if you set it ahead, that would make the clock run a little faster; if you set it back, a little slower, until you zeroed in on the right speed. Clever, but crazy complicated.

By the time I was driving myself a lot of this nonsense had gone away. The only really stripped down cars on the road were Government Specials. For a while, after certain luxuries became standard equipment, the State sent their cars to a special shop to have radios and such removed. Because the generous Taxpayers would get bent out of shape thinking of state employees driving around in their AMC Hornets with air conditioning and a tinny single-speaker AM-FM radio. We had to be denied such luxuries, even if they cost nothing more; even, in fact, if the State had to pay extra to have them removed.

These days it's hard to buy a car that doesn't have a pretty good suite of luxury and comfort features as standard. These days, if the car comes standard with power windows, air conditioning, and a radio, even we public employees are allowed to use them. That's one way today is better than the Good Old Days.
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Christmas Break

In the family room of a house where I lived decades ago, I am standing alone. I am toward the middle of the room with my hands in my pockets, doing nothing.

The carpet I'm standing on is a brick red-orange, a lot more attractive than it sounds. The walls are paneled but it's a high quality paneling; real walnut veneer. I can't see it at the moment, but to my right is the fireplace my father and I built, while to the left is a picture window. The drapes are open. They shouldn't be; it's pitch black outside, and bitter cold. I can feel the chill in that direction as I stand there.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the world, epochs ended and began, the world shifted on its axis, or angels spoke truth to prophets. Something like this must have happened. If not, why would this moment of standing, doing nothing, feeling a chill, be the memory that always flashes into my mind when I think of the week between Christmas and New Year's Day?

Memory is a strange companion, quirky and more than a little bit mad.
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Computer security feels like this.

I want to drive but I can't. The car keys are locked inside a combination lockbox inside a safe inside a bigger safe. Each combo lock has at least 16 characters, which have to include upper case, lower case, symbols, and special punctuation marks used only in Estonian. And they can't be the same as each other in any way. And they can't be the same as any other combination I have ever used, in any of my 184 other key locks (which are all simialrly protected). And I can't write them down. So of course I get the combination wrong, and if I do, the whole thing locks up. And oh, by the way, this whole cockeyed security system was imposed on me. I didn't ask for it, I didn't agree to it, I just tried to get my keys one day and found they were locked up inside this monstrosity.

And every week they add another layer of safes, and make all the combinations four characters longer. Each.

I can't get in, I end up locking the system time and again. So I call the dealership. After giving them a large amount of personal data on the phone, which I am not supposed to give anyone on the phone, they talk me through unlocking the nested safes and getting my keys.

"I don't like this. I want to get my car keys out and go driving whenever I want."

"Well," the salesman says, self-righteously, "it's for your own protection after all. It may be inconvenient to have to go through all this rigamarole every single time you want to unlock anything, however trivial, but it would be even more inconvenient if the Bad Guys stole your car."

"That may be so, but if the Bad Guys steal my car it won't be because I didn't lock my keys in a safe in a safe in a safe. It will be because you guys keep everyone's keys in a suitcase conveniently marked ALL THE KEYS, located next to the intern's desk in the sales department. Remember how the Bad Guys walked in and stole 397,582 separate driver's keys from you, just last week."

"It is unkind of you to say that. We are working hard here. Your Security is Very Important to Us. The suitcase of keys has been moved. It is now under the Assistant Manager's desk. Much safer."

"And besides that," I continue, "the car is built so that all you have to do is run a jumper wire across the cigarette lighter and it starts right up. Your engineers didn't do ANYTHING to implement security on that car."

"Lies! The Belchfire Six is the most secure car on the market. Years of work..."

"I read how to do it in twelve different car thief websites."

"Well, maybe, but if you talk about it the terrorists win. We're working hard to fix that little problem because Your Security is Very Important to Us."

"So I don't want to lock up my car keys any more."

"Why would you want to make it easy for the Bad Guys..."

"I don't want to make it easy for the Bad Guys! I just want to be able to use the CAR I BOUGHT as easily as the Bad Guys can steal it! Your so-called security only keeps out the legitimate users, it doesn't do a thing to stop the professionals!"

"Well," he says, huffily, "if you don't give a damn about Security, I guess there's no point in my talking to you."
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Water in the Gas

Nothing makes me feel self-righteously wise better than finding out that one of my silly superstitions is correct. To wit: Keep your gas tank as full as possible in winter to avoid getting water in there.

My theory (which turns out to be correct) was that much of the water in your gas tank condenses out from the air. You always have some air in the gas tank. As temperature rises and falls the air expands and contracts, moving some old air out and some new air in. Moisture comes in with the new air, condenses out inside your tank, and there you are, water in the gas.

My friend Tom, who comes from a family that owns gas stations, told me you should never buy gasoline at a station that's receiving a shipment from a tanker truck.

"Because the gas station might explode?"

He laughed at me. "No. Well, actually, if it's ever going to explode it's more likely to when they're getting a shipment, but when does that ever happen?"

There isn't, or wasn't, a downtown Birch Run because the gas station went up while they were taking in a shipment one day, but I didn't mention that. "What's the reason, then?"

"There's always sand, grit, water. You know, miscellaneous crud. There's always some of that in the bottom of the gasoline tank. When they're filling the tank from a truck it stirs up all the crud. You fill up then, you get the stirred-up crud pumped right into your gas tank."

Makes sense to me.

Once you DO get water in your gas tank, you have to put alcohol in there to get rid of it. Maybe the best way is to buy a tank of gasohol, gasoline plus 10% ethanol. Ethanol mixes well with water (that's what vodka is, maybe 40% ethanol and 60% water) and it mixes with gasoline, so burning a tank or two of that will mix the water into your fuel and burn it out of the system a bit at a time.

Sometimes I add gas line antifreeze, which is alcohol too. There are two kinds they sell for that purpose. The slightly cheaper is methanol, wood alcohol. It will mix with the water and prevent it from freezing, which is good, but it doesn't mix well with gasoline, so it won't work the water out of the system. Isopropyl alcohol costs a bit more but will make that three way water/ gas/ alcohol mixture and get rid of the moisture once and for all, so I think it's better. They don't advertise which they're using very much, though. You have to read the fine print on the bottle most of the time.

The stuff works pretty well. Witness another story a friend told me, about this AMC Hornet wagon he drove once.

The Hornet had many delightful design features, including a full size spare tire (as they all were, then) that was mounted in a slanted well in the back, under the floor. I don't know why they did it that way, I don't know why AMC did anything they did. When water leaked into the back (and some water always leaks in) it would get into that well, as the lowest possible point. But that was OK. As with many things in cars, there are drain holes to get rid of any water that happened to accumulate in there.

Fine and dandy, until the holes plugged. Rust and mosquitoes were both breeding in there.

Well, my friend took a screwdriver and cleaned out the drain hole. Got all the water to drain through the drain hole, and splashed a bit more water in there to rinse things out. Worked that down through the drain hole too.

You know where this is going. About that time he noticed none of the water was coming out the bottom of the car. What he had done was, with the paper-thin rust prone steel AMC used, he had rubbed a hole through the top of the gas tank (which was under the station wagon's cargo floor) and had put all that rust and water right into the fuel. The name of Helen Blazes was invoked with great fervor.

What he should have done was pull the tank, get it cleaned out, and probably clean the fuel lines and replace the fuel filter while he was at it. But the car was an oil-burning rust bucket and wasn't worth the maintenance cost. So what he DID do was run about three gallons of gas line antifreeze through the thing.

It worked just fine. No problems.
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Heroic Sole Survivor: Oh No! The Evil Aliens were too clever! It's EAAAAARRRRRRTH!


The End
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Time Signals

I'd guess there are still many places where the fire siren blows to mark noon and 6:00 PM. That's handy for those who don't wear watches, which is more of us than it used to be. It was even handier back in the old days where many people didn't wear watches because they didn't have one.

When I was a kid it was handy even if you did wear a watch. As they all were, mine was mechanical. As many were, it was accurate to about five minutes a day-- which is close enough for any practical purpose, if you stop and think about it. In any case it was inaccurate enough that regular time signals, to allow me to correct it, were convenient.

Of course blowing the horn at noon was a bit obsolete even then because we had electric clocks. Every so often I still hear some guy on an antiques show marveling that the electric clock he got from his grandmother still keeps perfect time. Well, all a classic electric clock does is turn at a rate exactly synchronized to the cycles in line current. (The new analog electric clocks seem to be battery quartz movements hitched to a plug in electric transformer; this is cheaper than a synchronous electric motor, I suppose, and can keep running in a power failure if it has a backup battery. But it's not smooth like the old synchronous motor electric clocks are.) A classic electric clock will keep perfect time, if it runs at all, because the folks at the power company take great care to make sure their current cycles at the exact correct rate. They're talking about not doing that any more, because so few people depend on the classic synchronous-motor electric clocks, and a little bit off on the cycle speed here causes no problems otherwise. But for now the current in your wall outlets is perfectly synchronized, and your grandmother's electric clock works just fine.

People value what they don't have. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the world of watch geekery. Anybody can go down to Wal-Mart and, for well under $20, buy a quartz watch that is so accurate that resetting it twice a year for daylight savings time would keep you on time for all your appointments year round. Do watch geeks love these marvels, these true marvels, of mass market technical brilliance? They do not. They want a Rolex or an even more costly self-winding mechanical watch, a watch that costs hundreds of dollars JUST TO SERVICE, which your'e supposed to do every year, and which exhibits a level of inaccuracy which wouldn't be acceptable in a quartz watch you got free in a box of Cap'n Crunch. But the second hand moves smoothly instead of in one second jerks. Also, unlike the brilliantly accurate quartz watches, not everybody can afford a handmade Swiss automatic watch. (And most of those who could have better sense.)

Of course the first electronic watch I can remember, the Bulova Accurtron, was advertised on TV as "Accurate to a minute a month." They gave close-up views of its second hand moving in one second ticks, touted as evidence of its unparalleled precision and accuracy. Back then not everybody could afford a watch whose second hand moved in one second ticks, so they were rare and desirable and worth the higher price.

Today any bozo can have a hyper-accurate wrist watch, assuming (s)he doesn't just rely on cell phones for time. We can also have a pocket GPS device that shows us where we are on a map, any time we need it, a technology which itself depends on accurate timekeeping. We need never know what it is to miss an appointment because our watch was off or because we didn't know where we were. (We do, but it doesn't need to happen.) It's easy to go about your business casually accepting these marvels of technology, never stopping to think that as recently as the years of my childhood a slow or stopped clock could cause a navigation error that might kill people, or might put trains or planes on collision courses-- and sometimes did.
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Dear Mark and Janet

Thanks for the postcard! Good heavens, has it really been three years?

My apologies for not updating my status ANYWHERE for so long. I don't know- the sun goes away in October and I go to sleep, although I'm doing OK this year. You know, cynical twisted and bitter loner I am, I forget how long it has been since I said hi to anyone!

Thanks for caring, and thanks for checking me for a pulse. :)
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Trick or Treat Anthology

Rabbit Valley is putting out an anthology called Trick or Treat. I've got a story in there. Take a look if you will! It's open for preorders.

Trick or Treat Anthology

The Tricks are horror stories. The Treats are erotic stories. Mine is one of the horror stories, of course-- I don't write erotica. Because of deep moral conviction? Nah. I just stink at it. :)

Of course that means I can't buy Mom a copy. I'm not ashamed of what I wrote, of course. I didn't do none of that there pornography smut sex stuff. No, just good old clean blood and gore and body parts flying out the windows and mass killing murder and mayhem! Good clean entertainment! George Carlan had choice words about that- about how torture and murder are considered proper entertainment and sex isn't. But like most of his words, I can't repeat them here. :)

Anyway. The stories, by classification, were written by:

Renee Carter Hall
Bill "Hafoc" Rogers
Ray "Stormcatcher" Curtone
Tarl "Voice" Hoch

NightEyes DaySpring
Naomi Bellina
Whyte Yoté
Roland Jovaik
Ianus J. Wolf

It's a collection of good stories from good writers- whether or not you include me and mine among those.

My story? It's just a little tale of Teen High School Angst. You know, it can be SOOOO hard at that age to find that sense of... special... identity. To really know yourself.

Hee hee hee.
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Pot Pie

When I was in graduate school near Chicago, I lived on a little stipend from the University. They deposited my checks on Friday. That afternoon I'd go down to the bank and withdraw a little cash so that I'd be able to buy groceries for the weekend. The bank had one of these new-fangled ATM machines, so I didn't have to make it down there before the bank closed (which was 3:00 PM, by the way; we used to joke about "Banker's Hours.")

One Friday I got there at 4:30, shortly after the bank closed, with a long weekend ahead of me, and the ATM was broken.

Use the other ATM? There was only one. Go to another bank? They weren't networked. I was facing a long weekend with no food in the apartment and about two dollars in my pocket.

I could have charged some groceries on the credit card, right? After all, I'd had this credit card for years, paid it off on time, and hardly ever used it anyway. They kept increasing my credit limit a thousand here, a thousand there, until I had a five or six thousand dollar credit limit on the thing.

Unfortunately, in these ancient days, grocery stores DID NOT TAKE CREDIT CARDS. I had asked why, down in Chicago. I didn't bother to ask back home, because in those small towns everything seemed about ten years behind the curve; things weren't open on Sundays, most places didn't take credit cards, you just accepted that. But Chicago seemed more With It, Hip, and Groovy. You'd think I could charge some food.

The guy at the store told me it was against the law to charge groceries. Something about not encouraging the poor to go into debt, he told me. I never bothered to check to see if this was true. After all, this was Chicago, and someone tells you it's against the law you just automatically accept that. Anything you might reasonably want to do is illegal in Chicago. It's a rule of Nature.

It was frustrating. I had enough of a credit balance to buy a good used car, or maybe even a new one, but I couldn't buy a hamburger. I had no food and something like a buck seventy in cash to last me until the bank opened at 10:00 on Monday. What was I to do?

I went to the grocery store. I bought a loaf of white bread, a dozen large eggs, and as a treat for my Sunday dinner I splurged on a Banquet chicken pot pie for 35 cents. I never liked those, and there isn't much to like; a tiny pie full of chicken gravy with a few peas in there, maybe a carrot cube, and enough chicken to show in a laboratory analysis. But when I had nothing else, it was mighty good.

I made it through the weekend, obviously

Since that time I picked up one of those little pot pies from time to time, in memory of the Busted ATM Weekend. I'm glad I did, because eventually I grabbed a Marie Calendar's instead of Banquet, and the Marie Calendar's are good! The creamy mushroom chicken is especially nice, and the spilled over gravy on the plate is Feline Contingent Approved.
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Mucking out the barn in the cold
Back aching, but done, finally,
He walked across the muddy barnyard
In the lowering sun,
Habit, really,
The watering trough wouldn't freeze today.

In the edge of the melting snowbank
Beneath and behind the trough
A flash of pale blue.
He picked it up,
A mitten, muddy,
A hole worn in the thumb,
A small mitten.
He held it for a long time,
Just looking at it.

Beneath the mud the ground was still frozen
So he got the pick, went to the garden
Here, in the row where Edith grew her flowers
Daisies, zinnias,
The marigolds that would be bright
As the sun he longed for,
Bobbing in the breeze of summer
That would come, that had to come

He used the pick to make a hole
Then laid the mitten safe in the ground,
Covered it over, kneeling in the mud
Looking down at the little mound
Of earth, mud, and snow.

The sun had set.
Back to the house, then, hurrying,
He scraped off what mud he could,
Went in, lit the lamp.

"Fred? Where are you? Fred!"
Trembling, he took the lamp
And hurried in to her.

She was sitting up in bed,
Pale and weak, but eyes clear.
"I'm here," he said. "I will always be here."
"Oh, look at the mud on your clothes! You're a fright."
"I'll take care of it," he said.
"It's March, nearly April."
Her eyes blanked for a moment, and then cleared.
"Are you all right?" she asked.
He bent over and hugged her.
"Yes, I'm fine," he said,
Hugging her tighter, yet gently.
"Everything's all right."
Squeezing his eyes closed, tight.


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My Mom tells stories:
"Years before you were born
Your father took me duck hunting.
I asked 'How do you tell ducks from geese?'
He got all serious, the way he did when he taught
And he said 'The geese flap their wings slowly, like this.'"
She put her arms out and flapped them a couple times a second,
ba-woosh, ba-woosh
"'while the ducks flap quickly, like this.'"
She jerked her arms up and down frantically
"Still with that solemn
Science Teacher's face he had.
I giggled. I laughed at him. I couldn't help it.
He was mad at me, for a little while."

A dreary day, gray, the road seems endless
But there's the first rain of the season
And a line of waterfowl,
A scratch sketched in the cloudy sky,
Flying north, promise of the coming Spring.
Their wings go FlkFlkFlkFlkFlkFlk.
Thanks, Dad.


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A Night to Remember

If I told my friends I was reading _A Night to Remember_ I suspect most of them would think it was erotica.

Actually, it is Walter Lord's brilliant narrative of the Titanic sinking. He wrote it in the fifties. At that time there were still many people alive who had been there when the big ship sank, and Mr. Lord got his best material by the unusual method of actually going and talking to them.

His was the first big Titanic book. In my opinion, _A Night to Remember_ and the movie they made from it are still the only works of the Titanic that are really worth your time.
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The Mediocrity of Evil

Maybe you've heard the phrase "The Banality of Evil." If not, Wikipedia article . Basically, the idea is that all you need to do to produce evil on an industrial scale is convince your society that this is the way things are done. The vast majority of evil can then be done by punch-clock villains who were only following orders. They aren't bad people, as such. They just have a job to do, and if that involves hurting a few people- who are undesirables anyway, after all- well, this is unfortunate, but it's necessary to make sacrifices to preserve national security and ensure a prosperous economy.

They were just following orders. That doesn't explain the people who GAVE the orders, though.

I am writing this to explain what touched off my attempt at a poem yesterday. It was because I mentioned that Hitler didn't drink, didn't smoke, and claimed to be a vegetarian. To which one response was that I knew more about Hitler than was healthy for a normal person to know.

I had to blink at that one. It is as if Hitler were the Necrocomicon, and merely looking at him would whither your sanity and damn your soul. But no, when you look at what he was- what Hitler was before he became Hitler, if you will- what is most impressive is how unimpressive he was. A low-level soldier with combat experience and decorations for courage in battle. An artist of some small talent. No evidence of any particular criminal tendencies or any special skills. Some slight talent for public speaking, perhaps.

People like to call him a freak and a monster. This is comforting. It implies that there couldn't be others like him, or at least not many. It implies that we ourselves could never do the sort of things he did.

But the fact is that until he started to get a bit of power, Hitler was just an ordinary guy. I have a creepy feeling that we all walk past people as bad as he was back then, or worse, every day. Maybe a Hitler smiles and opens the door for you as you walk into the grocery store, or bags your groceries before you leave. The only difference is that circumstances never gave them that unquestioned power that lets people do what they really want, and so drives them mad- for which we, and they themselves, should be forever grateful.
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Hitler 9684

The 9683rd Next Hitler
Curses the darky who cut him off
On his way to pick up the kids.

Some Thursdays, at bowling
Noticing they let Them in
Just as if they were people
He thinks how he'd set things right
If he got what he deserved,

The ball rumbles down the boards
Like the thunder of doom.
The pins are blown aside
Like buildings in an iron rain of bombs.


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Packages of Shingles

"Hello? HELLO? Dammit..."
"May I help you, sir?"
"There you are. Finally! I want to complain about your roof!"
"My roof, sir?"
"Yes, dammit! Don't play dumb! I want to complain about the roof on your building here!"
"Ah. You want to speak to the Building Manager, then. I inspect factories, you see. I don't have much to do with this office building. I'll see if he's..."
"Typical bureaucrat. Shuffling me off because 'it ain't my job.'"
"Well, you can talk to the person who can do something about the problem or you can talk to me, if you prefer. What's the problem?"
"You've got packages of shingles all over your roof!"
"Indeed, Sir. Most buildings do have shingles on their roofs. What's wrong with them?"
"They're still in the packages!"
"Ah, yes, I had noticed that."
"That's ridiculous! That's bad!"
"I entirely agree with you, sir."
"Well, what are you going to do about it?"
"Why should I do anything about it at all?"
"Because it's bad for the shingles to sit up there on the roof inside the packages! It damages them! They won't last long because they'll be all damaged when you put them on the roof! Any layman knows that!"
"I hadn't heard that, but I'll take your word for it, sir."
"So what are you going to do about it?"
"Nothing. I inspect factories. I was just wandering by the front desk when I heard you shouting, so I came up to see if I could help you."
"Then get me the damned building manager, since you're worthless. HE will do something about those shingles, for damned sure!"
"I will call him here for you, sir, certainly. But he won't do anything about the shingles either."
"Dammit, this is outrageous! It's a waste of the taxpayer's money letting those shingles rot in the packages like that!"
"Acutally, sir, it isn't. We don't own the building, you see. There's no taxpayer money involved. Well, not directly anyway!"
"Bullpuckey! The state's name is on the building!"
"Indeed it is, sir, because we have offices here and we have had them for ten years. But the State doesn't own the building. It's owned by a private landlord. All we do is pay him rent. He contracts to have the maintenance done, however he wants to."
"You're lying."
"If you say so, Sir. Check with the County Clerk if you don't believe me. She has records of who owns what property."
"Maybe I WILL go talk to the County boys. The ones at Zoning and Building Codes. They gotta have a rule against leaving the shingles on the roof like that. I'll put in a word with them."
"I wish you would, sir, since they're the reason the shingles are still in the packages in the first place."
"Well, as I said, this is a private building and the landlord can have the maintenance done however he wants. Presumably he went with the cheapest bid. Now, I could guess why the company he chose wanted to put the shingles on the roof on Friday afternoon late and put them all on over the weekend- when those County Boys you were talking about aren't on the job- but if I did say why I thought it was, that might be slander.
"In any case the Building Inspector saw what they were doing, and he was steamed. They hadn't pulled a permit or paid the fees or anything. He shut them down. That's why the shingles are still up there in their packages; waiting for the paperwork to be sorted out and the fines to be paid and all of that. But by all means, go talk to the Building Inspector. Maybe it will help."
"You have a lousy attitude."
"I entirely agree, sir."
"Well, I.. I.. WHY am I wasting my time talking to you?"
"I don't know, sir. I came up here because I heard you shouting and thought I might be able to direct you to whomever you needed to see, that's all."
"And another thing! There should be someone at the reception desk to help me when I come in!"
"I entirely agree, sir. Unfortunately the current administration won't pay for anyone to fill in while our regular receptionist is sick."
"Then you should have some way for visitors to call someone to the front desk!"
"Ah. Like this telephone by your right elbow, with the sign that says 'Visitors please dial 3400?'"
"Dammit! You should put that somewhere somebody might actually see it!"
"Ah, that I can help you with. Let me slide it two feet to the right... right in front of you now. There. Is that better?"
"Dammit, I.. oh.. ACKgrkkhhh....."
"Oh dear." Click beep beep beep beep "General call, first aid responders to the front desk with the AED. There.
"How unfortunate. Heh. Score one for The Bureaucrat."


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Check Please!

One of the little towns I grew up in had a Detroit Edison office. You'd go in there and hand the man behind the counter your busted toaster; a week or two later you'd go and pick it up again, perfectly repaired. You'd go in and hand him your burned-out light bulbs; he'd hand you new ones, right on the spot. The charge for all of this was exactly nothing.

Oh, you paid all right, on your electric bill. But repairs or replacements on small electric items was included at no extra charge, no pun intended.

I suppose the practice of repairing small appliances for free went away in the 70s, when appliances became cheap in price and construction, too cheap to be worth fixing, and most of them were stamped or glued together to be maintenance-proof anyway. I do remember that free light bulbs went on for a while until an Honest Businessman sued Edison for anti-competitive practices because he couldn't make his penny of profit on a light bulb when Edison gave them away for free. I suppose he has a point- it's hard to compete with free. Too bad he had to spoil it for everyone else so he could get his penny, though. Honest Businessman!

Even then it struck me as strange that Edison would have an office in that little town just to fix toasters and hand out free light bulbs. But thinking back, I realize the main reason they had an office was to collect electric bill payments, in cash.

My family was on the cutting edge of technology. Dad paid our bills with a household checkbook. I grew up thinking that was the nature of the world. You paid things The Check is In the Mail way, and people always had. Not so.

Apparently the household checkbook wasn't all that common until the 1960s. Even when I was a kid, a lot folks, old-timers mainly, did everything in cash. They would go to the gas company or electric company office in town. Or if there was no office, they could pay at some of the banks; I remember seeing signs in the banks that they accepted payments for this or the other utility, loan company, and so on.

I was thinking about that today when I was writing some checks to pay my property taxes on the vacant lots next to the house. I am almost up to Check Number 4000. I've written a lot of checks in my career here. But now I write probably one or two a month, no more than that. Instead, I pay via my bank online. They will transfer the funds electronically or, for the real hold-outs, print a check and mail it for me. But there are some people I only pay once, or once in a great while. It's not worth it to me to enter their information into the system. For these people, I still write a check and send it Snail Mail.

With the death spiral of the Post Office, I may soon not be sending anyone any checks at all. I daresay many, perhaps even most, of the people around this country today never wrote a check and never will.

It's surprising, when I think of it, that something that seems to have been an eternal and indispensable feature of the universe was just a blink in history's eye.
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It's sort of a set of pliers in reverse, You squeeze the handle and the pins at the opposite end spread apart. What it is, it's a lifter for the lids of glass jars. Put those teeth between the lid and the jar, squeeze, and pffft, like that, the vacuum seal is broken, the lid is loose, and you can take it right off.

It's the E-Z Lift, made by Stewart Products who knows when. It was in the junk drawer in my home all the time I was growing up, and I never knew what it was for until a few years ago, in spite of the fact that it has instructions stamped on the back. It works like a charm. Why did they stop making them?

No, you can't have mine.
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Any day out of the office is a good one. I went out to do a couple inspections today.

I found and rescued a trapped bird at one of the sites. I felt moved to tweet about it, using the fancy-Dan new thingie I found called Twitter. Maybe you've heard of it.

(Tweet:) I rescued a fledgling who got his foot caught in a slot in a steel beam at a natural gas production facility. They never thank you.

Ran around and did the rest of my stuff. On my way back to the office I stopped to carry a tortoise off the highway. I have to do at least one turtle rescue each spring, so now my spring is complete I guess.

(Tweet:) Rescued turtle from the highway. They never thank you either.

Sometime after I got an email that some natural gas production management company in Austin, Texas, was following my tweets. Haiku ensued:

Some gas company
Follows my tweets, who knows why?
Hope they like haiku

Of course when I investigated this Leading Upstanding Natural Gas Management Company I found they were NOT following me. They had something like 100 followers but were only following one person, and it wasn't me.

The answer is obvious. I had mentioned natural gas production in one of my tweets. They must have some sort of twitterbot, a critter I didn't know existed, that searched tweets for those words, followed anyone who mentioned them, and then unfollowed them again. It was all just an elaborate way of spamming, in other words.

I'm annoyed at that of course. Spammers Must Die. Still, you have to admire all the hard work and dedication needed to pull off this particular bit of annoyance. And they didn't steal anything but my time and Twitter's bandwidth, didn't steal anyone's pension, didn't kill anyone, didn't overthrow any small oil-rich countries, so by the standards of Good Honest Businessmen they're not all that slimy at all. Probably.


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Pondering Stars

Chris poses an interesting question. Was Tom Bombadil evil? Nah.. more indifferent, I'd say. Oh, good natured certainly, in an abstract way, but human affairs weren't his worry.

Isn't that what you'd expect in a godlike being, really? Dictators and saints try to manipulate or compel people to live in certain ways, but that's because their chief concern is other people or because there's no other source of power to accomplish their ends. A God wouldn't be limited to working through human agents, and probably wouldn't concern themselves with humans. We think God's biggest concern is getting us to Heaven or sending us to Hell or numbering the hairs on our heads, but certainly a God who had created the whole Universe would have more important things to worry about than us. Thinking God is watching us so closely is just our vanity speaking.

Hmm, bunny grazing in the yard- no, two bunnies. Cute! I bet they think the yard was created just for their benefit.

The bunnies think God made me
To tend a lawn
So they can nibble
This sweet, dew-dropped grass.
I wonder, are they right?

Of course the Jesus People say the whole universe was created for our benefit. Ridiculous. I remember something about that Intelligent Design fraud the Jesus People tried to pull in Pennsylvania that time, some priest blathering that to believe anything else destroyed human dignity. What kind of dignity is it if it has to be based on a lie, and a stupid one at that? But then he's a priest, he's used to such things.


A hundred billion
Galaxies, made just for us?
If you say so, Ace.

Well, it's haiku in form. But I think I can do better.

Maybe redo the bunnies too. I can't do them both as one haiku, not clever enough for that today, but I can do a pair to go together.

Bunnies nibble grass
Think I was made to tend lawns
For their convenience

We look at the sky
And think the infinite stars
Were all made for ours

What do you call a pair of haiku that have to go together? Are they even haiku? It's really one poem, not two.

Oh well, it is what it is.


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A Ton of Money

As an illustration of one facet of my particular insanity, today I was soaking in the bath when I remembered someone remarking that so-and-so had a ton of money. Just how much money would one ton be?

Well, anything to think about would be good if it would keep me soaking in the nice hot water instead of going out to mow the stinking lawn. So I pondered the question a bit.

It's going to depend on what form the money takes, obviously. The heavier the money, the less the value of a ton of it.

It seemed, remembering how a stack of five pennies is bigger than a nickel, and a stack of ten pennies is definitely heavier than a dime, that pennies would be the heaviest form of money. I don't need to consider larger coins since they are based on designs that were silver once, and thus should maintain the ratio of face value to weight that a dime does. In short, if an equivalent value of pennies outweighs any "silver" coin, it should outweigh them all.

I got out of the tub in the end, dried off, dashed to the coffee maker (first things first!) and then did a bit of research. Indeed, pennies are the heaviest US money for their value. (They also cost the US Mint 2.41 cents per 1 cent coin to manufacture. If you needed any other evidence that it's silly to keep making the things.)

A penny weighs 2.5 grams, according to Wikipedia Which is Never Wrong, Right? Doing the conversions, this comes out to $3,628.74 per ton. If you want to make sure a thief can't steal your retirement fund, convert it to pennies and dump it into your basement. Thief would just about have to get earth-moving equipment to steal a few thousand dollars worth of pennies that way.

It's not that simple, though, since older pennies were heavier. Pre-1986 pennies go 145 per pound vs. 181 per pound for the newer ones. According to this standard, the new pennies are $3,260 per ton (close enough to what I got) and older ones would be a relative swindle at only $2900 per ton. On the other hand the older pennies have collector's value and their materials are worth more, so you'd probably be better off with them after all.

The other end of the spectrum is a bit more straightforward. All US currency weighs about the same, whether it's a $1 or a $100. Right now the biggest bill printed is the $100. It weighs "about a gram." If it was exactly a gram, then rounding to the nearest hundred dollar bill, a ton of them would come out to $90,718,500.

And you could carry it all in one fairly ordinary pickup truck! Such a deal.

And now I have to go mow the stinking lawn. Dagnappit.
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What's the buzz?

In my opinion
Nature's beauty would be fine
Without mosquitoes


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We have a Save-A-Lot in town. Save-A-Lot sells groceries cheap. They sell mostly their own distinctive house brands, and their selection is limited, but it's a great place to stock up on basic canned goods, sauces, crackers, that kind of thing.

We also have a lot of tourist grocery stores. These places are usually out by the lake or where the "main" County Road crosses the river. They sell a little bit of this and a little bit of that, like convenience stores, only considerably more run down (since most of them have been there and unchanged for many decades)and with fishing licenses and live bait.

Canned goods at these backwoods stores are usually the big national brands, labels faded because they've been gathering dust for years; the only thing on them that is up to date is the price tag, which is regularly updated to keep up with the rate of inflation and keep the prices at highway robbery levels. Otherwise that 30 year old can of beans would be quite the bargain by now.

Today I worked late in the field. Coming home from the opposite direction from usual, I remembered that this particular lakeside tourist grocery used to have pretty good pizza. I pulled in and ordered one to take home.

While I waited for my pizza I wandered around looking at the shelves. About half the shelves were empty; it appeared the store wasn't doing too well.

Then I noticed something else. The mustard, ketchup, and steak sauce were Kurtz brand. The beans were Cowboy Billy's. I will stop now before I list every brand Save-A-Lot sells in their discount grocery store a few miles north of this market, but that's what they were, Save-A-Lot brands.

Apparently what the Backwoods Tourist Grocery Store of Today does is goes to town, stocks up on the specials at Save-A-Lot, marks the prices up by 300%, and re-sells them.

I guess that would work.

Oh, trillium? Why that? Haiku, that's why.

Ghost of snow that was
The forest floor is white with
Trillium blossoms


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Melange Books has issued Hilltown as an e-book, with print books available. Here's the site: http://www.melange-books.com/authors/billrogers/hilltown.html

http://www.furaffinity.net/user/fishyboner/ Fishyboner did the cover for it, which is just wonderful. I've told her, and I'm sure she knows it is meant as the highest praise, that the cover she created is nothing I would have ever suggested to her. It's far better than that. Take a look for yourself: http://www.furaffinity.net/view/7879084/

Many of my stories involve furry characters. Hilltown doesn't meet the usual definition of furry, although there are some nonhuman bit players. All the main characters appear to be human.

However, what has always interested me about furry characters is how their minds work. Sure, ears and a fluffy tail are lovely and all of that, but in my opinion the important thing should be how being other than human changes how the characters experience the world and, above all, how it changes how they think. If a written character is just a human in fox ears, and being a fox has no consequences to the story, I feel you should just write them as a human and be done with it. (I don't feel this way about comics, though. In a comic, even if a fox behaves exactly as a human, showing them as a fox gives you a shorthand as to their character- and besides, it's a visual art, so just looking cool counts for a lot. So a furry character who only appears furry without acting furry is acceptable. Not the best, but acceptable.)

In Hilltown, some of the characters appear to be human, but don't have a human perspective. That might make them interesting to furry fans in spite of their bland appearance. Anyway, Maggie Blood is a badass, and if you don't buy the book she appears in it might Annoy her. We wouldn't want that, would we?


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