Log in

No account? Create an account
The Minimum Wages of Sin

> recent entries
> calendar
> friends
> profile
> previous 20 entries

Monday, March 13th, 2017
11:26 pm - Second Chance LJI, Week 2: Front Porch
"Alright, what's the rate at now?"

Penny twiddled the knobs. "Um...about 3.42 megahertz...not too stable, though, maybe some kind of feedback through the transformer..."

Landon snarled. "God damn this thing! How are we gonna get a stable picture on it? The test signal looks fine on the scope," he said, flapping a hand towards the oscilloscope, "color burst, front porch, back porch, blanking all where they're supposed to be, and this Piece! Of! Crap!" (he emphasized his point with a thump on the ancient television set for each word) "won't act like it’s getting it steady!"

"I told you," Penny said with an eye roll, "you can't just pick up any crappy old TV set at a garage sale and think you can get it to work..."

He threw up his hands. "I'm gonna degauss the tube."

"With what?"

"The buildup on the tube has the transformers magnetized, that's why it won't sync to the signal."

"I'm not arguing with you," she said through clenched teeth, "but I repeat, what are you going to degauss it with? We don't even have a coil."

"We don't need a coil." He pulled out a giant flat blade screwdriver.

She looked at him for a moment. "You're an idiot."

"What? I just need something long and metal to tap the ultor and short it to ground."

"That's not degaussing, that's discharging the shadow mask. And on an ancient set like that, there's probably fifty thousand volts stored up. Discharging it like that could kill you."

"But it'll get it degaussed." He clipped the ground lead to the handle of the screwdriver. "All I have to do is touch the terminal..."

"Landon, you're gonna--"

There was a crack, like a tiny thunderclap, and Landon flew across the room, smashing into the glass cabinet where their mother kept her collection of porcelain cows. It was a valuable collection, renowned throughout the state.

A faint, high-pitched whine, slowly dropping in pitch filled the air. Penny unplugged the set they had been working on, then crossed unhurriedly to her brother, now scattered among pieces of glass and broken bovine porcelain, and felt for a pulse. She found it, strong and slightly elevated, and sat back on her heels, waiting for him to wake up.

After a minute, he opened his eyes. They slowly focused on his older sister. She pointed a finger at him.

"YOU get to explain to mom what happened to her cows."

(9 comments | comment on this)

Sunday, March 5th, 2017
2:07 pm - Second Chance LJI, Week 1: Not throwing away my shot
"Futility: You miss 100% of the shots you don't take...and statistically speaking, 99% of the shots you do."

She typed in the words and picked a font color...slightly off red. And a picture to go with it...what? A basketball hoop, on an empty court... Yeah, that would do it...

It took ten minutes to put together, a tiny little masterpiece of scorn and humor for somebody's locker or cubicle wall. Just upload it to the internet and watch people scarf it up. This was how you become 'internet famous'.

She'd put together a hundered of these now: "Mistakes: It could be the only purpose of your life is to serve as a warning to others." "Procrastination: Hard work often pays off after time, but laziness always pays off right now." "Unique: Just because you are unique doesn't mean that you are useful." Demotivational posters, they called them, little snarky jokes on posters.

As she saved the file in Photoshop, she reflected how she'd come to this point. Was this what she'd planned to use that art degree for? Well, no, not really. She wanted to design magazines, bring unknown poets and artists to the masses. Design underground websites that made your eyes pop. But those gigs were hard to come by, and this job paid the bills. A way to keep food on the table while she tried to figure out her dreams.

And in any case, she liked it. She liked making up these posters, these little holes in the surface of people's lives that maybe they could get a laugh out of. She could remember sitting on that bench in the lobby of the guidance counselor's office in high school, staring at that rotten, 'real' motivational poster: "Success: Success is a journey, not a destination". And on the other wall: "Challenge: The most profitable decisions in your life will be the most challenging".

God, she'd hated those things. The vague, prissy aphorisms. The meaninglessness of the messages. The ugly, repetitive designs. Any job where she could take the piss out of them was a welcome one.

It was time to start another one...but what. She pinched her brow for a few minutes, then smiled. She opened a new file and started to type. "Winners: Because nothing says 'You're A Loser' more than owning a motivational poster about being a winner..."

(10 comments | comment on this)

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017
2:58 pm - LJ Idol: Second chance
This is my second chance at LJI, and I am taking it, all noise to the contrary.


(1 comment | comment on this)

Monday, February 6th, 2017
11:52 pm - OH NOES

Ah well, I'm a veteran at this (getting voted off, that is) by now...much thanks to everyone who voted for me, and GOOD LUCK!!

(comment on this)

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017
12:06 am - LJIdol, Week 7: Where I'm from...
What's the matter with Kansas? So goes the question. From my perspective, there's only one thing that's the matter with Kansas:

I'm not from there, but for some reason everyone thinks I am!

I mean, seriously! Do I go around with hayseed in my teeth or something? Do I wear bib overalls? Do I stink like a hog waller? I don't know plowing the back 40 from the front, and I have no idea what the wheat grows as high as. But I do know my Topeka from my Salina, and my K-State from my KU.

See, it's my family's fault. I'm not from there, but they are, and most of them rather insistently remain there, so I am obliged to visit periodically. Which has led to the illusion among my friends and acquaintances that I'm 'from Kansas'. There are trips there at least once a year, sometimes more.

As for me, I'm 'from' many places. I was actually born in Phoenix, Arizona. But my childhood ended up being a whirlwind move to many places throughout the U.S.: New Mexico, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois. We seemed to carve a groove through the Great Plains.

And yet, none of them were Kansas. It's difficult to get people to understand.

(9 comments | comment on this)

Sunday, January 22nd, 2017
8:59 pm - LJIdol, Week 6: Heel Turn
"You voted for who?"

She put down her glass, staring into the wine, trying to collect herself. It's finally come out, she thought. You knew it would come to this. You were just hoping you could at least get through dessert. And now that wasn't going to happen.

She looked up, glancing at the several pairs of eyes now directed at her, all gathered around mother's table. Each pair looked different, and she could imagine the thoughts behind them.

From her brother, brows furrowed in exasperation and annoyance. I thought we agreed not to bring this up over the holidays...

From Uncle Jack, a veteran, proudly wearing a flag pin on his lapel, a look that said I received a Purple Heart fighting those bastards, and now a lover of those people is sitting at our Christmas table...

Jack's son Warren's thoughts were plain on his face: These smug, liberal idiots...if it weren't for them, our country wouldn't be in this mess... Next to him, his wife took a sip of her wine, her pleasure at a relief from the usual boredom of her husband's family all too obvious: Well! Maybe something interesting will happen for a change...

She turned to her mother, and the shock was all to evident: No, not my baby...please don't tell me they've gotten to her.... Her father, beside his mother, shook his head slightly: ...knew that school was a bad idea, kids there would put ideas in her head...

And her fiance beside her. His look mixed dismay, pride and trust in those eyes she'd come to study so much in the last three months. I was hoping we wouldn't have to do this, but...if this is what it comes to...

She looked back at her wine. She picked up the glass and took a drink. She knew this would happen. She had spent the whole week thinking about it, thinking about how her family would react, dreading having to discuss it, wishing there was anything else she could do, wishing she could just keep it a secret.

And she wasn't sorry. She wasn't sorry for the choice she had made. She wasn't sorry for the reasons she'd made it. She wasn't sorry about telling everyone. Something is wrong in this country. Something needed to be done. And I'm not going to let people think something other of me than who I'm becoming.

She set down her wineglass and met their gazes again. "Yes, I voted for them. And I'll tell you why..."

(6 comments | comment on this)

Thursday, January 5th, 2017
11:42 pm - Future/Past
If future is future and past is past,
If first is first and last is last,
If writing, not reading were to work so fast,
Where would I be with my mind?

If true sight comes after I've been blind,
If I uncover my future by what I leave behind,
If all that I need is inside my mind,
When will it all become clear?

If I ignore all the things I think I fear,
If I let all of those things disappear,
If I study the stars, cold and clear,
What will be left of me?

If forgetting memories will set me free,
If I strip away all that need not be,
If I let go of all that isn't me,
Who will I become?

If I balance the equation and find the sum,
If I keep the rhythm of the ceremonial drum,
If I breathe, and envision what is to come,
What part of me will last?

(12 comments | comment on this)

Thursday, December 15th, 2016
6:59 pm - LJIdol, Week 3: Brushback Pitch
Batter up
At the plate
Ready for anything
Or so you think

Eye on the ball
Or some other cliche
Ready for nothing
If that's how it goes

A signal, a nod
A whizzer right by
With a spin from Uranus
One for the record books

Get a little closer
Don't be shy
Show that ball
You can't be owned

Next one arrives
Swing and a miss
Angry faces
Behind diamond pane wire
Calling your name

Eyes from the dugout
Maybe a few boos
Not going to let it
Get to you

Here comes another
Runs a little wide
Scowl on his face
He doesn't like you
Something in his narrowed eyes

It comes quick
Didn't quite see it
Leave his hand
Just see the stars

People leaning over
Worried faces
Ump is angry
But you feel

The smile on your face
You got a little closer
Now you know
He's got a weakness
You own him.

(9 comments | comment on this)

Sunday, December 4th, 2016
12:58 pm - LJIdol, Week 2: That One Friend
"You know, there's a fee to be my friend..."

I looked at him, dubiously. Eric and I got along pretty well on the playground. He was in Ms. Stubens class next door to Mrs. Margold's, but we played together at recess, and we got along, which made him different from the kids in my own second grade class. So it was important to keep the friendship going smoothly.

Mom didn't pack my lunch; instead I paid for the hot lunch in the cafeteria, hot, squishy stuff on plastic plates that kept my tummy full. Normally Mom had exact change for me to pay for a week's lunch, but this week she hadn't. Instead, she'd given me a ten dollar bill and asked me to bring back the change, so now I had what was a wad of cash to a seven-year old.

Being seven years old, I of course mentioned this to my friend. It was so cool to have all that money.

And that's when Eric told me about the friendship surcharge.

On reflection now, I wonder if he was just joking, or at least pranking: he wanted to see if I'd fall for it. I did. I didn't understand how friendship works, I guess. I wasn't afraid of Eric. Or maybe I was, in a different way; I thought I couldn't refuse his request and stay friends with him. And I needed friends. They were a precious commodity.

A day later, after an awkward explanation to mom and several phone calls to the school, Eric gave the money back to me. It was more or less voluntary; he even apologized. But he did it with both teachers watching. And we didn't really talk much after that.

So in a way, the friendship had a price. And I paid for it.

(8 comments | comment on this)

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016
6:23 pm - LJIdol: Week 1: Struggle
There's not much air in here.

That's what happens in coffin that's trapped underwater, of course. Not a lot of air. I mean, really, if you have your heart set on breathing, if having air is just your thing, there are lot better places to be than in a pine and ebony casket submerged in six feet of water, gagged, blindfolded, arms behind your back, handcuffs around your wrists and manacles around your ankles, complete with a length of chain bolting you to the floor.

It's dark in here, too. Not much light in a closed coffin, after all, not that light would help with the blindfold on anyway. And just a little bit of air, a pocket that bubbles quickly away as water comes in from the bottom, since they don't make coffins airtight. I only have two minutes at most before the air is gone, and asphyixa starts, that giddy, delicious feeling of your brain cells dying one by one.

This would be awful if I hadn't volunteered for this.

Daddy was a magician, and Mom was his lovely assistant. Zigby and Frye they called the act; Daddy was Zigby, his name up top. Which just goes to show you how the world works, because Ma had all the talent: she concieved the tricks, and taught them to Daddy, because nobody would book a woman magician back in those days. Dad had just enough showmanship to sell the deathtraps he put Ma into every night. In fact, I guess you'd have to say he DID have talent: the one person who absolutely HAS to believe a trick will work, after all, is the magician themself, and nobody ever caught on that he was scared half to death every night, putting Mom at risk.

He needn't have worried. Mom wasn't about to put herself in that kind of danger.

My air is almost gone.

She taught it to me, not that I gave her much choice. As soon as I could talk, I wanted to see what they did every night. I was their only kid, and I learned to stand by the side of the stage each night watching, learning. It wasn't long before I started asking to be the one sawed in half, or to disappear in the cabinet, or to be chained up in the tank, although it was a VERY long time before either one of them agreed to let me try. By that point, I'd seen the tricks they use: concealing little blades to cut rope, secretly swallowing keys to be regurgitated at an opportune moment, making sure the audience can't see anything...

It always felt like cheating to me, though. Once I knew about the safeties in place, I wanted more: make it a little harder, make it a little more dangerous. It wasn't until I was old enough to get my own act that I could make it happen, though.

It's so weird. It's only when I'm closest to death that I most feel alive.

Now I've got to bring up the lockpick I swallowed...except first I have to get the gag out of my mouth so I can spit them out, then turn over and grope around with my hands and find the pick by feel alone. Then I just unlock the handcuffs...then the manacles...then...then manage to get the coffin open...or, wait...do I unlock the handcuffs first and then take the gag out?...no, how can I do that without the picks...it's getting hard to focus...my brain is feeling tingly...

...if I can just...get...the gag...free...

(8 comments | comment on this)

Thursday, November 10th, 2016
7:19 pm - LJ Idol: Introduction
"So...that happened."

That's how I've been greeting close confidants in the last two days.

Context: I am a citizen of the United States.

More context: I am supposed to be introducing myself in this post, to tell you about myself for this next round of LJI, but the truth is I'm not really up to it.

I could tell you for instance that in meatspace, I am white and male and heterosexual and cisgendered and relatively affluent and many other things. Given what just happened here, where I am a citizen, that might mean several things to you. If nothing else, you might think that I'd have little to worry about, maybe that I even wanted this.

But I didn't. I wanted...something else. The opposite of what happened, I guess, whatever that would be.

I wanted things to work out better.

And now I'm supposed to write an intro, and I'm not really up to it, because this thing has hit me harder than I thought it would, and I am sick with worry for the people I know and care about, who are not male, or white, or heterosexual, and even those who are all those things and still feel the same way I do. I am wracked with shame over having not done more, not managing to get people I know to choose differently. I am fighting off despair, and feeling shame for that, because I know I'm likely not to have it so bad, and that my despair is nothing when weighed against those who have far more to fear now than they did three days ago, far more to fear than I will.

I am angry. Angry that I didn't do more, that others didn't do more, that others did things to undo what we DID do, that still others did nothing much at all. Angry that the country I thought I knew could be so foreign to me. Angry that if it had gone the other way, others would be angry instead, which would not have made me happy in the slightest. Angry that there is really nothing for me to do with all this anger except sit and wait and hope for it to pass, and finally, when I'm capable, if I ever am, begin the painful work of trying to undo what has been done and hopefully build a path towards a country I'd be proud to call mine.

Most of all though...I'm just tired.

So. I guess this is not a happy introduction. I'm sorry. It's what I can manage, right now.

The next one will be better, hopefully.

(11 comments | comment on this)

Sunday, November 6th, 2016
11:38 pm - LJ Idol: And once more...again...
If it's not too late, I'm going to try this LJ Idol thing one more time...


We'll see how long I last.

(1 comment | comment on this)

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014
11:39 pm - Last Chance LJI (Not really): In the Garden
[I've put this up too late, so I believe I'm out of the running, but here's what I have.]

In the garden of your mind...

I've discovered a trick for feeling better about myself: watch old episodes of Mister Rogers Neighborhood. Seriously. There's something about watching it that makes me feel better.

Of course, I also feel a little silly. For all my cynical heart, it's hard not to smile with him, not to respond in kind when he greets me, zipping up that silly sweater. I feel foolish, waving back at him; I also feel a little bit freer, a little bit more relaxed. I'm alone, by myself, no one to judge or criticize me. If I want to talk back to him, why shouldn't I?

Sometimes my comments are a bit mean, or silly. It's hard to resist the temptation. When Mister Rogers visits a weather station and watches them fill up a weather balloon, and is told they are filling it with hydrogen, not helium, I imagine a very different Mister Rogers, one who talks in a car showroom voice: "Hydrogen, you say? Well, I'll be. Y'know, I think it's time for Ol' Fred to light up one of his stogies, let me get out my lighter--" Sometimes my imagination is an awful thing.

And still I can't be truly mean or nasty to Fred Rogers, even in my living room, even in my mind. It just doesn't feel right. I mean, if there was any human being who I would nominate for sainthood, he's it. Everything he seemed to be on that show, from every report I've ever read, from anyone who ever knew him, that's who he really was: someone of bottomless kindness, compassion and understanding; someone who took joy in life and was entirely unashamed to let it show; someone who wasn't blind to life's injustices and pain, but somehow never let it dominate his spirit.

Maybe that's the real humiliating thing about watching Mister Rogers Neighborhood: he shames us. Watching him, I can feel defeated by my own inability to live a life so free, so reveling in pure joy. And yet I also feel moved to keep trying.

(1 comment | comment on this)

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014
11:55 pm - The last chance (LCI)
One last chance
One last glance
One last dance
One last romance...

(P.S. Yes, I competed earlier this season already...)

(2 comments | comment on this)

Monday, April 28th, 2014
6:56 pm - Week 7:No True Scotsman
Dr. Trask looked at the readings on the screen another time. Yes, the predicates were all valid; all inference rules were accounted for, as were all the fundamental axioms. He knew he should go over the code for the problem description, but he didn't want to; he knew it would have no mistakes. He had been over it fifteen times already; there were no mistakes to be found.

He covered his hands with his eyes. "Walter...what do you think?"

"We have to go public with this," his assistant answered. "You can't sit on these results forever."

Trask nodded. He knew Walter was right.

Forty-three years of his life he'd spent building the thing: the most sophisticated automated deductive problem solving system ever built. It was now as sophisticated an artificial intelligence as had ever existed in human history. It drew power from supercomputers on six continents, its digital neurons connected by high-speed internet links, constantly exchanging packets of intellect. It was a system designed to answer any question, any question at all...definitively. It was only inevitable that the question would be asked.

Sighing, he looked over the results one last time. There would be controversy over this one. People would dispute the answer. There might be war. But to withhold the answer...it was unthinkable.

He had to publish it.

Tapping the screen before him, he began to dictate the memo. "Results for query #229631 to the Gödelian Ontological Deduction System: Does God exist. Answer follows..."

NOTE: This entry probably needs some explanation: researching the phrase "no true Scotsman", I discovered it's attributed to philosopher Antony Flew; I also read about his embrace of deism, after a lifetime of atheism...which led to articles about the proof of the existence of God, including the interesting fact of using an automated logic solving computer to solve the proof (in reality, it supposed proved the existence of the divine).

(10 comments | comment on this)

Monday, April 14th, 2014
6:30 pm - LJI Week 5: The better mousetrap
"Hmm...what if, when Reyna's caught picking her pocket, Georgianna holds her, so she's still in place when the guards come...and she squirms, so the player can try to get away, but can't move..."

Making a video game is an interesting experience. I'm currently working on a demo for a small JRPG type of game, with a feature where the player can pick other character's pockets. It makes sense: one of the main characters is a street thief, and I thought it would be a novel feature to let the player choose to be a thief and decide to steal things. Of course, this can't be allowed to continue for long, so if you do it enough, the 'cops' start coming after you...

What's interesting is how, once I get started, I keep wanting to add features to the game: what if, instead of yelling for the guards, a character decides to fight the thief? What if she gets dragged into intrigue by dint of something she steals? What if, instead of just stealing from characters, she steals from the store, while the shopkeeper's back is turned? How would the player know if his back is turned? I keep thinking of new things to try, and then see if I can do them.

It's kind of like writing a story, in that I get to think up new things that happen to a character and write them out. But it also requires writing code: I have to make the 'back end' that responds appropriately as the user does things. That's not really a problem, of course: writing code is what I do for a living, and I enjoy it.

I know that what I'm making isn't the most original or novel thing, though. One time, when I explained this project to a friend of mine, she explained to me it wasn't a real game. Her boyfriend worked for one of the big game studios, working on the next Call Of Duty killer, or whatever it was--that was a real game.

It's not entirely unfair. A guy who builds birdhouses in his basement shop for a hobby, and a guy who frames two houses a week for a living are both, technically, carpenters. And yet it's not really fair to say they're both doing the same thing. But it's also not fair to say that the guy building birdhouses isn't doing anything 'real'.

Sometimes I feel an urge to create...and yet it's hard to get started: I want to control how it works out, predict what will happen. I often do my best work if I can let go of that altogether--trust the process, let things happen by themselves. It's enormously hard for me to do, precisely because of the 'birdhouse' issue: Sure I've made something, but is it real? Was it worth the time? And if it wasn't...what was the point? Why didn't I do something that would have been, so to speak, more profitable?

The answer is easy to forget: the process itself is its own reward. Yes: I may not have anything really valuable at the end of all this work. But I felt pleasure just while doing it.

Sometimes building the house matters more than who ends up living in it.

(12 comments | comment on this)

Monday, April 7th, 2014
6:51 pm - Week 4:Back riding
Rog was standing outside the rec center, sipping a can of Coke, when Biff and his friends came swaggering out like a little army squadron.

“Hey, Heidigger, we want to talk to you.”

Rog Heidigger swallowed his mouthful of cola, feeling his insides tighten up. Biff was a year behind him in school, but that was because he’d been held back a year. He towered over Rog, just like he towered over the other kids in his class. Rog was very aware of this as Biff stood in front of him.

“We don’t want you to play in the next game.”

“What?” Rog blinked.

“You heard me. Tell coach you’re sick. Tell your mama you wet your pants and gotta go home. But you’re not playing this next floor hockey game.”

“Yeah,” piped up one of Biff’s friends, “we’re sick of you shooting at our goal!”

“Or stumbling and missing the puck, or any of the other dumb-ass things you do. You shouldn’t even be playing this game.” Biff said.

“But you can’t play without me!! You’ll be down a team member! You’ll have to forfeit!”

Biff shook his head. “No we won’t. Frankie can sub for you. Anybody’d be better than your hopeless ass in there.”

Rog felt sick. He’d only started playing floor hockey because he’d liked it when they made him play it in gym class. Next thing he knew, mom had signed him up at the rec center, and he had no choice--she’d paid sixty dollars, she told him, he’d better play. He found he wasn’t good at it outside of gym. And he found that Biff was there.

He’d never have gone if he’d known Biff would be there.

He couldn’t fight Biff. Even if he wasn’t scrawny, even if he knew how to throw a punch, he’d promised himself he wouldn’t fight him. He seen his aunt and uncle, seen the bruises. He would never fight someone. Not even Biff.

And yet...something inside him spoke up.

“No,” he mumbled, voice small.


“No!” Rog could feel himself breathing deeply, feel his heart pounding. What was he doing? “I won’t drop out. Not even for you.”

Rog knocked the Coke can out of his hand, sending it in a high arc through the air. He pointed at the spilled soda. “Lick it up.”


By this time, Biff’s friends had gathered in a circle around them. Rog realized there was no escape.

He thought of every time Biff had tripped him at school. Every time he’d taken Rog’s lunch money. Every time Biff had made the class laugh and then made the teacher think Rog caused it, getting him in trouble. And he decided he’d had enough.

“No! You always make me do whatever you want, just ‘cause you can fight! I’m sick of it!”

“You wanna fight, you little puke?”

“If that’s what it takes to make you shut up, then yeah!”

And something happened. A look came over Biff’s face; his eyes darted around to the other kids, and Rog realized...he was scared.

Finally, he dropped his chin and muttered, “You’re not worth it, you slime.”

He walked back inside. One by one, his friends followed, leaving Rog by himself.

Rog picked up the now dented can to put it in the trash. He could hardly believe what he’d done. He felt terrified.

And yet...somehow...proud.

(16 comments | comment on this)

Monday, March 31st, 2014
6:29 pm - Week 3: In Another Castle...
"George Hasselworth pulls his blue Axelrod Aero extended minivan into the driveway of his modest suburban split-level home. It is beige with green window trimmings; the windows are double-glazed, and the siding is aluminum. His lawn is carpetgrass, a nice green, and his wife, Janet, tends to boxes of azaleas by the front walk, which generally grow well, but this year she's having a problem with snails, due to the unusually warm spring."

Aluxes cleared his throat before looking again at the parchment before him.

"George and Janet's house is in an upper-middle class suburb of a city called Fairbrook. There are three supermarkets and a fire department, along with two gas stations and a convenience store. The mayor is Harold Wheatly, and is not well liked in the community, but has been reelected three times due to his strong stance on the education tax initiative--"

"Oh. My. Gawd!" Hilda interrupted, her blue witches' hat quivering. "Enough with the setup. Just get to the story!"

Aluxes was indignant. "I'm just trying to give you some immersion--"

"We get it." Basil cut him off, not looking up from the sword he was polishing. "We're immersed. Just start!"

"Fine," Aluxes sniffed indignantly. "As George Hasselworth pulls his blue--"

"You already said that!!"

"--his blue minivan into the driveway," he continued, "George hears a thump. He has trouble--"

"What did the thump sound like?" Estelle asked.

Aluxes rolled his eyes. "Like a 'thump'. A noise, you know?"

"Well, can I tell anything about it?"

"Like what? It's just a 'thump'."

"Well, was it mechanical? Or did it sound like he hit something?" Estelle persisted.

Before Aluxes could answer, a voice interrupted. "Hey, have we got any mead?" Cyrus called from the larder.

Aluxes raised his voice. "Yeah, it's next to the dragon's tooth!"

"But this stuff looks like wolfsbane! And it's warm!!"

"Not the stuff on the counter! The mead is on the other side! In the permafrost spell bucket!"

"But I don't...oh, wait, I found it. Never mind!"

"So what did the thump sound like?" Estelle asked again.

"Why don't you roll bones," Aluxes sighed, "and make a perception check?"

"Which score does that use?" Estelle looked doubtfully at the scroll before her.

"Perception!!" the rest of the people at the table shouted.

"Okay, okay, you don't have to yell at me..."

"What about the rest of us?" Basil asked.

"Look, just everyone make a perception roll."

Everyone gathered around the table did so. As each set of bones stopped rolling, a wispy number shimmered in the air above them.

"Okay, let's get your scores...fourteen...nine...twelve...Felix, are those your bones?"


"...seven...seventeen...Estelle, what do your bones say?"

Estelle pouted. "Two. Lousy cheap bones..."

"You know, you'd have a better perception score if you'd chosen something besides 'hairdresser'..." Basil grinned.

"Oh, shut up!! It's not fair, you and your seventeen! You chose 'auto mechanic' and our first encounter is broken minivan! And besides, you've got those lucky bones!"

"What's lucky about them?" he continued grinning, now innocently.

"Carved from a dragon's femur? Of course they're lucky. I still don't know how you afforded them!"

"I slayed that dragon myself! And you know it!"

"Yeah, but you also had to pay someone to carve them for you," Hilda answered.

"And it was worth every farthing. Speaking of which: what do we, heh, perceive, oh gamemaster?"

"Oh, are you all done arguing now?" Aluxes said cooly, raising an eyebrow. "Well, the rest of you don't notice anything. But Basil, who is riding in the back of the van, by the way, hears the thump and realizes that the minivan's transaxle just lost a fluid pump. Which will cost..."

Aluxes rolled his own, larger set of bones.

"...1280 dollars to repair. The van will be undrivable until it's repaired."

"Aw, nuts," said Hilda, "and as George I have to pay for it, right?"

"That, or get the money from somewhere. Or walk a lot."

"What about having it towed? You said it was 'undrivable'." She turned to Basil. "Can the mechanic repair it here?"

"Sorry, I need a shop to do that," Basil answered. "Towing is another 200 dollars."

"Two hundered dollars?!" Hilda said, outraged. "You're part of this family!"

"Actually, I just carpool with you guys. I'm the neighbor. It says so in my character description."

"Okay," Cyrus said, sitting down at the table with his mead. "So where's the nearest bar?"

Before Hilda could respond, there was a loud banging on the thick oaken door of their hovel. Aluxes rolled his eyes again. "Maybe if we ignore it..."

"You know we can't do that," Hilda said, rising to open the door.

Outside the door, she saw nothing, until she looked down. Gareth the Gnome was there.

"Dragons are attacking the village!!" he cried in his squeaky little voice.

"Again? What color are they this time?"

"Um, red? Or maybe green? Curse the gods, how would I know? You know gnomes are color blind!"

She rolled her eyes and sighed. "Fine. Basil," she called over her shoulder, "get the unicorns ready! Estelle, make sure you have enough spells in your book! And Cyrus, be sure you transform into something useful this time!"

"What's useless about a giant moth?!"

"What isn't? Come on, people, we have another disaster to avert!"

(14 comments | comment on this)

Monday, March 17th, 2014
5:29 pm - LJ Idol Week 1: Jayus
I still remember the day. All of us from my department had gathered in an unused conference room to lunch together, as we so often did then (they've since remodeled the office and we now have a proper lunch room). One of my coworkers sat contemplating the plastic fork they'd given him at Med Kitchen.

"You know, why does a fork always have four tines?" he asked.

Without missing a beat, I answered, "Because if it had three tines, you'd have to call it a 'threek'."

This got, like, a huge laugh. From everyone. Enormous. The biggest laugh I've ever gotten from my coworkers. It happened four years ago, and I'm legendary in the office for this line. It still gets trotted out every so often: the day Rob actually told a funny joke.

Which always strikes me as funny, since I didn't, in the moment, think it was a particularly funny line.

I'm better known at the office for delivering painfully unfunny jokes: cute puns, subtle ironies, obvious punchlines. I’m sometimes referred to as the ‘Joke Killer’: my friends have learned to love me for my ability to butcher a joke in the delivery--"Oh, yeah, he was carrying a dachshund, didn't I mention that part? Yeah, he walked in carrying a dachshund...", but it's rare that I get them to laugh out loud as I hoped when I started my delivery.

I at least know better than to deliver a horribly inappropriate joke. I remember an old "Life In Hell" strip about horrible bosses, including the one who tells awful jokes: we see a boss delivering just the punchline--"...and then they all got AIDS and died."--and Binky chuckling weakly, a pained look on his face.

Joke telling like that? Yeah, I don't do that. But something in my delivery is lacking: I can't choose to deliver a joke and have it stick, I can only throw them out there and hope they don't die.

I've tried to figure out what I do wrong. Sometimes I ask others, and the answer I get is that I try to hard: I labor over the setup, I make too much evident effort at getting the delivery just right, I telegraph the ending so that it isn't a surprise. I think they're right, but I don't know what to do about it: how do you do something effortlessly, but with intent?

What I'd like to be is the class clown: the guy who can turn any situation into a lark, who can wrench your viewpoint just enough to show you the absurdity of what we call life, somebody who makes you laugh, but not just laugh. The guy who, after the joke is told, makes you feel a tiny bit more enlightened. Or at least happier than when you started.

I don't do that. Yet. I don't know how. Maybe someday I will.

(16 comments | comment on this)

Monday, March 10th, 2014
7:39 pm - The space(s) between
This isn't the introduction I originally wrote.

No, first I wrote another introduction. That introduction was a perfectly good piece of writing, that quoted one of my favorite songs and talked a bit about who I was, and what I do, and why I am in this contest, yet again. Typical stuff for an LJI intro, right?

Well, I didn't like it. It meandered. It didn't have a point. It felt lifeless on the page. It seemed bland. But it was what I had, so I put it up so my beta reader could see it.

She didn't say anything about it being bland or uninteresting. Maybe she didn't think it was; maybe she thought so and was too kind to mention it. Her comments were useful and supportive and kind, but none of those comments made me decide to trash that intro, my first intro, and start over.

No, what made me decide to start over was this: she noticed that I type two spaces after every period.

I knew of this controversy: how many spaces after a period? One or two? But I had never been challenged with it in my own writing.

I looked it up online, and…boy, did I find material about it. It seems everybody has an opinion about the matter: the MLA, the Chicago Style manual, gorram Slate magazine…on and on and on. Here's what I learned: typing two spaces after a period apparently started with manual typewriters, which used a monospaced typeface. All letters were the same width, as was the space; in order to make the ends of sentences stand out, it became an informal tradition to strike the space bar twice after sentence termination, putting a wider gap between each sentence.

All well and good, but the days of monospaced fonts (and manual typewriters) are long gone. We live in a proportional typeface world, and typography experts insist that a single space after a period is all that's necessary. To add more is, quite literally, a waste of space.

The typographers didn't settle things, of course. There are passionate, angry arguments on both sides of this issue; you only need throw a stone on the Internet to find them. They say the reason academic debates are so heated is that the stakes are so small; this was proof of that dictum.

It seemed so trivial. I mean, who really cares, right? T-shirts about cannibalistic grandchildren to the contrary, it's obvious that the amount of whitespace on a page shouldn't be a life or death matter to anyone. (Remember, grammar doesn't kill people--editors kill people.) This wasn't a debate I wanted to get sucked into.

And yet I felt the anxiety of the double-spacers. Two spaces was a tradition, and you don't mess with tradition. Two spaces was how my pappy learned me, and two spaces is what I would by god type!

Or so I felt, anyway. As I quickly realized, actually I just really really, really didn't want to have to unlearn a deeply ingrained habit. And at that point, I was disgusted. Am I really so stuck in my ways that I can't even type differently? Does habit have such a grip on me?

So I made a resolution. This season for LJI, not only will my entries be of unparalleled brilliance (as always)(and please kindly refrain from snickering!!), but I will make all of them with not two, not zero, but one and only one space after each sentence termination…even if I have to resort to search-and-replace to do it. I do this not because I think one way is better than the other, or because I care about what professors at the school of internet pedantry might say, but just because I don't want to be told what to do, even by my own brain. I want to be able to switch modes as necessary, and feel comfortable doing it.

I will trust all of you to keep me honest. Remember, I'm counting on you.

(13 comments | comment on this)

> previous 20 entries
> top of page