Saturday, November 22, 2014

On Cloud Fine


When it first occurred to me that I should have some kind of system to back up all my literary output, rather than having it merely traced into pixel vapor, my friend Walter gave me a lot of good advice. Redundancy was the key. I should have my documents copied on all my computers. I should have all data sucked into an external hard drive. I should print out everything I write and mail it to a friend whose house is unlikely to burn down at the same time as mine. I should transfer all my files onto  a thumb drive nightly and strap it to a homing pigeon. I should engrave my novels onto granite slabs and rubberize them against acid rain.

And I took all that advice to heart and bought an external hard drive, parked it next to my computer, and put new batteries in the smoke detectors. I felt marginally relieved.

What the external hard drive does is copy all my files and jam them into a little box, and it does this faithfully for a couple months, and then it does a big stretch and a yawn for another month and then sends a little oopsie note to the computer, which says "oh, by the way--you haven't backed anything up for the last month." This earns the external hard drive a trip to the mothership via US Mail, and another one shows up on my doorstep in a week. The new one does the exact same thing. So does the third, but by then the factory is no longer interested in sending me a new one.

But times have changed. Now it is possible to Back Up To The Cloud.

This sounds like something a good Christian would do to get out of dying. But I am not a good Christian, and I have no confidence that the Cloud will have me. Walter sends new, updated advice and a link to a backup service. Inasmuch as he did all the research for me, I believe I owe him the effort of sorting through the reviews on the backup service. And there I encounter this:

"After many, many kernel panic crashes, trips to the Genius bar, and drive wipes, I uninstalled Crashplan and never had another problem."

Kernel panic crashes?! I'm unfamiliar. But if it's anything like suffering an abrasion of the dip-nodule or having your winkle spindled, I want no part of it. I'm totally on board with the trip to the bar and the wiping, so I tend to trust the guy. And the prospect of never having another problem is very attractive to me. So I'm going to uninstall Crashplan.

I'll have to install it, first.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Answer, My Friend


We just had a big wind. It was something that got ginned up in the South Pacific and then spun through the Aleutian Islands, and then Alaska flang it back down to us, and it was something. The house groaned and the wind roared like they were in a sumo match, outcome unknown. I tend to enjoy these events, up to a point. It's exhilarating, until you realize that those are all your next breaths out there, and they might be whipping by too fast to catch them.

They say that those sustained strong winds will drive a person crazy. Technically, this is not true. What really happens is that all the non-crazy people are inside behind thermal windows with a toddy, and that makes the crazy people easier to spot. But it is true that there is something deeply exciting and spooky about wind. Because you can't see it. All you can see is garbage cans flying past your house and trees bending over and hats shooting off people's heads like popped corks, and any one of those sights would freak you out if you weren't already familiar with the concept of wind. It's like an invisible hand is pushing everything around.

Religions have been founded on less. I mean, look: here we all are, inexplicably, and there's all this stuff, and it's moving around, and we're being blown about in ways we can't understand, and most of us just feel better if we have someone to pin it on. Preferably, someone that is a lot like us in familiar ways, only much, much bigger. I'm as fascinated by what I see around me as anyone else, but I personally get no juice out of that particular notion. It's an unsatisfying explanation. It just passes the buck.

Of the many traditions that postulate the existence of the way, way larger Beings pushing everything around, I'm most comfortable with the ancient Greeks'.  They at least observed that all kinds of shitty stuff happens to people who don't necessarily deserve it. So they figured the gods were just having themselves a fine time amongst themselves, and if someone gets his liver pecked out or gets swan feathers in her hoo-hoo, that wasn't really any concern of theirs. We're game pieces; we're collateral damage. In contrast, people who plant their flags on the idea of one single really, really large Being--one who is presumed to be affectionate and have our best interests at heart--those people get themselves all pretzeled up over their own misfortunes. We take everything so personally.

One of the times we had a huge windstorm, a 100-foot-tall Douglas fir tree came down on the deck of our cabin. Then another came down precisely on top of the first. Then another. We had three gigantic trees stacked up right alongside the house and they only nicked a little flashing off the roof. This is the sort of thing people like to think of as a miracle. We weren't home at the time, but we take things so personally that even the preservation of our real estate holdings gets to count as miraculous. I call it dumb luck. Even if there were a really, really large Being in charge of aiming a falling tree, who's to say the effort was on our behalf? It could have been the grand comeuppance of a naughty chipmunk who was overdue for a smiting. It all depends on your viewpoint, and it pays to have more than one.

Now, if the wind ever blows the Cubbies into a World Series championship, that would be a miracle.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

In Case Of Dire Rear


As many of you are aware, I have a deep personal interest in poop. No point in false modesty: I'm good at it. I enjoy the process and the result. I am prouder of some results over others, but I regard them all with the same interest as anything else I made by myself.

So I rarely suffer from either constipation or writer's block. If anything, I have the opposite problem. This doesn't bother me. It's interesting too. The only problem arises when there's a lack of receptacle ("toilet," or "publisher").

This is a recurring consideration when you're a mail carrier. There is a limited number of opportunities on any given route to conduct deeply personal business. Say you are walking along with your mail satchel and suddenly the bowel alarm trips (whoop! whoop! whoop!). Three delivery points away is a small law firm with a reliable toilet. You'd prefer to have delivered the two intervening stops first, and you make the calculation that such a thing is possible. This is one notable area where having an optimistic outlook can backfire on you, as it were. Things begin to feel urgent (whoop! whoop! whoop!) in a hurry. You motor on with your butt cheeks clenched hard enough to crack walnuts.

Diarrhea is a lot like life. You always think you have more time.

Finally you make it to the lawyer's office and walk in like Mrs. Hu-Wiggins. Your clenching musculature has come through for  you. It has seen you all the way into the bathroom. It has seen you through to the dropping of the postal-blue culottes. And it damn near has gotten you safely to ground zero. But not quite. Never quite.

It is a small law firm. An intimate office. There's nothing wrong with your underpants that a good solo ride in a hot washing machine wouldn't fix, but you determine that the personal cost of transporting your underpants home in their current condition is greater than the price of new underpants, and you stash them into the wastebasket of the bathroom in the intimate lawyer's office. Bury them. Study the result. And decide to put a solid knot in the wastebasket liner and carry it off in your satchel until you find a dumpster.

This is why it is always best to use the services of a gigantic, impersonal law firm; and why it isn't the worst idea to wash your hands after you open your mail.

And this is where Instant Underpants comes in handy. Instant Underpants is a real product that comes in a small, discreet tin. The underpants are compressed mightily into a tablet shape, but if they are dropped in water, they expand with Sea-Monkey Technology into a serviceable pair of one-size-fits-all underpants. There are two drawbacks. Number one, one-size-fits-all underpants fit New Jersey Governor Chris Christie better than they fit you. Number two, your new underpants are wet.

The makers of Instant Underpants claim that damp underpants are better than no underpants. This is not true. No underpants are better than no underpants.

Yes, that sentence made sense.  I wonder why I can't find a publisher?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Mat Cat

I kinda got how Dave trained our old cat, (Saint) Larry. She was more or less willing to do any old thing, as long as there was still a prospect of a lick of someone's ice cream cone, or a plate of chicken left in a nabbable location. Just the thought of such things put her in a biddable mood. Also, she was raised like an Amish child with no television: she had no access to the list of privileges that accrue to a cat simply by being a volatile mammal with pointy fingers. When her claws emerged the first time she saw a mouse, it was probably a huge surprise to her. So when Dave taught her to roll over, and shake hands, and tell time, and monitor the phone for solicitations, it seemed kind of normal.

The outdoor-cat privileges came later. First she was only allowed out on the porch when Dave went out to smoke a cigarette. After a bunch of years of that, she was permitted to meander on to the patio, and no further. Sparrows could line up along the perimeter in sturdy confidence. Larry was pretty much a perfect cat, except for that pooping-any-old-where thing, but even that just showed how laid-back she was.

But Dave quit smoking long ago, and Tater is a whole different cat. She's a rolling vat of verve. When she gets a notion to verve all over the house, she registers on a seismograph. She's also been raised Amish, but she seems to have more of a direct line to her instinctual heritage than Larry did, and that can only be bad news. Sure, she rolls over when you tell her to, but you can't get her to shake hands for anything, she never RSVPs, and she does not give one shit about ice cream or chicken. But, twitchy and avid at the window, she certainly gives the impression that the only thing keeping her from extinguishing a raft of birds is us, and our doors. Minus our intervention, the entire bird population of the back yard would be reduced to pillow stuffing and a gnarly pile of guts.

So I hollered the first time I saw Dave leave the back door open. Tater strolled out on the instant. Dave looked calm. "Sit," he said, and she sat on the welcome mat.

"Mat Cat," he said to me in explanation, and I began to object, and then I realized: he's going to do it. Later we sat out on the patio at beer-thirty. After about five minutes, Tater affected a long stretch and repositioned herself a few sly feet away from the mat. "Mat Cat," Dave said, using a tone, and pointing, and she circled back to the mat. "Sit," he said. Tater sat.

I don't know how he does it, but he does it. Hell, I haven't strayed in years.






Saturday, November 8, 2014

Meet The Priss


The atmosphere in the ExxonMobil Room was electric. The new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pranced in on his coal-black unicorn Republican Wave, slid off with the agility of a much younger man, and bounced up to the microphone, his cheeks pink with arousal.

"Well met, well met, well met!" he boomed archaically. "I'd like to welcome you all on this suspicious Caucasian. The American people have handed us a mandate for change. The American..."

"Sir, before you claim a mandate, would you care to comment on charges of voter suppression?"

"Please. Have you seen the turnout? Those people voted longer than anybody. Leave it to the coloreds to have nothing better to do than stand in line all day to vote! Am I right? Now. The American people have spoken, and they said it's time to get things done. The American people said they're not interested in climate change, so: Job One. We're getting rid of it. Poof!"

Cheers erupted as Mr. McConnell waved his tiny wand and a swirl of black dust settled over the room. James Inhofe, presumed new chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, patted his fingers together in ecstasy and had to be excused when he sprained his face giggling. Republican Wave whinnied and hawked up a loogie while Lamar Smith, chair of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee strolled in to enthusiastic applause, flanked by Adam and Eve and a triceratops.

"That's right, sir," he said.  "The American people sent us here today to solve problems, and the biggest problem we face is science. That's Job One, right, guys? Let's all give a hand to our friends here, Adam, the little woman, and this big fellow."

Adam nodded shyly and patted the triceratops on the thigh, his fig leaf beginning to flutter. "Found him in the Garden of Eden," he said, as Eve cast him a demure smile. The triceratops rumpled up his face plates in confusion and motioned for an interpreter.

"But you can't--" the reporter winced as if in pain--"you can't just wave a tiny wand and make science or global warming go away. You--"

"Just did, son," McConnell said, his hand in a complimentary bowl of Cheetos. "It's the responsible thing to do. Look. You can have all the airy-fairy theories you want, but at some point you need to grow up. We can't fix climate change and burn fossil fuels both. And the American people know what they want. We're not going to stop giving it to them until all the money is drilled out. We're the greatest nation on Earth! We'll be fine."

"But--but that's like saying Hiroshima was no big deal, because the Enola Gay had comfy seat cushions."

"Exactly." Member of the assembled new Republican majority shrugged in unison, pleased at the consensus.

"Job One number three," House Speaker John Boehner put in, dabbing away a tear, "Repealing Obamacare." He held his hand up, acknowledging the ovation. "We're going to rip Obamacare out by the curly hairs, and replace it with a good Republican plan that guarantees a marketplace of affordable insurance options, prohibits the cancellation of coverage for pre-existing conditions, and allows children to stay on their parents' insurance until age 26."

The reporter appeared to be working out a kink in his neck. "But that sounds exactly like O--"

"FreedomCare," Mr. McConnell inserted. "It's completely different, son. And we're adding a phrenology benefit and a free annual balancing of the humours."

"But--"

"And no website. Am I right? We'll have Marge and Phyllis back on the switchboard, doing what they do best for America. Make no mistake: we are here on America's business, but we are extending the crabbed hand of cooperation and hoping the President will agree to meet us halfway. Say, the sixteenth century," he concluded.

"I would like to point out at this time," whined Harry Reid from a low stool in the corner, "that the room is fast filling up with unicorn and triceratops shit. And your friend Adam over there is looking a little gassy. Can we adjourn until such time as we get this all cleaned up?"

"Cleaned up!" McConnell was tinkly with laughter. "Let me show you how it's done, my friend. We don't clean up. We'll just adjourn to the GlaxoSmithKline Room for now, head over to the Monsanto Cafeteria for lunch, pee-pee in the BP teepee, and reconvene tomorrow in the Johnson and Johnson Senate Chambers. Clean up!" The room had collapsed into hilarity, with several members off-balance from attempts to connect with a high-five.

Boehner honked merrily into a hankie. "It's not like we're going to run out of rooms," he wheezed.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Fish On!

I recently wrote about fishing, and how it's just like life--because maybe nothing at all will happen, but maybe something exciting will happen in the very next second, and you just never know. That also makes it like diarrhea. Here's what fishing is even more like: finding a literary agent.

You can grab your best pole (fishing pole, guys) and fling that baby out there time after time after time, and a lot of the time you reel it back in and there's nothing but weeds on the line, or you think you get a big bite and it turns out you're snagged on a log, or you get your hook stuck in the tree behind you on the back-cast (that would be when you write a masterful query letter to one agency only to realize you have addressed it to an agent in a whole different agency), or, most often, you do this for weeks and months on end and hear nothing at all. And after you've done this enough times, you begin to wonder about your worm (fishing worm, guys). It was a nice stout worm when you
started casting, pink, eager, and wriggly, but now it's kind of sad and unappetizing, and you start thinking maybe  you aren't a good judge of worms. You start thinking, maybe there's something wrong with this worm. Maybe it's, like, the worst worm in the world. All raggedy-ass and bloated with too long of a preface and not much of an arc and an over-reliance on adverbs and little yellow bits gooshing out of it. That kind of worm. Or maybe you don't have a good hook.

But you keep casting, because every now and then you get a nice bite and you can play it for a while.

I've tried to get representation for more than one book. I've got two novel manuscripts all ready to go. But most recently I tried querying agents for the most recent one I've written, a humor book about birds.  Things started out pretty well. A lovely woman with her own agency and a professed fondness for birds told me, Listen. You're a marvelous writer. My colleague read your sample chapters and said "I'd read anything this woman writes." I just have no idea how to position this. Is it a bird book, or is it a humor book?

Um. It's a funny book about birds?

She squinched up her face. That's not a thing.

I didn't ask why a person would say they'd read anything I wrote, but not have any idea why anyone else would want to.

Humor is a weird genre. You can't even reliably put it in the non-fiction category. I mean, I've got a lot of really good information about birds in my book, but if I tell you that an ornithologist once rendered two-thirds of a DeSoto through a working turkey before being fatally pecked, well--you can't necessarily take that to the bank. Although it's a lot closer to the truth than you might think.

It takes a certain amount of confidence to keep plunking away with an obviously defective worm. The kind of confidence you get when your beloved blog readers keep saying nice things about you, no matter what. So you spruce up you worm and drop it back into the big, dark lake. And then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, the pole just bends over.

Yes, friends, I have an agent! Her name is Barbara Poelle, from the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, and you may all refer to her as Ma'am Yes Ma'am. And I don't want to say I was (finally) a genius about this or anything, but I really did choose to query her for a whole different reason than I did the others. What I'd been doing is going methodically through the list of agents who were looking for "humor" and maybe "science/nature." Barbara represents fiction, almost entirely. But she claimed she'd look at anything that had a unique voice. And when I looked her up on the internets, I will be damned: she was funny. She, personally, was funny. And I took a shot.  I can work with a funny person. Turns out, so can she.

This doesn't mean I've got a book coming out, but it puts me a lot closer, and I owe it all to you guys for keeping my spirits up. Well, not all.


Saturday, November 1, 2014

The (Missing Eighteen Minutes Of) Tape

First we got the huckleberries. Then we had to get a freezer to go with them. And then we had to get freezer tape.

Maybe many people would not need to get freezer tape, but it breaks my heart to buy new Ziploc bags. It breaks my heart to buy plastic at all, and we can't seem to avoid it. We clean all our Ziploc bags and reuse them until they burst into tears--they tear at the corners--and when we got our cute new little freezer, all I could think of was Mommy and her freezer, and she used freezer paper and freezer tape. So I knew it could be done. Naturally I already had freezer paper because it's useful in hand-applique and stenciling, but I didn't have freezer tape. Next time we went to Freddie's, I had freezer tape on my list.

Fred Meyer's has most everything you might ever need. Dave went off for groceries and I hove off to the aisle with the tin foil and freezer paper and looked for the tape. I looked up and down and I didn't find it. I talked to a nice fellow shopper and we commiserated. She couldn't find what she was looking for, either. It occurred to me that Freddie's might not carry freezer tape. Do they even make it anymore?

Eventually I bushwhacked over to the Scotch Tape aisle, where a Fred Meyer employee looked straight at me and said "are you looking for freezer tape?"

Dang! I don't think of myself as being that transparent, but perhaps I reveal more than I think I do. Maybe I should be more circumspect. On the other hand, "needing freezer tape" isn't much in the way of an emotion.

Turns out the other lady I'd spoken to had tipped off the employee about my freezer tape bereftness, and the employee had gone off to check out the tape aisle herself, anticipating my arrival. We looked hard. We didn't find any. She whipped out her phone and called another employee. "Dan's in charge of this whole section, but he used to work appliances," she mouthed to me, "and he says he knows for a fact that they have freezer tape over by the freezers. In one of those impulse-buy displays that sticks out from the shelves. They'll be hanging on it from those little clips."

That's a good idea, marketing-wise. I mean, if you're going to go to the trouble to find freezer tape in Fred Meyer's, and you finally find it, where better than right next to the freezers? "Here's my freezer tape," you'd say, "and look! I could get a freezer to go with it, right here!" It might not happen often, but for the tiny price of putting freezer tape in just the right spot, you could make a major sale.

Sadly, Dan, although reputed to be amazing, was mistaken. My new friend was already on the phone again and motioning me toward Hardware. Soon we were in front of yet another tape display: electrician's tape, blue masking tape, regular masking tape, frog tape, etc. "Monica does all the tape ordering," she confided. "I mean, for the whole region. She literally knows everything. There's a duct-tape deputy but she handles the rest," she said. "And she swears we have it, and it might be here." Her phone rang again. It was Marilyn, from Inventory, who, omigod, was awesome. "Marilyn says she's pretty sure she saw it over by the preserving section. Just by the mason jars and paraffin," she said. That made sense. "And that's aisle 28." Off we went again, hesitating briefly at the Garden Center, where we both shared a thought balloon ("Floral tape? Nah").

We scanned the shelves of canning supplies. No freezer tape. "You know, where you should have it, if I could make a suggestion, is next to the freezer paper, over in foils and wraps. That's the first place I looked."

"Good idea," my new friend said. "I'll talk to Jeremy about that. He does shelving and displays."

"Meanwhile, do you have a place for freezing containers? You know, Tupperware and Ziploc bags?"

"Sure. It's over there by the freezer paper and foils and wraps."

I went back to Freezer Paper. I stepped to the side and noticed, for the first time, a small display that jutted out from the shelves. Freezer tape was hanging from little clips all the way down. Bingo. "GOT IT,"  I bellowed to an aisle of startled plastic-wrap shoppers. I had my freezer tape and a nice quarter-mile hike under my belt and all the information I would need to run the Fred Meyer Human Resources Department.

It just goes to show. Sometimes the thing you're looking for is right in front of you. It doesn't work for car keys or reading glasses. Works great for inner peace, and freezer tape.