April 2013

Well, I made it and I only missed 6 days. For what it’s worth I feel pretty good about that.

I feel the daily challenge has kickstarted the desire in me to write again. I have dug out old unfinished works and added to them. I have found new stories locked away and brought them out. I find myself wishing to write, to get it down.

I cannot wait to see where I end up next year.

April 2013

Fiction: Zed

At the end of the hallway, past the rows and rows of books, lived the little boy Zed. His hair was wild and unkempt but it was a beautiful blonde and the girls all envied him for it. No one knew where it was he came from or when he appeared there, under the long conference table. Some of the faculty think he was abandoned by a single-teen mom. Probably an ex-student who thought the library was a good place to “lose” a kid.

He was probably about 6, maybe 7, maybe 5, no one knew for sure and he didn’t speak so no one could ask. He smiled. He nodded, he shook his head. He frowned. He let you know what he wanted but that was the extent of his communication. They called him Zed because he was found in the Z section. It seemed appropriate at the time and it stuck. At first he was just a novelty, a lost kid, everyone just figured his parents were around somewhere and had ditched him for a little while. A week went by before that theory was dismissed. No one ever came to claim him. No missing persons reports ever matched. Whenever Social Services was called he was impossible to find. The police sent a Detective over to stay a few nights, he swore he never saw anything. But there was proof, the students would take cell-phone pictures of him, he would grin and wave.

He wasn’t a ghost, at least no one seemed to think he was, you could touch him. He would eat anything that was brought, he would eat ravenously, but he never asked, or tried to ask for anything. He would always just sort of show up whenever anyone was studying and wave Hello to them. He’d listen in on study groups and the students began including him in on all the gossip. If Zed could talk he would be able to tell you anything about anyone. The school psychologist once sat him down and gave him a notepad, tried to get him to write answers, anything that might help identify who he was or where he came from. Zed couldn’t write, or he chose not to. He’d draw little pictures, almost perfect copies of images from different books that were left open on the tables. He eventually did learn to write his name, Zed. He liked writing it whenever he could, if you fell asleep anywhere in the library you’d inevitably wake up and Zed would be scrawled somewhere on your face or hands.

Zed just was the library kid. Everyone just accepted him. It wasn’t long before years had gone by. All the while Zed remained. Students came and studied and graduated and he befriended them all. The little library kid, Zed the harmless. He didn’t stay little. He grew. He grew into a teenager, a young man, a man. The board of directors eventually had to have a meeting about Zed, a strange, homeless man living in the library was not a good thing for the school’s image. They couldn’t get rid of him though, he was uncatchable, uncannily invisible when he needed to be. The student body president pleaded on Zed’s behalf. One night a small box was left on the return desk, a small simple note on it, For Zed. Inside was a shirt and tie, khaki pants and a little name badge.

Zed was the best Librarian. It was as if he knew what book you wanted before you walked in. He had a little stack of blank 3 by 5 cards and would draw little maps for each visitor, a direct path to the exact spot on the shelf where the book they wanted resided. He always smiled. Zed grew older. Lines began to spread out from his eyes and lips, permanent signs of that smile. His blonde hair turned to grey and his fingers curved with arthritis. They got him a wheelchair, one of those gothic looking things with a tall back. He continued to run the desk until one day he no longer had the strength to roll himself around. They parked him in front of one of the big bright windows. He smiled up at the blue sky.

I wasn’t in much better shape when I found him there. My great-grand daughter was going to graduate soon and I was visiting that old library whose shelves I had once haunted as a little girl. I was not lucky enough to attend the school, my mother worked as a cleaning lady there. As a child she would take me to work and leave me there in that place overnight while she cleaned. Countless hours I spent wandering through the books. It was there I learned what writing was. What reading was. What a story could be, what a story could do. It was lonely for me. I would curl up in the big chairs and read of adventures and excitement. Something amazing would happen in those pages and I would shout out. After reading a story all I ever wanted to do was share it with someone but there was never anyone there.

I saw Zed sitting there in his wheelchair, another old book lover I thought. I sat down in a chair across from him, he still wore his name tag, I read it.

“Hello Zed,” I said. His head turned slowly and when his eyes caught mine I gasped. It couldn’t be. I covered my mouth with my hand. He squinted at me, trying to see, when he did see his face lit up into a beaming smile. I knew it was him.

“Hello Marie,” he said. “I’m sorry I couldn’t find you anymore.”

I could not stop the tears.

The very first thing I ever wrote was a childish thing. It was a single line. I struggled to bend over the chest and reach behind it. My hands were old and crooked and it hurt to stretch them in the little space between the wall and chest. Finally I felt it, that small piece of paper I had hidden so long ago. I pulled it out. Time had yellowed it, cracked it, but the words were still there.

Once upon a time there was a little boy. He talked to me and to me alone. He listened to my stories. He was beautiful.

Zed smiled when I placed the piece of paper in his hands, they shook as he held it. I held them in my own and he looked up at me. We were two old people sharing the same old memories of being small and happy running around the library. I asked him what happened after I left. He told me of how he had been alone, how he had been able to meet new people, how he had worked and helped so many find their books. The entire time he smiled.

“I am tired,” he said after his tale. “I am glad I got to see you again.”

The sun set and we watched it together. The window overlooked the campus and when the last bit of light fell behind the horizon he was gone. Faded away, the piece of paper was merely a bit of dust on the chair. I touched it gently and it fell through my fingers.

Fiction: Zed

Yard

The following quote has adult language, you have been warned.

I look just like my dad. That scares me to death. Afraid I’m going to wake up one day and start acting like my dad and I know he was a kid at one point. At what point did he become a goober? That’s what I want to know. Shoot me the day before that goober transition. And all dad’s are goobers I don’t know what it is, life just breaks a man. One day men just wake up and go… “Fuck it! I don’t care what people think of me any more. I’m going to wait for the paper boy in my underwear… I’m going to go to the mall in a Bermuda jumpsuit… I’m going to walk around the house in a robe that won’t quite close… Hello, daddies fixing breakfast! Who wants sausage?” Dad, you’re a GOOBER! I’ve seen my dad go into Mcdonalds and ask if they serve hamburgers before. Major level gooberosity this. “Scuse me, ya’ all serve burgers here?” …dad just wait in the fucking car, roll the windows up. Luckily the kid behind the counter was acting like his dad. “Wait a minute, I’ll check… Nope.” Telling you an, you guy’s ever find yourself sitting around in the house… not really thinking like that… that goober moment is almost upon you. When that sock starts dangling and you don’t care you got some serious fucking questions you better start asking yourself. You’re about to start worrying about your lawn. “I wonder how the lawn is…” I be stripped to my Jockey’s… Go stand in ma lawn. My goober Castle. Survey my goober domain. Let me pick at my ear at a hundred miles an hour…”.

–Bill Hicks

I have never cared about my yard. It’s never been anything more than one of my earthly trials. I inherited a 1/2 acre of land from my grandparents and ever since I can remember being able to work in the yard I have been mowing that damn field. I usually let it get too high and my lawnmower no longer is able to handle it so I have to lug around a line-trimmer just to get it low enough to then go over it with the mower. Great fun.

I am a indoor being. Mowing lawns and trimming bushes are not my idea of  a necessary thing. When I was little my grandfather used to let the mustard plants grow taller than me so I could run through the field and cut out paths and fortresses. Grass taller than me is not bad, it’s an adventure. The fire marshal feels differently and sends me nasty form letters to remove the hazards. So out I go, mowing and trimming. Sweating and swearing.

An old neighbor of our’s was a lawn obsessive. He’d mow every week, sometimes twice, always perfectly straight lines back and forth. He’d edge and trim. He’d water and fertilize. Even as a little kid I thought he was nuts. It’s just grass. It will just grow back. For awhile in my teens I pretended that mowing the lawns was against nature, we humans are screwing up the planet, things are supposed to grow, that’s how it works.

Last year I bought my first bag of fertilizer. Scotts Turf Builder or something like that. I got a little hand spreader and followed the directions. I did a little fraction of my yard, just the little area in front of my porch. I only did it twice, the results did not show or were to slow to keep my attention. I do mow more often but I do it out of necessity rather than passion. It’s been raining and the stuff grows fast.

A few days ago I came across this awesome Homemade Outdoor Waterbed. Suddenly I care about my lawn because I want to build that and it need an awesome lawn.

I’m going to be the best goober. I will stop caring about what I’m wearing and embarrass the neighbors. I will have the coolest outdoor waterbed ever.

Yard

What I Learned From To The Wonder

To The Wonder

Directed by Terrence Malick

Starring Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Rachal MacAdams, Javier Bardem

Terrence Malick makes movies the way I would make movies. He uses long and flowing dreamlike camera movements with hushed, profound voice overs. He is notorious for just turning the camera on and waving it at his actors and letting them do whatever for hours on end until he gets the image he wants.  It’s an exhausting way to make a movie.

Seeing The Thin Red Line in theatres as a teenager completely changed the concept I had of what a film can be. I enjoy most films, there are a very few that I cannot watch. I am not critical of plot or story or acting. For me to enjoy a film it must have a few basic standards.

First, it must have solid production value.  For the most part this means large budget movies, production design is expensive but there are auteurs out there that can do a fantastic job of making you think they had a lot of money. Pi is a good example of this, low budget with a style that makes it all work. Ghost Rider is the exact opposite of this, large budget, awful production.

Second, it must have at least one character that I personally connect with. I can connect with all sorts of characters, even difficult ones. Tideland’s little girl comes from an experience totally foreign to me but I was able to share in her journey. The character experiences in Twilight are similarly foreign to me but they are presented in such a way that I could not empathize with any of them and found myself bored.

Third, its theme must not be overly cruel or mean. This rules out almost all horror with a few exceptions. The Saw movies are cruel but I find Jigsaw’s skewed “only the strong survive” morality to be intriguing. I have no interest in other torture porn type films like Hostel or Last House on the Left. I don’t mind gore and blood, Cabin in the Woods entertained the hell out of me. Cabin Fever bored me.

Fourth, it shouldn’t be dumb to be funny. The Big Lebowski currently sits at the top of my favorites list. It is funny and some of its characters do very stupid things but it is never dumb. Instead of placing a bodily fluid in a character’s hair it has characters duel verbosely about what men call their “johnsons.” I can laugh during movies like There’s Something About Mary or The Hangover but I will never watch them more than once.

So how does To The Wonder score? It hits #1 by default being directed by Malick and also makes #4 irrelevant. It is definitely does not have cruel or mean theme to it so #3 gets a pass. #2 though, that’s the killer.

I read a scathing review of Prometheus in which the reviewer called it “Toddlers in Space” because all of the characters were like overdramatic little children who didn’t have a mature reaction to anything. With that in mind I now refer to To The Wonder as Toddlers in Love.

Who are these people? Why do they do the things they do? They are beautiful to look at, they are in beautiful places, they have beautiful lives but what in the hell do they do with all that?

I honestly can’t remember if Affleck’s character even has any dialogue that is not narration. I think he tells a little girl “No” at some point but other than that he is just a silent observer. Maybe he is supposed to be the audience stand-in, the person whose eyes we are seeing everything filtered through, I am not sure, but I am sure that I know nothing about him, his motivation, his wants, his needs.  How am I supposed to care about when a lover cheats on him if I am not entirely sure he even really likes her?

The French girl, oh the French girl. She is beautiful, she is exciting, she is absolutely insane. Her ten-year-old daughter has more quiet reserve and maturity.  Malick spends half the movie looking at this French girl as she walks away from the camera. She walks away in a field, in a street, in a grocery store. She is spinning and laughing and crying and worrying but we are always ten paces behind, just letting her have at it.

I love watching the French girl (and later Cowgirl) walk away. It’s a poetic vision, the man (in our case Ben Affleck’s right shoulder) pursuing his love, his lust, his desires, seemingly just out of reach. How it could be a metaphor for life, how we are always striving to grasp what we truly want but we never really do. Okay, maybe I am reading a little too much into it but that’s what I have to do because Malick makes me do take that stroll behind the girl a seemingly endless amount of times. I remember the same scenes in Tree of Life and The New World. Man following girl. It’s a Malick trope at this point. To The Wonder takes it To The Max.

Suffice it to say I was disappointed. After the movie was over–without resolving any of the character’s story arcs in any meaningful way—my wife turned to me and said “HIS (Malick) MOVIES ARE EXHAUSTING.”

I have to agree. They are. The Thin Red Line is exhausting because it captures the terror those young men were going through, the horror of war and meaningless violence mixed with the absolute beauty of nature. The New World was exhausting because it was expansive exploratory look at how amazing and easy it is fall in love with the people and the land of a new world. The Tree of Life was exhausting because it was a new way to believe, to feel life around you, to understand people and the good and bad we all have. To The Wonder is exhausting because it is a deep and excruciating look at the love lives of toddlers, of people with no emotional maturity, no wisdom. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe Malick is trying to say something profound about life and love. I can’t speak for the man, all I can speak for is what I brought to the viewing. I came prepared to be moved, awed, struck by beauty, and I was. What I did not expect was to be so aggravated and dismayed at the end.

Every story needs an end, some sort of resolution. Even when a story ends mid-sentence like Inception did, we, the audience are able to use the information we have to make a decision on how it ended for ourselves. To The Wonder does not give us any information to that end. We are left with a brief portrait of people who are so distant and detached that they, at least for me, come across as unreal and empty. That’s just not compelling and I hope as Malick continues to make his visual poems he finds a way to contain a story and not just gorgeous little vignettes.

What I Learned From To The Wonder

136 DAYS, 15 HOURS, 56 MINUTES

A few weeks ago I revisited the website Flickchart. Its premise is simple: show users 2 movie posters and make them choose which one they like better.

Simple yet so very addicting. It takes a little while to build your list but once you get going it’s hard to stop. I have always been into movies so I was immediately hooked. What surprised me was when my co-worker tried it and also got hooked. We spent an entire day clicking away.

I approach each choice with the mentality that I don’t pick the movie I think I like better I pick the movie I would watch right now. My co-worker would find a movie and say “I love this movie” and would re-rank it to the position he wanted it. His satisfaction comes from knowing his list reflects exactly what he wants it to. My satisfaction comes from seeing my list and being reassured that the movies I thought I liked, well, I really do like.

The title of this post comes from my profile page on Flickchart. Apparently 136 days, 15 hours and 56 minutes of my life have been spent watching movies. This of course doesn’t reflect the fact that I have watched many of the films more than once. Some even 8 or 9 times.

I can unashamedly say I have watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon at least 5 times (once with director commentary and once with just the music reel no other audio) and that when I was in high school I wore out my VHS copy of Tombstone. I had a serious man crush on Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday. It does give me pause to admit that I saw both Titanic and Avatar more than 3 times in the theatre.

I regret nothing, well, okay, maybe I’d like the 4 hours The Village and The Happening took from me, but otherwise, I love movies.

For those of you who are curious, here are my top 20 as shown by Flickchart:

  1. The Big Lebowski
  2. The Dark Knight
  3. The Incredibles
  4. Wreck-It Ralph
  5. The Thin Red Line
  6. Magnolia
  7. Collateral
  8. Heat
  9. Super 8
  10. Man on Fire
  11. Spirited Away
  12. No Country for Old Men
  13. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
  14. Star Trek (2009)
  15. Casino Royale
  16. Hard Boiled
  17. Monsters, Inc.
  18. Where the Wild Things Are
  19. Up
  20. Batman Begins
136 DAYS, 15 HOURS, 56 MINUTES

Xerox

The machine sits in pieces on the table. I’ve got about 30 little screws of all different shapes and sizes scattered about, I already regret not using some sort of labeling for them, I am never going to be able to remember where each one goes. I power it on and test the motor, it works, it goes forward when I tell it, and backwards. All the gears it turns spin their rollers as intended. I look at the 3 cryptic lines of the service manual

1A. Does the main motor spin?

If Yes, Replace the HVPS

If No, go to step 2

It does spin, and I have already replaced the HVPS but it still refuses to work. It’ll print a page out and stop right before the paper exits, beeping and blinking MAIN MOTOR FAILED, on the little LCD.

I wrestle with these things all the time, problems arise that never are in the manual. Things will be rolling along smoothly than boom, something inexplicable happens and the hours of my life tick away as I unscrew screw after screw and check cable after cable. There’s not much that can go wrong in a printer. It picks the paper up, it puts ink/toner on the paper, it fuses the ink/toner to that page, it spits the paper out. Sometimes it will staples pages or punch holes in them. Physical problems are always the easiest to figure out. It’s the damn brains that I fight with. HVPS controllers and LVPS controllers, print engines and image processors. Power outlets that surge and burn out capacitors that can barely be seen by the naked eye. Wires that are buried deep inside the bowels of the machine that somehow work themselves loose.

I’ve wrestled with this one before. It did the same thing about six-months ago, I replaced the HVPS at that time and all the problems went away, for six months. Tell me what’s wrong, I say. I push my ohm meter into it gently and feel its pulse. It all appears normal. In theory it should be a healthy Xerox 4510. It holds that half piece of paper in its mouth and mocks me. It’s sticking out its tongue at me I think. Nasty little thing.

If I can’t figure you out I’m going to dissect you and transplant your good bits into others.

It does not answer me. I shrug. Have it your way.

I work in IT for a grocery store and I was parked in the parking lot eating my lunch and watching the cart kid bring in those wheeled-metal beasts in long trains. She was little and if you put 2 carts together I bet they’d weigh more than her. I saw her inside the store later when I was inspecting a checkstand scanner. She asked me what I was doing. I told her that the scanner was not reading coupons and I was messing with its brain to make it behave.

That sounds boring, she said and wandered off. I am glad she did, I wouldn’t have known how to argue about it. It is pretty boring.

 

Xerox

Time

How appropriate it is I take the T and write about Time because I have obviously had very little time to actually write. I’ve barely had time to organize my thoughts let alone get them written down.

I’m about to be a new parent, in fact May 3rd is our due date, the month before my first child is born is probably not the best time to start a daily writing challenge. But I wanted to start because I wanted to start recording who I am.

I know nothing of my father or my mother before I was aware of them. I have no idea what their hopes and dreams were. I have no idea of what sort of people they were, what music they listened to or what movies they liked. I only know what they have told me, what they want me to know.

I hope to use this blog as a record of all those things I wished I knew about my parents but they never told me. I hope that my kid will grow and one day be able to read the things written here and find out a little about her father before she knew who he was.

The trick will be actually setting aside the time to get it done. Wish me luck.

Time