musings writing

The first thing we’ll do is round up all the reporters

source Wiki Commons
“L-L Boilly Une loge” Wikimedia Commons

If there’s an analogy to be made between the winding down of the US presidential election and a sunset, the analogy breaks down when you consider the fact that most people enjoy sunsets. I debated between a winter sunset, the blood red brief ones — or the long, drawn out dusks of summer. I landed on a made up one by the writer Don DeLillo.

It’s funny, the book I started writing last year has themes about the nature of truth, the fact that it’s malleable and shifts, the same as one’s identity. Yet despite the subjective nature of truth there are absolute truths, things you can depend upon, like the calming effect of being alone in a forest surrounded by trees, the peace that comes in their presence.

When we were in Stratford-upon-Avon this past January, I was walking with Charlotte threw the gap in Shakespeare’s garden into town and she asked about Santa Claus, and I stopped and bent down and said it’s true as long as you believe it dear, hold that in your heart no matter what anyone says.

There was a busker with an electric guitar and a small amp we stopped to listen to, and I gave Charlotte a few pounds to drop in his hat; it was a familiar song from the 1960s by The Monkees I told Charlotte, called “I’m a Believer.”

We were in the country in Ireland for Christmas and the day after, St. Stephen’s Day, I took a long walk while everyone stayed home with their things: I chucked the rest of our uneaten ham into a wooded grove on the property, a kind of offering, and made my way up the broken road through the stream rivulets to a ridge where I could look down the valley, and heard a sound coming up: it was the horse races in town, and a commentator talking through a bullhorn. I couldn’t make out the words but the sound added a sense of drama as I got to the bottom of the hill, forced to take the lone road to wind my way back, and the road had no shoulders, it was often narrow and windy like a tunnel, and I feared I’d get hit by a car and left there to die.

I wrote more of the story in my mind that day, thinking it would be an auspicious place to figure out what really happens, how it unfolds. The fact that writing it was a kind of channeling exercise, that made me feel real by doing what I identified with most and had committed myself to, a kind of promise, its own kind of truth.

People say they want to know the truth, but they really don’t. The truth isn’t as interesting, it often doesn’t make sense, and it doesn’t sell. Perhaps it’s a truth we look for in art and the best books, the books that hold a mirror to the beauty and darkness in our own hearts, that predict and reflect who we really are.

Our dinner conversations are clouded by a rehashing of the news, an addiction to stare at the perverse and deformed. The spew of lies and positioning, the Orwellian mindfuck of programmed conditioning, Orwell’s book published in ’49 post-Hitler, predicting something worse than Fascism. At the core of it, it’s about renouncing the relationships we have with others and resigning ourselves to the State. And yet the books with these truths in them are made up the same as the headlines on People magazine by the check-out stands we stop to scan, we can’t help ourselves, we really just want to be entertained.

I thought about one of my favorite scenes from Don DeLillo’s book White Noise, where the characters start driving to viewpoints around town with their blankets and picnic baskets to watch the sunset, the color’s so surreal and fantastic because of a mysterious chemical spill the media calls the Airborne Toxic Event. It’s made up and ominous but like any great sunset, you can’t help but watch.

And the analogy breaks down when you consider the fact that with sunsets it’s rare for people to say they’re really just ready for it to be over.

In case you missed it, check out this super story that reveals the hideous, diabolical truth about Hillary Clinton.

humor musings

High-profile blogger launches attack on Basset Hound owners

IMG_5606The problem with Basset Hounds is they suck. If you’re a Basset lover, I’m not sorry for writing this, I’m sorry for you. Right now as you’re reading this there’s probably something you need to clean or repair, something that got eaten that shouldn’t have which you’ll need to deal with later. Bassets suck.

We were open to Basset Hounds, my mom and I. My stepdad John had them before we met, and we were surrounded by oil paintings and statues, portraits, pillows, bumper stickers: all for the love of the Basset, the one John had called Hercules, he’d bring to the pub and give a bowl of beer to and the dog would just sit there and drink until it slid off the stool…how John knew the vet from All Creatures Great and Small, the singer from Jethro Tull with his flute, how he adopted their Bassets or vice versa, it got spun and twisted like tape from an old cassette reel when it comes undone and I can’t remember what exactly, just how much he loved them, how his whole face glowed when Bassets came up: his gay friends Rob and Paul in London and their Bassets, how Rob with his bright red nose and owlish eyes would crouch down on the rug with a towel to wipe the insides of their ears and complain and scowl on how they fart, how they snore (but how great they are, truly!).

It started for me and my mom that day on the trail by the river in Germany we met Glen. An intricate network of leashes and treats and poop bags, carabiners, two Bassets (one English, one French): I made a joke generalizing about the two but it didn’t work, and Glen didn’t laugh.

We assumed he was German by some stereotypes we weren’t proud of, the angular glasses, the dour expression, the fact he barked commands auf Deutsch, well-practiced commands suggesting a formalized discipline, but to no effect. The hounds just flopped and flapped and pissed and fucked, and Ginger stood by to the side with me and my mom watching, wordless.

We soon learned he wasn’t German but American, had been there so long he’d started losing his American self, which can happen to expats because your nationality is a real part of yourself, you can forget it over time.

We knew his last name though, so when we got home we looked him up to learn more: he’d been a professional ballet dancer, chaired a department at the local university, conducted classical music performances (and was a widower, probably straight) — all of which seemed unusual and intriguing as we didn’t have much else going on in our lives; the characters around us just came and went like scenes from Fawlty Towers, with us right at the center, the front desk. And of course, he was a member of the local German Basset club, where they’d get together with other Basset people and their dogs, combing the trails along the Black Forest, stopping for frequent breaks with brandy, schnapps, smokes.

Glen had to go into surgery and because Dawn had given him my mom’s number (she was out with Ginger and ran into Glen one day), Glen called to ask if we could watch the Bassets while he was at the hospital, which seemed strange because we’d just met, and why couldn’t he ask someone else?

Glen had to go into surgery because the second time we met, for a dog date, to walk the dogs and talk, Glen suggested we get a coffee afterwards which we did, but while the Bassets were anchored to an umbrella stand on a patio and Glen was rolling a cigarette, mom and I watched the Bassets climb onto a baby stroller where some infant was having its ice cream and its mom looked up in horror as the hounds and their claws touched the fabric by the baby’s face and started licking it, and Glen shot up to respond but threw his knee out, complained it hurt so bad he couldn’t walk, and so I had to help him back to his car and drive for a bit because it was a manual, and we walked home, wondering what would happen, what we’d do, and I suggested we distance ourselves from him, it all felt fishy.

The time for his surgery fell right toward the end of our stay with my mom, a time we wanted to protect, to just lavish in our favorite things like cooking, drinking, and being left alone. But mom agreed and wrote it on the calendar, it was just for two nights, and it didn’t seem like too much, to help a guy who didn’t have anyone else to ask.

Glen explained the process for looking after the Bassets, said it was pretty straightforward: that one of them was “99% house-trained,” but it was really important you put rocks in their food when they ate because if you didn’t they’d eat too fast and their stomachs would flip over like a hammock and they’d die. (The rocks forced them to slow down and rethink things.) Now that’s one fucked-up breed, Dawn said, and we all laughed.

When the Bassets came it was like that scene from the Christmas film, the one with the Bumpus Hounds, when the hillbilly dogs from next door sneak into the kitchen and devour the turkey while it’s resting: Glen’s hounds had gotten onto mom’s table, right there with the Lazy Susan, and one of them wolfed down the butter, the good butter (the French kind), the President butter mom would leave out to soften. They got into Ginger’s food, Roxy’s food, our food, and then shat all over the rugs on the third floor outside the kids’ rooms, which is miraculous the kids didn’t step in any because it was everywhere and blended in, with much of the rugs already brown.

In the morning I let the dogs out but didn’t know they had to be on a leash at all times and they started to run away, and Dawn went chasing after them and smacked her head on the medieval doorway and I laughed, because I’d done that myself a thousand times, but she saw me laugh and then I became the ass even though it was the dogs’ fault (or mom’s for agreeing to it, or Dawn’s for giving Glen her number, or Glen for having the surgery, for pretending it’s normal to have pets like that).

When we picked up Glen at the hospital we had the dogs in the back and Charlotte next to me, and their hair everywhere, their slobber: and Glen’s color was bad, he was ashen, on crutches, and a part of me hated him, an ember that could burn all night, and well into the morning. He hinted we should go for a coffee or something but mom and I were tight-lipped and prepped with speaking points and key messages, other plans and commitments.

Mom and I talk often and email too, and she tells me how things are in Besigheim, how she went with Glen on one of those Basset club outings and it wasn’t so bad, how she met Glen’s son and likes him, how they’ve gotten to know each other better and it’s all good (she even had the Bassets back to the house and didn’t mind too much).

And here in Sammamish, in our garage where all things go to die, the unwanted artwork and kids’ toys, the record collections and cassettes, there’s a stack of framed art I need to mend and one, a painting our English friend Paul did of two Bassets, probably John’s, some sweet pose with their long, sad eyes, the frame broken, that I keep because it belonged to John but I don’t think I’ll ever get it fixed — some things can’t be repaired, aren’t worth fixing.

Today’s the anniversary of my last post in the States before we flew to Germany for nine months last year: check it out for sentimental sake, or the first time.

humor musings

How to look like an indie rocker without trying too hard

Tyrolean Schnapps topper on carrot in B-flat

It’s 62° F in my mom’s kitchen and I’m 45, wearing a scarf and an apron, browning onions. I never wanted to look like an indie rocker which is why I’m so good at it — people stop me on the streets every day in this small, medieval village thinking I look like someone and I probably do.

The look, like all the best looks, is a look that doesn’t look like it’s trying to be a look but rather, like I’ve been caught in the middle of something urgent that won’t come out but probably should.

It’s hard to express, hard to put words to, but worth spending money on.

It’s this feeling I’m out of time, having the folk sensitivity of the 60s, the angst of the 70s, the self-indulgence of the 80s, the need to understand what really happened in the 90s.

“Indie rock”: it’s hard to put words to, hard to say what it is, but like other movements, it’s easier to say what it isn’t, easier to define it as a non-something: non-commercial, non-success, non-corporate. It’s non-corporate but if you wait long enough, corporate will do it better and you’ll need to start something new, a new place to pout in your latte art and your poetry and shiver in the shadows looking cool.

No, the indie rocker is an educated white male who wears snowboarder beanies with ear flaps that probably look nerdy on most and still look nerdy on him. The indie rocker has to work hard to unlearn his privilege and access the pain that hides inside himself and his IPA, the rot-gut pain that comes from the blues, from killing someone and then singing about it and regretting it, from reading just enough Kierkegaard to know something’s happening but you don’t know what it is, from watching the best minds of his generation destroyed by YouTube, from feeling he’s going nowhere but guaranteed to be late.

The indie rocker white male sings beards without borders, rents a room with no irons, a bathroom with many mirrors, has a hardened look like a river rock that could be a jewel to a child or a polished piece of glass, has the knobby texture of a farm root you wouldn’t put in the mouth of a dog, lets his hair go unwashed and waxy like a crayon, spends a lot of time so he can look like he’s spent none.

The indie rocker, like the hippy and the punk is best defined by what he’s trying to avoid.

Our dog wobbles as she squats on a patch of earth and looks like a rocket trying to launch herself, leaves her remains on the ground to blend in over time. We conform to the shape of our scene and after a while become indistinguishable from it — and that’s the goal of independence, to free ourselves of something, anything, so we can understand at last where we belong, on our own.



humor travel

That one winter in the UK

Changing on the London District Line at Wimbledon
Changing on the London District Line at Wimbledon

By the time we got to Bath there was nothing left to see. I could have skipped London which would have been dumb, hiding instead in some quiet town by a river in the Cotswolds, some place even the English don’t know about. If I had my way, and it’s good I didn’t, I could have skipped Dublin, Belfast, Galway, Edinburgh…and hunkered down all winter in a country cottage on a cliff with a fire and a pot of stew, to wake in the dark and write bad poetry by candlelight, to drink myself silly and somehow not feel it in the morning, to get myself in shape and grow my beard and reconnect with my wife and kids and end the year renewed.

And that is how dreams go, they don’t add up. They feel real at the time but you wake up confused and disgusted with yourself, how you could think such things, what others might think if you told them or used social media outlets to broadcast it.

The dream starts with a map, with a rendering of a land, with sketched beasts in the water and fake fog over the mountains and names of places that bear the promise of intrigue by the sheer fact that you’ve never heard of them before, they’re spelled weird, they must be worth seeing.

And so Dawn and I put Post-its on the map and strung together a route from the bottom of Scotland to the top and back again, across the sea and the whole of Ireland, up through Wales, hither and thither about England and back across the channel into France, 95 days later.

We bought a car, taught our 8-year-old how to use a barf bag, got skimmed in Scotland, tried on sobriety for a month (one size fits all), saw the opening of Star Wars in Galway, our first panto in Dublin, got burned out on castles, burned out on Tesco, burned out on blogging, but not once hit each other, which isn’t true; we did resolve to stop the hitting and stop the cussing, which we’re still working on, I promise.

The coolant level in the car was low according to the digital gauge which I distrust and wanted to ignore because I don’t like computers talking to me, but it was right — and when I filled it with the universal top-up fluid and the gauge said it was low again, with exclamation points, I joked about it, the stupid computer, but realized it was right when I finally lifted the bonnet, spit in the tank and saw my spit wink back at me from the bottom, grounding us outside of Bath for another day while we waited to be seen by the mechanic, the only day this week that looks good for Stonehenge, which will have to wait for the weekend, it’s waited long enough already.

Whereas you’d think the travel bug would grow in me after seeing so much, after traveling to Europe now a good dozen, 15 times in the last 20 years, I’m wanting instead to move somewhere boring and quiet now, a town with a stupid name like Combe Down, where I can forget myself and be forgotten and reread Shakespeare and blog about it under an anonymous pseudonym like Slick Buttons, quit LinkedIn, suffer no consequences, in fact quit the Internet altogether, force my followers and fans to write to me by mail and know at last that no one is going to Like me, no one is going to Follow, because letters are harder than buttons, they take longer, and no one writes letters anymore and if they do, they’re old and you can’t read their handwriting, they’ll likely be dead by the time you write back.

And yes OK it’s true: there are times, most nights in fact, I keep the phone next to me in bed in case there’s a notification and someone Likes me or Follows me because it’s a gentle trill in the dark that feels good like a kitten’s tongue, like someone likes me, the way cats like you until they decide they don’t.

There were times in one of the 24 places we stayed in the last three months we even had the iPad and iPhone in the room at the same time so that one ding became two, a great way to double the impression of your impact on the Internet!

The kids confided that my mom offered to give them money to buy a fish and a tank and whatever else they needed if they can convince us to let her keep the dog and the cat we flew there from Seattle and now, as we enter Act III, The Return of the Jedi, and I’ve published about 200 posts the past year, there is no “top 5 things I’ve learned from blogging,” even though posts with lists do better statistically, there is nowhere to go you haven’t been if you don’t want there to be, and that is the best advice for a future with an English degree, to start a blog, write with earnest but not earnestly, and don’t pay attention to the statistics because they’re probably wrong, just keep going and you’ll know it when you get there. There’s still time to change the road you’re on.

Public footpath, Combe Down
Public footpath, Combe Down



What makes High Baroque high?


Is a great way to start a corporate email to someone you’re pissed off at but don’t want to sound it.

We sat outside with a glass of Riesling in the afternoon watching the people go by at a café mom calls The Rat, which is short for Ratstüble and means something I’m not sure what.

I gave the dog another treatment of flea medication by squirting a tube between her shoulder blades.

After, we came home to nap and I streamed classical music on Calm Radio, a period called High Baroque, defined by a time and style that makes it such, like ‘post-punk.’

The corporate email that starts off


Can be used in the body of a text that’s automated and sent by a recruiter to acknowledge from an in-box receipt of an application with an SLA like an out-of-office message that’s meant to sound personal but doesn’t, the way an email sent to many people all at once can sound, like if you’re leaving the company and want to use a machine gun approach to spray many at the same time from the same log-on with contact information and it’s been great knowing you all but now it’s time to go and it was a difficult decision and so forth, but please keep in touch.

The voice used for a corporate email is different than the voice used for an instant message, a text, a voicemail, or the small, clipped phrasing used between physical gestures and touching as during coitus.

Words have sounds and intentions and connotations and there is such a thing as innuendo in corporate-speak and especially with Human Resources professionals, when you get the feeling they mean something else but can’t quite say it directly for some reason, like they’ve been trained and get paid a lot to talk that way, or possibly just like the sound of their own voice and the more they say the smarter they’ll sound or maybe if they go on long enough you’ll get tired and they can say anything and you won’t notice, you just glaze over.

Your voice is your voice and some people just may not like it, no matter what you say.

One of the most important things in a partner is how they talk because when you get to the end, that’s the last impression you’ll likely have, what they breathe into your ear, and you may not have the strength or energy to flip over.

Studies have shown it’s not what people say but how they say it we respond to, especially true in politics, with salespeople, or in corporate meetings where someone is presenting something and probably nervous, or not nervous, and the latter inspires trust because they should be nervous but have found a way to conceal it, which is an art, a kind of magic, maybe inhuman — and that’s what we’re most interested in, not what they have to say. The same goes for how people look, because no one wants to sit in an artificial space all day with just small pictures of their kids on their phones or taped to their desks, so you might as well have something pleasant to look at while getting paid and trying to look interested, engaged.


Is better than “Dear Mary” or an email that starts right off, like

That’s not what I meant and perhaps you should pick up the phone next time.

Instead, start the email with a greeting or salutation because it’s civil, and demonstrates the recipient’s feelings are important to you even if they’re not, and especially so if you feel that way, or don’t feel anything, it’s a small investment to suggest you do.

And ending an email with something like


Or Warm Regards

Can be good but stay away from Cheers,

as it’s got a drinking connotation for some and doesn’t belong in the workplace unless you’re toasting at a restaurant or in a bar, which never feels right with people with whom you work, and probably shouldn’t.

You’ll need to put yourself in a box and sell yourself if people are to understand what it is you mean or pay attention to you. Check the About page, for more.

This post dedicated to my friend Ross who writes ripping satire and has been gone the whole month, and let’s welcome him back before he turns 50 in about three months, but who’s counting?


The Needle and Thread, Seattle

I am with two Canadians in a waiting room in Olympia, Washington: the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. I don’t really know what they do, I’ve just been sent here by my vet to get the paperwork in order to fly my animals to Frankfurt. The Canadians are trying to get a goat across the border because there’s too much in-breeding with goats in Canada and they’ve bought a Nigerian dwarf from some hippies in Oregon. There is a framed picture of Obama and next to him, another framed picture that must be our state governor, smiling.

I got here an hour early to beat the morning traffic, which meant driving on four hours’ sleep after a rock concert that ended with a cheeseburger at McDonald’s.

In the waiting room with Obama, there is a sick-looking plant that’s spread out and looks like it’s trying to escape, two chairs with some pillows, fashion magazines, and then a sign on the window that partitions the waiting area from the place where they work, behind the wall. The sign says NO PUBLIC RESTROOMS. Another sign, with frilly border, instructs you to ring the buzzer because the window is not attended.

I don’t like pressing buttons to get service from humans, but the Canadian says I should. She’s been waiting awhile already.

I don’t notice the locking clasp on the window at first, but after several interactions with the same woman, the locking clasp is a scene break, a form of punctuation, a period. She opens the window, inspects my papers, tells me something’s wrong, gives me a look, and then closes the window and flips the clasp to lock it, disappears.

I call my vet on my cell phone, relay what she said, get asked if such-and-such will work instead, say I don’t know, let’s just try that, and she says they’ll send the fax right away. I wait for the woman to return with the fax, to unlock the window, and tell me if we’re OK, if I can leave.

I say is that what you need and she corrects me, it’s not what I need it’s what you need.

The Canadian is diabetic and needs to eat, and all the places around here just sell meat, so she makes a plea to a different woman who’s helping her with the goat, and that woman says there’s a Trader Joe’s around the corner, that she can’t interrupt the people who are inspecting her papers now because she doesn’t want to break their train of thought.

I am not going to joke about Irritable Bowel Syndrome, but my stomach is making deep, gurgling sounds and I have to stand and pace while I wait for the woman to retrieve my fax and unlock the window. I’m worried if I leave there will be something vital that goes missed, and I’ll be screwed. I search Obama’s eyes for wisdom, for strength.

Alongside the window there is a door that needs to be scanned to open. Above the scanner there is another framed picture, this one a photocopy of some rules that’s in three-columns, small font, impossible to read, and I adjust it so it’s not leaning, I make a show of adjusting it and stand back to ensure it’s straight.

When I’m “all set” and it’s time to pay I whip out my debit card but she points to a form, where I have to copy the numbers down, sign off on it, and hand them the form so they don’t have to accept responsibility for handling my card. She promises me the information has been shredded.

Before the Wire concert, we meet for drinks at a bar on Capitol Hill called Tavern Law. Above Tavern Law there’s a speakeasy, like a pretend-speakeasy meaning you ask the bartender at the downstairs bar if the speakeasy’s open and if it is, they direct you to an old phone and give you a code to say to the person who answers, then buzz you in.

There’s low light and just another couple, who look like models or reality TV actors. The bartender explains there’s no menus because there weren’t any during Prohibition: instead, you just name your liquor and taste profile and he’ll come back with something. It sounds expensive.

Mike gets a Bourbon thing with sour cherry and I get something gin-based with egg whites that looks like a cupcake because they dotted the foamy top with a syrup that almost forms a smiley face, but has too many eyes.

Anthony meets us and I have a bad feeling about how Anthony will react that’s confirmed when the bartender starts his spiel and Anthony uses his hand as a kind of swiping gesture, like you would with a phone, and says Do you just have beer?

Mike asks for a wheat whiskey and after much searching and rearranging of bottles, they produce one but caution, it’s $40 a shot.

Capitol Hill used to be grungy in the 90s, Dawn says. There were a lot of homeless kids slumped around the doorways, and those little espresso stands with boomboxes on the corners. It’s been happening for a while already with the advent of money and good-looking scenesters, it’s starting to feel like parts of New York or San Francisco.

At the Wire show I check out the merchandise table because I like supporting bands that way, but I used all my cash at the speakeasy and they don’t have a Square or a credit card thing that makes carbon copies, so I mumble something about capitalism to the girl with the bangs but I don’t think she heard me or understood what I was saying.



Three Girl Rhumba

I’ve been experimenting with drugs for our pets, for a 14-hour international flight next week where they’ll sit in the cargo hold while I read a first draft of my memoir on the plane. I crush the drugs, dilute them in a plastic dosing cup and fold them into the wet food for the cats. The dog just swallows the pills whole.

I sit and watch, and wait. We note how the fog makes the tree tops mysterious, how I never noticed those trees until just now.

Ginger looks quizzical, eyebrows shifting to and fro, eyebrows tapping Morse, her face long and conical, an Indian petroglyph now, sand-colored, flickering. She yawns and puts her head down, looks sad. Sometimes I have bad dreams too, Ginger.

It was 1987 and The Cure had just put out Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. We had that tape and one other, John Denver’s Greatest Hits Vol. II: we had those two tapes, my dad and I, for a drive across the U.S., about 7,000 miles, maybe more. Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me.

The year before, we’d done the trip with my dad’s brother Jim and my dad’s colleague Hartman. Hartman had a first name but everyone just called him Hartman — that was a Pennsylvania Dutch thing, to just use the last name.

The four of us camped and tooled around the American Southwest, looking at petroglyphs and cooking hot dogs over the campfire, boiling them in canned beer, farting.

Hartman took me aside and told me a story about a time he was hitch-hiking as a kid, some really bad thing happened, something that kind of defined him that he needed to tell me (a 16-year-old) for some reason.

Perhaps he hadn’t told anyone else, it was his darkest secret: he got picked up by some guy who wound up being terribly odd, took Hartman to his house, then when Hartman woke up the next morning he had put something in Hartman’s mouth and made him keep it there.

Hartman was a state champion wrestler with thick calves and an erect, military posture. He always wore a well-rimmed cap, sometimes chewed an unlit cigar. He surveyed the area before we camped and often went ahead by himself, to scout the trail. For some reason, a rift developed between my dad and Hartman and there was a lot of the trip the two didn’t talk, it was beyond me, perhaps they were concealing something.

Hartman and I were in Rocky Mountain National Park philosophizing about nature and God and the wonder of things, and Hartman said I was pretty wise for my age: Imagine how wise you’ll be someday when you’re old as me? Probably a lot more so.

The vet’s eyes are disproportionately big and she talks with a squeaky voice like a character in an animated film, one of the characters you can’t tell if you can trust yet. The drugs don’t seem to be working on the cats: they should be seeing clouds, she says.

One of the cats (they are sisters) is being restrained by the vet’s assistant, who’s got her fist balled up on the cat’s neck, but the balance of power is shifting like grains of sand through a stem, and Roxy’s eyes are going blank, that center in the brain that’s instinctive, that says KILL — and she breaks free and spins in the air and it’s so fast no one saw what happened, the vet’s assistant is just covering her arm and turning red now with anger or embarrassment, perhaps at me laughing: but I wasn’t laughing at her, I was laughing at Roxy’s face. Or maybe I was. The vet with the big eyes says we’re just going to waive the temperature check and I nod, yes. Deep down, I’m proud of Roxy for bucking the system.

On that trip I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance but don’t remember any of it, didn’t understand a word, just thought I should read it while we’re driving out West. I try On The Road but can’t get through it, there’s too much to see in the trees, outside of the book.

My phone makes chimes and I reach for it instinctively, just like a rat would for more sugar, to tap the feed bar. I’m half-way through Brave New World, to see what a 50,000 word book feels like, how it flows, since that’s the length of my memoir, or will be when the first draft is done, next week.

He wrote the book in 1931, when they still hyphenated to-morrow. Tomorrow (the future) was made to look a terribly confined, fractured, vapid place driven by industry, the need to control, to manipulate our thinking.

Tonight, Anthony and I go see the band Wire in Seattle, the band known for angular guitars: angular guitars best described as herky-jerky, inspiring an agitated, nervous feeling that makes you just want to jump backwards in the air, spin, cut something, feel alive, overcome by the anger and lust in it.





How to look cool waiting for the bus: 20 foolproof tips

Wikimedia Commons: Miners waiting for the bus to take them to Richlands after they have washed up at the bathouse. Jewell Ridge Coal Company, Jewell Valley Mine, Jewell Valley, Tazewell County, Virginia.
Wikimedia Commons: author, Russell Lee.

Tips to operate with grace and polish in a congested, urban setting with strangers.


As in the doctor’s office or standing outside an important meeting, be ready at all times but don’t be too obvious that you’re waiting. Most will pull out their smartphones and start diddling them, but resist the temptation: you’re not “most.”


Acting different has several benefits: you’ll frighten others and keep them at bay. You may attract a new bed partner. It’s more fun than being normal and will garner you attention while everyone else is bored, looking for something to do.

Today, I crossed my arms and paced in loose parabola formations, chanting. You can also try slow, squatting exercises or practicing new fist bump moves, like the Daps Explosion, which mimics an explosion in slow motion.


Still legal in some places, smoking keeps most people outside your private area and may attract a new bed partner. Unconcerned with their health and written warnings, smokers are more likely to take chances and sleep with strangers.


Better out than in if you have to clear your throat or your mind. While it may not attract new bed partners, spitting does promote an edge about you, just do it a few yards off the queue, downwind.


Unless you’re a stoner or the homeless, don’t be surprised when they ask you to pay to get on the bus. Keep current with the fare schedules and understand the one zone, two zone system. Don’t pretend to be surprised you didn’t know the fare and conversely, don’t be over-eager with it either. Being cool is about deft, natural movements that don’t stand out.


In the not so distant future, newspapers will come back in a big way once people realize they’re losing touch with the tactile nature of real print. Newspapers also serve as a point of differentiation and won’t distract you with chimes or notifications. You can reuse the paper if you get into a bind, as toilet tissue or fire starter.


Most coaches are climate-controlled, so don’t go overboard trying to look comfortable. If it’s cold outside, you don’t want to look cold or bundled up like your fucking mom dressed you. Try layers, which you can remove and tie around yourself.


No one knows you and you can be anyone from anywhere so try it on, be different. I string together a variety of foreign words with a mumble, my favorite being the Ren Shen Feng Wang Jiang series, a bee pollen good for hangovers. Say it fast, with conviction. It acts as a repellant and may attract a new bed partner.


This goes with our first tip, Don’t Look Like You’re Waiting. If it doesn’t appear you’re waiting in line, people will cut you. Support the integrity of the queue, but don’t stand more than two man-distances from the person in front. Smoking, spitting, or mumbling made-up languages will maintain this same logic by keeping the person behind at bay.


The mad and the gifted use animals or objects for channeling their secret powers, for storing energy and then summoning it in desperate situations. It can be a mouse tied to a string you caress and coo at, or a tennis ball you do hand exercises with. If you’re going with the familiar, don’t be too obvious with your affection or get into arguments, it will freak people out.


Nowadays, hooded sweatshirts signal danger to most. Use it to your advantage. It will keep the heat in and your hair intact, and may attract a new bed partner if it looks like you’re in training for something, have goals.


Keys denote responsibility. They don’t have to open anything: you can make multiple copies of your house key and practice stroking them to make music, or release nervous tension. Get a locking carabiner and a thick chain, but don’t get caught rounding tight corners, this is a safety hazard working around printing presses or fast trains.


I always wear my mountaineering boots because they’re good in all weather and I can take one of them off and use it to hold my coffee upright while I’m getting my fare together and balancing in modified tree pose on the other. If that doesn’t make sense, just wear sandals — but never with socks.


It’s no mistake CamelBak calls it a bladder, because that’s just what it’s affecting, your bladder! I wear a two-liter unit with the hose fashioned under my hood, concealed along the inside of my layers which keeps the mouthpiece from freezing at high altitudes. Most coaches don’t have a restroom and you don’t want to look like you have to pee, because there’s no way to do that and look cool.


Men who fiddle-fuck with their beards are self-conscious and finicky, and this may signal you’re waiting, nervous about the fare, or overly proud about your beard. Wear it like the king that you are and they will be drawn out of the cracks to serve you.


All you need to do is get on the bus and find a seat, then you can get back to your weak and needy self. People in glasses look over-educated and overpaid, overly concerned about correct hyphen usages and semi-colons, hackneyed writing styles, academics, faggots. Have you ever seen an animal in the wild with glasses? They’d get killed. They did get killed, and that’s why you don’t see them, they’re extinct. Remember this is the wilderness, the natural order of things, the real world. Be the killer you are and lose the bifocals, doc.


I like a woman who’s not afraid to make herself up in public. It denotes a sense of urgency, and prioritizes the value of appearances, self-respect. If you’re a man, use the mascara brush like an artist’s tool, a paint brush, your face the canvas. Be lavish, think curlycues, classical music composer, sweeping movements. Find an inventive way to capture your reflection, like your watch face or your phone (get the iPhone 7.9 app for hand mirror here, also good for sending emergency signals in the backcountry).


Not just for capturing sweat or filtering river water, bandannas are also good as tourniquets, fire starter, or toilet tissue. They can be worn cowboy style around the neck, Rambo style across the forehead, or gangsta style on the skull. Also comes in handy to breathe through teargas, and with bed partners as a makeshift ball gag or for binding.


The world is a mysterious place full of mystery and people of like origins and mindset. No one’s really sure if it’s the right bus, how much it costs, where they’re going or what time it is. Share these tips but lead by example and don’t be alarmed by suspicious behaviour. Be suspicious instead of the unsuspicious pretending to fit in but always watching you, ready to pounce. If you must use earbuds have it on mute and bob your head up and down, mouth the words. Never break a stare first.


For around a buck, you can buy a cheap pocket notepad and splay it in one hand while scrawling feverishly with the other. Doesn’t get viruses or require updating. It looks urgent, and will signal to others that something’s going on, because something always is.

Dedicated to my friend Ross Murray at Drinking Tips for Teens.


Standing under the shoulders of giants

A week spent with data, inside Excel: VLOOKUPS, pivot tables, four rewrites of a simple proposal drawn up for review by one guy, a 15 minute meeting. A five page deck with about 10 pages in the appendix. The appendix, which just arrived one day as a great idea in corporate presentations, like “Don’t worry we DID think of everything, we’re just not going to bug you with it unless you need to go there. We don’t want to waste your time.”

And I rework it with a few minutes of feedback and wait for more feedback, how my boss thinks her boss will react to it as a kind of filter for her boss, for the big moment.

I have to draw it out on paper first, how the presentation will look. I get into PowerPoint and my creativity puckers up as soon as I start hitting commands. They switch the versions so often and move things around, I can’t keep up. It’s all chicanery in PowerPoint, drawing boxes and lines — not too much detail, not too little, not too many words, easy on the bullets, keep the font size the same, stick to the style guide.

I don’t know how to do VLOOKUPS and I don’t want to learn. I go to the Internet and watch videos. I call a guy who can do it and he comes over and asks, do I just want him to do it or do I want to learn and I lie and say, oh show me, to honor him, to respect his time. But I don’t have time to learn and don’t want this knowledge, this data handling.

I think about all the data these days and all the businesses designed to help people use it, and it leaves me cold. I look out at the trees now as the sky is falling and think, would I walk up to that tree and consider its data?

I was asked to rework the data many times. It’s a list of about 652 records but I’m only interested in about a hundred of them, and of that population I need to slice it about 10 different ways, but it’s all for estimating purposes, for a 15 minute conversation, and not a lot of money on the line — maybe as much spent in a few hours thinking about it as the event itself, but who’s counting?

In the mornings I tinker with a poem or two, from my walks to the lake this weekend, when I let myself open up to the world around me and forget about the data, the week. You can’t rush the poems either: they require some careful handling, some commands, some listening.

The poem is about a lending library on a dead end road that leads to the lake. I saw my reflection in the glass of the street-side box, mounted on a post, that has books inside you can just pick up and take home, leave another book in its place.

And I thought what small things, books, how you can fit so many inside such a little space, and how much of themselves the writers put in there, possibly all of themselves, and how worlds collapse inside one another, the real ones we delude ourselves with and the made-up ones we imagine, sometimes more real.

And I couldn’t write for a couple weeks now because of the brain damage at work, even started developing pimples and picking the skin around my cuticles, which is a sign I’m spilling out, biting myself like a dog.

I went to a show last night in the rain across town, had to take the highway, squinting and hesitating and realizing my nerves are slowing down. Went to the show alone because I needed some insular trip to disappear inside.

And the first band was Low, from Duluth. They’ve been around maybe 20 years and never made it. They set up their equipment and break everything down, themselves. And I watch the singer gyrate with his guitar, the jerky, snake-like motions he makes with his arms and neck, and it’s so real it gives me the chills. And a friend of mine argues, who would you rather be, REM or Low? And I say, it depends.