I Am a Genius: listen to my words

I Have the Conch

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Archive for 2006

Eric’s Wishlist

Tomorrow is Memorial Day

Tomorrow is Memorial Day.

I never gave any thought to Memorial Day as a child. Never even really realized what it is. But now as an adult I understand it is the time we honor those who have given their lives in service to our country. It should be a time for patriotism at least as strongly as the Fourth of July, because Memorial Day not only commemorates the founding of our country (although it certainly includes that); it commemorates the people who made this country possible and preserved it.

It honors the people.

This is what is important for us to remember. The people are what this country is founded on, for and by, right? “Government of the people, for the people, and by the people.” Like it or not, this country is its Constitution — its government — and the government is the people. So we’ve dedicated a minor holiday in May to a select group who gave every bit of themselves for the rest of the people, both present and future.

The concern here is that the country, meaning the people who make it up, has changed. That’s to be expected, but it is what the country has changed into that is so concerning. A World War II veteran once discussed this. He pointed out that in World War II, men fled to Canada in order to enlist because they couldn’t get in the military here in this nation. Only 25 years later they were running to Canada in order to avoid being drafted over another war.

Politics aside, this still illustrates a vital difference in attitudes. It is around the 1960’s when our country started undergoing some startling, debilitating changes.

Only forty years ago the office of the president was nearly unilaterally respected and revered. Today it is the subject of mockery and almost universally associated with corruption, graft, and self-serving tricksters. What brought about this change of perception is not important, but there is a point about this that most people overlook. Remember the government is of, for, and by the people? The president, along with all the other elected officials so heavily criticized today, represents the people. When we look at our elected officials and see corruption, disreputable character, and vice, we should recognize that those qualities are in ourselves, as the people. We chose them. We put them there. They are what we wanted our leaders to be like.

There’s a mathematical process that shows this: corrupt elected officials = the government. The government = the people. The people = corruption. It’s not a nameless bureaucracy that is the problem in this country.

It is the people.

If we want to change the situation our country, our government, our people are in. We need to change ourselves. Until we accept personal responsibility and accountability, nothing will change in this society. More cops, bigger jails, metal detectors at schools, anti-abortion laws, teen pregnancy education, drug education, curfews, and all the legislation in the world don’t mean anything if the people are not willing to abide by lawful government and act responsibly. Ezra Taft Benson, former Secretary of Agriculture, said, “decaying cities are simply a delayed reflection of decaying individuals . . . improvement of the individual [is] the only real way to bring about the real improvement of society.” In other words, the cities in this country are such a problem because the individuals who live in the are problems.

Tomorrow is Memorial Day. If we truly honor and respect those who gave everything to allow me the privilege to even write this, and for you to read the same, than we will do more than place a few flowers on gravestones at the local cemetery, or watch another showing of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, or listen to a few Sousa marches. We will do something to improve ourselves and act to improve someone else. This is the duty we owe to those we commemorate, ourselves, our society, and our posterity.

What Are You Writing For?

First of all perhaps I should disabuse you of the pseudo-scholarly nonsense that everyone’s opinion is of equal worth; it’s just not true. It’s as if people believe you don’t have to know anything about something to be able to say talk about it meaningfully. No, while it is true that everyone has a legal right to say anything they want to, in the name of good taste, some people should just please, please stop. I used to be somewhat of a libertarian, but since I’ve started writing this column I’ve started to believe that perhaps we need to legislate good sense.

What brought this on? The other day I wanted to find some good e-zines on the Internet. So I went to Google and executed a web search. Then, I executed a second web search that included a command to exclude the word “sex.” (If you don’t know why I had to do this, you need to do more web searches). I never found any good ones. If you know of some good e-zines, fell free to email me the address, because most of them suck.

What else brought this on? I read the Daily Universe a few times a week. Reading that even once is enough to send anyone on a rant (as you can tell if you read my last column). People who read, write for, and write to the Daily Universe are necessarily petty and lame. I provide no evidence for this, you have to read it to believe it.

So, in the interest of good taste and making it so I don’t have to hate everyone in Utah and on the Internet, I’ve come up with a list of guide lines for aspiring writers and web page makers. Note that this probably applies to all artists and multimedia gurus.

The first thing you should take into consideration is what your motivation is. Think about this. If you’re writing to make a living at it, get better before you tell everyone you’re worth publishing. If you’re doing it primarily for yourself, then please don’t inflict yourself on anyone else unless you realize what you’ve done is pure genius. If you’re doing it for the attention, then either be funny or have something insightful to say. If you’re writing because it’s glamorous, go to hell.

In short, don’t try to publicize your writing unless your writing is any good.

Here are some other tips:

A desperate need for attention is not sufficient time to waste a newspaper editor’s time. If you want to be published, don’t write a letter to the editor about how socks with sandals is tacky, or any other non-issue. (A corollary hint is that if the only option you have for publication is the school newspaper’s letters to the editor column, then you should just give up.)

If you are a sixteen-year-old posting on MySpace about how you like that guy in your math class, and Fluffy the cat was especially cute today, and mom is so mean because she grounded you even though you were only two hours late for curfew, and you were kissing that guy who’s too old for you but you didn’t use tongue, and your English teacher is mean, and the Gap has the cutest clothes, and that artist guy in your history is so creepy when he comes dressed in black, etc. JUST STOP NOW and never touch your computer again after you’ve deleted your web page and everything associated with it.

If the only thing you have for material for your web page is how old you are, where you go to school or work, and several unfunny pictures of your cat, don’t. (These last two reasons have led me to believe that it should be illegal for any girl under the age of 18 who has not had a CS class to publish a web page).

“Backstreet Boys Fan Fiction” is not a valid genre. Most fan fiction is not a valid genre.
Getting an idea from a good book does not mean that YOU will write a good book.

If you’re publishing on the web, make sure you provide links so a visitor reading can easily access the list of contents. Even better would be a link to the next story. (I’m referring here to online comic sites who think that a link to a .jpg or a .gif is sufficient ease of navigation. If your comics are in a certain order, please, please, please give me a “next” button.) Always remember that web surfers are lazy; otherwise they’d be outside playing. They don’t want to take the trouble to hit the “back” button in their browser every 30 seconds.
Format! (And make sure your colors contrast so people can actually read it. “Pretty” does not mean “legible.”)

In poetry, “free verse” does not mean “whatever obnoxious whim took me.” It means the meter and rhyme are determined by contextual artistic concerns, not a predefined format.

Please remember that this is only a partial list. Just keep in mind that when you write, you should be focusing on quality, even if you don’t want to be professional. I really would like to see a lot more amateur writing on the web and in the print world. But if you’re going to be published, you’ve got to think about someone other than yourself.

Ramen Noodles

I’ve often wondered if

Through my life I have

in any small way changed


The answer oddly came

One afternoon while

cooking packaged noodles

for lunch.

Adding spice to the broth

changes not noodles,

only the water that

they’re in.

But when I raised the fork

to my waiting lips

the noodles repeated

the name

Of the flavoring I

had seen fit for me

to contribute. I have


Changed someone’s life. But when

they leave my broth. I

know that they will carry

my taste.

Tech Support

I confess, I’m a tech. I sully my hands, ears and tongue answering questions for people. Most of whom have no clue what they’re doing. So it comes as no surprise that I would have something to say about how dumb people are. Well, it takes something big to phase me these days, and since most people who call in realize they have no clue, I’m more than willing to help them and even grudgingly respect that they’re taking a step into a wider world. The other day, I got a call from someone that I can’t bring myself to even think one nice thought about.

I work for a national Internet provider, which is really more of a multi-level marketing place. Don’t give me any grief on that, though, they treat me much better than just about any other employer I’ve worked for, and on top of that they do actually provide better quality service and products than any other ISP I’m familiar with (plus they have top notch tech support!). One of the products they sell is a combination phone/Internet access device. Kinda nifty, actually.

Ok, enough with the background. Here’s what I’m ranting about. A representative called in for some help on this Internet appliance. Only she’s not calling in for HER appliance, it belongs to one of her customers. This happens all the time, so it didn’t shock me, except that the customer wasn’t on the phone either. What’s more, she wasn’t even within convenient driving distance of the appliance. What’s more than that, she wasn’t even close to HER appliance so she could see what I was talking about. Yet demands ensued that I fix the problem. Only she doesn’t KNOW what the problem is. Maybe that’s unfair. Maybe it was just that she couldn’t explain what the problem was. Or maybe I’m right and she’s a freakin’ tard.

Among the evidence that she’s a freakin’ tard (“freakin’ tard” happens to be a very precise psychological term meaning “stupid idiot”) is the fact that she refused to explain what the problem was. Over the course of the first 15 minutes of the “conversation” (a term used loosely, I assure you) I realized that she doesn’t like to listen, she likes to hear her own voice. She interrupted every single time I tried to talk, especially if I was asking a question to find out what the heck was going on. Lest you think it was my own personal voice she objected to, I must also point out that she at one moment admitted that she didn’t even let her customer finish explaining the problem. In other words, we had the stupid (or the freakin’ tard) leading the blind (the blind man, who I am led to believe is also deaf and dumb, did not call because he’s shy about this sort of thing — by which I believe I understood properly meant anything invented since he was watching The Howdy Doody Show — which led me to wonder why this man was spending hundreds of dollars on a machine he had no intention of learning how to use; but I degress).

In all fairness, I must argue the other side. She was trying to help her customer. Why she thought I could do anything when she didn’t know the problem, and wouldn’t be able to articulate it even if she did, is beyond my ken. So there you have it, even if she wasn’t a freakin’ tard, she was at least utterly incompetent.

After 15 minutes or so of conversation, she was finally acquiesced to get her customer on the line for a three way call. This didn’t help. In addition to hanging up as soon as I put him on hold (despite the warning about what I was doing), Blind Man also had no idea how to articulate what was going on. (Sample conversation: me: “Describe to me what is going wrong.” him: “I don’t know.” me: “What exactly does it do, and what error does it give you when it does it?” him: “I don’t know.” me: “What does it do that you don’t like?” him: “I don’t know.” me (mentally expressed in the middle of more violent thoughts): Then how the heck do you know it’s not working right?!). Blind Man also interrupted a lot and made assumptions about what answer I was looking for. I was beginning to understand why these two had a business relationship. I was also beginning to wonder if they had gone to the same community college.

After roughly half an hour of conversation with persons with the combined IQ of a box of hammers, I finally thought I was beginning to grasp what the problem MIGHT have been, and informing the two that I was going to ask my supervisor a question and do a small amount of research, I put them on hold (this is when Blind Man bailed out). Well, admittedly, the search for information did take longer than anticipated, and I should have informed them that I was still working on it, but it’s not like I hung up. When I came back, freakin’ tard started yelling at me. This is not an exaggeration; I had the earpiece pulled away from my head and my neighbors will giving me dirty looks her voice was so loud. Apparently I was taking too long, and I was wasting her time when she was supposed to be on an important business call. I’m a professional, so I didn’t say this, but I should have: “Lady, you are the one wasting time. You are wasting your own time, your customer’s time, my time, and the time of every one of the fifteen people waiting on hold for a tech support representative to pick up the line and help them out. Now shut up and hangup. If you can’t plan your life around the business phone call you KNEW you needed to make at this hour, and if you can’t find out what a problem is before you try to solve it, then Stop pretending that you can do anything besides flip burgers you freaking tard!

Next time, I’m just going to tell her, that I’m sorry, the switch for that particular device on our master control panel has somehow been switched to the “broken” position. I’ll just go switch that back to “fixed.” Sorry for the inconvenience. Maybe she’ll believe that.

Got Beer?

Observe an item that appeared in The Daily Universe on 14 March 2000 from the Associated Press. The article in question discussed PETA (The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and it’s latest ad campaign: “Got Beer?” PETA claims that cows are mistreated by the dairy industry (we won’t talk about what the dairy industry has to say about that in this rant), and besides, beer is better for you than milk (and don’t even get me STARTED on that because I’m still bitter from when my friend told me to give up cheese so I’d be healthier). In the face of accusations that they’re encouraging underage drinking and alcohol abuse, here’s what PETA’s campaign coordinator, Bruce Friedrich, had to say (pay attention because we’re going to make fun of it in a moment), “College students are savvy. Nobody’s going to put beer on their Cheerios or get drunk and drive as a result of our campaign.”

Let’s look at this statement in a few different points, shall we? First “College students are savvy.” I’m not sure what he means by this. Certainly college students know better, but they don’t always DO better. To paraphrase columnist Eric D. Snider, college dorms are where the leaders of tomorrow are peeing in the elevators of today.” Mr. Friedrich has obviously not seen such classic films as Animal House, PCU, Big Man on Campus, or for that matter, virtually any movie taking place on a college campus, or else he would understand that college students have a natural tendency to do the most idiotic and unsafe things simply because their parents aren’t around to stop them. The more it appears that only someone with a mental disorder would seriously consider doing something, the more likely you are to find a mentally sufficient college student doing it, whether he knows better or not. So much for “savvy.”

The next phrase is, “Nobody’s going to put beer on their Cheerios.” In brief, let me just say that I’ve seen a lot of beer on a lot of Cheerios, and it doesn’t look like there will be less in the future. I’ve also heard a lot about how (despite the fact that both Cheerios and Beer smell like the aforementioned urinated on elevator) this particular recipe is very tasty. Must be how the barley and the oats combine. Don’t know. The point is, Mr. Friedrich is wrong, the beer-cereal combination is common.

Finally, nobody is going to “get drunk and drive.” OH! So THAT’S why it’s not a problem anywhere. Duh.

I thought that these would be the only arguments (as if common sense weren’t enough) I would be able to make, since I’m too lazy to do research on drinking trends and so forth. However, observe this second item (same paper, the 15 March 2000 issue) titled “Binge Drinking on the Rise in Colleges.” Apparently, 22.7% of all students in the country have 4-5 drinks in a row at least three times in a two week period. That means almost one in four college students are drinking way too much, and with the intention of abuse. They are more likely to be binge drinkers if they are under 24. This may be conjecture, but it seems to me that makes it very likely that many of those drinkers are probably under 21. Tell me if that sounds too bizarre.

In short, even if PETA really believes that their ads will not promote alcohol abuse, then they are certainly biased, ill-founded, and in extremely poor taste. In other words, IT’S JUST NOT RIGHT! I welcome any messages from PETA sympathizers who want to defend this position. I know I’ve left a few things out, but I have counter arguments for those too. I really just can’t see how these people can justify what they’re doing.

The problem, as I see it (and believe me, while I’m certainly not going to give up eating steaks and pork chops soon, I am certainly not a proponent of mistreating animals) has nothing to do with the ethics of drinking milk. It has to do with an acute lack of responsibility and a refusal to accept natural consequences. If you’re going to try and influence policy, you darn well better do some research and make sure your claims are substantiated. Just because you feel sorry for a cow is no reason to hate people who drink milk, and just because you don’t believe that someone’s stupid doesn’t mean that they aren’t. You shouldn’t ignore the consequences of an action, and you certainly shouldn’t make them up. If you can’t make an educated guess (like some people above can’t), then you need to do some research. (Hint: controversial ads are not always good. Anything for the sake of itself is bound to be destructive.)

Renga of the Matriarch

In the beginning

was Matriarchal Beauty —

Eve: progenitor.

The Mother of great children,

Quantity and quality.

Just as Sarah: a

Mother of generations,

raising a nation.

She raised her brood and taught them

righteousness, then sent them forth

Spread on the face of

A holy, promised nation,

Israel and America.

Beloved Grandmother Alley —

Holy Rachel, Rebekah.

Traveler, like Ruth;

Returned to Holy Lands to

raise a family.

Teaching principles of good

To children in love and faith.

Then scattered, like a

Sariah, descendents gone

to foreign places.

Gather today, give honor

to Diasporic Mother.

Partakers all of

a love that recalls that of

Matriarchs of old.

Holy Writ an exemplar,

showing us our matriarch.

Humble Mary, the

prophetess Deborah, and

exemplar Abish.

The caring of Dorcas with

the support of Miriam

together we find

fulfilled in our grandmother

Fam’ly Matriarch.

Orkbusters, Inc

A mousy young woman sat at a desk, picking her nails with a dagger and chewing on a piece of sassafras root. Her short, sharp nose twitched as she ran her fingers through her short brown hair. Plain, distinctly unpretty brown eyes glanced up every now and then to see if anything new had happened in the room. It hadn’t, so she went back to her personal grooming.

A moment later a slight figure dressed in a worn colorless tunic and breeches threw open the outer door and strutted across the floor, passing the antique weapons rack and completely ignoring the tapestries of battles hanging from the walls. He carried some sort of fruit filled pastry in one hand while the other brushed stray wisps of dark hair from his face back further on his head. He hurried past the woman at the desk, breathing, “Morning, Sheena,” in a cheerful way as he did so. Most people with her attitude toward mornings would have grunted in response, but from Sheena it was more of a squeak that translated to, “Morning, Herb.”

Herb opened the door behind and slightly to Sheena’s left and disappeared into the office beyond, leaving the office silent but for the sound of Sheena’s nail file once more.

Less than five minutes of continued boredom later, the outer door once again opened and another slight figure entered. Sheena was accustomed to fewer than two interruptions before her midmorning tea break and this second intrusion annoyed her, although she had still to look at anyone yet that morning, let alone say anything that required any degree of thought.

The figure who had just entered was different from the first in two ways. First, although he too had dark hair and colorless clothing, his robes were obviously well cared for. Secondly, this figure took a moment to take in his surroundings. He gazed at the weapon rack and noted various exotic weapons of mysterious origin. He examined the tapestries, noting the meticulous workmanship and the historic battle they commemorated. Finally, he observed the secretary at the desk who was apparently trying to pull something out of her left ear. “Precisely what I was looking for,” he muttered under his breath with only a small degree of sincerity.

As he approached the desk, Sheena decided which rude tactic she would use. She decided on the ever reliable casual speech patterns and lack of eye contact that had served her so frequently in the past. She carried out her plan by continuing to focus her gaze on the desk, moving her finger intently around inside her ear, and speaking in the annoying accent she had learned at the farm she had grown up on. Her father and mother had always used it, and it had always bothered her, so she felt confident it would bother this stranger enough to drive him out of the office. “Yeah, what do ya want?” She demanded with a twang in her voice, turning to look vaguely in the direction of the stranger as she finished.

What she first noticed was that this was not the usual fat, ugly merchant or petty duke that she and Herb usually dealt with. He was slim and handsome and was stroking a well groomed and attractive goatee, although, there was a fairly large and very blue lizard sitting on his shoulder. The second thing she noticed was that she actually didn’t want to be rude to him. She quickly took a mental survey of everything in her appearance she needed to straighten up. Then she just as quickly pulled her finger away from her ear, yanked the sassafras root from her teeth with her other hand, and finished up by rapidly ensuring her hair was not too badly damaged. She still looked like a mouse, but at least it wasn’t a rude mouse anymore. After a half moment that to her seemed interminable, she realized she also needed to correct her tone of voice and wording. She used the court accent she had learned while tormenting ladies-in-waiting from the castle and rephrased, “What may I assist you with, Sir?” her voice only breaking once in the whole sentence.

The stranger grinned a grin he hoped any intelligent observer would recognize as longsuffering and condescending, but the secretary would perceive as charming. It worked. He watched her suppress a sigh as he spoke, “I need a company to recover something of mine. I heard that Herbert Spearpoint can assemble an excellently skilled and qualified group. Have I come to the correct place?” The lizard blinked, as if it too was seeking the answer to this question.

Sheena looked at him until she realized that the stranger had stopped speaking, having asked a direct question. “Oh, uh . . . I mean, yes. Yes Sir,” she managed to get out. “I’ll go find out if he can see you.”
She stood up in a hurry, eager to please, and knocked over her chair. Flushing, she moved to pick it up when she realized it was righting itself. As she looked towards the stranger, he winked, acknowledging that it was his doing. Her mind stuttered for a moment and finally came up with the thought, “He winked at me!” She managed a cautious smile, and as the stranger gave a full grin, she turned to the door Herb had moved through and thought, “Even his teeth are handsome!”

As she turned to the door, the dark stranger thought, “Fool,” and kept his peace. The lizard seemed to grin a little.

As Sheena opened the door, she cautiously peered around it to see what was going on. Usually Herb woke up very late in the morning, came to work, and slept in his office chair for a couple hours more. This morning, he had come in earlier than usual, had been less grumpy, and was not sleeping in his office. He was leaning back in the chair on its rear legs, one hand flung out to balance himself as he tried to balance on one leg while the other hand tried to feed his mouth the pastry. The whole act was impressive in an eight-year-old sort of way, and Sheena was relieved to find that not only was Herb not sleeping, he seemed to be happy. This was confirmed when he spoke.

“I’m happy today, Sheena,” he said. “I’m having a great morning, like destiny is coming my way. Make sure no clients get in to talk to me until at least mid afternoon.” He popped the pastry in his mouth and took a very large bite. He then proceeded to make quiet animal-like noises. Whether they were expressions of pleasure derived from the consumption of the pastry or small grunts caused by the exertion from balancing on the chair, Sheena wasn’t sure.

She tried to speak to him, but wasn’t sure how to communicate how important it was that Herb met with the most attractive and charming man she had ever seen in her pitiful life if only because she desperately needed to please him and keep him in the office. She pondered this on a minute while Herb chewed, mouth open, and swallowed. “By the way,” her boss queried, “What do you need?” He popped the remainder of his breakfast into his mouth and continued balancing. More grunts followed.

“Well, it’s just that . . . well . . . um… There just maybe . . .” she tried to figure out what to say. Her little brain wasn’t very used to tactful or persuasive speech, and finally it burst through the blockade hindering it’s expression. “You have a wizard here you have to meet with,” she blurted in her usual mean-spirited tone, usually reserved for clients.

“Uh’m bufee,” Herb managed to say around a mouthful of fruit and flaky crust.

“You don’t look terribly busy,” A third voice broke in. Sheena recognized it as belonging to the tall, dark stranger. Herb had no idea who it was, and he didn’t have much time to think about it immediately, since the surprise had caused him to lose his balance and choke on his pastry. Fruit flew everywhere and so did limbs as Herb fell to the floor, bruising his backside and his ego, but only temporarily. Herb’s ego had remarkable healing capabilities.

“What the . . .?” was the first halfway intelligible thing that came out of Herb’s mouth. Pulling himself up by the edge of his desk, he glared about the room, trying to find the vandal who had attacked him this way. His eyes rested briefly on his secretary, who was attempting to creep unnoticed out the door. He was about to scream at her when he noticed the stranger who had already claimed the only other chair not soiled by half-chewed pastry, and was calmly stroking his pet lizard. “Who are you?” Herb demanded immediately, feeling a pressing need to regain control of his day. It had been going so well, and this person could not be allowed to change his course towards destiny.

“I compliment you on your professionalism,” the dark man responded in a tone Herb wasn’t entirely sure was sarcastic. “My name is Argin, a sorcerer by profession. I need a group to recover something for me. I understand you organize such expeditions.” The lizard nodded to emphasize the remark.

“Sometimes,” Herb responded cautiously. “For a fee . . .” He quickly added, even more cautiously. Then having felt that he hadn’t been clear or cautious enough, he amended, “A very large fee.” The better to get this man out of here. This wizard probably wanted them to find root of swamp squash or drake dung or some equally detestable ingredient to his sorcerer’s potions.

The wizard grinned an unamused grin (as did the lizard, or so it appeared) and said, “I understand that. I’m sure we can come to a mutually agreeable amount.” The lizard stretched its back, revealing there were wings.

Herb finally started to consider the proposal. This stranger was either rich or had a vastly different method or reckoning wealth than Herb did. And it didn’t appear that the mission was to seek out the bark of a tree shaped like a deity or anything ridiculous like that. The presence of the winged lizard bothered him somehow as well. It wasn’t a dragon, being far too small even for a hatchling. But it wasn’t a forest drake either, the claws and teeth were too short and the tail too long. What could it be? It was time to get serious and find out details. “What do you need us to do, Wizard?” he asked. He had chosen the term ‘wizard’ to address the man on purpose. Depending on how it was used and who used it, it could be an insult or an honor. How this stranger responded would determine what sort of man he was. It was a dangerous tactic, but Herb had paid to have defenses against magical attacks placed in his office, and was reasonably sure of being able to survive if the sorcerer got hot under the collar. If the man took it as a compliment, then Herb knew he would be easily conned and manipulated.

The stranger was neither offended nor flattered by the remark, however. He simply got to business, ignoring the appellation “I need you to recover Zy-Krawn’s Jewel,” he said plainly.

Herb nearly fell out of his chair, this time with laughter. Zy-Krawn was a legend from thousands of years ago, a tall-tale about an evil tyrant-mage who had reigned in blood an terror for a couple hundred years. It was mainly used to scare kids into being good, but in recent years it wasn’t even told for that anymore. Herb reminded himself this was probably a serious client, and if he was crazy, it was best to humor him until he left or the constables came anyway. “And where am I supposed to find that?” He asked.

“I know you think this is an insane idea from a crazy man who thinks he is a wizard,” the stranger said. The sorcerer’s lizard began to pick its teeth with it’s claws, looking occasionally at Herb. “But I have researched this for longer than you have been alive. Never mind my appearance, I am a mage, and appearances can be deceiving. I know the legend of Zy-Krawn is true, or at least mostly so. And his Jewel does exist, and will give the one who possesses it fantastic powers. I have determined that it is located in cave at the top of Potter’s Mountain, just outside of town.”

“Yeah, well, Potter’s Mountain is haunted. That’s gonna cost you some money.”

“You don’t seriously expect me to accept you believe in fairy stories of vengeful miners?”

“Doesn’t really matter what you accept, Wizard, I run this job, and I make the rules. My crew might take exception to this detail, and I’m not too happy about the possibility of running into some dead man who thinks I’m jumping his claim. Can you pay enough for me to put up with that, or are you going to leave my office now?” The lizard stopped and glared at Herb, ruffling some scales to look bigger. For a minute, Herb was afraid he’d pushed his luck a little too hard and the sorcerer was going to attack him.

After a tense minute the lizard relaxed and started nibbling on the strangers’ chin. The wizard chuckled;. “I think you’ll find that I can pay you plenty.” He produced a bag seemingly out of no where and tossed it onto Herb’s desk. The sound of coins clinking told Herb exactly what it was.

Herb disregarded what was considered polite in his business and opened the bag. Platinum crowns. A lot of platinum crowns. Herb was impressed and excited, and tried to hide it. He could smell the riches. “This is a good start. What else can you do?”

The lizard glanced at Herb perturbedly; the sorcerer glanced at Herb with an annoyed eye and nearly sighed. “I have four more bags like that one you can have once you’ve brought me the jewel.”

“Where did you get this money?” Herb pressed. He didn’t want to gain possession of missing money the constables were looking for.

The reptile’s eyes flashed red, and the sorcerer sighed in impatience. “I’m a man of means. Do you want the job?”

Herb considered a moment. “One more thing. If there’s no danger, why are you willing to part with so much money just to have me run up a mountain?”

“I never said there was no danger. Although I’m sure that will be minimal. But time is of great importance here. I have . . . friends . . . who are . . . eager . . . to see the jewel.”

“I can have a team assembled and ready to go in the morning. Where should be bring the jewel when we’ve recovered it?”

The lizard relaxed considerably and started to nuzzle up against the sorcerer’s neck. “I shall want to interview them, of course.”

“If I can trust your money, certainly you can trust whoever I choose, hmm?” Herb had a firm rule about letting his clients pick and choose members of his groups. They always ended up selecting faithless priests, clumsy thieves, and stupid warriors.

The sorcerer laughed. “Very well, Herbert Spearpoint. Bring the jewel to my residence near the Tower of the Magi on the Street of Carvers, between the market and the docks. It is a large house of gray stone. I will pay you your money there.” He stood to leave, but turned as he reached the door. “I should warn you, I will know if you try to give me a fake jewel. I will be very disappointed if this is not done quickly and correctly. I am not well known because the few who have had reason to learn of my power have never been able to tell anyone about it.” That said, the reptile on his shoulder glared coldly at Herb for a moment, and the Mage was gone.

Herb shrugged it off and started making mental notes about this job. Maybe this was his chance to meet fate. The platinum would be plenty to buy him a small, legitimate business where he wouldn’t have to risk his neck so often. He’d be free and able to grow old, fat, and happy, but now he needed to prepare. “Sheena!” he bellowed.

The secretary came in slowly, a mystified look on her plain face. “What?” she asked softly.

Herb snapped his fingers in frustration. “Stop fantasizing, woman, we’ve got work to do.” Have the Shriner, Cristobol, Tim, and Blinder meet me at the Red Bow Inn tonight. Tell them it’s big money.”

“Huh?” Sheena wondered. “Oh, yeah, sure, Boss.” She slowly walked out the door, still dreaming of the tall stranger who had entered her life.

On the Birth of My Fourth

Watching your wife give birth is a wild ride, at the very least. Having been through it four times, I feel qualified to speak a little bit about it. I have a friend who claims that watching his wife give birth is harder on him than actually giving birth is on his wife. I find that probably a touch insensitive, though I can understand what would lead him to the idea. You can’t help when your wife gives birth. Not really.

Guys move the furniture around. They get asked to do it, and they flex a little, knowing they were asked to do something specifically because of the body they have. It’s a bit egotistical, but it’s also quite subconscious. And every guy does it. No matter how much we pride ourselves on our minds and whatever else, we still are proud to be the ones who do the lifting and other grunt work.

But we can’t with the whole giving the baby thing. God made it that way, and not even the manliest man can change that. He has to sit and watch his wife do all the work; watch her strain, sweat, and push and flex. On the one hand, it’s hard as a human being, just to watch someone go through the pain and the effort. In addition, it’s the sort of thing YOU’RE supposed to be doing. It makes you feel helpless on a lot of different levels. You can’t make her feel better, you can’t help her get the job done, and she’s doing the physical work that’s supposed to be your department.

So, in a very real way, watching your wife give birth is sort of a psychological torture. You are completely useless.

Of course, the last sentence is not completely true. In fact, the whole purpose for being there in the room, with her is the emotional support. Which, of course, is traditionally her job. I get to hold her hand for several hours (about eight and a half, this time around) and tell her to “breathe.”

I understand, on an intellectual level, that telling her to relax and let her uterus do the work, and to breathe normally, is actually very helpful to my wife emotionally and even as a reminder of what she’s supposed to be doing. However, it’s not a tangible thing. When men think of service, we think “build stuff,” or “repair stuff,” or, even better, “tear stuff down.” We can go to a yard, rake up all the leaves, then stand back, and say “You can see what I did here. There were leaves, and now there aren’t.” With “breathing…” well, how do I know it’s even been done right? How can I see that I did any good? It’s all well and good when my wife says “thanks” and tells me how it helped, but I still don’t see it. I have to take her word for it (not that I think she’d lie… in fact, my wife would scream at me if I did it wrong).

And don’t forget physically exhausting. My greatest fear at this point is that people will think I’m diminishing what my wife does. Sure, she’s done more. She is more tired. I know that. But the next time you wake up at 1 am to tell someone for the next eight hours that she’s doing fine and to keep going that you won’t be tired. No, I didn’t have some muscles constantly flexing, sometimes painfully, and I didn’t push that 9 pound creature out of my crotch, but I’m still tired and in need of a nap.

So, clearly, there’s a lot of ground to argue for the man’s suffering. I don’t know that the two types of trials can be compared directly, actually, since people have varying capacities for dealing with problems of different sorts. However, the biggest problem with my friend’s argument is that as a man watching your child come into the world, you aren’t thinking a whit about any of that.

At one in the morning on April 29, 2006, my wife elbows me in the ribs. “Eric? The contractions are ten minutes apart. I need your help.”

Granted, this is the most trying part of the labor for me. I’m still in bed. It’s still absolutely dark, and there’s very little either of us can coherently say during the 9 minute stretches between the end of a contraction and the start of another. My eyelids are in complete and utter rebellion, trying to force a cranial shut down for at least another five hours.

However, combating this impulse are two very important concerns. First, if I don’t stay up, I am officially a jerk. There is no argument that could defend myself successfully. Even if I’d been awake for the 24 hours previous, I am a jerk if I don’t stay up. That would be my own judgment on myself, not some judgment (perceived or true) made by the rest of the world.

Second, I’m excited at this point. We’ve been waiting forty weeks for this to happen (actually, forty-one weeks). While I wasn’t thinking about it all the time, as soon as that due date passes, you can bet that I’m jumping at the slightest hint that labor is imminent. Even though no sane person not between the ages of 14 and 22 is awake at this hour, it’s like Santa Claus is going to appear any moment.

My job at this point is not just to hold her hand, occasionally massaging her lower back or legs, but also to watch the clock. When she says “here comes another one,” I need to be able to say how long it’s been since the last one started. This means I can’t go through motions. I have to be conscious enough to do basic arithmetic using a number I saw ten minute previous. Good thing I’m excited. If I’m really on the job, I’m counting seconds too, so I can say how long the contraction lasts.

This stage goes on for an hour. After each contraction ends, I stare at the digital clock and mentally will it to progress. If we can establish that the contractions are coming at regular intervals, (or even better, ever shrinking times), then we can go to the hospital. Once we’re there, the baby will come. We’ve got motivation to get this done. Of course, since, once again, there’s nothing I can do to stimulate the contractions, this leaves me trying to alter the course of time until I hear “Here comes another one!”

After an hour to ninety minutes of this, I finally feel brave enough to suggest my wife needs to call the doctor. One of the problems with being the father of the coming baby is that you know you’re out of your league. No matter how well you’ve studied all the manuals your wife made you read, you are in the position, roughly, of the freshmen intern hired primarily to make coffee. You have no good ideas. If you suggest something, the best result you can hope for is laughter. More likely, you are going to end up with a red, hand-shaped welt on your face.

Fortunately, for me, my wife agrees. I get the bag and the camera, and get myself a bowl of cereal (hey, maybe she can’t eat, but I’m gonna be hungry quite soon — my belly is quite Pavlovian, wake it up and it starts to drool). Then, when my wife is off the phone and getting on something she can go into public wearing, I call grandma. Grandma knows a whole lot more about what’s going on and when and why in life, but this is the one time in my life I can tell her to do something. In moments she is on her way.

The car ride in is awkward. Not in the “what do I say?” sort of way. But if it’s difficult to go watch regular labor, knowing that my wife is having a contraction while I’m doing 60 (gradually increasing to 70 and beyond) on the highway is maddening.

The following several hours are a marathon of impatience and frustration. The contractions are regular, but they aren’t getting closer together. There’s a machine that somehow measures contractions — how strong they are and when they’re happening, so I don’t have to wait for my wife to tell me. I can just watch the seismic readings on the chart being printed out. I get excited as I see a big one coming. But I have to hold it in, or face the wrath of a woman too busy to distinguish joy over the labor progressing and joy over someone in pain.

Then they start slowing down. What? Slow down? They’re not supposed to get father apart? We’ve been doing this for hours! The man in me wants to grab the phone, call the doctor, and tell him to get his over-educated self down here and do something about this. But that man also knows that he is not on his home turf, and he does not call the shots. You keep your head down and fire when ordered. So I wait.

Eventually the doctor gets his over-educated self down here and does something about it.

Things finally start to move, and eventually, we get to the final stages of labor. Generally, I can handle this. Watching the head emerge is a strange experience. There are at least three different things going through your head. One is “Holy…! That’s a person’s head in there!” Another is more like “Yikes! You’re gonna get it out of there?!” The last is much more “She’s almost here! Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”

This time, however, maybe it was because it had been many hours since I’d eaten and been standing for a while, I nearly pass out. For some reason, I was really worried that everyone present would think I had a weak stomach. It’s the one area where I have any sort of authority. No one is listening to me anyway, so it really doesn’t matter.

Finally the baby comes out. Getting perfect Apgar scores.

Describing emotion is not something that language is really equipped to do, so this is where we enter the most difficult part of describing what goes on.

The baby comes out and the doctor puts her on mom. My wife gets to hold our new daughter. Tears stream down her face, from exhaustion, pain, relief, or joy, I can’t tell, but I’m pretty sure it’s all of the above. She (my wife, not the baby) is emitting sobs and laughter at the same time.

And the only think I find myself capable of doing is stroking my wife’s hair, and staring at this wonder, every so often uttering, “That’s our new daughter.” I’m a bit lost. I find that while I’m re-entering the part where I’m supposed to be in charge again, I have no idea what to do. I keep feeling moisture gathering at the corners of my eyes, but I’m not sure if I’m supposed to let them come out again, so I simply say “our new baby,” again. I’m vaguely aware that I sound, and probably look (what with the tears there but not coming) pretty stupid. But I pretend no one else is there. I need to hug someone, and I do my best to put my arms around my wife who has collapsed into the bed. I’m not entirely successful, but she puts her head against me. I say, “I love you. You did it.” The two thoughts aren’t really connected. I don’t love her because she did it, but they’re both coming through my head.

There’s a great urge to hold the baby, nonstop. I get annoyed at the nurse who took the baby and is still still cleaning/checking, and doing whatever else she’ll need during these first few moments. But I let her be.

I finally get my chance. She’s nine and a half pounds, which is quite large for a newborn (though not excessively so), but she’s small and fragile. How on earth does she have fingers smaller than the last segment of my pinky finger? This hair is so soft. Her cry isn’t in the least way bothersome. It almost sounds like conversation. There’s nothing so soft as a baby’s face on your own, either.

There’s a bond that’s almost visible. You can certainly feel it. I’m connected to this child. One part of me, the man that’s frustrated he hasn’t been in charge wants to yell out, “I made this!” But I think, no I didn’t, it all happened inside her. But how else do you explain this touching of spirits? She is truly my daughter. I’m swarmed by emotions: I’m possessive, protective, caring, tender, loving, and joyful. Like an elevation of something spiritual inside me. Yes, she is indeed mine, and now I have to spend twenty years teaching her to no longer be so much mine as she now is. Yet, that bond will always be there. No matter where she does, what she does, or who she’s with. She will always be mine.

It’s incomprehensible that I could be so intimately involved in such an incredible event, yet I am. “I love you,” I whisper again as I sit next to my wife and lean in close. I say it not to my wife, nor to my new daughter, but to them both. At this point, they are all that’s in the universe.

Whence Cometh the Mouser

Ok, so I didn’t really meet him. But today, while I walked into work, i saw this guy who was the spitting image of Baxter Stockman as he appeared in the first early issues of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book. (more…)

Three Wishes

A man found himself walking through a dark wood. He was entirely unsure where he was or how he had gotten there.

As he looked about, he was interrupted by a deep voice. “And now, master, if you would be kind enough to make your third wish, so that I may be free.

The man jumped and turned to see a large man, seemingly half-formed of mist. He wore a turban and bore himself proudly.

“Third wish,” the man said haltingly. “I don’t understand?”

“That is because of your second wish,” the djinn explained. “I cannot explain more.”

The man stood thoughtfully for a moment, then looked at the djinn with confidence. “For my third wish,” he said, “I desire to be completely aware of why I am here and my role in the universe.”

The djinn began waving his arms and pronounced, “It is done!” He looked at the man with his head cocked. “I find it odd, though. That was your first wish as well.”

A Ninja Would…

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