Month: September 2013

Non Fiction

Lighting and Fire (continued)

“What’s that?!”

‘I don’t know, looks like something’s caught fire.”

Something had caught fire in the lightning storm, but I couldn’t place where or what it might be that was burning.  I was trying to tick off geographical possibilities but none of them worked for the fires location.

“Where is that?” “How far away is that?”

“It can’t be too far away.  Someone’ll come along and put it out,” my dad said trying to revel in the peace left behind by the storm, and encouraging me to do the same.  I wasn’t deterred.  Even if it was only a few fields away it would be the largest fire I had ever seen.  “That was an awesome storm.”  he said, his grin returning to his face in response.  He crossed his arms behind his back and rocked back and forth on his feet;  to look at him was to witness contentment. He talked for awhile about cumulonimbus clouds, how they are formed, and moved on to other cloud types.  After some time I interrupted, “that fire is still going… I think its bigger.”

Stirred from his musings he looked over, “Goddamn it sure is, isn’t it?!”  He pondered on it for minute, his brow furrowing in the process, “You wanna go check it out?”


The imperial valley is farmed from end to end.  The patchwork of fields obstructs a direct trajectory but it is so flat that if you keep heading toward a point on the horizon, you will eventually make a zig zagged line straight to it.  My dad had a super big gulp and I had a slurpee as we set off to get a closer look.  We settled into a long silence, dusk turned to dark and our destination blazed bright on the Horizon.   As it dawned on my father that it was not a small fire we were going to see, his curiosity took on a tinge of concern.  “This fire we are going to see is huge,” was all he said.  I wasn’t sure if he wanted a response but his tenor took some of the joy out of the experience.  My innocent awe of nature’s beautiful power was meeting a sneaking sense of dread.

The fire was devastating something.

The lightning had caused the fire.

The lightning was devastating.

“What if we get hit by lighting?” I said no longer sipping my slurpee.

Moments like these were where my dads casual brightness served its greatest good.  He smiled and laid into a physics of electricity lecture, about the need for a ground and that a car would act like a faraday cage if struck by lightning.  “If hit by lightning,” he said, the car may suffer some damage but it should not affect the passenger.” I started to drink my slurpee again wondering how the fuck he knew all that, but he always seemed to know.  Despite his fabulous mind my father never received anything higher than a high school diploma, yet he rattled of knowledge of subjects I never experienced until college and even then occasionally corrected errors in my understanding.  I still wonder if he wishes he would have done more with his talent.

As we approached the location of the fire the sirens were a cacophony and the flashing lights were barely noticeable in the veiling glare of a crackling inferno.  The lightning had struck an energy plant that burned hay to generate power.  It was a single tower surrounded by a ¼ mile square of hay waiting in line to ride flames into the air.  I had to lean forward in my seat to see the top unobstructed by the truck’s roof.  Dust devils danced around the scene drawn in by the voracious appetite of the fire’s unyielding destruction.  It was dumbfounding.


My thoughts are disconnected

We’re getting back in to the swing of school and I’m trying to get back in to writing every day, but I just have too much going on.  I heard this song at least five times today:

It’s pretty standard Katy Perry- she was weak, but she’s strong now!   I feel like she’s sung this song before.   She uses the line

I stood for nothing so I fell for everything

Which is one of those sayings that really doesn’t work for me.  I know plenty of principled people who fall for some pretty stupid shit.  Especially if they think it advances their principles.  You know those people.  On the other hand, the handful of sociopaths I know believe some pretty ridiculous shit too.  Maybe we should just agree that principles and gullibility don’t really correlate.

I don’t want to get too negative here, but what’s going on with this song:

It’s really two songs.  One, by Jay Z, which isn’t terribly original, but not terrible plus a different song by Timberlake which is terrible.

One day you’re there, one day you care, it’s so unfair



Does every song on his album suck?  Is this even on his album?  I don’t know.  That is some bad rhyming though.  Then there’s this

sipping from your cup. Till it runneth over, Holy Grail


Where does that come from?  It’s just tacked on so awkwardly at the end of that line.  What does Holy Grail have to do with the song?  I’m probably giving whoever wrote it way too much credit, but I’m guessing it’s not a love song, it’s a song about fame.  But what is the Holy Grail?  What are they reaching for?  I feel like I’ve already given this song more thought than whoever produced it did.

Now let me share my all time favorite country song.  I don’t know if he wrote it, but it’s performed by The Killer, Jerry Lee Lewis.

Jerry always seemed to have that look on his face, like a cat that just ate the canary.  That look of supreme confidence only bestowed on a few select mortals.  I mean, I’m pretty sure he’s lip-synching in this video, but watch him live- no one ever made it look so easy.

Anyway, it’s just a simple song about getting drunk with your friends and coming home to an angry wife, but what I like about this song is that more than most others, it suggests that angry wife probably has a point.

Random Thoughts

  • Shut up Jalopnik, self driving cars would be awesome.  For one- no need for designated driver.  Go out, drink as much as you want, find your car, get in, press the go home button, wake up the next morning passed out in your car, in your own driveway, safe and sound.
  • I’ve been writing book reviews not so much because I want to share books with people (though I do) but because I am trying to keep track of how many I read.  I’m not on my super pace I was in high school (1-2 a week, so what, 70 or so a year) or when I was recovering from surgery (1 a day).  But I want a baseline.  My wife says I am addicted to reading.  I think I am.  At this point I have basically four addictions- words, coffee and I’ll leave the other two to your imagination.  I’ve made myself a promise that if I make it to 65 I am going to indulge all of them at a pace that will leave little or no time for anything else.  This is my dream.
  • So yeah, I have a few books to review but I am being lazy.  They are 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson, The Other Wind by Ursula K LeGuin and I think there was another that I can’t remember just now.  DAMN, this keeping track thing is not working.

Forgot one:

I was looking around for a live version of Elvis singing Faded Love.  Most people know the Patsy Cline version, but Elvis did a pretty rocking cover.  There’s a live version, however, where instead of singing this:

As I watch the mating of the doves

He sings

As I watch two dogs makin’ love

in his perfect, high-as-a-kite early 70’s Elvis voice.  But no luck.  You’ll have to take my word for it.



There’s only one musical genre that people regularly play that I really don’t like.  Jazz.  I don’t like it.  I don’t enjoy any form of it.  At all.

I’m pretty eclectic in my musical tastes, but if I’m in someone’s house and they put on jazz I want to leave.  If it’s bebop I am annoyed at all the sounds flying at my ears.  If it’s something older I roll my eyes at how corny it sounds.  If it’s jazz singers I grit my teeth.

There is not a single jazz artists whose music I enjoy.  Not Louis Armstrong, not Ella Fitzgerald, not Frank Sinatra, not Thelonius Monk.  Not John Coltrane.  Not Miles Davis.  Not Billie Holliday.  No one.

I tried to get into it.  In my college days a lot of punks were listening to jazz, because at times it was uncompromising, it was abrasive.  It was music played by drugged out rebels.  Kind of like punk.  But played by people with skill.  But I just never really got it, started to feel like a pretentious ass and so I gave up.

Probably the biggest reason I started to actively dislike it began on the day my friend explained to me the basics of pop music.  It was like someone explained to me how music worked!  I had a key to unlock all the secrets of popular music.  Maybe not all, but enough to get understand the basics.

That key does not work for Jazz.  Jazz doesn’t follow the same musical patterns that pop music does.   Nor does it follow the same rules that blues does, which is even simpler than pop.  In fact, I don’t know if it follows any rules at all, and my brain just can’t handle that.  Hearing jazz after finally figuring out pop was like learning to read Spanish and then being handed a book in Chinese.  DAMN I need to figure this reading thing out again!

There’s also the matter of how i have been exposed to the various kinds of music I like.  I’ve heard rock and roll live dozens and dozens of times.  I’ve heard people rap and I’ve danced to rap music in clubs.  Same goes with country.  They’re a part of my life in a way that jazz has not been, except when someone has played it on their stereo.  Which I’m more and more realizing is the worst possible way to introduce music to someone.

I started thinking about this the other day.  I’ve listened to a lot of bands live and thought- wow that was really good, even when their music isn’t something I would normally play on my stereo.  And if I make the mistake of looking them up on Youtube or something similar, I sometimes question my previous judgement.  But I shouldn’t.   Recorded sound can’t capture the same magic as a live performance.

Music is just better live.  Maybe it will be this way with jazz.  My wife wants to go hear jazz live and for once, I’m actually thinking this could be good.  Music doesn’t have to be just sound- it is feeling the rhythm.  It is seeing people perform.  It is the response of the people around.  Maybe I can let go of my hangups with how Jazz works and just enjoy it.  We’ll see.

Things that suck about being in a band: Empty Rooms

We got the gig last night about a week ago and when we were debating whether to do it I was strangely the only person saying “Wednesday night?  I’d rather not.”  But the rest of the band sold it to me by pointing out that we practice on Wednesday nights, so it would be just like practicing, in front of people.

It’s pretty hard to get friends to come see us play on a weekday, and I was just getting over a cold and wasn’t super sure about how well I would do, so I pretty much told no one about the show and so, obviously, no one showed up.  We had about 4 people there to see us.  The other two bands were from out of town and had somewhere in the neighborhood of two people there to see them.  ROCK AND ROLL!

No actually it’s a bummer.  On the bright side, at least other bands won’t heckle you if you fuck up.

Also on the bright side, I got to meet some really cool kids.  I say kids because damn, we are old.  So old that everyone looks like kids now.

The Soft Shadows were from Portland.  I wish I could embed their video but it’s on VIMEO and I am an old man and I can’t figure out these damn computer thingies!

Wait, I found one.  I really like this song, the video’s pretty cool too.

The Learning Team came all the way from Bellingham Washington.  I was watching them set up going- wow, what are they going to do with all those instruments?  They played them though!  Really well!

It turned out to be a nice evening.  Too bad more people didn’t miss it.

The misery of The Game of LIFE

I remember when I was a kid asking my parents to play LIFE with me.  Their response “no, it’s too depressing.”  I didn’t get it.  You got to spin the wheel, drive around in a car, throw money around, what’s not to like?  Now I know better.

LIFE isn’t just a boring, poorly designed game that is no fun.  It is a nasty, shitty commentary on life and I hate it.  It covers the years from when the players graduate high school to retirement.  But it should really have a graveyard at the end, because that’s where this game is taking you.  On a slow, lugubrious march toward death.

Let’s just begin with the gameplay.  You spin the wheel, move around the board, shit happens to you.  That’s it.  You only interact with other players in the shittest of ways (we’ll get to that later).  For most of the game you could be seated in different rooms.  If you really wanted to you could play by yourself.  The Game of LIFE as solitaire.  Let the sadness of that scene roll around in your head for a while.

So what does the game tell you about life? 

Making money and holding onto it is the only thing worthwhile.

Trip to Florida with the family?  Damn that just cost me $30,000!  Now I can’t buy that luxury condo!

Kids are expensive and a pain in the ass because they won’t fit in the stupid game-pieces. 

The makers of LIFE know that children are playing right?  It doesn’t occur to them that having people complain about being forced to pay more for every extra child might be kind of a bummer for younger siblings?  

Suing people is lucrative and happens all the time

What gets me about this one is that there is never an explanation offered for any of these lawsuits that are flying around.  Maybe there was a good reason for a few of them.  Was that doctor a drunk who accidentally took out the wrong kidney?  Did the police officer maliciously shoot your dog?  Who knows?

This is about the only time players interact with other players throughout the game.  Though I guess there is this:

There is a limited supply of jobs and housing, so you better get there first!

So you’re a rich entertainer and another player is a doctor, but only one of you can buy the mansion?  Why?  They can’t build another?  I guess it’s only satisfying to live in that place if you’re forcing your buddies to live somewhere crappier.

Arrgh, I hate this game.  I’d go further but I’m kind of irritated with myself for devoting this much time to thinking about it.  No more board game posts for a while I promise.


Curse you Monopoly!

My son wasn’t feeling well this weekend so we spent it mostly indoors.  He wanted to play Monopoly.

My wife somehow lucked out and went bankrupt very early in the game.  I, on the other hand, made the grave mistake of winning, after at least three hours of playing that stupid game.  My son called for a rematch, which, while I REALLY didn’t want to do it, it’s pretty much a rule in my house that you can call for a rematch.  I didn’t want to break precedent so I agreed.  Thinking I would let him win.  MONOPOLY DID NOT LET ME LET HIM WIN.

How infuriating is that?  I did everything in my power short of mortgaging everything and I still couldn’t lose.  I couldn’t make it too obvious that I was throwing the game so I built Hotels on Mediterranean and Baltic.  No one every lands on those.  He landed on them.  He had 4 houses on the red monopoly- Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana.  Those are expensive spots to land on, and most of the time you often land on them.  I must have skipped over them a dozen times without landing on them.  At this point we had shot past his bedtime and had been playing for at least 5 hours.  Five hours of Monopoly.  Parenting is a challenge.

I had something like $3000 in cash, he had around $300.  I vainly begged him to let me concede.  Maybe it was too obvious at that point that I was just trying to get out of it.  Finally he agreed to let me off the hook by conceding that he is the Monopoly champion for all eternity and I am a terrible player and mostly a jerk.

It’s a fair rule that any board game you play should, at the beginning, allow everyone a chance to win.  It should also allow anyone a guarantee of being able to lose, if they want.  Like Jenga.  No force on earth can make you win that game if you don’t want to.

So I’ve been thinking about solutions.  Here’s a few:

  • No going to jail.  It’s just a waste of time and it makes me think the game was designed by 6 year olds.  It’s a perfect non-sequitor.  Yeah, maybe Top Hat guy got drunk at the Ventnor Hotel and got pulled over for DUI but I don’ t know what it has to do with building hotels.  And would you continue to do business with someone who’d been in jail like 8 times?  Jail is now free parking.  Go to jail is also free parking.
  • No $200 for passing go.  Why?  It just prolongs the game.  And where does this free money come from?  Do you have a second job on top of building hotels?  All the corners are now free parking.
  • You don’t need a monopoly to build.  In the real world, parcels are drawn up specifically to be able to build something.  And if you somehow owned a parcel so small you couldn’t put a single house on it, three of said parcel probably won’t big enough for an actual hotel.  Anyway, maybe make it like this-you can build up to two houses but if you want to build more you need all of that color.  Start building!
  • You don’t need to land on a space to buy it.  You can make an offer on things no one has landed on.  And other people can make counter offers.  Landing on a space only gets you right of first refusal.  No more wasting the first 8 rounds just going around in circles.
  • You can build on things you mortgaged.  You just can’t sell them without paying off the loan.  Like in real life.
  • Income tax is 10% of your $$$, not 10% of everything.  I know that’s not entirely realistic either, but it’s better than taxing you all the property you own, which, again, in the real world, is separately taxed as property tax.  And it’s too arbitrary- only people who land on that space (or Luxury Tax, whatever that is) or draw a card pay taxes?  Everyone pays taxes, even children know that.  Instead of you get $200 for passing GO, you pay $200, as tax?
  • Wait no, that sucks.  How about we just assume that taxes have already been taken out of each $$$ you get from other players and that your accountant takes care of everything else?  No more tax cards or tax spaces.  Yes, better.

That’s what I’ve got so far. I really hope I can weasel my way out of playing again for a while though.  The game is bumming me out.  I keep thinking I will write a post on the Game of LIFE, but I’m home sick myself now and I’m not sure my mental state can stand a visit to that black hole of awful.  Maybe tomorrow.