Sunday, December 19, 2010

Scheduled Maintenance

If I had to blame anybody I suppose it would be Jessa Marko. Women have a habit of entering or leaving my life when I least expect it, and some time during the first week of November, Jessa appeared on the U.E.S. Drake in Cuban heels. Without her, I doubt I would have banged out the 50,000 words of "Breakdown" that are now awaiting 20,000 more.

At about the same time that Jessa was getting romantically involved with a cybernetics specialist, Grinder University not only appeared on the horizon but came thundering into my study like a freight train that, according to eye-witness reports every bloody Spring here in Kansas, sounds strangely like a tornado. I'll return to Grinder U in future blogs, but suffice it to say that 160 hours of November through mid-December were soaked up by the PLO8 course I put together.

And on my days off I was playing an average of 2,200 hands at PokerStars.

You'll notice that all of this involved being plugged in to a computer. Which has additional pitfalls such as little windows popping up saying things like "some people you've never met have birthdays this week." Also stuff about something called a "credit score," and a reminder from that I have unused "posy points."

Since I don't like the outside world during the months when there are no leaves on deciduous trees, this isn't all bad, but I have more than me to consider. Zoot the cat is meandering towards being Zoot the ex-cat and requires a considerable amount of attention. Which is difficult to provide when I'm doing what I'm doing now, and even more difficult when I'm playing poker. For example, there are now five PLO8 6-max players who are convinced I've added the flop bluff-reraise to my arsenal when in fact it was Zoot tripping over a banana and landing on the mouse.

Rufus needs a lot of attention when he's being normal-for-Rufus. The stress in the Kattery produced by Zoot getting increasingly creaky and me trying to avoid going bust has got the red-headed Stepcat even more jittery than usual. So when he howled at me the other day I made a point of asking him very politely if this could wait thirty seconds since I was in hands on six different tables. He replied that he really felt this issue should be addressed now.

And when I looked down at his pear-shaped form I saw a very unhappy cat sitting with his favorite piece of string. A piece of string that I had not used to play "swipe," "pin," or "fetch" for several days.

Turns out that it wasn't Jessa Marko's fault at all. It was mine.

I was contemplating all this a few hours later as Rufus crashed into the front door trying to trap the light of a laser pointer, and realized that I was absolutely fucking knackered. Emotionally drained. Anxious. Plain tired. Really not in good shape at all.

I really need two of me, but public opinion has come out very clearly on this one, maintaining that one of me is more than enough.

So I have developed the following plan. From 6 p.m. December 24th to 1 p.m. January 2nd I will be offline for scheduled maintenance. The computer will be off, my phone will be off, the front door will be locked, and I will be with the cats, or books (the kind you pick up and that smell funny), or the vacuum cleaner. Mostly there will be a lot of sitting and breathing.

If you really need to get hold of me, remember the following: If a problem has no solution, it isn't a problem; if a problem has a solution, it isn't a problem. In other words, you don't need to get a hold of me.

See you all next year.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Someone Else's Wall

Shake it down again
Panic held at bay
By a sharp intake of breath
I did it in another tone
In the rafters there are
Bats in the belfry
Tell me

Why a word on
Someone else's wall
Will change my day
And an empty room
Can conjure you
The Sara who won't fade

Speed it up again
Putting life on pause
As a poem holds its breath
Found me in another room
In the cupboard there are
Cats ringing bells
So tell me

Why a word on
Someone else's wall
Will change my day
And an empty room
Can conjure you
The Sara who won't fade

And your name on
Someone else's tongue
Like Lucozade
And a morning dream
That summons you
The Sara who won't fade

And a thousand nights
I've thought of you
And wondered what you'd say
If I ever closed
My eyes on you
The Sara who won't fade

To Sara...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Nano time again

What is this crap?” said a red, shaking Jessa Marko. “Have you all lost your minds? Our system has worked for four centuries. You're attempting to convert what is usually little more than a ceremonial one-year position into a five year presidency! This is a bizarre, backwards coup d'etat and it's completely unacceptable!”

Jessa...” began Anderson.

I have the floor, Councilman!” boomed Marko. “And if you want to play this idiotic game you will address me as 'Captain.' Actually, I hereby decree that henceforth you will address me as 'Supreme Leader.'”

Point of order, Supreme Leader,” said Anderson.

The fool from Stellar Astrophysics is recognized,” said Marko.

Anderson composed himself and wondered why he had become spokesman for the revolutionary forces.

First,” said Anderson, “this is a matter to be voted upon by the Council over which you preside. You have no power of veto. Second, we have not attempted to remove the right of the Captain of the Drake to resign, with or without giving reason to the Council and crew.”

So you mean this motion is already passed, you're then going to put it to a ship-wide plebiscite, and if for some unfathomable reason the crew decide they want me to remain as Captain it's going to be impossible for me to decline?” Marko was still visibly fuming.

Actually, no,” said Anderson evenly. “If you are sure that you do not wish to see this motion passed, then its existence will never leave this room. In fact one reason we wrote this motion on a piece of paper is that there need not be any trace of it if you are adamant that you do not wish to continue sitting in the big chair.”

So if I say 'no way on Earth or in orbit' you're going to set fire to it?”

No,” said Anderson. “I'm going to eat it.”

Marko had the sinking feeling that she was becoming slightly less furious.

Captain, all we are really asking is that this proposal be put before the voting population of the Drake. We will not campaign for it beyond including the preamble that you see in front of you.”

Marko sighed. “All those in favor of the motion please say 'dildo.' Thank you. Have the record show that the motion was passed by nineteen to zero with one abstention.”

Monday, November 8, 2010

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Jesus Was A Nutter

A few days ago I was handed a leaflet by a couple of young men wearing ties. I thanked them and explained that they had ten seconds to get the fuck off my porch before the Cats Of Hell were unleashed. They both obeyed without question or apparent comprehension. A skill they presumably developed in church.

The leaflet, it turns out, is an insurance policy. "God wants you to be 100% certain that when you die you will go to Heaven." How kind.

In a series of numbered clauses, the leaflet goes on to explain what must be done in order for the reader to go to Heaven and avoid the less attractive option of eternal damnation in Hell.

I confess I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about God ever since I blew the cover off the whole Santa Claus scam. Having been lied to about the existence of one old geezer with a silly beard I worked by analogy and dismissed the existence of the other. Later in life this skepticism extended to Jerry Garcia, thereby saving me from The Grateful Dead. However, a quick inspection of the leaflet revealed that the "naughty or nice" test employed by Santa Claus is pretty small beer compared to the one God uses. And more interestingly, God's criteria exhibit clear signs of profound mental illness. Not only is God working in mysterious ways, it appears he may be wearing a tinfoil hat.

One of the areas that most puzzles me about the Christian God is his parenting skills. We are told repeatedly that he loves his children and has infinite mercy, yet he has a lot of funny rules and regulations about getting in to Heaven. The fundamental problem is that we have all sinned (more accurately our distant relatives did during an incident involving some fruit), and as sinners we cannot go to Heaven. But it's not just that the Pearly Gates are locked to us and we have to hang around outside looking sheepish. It's rather worse. The only way we can pay for our sins is to spend eternity in Hell.

If we step back from this, squint, and assume that the original message must have got mangled in the translation, the God it portrays might be generously regarded as an overzealous disciplinarian. Something like the Headmaster of an all-boys school who is a little too keen on using the cane on teenage backsides. But reading a bit deeper we uncover something far more sinister.

It turns out that there is nothing we can do in terms of living righteously and selflessly and devoting ourselves to helping others that will get us into Heaven. The only way to avoid eternal torment in the fires of hell whilst being poked with sharp sticks like an unfortunate cocktail sausage blah blah... the only way to avoid all that is to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

But it gets far worse. This "saving" concept implies that someone who spends their life disemboweling children for kicks can say: "Oops! Sorry Jesus! Messed up a bit there, but you're the bee's knees, let me in please," and the aforementioned Pearly Gates will swing open with a swishy-swish.

This is the nature of the Insurance Policy described in the leaflet I received from the young men. JC is the Get Out Of Hell Free Card.

Clearly the goal of the pamphlet is to frighten people into a church. And yet I cannot imagine how such a plan would work. Because if I believed even a fraction of this I would be absolutely furious. Perhaps that's what the crazies with the wild hair and plastic bags are screaming about. Maybe they suspect some of this is true.

Basically there is no "naughty or nice" test at all when it comes to determining eternal salvation versus eternal damnation. It all comes down to bending the knee to this Jesus bloke.

And that is what got me thinking. While it's true that this basic bizarre message is dotted over different parts of the New Testament, a lot of the information provided about salvation comes from Jesus himself. Pretty suspicious. I imagine that if I were trying to get a new cult off the ground and had absolutely no ethical or moral compass I might conjure up a doctrine in which a belief in Me as the Son of God was the only way people could avoid eternal torture. The advantage of this scenario is that it does not require that God is a sadistic lunatic. God is merely guilty of allowing his PR department to employ someone like Jesus.

But even here I can not simply dismiss Jesus as an unscrupulous, self-promoting flim-flam man. Perhaps it's my Anglican upbringing, but I remember being quite impressed as a kid with some of what Jesus said. The whole love thy neighbor, turn the other cheek, judge not lest you be judged stuff. Can this really be the same guy who threatened those who chose not to follow him with Hell?

It's this contrast between the hippie-flowers-and-fishes-be-excellent-to-one-another Jesus and the one who sounds considerably more pissed off than Lucifer that I find so baffling. In fact Hell is the central problem to the whole story. It is quite clear from the Bible that Jesus believed in Hell. Indeed, in one of those bits of the Bible that got cut out by an editorial committee (it has a fancy Latin name that sounds like a soft cheese), the reason Jesus was AWOL for three days between being stuck in the tomb and amazing everyone is that he had to pop down to Hell to rescue Moses and the other patriarchs. He may even have rescued some women. The problem being that Moses et al couldn't have been saved by accepting Jesus as Savior on the simple grounds that they died before Jesus was born.

One might argue that if Jesus and/or God (no doubt the Holy Ghost would have a say as well) ran strict to principle they would say "too bad ancient prophets, but these are the rules, you're going to have to stay down there with Old Nick." I suspect the reason an exception was made was to avoid awkward questions when newbies arriving in Heaven asked if they could have a quick chat with Abraham and Isaac and were informed they were permanently unavailable.

So how can all this be reconciled? If we adopt the working hypothesis that Jesus existed and that he is accurately quoted in the Bible, he expresses timeless principles of goodness. But turn a few pages and he is either preaching narcissistic intolerance or he is really letting his hair down and transferring demons from a person into a herd of pigs who then go and drown themselves in the Sea of Galilee.

I don't care who his Dad was. This is not the behavior of a sane man.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Stay Low

Stay low today
Stay underground and undercover
Hey hey
I just could not believe it man

You've lost your way
Pulled underwater by the siren song
I just could not believe it man

He sits alone
And stares at the walls
Nobody phones
Nobody calls
But don't worry hon
The cat's never died before

The shadows move
Make the woman cower
She's shaking like milk
This whole town's turned sour
Such a sweet guy
Till she's thrown from the tower

I just could not believe it man

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Why Not Be...

You could be married
You could be carried
Down to the alter for reasons you don’t comprehend
So why not be a cat?
You could be working
Selling your time
Until you’re sixty-five and then you die
So why not be a cat?

You could sleep all day
Be handed food
In a bowl marked ‘kitty kitty kitty kitty’
You could wash your coat
Look super cool
We all love kitty kitty kitty kitty

You could be drawn in
Green eyes, you’re falling
Marry a woman that you never even loved
So why not be a cat?
You could be carried
Down to your graveside
By people who never even heard your songs
So why not be a cat?

You could sleep all day
Be handed food
In a bowl marked ‘kitty kitty kitty kitty’
You could wash your coat
Look super cool
We all love kitty kitty kitty kitty

Kitty kitty kitty kitty
Kitty kitty kitty kitty


Funny little bubble-headed thing that I picked up at the store
Couldn't find directions nobody would tell me what you were for
Looking for the batteries
The vanities
The flatteries
Wonder what the matter is
Show me to the door...

Once more

I could take you to China
But that's a dangerous rhyme
Even in three-four time
It's a sauna in three-four time

Funny little futurama mama looking up at the sky
Couldn't find a thermostat to bring you down from permanent high
Looking for the schemers
And the hippy dippy dreamers
Trying to believe her
Instead I wonder why...

Why oh why?

I could take you to China
But that's a dangerous rhyme
Even in three-four time
Drakkar Sauna in three-four time

Sunday, September 19, 2010

One two three four

Spending my time
Staring at clouds
Wondering why
Your emotions wear a shroud

Follow the line
Shrouds are the things
Usually used
For keeping warm dead human beings

I never claimed to be
A flatterer
I never blamed you for
Your swinging moods
Your many flaws
Your frozen days
One two three four

Spending my time
Washing my paws
Wondering why
Your heart's kept behind closed doors

Follow the line
Doors are the things
Usually used
For keeping out live human beings

I never claimed to love
Your character
I never blamed you for
My open wounds
My weeping sores
My broken limbs
One two three four

I never claimed to be
A janitor
I never blamed you for
Your swinging moods
Your many flaws
Your frozen days
Famine and wars
My open wounds
My weeping sores
My broken limbs
One two three four

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

I can haz... DO NOT WANT!!!1!

Despite the adage that you cannot teach an old Kat new tricks, I recently discovered that I had a previously unknown talent. I am good at producing amusing captions for photographs of cats. Rather predictably, this skill figures to earn me $0, but it seems a shame to waste it. Consequently I spend quite a bit of time at I Can Has Cheezburger. Indeed it was the success of my efforts at the site that revealed my ability in this area.

My only previous experience in this general field occurred in grade school when I was compelled to write a report about Kenya. Rather than go to the library to research the topic, I decided it was easier to write to the Kenyan embassy and have them send me anything they felt would be useful. If anyone knew what constituted useful information about Kenya I felt it would be them. Much to my delight I received several brochures by return of post.

Since the teacher who assigned the project was the type of bearded, right-on, let's build a tee-pee tree-hugger that blighted much of the UK education system in the 1970s, it occurred to me that cutting-and-pasting [1] images from the brochures into my report would add the kind of "making-it-my-own touch" that the smelly hippy was always going on about. However, something in my wiring prompted me to change the captions of the photographs I included in my report. This started off fairly innocuously. A photograph showing the Agriculture Minister addressing farmers, for example, was re-captioned "Sports Minister congratulates swimming team on first Olympic medal." However, I soon tired of merely lying and decided to push the envelope. Thus a photograph showing Kenyan business leaders sitting around a large conference table received the legend "Pink Floyd Fan Club discusses fund-raising possibilities in order to buy Syd Barret a new brain." As I suspected, my teacher was so busy making his pupils "feel good about themselves" he apparently had insufficient time to read the report in any detail. [3]

[1] Note for younger readers: Cutting-and-pasting used to involve scissors and paste [2].

[2] An adhesive.

[3] I later discovered that most reports are only skimmed if read at all. I used this fact to my advantage when working for NASA, thereby freeing up a lot of time for flirting with grad students at Johns Hopkins University.

My most successful "lolcat" to date involves a picture of kittens in classic "I'm much bigger than I at first appeared" defense posture with the caption "Justin Bieber visits Humane Society." (As an aside, I should mention that I have no idea who Justin Bieber is. I saw his name in several other lolz and cut-and-paste it.) It's a rather obvious and one-dimensional joke, but it was well-received by my fellow lolologists. Indeed it was the remarkable acclaim that this lolcat received that prompted this blog entry. As of this writing, 4,654 people have taken the trouble to "vote" for this lolcat (it has received an average vote of 4.5 cheezburgers on a 0-to-5 scale) and 1,149 people have added it to their favorites list. The image has also been shared on social networking sites, including 1,877 instances at FaceBook.

Part of me is alarmed by these numbers. It's the part that still gives a crap about sociological issues that don't have a direct impact on me and is easily suppressed. The part of me that views everything in the light of how I might profit from it is more sanguine. As a result of this and my other lolcats I now have 4,005 fans at the site. Statistically this implies a reasonable pool of single women in my target age-range. Further, they have been pre-screened to enjoy my sense of humor and, more importantly, to like cats. That's the sort of critical filtering that you simply don't get with And since I am currently single and never leave The Kattery, what better chance to meet potential partners?

I was thinking along these lines and developing a plan of attack when I stumbled across what may be a fatal flaw. The chain of logic requires some additional information about lolology convention. Most captions involve misspellings and incorrect grammar. Thus "I am good at captioning" becomes "Iz gud at capshunning." One of my own lolcats employing this device is shown. The problem is that many site regulars insist on using this mode of speech at all times. There are long chat threads that follow many of the most popular lolcats that show the kind of fanatical adherence to dogma more commonly associated with Spanish Inquisitors and fans of Manchester United Football Club. For example, the chat thread beneath my "Bieber" lolcat begins as follows.

Skaerz awl teh kittehz!

*whispers* hoo awn erf iz justin beiber?

Ai haz heered uv justin tiem….

Whispas: Himz a teenaged teenage pop singa !!

And he’s teh suck.

Taht maekz mi fiel beddur, annipuss, knoen dat Ize nawt teh oanlyist wun aleib didun knoez hu in teh whirrld iz dis beiber pursen!

*yoinks torty adn wite kitteh cummin owt of borx* oooh teh cyootnesses, tehy iz ORL gorjus

Ohai GC !! Yoo goanna hab yor hans ful, aifinkso :smile: !!* PB purrfurz teh awlder kittehz wivvowt the kitten sharp clorz :wink: * Wotz gnu in Souf Arfrika ??* BTW, yor bloo linkee duznut werk proppa. Nede a noo fawmat *

If you understood all of the above it is possible that the remainder of this blog will confuse and/or insult you.

Here is my problem in the context of using my lol-fans as a potential dating pool. It strikes me as quite possible that, based on the above quoted thread, many of its members are at best annoying and at worst in desperate need of in-patient treatment at a mental health facility.

Imagine the scene. It is my first date with emo_sk8r_chik. (She's older than her name might suggest. Honest.) We are seated for dinner, she picks up the menu and says "I can haz cheezburger?" Given where we "met" I would only wince slightly. Her next words are "Dey not hav mowse? Dese hoomins weerd." We're getting into the realm of "only amusing occasionally." Roughly once every five years or so.

However the real problem would not arise until after dinner in my bedroom. Imagine, if you dare, the young lady slinking through the bedroom door wearing nothing but Halloween cat ears and eye-liner whiskers. She bats here eyelashes seductively and purrs "I can haz oral?"

My ordinary enthusiasm for the project would... Wilt.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Beautiful Girl

Cold November morning taste the salty tears that streak your upturned face
And say the saddest word: ‘goodbye’
Knowing that I’ll never feel your warmth again nor see the day
Illuminated by your lovely smile

You’re a beautiful girl
You’re a beautiful girl
Such a beautiful girl
You’re a beautiful girl

The glow of recognition, something old that held the hope of something new
And then dissolved and left me blind
You didn’t seem to understand the power of the gift you gave
You let me feel, you let me laugh and cry

You’re a beautiful girl
You’re a beautiful girl
Such a beautiful girl
You’re a beautiful girl

So I watch the Sun to feel the Earth turn round
And I close my eyes to kiss the frozen ground

And of all the noble causes
There is nothing in this world
That I would die for
Except you

You’re a beautiful girl
You’re a beautiful girl
Such a beautiful girl
You’re a beautiful girl

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Come to a stop, sit down, be silent
Elliot Ness has lost his way
Look at all the waiters sick of waiting

Stuck in a crowd, these worn out clothes
Are bringing me down, but can I change?
Look at all the time I had to waste

Losing my mind on a cold afternoon
Look at all the waiters sick of waiting
As I wander, ponder future daze

I don’t want to make you cry
When I do part of me dies
I can’t fly without your wings
I can’t breathe without your whisper on my skin
With you I’m everything

Losing my mind on a cold afternoon
Look at all the waiters sick of waiting
As I wander, ponder future daze

I don’t want to make you cry
When I do part of me dies
I can’t fly without your wings
I can’t breathe without your whisper on my skin
With you I’m everything
I screwed up again

Lovely Day

All in all it's been a lovely day
I didn't even think of her
Or dream of her
Or see her face

All in all it's been a lovely day
I didn't even cry for her
Or die for her
Or lose my way


Do I love her or just love love?
Is she the only one?
When can I move on?

All in all it's been a lovely day
I didn't even think of her
Or dream of her
Or see her face

All in all it's been a lovely day
I didn't even cry for her
Or die for her
Or lose my way


Thursday, July 15, 2010


Siggy's being written off again
By neuroscientists
Cultural constructivists
Gloria Fucking Steinem
And the guy at the Kwik Shop

For we all know
Do we not?
That all that clap-trap about sex
And dreams
Was a load of rot

Dripping with 80s zeitgeist
The one thing
That will really put the fear of
Into some devout activist
With impeccable credentials
Is that if they ever put
Their Sierra Club head on the couch
They might find out why
They give a fuck
And that their desire to save the planet
Has a cause that came before their Cause

These children of the Prozac Age
With their all-encompassing
I'm okay
You're okay
Yay yay yay ethos
Are easily frightened
And particularly scared
Of Dr. Freud

The fear is fundamentally
A question of scale
He could see the infinite within
And they can not

Monday, July 12, 2010

You And Your Dress

You and your dress left me broken hearted
Not even sure if we ever started to love
But it was close

Stuck on a plane on a snowbound runway
Not gonna fly in a month of Sundays
Girl, you're the most

I'm not going to lose my mind
With questions as I try to find
The reasons that we're not together
Blame the Russians, blame the weather

Falling for you left me tired and torn like
Climbing the North face of the Matterhorn
But oh! What a view

You and your dress and a tawdry Tuesday
Yves St. Laurent and a crumpled duvet
Girl, you're crazy glue

I'm not going to stick around
And wonder if you ever found
A lover who's as good as me
At lying through his shattered teeth

I'm not going to lose my mind
With questions as I try to find
The reasons that we're not together
Blame the Russians, blame the weather

Monday, July 5, 2010


Driving at night, no lights, no hope
The lake, the Moon, the girl
She doesn’t know me, I don’t know her
How else could we have been so close?

You look ill now so I’m told
All that shivers is not cold

Living at night, notorious ghosts
She kisses my hair as I stroke hers
Movie lights turn both our faces blue
Used to think the color suited you

But things change
Your old life pulled you away
And dragged you down
Crushed your smile to a frown
I didn’t recognize you

You look ill now so I’m told
All that shivers is not cold
Neon blue your empty eyes
All you are now fear and lies

But I remember Jessica
The way she used to be
When she believed in everything
When she believed in me
Yeah I remember Jessica
When summer turned to fall
And she’d breathe in and laugh aloud
And talk about the things she loved
With a passion and a lust for life
Monet and cats
Umberto Eco
Jimi Hendrix
Jack and coke
Thunderstorms and snow in April
And the future that she wanted that was full of hope
But that she lost the will to take
And drowned it in a lake
What a fucking stupid waste

I remember Jessica
I remember Jessica
Farewell to absent friends

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Her Name Is Sunday

Fly down into the big town
Shy stare, she's gonna be my friend
She's wearing my number

She says her name is Sunday
I say “I don't have anything planned”
She's wearing number 9

It's not a chase, just a question of time
And her face is my future

My name written in rainbows
Her game, the rules are anything goes
She's making me wonder

I say “let's fly with the weather”
Skies grey, so we smash holes in the clouds
Sunday says she's fine

As her eyes flash number 9
And her face is my future

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Reptile Who Fell Out Of Time

Stephanie was stupefied
She couldn't suss the rules of the game
Somewhere outside Chesterfield
The Romanies were asking her name
None of them got married
It was really kind of tragic
There was something in the water
That had taken all the magic away

Genevieve was justified
In doubting every word that I said
I really couldn't help myself
How else d'you think I'd get her in bed?
“Lying” sounds so loaded
“Verbal art” is more the mode
There was something in the fiction
That encoded every thought in my head

Caroline was serpentine
She slithered in and out of my world
Laughing like a lizard
With a tongue for all the boys and the girls
She would only meet me
When my mind was half asleep
Then she showed me round her dungeon
As we listened to The Cure and The Furs

Subterranean sister of mine
Kaleidoscope girl Caroline
The reptile who fell out of time
The reptile who fell out of time

Dream Life

Dream life not enough?
Sometimes it's way too much
To keep in mind
The people I find

A witch and a wizard out buying a van
Copper piping in the mouth of a man
Britas flying but the kite's in the sand

And the sump pump does what it can
And the wishing well goes down down down down down

In the darkest night
The visions are bright
When the shadows glare
The beauty is there

If you're the dreamer then who's in the dream
You know deep down that it's just what it seems
A world that's waiting for your waking esteem

And the director's part of the scene
Blink if you know what I mean

Friday, June 4, 2010

Not Quite Human

You’re not quite human
You walk through my nightmare
With steps slightly feline
There’s blood on your claws
You’re my lost companion
In dangerous driveways
You slink in the shadows
Then scratch at my door

No you’re not quite human
There’s something inside you
That shines if I’m near you
When you can’t hide your love
Then fear descends darkly
And you tramp on my feelings
After all this time... I still love you

You’re not quite human

You’re not quite human
You fly like an angel
That’s dressed as a banshee
There’s blood on your wings
You’re my lost companion
In splashes of moonlight
You color these memories
My soul mate my twin

No you’re not quite human
Your teeth are too perfect
In a Cheshire cat smile
That glows with your love
Then fear descends darkly
And you tramp on my feelings
After all this time... I still love you

You’re not quite human

Thursday, May 27, 2010

It Wasn't Like That

The lamb of God is looking kind of sheepish
Looking peeved
He's not believed
There's nothing to be seen

My sense of purpose is wearing kind of thin
Close the blinds
Paint a mandala on a screen
To project the world within

My sainted aunt oh! She told fortunes
And was frightened of the fairies
With pins and needles and a glass of gin
Made the little people scream

And when the skeptics called her charlatan and fake
She'd break their hearts
And steal their candy
Then destroy their minds and dreams

It wasn't like that
The cat in the hat was there
And took in everything
In 1812
And 1943

A dying empire spits at all it sees
Getting mean
Tweedledum and Tweedledee
Now they're coming after me

Put on my hat oh! Now I have to leave
Polish my rings
Crawl in my time machine
There's nothing to be seen

Monday, May 17, 2010

No Suffering Threat Found In This Attachment

This morning I became aware of two related facts that have secured my eyebrows in the upright and locked position:

1. The Dalai Lama has a Facebook page.

2. He is known by the FB kids as "The DL."

My decision now is between using this information as the jumping off point for a rant, or stabbing my eye with a fork.


What kind of a...

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Do you remember (this requires being old) when the first twin-blade razor was unleashed on the faces of men (and sometimes the legs of women thereby rendering them either useless or dangerous when subsequently employed for their intended function)? (By which I mean the razors became useless and dangerous, not the women. Typically the women denied using the razor then complained bitterly about how sore their legs were and that the owner of the razor was "lucky he was not a woman.")

The TV commercial was compelling. Naturally there was the lantern-jawed gentleman hurling water at his face (which, incidentally, is completely impossible assuming that one wants to avoid puddles all over the floor), then surfacing with a face as smooth as a wax mask, but the real marketing breakthrough was an animation of how this modern marvel works. The first blade cuts the hair, then while this hair is still raised from the skin a second blade cuts it closer. We can prove it. Using this cartoon.

Shaving had been converted into a science.

The twin-blade razor sold remarkably well and all manufacturers were compelled to produce their own versions or be thrown on the single-blade ash-heap of history.

And there the matter rested for several years.

Until there was another stunning breakthrough in razor physics.

Three blades!

There now ensued a blade arms race, with the purveyors of what used to be an elegantly simple device first emulating the triple-blade pioneer, then stunning Madison Avenue and Main Street alike with... Aha. Problem. Feeling "quadruple-blade" may flounder on the grounds it contained a three syllable word, the marketing gurus had to take another direction, thus giving the stubbly faces of the world the UltraQuad, the Mega-4, and the Double-Twin Wowza.

Okay so I am now making things up, but for a very good reason. Ignorance. I do not buy four-blade razors. At least not intentionally. (Sometimes I panic in the shaving aisle.) It's not that I am taking one of my principled stands that many people find incomprehensible ("you quit buying ball-point pens because of the Luftwaffe?") . It's because these multi-blade masterpieces do not fucking work.

Do the manufacturers even test these on real faces? They may make a peach as smooth as a... see now I am getting annoyed and cannot metaphorize... IT IS A WORD DAMMIT... as smooth as a linoleum floor that has a residual film of some hair product used by your girlfriend when you do the face-splashing routine immediately after shaving thereby adding a couple of gallons of soapy water to the aforementioned film of hair product. Probably Aquage. They may make a peach as smooth as that, but unless your face starts out nearly-but-not-quite clean-shaven, a four-blade razor clogs. Terminally. Absolutely fucking useless.

The triple-blade is, as one might suspect, less susceptible to whisker suffocation, but still requires constant in-shave maintenance and is mostly useless. I haven't been able to find a double-blade for several years, but from what I remember it only had to be jabbed with safety pins and ball-point pens between shaves.

As far as I can tell, the disposable, single-blade safety razor is now extinct.

My question is: how did we let this happen? Surely everyone has noticed that with each stunning technological advance the process of shaving has become increasingly complex. And if we cannot reverse the trend of blade proliferation, can we at least try to halt it?

Let us draw a line in the sand. The five-blade razor must never be released from the research laboratory.

Note added in proof: I made the mistake of researching this article after the main text was written (see image below).

Additional note: The subsequent research just described also revealed I am not the only one to be infuriated by the razor wars. Perhaps there is hope.

The five blade razor cartridge has a sixth single edge blade on the back for trimming. If you are looking for a stand to display or hold your razor see the razor holders. Any model of Fusion cartridge fits any Fusion head razor. Ø Razors come in a gift box.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Does Nick Clegg Play Poker?

I've been up all night watching the UK elections and will have more to say about them later, but before I catch a couple of hours sleep before Practice 2 of the Spanish F1 GP I was wondering...

Does Nick Clegg Play Poker?

Because it feels to me that he is setting up a Big Play.

The situation... For the first time since 1974 the electorate has made a mess of the election and produced a hung parliament. Silly voters.

The Conservative Party has gained the most seats and greatest percentage of the popular vote, but do not have enough seats for an overall majority in the Commons.

Constitutionally, the incumbent Prime Minister, Mr. Brown of the Labour Party, has the right to attempt to form a government in this situation. Which would require, at a minimum, the support of Clegg's Liberal Democrats.

But Clegg has just stated loudly and clearly that it is the Conservatives, as the largest party, who should have first shot at forming a Government.

And while it is conceivable that the Conservatives could cobble together a workable minority government by adding a few Ulster unionists, it seems impossible they can form a majority government without the Lib Dems.

So at first sight this is very simple. Clegg feels the Conservatives have the moral (ugh) right to attempt to form a government, and the Lib Dems have enough seats to easily allow that to happen.

Except it can't possibly happen. Can it? Surely the Lib Dems would require a Conservative commitment to electoral reform. This may be their best chance in decades to modify the electoral system that is effectively keeping them out of power.

But Cameron and the Conservatives are fiercely opposed to such reform.

And in addition to that single deal-breaking issue, the Labour and Liberal Democrats are far closer on economic policy than the Lib Dems and Conservatives. And more critically, the Labour Party is prepared to put electoral reform to a public referendum.

So constitutionally, philosophically and practically, everything points to Clegg leading his party into a coalition with Labour. An option that he has just publicly torpedoed.


Not if Clegg plays poker.

Clegg's problem is that a coalition with Labour would lead him to be crucified in the British Press and much of the electorate. It would be seen as cynical opportunism propping up a Labour regime that has just received a resounding "get out of office" vote by the British people. And if it went wrong it would finish Clegg and quite possibly his party.

But if Clegg tries, really really hard, to work with the Conservatives and, if after much hand-wringing and soul-searching, finds that he can not... Then what other choice does Mr. Clegg have? For the sake of the nation he will be compelled, perhaps reluctantly (uh huh), to form a coalition with the Labour Party. Thereby ensuring changes in the electoral system that will allow the Lib Dems far greater representation in the Commons in the future.

It seems to me that Mr. Clegg is slow-playing the winning hand. Which can be a powerful play. Except that, as any Omaha player can tell you, sometimes it can go horribly wrong.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Myth Of Lawrence, Kansas

When my most recent ex-wife and I moved to Lawrence for her job at the University of Kansas I was aware of two facts about the town. First, William Burroughs lived here. I found this intriguing. Second, the university was known for its basketball team. This piece of information was gathered serendipitously when I was watching ESPN and a fascinating segment aired that showed KU students spitting into the river as a sign of loyalty and support to the aforementioned team. I found this worrying.

We had, however, been assured by colleagues who had visited the town that "Lawrence isn't that bad," and with this ringing endorsement, moved here with a mix of trepidation and hope.

A brief aside that will become pertinent later... As I write, the older of my two cats, Zoot, is undergoing an allergy attack. He has hay fever. I wasn't aware that cats were allergic to their environment. This is the sort of useful information one acquires by living in Lawrence.

Zoot just threw up. This is not uncommon when the pollen count reaches... nosebleed territory? We're currently under a wind advisory and the gale that has been blowing all day... Well... I guess it must be like an orgy for the trees. An arboreal porn flick. They are shooting vast quantities of pollen in all directions as their limbs bend back and forth.

The younger of my two cats, Rufus, is now fulfilling his beta role and is washing Zoot's ears.

During the first couple of years here I was enjoying a period in which hypomania trumped depression and had decided I was a novelist. I did, however, have moments of lucidity when I remembered I was an astrophysicist, and taught a few classes at KU.

And, of course, that led to me interacting with members of the Physics faculty.

One of whom told me that "The University of Kansas is the Harvard of the Midwest."

I did my best to laugh at the joke, primarily because the comedian was a full professor. Somewhere between the third and fourth forced chuckle I realized with horror that he was serious.

By which I mean that he believed the statement.

Another aside... When the need to write this blog bubbled up like swamp gas, I had intended to lampoon this laughable statement. And thus, employing a pleasing blend of vitriol and honey, produce one of my rants. Which amuse at least two people. (I have kept the e-mails attesting to this.)

But I just realized that my lampoon would inevitably morph into a harpoon and thence into a torpedo. And there are people for whom I have affection who work at KU or who graduated from the place. People who are about to be sufficiently insulted by the remainder of this piece that further observations about the Youth-Club-Come-Sports-Center of the Midwest would be unkind.

Lawrence features many of the classic "town versus gown" conflicts of cities in which a significant fraction of the population works at or attends the university. (I use the word "city" loosely; Lawrence lacks a cathedral and is more properly described as a suburb without an urb.) The "townies" complain that Lawrence is overrun by boorish, intoxicated frat-boys and their SUV-driving bowhead girlfriends, while the gownies (?) argue that without KU Lawrence would be just one more piss-ant, redneck, right-wing carbuncle on the face of The Great Plains.

Being an expert in ambivalence I subscribe, in part, to both views. And wonder why, in this debate, the presence of Haskell Indian Nations University is rarely cited as contributing to the positive attributes of the city.

Actually, I have a pretty good idea why HINU suffers such neglect, but... well my theory is impossible. Because we all know what a wonderfully liberal, enlightened, culturally diverse place Lawrence is.

And in fact the idea that Lawrence is not that bad (for Kansas) is completely true. And the townies point to the artists and writers and vegetarians and LBGT-friendly residents as being responsible for this muted accolade.

To which I reply: the liberals of Kansas have to live somewhere. And, given that the university system was founded along the traditional Midwestern lines in which the University of Kansas was the school for liberal arts whereas Kansas State University focused on the agricultural, it is hardly surprising that the center of Kansas liberalism is in Lawrence and not Manhattan, 85 miles to the west.

The geography is not irrelevant, by the way. Lawrence sits between Kansas City and the state capital of Topeka. Manhattan sits between... Well... it's on the way to Denver.

The townies of Lawrence, besieged by students whose allowances exceed the average townie income, take great pride in the "community" (i.e., the collection of mutually-beleaguered townies) to which they belong. The community, they say, is an extended self-help group in which we all support each other in the face of a common enemy. It's a bit like Canada in this regard; a collection of disparate individuals drawn together and defining themselves through opposition to a perceived monolith. KU is to townies as the USA is to Canada. (They should put that on the SATs.)

Which sounds okay in theory until you discover that the townie community is comprised of the same spectrum of individuals as any other, ranging from the caring to morbidly mean, self-obsessed assholes. And that's just fine. Except that the community fails, for the most part, to recognize and acknowledge just how dysfunctional it is. And when one has been seduced by this myth of a caring, supportive community, and then peeks behind the curtain and sees the rats and the puddles of piss, it's... Well... For historical reasons I have "issues" when I am informed, righteously and indignantly, that a reality is one thing, when it is clearly quite another.

But to question the Utopia of this community is regarded as heresy. And the primary reason that heretics are reviled is that those following the dominant orthodoxy fear (perhaps know) that the heretics are right.

All of which gets me back to Zoot puking.

Several years ago I was in love with a woman who was in love with me. Typically this is a good start to a story, but ours was plagued by multiple problems that included both of us undergoing a transition from booze to prescription medication to even out some of the bumps in our brains.

We were both nuts.

And frequently unpleasant.

Really quite destructive.

And during a period in which She was being particularly vociferous on the topic of how we could never be together, She also mentioned that She drove past my house every day. Because She liked the purple irises that were in full bloom.

Nuts, unpleasant, destructive, and in spectacular denial.

Irises propagate by roots that spread out unseen and underground. This makes them ideal plants for allegory, particularly when viewed with the benefit of hindsight.

And so it was, when She committed to someone who was not me, I dug up the irises from the front of the house and moved them to the back where She couldn't see them. And replaced them with bleeding hearts.

From which I have concluded that my unconscious has a strong horticultural component. I hope to obtain a Federal grant that will help me found the Martinian school of psychoanalysis. I envision it being similar to the Lacanian one but with a greater emphasis on manure.

I really am getting back to Zoot puking.

Last fall I decided that I was going to make the effort to produce a spectacular garden this year. This included feeding all my perennials including my allegorical irises. (With blood meal, sweat and tears, obviously.)

How they thrived! I've never seen them grow so tall nor produce so many blooms on each stem. Blooms which started... well, blooming, just in the last few days.

And the gale that is indirectly responsible for Zoot puking flattened these beautiful irises, snapping the stems and driving the flowers into the dirt.

I saved a few. I've brought them inside, away from the wind, and the eyes of the much-lauded Lawrence community.

And I have locked the door.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Excerpts from The Sunday Swish I: The Genesis Of Omaha

Many of you will be aware that The Swish was recently given exclusive access to the Dead Draw Scrolls that were discovered in a grain silo in Nebraska in 1986. Our main task at this time is to translate The Book of the Holy Quaternity. Members of TSS/Omaha Division have been immersed in this sacred text for weeks like mudskippers that have totally miscalculated the rate of tidal influx in a mangrove swamp. It is anticipated that a complete translation may take several years since the Scrolls include the lengthy gospels of Saints Ciaffone, Cappelletti, Zee and Hwang. However, we are in a position to provide a preliminary translation of a few verses from the preamble to this work which we hope will be enlightening to our readers.

The Book of the Holy Quaternity (Trans. TSS/OD (c) 2009)

1. In the beginning the number was Two and the possibilities were flat and without form.

2. Our Lord Pogos [1] looked down upon the felt and saw that it was not good.

3. For man did mucketh about with The Two interminably and often blindly like the beasts of the field when the weather shifteth unexpectedly from warm and sunny to dense fog.

4. And angered by the monotonous regularity of the stealing of the blinds from late position Pogos did unleash upon the felt two plagues. [2]

5. Thus man did experience suck-outs that runner runnereth straights and flushes for seven years till they were coming out the wazoo.

6. Then followed seven years of eighty-twenties going tits up on the flop except when the shekels got in on the turn in which case the underpair would spiketh the set on the river.

7. And there was a wailing and a gnashing of teeth and laptops flying through windows like that dove with the twig when it raineth a great deal.

8. But through these plagues man continued in the ways displeasing to Pogos.

9. And Lord Pogos said: for fucketh sake, I thought I buggered up the game when I invented the draweth of the five but this is the stone cold pitzorz.

10. Thus Our Lord frowned upon The Two and since both did lacketh a spare rib said: presto!

11. And The Two became The Four.

12. YaY!

[1] Due to the lack of vowels in ancient Nebraskan the original is simply "PGs." The translation "Pogos" strikes us as easy to pronounce and pleasantly punk.

[2] It has been suggested that we may be missing a few plagues here since two falls far short of the constant misery inflicted by deities of other faiths.

Monday, March 29, 2010


Yes I'll fill it out. Last thing I need is a trip to the Slammer. But... surely those of us that send in our completed forms are already in thirty-odd Government databases? And surely people whose personal details are not circulating in The Machine are precisely the ones who are least likely to complete census forms?

This reminds me of... ah yeah...

I hereby formally declare senior officials in the U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration as well as those in the U.S. Census Bureau to be fully qualified for positions as University Administrators.

Anyway some good came out of it all. I have yet another nom de plume.

Love peace fur - Person 1

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Playground Bully: Addendum

Flower power, man. Pwn3d. 31Hz.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Catharsis IX

Sara my love
You were the one
One before time
My time has gone

Wondering why
Sara my love
You were the one
Something went wrong

Head in the clouds
Sara my love
Wondering why
You were the one

One before time
Sara my love
My love has gone
Wondering why

You are the clouds
Sara my love
Where is the time
Wondering why

Where is my love
Head in the clouds
My time has gone
Sara my love

You were the sun
I was the sky
Sara my love
Wondering why

Run out of time
Where is the sun
Head in the clouds
Sara my love

Sara my love
My love has gone
Wondering why
Sara my love

The Playground Bully

When I was ten years old a family move meant that I joined a new school. As is the custom in London, my status as the "new boy" combined with spectacles meant that I was the natural target of the playground bully. Given that the school employed individuals whose primary responsibility was to prevent such activities, it puzzles me how, two or three times a week, I would spend "playtime" having my hair pulled and arms twisted into pretzel-like configurations.

But the English are a confusing people, particularly when one has the benefit of looking back at that Sceptered (septic?) Isle from the left side of The Pond. Their capacity to talk about the weather is particularly remarkable for the simple reason that, in England, there isn't any. Not real weather. It's true that, every now and then, a "heatwave" will scorch London as the temperatures rocket into the 80s for a week. And crippling winter storms will dump a couple of inches of snow on The Smoke thereby rendering all travel by road, rail, sleigh and foot totally impossible. But for three hundred and twenty days or so every year you will not be far wrong if you predict the weather to be upper 50s and overcast.

In North East Kansas we have weather. And the winter of 2009/10 is going to go down in my personal record books as one of the nastiest five months ever. The weather is a sensible topic of conversation here not only because there is some, but because it changes so rapidly. Most winters will include brutally frigid episodes, but usually we get a few weeks relief with warm days and clear skies. Not this time. Week after week the temperatures stuck rigidly below average by twenty degrees. On the rare occasions when the slate-grey sky gave way to sunshine, it got colder still. I stopped counting the number of winter storm warnings and the total snowfall accumulation in mid-January. It was around that time I went to bed.

Last week the flowers began to bloom. Crocuses, early dwarf irises, and the daffodils just about ready to open their petals on the Vernal equinox when...

Yes, I know the snow will melt. And while half my daffodils appear to have been wiped out I specifically plant a second wave extra deep for situations like this. There will still be a radiant yellow explosion in my yard welcoming the longer days.

But it seems to me that Winter was making a point. The playground bully was walking away, but noticing that his victim was rising unsteadily from the ground, he stopped, looked over his shoulder, and sneered. And then the playground bully kicked his victim in the balls to underline his timeless promise.

"I'll be back in November."

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Birds: Part II

The first interior bird of the season was no great surprise. And now that Zoot has ceased to be a killing machine and Rufus... Well, Rufus has issues and poses no threat to birds partly because he is afraid of them. So after much waving of towels with the front door and numerous windows open to the 9F December day, the winged visitor returned to the wild relatively unscathed.

I assumed that the bird had, as in previous years, fallen down the chimney. I usually leave the flap in the flue open because Zoot likes to pee in the fireplace and it airs it out, but preventing further intruders became a priority so I closed it. Thus the arrival of the second bird a couple of days later was something of a curiosity.

I have noticed in the past that birds that fall down my chimney typically do so in pairs. Given that there was no obvious alternative point of ingress for bird number two, I suspect it fell down the chimney at approximately the same time as the first one and had somehow avoided detection. (If you're wondering how I could overlook a bird in the house for two days, you probably haven't met me. In addition to my usual limitations in the noticing-things department, I was living mostly upstairs over the winter to reduce heating bills.) After some banging of pans and arctic air from the door and windows, the second bird was also evicted.

Bird number three still remains a bit of a puzzle. It turned up a week after the others left, although it is quite possible it was one of the first two making a repeat visit, perhaps because my house is slightly warmer than 9F and the kitchen has readily available food.

Despite the lack of an "obvious" means for the third bird to enter the house, the latest evidence compelled me to study the situation further. I should explain that The Kattery was built in stages, with the original structure making up about one half of the current edifice. As a result it is replete with novel and probably dangerous architectural innovations, such as dropped ceilings to accommodate heating-cooling duct-work, twin basements linked by a bizarre maze of crawl spaces, and so on. The duct-work alone is a fascinating labyrinth that a few years ago inspired me to attempt to create an Aeolian pipe organ. By modifying the lengths of the ducts through the installation of gates to create segments appropriate to a harmonic scale, I determined that, in principle, when the furnace or air-conditioning sent air through the ducts a pleasing sound would be produced. Unfortunately, part of my testing of the system involved dropping a speaker down one of the ducts in the dining room and playing The Ramones through it. Half way through "Sheena is a Punk Rocker" some kind of resonance must have formed, because after a few seconds of an E-flat that grew from fortissimo to tornadic, the duct-work in the smaller of the two basements exploded.

I carried out a brief inspection of the duct-work, but found no bird-sized holes to the outside world. Further, I knew at least one bird had come down the chimney by the flecks of soot that had mixed with the bird shit that was now liberally spread around much of the house. The Kattery smelled like the bottom of a parrot cage, and once pots, pans, towels, open windows and the rest had seen bird number three leave the premises, I decided it was time to use the evidence provided by the soot and take the battle to the enemy.

I was now confident that the birds could not get in to the house via the chimney, but the soot evidence strongly pointed to them living in or near it. Due to the Kansas weather and the height of my roof, I have a complex chimney cowling that resembles a medieval torture device. Somehow this prevents 70 m.p.h. winds being blown down the chimney. It also, I suspect, provides an Art Deco apartment for birds.

I rarely use my fireplace, partly because Zoot pees in it and more importantly because I suspect it is far from safe. Its intrinsic danger had been increased the winter before when the handful of fires I had were fueled by pine and bits of my fence. This is exactly the kind of wood you do not want to burn, of course, but it was the pine tree and my fence that the most recent tornado had chosen to destroy. I therefore re-opened the flue and built a fire using the remainder of the fence.

My first concern was that a family of birds in the chimney may block the air-flow thereby filling The Kattery with smoke. However, on lighting the fire a good draw rapidly built up. So good, in fact, that the furiously-spitting fence sent large sparks shooting upwards. Consequently I immediately instituted first-fire safety procedure. This involves checking the temperature of the walls in the various rooms adjacent to the chimney, including secondary areas linked by the aforementioned duct-work. Phase two requires going outside to ensure that flames are not shooting through the chimney or conceivably from holes in the wall.

Remarkably all that was burned in this process was the fence and pine. At least that is what I thought initially. However, the next day I was in the kitchen when I heard a clattering, tumbling sound followed by a thud. The flue was still open, since the embers take a while to cool down. I therefore approached the fireplace expecting to be confronted by a pissed off bird. Instead I found in the grate a badly charred object about the size of a pound of butter. With a beak.

Donning rubber gloves I recovered the deceased bird from the ashes and threw it out the front door. Unfortunately it appears that Rufus is only afraid of living birds. He ran out the door after it, captured it, and ran back inside before I could stop him. And then pulled off one of his remarkable vanishing tricks. He turned up again a few hours later sans dead bird, but despite a thorough search of his favorite closets and cabinets the unfortunate creature was nowhere to be found. I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to wait a couple of weeks when the smell of decay would reveal its location.

The next morning I came downstairs to make coffee wearing my hat. It wasn't until I'd got through the second cup that I noticed there was a note on the fridge door. It read:


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Interview With The Black Wizard

I arrived at the residence of The Black Wizard at the appointed hour and, as arranged, sent a text message to his personal number. I received an immediate reply to enter the building. In the hallway, pink cardboard arrows pointed towards a narrow, steep stairway. Following the arrows up the stairs and along a landing, I reached a door and knocked.

The Black Wizard: Come in. Please sit down. I am told the floor in the vicinity of the gardening magazines is quite comfortable.

The Black Wizard was sitting up in bed wearing a leather biker jacket, sunglasses, and black stetson. He was flanked by two cats, one black and one orange, curled up on velvet pillows. The room was dark and it was difficult to determine where the Black Wizard ended and the tangle of comforters and cushions began. The bed itself was listing at least twenty degrees to port. From where I sat it appeared that one corner was sinking into the floor.

Feline 9ine: Thank you for agreeing to this interview. How would you prefer to be addressed?

TBW: Clearly and concisely, please.

F9: No, sir, I meant by which name? Over the years you have had many. "The Black Wizard," "Magister Ludi," "Jeff."

TBW: They aren't really my names. They are the labels placed on me by others. I always refer to myself as "me."

F9: Quite, but if you had the choice...

TBW: I can choose anything? How fun! How about... "Sagacity?"

F9: Sir Gass...

TBW: I have a better plan. Let's assume that whenever you speak you are addressing me rather than one of the cats. That way you needn't call me anything at all.

F9: Very well. May I first ask about your health?

TBW: Yes. [Long pause.] Oh, I see, you just did. For a being of my age, species, diet, exercise habits, and previous medical history, I am in perfect health.

F9: So you are not confined to this bed?

TBW: Quite the contrary, I am liberated by it. May I offer you something to eat? There are some tinned sardines behind the red boots.

F9: Thank you, no.

At this point in our interview, the orange cat to the left of The Black Wizard rolled off the bed and landed on the floor where it remained motionless. The Black Wizard glanced downwards and from deep in his throat a low, guttural growl emerged. The orange cat stood up, shook its head, and jumped back onto its pillow, where it curled up and went back to sleep.

F9: You are no doubt aware that certain allegations have surfaced...

TBW: Yes, they always do, don't they? I live in hope that one will fly through the window or be delivered in a wooden crate, but instead allegations insist on "surfacing." And one wonders from whence? The fact that they surface demands that they form underwater, then rise like bubbles. But bubbles need an object on which to nucleate, before growing and detaching and negotiating their perilous trip upwards. My current theory is that the fine hairs on the languid leg of a daughter of Achelous act as nucleation centers, then when she moves her leg in order to more easily scratch an itch, the allegations detach and eventually surface. I assume we are talking about Volumes IV and V of the autobiography of The Red Siren, or whatever she prefers to be called these days.

F9: Yes, Madame Seirena Thunbergii.

TBW: Oh how catchy! And such a rare talent to compress, or perhaps I should say "mangle," Greek, Latin and French into such a tiny space.

F9: Returning to the allegations...

TBW: Actions speak louder than words.

F9: Excuse me?

The Black Wizard sighed, lit a black cigarette with a gold filter, and directed a column of smoke at a brass owl that was suspended from the ceiling. He rested his hand on the black cat to his right and smiled faintly.

TBW: Given the target audience of your publication, I imagine you are referring to Her assertions about this cat. Specifically, that I proposed that She and I return to Europe to play Red and Black House. And that, in order to do so, I offered to return this cat to the streets where I found him, this being necessitated, She asserts, by her allergies.

F9: That is the actual cat mentioned in Volume IV of...

TBW: Indeed it is. And as you can see, he is neither homeless nor destitute.

F9: But wasn't this over twenty years ago?

TBW: Was it? I have no idea. I have discovered, over the years, that my experience of their passage is different to that of people who do not share my... talents. I find it quite likely The Red Siren enjoys a similar affliction. I am also convinced she is not allergic to cats.

The room brightened suddenly as the Sun emerged from behind a cloud and sent a shaft of light onto The Black Wizard's left shoulder. Noticing the direction of my gaze, The Black Wizard ran his index finger over his jacket, then showed me a discolored finger tip.

TBW: Dust. Dust and ash. The origin of the ash is obvious, of course, but the dust is more interesting. Most of it is me. Dead skin. The cats make a contribution, and I am told that plaster from the walls of this fine dwelling also crumbles and eventually settles, but a fair fraction of this dust is me. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

The Black Wizard frowned, and dug around in the blankets apparently searching for something. With a sudden look of triumph he held up a walnut which he proceeded to throw at a computer in the far corner of the room. The screen came to life and "The Man Who Dies Every Day," began to play.

TBW: Ultravox. John Foxx is the vocalist. He left and Midge Ure became the vocalist. And the band was still named Ultravox. But was it the same band? A large chunk of the thing that was Ultravox had been removed, and grafted in its place was an irritating Scotsman with a silly mustache. Bits of me, in the form of this dust, leave my body every day. To be replaced by new stuff generated through a bizarre process that begins with ingesting sardines and goes through countless biochemical reactions until I have new skin that can again fall off me as dust. I suspect the fact that the passage of time is puzzling to me is somehow connected to this process. Are you sure I can't interest you in some sardines?

F9: Quite sure, thank you. But staying with the culinary theme, your reputation as an accomplished if radical chef is also challenged by Madame Seirena Thunbergii.

TBW: Ah yes, Volume V. In which my dinner party guests suffer through burned parsnips, soggy tempura and loud, lesbian drummers. Well I suppose it's all a matter of taste, isn't it? I prefer my parsnips crisp. In much of Louisiana they would have been devoured without dissent. I will allow The Red Siren that tempura is not one of my strong suits, but I fail to see a problem with the lesbians. Although... Yes, the contrast with The Red Siren's own dinner parties provides a clue to Her dislike of mine. For reasons I could never comprehend, the food at Her soirees was invariably served three hours after the time indicated on the invitation. Dead animals would bubble interminably in the kitchen as the guests sat in complete silence. The only entertainment to be found was in placing bets on which of the twitching, highly-strung violinists on the couch would snap first.

F9: So you stand by your cooking?

TBW: With a spoon.

To be continued...

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Birds: Part I

I am not a morning person and for the last few weeks my dislike of getting out of bed has been intensified by the prospect of being dive-bombed by birds.

The problem started soon after the heavy snowfall we enjoyed on Christmas Eve. Following my usual routine of staggering downstairs to make coffee, I was greeted in the kitchen by a bird sitting on my coffee-maker. The bird and I exchanged puzzled looks, then the bird swooped in my general direction and flapped into the living room where it bounced off a window, squawked, and settled on the ceiling fan. I loaded the coffee-maker and returned upstairs to get my hat.

This is not the first time The Kattery has been infested by wildlife. A possum appeared in the basement a few years ago. It turns out that "shoo!" is completely ineffective when attempting to evict possums, so I called Animal Control. I was informed that possums were not included in the list of animals they controlled, presumably because possums are bad-tempered, ugly, disease-ridden beasts and Animal Control is far more interested in controlling small, affectionate puppies.

My next phone call was to my neighbor who is a Kansas native and part-time organic farmer.

"Hey Jake, there's a possum in my basement."

"Uh huh."

"I'd like it out of my basement."

"You got a gun?"


"Tire iron?"

Realizing that Kansans and Londoners had markedly different approaches to possum removal, I decided "trapping" was more my speed. Armed with a dog carrier and organic sprayer filled with soapy water I returned to the basement.

Note: I don't own a dog, but the size of my cats necessitates a dog carrier rather than a cat carrier.

The possum played into my hands at this point by running behind the furnace. Placing the open dog carrier at one end of the space between the wall and furnace, I took up position at the other end behind the possum and started dousing it in soapy water. The plan worked almost flawlessly. The possum ran forwards in the direction of the waiting trap. And got stuck. At least it appeared to be completely filling the available space and its forward progress had ceased.

Note: One cannot rule out the possibility the possum was faking being stuck and just remaining very still. I have been told they do that.

Not to be deterred I switched the dog carrier from one side of the furnace to the other and started spraying the possum from the opposite direction. The results again have a bearing on whether or not the possum was genuinely stuck. After a few good shots of soap to the face the possum began backing up. My instincts tell me that its renewed ability to move was the result of the now drenched possum being sufficiently lubricated by the soap.

Much to my amazement, some more spraying saw the possum retreat into the dog carrier. I ran round the furnace and slammed the door shut. It was at this point that I discovered possums are only slow-moving when they choose to be. The dog carrier began bouncing across the floor of the basement following a trajectory that physicists would immediately identify as a random walk.

After a few minutes the motion of the dog carrier had subsided to occasional jerks, so I decided it was time to return the possum to the wild. Picking the carrier up produced a new round of high-speed possum activity, but for the first time in our relationship I finally felt confident that I was in charge of the situation and got the possum outside. I unlatched the carrier door with a broom handle, eased the door open, and ran indoors.

The whole procedure from possum discovery to possum liberation took seven hours. But once complete I felt a sense of accomplishment, particularly because I had neither shot nor clubbed to death the possum, as is apparently the tradition in this part of the world.

I imagine there are Kansans who can recognize individual possums. Indeed some in the heartland probably keep them as pets. I confess that, to my eyes, one possum is indistinguishable from another. Consequently I am in no position to say whether the possum I found squashed in the street a couple of days after this episode was "my" possum or one of its cousins, and whether I simply imagined that it was emitting a faint aroma of soap.