Friday, July 4, 2008

I love America

I really do. I don't always like it, it usually disappoints me, and more often than not in my adult life I have disliked the current administration, but I love the country. It's broken in many ways, arrogant, often inconsiderate, and has more institutions in need of repair than I can list, but it's also one of the greatest of human experiments.

We started with some great notions:

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

We screwed up our pursuit of these truths on many occasions in the past, and all too often we still do, but we've ultimately always chased them.

Many have paid for our belief in them, including my stepfather, Edmund Livingston, Jr., who carried shrapnel from WWII for as long as he lived.

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

Ed was an ordinary man, one of many like him, who lied about his age so he could fight for his country. He paid for his courage with scars you could see and scars you couldn't, and a stupid bureaucracy denied him a second Purple Heart he earned and deserved, but I never saw him bitter about his service. He knew his war was a noble cause.

My friend, Dave, went to Viet Nam, a war he knew was stupid and one he opposed, because it was a citizen's duty. He, too, was one of many who did the same, and he, too, carries the scars to this day.

Citizens have paid for America, and I'm grateful to them.

The flag, which we'll see a lot today, though only a symbol, means something to me. I won't mistreat it. I will ardently protect the right of those who want to burn it or do anything else with it, because I believe in free speech, but I won't do those things myself.

And the rockets' red glare,
The bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night
That our flag was still there.

I think of these lines every Fourth of July, as we set off our fireworks and our own play bombs burst in the air.

I question my government all the time. I often, as now, despise it and think it stupid and wrong. I've spent most of my voting life on the losing end of elections, and I've rarely encountered a politician who seemed to me to have much of a soul left.

But I vote every chance I get, proud to have the opportunity, grateful to those who secured it for me, and loving my country.

Want a peek inside my head? And a contest

Too bad, because I'm going to give you one anyway.

Last night, I had one of the odder dreams in recent memory. I have no idea what it means, and Dave's always pointing out how much I hold back, so I thought I'd share this one with all of you. Blame Dave.

I'm on a two-lane blacktop in the middle of nowhere. The land on either side of the road is so shrouded in fog that it's invisible. My car, an old fifties model with a huge dash, is broken down. Two African American men, one a few years older than I and the other somewhere north of eighty, help me get moving. I'm in a hurry, excited to be heading wherever it is I'm going.

And them I'm back there again. They help me again.

And then I'm back there yet again. They start to help me, but then the old guy bends over, very slowly and with the obvious stiffness and effort of the very old, and picks up the small black leather vitamin carrier, the small black leather change purse, and the wallet I always carry. He hands them to me and says, "You dropped these."

I smile and say, "Thanks so much."

He then says, "If you don't mind me asking, where are you going in such an all-fire hurry?"

I motion him and the other guy to follow me around to the driver's side of the car, which they do. I open the door and point to a sheet of paper on the dash. We all lean in (don't ask; in the dream we have room) and stare at the sheet of paper. It's about eleven by seventeen inches, thick, printed in the old style of a carnival sheet, with large black type on a faded parchment background. It reads

You must CAPTURE the carpet cow.

The word "CAPTURE" is circled over and over in red ink, something I know I've done.

I point them to that line, they nod in understanding, I nod in happiness that they understand, and then I wake up.

Before you ask, I have no clue what a carpet cow is.

And now, a contest: If at least ten people email me (via my site) an entertaining explanation (serious or silly, I don't care) of this dream, and if they give me permission to post their explanations here, then I'll pick the winning one and mail them an autographed copy of Slanted Jack. I'll also post the others here, either with bylines or anonymously, as the submitter chooses. If we get fewer than ten entries, however, then no one gets the free book.

Fire away!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The puzzle that is dressing

You'd think that by now I'd have this dressing myself thing figured out, but I don't, or so various women tell me.

My basic dressing process has remained unchanged for most of my life:

1) Grab this week's pants off hook where I hung them yesterday.
2) If in a particular t-shirt mood, grab that t-shirt; else grab whatever shirt first strikes me as "yeah, I could wear that today."

I modify these rules for fancy occasions or when a woman near me at dressing time tells me to do so or when I'm trying to impress someone, also usually a woman, but these two steps remain my main plan. I count on them creating acceptable outfits by sticking to pants I thought were neutrals: jeans, blue and black, khakis, and dark pants that I thought were black when I bought them but which I've learned might be any of more shades of blue and black than the male eye can see.

Alas, my plan fails often. Those neutrals? Not always neutral. Some may be too yellow, others may be blue when I thought they were just that canonical "dark, probably black" color. That t-shirt? Not the right mood, or offensive to some (amazingly, screaming skulls bug some people), or just so yesterday (I still love tie-dye).

I get enough occasional comments and critiques that I've considered a new plan:

1) Identify woman nearest to me at time of dressing.
2) Ask her to tell me what to wear.

This plan is also deeply flawed, however, because it can turn sour quickly. The biggest nightmare is when step three becomes a discussion over what to wear. I then must come up with an opinion, which I don't have because if I did I would have chosen accordingly in the first place. Plus, if I give up control in step two, the outcome may not be to wear this week's pants, which is rarely acceptable. They are, after all, this week's pants.

I guess I'll remain puzzled, keep to the plan, and take grief from time to time about what I'm wearing.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


My bug bites, an unfortunate but unavoidable (at least so far for me) consequence of the fireworks show, are driving me crazy. My theory is that if you tear them open deep enough, they will stop itching, but I can't claim this is a good theory.

I'm itching to go to the beach on vacation, which I will do on Saturday. I love the little beach we always visit, where there's almost nothing to do.

I'm itching to have more time to write, which I will at the beach, to some degree. I also have a demanding schedule of sleeping, over-eating, and watching bad movies, as well as reading and socializing.

I'm itching to feel normal again, a hundred percent and without back pain. My back's a lot better, but it's not there yet.

I'm itching for a lot of things, it seems. It's been that kind of day.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The all-time worst photo of me

appeared in the July issue of Locus alongside the announcement of One Jump Ahead winning the Compton Crook award. Being a glutton for punishment, I showed the photo to everyone at home when I saw it. I felt the love:

"You look like the Compton Care Bear."

"Give that man a purple carnation."

"Oh my God!"

"It's not that bad, it's [breaks down laughing and snorting and finally runs away]"

You get the idea.

To bookend my day, I got up this morning at 5:15 a.m. after a nearly useless two hours in bed, and took Kyle to the airport. Along the way, we spotted a kitten eating some roadkill. Unfortunately, we spotted the kitten too late to swerve, so I went over it and feared I had killed it. After I dropped off Kyle, I retraced my route, pulled over at the scene of the possible crime, and checked the whole area for traces of ex-kitten. To my great relief, I had not killed the kitten--and it had even managed to take the last of the roadkill with it. One great big softie, yes I am.

Monday, June 30, 2008

And the rains came

The forecast had called for rain all weekend. The mid-day sky had been clear and blue, but as the late afternoon turned to early evening huge masses of dark gray and black clouds rolled in and prematurely darkened the world. Finally, a magnificent storm hit us, with lightning and thunder and rain falling thick and hard. After forty-five minutes or so, the storm slowed to a trickle, then spent the rest of the evening unable to make up its mind about how to behave, turning from torrents to drizzles to no rain, all in a pattern none of us could know.

Normally, I would have loved this night. As I've said before, I adore thunderstorms. I even enjoyed this one to some degree.

What stopped me from really loving it was the fact that tonight was our fireworks party. We had over twenty-four-hundred bucks of fireworks, more than 1,200 pounds of explosives, staged and ready to go, and the storm came.

We'd prepared as best we could, of course: We'd covered the staging area with tarps, put the devices on the tarps, and wrapped them in yet more tarps, all tucked into each other and weighted down with bricks.

The water still got in, as we found out when the shower abated enough that we decided to shoot in the drizzle. It was a difficult show. Roughly a third of the fireworks wouldn't go off, our lighters and matches wouldn't hold fire, and coordination was a nightmare.

Despite all that, however, we managed a pretty darn good performance, with some outright spectacular moments. As always, those of us on the launch team stood under the fireworks and had the best seat in the house. The noises, the smells, the amazing light shows: I love it.

I do wish, though, that the rain had come after our show, but so it goes. It was still, on balance, a good time and a good show.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


Often mindless, with more plot problems than strengths, and possessing an almost complete disregard for the laws of physics, Wanted, which we went to see tonight, is still big fun. (In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I would have gone to see it for Angelina Jolie alone, who is hotter than should be humanly possible in a role that we all agreed no other actress could have carried off successfully.) The weakest parts of the film are the moments when it slowed, because this movie cannot afford to allow you time to think about what you're watching. Check it out for summer big-film fun.

On the weather front, the forecast for tonight is darkness, continuing until almost morning, when snatches of light will intrude.

If you don't remember the Hippy Dippy Weatherman character he once played, then the above mini tribute failed, so let me state it directly: I forgot to note and mourn the recent passing of George Carlin. I'll miss his humor, intelligence, and spot-on observations.


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