Momentous Monday: I’m not really who I think I am

The surname Bastian is the 11,616th most common in the world — meaning it’s not all that high on the list — and is most common in Germany, which should be a no-brainer, since it is in fact a German name.

Thirty-five percent of Bastians reside in Germany, and the name has been documented in 86 other countries. Surprisingly, it is more popular in Indonesia (21% of Bastians) than in the U.S. (19% of Bastians.)

And yet, a few years back, I had a little existential shock when I found out that I was not a Bastian at all. It all happened because I’d started doing genealogy years ago and lucked out a long time after that when somebody researching the German village my ancestors came from saw a query I’d posted about my great-grandfather, so he sent me all the info.

But, because of that, I don’t know what the family name is really supposed to be because Bastian only goes back to my great-great-great grandmother, Barbara Bastian, who was born in 1801. But… that was her maiden name, and her husband’s name wasn’t recorded, so her sons Peter and Titus assumed the name Bastian. (I’m descended from Titus.)

I have the info on her Bastian ancestors going back four more generations to the 1670s, but no idea who my great-great-great-grandfather in that slot really was. The genealogist said that it could either have been a passing soldier who didn’t stick around (common at the time) or that the husband wasn’t Catholic and the family apparently was, so his info wasn’t recorded in the church records and/or the marriage (if it happened) was never recognized.

Of course, there’s a possibility that Barbara was actually the father, since there is precedent for it being a man’s name and it just got flipped at some point. After all, Marian is still a very common German name for boys. But I’m not counting on that.

So the Bastian line I know of goes: Johannes Georg and Ursula Rieger begat Johannes Lorenz Bastian; he and Catharina Melchior begat Johannes Georg Bastian; he and Anna Barbara Riger begat Matthias Bastian; he and Dorothea Bittman begat Barbara Bastian; she and some dude begat Titus Bastian; he and Catharina Seiser begat Gustav Bastian; he and Mary Fearl begat Theodore James Bastian; and he and Neva Belle Jones begat my father, who knocked up my mother and begat me.

That’s ten generations, but the last six of them aren’t really Bastians at all.

If any of those surnames sound familiar and you have family in or ancestors from Gaggenau-Michelbach in Baden, Germany, by all means say hello in the comments — we probably are related. That was another thing the genealogist told me — that there were only about nine families in the village, which was isolated, so yes, there were a lot of cousins getting married.

And before you roll your eyes over incest, cousins marrying was the norm throughout most of human history, because those were the only people a lot of people knew but who were distant enough genetically to safely marry but close enough in distance to actually meet. Also, second cousins and beyond were much more common.

I am fortunate, though, in that German obsession to detail and the Catholic penchant for keeping meticulous records combined to preserve this history so that a researcher could find it centuries later.

I’m less fortunate on my mom’s side of the family, which is all Irish, because we have the same genealogical problem that a lot of European Jews do: an attempted genocide intervened to wipe out most of the records.

In my case, it happened over a century earlier, and in a much more passive-aggressive way as England basically did nothing about a potato blight that created a potato famine that decimated the population. So… not an active genocide, I… guess…?

But they also went in and stamped down Irish culture, forcing everyone to speak English and almost killing of Gaelic, and paying no regard to any records.

So… while I can trace that one line through my father back ten generations (and another line on his side that lucks out and hits England back thirty or so), on my mother’s side, the farthest I can get back is… four generations through every branch. It all stops in the mid-19th century, which is also about the same time that most of them arrive in the U.S.

In fact, up each branch, the trail ends with no information on the parents of each one who was the first immigrant to come here. The pattern is “Born in Ireland, died in America, parents unknown.”

It’s kind of ironic, then, that I know more about my English and Welsh ancestry through just one of my father’s 7th great grandparents than I do through my mother, especially considering that genetically I am 50% Irish.

Oh, by the way, not accounting for pedigree collapse, a person has 512 7th great grandparents. That makes sense, since it’s two to the eighth power (don’t forget to add your parents to the seven), then doubled because you have two ancestors per slot per generation.

And, to put the degree of DNA in perspective — 50% from my mom, directly and, while the percentage that came from my dad is the same, the bit that came from that ancestor of his is about 0.39%.

Or, in other words, out of the 30,000 genes in my genome, about 117 came from that ancestor — only to mix in match with the 117-ish other genes that came from every other person swimming in the gene pool that eventually became me at that point in the timeline.

In case you’re wondering, it wouldn’t take anything nearly as big as a swimming pool. In fact, a one liter bottle would hold all of the quarter gram of human eggs and approximately 800 ccs of semen contributed by all of those 7th great grandparents, with room to spare.

But you’re going to need a two liter if you want to go to the next generation, and a gallon jug to hold the ingredients for the one after that. At that point, just forget it, because you’re just going to be exponentially adding gallon jugs from that point on.

Ah. Isn’t genealogy wonderful?

Image by Calips, used unaltered via (CC) BY-SA 3.0.

Sunday Nibble #38: A short guide to knowing your shit #2

I originally wrote these pieces for my friend Peter’s website, TheFlushed.com, back when they had been planning to expand their editorial content. However, the actual shitshow that 2020 turned into intervened, and we sort of forgot about it. Until now! Here, at least, you can read all about the anal emanations you’re likely to encounter in this ongoing series. How many of them do you recognize?

You knew that going to that new Indian-Mexican fusion place last night was a risky idea, but you’ve eaten there before and the food is just so damn awesome that the flaming chipotle sag paneer and tikka tacos with a side of chutney and mole salsa you had were totally worth it — until the next day, when you suffer Mahatmazuma’s Revenge.

It begins with a bit of rumbling and gurgling, then soon turns into a mad dash for the can, where you fumble your clothes into position for emergency evacuation, have a seat and, before you can say “Check, please,” the remains of last night’s meal blast out of you in a torrent that could launch a rocket for Elon Musk — and that’s just the beginning.

You didn’t even realize you could have this much in you, but every time you think you’re done, another wave hits the shore and firehoses its way out your nozzle. And the sound… oh, the noises you’re making! Just pray that this hit you at home and not anywhere you’d have to use a public bathroom, because the farts and gurgles and splats and splashes echoing in the porcelain bowl under your posterior could drown out all seven stages at Coachella combined, and the smell would make a skunk retch.

Did I mention how spicy that dinner was? Well, you’re experiencing that spiciness all over again, only this time via a more delicate opening. You subconsciously start humming Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” as you hope that it’s over, but you’re only halfway there. Now you’re regretting buying that rougher TP because it was cheaper. Like Spider Man, the aftermath isn’t going to feel so good.

When it finally seems like you’ve blasted out all of your internal organs, there’s one last, final hold-out, the only solid bit of the experience — the sad little turd that had to wait until the deluge was over. At least this job only needed one painful wipe. You glance in the bowl before you flush and mutter, “Holy moley,” because it looks exactly like the Mexican sauce that came with last night’s food.

My friends, you’ve just experienced Chocolate Rain

* * *

The Saturday Morning Post #36: The Rêves, Part 14

You can catch up with the first installment of this piece here, or last week’s chapters here. It started as somewhat of an experiment. It seems to be taking the form of a supernatural thriller, set above and below the streets of Los Angeles. NOTE: Due to a scheduling error, this post did not go up at the usual time of 7 a.m. PDT.

 

Gemelos

The two of them had fled into the sky long before the storm, snaking around buildings, one alternately in pursuit of the other, neither one of them able to even touch or harm the other, but still they tangled like a pair of fighting dogs, two wisps of black smoke in the sky that most people below wouldn’t have noticed or, if they had, would have just put off to exhaust from some business or another.

One of them led off by diving down into the NoHo Metro station, then following the tunnel to Universal City Station. On the platform, they tangled and twisted until the one who seemed to be losing shot back up the seven mile tunnel to come out at Hollywood and Highland.

The chase continued down the tunnel past a bunch of stops until one of them shot above ground at the 7th Street Metro station, and then  skidded just above the sidewalk about two miles to the Los Angeles Greyhound Bus Station, where it hovered, the other wisp hesitating nearby.

The first wisp vanished inside and the second followed until they both wound up in the bus station men’s room, at which point they manifested to each other — Danny, the first wisp, clothed and angry looking; Preston, the second wisp, nude and looking alarmed.

“Who are you?” Danny demanded.

“I’m Preston,” Preston replied.

“Then who am I?” Danny asked.

“I have no idea,” Preston said. “Except I think that maybe you are me. Were me?”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Danny spat.

“Well, I mean, we do look alike, right?”

“You look like a whore,” Danny said.

“What?” Preston replied. “Work clothes. And you? What are you supposed to be?”

“If I knew, I’d tell you,” Danny said.

“Okay,” Preston replied calmly. “So… what’s your name?”

“Fuck if I know,” Danny shouted. “And yours?”

“Preston LeCard,” he said. “Pleased to meet you?”

“Wait, stop, don’t tell me. I’m Tom Canty, and you’re Prince Edward.”

“Who?” Preston asked.

“Never mind. Unless you tell me that you’re rich or something.”

“Um, actually…” Preston started, then hesitated until Danny’s look made him continue on, “I’m kind of fucking loaded, really.”

“So who stole what from whom?” Danny demanded.

“I don’t know!” Preston said. “Look, this is just as confusing for me as it is for you, honestly. All I know is that I had this great career as a porn star, I made —”

“Sorry, what?” Danny asked.

“You heard me. Porn star. You know? I fucked for a living. And I made mad bank at it, and I loved doing it and, ironically, I was finally taken out by a plague that had nothing to do with the plague that used to take out gay men. Except that I kind of … stuck around? And the last thing I remember was a couple of sexy human dudes kind of … shit. If it had been a porn scene, it would have been really hot, but they basically tried to tell me I’m not who I am, and then bang, there you are. And if the idea of… what? Instant twin brother? Sudden clone? Whatever, isn’t the absolute hottest porn scene idea, then I don’t know what is.”

Danny and Preston stared at each other for a long time. Finally, Danny said, “Okay, great. You remember all kinds of shit. You know what I remember?”

“Um, no?” Preston replied.

“Okay, cool. It’s this. Not so very long ago, I woke up locked in a box with some dude who looks like me. I have no memories at all of anything before this, we both seem to be freaking out, and then we escape. And I have no idea who’s the friend, or who’s the enemy. Or who I am.”

“Well,” Preston said gently, “Apparently you’re me, except before I became the me you don’t know. And that’s the trick, really.”

“Nah,” Danny said. “The real trick is figuring out how I became the you that you seem to be, because you are not me. I’m no whore.”

“That’s kind of what I just said,” Preston replied.

“So you really believe that I was… no… that you were me once?”

“And I believe that I still am you, Danny. Shit… it’s starting to come back to me now. That’s weird. Idaho?”

“Yeah. I grew up — “

“In Emmett?” Preston continued before He could finish, Danny nodding. “I just remember that. And… oh wow… DWsub13M,” Preston said, very surprised. “I remember that handle.”

“Yeah, I did chats with that, so? Anyone on the board could have seen it.”

“Right but your password… Finn23Zack69. Right?”

There was a long silence before Danny said, “How do you know that? Are you a hacker?”

“No,” Preston said. Goddamn, those daddies were right. You are me before I became… well, me. The problem is that everyone remembers me and no one remembers you, but if you just help me remember you — ”

“Then what?” Danny replied, shying away into the corner.

“If you let me remember you so that you can remember me, well… shit. How powerful would you like to be, anyway?”

“I’d rather be alive again,” Danny said.

“Yeah, well, I’d like a unicorn,” Preston replied.

“Shit, you sound just like my sister,” Danny muttered, and suddenly Preston found himself sucked out of the present world and down a dark vortex. At the end of it, he woke up staring at a crappy bus station ceiling, realizing that for the first time since he’d died, he could smell. Unfortunately, what he could smell was the heavy stench of urine, cum, and the over-arching mint of urinal cakes — and then Danny was kneeling above him, looking down and smiling.

“I don’t know where you went, dude,” Danny said. “But I took a little walk around when you vanished, and I ran into some people. Well, I ran into the Marx Brothers and I tried to ask them what was going on, but you can imagine how useful their information was.”

“I’ve met them,” Preston said. “I know. But you can’t blame them, because they’re trapped in their characters.”

“Kind of a reminder of how annoying movie characters would be in real life, right?”

“Except porn stars,” Preston quipped.

“Anyway, next I ran into that dude from the Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, and he was actually helpful. He explained a lot to me.”

“Yeah, really,” Danny replied. “Hey, I don’t know where you went when you blinked out, duded. But I’m glad you came back. Now, I think I understand, and there’s kind of two options.”

“Really?” Preston said.

“Number one, we just moosh together and forget all this shit and become one person again.”

“Not a bad idea, right?” Preston asked.

“You’d think, but… no. The other option is stay apart, each of us becomes who we really were, because we’re going to need to double up to take on the forces of evil.”

“And who would they be?” Preston asked.

“Oddly enough, it’s a two-front war,” Danny said. “On the human side, it’s some genocidal human asshole in Pasadena. On the Rêve side, it’s the woman who pretends to be your mother.”

And what do we lose if we moosh?” Preston asked.

“Bascially,” Danny replied, “Everything. Oh, right. I forgot to mention the other part.”

“There’s another part?” Preston asked.

“Sure,” Danny replied, “Or didn’t you see the sky where you were?”

Preston shook his head and Danny took him outside where they looked west and saw the lightning. Then he looked at Danny, who just grabbed him.

“So… self-preservation over any stupid argument. Agreed?”

Preston hesitated for a second, then nodded. Just as he did, the storm front swept over them and the rain and hail came down, although it couldn’t touch them. For some reason, it went around them, creating silhouettes in the falling drops that would point them out to any humans there to see them had there been any humans on the streets at all.

But Danny and Preston could see what no human could, and that was that this was no normal storm. They could see the wraith-like presence that was actually controlling it, a darkly luminescent shimmering blue haze that both permeated the cloud and led it.

“What is it?” Preston asked.

“My god, that movie dude was right. He said that the real danger would be if somebody warned… what did he call them? Silvester…? Or sometimes Pearl? Anyway… yeah, that. This is what he warned about.”

“So what does that mean?” Preston demanded.

“We’re all fucked,” Danny replied as he grabbed Preston, held him tight, and the two of them dropped through the ground until they hit the Metro tunnel, then shot up it to Union Station and, from there, into the local highlands above downtown on what were called The Avenues.

The Rêves had their own warning network, although the message was basically to avoid certain areas. Although Las hadas silvestres were not mentioned at all, the idea that the Rêves were in no danger from what was happening was. The main points were to stay out of the Metro, away from Cemeteries, and to avoid Pasadena entirely.

The Avenues actually weren’t that far from Pasadena, at least street-wise, but they were sufficiently above it.

By the time that Preston and Danny had taken refuge in an overgrown backyard behind a very old house in Mt. Washington, they decided that they were going to remain apart for now. As Danny pointed out, “Strength in numbers.”

“Also,” Preston said, “I’ve always wanted to fuck my identical twin.”

“Stop it you,” Danny said, more playful than annoyed. “Okay, we’ll fuck if we get out of this alive…”

“That’s kind of impossible, isn’t it?” Preston said. Danny just smirked back.

Then they did all that they could do, which was just to wait out the passing storm — that is, if it ever did pass.

* * *

Parlay

In a lot of ways, Anabel really appreciated the ironic symmetry in the storm that Pearl unleashed because, just as none of the Rêves ever received any demands or ransom notes from the humans, they and Las hadas could not send their own demands back, at least not in any way that the humans would understand.

All they could do was kidnap the weather and ravish the landscape. And that’s when Anabel realized the irony of Pearl’s words, that they would warn the humans. A sudden but unprecedented storm would not come across as a supernatural warning, at least not to any sane or rationale humans.

The only way that Anabel could warn them was to get herself caught again, and she wasn’t about to waltz into Ausmann’s arms, especially not after she had tipped him off to size being a factor in how effective their traps were.

But, she realized, if she could get Pearl to bring him above ground, away from his laboratory and technology, and place them on equal footing outside, then maybe she could deliver the message.

As soon as she thought it, she heard Pearl’s voice in her head. “Then take us where he’s at, man, and we’ll show him where it’s at, dig?”

Anabel wasn’t sure whether it was her imagination or not, but what did she have to lose? It wasn’t that hard a trip — just under seven miles in a straight line just about exactly north east, and only passing under one isolated mountain on the way.

So she headed from Glendale to Pasadena, even though the storm hadn’t gotten this far east yet, then hovered around where she had come up above Ausmann’s lab. But something seemed wrong. The place was eerily dark, with none of the buildings illuminated, and only the streetlights along the internal roads and parking lots providing any light at all.

She decided to take a chance and go underground, finding that she hadn’t missed Ausmann’s hidden complex by that much, but then venturing in while not manifesting to find it apparently abandoned. As she wandered its halls and through offices and labs, all she saw were empty work stations, all the equipment turned off, and everything bathed in a deep red light that came from LED strips set in the baseboards.

“Well, this is weird,” she thought.

She wandered around until she found a lobby with what were clearly elevator doors, keeping her distance from those, and went to the security station nearby, which had several large metal detectors in a row with double doors on each side and that’s when she saw the sign taped to the first door of the first detector.

“MANDATORY EVAC ORDER,” it read. The rest of it was typical gov-speak gibberish that took way too many words to passively state what could have been simply put: “The weather is fucked, so get the hell out of here. We are shutting everything down.”

And it wasn’t just Ausmann’s little project. It was all of JPL. It was so serious, in fact, that the notice ended with the scare words “SERIOUS FEDERAL CRIME” above some official-looking seal with an eagle on it.

“Ooh,” Anabel thought. “What are you going to do? Arrest me?”

Her other thought was, “I died in the 1920s, and the Federal Government still hasn’t upped their art game at all?”

But if no one was here, then where was Ausmann? How was she going to find him?

Reluctantly — because if anyone would defy the threat of being charged with a federal crime it would be him — she found her way down to his office.

Now the real trick was to figure out where he lived from what was available. The catch was that none of the electronic devices would turn on. Not that Anabel even knew how they worked, but she’d tried to turn on a lamp only to realize that all power had been cut.

That was when Anabel proceeded to do what any good 1920s detective would do, and she started going through drawers. Yes, they were difficult to move, but Rêves did have some ability to manipulate objects.

Most of them were full of random office supplies, way too many Post-It pads, boxes of staples, and promotional pens. Further down, she found file folders of documents that were at least a decade old.

And then, she found a birthday card, in an envelope. The card itself read “Happy Birthday Grandpa!” and her mind boggled at the idea that Ausmann was human enough to have reproduced at least once. But then she looked at the postmark to see that it was only a year old.

Then she looked at the address. Motherfucker lived in some place called the Simi Valley, which she’d never even heard of. But at least she had an address, and that was enough. She couldn’t take the envelope with her, but she could imprint the information on her hand and make it stick, so then she flew back up to emerge from underground, feeling triumphant.

“I found that son of a bitch, Pearl,” Anabel muttered to herself, and it was like a sudden warm and loving wind embraced her.

“Simi Valley?” Anabel heard Pearl’s voice in her head. “Yeah, that fucking figures. Let’s go.”

“Where?” Anabel asked.

“Thirty-five miles west. Where the white people went when the brown and black people scared them. Don’t ask.”

Suddenly, Anabel was flying over a mountain, across the Valley, across more mountains, and then down into a normal-looking suburban area that was already being heavily lashed by the storm. She landed on the front lawn of a perfectly tacky 60s-era ranch house, then heard Pearl’s voice in her ear.

“Go get him,” they said.

“But how?” Anabel asked.

That one didn’t get any answer. She decided on the obvious method, even if it was totally stereotypical, and just walked through the wall and into the living room, where Ausmann and a woman, presumably his wife, sat in silence, the room only lit by the glow of the large screen TV on the far wall, tuned in to the weather report.

Ausmann’s wife looked as dour and unpleasant as he did. “We need to evacuate?” she muttered.

“Ridiculous,” Ausmann replied. “Typical media sensationalism.”

“We’re not that far from Malibu as the crow flies,” his wife said.

“The storm is moving west from Malibu, not north. It’ll never get here.”

The house rattled with a sudden thunderbolt from the south and Anabel decided to make her presence known. She popped over in front of the TV and manifested, being sure to glow for visibility.

“The storm is already here,” she said. As if on cue, lighting began to flash outside, the thunder coming sooner and louder with each moment.

“Get out of my house!” Ausmann demanded.

“We’ve come to deliver a message,” Anabel said.

“We?” Ausmann replied.

“Don’t you hear them?” she answered, gesturing. Now, the lighting was close enough that they could actually hear the electricity scorching the air and almost feel its heat. The thunder came within a split second of the lightning.

Outside at the foot of the driveway, a tree suddenly shattered under a direct hit, scattering bits of bark and splinters of wood all over the place, leaving a split and smoldering trunk and dropping several limbs to the street.

Their conversation turned into a shouting match because it was the only way to be heard, especially after the hail arrived moments later and began pelting everything.

“What’s the message?” Ausmann demanded. “Thor is pissed off?”

“The message is: Leave us alone,” she said. “Whatever you’re doing, stop it.”

“I’d love to be able to,” Ausmann said, “But there are reasons I can’t.”

“Like?”

“Like reasons I can’t tell you. Classified.”

“I don’t care,” Anabel said. “Neither do they. Stop what you’re doing.”

“And are all of you going to stop what you’re doing?”

“All we’re doing is existing,” she replied.

“No, you’ve been leaking into our world despite the agreement you made with us thirty years ago.”

“You’ve been pulling us into it against our will!” she insisted.

“I’m not the one you have to negotiate with,” he explained.

“We’re not negotiating,” she replied.

“Which ‘we?’ The Rêves?”

“We brought someone to negotiate with us.”

“Really?” he scoffed. “Who?”

“Who do you think is causing this storm?”

“I already guessed Thor,” he replied. “Should I have said Zeus instead?”

“Stop what you’re doing to us now!” Anabel shrieked over the non-stop thunder.

“No!” Ausmann shot back, stepping toward her, and then she caught a glimpse of what he had snuck into his right hand — one of those small traps, open and ready to spring.

She shot up through the ceiling and crawl-space under the roof and out into the night sky and the crashing hail.

“Tear it down,” she called out to Pearl. “He’s refusing.”

As she headed back to Glendale, the storm intensified, and lightning started to strike the house, blowing off shingles. Ausmann turned and ran for the hidden staircase, seeing that his wife was nowhere in sight.

He headed down to the basement and their hidden panic room, because of course they had one — practically everyone with money in Simi did — and he entered his code in the door panel.

It slid open and he stepped inside, to find that his wife was already there. As the door slid shut and locked again, everything shook and there was a resounding boom. Outside, the power went off, the various monitors showing everything inside the house going dark.

At least the power supply down here was still working, and they had at leasat six weeks’ worth between the batteries, capacitors, and propane powered generators, which they would go through in that order, unless at least two of the solar panels on the roof held and stayed connected, in which case they’d go through none of it.

“Was that a ghost?” Coraline finally asked him.

“Yes and no,” he said.

“Is it gone?”

“Yes,” he replied, staring at the monitors and watching as the cameras went out one by one.

Up top, half of the house was in flames and a sudden gust of wind tore the roof off of the garage and sent it sailing down the street. Lightning continued to pummel what was left standing, and hail the size of baseballs started to drop into the now exposed garage, pounding both of the cars in there until their roofs were practically touching tops of the window wells in the doors.

A couple of bolts of lightning turned a third of the water in the pool into steam, cracking the concrete walls and letting the rest ooze its way out into the ground. Another lucky strike breached the propane canister on the gas grill and sent it rocketing into the air on a jet of escaping fuel. It came back down right into the windshield of Coraline’s SUV.

The escape room held because it was supposed to — it had been designed and built by the same crew that had constructed Ausmann’s laboratory under JPL after all. But it wasn’t too long before all connections to the outside had gone dark with the exception of the underground cable that tied into the internet.

Ausmann streamed the news and watched the “Special Bulletin — Breaking” announcement about the sudden freak offshoot of the storm that was pummeling Simi Valley.

Although, in the morning, there would be only one house in his neighborhood that looked like a tornado had swept it away.

* * *
 
Image source: Gemelli by Jacopo Montano from Atlas Coelestis, John Flamsteed (1729), used under licence via (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Friday Free-for-all #35: Prove I’m from the future, world’s worst burrito, and more!

What is the most boring super hero you can create?

This is really reminiscent of some improv set-ups, where the first player is given an improbable super-hero who has to solve a problem. Gradually, their other superhero friends come over, and the players endow each other in succession. That is, player one gives player two a superhero identity, and two to three, and so on.

That said, probably the most boring super hero I could create would be Phil Farnum, aka Captain CPA! His super powers involve being able to balance books, audit ledgers, do people’s taxes, and detect fraud. He can also talk villains to sleep by discussing the minutiae of the benefits and disadvantages to all the various ways of amortizing loans and whether accrual or cash basis is the best strategy.

What would be the worst ingredients to fill a burrito with?

In short, anything that doesn’t traditionally go into a burrito — you need at least refried beans, cheese, lettuce, and salsa. Meat optional, but you definitely want guac and sour cream on top.

For me personally, though, the worst things would be stuff I absolutely can’t stand to eat anyway: beets, pineapple, squash, cucumbers, pickles, string beans, gummi bears, licorice, yams, oysters, sardines, kippers, and smelts, with some lobster tossed in. Season it with pumpkin spice, then top this monstrosity with caviar.

Voilà! El Barfrito!

Are you more of an indoors or outdoors person?

I’m probably equally both, but nothing really recharges my batteries like hanging out outside, particularly in a woodsy or foresty setting, mountains optional, but they help with the view. If it can’t be completely in nature, then stick me next to a secluded swimming pool or, more preferably, in it.

If you were transported 400 years into the past with no clothes or anything else, how would you prove that you were from the future?

Anyone from our time would instantly appear strange to people in 1620 — and we’ll assume Europeans, which includes any colonists in the Americas. Why? For one thing, we aren’t covered in pock marks because most of us have never had small pox. We also probably have most of our teeth or dental work that makes it appear that we do (and likewise straight and white or nearly-so), and we are on average taller than people of that era — probably heavier, too, in general.

One of the best ways to show them that you’re from the future is to enlist the aid of the local craftspeople — blacksmith, brazier, cooper or carpenter, spinner, glassblower, and miller. If there’s a harpsichord maker around, they might be useful too, depending on what the strings were made of.

If you’re clever, you’ve probably seen what all those occupations could come together to make, with my instructions. The blacksmith would create an axle, and possibly forge magnets, if he had access to lodestone. The brazier would extrude copper wire, or we’d just get it direct from the harpsichord maker, if they happened to keep stock on hand.

The cooper or carpenter would build the frame to hold the windings one way and the axle the other. The glassblower would create a globe and the blacksmith would cap it — although a tinsmith or silversmith might be better for the job, depending on how delicate the glass is.

Of course that cap would already have wires and filaments threaded through it, the filament that joins them wrapped with cotton fluff and tallow, since tungsten hasn’t been discovered yet.

Is this beginning to sound familiar?

Wind the wire around the frame, mount the magnets perpendicular to that on the axle inside, attach the leads from the wires to the wires on the globe, and the only thing you need is a motive source, which is where the miller comes in.

Why? Because he’s got a big building that’s turning a shaft via either wind or water power, and through his largesse and some more work from the blacksmith or carpenter or both, you’re going to create a differential gear that is going to convert the rather moderate turning of his mill-shaft into some pretty insane RPMs for the magnets in your little generator.

Because that’s what you’ve just created, and if you do it at the right scale, you’re going to light that bulb up.

Oh — bonus points if you can figure out how to get the blacksmith to use his bellows to create at least a partial vacuum inside that bulb, because that’ll make the thing glow all the brighter while you pull your demonstration at sunset and announce to the people, “Behold, I bring you the gift of Prometheus!”

Side note: Just make sure that the people you’re doing this for are not religious puritans. Aim for the rich upper class dudes who were getting all sciencey at the time. Maybe look for a place with an observatory or a huge university.

Okay, maybe not look, since you’re running around the countryside butt naked, but at least explain your situation and ask to be taken there. And maybe for clothes, but FFS make sure they’re new. You really don’t want to be instantly infected with fleas, lice, and crabs — especially not in 1620.

Of course, the sneaky solution would be to smuggle a digital watch with built-in scientific calculator up your ass, but that would be cheating.

Family secrets

It’s strange sometimes the connections that social media can make, and one of the more interesting but also odder ones that happened recently on Facebook was when someone messaged me at random and said, “Hey, are you any relation to (First Name) Bastian who went to (Dead President) High School?”

Well, as a matter-of-fact, that person, let’s call him Will, happened to be my much older half-brother, so I replied that yes, I was, but had to inform this stranger that Will had died way too soon back in 1992.

This was when I found out that the stranger, let’s call him Don, was the son of the people who lived next door to the house my parents bought right after they got married — yeah, people used to be able to do that in L.A. — and I only didn’t recognize the last name because my parents always apparently mispronounced it.

Now here’s the thing I always have to explain about my family, but I’m sure I’ve brought it up here before. Both of my parents were married previously, to people their own age. In fact, to their high school sweethearts, so they were living examples of why that’s a bad idea. Mom very quickly had marriage number one annulled because he was an abusive asshole. Dad endured marriage number one for nearly 18 years despite her being an alcoholic shrew. Well, at least that was the issue once whispered to me by an aunt, my dad’s sister-in-law.

But the point is this: When Dad met Mom, he was the 40-ish professional and she was the 20-something waitress in the diner across from his office. They met because he always came in the same time every day for breakfast. They married, they had me, and then they moved to the West Valley. The end result of all of this was that I’m kind of a generation off on my dad’s side but right in the middle on my mom’s side, just like she was.

So while I technically have three older siblings, they’re all a lot older than I am and I never grew up with any of them that I can remember. Two of them were old enough to be my parents and the third happened to be a lot younger than those two. That’s one half-sister and two-half brothers, although I don’t know whether that counts as three siblings or one-and-a-half.

The one other thing you should know about Will is that, like me, he was gay, although being a generation before me, he was gay at a much less friendly time and yet was never in the closet, at least not with the fam. Growing up, I always knew about him and “Uncle” Larry, they were part of the family, and I understood, even when I was a really little kid, that the two of them had the same kind of relationship my parents did.

Oh… meaning emotional besties who lived together part, not the icky sex part, because I didn’t learn about that until later, obviously. But they came as a set. Will and Larry. Mom and Dad. Same thing.

Still, because he was a gay role model to me, he was the sibling I loved the most and looked up to, not to mention that whenever he was around, we just connected, because he was also a musician, he was funny and creative, and always encouraging. But, because he was already an adult when I fell out of mom and he had moved off on his own, we never really got the opportunity we should have had to connect. I also never got the chance to come out to him, and when he died way too soon, that door shut forever. Hell, I’d barely come out to myself when that happened.

And then, this stranger contacted me on Facebook asking if I was related, and then confessing that he and Will had been best friends in High School, as well as something a bit more, because while this neighbor, Don, explained later that he didn’t even know what “gay” meant or was when he was in high school, he shared that kind of relationship with my bro, if only briefly, and before I was born.

As he explained it in a message to me, “I had no idea I was gay when I knew him. Actually I knew, but didn’t know what to call it. He was kinda my ‘teacher’ about things like that. I will always be indebted to him for helping me. I remember the night in front of a church in Canoga Park where he kinda ‘explained’ things to me, and showed me some things.”

And I have no idea what explaining and showing mean there, but I did get a long narrative recounting some high school adventures of the two and, damn… I discovered a side of my favorite died-too-young half-sibling that made me think, “Okay. Maybe not a role model.” He loved to play hooky from school, which is something I can honestly say that I never did or even contemplated except, of course, for the one time it was sanctioned on Senior Ditch Day in high school, but since it’s the school approving it, it doesn’t count as being truant.

But my god. These two cut school, they shoplifted, they threw spitballs and M&Ms in class, and tormented an English teacher. The only way my older half-bro could have been more different than me was if he’d been straight.

And these were all things that made me think, “Wait. I looked up to this one?” And, as Don told it, Will was clearly the bad influence in this situation. Plus he apparently did not get along with my mom, although she never tipped that off to me, although it is a common issue in step-family relationships.

Then I think about one of the big reasons he wasn’t around when we were adults. While I was still in high school, the somewhat successful salon he’d started suddenly closed, and he and Uncle Larry moved to Vegas. Apparently, they’d decided that not paying taxes (federal, state, or payroll) were a good idea. So, in effect, they played hooky yet again, except with a more serious set of consequences. All along, I’d thought that this had been Larry’s doing, but with this new advice from Don, I realized, “Nope. Probably Will.”

It doesn’t make me love him any less in retrospect. It just makes him more human. And makes me wish even more that we could have been more present in each other’s lives when we had the chance, but at least I’ve found a proxy who was there, and that’s one of the few benefits among the vanishingly small reasons to keep feeding social media.

Photo: First wife, half-sister, Dad; at least “Will” and I inherited his looks. Will moreso. He was a dead-ringer. Me, not quite as much.

Nerding out on Star Wars: Why The Rise of Skywalker worked for me

In which I unleash my inner Star Wars nerd. WARNING: Spoilers galore. If you haven’t seen The Rise of Skywalker yet, stop here, unless you want major plot points revealed. And, most importantly, remember that like all artistic criticism, this is just my personal opinion. Your mileage may vary, and you’re not wrong. I’m not wrong. All art is entirely subjective and personal to the observer. 

Okay. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been a major Star Wars fanboy since forever and why not? It was the major mythology of my childhood, and has carried on through three trilogies, two spin-off movies, and a couple of series.

I will admit to a few things, though. One is that I never really got into Clone Wars because the 3D animation style just didn’t mesh with the Star Wars universe I knew. Two is that while I’ve seen and enjoyed some of the Mandalorian (and Boba Fett was one of my favorite original trilogy characters) I don’t subscribe to Disney+, so rely on friends for viewings.

Three, finally, is that I never got into all of the extended universe stuff in terms of books, comics, etc., but, apparently, that’s all non-canon now, so I guess I won on that front.

All that said, my personal Star Wars film rankings are as follows…

  1. Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
  2. Episode IV: A New Hope
  3. Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
  4. Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker
  5. Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
  6. Episode VII: The Force Awakens
  7. Solo: A Star Wars Story
  8. Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
  9. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  10. Episode II: Attack of the Clones
  11. Episode I: The Phantom Menace

The Rise of Skywalker had big shoes to fill but, honestly, I think it filled them by paying off all of the promises made and, no, it did not erase anything set up in The Last Jedi, which did not erase anything set up in The Force Awakens. Remember: Characters lie, or see things from a “certain point of view.” That was established way back at the beginning in Episode IV.

To me, Episode IX played out in the inevitable way it had to. My only complaint about the saga is that a certain character who debuted in Episode VII and was set up to be the villain did not survive through IX, although they died nobly and redeemed. Still, I somehow knew from the first moment we met that character that they’d be doing the ol’ Anakin in reverse saga. And if that wasn’t and isn’t obvious to complainers, I don’t know what movie you watched. Also keep in mind that Luke saved his father from the dark side while Ben was saved from the dark side by his father, or at least what was most likely a force projection that took all of his mother’s energy to make happen, so that we also got a nice little symmetry with the Skywalker sibs, who both performed their last heroic act on a far-away planet in order to turn Kylo Ren back into Ben Solo, and wound up force-ghosting because of it.

And there’s your explanation for that last scene, by the way, you’re welcome.

Lucas is famous for saying that his films rhyme, and a triple trilogy is actually the ultimate act of Aristotelian drama. Ari is the one who created the three-act structure or beginning, middle, and end, even if he was doing it in five act plays. But if you want to take that to its logical extreme, each part of that also has its own beginning, middle, and end, as does each part within that.

Now, just taking the three trilogies and ignoring the extra films, what do we get? Nine three-act films. And it’s always the second act that gets messy (Episodes II, V, and VIII) and the third acts that sometimes wrap it up too quickly (Episodes III, VI, IX.) First acts have to deal with introducing the characters and themes sometimes successfully, sometimes not (Episodes I, IV, VII.)

End result? Three by three by three, which is three cubed, which is twenty-seven. If you’re writing any kind of three-act structure, that is your basic beat-sheet right there.

Thematic rhymes

First acts, Episodes I, IV, and VII (Phantom Menace, A New Hope, The Force Awakens): Intro the innocent: Anakin, Luke, Rey. Send them on a quest they didn’t ask for. Pop them out the other end as a hero.

Second acts, Episodes II, V, and VIII (Attack of the Clones, The Empire Strikes Back, The Last Jedi): Show your heroes a taste of failure, put them at odds with their mentors, and let the villains seem to win in the end.

Third acts, Episodes III, VI, and IX (Revenge of the Sith, Return of the Jedi, The Rise of Skywalker): End your hero’s arc, although this one gets interestingly tricky, because it’s different for each trilogy. In the prequels, Anakin goes from innocent to Sith Lord Darth Vader. In the original trilogy, Luke goes from naïve farm boy to master Jedi, although it’s also the story of Darth Vader going from evil Sith Lord to destroyer of the Empire (although not really). In the sequel trilogy, we start with Rey, but it’s as much Kylo’s story, so while she goes from innocent scavenger to “Be All the Jedi!”, he goes from Big Bad to redeemed hero, perfectly echoing his grandfather Anakin’s storyline in the first six films.

Don’t forget the ultimate big bad, Palps himself. More than any other character, his arcs repeat in each of the three trilogies. In the original trilogy (IV-VI), he only appeared as an idea in the first, had a couple of brief cameos as a hologram in the second, and then came on full force in the third.

Likewise, in the prequel trilogy (I-III), Palpatine starts out as a dedicated servant to Queen Amidala, becomes Chancellor in the second film, and reveals his true self and takes over power in the third.

Finally, in the sequel trilogy (VII-IX), Palpatine is nowhere to be seen in the first episode, apparently not present in the second, although the third makes it clear that Snoke was really his Count Dooku so that he was there all along, and then in the third film he comes back full force and nastier than ever.

Anyway… I’m happy with how it turned out, and I’m not the type of fan who feels it necessary to flame creators who don’t get it “right.” Why? Because, ultimately, I’m not the one creating it, so I have no right to complain. And that’s probably the most important lesson. If it ain’t your franchise, try appreciating what the creators do with it instead of explaining why they screwed it up.

“War is not healthy for children and other living things.” Except…

The title of this article comes from an incredibly iconic poster that was created during the Vietnam War in the 1960s. Specifically, it was created by printmaker Lorriane Schneider in 1967, and was inspired by her concern that her oldest son would be drafted and die in a war that many Americans considered unnecessary.

However, the Vietnam War is a strange exception and beginning point for a tidal change in American wars. Post-Vietnam, the only benefits wars seem to have given us are more efficient (although not cheaper) ways to kill people, and that sucks. (Incidentally, the Korean War is technically not a war. It also technically never ended.)

But… as weird as it may sound, a lot of the major wars prior to Vietnam actually gave American society weird and unexpected benefits. Yeah, all of that death and killing and violence were terrible, but like dandelions breaking through urban sidewalks to bloom and thrive, sometimes, good stuff does come in the aftermath of nasty wars. Here are five examples.

The American Revolution, 1775-1783

The Benefit: The First Amendment (and the rest of the Constitution)

By the beginning of the 18th century, Europe was having big problems because Monarchs and the Church were all tied up together, the state dictated religion, and so on. It came to an extreme with Britain’s Act of Settlement in 1714, which barred any Catholic from ever taking the throne. The end result of this was that the next in line turned out to be the future George I, son of Sophia. Sophia, however, was an Elector of Hanover or, in other words, German. Queen Victoria was a direct descendant of George I, and spoke both English and German. In fact her husband, Prince Albert, was German.

But the net result of all the tsuris over the whole Catholic vs. Protestant thing in Europe, on top of suppression of the press by governments, led to the Founders making sure to enshrine freedom of speech and the wall between church and state in the very first Amendment to the Constitution, before anything else. To be fair, though, England did start to push for freedom of the press and an end to censorship in the 17th century, so that’s probably where the Founders got that idea. But the British monarch was (and still is) the head of the Church of England, so the score is one up, one down.

The War of 1812, 1812-1815

The Benefit: Permanent allegiance between the U.S. and Britain

This was basically the sequel to the American Revolution, and came about because of continued tensions between the two nations. Britain had a habit of capturing American sailors and forcing them into military duty against the French, for example, via what were vernacularly called “press gangs.” They also supported Native Americans in their war against the fairly new country that had been created by invading their land. So again, one up, one down. And the second one, which is the down vote to America, is rather ironic, considering that the Brits were basically now helping out the people whose land had been stolen by… the first English settlers to get there.

And, honestly, if we’re really keeping score, the U.S. has two extra dings against it in this one: We started it by declaring war — even if there were legitimate provocations from Britain — and then we invaded Canada.

But then a funny thing happened. The U.S. won the war. By all rights it shouldn’t have. It was a new country. It really didn’t have the military to do it. It was going up against the dominant world power of the time, and one that would soon become an empire to boot.

The war technically ended with the Treaty of Ghent in 1814, but there was still the Battle of New Orleans to come after that, and it happened because news of the end of the war hadn’t gotten there yet. In that one, the U.S. kicked Britain’s ass so hard that they then basically said, “Remember all the concessions we made in that treaty? Yeah, not. LOL.”

In a lot of ways, the war was really a draw, but it did get the British to remove any military presence from the parts of North America that were not Canada, and opened the door to American expansionism across the continent. It also helped to establish the boundary between the U.S. and Canada, which is to this day the world’s longest undefended border. Finally, it cemented the relationship of the U.S. and Britain as allies and BFFs, which definitely came in handy in the 20th century during a couple of little European dust-ups that I’ll be getting to shortly.

The American Civil War, 1861-1865

The Benefit: Mass-manufactured bar soap

Now in comparison to the first two, this one may seem trivial and silly, but it actually does have ramifications that go far beyond the original product itself. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re a fan of bar soap now or go for the liquid kind (my preference), because both were really born out of the same need and process.

Once upon a time, soap-making was one of the many onerous tasks that the women of the house were expected to do, along with cleaning, cooking, sewing, canning, laundry, ironing, taking care of the menfolk (husbands and sons, or fathers and brothers), and generally being the literal embodiment of the term “drudge.” But soap-making was so arduous a task in terms of difficulty and general nastiness that it was something generally done only once or twice a year, basically making enough to last six or twelve months.

To make soap involved combining rendered fat and lye. (Remember Fight Club?) The fat came easy, since people at the time slaughtered their own animals for food, so they just ripped it off of the cow or pig or whatever meat they’d eaten. The lye came from leeching water through ashes from a fire made from hardwood, believe it or not, and since wood was pretty much all they had to make fires for cooking, ashes were abundant. Yes, I know, it’s really counter-intuitive that something so caustic could be made that way, but there you go. The secret is in the potassium content of the wood. Fun fact: the terms hard- and softwood have nothing to do with the actual wood itself, but rather with how the trees reproduce. (And I’ll let your brain make the joke so I don’t have to.)

So soap was a household necessity, but difficult to make. Now, while William Procter and James Gamble started to manufacture soap in 1838, it was still a luxury product at the time. It wasn’t until a lot of men went to war in 1861 that women had to run homesteads and farms on top of all of their other duties, and so suddenly manufactured soap started to come into demand. Especially helpful was Procter and Gamble providing soap to the Union Army, so that soldiers got used to it and wanted it once they came home.

Obviously, easier access to soap helped with hygiene but, more importantly, the industry advertised like hell, and from about the 1850s onward, selling soap was big business. There’s a reason that we call certain TV shows “soap operas,” after all, and that’s because those were the companies that sponsored the shows.

World War I, 1914-1918 (U.S. involvement, 1917-1918)

The Benefit: Woman’s suffrage and the right to vote

It’s probably common knowledge — or maybe not — that two big things that happened because of World War I were an abundance of prosthetic limbs and advances in reconstructive and plastic surgery. However, neither of these were really invented because of this conflict, which “only” led to improved surgical techniques or better replacement limbs.

The real advance is sort of an echo of the rise of soap via the Civil War, in the sense that the former conflict freed women from one nasty restriction: Having no say in government. And, as usually happens when the boys march off to do something stupid, the women have to take up the reins at home, and sometimes this gets noticed. It certainly did in the case of WW I, and suffragettes wisely exploited the connection between women and the homefront war effort. Less than two years after the conflict officially ended, women were given the right to vote on August 26, 1920 with the passage of the 19th Amendment.

Hey! Only 144 years too late. Woohoo!

World War II, 1939-1945 (U.S. involvement, 1941-1945)

The Benefit: The rise of the American middle class

As World War II was starting to move to an end, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 was passed into law. It was designed to assist returning service members via things like creating the VA hospital system, providing subsidized mortgages, assisting with educational expenses, and providing unemployment. It was also a direct reaction to the less-than-fantastic reception returning veterans of World War I had received.

In fact, one of FDR’s goals in creating what is commonly known as the G.I. Bill was to expand the middle class, and it succeeded. Suddenly, home ownership was within reach of people who hadn’t been able to obtain it before and, as a result, new housing construction exploded and, with it, the emergence of suburbs all across the country. With education, these veterans found better jobs and higher incomes, and that money went right back into the economy to buy things like cars, TVs, and all the other accoutrements of suburban living. They also started having children — it’s not called the Baby Boom for nothing — and those children benefited with higher education themselves. The rates of people getting at least a Bachelor’s Degree began a steady climb in the 1960s, right when this generation was starting to graduate high school. At the same time, the percentage of people who hadn’t even graduated from high school plunged.

The top marginal tax rates of all time in the U.S. happened in 1944 and 1945, when they were at 94%. They remained high — at least 91% — throughout the 1950s. Oddly, despite the top rate in the 1940s being higher, the median and average top tax rates in the 1950s were higher — about 86% for both in the 40s and 91% for both in the 50s. The economy was booming, and in addition to paying for the war, those taxes provided a lot of things for U.S. Citizens.

Even as his own party wanted to dismantle a lot of FDR’s New Deal policies, President Eisenhower forged ahead with what he called “Modern Republicanism.” He signed legislation and started programs that did things like provide government assistance to people who were unemployed, whether simply for lack of work or due to age or illness. Other programs raised the minimum wage, increased the scope of Social Security, and founded the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. In a lot of ways, it was like the G.I. Bill had been extended to everyone.

Momentous Monday: How to give good service

Also known as “Titles that sound dirty, but aren’t.”
 
I recently reposted an article on how to be a good customer, figuring that, since people in a lot of places have spent the last six months and change away from most of the businesses they used to regularly frequent, they may have forgotten how to customer.

But it works on the other side of the register/desk/window/counter/whatever as well. Giving good service to good customers will just make everything a lot more pleasant.

Oddly enough, during the first couple of months of pandemic lockdown, it felt like everyone had been on their best behavior. Well, not counting a few insane Karens, of course. On the bright side, one of them did inadvertently make Starbucks Barista Lenin Gutierrez a lot richer.

General

  1. It’s a clichéd business adage, but only because it’s true. A customer isn’t an interruption of your job. It’s the reason for your job. Yes, you may be stuck restocking shelves when someone asks for help, or doing office paperwork when the phone rings, but look at it this way: It’s not an interruption of your work. It’s a valid break from what you were doing, so do it with a smile and focus on the customer.

And, trust me, a lot of customers actually are aware of having caught you in the middle of something else, and at least in a real-life setting, I think that people, particularly introverts, have an aversion to asking for help unless they absolutely need to, so if someone approaches you in a retail setting, they probably really have looked everywhere already.

Think of it as an opportunity to play detective and solve their problem — a mini Sherlock Holmes adventure as it were or, if you prefer more noir fare, instant Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade.

  1. Greetings are important. Always ask a customer how they’re doing, make eye-contact (unless you’re on the phone) and — the most important part — listen to their answer, and answer any questions that they ask. If they don’t seem like they want to make small talk, don’t push it on them, but don’t avoid any chit-chat, either.

I have an interesting story from the customer side of it from the early days of lockdown. I went to the Rite Aid next to where I live as I’ve done for as long as I’ve lived here (that’s a long time), and checked out with one of the clerks who I’d see regularly. It was a particularly low point because I didn’t know yet whether I would be getting unemployment after both of my jobs had gone away.

So, I put my stuff on the counter and he started ringing it up and he asked, “How are you doing?” I started to answer, “Fine” — you know, the automatic thing everyone is supposed to say.  But, instead, I said, “You know what? Not really fine, everything kind of sucks right now, doesn’t it? How are you doing?” And this led to a short but fairly personal conversation on what was going on in each of our lives, and ever since then, whenever we’ve seen each other in the store, despite being masked, that connection is there.

Oh yeah… when a customer asks you how you’re doing, The answer is always, “Great! Thanks.”

It’s really kind of like having found that moment in the foxhole of bonding with someone from half your country away while the bombs are exploding overhead. Of course, one of the things I remember most strongly from my childhood is that my parents were on a first name basis with a lot of the checkers and department heads — liquor, meat, deli — at our local grocery store, which was a Vons.

Sorry, Vons, I’m a Ralphs guy now, despite having gone to LMU.

  1. Give specific and detailed answers to the original question, and options if you can’t fulfill the request right now. If it’s a person in a store looking for an item that’s not on the shelves and it isn’t in stock, look up or ask someone who knows if it’s on order or can be ordered, and when it’s likely to arrive. You can also offer to contact another store to check if they have it, although don’t be surprised if the customer declines this offer.

If it’s some question about a service your company provides that you can’t answer right now, then tell the customer exactly what you’re doing. If you’re taking a message, tell them who it’s for (by name) or whether you’ll be calling them back, and give a time-frame.

A lot of customers seem to assume that if they call you at three o’clock on a Friday, they’ll hear back before five that day — but we all know how likely that really is.

And do your coworkers a favor — no matter what they’re doing, there are only two acceptable answers when you can’t get ahold of them immediately — they’re on the phone right now, or they’re unavailable. Only use the phone reason if it’s absolutely true. Use “unavailable” for everything else.

Sure, you may know that Cathy from Accounting is currently in the loo, taking her massive morning coffee dump; or that the CEO and President are touring an old college friend around the office; or Steve in IT just couldn’t be arsed right now because he’s hungover as fuck.

All of these things, along with lunch, in a meeting, or whatever, are considered (say it with me) “unavailable.” The only alternate third answer is if someone is on leave of vacation, but presumably someone is handling their duties for the moment, so then you can say, “Barbara will be out of the office until [date], but Samantha should be able to help you with that.”

This gently keys your customer into the fact that they might be getting someone who probably doesn’t know everything Barbara does so they may not get resolution today, or (if they’re lucky) Samantha is Barbara’s direct report, and did the same job for ten years prior to getting promoted.

But it’s probably the former.

  1. If your business involves writing emails, then for fuck’s sake, leave your Business English 101 at the door and write like a human. And this doesn’t just involve avoiding jargon — in my business, I could stuff my email with as many AEPs and MAPDs and PDPs and Med Supps and HIPAAs and whatever and only people in the industry would understand.

That does no one any good, but the other part of it is avoiding like the plague that “nobody gets the blame” bullshit use of passive voice that is way too common, particularly in memos from higher-ups and the HR department.

“It has been decided that…” Really? Decided by whom? Or, an old favorite of collection agencies (and I used to do collections, so know this one intimately): “It is imperative that…” It’s a bullshit scare phrase that means nothing because it’s a statement that comes without a consequence.

“It is imperative that you call us immediately.” Or then, what?

The non-passive and meaningful version would be something like, “If we do not hear from you by [date], then we will [specific action].”

See the difference? Likewise, for the first one, “The Board of Trustees has determined that…” is one option. So is “I [upper management in one department] have decide that…”

It identifies the person or persons doing it, and also assigns weight to it.

When you’re dealing with customers, this is kind of imperative. And yes, that was intentional.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to go totally informal in your emails, like you’re posting to social media, and you should still avoid contractions. What it does mean is that you should take a more casual and familiar tone. Use “I/We” and “You.” Write in clear and complete sentences.

And for dog’s sake, if writing emails is a part of your job, invest in learning spelling and grammar, and how to express yourself coherently. I can’t tell you how many customer service emails I’ve gotten that read like somebody tossed a dictionary into a wood-chipper and caught the results on flypaper.

Telephone

Find your “telephone voice.” Yes, this is a thing — Tim Curry even based Frank-N-Furter’s unique pronunciations and elaborately diphthonged vowels on a combination of the Queen and his mother’s own telephone voice.

And I don’t mean speaking like some posh person who over-enunciates. Rather, speak slowly, clearly, and in an upbeat tone, and try to smile when you answer.

I know that I have a telephone voice because, back in those days when we actually spoke to friends on the phone, more than a few of them who were talking to me that way for the first time (instead of in person) remarked, “Wow. You sound really different.”

What they really meant was, “I can understand you.” Of course, IRL, I have this weird funky mongrel accent that combines Southern California lazy-mouth with my grandmother’s Kansas twangy flat Midwest and my mother’s Scranton exurb syllable-dropping, vowel-bending mélange.

Fun examples of the latter: She pronounced the words Saturday and towel as “Sirdee” and “tal,” and a dog was a daag. And there were others. Since she was the one at home during my formative years, boom — me talk weird.

Except on the phone. Well, and onstage, too — but I think they’re connected. When you’re on the phone, you’re really just performing, so own it.

My greeting shtick at work now involves twelve words, divided 4-3-5. Or, if you want to go by syllables, 9-3-5 — three iambs, beat, one anapest, beat, dactyl, trochee. And yes, I do it in a sort of sing-song, but always smiling.

On top of the phone voice — which should be slower than your normal speaking voice, as well as more carefully enunciated and in a deeper register than you normally use if you can manage it — all of the rules on specifics apply, but more so.

Always inform the customer of exactly what you’re going to do, whether it’s taking a message, putting them on hold until you get back to them, checking to see if someone is available, or offering to transfer them to someone’s voicemail.

And if you’re going to transfer and someone says “Yes, but give me a second,” then go back and tell the caller, “[Person] will take your call in just a moment or two.”

Finally, always, always, always confirm the spelling of names and phone numbers, and never be afraid to tell someone, “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that. Can you repeat it again, please?”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had someone tell me that their name is, “[Corgi farts into a blanket],” so I’ve gotten quite used to asking them to repeat it until I can at least get it phonetically.

Clerk/Checker Specific

Finally, we come to those stores where we’ve been standing six feet apart and then staying behind Plexiglas shields as we buy our stuff. And while our checkers have mostly been doing phenomenal jobs, when they haven’t been infecting or killing staff, there are a few giant pet peeves.

Number one is this: If I pay with a debit or credit card, don’t go shoving the damn receipt in a bag. Put that mofo in my hand, or at least extend it toward my fingers for a no-contact exchange, because I’m going to need that to go balance the books.

Number two, although who knows when this one will apply again, since coins went away in the before time in the long, long ago… but if you’re counting out someone’s change, here’s how it works: Coins in the hand first, bills on top.

This became a lost art form once registers started doing the math, but FFS do the physics. Metal slides off of paper, and it just makes it tons harder for someone to quickly stuff the bills in their wallet or wherever and then pocket the change.

And why did registers change it? Well, once upon a time, checkers could math, and it was the only way to assure the customers that they weren’t getting short-changed.

So, for example, I spend $7.31 at the store and give the clerk a ten. She counts out the change like so — drops two quarters, a dime, a nickel, and four pennies in my hand, and says, “$7.31 and 69 cents is eight…” then either counts out two singles or plops a paper Jefferson on top of the change and says, “And two is ten.”

Of course, even though two dollar bills are still legal tender, don’t be surprised if you get shit for using one, on either side of the transaction.

Image: Daderot public doman via Creative Commons licence (CC0 1.0).

Sunday Nibble #37: A short guide to knowing your shit #1

I originally wrote these pieces for my friend Peter’s website, TheFlushed.com, back when they had been planning to expand their editorial content. However, the actual shitshow that 2020 turned into intervened, and we sort of forgot about it. Until now! Here, at least, you can read all about the anal emanations you’re likely to encounter. This is number one in a series of eight How many of them do you recognize?

We’ve all had this moment, haven’t we? Nature calls on line two, so you head into the throne room and cop a squat, whip out the phone and (we hope) start reading “The Flushed.” But then it happens. You realize that this isn’t going to be an easy one. Nope. You can tell already that you’re facing a demon poop-brick of epic proportions.

So you push and push, but nothing is happening and you wonder what you’ve eaten in the last couple of days to deserve this, vowing to never mix beer and cheese again. It seems like hours. You’re sweating and grunting and your hands are shaking, but still nada. The Crusaders are battering the castle ramparts, but the walls aren’t giving… until they do.

But this isn’t the moment of relief, dear reader. Oh no. In that instant when the bomb-bay doors start to part, you realize that they’re too small for the payload that wants out — but now, it really wants out. Your next thought, if you’ve never experienced it, is that you suddenly understand what childbirth must be like. It’s as if your balloon-knot has been stretched out so much that you could wear your ass on your head like a helmet, and time has slowed to a crawl.

You’re now in a death-match with your own turd as it threatens to rip you in half. And then, with one last mighty push and grunt, you suddenly eject it with great force. Your sphincter slams shut audibly and you hear the no-doubt massive log cannonball into the water even as you feel the uncomfortable back-splash on your bum.

Relieved to be done with it, you clean up in eager anticipation of getting a look at the world-record holder that you’ve just unleashed. You stand, turn around to look — and the damn thing is no bigger than a Milk Dud, leading you to conclude that you might be a bit more uptight than you’d ever thought you were.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the Decepticon

* * *

The Saturday Morning Post #35: The Rêves, Part 13

You can catch up with the first installment of this piece here, or last week’s chapters here. It started as somewhat of an experiment. It seems to be taking the form of a supernatural thriller, set above and below the streets of Los Angeles.

The Tempest

Brenda and Jonah’s neighborhood did have one advantage over most of the Culver City area — although it technically was part of Los Angeles and not Culver City. The advantage was that it was on the western edge of an area called the Baldwin Hills, which was an oddly out-of-place lump of mountain in the middle of a part of the L.A. basin that was otherwise generally flat all the way to the ocean in two directions, Rancho Palos Verdes to the southwest being the other exception, but it happened to actually touch the ocean forming a sort of elevated mesa above the crashing surf.

But what this height difference really gave Blair Hills was an incredible view of everything out to Marina del Rey and the Pacific beyond. On a very clear day and from the right spot on the hiking trail west of the neighborhood, they could actually see the water, or at least a thin blue strip that curved off to the horizon. On some days, it even sparkled.

In the evening, especially when the Sun set late, Brenda and Jonah liked to leave the kids with her mother and hike out as far as they could, put down a blanket, then just sit and watch the expanse of the silent city, the distant ocean, and the changing of the sky and clouds from cyan and white to orange and gray to dull red and almost black, then a final deep blue before the stars started to appear and before the sky finally went as black as it could over the L.A. Basin — which wasn’t much.

On some nights, they were treated to an extra show as a waning Moon would set not long after her brother Sun. On others, the full Moon would rise behind them even as the Sun left, and if they looked the other way, they could watch as it appeared and loomed huge over the other side of the neighborhood — although they had to stay up later for that one because the neighborhood itself blocked a lot of the view to the east until the Moon was probably at least 30 degrees in the sky.

This evening, the distant clouds over the ocean had grown very dark and ominous, but Brenda and Jonah didn’t really pay any attention to them because they were so far away. Instead, they focused on what they usually did when they came out here.

Brenda had dubbed it “Grievance and Reconciliation Time,” something she had learned from an interpersonal relationship class given by the county, and the idea was that each of them was free to bring up something that was bothering them in a neutral, non-judgmental and non-blaming way. Meanwhile, the other one would use active listening to restate the issue as they understood it, and they would continue this process until they both agreed that they understood it the same way.

Next, the other partner would explain the issue from their point of view — again without judging or blaming, although obviously not neutral — the partner with the grievance would do their active listening bit, and it would continue until they both agreed.

The third part was the hardest, but it also turned out to be the most beneficial. The partner with the grievance would explain why they were wrong based on the other partner’s POV, then the other partner would do likewise. This would wrap up with aggrieved partner explaining what they could do to not be bothered, and the other partner explaining what they could do to eliminate the grievance.

The typical result was a compromise between them that, in retrospect, was so bone-headedly stupid obvious that they should have just seen it from the get-go.

Taking a completely trivial complaint, a typical session in brief might go like this: Brenda always serves peas with dinner, but Jonah really hates peas, and he’s mentioned it before. Now, the wrong way for him to complain is to say something like, “Why do you always have to serve peas? I hate peas, and you know it. Are you just trying to piss me off?”

Instead, the conversation would go more like this:

Jonah: “I’m really bothered whenever we sit down to dinner and I see peas on my plate, because I have never liked peas since I was a child.”

Brenda: “So, you’re saying you don’t want peas with dinner at all?”

Jonah: “Just not with my dinner.”

Brenda: “So I should never cook peas again?”

Jonah: “No. I just shouldn’t have them on my plate.”

Brenda: “So, you don’t like peas, and you don’t want them with your dinner?”

Jonah: “Exactly.”

Ding! And on to phase two.

Brenda: “The reason I serve peas all the time is because they are very cheap, have a very long shelf-life and, surprisingly, it’s one vegetable that all of our kids will eat.”

Jonah: “So I have to eat like our kids?”

Brenda: “No. I just do it to be economical and convenient.”

Jonah: “So it’s peas because it makes it easier for you, and costs us less?”

Brenda: “Yes.”

Ding! Phase three.

Jonah: “Then I guess I should just learn to love peas — ”

(This would be considered a foul)

Jonah (as Brenda): “Maybe I can find a vegetable that you and the kids like?”

Brenda (as Jonah): “Maybe I could be a little more adventurous in what I eat?”

Usually, this is the point when they’d look at each other and laugh.

“Well, shit, honey,” Brenda would say. “I do tend to just dump ‘em on all the plates, right? I suppose serving bowls wouldn’t be out of order.”

“So I don’t have to take them if I don’t want them?” Jonah said.

“Exactly,” Brenda replied. “And I could cook up a mess of vegetables that you do like.”

“Then steam me up some baby carrots every night… baby.”

Of course, this being a hypothetical, it all happened very easily and smoothly. In real life? Not so much and not always, and the subject of Malia was one that Brenda had still not been able to crack with Jonah.

It had taken them several rounds to get him to agree to call her Malia in the first place, after she broke down his resistance to the idea that Malia changing her name was just disrespecting their greatest president. Brenda had to remind Jonah that President Obama would have been on their daughter’s side.

Which was the kind of thing that just brought up the next issue. While Jonah would call Malia by her name, he still referred to her as his son, at least when Malia wasn’t around, only using, “Hey you!” or “Mal” when she was present.

Tonight, as they sat on the bluff watching the distant sea, Brenda tried again.

“I want to do anything I can to make sure that Malia has a safe and happy life, but I get very upset when people do not acknowledge or accept her choice and her reality.”

“So you want to do anything at all to support Malia,” Jonah said, “And will do what you can to defend our youngest son.”

Even though it was against the rules, Brenda let out a heavy sigh, although she refrained from saying No. She paused, then tried again. “I want to do anything I can to make sure that our youngest daughter has a safe and happy life, but I get very upset when people do not acknowledge or accept her choice and her reality.”

Jonah said nothing for a long time, just staring off at the ocean, Brenda staring at him. Finally, he practically whispered, “Baby, you know I just can’t. Not yet.”

“So we’re not even going to try to reconcile this tonight?” she asked him, sadly.

“Look, I’ve told you all this before. This isn’t about which way the TP goes on the roll or where we’re taking the next family vacation, or why you don’t like spending time with my parents, or why I think you get jealous too much… we got past all of that. But this one…”

“This one is about one of our children, Jonah,” Brenda replied calmly. “One that we should love as much as the others.”

“I do. I do love Malia,” Jonah said. “I love him as much — ”

“Then why do you use the wrong pronouns?”

“I’m from a different generation!” he snapped. “I’m not used to this shit, okay?”

“You’re only three years older than me, honey,” Brenda said. “And I’m fine with it.”

“Yeah, well… I guess it’s probably different when you’re a man. And when your father is a Baptist minister. And when everything you’ve learned growing up says that there are boys and there are girls. Penises and vaginas, and one sex does not magically turn into the other one just because they say so.”

“Times change,” Brenda said. “And knowledge increases. The idea that there are only two genders is absolutely ridiculous. Science says so. And Malia didn’t just ‘magically’ turn into a girl.”

“Then why he got a dick?”

Brenda really loved Jonah, but sometimes she could just slap him. She thought he was too well-educated for this, but apparently not. “Not everyone born with a penis is a boy,” she explained, “And not everyone born with a vagina is a girl. Sure, a lot of the time… the majority of the time, the two do match. But every so often, the sex on the outside is different than the gender inside.”

“I wish I could believe that.”

“So Malia didn’t magically turn into a girl. She always been a girl. It just took her time to realize it and tell us. And there aren’t even only two sexes, honey. Do you have any idea how many different combinations of sex chromosomes result in viable human babies? Everyone isn’t just XX or XY, you know.”

“Yeah, well, that’s another thing,” Jonah said. “Sure, I trained in science, but it was all engineering. You know — math, trig, geometry, physics, calculus. But ask me about biology or genetics or any of that, I know nothing.”

“I know,” Brenda said. “I didn’t either, until my mother told me about what Malia told her. And god bless her heart, my mother — who was definitely born in times when these ideas were even more alien than they are to you, and who still sings in the church choir every Sunday — she was the one who educated my ass about it, and kept sending me links left and right on the whole subject.

“Your mother? Really?” Jonah asked.

“You’d never think it to look at her, right? Short tiny-ass black woman with the floral dresses and fancy Sunday hats, even wears her gloves to church and can beat the best of them at those hallelujah gospel singing moments. Yeah. That woman, my mom, taught me to love my other daughter, because she told me, every chance she got, that she’d be the kind of disciple that Jesus would have taken into his flock.

“And why not — that was his thing. He wasn’t about the rich or connected. He was all about the outcasts. Lepers, whores, manual laborers, whatever. That’s what Mom sent me, that’s what I read, and what I learned was enlightening. So… maybe you should let my mom have a chat with your parents…?”

There was a long pause before Jonah replied. “I love your mom,” he said. “I wish she were my mom,” then he laughed. “Shit, no, that’d be total hillbilly incest stuff. Oh, you know what I… and if I only had her to deal with, then, yeah, I’d be there in a second.”

“But you’re afraid of your parents,” Brenda announced casually. He replied with a shrug.

“You’re a grown-ass man with your own family, your own career, your own home, whatever… you don’t need their approval anymore.”

“Yeah, well, um… I’m their only son, and he is a very popular Baptist minister down in the community, so…”

“Now how do I read that?” Brenda asked, already knowing her answer. “Oh, right — he’s already bilked the hell out of his flock, is richer than Croesus, and you want to inherit all that filthy lucre when he kicks, so you’re not rocking the boat, and not accepting your daughter is worth it?”

Jonah said nothing, just fuming, as Brenda realized that they had yet again blown the intended format of their Grievance and Reconciliation Time straight to hell.

“Do you have any idea how much property he owns?” Jonah finally whispered.

“Which is more important?” Brenda whispered back. “Material shit your father only has because he bilked people in Jesus’ name? Or accepting your daughter for who she is? Even if you have to ignore using pronouns for a while and just call her Malia. Can you do that?”

Another long silence, and Brenda was surprised to see that Jonah was doing his best to stop from crying.

“I’ll try,” he said. “Really, I will try. For you — ”

Brenda sighed and gave him a look.

“Okay, for him…  her,” he replied.

“Thank you,” Brenda said.

Jonah looked off to the west, then suddenly sat bolt upright. “Holy shit,” he said. “Do you see that?”

“What?” she asked, following his eye-line. The black clouds far away over the sea had grown to cover more of the sky, meaning that they were getting closer. Meanwhile, out over the ocean, it was an almost constant barrage of lightning bolts flashing, although no thunder was reaching them. Neither of them had ever seen anything like it in their lives.

Brenda grabbed her phone and opened her local news app, where the weather reporter was frantically describing an unprecedented and unexpected front that had suddenly rolled up the coast, from Malibu south to Palos Verdes. There was a “Special Bulletin” banner across the bottom quarter of the image.

It had already made landfall in some areas, and was bringing heavy winds, heavy rain, severe thunderstorms, and even hail. Alerts had already been issued for people to shelter in place as far inland as the Central Valley, while people in coastal areas and foothills were advised to just evacuate to shelters ASAP.

“Well, at least we’re on top of a mountain,” Jonah said. “They say how soon it’s going to get here?”

“No,” Brenda replied. But I’d imagine that right about the time we start to hear the thunder is when we want to be inside.”

“Or, you know,” Jonah said. “Now?”

“There is one other thing,” Brenda added.

“Oh, now what?” Jonah grimaced.

“You might want to sit down for this,” she said, and he did. She proceeded to explain all the weird goings-on that had been happening with the supernatural entities and the ghost hunters and all of that. At the end of it, he just started at her blankly.

“So?” she said.

“So, woman?” he replied. “You been holding out news of the apocalypse on me?”

“Not at all,” she said. “I’m sure these two are not related, but I had to tell someone in the family.”

“Not related?” Jonah shouted. “Not. Related?! Look at that shit out there. If that isn’t some end of the world crap brought on because a couple of guys dressed like idiots pissed off the spirits, then I don’t know what the hell is!”

At that moment, they suddenly heard a distant rumble of quiet thunder that seemed to come from all directions and continue for a long time. They locked eyes and stood, Brenda grabbing the blanket.

“Run!” they told each other at the same time, and neither one of them had to say it a second time. They got home, went inside, locked the doors, found the kids and Esme, and then decided that they were going to have an all-night family movie night and the kids could stay up as late as they wanted.

Outside, thunder came again, this time noticeably closer.

On the other side of the continent, in a secure facility deep beneath the Pentagon, the agent on shift had been idly surfing the internet, as all of them did and had, every day and night for decades. The machine they monitored never received any messages at all. At least it gave him the opportunity to work on his great American novel.

Until tonight, when there was an abrupt signal indicating a message had been received.

“Oh, what the fuck?” he muttered, opening the inbox. He read the message three times, each time more slowly and carefully, then checked the date and time.

“Wow,” he finally exclaimed quietly before he grabbed the secure line in the room that went direct to the project director’s cell phone, no matter where he was. When the director picked up, all he said was, “Slingback. Credible and urgent.”

All the director thought was, “Fuck.”

* * *

The Teapot

Joshua and Simon had decided to commiserate over their absolute fuck-up with Danny/Preston with probably a bit too many edibles, a snuggle in the bedroom with a binge-watch of the old 1960s series The Prisoner, and a quiet cuddle, the sky to the east visible outside of the open blinds.

At some point, they got texts from the National Weather Service, and they were severe weather alerts, which they both read before turning to each other.

“Severe thunderstorms. Here?” Joshua asked.

“That’s what mine says,” Simon replied.

“Holy fuck!” Joshua answered, but coming from him it was an expression of joy, and Simon agreed. They both loved thunderstorms, which were too far and few between in Los Angeles in general, but in the Valley in particular.

“Suite B?” Joshua asked.

“Suite B!” Simon agreed.

In their particular building, there were two condos per floor, one on the east side and one on the west. Theirs were on the top floor, and while both came with lofts, they only used the loft in the front unit for storage of files, old equipment and whatever.

The main reason they had also bought the western unit, which they called suite B but which was actually Unit 2302, was for the ultimate in privacy — no immediate neighbors, and since it took a key to get to a floor, it meant no pesky outside visitors. They had also bought it in the name of the Foundation so that there would be no direct ownership connection to them, although they had paid for it via an anonymous donation.

Suite B was minimally furnished, but it did have computers networked to everything in their main unit, 2301. They had also set up the loft here as a kind of emergency outpost, with enough supplies, battery back-ups, and whatnot to keep them alive for a month with no outside support if necessary.

They’d both agreed that it was silly at the time, but also that it would really up the resale value.

The thing about the loft units were that they had both wrap-around windows, balconies on two sides, and skylights, and so from here, on the west side, they could watch the storm not only approach, but pass over.

They pretty much resumed their binging from where they’d left off, only this time, they had a front row seat for that glorious moment when either Zeus or Thor would march across the sky and teabag the city. The only light in the room came from the TV, but they turned that off as soon as the sky to the west started to light up like a bar at last call.

“Whoa,” Joshua said.

The entire horizon that they could see went a flickering blue-white for a good twenty seconds, then faded. Right about the time it faded, the barrage of thunder came, rattling the windows for about the same twenty seconds.

“Ooh… about four miles away,” Joshua said.

“Nice,” Simon added.

Joshua pulled up the local news on his phone, which was all about the storm. Santa Monica had already had about four inches of rain, complicated by a six foot storm surge. PCH had been closed due to landslides, and the canyons were experiencing flash floods.

“Shit. Wetter than a bottom at a circuit party,” Joshua said.

“Honey… eww?” Simon replied.

The sky went electric blue again, although they weren’t sure how long this time, and it seemed like it was only about ten seconds after it started that the thunder came, this time much louder and much longer, and the whole building shook.

Joshua held Simon tight, totally giddy. “My god, I can only get so hard,” he said. “This. This is weather. This is what I’ve missed growing up here.”

“Are you sure?” Simon asked him.

“Don’t tell me you’re not.”

“Yeah, but, what if we caused this?” Simon asked.

“You mean you and me personally?” Joshua shot back.

“No, silly. Humanity. What if this is all because of global climate — ”

Before he could finish, the sky above them went blinding white at the same time that thunder rattled downward at them. They could feel the bed shift and a picture fell off of the wall, the glass shattering. That bothered Simon a bit. It was a fanciful depiction of Russell’s teapot, a favorite of his among their artworks.

All the lights outside went dark, although their UPS kicked in immediately, so nothing even turned off. Sheets of rain started to pummel everything, and then hail started blasting onto the balcony and the skylight and the noise was deafening.

The thunder and lightning show kept on going, but Joshua just rolled over and held Simon tight, totally content. Simon held him likewise, and they both just smiled.

As long as the heavens were letting loose above them, the two of them were both in heaven. Well, okay, lying in each other’s arms had a big part to do with that, too. But the both of them together? Bliss.

The four-inch thick Plexiglas they’d installed in both the skylights also helped to assuage any fears they had of suddenly being pelted by ice.

The brighter the lightning flashed, the louder the thunder roared, and the harder the rain and hail struck, the happier they were. At some point during the onslaught, they both drifted off to sleep, not waking up until the morning, when everything outside their windows was a solid gray.

Their phones told them that it was almost 11 a.m., so the Sun should have been up. They checked the weather report, looked at each other incredulous, then strolled out onto the balcony. Since visibility was zero, neither one of them bothered to put on anything.

And the weather reports were true. The entire city and most of Southern California were now blanketed in heavy fog, and visibility everywhere was about two feet. All roads had been shut down, there was extensive flooding everywhere, and people were advised to shelter in place in case of emergency. The state had called in the National Guard to do overflights with infrared cameras and sonar in order to identify areas that needed immediate assistance.

“This is actually kind of cool,” Joshua told Simon. Although it was also literally cool. It was a summer day in L.A., but only about 65ºF out, and condensation was forming on everything.

“But what caused it?” Simon asked.

“I guess it depends upon how rational you want the explanation to be, right?” Joshua replied.

“As rational as possible,” Simon answered.

“Exactly,” Joshua said, realizing that they had somehow also modeled their working relationship on Holmes and Watson, the one big problem being that each of them thought of the other as Holmes when, in reality, they were both right and neither of them was the Watson.

“You want to go inside?” Simon finally said. “Because I think my balls just did.”

“Guess we’ll have to fish them out,” Joshua answered. They went back in, secured the doors, went back to 2301, and hunkered down to cuddle and watch all the news reports on whatever it was that had just passed over the city.

“Oh…” Joshua suddenly blurted at one point.

“What?” Simon asked him.

“Extensive flooding, including North Hollywood. I suppose that means that the Tesla is probably fucked.”

“Doesn’t that depend on how far up the garage the water made it?”

“If it’s four feet above the ground — ”

“Oh. Right. Oh well…”

They went back to watching news of the apocalypse. At least there were no reports of first-born sons having died. That would have taken Simon from Joshua, after all, and that would have just killed Joshua.

* * *

Image: Robert Stirrett, used unchanged under (CC) 2.0 license.