Friday Free-for-All #64: Shoes, car, Sci-Fi

Here’s the next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website. Here are this week’s questions. Feel free to give your own answers or ask your own questions in the comments.

What is the best pair of shoes you have ever owned? Why were they so good?

Oh, this is a fun one. When I was a freshman in college, I bought a pair of black leather boots. I think I did it through the Sears Catalog actually, and mail-ordered them to be delivered in-store. (This was just pre-internet.) Now, at the time, I paid the equivalent of what’s about $315 now, which was insane. I mean, even though I could currently easily afford to drop that much on a pair of shoes, I never would.

But there was just something about these. They made me taller, I could wear them inside or outside of my jeans, and they came two thirds of the way up to my knee.

And they sort of became one of my defining traits on campus. Apparently, to people who didn’t know me personally but who’d seen me around, I was “the guy with the boots.” I also once loaned them to a good friend when he’d been cast in the play Picnic, because one of the defining traits of his character was… ta-da, the black boots he wore.

Funny story there, too. There was an opening night party after the first performance, and he would give me my boots back after each show, which I’d return to to him before the next — easy to do when you all live on campus. So at this after party, I’m wearing the boots and he and I are standing together. One of the big-wig campus Jesuits comes over to say hello to us, and proceeds to compliment me on my performance in the play.

It’s all that my friend José and I can do to not just crack up, so we play it straight as if I was the guy in the play. Okay, sure, we were kind of the same height and similar coloration but, otherwise, did not resemble each other at all.

But the crowning moment for those boots came during senior year (yeah you pay that much for footwear, it doesn’t fall apart) when we had an orientation week magic show, and the middle act was a guy introduced with these words: “Once I say his name, you’re never going to forget it.”

And goddamn, was that true. Turk Pipkin. And he was amazing. He started out with using a jigger, an Alka-Seltzer and a condom to basically create an entirely new visual to the opening theme of 2001, then borrowed a woman’s purse and proceeded to find a tampon in a cardboard applicator and smoke it like a cigar. (Yes, she confirmed later that he’d asked her permission and planted the prop.)

Finally, he said that he could juggle anything, so toss those objects down — and all of my friends immediately started chanting, “Boot, boot, boot.” So what else could I do?

I think he wound up with a scarf, a set of car keys, and my big-ass heavy leather boot. He gave us all the look of death, but the audience went nuts — and then he proceeded to juggle all three, and I could tell by that point that he was actually grateful for the ultimate show-off challenge. It made him look even more amazing.

I know that I still had those boots for almost a decade after college, and they really came in handy once my dad gave me his old motorcycle. But, somewhere along the way, my feet outgrew them.

Meanwhile, Turk Pipkin is still around, and he’s turned his magically skills toward even better things.

What do you hate most and love most about your car?

Oh, there’s so much to love. First is that it’s the seventh one I’ve ever owned (hence its name, Señor Siete), and the first one that I bought slightly used from a dealer. While it’s a 2012 model, so doesn’t have all the modern bells and whistles, it has enough, plus it’s powerful, comfortable, and has a manual transmission.

Plus it’s also been paid off for a couple of years now, so there’s that. And bonus points for that manual transmission: That prevents 99.5% of friends from ever borrowing it because they couldn’t drive it.

What I hate most? It’s a 2012 model, which means that it’s getting older, even though the mileage is low — just over 60,000 right now. Still… it’s approaching that point where regular maintenance on major system stuff might just start to exceed the cost of buying or leasing a replacement, and I hate that. For example, I know that I’ve got about a $300 brake-job and possibly $800 shock replacement to do soon, not to mention that the tire pressure gauge batteries have started to fail ($90 a pop per sensor per tire) and then there’s also that regular X-thousand mile service stuff.

So, yeah. My tax refunds and remaining stimulus checks are getting dumped back in there. Sigh. If only they also had car insurance for maintenance. You know — like health care for cars. But they can’t even manage that one for people, even though the car version would be much cheaper.

What Sci-Fi movie or book would you like the future to be like?

This is a tough one. I mean, Star Trek: TNG would be an obvious first choice if it weren’t for that whole Borg thing. And TOS maybe, except that humanity is still at war with Klingons.

So two other universes come to mind, with caveats. One is the world of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, but note that I only cite the original trilogy. Why? Because the books beyond that sort of melded into the universe of I, Robot, brought in the whole idea of “The entire universe wants to kill us,” so the robots meddled with the multiverse in order to create the one in which humankind were the only advanced life forms to ever evolve.

Yeah, no. At least this shit doesn’t come up in the first three books, and the idea of really advanced predictive formulas to guide humanity in the right direction is very appealing. And, hell, even the Big Bad of the second and third books isn’t evil at all. He’s just got a particularly well-adapted genetic… thing.

Now, the other Sci-Fi book I’d go with is the final volume of Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001 series, which comprises 2001, 2010, 2061, and 3001. I’d go with the last volume, in which humankind has made all kinds of amazing scientific advances, including building space elevators, colonizing other moons within our solar system, being able to revive an astronaut dead for a thousand years, creating the ultimate human/computer interface and, finally, figuring out how to keep an ancient and powerful race of non-corporeal entities from destroying the planet. Well, at least for another 900 years.

In case you’re wondering… yes. The third book has a prologue that ends in 2101, which is just as the original moon monolith phones home, which is 450 light years away. 3001 is the year that the answer comes back.

Friday Free for all #38: Words, music, and magic

The next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website. Here’s this week’s question Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

What’s the most disgusting sounding word in the English language?

I know that a lot of people don’t like the word “moist,” but I don’t see what the problem with it is. And it’s still a toss-up whether the disgust people feel for words in whatever language have more to do with the sound than with the concept or thing it’s describing.

One web poll, for example, ranked “lugubrious” as a disgusting sounding word, but its meaning is decidedly not. It just refers to something that looks or sounds sad or dismal.

I don’t think I have one word in particular, but I do have some nominees: phlegm, smegma, and clitoris. And no, it has nothing to do with two of them being really gross bodily secretions and one being a very important part of the female anatomy.

It’s just that the first two sound a lot like they smell, as it were, and when you can smell a word, that’s bad. Also, it wouldn’t be at all inappropriate to pronounce either one like you’re about to hock up a giant loogie. And both “hock” and “loogie” aren’t far from round out a top five list for me here.

As for “clitoris,” no matter which syllable you emphasize (c-LIT-oris? Cli-TOR-is?) it’s just got too many clicks and weak vowels in it.

Do you like classical music?

No, I don’t like classical music. I FUCKING LOVE IT! Then again, I had a rather unusual musical upbringing as a child, starting with me beginning musical lessons when I was seven years old. And, fortunately, a hell of a lot of that learning was based on music theory — i.e., the Circle of Fifths, and the relationships of chords and keys to each other.

End result: while I’ve always been okay at reading sheet music, I’ve been demon motherfucking at improvising and composing. That’s part one.

Part two: My paternal grandfather — actually, step-grandfather, but I never met my bio one, so he counts as my only real one — was a big-time audiophile, and he was constantly going off to buy lots of records. Um… “lots” in the “sold in bulk” sense, and not in the “numerous sense.”

He would get these from estate sales or thrift shops or wherever. He’d bring them home, and remove what interested him — which was anything jazz, blues, big band, etc., before the era of rock and roll.

So… he would cull his collection, and leave behind endless milk crates with tons of classic rock albums, along with anything spoken voice and anything classical. Whenever I or any of my three same-age (second) cousins (long story) would visit, we got to go through the crates and take what we wanted.

Naturally, my cousins went for the classic rock, but I really didn’t have much interest in that. Instead, I went for the spoken word, and so discovered many a comedian I otherwise might not have because they came before my time. But I also grabbed anything classical I could get my hands on.

This all happened when I was in elementary and middle school, and I had already found Beethoven and Mozart, while my music lessons had introduced me to Chopin and Debussy. And then I got to high school, and had the most wonderful music teach of all.

His name was Ken Kamp, now deceased, and he was mostly a jazzman, but I wound up in marching band, orchestra, and the jazz ensemble with him throughout my high school years. Since I was a keyboardist, I only played piano in the latter. In the first two, I was the bass drummer and percussionist, particularly timpanist.

But the most amazing thing was the music history class I took with him my first year, and he made everything come alive, because he had a knack for turning it into stories. He would cover a couple of composers with dramatized bits, play some of their stuff, and I would add “Artists to check out” to me brain list.

One class I remember in particular was when he covered Hector Berlioz, mostly known for the Symphonie fantastique, but who actually wrote the definitive book on orchestration, and he did it by picking the minds of students at a particular music academy.

To this day, I remember him acting out the supposed scenario in the school cafeteria. “So he found the best player of a particular instrument, like, say, the oboe. And he sat them down and said, ‘Okay… what are your high and low notes, and what keys work for you, and if you finger it like this, is that easier than that?’”

Anyway… that march through the classics really influenced me as a composer, and gave me tons of favorites. My top ten? Beethoven, Mahler, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Copland, Orff, Holst, Williams, Elfman. (Yes, the last two do write classical music.)

If you ever want to have the most emotional experience of your life, go see (when it’s possible again) a full orchestral and choral performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Stay for it all, then strap in for the fourth movement.

When it hits the finale, if you don’t explode into tears of pure joy, then you have no soul.

What’s the closest thing to magic that actually exists?

I subscribe to Clarke’s Third Law, named for science fiction Arthur C. Clarke, which states that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

So… that thing in your pocket that you can surf the internet on, send messages to people around the world, watch videos, make phone calls, and so on? Yeah, take that back to 1970 with some sort of time-link still connected to now, and you would make people’s heads explode with your witchcraft.

Of course, nowadays, a lot of people take the magic for granted and don’t even realize that without Einstein, their GPS would not work. Why? Because, relativity. Meaning that the GPS satellite up above the Earth experiencing slightly less gravity also experiences time in a slightly different way.

Meaning that in order to do the very precise calculations that won’t dump your ass in a canyon whenever you try to drive to CostCo require very refined adjustments to account for the different inertial frames of reference experienced by the satellite, your cell phone, and the nearest transmission towers.

Sure, the differences are in milliseconds or less, but they can translate into huge differences in spatial difference on Earth. If you’re off by one degree, depending on latitude, you could be off by tens of miles. Even an error of a second of latitude or longitude could put you off by dozens of feet.

But if you want real magic, then you have to dive into the big and the small — astrophysics and quantum physics.

Caveat: this is only magic if you don’t understand it. I’ve kind of been a fan forever, so I guess that makes me amateur wizard.

Anyway… astrophysics has taken us to the Moon and all of the planets in our Solar System, even sending two probes out. Meanwhile, it has also sent our eyes across the local group and the universe, with which we have learned so much — like discovering thousands of exoplanets, learning tons about black holes, gauging the true age of the universe, and even possibly discovering evidence of universes before it.

Quantum physics has run in the other direction, and proven that it does not get along with large-scale classical physics — yet. But it has taught us a bit about what everything is made of, and how weird reality gets at very tiny scales — and how tiny those scales are compared to everything else.

Just take a look at this amazing video from Morn1415, whom I encourage all of you to follow, because he does amazing stuff, indistinguishable from magic.

But, honestly, to me, the real magic was (and someday again may be) the look of love and admiration given to me by any of the dogs who I’ve ever been lucky enough to have as a companion.  Note that I will never say “dogs I’ve owned,” because I never owned them. They just decided to let me share my life with them.

And that was always the real magic.

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