Sunday Nibble #64: Out of the ashes

As of today, it will have been fourteen days from my second Moderna vaccination, so I am now technically immunized against COVID — well, at least most strains, although it’s not clear yet whether this vaccine also works against COVID-19 variants alpha, beta, or gamma.

In case those designations don’t look familiar, it’s because they’re new, and are designed to follow the same recently introduced guidelines that ended the practice of naming a virus or flu strain for the area it was first spotted.

So I’ll be keeping my mask on in public for a while even though California is set to end the requirement on June 15th. It’s still not clear whether Los Angeles County is going to follow suit, though.

But the main thing is that it does feel like we’re reaching the beginning of the end, at least in some places in the U.S. But even as we slowly emerge back into some form of more public and social life, the signs of what we lost are starting to become apparent.

It reminds me of another great plague, the bubonic plague that struck London in 1665. It hit the cities particularly hard because they were crowded and unsanitary. A lot of people who could fled to the countryside as the city of London basically shut down.

This included a 23-year-old Isaac Newton, who found himself isolated in his country home in Woolsthorpe. As a result, he started to develop his theories of optics and gravitation, as well as create (or possibly rediscover) calculus.

Then, in September of 1666, London burned down. The Great Fire, as it became known, devastated everything within the old Roman walls as it tore through the city over the course of four days. The problem was a lot of wooden construction, jammed together haphazardly, but the actions of the Lord Mayor didn’t help at all.

Fire-fighting practice at the time was to create firebreaks by demolishing adjacent buildings that weren’t burning so that the fire couldn’t jump, and then focus on the structures that were on fire. But Mayor Thomas Bloodworth was having none of that. In a classic and short-sighted case of “buildings are worth more than people,” he refused to authorize the tearing down of a lot of warehouses because they couldn’t contact the owners.

Ironically, if he’d just had two houses torn down at the beginning, they might have stopped the thing at the bakery in which it started.

That’s not the only irony, though. The fire itself actually helped end the plague because it either killed or drove out the rats that were infested with the fleas that spread the infection.

Now, Los Angeles hasn’t burned down. Sure, lots of Southern California likes to burn up regularly, but our irony is that we tend to only lose rural neighborhoods while the cities, which are mostly concrete and steel, stay intact. But the city has burned metaphorically and, in a lot of ways, what we lost over the last year may have inadvertently helped slow down the spread of our plague as well. And, unlike Bloodworth, our mayor actually did the right thing, even if far too many people got selfish and bitched and complained instead of following the rules from the beginning.

Yes — if we had all just completely locked down and stayed at home for the first six weeks, we probably would have slowed things way down. But we didn’t learn the lesson that Bloodworth ignored as well: Sometimes, in order to save a lot of businesses or properties or homes, you have to intentionally destroy a few.

In fact, as of February 2021, Los Angeles County had lost the most small businesses of any county in the U.S. These were mostly restaurants and bars, small retail stores, salons, and gyms. The general category of “personal services business” was particularly hard-hit, especially because there were so many such businesses in the county.

But there were bigger victims. Larger retailers like Fry’s Electronics folded, and K-Mart and Sears shuttered a lot of locations. A huge movie chain, Pacific Theatres and Arclight Cinemas, shut down permanently, putting the status of L.A.’s historic Cinerama Dome in limbo. (That one particularly hurts because my dad was one of the architects involved in its creation early on in his career.)

Surprisingly, AMC survived despite rumors of it going bankrupt in 2020, and it’s now re-opened and thriving. And at least some of the arthouse cinemas live on, like the New Beverly, which just re-opened this past week. Of course, that one is owned by Quentin Tarantino, who’s got the money to have kept paying for the lease while it was dormant.

Just too bad he insisted on opening it with one of his history-mangling messterpieces.

As an antidote to that, the Nuart also survives, and that’s good news, although they do seem to be focusing on longer runs of obscure documentaries instead of the “you can’t find this online” arthouse stuff they used to thrive on. And, sadly, nary a sign of the return of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Yet.

Then again, that film is rapidly creeping up on 50 years old. On the other hand, it was so far ahead of its time and so much in tune with current attitudes that I don’t see why it wouldn’t still play with current Gen-Z audiences.

Don’t dream it… be it.

Between the original film and the 2016 TV remake (which decidedly does not suck), it covers all of the LGBTQ+ and BIPOC bases. Although the fact that they missed getting that remake done during the 40th anniversary year is just sad. But bonus points for casting Tim Curry as the Criminologist.

So… do I think that everything is going to go back to normal in a couple of weeks? Oh, hell no. And I’m going to be keeping my mask on for a good while after this. Why? Because being able to unmask depends entirely on having been fully vaccinated, and I still don’t trust people enough to not lie.

I mean, come on. People have no problem lying about their untrained mutts being “therapy dogs” in order to bring them everywhere — even though, legally, “therapy dogs” are not a thing, and it’s only trained service dogs that should be allowed.

Not to mention that the anti-vax crowd actually crosses political lines. You’ll find just as many on the far right as on the far left. Yes, for different reasons, but same end results. They’ll refuse the shot, but then lie about it in order to regain their “freedom.”

So even as Southern California and Los Angeles pull that phoenix trick and rise from the ashes, I’m still going to take precautions. Meaning that this mask is staying on my face in public until we’ve vaccinated the fuck out of everyone and/or there have been no new cases of COVID-19 of any form diagnosed in the state for at least three months.

So… see you next fall, maybe?

Sunday Nibble #58: Obituary

It is with great sadness that I must announce the passing of Gateway DW4320, who had long been my faithful servant. After a series of minor strokes, DW suffered a major event last Monday evening and, despite valiant efforts to keep them alive, they passed on Tuesday afternoon.

DW did have a long and eventful life, during which time they offered great assistance to their writer patron, as well as facilitated communications between the writer and friends around the world. DW’s research skills were immeasurable, and were instrumental in the creation and dissemination of many of the writer’s works, even right up to the very end.

DW is survived by an external hard drive, laser printer, monitor, and a wireless keyboard, mouse, modem and router. In lieu of flash drives, we ask that you make donations to the Alan Turing Foundation in their memory.

Well… it feels like that when an old and trusted machine suddenly dies of old age. And, yeah, I should have upgraded a while ago, since this box was still running Windows 7. But it was working fine, I had a bunch of legacy software on it, as well as a bunch of online passwords.

Fortunately, all of my writing was on the external drive. I had to Frankenstein data out of the old hard drive using what’s called a USB/SATA/IDE interface. Basically, this involves pulling the drive from the old computer and hooking it up to a connector that in turn provides motive power to the drive. Hardware and software inside the connector make the hard drive look just like any normal external drive at the other end of the USB, and the new computer recognizes it.

So I did manage to save all of my important documents and files, but it’s going to be a bit more complicated to get some of the software back. Fortunately, subscribing to Microsoft Office was a necessity anyway, so Excel and Word are still around.

Side note: Subscribing to Microsoft software? Yeah, fuck you, Bill Gates, or whatever twatmonkey bean counter at Microsoft came up with that shit. This was actually one of the reasons I held out from updating the computer in the first place.

But back to the point… I do still have the discs to a lot of the old software I’d been using, I just haven’t figured out yet whether Windows 10 will like them. Kind of annoying, because the version of Photoshop I’ve been using forever is something like 6.0.

Yeah, I know. Ancient, but I like that for one simple reason. It keeps my skills sharp, because I have to do manually a lot of the things that Adobe has automated over the years. Nowadays, if you want to erase a person from a photo, fill in a gap in a background seamlessly, color-match two images from different sources, or create a cut-our or mask for a figure, those are pretty much all one-click operations in modern versions of Photoshop.

Would it be cool to be able to do things that way? I don’t know. Maybe. What I do know is that by having to do these things in multiple steps, it keeps more than my skill sharp. For example, when it comes to something like dropping a person from one photo into an historical scene taken with completely different lighting, color temperature, film stock, etc., taking the steps to match the coloration and the lighting and the perspective just helps keep my eye trained on the subtleties of that.

A funny side effect: It makes it a lot easier to spot when something has been Photoshopped.

But the two biggest things I haven’t recovered yet are actually the most important. One is that I couldn’t just open and export my Chrome bookmarks from the old computer, because that install thinks it’s still on the C: drive even though the USB ported version was now something like the F: drive. Consequently, when I ran Chrome using the .exe file on the old drive, the startup info it loaded was from the bookmarks and such on the new computer.

Meaning that… I had no access to my saved passwords. Now, I did manage to pull a really sneaky bit by just copying the old bookmark file from the appropriate place on the old drive to the new one and voila! All of my old bookmarks were there.

So I tried the same with the login file for saved passwords and… nothing. And not just nothing updated. I mean, suddenly nothing saved yet again. This will definitely involve me having to put the drive back into the old computer, trying to restart, and then probably manually looking up and copying the essential logins that I do need.

The other unrecovered things is the version of Quicken that I had used for years, which is just gone now. The original came on a 3.5” floppy disc, which I don’t even have anymore – I think it was called Quicken 2000.

Hey, if anybody happens to have an electronic image of that disc that can be uploaded and installed, let me know in the comments!

I may have managed to re-install it from that disc on several subsequent computers – I’d started using it around 1994, and that was after I bought it from the $5 discount bin at some computer store. in other words, it was already old 27 years ago.

But it worked, it was stable, and when you’ve dumped that many years of financial records into something, inertia is strong.

Fortunately, I was able to save the data files and all of the annual backups going to the beginning of (program) time. But this time around, I wasn’t able to just port the program over. I must have somehow done this to get it onto the previous computer, which had no floppy drive.

This time around, though? I couldn’t even get it to start by running it like any other program on an external drive would normally run.

The good news is that I have the latest Windows version of Quicken waiting in the wings. The bad news? The format of my data files is so old that I can’t just open them directly. It’s going to involve a series of installs of (now free online) intermediary versions of Quicken to perform successive updates on the data file as part of the install process, until I get one that will port over.

Oh, joy. Of course, I can only do this if I can shove the old hard drive back into DW and, essentially, pull a JC and Lazarus trick. This might be doable, though, because I think part of what might have caused DW’s death in the first place was that I actually had way too many documents and files on the desktop, instead of just shortcuts and folders.

Yeah, I guess that a folder with a shit-ton of images in it isn’t the best thing to keep on the desktop because it actually lives in hidden space that only the physical host computer can normally see – a little detail that made me shit my pants the first time I connected the new computer to the old drive.

But, on start-up, the OS apparently queries through all of these files, meaning that boot-ups used to take forever and, eventually, the process was just too taxing on the rest of DW’s hardware.

These are things I should have known better, given my decades of computer experience. However, I did clean the hell out of that desktop once I’d migrated all the files and documents, and also jettisoned a lot of crap elsewhere on the drive.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get a good defrag or chkdsk going on that drive because my new computer told me, “Hey, no problems, no need to,” obviously thinking of it as always having been a part of its young and invulnerable self.

Oh. Kids. When will they learn?

Anyway… perhaps accounts of DW’s death may be premature. If I do bring them back, will I get rid of the new computer? Oh, hell no. It’s already shown me that, Microsoft BS aside, it’s much faster and more stable. Plus the most surprising part is how really cheap computers have gotten.

This one was under $500 – but was also the one with the most bells and whistles and power among its brand line. I’d tell you exactly when I bought DW and how much they cost but, well, until I rescue that Quicken data, good luck with it!

At the most, I’ll wind up with a second computer that I can still run the old crap on and, if that doesn’t work out, then at least I’ll have another working external hard drive, meaning that I will suddenly have access to three terabytes of storage.

That’s quite a lot, actually. At the time I bought my 1Tb external drive, the word was that 10Tb would hold the entire text collection of the Library of Congress. I’m sure that this figure has gone up in the interim, although if we’re talking just text, not that much.

But I guess if I wanted, I could still have 30% of the Library of Congress just sitting on my desk.

UPDATE: I was eventually able to restore the Quicken files and install the program, and I checked to see when I bought the previous computer. It was on January 6, 2011, at the now defunct Fry’s Electronics in Burbank, CA, for $1,004, including sales tax and a firewire card. Over 10 years of service for a PC isn’t bad at all, really.

Sunday nibble #45

Keep in mind that I try to keep my post-writing a week or two ahead of the dates they go live, so for all I know everything could have gone downhill in the past week, given events from last weekend, which is when I’m writing this.

The Sunday Nibble is back from hiatus, which began with my Christmas Countdown, and the last installment was the eighth and last in a series of short pieces I’d originally written with the intention of publishing them on a friend’s website, The Flushed.

The series title was “A short guide to knowing your shit,” and it fit right in with The Flushed, which is about all things having to do with the bathroom — although the title they would have gotten used the word “poop” instead, because they’re more PG-13. But the series never ran there.

However… I am now also guest-blogging four times a month over at Paw.com, a site all about pets, mostly of the canine and feline variety. I wound up with this job because I used to write for “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Millan’s ecommerce website, and one of my former co-workers there recently became Creative Director for a company that does content creation for various client sites.

He contacted me almost immediately to offer the gig, and how could I say no? It was a natural fit. Check them out, and yes, they do sell stuff, specializing in beds, blankets, and other pet-friendly products.

So yes, it’s another case of “it’s who you know,” but Creative Directors are good people for artists and writers to know in general, since they tend to have a lot of clout within their organizations. And, being Creative Directors, they hire us — the creatives.

Also, from time-to-time, I’ll still post the random movie review to a site called Filmmonthly.com, which I founded two decades ago with a pair of fellow film-lovers, one of whom was the other roommate during the tenure of the very bizarre Strauss, about whom I wrote on Friday, and the other was the roommate who took over when Strauss abruptly departed — the one whose cousin accidentally torched their kitchen with a toaster oven.

We ran the thing for a good while, and all three of us were the publishers, racking up a ton of reviews. Eventually, we all stepped back and turned it over to the next generation, although for a long time our prior work was there — until one of the people trusted with the site at some point muffed up and wound up losing a lot of the older files forever.

Things that make you go “Grrrrr.” Unfortunately, if you search my name and filmmonthly, you’ll get a ton of hits because, as publisher, my name was on every page. Most of them will not be my work.

But I did recently review a low-budget adaptation of the King Arthur story that surprisingly did not suck, so there’s that. There was also a fun little indie comedy about incest, Call Me Brother, that I also liked and reviewed.

I’ll share another secret with you. The Christmas and New Year Countdowns are my way of giving myself a vacation. I program everything to publish automatically before Thanksgiving arrives, and then on the Friday after, boom. I don’t need to write or post anything for over a month.

This works out great IRL, because this also coincides with the frantic tail-end of my busy season at work, which pretty much entails seven-day weeks and ten hour days from October 15 to December 7. Every. Single. Year.

The only exception, of course, is when the Out of the Blue Oxford Boys drop their charity single for the current year. That always gets its own special post, because they and what they do are both very special.

Which is to say that, looking back at 2020, I’m kind of amazed that I managed to post something every single day when there were many days that I felt no motivation — and I think that’s true of a lot of us who lived through lockdown.

Kind of ironic, really. All the time in the world to write, but it was hard to get motivated. Except… it did give me time to focus in on The Rêves, which I started serializing here weekly back in July, long before I actually finished it.

And now it’s 2021, and it feels like we’re going to have a new beginning, maybe, but it won’t be soon and it won’t be fast. What it will probably be is the final general realization that if we want to fight this thing, we do have to take it seriously and sacrifice.

It may not seem like it, but “sacrifice” is something that Americans can be good at when they actually do it, and when they’re not being cheer-led on by greedy, selfish leaders.

Nobody really complained when security tightened up after 9/11 and it seemed like it took an anal probe and two blood samples to get into any government building. No one complained back when they could only buy gas on days based on their license plate number.

No one complained when everything was rationed during WW II. And on, and on.

Now, I don’t know what percentage of people who voted for a certain losing presidential candidate last year are also staunch anti-maskers, but I can give you these numbers. Out of the total U.S. population, only 23% voted for the outgoing incumbent. But if we cut that number down to “all people eligible to vote,” whether they do or not, then it’s 38%.

The other candidate got 25% of the total population, and 42% of all people eligible to vote, although based on the actual vote count, it came out as 52% to 48%.

Or, in other words, for the politically engaged, a divided world, but if you look at the total population, one thing stands out. The selfish people fall to around one-fifth of the population.

And that is very hopeful, because there are more of us who can be good Americans and sacrifice, whether we vote or not (and why the hell don’t you, if you’re eligible?) than there are greedy Americans who want to burn it all down.

So… for every Karen, there are four Americans willing to stand up to her shit. And that is how we are going to turn it around in 2021, albeit slowly, and finally see normalcy return in 2022.

Simply put, there are still more Americans willing to do the right thing. We’re just not as vocal or visible as the selfish ones who like to kick and scream like infants to get their way. But their tantrum will end soon, once they’ve woken up to reality. If they ever do.

Okay, it’s another Sunday Nibble turned into a full buffet, but that’s okay. It feels like I’m coming out of hibernation, so there’s a lot on my mind.

Sunday Nibble #35: A life online

The world may be going to hell in a very big handbasket, and whether we’re all going to die of the plague, roast to death as temperatures rise (either drowning in the rising seas or choking on the endless smoke or both), or we’ll perish in a WW III most likely started by a collapsing and fully fascist United States of America.

Or we could luck out and turn things around. But one thing I have to marvel at is what an amazing era of technology we live in. It’s only the beginning, but we’ve gotten pretty far, pretty fast.

Now, I happen to be of that part of Gen X that has never not been online at any point in their adult lives. In fact, I used a networked computer before I got my driver’s license, way back at the tender age of 15.

But… I was an adult before the founding of either Google (1998) or Wikipedia (2001), and although I wrote all of my scripts and such on computers, I still had to rely on analog research methods until the beginning of this century — mostly libraries and books.

For one black comedy set during the Civil War, my research was pretty much limited to the big book of Ken Burns The Civil War documentary, with occasional library trips and heavy use of my handy Columbia Desk Encyclopedia.

Damn, at one time, I had a huge personal reference library full of dictionaries, specific encyclopedias, writers’ reference books on various subjects that pertained to a particular genre — I think I had Crime and Science Fiction — as well as buttload of foreign language grammars and translating to English dictionaries, including ones like Old English, Hebrew, Hawaiian, Gaelic, Arabic, and Japanese.

Side note: I’ve made a sincere effort in my life time to learn ten languages besides English. I managed fluency in one (Spanish) and, through that, the ability to kind of read and understand one that I studied but could never hear the pronunciation of and another that I never studied (French and Portuguese, respectively), know more than I should but nowhere near enough of the language of the country my last name comes from (German), two for specific purposes of script writing (Italian and Norwegian), two just to try out non-Latin alphabets (Japanese and Russian), one because there seem to be a lot of tall, hot men from there (Dutch), one because the opportunity came up through a theatre company I was in (ASL, until our teacher moved), and one because it’s spoken in the country from whence came half of my genetic heritage (Irish Gaelic).

Funny story, though. Spanish and German are the only two languages that I studied in school. The rest but three were on my own, and most of those were before the internet days. At best, I managed to find recorded lessons to listen to in the car, and for a while I got pretty fluent at basic Russian, but that was about it. As for the other two, once I left school, I kind of lost my abilities in either for a long time.

I remember one particularly informative moment when I traveled to Mexico with an ex, who was himself half Mexican on his father’s side, and realized once we got down there that I couldn’t understand shit, and I couldn’t say shit beyond very simple phrases — that despite studying Spanish in school for five years.

So… I used to have to try to learn languages through books or, if I were lucky, from a human teacher, but good luck with any kind of immersion in it. Likewise, in writing any kind of reality-based fiction, the research was tedious and time-consuming.

And then came the internet. Sure, in the early days (and I was there on the ground floor) you really couldn’t look up shit. I did happen to work for one of the first companies to jump into it with both feet.

This happened to be The Community Yellow Pages, a publication for the Lesbian and Gay community started in 1969 by Jeanne Córdova, who is a piece of lesbian history herself, and whom I was fortunate enough to have known.

She started the guide as a very thin phonebook with both Yellow (commercial) and White (residential) pages, and it was a way to advertises businesses that were either gay-friendly, or owned by gay people and, probably, the white pages part was a de facto but not really acknowledged dating section. (It was eventually discontinued.)

Anyway… 1994 rolls around, the internet is just getting going and, because one of Jeanne’s (many) siblings lives near Silicon Valley and is very tapped into what’s going on, that sibling (a younger sister) convinces her that online is the way to go.

I only worked for the CYP a couple of years, but it was an interestingly schizo time, because we were simultaneously selling people on this paper edition that would come out once a year, along with this electronic thing that could be searched from anywhere and which could be updated if needed.

And… the paper version was by far the best-seller. Bonus points: at that time, we could have done the layout digitally, but didn’t, and so for the few months leading up to publication, we had an actual layout artist come in and physically paste-up the boards that would be photocopied to create the masters for the final run.

Eventually, though, the sleeping giant of the internet’s potential awakened in quick order, first with Google indexing everything, and then Wikipedia accumulating knowledge.

And say what you want about the latter, but over time the ol’ Wiki has really become a stellar example of the “wisdom of crowds” concept. Plus which, it should never be a primary source, but just a guide to finding the same, which are now also all over the internet.

So researching and writing became a lot easier, but so did learning languages, especially after the launch of Duolingo in 2012, as well as the realization that it’s possible to set devices like phones and computers into other languages — and that cars have radios, which make possible both language-learning podcasts over modern tech or, depending on language, radio stations in the target language via old tech.

So those of us with computers, tablets, phones, or other devices, have access to the biggest research library ever assembled. It definitely dwarfs the fabled Library of Alexandria, and most likely has a lot more material than the Library of Congress — which would fit on ten single terabyte hard drives, by the way.

And it’s not just books and stuff like that. It’s full of music, movies, photos, and everything else that humans have left in their wake, all of it there to access either for free or for a nominal fee.

So if we make it through this Anno Horribilis of 2020, then maybe we’ll make it further and continue to see technology make leaps and bounds that our grandparents could never have even imagined.

Sunday nibble #33: Non-stop trouble

A friend of mine just returned from a month-long visit back home to help out his mother and, in order to socially isolate as much as possible and avoid air travel, it was a road trip. He went there and back with his two cats and did the return trip in two days — which is quite impressive for L.A. to Minneapolis in either direction.But it reminded me of an even more insane road trip that I did once: L.A. to Dallas, non-stop. Granted, the Minneapolis run is about 485 miles farther, or roughly another seven hours, but still… not including pit stops and the two-hour time change, the trip to Dallas was just over 21 hours on paper.

In retrospect, I don’t believe I actually did it but, in a strange way, I’m glad that I did, because everybody should attempt something this insane at least once in their life. And it was insanity because I did it for love — naively and stupidly as it turns out.

Long story short, someone I was dating at the time had decided to turn it into a long-distance relationship by unilaterally deciding to go back to school — at the University of Texas at Arlington. He’d already been out there to find an apartment and get some furniture in, but now needed to make the trip to bring all the shit that wasn’t the best to fly with.

We loaded up his car the night before, then drove out to his parents’ place in San Marino, the neighborhood that all of the people too rich to live in Pasadena had moved to. To say that his parents owned a mansion was not an understatement.

It was a two story place built very early in the 20th century, and one of the things that most struck me about it was that a lot of the upstairs bedrooms were sort of joined. I don’t remember now, but it was either so that the parents could sleep in back with the nursery in the front or that the back bedrooms were nanny’s quarters.

Either way, he essentially had a bedroom behind a bedroom with its own private bathroom, and that bathroom was humungous. I seriously think it was the same square footage as the studio apartment I lived in at the time. Kind of ridiculous for a bathroom if you think about it, since the toilet, shower, tub, and sink took up very little floor space near the edges.

Maybe it was designed for impromptu games of soap hockey.

Anyway… the plan was to stay there for the night and then leave very early in the morning, as in very pre-dawn early which is a standard L.A. trick if you’re heading east any time in the summer and it’s not to Vegas. The idea is to get your ass out to Arizona and then up into slightly cooler climes in New Mexico before the heat tries to incinerate you.

I think we left around four thirty in the morning, and he did all the driving for the first leg of the trip. Note: First leg. After our first stop in Arizona, it was all me the rest of the way.

As is typical on this drive down the 10, we hit Arizona right around sunrise, which is the best time to hit the western edge of the state. The stony mountains and canyons are truly spectacular and colorful. The whole thing looks a promo for the Grand Canyon itself.

Our first actual stop is in Quartzite, Arizona, to gas up and grab something to eat at the attached mini-mart. We probably hit there around nine a.m., give or take, and it was already hotter than balls.

That was why we didn’t stay long and hit the next stretch, which took us to Tucson and lunch, from an altitude of 879 feet up to a respectable and much cooler 2,400 feet, give or take, and more gas and dinner in Las Cruces, New Mexico, at about a quarter to seven.

This was also the highest altitude we stopped at, 3,900 feet. I don’t know why I’m mentioning that, except to say that driving through New Mexico always feels like you’ve climbed America’s servant’s staircase, and are ready to start the trip down.

The Rockies don’t make it this far.

From there, with the time change and all, it’s about 9:30 at night when we leave, and close to an hour later just before we hit El Paso, Mexico hits us. This was one of the more memorable moments of the trip for me, really, because it was so visceral. It was after dark, but we’re suddenly right next to what Americans call the Rio Grande and, in fact, about 600 feet from Mexico itself, but even invisible, the contrast is striking.

To our left is El Paso — brightly lit streets stretching off in neat lines. To our right is la Ciudad Juarez, mostly dark, but what it isn’t emitting in light, it is emitting in stench.

Now, whether it’s the river or the city itself, I don’t know, but it’s like a thousand rotten eggs have exploded from their shells all at once, and we quickly roll down the windows and crank up the car fan.

We’re only that close for a mile or two before the 10 veers us farther away from the border, but it was quick education in contrast, and the damage that a government can do when it keeps its people in poverty — object lesson for the U.S., 2020.

It’s another few hours we stop at some small place in the middle of Nowhere, West Texas that happens to have an open gas station and mini-mart. It’s probably about two in the morning, and we have the most fascinating conversation with the old woman working the counter.

Basically, she explains, she works the nightshift because here, in summer, it’s just too damn hot to work by day. A few dozen miles past this stop, I spot an off-ramp that seems to have nothing at all glowing on either side, and on a whim I pull off.

The boyfriends wonders what I’m doing, but I tell him to just go with it. I park the car next to what looks like the minimal heart of a tiny town — combo Post Office and General Store next to the overpass, both closed, single road leading off to who knew what.

But there are no street lights, no lights at all, in fact, so I park the car in the open and we lay on the warm hood in the slightly cool night and look up — and see the galaxy.

Being city boys, we don’t really know stars. There are about a hundred in L.A., but the majority of them are not in the sky. But here? My god, it was a revelation. The sky is solid stars, horizon to horizon, and we can even see the Milky Way.

This single moment, frozen in time, is the one thing that made the insanity of the entire trip worthwhile. It’s one of the few times in my life I’ve seen the sky the way that ancient humankind did — undiluted by our need to play Prometheus and set fire to the sky to obscure Apollo.

And it was three-thirty in the morning and we’d been on the road for about 21 hours with seven to go, adjusting for stops and time changes, so, reluctantly, we got back in the car and continued on.

Seriously, I’d considered convincing him to let me bang him on the hood of his car right there and then, but that was only one of the many red flags in our relationship: My libido, high as a kite. His, lower than whale shite.

Of course, when you’ve been driving for so damn long and the Sun comes up on Day 2, it’s easy to get really punchy, and the most surreal moment of them all came when we stopped off at a McDonald’s in Abilene, Texas, at about 6:30 on the second morning.

I don’t remember what he ordered, but I ordered a couple of sausage cheese biscuits, and we decided to get it to go and eat it in the car. But as soon as we got in the car, he referred to my order as “a couple of gut grenades,” and, for some reason, I found this phrase so goddamn funny that I started laughing and I couldn’t stop.

This set him off, which set me off, and it was like we were stoned off our asses, which we probably were. I mean, come on — neither of us had slept since about 3:45 the morning before, West Texas was, visually, boring as hell, and we were still a couple of hours away from our destination.

But we held it together, arrived at his big-ass fancy apartment complex in Irving, Texas, pulled up in front of the leasing office to check in and… that was the moment his car decided to die.

On the one hand, “Hooray for getting us here first?”

On the other hand, “Oh, fuck you for dying a good quarter mile away from his actual apartment.”

Yeah, it was one of those complexes, because Texas got land it can squander. So, basically, hundreds of cookie-cutter buildings on buttloads of land that span more acres than any freed slave was ever promised, although there are no mules.

And there was his car, which suddenly wouldn’t start, with all of his crap in it, which we had to get to his place.

Now, while the Stepford Barbies who worked the leasing office were kind enough to allow him to leave his dead car in what was technically a “Oh, hell no, don’t park here” zone, they were also not inclined to offer us any help via the staff in getting his shit from here to there, even though the grounds were almost as big as their Aqua-Net Cemented bouffants.

Yeah, everything is big in Texas, even the hair.

So… we spent the next hour or two schlepping his shit up to his apartment, and then finding a mechanic who would come check the car out and either tow it or fix it on site. Fortunately, he found one who did the former — it was one of those trivial fixes that involved something as stupid as blowing canned air down one thingamawhatzit.

Of course, it would have been nice if the BF had thought about calling the mechanic before we moved all the shit by hand.

But then there was that other part. See, when he first moved in, he had adopted a couple of kittens, although he really wasn’t the kind of person who should ever have pets, since — as I eventually realized — he had the attention span of a goldfish.

So, he had the kitties for a couple of weeks in the place, then gave them away, but we came back to the fleas they left behind, which attacked us immediately.

Not fun.

Oh. That, and the fact that he hadn’t bought a bed yet, because he hadn’t actually stayed in the apartment overnight.

So — quick shower to try to get the little biters off of us, then longer trip to Target to get some bug bombs and buy an air mattress, but then trip away from home while the bug bombs do their work, and we wind up wandering around downtown Irving during an afternoon when it’s 110 and muggy and all I want to do is sleep for a week.

So, insanity.

This relationship really should have come with a hundred red flags, but I missed them all. Long story short, this Ex, who shall not be named, was the 11th of 12 children born to a Mexican man and an Irish-American woman.

Now, they had met just after WW II while working something like the Peace Corps in Europe, at which point they were just a couple of poor kids trying to do good. During those poor days after they married, they had six children, who grew up in basic poverty more or less.

Then, Dad had the brilliant realization that Italy was poor as shit, but had a ton of marble. Meanwhile, American construction was taking off, and marble was a hot commodity, in both commercial and residential real estate.

So… he started exporting the stuff from Italy to the U.S., made a shit-ton of money, and the family suddenly moved stateside, now quite affluent — and this was before he started his second business, when he realized that the need to acquire as much shit as possible pounded into the new middle class meant that they were running out of places to keep that shit.

Ta-da: storage business.

And Dad and Mom had six more kids, but these six were born after the parents became rich as hell. Funny side-effect: The first six all became very successful entrepreneurs and multi-millionaires on their own, with no help from the family, starting businesses and making their fortunes.

The other six? They spent their lives living off of the family fortune.

If that isn’t an Aesop fairy tale right there, I don’t know what is.

We finally made it back to his flea-free place at I don’t know what time. All I knew was that I’d been awake for at least 36 hours by then, and as soon as that mattress was half inflated, I was crashed out on it.

Fortunately, his Mom (not his Dad, who was a homophobic dickhead) had paid for my return flight to L.A., so that was a much quicker trip, but I had still managed to miss all the clues along the way, and kept coming back for about the next nine months.

At least I never drove to Dallas again. And it was an insane road trip made for stupid reasons but, again, I wouldn’t give up the experience for anything.

Sunday Nibble #32: Can you trust your senses?

A little over five years ago, in much more innocent and less apocalyptic times, the biggest controversy on the internet was this simple question: What color is this dress? This single question caused bigger rifts than the presidential election would in the following year, with only two camps: White and Gold vs. Black and Blue.

Of course, the idea of optical illusions are not new, and some of them can be truly brain-breaking. But the dress illusion really depended on outside factors, like someone’s monitor settings and interior lighting, plain and simple.

But the question today is “Can you trust your ears?” and the boys at ASAP science asked that question almost a year before the whole dress kerfuffle happened. Here’s their video on the subject, and the fascinating part if how much what you see affects what you hear, and vice versa. Enjoy!

Monday meal: Two ladies, two bitches (Sunday Nibble #31 Part 2 of 2)

This started as a “Sunday nibble,” but became an all-you-can-eat buffet, so I’m splitting the profiles of two women who have had a profound impact on me into two parts. In case you missed the first part, his is the second of the two ladies. The bitches were two of the female dogs I’ve owned, who were also influential in my life This is part two. Here is part one.

 

Betty

She wasn’t all that young when she taught me, so I’ll assume that she’s either dead now or very old, but I had a very interesting relationship with one of my two high school AP English teachers. She was Ms. Betty Bivins — well, she went by “Mrs.”

She was a wide, thick-set but not heavy older woman with red hair that may or may not have been henna. My overall impression of her was that she consisted of squares and cubes with Conan O’Brien’s hair-do before he became famous for it, and a penchant for textured pantsuits that resembled flocked wallpaper in tones of either orange, red, or green over white or cream.

The word formidable comes to mine in both talent and personality, and this is appropriate, because she was my first actual Grammar Nazi.

I hated her for it from the start. But by the end, everyone in the class and I knew all the rules backwards and forwards, and for the semester I wound up in a regular (not remedial) English class (the why explained below), the grammatical and technical abilities of those kids were clearly nowhere on our level.

What she did was this: She gave us a list of common grammar and spelling errors, like mixing up it’s and its, or confusing your/you’re or there/they’re/their, along with commonly misspelled words like, well, “misspelled,” or “privilege,” and whether to use “affect” or “effect.” (That one has a sneaky hidden triple point score, thank you psychology!)

I think there were something like fifty items on the list, and she had a master book with our names down the first column and the rule numbers at the top, with two check boxes under each rule all the way down.

When we turned in a paper, if we messed up a rule, she’d make a check in the book and mark it in red on our paper with the rule number. If we ever made the same error twice, that particular paper would fail no matter how good it otherwise was, and that would affect our overall grade.

I know that one because of her, by the way.

She was, in effect (see what I did there?) the kind of editor I became, and young me wasn’t happy about it at first, especially on that one day when I screwed up and “it’s’d” when I should have “its’d.”

Now, I kept a diary back in the day and I remember finding it as an adult and reading through it, very amused for two reasons. One was that I didn’t really write about any of the more… interesting stuff that happened in my life (Narrator voice: “Sex. He means sex. Mostly masturbation, but also sex.”)

The other is that in those first days of high school, I raved about most of my teachers, and then would just tersely note: “Xth Period. English. Hate it.” And no, I don’t remember what period it was. I do remember reading, as an adult, my entry on the day I got my first mark in the Big Book of Grammar sins, though. “Xth Period. English. Bitch, bitch, BITCH!”

But, of course, stubborn little bitch that I am thanks to Mom, I was determined to never fuck up anything in the Big Book again, and I didn’t. And I started to realize that Ms. Bivins really encouraged my writing. A lot. And eventually, we clicked, and during my second semester, she was my favorite teacher and AP English was my favorite class, second place a tie between AP History (Mr. Sholl) and Spanish (Ms. Navarro).

There is a point to mentioning AP, too, which is going to come up in a second. “AP” stands for “Advanced Placement,” and this is a high school track that actually counts as college credit. In fact, because of all my high school AP classes, I actually started college as a second semester Freshman and could have technically graduated a semester early, but instead stupidly took on two minors. And an extra semester of debt.

So we get near the end of first year, I’d been telling Ms. Bivins about a science fiction novel I’d been working on. I think I may have even bravely given her some pages, and she suggests, “You know, you could write this next year as an independent study in lieu of your English class, with me as your advisor…”

Side note: although it was (cough) a few years before The Purge, that science fiction novel was basically that, but set in a distant dystopian future. And, ironically, I was given the idea by a fellow student who was already in the “regular” English class first semester and he explicitly pitched it as, “I think this is an interesting idea, but there’s no way in hell I could ever write it, but you could.”

I titled it Free for All, and I actually still have a printed manuscript of the damn thing around here somewhere.

Anyway, what reason was there to say “No?” to something that could become the next great YA novel? So we created the pitch for the independent study, she got it approved at the school level and, as far as I knew, it was good to go before summer break according to someone at LAUSD downtown.

I came back that fall for the new semester, and when I got to what was supposed to be my independent study class, Ms. Bivins welcomed me with a look on her face that made me think her entire family had just died in a fiery car crash.

She explained that only that week, during the student-free day before classes started (aka “yesterday”,) some ass-clown administrator downtown had said, “Wait. You can’t do a core class like English as an independent study!”

But here was the Catch-22. I couldn’t just go right back into the AP English class either because, reasons. So I found myself being escorted by a very sad Mrs. Bivins to a regular English class already in progress, where I spent a semester in hell because it was just so goddamn boring.

It felt like repeating the curriculum and reading level from back in middle school — Tom Sawyer and Lord of the Flies and the like. Been there, done that. And, like I mentioned, the level of English written in that class was, well… average, really. If you’re not sure what that is, go read the comment section for any online newspaper or media website, then count the number of times you cringe because of the writing. Yeah, that level.

Now, it wasn’t that these people were stupid. It’s just that not everyone is good at language arts in general, or their own native language in particular — never mind if they’re not a native speaker. I get that. I’ve known Medical Doctors and PhDs in other fields who couldn’t spell or string together a coherent written sentence to save their lives, but they are good at what they do.

And I cannot count on all my fingers, toes, and other parts (i.e. hair) the number of plumbers, handy-people, mechanics, cleaners, and so on who don’t speak much English at all, but who light up in Spanish when I tell them I understand — and who are ridiculously good at their jobs.

Seriously, if we ever have a disaster in space, all we need to do is send up a Mexican with some duct tape, PVC pipe, a tile knife, a couple of adjustable wrenches, a mallet, one black plastic trash bag, and a friend, and that shit is coming home safe and sound.

(Note to anyone taking issue with the last paragraph: It was a humorous way of saying that the ingenuity of people from Mexico or of Mexican descent never ceases to amaze me. White people whine and call a professional. Mexicans and Mexican-Americans look at the problem and solve it. Period. They could MacGyver their way out of anything. And that, in a nutshell, is the difference between growing up with privilege and not. But I do digress…)

As for all those wypipo who never learn how to English… in a lot of cases, they do learn their own technical jargon very well, so you might be surprised to see that lawyers aren’t necessarily literate outside of their particular bailiwick. They can write briefs, arguments, and opinions all day, but ask for an essay, and it ain’t gonna happen.

Hint: this is why paralegals really exist. To fix the regular English screw-ups that sneak into their bosses’ stuff so that they don’t look stupid in front of the judges.

But here is the insidious thing: In Mrs. Bivins shooting for the Moon and missing so that I landed back with the muggles for a sad late summer and most of autumn, she actually did me a gigantic favor without ever having to explain a thing, because I don’t think she even realized it, either.

Let’s get back to that “AP” part. See, it also happened to be that most of the people in all my AP classes were also people I’d been in classes with all through school since about first grade, provided that we all went to the same three schools. So, minor cast changes along the way, but for the most part, we seemed to wind up on the same train from age 6 to 18.

Now, it made sense in elementary school when we all spent the entire day in one room, with one teacher. But once we popped up into middle school and the sudden wonder of six different classes, six different rooms, and six different teachers, it should have gotten more random.

It didn’t. So on day one in middle school, there I was in home room, with mostly all the same people I’d been in class with on the last day of elementary school — and that continued on through the days and the years.

The only place it seemed to break down was in P.E., but I can’t help but think that this was strictly engineered by the sadistic coaches, who wanted to toss a bunch of jocks and nerds all together in one locker room at the same time, and then tell them, “Shower time!”

Yeah, we had to nude up and do that back then. I didn’t mind at all, But it was the only class I could remember that seemed to mix all levels of students, from advanced on down. Then again, while any typical period might have dozens of different classes in dozens of different rooms at the same time (my school were huge), P.E. had all of them at one time, in one place.

But the exception proved the rule. The only time I had class with people I wasn’t always in class with from the beginning was in the only class that did not test intellect, only physical ability.

Oh yeah… we’d all gone through that one at about twelve years old. I remember failing miserably on all counts so, while those of us from many levels did P.E. together technically, I was still lumped with my fellow nerds in the same Coach’s group, and at least he was less of an asshole than the others.

That didn’t stop them from having us do things like play flag football against the group full of aggressive jocks. It was like The Hunger Games, except with less death.

Still… why all of this grouping?

Well, ultimately, it was because all of us, around the beginning of 1st grade, were given an IQ test in that wonderfully systemically racist way of perpetuating “white superiority,” seeing as how IQ tests were originally created by big fans of eugenics.

But we took those tests and, unbeknownst to us, we were sorted into groups. I happened to wind up among the top tiers — “Gifted” and “Profoundly Gifted,” although I never heard those words until years later. But the end result was that our cohort, who were tested as well above-above average on the alleged “IQ” test were fast-tracked to…

Well, honestly, privilege. Now, granted, it was Los Angeles, so at least our gifted group was not 100% white, and everyone in it earned it. But here was the problem. Well, two problems.

One is that the particular IQ test they were still using at the time was later determined to have an enormous cultural bias, which did tend to weed out people from lower socio-economic backgrounds of all kinds. The other is that, because of this test, the top group got more resources and attention than everyone else when, ironically, we were the ones who probably needed it the least.

Put Mrs. Bivins in a “regular” English class, and she could probably bring them up to “our” level in a semester. Meanwhile, give us the rule book and make it a challenge for us to catch each other’s errors and… same result, cheaper method.

But this forever opened my eyes to how our entire school system is not really interested in improving everyone. Rather, it’s only interested in dumping everyone in their proper box, from Alpha to Epsilon, and doing form a very early age.

Sound familiar? It should. That’s Huxley’s Brave New World right there. Which, come to think of it, Mrs. Bivins did have us read during our second semester. So… maybe she had always planned ahead, and was setting up an object lesson she knew that I’d get? I don’t know. All I do know is that she, more than anyone else, gave me the push onto the path of pursuing this crazy “be a writer” thing.

Image source, Mohamed Hassan via Pexels. Licensed for free use.

Sunday nibble #31: Two ladies, two bitches (Part 1 of 2)

This started as a “Sunday nibble,” but became an all-you-can-eat buffet, so I’m splitting the story into two parts. This is the first.

Dazé and Shadow

I’ll tackle that choice of title right off, because it is absolutely literal. Today is August 23, and that happened to be the day that I picked — because it was closest to the likely one — for the birthday of two of my late, great dogs: Dazé and Shadow. So yes, in the absolute definition of the word, bitches, but they were my bitches.

Okay, in reality, I was theirs, but that’s why I’m including them here. The bulk of the article is in honor of the hundredth anniversary of women in America finally being given the right to vote — and it is shameful as hell that it took 132 years from the ratification of the Constitution to the Amendment that fixed this major defect.

August was also the birth month of one of the women on this list. I don’t know when the second one was born, but I do know that the third was not born in August.

But I include those two dogs of mine as an example of how nurturing and protective feminine energy as opposed to masculine. In fact, it’s why I will only ever adopt female dogs.

Oh, I’ve known male dogs. I’ve lived with more than a few, interacted with many, and ultimately they are for the most part… well, go search for YouTube videos of “Stupid Things Frat Boys Do,” and you’ll get the idea.

Male dogs are energetic, and goofy, and they’ll hump your leg when you let your guard down, but they clearly don’t really have as much going on upstairs as their distaff counterparts.

I’ve written about it before, but Dazé always ruled the roost, no matter how many other dogs were around and how much bigger they were than her, and she did it without ever showing aggression. She was totally devoted to me, but never submissive. It always felt like an equal partnership.

Shadow could not have been more different in the sense that, while she was totally devoted as well, she was also completely submissive and dependent. Dazé saw it as her job to take care of me. Shadow saw me as the one who was supposed to take care of her.

But it was a pair of valuable lessons that led to a really amazing relationship with dog #3 (not born in August), Sheeba. Dazé taught me what a dog could do for me. Shadow taught me what I could do for a dog.

I guess that Sheeba must have been up on her Hegel, because with her it was a combination of both; a wonderful give and take in which we took care of each other. Dazé never needed my help and Shadow could never give me hers. With Sheeba, it truly was a two-way street.

That’s probably a big part of the reason that she was the only dog whose loss did not immediately inspire me to go out and rescue another, and it’s going on four months now. Sure, current events in the year of several plagues have also had an impact, but I’ve done surprisingly well without. At least for now.

But, to get to the important part: Here are three women who have had an enormous impact on my life.

Gloria

Okay, most people knew her by that name. I knew her as Mom, She taught me some of my most important skills: never put up with anyone’s shit, always question authority when they seem wrong, and cooking and baking are true and enjoyable art forms.

Keep in mind that my mother died when I was fairly young, after a long mystery illness that only seemed to be made worse by medical treatments from male doctors (only) who would never even for a second take seriously my mother’s attempts to tell them how the symptoms changed depending on what part of her cycle she was in.

“Oh, that’s all in your head,” these men who never had periods would tell her in that mansplaining tone. Looking back, I think the whole thing started with a bout of acid reflux that led to hyperventilation that happened (coincidence?) on my 13th birthday.

As I’ve mentioned here before, Mom was brought up with huge amounts of Catholic guilt and body shame, so wasn’t exactly that in touch with things. Looking back, to be honest, I’ve had the sudden “feel like you can’t breathe because your windpipe suddenly shut” thing a few times in my life, but I very quickly learned the cure for it: Hold your breath.

And yeah, I’ve felt guilty that I wasn’t there for her but, then again — I was 13. I was in school, like I was supposed to be. So it was just the next door neighbor there to rush her to the ER, toss her into the hands of the un-empathetic male doctors, and I think over the next few years they managed to medicate her to death.

Since her family all lived on the east coast, I really lost contact with them for a long time, since I didn’t have their phone numbers, or the wherewithal to fly or drive out there, and my dad certainly wasn’t doing it. But when I reconnected to my cousins and surviving aunts not that long ago via social media, one thing became immediately clear.

They were all like her, so they were all like me, at least in all the good ways: Stubborn, opinionated, feisty, creative, and feckin’ clever Irish-Americans.

This was partly what drove her to the west in the first place, because she had a bird’s eye view of her own mother’s hypocrisy when it came to religion. The Catholic Church ruled all! Except… only the church that the Irish people went to. The Italians, Lithuanians, Poles, and Latvians may have gone to Catholic churches as well, but they were filthy immigrants.

And it was perfectly fine if my mother invited her best friend Beverly to come to Grandma’s church on Sunday, but god forbid that my mother would even be allowed to go to Beverly’s church, because they were some weird, unacceptable Armenian Orthodox cult!

But the real biggie — and the one that actually wound up having the greatest impact on my own life, although I didn’t know it until long after she’d died — was that her first marriage not only sent her fleeing to the west, but it had everything to do with her relationship to me.

Long story short, she’d married her (Polish Catholic) high school boyfriend, George, at 18. She got knocked up (though not right away), he got drunk and violent a lot, and in her eighth month he gave her what we quaintly term “A Catholic abortion.”

That is, he pushed her down a flight of stairs and she miscarried, and there went the woman who might have been my older sister.

She had the marriage annulled (the good Catholic way!) then headed west, to shock her mother by marrying a much older and divorced (gasp!) man with three adult kids who was maybe Protestant (what?) but definitely not Catholic (clutch the Rosary!).

They married, she got knocked up while they lived in a tiny Hollywood apartment, moved to their suburban home when she was about five months in — and then wound up delivering me two months prematurely back in Hollywood and, apparently, she freaked the hell out.

In all honesty, why wouldn’t she? She’d already lost one child in the 8th month, and here I was, popped out in the 7th month and not completely baked, so they had to stick me into an incubator. Somehow, it worked, I survived, and I’m still here and, oddly enough, I also managed to be the tallest member of my family on both sides and among three generations, at least.

Yeah, I don’t know what’s up with that part, either. Apparently, all of my grandparents barely grazed five feet. I topped six, and I only have one nephew who came close.

Anyway, the result of my mom’s life experience up to my birth was that she was ridiculously protective of me. Fearing losing me like she had her daughter, I would never say that she was clingy and suffocating. Rather, she did what she could to keep me close to home.

Good or bad? I don’t know. She certainly kept me from being over-adventurous, something that didn’t change until after her death — but I’ve always wondered: If she hadn’t done that, would I still be alive now, or would I have died in some stupid incident before I turned sixteen?

On the other hand, if she had lived on to a normal age, and if she were still around today (entirely possible), would our relationship be loving, or would she have long since driven me absolutely nuts? I have no idea. What I do have is one childhood incident that, to me, demonstrated her absolute devotion to keeping me safe.

I was in the 3rd grade, meaning that I was about 8 years old, and was out sick for a day. The procedure at the time was for returning kids to turn in a note from a parent at the office excusing the absence — basically, “This is Jon’s (parent.) He was out sick yesterday, but is feeling well enough to return today. Signed (parent.)”

Welp, up to this particular day, my father was always the one who wrote and signed the notes. He was also an architect, so he could writer block letters like a goddamn laser printer, and his signature was in perfect cursive.

Mom? Well… she was born left-handed and went to Catholic school, so what do you think? Yep. They basically tied her left hand to a chair, forced her to learn to write with her non-dominant hand and so, as an adult, her handwriting was even worse than mine at, oh, I don’t know… eight years old?

You see where this is going, right?

Dad forgot to write the note that day, so Mom did, and I took it in. An hour or two into class, I got summoned to the principal’s office (his name was George Linnert, btw, a total dick, and he is probably long since dead by now) to be accused of forging the note.

I tried to tell him that my mom wrote it, and if he just called her, she would tell him.

Nope. He was being a total dick, so he told me to write down, “I did not write this note.” And then he refused to believe me and threatened suspension, plus calling my parents in to tell them what an evil, evil boy I was.

Guess what happened when I told my parents about it that evening?

Yep. Mom went ballistic, and the next morning she did something so freaking amazing that I still remember every moment of it. I was going to walk to school, but she said, “No. I’m driving you.”

Okay, cool. Except that… while Mom has her license, she also absolutely hates to drive and never does it, and is nervous as hell. Sure, it’s not all that far to the school — maybe a mile at most — but I think she wanted to make a point.

So we hope into the Ford, she very, very cautiously backs out of the driveway, then takes the back streets to the school, leads me up the steps by my hand and into the principal’s office, very politely tells me that she’s here for a meeting with Mr. Linnert…

…and then the second we walk in the door, she proceeds to rip him not a second, or a third, but maybe even up to a fourth asshole and all I can do is just stand there in awe of this woman, this powerhouse, my mother, taking the piss out of an authority figure that, up until this moment, all of us had feared like the grim reaper.

I don’t even remember what exactly she said, except that it involved questioning his intelligence, asking if he got off on intimidating little boys, and whether he actually knew how telephones worked?

End result? She marched his ass to my classroom, we all entered, and he groveled and apologized in front of the teacher, my, my mom, and the entire class.

It was goddamn glorious. But I guess that’s why she was named Gloria in the first place.

R.I.P., Mom.

Sunday Nibble #30: The joy of toys

I first ran across the Grand Illusions YouTube Channel I don’t remember how long ago, but was immediately taken in by the exuberant innocence of our host and toy master, Tim Rowett.

Tim is a jovial Brit who just turned 78 last month, and he has been collecting toys, games, puzzles, magic tricks, and other oddities for decades

He’s been making videos for a long time in which he presents curated groups of related objects from his collection, and an annual event is when he comes back from various toy fairs around the world to show off his discoveries.
Here’s one of the ones he did after the Nuremberg Toy Fair, not long before lockdowns and quarantines took over the world.

Of course, once everybody had to take precautions to avoid COVID-19, Tim became a one-man operation, moving from whatever studio space he had been using with a camera operator to his own kitchen.

That didn’t slow him down, though, because as we can see by the numerous cases all over the place, a large part of his collection lives with him. And not only did the change not slow him down — unlike his previous schedule, he’s been posting every day for the last four months.

Here’s a recent, socially isolated video.

I first found Grand Illusions through my love of magic, and started by watching all of Tim’s videos showing off the various tricks they sold, but very quickly I found myself binging all of his videos from start to finish until I’d caught up, and I try to never miss a post of his.

So, I’ll leave you to his channel for your Sunday morning, afternoon, or evening diversion. Enjoy!

Sunday nibble #29: There and back again

Since a lot of us around the world are still stuck inside for the most part, I thought I’d invite you to go on a little virtual journey with me, courtesy of YouTube creator morn1415, whom I’ve followed for a long time. He creates amazing videos on scientific subjects — generally dealing with astrophysics and cosmology.

He shot to internet fame almost immediately for his first video post over a decade ago, called Star Size Comparison, and it’s worth a watch. But this is nothing compared to his work on display in the two videos below, because the scale from top to bottom is so much more enormous.

In the star size video, the scale doesn’t go beyond more than maybe ten orders of magnitude, if that. In the video shared here, he covers 61 orders of magnitude, from the Planck scale of 10^-35 meters all the way up to 20^26 meters, the size of the visible universe.

It’s an amazing work, and best to keep in mind that each new cube showing scale has sides ten times longer than the previous, faces a hundred times bigger, and one thousand times the volume.

In the original, we take a leisurely trip to the top and then come flying back down. Put it in the highest res you can, and buckle in for an amazing journey.

If you’d prefer to savor the journey in two different trips, morn 1415 has also created two versions that are slowed to half speed, one which starts at one meter and travels downward, and the other that starts at one meter and journeys up.

No matter how you take the trip, it’s a great visualization of the scale of things and our place among them. If you like these, you won’t be disappointed if you subscribe to his channel.

Note: I am not affiliated with the morn1415 website in any way, other than being a long-time fan and subscriber.