800 Words for Wednesday

the new Sheryl Crow CD

So I have been loafing for a while. Work “ended” on Saturday with our last crew meetings, but some loose ends remain to tie up, and I still will be called upon to collect the crewʼs badges and bags, as well as my own, sometime. Except for one major glitch (which I hope we can resolve, but I donʼt know), the job is over, although I still get paid for two more weeks for what I did the past two weeks. (I went for two weeks before I got my first paycheck, too.)

The weekend was a fun blur of excitement, once the final crew meetings were completed, with our jaunt to Cedar Rapids. Janet and Kevin and I ate Greek on Saturday night at the Vernon Inn, which was wonderful — Opaa! (And we did start off with saganaki, nearly irresistible with the Vernonʼs warm pita pieces.) Furthermore, none of us could resist going the Greek platter/sampler dish route (I personally never can: I want to enjoy all those tastes). The Greek Place included spanakopita, gyros, moussaka, pastitichio (the one I would probably opt for if I had to select a single main course), dolmathes (wonderfully smooth and refined in a subdued and interesting white sauce, no acidic harshness in the grape leaves). We tried a refined Greek wine as well, which drank as smoothly and nobly as a decent Cabernet. Our waitress was a fine lady, fun and tolerant (and she paced our meal perfectly  — slowly: we were the last guests in the place at 10:00 PM); I tried to tip her appropriately  — certainly better than a neighboring table that appeared to leave only $2.00.

Of course, the real draw for the weekend was the talk, as always when Kevin and I get together. We sat in one of the two hotel rooms (at a really pitifully poor Howard Johnsonʼs on the south side, 33rd Avenue, which must make its way — and thereby lose travelers — through becoming a residence hotel) for several hours before dinner and until nearly 1:00 AM, just talking. And we continued the conversation on Sunday at breakfast and later in Iowa City at the Coralville mall, with some beer in hand at Bennigans. We enjoyed hours there, with another tolerant waiter who decently left us mostly on our own. Then the separation for homes. Janet and I got back about 3:30 or 4:00 and did whatever chores remained, like towels in the laundry, before settling in for an hour of DVD I, Claudius (a ritual Janet has wanted to stimulate for Sunday evenings for a while now; we just watched part four, and now I want to reread the books for maybe the fifth time — go, Robert Graves).

The weekend away is the reason for the introduction and use of Stars in Heaven recently. I was able to post without even being home. Itʼs a bonus that several people actually noticed and responded to the portions of the story which have appeared.

As I already noted yesterday, I wasted Monday altogether (except for appointments). DVD must have gotten into my system because I did do more or less back-to-back Hitchcocks. I wish I could say I got amazing ideas or interesting technical notions from that viewing, but I really was just watching TV.

We like to call it “Clavdivs,” of course.

Tuesday early morning, I got up and ran (a good thing, although as ever the word “run,” or any of its conjugations or forms, is a ridiculous exaggeration), got Janet off to work and then finished the third Tarzan novel (and dozed because I havenʼt gotten a long nightʼs sleep in over two weeks). I went out to buy tickets for a local theatrical production of Nunsense on Friday night, paid some bills in person, and drove to Wal-Mart to grab Janetʼs prescription and the new-yesterday Sheryl Crow CD (both for her, although I like Sheryl, too), and then dozed and read while also watching a 1997 Michael Caine-as-Harry Palmer-again flick on one of the movie channels (it was okay, although I guess it must have tanked as a hit thirteen years back because I had not known it even got made). I received a call about unfinished work around noon, which I followed up, but which still remains uncertain, and finally started up the Mac and got to vaguely thinking about some work about 3:00.

So far the work has involved… only this, these 800 words you are reading on Wednesday. (I figured getting a post actually written instead of pulled from already-composed material was a good thing at least once this week). If I am going to do anything else, I need to close this out as it is and get to other things.

I havenʼt listened to the new Crow CD because itʼs like a gift for Janet, but I want to…

So thatʼs the latest from here as the heat and humidity are rising.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Stars Three

I wasted Monday watching Alfred Hitchcock movies on DVD (Saboteur and Jamaica Inn — a black-and-white experience for me), between dentist and haircutting appointments. I guess I was celebrating my returned freedom from work. By evening, as Janet was at her own hair appointment, once I had made her lunch for today, I didnʼt really feel as though I had much to say (a poor defensive position), so Iʼll simply take the easy road more traveled and put up some more from the science fiction novel I started previewing on Sunday.

In case you are a novice, the first two portions of this story were here and here. In case I was unclear somehow, there are two boys — the narrative point of view character (the boy) and Daniel.

from Stars in Heaven

He was sick of squatting here in the sun, and hungry — in a way. If he really thought about it, he was so hot maybe he didn’t really feel like eating anything anyway… He tried hard to keep thinking that way even though it made him feel bad inside, kind of, because there was no way he’d get anything to eat until they went home. But the bad feeling coiled and knotted in him and made his head feel strange, like he was floating…

Ghorf was mumbling to himself. “Don’t know why I break my back coming here every year. Don’t know why I do anything. Kill yourself in the fields for two hundred fifteen days. Spend another miserable fortnight on the goddamn harvest and more time processing the shit. For what? Six stupid weeks on the goddamn road to sit in a sweatbox in this kraissforsaking square for a week a’ hell, waiting for the big ships to come. Never here when they’re supposed to be. Sometimes I think they know about me, and screw their schedules deliberate. Just to get my goat.”

“What’s that, Ghorfie?”

“Nothing, Rim. You wouldn’t understand.”

“Let him be, Rim. He enjoys talking to himself. Only one who gives a good goddam what he’s got to say.”

“Better’n you, Jiz. You don’t even listen to your gimping self.”

“Double it in yellow, p’ssant.”

“Like I said, boys. Leave it be.”

Daniel shook his head. “Listen to that. It’s worse than last year.”

The whole trip was worse than last year—to hear Daniel talk. The road was dustier, the caravan people sneakier, the animals surlier, the weather hotter, the trip longer, the city duller. The whole thing was worse. And this was the year they took him along. Naturally.

Last year he’d been too little. Last year he had wanted to go. Last year was the first time he had helped with the harvest, and he had wanted to see what happened to the stars at market, sell the little bags he had filled himself, visit the city. Last year had been great, the year to go, what it was all about — to hear Daniel tell it.

This year was crap. This year was the worst year ever. This year was the year nothing went right.

The boy had known that before they even started. This year he didn’t really care if he went along or not. Not like last year. Last year, he could still remember, he had stood at the hilltop staring at them going: a little caravan of three horses, four mules, two wagons, Ghorf, Jism, Daniel, dwindling into tiny doll people and play animals, becoming nothing but a mist of dust scuffling slowly along the faint gray line that was the road stretching out further than he had ever gone, into the southwest. He stood, alone, staring into the brightness they disappeared amidst long after he could make out nothing of their expedition, and even the road itself blurred and resolved rhythmically.

And the suns had set gradually around their passage—blueblack cavern languorously in pursuit, lapping a cold and hungry maw all around the boy, extending itself after the purplegolden redbright glowing fingertips of day beckoning beyond their destination — until the light was all extinguished, except for the phantasmagoria of stars lacing and turning overhead. He felt himself to be entirely alone in a starsplattered emptiness of night, aloof even from the hilltop, and cut off completely from everything he had ever wanted, tasted, needed or desired. Alone and left behind. Again.

Until Aunt Sarai had finally come trudging up the dusty way behind him and put her loose arm around his shoulder, pulling him down from that cold heaven and all into her yeasty wet warmth, and begged him breathlessly not to cry any more. “No more, punkun, no more… The big old city’s just not worth all them tears, boy. …Noth’in that ole city anybody’d ever want anyway…”

She was a big woman, Aunt Sarai, and he had felt almost buried in her bosom and armpit as she cooed and murmured above and all around him. He had sobbed breathless wholehearted uninterrupted tears of passionate heartbroken joy into her and let her halfcarry him home.

He wished he were home now. Or even back at Uncle Rim’s house. Wherever it was in the concrete mess of this city. At least it was — compared with this — almost quiet there.

But not like home. Real home… Nothing was quiet here. Not really. Not if you knew, as he did, as he treasured himself knowing, what real quiet, true silence, was. Lying beside the starfield in the darkest of the night, alone, everyone else asleep inside or maybe up on the roof for the coolness, even the animals motionless, you the only thing awake in the whole world, gazing over the dark stalks at the true stars themselves, writhing and pulsing in uncounted colors for which you weren’t sure you even had names, far off and silent in the hugeness of the night. Looking for the ghosts of heaven reflected in the stalks, if you stared long enough.

That was the real quiet, the best quiet, dreaming those stars until the stars did become dream and then you were awake in the morning with the sunshine making the starstalks livid with light.

Not here. Here the star flowers were hidden in bags, crushed. From the roof of Uncle Rim’s house, after you’d sneaked through the rooms of the people who lived upstairs from him — and he lived up more stairs than the boy had ever seen — and upstairs from them and upstairs from them even, and out on the rooftop, you couldn’t, even in the parts of the sky not hidden by buildings taller than Uncle Rim’s house — and there were hundreds of those — not see any stars there, just greenish blackness, a glare over heaven.

This city stunk. Why anybody’d want to come here he’d never know. Never ever never ever never in the world never know…

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Continuing…

Colleen, I guess your wish is my command.

Strapped for time, I think a little more of Stars in Heaven would make a fine post for a Monday, as I discover if I am really finished with the Census yet or not, face a dental appointment and wrap the afternoon with a haircut. Janet and I were gone over the weekend on a necessary (but thoroughly enjoyable) visit with my best friend, Kevin, who is enduring the loss of his dog and his father-in-law — both within a week. The funeral for Dave was yesterday. Weʼd have consoled wife Dawn as well, but sheʼs out in Maine with the rest of her family. We miss her and wish her the best in this sad time.

For us here, letʼs return to the unnamed planet (what would you like me to call it?) where the peasants grow stars, which they then must sell at the huge fair in the If-naryadh’iq square (a name that I really enjoyed inventing maybe twenty years ago).

Daniel dragged himself up on his knees, glaring under his brows at his uncle. “Thudface!” He crawled back to his spot, beating his hands on his robe to clean the dust.

Uncle Jism must not have heard because he simply turned back to the booth. “Gotta keep ‘em in line, Ghorf.”

Rimmon disagreed. “Give the kid a break, Jiz. I’d’a gone for her myself.”

“Jiz’s right, Rim.” Ghorf spat. “Kid’s gotta do his part.”

“Part? Let him live. He be old and cranky soon enough.”

“That how you treat your own, Rim?”

“Those with the wife, no. But they’re little yet. Like the kid here.”

“See?” Ghorf belched, having made his point.

“But they’ll grow.” Jism sounded almost greedy about that. Now he turned on Ghorf. “I remember you havin’ your own times, run-ins with the old man, not so long ago.”

“Bless his memory.”

“Duluth! You hated his guts alive, Ghorf.” Rimmon sounded outraged, and baffled, both at the same time.

“Me? Who couldn’t wait to get off to the city?” Ghorf almost choked on that last word.

“You’d’a gone, too, but you knew the farm’d be yours,” Jism cackled.

“Could’a been you, Jiz.” Rim spoke the words weakly, but Jism nodded.

Uncle Ghorf actually looked thoughtful. “He hated me from the day I was born.”

Jism snickered. “No one likes to be reminded of why they’re married.”

“Don’t talk dirty about the ole man, Jiz. I tole ya before!”

Daniel could see where this was headed—edging himself under the boothside. The boy hunkered after.

“Yeah, sure, Ghorfie. Like you never thunk it yerself.”

Ghorf roared and swatted Jism, a solid one, sounding like a superplum smacking the dirt. Jism flopped on his rear.

“Wha’ the kraiss—?” He got up, redfaced, snorting like a bull.

Rimmon stepped between them. “Stop it. You two are still like little kids.”

“Stay outta it, Rim. Not yer fight.”

“It is if you trash my booth, Jiz. Now stop it!”

Ghorf snarled, “Swamp you, brother. You ran out years back.”

Rim glared. “At least I got out. Better’n both a’ you.”

“Kraiss. Listen to him. Trapped in this godforsaking mess. No fresh air, no good healthy field work.”

Rim simply smiled now. “Yeah, brothers, right.”

Daniel leaned close, breathing in his ear: “Unca Rim must have it made.”

“Yeah.” Actually, he couldn’t understand why Uncle Rimmon would ever have left to come to this city with its hot sun and always sweating and people everywhere pushing at you all the time and donkeys and horses coming up the narrow winding streets, plopping it right on your foot with nowhere to go. Uncle Ghorf must be right: Rim’s cracked in the head and stupid to boot. He knew one thing himself. He couldn’t get out of here fast enough. He hated the city.

He felt wetness running down beside his right eye and wiped at the sweat with the heel of his palm. Things couldn’t get worse than this.

Of course, things could get worse than this, kidboy! Donʼt you realize you are a character in a story? Things always get worse for characters in stories. There would be no conflict, no suspense, no interest without characters suffering worse (and worse) problems.

That is possibly the saddest truth about fiction, worse than the Puritanical suspicion about storytellers lying: writers sadistically inflict woes on characters for our enjoyment; spearcarriers suffer mutilation and death  — as if real people could be treated as mere gunfodder. Maybe thatʼs why I have such an aversion to finishing stories (surely, itʼs not just laziness).

Although I canʼt tell you everything about Stars in Heaven, or else no one would want to pay me money for it someday, maybe I will share some more some time.

Thank you for reading.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Another Story

Saturday may or may not have been better than Friday. I hate it when I make mistakes (even more when some lovely person will not let me forget it, as if I would). Perhaps more on that later.

For now, hereʼs the start of yet another story, possibly the first section of a novel. Itʼs flat-out science fiction (a warning?), which is tentatively entitled Stars in Heaven. This is the opening thousand words or thereabout…

Today was the day. Daniel had decided: he’d had enough. So today would be the Escape. There would be no turning back…

The boy was confused. He felt attacked by more noise and more people all together than he thought he had ever suffered in his whole life. But he couldn’t be sure: he couldn’t remember everything.

Aunt Sarai said that was all right: nobody could. But Aunt Sarai could remember things about himself that he couldn’t, and that bothered him. She remembered, she said, “when you wandered out alone into the starfield just before harvesting, scaring us all to death and then some, especially so long after dark and them plants just all splinters and burrs and spines and prickers and all…” Ghorf had found him just inside the overgrown mass of glassy spikes and branches, somehow miraculously almost uninjured, “jus’ a few cuts, honey, barely bleedin’, you” — but he couldn’t remember himself. He just knew by now what it was like in the field, especially after this past harvest. How had he not died out there, alone?

Here people were everywhere: the whole If-naryadh’iq square was simply all people, talking — screaming — and running and walking and stopping to finger things in the thousand booths of tanglewood and cotton. He found it difficult to notice any one of them, there were so many.

“Having fun, boys?”

He lied. “You betcha, Unca Rim.”

His uncle had told him this would be the best time he would ever have: tit for tat seemed only fair. His other uncle, Jism, said that. It meant a fair exchange, according to Daniel, who wasn’t his brother; he knew that. Ghorf had threatened a good beating as fair exchange for going into the field alone, so Aunt Sarai always said, but he hadn’t done it. For once. His own miraculous survival saving him from that further injury.

They had all come down from the boonies together, six weeks on the road, half his life it seemed. He hadn’t arisen unpunished during those weeks.

It got hotter the closer they came to the city, down from the hill country, so hot his clothes stuck to him all over his body all the time, even if he got up to walk around the campsite in the middle of the night. He hated that. He hated it now, even as the thousand different people surged around where he crouched in the dirt outside the family booth. The only time he had ever been this hot was sloughing his way in the harvest, hacking through the fingery spines and plucking out the stars themselves here and there, hour on hour until his fingers were bloody, even in the gloves, and his shoulders and arms slashed and hurting. But half that heat was the armor — too much clothing, too heavy for the clear, hot days that made for good harvest.

Now he wore a strap of cotton wound around his forehead to absorb the sweat rolling in saltrivers from the front of his hair, and he wished it wouldn’t flood down the back of his neck. But there was no way to stop that.

“Look at that, kid!” Uncle Rimmon thumbed up and out into the square. A man, seven or eight feet tall, dressed all in fluorescent green, was shoving with ease through the crowd parting like waves around him.

“Pilot,” Daniel hissed.

Ebony flesh glistened, but he didn’t act warm at all. His authority and his confidence swept the ordinary rabble from his path, and he strode away into sunglare out of the immense square toward the spaceport.

“Real damn pilot.”

Uncle Rim was jabbering (“They eat stars, ya know” — incredibly unbelievable as that seemed), but the boy didn’t need to listen.

A pilot by his build and stature, a genuine pilot. Born and bred to the darkness between the stars (“They really do, they eat ‘em”). The boy had heard of pilots, of course. Who hadn’t? Daniel had described what they were like in envy-breeding detail after last year’s harvest trek. But now he’d seen a pilot himself. The man behaved as if he owned the entire square, perhaps even the whole city. Of course, he could go anywhere, pilot a ship to any planet around any star anywhere in heaven. Daniel said that, relentlessly, it seemed, this last year.

“Pretty cocky bastards, them pilots. Betcha ain’t got them back home, has ya?”

Somehow the boy felt unimpressed. Maybe it was the heat.

Uncle Rimmon was always trying to make him look at wonderful things.

Uncle Rim had met the travelers yesterday at the city gates, where he had waited every evening for five days, and guided them to his home, lost in a wild network of cobbled streets.

“Nothing like him in the boonies, is there?”

“No, sir.”

There was nothing like anything like this back home. Just the house and the fields and the road into town and the sheep and the goats and the three horses (two now, since Doc died on the road — and neither of them was at home now, either) and Tom the dog and the plow and the carts and the mountains in the west. And Aunt Sarai. He felt he had left it all behind him forever. Six weeks was such a long time.

He felt alone, even in the square, crushed by the sweating bafflement of so many thousands of legs and shoes, trapped between fat Uncle Rimmon and Daniel, the smell of fish from somewhere making his tongue sweat in the rear of his mouth, the hot sun finding him even in the crowd, even in the little shelter of the boothside.

Suddenly, Daniel’s elbow knocked his ribs. “Jerk,” a whisper — he always called him that — “lookie there!” The hoarse intensity made him look in the direction Daniel’s finger briefly jabbed: a lady wearing almost nothing at all was walking along the booth across the way, a leatherworker’s, as if she felt she too owned the world. She wore, just barely, around her top a blue shiny stuff, and her hips were draped only with yellow gauze. Men were stopped, looking. The boy couldn’t really see her very well. Daniel’s mouth hung open.

“Filthy whores!” muttered Uncle Jism, savagely.

Uncle Rim snorted. “She looks pretty clean to me.” He spluttered humorously. “And if she’s not, I’d clean her up, I can tell you, in a minute!”

“They’re everywhere these days. The whole damn world’s going to hell in a hurry.” Jism looked sour.

Ghorf finally put in his: “Looks alien to boot.”

“Why not?” Jiz spat in her direction. “They all are.”

Daniel was twisting around to watch her as she went around the curve and out of sight. “Boy oh boy oh Jeeziesweetpi—!” he breathed and then jerked, flying into the way, shooting a shower of dust backwards — as Uncle Jism clubbed him a good one.

“Keep your eyes in your own head, boy, and watch the goods!”

Daniel dragged himself up on his knees, glaring under his brows at his uncle. “Thudface!” He crawled back to his spot, beating his hands on his robe to clean the dust.

There you have it, the basic set-up. I sent this story as a PDF to my siblings and got absolutely no response. Anyone out there want to do better?

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Tax Dollars at Work

once again the cartoon guy has hair, and his computer is clearly a Windoze model; furthermore, I donʼt do my current paid job at the computer; substitute the caffeine with rum; click the picture for the source

I will be honest with you. There is a lovely rum punch sitting on my desk on the absorbent Grateful Dead “Stealie”-icon Thirstystone® coaster on this hot-and-getting-more-humid day. I gave you a picture of that beverage before, so you can just imagine it if you need to. And this post will be only as long as I have time to type before Janet gets home from work. (So there!)

The question is: why? Yes, itʼs fairly hot — 85º here in the office (and I just recently turned on the air conditioner in our bedroom to prepare a more comfortable sleeping environment later tonight — Friday, yesterday). And yes, I finished mowing in the sweating-making humid heat about 3:00. But itʼs right now about 5:30, and itʼs what has filled those middle two-and-a-half hours that makes the punch such a desirable necessity: work.

Normally, I work the mornings, with “office” meetings for my crew here in Maquoketa and then later in the morning down in DeWitt (which I discovered finally that my Garmin GPS believes is two words — itʼs not — like LaMotte, also not two words). Then my boss meets with me right after the DeWitt session to gather all the stuff I have acquired and checked to hand in.  For this operation, with the two-meeting system, my normal work-morning has taken five hours, counting the drivetime, which is when I must mandatorially take a lunch break. (Evidently, I just invented a word in that last sentence; the spellchecker is freaking out and I didnʼt make a typo.)

This past week I then had to work some hours in the afternoon going over newly acquired questionnaires and doing my accounting on how many EQs and work binders had come through and how much work remained to be done. (Yesterday/Friday we were down to just about 60 questionnaires and 21 binders to go!) I strove mightily on Friday morning to get all the work done during the meeting times — proofing the forms and signing in the books and roughing out my records — so I would not need to work in the afternoon (partly so I could, as I already indicated, mow the yard, and partly so I could keep my hours trimmed enough to permit me five hours for today/Saturday morning and final meetings).

But work blew up big time about 3:00, as people stopped by the house to drop off (incomplete) workloads and check out, or others called with questions and problems. I had to spend time reassigning two cases on incredibly short notice just so we could get them done by today (I hope). So there went precious time. I guess itʼs nice to know that I can get the overtime I will have to put in for, but I was trying hard to avoid that, as the permitted overtime was supposed to allow workers from my district to go help out in other districts this weekend (meaning yesterday and today). Itʼs been hectic. Thus the rum punch.

Oops. The (first) drink is finished, and Janetʼs not quite home yet. However, I still have to copy this information over into WordPress, annotate/link some things and post it. So weʼre done for today. Sorry. Assuming Janet does her usual weekly phone call with her sister this afternoon/Saturday, maybe I can do better for tomorrow. (But I doubt it.)

See you (sort of) then. (At least the Census job is over, more or less, today.)

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Here, Kitty Kitty…

Oscar Wilde

Aaargh! I keep working too much (that and wasting what time I do get to myself). At least the job is supposed to end this week. And it should, too. As a crew, we are down under 150 questionnaires to complete, which is an amount that we should be able to do yesterday and today (although that leaves me checking that 150 in two days as well as the work binders). Personally, I am hoping it all got done yesterday and that I am checking it all for the last time this afternoon. In the meantime, what with proofreading/checking and phone calls, I need to devise a quick and easy post for this last day before the weekend that wonʼt take much of my time late in the afternoon on Thursday.

So I guess itʼs a good time to revisit the past again, and that means a return of the journal entries from just after my acquisition of MacSpeech Dictate. (They amuse me anyway.) And itʼs pretty simple for me just to copy the text from NeoOffice and paste it into the WordPress text box (as I will do momentarily).

The last time I posted some of these entries, I was irresistibly reminded of one of my favorite sources of quotations, Oscar Wildeʼs tasty The Importance of Being Earnest. I first encountered his witty work as a high school junior when Vince had us put on the play in the fall (I had wanted to be Jack, unaccountably and stupidly, but the role went appropriately to a significantly better-looking classmate; perhaps I overestimated my own personal stiffness of performance, not realizing I made a better Algy, much to my enjoyment now). I also felt driven to direct it myself at Andrew, encountering academic difficulties that forced a noble young man to take on one of the leads in the last week of rehearsal; the show went pretty well, even with the almost insuperable barrier of three set changes each night. Generations of drama students also had to enjoy it in the springtime as our (not really accurate) example of a well-made play.

From Act Two, when Algernon is posing as wicked brother Ernest to get an opportunity of bunburying with Jackʼs ward Cecily (who like Jackʼs own beloved, Gwendoline, keeps a diary, peculiarly)…

CECILY. Oh no. [Puts her hand over her diary.] You see, it is simply a very young girl’s record of her own thoughts and impressions, and consequently meant for publication. When it appears in volume form I hope you will order a copy.

Publication in this case must be merely electronic.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Fritz & Frites French-German Bistro

Good weekend. Diane and Steve came about eight on Friday. I had spent the entire day pretty much cleaning up the house. But the work felt good even though I was tired.

I got up early on Saturday — about 7:30 — to shovel couple inches of snow that had fallen Friday evening and through the night. It took me about an hour. They were all up when I came back in. I waited a bit for Steve to get out of the shower and cleaned myself. Janet and those two went down to the Old Lumber Yard before we all headed off to Galena.

We wandered the Main Street, stopping in half a dozen stores, including that place where they serve all the sauces for you to taste. We wandered on up to Fritz and Frites, where we ate lunch. I had spinach quiche with a salad. A few more shops until about 2:30, when we headed for home. I dozed over the first of three Conan comic collections from SFBC.

Cooked steaks for supper with baked potatoes, salad and cheese bread. Went to bed about ten.

Sunday Janet had me make waffles for breakfast. Diane and Steve left about eleven [MacSpeech foolishly insists on using digits, dammit!], at which time Janet and I took a walk, going all the way downtown via Summit Street. Then out to Wal-Mart for some supplies. Getting ready for the weekly chores through the afternoon.

Olympics. Angus burgers for supper. I did not feel well. Showered early and went to bed by nine. Snow started falling around seven, so I was up early today to shovel snow, but only about an inch of icy stuff had fallen, and I finished in just a half hour. Ate four waffles about noon. Right now just about one.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Subbed in Andrew yesterday afternoon in periods five, six, seven, eight. For Gloria Petesch, Home Ec (although they donʼt call it that any more). Wasn’t too bad; actually enjoyed most of the classes. She had me show movies, which worked out great. Only problems were eighth period. One girl insisted on eating chocolate, as if I wasn’t watching. Expletive deleted.

Now I want to watch Swiss Family Robinson, which was the selected film/lesson? for that last class.

On Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, wrote about 5000 words, unfortunately a good portion of them for the blog. New idea — turn my time-travel-onto-the-steppes story into a planetary adventure à la Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Right now it’s about 9:40 AM, and Janet’s getting her nails done and visiting the library before we go grocery shopping later on. Still enjoying the Olympics. The pointlessness of all of what I’m putting in here explains why there haven’t been entries for a few days.

Must get Aunt Alaire’s copy of “Details, Details” in the mail very soon: I think it’s now two weeks.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Here is what MacSpeech Dictate created while the microphone didn’t go to sleep (from music perhaps?): as a is a is no and I know I will go with you will is you will to know you will go and I will and you will and I knew him or him him him him him him him him him him will him know him as is a where are you going to be a worm and you and him and he is on is him and him and him and him and him and him

Nice, isn’t it?

—Can you see what made me think of these entries yesterday, even Wednesday? That potential planetary romance has been on my mind.

Swiss Family Robinson may well have been my very first movie experience as a child (it is definitely the first as I remember it), possibly at the same movie theater in downtown Rock Island where I later won a chemistry set.

And that wraps up February and begins March (as you could have told yourself by reading it, I realize). There is more, but youʼll only have to endure it if I get desperate for material again. (Which is exactly what I may be this weekend.)

where are you going to be a worm” — thatʼs an interesting bit of found poetry… No?

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Not Getting Creative

Boy is it hot. It is also, as I will reiterate toward the end, very humid. (I am writing yesterday, although I hear that even with a cold front moving through to create thunderstorms, today isnʼt going to feel much drier until evening, maybe.) Thus I have an excuse for a picture in what would be otherwise a pretty verbal post not lending itself well to illustration. I hope my Rightist fans (if any) in particular especially enjoy the humidity image my googling discovered (as usual, click the pic for the original source).

I am still being very busy dealing with lots of Census work as we try to conclude the operation by/on Friday. I spent forty-five minutes yesterday attempting to get a grasp on what we have completed already and what we still have to accomplish. (At least I had been working on that task since Monday and came up with a new, shorter version of the “still-must-finish” pages.) We are well over halfway through, which is excellent because we are well over halfway through (the first was number of questionnaires to complete, the second was allotted time). If I counted and added correctly, we have about 250 EQs to go, out of an original 800. Counting today, we have two days to get that work done (and I hope that while I was playing Questionnaire Accountant, the crew was out there in the world asking questions, so there are already a good portion of that 250 finished by this morning, and which I will diligently correct to send on to Cedar Rapids).

But work is boring, and I am ready to dismiss it from my reality (I hope immediately after meeting my boss on Saturday). Although the money has been nice, helping us afford to fix our driveway (about which the concrete guy, who said he would start in three weeks more than three weeks ago, has yet to get in touch), I am ready to go back to pretending I am trying to be a professional writer. I have lots of work to do (real work, not just inventing, writing, annotating and posting for the blog), including two old — already rejected once or twice — stories and three plays to send to publishers and three stories nearly finished to complete (“Mantorville” and “Mistakes by Moonlight” among that trio, the third being a San Francisco adventure for the Tourist). The old stories are “Underground” and “Details, Details.” For one of those, writing the blog was an excellent stimulus for me.

“Mantorville” occurs through creation at the keyboard for my writing process (as is my unpostably vulgar multiple-universe story and another tale that started as a time travel story but may have evolved into a planetary romance in the old Burroughsian vein  — neither of which has seen much action from me in months). That last Quetzal County post I presented was a single draft more or less. Any good?

“Mistakes by Moonlight” is getting drafted in the big red notebook, as I have told you before, and still needs to get dictated to the computer (yes, no progress on doing real work yet this month). And the Tourist story, like its elder sibling “Underground,” is also working its way into existence longhand, also in the little red Harrods notebook, which is where some jerks and gasps of the Villon novel are also arriving on a page. I find that both typing and writing (literally on the latter) work pretty well for me. Doing the blog has shown me that maybe I write faster at the keyboard. But I feel more reflective and thoughtfully articulate with pen in hand, and a notebook can get used anywhere at all (even, I have found, in fairly dark surroundings). Maybe itʼs the notion of finishing the Sepharad story in one form fully that has kept me from using what little time I have had to put it into digital form.

I still havenʼt gotten comfortable just dictating to the machine without typing, mostly because the software just isnʼt all that accurate. I found another mistake in yesterdayʼs poem to fix when I checked the post about 4:30 PM, for example. The computer “heard” the word yet when I said it. RSS and e-mail readers of the blog have the aurally damaged version (unless RSS,which I donʼt use really, updates you every time I make a repair or edit once the post has gone up). However, I hope by fall to be attempting more successful dictation. My few experiments for the blog have gone together pretty quickly, if I donʼt bother proofreading as I go (but also requiring that I carefully review what the machine has heard afterward).

And as it is now about 5:30 yesterday afternoon (what an incredibly hot and humid day; I said before I for one did not miss at all the cool summer we enjoyed a year ago), with me drenched in and oozing sweat onto the keyboard and the arms of my desk chair (as I earlier soaked the paper of the EQs and my tabulations of who had gotten what work done when), and time to cease effort at the computer of any kind and make supper for The Lovely One as well as preparing her lunch for tomorrow at work, I wonʼt be getting creative again today…

This is not quite a thousand words (again), but I think we all feel that Iʼve droned on long enough.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Advice

The current Census operation is wrapping up quickly (good thing, too, according to the numerous citizens who have been contacted in person or by phone four and five times now — at least according to them). And I am busy keeping up with the influx of work to correct (nope, not a teacher any more: make that — “check over and pass along”). So I searched for a poem to present, discovering in the process that although I have used stuff from the Bicentennial Year liberally in this space already (try a search on “1976” to see for yourself), not everything in that creatively fruitful era was good. And I may just do a post soon on that subject  — bad poems from a time of evident inspiration. So here is one from the next year, my first in Jackson County, before I had even begun to teach (I think, although August 29 is pretty late for school not to have started, even 33 years ago).

I have a notation attached to this poem to tell me that, the best I knew at one time, this was the first poem I wrote in my new home in Maquoketa, after the unpleasant staff reduction sent me packing from Ft. Madison. Although I had a girlfriend at the time, the Coe College student (who would dump me in just a few more months, on my birthday ironically/appropriately after just over a year together), you would probably not know that from this sour/savage bit of  “advice.” Perhaps the signs of the approaching split were unconsciously apparent even to me, unadmitted.

On the other hand, I know I felt I still needed to take lessons from my job loss, as well.

Advice

A truly inappropriate knife, but this is more or less the model I carry, as I have done for almost forty years. I think I am on my fifth…

Arrowhead, bayonet, dagger, knot.

The knives of nature are double-edged

and keen: don’t force them; cut only

easy and without effort — time stabs

slashes and bruises you enough, shaves enough

blood in its quick unspoken passes. Don’t

reach for life’s thin knives as they slice

past at you, lest you lose your fingers or

your hand, lest a thoughtless point

pierce your eye and spill your brain.

Blood is ink: preserve it for the songs

your love will have to write; don’t waste

it on yourself — let others bleed for you.

Love carefully, for love’s a rare sword,

razoredged, hiltless, with two points.

It’s awkward to handle; better to thrust

it from you (don’t hug its steel), and love

will spinning like a star return to you

to spit your heart. Fear not,

for love allots you little enough.

You can know nothing only remember that;

so lose cheerfully, and sever everything —

such cutting unites. Discover that sword dance.

A book’s a blade, like love, cuts

you as well as others: words reveal

and conceal pain as bright as steel

infects the air and laughs as ice.

Speak foolishly only, you have

no other choice. Words pass out, severed

breath, to cut you tomorrow. Remember,

nature’s knives all burning turn

and take your blood. Recognize them.

Possibly the first poem in the new house on Emma Court in Maquoketa

29 August 1977

I donʼt really think thereʼs anything too hard here. The imagery of knives had me fascinated (check back on “Freyaʼs Steel” about that), although I think it fits here.

And I donʼt know if it works as one big stanza or if I should break it up. If I were to do so, the breaks would probably come before “Blood is ink” and “You can know nothing only.” But I donʼt know if those phrases or the sentences theyʼre in deserve that much attention (that they would receive if they began stanzas).

Oh, yes. I stole my street for a character in “Mantorville,” didnʼt I? Emma Court always made a fascinating fantasy beloved for my imagination and may have been one reason that I liked that schmaltzy Christopher Reeve/Jane Seymour time-travel, love-story movie. (Yeah, I knew the name, but I liked my temporary description too much to drop it.) A pity Emmaʼs not playing that romantic role in the story.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

A Whole Lot of Nothing Much

Iʼll try to save the scintillating titles “Potpourri” and “Miscellany” for other days, but thatʼs essentially what this is today: considerations on work, weather and working out. Go on. Swallow hard and read ahead…

Posting an addition to “Mantorville” didnʼt seem to stir up much excitement around the blogosphere, even though it was nearly three months since I had last posted anything in that tale. So I thought I would return to the regular daily update notion, regardless how much or little I have to say.

Back at work is the big theme of my life lately. I told you about my fourteen-hour day. I also spent four hours on Saturday, essentially without breaks (for three and a half) just checking in the first batch of work, minus whatever I got accomplished before meeting my boss on Friday (about fifty questionnaires). She let us escape daily meetings for the weekend (thankfully), but that meant I had better than 200 EQs to check over and at least 100 new work binders to check and sign (thus another four solid hours of work yesterday afternoon). This could be a very busy week. I just hope I can keep under forty hours, as required…

Once again, I think I have a very fine crew, although only two of them are repeaters from my first operation. They all seem to be doing a fantastic job with very little time in which to accomplish the mission. In fact, several members are already done with their workloads. One has taken on the binders of a girl whose car is laid up for the week, while the second may be visiting the big city to our south to assist those districts. If we can keep it up, meaning if the crew can keep me well buried in work to check, we should be easily able to meet our deadline this week.

And thatʼs about all I can devise to say about work. This project is pretty much identical to the last, except that we are now annoying the public sometimes for the fourth time, and some of our citizenry is often angry about that. The workers have dealt with those issues pretty well so far, but I would not want to work on another public-contacting mission. Honestly, I will be glad to end my association when this operation ceases, no matter what.

Yesterday morning both Janet and I headed off to work in fog, an experience we havenʼt endured or enjoyed (I kind of like foggy mornings myself) for more than a month. I remember a couple of lightly foggy drives to Bellevue during the last operation in early or mid-May but nothing since then and not much of that nature before those days. It was still a little earth-cloudy as I drove to DeWitt later on, but while I was meeting with the southern portion of the crew, the sun certainly came out, and the interior of my truck was pretty steamy as I unloaded binders onto my boss for transport to Cedar Rapids. She got four of those warm boxes of completed work to stuff into her minivan. (And the true heat is supposed to move in tonight for the rest of the week, with highs up toward or over 90º through the weekend.)

Then, through the afternoon, as I labored over checking in the work I had collected myself, the rain set in (heavier to the south, as I heard on the six oʼclock news), continuing from about three right up through the evening until bedtime. I ran to the mailbox for two letters (both bills), and Janet drove home in rain and off again in rain to go exercise. (I am hoping there is no rain to offer an excuse for me not to get up early and run today.)

Janet has found a new activity for her exercise on Mondays, not up at the Y in Dubuque. She is taking a Zumba class with our friend, Erica, and Janet enjoys it a lot. Since Erica teaches her class here in Maquoketa, Janet drives home right after work (an oddity for her except on Fridays), changes here into workout togs and heads out to begin her hour of dancing at 6:30. Erica has posted calorie-burning counts on Facebook, and they do a respectable amount of sweating. Janet keeps asking me to go along (jokingly, I hope), but everyone there is female, and I tend to feel I stand out in the crowds I am in enough as it is. The only downside is that Janet doesnʼt get to eat supper until after 8:00 nowadays, on Mondays.

…And that takes us through work (boring), weather (boring), and Janetʼs workouts on Mondays (not boring). Iʼd talk about my own running, but I still havenʼt gotten back in the rut after last week. The fog and simple weariness put me out soundly, even though the alarm chirped noticeably at 4:45. I think I appreciated the extra sleep that I immediately dozed into after silencing the alarm. But I didnʼt run, and I must get back in the groove. Certainly this morning. (Uh huh, right.)

Anyway, Iʼve driveled on enough. Depending on how demanding work turns out to be today, perhaps I will have something more imaginative or interesting to post tomorrow.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

A Weekend at Snake Hollow

It has been quite a while, not since April 13, that I have updated anything on the horrific adventures in Mantorville, Quetzal County, Iowa. (Do you think that getting my job with the Census has stifled my creative energies? I do.) The whole story thus far is here. I may not have much to add today, but when Janet and I got back from Davenport, shopping, yesterday, I decided that I would put up a bit of actual fiction for today. And it was to the set of pages for “Mantorville” that I turned my attention.

If you recall, former high school teacher James Arkham, a longtime inmate at the Institute for the Criminally Insane, having been convicted for killing his superintendent and friend Howie Phillips, has for a few days finally been opening up about his crime to psychologist Joshua Symonds. Although unrelated to anything in his criminal record, Arkham has been hinting/indicating that two students, Edie Allan and Frank Long, both new to the Mantorville School District, were important to him in causing what eventually occurred. One important event was Frank Long being maimed (apparently with deliberation) by his own team during an early October football game.

We begin, for review, with a few paragraphs already presented…

from the STILL-Untitled Iowa Horror Story

Anyway, Frank. I haven’t explained, but he and I shared a bond — probably because we were both new in the area and definitely because we both felt like outsiders. Edie was part of all of that, too, but I don’t want to talk about her now. Both of them were in my Advanced Placement English class last period, and so it became somewhat natural for them to linger after school for at least a few minutes to talk about things. Of course, Frank had football practice once he joined the team, and Edie, as I told you, was managing for volleyball. So none of these little chat sessions lasted very long. Not then.

It was talking after school, for instance, when Edie told me about counting the memorials in the Roll of Honor, and it was after school about two weeks before the “accident,” when Edie wasn’t there, that Frank first revealed what he thought was going on.

Okay, so weʼre retreating in time. Again.

He asked me if I had ever driven around the county. I had gone to Arnhem on 54 and on through Mantorville to Bailey and Cross Corners out of 61. And I had driven the river road from Arnhem to Machen and then on up to Dubuque. And I had taken Q11 across from Mantorville to 61, too, by then, my only actual county road. But I donʼt think I remembered to tell Frank about that one then. In fact, Iʼm pretty sure I didnʼt.

Anyway, none of that impressed him very much.

“Nah,” he said, “I mean getting back in the country hereabouts.”

I admitted that I hadnʼt, and he laughed. “Me neither…” His words hung in the air of my room, pretty close and humid for what must have been the end of September, like I said about two weeks before his incident on the playing field.

“Me neither…” he repeated. “Not until last weekend. Saturday night.” And again nothing more.

You must have felt like I usually do talking with you, huh?

Finally, I asked him, “Did something happen last Saturday?”

He nodded, then looked down at me, sharply. (I told you he was pretty tall, didnʼt I? And I was sitting at my desk, him standing across from me. I remember that.) “Uh, Mr. Arkham, this is just between us, you and me, right? Because it, uh, it has to be. I mean, nothing goes any further, you know…”

“Well, Frank,” I said, trying to be the full professional, “there are things I have to report, you know. I canʼt keep certain things secret.”

He grinned. “Yeah, like abuse and that. Teachers and doctors, you have to report it. — Nothing like that. Donʼt worry.”

“…And there are… other things, too.”

“Yeah, well, I got this far, Mr. Arkham, letʼs go for it.” But he stopped and paced away from the desk. Finally, from thee other side of the classroom, he said, “I donʼt think anyone much cares around here anyway. They all did it when they were young, you know. And some of the dads buy stuff for the team…”

“What are you talking about, Frank?”

“Drinking.” He turned around to face me again. “The whole, team, Mr. Arkham. They go out drinking after the games. And on Saturday nights, too. All of them — us. Pretty much.”

“Ah, yes,” I hesitated. “That would, you know fall under the heading of things I should report…”

Now my pause hung in the air.

Frank grinned at me again. “But…?”

Grinned. Just like you are doing at me right now, Arkham.

“But I kind of figured that, Frank. I figured that was going on. Things people say.”

“So you are not going to report me telling you this?”

“I should, Frank. But considering some of those things people say are jokes Iʼve heard Mr. Davis making to the players…”

“Yeah, Rog is right in there with those other adults. Helping out…”

“Buying beer? Is that what you mean?” I caught him calling the principal by his first name, but that wasnʼt the important element. “Mr. Davis is buying booze for his playersʼ parties?”

Roger Dodger, such a good ole boy. Somehow I knew it. It just had to be true.

Frank looked at his shoes, a long way down from his head, for a while. “Hell, Mr. Arkham, heʼs right there at the parties. At least he was last Saturday night.”

“So you went to a team party, Frank? Where was this?”

“Snake Hollow. Itʼs way back in the boonies. Serpentine Creek runs through there. After a little waterfall down the cliffs on the east side, it meanders out through the valley and under the county road bridge, an old sucker.”

I knew the creek flowed past the town to the east and eventually joined Bear River somewhere east of Bear River Falls.

“They had a big bonfire in the hollow, not far from the falls and about five kegs for everybody. After the game I had Friday night, everybodyʼd been at me to go celebrate. And, well, I didnʼt want to be the odd guy, left out… you know how it is… Yeah. I was there. Sure. How else would I know, huh?”

“So you are telling me… why, Frank? Is this a confession? Are you reporting to me under the Good Conduct Rule? — If Mr. Davis was there, a part of it all, it wonʼt do much good for me to report you to him.”

“No. Nobodyʼd listen to anyone trying to nark on the team, Mr. Arkham. No. What I wanted to talk about is… —is what happened at that party…”

“What? Did something happen? Something bad?”

“Not just bad, Mr. Arkham. It was downright evil.”

Okay. So now that Iʼve written about a thousand words, I guess I should have called this post “Teaser leading up to A Weekend at Snake Hollow.” Oh, well. Perhaps posting this will get me to write some more.

(If only I could decide just what it is that happened at Snake Hollow that Saturday night…)

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.