Retrotemporal Celebration

Happy Birthday, Betty!

I drove Janet to work this morning, an unusual event (I think in the eleven years sheʼs worked out of town I have driven her to her job only a handful of times,  by which watery metaphor I mean:  “probably a half a dozen or less”). Once or twice my up-and-back auroral trip was caused by vehicle malfunctions, but usually we plan for me to chauffeur so that only one car is there when I drive up at the end of her work day — sometimes so we can head out on a little trip, other times, like today, so we can go together to dinner somewhere.

The supper club atop the bluff in East Dubuque

Today weʼre crossing over into Illinois in order to celebrate Janetʼs momʼs birthday at Timmermanʼs, the kitschiest eatery we have encountered near us. A visit to the supper club is a temporal backstep directly into, say, 1962. Especially their cocktail lounge,* which is where weʼll meet the parents(-in-law) at the big almost circular bar. I used to experience the same bygone-looking, epoch-evoking sensations about the Iris in Mt. Pleasant (sadly defunct nowadays), but in the days I was thinking that, the time dislocation was only a decade or less.** With Timmermanʼs weʼre at the half-century-back mark!

Thereʼs a contemporary term for such an experience as we are anticipating for this evening, but as I have already used/alluded to it in the title of todayʼs post, iʼll pass on the opportunity to take the lazy route toward expressing the Timmermanish ambiance.

Their food is good (not our personal favorite styles, but Bing and Betty like it a lot) if very filling and hugely caloric. And the views from the big windows out over Highway 20 at the watery lagoon off the Mississippi are spectacular, particularly at sunset, the most desirable time for a windowside dinner, even if you get the seat with the sun right in your face.

Getting together with the Nortons for a festive occasion (holiday, birthday, anniversary) has become a minor tradition among that family (well, Janet — and therefore me — and her folks, although sister Diane and Steve were there to complete most of the family right after The Lovely One had her emergency retinal surgery a few years ago). The ʼrents often bring along their closest pals, who are good fun, and the waitresses probably grin behind their hands at the flirtatious old guys (who after much self-amusing banter will be leaving old-fashioned — and to some of us, embarrassing — minuscule tips) having a grand time.

Now if we all were dressed in sharkskin gray suits and flouncy or Jackie Kennedy-slim evening dresses… (In this heat, I intend to go in jeans shorts but with a short-sleeved and collared shirt.)

* A time-trippy term in and of itself!

** However, at the age I was in the earliest Seventies, the dislocation in time was subjectively as large in portion of lifespan.

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Iced Songbirds to Go

Hereʼs the start of a story that has percolated in my head since the night in Seattle, several years ago, that Janet and I had the pleasure (unanticipated, at least on my part) of hearing Eartha Kitt perform, sadly just months before she died. I kicked my idea around in my hinder thoughts until two weeks ago, when Janet had completed her work (well, most of her work) for, during and after her bossʼs Big Birthday Party (a story I still need to tell in this forum). I donʼt mean to reflect at all on the Celebrity Performer brought in for That Event, but somehow, as She enjoyed a celebratory martini after her show and the end of the party, and as The Lovely One chatted up Important Folks at the party, the story resurfaced insistently. I sat in a quiet corner of the bar, sipping a Johnnie Walker Black (which I had been too simple and foolish to specify earlier in the evening) and composed the following five hundred words…

The working title for the short story (series?) is the title of todayʼs post.

The time had come to haul the old broad out of cold storage. DeMint trundled his way down the lowest corridors of Le Grande Canal seeking the berth of tonight’s grande dame. As usual, he silently thanked his lucky stars for the elementary and ancient concept of alphabetical order, and as he so often did, cursed under his breath aloud that so many of his most popular corpses had surnames from the final third of the letter sequence…

Manischewitz, Markowsky, Mingo…

Neruda, Oppenheimer, Ott…

Pascal, Pomme, Shelley…

Sterne.

He sighed, a sign of his disloyal respect (loyal disrespect?) and pressed the blue icon on the touchpad outside her coffin to begin the reanim process. Once again. In one hundred and thirty-seven minutes Sharynn Sterne would sing again, her seven thousand eight hundred and fifty-seventh immortal performance. (Assuming he hadnʼt at some point forgotten to record a couple.) For the assembled miners of Sigma Calyx IV, which couldnʼt be buried much further, more remotely or less significantly in the back of beyond.

With an almost inaudible hiss, her resurrection began.

Having done his part for the next two hours, DeMint shuffled off to the cold level lounge to access the records net and pour himself more than a few cold ones. Down in the depths among his cold ones.

He loved them both. The beers and the broads, best on ice, less nice at room temps. But both the broads and the beers needed rewarming now and again. If only to keep other broads, his immortal songbirds, and better beers cold and refreshing and ready to serve.

He had negotiated eleven days with the mine unionʼs entertainment czar to reach an agreement of appropriate financial reward for an acceptable star revived out of yesteryear. As usual, as he had come so very long ago to expect, they had demanded performers of several magnitudes greater significance than his humble star freighter maintained. As though the handlers of such stellar celebrities would deign to cruise the nether depths of nowhere near such an insignificance as Sigma Calyx IV. When was the last time any starship had dropped orbit about their frozen mineral hell and offered to put on a show? That telling point had at last, long last, diminished the czarʼs expectations to a reasonable realm where an agreeable accommodation could finally be accomplished.

Not much reward financially for one of his most remembered Chillahs. Chilled Thrillers. But with unrefined fuelstuff thrown in, sufficient to get him and his cold coloraturas effectively out of this hell. Finally. So the deal had been struck and the time had come for Sharynn Sterne to sing again.

Now all DeMint had to do was convince her to cooperate.

By the time I had penned the last paragraph (yep, sitting at my little table with pen in hand and small yellow pad of mini-legal paper before me) it was nearly 1:00 AM. So there it rests (but at least I have gotten the written word digitized now).

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Planetary Romance, 6

And now, to end the month of November (at least on the day for your weekly dose of bits from fiction), hereʼs the rest of Chapter One, “End of an Affair,” from Slaves to the Lesser Moon. The previous part was here, last Sunday.

Hunter and Birch are talking as Terry passes out in the apartment. Birch is trying to explain Dr. V.J. Fairchildʼs accidental intrusion into the nature of time and space…

“So you push things through your… — gap into another time? Is that it?”

“Kind of, sure. Only the things are the gap, in a way, probabalistically. Theyʼre equivalent with timeless spacetime, only timeless and spaceless, too I guess. See, she was working with some abnormal results published a few years back, in Physics Notes, from CERN, and she realized last year, about now, I guess, a year ago, that if you removed the temporal elements in the equations — she was developing different equations than youʼd have thought — , dividing out the vibrations in the strings, the abnormalities made sense, fit her new timeless equations… but those were highpowered experiments. I mean, itʼs CERN, itʼs the biggest, most-highpowered… Then in second semester last year she realized that the same results, well, similar ones, equivalent, could be reached at relatively low powers, too. Not exactly. What took her attention, what captured her imagination, was the time absence. See? Her idea was that we could manipulate, create an actual gap, thatʼs what I call it, in spacetime, so thereʼs no time, and so I guess no space, same thing, you know, within the radius, briefly.”

He made no sense to me. I donʼt think he did to himself. He acted really frustrated.

“But you did it? You made whatever you are talking about happen?”

“Um, yeah. In a way. I guess. Yeah. We have demonstrated her equations. After Thanksgiving, we used a pencil, then bigger objects. We celebrated New Yearʼs using a mouse I, uh, liberated, from the bio lab.”

Terry mumbled suddenly in his stupor, and I realized I was feeling pretty dopey myself. Maybe what Birch was saying made sense if you hadnʼt guzzled a dozen beers. Thirteen. I looked down at the one still in my hand, heavy, barely drunk at all.

“You used things? How?”

“We, uh, made stuff change their place in time, spacetime.”

“You made stuff travel through time?”

“Uh, sure, although I donʼt think thatʼs really a very good terminology, Hunter. The device creates this spacetime gap, and if we introduce something into the gap, or rather create the gap around the object, well, as the object, really, it no longer occupies spacetime. Itʼs independent of the framework. The whole framework. Thatʼs what Valjean doesnʼt see. Even gravity doesnʼt affect them. Maybe not even dark matter or energy.”

“I donʼt get it. You put things in your machine and they just sit there? How do you know you are doing anything at all? What is it? They donʼt age or what?”

“No. Well, they donʼt. Age, that is. Or rather, they shouldnʼt. Not while they equate with the gap, are the gap, become the gap…” He was losing us both trying to identify just what happened inside their time machine.

“Can I see it?”

“See it?”

“Yeah, Birch. Will you let me see it? Maybe you could show me what it does, you know. Maybe then Iʼd understand…”

I had lit a little fire in him, visible in his eyes. “You want to see what it does…”

“Sure. Show me. Maybe itʼll all make sense then. I want to see what happens to the things in your gap.”

“Not in the gap. They are the gap. Briefly. Well, not briefly, thatʼs time. But they re-emerge. Before we put them in. Sometimes.”

An exaggeration (for the story)

“Before? Before you put them in? They go back in time?”

“Sort of. Not always. The cat came back, came out right away — “

“You tried this thing on a cat?”

“Valjean found it hanging outside her condo. Brought it in on Monday.”

“But it didnʼt work on the cat?”

“No. It worked. Just — … differently. Itʼs really hard to explain…”

“Youʼve got to show me, Birch.”

“She wanted me to try it on a bigger subject. Living things donʼt behave, react, the same as other objects. Shouldnʼt matter, but apparently it does… And sheʼs not considering the gravitational aspect. She thinks thatʼs an electrodynamic effect that weʼre observing. But it isnʼt shouldnʼt be… Sometimes I wonder if itʼs not  dark energy thing. — I didnʼt want to try it myself, you see. I think thereʼs other issues… She just focuses on the time-negativity all the time, but time is space. I know it. Timelessness is spacelessness, too. That matters.”

He was all worried about something else, trying to make all the numbers add up or something. I wanted to see the machine. I wanted to see something travel through time.

“Come on, Birch. Iʼve got to see this. You have to show me.”

Something clicked in his mind. Something changed. He agreed. “Okay. I can show you, Hunter. Hell,” he looked sly, somehow, “if you ask real pretty, I might even let you try it out for yourself…” He was staring right at me really funny, but I didnʼt register it at the time. He had made me think.

Could I try it out? Go back in time? I suddenly imagined stopping Jen from hooking up with her Jack last summer… It was only a few hours from Pashitakua to Hartford. Could Birch send me that far back? He wouldnʼt want to. Heʼd never want to help me with anything. But if I didnʼt tell him…

“Youʼd let me try it out, Birch?”

“Sure, dude. Maybe. I mean itʼs experimental. But if you see it, and want to try it out. Why not?”

Why not indeed? I started to see it all in my head. I could steal my own car from myself, my old self, and drive straight to her house, the day after she got home. Sheʼd said she didnʼt see that Jack jerk for the first time until the middle of June… Itʼd be real romantic. Sheʼd like that… Sheʼd like that a lot…

“So, Hunter, you want to go? Give it a looksee?”

By now I wanted to do a whole lot more than see. I thought the only hard part would be getting Birch to really, truly let me use the machine. If only I had remembered what he had said when he arrived. But I didnʼt. I just sucked on the beer can instead.

And thatʼs the end of Chapter One, about 5500 words altogether. Scrivener estimates that at fourteen paperback pages. Too long?

The big issue is whether I have had time to finish (or will in these next three days) the final 7000 words to reach 50,000 and thereby “win” NaNoWriMo.

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

Planetary Romance, 5

As work stalled somewhat last week on my November novel, Slaves to the Lesser Moon, due to real life grabbing me up (giving me work opportunity, stealing a day for lessons in ocular migraines), this old portion from Chapter One doesnʼt seem so distant and unrelated to where Iʼm at as it shoud. Enjoy. The former pieces are here, here, here and here. Our hero, Hunter, is talking to physics nerd Birch Thorstein, who is annoyed that Hunterʼs roomie, Terry, has spilled the beans about a possible secret time machine in development.

Then he gave me the opening I had forgotten: “What do you know about the device?”

“What device?” My drink-stalled brain had also, like Terry, lost the thread of recent conversation. “Do you mean your — Fairchild machine?”

“Thatʼs exactly what I mean, asshole.” Birch was rapid firing his thoughts at me. What do you know? How do you know?” His brain was working very fast indeed, at least relative to mine. “— He told you, right?”

Terry jerked his head from a slump toward his chest at that. He knew he must be “he.”

“I was explaining why you were coming over, Birch.”

“Perfect.” Now Birch was mad, too. “Did you tweet everyone as well?”

“Aw, Birch, his girl dumped him…” Terry whined inanely.

“I donʼt care if his girl screwed the whole football team fifty times over!” Birch roared, the only sober one among us thoroughly losing it. “I want to know who all knows what about my personal, private business!”

“You built a bogus time machine,” I sniped bitterly. “Big deal.” His face blanched, looking upward at me. “No one cares.”

His watery gray eyes widened with fierce intensity. “How do you know these things?”

Good guesses, actually. I have always been a good guesser (as with Jen this fall). Sometimes I just donʼt want to acknowledge what my intuition tells me.

Now he grabbed me by my sweatshirt collar, arising from my chair, shoving his acned face very close to mine. “Tell me what you know. Tell me!”

Terry stirred to wakefulness. “He only knows what I told him. Just now.” His diction was very vague, sounds all sloshing together.

Birch turned on him. “I never told you it was a time machine. How did you find out? How!” He wasnʼt asking; he was insisting.

I explained, “You told him Fairchild had come up with some kind of — “ The word temporal still eluded my tongue.

“Breakthrough about time,” Terry chimed in, almost merrily.

“And you built a machine,” I finished. “Time plus machine equals time machine. Big freaking deal. Itʼs garbage, just like everything else sheʼs ever thought was important.” Dr. Fairchild was a huge joke around campus, probably academic circles nationwide, for her continual flood of ridiculously flawed insights.

Birchʼs eyes glanced around, away from me, even as his angry grip on my shirt relaxed. “Yeah. Yeah. Thatʼs right, all right. Just garbage.” He was lying. If Terry hadnʼt been nodding again, even he could have noticed. Birch was a lousy liar, his face and eyes all giveaways, at least to me. “I gotta go,” he added lamely, releasing me, moving away from my chair toward the door and the steps down to outside.

Terry snored.

“Birch. Wait.” I didnʼt realize at first it was me that spoke. Why shouldnʼt I be glad to be rid of Birch as easily as this? I usually couldnʼt get him out of our place once Terry had let him in.

He just kept moving, so I did, too, following. “Hold up.” I grabbed his arm, and he turned, looking quickly at Terry, unconscious. “Heʼs out of it, Birch.” I knew what he was thinking. “Itʼs just you and me. Come on, dude. I know youʼre lying, man. But I donʼt get it. What are you trying to hide? I mean, come on, we were just talking about — Fairchild… “ I thought briefly. “Does that mean… “ At first, I couldnʼt identify, pin down the scarcely conceived idea that had drawn me over to stop him. And then I couldnʼt admit it. “Itʼs her thing, isnʼt it? Thatʼs just not possible. Is it? — It works?!” Birch tried maintaining a stolid incomprehension on his face, but his eyes brightened enormously at my question. “Fairchildʼs time machine actually works!?” It sounded more like an accusation than a question, and he responded as though under interrogation, mutely nodding, not meeting my gaze.

an actual accelertor, CERN, Switzerland

“Keep it down, huh? This is all top secret stuff. Even Valjeanʼs not really aware that — “ he checked himself, and then added in a lowered tone, “that the device actually does what it — … does.” He pulled me close, nearer than I ever like to be to him, and whispered. “She thinks that because weʼre operating really low-power, and because it creates such a small aperture, that it only extends maybe a few minutes… but I think itʼs a lot more complicated than she believes. Iʼve run tests without her, when she wanʼt around… “

“What are you talking about?” He was confusing me. To me, time machine suggested H.G. Wells — you hop in, set a date, pull the crystal bar, and go. The movie-inspired image in my mind kind of made me want to see what the real thing was like.

“Itʼs hard to explain. Itʼs all math, you know, physics, spacetime. See, her idea was that we could force a gap in spacetime,” he paused trying to calculate if his words accurately expressed the arcane equations that actually made sense to him.

“A hole?” I offered.

“No, a point — thatʼs what she originally computed could be accomplished… “ My unscientific perspective was frustrating him. “Itʼs like a — gap,” he retreated to the word with which heʼd begun, “where spacetime doesnʼt occur.”

“A vacuum?” I was trying, but I really didnʼt understand.

“No. Yes, kind of. A vacuum of time… space, too, necessarily, I suppose… Einstein insisted they were an identity… Itʼs a point — well, originally probably just a geometric point, but we, really me, I was able to expand the, uh, gap lately…”

He was losing me utterly. Too many ideas too inadequately expressed. “So you can push things through this thing, hole, you make?”

“Not a hole, Hunter. Itʼs nothing. A gap. Where time isnʼt permitted, mathematically, doesnʼt happen… or exist, temporarily… But temporarilyʼs time-based… Damn!” Now he was confusing himself, trying to translate what must have been some powerfully wicked math into words.

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

Planetary Romance, 4

Yep. More of the November novel. You get three parts right in a row. I am so far past this section of the story now, it seems funny to me, as in the old days when I started posting bits of “Mantorville.” Therefore, I will get you all a little closer to the end of Chapter One.

The door was open. I hadnʼt locked it when I came griefstricken into our place. There were lots of nights it remained unlocked. It wasnʼt like, even with the college in town, that Pashitakua was a hive of criminal activity. Small Wisconsin towns are pretty quiet places.

Birch slammed it open and shut and charged right up the stairs to our place, bursting through the door, while I was still registering the bell.

His neurasthenic, skimpily-bearded face was aghast or terrified. Or something. Whatever was going on, that was more emotion than I had ever seen him express. “Terry! Mʼman. You wonʼt believe whatʼs happened to me.”

“Dude. Whatʼs going on?” Terry asked instantly. I didnʼt care.

“Valjeanʼs gone nuts, man.” I had learned some time ago that his pet name for Dr. Fairchild put a (mispronounced) literary pun on her first and middle names. “Plumb crazy. Nuts.”

Which probably just meant that his month of work building whatever contraption she had required was clearly the waste of time that every one of her projects was. I got up, carefully, slowly, to find the refrigerator and grab one more Keystone. Maybe, when I located it, I might ask the bearded wonder if he wanted something. And I wondered, just how many cases of beer had we bought last time? If Terry and I both had just drunk twelve-plus, that meant one dead boxful. Didnʼt it?

I barely heard them talking as I drifted the twenty steps through the kitchen. I did hear Birch selfishly plop himself in the chair I had vacated. Nothing for him, then.

“Short meeting.” Terry observed thickly. “Whatʼd she do? Terminate your assistantship? Again?”

“She wants me to test the machine, man.”

“Dude!”

“Exactly.”

“Test the machine. Whaddaya mean…?” Obviously Terry hadnʼt understood whatever Birch meant as closely as Birch had assumed.

“Test the machine. Test the machine! She wants me to be her first live test on the machine.”

“What machine?” I wondered as I tried to stride manfully back in the living room without either hitting the kitchen doorway or the sofa or the big chair. Or spill my fresh beer. I had forgotten already that Birch had taken my seat. I tottered to a stop behind the sofa.

“Donʼt tell him,” Birch snapped. “Not a word.”

“Tell him about what?” Terry was puzzled. He had, after all, drunk more than I had.

“Fairchildʼs theory?” I asked. “Didja build a machine to test her time breakthrough?” I wanted to say “temporal” but the word eluded my consciousness, and my mouth would probably have never been up to that many syllables anyway. I also wanted to laugh, like I was too cool for their nonprogress at physics.

Birch cut me short. “Whatʼs he know, Terry? It sounds like he knows. What did you tell him!”

“About what?” Terry was looking seriously confused now. “His girl dumped him tonight.”

Thanks, Ter, I thought. Just the guy I did not want to know all about my stuff. But clearly Terryʼs mind was wandering down some drunken corridors of its own, far from our little discussion just minutes earlier. He was back on my personal problems. And now that he had brought it all up again, so was I.

Big warm tears were building up in my eyes, but I didnʼt want to cry, not in front of Birch.

“The redhead? About time. Sheʼs got another guy back in her hometown. Has had all year.”

I wanted to punch him. How could he be so right? I glowered wetly over him, one hand still on the sofa. “How did you know, Birch?”

“Bah. Everyone knows, Hunter. She told people. Besides, it was obvious from the start of the year.” He was right, although I hated to admit it. Somehow I had known from the first day we had seen each other after summerʼs end that something was different, wrong. I knew but hadnʼt wanted to explore the intuition. Still it enraged me that this jerk knew, but fume as I might, I had no clever quip to impact what I felt was his smug satisfaction.

Then he gave me the opening I had forgotten: “What do you know about the device?”

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

Planetary Romance, 3

Sunday again, time for some creative writing (even though thatʼs what I already gave you yesterday). Following parts 1 and 2, hereʼs a third section from Chapter One — “End of an Affair” from Slaves to the Lesser Moon.

I poured the whole evening out to Terry by the time I finished at least ten Keystones, taking longer and longer on each can. He quit texting after about an hour but looked preoccupied even through his sympathetic support. Finally, as I ran out of anything more to say, not feeling like cursing Jen out loud, no matter how bad sheʼd made me feel, I asked him, “Whoʼre you texting?”

“Itʼs nothing. Just Birch.”

“Oh.” Birch was one of my least favorite people on campus or off. McKennal College had its share of oddballs, idiots and weirdos, but Birch Thorstein was in a class all his own. He was the most amazingly self-centered person I had ever met, completely unaware anyone else had any life of their own, completely preoccupied with his own little puzzles and problems. A physics major, Birch had gone through at least three other colleges, including UWM most recently, none of which ever wanted to see him back or even hear about him in the future. So dropping into McKennal was the best accident he had ever contrived for himself (and he was also the most accident-prone geek I had ever met).

And if you are reading this, Birch, I mean every word of that.

How or why Birch and Terry had become acquainted I never knew. I never asked. Physics and economics types donʼt generally mix, even when they take required courses together (of course econ and lit majors usually just drank together, having little or nothing in common either; and although roommates for two years now, mostly all Terry and I ever did together was drink). Birch didnʼt drink. He said it slowed his mind, killed brain cells (actually he told me exactly how many cells it killed with each drink, but I wasnʼt listening, as usual when Birch talked). He and Terry did hang out pretty often, enough that I got sick of finding him at dawn sprawled on our couch, having crashed there after some longterm talkfest with Ter. Sometimes I thought all he ever did was talk, sleep loudly and leer at Jen when she came out of the bedroom in the morning. He was probably just calculating biological differences between the sexes, though, rather than lusting, as she thought. He was probably the most sexless dweeb I ever met and had to deal with. I never knew him to have anything to do with women.

Birch didnʼt do much of anything but duck classes he had to take and sit in on science stuff he didnʼt have to audit. And work up experiments in the physics lab. He was always over in the rundown, ancient Miller/Norton building hacking together wires and microchips, lasers and magnets, random crap and worthless whatever, to bring to reality crazy old Dr. Fairchildʼs latest crackpot cranial misfire. The lucky accident that brought the third-time fifth-year physics retard to McKennal College had included a soul-sister affinity with the schoolʼs oldest living (unwanted) professor, V.J. Fairchild her raggedy, antiquated self. In her Birch had found his true mentor, someone even nuttier and farther past the fringe than he was.

And if you are reading this, Valerie Jean, Iʼve never forgotten the awfulness of your freshman Fundamentals of the Scientific Method course. Worst and longest three hours of credit I ever suffered, and only got a C.

I hadnʼt even seen Birch around campus for weeks, since before Christmas break began. That was peculiar because he usually wound up sacked out in our place about once a week, sometimes even on nights I knew Terry had gone to bed early. And Terry swore he had never given Birch his own key, but thereʼd Birch be, unwashed and unwanted as ever.

“Birch? Really? I had hoped heʼd died.”

“Heʼs been busy. Fairchildʼs had some kind of breakthrough, and heʼs — ”

“Fairchild had a breakdown? About time, if you ask me.”

“Breakthrough.” He chuckled suddenly, having noticed something. “You said, ʼabout time.ʼ Dude. Good one.” He sounded like Beavis. “Like you knew or something. According to Birch, sheʼs actually onto something this time.” Terry laughed again. “Huh. ʼThis time.ʼ Thatʼs funny.”

“No, itʼs not, dude.” I flipped my dozenth can onto the growing, leaky pile that had avalanched onto the carpeting a long time back. Since Terry had kept up with me, even after his head start, I figured he was losing it.

“Nah. Seriously. Sheʼs figured out something about time, Birch says.”

“Birch says a lot of stuff, Terry. You should know that.” I released orally some of the gas the cheap beer had infused into me. “Maybe he meant it was about time she finally came up with something that wasnʼt totally crap.” That one struck me as simply hilarious.

Terry laughed, too, but not very sincerely. “Dude. No. Itʼs some kind of new understanding of the nature of time. Something. You know me. I donʼt get it at all. But Birch is real excited. Heʼs been building stuff to test it all out for a month, more. I think he was started back in November. Camping out in the lab, heʼs so excited about it.”

“Youʼll believe anything.”

“Ask him yourself.” Terry belched, too, not for the first or the fifteenth time that night. “Told me he was coming over here. Once he meets with Fairchild. Damn late for a faculty meeting, if you ask me.”

“Tonight?! I have to endure Birch tonight?”

“Dude. Do ya good. Make you forget about Jen and everything.”

Which of course just brought it all back, and I felt sick.

Then the doorbell rang. Birch had arrived.

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

Planetary Romance, 2

Itʼs my birthday today. I am 57 years old. No, donʼt bother leaving heartfelt good wishes and congratulations in the comments. Itʼs not really worth the effort. Itʼs the weekend, Janet-time, and Iʼm offline. I just mentioned the anniversary to permit me to say that Iʼll give you a gift in my honor (rather too much like an Anglo-Saxon king, the ring-giver). Hereʼs the next bit of Slaves to the Lesser Moon. Part 1 was last Sunday.

That next summer was endless. Both of us went home for the break, both of us to work and earn some cash for the next yearʼs tuition and stuff. My family lived in St. Cloud, northwest of Minneapolis, while she came from a little town just north of Milwaukee, Hartford. It wasnʼt a bad drive (I did it ten times that summer and never thanked my mom for the use of the Camry), about six hours, mostly on 94 and 90, then just over an hour on two-lane into Hartford. But her folks werenʼt about to admit we might be sleeping together (we werenʼt but wanted to by then), so I had to get a motel room when I visited, or sleep in the car, and get her home by two any morning, even Saturday night. Besides, my boss at the video store kept scheduling me for ten and twelve days in a row, right through weekends, ten and twelve hour shifts, too. Good money, but no time. Once I drove down to see her, right through the night, arriving about 7:00 A.M., because we both had that Thursday off, left about midnight and drove straight back home to sack out for only three and half hours before doing the opening shift on Friday. We texted just about nonstop from May until we got together again at school late in August.

The next fall was really cozy. She stayed in the dorms (cheaper, and her folks insisted), and Terry had found the Den of Iniquity at a much better rent than the first pit had cost, so we roomed together, each with a separate bedroom — and that came in real handy. Ter didnʼt even mind how Jen took over the bathroom, and her roommate was a real pro handling the random phone call from home for the absent daughter. Maybe too cozy. Jen kind of started acting like a regular wife or something that winter. Trying to fix me up, change me. Not that I was perfect or couldnʼt use some improving. But she kind of let herself go, too, finding that frosh fifteen by February, when second semester started, and somewhat more into that spring, and hitting me up for cash for clothes and stuff. I didnʼt mind, really, but Terry gave me the knowing eye, especially when I had him cover the whole rent in April.

That was my junior year, of course. I stayed through at school after spring semester, taking summer classes, trying to keep my college career down to just four years, even with the teaching requirements (what else is an English/Lit major going to do with his life? If only I had known…), and working a student-loan job in the Union. Bussing tables made me want to dropkick my fellow undergrads everywhere right into another universe especially made for careless slobs. Or make them clean their own crap over and over.

When summer came, Jen went home again, and we texted just about the same amount as always, but I was too busy to travel to Hartford, even though Pashitakua was really closer to her place than St. Cloud. Any time off, I just headed out to the river and dreamed of old times on the Mississippi, even though Mr. Clemens had piloted waters a lot further south than I was, fishing. And texting Jen usually.

That fall she came back different somehow. She looked slimmer to me, sexier. She spent more time in her dorm room. Studying, she said. And she dropped back home at least one weekend a month through first semester, too. Over Christmas break, I wouldnʼt hear from her for two, even three, days in a row sometimes, no matter how many little texts I sent. And then in the dead cold of January Interim, she let the ball drop: we were done. Sheʼd gotten close to somebody back home over the summer, and it turned out she liked him better than me. Jack. Old school friend since fifth grade or something. (I wasnʼt really listening but fuming when she talked about all this.) Farmboy, I guess, since he hadnʼt gone off to school anywhere and was ready to marry her whenever. Jack.

And we were done. Just like that. Stupid me. I hadnʼt had a clue.

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

Reptilian Serendipity

I churned out four thousand words, more or less, for my November novel on Monday, with poor Hunter unluckily arrived on Tsyriel, and I found myself faced with the necessity of inventing my first creature inhabiting the strange new world. (Yes, you are stuck having to learn more about the ongoing writing project for NaNoWriMo.)

In the few hundred words I put down over the weekend, I had already established that Tysriel has (at least) two moons — after all, there must be a minimum of two for there to be Slaves of the Lesser Moon. And, yes, one of the moons is large (full on the night of Hunterʼs extraordinary transition) while the other, visible even in daylight (so far), is a mere crescent, and significantly smaller (I think it also orbits the planet more distantly and slowly). Furthermore, the stars lie more thickly, lushly and colorfully around the new planetʼs sun (which, by the way, shines more blue-white than our good old yellow sun, perhaps disgorging higher amounts of hard radiation, too — I havenʼt decided about that yet). The Milky Way (if it is our galaxy) is a broader, more opalescent (thereʼs a word I need to remember for the text) band of glittering dust across a third of the sky. Writing all that — late on Friday, for about an hour on Saturday, and then Monday morning — was pretty much just some florid description. But the first creature was going to be an action scene (of one kind or another).

The image that started everything yesterday.

I wrote earlier that I intend for my long-suffering hero to endure a long time, alone, at first, in order to introduce him to this world and to toughen him up sufficiently to survive and not be merely discarded as fat and worthless once he does encounter the humanoids (and his difficult lifestyle is also meant to inspire me to keep up with and improve the necessary workouts this fat and worthless carcass I inhabit desperately needs*). I had decided that there are going to be bird-people, but also that the humanoids were of reptilian or lizard stock, not mammals (and I am still of the intent that mammals either donʼt exist on Tsyriel or at least are very rare, thus marking Hunter as more odd to the natives and more lonely to himself). The lizardliness of the natives is the reason their words hiss so much (like “Tsyriel”), and I just wanted to make them really, really alien (and different from the usual Burroughsian planetary romance).

With all this preamble, a faithful reader may be wondering what the title of todayʼs post has to do with anything. Well, I expect you can (or currently think you can) grasp the “Lizardly” half. But what about “Serendipity,” a word I first encountered in the name of the folk-singing Sixties group, the Serendipity Singers? For the lexically challenged, letʼs deal with the word itself first. My Dictionary program defines serendipity as I learned it from the singers a long, long time ago — “developments from circumstance that work out in a beneficial or happy manner” (Dictionaryʼs actual definition appears in the picture above). Now the question is: so what was my happy circumstance?

A month ago, probably early October, I decided to use my well-gotten gains at the time, falsely believing that I would somehow continue to substitute at a regular rate (which has puzzlingly and troublingly not turned out to be the case), to re-subscribe to some of the magazines I had permitted to expire for retirement and let drop by accident since (Time, in particular). And most of those new, revived subscriptions have started putting magazines in the mailbox many days each week, as October drew toward a close and November began. I enjoyed my first renewed Astronomy, several issues now of the TLS, and an initial reintroduction to The New York Review of Books (this most recent one with an excellent article probing problems of the current Supreme Courtʼs radical decisions) and The London Review of Books (Janet and I had a good time going through the LRBʼs renowned, disconcertingly amusing personal ads Friday evening).

from the Science News website

Monday morning I picked up my first Science News in more than a few years, the November 6 issue, where inside on page 9 I saw an interesting article about “giraffe-sized pterosaurs.” Instantly, the tiny seeds of inspiration wafted into bloom: Hunterʼs first nemesis on Tsriel would be giant flying reptiles (I even stole from and enlarged on the colorful image — reproduced above from the original National Geographic version of the story — click the picture to see the story). The only question/problem I really had to face was how an unarmed, newly arrived earthling would defeat or at least send away such a hideously huge predator. I am pleased that I did discover Hunterʼs accidental escape, truly fitting to his college-student beginnings.

(Intrigued? I wish. But I was pretty pleased with myself how neatly and appropriately it worked out. Now if I only knew why thatʼs how it works out… The process of invention just never stops. Each decision or innovation just produces an army of consequent issues, all clamoring vociferously for resolution.)

Sorry for all the updates focusing on the evolving novel, but that is where my mind is this month. However, if I meet the challenge and finish the book this month, then it should no longer preoccupy my every waking and sleeping thought.

*And I am fat (if I hope not entirely worthless), too. Having just recently gone through the annual HealthCheck 360 that Janetʼs company now requires for their health insurance program, as of this year including spouses, I found my numbers had fallen from my formerly marginal but comfortably healthy zone to a disgusting low that I have to rectify by next October. The Lovely One has made great strides getting herself into good shape again (she is after all “The Lovely One”). I have a long climb back to the realm of the healthy to make, too.

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

Planetary Romance, 1

Okay, I have nothing else to put up today, so here is the beginning of my November NaNoWriMo novel, Slaves to the Lesser Moon. I am going to write on the planetary romance genre tomorrow, but briefly, in such stories an earthman finds himself translated/transported (I do prefer the Shakespeherian initial choice) to a bizarre and barbaric other planet (Mars, Venus, the interior of the earth, one of the moons of Jupiter or Saturn, or a planet elsewhere in the galaxy or universe). Usually, this hero is already stalwart, steely-eyed, resourceful, a trained fencer, slim-hipped (a favorite Burroughsian description) an altogether male-perfect. With thanks to my nephew Ryan, I went a different way…

At some point in the long, drunken evening which would be my last on this earth, I stood at the window of our apartment, unstable and wobbly, and looked out across our small collegiate town but dimly lit in this ecological age, the sulphur streetlights reflecting from the hard winter snow, and gazed upon the distant stars. Would I be happier now if I had realized then that I was looking upon my destiny? But no glimmer of the future or the past echoed in the aching chambers of my thoughts. Then I turned back from the dark, swigged my beer and collapsed into tears.

That evening was no party but a wake. Only a few hours before, my world had collapsed, and drink what I might, I couldnʼt avoid the dreadful weight of that disaster.

I had staggered home to our cheapjack apartment, where Terry was just hanging out, a couple of dead soldiers on the coffee table in front of his overweight carcass, the current Keystone sitting by his head on the back cushion as he texted furiously, the TV blaring another overly loud car commercial. I stalked over to the fridge and hauled out my own can of the cheapest beer in the supermarket, popped it and plopped on the worn-out overstuffed chair.

“Whassup, bro? You were gonna be out all night, you said,” Terry never even shifted his eyes from his phone, both fingers still punching away madly. I muted the tube.

“She dumped me,” I coughed, the words themselves choking my throat.

“Jen?” I nodded mutely, sucking down a huge gulp of salty sour brew. One eye rotated my way and caught my repeat of the labored nod behind another big swallow. “Jen? Jen dumped you, dude? … Kidding? Right?”

“Nope. No joke.” And I finished the can, pitching it toward his on the table. Rising to fetch another, I snarled, “Itʼs over, dude. Done.”

“Jen? She dumped you?”

I just flipped him off with the hand on the fridge door as I reached within.

“Really?” My roomie was always remarkably slow about human relations. “Jen?” An ex-frat boy, he still kept up on his dues. “Dumped you?” A campus legend suggested that, freshman year, heʼd continued seeing a girl through first semester whoʼd dumped him at Boom Night second week in September. “Dude!” And she kept telling him every time heʼd show up. “That girl didnʼt know a good thing when she had one.” But she kept letting him take her out, too. “I feel for you, dude.” Until he finally figured it out.

I was back in the chair, sucking out my second third of the next can with its successor in my other hand. “Thanks, man.”

He was still texting. “Wanna talk about it?”

“Not particularly.” And I finished that can. Sent it to join the three musketeers on the table, sending one of them to the carpet.

“Sure.” He nodded as I popped the third. I took the first drink slower, smaller, too. Then I started telling him all about it.

Jen was a year younger than us, a junior that January. Iʼd met her in class, spring of her freshman year, Geology, which we were both taking to get a required science credit out of the way. She was an art major, which suited my English/Lit, and the prof had let us team for fieldwork assignments (everyone teamed with one or two — he assigned so many rocks to find no one person could ever do it all alone). Sheʼd been the one to notice me, and the one to make the first move, striking up a conversation in the Union where weʼd both gone for lunch, along with half the student body, right after class. Having queued for the burgers and fries, Iʼd grabbed a table for myself off in the northwest corner, no windows, but no bothersome jerks either, and sheʼd followed from the salad bar, sat herself down without asking and said, “Youʼre in Geology, right?”

She had the brightest red hair anyone had ever seen — natural, not dyed, it looked — so there was no missing her in class. Iʼd spotted her toward the front as I made my way to the back. Besides she was hot, maybe a little heavy, but if sheʼd put on her freshman fifteen, she had to have been a stick in high school. Besides, I looked like a generic soph slob that spring, unshaved, hair gone pretty long, same clothes three days in a row, still getting used to living off campus in an overpriced flat with three other equally clueless guys I barely knew (one of whom was Terry). It was a miracle a girl this goodlooking even spoke to me. And her she was sitting at my isolated table, giving me those girl looks that say she thinks you might have possibilities.

We talked. Looked over the Geology syllabus, noted the tons of fieldwork indicated and agreed to partner if Dugan approved (and of course he had). I asked her out a weekend later, and that was it. We were an item, a couple. After three semesters I had a college girlfriend.

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

Wasting Time

Can you find the dot for Pashitakua?

Although I planned out at least half the November novel yesterday, sitting in my truck in Dubuque, waiting for the proper time to pick The Lovely One for lunch, I canʼt claim much other progress (yet — itʼs only 3:30 right now). I now know there are predatory bird people on my imaginary planet (Tsyriel?), and the Travelers are lizardlike. I even have a reason in mind for the tentative title (in other words, how itʼs possible to be enslaved to the lesser moon). Furthermore, my callow youth must (as of this/yesterday morning) spend some time alone after his arrival (I think heʼll need some toughening up, both in character and body, if heʼs going to survive. But what if he doesnʼt? Hmmmm… intriguing novelty…)

And I am concealing from you a whole bunch of stuff, too. Actually, I wrote about two hundred more words on the new Søren and Judah extension once I got some of those Slaves to Lesser Moon ideas down in black and white (and which I will now need to transfer, orally, I assume, to the computer this afternoon). I spent some pointless time, first thing this morning, on the NaNoWriMo website updating my own and my bookʼs profiles*, which helped to shape a few ideas I have been baking in the semiconsciousness. On the other hand, those were minutes I could have spent putting words that count into the actual text before I had to leave the house for errands and Dubuque. (Well, this weenie nonwriter whines in personal excuse, I did work on the story, a little bit, in Dubuque.) But I also wandered around Samʼs Club (not finding the almost-but-not-quite-affordable Bose noise-cancelling headphones** I had seen only weeks ago) and ate with Janet. And the drive both directions gave me plenty of empty time for imagining and figuring things out (except it didnʼt work quite that way). Then I came home, all intent to Get To Work.

However, upon restarting the old iMac, I discovered that antagonist Daniel had dully kept his wits and understanding tendentiously narrowed and his argument stolidly repetitious, so I had to make one last attempt to rectify his deliberate and wish-fulfilling philosophical, historical-biographical and Constitutional mistakes*** (thus consuming irrevocably almost a half hour of my life). However, I think I should stop wasting time attempting to open a closed mind. It is a futile task, experience indicates, and probably just frustrating for the tightly constrained opponent rather than at all enlightening (my first clue of his utter resistance to reason should have been his automatic recycling of the tepid, uninspiring, incorrect and refuted assertions from our week-old exchange on this blog). If I mean to complete the novel, time-wastes are just that, particularly unproductive ones like this. (Although I like sharpening my own ideas, doing so recurrently with such a dull whetstone doesnʼt take me far; and he is the only gleam of intelligence among his selfRighteous fans — click their names to see what I mean; mct88 is particularly dim and meanspirited.)

So instead of hopping to the novel, chop chop, here I am putzing with this post (and struggling with myself to avoid discussing the positively disheartening and reactionary results of yesterdayʼs election). A conflict of promises to myself seems to be brewing. Unfortunately, both in my consciousness and already exerted effort, the blog has precedence. Perhaps… if I… just… stop. Now.

* And I quote — “PLANETARY ROMANCE.  Wisconsin college student, persuaded to test new principles in physics, is zapped from our world to another planet, supposedly another time. In this new world, he first becomes enslaved by Travelers, strange beings dissociated from the numerous other cultures and intelligent beings who compete for survival amid the remnants of a dead society.”

** You try living (even at my advanced age) with rapidly increasing tinnitus. As you may have guessed, I might, even in these recessional days, expend cash to slow the inexorable and surprisingly speedy advance of the raucous psychological static.

*** Actually his incorrections are not so much mistakes as deliberate (and perhaps even conscious, certainly not conscientious) falsifications of reality — simply to make his own desires appear (untruthfully) somewhat possible. Itʼs a very poor, selfdeafeating excuse for argumentation (and research… and reality).

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