Thursday, October 28, 2004

A couple of wierd findings at work recently:

Yesterday at the National Archives I came across some aerial recon photos taken by the crew of a PB-1 Ventura medium bomber. The series starts with a black and white view of an airplane wing and the ocean stretching as far as the eye can see below it. A few photos in, a dot appears. It turns out to be a Japanese bomber flying a few hundred feet above the water. Waterspouts from the Ventura's cannon trail the Japanese plane. Then the photos record a large splash -- the enemy bomber is toast. The Ventura circles its kill. The images are very odd because the crashed plane was low enough to have avoided cracking up on impact with the water. So instead it sank, perfectly intact, into a position just below the waves. Usually such picture series' are difficult to get a spacial sense of -- especially in black and white and when the ocean is involved (the ocean makes many things clear to the naked eye appear to be dots). This was different. Somehow the depth of the water put the entire scene into 3D. It was as if the plane had been instantly transported fifty years in time to when it would appear in National Geographic with a hotshot diver swimming through its fueselage. The series ended with the Ventura crew shelling the submerged plane, the killing of which became the subject of a particulary self-congratulatory report also in the file.

Today I came across the case file of a soldier killed in Europe in 1945. Nothing was unusual about this case except that his family requested that he be transported back to the U.S. with his brother, who had also been killed at the same time. Sad as this is, and as unusual as it might seem likely, a single, rubber stamped word in the file extinghished that hope:


They obviously needed to put that word so often on the casualty files that they made a stamp out of it.

It gave me the chills.
A couple of wierd findings at work recently:

Yesterday at the National Archives I came across some aerial recon photos taken by the crew of a PB-1 Ventura medium bomber. The series starts with a black and white view of an airplane wing and the ocean stretching as far as the eye can see below it. A few photos in, a dot appears. It turns out to be a Japanese bomber flying a few hundred feet above the water. Waterspouts from the Ventura's cannon trail the Japanese plane. Then the photos record a large splash -- the enemy bomber is toast. The Ventura circles its kill. The images are very odd because the crashed plane was low enough to have avoided cracking up on impact with the water. So instead it sank, perfectly intact, into a position just below the waves. Usually such picture series' are difficult to get a spacial sense of -- especially in black and white and when the ocean is involved (the ocean makes many things clear to the naked eye appear to be dots). This was different. Somehow the depth of the water put the entire scene into 3D. It was as if the plane had been instantly transported fifty years in time to when it would appear in National Geographic with a hotshot diver swimming through its fueselage. The series ended with the Ventura crew shelling the submerged plane, the killing of which became the subject of a particulary self-congratulatory report also in the file.

Today I came across the case file of a soldier killed in Europe in 1945. Nothing was unusual about this case except that his family requested that he be transported back to the U.S. with his brother, who had also been killed at the same time. Sad as this is, and as unusual as it might seem likely, a single, rubber stamped word in the file extinghished that hope:


They obviously needed to put that word so often on the casualty files that they made a stamp out of it.

It gave me the chills.
Lawdy lawdy. These past few days have been nuts. Yesterday morning went like this:

I woke up to the sound of my wife snuffling: she was sick and needed to sleep. The puppy had gotten spayed the day before and was not supposed to be playing or moving much at all. She was alert and wanted to play. I carried her downstairs to keep her from tumbling (tumbling appears to be the most efficient means of ascent for a puppy). She went outside, did her business, and ate rocks for a few minutes. Then I fed her non-rocks. Then I passed her off to my wife to try to get myself ready for work. Then the phone rang.

It was Daryl. Daryl the painter. Daryl was calling to confirm that he would without a doubt be coming up to the house to work all day -- the sun would be shining and the paint would have ample warmth to dry. Daryl talked for 20 minutes, requesting a detailed account of every minor aspect of the current paint job & architecture, slurring, talking up his painting skilz, telling me he was going to take care of me, not to worry, he was on the job. Note for the record: this is the same Daryl who, having promised to come over Saturday morning, had called at 2:30 (having just woken up) and begged forgiveness for oversleeping. This was also the same Daryl who, just Monday, flaked on dropping by to give us an estimate. While Daryl slung bull-jive, upstairs I could hear the dog running around and chewing the room apart while under the dubious supervision of my (mostly sleeping) wife. Daryl promised to be at the house no later than 9.

I hung up the phone, amazed that Daryl appeared to be up before noon.

I went upstairs again, removed bra and underwear from the puppy's mouth, and sent the wife off to bed elsewhere.

I probably drank a hasty cup of cold coffee (my norm these days). I might have showered.

Then I packed the puppy up and put her into the car. As I walked around to my own side of the vehicle, the puppy followed me and was happily waiting for me...on my seat.

Note to file: I can think of nothing less mobile in the world than a 40 pound puppy with a 4 inch laser wound in its belly.

"Move, dog," I said.

She wagged her tail.

"Move," I said.

She remained.

I had an idea.

I closed the door, ran inside, grabbed a treat, ran back to the car, put it on the passenger seat, and waited expectantly for her to follow it to her own seat.

Instead, she yawned and sat down.

I contemplated the possibility of driving the car from the passenger seat, or straddling her and taking the speedbumps slow. Neither idea seemed practicable. I gazed contemplatively at my wife's car, wondering if if we still had that tow rope in the trunk.

I snapped my fingers, ran in the house, grabbed duckie, ran back out to the car, flung open the passenger side door, and squeaked duckie hysterically in the dog's face.

She made a laconic attempt to snatch duckie in her mouth but, failing that, resorted to staring at it balefully.

"That's it," I said to the dog. "You must move."

My pronouncement had no effect, so I grabbed the leash, affixed it to her collar, and was just about to manhandle her across to the other side, when she calmly got up and stepped across.

5 minutes later we were at the vet.

"I need tranquilizers," I said, breathlessly.

The receptionist looked me over cooly.

"For my dog," I said. "And she'll need one of those plastic cones around her head to keep her from chewing open her wound."

They could do the collar but we'd have to wait on the medicine. They'd call back later.

One plastic collar and five more minutes later, I was back at the house.

I woke the wife, passed off the cone-headed dog (who was drunkenly bumping into things), and finished getting ready to work. I ran downstairs, grabbed my computer, grabbed my wallet, grabbed my keys, grabbed my jacket, grabbed a banana, and proceeded toward the door. Then I noticed something.

"What is that?" I said. There was a sizeable splotch on the carpet to which, for some reason, I applied the tried-and-true technique of scientific identification known as "touch-n-sniff".

It was dog shit.

From my shoe.

That was now on my hands.

I'd stepped in it outside somwhere.

With a howl, I flung off my shoes, cursed like a sailor, ran upstairs, washed my hands, retrieved backup shoes, ran back down the stairs, ran outside, revved up my car, and drove away very very fast.

I looked at my watch. It was 7:15 in the morning.

Oh, and of course we never heard a thing from Daryl.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

This Morning, 6:22 a.m.

Me: Good morning, doggy!
Doggy: Pet me!
Me: How was your sleep, doggy! Did you sleep well, doggy? I bet you did!
Doggy: Pet me!
Me: Gues what, doggie? You get to go to the vet today!
Doggy: I'm hungry.
Me: They're going to cut off your nads!
Doggy: Are you going to spill a cheerio?
Me: You won't ever be able to have babies!
Doggy: This shoe smells delicious.

There you have it, folks. A snippet of my morning. We dropped Cali off at the vets to get spayed. She happily trotted throught the front door of the vet, and happily followed the nurse to the play pen in the back. I have a feeling this will be the last time she happily does anything in or near a vetrenarian.

One thing I don't get about human/dog interaction is this: why do we feel the urge to talk to our dogs in squeaky high baby-talk voices? Dogs don't under stand baby talk any better than normal speech. And emotion, being expressed differently between dogs and people (as between people to people, too), cannot be assumed to be innately obvious from tone of voice. So why the automatic use of this stylized speech pattern?

I don't stoop to this level with children. Far from it. I try to talk to children in the same tone I use with adults (kids love it -- its flattering). Sure, the pet psychologists say that you should "never use cross words" on your dog or (god forbid) speak their name angrily. Instead your voice should always be gushing with love and affection.

Somehow this translates into people like me adopting the voice of Mickey Mouse when talking to dogs. One must talk 5 octaves higher than normal, and accentuate every pronouncement with an implied exclamation point. This requires some practice, but fortunately I, Clay Sails, have provided some useful practice phrases describing the bad old way of handling person-to-canine communication and the good, new way:

Good: Doggy, please don't run in front of the UPS truck!

Bad: [smacks dog on head]
Good: It would be pleasing if you would consider an alternative to using the couch as a latrine.

Bad: [smacks dog on head]
Good: You must have been hungry for having eaten a whole pan of lasagna off the table!

Bad: [smacks dog on head]
Good: Biting the hand that feeds you is not the wisest approach to garnering nourishment!

Friday, October 22, 2004

A Vacation of Volcanoes and Smoke, Part 2:

We sped out onto the San Joaquin plain before noon Friday. I owed Unbreakable a knife to
replace the one that slipped down a latrine during a drunken fish-gutting
demonstration in Yosemite (see my post from August 26, 2003), so we had big plans
for hitting a mall or a blacksmithy on the way to Tahoe. Instead we hit Sacramento
traffic and so much wildfire smoke that visibility was reduced to a few hundred
feet, all thoughts of a knife forgotten.

Not that there was much to see: the San Joaquin Valley is a flat, dusty waste
full of impoverished agricultural villages and junk cars. Sactown, as Sacramentans
like to call that slice of dubious paradise, has some nice downtown areas and
certainly isn't as shitty as Fresno or Modesto, but its still an undeniable hole. No
disrespect intended. (heh) The smoke just accentuated the normal vast quantities of
airborne particulates, toxic pollutants, aerosols, ozone and pesticides that
typically obscure the sun. Coupled with the bloated grapefruit sun, it heightened
the sense that we were closing in on some apocalyptic locale out of Burrough's "City
of the Red Night". In reality, we were heading to a wedding.
We climbed past Sac and up into the dry western foothills of the Sierras. We stopped
at Donner Pass to read signs about a group of Mormons or other pioneers who ate each
other one winter in the 1840s. By the time we left, I was quite hungry. Nervous at
the way I was looking at her, so she dropped me off at a gas station to procure
chile picante corn nuts (available, apparently, only in California).
We dropped into the Tahoe basin only to discover that its usual vast, pristine blue
was nowhere to be found. Instead, there was a brown layer of smoke even thicker than
we'd found in the valley. Even though neither Unbreakable nor Magic Fingers are the
sort of people to let trivialties like a cloud of choking smoke ruin their party, I
began to get nervous. Wedding days are stressful even for the most easygoing of
people, and can be quite fragile.

But my nervousness was uwarranted. From the moment we arrived until the moment we
slipped out early Sunday morning, everything went well. The wedding was held at a
wooded lodge with several sleeping cabins and a large main hall. Unbreakable & M.F.
had assembled the usual cast of characters: their respective parents & step-parents,
ex-private eyes (myself and Unbreakable's uncle), a transvestite or two, the son of
a diplomat, a few aloof teenagers, and several kids hopped up on hormones and Diet
Pepsi. There were also many friends of mine, including my Attorney & Amber, the
Captain, AirMark & Amy, and, of course, the enigmatic and prenially lovely M., whom
I dated for several years but have not heard from in years since a brief summernight
conversation in which she described evolutionary methods of inducing insanity in
ants and the scientific value of pesticide bombing trees in Borneo.

The first night we knocked off a healthy quantity of good scotch, tapped a few kegs,
played ping pong & pool, and wound up forming what my Attorney likened his "Cracker
Harem" owing to the fact that he (a descendent of Persian royalty) suddenly found
himself in a hot tub with five scantily-clad white boys, a quantity of cheap cigars,
and much intoxicating booze.

Sometime around 3 a.m. my Attorney and I shuffled off to the room we were sharing
(with our women), whereupon in the semi-somnolent silence he became possessed by a
sudden and very uncontrollable Fit. The trigger for this episode came in the form of
a relatively mundane, if keenly audible, fart. Somehow, the wrongness of breaking
silence by breaking wind in such a small, public space occupied by two women and
one's chum inspired him to release in accompanyment a tiny giggle, which cut its own
path through the still morning air. I returned somewhat nervously, less I become
implicated in this sordid and juvinile enterprise. That did it. The wrongness of
giggling after such a fart compounded the wrongness of the loosing it to begin with
and only increased the hillarity. He laughed a bit louder. I found myself unable to
refrain from doing the same. All hell broke loose. Soon we were bellowing and
laughing with absolutely no restraint, much to the amazement and (I daresay)
astonishment of the ladies in the room. Their stunned silence -- so effective at
stunting impending zaniness when accompanied by visual cues -- was worthless since
the room was quite dark. We were forced, instead, to *imagine* the exponentially
increasing trouble we were by the minute finding ourselves in. In the way of similar
Fits since time immemorial, the enforcement of self-restraint only resulted in
pregnant silences, which were soon filled with resumed and (if possible) even more
vigorous laughter. This lasted perhaps twenty minutes or so. Needless to say, I
blame my Attorney entirely. He was under much pressure as a result of his being (did
I mention?) the officiant of the wedding the very next day.

The wedding took place on the lawn in the late afternoon as the sun was failing. A
row of pumpkins served to delineate the aisle. The audience sat respectfully in
folding chairs. I had been under the impression, up until the previous day, that my
role in this wedding was confined to:

a) giving moral support to the participants and

b) ensuring that the booze supply did not exceed allowable quantities for a party

Upon arrival I learned that Unbreakable's request that I "say something" meant that
I was to speak in defense of the union during the ceremony proper. (Yes: "say
something" was the sum total of the instruction/explanation I received on the
subject, despite U.B.'s protestation otherwise). Nevertheless, it went well. Whereas
mailaway ministers can sometimes lack either the intimacy or the professionalism
required of such a service, my Attorney (Reverand of the Universal Life Church)
lacked neither. The service included testaments from three members each of the bride
and groom's friends/family (of which I was a member on the groom's side), and when we'd had our peace, the Bride and Groom said their homemade vows to one
another. I know what you're thinking: homemade vows = automatic cheese. But you
would be wrong. They had each secretly written their vows and delivered them with a
tenderness and unselfconscious I would not myself have been able to muster. The
bride, who despite proclaiming an acute shyness has ever been possessed by a most
remarkable quantity of public courage, sang a song to the groom. Again, normally
brides and grooms singing to one another at a wedding = cheese, but this was very
tender and successful. By the end of the vows, there was not a dry eye in the place.
The Reverand had to dab his eyes with his bible (or maybe it was the latest
paperback from Donald Westlake) in order to see enough to conclude the service.
Then people did something with candles as they processed out (I mean in), and we let
the real gluttony begin. There was even more fine whiskey to be sampled, and much
pot luck food. There was a dance contest in which my affected striptease beat out
the bride's brother's worm. There was the bride's stepdad who thought it would be
more fun to make the group wait to give toasts while he sat on the couch and watched
the end of a football game (that he could barely tear himself away from in order to
get photographed for the pictures). There were hundreds of individualized cakes
baked to order by the bride and groom (note: by their admission, this is *insane*. Never try it.).
Eventually we all ended up back in the hot tub again but this time with numerous
women, a suave Cubano, a felon, the Bride and Groom, several IT programmers, and at a bottle
of champaigne. Somebody suggested that we make more toasts and swig from the
community bottle. Three hours and as many bottles of champaigne and wine later, the
damage had been done. Somehow during the extravaganza, a toast was made to my
nipples, somebody toasted artifice, another person squares or parolellograms (I
forget which). A few of the booze bottles had become partially refilled with a new
form of sweet intoxicating liquor that might be dubbed "agua de tub water". Over
the course of the evening, we managed to squeeze a record number of people (perhaps
12?) into a 6 person hot tub. It was a gas.

Sometime well after midnight I bade the waterbound revellers adieu (as we would have to leave
before dawn the next morning) only to find that not only my wife, but also my
ex-girlfiend M. had heeded the rallying cry of the Captain in his
everlasting fight against the Dread Pirate Booze. They lost in the usual manner (by slipping into the drink) and become marooned upon a solitary couch, beneath a single blanket, with nothing to sustain their morale except the Captain's numerous war stories. Moments after sighting this strange and uncharted shore, I, too found myself snuggled up on that couch, shivering from the water and the mountain air. Despite the very real possibility that my presence would disrupt
the newfound solidarity developing between my wife and my ex, for a few moments I was
simply content to be warm and in the presence of three V.I.P.s. As we spun our stories up, somebody (perhaps me) put in my CD "King of the Hobos" which my Attorney had brought and I never heard it sound so good. As "Leaving Cheyenne" came on I suddenly realized that its plaintiveness matched my mood exquisitely. I'd be leaving all my good friends before sun came up. This wedding, which I had looked forward to for so long, was over and had ended well...

Just as I was beginning to feel nostalgic, my Attorney stumbled in, looked at me, looked at the Captain, the ex-girlfriend, and the wife, offered some timely but
unmemorable comic relief, and stumbled out again. This
reminded someone on the couch how just minutes prior to my arrival the groom's
intoxicated brother had flopped drunkenly out of the hot tub and onto the floor in
front of them. Nude. With his thingy (he publically calls "The General") hanging

With that charming image newly etched into the brain, it was off to bed for my wife and I.
Next morning we passed the Captain and M. who had managed to reach the hot tub from the couch (a sort of reverse pilgrimage to my own journey). We said our goodbyes, and headed down the mountain to Reno. We ate Denny's served up by a dynamo that resembled a woman but operating at such a hyperkinetic level so early in the morning that she could only have been a machine. I checked in my new gun (this being the fourth time out of four trips to California I'd somehow come into the possession of a firearm), and off we went in a cloud of smoke.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

A Vacation of Volcanos and Smoke, Part I:

We hit the ground running. Tacoma was socked in by its daily dose of foggy drizzle. Saturday I hung out with the nephews, played marbles, played Yuh-gi-oh, caught up with the sis. On Sunday we all trekked out to a pumpkin farm, wandered around a corn maze, and shot corn from a corn-cannon. Watched in amazement as Goats traversed a goat-scaffold high above our heads, bleating for food and shatting green pebbles upon our heads.

Monday we circuited the icy vastness of Mt. Rainier. To those of you who have never seen this mountain: go right now. I know you're busy fiddling around on the computer, but Rainier is a volcano and could blow any second. Given this unsettling fact, take a peek at Seattle and Tacoma, too, because if Rainier goes up in smoke, so do they.

What makes Rainier so dramatic is that it can be viewed from sea level. Other 14,000 ft peaks (Whitney, the San Juans, White Mountain etc) are only visible from the high plains or are themselves surrounded by dramatic peaks. Added to this is a year-round blanket of ice and snow not present on most mountains in the lower 48 and there is nothing else like it. Other mountains in the Cascades are just as beautiful and dramatic, but not quite as tall.

Vastness aside, Rainier also has smaller-scale wonders: alpine meadows, deep, shaded river valleys beneath the blinding bright snowcap, cliffside views of black conifer forests and isolated granite basins, high-velocity streams, etc. From one vantage we could see the blasted hull of St. Helens off to the south. A plume of grey smoke curled out of her fancy new lava dome.

The next day we went northwest of Tacoma to the Olympic peninsula -- a fat thumb of land jutting out into the Pacific capped with one of the most isolated and dramatic mountain ranges in all of the world. The Olympics are remarkable not because of their size, which is moderate, but because they were so full of glaciers and rain that even during the great age of exploration they remained fairly impassible to white explorers. A temperate rainforest (one of the wettest spots on earth) blankets the western fringe, and 60+ glaciers cap the steep upper ridges of the rain. The numerous river valleys are thickly forested and full of salmon and bears. Even to this day there are no roads across the mountains but only a few leading to the inner edge. We drove up to a vista point on Hurricaine Ridge and caught a fair (if foggy) glimpse of the Olympics, as well as an even more impressive view North of Vancouver Island & B.C. proper. The clarity of the day, plus groves of banana yellow aspen in the valleys added to the splendor.

We headed south on the 5 the next day, stopped to pay obligatory homage to Powell's books in Portland (a store that puts all other brick and mortar bookstores to shame), and made Eugene in time to spend a quiet early dinner eating pub food and drinking fantastic craft beer along the bank of the Willamette with a couple of my wife's friends. (There was not a cloud in the sky nor even a whisper of a chill to the air). It was a perfect late summer day in early fall.

That night we got a room in Ashland, a surprisingly urbane (translation: yuppie) community just south of the Rogue River and north of the California border. Ashland is home to many ski bums and an annual shakespeare festival. You can buy cinnamon scented everything, aromatherapy candles for every ailment, and all the expensive cheese you can eat. Next day we crossed the Siskyous, marveled at the dry ugliness of Yreka (which had been snowbound on our last pass through), giggled at the town of Weed, and tried hard to forgive Mt. Shasta for looking like an ugly, muddy mess (this volcano is as tall as Rainier and at certain times of the year is as lovely, but not before the first winter snow). We dropped down into the Sacrament0/San Joaquin valley, made the traditional (and quite obligatory) stop at In N' Out in Redding, wistfully glanced at Mt. Lassen in hopes that it would explode for us, and continued on our way to my aunt's house in the East Bay.

My aunt's place is in the hills above Concord at the base of Mt. Diablo -- a dead volcanic core whose virtues I have previously extolled on this site. My aunt's house is situated above a rolling, grassy canyon of a kind that other states may possess but California has perfected. We looked at photos of her Africa trip and sifted through artifacts left to me/us by my late grandfather. I picked up a couple of antique pocket watches, another gun, and an absolutely exquisite collection of slides he made of L.A. grafitti in the 80s. He was a true artist and I am quite convinced that this collection is the work of genius.

From there, we set off into a wall of forest-fire smoke to Lake Tahoe for the wedding between Magic Fingers and Unbreakable. As the hour is late and your eyes are no doubt sore, that will have to wait for Part II of My Vacation of Volcanos and Smoke.
I'm back. Miss me? Good. I missed you, too.

My vacation ended last Sunday but I got spooked by a new DoD policy of automated internet "auditing" in which someone or some machine tracks online usage and sends a report to someone or some machine, who interprets it and dishes out demerits. So I've been staring wistfully at my Blogger bookmark, wishing I could regale you with events the week past, ruminations on life, society, and things profoundly hillarious.

But today all that ended. I have once again re-asserted myself against the onslaught of institutional depersonalization. Need proof? You're reading it. Need more? Here ya go:

[Clay Sails extends his middle finger at Big Brother]

There, I feel better.

Now if I could just keep my boss from sneaking up behind me...

Friday, October 08, 2004

This is just wrong.

What to say.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Just in case you miss me when I'm gone to the West Coast next week, you can view pictures of my hairy nostrils, yellow teeth, and double-chin here:

(Note: If you're confused about which one of the people is me, I'm the pink one. My dog Cali is the golden one, and my wife is the cute blonde.)

This time next week I'll be driving down the 5 on my way to the Bay Area, and thence to Tahoe for a wedding between two of my main peeps, the indomitable Unbreakable and his lovely bride-to-be, Magic Fingers.

Unbreakable and I go way way back to when we were high school newbies. He was a skinny 9th grade transfer student with crispy hair, starched Bugle Boy jeans, and a calmly intelligent demeanor. I took an instant dislike to him. Not only was he the kind of guy that girls automatically liked, but he had a skater thing going on, which never interested me much. Fortunately he turned out to be a poser.

I think my crappy impression lasted about 15 minutes until I realized that he possessed not only a superior intellect, but had an acute sense of mischief to match. Somewhere between the end of those first fifteen minutes, and the 16 years that followed, he turned into one of my staunchest and most unmitigatedly awesome pals. The adventures have been too numerous to recount, but suffice to say they have included much wild gesticulation, laughter, scheming, larceny, arson, bawdiness, intoxication, physical violence, property destruction, happenstance, splendor, reverie, candidness, whimsy, etc. etc. The list goes on. How to sum up the contours of a great friendship? Impossible. As with many friendships, distance has put gaps in our relationship, but only on the most superficial level. Unbreakable is like the Rock of Gibraltar of friends.

I met Magic Fingers my first week of college. I noticed her immediately because she was a smokin' hottie with a contagious laugh and an unpretentious demeanor. Stuck in gridlock on a bus ride to Hollywood (prior to which I had consumed 87 tiny cups of tea), she and my pal Shrub Lad hit it off. She soon introduced me to her shy, doe-eyed roommate, whom I dated for two unforgettable years, and the rest became history. Throughout the rest of our time in college, Magic Fingers and I were always tight, sharing many adventures, friends, and good times. She was always someone I could talk to about anything, who wasn't judgemental or hurtful, but who also always kept a 16 oz can of whoop-ass in reserve to pour over the heads of deserving dumbasses. She also earned the distinguishment of being able to routinely drink crusty old sea dogs like myself under the table and, catch this, even learned to play my favorite geeky card game Magic: The Gathering (though she gets the name Magic Fingers because she is one of the most expressive piano players I have ever heard).

Where was I besides lost in reverie?

Ah yes. Marriage.

Even though I was friends with both of these people independently of one another, they somehow avoided meeting one another until years upon years after college. The one time Unbreakable visited me in college, Magic Fingers was visiting family in Sactown. I would like to claim all responsibility for their impending union, of course, but in truth is they owe it more to their mutual friendship with the Captain, whom Magic Fingers and I had gone to college with and who ended up rooming with Unbreakable in Oakland. It is probably better that neither Magic Fingers nor Unbreakable met earlier, or at my suggestion, for each has scrupulously avoided taking any love advice from me and, although perhaps were worse off for it in the past, certainly could not have done any better for themselves than this.

Congrats to both of them, of course. If anybody needs me a week from Saturday, I'll be the teary-eyed shmo in the front row.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004


Ug. Its 3:50 p.m. Its warm. There is no sunlight on me at all. I went from a boring spreadsheet to a boring meeting and back in a span of 7 hours.

I need to mainline some genseng. Like all "traditional medicine" it is supposed to work miracles where modern pharmaceutical science has been reduced to a useless laughingstock.

Ha ha.

Give me the no doz, too.

And show me a funny movie.

Maybe "Naked Gun" or "Dumb and Dumber".

Beam it onto my eyelids.



Monday, October 04, 2004

I had a simple problem.

My Excel 2002 document wouldn't sort.

I'm not an Excel novice. I use it to make charts and sort data. That's about all. Usually I don't have a problem.

But my master document "sort" function (which I've spent many moons tweakng) simply won't sort. Not even the nice row of data I conveniently labeled "sort column".

So I winced and accessed the "help" menu.

Aside from recieving utterly valueless and confusing quantities of pointless, jargon-ladened suggestions made by what appears to be an animated paper clip with eyeballs, this proved useful...for wasting half an hour.

30 minutes later I did the unthinkable:

I called my in-office I.T. department to ask for help. (Note: I.T. people, for all of their good intentions, are better at sucking down lattes, carrying boxes, and sarcastically asking you to be sure your computer is plugged in before reporting it broken, than actually diagnosing or fixing a problem.)

"Hi, this is Clay," I said, nearly hanging up in despair before the friendly I.T. person upstairs even had a chance to respond.

"Hi, this is Stephanie," said the I.T. person into the speakerphone.

"You don't happen to have an expert in Excel up there, do you?"

"No, not really. Marvin? Are you busy?"

"I'll be right down," Marvin said.

"Er, don't bother unless you're sending someone who is really an expert -- I know the program pretty well and don't want to waste everybody's time."

"Well, I guess we don't really have anyone. Sorry!"

"Don't worry about it. I'll just flounder."

After hanging I did what any rational human being would do at this point: I re-accessed the in-program "help" file, hoping beyond hope that the word "help" might actually be worth something.

It wasn't. See, "help" files are never written by people who have experience working with actual (frustrated) users of the program in question. Companies simply hire tech writers to guess what problems might be, and explain them in the most pointless and complex fashion possible using terminology written by code monkeys speaking a form of gibberish for which no one has ever found a Rosetta Stone).

So, I contemplated suicide.

Then, realizing that hope was not lost, I accessed the Microsoft online help desk...and got exactly the same menu that existed in the "help" file of the program. I also found myself adrift in a circular series of self-referential "troubleshoot sort" options which promised that help was only a click away...

...after ten minutes I realized that the only helpful click for my tech-ills would be the sound of a round locking into the chamber...

...but firearms are frowned upon in the workplace so:

I did a quick scan of my bag for pills and other poisonous substances. I came up with five (loose, hairy) ibuprofins, lint, seven peanuts, and $.23 in change. Nothing approximating a fatal dose.

I postponed my appointment with sweet oblivion and decided to throw myself itno the warm and fuzzy embrace of Microsoft itself (i.e. the people).

I'm a customer, right?

My tax dollars paid for this software, right?

They are "customer service", right?

I dialed the help phone number, long distance...

...waded through a phone tree full of unecessary and longwinded explanations of options not pertaining to my question...

...listened to an all-instrumental version of YMCA...

...speculated that the half-box of Chlorets on [my co-worker] Walter's desk might shut down my kidneys if gulped down with a quadruple Vente espresso...

...would a 9' fall down an elevator shaft do the trick?...

"Hello?" I said.

"Welcome to Microsoft's Product Solution Center Where We Do Everything We Can To Ensure That You Get The Most Out Of Your Microsoft Product. May I have your name, sir."

"Clay Sails."

"What is the nature of the problem?"

"Very simple: my Excell 2002 spreadsheet won't sort. The option is greyed out."

"Your Product I.D. Number, beginning with the first twenty-three digits?"


"I'm sorry, sir. I don't have that in my system. Please repeat your Product I.D. Number"


"I see it now. Oh. I see that it is part of a group vendor package. That means they are your primary support contact. Have you spoken to them?"

[pausing, taking deep breath, sharpening a pencil just in case I need it to pierce my cranial membrane]


"Well, you have two options. The first is you can contact our Helpful Free Online Support Center Website at H-T-T-P-colon-forward slash-"

"Tried that."

"Your other choice is we can set up a Solution Management Account which has an Initial Fee of $25-"

"Oh, come on. That's out of the question. I have a very simple-"

[*click*] [<------------------- my customer service rep hanging up]

"-problem and the U.S. Government, which gives you billions of dollars already, isn't going to cough up $25 just because I can't sort a bloody...hello? Hello? Helloooooooo?"

[dial tone]

Well. I wish to thank Microsoft. See, I'm no longer suicidal.

For the remainder of the day or until I forget my latest IT Customer Service Fiasco, I'm 100% homicidal.

If anybody needs me, I'll be sharpening my pencil.

We have lost the Iraq war, we just don't know it yet.

We just aren't admitting it.

I've avoided admitting it myself publicly for several reasons, neither of which are particularly valid. Partly I was hoping that I was wrong and partly I was (am) worried that criticism will weaken resolve at a time when our efforts required unity of purpose, however initially wrongheaded.

It doesn't really matter what I think right now, the facts are the facts, and we're losing very badly.

See, all we're pinning our hopes on are these upcoming elections in January. The administration is claiming that thugs and ruffians are trying to derail the democratic process from going forward. They send mixed signals as to whether everyone will be able to participate or not based on the safety (or lack thereof) of many polling places. They talk as if the increase in violence lately is just a pre-election spike. They declare victory in Samarra after "securing it" for 48 hours (watch and see: the Iraqi National Guard will quietly slip out of the city again when the cameras are trained elsewhere). Meanwhile, our forces are poised in big, secure firebases outside of the main population centers, separate from the populace, hated. We're trying to rebuild a country from within our big, isolate firebases and woefully insecure armored columns. We're throwing money at corporations to do the difficult work of rebuilding but demanding no real accountability. We still haven't identified the identities, let alone the motivations of the people are fighting. At first they were "Saddam Holdouts", which was blatanly a lie. Then they were "Die Harders". Then they were terrorists. Then they were militant religious nuts. Now they are Al Qaida. Tomorrow they'll probably be the Pillsbury Dough Boy angry that Dr. Atkins was an American.

But the reason I think we've lost is not because of the constant vague story about whom we are fighting. Nor the inflated body counts. Nor the constant lies and refusal to back away from even the most blatantly erroneous justifications for war.

The reason I think we've lost is because the "thugs" and "killers" we're confronting don't give a damn about the election, however flawed (or not). Its results will have absolutely no effect on them, because they don't recognize the process as legitimate. Their destabilizaiton campaign won't pause for a moment no matter who is elected. They are fighting a guerilla war, while we are simply grasping at "good enough" elections to provide us with a rationale for leaving Iraq before the roof falls in.

Unfortunately, the chandelier just fell on the victory parade, and lady liberty looks terrible with all that plaster and blood in her hair.

Weep, America.