Thursday, August 30, 2007

How can you not love that face?

Go check out all the cute things my kids are doing at my wife's blog: Keeping Up With the J's.


Hilly Kristal, founder of the club CBGB. He died on Tuesday from complications with lung cancer. He was 75.

While his club was closed and he moved on, what he did for American music will never be forgotten.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The awesome list

I have decided, just this very minute, to make a list of the things in my life that are awesome.

My kids
My wife
My parents
My extended family (mostly)
My job

The list grows. Feel free to post your own awesome list in the comments.

UPDATE: I should point out that while this list was not in any particular order, and was kind of intended to be kind of humorous, what with the Pantera and all (though I will stomp your face if you say otherwise), I would be remiss if I didn't put the list in the order it should appear:

My wife
My kids
My wife
My parents
My wife
My extended family (mostly
My wife
My job
My wife
My wife

See, told you the list grows. Oh, I should probably add Mythbusters to the list, too.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Housebroke is a term that a coworker reintroduced into my vocabulary yesterday. In our usage is means that home ownership is breaking you financially, mentally, and/or physically. I find it to be quite apt and applicable to all three categories.

We went to Home Depot last night. My mother-in-law and her boyfriend gave us a housewarming/college graduation gift of a $100 gift card at Home Depot. It was a thoughtful and practical gift. Last night we put some of it to use. We're still attempting to prioritize some things, but we were able to purchase a few things we needed.

One of the things I did while there was price some lumber. I did a rough estimate on the amount of lumber I was going to need to put together the bookshelves. After marrying up my estimates (plus extra for scrap) and the prices I saw there, I came up with a pretty conservative estimate of $150 - $200 for supplies. Which is well more than I want to spend on bookshelves in the kid's room. So, now I'm thinking I'll look into either doing some garage-sale shopping or looking for a cheaper set of shelves and then modifying/reinforcing them to suit my needs.

But modifying another set doesn't accomplish my ulterior motive -- cutting my teeth on a project like this. See, we have a dining room that we're going to use as a reading/computer room. I want to build some floor-to-ceiling shelves in that room and wanted to use the kid's room project to learn. The reading room project is going to be another $100 or so more expensive because I plan on using more expensive materials. But it's going to be in a room a lot of people will see (everyone who visits), so I need to ensure it looks nice.

Anyway. I'm housebroken. But I'll keep all of you updated.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Planning a project

I am attempting to prioritize the things we've decided that we need. Of the most important things we need are bookshelves. We had to leave behind four or five shelves (they were in pitiful shape anyway). But we have tons of boxes of books, and we use a lot of books quite extensively. I've got to get our stuff up.

So, I've decided to build some built-in bookshelves. I have found a complex, but very cool, project, and I have also found a simple, not-quite-as-cool project. I am going to start with the simpler project and build a short set in my kid's room.

I'm not sure when I'll be able to get to it, but I'm going to price materials tonight. I'll be detailing the construction process.

In other news, mowing a third of an acre with a push mower sucks.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Military? Blogger?

If you are in the military and you are blogging, pay attention to stories like this.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

How do they make them so yummy?

[Editor’s note: Imagine, if you will, the light, upbeat 1950’s era, educational film music in the background. A stainless steel table is in the foreground with beakers and bottles neatly stacked off to the side. A pleasant-looking man in a white lab coat is standing behind the table, looking down at some papers on the table. He looks up suddenly as though taken slight unawares.]

OH! Sorry, I was just going over some test results. We here at Soylent Green Industries are always looking at ways to better serve our customers … Why, that’s you!

We get lots of questions about the steps we take to continually improve our products. Having just released a new, low-fat product: Soylent Green Light, we decided to speak with you, our consumers, about the quality control that goes into producing our yummy treats.

First of all, one may ask, “How exactly does one control the amount of fat in Soylent Green?”

Well, that’s easy. All Soylent Green is processed the same way. We start with our base ingredient and remove all the fat and other icky things. Then we can process the remaining into our Soylent Green paste. You might see your mom use this while baking. It’s concentrated! Once we have our paste, we can add as much, or as little fat back into the product as needed before cooking.

We’re able to maintain a relatively consistent flavor because of our secret ingredient.

Thanks for coming by to see me. You kids stay off the streets and stay in school!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Fixing a door

The problem I am faced with now, when it comes to home repair, is that I have basically no money to put into anything. I'm at a place where I can only fix the things using the stuff I already have and tools I already own.

One of the things that's been bugging me since we moved in is that our master bedroom door wouldn't close. The door jam was busted. I couldn't pay to replace the jam, so I cut out the busted section of the jam (photos 1 and 2). I had a skill saw and motivation. It was on.

I had some wood left over from making shelves in the pantry. So I was able to replace the cut section with new wood.

Ideally, I would have had some nice wood glue and wood biscuits and a table saw to cut out the section for the biscuits ... but, nope, none of that stuff. You can see in photo three on the left my cut was far from perfect.

With no wood glue or biscuits, I decided to use dowels -- which I had from a long time ago and had recently unpacked.

The hardest part was attempting to drill holes in the jam that match up with the dowels in the replacement piece of wood. I got decently close.

After getting the piece in place, I filled in the gaps with wood putty (which I've owned for a long time) and let dry overnight. I let the putty sit overnight and then sanded things down very well. You can see a before and after pic at the left. I had to trim off some areas with the skill saw, but it all sanded down quite well.

You can see the mess at right. I don't have any chisels or a router. So I had to chip, cut and cajole the the wood out for the latch with a knife, a screwdriver and a hammer.

It's not a professional job. But it works just fine.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Something new

Welcome to the first installment of what I hope will be at least a bi-weekly event. One of the reasons I became a government civilian as opposed to staying active duty is so I could get more personal writing done. Well, I haven't been entirely successful at that. But, what I plan to do here is post a short story bi-weekly.

I have a common theme, at least, I have a "world" from which I will be writing. The idea is that each story will have a Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits kind of feel.

Comments and constructive criticism are welcome and highly encouraged.

So, without further ado, I present story number one from the:Entirely Untrue Tales From Surreality

#1: 20/20

Back in the late ‘80s, I knew this guy named Topher.

First off, what the hell kind of person calls himself Topher? I mean, I know it’s a derivative of Christopher, but what kind of a man chooses to go by Topher? Chris is still an acceptable name; hell, even Chrissy is more masculine than Topher. It’s like asking for anal sodomy.

Anyway, there was this guy named Topher and I guess he was the kind of guy that willingly went by that name.

Topher wasn’t a bad guy, but he was the kind of person who thought very highly of himself without much cause. He was quite the freeloader because he pretty much refused to work an entry-level kind of job. I guess he suffered from some degree of a sense of entitlement, but the more you talked to him, the more you realized that the guy honestly believed he could provide a better service if he was the chief rather than the indian. His primary flaw was that he wouldn’t do the work to get him into those chief postions. He lacked the motivation, but he also felt that others were crazy if they didn’t recognize his inherent leadership qualities.

So he refused to bus tables at Shoneys. And he turned down the offer to load boxes on trucks for UPS. He was appalled at the idea of sweeping floors at the local newspaper. Why wouldn’t they make him manager? Didn’t they understand that he could manage logistics better than they were doing? Sweep? The only sweeping he had in mind was to sweep into the reader’s hearts with his fantastic feature stories.

We put up with his stunned commentary nightly at IHOP. At varying times in the evening, he’d roll into the parking lot on his bicycle, and mooch some coffee change from the person most willing or least unwilling.

The main reason we put up with Topher is because he’d long been a part of the crew. And when he wasn’t rallying against a system that couldn’t recognize his genius, he did have some pretty funny things to say. In a far more cruel way of thinking, he also served as a reminder of what a lack of ambition could do to you – his greasy hair and unkempt clothes often signaling a recent spat with his parents.

To those of us who knew him well, it was shocking when he announced that he’d finally found a job.

“Gentlemen, the coffee’s on me tonight!” Topher said as he slid into place in our normal booth.

“What’s the big occasion?” Chuck, who probably tolerated Topher best, asked.

“Yeah, what’s up, Toph’?” He hated being called Toph almost as much as he hated being called gopher, but some habits die hard. I considered it a term of endearment. He didn’t flinch at the nickname, so it was obvious he was in a good mood.

“I found myself a job,” he said through an ear-to-ear grin.

“No shit.” Dave intoned. He was the one who barely put up with Topher, but then he barely put up with anybody.

“Really, I did.” He paused for a moment as the waitress meandered over. He ordered coffee and asked that she put our coffees on his ticket. With raised eyebrow she walked off to get a carafe.

“Look. I’m 21 years old. I’m stuck in my parent’s house, and they’re not going to let me live there forever.”

“Ah, so they told you to get a job or they were going to kick you out.” Dave grinned devilishly.

“Yeah, that’s pretty much it.”

“So, what kind of job is it? Where you gonna be working?” Chuck steered back onto topic.

“It’s … ah … in sales.” Topher nervously rolled a plastic cup of creamer between his index finger and thumb. “I start tomorrow.”

“Where at?”

Topher looked down and spoke into his cup more than at us, “Selling magazines door-to-door.”

“Huh,” Chuck exhaled the exclamation as more of a point than a question.

Dave chuckled a little and asked, “Are you going to be doing that around here?”

“No, actually we drive around and hit different cities around the country.”

“Hmm. That actually sounds kinda cool,” I said. “I don’t think I’m cut out for sales, but I’d love to drive around the country like that.”

“Yeah, that’s the main reason I decided to do it. They pay for your hotel and everything. You get your commission daily. I figure I could do pretty well.”

“What if you don’t do well? I mean, are they going to let you starve?” Again Dave played devil’s advocate, but asked the question we were all thinking.

“If you don’t do well in the first two weeks, they’ll pay to put you on a bus home.”

“Well, sounds pretty cool. You’re leaving tomorrow?” Chuck asked.

“Yeah, it’s pretty quick turn-around, but that’s all the time they’re staying here.”

We spent the rest of the night talking about how cool it was going to be to see Miami and New York. Never once did we consider the potential down sides of the job. Topher didn’t stick around too long that night. His group was leaving early in the morning. So he said goodnight and left 10 bucks for the coffee and tip, figuring he owed us at least that much.

Hindsight’s a strange prism through which to view the world. It offers us a clarity that none in the present possess, but it’s equally tainted by wishful thinking.

Surely if someone knows that something bad is going to happen, they’d do something to try and stop it. If we knew that we weren’t going to ever see Toph again, we would have pleaded with him not to go, or spent a longer time with him. Maybe we could have followed them and tried to coax him into coming back home. But we didn’t know. And we didn’t try and stop him.

About three months after that night, Topher’s cousin came in to see us. He was a semi-regular and it was nice to see him again. His name was Tom. We didn’t know him very well because he was a couple of years younger than us and ran with a different crew. But he and I had dated twin sisters and I had heard a lot about him through my date. I liked him based on the second-hand information I had been told, so when I saw him, I immediately raised my hand and waived him over.

Rather than the reciprocal wave I as expecting, a scowl crossed Tom’s face and he began to march purposefully toward our table. It was apparent that something was wrong and to punctuate that, Tom bumped into the table hard.

Staring down at the four of us – me, Chuck, Dave and Lou – he began to accuse, “I don’t know what the fuck you guys are doing, but it’s not fucking funny. Not at all!”

“What the fuck are you talking about,” Dave yelled back. We were all looking at each other across the table, hoping to see some understanding in one of our friend’s eyes. Well, all except Dave, whose first reaction to any threat is to jump in headfirst. Dave easily had 50 or so pounds on Tom, but anger was fuelling the younger man.

“Don’t act like you guys don’t know.” He stared at each one of us. Dave was standing next to him, looking down on Tom. But it didn’t deter him. “I can’t believe you bastards have the audacity to sit here and act like you don’t have a hand in this.”

“Again,” Dave, putting his body right against Tom, spoke slowly, menacingly. “What … the … fuck are you talking about?”

“Topher’s gone missing. How can you guys not know that?”

We all looked at each other again. Everyone looked as shocked as the other to hear the news. But by this time, we had drawn quite the audience and Ali, co-owner of the restaurant, made his way over to us.

“Guys, I don’t care what you argue about, but you need to take it outside. I won’t have a repeat of what happened before.”

Things were generally pretty good between our regular group and the IHOP management. But about three months before this, Dave got into a heated argument with some guy in another booth and wound up knocking him out cold. Right in the aisle between booths. So, it made complete sense that Ali was trying to prevent something like that happening again. In fact, in retrospect, it’s startling that he let us still hang out there at all.

Amazingly, Dave was the first to let cooler heads prevail. “No, Ali, I’m fine. Nothing’s going to happen. We’re cool.”

“Are you sure? I’ve got the cops on speed dial, Dave.” Ali didn’t look entirely sure, but he was always really good to us and we could tell he didn’t want to make us leave.

“Yeah. I’ll make sure to go outside if we decide we need to settle things differently.”

Tom also looked a bit shocked. I realize now that he probably showed up that night fully expecting to get his ass kicked.

“Yes,” Tom intoned. “We’re good.”

Grabbing a chair from a nearby table, Tom pulled up and joined us.

“What’s this about Topher going missing?” I asked.

“Are you sure you guys don’t know shit about this?” Tom seemed to be torn between what he thought he knew and our own shock at what he was telling us.

“I don’t even know who the fuck Topher is,” Lou piped up.

“Then shut the fuck up,” Dave said. Lou, who had never gotten along with Dave very well looked like he was about to say something else, but Chuck fixed him with a stare and slowly shook his head.

“Tell us what happened,” Chuck said to Tom.

“A couple of weeks ago Tom gave me a call. Which was kind of odd because we hardly ever talked before he left. But he told me that I was the only person he thought he could trust to talk to.”

“What the hell’s that mean,” Dave asked.

“Just wait, I’m getting to it … ”

“Let the man talk, Dave,” I said.

“Yeah,” Chuck said. “What do you mean, trust?”

“I kind of thought the same thing when he said that to me,” Tom explained. “I asked him why me when he knew you guys much better. That’s when he got weird.

“So he’s been out on the road for a while and the magazine crew are near Atlanta. He’s telling me about how they spend all day walking around neighborhoods, knocking on doors, trying to get people to buy some fucking magazine subscriptions. He said it wasn’t so bad. In fact, he said he was pretty good at it, but a lot of ‘burbs have laws against solicitation and cops harass the salesmen all the time. Any time they saw the police, they had to cool their heels.

“There on the outskirts of Atlanta one day, and there’s a lot of cops around and no one in his group is getting any work done. A guy on another crew had been arrested a few days before, so everyone was edgy. Topher said he was off by himself and that’s when he saw … them.”

Tom took a moment, clearly struggling with how to proceed.

“More cops? Gang members? Who’d he see,” Dave pressed, but he was obviously interested in finding out the rest of the story. He could be a narcissistic prick, but Dave always enjoyed being a part of someone else’s drama.

“It was dusk,” Tom began again slowly. “Topher said he hadn’t been able to sell anything all day because of all the police. He was with a couple of other guys, but they were within walking distance of their motel, so he broke off to see if there was anywhere he could go and at least get one sale in before calling it quits. After a couple of tries with no luck, he said he stopped in a Circle K and picked up a 40. There was a small park a block behind there and he walked over and sat on the swings for a while.

“As he sat there, he noticed a couple of young teenagers who seemed to be smoking some pot next to a dumpster behind a strip mall. They were pretty well hidden by trees and buildings and he could only see them from his angle in the park because of a small break in the woods.

“Topher thought it was kind of funny and mentioned that he almost decided to walk over and try and get some himself. But then he noticed something else. He said that three more guys suddenly showed up. Not walked up. They were just there. He saw the kids jump up and try and throw their joint down and hide their shit, but the three guys moved in on them. Two of them picked up the boys and shoved them, head first into the side of the dumpster.

“I was freaking out when Topher told me this. I thought, police brutality or something, but then Topher started crying. Crying man! He said it wasn’t like just getting smacked on the head. It was like some movie or something. He said their heads just smooshed like overripe melons. That’s how he explained it – like fucking melons. He fell off his swing and tried to stand up, but felt like his legs couldn’t support him. So he sat there, fighting off nausea.”

“Holy shit. You’re shitting us. Topher put you up to this shit, didn’t he? I mean, come on, heads crushed?” Dave plainly didn’t believe him and Chuck looked quite skeptical also. However, I felt a creeping feeling running up my spine. I was an avid newshound.

“No guys, I heard about this shit,” I said. “It was all over the news a few days ago. Kids found with their head crushed. The cops couldn’t find out how it happened. It looked like anvils had been dropped on their heads, but there were the dents and the brain matter on the dumpster. They don’t know how it happened and think it might be some kind of weird new gang initiation gone wrong.”

“Yeah, that’s it,” Tom said. “I’ve got the newspaper column right here.” He reached into his coat and pulled out a couple of crumpled pieces of newsprint. He smoothed out one of them and pointed at it. “See, right here – ‘Police seek lead in brutal murders,’” Tom read.

“OK, so Topher witnessed a murder. But I don’t know how that has anything to do with any of us,” Dave said.

“Well, that’s what I’m about to get to – and I really wish you’d let me finish my fucking thought.”

“So he’s sitting there on the sand beneath the swing just freaking the fuck out, about to puke and trying to push himself up and run away. He’s a good bit away and figures they hadn’t seen him, but just as he’s getting back on his feet, all three of them look at him.”

Tom paused and took a long drink of coffee. His hands trembled slightly. He looked at me. He looked at Chuck. He looked at Dave.

“They looked right at him. And he said they were you.”

It should come as no surprise that it was quite a shock to hear that someone had seen you commit a brutal murder. And more shocking still that someone had convinced someone else that you were capable of such a thing. My friends and I sat in silence and Tom finally continued.

“He turned and ran. He said he ran straight to the motel and got the door open as fast as he could. His roommate yelled at him, but he started puking as he pushed open the door to the bathroom. Not knowing what to do, Topher played sick and called me. And that began a daily pattern. He’d usually call every day at five.

“It took him another day, but he finally started going on the road again. The crew was moving down the road to Chattanooga. When they got there he figured things were better. Still shaken, but knowing he had to get out, he started knocking on doors. He got through half a day and started feeling better. He even made several sales. But as he was walking into a heavily wooded subdivision, he saw someone out of the corner of his eye. He kept walking, and the guy, about 50 yards away from him started walking also. Keeping pace with him, but not coming any closer. Topher started freaking out and when he looked right at the guy, well, he told me it was you, Dave.”

“That’s fucking crazy, man. I’ve never even been to fucking Chattanooga. Why the fuck would I go there just to freak out Topher and come back here? What’s the point”

“I gotta say, I’m feeling the same way Dave is here,” I said.

“Look, this is what Topher told me, man. Every day he’d go out and every day he’d see one of you. Sometimes more than one. Sometimes more than once a day. Chattanooga. Then Nashville, then Memphis, then St. Louis, then finally Chicago. The last time I heard from him was in Chicago. And the last time I heard from him he said he saw all three of you, the closest you’d ever been. That was last week.”

“So, what? You thought you’d just come down here and confront us? You think we’d admit to something if we had actually done anything?” Dave spoke softly, but was quite upset. “Ask anyone here. We’ve all been here, either all of us or most of us, every day the last three months. How the hell could we have made it to Chicago, hell, Atlanta and back and still hang out here?”

“Let me ask you,” Tom said, “if Topher was so convinced that he was being chased by you, how do I know that you’re you?”

“I know I’m me, I think therefore I am, and all that jazz,” I said. “Could it be that someone’s trying to trick him? Could it be that he saw something and someone was elaborately attempting to confuse the issue?” I asked.

“Dude, it could be fucking anything,” Tom said. “All I really know is that Topher was scared out of his fucking mind and now he’s missing. None of the magazine people have seen him and there’s been a police report filed. Guys, I thought this was some practical joke or some shit. Really, I couldn’t figure out how you pulled off the newspaper and TV news about those teens, but I was really hoping it was a joke. I’m more freaked out now than I was when I walked in here.”

“Tom, I feel bad about Topher, and it’s weird shit, but what the fuck can we really do? The cops up there are on, I’m sure he’ll turn up,” Chuck did his best to be reassuring, but he was obviously still shaken by Tom’s story.

“I hate to say this, but I’m not really bothered by what happened to Topher so much,” Tom explained. “Last night I got a phone call. I though it was probably Topher, but when I answered the phone all I could hear was static. Before I could pull the phone from my ear, I felt breathing on the back of my neck and a voice – almost not in the phone – says, ‘No one can know.’ I’m shitting bricks right now to be honest, dudes.”

It was like a thousand spiders were crawling up my back. I had a strong bullshit filter. I had a strong sense of disbelief. But there was something in his voice that broke through those barriers. And obviously everyone at the table was shaken. We looked at each other.

“Well fuck you, fuckers.” Lou said. “I mean, if ‘no one can know,’” he made quote gestures, “then I’m now fucked.” He chuckled and said, “Shit, I don’t know what the hell you guys are freaking out about. Topher’s probably getting his cock sucked somewhere in Chicago and we’re drinking coffee in an IHOP telling ghost stories. Well, I’ve got one for you. I’m going the fuck to my girl’s apartment and I’m gonna get laid. Good-fucking-bye.”

I got up and let Lou out. “Jeez. I don’t know what the fuck crawled up your ass, but good riddance.” He gave a one-finger salute as he walked out.

“I told him we’d score a dime tonight,” Dave said. “His panties are all in a bunch because he’s not high yet. I highly doubt he’s on his way to his girl’s place right now.”

“Dudes, can one of you guys put me up tonight?” Tom asked. “I’m really freaked.”

“I’ve got a futon in my living room. But Katie gets home around 2 in the morning, so don’t freak out,” I said. “I’ll leave a note on the door so she’ll be quiet, but I don’t need you going and pissing her off.”

“Thanks man.” Tom was visibly relieved.

We all picked up our stuff, paid our bills and shuffled out the door.

Chuck lit a smoke and Tom bummed one from him. “I’ve got two pack in my car. Let me get ‘em before we get on the road.”

“We all rode in Dave’s van,” Chuck said.

Tom drove an old Ford LTD. It was a monster of a thing and wasn’t in the greatest shape. But it was still a thing of beauty. He unlocked the door and started to reach in to grab his smokes then stood back up and looked back at us. “I’m still going to take you up on the futon, but I think I’ll drive over. I don’t want to have to wait on someone to take me back over here to pick up my car.”

“Fine,” Dave said. “Can we just get the hell out of here so I can get some sleep?”

We climbed into our vehicles and began the drive to my place. Chuck and I lived in the same apartment complex and Dave lived just two streets over. Tom pulled over and waived us to take the lead. I lit a cigarette and leaned back. It was a good 20-minute drive to the house.

It’s not like we lived in what you would call an urban area, but there was definitely a line between what was city and what was country – basically separated by a bridge that spanned a couple of miles worth of Gulf water.

About a minute after crossing the bridge, Dave slammed on the brakes. My to-go cup of coffee slammed into the windshield. Chuck slammed into the back of my seat and Dave’s stack of driving music crashed against the middle console.

“What the f …” I didn’t finish because I could see in the rear-view mirror. Tom’s car was swerving violently across the road. We couldn’t see what was wrong, but before Dave could flip a bitch and head back, Tom’s car shot off the road and smacked into a tree.

Dave turned his van around and quickly covered the yards between Tom and us. We all jumped out and made our way over to his car. Apparently, Tom had been able to slow down some before running off the road because the damage was pretty superficial. The car clicked and sputtered as though it was complaining about its current state, but we were all pretty sure it could be driven out of its present state. We were more worried about the driver.

“Holy shit, Tom.” Chuck said. “Are you OK?”

“Tom? Tom, can you get out?” I called.

Dave opened the passenger door and Tom screamed.

“Are you you? Are you? Who are you?”

“Shit, he’s gone batshit on us,” Dave said.

“No, I’m not fucking crazy,” Tom yelled. “Didn’t you fucking see them? Didn’t you see you?”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Dave asked.

“I’ve shown some remarkable patience, I think,” Chuck said. “But this is getting pretty fucking old. You’re on something Tom and you need to get some fucking sleep.”

And then an alarm went off. Someone’s watch was beeping. Each of us lifted our arms, almost involuntarily, but the bleeping continued.

“Where is that coming from?” I asked.

Tom killed the engine and we followed our ears and the light beep-beep was apparently coming from the trunk.

“Pop the trunk,” Dave said. He’d picked up a stick and was holding it like a club. “Open the trunk, Bill,” he said to me. “I’ll bash whatever the fuck’s in there if I have to.”

I opened the trunk and almost added my dinner to its contents.

“Holy fuck! Holy fuck! Holy fuck!” I yelled and stumbled away.

Chuck was near me, and his constitution proved weaker than mine. He spilled his guts beside the car while Dave stood frozen like some statue. Tom still sat in the driver’s seat and looked at us all in stunned silence.

Lou lay in the trunk. His arms neatly crossing his chest at angles arms were never meant to bend. Nothing was torn. Nothing was bruised. But his body was bent like a ballpark pretzel. And his fucking watch was still bleeping.

“Who the fuck? Dave, who the fuck could have done this?” I yelled.

“We gotta call the police, we gotta call the police right now,” Dave said. “There’s a phone booth back over the bridge. I’ll run back right now.”

“The fuck you will. Let’s grab Tom and we’ll all go back.”

Chuck had finished producing anything but was still convulsing. I patted him on the back and closed the trunk. “Move it Chuck. Let’s get the fuck out of here.”

I moved around the side of the car and Chuck started walking to Dave’s van. I got Tom’s door open and he seemed to melt out of the seat. Whatever drive was in him minutes before was gone. There seemed to be almost no muscle control in his body and I barely stopped him from hitting the ground.

“Come on, Tom. I’m going to need your help.” But as soon as I said that, I noticed a small bit of blood dribbling from his mouth. That’s when I looked at the driver’s seat and noticed a clean tear in the middle of the seat covered in blood. From the hole protruded a long, slender screwdriver shaft. The kind used on construction sites. It must have shot though the seat when he hit the tree.

“Oh shit, Chuck, can you help me? Tom’s really hurt here.” Chuck looked back at me, ashen faced and uneasy, but he began to take a step toward us. Before he came any closer his eyes shot open like fear was blasting him in the face.

I turned and saw that there was a … something … standing on the roof of the car.

It’s odd the things you can remember and those you can’t. For the life of me, I can’t remember what the thing looked like. I mean, I don’t think it quite had a look. It wasn’t amorphous, but I simply could not fix its features. What I remember well though is that it cast no shadow. In fact, it seemed to soak shadow into itself. Somehow strengthening the darkness around us.

There was only a fleeting moment to absorb all of this, though. As soon as I could rationalize what I was looking at, it lurched out, quick as thought, and grabbed Tom from me. I couldn’t see what happened. There was too much black. It was like glob of liquid dark swallowed my immediate world. But I didn’t think on it much then, I turned and ran to the van.

I could smell Chuck before I saw him. Standing in the same spot, his pants wet with piss and shit. There were still a couple of yards between us when I yelled at him to run. And again, it’s odd how hindsight grants us the ability to view things in part or in whole -- to add “what ifs” or “if onlys” to a situation. Reality is seldom that kind. For as soon as the words left my mouth I realized the error.

At the van, Dave had the opened the driver’s and sliding passenger door and was standing as though he were about to climb in and crank the thing up. But that’s not all that was going on. I also saw Dave unhinge his jaw and eat his own face. Dave two perched impossibly on the driver’s side door and the roof, held my friend Dave with one hand, and snacked on his own expression.

This was too much for Chuck, who had turned and started to run as well. But he saw the same thing I did. Or I assume he did. He stopped. And right then, right there, I could see the spirit leave him. I saw the will to fight, the motivation that inspires a man to continue, leak out of him like steam rising from a sweaty body on a cold morning.

And then I saw Chuck descend on Chuck. But I turned back toward the LTD before I saw what happened beyond that. But I think Chuck the thing was what was on the car because it was free and clear.

I ran faster than I think I could humanly muster. I jumped in the seat, I cranked the ignition, and, to be honest, I expected it to be dead. I had seen too many movies. I had had die on me too often in real life. But fate smiled on me and there was a pained growl from the wounded 351 engine. I slammed the door, yanked the gear shift into reverse and slammed the pedal. I pushed myself back into the seat and screamed in pain.

The rearview mirror was empty. There were no beasties in my back seat. I threw the gear into drive and accelerated away before that situation changed. Then I remembered the screwdriver in the seat. Not daring to stop or slow down, I felt behind me. I slowly leaned forward. There was a lot of wetness, but I couldn’t tell if all of it was Tom’s or if some of it was mine. I pushed my fingers against the place the tool had poked me. It was hot, and it stung, but my finger didn’t seem to go into me. It felt like a bad scrape. Maybe a small cut also.

Realizing that I was OK made me think about other self-preservation issues. The van was shrinking in the rear-view, and I couldn’t make out anything other than the vehicle. Nothing else seemed to be moving except the subtle play of light and dark against the horizon.

I pushed the accelerator down a bit more and crossed the bridge. A dockside restaurant and a Circle K signaled my entry back into civilization. And my breathing began to normalize. I made the green light at the intersection at the foot of the bridge, but was stopped at the next street. I took the time to feel back behind me again and begin to push that screwdriver back through the seat.

It was stuck pretty bad and didn’t really want to budge. I put my palm against it and began to push and as soon as the traffic light turned green it began to slowly slide back. I gently pushed while I drove, taking a left turn, hoping to think of somewhere to go. Suddenly my hand and my back exploded with pain.

I screamed in pain and tried to pull my hand around, but it was stuck against my back. I looked up in the rear-view mirror and, to my horror, saw the back seat folded down and saw Lou, pressing against the seat behind me.

There were no words. There were no sounds other than my own. Just Lou’s subtle grin and the movement of his body as he attempted to impale me further.

The pain was excruciating. I began to plead with Lou, to God, to whatever being would listen, but there was nothing. It was hard to think, but I was trying to come up with something to get out of this.

Suddenly, and I’m not sure why I thought of this, I jerked the wheel sharply to the left and Lou tumbled over to the right. Capitalizing on the moment. I hit the brakes and pulled myself forward.

Before I could get the door open, Lou was back up and this time lurched over the seat. But now he looked more like a caricature of himself. His hands ended in points, like spikes. His face had lengthened, the skin pulled tight. But most horrible was his mouth. The lips were there, but inside was nothing. I don’t mean that his teeth and tongue were gone and it was empty, I mean it was nothing. His mouth was filled with nothing and the nothing was trying to eat me.

My ruined right hand came up reflexively. I tried to grab hold of one of the creature’s hands with it, but I had no control over the grip. But before he could reach me, I hit the gas and this time the 351 answered with a throaty growl. Pushing us both back. I immediately hit the brakes again, smacking my forehead against the steering wheel, but opening the door at the same time. I rolled out and began to run, hell, at this point it was a shuffle, to the McDonalds 30 yards in front of me.

The vehicular struggle had not gone unnoticed. I could hear sirens in the distance. I could see people in parking lots staring at me. And, most important to me, I could see the looks on their faces. They were the looks of people watching accidents on the highway. They were the stares of the folks watching CNN’s coverage of the latest catastrophe. They weren’t the horror-stricken faces I’d seen earlier. They weren’t the faces of people seeing anything chasing me.

So I collapsed.

There was time in the hospital. Hand repaired, but I still only have 50 percent mobility with it. My back was scratched and cut pretty bad, but no permanent damage. There was no sign of Dave, Chuck, Lou, or Tom. Dave’s van had also disappeared. The only blood found in Tom’s car was my own. Not having any good excuses on hand, I blamed everything on gang violence. The cops seemed only too happy to have more excuses to hunt down problem children.

But I still live in fear of the idea that no one is supposed to know. What scares me most is that I don’t know what I’m not supposed to know. But I’m sure I know it.

So I drive as much as I can. It seems to make sense to stay a moving target. And I try not to think about the past. The only hindsight I find some comfort in is in my rearview mirror.


Friday, August 17, 2007

The mess of mass communications

There is a great divide in public affairs/public relations in the military.

There are installation Public Affairs Offices and there are major command Public Affairs Offices. I have spent my entire career up until this point working for installation PAOs. Now I am working for a MACOM PAO shop. And I am loving life.

Installation PAOs have a pretty dirty mission. The non-dirty part, the installation newspaper, is the easy part. The hard part is the other two missions – Media and Community Relations. The job there is to either generate media and/or public interest in your installation and events, or to stem the tide of media and/or public interest in your installation and events.

For example, a place like Fort Huachuca, AZ, doesn’t have a lot of “real” Army stuff going on there. That is, they don’t have a bunch of infantrymen or tankers training and preparing for war all the time. But they do have a lot of things happening. In fact, before OIF/OEF, the 11th Signal Brigade, stationed there, was the most deployed unit in the Army. Few people knew that. Army Signal Command is headquartered there also. But the main bill-payer for the installation is the military intelligence school. Huachuca is considered “the home of military intelligence.” Scary, huh?

Anyway, since Huachuca’s nearest big city, Tucson, is a little more than an hour away, generating interest in the installation from media can be tough. You really have to sell what’s going on. And the public? Locally, everyone’s interested. But for really large events, you want those Tucson, even Phoenix, audiences. So you have to push hard.

At a large installation, or an installation with a very important mission, you have too much media interest. And the public is always calling to complain about something or the other. And it’s the installation PAO that has to deal with all of these things. Both selling and stemming.

MACOM PAOs have a much tighter focus. While the installation PAOs have to worry about every single unit and every little thing on the base/post/camp, etc., MACOM PAOs only have to worry about their command.

For example, that Army Signal Command I mentioned earlier? They have their own PAO. And the only things they really have to worry about are selling their command and responding to media questions about their command. This can keep a shop busy, but they don’t have to worry about the hundred little obligations that come with being an installation shop. There’s a lot of freedom.

I do work for a very large and very busy major Navy command. But the latitude I have in accomplishing my job is refreshing.

And, there's still room for comments in the post below.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Formative music

Michele, my sometime editor at Faster Than The World, is currently compiling a list of 300 of her favorite bands and songs on her blog, A Big Victory.

Her posts got me to thinking about some of the formative music in my past. I tend to feel most nostalgic about the music that I was listening to between ages 15 - 22 (or so).

Red Hot Chili Pepper's Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magic was huge at the time. I was still huge into the Misfits and Ramones. Metal, while listened to, wasn't as big a deal to me later in those years. I'd have to say that some of the bands that really make me feel wistful include RHCP, Jane's Addiction, The Violent Femmes, Alice in Chains ... there are more.

So, what I'm driving at here is this: What are some of your favorite bands or songs from your formative ages of 15-22?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

OPTEMPO and me

The operational tempo in my new office is an order of magnitude higher than that of my previous one. The office is more than twice as large and everyone flitters about, constantly busy.

So, my first few days where I couldn't do much of anything ... I feel terribly guilty. Yesterday cured me of that, though. I was so busy. I cannot believe how many irons are in our collective fire here.

But that's a good thing.

Monday, August 13, 2007

I'm just talking 'bout Jesus

Ladies and gentlemen, I present what may very well be one of the lines in comic books, ever:

This heaping helping of awesome brought to by Image Comics' "Loaded Bible: Jesus vs. Vampires." It's apparently been out for a while, but it rocks solid.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Cullen family: 10 ... House: ad ifinitum

Week two is down.

Week one was marked by feverishly paced work matched only by the blistering temperatures outside.

See, the house we moved into wasn't exactly "move-in ready."

I replaced two bathroom faucets, two toilet ballcocks (the pressure sensitive things work wonderful, by the way), put up shelves in our pantry and a closet, and unpacked many a box and set up furniture.

The thing of which I'm most proud is replacing the kitchen sink and faucet. What was here when we moved in was ridiculous. It was a six-inch deep stainless steel sink and the faucet was broken. The spigot had broken off the pillar and the water squirted out directly at you. The hose didn't work, so you had to just barely turn on the water to wash something or get a drink of water.

I replaced the sink with an acrylic mold (white), ultra-deep sink that is 8 1/2" deep on one side and 10" deep on the other. I replaced the faucet with a big, arching, stainless steel faucet.

This is the sink.

This is the faucet.

Anyway, I about killed myself that first week and there is so much left to do.

If week one was marked by manic activity, week two was about the opposite. While there was tons of stuff to do at work, I couldn't get anything done here at home.

I washed my car and truck today. And it felt good.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

When you're busy making other plans

Man, the schedule around here is hectic. It seems even more so to me right now because I don't yet have a grasp of the workflow. But everyone here is pretty busy.

Filling out all the paperwork to get in-processed is also a bear. You have to bounce between four different buildings several times to get paperwork to the right people and get the right signatures for the right place. It's as bad as if I were on active duty again. But, I'm almost done with that.

I know a lot of y'all are also dealing with oppressive heat, so I won't go into that other than to say that it really sucks. We could really use some rain out here.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

It's not so bad

Back for day two, so the first day of work wasn't so bad.

Actually the majority of the day was spent inprocessing. I still have quite a bit of that to do. Everyone seems great and I can't wait to get to doing what I'm actually supposed to be doing. Should be fun.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Back to work

I start the new job today. Wish me luck.

It's been challenging getting everything together at the house. Not that everything's together -- far from it -- but we're getting there.

I doubt I'll have internet access today as it usually takes several days for gov't employees to get their computer access set up. So, see y'all later.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Unpacking sucks

Just in case you didn't know or something.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

All my internets are belong to me again

I am connected.

How are you guys? I missed y'all.

So, we never got a U-Haul. At around 10:45 a.m. they called us and said they had a truck ready, but it was in Valdosta -- a two-hour drive from where we were living. So, I had pretty much accepted my fate when Budget called and said they had a truck in town. We wound up going that route.

I tell you, we had such horrible customer service from U-Haul that I'll never, NEVER use them again. Their concern for my plight was nil. The guy from Budget called us three times that morning to try and hook us up. Customer service, man.

We're here now and it's nice to finally have our own home. There are tons of things to do. The house has some issues. I mean, it's not in bad shape, but there are lots of little things. I've spent the last three days unloading and doing plumbing. Plenty to do around here.

But we made it safe. We have a house. And we're pretty happy.