14 December 2012

Now seems a good time to shut up

I sit here on a gray blustery Friday, trying to prepare for a Boy Scout camping trip this weekend, but my thoughts instead turn to Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.

An armed man entered the school just an hour or so ago, and for no reason yet known, opened fire. On a school full of innocent kids and teachers.

Right now, reports indicate upwards of 30 people killed, including at least 18 children.

Twitter and Facebook of course are already seeing the usual major camps draw into familiar circles: the conservatives calling for prayers and bemoaning the sad state of our national character vs the liberals working up some outrage over the issue of gun control, and all I can think of is "SHUT UP -- ALL OF YOU!"

We have people down. Kids. Teachers. Parents. Bleeding and wounded and dying and dead. We have parents of 400 kids terrified beyond belief that their children were in this slice of Hell this morning, and then forced to pray the horrible yet understandable "please let the dead include someone else's family and not mine."

THAT'S where our thoughts and concerns should be at this moment, not on your -- OUR -- silly damned opinions and politics and morality. Later there will be time enough (and seems like there always is, even when there isn't) to argue and bicker and belabor the "why" and "how" and "what went wrong," but right now to try and use a still-unfolding tragedy as support for some pet belief or cause just seems… staggering gallingly offensively arrogant and self-centered.

Right now it's not about you, or me. It's about us: we have people in harm's way and hurting badly.

If you can't physically help that situation, then have the grace and good manners to stay the hell out of the way and not demand attention for yourself. We'll all then listen to your idiot mewling and lecturing just as soon as our people get loaded into ambulances, OK?

Promise.

04 December 2012

sucking the thumbs on their feet

So Bank of America credited our mortgage acct with a refund of incorrectly applied fees. They didn't tell me this -- they merely changed the amount due on my mortgage statement this month without explanation or remark. When I called to ask "yo- whassup?" I was bounced through three different offices -- having to re-verify all my acct info and ID every time -- before I was finally told by someone in the Research Office that the refund was for (drumroll...) "fees."

"What fees, assessed when?"

"We don't have that information."

"But you are the ones who charged them."

"Yes. That is correct."

"And you don't know why they were refunded."

"That is correct."

"And you work in the Research Office?"

"Yessir."

"Is your office currently hiring?"

"No, sir. Why do you ask?"

"Seems like a cush job -- get paid to know and do nothing useful."

"Is there anything else I can help you with?"

"'Else'? That kinda sorta implies that you helped on some previous or different matter, now don't it?"


. . .

So today I go to make the monthly mortgage payment, and the refunded fees no longer appear. So I call to ask "yo, whassup?"

Again, bouncing through multiple offices and departments to wind up with someone who says (drumroll...) "we returned them."

"Returned them where?"

"Uh, wherever they came from."

"Which was...?"

"Well, I'm not sure."

"Did you tie them to a balloon and release it out a window?"

"No, sir. Let me check."


[on hold for 4 minutes]

"Hello, sir? We returned them to you."

"To me? Ah. And how did you return them?"

"I don't understand, sir."

"I believe that. I mean 'by what mechanism were the funds returned' -- were they deposited or was a check issued or was a credit made to my balance?"

"Oh... we mailed them."

"Why didn't you just credit my account?"

"Which account, sir?"

"My mortgage account balance due, since that's where it was last time I called."

"Yes, sir, but last Thursday a check was issued."

"And where is this check?"

"You've not received the check, sir?


[deep sigh]

"YES. This has all just been a test. I received the check that I didn't know about for the fees that nobody can explain and I have that check in my hand and that's why I decided to call and waste twenty minutes with you trying to figure out where the money in my hand now exists. (sigh) Is there someone else I can talk to -- someone with some abilities in banking or at least verbal communication?"

"I'm trying to help you, sir."

"And failing. Badly. When was the check mailed, and to what address?"

"Last Thursday, and it was mailed to your home."

"Can you please confirm that address?"

"You need your home address, sir?"

"No -- I know my address. I'm trying to confirm that *you* rocket scientists have it."

"Well... OK."


He confirms that they did in fact mail it to the correct address.

"So why didn't you give me the option of just having the fees deposited into my checking account?"

"We don't know your account details, sir."

"Yes, you do. You send me monthly statements for my mortgage, my line of credit, my checking, and my savings accounts. I'm pretty sure you guys save copies of that info since it's all IN YOUR BANK."

"Well how are we supposed to know that, sir?"

"HOW ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO KNOW WHO YOUR CUSTOMERS ARE? Is that what you are asking me?"

"Yes, sir."

"Would it be easier for you guys to keep track of who your FORMER customers are? I'm starting to get the distinct sense that you guys aren't really keen on the whole 'banking' thing."


[pregnant pause] How else can, er, do you have any more questions, sir?"

"Quite a few, but none that I expect will be answered in this call. I'll just go wait for my check in the mail returning fees from my account assessed for no known reason at no known date by departments unknown within your bank and now refunded for no know reason."

"Very well, sir."

"Oh-- wait. Actually, I *do* have one more question: if and when I receive this mystery check, I'll need to deposit it, and I'm wondering if there will be the traditional hold on that money."

"It will be a standard check subject to all standard treatment and policies."

"So Bank of America is mailing a Bank of America check to a Bank of America customer who will then deposit that Bank of America check into a Bank of America account which will then have those funds on hold for a few days as Bank of America waits to see if Bank of America has funds to cover their own check?"


[pregnant pause] "Yes."

"Excellent. Thank you so much, and good luck."

"Good luck with what, sir?"

"Avoiding accidental self-injury with a spoon. Good bye."


[click]

(sigh)

And so it goes.



people person B

20 July 2012

Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.

I was one of those kids.

The kind from the 60s where rockets and spaceships and astronauts were the coolest thing imaginable. Where every trip to the local Gulf gas station meant an opportunity to claim yet one more NASA-themed collectible: some toy rocket, or pamphlet on spaceflight, or poster about the moon. I drank Tang, because that's what we were going to drink when we traveled to the Moon and Mars and beyond. I had a plush toy Snoopy doll in a NASA suit, complete with oxygen umbilical and "Snoopy" flight cap. I could at a glance tell you the specific differences between all the rockets in the US inventory. I dazzled at the wild artist conceptions of the mighty von Braun-esque winged spaceships depicted in our old encyclopedias.

And on July 20, 1969, I sat there in slack-jawed amazement as every fantastic imagination became a little less fantastic and suddenly a lot more possible as we, the people of Earth, watched one of our own step out for the first time onto the surface of another world.


To kids today, it's difficult to fully explain the monumental sea-change that event represented. We've walked on another world.

Never again could our species say "this planet is the limit of our reach." Never again would a child be born into a world where men had not traveled through the deathly empty black of space to leave prints on the face of that white disk smiling down at us from the night sky since our first ancestors looked up.

From now on, the sky is no longer the limit. From now on, there are no limits.

–––––

Somehow, in the intervening decades, we've lost that feeling. Instead of a world where we might achieve any goal if we set our collective will to it, we bemoan all those things we accept as somehow beyond our control.

The planet is warming. The oceans are dying. Our institutions are failing. Our leaders are corrupt, our favorite foods are killing us, pointless wars and fighting seem to be escalating wherever we look.

And still the Moon smiles down at us, amused at our petty worries and distractions.

Remember me? You used to find me so amazing -- so tantalizing. Now... you stare at your feet and mumble about how far you've sunk.

I liked looking up and wondering what miracles I might see in my future. I liked it a lot. And I miss that feeling.

And so, to the men and women of the Apollo program, on the occasion of the anniversary of quite possibly the Coolest Moment Man Has Yet Managed, a geeky red-headed kid from the 60s again says "thank you."

04 July 2012

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776


The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

• He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
• He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
• He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
• He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
• He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
• He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
• He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
• He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
• He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
• He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
• He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
• He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
• He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
-- For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
-- For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
-- For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
-- For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
-- For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
-- For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
-- For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
-- For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
-- For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
• He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
• He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
• He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
• He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
• He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.



Happy Birthday, old girl.

08 May 2012

This one hurts

"Where The Wild Things Are" is probably my favorite book, ever. It was written right around the time I was born, so I came into a world that had never seen that book, and I've grown up never knowing a world that didn't have that book.

I recall learning how to read for myself around age 4, and I recall all the Seuss books for their silly word fun, but it was Sendak's wild phantasm that totally swallowed me like some great wild beast. The world of that book was wild, dark, and somehow both dangerous and enticing at once. I recall spending long afternoons as a small child just staring at the pictures-- focusing on the tiny droplets of ink, as if somehow the pixelation itself might reveal another even more magical amazing world hidden between the colors of every frame, every graphical element.

Because magic is real, if you really want it to be.



I remember trying to imagine a world where such beasts might be real -- what might possibly explain their form and anatomy, their odd traditions, the geography of the ocean and forests. I owned a pair of cotton footy pajamas which I wore and secretly pretended gave me the power to travel, like Max, to the land of the Wild Things.

The book was, for all practical purposes, my first love affair. I recall marveling that "there's this guy named Maurice Sendak, and he just sat down and made this up. How cool is THAT?"

Pretty cool.

I carried the book with me through college, and it survived on through to marriage, and then, eventually, to the arrival of my own children. And when I started to have kids, each of them got their own copy of Wild Things. It was not a fact that I specifically ever explained to anyone -- at no point did I ever sit any of the kids down and say "and here's your magic book, and I hope it serves you as well as mine has me." That kind of overt sentimentality would have been totally counter to the Wild Things, to Sendak. Instead, I just gave them their book, and we'd then read it nightly, and we'd do the faces and make the growls and show our terrible claws and roll our terrible eyes, and then, like Max, every night we'd return to the world of the Real. And there was soup, and cake, and milk, and all was good.

For almost ten straight years, this was a nightly thing in my world, as each of four kids drifted through that young age where this book could fascinate and amaze and dazzle. Thousands of nights where I and some strange wild thing that carried some portion of my DNA would sail off through night and day
and in an out of weeks
and almost over a year
to where the wild things are.

And again, that book proved to me just how real magic might be.

And today I wake and find that Sendak has left this world and sailed on to another, and all I can think is Oh please don't go -- we'll eat you up -- we love you so!

And I wish I could wear my wolf suit and make mischief of some kind, and say "thanks."
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B

21 April 2012

Can you see that you will always be my friend?

So today is April 21, which is San Jacinto Day, the day that Texas won her independence from Mexico in 1836 when General Sam Houston's forces surprised and defeated the hugely superior force of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. And San Jacinto Day also happens to be the day of Aggie Muster, a sacred occasion when Aggies worldwide gather and remember fallen comrades and friends. If you're an Aggie, it's among the most solemn of all traditions.

Today I spent the day with my two younger kids, off on a school trip which is largely irrelevant to this post except to say if there was any doubt (and there ought have been none), a howling Merlin engine on a low-level *does* in fact harmonize beautifully with a children's choir.

It was a gorgeous glorious day, and a good time was had by all. We drive back in time to catch The Wife on the patio at our local Tex-Mex place, as she's heading to work, and we scarfed down the last of her chips and salsa and hugged her goodbye and then headed on home ourselves.

The kids headed out to play, so I plopped down to sneak in a few minutes work on a long-simmering script project: basically a thinly reworked heavily auto-biographical revisitation of the idiocy of my college days at A&M. And as I am making some changes to the final "curtain call" sort of scene, I hear the music from the final scenes of DANCES WITH WOLVES, and I immediately recognize it as that incredibly awesome moment when Wind In His Hair says goodbye to Dances With Wolves by shouting from the top of the valley overlooking his friend and the rest of the tribe:



And I'm sitting there hearing that scene in my head as I write about my own best friends from college -- some of whom are tragically no longer with us, and some of whom I remembered *at* Muster ceremonies in years past -- and it's April 21, Muster Day, and I'm drinking a Shiner Bock exactly as I did those many years ago when the scenes and memories in my screenplay were not just lies on a page but actual people and events and exchanges and (alleged) offenses, and somehow it's all just too damned perfect, so all I can do is lean back teary-eyed but smiling, and give a beer toast to the sky:

"Well played, Universe. Well played."

And to all you DG idiots, rejects and defectives who helped make worth remembering what in lesser hands might have been only moments of justifiable shame, I say "thanks for the (plausibly deniable) memories."
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maroon-tinted glasses B

21 March 2012

Greatest Song Lyrics Ever, vol. 86

"Slidell" by Grayson Capps

I heard they cleaned the wreck outsida Slidell
just before the dawn
I heard five people got murdered
by a drunk woman talking on her cell phone

I got drunk last night in Slidell
waiting on the clean up crew
I've been on the road for fifteen days
waiting just to get home to you.

Just before the dawn--
-- you hear the rooster crow
Just before the dawn--
-- I'm gonna rise up... rise up... slow

Nighttime driving is like a dream
Hallucinations rise up from the road
It's lonesome at five am
when the white line becomes your soul

Just as the sun begins to rise
the highway is foggy as hell
And all the musicians are sleeping
You ain't got nothin but yourself

Just before the dawn--
--you hear the rooster crow
Just before the dawn--
--I'm gonna rise up... rise up... slow

I heard they cleaned up the wreck outsida Slidell
just before I passed through
I've been sitting for five hours on this barstool
Waiting... and thinkin 'bout you


-----

True genius almost always seems simple.
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B

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