29 January 2007

a few of my favorite things

The hazy shadows of a good beer joint at 1:20 AM... the growl of a Merlin engine roaring past... hearing a hall full of people singing the National Anthem with feeling... the sound of a friend laughing... the first sip of coffee, the second pitcher of beer, and the third out of an inning... honor and those who respect it... the Texas flag... being in the zone, when the words are flowing and all seems clear and possible... a well-told story, be it the telling or the hearing... gorgeous women... jalapeƱos on my cheeseburger... the smell of glove leather and horsehide... movies unafraid to dismiss easy cynical outcomes... when my kids get the joke... the cool water under the shade of a cypress tree on a hot day... sausage on a grill... iambic pentameter... good music and an open road... sunset over water... the smell of my wife's hair... the right scene and line to end a movie... hammering a drive to left center... the happy exhaustion at the end of a day-long project done well... self-sufficiency in all its various forms and incarnations... honesty... skipping stones... John Ford movies... throwing things... beer... heros...exceeding expectations... the smell of BBQ on a summer afternoon... walking under a full moon... converting on third-and-long... knowing how and why things work... history... knowing I did my best....
von trappish B

25 January 2007

we have arrived

Apparently I crossed some sort of Rubicon this week, as this blog has never been bothered by spammers and 'bots before, and then suddenly a few days ago I started seeing loads of comments showing up which contained only dozens of hyperlinks disguised as Chinese character comments. I'd delete a batch, then come back later in the day to find a new and different batch in their place.

So from now on we have that random keycode generator check system. Enjoy.

24 January 2007

50 things [meme]

Picking up a meme started by "Scribe LA" over at Borderline Inappropriate and then carried on by "Scott the Reader" at Alligators In A Helicopter, here are 50 Things About Me:


50. I grew up on a farm in a rural section of Harris County (Houston TX), disappearing every summer into the wilds of the creek bottom in an existence far closer to something out of Huck Finn than ever appreciated at the time.

49. I have never had broken a bone.

48. Among the pets I've tended in my life are: an armadillo, a quail, a cottontail rabbit, a squirrel, chickens, ducks, dogs, cats, horses, fish, cattle, one pig, and a wolf dog named (wait for it) "Wolfie."

47. I've never been waterskiing, and I hate snow skiing. (I hate all cold weather)

46. I started college at the US Air Force Academy, going through basic training at USAFA before deciding/realizing that this was a major mistake. I lost 21 pounds in the seven and a half weeks I was there.

45. I flunked out of my freshman year at Texas A&M when I decided all my aerospace engineering classes were too boring to bother with. I changed majors (to English) and then made some extra spending money for a while tutoring the engineering and physics classmates in those classes I'd flunked out of the year before. Eventually I finished college as a Hisory major at UH (on the Dean's List, as in stark contrast to A&M there was little else to do at UH except go to class and study).

44. I once took a year off from college to work on a construction site (building the Compaq Computer world HQ and manufacturing complex). I worked 55 hours a week (in a hardhat!), was usually the only white guy visible on the job site, and would spend my lunch break eating in the shade beneath a dozer or crane as I read most all of Hemingway's novels that year.

43. I know how to fly a plane, but I never took lessons or bothered with pursuing my license. I have been an airplane freak since I was 3 years old. My younger brother, meanwhile, spent ten years in the Navy as the navigator and then tactical officer on P3 Orion anti-submarine planes.

42. In high school, I was voted "Most Honorable," received the awards for top student in Math, Science, *and* History (first-ever three-subject recipient), but did NOT win for English. I also won a "Best Buns" award.

41. I have never been in a fight in my life (unless you count the 312 knock down drag-outs I had with my brother while growing up).

40. I have a ridiculously good recall of trivia, quotes, and useless information.

39. I once threw a softball 103.5 yards in competition, good enough for (then) #2 all time at A&M.

38. I have launched bottle-rockets at a handicapped college student who was urinating in a Methodist church parking lot in downtown Charlotte, North Caroline, and then later bought him a beer at what I still regard as "The Worst Strip Club In The Universe". (How bad was it? SO bad that mid-way through the evening I found myself fleeing in circles around a pool table as a toothless black stripper chased me, screaming "gimme a dolla!")

37. I'm surprisingly good with tools and carpentry. I've hired out to build porches, barns, cabinets and bunk beds.

36. For nearly a full year my parents separated, I barely spoke a word to anyone in school. The counselors were worried about me. later, when our high school guidance counselor asked me what i wanted to be as an adult, I told him "twins." He never liked me much after that.

35. I grew up in a 100-year old farmhouse on a 120 acrs of range land and cornfields, surrounded by horses and cattle, and used to go riding almost every day after school. Then I was thrown by a horse, my foot caught caught in the stirrup, and the horse dragged me 200 yards across a pasture as my head bounced along inches from his rear hooves. I've never enjoyed horses since.

34. I do the vast majority of the cooking in our family. I'm very good. I briefly considered chef school many many years ago.

33. My first paying gig as a writer came 30 years ago when a local businessman paid me 20 bucks to design, write and hand letter a Christmas card for his carpet and flooring company.

32. I was once pursued by witches through the streets of the French Quarter in New Orleans. [I'd stolen a voodoo flag from their little stand. I was drunk. The witches were male. This was on a Spring Break trip. The next day I found a 50 dollar bill on the trail in the campground where we were crashing. The day after that I found a stack of free drink coupons as we entered a night club in Florida. I claimed that this was karma for "doing The Lord's Work." My buddies burned the flag as I slept one night.]

31. Once upon a time I could speak, read, and write reasonably well in French. I've also taken several years of German and Spanish, and know a smattering of words in Czech (my grandfather spoke Czech-only until age 3)

30. For a year, I wore a full beard.

29. I separated my right shoulder while body surfing in Acapulco 25 years ago. I never told anyone. To this day that shoulder hangs 2 inches lower than the uninjured one, and it sounds like celery being crunched when I rotate that shoulder through a full range of motion.

28. I have a mild competitive streak (my friends are laughing).

27. There are seven Apple Macintosh computers in my house (four of which still draw some degree of use). Since 1985 my total time using non-Apple PCs totals something like 2 hours.

26. In high school, I once taught my senior year advanced "Trig and Mathematical Analysis Class" for a week. The subject? "Matrix Convolution" What do I recall/retain of that subject? The title. Nothing else.

25. I was the goalie for a six-time A&M intramural champion waterpolo team. Innertube water polo. My career in the sport largely evaporated after college.

24. I have been online under some variation of the same username since 1989.

23. For a 10-year stretch running from junior high through high school and college, I was the stage director for the annual scholarship beauty contest in my hometown. Yes, I used this position to pick up chicks, including one girl who went on to become Miss Texas, as well as three others who eventually were top 10 finishers in the state pageant. Call me shallow, but I like gorgeous women.

22. I have four kids, but I don't post many specific details of them online.

21. I hate to dance. I'm not bad at it—I just hate doing it. It just feels ridiculous.

20. I do not wear black. The tuxedo at my wedding might be the last black clothing I wore.

19. At three different points in my life my hair has been shaved to boot-camp stubble length. At two other points my hair has been long enough to tie back in a ponytail. I usually just wear a baseball cap (but always an actual team cap-- never a commemorative or promotional cap).

18. I'm very good at accents and dialects. I once convinced a substitute teacher that I was an exchange student from Poland (who did not speak English)

17. Few things infuriate me more than effusive insincere praise and familiarity.

16. I am notoriously bad in a canoe.

15. I've never been hospitalized. Yet.

14. I once swam naked in a swamp filled with wild alligators. I did not know there were alligators in the swamp when I stripped and entered the water, but when I saw an 8-foot gator swim past me ten feet away, I figured it out.

13. On the Myers-Briggs personality test, I have always typed as an ENTP. I have always been both amused and a little disturbed at how textbook I am to this particular personality description.

12. I wear cargo shorts and t-shirts 90% of the time, and seldom wear shoes unless I have to. Fashion bores me.

11. I detest golf and everything connected to it. I detest golfers maybe most of all. I love disc golf.

10. I'm now a fat out of shape suburban dad, but I'm still a surprisingly good athlete I love football and basketball, but baseball surpasses all sports in my passion and appreciation. Baseball provides perfect metaphors for basically every moment and aspect of life.

9. I am a Texan and ferociously pugnaciously defiantly proud of that.

8. I am an Aggie and even more pugnaciously defiantly proud of that.

7. I hate all things burnt orange. (One year, one of my sons played youth basketball, and as luck would have it he was assigned to the "longhorns" team. While I served as assistant coach, attending every practice and game, I refused to wear the team jersey or coaches shirt, opting for a white t-shirt instead. The son told me that if I needed to step down as a coach, he'd understand. "It's the longhorns, dad. You don't wear burnt orange.")

6. In a game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Forces of Hell, I'd be the guy in the stands wearing a "GO SATAN" shirt and being asked to please keep the cheering to a reasonable volume.

5. I have to have coffee every morning or my mood and productivity for the day are totally shot.

4. I drink about a half gallon of iced tea per day (decaf)

3. I quite enjoy beer.

2. Three different unrelated people over the years have said that in a previous life I must have been Alexander the Great. I'm not entirely sure upon what this odd claims is based.

1. My all-time favorite, hands-down no-doubt favorite-ever movie is Lawrence of Arabia. Among others I'd have to pack for any extended deep-space journeys: Casablanca, North By Northwest, Rear Window, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Godfather, The Maltese Falcon, MASH, The Searchers, The Sting, The Princess Bride, Chinatown, Pirates of the Caribbean (COTBP), Bull Durham, Leone's "Man With No Name" trilogy, and The Big Lebowski.


Everything else... well, that's just details.

20 January 2007

gentle writers, start your engines

100 days until this year's Nicholl Fellowship submission deadline.

For those of you (of us) for whom such facts matter, respond accordingly.
knuckle cracking B

writing about writing about writing

The sea is angry today, my friends. Like an old man trying to return soup at a lunch counter.

I suddenly realize that I badly need to revisit my links on this site and make some adjustments: deletions, additions, denigrations, etc. Internet years seem roughly equivalent to dog years, except a website doesn't piddle all over your living room and chew your furniture for the first year and then just become lazy and fat.

Well, some do.

Some of the links I post over in yon sidebar are now dead, while others are posting less, and some are damned near dead in terms of activity. Meanwhile, some other very cool blogs (mostly on writing and/or screenwriting) have now made it onto my Daily Waste of Time beat, so I'll likely add them if only to annoy the site-honchos with what meager yet slobbering traffic I can send.

MEANWHILE... progress continues to progress hereabouts, as the RomCom continues to look more and more like some damned Flying Dutchman of a project which will circle the world and haunt me in my dreams yet never again come in to port. A few initial reads from friends confirmed what I'd optimistically tried to dismiss as self-loathing paranoia (turns out I was right, and the script was not ready for reads after all). There's some stuff in there which I love (amusingly enough, some of which I love most is stuff which some readers liked least, but guess whose opinion carries weight and value in this process... yes, it's good to be king), and then there's other stuff which needs some slight amount of tremendous work and attention.

"Such is life."

I have some ideas and notes piling up for what seem to be the Next Big Things which I'll waste time on, but for now I'll not give details to the sorry likes of you people (I'm not nearly so dim as I seem). Right now I seem to have four (!) next ideas vying for attention, so we'll see how that shakes down.

It's time again to get medieval about writing: to wake every morning with the clear and rabid intent to put good words on paper. Screen.


06 January 2007

we're cottonelle people

The Wife and I agree on many things—Rosie O'Donnell is a shrill and unlikable human, ketchup on hot dogs is just morally wrong, one does not gift with jewelry purchased from cardboard displays in grocery store checkout aisles, etc—but we do have our differences.

For example, I consider myself a reasonably competent human being, while she often considers me a clueless shuffling idiot who would not know to extinguish himself if he were to burst into flames. At least, such is the impression she gives me, most days.

I offer this as a sort of background to the tale I shall now impart, a tale of best intentions and strangest results and anger and confusion and rage and eventually childish petulant victorious smugness.

Friday midday, I took the daughter (our youngest) to Target for what is becoming a sort of tradition. The Wife was scheduled to work Friday night (L&D nurse, night shift, God Be Praised), so she was sleeping all day, and the daughter has no pre-school on Friday, so she and I often go to Target to eat lunch at the snack counter. We both have hots dogs and Cheetos (always Cheetos—absolutely Cheetos) and then we go shopping. Among the items The Wife mumbled that we needed (the night before, as we were cleaning dishes) was "toilet paper."

I put that in quotation marks because it is a full and accurate description of the item I was told to purchase: "toilet paper."

Being a reasonably competent human being, as I turned the cart down the toilet paper aisle I was flush with confidence that I could somehow manage to successfully purchase product with which to wipe our bottoms. Charmin Super Atomo-Mega Pack was on sale for 2 dollars off, so I tossed a zeppelin-sized bail of tissue onto the cart and muddled on.

Daughter and I get home, she watches Backyardigans as I lug in the 39 small plastic bags of groceries (Tatiana, our Russian accented checkout weasel at Target, seemed proud to put no more than two items in any bag, resulting in a wee bit of excessive packaging...). I then spend the next 45 minutes putting away the metric ton of groceries, finishing around 2:30 just as The Wife emerges from her Beauty Sleep [insert your own joke here—the ice upon which I daily skate stays thin enough already, thank you very little...], plods daintily into the kitchen, glances around, sees the 9000-pack of Charmin on the kitchen table, and says (and again i quote):

"What the fuck is this shit?"

"What say you, my dear? Did I disappoint you in some way?" I query in my always-sweet manner. [Note: The Wife would likely make up the most hideous lies about my response here, claiming that I said something like "It's toilet paper, dumbass—what does it look like?" Believe not a word of it.]

"We don't buy Charmin, stupid. We don't like Charmin."

"I wasn't aware that we cared. I kinda sorta figured that since we weren't exactly gonna treat the little paper squares with a great deal of care or respect, that in the grand scheme most all brands were equivalent."

"We hate Charmin! It smells funny and perfume-y! It's expensive! It's not as good!"

"As what?"


"What **do** we buy, then?"

"We're Cottonelle people, dumbass!"

Now, I want each of you to take a brief moment to gaze into your own soul and tell me, honestly, if you could ever—EVER—look at another human being and offer any remotely similar declaration. Some people will go to the mat over politics, others over religion. For The Wife, she's ready to gear up and throw down over the concrete unshakable immutable fact that We're Cottonelle People. I tried to determine if Charmin would somehow not perform the basic duties of toilet paper, but she seemed not the tiniest bit eager to have that particular discussion.

"FINE!" I scream lovingly. "Then I'll just drag my ass back to Target and exchange this clearly unusable toilet paper for the right kind, 'cuz stupid old me forgot forgot for a moment that I married a woman with A PRESCRIPTION ASS!"

[Note: The Wife then reacted in a manner which suggested that she found my lovingly offered remarks to be less than loving, but at this point I was not to be swayed from my course: We're Cottonelle People, by God, and right must be done.]

I grabbed the porta-can sized package of Charmin, found the crumpled receipt, and stomped towards the door.

"Where are you going?"


"You're seriously going to Target to exchange toilet paper? I can't believe this. It's not that big of a deal..."

THAT remark stopped me in my tracks.

"NOT THAT BIG OF A DEAL? You wake up and the first words—hell, the ONLY words—out of your pie-hole are 'you bought the wrong toilet paper-we're Cottonelle people,' and now for the last seven minutes you've stood there shrieking at me about the depth breadth and width of my failure on this particular purchase. Oh, it's a big damned deal. You've worked too hard for too long for me to not respect the bigness of this deal."

So I drove to Target to exchange the toilet paper.

Gentle readers, if you want to get some curious stares and glances, just try this some day: storm into your local Target with a homicidal gleam in your eye and a Yugo-sized crate of Charmin under your arm. The uniformed Security Guy standing guard at the entrance to Target dove headfirst behind a corral of carts, whimpering "don't shoot! I only make eight dollars and twenty-five cents an hour!"

The Service and Returns area had no other customers (or, hell, maybe they scurried for cover at the thunderous stomp of my approach...), so I set the damnable Charmin on the counter, sighed, and said that I'd like to make a return, please.

The moment of joyful levity in this entire episode occurred at this particular moment, as the blonde counter girl looked at the Charmin for a long moment, looked at me for a sec, then looked back at the Charmin.


I laughed for a moment, but stayed on-task. "Because it's wrong."

Again she looked back and forth between the toilet paper and me. "What's wrong with it? It's toilet paper?"

"Yes, but this is CHARMIN."


"We're COTTONELLE people!" I offer with understandable pride.

"What's the difference? It's toilet paper. It still... well, you know.. works, right?"

"Oh, NO!" I counter. "Charmin is for a low class of buttock. Discriminating backsides knows to hold out for the far superior performance of COTTONELLE."

[Note: as God is my witness, I am embellishing not one bit. This is the actual exchange, verbatim]

At this stage, an older black man in a Target shirt came out and stood, watching in confused disbelief. he said nothing, but I could tell he was trying to figure out just what the holy hell was up with this.

Blonde Counter Girl blinks, looks at me, looks again at the Charmin, then again at me.

"Well, did you want to make an exchange?"

"Oh, you bet my happy marriage, I do!"

So I wander back to the t.p. aisle and sprint past the Charmin stacks (noticing a slightly funny and perfume-y fragrance which I will never confess to The Wife even if she tortures me...), find a package of Cottonelle roughly equivalent to a bass boat in size, and then, using a system of rollers and pulleys, drag the carton back to the return desk. I lug the palette of butt-wipe onto the counter and smile triumphantly.

"Found what we needed!"

Blonde Counter Girl did not smile. Older Black Guy squinted in the background, shook his head in something like disgust. I waved. he turned and disappeared back through the door from whence he'd first come.

Blonde Counter girl enters some codes and numbers, scans the Charmin, enters some more codes, scans the Cottonelle, enters some more codes, then sighs and slumps. She looks at me.

"There's a price difference. The Cottonelle is more expensive."

I lean in and nod with a smile. "Because it's BETTER. How much do I owe?"

"Eleven cents."

I laugh very loudly—Older Black Guy peeks around the corner to see if there's trouble—turn to the line of folks waiting behind me and nod. And I think we all agree that it's well worth that eleven cents!"

The Line of People say not a word. The hispanic grandmother right behind me sighs, loud and slow.

I count out eleven pennies, one at a time, slide them across the counter to Blonde Counter Girl. "What's the return policy on this? I ask her.

She glares up at me with a none-too-friendly look. "Returns and exchanges require a receipt, sir."

She hands me my adjusted receipt, shakes her head, and then leans to look around me. "Next in line, PLEASE?"

I decide not to question her on the fact that her "please" sounded a little more sincere, nee desperate, than normal. Instead, I breathed deep, and using my legs rather than my back, lifted the Winnebago-sized package of tissue from the counter and waddled to the door. Security Guy slowly swiveled as I passed, keeping his attention on me and his right hand somewhere near the magnum on his hip (reminding me again how much safer I feel knowing that someone who can't get a job as an ice cream truck driver can still be issued a handgun and a badge to maintain retail shopping peace and order).

As I walk back into the house, I affect my best Ricky Ricardo and shout "Loooooocy! I'm hooooooome!"

The Wife comes around the corner, drying her hair from her shower. She glances at the bail of paper, then at me. She shakes her head very much like an Older Black Guy. "Was it worth all that? A trip there and back just to change brands?" she asks, now apparently eager to distance herself from the issue she herself flamed into an inferno.

"Absolutely," I declare. "After all," I explain, dropping the pack to the floor with a thud loud enough to startle the cats. "We're Cottonelle People."

The Wife rolls her eyes and heads back to getting ready for work, leaving me to stand, hands on hips, riding a towering wave of childish petulant victorious smugness.

04 January 2007

5 books, 5 lines [meme]

My big-time novelizing pal Cornelia, picked up an amusing meme on her gang-blog, nakedauthors.com (a meme which she says she originally picked up from Joshilyn Jackson's "Faster Than Kudzu" blog):
1. Take five books off your bookshelf.
2. Book #1 -- first sentence of the book
3. Book #2 -- last sentence on page 50
4. Book #3 -- second sentence on page 100
5. Book #4 -- next to the last sentence on page 150
6. Book #5 -- final sentence of the book
7. Make the five sentences into a paragraph.

Here's my resultant frankengraph:

All peoples have epic legends about their tribal ancestors, and these legends often formalize themselves into religious cults. The corollary to never going to a meeting without a strategy is never getting off a jet without a strategy, never going to a screening without a strategy, never going to dinner without a strategy, never going to a breakfast without a strategy. "But there's nothing we can do about it now." "It sounds good to me," said Peebles; "I ain't fer goin' 'ome empty 'anded." By restraining them with the nameless unhewn log, they will not feel disgraced, they will be still, whereupon heaven and earth will be made right by themselves.



(1) River Out Of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life, by Richard Dawkins

(2) Hello He Lied (and other true stories from the Hollywood trenches), by Linda Obst

(3) Deliverance, by James Dickey

(4) Tarzan and the Golden Lion, by Edgar Rice Burroughs

(5) Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu