Something Must be Done

Debate is like a living system, without input, without constant energy it stagnates and withers.

This is the case with the argument over Iraq.The bickering has gone too far. The motivations have gotten too muddy. The purpose has been lost, reinvented, spun, lost and reinvented again. The legal hairs can't be split much thinner. What should be the defining set of events for the times has become a money pit and a field for an ongoing partisan pissing match. The debate is rusting on the vine, devoid of new ideas, of intellectual nutrient.

In my ongoing tradition of offering Batshit Crazy Solutions to intractable political problems, if only to get the conversation moving, here's an idea for the future of the war.

Declare Iraq an official territory/colony of the United States. Let's make Iraq a fully functioning part of the U-S of A. We're going to be mired there for the next half century anyway so we should be honest about the stakes. If we're going to put ourselves in the business of nation building won't we be so much more dedicated if the nation is our own?

This would clear up the legal haze that surrounds much of the US's activity in Iraq. Can US contractors in Iraq be held accountable for misdeeds? Yes, because they are operating on American soil and subject to American law. Is torture an acceptable method of interrogation? No, because we would be interrogating American citizens. Do habeas corpus and other principles of American constitutional law apply? Yes, because Iraq is sovereign American territory.

This would have profound implications for our diplomatic relations in the region. Would Iran continue its supposed support of the insurgency if doing so were tantamount to fueling an armed rebellion in North America? Would Turkey bomb the Kurdish norther territories if doing so were equivalent to bombing Colorado or South Carolina? Would other nations in the region deign to posture against American interests if they knew we were willing to defend Iraq as sovereign territory? Would they even need to posture if they witnessed that level of commitment?

How quickly would the insurgency's will be broken if they knew that we had no intention of ever vacating the country? How long would opposition last if the disenfranchised of Iraq knew that they could play a part not only in the government of their own corner of the world but of the whole United States. How much more effective would the Iraqi regulars we train be if they came out of Paris Island and wore old glory on their shoulders? How long would the Sunni/Shiite pissing match go if Iraqi public schools taught English and instilled American ideals of diversity, tolerance and freedom of belief?

Most of you are cringing, muttering under your breath about how insane such a proposition is. I freely grant that it's not a very palatable idea but it is one firmly grounded in the reality of our foreign policy. Let's not be coy about our intentions in civilization's cradle. Military, business and intelligence interests in the United States have been pushing for a permanent presence in the middle east since before the second world war. We've threatened, purchased, bombed and propagandized our way into perpetual involvement in the region so let's go whole hog and quit dancing around the obfuscations of out petty and perfidious diplomacy.

So here's to an American Iraq. It wouldn't be easy. It wouldn't be fast. It would, however, be honest and decisive, two things that we have never before been in that part of the world.


What is Christmas to You?

She asked it with a snide tone, an accusatory tone. It wasn't a polite question. It wasn't some feel good, love the season, tinsel, candy cane, bows on baby's brows, family dinner and wassail kind of question. It was a sharp tongued, you're not Christian, what do you know, how dare you cross my path whilst shopping, heathens ruin Jesus' America, thank you for corrupting our second-most-holiest of days, kind of question. Like I said, with a snide tone.

No, I'm not Christian, but Christmas is, nonetheless, a holy day.

Christmas, to me, has nothing to do with miracle births, overbooked inns or trekking wise men. It's not about shopping, eating, giving or receiving. Sure, these things happen but they're not what it's about. It's not about snowmen. It's not about company parties. It's not about knicknacks on trees or mistletoe. It's not about any of those things but still, the day is holy, holy indeed.

Why? Why is Christmas holy to a Pagan like me? Because Christmas isn't just Christmas. Christmas is simply the modern, Christian, western dominated incarnation of a global phenomenon. Whether the customs are the same, whether the theological justification is the same, whether the cultural significance is the same, or not, this event is recognized by virtually all people on Earth. The solstice, the apex of the planet's orbit, the shortest day of the year, is observed, in one form or another by all peoples.

To Pagans like me Yule is a literal holiday; we celebrate the end of the sun's waning and the brightening of the new year. In much of the Muslim middle east the day of Shabe Yaldā is celebrated with feasting and family. In China, Tāngyuán dumplings are shared to symbolize family unity during the festival of Dōngzhì. Jews, of course, have Hanukkah commemorating the miraculous dedication of the Second Temple. Though, in the Talmudic tradition, the the solstice day is properly called Teḳufat Ṭebet, commemorating the day when Judge Jephtha of Gilead sacrificed his daughter to the tetragrammaton god. And, to the followers of the Nazarene, it is the day that the King of Kings was humbly born. Two billion people, a third the world's population call this day Christmas but the other four billion still have names for this day, or a day shortly adjacent. This holiday may be one of the only cultural universals, one of the only things that everyone, everywhere can understand and agree upon.

That's what Christmas it to me. It's the one day when everyone is of the same mind. It's an annual reminder that, despite the strife and pain in the world, beneath the tragedy of the human-invented condition, beyond the distrust and the misdeeds each group of people seem so intent on heaping upon all others, there will always be some stripe of similarity. For all of our hard work dwelling on colors, nationalities, ethnicities and, yes, faiths, this day has significance to all people, regardless. If that does not spark reverence, awe; if that does not lead one to say, "today is holy," then I don't know what will.

Christmas is the single best reminder that we are all so much more alike than we will ever be different. That's Christmas to me.

Brightest blessings.
Peace on Earth, goodwill to men.


I Blame Lou Dobbs, Just Because

On the news this afternoon I saw four, that's four, commercials in a row that advocated giving one's spouse a car for Xmas.

Seriously, a fucking car?

Who can afford that? Fuel prices are up. Real wages are down. Car prices are up, largely on account of automakers buying a quarter of all TV airtime in order to proffer this kind of schlock. The entire country is in the middle of a massive credit squeeze and advertising executives think the operative selling point for a twenty thousand dollar plus bit of merchandise is that jingling keys make a good stocking stuffer?

Who are these people selling to?

Actually, we know who they're selling to. Of the four commercials, one was for Mercedes, two were for Lexus and the one with the Saturns seemed to indicate that the cars were a prize one could win by overspending on the rest of one's holiday shopping, totally ignoring the tax liability one would incur in such a sweepstakes. Obviously not intended for anyone that might need to balance a checkbook from month to month.

As usual, it's about income bracket and the ecstasy of consumption, not about sense.


Lightweight Lightningseed

During a nap this afternoon I had a dream, not a full, REM deep stage dream. I'd only been asleep for fifteen minutes or so but a sort of half waking dream. It was vivid, intense, even tactile. I was floating, or rather flying with great speed but little control as if I was hanging by a cord from an invisible helicopter that kept changing direction without warning, swooping me close to the ground and then drawing me swiftly up into the clouds as we crossed over alternately picturesque and post-apocalyptic landscapes.

All this was narrated in a young woman's voice, by verbatim excerpts from Neil Stephenson's The Diamond Age, specifically from The Young Lady's Illustrated Primer.

It's a good thing I'm not into dream analysis or this might creep me out.


On Film Making: The Best Boy

When I tell someone that I work in movies and after all the, "Oh, did you make _________?" "Do you know anyone famous?" "How do they do (insert special effect)?" questions have passed, one of the most common questions I get is:

What does a Best Boy do?

In movie parlance, Best Boy is actually a rank, or more specifically, a pay scale. The top rank in any of the craft departments is typically called the "Key," hence the designations Key Grip, Key Makeup and Key Set PA, etc. The Best Boy is the second in command of a given department. Often though, the number two in a given department has another title because they have a particular task like Boom Operators and 1st AC's* or because custom dictates that they are called something else, like Assistant Makeup Techs. This is why only a handful of the craftspeople on set are called by this name.

Some crew members that do not carry the attendant authority are also paid on this level because they have a specific skill or position that calls for it such as Dolly Grips and FX Techs.

You are thusly enlightened.

*Camera people are covered by a different division of the Union than most other craftspeople so the ranks and payscales don't automatically match up when comparing camera to any other department. I make a point to say this because some in the industry would not consider a 1st AC and a Boom Op to be the same rank. They are probably not paid the same. However, they are both the second highest ranking technician in their departments.**

**Without getting into how the DP ranks in comparison to the rest of the crew.


Secrets to Success

For an actress to be a success, she must have the face of a Venus, the brains of a Minerva, the grace of Terpsichore, the memory of a Macaulay, the figure of Juno, and the hide of a rhinoceros.

- Ethel Barrymore


Remember, Creationism is Only a Theory and They All Have to Go to Heaven One Day.

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

- Max Planck


If you are a citizen of the United States of America

Never, ever forget this singular idea:

The government works for you. It is your servant, your provider, your guardian but never, not for a moment, your commander. It must bow to you but you must never, ever, bow to it.

If this ever ceases to be the case, revolution is in order.

This is the design that underlies America and it is tied to the very definition of patriot.

This is liberty, defined.


Alexandria Burned.

When I walk into someone's home for the first time, I tend to pay very little attention. I'm simply uninterested in the fashion and pretension of decorating. I don't care for furniture, fixtures, framed art or bricabrac so I mostly just ignore it all.

There is one thing that sticks out to me, that troubles me when I walk into a house: books, or rather, their absence. My house is piled high with them, so is my parents', so was my grandparents'. I grew up surrounded by dozens of volumes, by tomes of every description. They seem as vital to a home as trees to a forest. As a result, a home devoid of books is strangely hollow. A domicile lacking books is, more empty than a home lacking tables, couches and chairs. Such a place, no matter how decorated, is cavernous, stark, bare and I find it physically uncomfortable to be there.

I've spent time shooting in three bookless houses this year, all huge, multi-million dollar homes in some of the city's most affluent neighborhoods, all decorated in the most severe, fashionable, expensive styles and all absolutely barren of bound volumes, save perhaps a cookbook or something with the words "for Dummies" in the title. All empty, empty, empty.

I do not like such places.

Here's to a more literate year.


The Golden Compass and a Big WTF?

Rife with anti-Christian propaganda, full over with animated characters and fantastic tableaux while subtly undermining biblical axioms, The Golden Compass threatens the teachings and fellowship of Christ in the minds of those most vulnerable to wickedness' influence. It must be stopped and a message must be sent to Hollywood that Christian America will no longer stand to have our most cherished beliefs mocked and attacked.

Oh, fucking please. Where do people get this crap?

CNN.com quoted Adam Holz of Focus on the Family as calling Pullman's books and the subsequent film a "deliberate attempt to foist his viciously anti-God beliefs upon his audience."

Seriously, what is wrong with you people?

Is your faith is so weak, your religious principles so tenuous and your teachings to your children so easily undermined as to face a serious ideological threat from James Bond Blonde, Tom Cruise's ex-wive and two hours of CGI? If it is perhaps you should rethink how you spend your Sunday mornings.

I love movies and I have dedicated my life to making them. Movies are a supremely important cultural force but these people are really over-estimating the theological influence that a single, mass market, fiction film can have. Considering that The Passion of the Christ converted precisely zero people to Christianity I don't really anticipate The Golden Compass turning many people away from it.

Then again, we can hope, can't we?


I Will Never Understand Maxim...

...or Vogue or any of the rest of the fashion industry with their pages and pages of severe, hard eyed, humorless, perpetually bored-looking models.

It amazes me that people who spend their entire professional lives scrutinizing the female form, that dedicate themselves to selling lust and beauty never seem to realize that, of all the things that can be photographed, the sexiest attribute a woman can have is a radiant smile.


Oh, for the Sake of it, Just Shut Up!

I have recently become annoyed by all the third rate, anti-critical, credulous, foolish, self-important, intellectually deleterious, imperious, arrogant, despotic, absolutist,dogmatic,obdurate bloviation bobbing about the blogosphere.

Then again, I have to ask myself, am I guilty of the same sin that I despise?


Proud and Insolent Youth.

Every child is affected thus the first time he is treated unfairly. All he thinks he has a right to when he comes to you to be yours is fairness. After you have been unfair to him he will love you again, but he will never afterwards be quite the same boy.

-James M. Barrie


Land Where my Fathers Died

America has been called a melting pot, but it seems better to call it a mosaic, for in it each nation, people, or race which has come to its shores has been privileged to keep its individuality, contributing at the same time its share to the unified patter of a new nation.

- King Baudouin I of Belgium

Actually, my father is an immigrant.

- Tom


Ours is not to Reason Why

The days are long, better than fourteen hours. The performers are amateurs. The location is inconvenient. The script is, at best, questionable. There is no safety marshal, no matter how much it seems we need one. The food, when there is any, is terrible. The attitude of the above-the-liners is standoff-ish. The equipment is shoddy. Tensions are high and the pay is very, very low. If this was a union show it would have been shut down after day two and everybody knows it. We're all running on fumes, pushed forward only by the desire not to be the first one to quit.

It's one of those gigs that tests one's soul.

The AD sits down next to me as I smoke during one of the long stretches of needless downtime that inept upper management has provided. We both know how miserable this show is and we both comment on how glad we are that it will be shortly over.

I ask him, "Would you rather have a real job?"

"No," he replies.

"Me neither."

Sometimes it's not about getting what you want but wanting what you've got.


Bow Wow Wow, Yummie Pops, Pass the Mustard

One of the best things about my profession is that I occasionally find myself in unique and notable situations that most other people could never anticipate.

Today, Snoop Dogg's father cooked us lunch, just because he felt like it.

He's a rapid talking, street educated, Vietnam vet that knows a little bit about everything and has a story about everyone. Like the Dos Equis commercial, he might be the most interesting man alive.

We had barbequed chicken wings, beer boiled bratwurst and potato salad and it was dee-fucking-licious.

This would not happen were I an accountant.


The Mouse Shape on the Second Moon

You cannot avoid the interplay of politics within an orthodox religion. This power struggle permeates the training, education and disciplining of the orthodox community. Because of this pressure, the leaders of such a community inevitably must face that ultimate internal question: to succumb to complete opportunism as the price of maintaining their rule, or risk sacrificing themselves for the sake of the orthodox ethic.

- Frank Herbert


Jubal's Wisdom

Happiness lies in being privileged to work hard for long hours in doing whatever you think is worth doing.

One man may find happiness in supporting a wife and children. Another may find it in robbing banks. Still another may labor mightily for years in pursuing pure research with no discernible result.

Note the individual and subjective nature of each case. No two are alike and there is no reason to expect them to be. Each man or woman must find for himself or herself that occupation in which hard work and long hours make him or her happy. Contrariwise, if you are looking for shorter hours, longer vacations and early retirement, you are in the wrong job. Perhaps you need to take up bank robbing. Or geeking in a sideshow. Or even politics.

- Robert A. Heinlein


No, We Didn't Light it but We Tried to Fight it.

Someone said to me that they couldn't even begin to understand how someone could deliberately set the Santiago fire.

I can.

There is a certain phase that I think almost all men go through sometime in their adolescence, in which destruction holds a certain fascination, in which carnage is simply cool and seems a valid end unto itself, the bigger the better. During this time a boy puts virtually no thought to the consequences of that destruction, to the danger to others or to the monetary value of things ruined. I know that I certainly went through this phase. I was a regular vandal and pyromaniac when I was in junior high school.

I'm not exactly sure where this urge, this mindset comes from but if made to play armchair psychologist, I would guess that it's a product of being that age. At twelve or thirteen years a boy is too old to be a child but nowhere near to being an adult. His physical strength and intellectual self-reliance are just beginning to come to the point where he feels he should be able to have an effect on the world but, culturally, he has virtually no outlets to do so. This desperate, unspoken need to do something of note that leads to destruction and vandalism of all sorts.

Sure, he could play on a sports team or learn a musical intrument but what will that get him, a trophy, congratulations from beaming parents? Hardly the currency of greatness. A fire or some other act of cultural nihilism arouses the attention of higher authorities, of the community, perhaps local media, certainly the police. To a young man not yet ready for manhood, that kind of attention can be deeply rewarding. It lets them know that they are not simply at the mercy of others, that they can take action and alter the landscape in which they exist and that they are, in some small way, a force with which to be reckoned.

I know what you're thinking. Tom, the Santiago fire was started by someone old enough to drive and with at least some experience in pyro-engineering. Obviously this person was an adult.

You're right. This fire, and the others like it, were set by adults, not by adolescents. I see two possibilities. These people may simply be emotionally stunted. They stopped growing as people sometime around their fourteenth birthday. Given how many guys I know that never really got over being twenty-one this seems entirely plausible, though unlikely.

The other possibility is that these people are hugely disaffected. They are angry, disappointed men, feeling powerless and perceiving themselves to have been abandoned by the world. Like so many youths, they desperately need to do something that has an effect on the world, something that gets noticed, something big, something that lets them turn on the television and say, even if only to themselves, "I did that."

I can understand that feeling. I hope that just about everyone can on some level.

I'm not excusing anyone. Whoever did this should be prosecuted and punished severely. The fact that I can empathize with these people doesn't mean that I don't think they are reprehensible, criminal, wrong, but one should also understand that there is an element of tragedy here other than the destruction and chaos wrought by the flames, themselves. Though inevitable, it's tragic that some people end up that way. If only the world were just a bit more tolerant, a touch more understanding, would this sort of thing still happen?

Who knows.


Talking to the Rainmakers

My father called them "soft afternoons," a fairly common expression in his native country. I call them "English days." The precipitation is just too heavy to be mist but couldn't be called rain. The chill goes deeper than simply temperature and the lightest of breeze is mistaken for a biting wind.

I love these days.

These are the days when I most like to go walking. The sidewalks, slick and dark, are empty of the people who fear to venture out in such weather and the ring of radials on pavement can be heard from twice the normal distance. The cold and the damp bother me not at all. I quite like them, in fact, reminders of the visceral and the tactile that others would chagrin for casually wasted comforts. The city becomes contemplative and I become likewise, strolling at great length through drizzle and gray, my travel and my cognition both wandering as they please, taking some small bit of the rainy world with them.

It's been dry in Atlanta of late and I haven't had enough of these silent and solitary days. They hadn't been missed until this week. Though, I suppose it would be hubris to count my meditation as another casualty of the water crisis.

I think I'll go walking for a bit.


On Film Making: The Gaffer

I get a lot of "What does a _________ do on a film set?" questions. It's understandable. A number of film jobs have cryptic names. Many radically different jobs have decidedly similar designations. That, and our professions are open to public scrutiny in a way that they are not for other industries thanks to the ending credits. On the whole, the public just doesn't understand what we all do.

The one that's got to take the cake, though, is the Gaffer. Maybe tied with Best Boy, Gaffer is the job title that film laypeople are least likely to understand. I even had two different professors in film school, both of which were film academics, not professional film makers, who failed to understand the term.

Simply, the Gaffer is the head of the electrical department. Virtually everything on set that runs on electrical power comes back to or is reliant upon the Gaffer and his/her team. Most notably, this includes all of the lights used to compose a shot but it also includes a vast array of other items. While operating generators and providing electricity to the other departments on location is one of the electrical department's two main priorities, that particular set of tasks is normally delegated to the Gaffer's right hand, the Best Boy Electric. The Gaffer, meanwhile, is the Director of Photography's go-to. He or she orchestrates all of the lighting and is responsible for all of the attendant equipment and expertise.

The degree of autonomy a Gaffer has varies greatly depending on the director and DP. Some DP's simply indicate a general direction and intensity of light and leave the rest to the Gaffer. He or she chooses the lighting instruments and coordinates with the Grip department for the manipulation of that light. Others DP's dictate minute specifics intending the Gaffer merely to implement the setup. The knowledge base of the DP and the Gaffer overlap greatly and while most DP's begin as AC's, moving up through the camera department, it is not at all unusual for a Gaffer to become a DP.

The origin of the term is uncertain but I've heard two tales that are related and equally plausible. The first is that, in the early days of fiction film making lights and skylights were manipulated using long hooks that took tremendous physical strength to use. The people manipulating them were often recruited from the merchant marine because a similar type of long hook, called a gaff hook, and an equal degree of upper body strength was needed in the loading of sea cargo. Additionally, gaffer is English slang for an old man; 'geezer' is the American equivalent. Because Gaffer is a job that requires great technical savvy and experience the head lighting technician was traditionally one of the oldest members of the crew. A hybrid possibility is that, as manually loaded cargo ships gave way to more modern styles of transport, older seamen found their skills obsolete in the merchant marine and many of them found employment in the film industry.

Gaffers are, almost by definition, one of the most experienced, most technically skilled and most respected people on a film set and in the film industry. The job garners great prestige among professional film technicians. It takes a lifetime to learn and master the Gaffer's craft, learning to be one part painter of light, one part military commander and one part hostage negotiator. Without a gaffer, a movie is just a blank screen.

My hat is off to anyone who succeeds at this, most challenging, of film professions.


Tom's All Encompassing Theory of Life

This may be the only bit of legitimate wisdom I have ever produced.

Everyone has those days, the days when things just don't come our way, the 'mamma said' kind of days. Our lottery tickets loose; every light is red. Keys break off in locks; passing cars throw up unavoidable walls of water as they pass through puddles. We find that everything in the fridge has gone bad or that our checking account is five hundred dollars short. The computer crashes and the car won't start. We're the target of everyone's venom. So many things can go wrong in a given day that we're bound to have crappy days from time to time. It's something we just have to learn to handle.

In the interest of staying sane, I have concocted a method of coping.

When those days happen, when you're tempted to say, "Wow, my life really sucks today," stop and list for yourself all the reasons that your life sucks. I mean the real reasons, not the minor complaints or the life excuses, not "I got lemon juice in my hangnail, whaaaaaaa." No, I mean, "I lost my job." "I got locked out of the house in the rain." "My favorite pet died." "I got rear ended on the freeway and the guy drove off before I could get his tag number." "I discovered I have leprosy," etc. List for yourself all of the real reasons why your day or your life is so bad. Go into excruciating detail to the point that a potential listener might be overcome with despair at the pitilessness and pain of the world.

Then, once you've done this, you need to contemplate a single idea. Internalize this concept as it might be your only defense against the onslaught of worldly trials. Once you've listed all the reasons that your life sucks think about how much worse your life would be if you were forced to add to the end of that list, "And, I am currently on fire."

Nothing will seem that bad after that.

Contrawise, you may have a day where you say the reciprocal, "Wow, my life is really great!" You land the big promotion. You get home in time for your favorite show. The kids are calm and happy. The test comes back negative. You win at cards and the world generally agrees that, whatever it is, it's not your fault. When this happens, you can get some perspective by listing for yourself all the reasons that your life is good in much the same way that you previously listed the things that were bad. As before, go into frightening detail to the point that some theoretical listener would be overcome with despair at the knowledge that their life will never reach the level of perfection that yours has.

Then, once you've done that you, again, need to contemplate a sigle idea. Think of how much better your life would be if you were forced to add to the end of that list, "And, I am currently receiving oral sex."

Things won't seem quite as good as they had a moment before.

Now I know what you're thinking. "Tom, what if I were, perchance, already A) receiving oral sex or B) on fire?" I bet you think you're pretty smart you smug little shit. I have pondered this at great length and come to the conclusion that if you are either A) receiving oral sex or B) on fire, then that is the wrong time to be taking personal inventory. The thoughts in your head at that time should, in both cases, be dominated by animal instincts and guttural noises.

I will admit that there is one possible situation that my theory cannot encompass. So, perhaps I should not call it "Tom's all encompassing theory of life as I confess there is a singluar situation in which this principle cannot apply. If you were to ever find yourself simultaneously receiving oral sex whilst on fire, then you have reached some sort of zen-nirvana-yin-yang-dharmic perfection that I am not wise enough to address. I'm just not prepared to comment on that eventuality. If anyone finds themself in this situation, please comment or email so I might complete the theory.

I am confident however, that any of the readers of this blog will probably not encounter that situation so you can now sally forth into the big bad world, knowing that you are prepared for nearly anything, confidently armed with Tom's very nearly all encompassing theory of life [TM].

Here Endeth the Lesson


Howling at the Moon & Such

I'm going to a Pagan festival this weekend. I'll be back on Tuesday if anyone needs to reach me.


Honey, I'm Home.

The first major decision you need to make in brewing mead:

Which varietal of honey should I use?.

While most people tend to think of honey as a simple thing, it's thick, golden, good in tea and shaped like a teddy bear, there's really much more to it. It comes in many varieties, varies greatly in quality and price and, along with your choice of adjunct, has a huge influence on the character of your final product. We've all eaten honey and we all know that it comes from bees but few people have a concrete understanding of what's really involved.

Honey is the sole item in a beehive's pantry, the store of food that the hive will use to weather the bulk of the year when bee-appropriate food is scarce. Bees consume the sugar-rich nectar of flowering plants, partially metabolize it and combine it with other organic compounds whilst ridding it of most of its water. This reduced sugar substance is produced by a specialized part of the bees' digestive systems and then regurgitated into the cells of the honeycomb for later consumption.

Chemically speaking, honey is a melange of simple and complex sugars, inert lipids - wax, water and a tiny percentage of aromatic compounds leftover from the harvesting of the nectar. It varies greatly in terms of color, viscosity and flavor.

A variety of honey is defined by the flowering plants from which the bees harvest nectar. Varietal honeys, sometimes called monoflorals, are produced from a single flowering plant. Most commercial apiaries are in the business of pollination-for-hire, using their bees to foster the growth of large swaths of domesticated cropland and thus the bees in their hives have access to only one kind of nectar. The honey is usually a byproduct, and extra bonus for the beekeeper. Orange blossom and tupelo honey are common in the southeast, where I live. Clover honey is widely available in Canada. Avocado honey is common in California and evergreen honeys are common in Greece. Cherry and apple blossom honeys are easy to find in the UK.

One common misconception is that, because most honeys are made from flowering plants that humans eat, that the honey somehow resembles the food that shares its name. This is incorrect. Monofloral honey will take some of its properties, mostly aroma and initial sweetness, from the flower from which the nectar was harvested. Only rarely do the flower and the edible parts of the plant share noticeable characteristics. Orange blossom honey tastes like a citrus orchard, not like a citrus fruit. Cherry blossom honey tastes like Washington DC in springtime, not like grenadine. Keep this in mind when both when setting expectations about your finished product as well as when buying honey, else you might shy away from distinctive honeys like buckwheat, fireweed and mesquite.

Note, 'wildflower' is not really a varietal in the same manner as those listed above. Honey is usually labeled wildflower if its constituent nectars have multiple sources or if the feeding area of the bees has not been determined. This is the most common and least expensive form of honey on the US market and for this reason it will probably be what you use for your first brewing experiments. Wildflower honey's main advantage is that, in a given area, it is usually consistent from year to year. Because it is simply a blend of local nectars it can vary greatly from region to region so be aware of where your wildflower honey originates.

Go out and sample several kinds of locally available honey. Taste them as you would taste wine, examining them critically, noting color and thickness. Take a tip of a spoon's worth and notice how it tastes initially and how that taste changes as it sits in your mouth. Examine the aftertaste. Breathe deeply while you do this and pay attention to the aromatics as this is the most noticeable quality that a particular honey will impart to a finished mead. Do this several times, clearing your palate between each. Most of that distinct, sugary, sweetness will ferment away. The more complex sweetness that comes later as well as the wax's bitterness and the semi-burnt ash flavor that resides deeply hidden in many varietals will remain, in varying degrees, in the finished beverage. Also note the color; this will translate into the color of the mead along with your adjuncts.

That having been said, if you're not yet a mead aficionado, you'll probably be fine with your local wildflower blend. It's much less expensive than monoflorals and will still produce a delicious and intoxicating brew. You can probably worry about the finer details in a later batch. Also, be aware of what adjuncts, and how much of them, you plan on using in advance. If you're making a pyment with merlot grapes, the tannins of the finished product may overpower many of the aspects of the honey, in which case varietal is not so important. Contrawise, if you were to make a pyment with pino grigio grapes, the honey's flavor and aroma are going to have a distinctive effect on the mead.

I'll say this a lot; the most important thing is - what do you like? Find the honey that tastes best or is the easiest to work with or the most consistent in your area or even the cheapest as long as it suits your taste.

Join me next time as I discuss where and how to buy honey for brewing. It's not so simple as going to the grocery, as you'll see.


The First Ones to Starve, The First Ones to Die.

Like anything that matters, most people don't understand it.

It's deviant. It's antisocial. It's ugly. It's incomprehensible, neanderthal, irresponsible, unnatural, wrong. It's violence for violence's sake. It's pain to know pain, sweat just to sweat and blood because sometimes a life lived cries out for blood. If nothing else, it's just plain dangerous.

My ribs are bruised. My elbow keeps popping. My back and calves are sore so I can barely stand. This headache could drop a man half-again my size. The five inch slash down my right forearm is luckily not infected. Hopefully my ears will stop ringing by the end of the weekend.

That was the best time I've had in months.

If you don't understand the pit, if you've never gone to a punk or a metal show and been drawn into the surge of humanity, towards the tussle of unbridled aggression, into the the throng of flesh and pain and joy, then you're probably just not ever going to.

There are few other comparable experiences in modern day life. I can think of nothing else so visceral, so communal, so organic. From the far walls it's simply pandemonium, a riot. But, from within it's something else entirely. It's a conflagration of human emotion, a place that is simultaneously treacherous as a minefield whilst safer than family Christmas. Where else are there so many so desperate to knock you to the floor yet so eager to bring you to your feet again? Where else does the threat of harm turn so swiftly to the embrace of brotherhood? Where else can you find yourself amongst a teeming, breaking wave of humanity and know, if only for a second, that you are all feeling precisely the same thing?

It's a community that exists almost nowhere else, the violence, the challenge, the athleticism of team sports but without the ego, without the brass ring of victory and the false consolation of defeat. It's common cause and spiritual unity without the complications and manipulations of politics and religion. It's exercise and exhaustion without the preening and pretension of an organized workout. It's one of the fastest educations you can receive.

You keep your feet wide, preserve your space. The crowd presses, protect your midsection. The crowd heaves, protect your face and breathe deeply. Push forward hard - slide left when overpowered. Straight arms mean broken elbows. If you don't scream or sing, you're fucking up. When you go down come up fast; help others do likewise. Take no shit and stride proudly 'cause most people don't have the balls for this.

Scream and lust and sweat and make battle, nothing beats it.

Go forth and bleed.


Clean & Ready

The single most important aspect of mead brewing: more important than your choice of honey varietal or adjunct, more important that fermentation or racking intervals, more important than bottling or aging methods, more important, even, than the oft debated choice of boiled honey versus natural honey, are the methods used in sterilization. While a poor combination of spices can make a mead slightly less than perfect, inadequate sterilization can corrupt a batch to the point of unpalatability.

Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Saccharomyces uvarum, the two most common forms of brewing yeasts are jealous fungi. They are generally intolerant of the presence of other forms of fungus in their habitat and will force competing yeasts out. A number of other microorganisms, mostly bacteria, can survive easily in the presence of brewing yeast and will contaminate the product and some can even make us humans that consume it quite ill. Preventing the propagation of these invaders is even more important when one remembers that most mead is made with entirely organic, unpasturized ingredients.

Generally, the home brewer has three means of sterilization available to them. Many brewers choose to chemically sterilize with a solution of potassium metabisulfite. This common anti-bacterial and anti-fungal agent is available for a few dollars at any brew store.* It is easy to use and performs its function quite well.

Similar to this, although more mundane, one can sterilize chemically with hospital grade isopropyl alcohol. Be sure to read the label carefully, most first aid quality rubbing alcohol is 70 or 80 percent alcohol, while the hospital quality I'm referring to is 90 percent or better. Pour it liberally into and onto all brewing gear being sure to cover every surface and then rinse thoroughly with very hot water. If you have sensitive skin you might want to wear gloves. Be sure to do this with the windows open or the fan on or you run the risk of having your kitchen smell like a hospital for days afterwards.

Finally, the most traditional, and probably the best means of sterilization is the good old fashioned hot kill. Boil all of your equipment for three minutes or longer. Mind you, some gear, like plastic tubing and rubber stoppers may melt at these temperatures so be careful. This should kill all but the heartiest microorganisms. Carboys may be too large to boil, in which case, rinse them completely several times with boiling water being careful to heat the glass evenly lest it shatter.

I use a combination of these two techniques. I clean all of my tools and containers with rubbing alcohol and then rinse them with boiling water.

More important than the means of sterilization is the thoroughness of sterilization. You must sterilize absolutely everything involved in the brewing and bottling process, carboys, airlocks, hoses, dump buckets, mixing devices, funnels and hand tools. Clean your work area and then wipe it down with some kind of sterilizing solvent, bleach based home cleaners like Fantastik work well. Sterilize your bottles when you package your product. If you are bottling your mead in 750ml wine bottles, like I do, always buy brand new corks in the sealed plastic bag. If you reuse bottles, be sure they are adequately cleaned and sterilized exactly as you would sterilize your other gear. And, for the sake of all that is holy, wash your hands. Wash them in the hottest water you can tolerate; wash them up to the elbow and wash with a heavy antibacterial soap.

I cannot stress the importance of this enough. While most of the little beasties that inhabit both your home and the natural products that go into your brewing are harmless, some are not. Some can halt fermentation or produce foul flavors. Some will infuse sulfides and other nasty chemicals into your product. The vast minority are infectious and can make you and the people that drink your mead extremely ill. Be fastidious, even anal, about your sterilization methods and you will be saved a lot of headache.

Remember this and everything else is just technique.

* Personally, I do not use this method. When I stabilize my mead, something I will discuss in detail in a later post, I do so with the same chemical, albeit in a much more dilute form. I am concerned about breeding resistance to the chemical into my yeast strains. Understand, I do not dis-advocate it's use, I simply choose a different method.


Heresy and Fart Jokes

A few years ago I found myself standing in the middle of a melange de faith, one Xian, one Jew, one Muslim, one Buddhist, one atheist, one Satanist and little ol' Pagan me. This was a bunch of amicable types who, upon realizing the religious plurality set about making light of it.

"My God's older than your God."

"My God's more merciful than your God."

"My God's more powerful than your God."

"My God's more personal than your god."

This went back and forth for several minutes in jolly fashion before I piped up with.

"My God outnumbers your God."

And that pretty much put an end to that.


Venn Diagrams Suck.

"So why can't you vote in the primaries?" he asked, putting the political discussion on hold.

"Because I'm a registered independent," I replied. "I'm neither a Republican nor a Democrat."

He looked puzzled for a moment, "So why can't you vote in the independent primary?"

"No, independents don't have a primary. You have to be in a political party to have a primary."

"Aren't you in the independent party?"

At this point I threw up my hands.

This exchange is indicative of a certain mode of thinking that pervades our culture in all facets, not just politics. It was just a political discussion that brought this phenomenon to light. Maybe there's something in our brain chemistry that makes us want to categorize things; that would make sense. Language, the hallmark of human thinking, is based in part on the categorization of the world around us. Perhaps it's a failing of the educational system that so many people grow up being unable to handle the very concept of "not classified." It's possible that this is the result of our computerized age forcing us to divide our information into neat folders and that "other" has simply become one more category rather than a title for things that are without category.

I have one colleague that refuses to believe that fungi are not plants. He will not concede that there are any any forms of life other than animals and plants and since fungi are obviously not animals, they must be plants. Despite being shown otherwise, he will not accept that there are five kingdoms of living things, not two, that the system of classification for living things has changed since he first learned about it thirty years ago.

I brew my own mead, this connects, I promise. I have a close friend that, despite having brewed mead with me, cannot understand that mead is neither wine nor beer. I keep trying to tell her that mead is it's own thing, that it is a new category of beverage that she has previously not encountered but any such explanation only leads her to ask, "So it's more like wine (beer)?" No! It's mead.

We have this pervasive need to put ideas into mental bins, like we were sorting laundry or mail. I'll grant that, most of the time, this is helpful. It's helpful to zone property and to define polos from tees from dress shirts. It makes life much easier and the world much more manageable and rational inquiry much more efficient to divide wine from beer and animals from monerans. What it does not do is foster an expansion of personal experience. I think it is essential to apprehend that each of us will encounter, hopefully every day, something that is outside our understanding. What do we do then?

We need to leave that space, that possibility for something that our nomenclature cannot address, that thing that is beyond our system of classification. Perhaps, one day, new and different things will be incorporated into an existing family of items. Perhaps not. The possibility needs to remain open so that our systems of comprehension can expand.

This is the way we keep our brains from rotting.


Disclaimer: What a Litigious Society We Live in.

Here's a quick bit of truth. While I'm happy to write about mead and the brewing thereof, there are certain hazards associated with both home brewing and the consumption of home brewed beverages.

This is my obligatory disclaimer to that end.

I am neither a microbiologist nor a doctor. I pretend no specialized knowledge beyond the mechanics of brewing within my own limited experience. I am a brewing enthusiast who chooses to brew a rather rare and arcane beverage and I have chosen to share what I have learned in the pursuit of this hobby with others. I offer no guarantees or warranties regarding this information. You are brewing at your own risk and I accept no liability whatsoever for the quality of your experience or of your product. Moreover, I accept no liability for your health. It is the responsibility of each reader and each home brewer to research the craft on their own, to understand the risks to health and home and to understand the legality of this practice in their locale.

I do not endorse or encourage the production of alcoholic products by, nor the providing of alcohol to, those who have not reached the legal age of consumption, 21 years in most US jurisdictions.

Let's be entirely honest. There are a lot of things that can go wrong with this pursuit ranging from the mundane to the fatal. Improperly stabilized product can cause bottles to explode violently, making a huge mess and potentially injuring people. Like any other foodstuff, the raw inputs for mead can attract pests to you home including insects and rodents. If the batch is contaminated it can stink up your whole house. Because mead is usually made using organic inputs and adjuncts which have not been filtered, sterilized or pasteurized, there is always the possibility that dangerous compounds and malignant microorganisms are present in your product. This is especially true if you have a compromised immune system, though the danger is present for all people. I'm sure there's a thousand other things that can go wrong with this process that I've never experienced. You're on your own.

In really plain English, don't be stupid. I'm just a guy making hooch in his kitchen and I'm not going to take responsibility for anything you do or don't do. If you take my advice and end up with a mess in your basement, a gulp of nasty crap in your mouth, a killer hangover or a fungal infection in your brain, remember that you chose to do this and that you accepted the risks for yourself. I don't want to scare anyone away from brewing but you need to know that there is always the possibility, however remote, of bad things happening. My ass is thusly covered.

Everybody clear?


I've Never, in my life, used THAT word!

I almost never post youtube,apparently 'utube' has become the popular experession, pieces but I know the people who made this so I ask my readers about the following. Racism is one of those truly intractables. It's something I'm not smart or wise enough to really get a handle on or to provide a solution to. My opinions on the subject are probably still far outside the popular consensus so I'll offer this for debate.

Good satire, flagrant exploitation, expose on the American zeitgeist, painful recitation of sins, hateful bombast or insightful commentary? You tell me.


I Want Neil Gaiman to Drink my Mead.

It's been with us, humans, since the beginning. It's mentioned in hundreds of myths and legends from around the world. In more modern times it has spawned a cottage industry, been the subject of some legal contention in my state and has even been mentioned in the works of acclaimed urban fantasy author Neil Gaiman. It is, in fact, the root of the word 'honeymoon.'

Mead, the drink of the Norse Gods, the libation of choice for kings and commoners through classical and medieval times. It's delicious. It's intoxicating and, infuriatingly enough, nobody seems to know what it is.

I brew my own mead at home. Most home brewers make beer or wine but I decided, from the moment I took up the hobby, that I was going to make mead, partly because so few other people made it and partly because it was not commercially available in Georgia at the time. In the intervening decade I have produced hundreds of gallons of the stuff that, like most home brews, ranges from the disgusting to the sublime. I have tweaked, experimented, studied, conversed and otherwise just set about making this stuff with the reckless abandon of a child with a new toy. I find it hugely fulfilling and a number of people have come to know me simply as the Mead Guy.

What amazes me is that, despite bringing it to parties, family gatherings, conventions and even a couple of professional mixers, despite mead being mentioned in a handful of major market films like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and The 13th Warrior, most people don't have the barest understanding of what mead is. "Is it like wine or is it like beer?" They ask.

"Well, it can be like either, depending on how you make it but really, it's its own thing." I always reply before being subjected to a barrage of questions that indicate my interrogator had probably never even heard of mead until I walked up to them and said, "Try this."

This past weekend I had the privilege, quite by accident, of speaking at a Dragon*Con panel on brewing and the chemistry of fermentation. The audience was lively but, despite being full of brewing enthusiasts, seemed to lack a concrete understanding of mead, what it is and how it's made. As a result of that, I promised to post a series about the brewing of my favorite beverage. I start today with a primer on mead, itself. I aim to explain what mead really is, what it isn't and to dispel some myths about it. Here we go.

First, mead is the fermentation of honey. Honey, which because of its high viscosity does not ferment on its own, is blended with some other liquid, usually water or juice, and is then fed to yeast. Over the next few weeks or months, the yeast metabolize the sugar in the honey and the nutrients in the juice. The byproduct is alcohol. Eventually the yeast die off and sink to the bottom. The mead is drained off the sediment, bottled and enjoyed. While this is a vast oversimplification, the actual process can be anywhere from ten to two hundred steps depending on the recipe, all mead making follows approximately this flow.

Mead is not wine and mead is not beer. While there are some grape infused meads, usually called pyment, which would technically be a wine and there are some recipes that call for roasted hops, which might technically be called beer, mead is really its own thing. It's not beer, it's not wine, it's not malt beverage, it is in a separate category of fermentable all its own.

The process of brewing mead most closely resembles that of wine and, like wine, mead has a wide continuum of potential flavors. People often ask, "It's made from honey, so is it sweet?" It can be sweet, very sweet or it can be dryer that the dryest white wine. It can have a sharp, tart flavor, or it can be smooth and easy drinking. Mead is every bit as complex and refined as the most robust wines or beers and is worthy of the same degree of examination and critical enjoyment. Dozens of factors enter into the flavor profile of a batch of mead so any single description of the flavor, texture, color, or experience is pretty much useless.

There is more than one kind of mead, dozens of varieties, in fact. Meads are classified based on the infusing agent into which the honey is mixed before fermentation. True mead, often spelled meade to differentiate it from other kinds, is simply a blend of honey and water. It generally has a delicate, thin flavor akin to a very light white wine. Cyser is made with apple and honey while melomel is made from honey and a sweet fruit like grapes or berries. Metheglin is spiced mead. Sack is mead made with a large quotient of honey, meant to be thick and extremely sweet. It's important to remember that these categories are neither exhaustive nor mutually exclusive. It is very possible to make a cyser-metheglin-sack. There are even sparkling meads that resemble champagne.

Finally, mead is difficult to find commercially. Most honey is produced locally and in fairly small quantities. The quality and character of honeys can very greatly even in the same locale. Honey is extremely heavy, expensive and difficult to harvest and transport. There is a mathematics, a certain predictability in the making of wine or beer that has been easily understood for centuries. Mead, on the other hand, is less deterministic. Potency, time in fermentation, yield loss, sedimentation and a number of other factors vary greatly even between ostensibly identical batches, making the profitability of commercial mead production hugely indeterminate. Additionally, because most people in the US don't even really know what mead is, there's not much of a market for it here so no large enterprise is going to want to take on the risk of producing a complicated, expensive, unpredictable product that might never be sold.

This suits me just fine, of course. I am perfectly happy making it at home, drinking what I make and giving away the rest, knowing that I do something pretty unique that brightens the lives of others.

All that having been said, I will be posting a series about the brewing and enjoyment of mead. If you have any questions, feel free to post a comment or to email me at icarusannolds at hotmail dot com . We will begin in the next few days with an overview of brewing equipment.

Thanks to everyone who came to the panel this weekend and tolerated me pontificating about one of my favorite subjects.


False Immediacy

We see it all the time, so often, in fact that we hardly notice it. I suppose, in the grand scheme of media ethics, it's no big crime. Television news providers using the physical location of a reporter to convey a sense of authority, even if none exists.

A good example, if there is a ten car pile up on the interstate during morning rush hour, odds are, at least one of the local stations will have an ENG crew on the side of the road when the nightly news airs at eleven pm.

The report normally begins with the words, "I'm (name of reporter) here at the site of a deadly accident that happened earlier today on (name of highway)."

Which is all great except for the fact that it happened fifteen hours ago. The wounded have been taken to the hospital. The roadside investigation is complete. The vehicles have been hauled away and the emergency services have all packed up and left. There's nothing there to see. There is no journalistic reason to have that person deliver their story from the side of the road rather than have the anchor read the copy in the studio. That person is standing on the side of the highway simply to underscore a false pretense of immediacy and authority, to make you think that they and their station are more on the ball than they would otherwise seem. After all, what good is it to have a reporter say, "I'm here on the side of the highway where absolutely nothing is happening."

This isn't just a local phenomenon. Several times I've seen CNN, when reporting some issue in Atlanta, have a correspondent standing in Centennial Olympic Park. They never seem to address the fact that metro Atlanta is nearly seventy miles across and that Centennial park is, likely, nowhere near what it is they are reporting.

Do you know what Centennial park is very close to? It's across the street from CNN headquarters. A reporter and a camera person strolled out of the CNN studio, across the food court and walked across Marietta Street. They make very sure to face north so that the Atlantic Plaza, formerly the IBM building, Nation's Bank Tower and the Westin Peachtree, all iconic Atlanta skyscrapers, are clearly visible. Were they to face south, of course, you would see the giant CNN logo on the front of the building they just left. Daryn Kagan, or any one of the Atlanta based anchors will then chat with the correspondent who is "live in Atlanta" without mentioning that that correspondent is less than two hundred yards away.

I'm not suggesting any sort of malfeasance on the part of CNN. They're not lying. That reporter is, in fact, in Atlanta and they're probably well informed on the issues and well qualified to bring that information to the public. All they're doing is playing with the set dressing a bit so that their news might seem a touch more appealing, a bit more legitimate, than a rival's. This is the logical outgrowth of the marketplace of media.

It is something we need to watch for, though. These subtle manipulations, while mostly harmless, have a cumulative effect on our credulity, our skepticism and on the ways that we unknowingly make decisions about media-ized data.

Point being, pay attention to the set dressing, understand how the questions are being asked, think about the bits of interviews that don't make the final piece, contemplate the audience that each news program is geared towards. Moreover, write to the news provider to which you ascribe the most authenticity, no matter what organization that is. Make them know that they are accountable to you and that you are wise to the tricks they use when selling your eyes to advertisers.

This is essential to keeping the accounters accountable.



I'm Told I Need One of These, so Here it is.

What is this Blog All About?
My original blog, celebrateyourtomness.com, presented me as a mock celebrity. Originally I had grand designs for it but I could never get it to work quite the way I wanted. It never quite looked right. The name was cumbersome. Most people just didn't get the joke. I let the domain expire some time ago in favor of something a bit more serious.

BadassBard has no particular theme, it is a showcase for my essays and commentaries on a myriad of topics. Most posts are analysis of recent experiences or of incidents from my past. I also post about my career as a film and television professional and I give the occasional political opinion.

What is this Blog Not About?
I pledge that I will not post idle internet memes, gossip, minute to minute accounts of my vacation, pictures of celebrities, jokes, reposts of news stories, intellectual pissing matches with other bloggers, linkfests or commentaries on other articles in which most of the post is a cut and paste from the article followed by two sentences of vacuous commentary.

We see these things far too often on other sites. Generally speaking, they are the product of intellectual laziness or of the erroneous presumption that they substitute for actual content. I will only post things that I would actually want to read.

How Did You Get Your Name?
I have a habit of doing theatrical renditions of classic stories and narrative poems at Pagan gatherings around the southeast. As a result, I am often identified as "Bard Thomas" to delineate me from the half dozen or so other folks named Thomas in that same community. Several years ago a close friend of mine gave me a pin bearing those fateful words "Badass Bard." Given my penchant for storytelling and for doing things other people often consider risky, the name seemed appropriate.

Do You Really Work in the Movie Business?
Yes. I am a professional film maker and have been since I finished college. I have worked on more than a dozen feature films as well as a myriad of shorts, commercials, music videos and one television show. I work primarily in production and sound.

Have You Ever Worked With/Do You Know (insert famous peson here)?
I might. I've worked with quite a few people with varying degrees of celebrity.

Will You Get Me an Autograph/Tell Me About Them/Tell Them About ME?

Will You Get Me a Job or Audition?

You Write About Politics Often; What are Your Political Affiliations?
For the record, I am a registered independent and I have been since my eighteenth birthday. I do not associate myself with, nor have I ever been a member of any political party. I happen to think two party politics is a load of bollocks, innately corrupt and actively working against the interests of the citizenry and I think that both the Democrats and Republicans have their heads so far up their asses that they can probably lick their own tonsils.

I am a true liberal, something conspicuously absent from both major parties. Moreover, I feel the definition of liberal has been so tainted by thirty years of spurious rhetoric that I would pick a more appropriate word if there was one in the common vernacular. I have a set of political beliefs that are fundamentally different from those of either party. That having been said, I tend to vote for Democrats because they tend to act, ever so slightly, like the kind of people I want in office than do the Republicans, though often for the wrong reasons.

Or, put more succinctly, I don't vote for Democrats. I vote against Republicans.

What Does Pagan Mean? Are You Wiccan? Can You Teach Me to be Pagan?
We really don't have time for this and there are so many people that have explained this better than I have. No, I won't teach you anything. I'm the last person you want to be your spiritual adviser. Seriously, go to the bookstore. You'll find something.

Can I Ask a Question for the FAQ?
Yes, if enough other people ask it. Feel free to comment here or to send an email to icarusannolds at hotmail dot com.


M.O.S. is a Myth.

As the story goes, when acclaimed expressionist/noir master Fritz Lang of Metropolis fame, fled Nazi Germany and began making films in the United States, his professional success in his new country outpaced his mastery of the English language. His focus on purely visual film making, to the exclusion of the relatively new development of sync sound, combined with his habit of articulating his thoughts in a hodgepodge pidgin tongue of English and German let to the accidental adoption of the acronym M.O.S..

Supposedly, Lang was so in the habit of shooting "Mit out sound," mit being the German equivalent of the English preposition "with," that this expression became part of the industry vernacular. There are a number of such terms, "meat-bag," "Gary Coleman," "C-47," "Abby Singer" and "10-100" all spring readily to mind and they all have legends to accompany them. In this case, though, the popular legend is a myth.

When scenes are shot on celluloid film, as opposed to on video, the visuals and the audio are captured by two entirely independent devices and are then combined in post production. Because these are two separate elements, either can be run without the other. Sounds can be recorded without rolling the camera and picture can be shot without any accompanying audio. When we do the latter, it's called shooting "MOS." There are a number of reasons to do this, it's a static shot with no dialog, an insert of something that makes no sound, the creative decision to edit in music with no diagetic audio has already been made, contaminating sounds will make the sound track useless etc.

In the early days of sync sound film making, the late 20's and early 30's, sound was applied to film using an optical ribbon. On the bits filmed without sound, the script supervisor would label the shot, Minus Optical Stripe, informing the editor that there was no need to go searching for the audio component.

I have also heard that, before we had electrical motors as sophisticated as we do today, the camera and the audio machinery had to run off of the same 220volt circuit. If for some reason, the camera had to be run on a different electrical channel, matching up the two elements would become very complicated, if not outright impossible. Ergo, such shots were photographed without audio and labeled "Motor Off Sync."

It's my suspicion that both stories are, to some degree, true. Among location audio professionals the first is the generally accepted tale.

In either case, I do hope that this Mit Out Sound nonsense is put to bed.

You have thusly been enlightened.


Like Neon at Twilight

Not long ago I made the striking realization that I've been with my current girlfriend longer than I've been with anyone, more than two years now. It hasn't seemed that long, this particular helping of lifetime, but this realization has put my mind to my first serious relationship and to the scant gulf of the decade between that liaison and this one. That one didn't turn out so well and I find myself constantly thinking back to it even though that affair is an unlike this one as I think possible.

Why does our first love always haunt us? No matter how wondrous or how tragic the affair, that original lover is always there, looking over our shoulder on every first date, snickering secrets during every first kiss and making vicious comparisons over every first breakfast. We never get away from it.

I had been pondering this at great length, all the mistakes I made back then and all the things I've done right lately, when it dawned on me that this is not a unique property of love.

It's not just our first love that stays forever in the distance behind us, refusing to dip below the horizon even as the more recent events devolve into trivia with ever increasing celerity, it's firsts of all kinds. Our first car, our first job, our first hangover, our first great victory, our first great failure, our first brush with death and our first time away from home all sit at the back of our understanding, underlying all else that we do. It seems our memories are a pad of onion skin paper and the first time we write upon it we always press down too hard, leaving the impression of that inaugural scribble beneath every other bit of the record.

My first talent was bowling. It's still the only competitive sport I've ever played and I was among the best in the state when I was still in junior high school. At the age of fourteen a future as a professional bowler seemed like a perfectly reasonable and attainable career goal. I gave it up while still in high school, intent on pursuing other things.

Now, at twice the age, I go bowling about twice a year. I still do better than most casual recreational bowlers but I'm no where close to my competitive form of fifteen years ago. My ball doesn't fit my fingers and my shoes don't fit my feet. Even though it has been more than a decade since my last competitive game, everything I do I compare to bowling. I was so good, so young, that it sometimes seems that I've never been that good at anything else. This isn't true, of course. If there's any objective comparison to be made, I'm a much better film maker, puppeteer and, I hope, writer than I ever was a bowler. It's just that I was a bowler before I was anything else.

I'm glad I've moved beyond all of that, beyond all those firsts and onto other things, beyond my Camaro, beyond the IHOP I once managed, beyond the headache I had the morning after David's Bar Mitzva, beyond that accident that nearly cost me the use of my right hand and definitely beyond bowling.

Some people, it seems, never do move beyond their firsts and I can't decide whether I pity them or envy them. Some people keep their first job, marry their first lay and have a brand loyalty about cars that I'll never quite understand. Are they scared of change or do they know something that I don't? Might it be better to stick with the firsts and avoid the years of comparisons, the suspicions and the alienations that come from seconds and thirds? Did they learn to appreciate what they have in a way I never did? Is all of life like one's original go at cocain and we'll never get higher than that first time?

I don't know. I'm not that wise and besides, it's too late to try the first time again.

Two years and we're still together. I love you, Rawkstahr.


Welfare Christmas

The trivia question at the coffee shop was, "What is Bolognese?"

"Meat Sauce," I said, claiming my ten cents off. "Who doesn't know that?"

"I didn't." replied the barista, who was only a few years younger than I.

Without thinking I asked, "Don't you ever eat at Figo?" the trendy and fairly new pasta bar next door.

"Too expensive," he remarked, not looking up from the register.

Presuming that he had never stopped to read their menu and that he had only inferred the place to be pricey by it's looks, I told him, "It's only seven or eight bucks to eat dinner there." A paltry sum for a full meal, I thought.

He looked up and, handing me my change he shrugged and said, "Yeah, too expensive."

I mumbled something noncommittal, probably, "Fair enough," but I felt as I had just been kicked in the chest.

Thinking back on the decade I spent working in restaurants I remember too many times when I scoffed at other people's comments and pretensions of casual affluence. The people that would spend two of my days' wages on a weekly haircut or that would buy a car costing more than I might spend on a house, I found those people detestable. I presumed them corrupt and observed their ignorance of economic reality with just enough restraint to contain my contempt.

Here I was, though, the reflection of the very people I vilified to myself. Have I become, even in some tiny way, like them? I only assume eight dollars is a measly sum because I routinely have that much to waste. To the person opposite me it might be a fortune.

I want never to be one of those cafe people, arrogant in their wealth, ignorant of their privilege and contemptuous of others' industry. I would rather live and die with my hands dirty.


It's a Nice Day to Start Again

The speech that I mentioned In This Post seems to be of interest to some people.

Killyin and I shared concurrent adolescences in the existential wonderland that is east Marietta, Georgia. A few years ago he called me in the middle of the night, frantic in a way I had never quite heard him. "Tom," he stammered, "I've met this great girl. Well, actually I've known her for a long time but I only just realized... anyway, I need your help to show her how I feel about her."

"Sure," I said. He's one of my best friends, after all, "Anything. What do you need me to do."

"Well, first," he says, "I need you to come bail me out of jail."

Killyin, it seems, had been arrested for operating an industrial X-ray machine without the appropriate veterinary permits. That was all really an excuse, though, the authorities were much more concerned with his alleged involvement in the daring daylight heist of nearly sixteen tons of artificial sweetener and he had been arrested on a trumped up misdemeanor in order to question him and limit his movements.

So, I bailed him out of jail at about one in the morning and, as we drove through the deserted Chicago streets, all I could seem to do was glance at him and repeatedly ask, "An X-Ray machine?"

He didn't comment much on this but after ten or fifteen minutes of my prodding he did turn to me and say, "We need to stop by the shop." Few can understand how this statement filled me with dread. Those of you that know Killyin know that, several years ago he opened a combination homebrew store and topiary gardening academy that most people consistently avoided. I was pleased to find out that by this time he had converted that establishment into a combination tattoo removal studio and Peter Paul & Mary memoribillia emporium, in all a much more pleasant place than it had been.

Now, all jokes aside, I've always been kind of impressed by the postal service. This connects, I promise. They do a pretty good job of delivering millions of packages and letters to all sorts of places under all sorts of conditions. In this case, a good lot of these things had been brought to Killyin's shop. We stepped inside and I found that the entire place was stacked, from floor to ceiling, with post, with bits of mail. There were small envelopes and big envelopes and soft sided envelopes and hard sided envelopes, plain envelopes and fancy envelopes as well as all sorts of boxes from the tiny ones that come with jewelry to the giant ones that might hold a household appliance and no two quite the same size or shape. They absolutely filled up the room, obscuring everything, except the eleven foot high statue of Puff, the magic dragon, that filled one corner and that really did dominate the space.

I only had a moment to take all this in because Killyin led me out onto the enclosed loading dock were I found that he had acquired a brand new, blindingly shiny, fully equipped, four ton purple Hitachi dump truck. He then handed me a box cutter and said, "Let's get to work."

We spent most of the next five hours opening all that post: small envelopes and big envelopes and soft sided envelopes and hard sided envelopes, plain envelopes and fancy envelopes as well as all sorts of boxes from the tiny ones that come with jewelry to the giant ones that might hold a household appliance and no two quite the same size or shape and emptying them into the back of the brand new, blindingly shiny, fully equipped, four ton purple Hitachi dump truck.

And what was in them? Artificial sweetener, hundreds of thousands of single portion packets of artificial sweetener, enough to fill the brand new, blindingly shiny, fully equipped four ton purple Hitachi dump truck just to the top. I stood there for at least five minutes looking back and forth from the contents of the truck to Killyin before I asked, "Are you going to explain any of this too me?"

He simply pointed at the back of the truck and said, "There's no blue."

He was right. The tens of thousands of little paper packets that filled the truck just to the top were all yellow and pink with just a few green ones here and there. There was not a single blue packet among them. This observation forced me to ask, "How do you think that clarifies anything?"

He climbed up into the cab of the big purple dump truck, looked me in the eye and said, "Clean up all the boxes before the police come by, please."

As he cranked the engine I screamed, "What the fuck has any of this got to do with you being in love?"

He looked at me, confidently, with the eyes of someone who's known you for years. He smiled and said, "Love is a many Splenda'd thing and this woman has no Equal."

And with that he drove off into the rising sun, leaving me to clean up all of the postal refuse. Now, I don't know what he did with it and I have never asked. I don't know how one proves one's devotion to a woman with a dump truck full of aspartame but I know that since she's the kind of woman who obviously understood and appreciated it, then they're probably meant for each other.

And so, to the newly minted Mr. and Mrs. Killyin, Salud, Nastrovia, Mazel Tov, Brightest Blessings, I love you both.


For Wo/Man is the Head of the _________ as Jesus is the Head of the Church.

Going with my constant assertion that, once an argument becomes completely intractable, it's time to throw out all of the existing arguments on both sides and find some new ones because, clearly, the one's we've got aren't going to get us anywhere, here's another thought on gay marriage.

If all people, regardless of race, gender or class, are equal under the law, then why do women have a right or privilege that men do not, namely, the legal ability to marry a man? Contrawise, why are men granted the right to marry women when women are not allowed to do the same? A number of high court precedents, most notably the landmark Brown v. Board..., have held that the constitution makes no provision for equivalent but separate sets of rights for different classes of citizens. If a single person is granted a right, privilege or ability by act of law then that precise action must be available to all people without regard to extra-legal factors.

Absolutely regardless of any moral issues that are presented by same sex marriage, there can be no legal construct that allows for precisely equal rights for both men and women, ergo, either everyone is allowed to do everything or no one is allowed to do anything.

Personally, I vote for no one but I've already talked about that in some detail.


An Apology.

My settings were incorrect. I had not realized that I had restricted comments to registered Blogger users. As I feel the ability to comment freely, even anonymously, is vital to this method of discourse, I cannot excuse the oversight.

My profoundest apologies to active bloggers using other platforms for appearing to shun their input and to lurkers for, by extension, depriving them of the attendant conversation. I invite and encourage all valid commentary.

My error has been remedied.


Read My Lips...

While the rest of America hollers herself hoarse about the possibilities of an election nearly a year and a half away and while pundits and spin doctors obsess over every machination of campaign subterfuge, how about a quick and honest thought about the nature of government.

Categorically, I will vote for any candidate that gets up on national television and says the following:

"I will veto everything."

I say it again. "I will veto absolutely everything that congress sends to the White House. We have too many laws and I will see as few new ones as possible created during my tenure. My default action on any piece of legislation will be to veto. I will sign only acts of congress that are constitutionally mandated as periodic duties of the government, such as the annual budget. Baring that, no bill that does not deal with an overriding and pressing issue of American security or economic stability will receive my signature. Furthermore, I will allow any grandfathered legislation to pass out of law without renewal unless there is a similar such need for its continuance and I will issue a list of laws that I will approve for renewal before the election."

The age in which the finances and fates of the American people are simply the playthings for a handful of over-entitled honkey geriatrics needs to come to an end. A promise like this might make some progress in that direction.

I'm not getting my hopes up, though.


Movies are Dead, Long Live Movies

Last week a card playing companion of mine had occasion to, in the guise of asking my professional opinion, pontificate at great length on how the film industry is on it's last legs and will shortly be a cultural dinosaur like disco and ice cream socials. His argument for this rested primarily on the assertion that advances in home theatre technology will, in a few short years, make actually attending a movie unnecessary.

I had to answer that, despite his protestations, this is simply not the case.

I'm going to tell all of you something that it seems the big distributors don't want anyone to know. Our industry isn't hurting. Are we loosing revenue to piracy, yes, but it's not as big a deal as the studios would have you believe. Beyond that, everything is five by five.

Home viewership is not going to supplant the theatre-going experience anytime soon. Yes, there is some really killer technology on the market for the people who want it but those toys, no matter how fancy, are not going to doom movie theaters.

Why? Because going to the movies isn't so much about the movie as it is about going to the movie, getting out of the house, making an event out of viewership and having, what the great media theorist Walter Benjamin called, presence, the thrill of actually being there. There is a cultural and social aspect to the cineplex that cannot be replicated in the living room. The standard first date will remain dinner and a movie. Taking children to see the next animated or family film will remain a quintessential weekend outing. Geeks and fanboys of all sorts (and I proudly count myself among them) will continue to show up in droves for the midnight release of the next fantasy blockbuster.

We often forget that so much of human behavior is not simply about utility but also about culture and personal interaction. Packaged alcohol is cheaper, but we still go to bars. There's nothing you can't buy online but people still go shopping. It would be cheaper and easier to do push ups in the garage but people still join gyms. Recorded music didn't put an end to live shows. The fact that baseball is on television does not stop fans from actually attending the games because there is something important in the social aspect of these things, of being there, then, with other people. Yes, in a few years home theaters will be so impressive as to rival the best equipped movie houses and eventually that hardware will become cheap enough for just about everyone to own. That won't stop people from going to the movies because, like I said, it's not about the movie; it's about the going.

If people went to the movies just for the content, we'd have been out of business long ago.



Look at you. I mean, Christ, just look at you, those clothes, that hair, that demeanor. You’re helpless. Do you want people to see you like this? Do you even care what they would think? Nothing good, I can tell you that. Look at what you’ve done with your life. What happened to your goals, you dreams, your plans?

What would you do if you ran into yourself tomorrow, not another of yourself as you are but yourself when you were seventeen. What would the seventeen year old you say? Would they be disappointed? I imagine they would be. Things haven’t turned out as they imagined and they’re probably pretty angry. Would they think that you got lazy or that you lost your focus? Would they think you squandered your best chances or that you simply fucked up? Worst, would they think you sold out?

No matter what they thought they would be when they got to be you, you’re not it. If you are then you’re either lying to yourself or you had dreams too mundane for any self respecting seventeen year old to have. That or you’ve been given more than you’ve earned in life and it doesn’t count for bollocks anyway. Somewhere along the line you did, even if for a moment, get lazy, lost your focus or squandered a good opportunity. Somewhere along the line, some tiny part of you sold out. Somewhere between seventeen and now you stepped in your own shit and didn’t have the wherewithal to wipe it off and the reek is still clinging to you. You@17 , the you that was eager and feisty, proud and invincible, the you that was ready and capable and jaded in the way that only a seventeen year old can be, that you is really pissed off.

Y’know what? Fuck You@17. You@17 didn’t know shit. Nobody had told them what the real world was going to be like. Nobody had explained to them anything about adulthood. They didn’t know a thing about sleepless nights. They didn’t know a thing about paying bills. They didn’t understand being broke or having to perform on someone else’s terms. They didn’t know about sacrifice, about bruised pride, about long hours or about how the world likes to beat good people down. You@17 didn’t know about lost jobs or heartless lovers. They didn’t know what it feels like to fail, even when you were at your best. They didn’t’ know what it’s like to have more expected of them than they were able to give. You@17 had never been defeated. You@17 had a lot of lessons to learn.

And so do you.

Don’t you dare feel bad. Don’t you dare feel sorry for yourself. Don’t even think about apologizing to You@17. You@17 couldn’t have done what you’ve done, couldn’t cope with what you undertake every single day. You@17 kept fucking up until they became you now and never thought to revaluate the surroundings. You@17 needs to be put in their place.

Now, straighten up, dust yourself off and put yourself in order. There are things to be done, things You@17 would never understand or appreciate. There’s still a world to conquer and legions of left over seventeen year olds’ asses to kick.


... Let no Man Put Asunder

I was on the west coast this past weekend to attend the wedding of my best friend from high school.

Killyin, the great ladies' man, the fellow once bemused by all trappings of pomp and circumstance, the most mischievous do-gooder I've ever known and the old friend I was most sure would see forty as a bachelor, got married. They had an elegant modern Catholic wedding. The hilltop reception in the northern California hills inspired ubiquitous envy. I was honored to be a groomsman and I gave what was, in my own opinion, a glorious toast, greeted by a combination of uproarious laughter and unblinking stares of reptilian noncomprehension.

Killyin is wed. He got hitched. He settled down. He became a family man. It blows my fucking mind.

Not, mind you, because it was him, in particular, that went down the aisle. It could have been any of a handful of my closest friends from high school or college. No, it's just that the whole thing make me feel more painfully grown up that I'm really ready to be. I've had other friends get married but none that I knew so well, none that I considered a reflection of myself, none who expected me to put on a tux and give speech, none who's nuptial made me so painfully aware of how far we've come from being children.

It's not that I see anything wrong with marriage or family life, I'm just sure that I'm not at all ready to start a family of my own. I started my adulthood younger than most. I moved out of the house when I was still seventeen. I put myself through college with narry a dime from my parents. I've held a full time job since the day I graduated high school. All that and, so near as I can read myself, I'm still years from wanting to be married.

Am I unconsciously extending my bachelorhood because I spent to little time as an adolescent? Am I one of those guys that will just refuse go grow up, content to be just barely more than a boy for my whole life? Am I the only sane one, standing back while everyone rushes to the altar? Am I too much the union of romantic and pragmatist, waiting for the unlikely someone with whom I can fall madly in love whilst workably sharing financial, familial and cultural responsibilities? Am I just too much like my father, who married for the first and only time in his late thirties?

I choose to think that it's because I'm both practical and ambitious. I know that my career does not, presently, facilitate such things. The financial instability of a freelance profession, the fourteen hour days and six day weeks while on a job, the months away from home, the missed birthdays and skipped anniversaries, the stress of a job that demands flawlessness and the fact that, when time off comes, I'm just oh, so tired, these things do not make for a stable family life. In my business, to succeed, one must forsake everything else. Most people find this a burden but I don't. This is how I have chosen to live my life; it's the career I've wanted since I was in the fourth grade and I've resolved never to belabor or regret it. It's as much a part of who I am as family life would or could be.

That's why, despite two long and fulfilling relationships, both with exceptional women that I will always adore, I've never really taken seriously the idea of getting married. I don't want to be the husband or the father that's never there, that sees their children grow up from afar and ends up not knowing their own kids. I also don't want to be the guy that surrenders his ambitions for his family, that takes the sure paycheck and never tries anything new for fear of loosing the house or of not being able to pay for braces. Noble thought that is, I'm watching too many people my own age as they do exactly that, resenting every moment, destined to die secure and miserable.

Is that selfish or is it wise? Is it selfish wisdom?

In any case, they're a perfect couple and I wish them both the best. If anyone can make it, it's them. It's going to be a while before Killyin has to rent a tux on my behalf, though.

To the newly minted family, Salud, Mazel Tov, Brightest Blessings. I love you both.


Water, Water Everywhere.

You have to love this kind of place. Bibliophiles like me lust at the thought of these shops, the little bookstores peppering the bohemian enclaves that ferment along urban capillaries.

The "Forever After" bookstore on San Francisco's legendary Haight Street is, at first glance, one of the best. The books, old and esoteric in the extreme, are stacked to the ceiling, crammed between one another and sometimes piled on the floor. The aisles are narrow to where two people cannot walk abreast and the aroma of old paper is so strong that it wafts out onto the street. I was prepared to love this place.

Prepared to love it, until I, apparently in a fit of either naivete or hubris unrivaled since the early days of aviation, jotted down the name of a book.

Seeing my pocket tablet, the proprietor informed me that, and I quote, "Nobody's allowed to write in here."

"Beg your pardon?" I asked, presuming I had mis heard him. He had that kind of soft voice peculiar to people that work around books all day, that menacing library whisper that chills your subconcious with the repressed memories of thousands of repetitions of "I will return my library books on time" written neatly on triple lined paper.

"I don't let anybody write anything down in here," he said. "I don't want them writing down titles and looking for them cheaper somewhere else."

Now, it's not my place to tell another person how to run their business, no matter how foolishly I might think they are going about it, so I stowed my paper and pen and vacated the establishment without argument.

But, fucking please, what is this man thinking? I'm not allowed to commit words to paper in his store, in a book store. Apparently a number of people have had such experiences. I cannot fathom how this guy thinks this policy is doing him any good. In my case it lost him a sale. I was writing down a title so that I could either come back the next day when I had cash in hand or write to him from home and have him send it to me. Now I'm not buying shit from him.

I hadn't even written down the price. Though, since he was asking thirty-five dollars for a beaten up soft cover bible, a price I would pay only if it was autographed by the author, I've got a bible in my hotel room for Christ's sake, I can assume he was asking more than I was willing to fork over. Now I'm set on buying the book elsewhere just to spite him. I hope he ends up like Burgess Meredith in the Time Enough at Last episode of The Twilight Zone.

Of all the nonsense in the world.

Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair.

I'm out of town. Posting might be a bit sparse.

Hope all is well with all of you.


Throw Yourself at the Ground and Miss

At first nothing really happens. The Earth gets far away and you're detached, strangely detached, your indolent mind refusing to give in to primate emotions. Then, suddenly, when the moment is almost at hand you become distinctly aware of gravity.

Nine and a half meters per second, per second. Force equals mass times acceleration. The potential energy of two bodies is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. Acceleration is the derivative of the velocity with respect to time.

Your heart bounds about your ribcage like a rubber ball shot from a cannon into a maze of mirrors. Your eyes are sitting too high in their sockets. Everything hangs on you, snug but dangling, like old skin and all you feel is heavy, heavy, heavy.

Your main-sider, betraying no thoughts through eyes behind opaque plastic, gives the word, kicking a domino that may govern the rest of your life. "Take up position by the door," she commands.

"Right foot," you say, genuflecting against the wind. "Right hand," you clasp the door, hand flat against the wall, thumb hooked around the portal. It's dark inside and bright, blinding, without. "Left hand," the litany has taken over. You've practiced again and again. They call it "flow" and you've gotten oh, so, good at it, good at it to avoid thinking about all the other things that a rational person might consider right now because right now is all that matters. You press your hands together through the wall and pull yourself standing, "Left foot," you say.

The wind bears down on you like a sideways waterfall, lifting your clothes and pressing your cheeks to your skull. You peer back into the darkness at your main-sider, "Check in," you holler over the shriek of the wind.

Thumbs up.

Over your left you find your reserve-sider, "Check out." He can't hear you but sure he can see your lips trying to move as they ripple under the force of moving air.

Thumbs up.

Your head snaps forward, the next maneuver in the drill. In front of you, whip, whip, whip, to fast to see, thousands of RPM's, hundreds, thousands of horsepower. Top of your lungs "Prop!"

You shoot up on your toes.
You dip down, bending your knees.
And, you step backwards.

Nine and a half meters per second, per second. Force equals mass times acceleration. The potential energy of two bodies is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.

You yaw hard to the left and your head dips hard towards the Earth like an avian shot from the sky by some attendant hunter as the weight of the other two people gripping your sides drags you sideways and down. They don't tell you this in preceding hours of intensive training that are all that save you from a grisly demise. It would have been nice to know.

Arch, arch, arch, strain your back because the round side of a leaf always faces the ground as it falls.

"Just breathe," your reserve sider had said back on the ground. "Scream if you want to, or swear. That's fine. You can't scream if you don't breathe." But you don't scream and you don't swear. You just arch and check your horizon and your altimeter, that flimsy piece of plastic no more complicated than the wristwatch in the bottom of a box of cereal.

You check your reserve-sider. He gestures peace, straighten your legs, falling too fast. You arch and tighten your legs, feeling the wind slacken just enough to notice, like a candle snuffed in a blinding, bright room.

Thumbs up.

Reserve side - Thumbs up.

Check the horizon. The wind threatens to make you into Anne Boleyn but the ground will be up on you in so much less than a thousand days. Reach for your pilot; keep your balance in the air; recover. Reach for your pilot; keep your balance in the air; recover. Reach for your pilot; keep your balance in the air; recover. Arch, arch, arch.

Check the horizon. Check your altimeter. Check your reserve-sider.

Thumbs up.

Check your main-sider.

Index extended, fist together.

You wave off, gesturing your two companions to abandon you to gravity. They release and loft away like cheap toys in a stiff breeze.

You reach for your pilot and pull, pull, pull, throw aft and right.

Nine and a half meters per second, per second. Force equals mass times acceleration.

The world halts. Everything broke hard and hit the pavement but you were wearing your seatbelt. You dangle, only three - quarters of a mile left to drift. You follow the wind and turn once each way to be sure you can. All the world is as it should be, square, stable, steerable. You ride the wind as your guts climb back up from your ankles and you wonder what all that panic was about. Everything gets so, so slow and all you do is dangle.

500, you turn left, cross the wind, to loose speed and altitude.

At 200 you turn right again and attack the wind, the breeze pushing you back and down and lifting you at once. The ground encroaches and you flare, flare, flare and land rolling, not graceful, but safe.

There's supposed to be some revelation. You're supposed to land as different person than when you ascended. You were expecting to kiss the ground or realize the important things in life or have your spirit set alight by the pure thrill. There's none of that, no great change, no reinvention of life. Just the memory that you were so incredibly busy on the trip down, so much to do that you almost missed the experience.

You walk away, get debriefed and sign up to do it again.

And you cross one more thing off your the before you die list.