Collect Your Courage & Collect Your Horse

Either the weight will get lighter, or my legs will grow stronger; it's the only way for things to be. Setting the load down is not an option. I've carried it this far, feeling it slowly accumulate mass with each new quarter of the map, with each new stage in the journey.

I've dragged friends and family and foes alike on this trip, and I've no out but up and over and through. It is my quest, my calling, my meal ticket.

It doesn't seem all that long ago that I was still moldering in that suburban coffee shop dreaming about the days that I am now living, afraid to admit that they might never come. It seems even more immediate that I stood on a rooftop amid the singular, alien, darkness of a blacked-out Manhattan, convinced that I had chosen all the wrong things, that my ambition was folly and that any weight I might take up would be only the weight of disappointment.

The load is heavy, but precious, and like a merchant on the silk road I weary not only under the weight but under the apprehensions of miscreants and ambitious comrades who would take it from me were they to see me footing falter.

And still, I keep walking.

Every day, China is closer.


Five Years to the Day

I had almost forgotten. It's been half a decade and he's not been at the forefront of my mind for some time. It's strange to think that, for a quarter of the time since I met him, he's been in the ground. No less...

Here's to Volvos
And Coffee
And Linux
And Disco
And Cyberpunk
And Dog Collars (Sometimes Candy Neclaces)
And Metal Briefcases with their Attendant Felonies
And Bananafone
And Mozart's Army
And The Future
And Darmok at Tinagra

"You know that thing that we do?"

"Where we entertain only ourselves?"

"Yeah, I think we're doing it now."

"I am comfortable with this state of affairs."


Under My Feet, The Grass is Growing

What am I doing here?

The walls are red and the floor is polished and the shutters are fake, nailed to the wall with no hinges to turn on.

A homeless man is asleep, sitting upright against the church wall across the lane. A yellow, sallow, fallow fellow, I presume to be sleeping because I'm not brave enough to check if he's dead.

The sun never rises high enough because it's always daytime in outer space.

Rain in the East pulls the pollen and putrid pollution out of the air; rain in the West seeps into soil and sweetens the stinking sewage, and any comments to the contrary are crass and condescending in the contemporary context.

Seriously, what am I doing here?

Who invented drop ceilings? Probably the same taste terrorist that invented drop biscuits and drop D tuning.

Strangers are running in the rain, congratulating themselves on their fortitude, as if sweating amidst drizzle was the test of one's mettle.Run in the rain on Venus and I'll be impressed.

Pico de Gallo is one millionth of one millionth of a Gallo, so I should stick with guacamole because avocados can't do math, though there may be merit to the bulk discount.

The man on the other side of the divider speaks like a robot with a hole in it's throat. A humming buzzing, retro-future sound best left to Cold War paranoia on the silver screen and to the Cylons from before the reboot. I'd put in my headphones and silence him with bubblegum pop if not for what he was saying.

Christ on a skateboard, what am I doing here?

The music is terrible. The food is worse. The company is detestable. And, it's just too damn loud.

Mealy-mouthed miscreants masticating moldering munchies always arouse my antipathy. Ah, arrogance.

I could sneak out the back, walk the long way home, going west across continental Asia, and come back for my car in a half decade or so.

There is finally an excuse for all the things I've been wanting to do but I'm sure that everyone will know that it's just an excuse and suddenly I'll be the selfish asshole that's being so so so. So what? Other than I didn't want to do any of that in the future so I'll squander my excuse for lack of an actual reason.

Whatever, I'm out of here.


I Deserve a Break Today

This is a strange moment. I've not had a moment like this in some time, several years, at least. The sensation is so strange I'm half wondering if I'm imagining it, half wondering if I've missed something truly substantial and that the hard back-of-head smack of my own forgetfullness is about to assault me like a mis-played tether ball. It's odd, just plain odd.

The office is quiet.

I mean the office is really quiet. The body of tasks that I'm supposed to pursue is done for the day, still an hour before my vendors on the west coast close. The shooting company is in the field, only half way through their deep-split workday, but I've gotten no panicked calls. Accounting finished early and headed home thirty minutes ago. The flights are booked and no one has called to change. Supplies and equipment, all ordered, paid for, and distributed. I haven't gotten an irate call from an agent or manager since lunchtime. All the little fires that normally vex my day seem cold and smokeless.

Old-timers, meaning anyone who's tenure in the industry precedes mine by more than fifteen years, tell me that this is how it used to be, how it's supposed to be. My disbelieving ears keep hearing that, once-upon-the-good-ol'-days, a Production Office was a languid place, occupied by just a few souls who existed only to copy Call Sheets, make Sides and proofread Production Reports. The rest of the time was spent practically idle, cracking jokes and waiting for the benchmark calls from set.

The Production Office Life [TM], as I've known it, is a potent cocktail of  money headaches, departmental neediness, bureaucratic frustration, above-the-line yelling, quiet weeping, studio bow-scraping, pounding stress, and a potent dose of an exotic herb called 'fucking-hurry,' all milled together under high pressure for fourteen hours daily, served with a side of exhaustion and garnished with the constant reminder that we're the most anemically compensated of all union departments.

Over the last twenty years, as movie-making has gotten more complex, as productions have gotten larger in scope, as studios have closed the dual fists of oversight and due diligence, and as the analog/chemical modes of working have been subsumed by the chaos of digital/virtual production, more and more work has fallen to the Production Office. While we were once, as it's told to me, simply an in-house printing shop and and record keeping service, now we are the logistical cerebellum of the film making organism, with all the associated expectations, responsibilities, pitfalls, and most of all, hours.

Not today, though. Today the world is quiet and everything is squared away. The shooting day is underway and all the paperwork is done. The muckity-mucks are out of the building and nothing is on fire. Today we get to breathe a little. It makes me nervous.

I'm going to go prep the Sides.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em.


What's the Matter, McFly? Are You CHICKEN?!

I don't know that I've reached the age where I get to lead my thoughts with "kids today...", but I'm going to do it, anyway.

Kids today are scardy-cats. They are cowards, absolutely yellow, the lot of them.

Neither my niece, nor her husband, both barely old enough to drink, have drivers' licenses. They're both terrified of driving. My neighbor's twin sons, fifteen next week, have never learned to ride bicycles or to swim in water deeper than they are tall. My college roommate's daughter, now nine, is petrified to leave her house without a parent in tow. I literally do not know anyone under the age of twenty that possesses the spirit of adventure, the lust for independence, or the recklessness that typified youth in any earlier generation.

I'm just barely old enough to have had an upbringing that resembled that of my baby-boom parents rather than that of my generation-me juniors. We had eight, and later sixteen-bit Nintendo, with its pixelated Marios and and bloc-art Links, but video games were not yet ubiquitous until the age of the Play-Station, which was first released when I was in college. In my particular case, it helps that my mother allowed me to own a video game system only when I reached adolescence for fear that it would turn me into a couch potato. I griped and sulked at the time but I am retroactively grateful.  

For anyone my age or older, our childhoods were spent unsupervised and outdoors. On weekends and during school breaks, children would depart their houses in the morning, form packs, and wander the neighborhood until the street lights came on, obligating us to return home. We would climb things, we would dig under other things. We would run. We would ride. We would wrestle. We would go far afield, from the quarry the next town over, past he settlers' ruins in the village park, across the river to the miniature mountain that was so good for sledding in winter and rolling-down in summer. Bicycles, skateboards, sleds, inner tubes, play swords, river swings, discarded tires, jungle gyms, and water balloons were what fun was built from. And, we did it all without helmets, pads, rubberized matting or a tether to home.

And, yes, we got hurt, often. Scrapes, cuts, bruises, bloodied noses were daily occurrences that were shrugged off, not doted upon. Occasionally, we got hurt badly. While I was lucky to have gotten though my youth with only a handful of stitches, John broke his arm when his driveway basketball hoop came out of the ground. Justin took a branch to the head while climbing a tree and had to be carted away in an ambulance for fear that he would bleed out. Kai broke his jaw when the front wheel came off his bicycle. Chuck lacerated his arm to the bone because his army knife was sharper than he realized. Josh had his stomach pumped because those weren't wild blueberries. By experiencing and witnessing these hard knocks, we developed a healthy respect for danger and the means for evaluating risk.

This is how you learn your capabilities. You climb the tree as high as you feel safe doing, and each time you climb higher. Occasionally you fall and you learn how not to fall the next time. It is the risk of injury, the reality of pain, that teaches you to navigate the physical world.

This is what leads so many young people to be afraid of mundane things. They've never put themselves in harm's way. They've never gotten hurt, nor done anything that might get them hurt. They've been indoors, playing consequence-free video games under the watchful eye of helicopter parents. On the rare occasion that they find themselves outside, they're on milquetoast ergonomic prefab playgrounds that take them no higher than the couch they would otherwise be sitting on. They've never gone without hand sanitizer, let alone without a net.

A Google Image Search for the Words "Dangerous Play" Brought up this Picture of Clancy Brown
Go Figure

 I'm not saying that we should be flippant or reckless with the safety of our children. Bicycle helmets are good idea. Nerf arrows and paint balls are certainly better alternatives to BB's. A cell phone in the pocket can be a lifeline, but it should not be a leash. Fireworks warrant supervision. Lawn darts* are best left in the recesses of picnic-tragedy memory. But, making childhood too safe is self defeating. Life, by its very nature, is an exercise in the application and mitigation of risk. Without the opportunity to learn that, our kids end up safe and sound, living, but not experiencing life.

So, parents everywhere, call me a hypocrite if you like. Lambast me that my opinions will change if I ever have a child; you may be right. Until then, though, I implore you, send your children outside. Shove them out the door if you must. If they won't go on their own, go with them. Climb trees, make mud pies, ride bikes. Explore ravines and paddle in the river. Play bloody murder. Scramble over the rocks and under the fallen logs. Let them see the view from high atop jungle gym and let them see how far from home they're willing to wander. Keep the soap, the band-aids and the Bactine stocked and don't fret until the street lights come on. Your kids will be better off for it.

*Those of you younger than 30 probably don't remember lawn darts. They were two-pound steel spikes with plastic fletches that you would hurl up in the air in the hopes that they would land approximately where you wanted and not on the head or through the foot of one of your playmates. Why? Because life was cheap in the Reagan years.

Death, Incarnate


The Best You Can Hope for is do Die in Your Sleep

I came into the tournament with the fifth-smallest stack. Out of a field of thirty-two, all of whom had spent the last four months accumulating points in the twice-weekly regular games, only four had fewer chips than I. The initial chip leader had me stacked better than eight to one. I was doomed.

Or so I thought.

I doubled up less than twenty minutes in but played too conservatively for a while and, by the time we were down to twelve, I was dangerously short stacked. I got aggressive, almost reckless for a bit but stayed in, keeping my stack at almost precisely the tournament median.

The four hand and the three hand rarely made it to the flop. It was all-in's and folds for fifteen solid minutes. I called once and put someone out. The other guy did likewise and it came down to just the two of us. Again, we took turns going all in on our hole cards and letting the other fold. I was weak-willed, I suppose, as I let a fairly substantial lead get nickle & dimed away.

Then I remembered something I once heard Doyle Brunson say in an interview, "When it's heads-up, any two cards will do."

He went all in before the flop and, our stacks almost identical, I called with King-Seven. He had pocket Queens but I caught a Seven on the flop and a King on the turn. When we counted out, I found that I had him covered by less than two percent. I had won.

Sure, it was tavern poker, a free gimick to keep patrons in the bar on slow nights. Sure, the grand prize bounty was only a hundred dollar gift card. Sure, no one but I will remember these events in six months time. The stakes don't really matter. What matters is that, on that one night, on that one occasion, I was a champion.

The truth is that, in any form of competition, there are many more losers than winners. Only a tiny fraction ever get to stand at the top of the podium in any capacity. Many people go their whole adult lives without ever having that, without ever being able to say, "Today I defeated all comers."

For what little it counts, I got to say that.

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Candle & Bell

The  Ex-Wife gave me a book for my birthday. It's a fine, leather bound book, with thick, rough-hewn pages that were milled and pressed by hand. It's a beautiful thing, really, a joy of craftsmanship. And, it is blank. It's meant to be a journal, perhaps a scrap book or a codex for pencil sketches. I'm glad to have it.

But, I've no idea what to put in it, none whatsoever. 

I've kept a steady journal my entire adult life. It's grown to dozens of hand written volumes all neatly stashed on a shelf in my bedroom. It's been a good exercise, both for writing as a craft and living as an art form. Keeping my thoughts on paper has been good for me. I pen my missives in cheap, board-bound little diaries that I buy at Barnes & Noble for three dollars apiece. I'm much too prolific to do otherwise. 

This book, though, is special. I can't simply fill it with the mullings and chaff that overflow my other journals when they get sick of loitering between my ears. I've no skill in the visual arts; I can't draw. I could compose something especially for it, but I tend to go through so many drafts that I'll end up wanting to rewrite whatever I put in there a dozen more times.

It's such a lovely thing, such an artifact that I feel I need to do it justice with what I put into it, that I must counter the thought of its giving with the thoughts behind its use. Do I make a scrap book of it? No, she'd hate that. Perhaps I could take a stab at a more traditional diary? A store for pictures, a memoir of particular occasions, a collection of rubbings? I'm quite at the loss.