Monday, May 31, 2021

Discoveries in the Console

I found this on a Post-it note in my car:
Once the awe is sanded away, you are left with the true nature of a thing. 

That Post-it note has been there for a year, at least. I mean, I have ideas--I'm just not very timely in using them. 

What struck me about this note is that when I was younger (man, how often do I start sentences with that now?), I never wanted to get past the awe. That was the fun part. Those were the people I wanted to hang out with, the ones where I never seemed to get past the awe. 

I wasn't interested in the true nature of things. Not in friendships, and certainly not in relationships. When the awe did wear away, it was time to go. 

I can't explain why I felt like that. Part of it was being absolutely incapable of understanding my own emotions, or spending any time even trying to unpack them. They just were, and I responded to them like Pavlov's dog, never trying to lean in a different direction, even slightly. 

Uncomfortable things, at all costs, were to be avoided. And going beyond the awe was uncomfortable.

Now, though, I've entered this weird reverse phase where I find the awe boring. Maybe that happens when it's all you want for a long time. 

Also, maybe that's a reflection of how I see myself now. I think I want to understand all of myself, not just the best bits (I have a few. Some of them are rarely on display). 

I wonder how this will affect my friendships and relationships going forward, because it's definitely going to be different. 

I'm happy to report that Eli 19.10 has never been enamored with awe. Good boy. 

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Friday Links!

First up this week is an outstanding read: The Strange Story of Dagobert, the “DuckTales” Bandit.

This is a phenomenal profile: Johnny Knoxville’s Last Rodeo.

From Mark H., and it's bizarre: Officials detained over medieval-style castle residence built in EU-protected forest in Poland. This is amazing: Photographer Snaps Bird Catching a Ride on Bigger Bird’s Stick. Everyone in the U.S. will need this soon: CICADA-LICIOUS: Cooking and Enjoying Periodical Cicadas

From Wally, and this is fascinating: What Robots Can—and Can’t—Do for the Old and Lonely. There will be complicated reactions to this: Poor in Tech

From Kyle G., and it's powerful: Racing for $100

From Meg McReynolds, and it's an excellent read: What Happens When Americans Can Finally Exhale: the pandemic’s mental wounds are still wide open.

From C. Lee, and this is stunning: Risk of Nuclear War Over Taiwan in 1958 Said to Be Greater Than Publicly Known. This is an interesting perspective: Scientists and policy makers need to talk about climate change like it’s a tragedy we can prevent. This is a terrific read: How Desi Invented Television. This is something: How a New York City Restaurant Loses Money on a $14 Sandwich. This is potentially useful: Try This One Weird Trick Russian Hackers Hate. Also useful (especially this time of year): 9 Things Your Dad Taught You About Grilling That Were Completely Wrong. Let me just say this: that eagle number is very, very wrong. An eagle would absolutely kick your ass: All the Animals American Men Think They Can Beat in a Fight and Why They Can't

From David Gloier, and we should all remember this: How Washington Got Hooked on Flying Saucers

In Case You're Wondering

It can be hard to know what what's safe to do, even after you've been vaccinated (go get vaccinated).

The CDC put out the most comprehensive numbers to date on breakthrough infections (post vaccination COVID infections) this week.

It should make you feel better. 

101 million people in the U.S. are fully vaccinated. 10,262 breakthrough infections have been documented. Only 1,000 hospitalized, and 300 of those were for other reasons than COVID. 160 deaths, and 28 of those weren't due to COVID.

Stunning numbers, and even more so when you consider how high the infection rate has been for much of the last few months. 

Yes, there are caveats. It's a limited time period, and the number of cases is certainly higher than the CDC was able to capture. However, it's also fair to say that a very high percentage of the hospitalizations were captured, along with deaths. So it's it's pretty clear that once you're vaccinated, it's incredibly unlikely that you'll have a severe case of COVID. 

400 people get hit by lightning in the U.S. each year. We're not quite in lightning territory, but for someone who is otherwise healthy, we're within shouting distance. 

Oh, one last note. Variants? Not a problem, at least so far. 

This is full of data: COVID cases after vaccination are still very rare—variants aren’t changing that.

So if you're vaccinated, go do something. It's okay.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Outside My Window

Outside my patio windows there is an ice cream truck. 

Ice cream trucks are good. 

This ice cream truck has a calliope music loop. Not recorded calliope music, but the synthesized jank that can't cross the uncanny valley. 

Still, calliope music is good. 

There are many people in the parking lot buying ice cream, apparently. 

Hey, people buying ice cream! That's good!

The music loop is about thirty seconds long, then it repeats. 

Umm, maybe good?

It's on its seventeenth loop.

Good, rapidly descending into a reverse Elizabeth Kubler-Ross scenario (acceptance, depression, bargaining, anger, denial). 

It's now a moment that fits perfectly into the "smiling as I stab myself" niche. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Well, I think I survived

After editing for eleven hours yesterday and another eleven today (I don't recommend it), the final major draft of The Man You Trust is done. 

There may be some odd formatting stuff, but content-wise, it's 99% done. 

I feel like I've been awake for a week. 

Tomorrow, the readers who I coordinated with last week should get their PDF files.

Also tomorrow, I'll have actual free time again and will be happily updating this space with actual stuff. 

Monday, May 24, 2021


I've been editing for about ten hours and have several more hours to go, so I'm not doing another post today. I send it to my editor at end of day Tuesday, though, so once that's on its way, the rest of the week will be normal. 

Moral: I either need to be more skilled or less ambitious. 

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Friday Links!

Have a great weekend, everybody!

Leading off this week, a link from David Gloier. Pucker up! The Body’s Most Embarrassing Organ Is an Evolutionary Marvel (yet we have very little idea where anuses come from).

From Frank Regan, and this is awesome: The Tragically Hip Unearth Surprise ‘New’ Album ‘Saskadelphia’

From Wally, and these images are fantastic: Richard Powers: The World of fFlar.

From Gloria, and this is so true: ‘This Is What It’s All About, Boys,’ Says Man Hour Away From Complete Meltdown On Sixth Hole

From C. Lee, and it's thoughtful: Efficiency is the Enemy. Such idiots: The Rich Fool and the Race Scientist. This is a terrific article: Meet Benjamin Banneker, the Black Scientist Who Documented Brood X Cicadas in the Late 1700s. This is fascinating: Why extroverts have their own extreme language. Yikes! Man Caught Three Whole Diseases From a Single Tick Bite. This is even more extreme than I thought it was: How Media Consumption Has Changed Over the Last Decade (2011-2021). Transformer pasta! Odd New Pasta Morphs Into Your Favorite Shapes When Cooked. A remarkable woman: The Woman Who Shattered the Myth of the Free Market


John Harwood's visiting a town this summer that was going to be the next big thing.

Like Galveston, which was going great guns until the 1900 hurricane. Or Toledo. Or New Haven, Connecticut.

That would make for a terrific book.

Call it Boomtown, and recount the sad stories of half a dozen cities who missed out on their chance to be major. Bad luck, diverted railways, new shipping lanes--there's no end to the reasons. I want to read about what happened and see the lofty pronouncements of the days when the future seemed so bright. 


The last major draft of The Man You Trust will be finished on Monday. Or Tuesday.

This is in the 99% completion category. The final version will not vary by much, if at all.
[UPDATE: I have readers now. Thanks very much.}

I want a handful of readers to look at this draft and answer some questions about whether certain plot aspects are being communicated clearly. If you're interested, and you can read it within two weeks, please let me know.

Ben, you're #1 on this list, if you have time. 

This week has involved about 30 hours of editing in the last four days. It hasn't been pleasant, and it's also why posts have been so short.

However, Eli 19.10 has been more fortunate. On his way back from the Outer Banks, he did this at River Gorge National Park in West Virginia:

He also did this:

His girlfriend is in the harness with him (you can't really make out facial details, so posting the picture seems okay). She's awesome.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

To Be Fair, It Fit

How was I supposed to know that "detached cock" wasn't a legitimate answer in Wheel of Fortune?

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

The Stewardess

I forgot to tell you a story from the trip last week. 

On my first flight, just a hop to Detroit, I was watching the stewardesses walk up and down the aisle when something occurred to me. The next time one passed, I raised my hand and said, "Do you mind if I ask you something?"

She leaned over slightly. I figured I'd just plough straight ahead.

"You live a large part of your life in this confined space. You walk up and down over and over again. You might even walk differently on the plane. When you're done with a flight, is there any kind of physical adjustment when you walk out into an open space again?"

She looked at me again, but differently this time. "That's a great question," she said. Then she kneeled beside me. "It's not physical, it's emotional. When I'm done with flying for a while, I crave being alone. So much of my day is made up of meaningless social interactions that I don't want to have any on my own time." She paused. "My girlfriends never understand why I don't want to go out with all of them together. I want to see them, but only one at a time."

She'd been a stewardess since she was eighteen, straight out of high school, and she said she'd been doing it for forty-three years. 

It's hard to imagine doing anything for forty-three years, even living, though I have.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Thanks, That's Super Helpful

That's a post-it note in my car. Great.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Friday Links!

Long, long week. And a few days of really intensive editing starting Friday morning.

This is a phenomenal read (and related to a link posted earlier this year): Has an Old Soviet Mystery at Last Been Solved?

Texas. So Texas: Tiger caught on video roaming around Houston neighborhood.

Phenomenal links from C. Lee. First, a clear explanation: Why We Can’t Build Our Way Out of the Semiconductor Shortage. You know, I think I'll pass: The Great Spam Experiment. This is a terrific read: Why have we forgotten one of WWII’s most important battles? Also terrific: How WWII shaped the crisis in Myanmar. This is incredibly depressing: This Is the Anti-Asian Hate Crime Capital of North America. This is an absolutely fantastic read: The Almost-Unbelievable True Story of the Sidewinder Missile.

Paragraph break for readability, but more links from C. Lee, and this one is so enlightening: We Found the Textbooks of Senators Who Oppose The 1619 Project and Suddenly Everything Makes Sense. Um, yuck: 9,000 fliers may have had reused swabs jammed up their noses in Indonesia. Geniuses: Man charged with joining the Capitol riot after the FBI saw his wife's Facebook posts bragging about it. This is fascinating: Walden Pond Is Full of Jellyfish, But Don’t Panic.

From David Gloier, and I almost broke a rib laughing: Russia Is Going to Try to Clone an Army of 3,000-Year-Old Scythian Warriors

From Wally, and this is very discouraging: This is a Map of America's Broadband Problem. I feel like he was a pretty courteous shopper: Shoplifting Seagull Raids Co-op To Nick Tuna Sandwich. This is fantastic: Short Film--Leviathan. Man, this is concerning: ‘It’s like the embers in a barbecue pit.’ Nuclear reactions are smoldering again at Chernobyl

Umm, That's Actually Pretty Smart

The CDC recommendation removing the mask mandate for vaccinated people is genius. 

I know, that seems counterintuitive, at first, but think about it. One, the science supports the decision. Two, an additional goal is to make people who refuse to get vaccinated feel as unsafe as possible. 

That's why it's genius. If you're unvaccinated and walk into a store where 100% of the people are wearing masks, you're still going to feel safe. Walk into a store where 70-90% of the people aren't wearing masks? Welcome to COVID roulette. 

I'm willing to bet that vaccination numbers go up significantly over the next four weeks.

The Hotel

It was quite a hotel. To give you an indicator, just tell me which painting this reminds you of:

Look, it's Edward Munsch in an electrical outlet!

Would you like a desk that you can't use because the air conditioning unit is under it? Check.

A shower that doubles as synthetic ice, with soap and shampoo that is the slipperiest substance known to man? Check. 

Three light switches that work in combination with no instructions whatsoever? Check.

Puzzling closet that faces you for absolutely no reason? Check. 

A shower door with a curved handle so sharp that you will, after a series of misadventures, actually cut your forehead and bleed profusely? CHECK AND MATE.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Soup

I was sitting in a restaurant in the Detroit airport, and the woman across from me ordered soup. 

The waiter brought the soup, and the woman tried a spoonful. 

What ensued was the greatest sour face I have ever seen. If her face had been a film, it would have been a ninety-minute epic of disappointment. 

I burst out laughing, and when she looked at me, I said, "I guess I'm not having the soup," and then she burst out laughing, and it was a nice moment. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The Telltale Key

This was my rental car key (I've included a full-sized pen for comparison purposes):

The key was large. It was roughly the size of my rental car.  

It was also attached to another, identical key. Two keys on a single, stranded wire ring. 

They could not be separated. 

In itself, this was astounding. A second key has absolutely no purpose if it is inextricably bound to the first. It is redundant, and doubles the weight as an added bonus. I carried what felt like two pounds of keys in my pocket all weekend.

When I returned the car on Monday, I went to the rental desk. I told the clerk that putting a second key on the same ring was maybe the dumbest thing I'd ever seen, and I'm sure he heard that all the time. 

"Well, the second key has to go somewhere," he said, which was utterly stupid and staggeringly brilliant at the same time. 

"I can't argue with that," I said.  

Monday, May 10, 2021

Welcome to 1980

I'm flying back from Austin today after seeing Mom 91.1 for a few days, so I'm not posting anything else today, but I did find this picture from a 1980 yearbook:

I thought I was always a 5 when I was college, but I feel like that picture's a solid 6.5. If only I had known.

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Friday Links!

From Meg McReynolds, and I will not be doing this anytime soon: You (Probably) Can’t Everest Mount Everest. I just thought of this: can you mount Everest? I crack myself up.

From DQ Reader Gloria, and it's fascinating: The Pastry A.I. That Learned to Fight Cancer.

From Dan Fitch, and it's a difficult but excellent read: How We Survived COVID-19 in Prison.

From Jonathon W., and these pictures are amazing: Underwater Photos Taken During Blackwater Dives Frame the Atlantic Ocean’s Stunning Diversity.

From Wally, and this is amazing footage of a tsunami: Fishermen Run For Their Lives. This would be a good thing for every town to have: Covid: Japan town builds giant squid statue with relief money. This is delightful: MOZART ON BANJO GUITAR (Eine Kleine Nachtmusik/Serenade in G) - Luca Stricagnoli.

A slew of links from C. Lee this week. First, and it's an excellent read, it's Tiberius, Imperial Detective. This is fascinating: How Personal Ads Helped Conquer the American West. I didn't know this was a thing that existed (coffee jelly): Make a Historic Boston Dessert That Became a Japanese Favorite. This looks like a terrific autobiography: Young Man Inside an Old Man. To no one's surprise: Damage found after late AFLW player Jacinda Barclay’s brain donated for concussion research. Very, very Canadian: Internet Outage in Canada Blamed on Beavers Gnawing Through Fiber Cables

Given the context, I think this is one of the greatest guitar solos of all time (Tom Petty and Dhani's faces are the best): Prince’s earth-shattering “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” solo gets a director’s cut with even more Prince.

Wonder Aloud, Indeed

As someone who is allegedly a writer, I've started to notice this:

This was in a doctor's office last week. A few nuggets:
"Respect and love everyone, everywhere, every day."
"Vulnerability and trust in working together."
"Ask why. Wonder aloud."
"Do the right thing, even when it's hard."
"Ask for and give help. Be bold."

Mother of dictionaries, what unholy word salad is this? Do I need to love everyone in this office? Do I need to be vulnerable? Does 'doing the right thing' have anything to do with the MRI on my wrist? Do I really need to bold?

It's almost like we've reached the post-meaning era for words. Everything we read now consists of recycled motivational poster slogans tossed together at random.

Wednesday, May 05, 2021


I was listening to a jazz show on the local public radio station here and the host introduced a song as "Coltrane gettin' in all over the place," which is the most perfect description of how John Coltrane plays the saxophone that I've ever heard.

Honestly, It Looked More Dramatic in Person

While editing this morning (you don't want to see the pages, trust me), I looked out the balcony window. 

I do this, sometimes, when I've lost flow or can't think of the right phrasing.

A few minutes earlier, a dark and overcast morning had started to give way, grudgingly, to a tiny sliver of blue sky. Now it was this:

What made this so striking to me was the pleasing geometry of the blue sky. The clouds were rolling across the scene, mostly, but they were also moving up ever so slightly, thus revealing the sky behind. It was an amazing effect, unfortunately not fully captured by my aging cellphone camera (I'm fixing that in the next month or so). 

There is a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to the book. Definitely a light. Hopefully it's not a train.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

No Words

A car pulled up beside me in a parking lot.

I heard a window go down, and when I looked inside the car, I saw a black man about my age, with a blue fabric mask pulled down below his nose. 

He was sitting inside a dark Oldsmobile 88 from the mid 90s. There was trash in the floorboards, and the ashtray had a partially smoked Swisher Sweet cigar with the plastic tip.

"Excuse me, sir." he said. "Can you tell me how far I am from downtown?"

I pointed. "Not far. It's only a few minutes from here."

"Can you give me directions to the Spectrum Hospital Cancer Center? My phone is out of battery."

"Sure," I said, pulling out my phone. He looked worn, somehow, like people do when things have been wrong for a long time.

"How far is it from here?"

"A little over two miles," I said. 

"Two miles? Man." He looked at me. "I just bought this car, and it's a piece of crap. I haven't even cleaned it up yet." He moved his left leg. "I hurt this leg in the service."


This sounded like a scam, but I didn't react, because people who run this kind of con fascinate me. Plus I liked this guy. He had a soft-spoken, gentle quality.

"There's a product to plug the radiator until you can get it fixed, but it costs twenty-three dollars." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small group of crumpled, folded bills, showing them to me. "I'm twelve dollars short."

"I'm sorry, man," I said. "I don't carry any cash. Who carries cash anymore?"

"Almost no one," he said. "Nobody carries cash."

"If you have some paper, I'll write down the directions for you," I said. "You just get on Lake and it takes you to downtown."

"That's all right," he said. "I'll find my way."

I turned to walk away, but I'd only gone a couple of steps when I came back. "Can I ask you something?"

"Sure," he said. 

"Look, I'm going to apologize in advance if what I ask offends you. It's really awkward."

"Don't worry about it. It's good."

"All right," I said. "Again, I apologize if I'm wrong, but what you just did has a lot in common with someone running a con. I'm a writer, and people who are good at doing this really fascinate me, and you're good at it. Would you mind if I asked you some questions so I can learn how you put this together?"

He looked at me for a few seconds, and he said, "I like you, brother. I'll tell you." He looked away for a moment, then he looked at me and said, "The throes of addiction make you do things you're not proud of."

"I understand," I said. "And I'm sorry you're struggling with that."

"What do you want to know?" he asked. 

"I can't understand how someone can approach a total stranger and gain their confidence to the point that they give them money. How do you handle the conversation?" 

"You have to establish control. You do as much of the talking as you can, and you give them so many details that they can't concentrate on just one. You just don't give them the chance to say no."

"How do you build the pitch?"

"The pitch doesn't really matter," he said. "What matters is you look them in the eyes, and you're polite. You're polite at all times."

"So how do you handle the moment when someone becomes suspicious? I assume most people have resistance to what you're telling them. How do you get past that and make them trust you?"

"You offer them something of value. If you have an iPad, you let them use it to look something up. Or you offer them something that they know is valuable to you. That makes them think that what you're saying is true."

"You were really, really smooth," I said. "How long have you been doing this?" 

"Too long," he said. "In rehab, they said that people with addictions are powerful persuaders, because we're desperate. I lost my wife, and my car, and a ranch-style home. I lost it all. I'm almost living out of my car at this point."

"Man, I'm sorry," I said. "I  can't even imagine what that must feel like."

"Nothing else matters when you're addicted. You won't spend a dollar on anything else. I've had three of these 88s. I buy them used, in bad shape, and I run them until they're ruined. Blew the "A" gasket on the first two. It'll blow on this one, eventually."

"What are you going to do?"

"I've got a plan to get free. God is working with me." He said it like a wish.

"Listen, do you have an address where you can get mail? I'll send you twenty dollars, just for the conversation."

"No, brother, you keep your money," he said. "It felt good to let it go."

"I hope you make it," I said.

"So do I."

I shook his hand, a long handshake, and walked away.

Monday, May 03, 2021

Then This Guy Showed Up

When I'm writing, sometimes I'll stare at the floor. 

Actually, that's not when I'm writing. It's when I'm trying to write and can't think of the right words. 

That's when I saw this fellow (I added a few lines in Paint to help you see him):


I didn't know laminate flooring had spirits, but it certainly does. 

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