Yesterday a friend of mine died.

Eric was forty years old, and had finally started to get his life back together again after many years of psychiatric difficulties, most noteably schizophrenia. He had finally gotten on some proper medication, had just started his first job in more than ten years, and blam.

He posted in his LiveJournal the day before he died that his head felt like it was full of liquid. He thought he was coming down with something.

What he was coming down with was a brain aneurism. For those of you not in the know, that's a burst artery in the brain. They are generally not detected until they burst, and are almost inevitably fatal.

Eric had two in a course of hours. He died yesterday morning. If Eric is like any of the too many (seven) friends I have had die from one of these things, his last words were probably about what terrific pain he was in. What a shitty way to die.

Eric makes eight aneurism related deaths among my friends. I know far too many dead people, more than 50 last time I checked. This is what happens with people who live hard, they die a lot.

I sometimes think that I'll probably have an aneurism, too, just because i have known so many who did.

I remember my friend Peter Pappas, when I was seventeen, he and I and our crowd of friends were walking across the Charles River on the Longfellow Bridge when he announced that his head "hurt like a motherfucker". He made it to the Boston side of the bridge and collapsed, convulsing and vomiting. I rode in the ambulance with him. He was dead on arrival, and I got to be there to break the news to his family. I never want to do that again.

So Eric is dead. I don't think I mentioned, I've never met Eric face to face. He was a person I knew from the Callahan's channel on IRC's Undernet. He was kind, and witty, and thoughtful and intelligent. He was a good person. He was my friend.

Death sucks. A forty year old man is gone, the rest of his life gobbled up in a flash, because his brain had a weak point, like a weak tire, and it blew out.

I am trying to make sense of it, and it just isn't happening.

I'm in my Home Office (i.e., in bed), making notes for the novel in my paper journal when I should be doing French homework. A short stack of papers slips through the doorcrack. Two are obviously mine: a Kaiser pamphlet, a student loan bill, and...this: a poem. Times New Roman, no title, no author. Wrinkled from handling.

"In her room at the prow of the house
Where the light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden
My daughter is writing a story.

I open my bedroom door and ask, "What's this?"

Seamus says, "It was with two other things that were yours, so I assumed it was yours." Nobody else has a context for it either. Debris from Horace Phair IV? I scan it, disinterested, and the last stanza catches me:

It is always a matter, my darling,

Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish

What I wished you before, but harder.

I reread it several times, floored.

I Google the opening line; the poem is "The Writer" by Richard Wilbur. To whomever left it here, thank you.


The novel is supposed to be something of an expansion of the wild flamingos of my Oklahoma trailer park paradise. In considering ways to structure the big book, it occurs to me that the story is sort of a meandering joke, with enough one-line asides to keep it moving and a punchline to make it worth the trip. And that the novel needs to emulate that structure in some way; the punchline story in "Wild Flamingos" is actually a true story and a cherished family joke.

So inside the back cover of my paper journal there's a list of Funny Stories I've been collecting over the years, or rather, it's a list of cryptic references to funny stories I've been collecting over the years, which I intend to explicate in the novel. It's amazing how many there are, or rather, how fucking comic life is. This might be the most important lesson of the last two years of mine, and is, I suppose, the reason I feel the need to trouble you all with this anecdote about the ego and tedium involved in writing a novel, because it turns out not to be about that at all.

A few years ago I took a screenwriting class, and the professor's advice for writing comedy (besides the part about how dying is easy) was that in a great comedy, everybody has to play it absolutely fucking straight. It occurs to me that the darkest times in our lives, those when we're least inclined to smile or bullshit, are actually the funniest given time and proper seasoning.

Consider that at the dawn of 2005, my brother was beaten by his ex's psychotic boyfriend, to within an inch of his life; consider that he was abruptly arrested on felony charges, spent two nights in jail, and the police never took a statement from him, nor photos of his extensive injuries. None of this was even remotely funny until the night he got out of jail and we sat in our parents' living room watching our dog try to die. No shit.

Idaho winters are rough on old dogs, and Jeff's hips quit from time to time. That was one of the last worst nights before he died in the spring. I pled with him tearfully to just get up and walk over to his dish, and when he wouldn't, the four of us sat and had a very grave talk about having him put down the following morning. I said, "Jeff, you can't die on us this week, or we'll be a broken-down pickup truck away from a country song."

As it happened, he pulled through a little longer. So did we. So did I. And we're still pulling. Funny.


Or: the other night Matthew and I were talking about that category of people who always seem to have a lot of drama going on in their lives.

I said, "I like to think that I always have a lot of comedy going on in my life."

He said something about laughing at tragedies after the fact, or laughing to mask the pain, and I said, "No, no. I actually think things are profoundly funny, while they are happening to me."

As I said this he got up to walk to the kitchen, then paused and pointed at the newspaper on the table in front of me.

A full-page ad, with the headline, "When it comes to prostate health, we demand a closer look."

See?

2000





“So, what do you think?” Chief Burns and I are sitting in his office in the deserted building, staring at one another. The question that he is asking me is loaded, and I know that with greater certainty than I have ever known anything before.

“It isn’t a question of if, it’s a question of when.” This is the voice of cold equations, probability, and the reality weighing us all down.

“You really think that?” As if the seeds of doubt might be sown just by merely acknowledging another potential result, as if the elephant in the corner could be denied at this point. “I mean, really.”

“I do. If we do what we are supposed to, then yes.”

I see.”

”No shit Chief. If we stick with their plan, if we go where they are talking about sending us, we’ll lose at least one crew.”

”You say that like it’s already happened.” Chief says, leaning back in his chair and folding his arms across his chest.

”Fuck it Chief, look at it like this. They want us riding shotgun, fine, whatever. Now if I was an insurgent with half a brain, I would shoot at the fucking truck with the fifty goddamned antennas poking out of it. I mean, shit. They’re some smart fuckers over there, and we’re el numero uno on the shit list at the moment. It’s their turf, their game, and their ball. Furthermore, we’re squids goddamnit. We got no fucking business hanging out in the sand. Trucks typically don’t sink Chief, usually they get blown the fuck up by assholes with RPG-7’s.”

”AT1, anyone ever told you that you might need to work on your diplomacy skills?” He says, smiling slightly. “Actually, you’re kind of a pessimist, aren’t you.”

”Chief, let me ask you a question. You know what the fucking difference is between an optimist and a pessimist?”

"This ought to be good."

”The optimist thinks that the rapist will get bored and go away if they just lie there real quiet-like.”










I hate having the friends that I do sometimes. I hate the fact that I am connected in some weird way to other people in such a manner that they feel the need to talk to me about things.

About everything.

About the darkness on the horizon, about the coming of a conflict that we could barely comprehend.

There was so much rhetoric then, CNN on one hand telling us to watch Brad play with a nice little puppy and Fox raving about sex, religion, rock and roll, and war on the other.

Currently our attention is focused on that most American of past times. It has now eclipsed baseball as the last bastion of decency in a world gone completely nuts. We are drinking beer and burning meat on a grill. My friends, I speak to you today of: The Barbeque.

”So like, check this out.” James says as he reaches out and gives the grill an expert tap with a size 14 hiking boot. His boots are something else. For one thing, they’re treading widely on the ludicrous size of large. 200 grams of Thinsulate, 1 cm Kevlar shank through the sole, 2 mm leather all the way around, and as an added bonus they make the big reverb sound on every surface upon which he treads. If that was not enough, they carry coloring similar to a hornet and bear the scars of his weekend job bartending. These are, for lack of a better word, boots with a sole purpose: Ass Kicking. This is sort of strange because James is something of a pacifist.

They do not make them like this anymore, (James and his boots that is,) now They want the tool without the extra helping of iconoclast. “This is some funny shit.”

”What, your giant fucking foot or something else?”

”Nah, my old man see? He’s doing this sheetrock job for these contractors in Alexandria.”

”Right.”

“Well apparently, this dude.” Pausing, James takes a long pause to pull on his beer and ogle a passing airliner. He is obsessed with all things aviation. “This dude is like some sort of high-priest intel weenie.”

“Right.”

“So he’s on the phone, while my old man is in the basement winding up some electrical cords. Dude is talking, like hella loud.” The beer draws out his southern California drawl and the slang that dates in the way that only dated youth can. “On the phone, but my dad isn’t like listening or nothing, right?”

“Right.” Nope, we are not winning any awards for our conversational style today folks.

“So he says, and Cheney says that’s not the information that we have.”

“What the fuck was he talking about?”

“I’m getting to that, shut up a second.” Smiling, James reaches into a cooler next to the pair of lawn chairs in which we are sitting and retrieves another two ice-slick bottles. Both are methodically opened, one is handed to me and I find myself trying to do two things at once. “Drink up, you’re behind. Anyway, he says that he says to Cheney may I ask where you got your information. And Cheney says, no you may not.”

“So?”

“So, I’m telling you dude. Them Iraqi’s couldn’t shit in a bag and throw it at someone right now. I’m like, serious. It isn’t for lack of wanting, you know, it’s they don’t have the bags to shit into.”

We are quiet for several minutes, during which time he and I watch cars pass on the road several hundred feet from his house. Half a world away, the concept of a barbeque is completely foreign.

Dropping aliens into the middle of Baghdad complete with flying saucer and freeze-rays would kick up less of a stir than if we were to suddenly appear.

This would of course include us appearing with chairs, freshly mowed grass, a cooler full of beer, three pounds of steak, and a smoking Weber barbeque grill. James chooses to speak first, “just great. Ain’t it? The fact that them fuckers are making this up as the go along?”

“The first part isn’t going to be bad. It’s what’ll happen afterwards that is going to suck.” I reply quietly after several seconds pass. “We won’t lose anyone in the initial conflict, it’s securing the country that is going to kill us.”

“Right.” James manages to acknowledge the observation with all the intensity of a man confronting the electric chair.

“We’re wading into a hell of our own making. And they know it.”








Today I am dead.

Today James is dead.

Today Chief Burns is dead.

Today you are dead.

Today accountability is dead.

Today 2000 people are dead.

And it shall continue this way. Forever.





I’ve said this before, but again, for those of you in the back that weren’t paying attention the first time:





You dumb shits. You're pissing it all away and the Founding Fucking Fathers are rolling in their graves.

McMurdo Evening.

Today there's a haloed sun and pearlescent clouds. About +16F, slightly breezy. The sky is deep blue, the way it looks from an airplane back north. On days like this, the sun turns the ice golden. The mountains are deep purple in silhouette.

People go walking. I see four red coats atop Ob Hill, and one out next to Vince's Cross.

Inside the Coffee House a group of Kiwi's from Scott Base sit and sip Shiraz with the Yankees. In the small theater next to the coatroom a group of people sit and watch a DVD about Antarctica. The narrator describes icebergs and penguins, summoning depth and drama. When the documentary ends the viewers get up, put on their coats, and go outside to see what they were watching on the screen.

It's birthday bingo night at Gallager's. The game area has been cleared and filled with folding chairs. Sixty people mark their cards with pencils and sharpies the way they do in the church hall back in Bozeman. In the bar area a group cuts a birthday cake.

I was thinking to walk to the library to check out a book, but everytime I go outside I want to walk back to Arrival Heights where she took me two years ago. All my gear is in my room, and my roommate is sleeping. Don't want to wake him suiting up for a short hike, and my fleece and tennis shoes won't offer enough protection once I cross out of the wind shadow of the volcanic mountains. So I'm here writing and thinking. Listening to Yes on my iPod and wondering what I'm going to do for a job when I get back to the real world.

In the real world things move fast. Hurricanes have changed entire cities. Floods move rivers. The ocean swallows barrier islands. The earth seems to be mutating in less than our lifetime.

It's static here. Everything that could be blown away disappeared eons ago. The landscape can stay this way till squid evolve wings, but we are going to change a lot faster.

That's why it's not a good idea for me to go up Arrival Heights tonight. It would feel sharp and hollow, like an empty hypodermic right in the chest. Every place I walk will look the same as it did last time I was there, and I'll remember how new and fantastic it felt. How close I was to the land and people I was with.

Now it's different. I can't remember how I made those friends.

Twelve-hundred people on station, and 70% of them are first timers. Most of my friends haven't come back, and next year, neither will I. I have no science here. The support I do has been transferred to a new cadre while life has gone on.

There's a trip I'm saving to Hut Point. When I can do it without feeling suffocated, I'll go out to Scott's hut where I met my first Herbie. That's where I first yelled into the wind as loud as I could. Where I realized fate and luck and intention were all the same thing. Where I huddled under the eaves and wondered what force of nature brought me there. Where I realized I must have waited all my life for this day, every day.

Life hurts like hell. But it's pretty wonderful.

Nine days to pole. The planes are flying.
McMurdo Station -- October 26, 2005

I'm at an interesting time in my life. Interesting for a number of reasons. Interesting because everything is so carefully in stasis now, because I've worked so hard to make it that way, and before long it's going to crumble, all of this stasis, all of this familiarity, and I don't know how I'm going to handle it.

I'm a junior in college right now. Which means that I've realized that I'm living in a bubble, and I'm trying to eke every last bit of ebullience out of it. I don't read the news (other than Slashdot and The Onion). I can stay up until 5 in the morning debating the relative worth of the philosophies of Immanuel Kant and Optimus Prime and nobody will think I'm odd. I'm learning my fourth language because I can, and considering learning Quenya for a Winter Term project. I go to a school where all of the potheads congregate under a huge tree in the middle of a quadrangle surrounded by dormitories when they want to sit in circles and pass bowls around, because they feel safer there than they do bagging a smoke detector in their rooms — and Campus Security personnel are instructed to ignore them and let them have their fun. I live and work and play in a place where we make fun of the jocks and hallow the nerds, where the permafrost sets in around November, but we still get 80° days, where we live on a steady diet of seitan and caffeine and Concerta and Flips and intellectualism, and I don't want it to end.

I'm in a relationship right now the likes of which I've never known before. If we're still together in a year, we'll most likely be talking about engagement. I have a hard time dealing with the fact that whereas three years ago I would never have been invited to anything and even the loser girls would not have relished the social repercussions of dating me, I'm now at least somewhat a member of a number of social circles and I've found somebody who also likes children's cartoons and old Nintendo games and Adult Swim and squirrels and Alfred Bester and by god is willing to give Battlefield 1942 a try if I like it so damn much. I'm in love in a way that makes me irritated when I hear other people call their crushes love, and I don't want it to end.

Next year, I'm going to start having to think about graduate school and my career(s). Even before then, I'm going to have to start thinking about a real job for the summer. I've spent the past three years teaching at a computer camp which, no matter how selective the hiring process is, and no matter how gifted the kids are, is still a summer camp. I've spent the past two years calling myself a freelance consultant and charging rich suburbanites out the nose to fix their computer problems, and somehow I have a gift for explanations and enough luck in the problems they present to me that they think I'm great and refer their friends to me. All this is necessarily going to turn into real life soon. I will have to get an internship or some other vaguely goferish position this summer and go to graduate school in a couple of years, because my liberal arts computer science degree isn't going to hold much water on its own.

This isn't to say that I don't want to go to graduate school. I like the idea of taking courses of a somewhat more technical nature than the touchy-feely huggy-wuggy sort that I've been taking to date. I like the idea of doing some sort of research that will somehow manage to end up giving something to the world that it doesn't have. I especially like the idea of staving off making real decisions for a while longer.

I also have a deal with my high school wherein I'm receiving a partial scholarship in exchange for which I'll teach (fully salaried but part-time work) in my field of expertise for a year after I graduate. This will be fun, because I can act like it's real life, but I'm really just going back home. Back home to live with my mother, but also back home to my high school, which for all of my vague mumblings earlier in this writeup was one of the most life-changing, enriching parts of my life. I guess pretentious private schools where you call teachers by their first names will do that to you. But I'll be the cute young twenty-something teacher, newly engaged and with a fresh look on life and computer science. I'll try to make the kids understand why I think the field is meaningful before disappearing and searching for meaning myself.

And after all of this? Life. Marriage, house, credit cards (I've been using debit all through college in an attempt to stay out of debt), car that can't be referred to as the Junkmobile, and whatever else comes along with the real life I'll carve out for myself.

And then fifteen years down the line I'll show up at a college reunion and we'll all regress and it'll be just like old times again, except that it won't last forever. The way it will now.

On fear

Today I missed the bus and got home late.

Well, actually, I intentionally avoided taking the city bus and instead waited for my direct bus home because I was mortally afraid.

Well, at least I think I was; I've forgotten what not being mortally afraid feels like (I swear!), so I don't know about that.

There was a suicide bombing at a falafel stand in Hadera, which is a city in Israel, which is the country I live in. Which is a ridiculously small country, by the way - that terrorist, once he'd gotten in, could have chosen to explode in Tel Aviv, where I was at the time, or in Lod, where I live, or anywhere really.

Anyhow, having heard about the attack on the radio practically in real time (half an hour after the actual explosion), I decided to stay off city buses for a while. In a mostly Jewish city, in an area where no Arabs would likely be affected by an attack, a bus full of Jews isn't somewhere you want to be. Particularly when you've just been reminded that there really are people who are out to kill you - who've just killed someone that could've been you.


Speaking of reasons to be mortally afraid... The Islamic Republic of Iran, a UN member state and all, is currently executing a nuclear energy research program, which it claims has nothing to do with weapons development; This claim is widely believed to be, well, a lie, and there is in fact some evidence to the contrary, as well as some well-publicized groundwork for a potential attack on Israel (their successful ballistic missile program already covers the distance, for example).

In any case, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran since not long ago, gave an unusually unpretentious speech today in front of thousands of students at a convention. Pay attention now.

The convention was titled "The world without Zionism". The main statement by Ahmadinejad? I'll give you the Aljazeera.Net headline...

Ahmadinejad: Wipe Israel off map

Now, remember what I said about Israel being ridiculously small? Very nuke-economic. So, uh, hey, US? World? Anyone? We could use some help here. Like, soon. Thanks.

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