I wasn’t a fast kid – or a fast talking one. Which is too bad. From what I have seen at the cinema these are both good qualities to have when someone wants to kick your ass. You don’t say it like that as a kid, though – you say, when someone wants to beat you up.

I was only involved in three fights during my youth. I mean, real, someone is going to hurt someone else type fight. Not the countless no-holds-barred wrestling matches or full contact broom-stick sword fights held in my best friend’s yard at twilight every Saturday night while the grown-ups cooked hamburgers for all of us.

The first fight I was ever in might not even be definable as a fight. It happened in less than ten seconds – after I stepped off the bus, but before I had time to take a step toward home one afternoon in fourth grade.

I remember stepping off the bus and turning left, toward home, which left my back exposed to a crowd of kids that had left the bus before me. The next thing I remember is a deafening silence, a ringing and just a glimpse out of the side of my eye of the bright orange book-filled backpack that had just been swung up against the back of my head.

That’s all. That was the whole incident. All the kids laughed for a moment and then started walking home. There wasn’t much to be done, as the house in front of which the bus stopped was the home of the owner of the orange backpack – he was inside before everyone stopped laughing.

So the question left is, why did he whack you in the back of the head with a book-filled backpack? I don’t know. I wondered this same thing, and tried to find out the next day at school – but no one knew. Not even the whacker.

We weren’t ever really close friends, but we bad a friendly relationship. So to this day I don’t know why he committed such strange attack. I like to think, however, that he was just jealous of how obviously smarter I was than him and all of my classmates, and he figured he better get a good whack in while he still could.

If you are wondering what happened to the kid… My family moved across town a few years later, to a different school district. My junior year in high school this same kid showed back up as a football star. My only real experience with him came one day soon after the Columbine shootings, with our school swimming with cops. This kid, sitting on the steps with his rapper friends, decided to stand up and serenade the cafeteria with an improvised rap, in which he expressed his desire to ‘pop a cap’ in all of our ‘asses.’ Of course, he found himself face down on the dirty linoleum floor with his hands behind his back being read his rights before he could finish pluralizing the word ass.

I hear he was a really good running back.

The second fight I was ever in – well, honestly, this can’t really be classified as a fight either. But you promised us a good fight story! you might be screaming at the moment. I know and I am sorry. But the good part about this non-fight is that I wasn’t hurt when it was over. Petrified – sure – but not physically hurt.

So here is how this conflict of arms went down…

Remember earlier how I told you that I moved across town a couple of years after the last fight? Well, this was right before that. It was the middle of sixth grade – February, to be exact - and it was a few weeks before we would officially move. Though, if I remember correctly, my sister and I had already changed schools.

So it was the weekend, I guess. My friend, Rodney, and I were walking back to his house from the neighborhood park. A park, by the way, where I witnessed many ‘meet me at the park at four’ fights throughout my elementary years. So we came to a bridge, across the creek that we went crawdad hunting in the summer, and up walks a kid I used to be friends with.

Now, I was always tall and big for my age, but compared to me this lad was a giant, eclipsing me with his shadow as he walked up. This kid walked up and stood directly in front of us bringing a stop to our walk home, with what I guess was a shovel handle in his hands. Standing wide in front of me and tightly gripping one end of the stick, he might as well have growled, “Thou shalt not pass.” Standing on a bridge – how utterly cliché.

Okay, sure, the bridge was huge and there were plenty of places to go, but I remember feeling completely surrounded, trapped. As I have said, I was never very fast as a kid.

This giant looks down at me, slamming the beating-end of the stick in his other palm over and over and over – to reinforce the idea, I am sure, that he was indeed a threat to us. He looks down at me and says, “Remember that time a couple years ago when you hit me with a stick?”

Um – honestly? No. I don’t! “No.”

“Yeah you do,” he says, taking a step closer to me – increasing in size and threat. “That time we were playing sword fighting in your front yard.”

Sword fighting?!? Are you kidding me? Who didn’t get whacked a few hundred times while we were sword fighting – hands, shoulders, in the back of the head.

“Well now I’m here to pay you back for that.” This is his story. This is his wrong inflicted. This is his threat. This is his revenge.

I don’t remember thinking a lot at the time, except how the hell I was going to get out of getting the shit beat out of me. Of course, the thought doesn’t sound like this in your head at the time, it sounds like this: EEEEEEEEEE!!!!

Lucky for me, and especially lucky for Rodney, this boys interest was only in me, and in concentrating his threats only on me, he had boxed Rodney out, freeing him.

So as I stood, heart beating faster than I had ever known as a kid, and thinking far too slowly – like I said, I was never a fast talker as a kid – I did the only thing that I could think to do. I told Rodney to run.

Run Rodney. Get help!”

Now Rodney, he was a fast kid, and we weren’t two hundred yards from his house, where his mom was no doubt busy cooking a delicious dinner that would satisfy her family for an evening while slowly killing them over the years. This was a lady that you don’t want mad at you no matter what your age, or how strong you find yourself. You just know that she has more creative ways of inflicting pain than you can imagine or defend yourself against.

So I told Rodney to run, to get out of there and bring help. And this is where it gets interesting…

I remember nothing else. I am almost completely sure that I didn’t take a beating that day. I don’t think this kid even took another step toward me. But I cannot tell you how, why or when I walked away from this bridge-crossing test of wits. I do know this, though – I did walk away, with not a scratch or a bruise, only the trauma of a racing heart.

I don’t know what ever happened to that kid, but he obviously had serious rage problems. I remember visiting his house once, a year or so before any of this happened. I remember his room being an utter mess – no surprise for a ten year old boy – and filled with a few pellet guns and carton upon carton of pellets scattered around his room. Every time I see the Simpsons episode where Lisa falls in love with Nelson and she goes to his house one day after school – I think of this kid.

The third fight I was ever in, well - Okay, you got me, I have never been in a fight. There! Are you happy now? I thought about making up a third story about almost getting into a fight – three just feeling like a far more round number than two – but those are my only two real stories.

Sure, there are a couple of times from playing football as a kid when something ridiculous happened – like the first day of practice one year, with no pads, walking through form tackling drills, when the kid in line to tackle me decided to prove to the coach what a bad-ass he was and full speed, full contact tackled me, which left me with a broken arm and him being praised by the coach (I quit football) – but those stories really don’t fit with the subject.

So that is it. All of it. As a child I was almost involved in one fight and was once whacked in the back of the head with a backpack. I guess my childhood was an abnormally violentless one.

Dear Diary - I had a dream. In that dream I stepped into an elevator at a casino in Las Vegas and there I met a blackjack dealer named Raoul. He wore a white shirt and dark slacks and shoes. His chest was covered in a red,gold, and black velvet vest adorned in paisley swirls. And on his breast was a gold plastic tag that bore his name.

Raoul said to me: "There is news."

Raoul told me that many years before our meeting, to one called Joseph, the angel Gabriel had said: "She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."

Then Raoul asked me, "Joseph, what does it mean to be saved?"

"Forgiven?" I asked, because my mind was as empty as the world before light.

"I'd rather you don't guess."

I shrugged.

He said, "Think of it this way. If you can influence the smallest grain of sand through your good intent then you can change the rotation of the earth."

"I'm sorry..." I said, because I wasn't getting it. The learning process can be frustrating.

"Remember that in your freshman physics class the professor told you that if you could go backward in time even the smallest fraction of a second, you could reverse all of history with a computer simply by repeating the process ad nauseum?"


"They don't get nauseous," Raoul said. "In the same way if you are forgiven the smallest deviation from your path, then mankind is forgiven anything. Everything can and will be forgiven. Therefore, you are absolutely free of your imperfection."

"I'm free, but I need a computer."

"This is now proven by him: if you are willing to atone -- it is not enough that you ask forgiveness because you fear the consequences. You must change so that you can step out of your creation and become its creator. Then you are forgiven. That's what it means to be saved."

"Raoul, look. This is kind of weird, the whole Vegas thing and all. Tell me the truth. You're an angel, right? That vest comes off - pop - out come the wings. Am I right?"

Raoul laughed and the elevator rang. We had reached his floor. As the doors opened he explained, "God made the universe in balance, light and dark. If left alone it remaines that way. Does God want things left alone? There are puzzles and problems thrown in your path. Stop avoiding them. Do you think you were brought here to sit back and watch the clocks?"

"Are you the Ghost of Christmas Vegas, or something?"

"All men leave a wake in the world. Change how your wake impacts the shore - from the beginning of time to the end. The entire universe from here to infinity. Tip the balance he created. Bring it all back to him, glowing and full of light. Give it back to him in the palm of your hand."

Raoul poked his fingers into the watch pocket of his vest and pulled out a clear red die. He put the die in my hand and told me never to let it go. I woke up worried I would forget my dream.

I remember everything. But I have lost the red die.

When I was in Catholic grammar school I was made to go to church once per week. And having made my novena of First Friday masses, I am now guaranteed a happy death.

The Dominican sisters taught us church songs to sing at mass. I believe that during my eight years of grammar school, and subsequent four years of high school, I was made to learn twenty or more, which I can still recite the way some people remember the Gettysberg Address or the preamble to the Constitution of the United States.

And so I had a dream in which I was looking forward to my happy death singing this song:

O come o come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in holy exile here
Until the son of God appear
Rejoice o Israel
To thee shall come Emmanuel

I got out of bed and went into the bathroom to brush my teeth and shave. It was a work day and I was already late.

While I was trimming my beard I came to a question.

"But what of the Tibetans, Raoul? What of the Chinese and the Bangladeshis and the Indians and the Mohicans? The ransoming of Israel was none of their concern. Camel husbandry is more pertainent to a child born and raised in Mongolia than the western religious history of ransoming captives from Egypt or Rome."

When I was young the Domenican Sisters assured me that having been born Catholic, I was one of God's own chosen, and therefore by birth was assured a special place in heaven.

In high school I asked my teacher, Brother Tim - "What of the Buddhists? What about the Taoists? Do you realize that most people on earth are Buddhist? Why would God create a world full of people where most of them were damned at birth? Isn't that the definition of evil?"

Brother Tim was a kind and gentle man. He was blonde and overweight, and he wore Saint Francis's robes as if he'd been born in them. He was young and finding his way through his life's path. Now I realize he probably had these questions himself. Eventually, he put on a shirt and tie and left the ministry as a civilian.

But that day, Brother Tim said to me, "It's a mystery. And through baptism we are forgiven of our original sin all men are born with. We have to learn to accept mysteries."

"But I am baptized. Maybe I should be unbaptized. Can I give it back? God made me unaccepting," I said to Tim before he went back to sex and R-rated movies. And to a priest in the confessional to whom I confessed that statistical mechanics was shaking my faith I was told: "Heisenberg's uncertainty principle allows for the possibility of unseen agencies influencing our physics."

I had to agree, but I left the church, anyway. Mostly because it was easier to stay home on Sunday than to drag myself to mass to listen to well-meaning people spout things I found illogical.

What could be more boring than the complete elimination of my trials? Why would I want to go to heaven? I am here to solve the problems placed into my path. Eliminate my issues, and I have no reason to exist. Better original sin than eternal bliss.

Being saved means I am free to strive. Didn't need a ghost for that one. I'm perfectly capable of tormenting myself all Christmas long.

And more torment.

The search engine space is a living thing. Do a Google search one month, and then the same search two months later, and different hits will return. I recently had the urge to Google Virginia Kidd, to see what would come up. In prior searches I got almost nothing. But now a couple of new things have been put on line. Ursula LeGuin's eulogy is on line now, and there are family pictures on the Blish website.

Wikipedia has a nice writeup on Arrowhead, Virginia's home. I visited Arrowhead when Virginia was alive. Had lunch on the porch when the weather was nice. At the time, I had no idea of its history - of the SF writer scribblings on the bathroom walls. Pen marks from Arthur Clark and Lester Del Rey were there till the late 90's. I don't remember seeing them.

I do remember the cooking ghost.

At certain times of day one could pick up the scent of muffins baking. And V. told me she'd seen her once.

Mostly what I remember is being disappointed I wasn't as good a writer as Virginia thought I was.

Recently I was going through my files and I came across letters from Virginia and her protoge' James Allen. I had there were twenty or thirty of them, all originals. Virginia didn't like to use word processors. She wrote most of her letters to me longhand. And I have tens that say: "Looks like DelRey won't buy this one," or, "To add insult to injury, it sat on his desk for 6 months and he never looked at it."

She did sell a few of my stories. Every time she did I sent her a dozen roses. My flower bill was very reasonable.

Looking back at that time, over a decade ago, I remember how much being a published writer meant to me and how seeing my name on the spine of a book was my life's dream, unrealized. How would things have been different if I had sold more?

Maybe it was all for the best, being around all those successful authors with just a marginal taste of that same success for myself. I was looking for self-actualization through my writing. My desire was probably misplaced. It forced me to try other things, to get out into the world.

Oddly, now that I have experience on the ice and in other parts of the world, my desire to be recognized through publication has waned. I don't need it as much anymore. I don't dream of it anymore. Writing is something I do, and will always do, but it doesn't necessarily define the fit and form of my life's work as I thought it would.

When I see the Wiki entry for Arrowhead I remember being there, sitting with Virginia and her minions, surrounded by the vast ediface of Science Fiction she helped build. I'm still in awe. But I don't need it the way I used to. Life has taken me down a different path, and it was only a window in a house I once passed that I got to stop and look through.

It turned out there were other ways to live my life. And I chose them.

Thank you Ghost of Christmas Google.

The Ghost of Christmas Antarctica visited me today and bestowed me with e-mail from the ice.

"There's an MSNBC reporter in Mactown and he started off a total bitch. We've worn him down, though. A couple days with no heat, a snoring roommate, and nothing to eat but the lemony bar from the survival stash. He's pliable as oatmeal. A regular Manchurian Candidate."

I went to the MSNBC website and saw a piece on "Antarctic Meltdown" by a guy who's supposed to be investigating global warming in Antarctica. Instead, he went to the skirt contest at Scott Base and got pictures of lots of guys in drag.

Let's recount. One of these things is not like the others.

Melting ice sheets. Calving bergs. Retreating glaciers. Violent storms. Men in skirts.

Of course, we are doomed as a race. The ghosts have shown it all to me in one night.

He's on a science mission to Antarctica and he's reporting on what is reported on in literally hundreds of blogs on the web, including mine. Yes, all garbage has to be separated into 12 separate categories and recycled back to Seattle. Yes, you can have all the frozen yogurt you want after dinner. Yes, the milk is powdered. Yes, there's a nearby volcano. Yes, it's light all the time and you have to put shades on your windows to sleep at night. Yes, there is lots of sex and unbridled drinking and far as you know everyone's slept with everyone else and you're acutely aware of your status as the only living fauna not suitable for sexual reproduction on the whole lower one-third of the whole fricking planet. This is all the science we care to report from the disintegrating poles.

We have splurged so much crap into the biosphere that the earth is wiping us off its face, and all we can think of is to booze it up and procreate as fast and often as possible.

Kind of logical, actually.

But I have seen the end of the world through Christmas at McMurdo. Ghost of Christmas Antarctica, I fear you most of all.

Now I must get drunk and laid as quickly as I can.

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