Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Some Days

I am just proud as all get out to be an American. I know this post sounds a bit silly coming on the heels of my last rant, which I wrote several hours before posting, but there are moments where I am really proud of my city and my fellow citizens. Today is one of those days and I have to share my feeling with you all.

While I was driving around this evening, picking up dinner and trying to get my weekly comics fix, I was listening to the radio. I started out listening to the local NPR and Pacifica stations, however all they were talking about was the aftermath of Katrina, and because I am actually a fairly soft-hearted guy, I can only listen to stuff like that for so long before I get upset about it, so I switched over to 94.5, the local alt-rock station. When I flipped over they were playing oldies and I was worried that they had switched formats on me, however it turns out that these guys where in the midst of a Hurricane Katrina Request-athon where if you called in with a cash pledge, they would play your song, regardless of what the song was. This had started sometime around six in the morning on Wednesday, and by around ten that night they had raised over $93,000 to help the victims of Katrina. This is just one radio station in the Houston area. It is days like these, when things are really looking bad that the generosity of the average American surges to the fore and makes me proud, I just wish this was something we could keep doing to help the poor and the homeless. Oh well, one step at a time.


Before anything else, I want to say that, sincerely, my heart goes out to everyone who has suffered some loss due to the hurricane. You guys are in for some trying times, however, I have faith in the rest of America and I know we will take care of you.

Having said that and setting aside all jokes about Katrina being an ex-girlfriend of a buddy and all, there are several things about the current situation in the regions struck by Katrina and our response to the disaster that have me very angry.

First, there was a mandatory evacuation order in effect for New Orleans. This being the case and since the city is so far under sea-level and at the mercy of the Gulf and Lake Pontchartrain, don’t you think the city and parish officials should have had a plan in place to get EVERYONE out of the city. I know some people insisted on staying, and I am of two minds about them, but I am talking about people who wanted to leave but couldn’t for whatever reason. One of the first pictures I saw of the aftermath was of a bus barn with the buses scattered about like so many pickup sticks. Why didn’t the government take the buses, load them full of some of the 23,000 people now trapped in the Superdome, and transport them out of harms way? Why didn’t the government have a coherent plan to be able to evacuate the city?

Secondly, now that the storm has come and gone, we are rushing to get supplies in to the affected areas and get people out of the affected areas. Why isn’t there a more cohesive plan for doing this? I keep seeing pictures of Navy ships being loaded with supplies in Virginia with the promise of them being on station in the Gulf by the weekend. Why wasn’t this process started when Katrina hit the Gulf and spun up to a category 5 storm? This really baffles me when I stop to consider that before Katrina hit we were wondering whether New Orleans was even going to be there after the storm. The hit we took was not as bad as it could have been and yet we are only just now loading emergency supplies into ships to get them there. This all seems a bit too late to me.

What if this had been a terrorist strike? The Gulf coast suffers hurricanes on a regular basis. They are a fact of life, even if the level of havoc they wreak upon us can be very variable, so this is something that we were at least a little prepared for. What if terrorists had bombed the levees holding back the river and the lake? What if they had released some sort of biological agent into the city after striking at the three bridges that allow access to the city? I think this disaster and our response to it should to serve as a wake-up call to America. We need better emergency planning across the board, from a personal level to a national governmental level, and perhaps even in close coordination with our neighbors to the north and south.

And don’t even get me started on how the hurricane has, and will, affect gas prices.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Phew! What a week!

Phew!  What a week it has been!  I have been telling myself that I HAVE to get some blogging done every day for a week and a half, and things have only just now slowed down enough to allow me to get something down for your reading pleasure.

What, you may wonder, has kept me from my small, though beloved, audience? A confluence of things, not the least of which were moving, starting a new job, and my car breaking down again, conspired to keep me too busy or emotionally wiped out to do any writing this past several days.  Wait, that’s not entirely true, while I was trying to find something to do at work on Tuesday I worked on a poem about the lines in the city as opposed to the lines in nature.  I need to sit down and revisit it, and will probably do so sometime this next week.

I have gotten moved, and I am beginning to get settled in my new digs, although I think it is going to take another weekend or two before my living situation is 100% squared away. Heck, I had to go buy some books this week because I still don’t know where all the ones I have been reading got to! Just adding more logs to the fire I suppose.

Due to the car issues, I have not been able to establish a routine of getting to the office or anything (I spent two nights on a friend’s couch and had to ride the bus in the other morning). So far I like the new job. The office environment is so different than what I am used to. It is FAR too quiet and people work WAY more than what I have seen in the past. Having just a bit too much work to do is nice though, it really makes the day fly by. On Friday I was so intent on my work I didn’t even notice the rainstorm that passed through, even though I am RIGHT next to a window. In the next day or so I will take my roommate’s digital camera into the office and shoot a couple of pictures for you guys to see what I get to see every day.

I am still kind of scatterbrained right now, with trying to adjust my sleeping schedule and all to account for the commute, and oddly enough, a little homesick for College Station. There are a couple of people there that I dearly miss. I have a couple of cool posts planned for the next week or so, depending on how much writing I am able to get done.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


Apparently tomorrow we are supposed to do work without having any work out where people can see it.

A couple of VIPs coming through our office on a tour led by the owner of the company. This means we have to run around and get our areas cleaned and organized. The middle of the month is a slow time for my department, therefore our area is actually fairly clean and organized, however after I got back from lunch I was informed that our area was not up to snuff and it needed to be fixed immediately.  When I looked around the only thing I could see was some make-work that had been left out on one of the tables while the person who had been working on it was taking a moment to deal with something else. I understand the desire to have things looking nice for VIPs, however when you have managers saying things like, "I don't care if we ship one more item between today and tomorrow, but the area had better be clean," maybe you need to rethink your priorities.

Reality - What is it Good For?

Recently a friend of mine sent an email in which he said “The existential horror of life freaks me out sometime.”  I can't remember what was being discussed and I am too lazy to go back and search for the thread, but I thought of this quote this morning while driving in to the office this morning.  I was thinking about writing a piece on how I am one of those people that has his head in the clouds all the time.  Sometimes this tendency to perceive the reality I desire rather than "true" reality worries me.  I like how I interact with the world.  I like the fact that I am usually looking for the good in a situation and I believe that people are inherently good and their nature is to strive to do good for society and other people.  It worries me though.  I will be driving along and get caught up in my daydreams, thinking wouldn't it be cool if my car could transform into a giant robot so I can just walk through this intersection and scare the CRAP out of the cop over there?  I drive by this subdivision named Castlegate, which has a pretty cool gatehouse, and I can't help but think how they should have put up a curtain wall around the whole community, and in my mind there is one, just cleverly hidden by the trees.  Sometimes when I am writing a report at work I pretend that it is something much more important, something cool like an after-action report or a National Intelligence estimate, you know, something that matters, not another paper on why such and such is a stupid idea.  There are also a lot of empty fields around my current abode, several of them with a couple head of cattle.  Every time I drive by I can't help but look at those Big-Macs-on-the-hoof and think that cows suck and the ranchers really need to have dinosaurs there instead.  I think that is why I aspire to be a writer.  I want to help people let slip the bonds of this mucky reality and show them the fantastical world I live in, and since I can't draw to save my life, writing is the one avenue left open to me.

Monday, August 15, 2005

She's A Beauty

While I was driving around Houston this weekend I caught The Tubes "She's A Beauty" on the radio (I was hoping for Natasha Bedingfield's song) and it reminded me of a girl I had a huge crush on a few years ago. It feels so fourth grade to say I had a crush on a girl, here I am somewhere in my thirties and I am talking about having a crush. Anyway, this song came on the radio, and I immediately thought of her. I had always associated this song with her, and how true the lyrics were when they say:

You can step outside your little world
You can talk to a pretty girl
She's everything you dream about

I first got to know her through work. I would have to coordinate with her department, and it got to the point where I was talking to her more than anyone else. She was always VERY nice and a little goofy, which would brighten my day.

We finally met and she had this smile that would light up a room. I am willing to bet she doesn't think herself as being pretty, however she is one of the most beautiful women I have ever known and she had the cutest laugh. We went out a couple of times, strictly as friends, as she always managed to have another guy in her life, and I am pretty sure I am not her type, but I sure wanted to be.

The song brought back some pretty pleasant memories for me and then I remembered that Sunday was her birthday.

Happy belated birthday, M.

Irrational Behavior

This weekend I went in to Houston to take a load of stuff to my new abode and get some stuff organized so next weekend will go smoothly (or at least smoother). One of the things I had to get done is selecting a comic store to which to move my subscription list. I also had to look for a couple of books that I had missed over the past month. I went in to Third Planet and got the subscription information there and then I went in to Nan's. When I walked in I was shocked.

There was a girl working the register, and not the usual suspect one might find in a nerd haven like Nan's. She was young, wearing stylish clothes, and tan. In a word, hot. I puttered around the store for a bit, looking through the new books (finding two books I wanted, but not the one I was really looking for), and basically working up my courage to go and ask about getting a subscription. When I got to the counter I just bought my books and walked out, not asking a thing about the subscriptions.

Now this is not because I thought she might not know anything about it, but rather because I did not want to look like a dork. Huh? That's right, my stupid man-part made me want to avoid looking like a dork in front of the full-blown hottie, who was working in a comic shop. Once I got to the car I had to laugh at myself. I was in a comic store. I bought comics and thumbed through the back stock. I searched for a trade paperback. Clearly I was a dork. There is no way I could not appear as a dork. On top of all that, I had spent the morning moving stuff around and I had been driving around with the windows down, therefore I was probably a bit disheveled. It's not like I will EVER see this girl in another social situation. Sometimes guys are pathetic, and it can be very funny.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Book Review: How I Paid for College

In the interest of full disclosure I have to admit, I usually avoid the semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story as a body of literature. I am nto sure why, as I certainly enjoy this genre of film, however the books are usually right out. Therefore it was with some trepidation that I approached Marc Acito's HOW I PAID FOR COLLEGE. Even with the tantalizing subtitle of "A Novel of Sex, Theft, friendship & Musical Theater," I was somewhat leery of the novel. However I was completely caught up on my comic reading and was not in the mood for any of the other books on my night table, so I finally broke down and took it off the shelf.

HOW I PAID FOR COLLEGE is the story of how Edward Zanni spends his last year of high school before going away to college. As one of the Play People, or theater arts students, Zanni feels confined by the bedroom community in which he lives and is eager to escape to the wider world of Manhattan and Julliard. Edward's master plan for the rest of his life comes crashing down around his ears when his father remarriers and informs Edward that he will not pay for college if Edward does not major in business. Rather than buckle to his father's pressure, Edward and his friends rally and attack the problem like some sort of teenage A-Team. Thus they, and we, are launched into a year of, "...underage drinking, reckless driving, illegal drug use (on federal property), unlocking and entering, blackmail, fraud, forgery, and embezzlement, and...grand theft Buddha."

This novel presentad a unique problem for me. I want to convey my love of the novel and Acito's voice (how can you not love an author who, in his autobiographical coming-of-age story, has the protagonist say, "It's an autobiographical coming-of-age story-like there aren't enough of those already.") without falling into the trap of using cliches. I found this task FAR more difficult than I imagined. I devoured the novel in less than two days, and I was laughing the entire time. If hte completely outrageous, yet believable, situations the characters were getting into did not have me laughing, it was the characters' wry observational humor. Even with this veneer of humor, at the core of the novel is a very touching story of a boy becoming a man and learning a little something about life along the way. How could I share this with you without giving away some of the novel or resorting to hyperbolic language? I have picked up and put down this review several times since completing the novel. I was stuck with the description of Marc Acito as the gay Dave Barry floating around in my head, from both his website and the book, and it was a descriptor that I could not shake loose from my head. However this does not do Acito or his writing justice. He has the razor wit of Barry, but there is something more subversive to his character's observations on life and interaction with the world. Finally the lightbulb above my head flicked on and I finally found the perfect way to describe this book. HOW I PAID FOR COLLEGE is a John Hughes film written by David Sedaris. Edward Zanni has all the panache of Ferris Bueller coupled with the loveable loserdom of the boys from Weird Science, and all of the other characters fit into roles that seem to be culled from the Hughes films of the '80s. Kelly, Edward's girlfriend, is the pretty dork girl. Paula, the slightly older, more worldly compatriot. Ziba plays the part of the mysterious beauty who hangs around the dorks for no apparent reason. There is Doug, the jock with the heart of gold, and Natie, the ridiculously smart social engineer who is initially an outcast amongst even the losers.

All in all I highly recommend HOW I PAID FOR COLLEGE and I am really looking forward to the movie, with the rights having been bought by Laura Ziskin before the book even hit the street. Marc has shown me a world I wish I could inhabit for more than the 200 or so pages he shares with us.

A Perfect Moment

Earlier this evening I was lounging in bed reading TIDES OF WAR by Steven Pressfield while contemplating how to write my review of HOW I PAID FOR COLLEGE by Marc Acito (which should be posted in the next day or so) when it started raining pretty hard. I could hear the rain slapping into the ground outside my window. The temperature was just right in my room, so the steady rythm of the rain started to lull me into a meditative state. I set my book aside and leaned back on my pillows to just contemplate. To take a moment out of my life, which is frankly kind of stressful right now, and just breathe and be. After I had barely settled back, my CD player kicked on with Franz Schubert's arrangement of Ave Maria performed by Leontyne Price, a soprano. I could barely hear her voice above the rain. The rain. The organ. Ms. Price's voice. The voices of the choir softly joining her. It all added up to a perfect, ethereal moment where everything in my life was in balance.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Scatter Brained

I have been very scatter brained over the past few days. I have started and stopped several pieces that I intended to post here, including a discussion of a piece I read by Gene Kranz and my thoughts on the bombing of Hiroshima. I have drafts of the beginnings of both of these posts written, however I have not had the mental stability to write them. To be honest I am too excited. On Friday I turned in my two week notice at my current job because I have accepted a position at El Paso corporation. Monday will be my 11th anniversary with UCS, and while I am somewhat sad to be leaving behind 11 years of work, it has become clear to me that going elsewhere is the only way to advance myself.

I am very excited about the new job as I am going to work with a good group of guys whom I already know (however my new boss has already referred to me as a minoin, which might have some consequences down the line). I am nervous about the new job because there is going to be a heck of a learning curve for me, as I am going to be doing technical work that is a few steps beyond stuff I am doing now. I know I will be able to handle it, but it may cut in to my productivity here.

Friday, August 05, 2005

The Kiss

Your scent fills the air I breathe
Exhaled breath washing across my face
We draw closer to our first trembling caress
Barest brush of flesh on flesh

These damned passions
We're forced to enclose, crush and reserve

For the barest

We are one
Propriety abandoned
In our passionate touch
At this moment there are no others
We sever -
Hot skin flushed crimson
A nervous laugh
Our eyes touch
Meeting for a moment, then
You turn to him

Our kiss ends.

This poem was published in the premiere issue of Brazos Gumbo in July of 2004.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Book Review: The Professor and the Madman

Bondmaid. Any idea why this word, which means a woman bondservant (according to, might be important? Out of the over 500,000 words in the English language, why should such an innocuous word have any significance? In the big picture of life, it doesn't but in the story of the English language it holds the distinction of being the only word, out of 414,825 words, that was lost while compiling the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. In the day before computers made creating and organizing data a simple, paperless task, bondmaid was the only word the intrepid men who created the OED lost.

Their effort, which lasted from Guy Fawkes Day, 1857 until New Year's Eve, 1927, or just over 70 years, yielded a collection of twelve volumes which defined 414,825 words with 1,827,306 illustrative quotes. Think about that for a moment. From proposal to completion the project took 70 years. In this disposal pop consumer world which we live today can you conceive of a project taking 70 years? 414,825 words. Most speakers of English have a vocabulary of between 10,000 and 20,000 words. This means the average reader would know somewhere between 2.4% and 4.8% of the words in the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (the most current edition includes 616,500 words). 1,827,306 quotes illustrating the first usage of the word, the way the word changed over time, and the different meanings and nuances of meaning the word possesses. Any of these numbers are incredible to me and yet the Oxford English Dictionary is truly greater than the sum of its parts. It stands as a monument and road map to the English language. It is THE monument to the lexicographer's art. Like any monument, the story of the creation of the OED is the story of uncommon men, and in THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN Simon Winchester has chosen to illuminate three figures central to the creation of the OED.

The first is Dr. William Chester Minor, Captain, U.S. Army (Retired). Son of Connecticut Yankee's who traveled around the world to serve as missionaries in Ceylon. Minor eventually returned to the United States, earned a medical degree from Yale, served in the Union Army during the American Civil War, and committed murder on the streets of Victorian London.

The second is Professor James Murray, a primarily self-educated Scotsman who taught school and eventually rose to be a fellow of Balliol College and the chief lexicographer of the OED.

The third man, and most tragic character, is George Merrett. He was the son of a Wiltshire farmer who had come to London with his young bride to make his way in the world. He lived in Lambeth, the father of seven children, and shoveled coal at the Red Lion Brewery. How could such a mean fellow contribute to the OED? Sadly, by becoming the victim of another man's madness. George Merrett was shot and killed as he walked to work in the wee hours of the morning on February 17, 1872. The man wielding the gun? Dr. Minor.

After the murder, to which Dr. Minor confessed, he was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Confined to the Asylum for the Criminally Insane, Broadmore, "until Her Majesty's pleasure be known," which would not be until 1910, Minor was in a unique position to make his prodigious contributions to the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary.

This is the beginning of Winchester's tale, which is part biography of the participants and part biography of the OED itself. Compulsively readable, the story does not allow you to abandon the book for long. Alongside the compelling story that Winchester is telling us, he also manages to cram an amazing amount of information in to the book, illuminating not only the troubled infancy of the OED, but the slow evolution of the very concept of dictionaries. He breathes a remarkable heartbeat into such a dry and obscure subject. I unreservedly recommend this book to anyone with even the slightest interest in the English language. With compelling characters and flowing prose, Winchester struck all the right notes in the book.

Oh yes, and bondmaid eventually had her day, being included in the first supplement to the OED which was published in 1933.

Through the Crowd

An ocean of shirts and ties and jackets and dresses
Separate us,
Tides surging through the room.
Your glance reaching out across the waves,
Young autumn-gold eyes spanning the gulf of years,
Sending me back,
To the laughing times, the spring-fever budding times
Touching my most sacred, intimate memories
Where you glide across the landscape of my thoughts.

I am trapped by your glance,
Captured in the present, a slave to our past,
Memory more palpable than you ever were.

A smile of recognition,
The only acknowledgement.

You move on -
Just like before.

This is one of two of my poems in the most recent issue (#4) of the Brazos Gumbo poetry journal.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


First I want to apologize to you guys. I feel like yesterday’s post, Haiku-Fu, and this post are not up to my usual standard. The only excuse I can offer is that yesterday I hit a very low point, about which I wrote a three-page entry for inclusion here on the Opiate. After discussing my low with one of my best friends, I decided not to post the entry. Posting it would empower the source of the issue and ignoring it and concentrating on the good in my life would completely remove the issue from my life. I chose to ignore it and while still there, the issue does not bother me. Thank God for the wisdom of friends!

That covers Monday, but what about today you may ask. Well, my excuse is that I hit a high in my life that I have not felt in a LONG time. I will fill you guys in as soon as I can, but trust me, some things are moving in a very positive direction in my life. There are some changes coming. Good changes and again I have to thank God for the good friends I have as they are the source of these changes.

Over the past two days I have been too emotional to be able to concentrate, thus the abbreviated entry on haiku and this collection of randomness. I promise to return to form soon, and I will have tales to tell, including my next adventure with the Coke Machine of Doom!!!!!

  1. In response to a mass email I sent announcing the fact that I was getting published again (see my blog entry Published! from July 27th), an old friend of mine responded and let me know that he too had joined the ranks of the published. The book is titled Super #1 Robot: Japanese Robot Toys, 1972-1982. I haven’t found a copy of it yet (Hastings is telling me they can’t get it until September and Barnes & Noble is saying they have to special order it for me) however judging from the book’s website and the pictures on my friend's website, I am certain it is something worth checking out.
  2. I just found out that another friend of mine, who is a professional belly dancer among other things, is releasing her first instructional video “Arabian Spices.” For any of you who are interested it is available through her website.
  3. I am reading THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN by Simon Winchester. This book is the story of Professor James Murray and Dr. W. C. Minor, two men who were critical to the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. I expected to have completed the book by now and have a review up, but the tumult of the past two days has distracted me from my reading.

Finally, for you daily dose of haiku I offer the following:


Alarm buzz.
A flop of my wrist.
Sleep returns.

I have decided to try to make my haiku follow the Setting-Subject-Action form with a 3-5-3 syllable scheme. Eventually I want to move to measuring metrical feet rather than using syllables, however I have not completely wrapped my head around the concept yet, so that is some time in the future.


I have decided to write a haiku a day. This decision stems from a discussion I was having with Sam (the publisher/editor of Brazos Gumbo). We were discussing our mutual desire to get a better command of different poetic forms and Sam said that he had been contemplating restricting all of his poetry work to one form for six months or a year. The theory behind this being that the poet would then have that form at their command. I agree with the theory, but I think the practice of it would be rather limiting, therefore I came up with a modification of the theory. Rather than limit myself to one form of poetry, I would make sure I wrote at least one poem of a specific form each day or week. For my first foray I chose haiku, primarily because I composed the first one this morning in the office before I had even made my decision.


A ringing phone.
“I thought I hung up.”
Anger reigns.

I also really like the haiku as a formal poem. To me they epitomize what poetry should be. A moment captured forever. I want to do some more reading about haiku in the next few weeks, as well as read some masters of the art. As I learn more I will share it with you as well as share my growing collection of haiku.