Friday, February 25, 2011
Sunday, October 24, 2010
Mind the skies: A requiem for Alex Velvet
Court documents and deposition transcripts indicate multiple incidences where employees and executives state that at no time was their a client workorder reading, "We need something of the dimensions x, y, z, must be capable of generating n amount of torque-feet and, by the way, also able to fire a Mahogany-toned Yamaha baby-grand Model AE564 (with the Composochrome add-on package) with lethal force at a range of 400 to 500 yards." This was not part of their work order.
Realistically, however, it should be noted that all force with regard to a flying piano inevitably can be classified as "lethal."
Still, that doesn't change the fact that the few lines in the above spec sheet that did not reference said piano were indeed part of their mandate, and that the client's request form clearly asked for the capability to propel an object of comparable size and mass from "a stand-still position to a targeted destination upwards of 400 feet from source." The socio-military applications for said device remain classified, but a string of spokesmen and witness have testified under oath that its application are myriad in both the civic and public sector.
The word "catapult," of course, never appears on the form -- this was to be a Metal-Carbide Stationary Object Linear Accelerator (MC-SOLA), the kinds of which that Consolidated had been churning out for some 11 years prior to what is now only known as "the incident" at the C.O. Proving Grounds, which are for tax and liability reasons located thousands of miles away from the California-based Practical Design Group in a gated facility in western Colombia, in a town called Xiopollin.
(It should be noted that there's no guideline for pronouncing the name of Xiopollin. In terms of native settlements in the South American nation, there was no precedent for anything of consequence at the intersection of the Chucha River and the Pixto Mountain Range -- Just 10 miles away from the Gila Resort ['Ski the Experience! / Esqui la Experiencia!']. The land in fact had be regarded as generally useless if not entirely cursed for use other than grazing land for the area's migrant ranchers, an application that vanished a short time after the native peoples of the valley were vigorously encouraged to continue their nomadic ways.)
Known colloquially among its workers as 'Facility X', the MC-SOLA at Xiopollin was tested under the guidance of Tyler Tarrington, a mid-level project manager and recent graduate from the University of Florida A&M with a degree in Mechanical Acceleration, a magnet program unique to the University designed to capitalize on the area's burgeoning interest in NASCAR and its attendant pursuits. Tarrington, a man whose personnel file gives no indication of being realistically considered a stupid person, was later said under oath to be the sort of young man who lacked judgment in numerous arenas, not the least of which being where acceleration was involved.
Hired at C.O.'s Silicon Valley location, Tarrington was reassigned to Facility X to, in the words of his Employee Travel Activity Timetable packet (ETAT), "Supervise the completion of this latest iteration of the SOLA project," which had been successfully tested in multiple markets at a smaller scale. Prior company-wide success in replicating the SOLA product gave them no indicatio to Tarrington than any other project manager.
Records indicate that the construction proceeded for three months without incident up until completion of a prototype, which when raised into launch position was upwards of 30 feet tall and 20 feet long. Prototype dates are always festive around Facility X, which on that count is again no different from the Company's other locations. As such crates of dark rum, pan-fried plaintains and rolled pork tacos were acquired for the team, in addition to the above described Yamaha piano (on loan from the Gila Resort in a trade for 50 of the spare cases of said dark rum earlier that year, a result that Tarrington described as "happy" in his logs). Bartering for goods and services, again, is a common practice South America and other outlying corpro-scapes where the Company has been successful.
Testimony -- and thorough investigation of the physical area -- indicates that initial tests of the MC-SOLA involving the Company's biodegradable foam models, a series of metal wastebaskets and one 5x5 carton of rolled pork tacos were successfully discharged with a level of accuracy .07% of target estimation some 800 feet away in the unoccupied Muhuatimoc Valley on the opposite side of Highway 175 to the West. In a deposition conducted on January 5, an engineer on hand named Hiram Willits of Sioux Falls testified that the testing celebration got "a little out of hand" shortly thereafter.
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Thursday, September 30, 2010
Tomorrow or not somewhere
I'd never been to the city before and was grateful for the excuse, and we were all taking shelter from a sudden storm that came up in the church just a few blocks from City Hall that had been converted to a barn. It was sudden to me, anyway, it doesn't rain much where I'm from. The church where the wedding was one of those steeple-peaked, turn-of-the-century looking models but had closed down years ago. Now they rent the place out for weddings , which I'd imagine doesn't entirely impress the deacons or fathers or whatever they were who worked out of there. Or maybe it does.
I remember the light coming through the stained glass lining the ceiling was beautiful. The sun looked to be setting someplace only a few blocks away when this humpbacked cloud eased halfway over the roof, spitting lightning bolts across the sky with deep pockets full of thunderclaps as the sun feebly poked down on the tree-lined streets in the distance. The ceremony over, the newlyweds were in good spirits, and a good chunk of the crowd even raised glasses yelled with every rafter-rattling rumble. A few stragglers tap-danced their way inside for cover, leaving behind formations of folding chairs clustered around nothing in the wet grass.
The first armored personnel carrier speeding by the ex-church's big bay window barely registered, the second only slightly moreso as Kool & the Gang's "Celebration" bounced and rumbled along, right on schedule. I watched a cluster of tanks rumble crazily across the park, but they took awhile to register, their expressionless cyclops eyes lolling in front of them in a way that seemed strangely harmless, like my brain just absorbed the scene and replied, "Oh, I'd rather not," and reassigned them as some kind of wild animal, or a bunch of rogue appliances, as if a couple of lampposts had come to life and decided to relocate.
I turned away from the nonsensical scene and saw the DJ was watching me, his hands fiddling absently to start Madonna's "Holiday," which didn't make sense until i saw two men in head-to-toe camouflage come in from outside and unhurriedly position themselves on either side of the window. Their elbows rose and the glass iwas gone. Another thunderclap carved through the room and all the noises in the room reached to follow, the soldiers' rifles pumping toward scene across the street, the scattering of screams and the DJ leaving his post and heading into the rain, his white dinner jacket flailing wildly behind him before he flew into one of the clusters of chairs, tumbling over them with what seemed to be no sound at all.
The tanks were closer now, I couldn't hear much at that point but I heard them, a metronomic tick-tick-tick that nodded over some horribly insistent mechanized grind that reminded me of the Sugardale plant back home. The soldier next to me palmed a cherry red bicycle helmet to his chest as he fiddled with something in his bag, finally giving up and smacking his partner on the shoulder. The second soldier looked up from his rifle and the smoking, steadily advancing tanks, the closest of which had seemed so interested in turning its big, expressionless eye toward our former church it barely regarded the midsized elm in its path, folding it under its tread with little notice as a third armored transport lumbered down our street.
I heard a voice, some megaphone-enhanced barking coming from somewhere but I was on my back now, covered in shrimp, peanut sauce and little figs wrapped in ham that had fallen in various forms of disrepair across my chest. Tumbling, clumsy legs and guests crossed in front of me as I watched one soldier hand the other what looked like a small rocket, a strangely toy-like thing hardly bigger than his hand. He curled the bike helmet under his armpit, holding the little rocket gently by its neck and pointing it out the window like some kind of trainer waving a sock under a dog's nose before sending it on its way.
I rolled onto my side to stand and watched as it cut a crooked, manic path through the window with an evil hiss, slamming into the first tank with a flash that made my face feel flushed. Cake and frosting smeared across my cheek and into my hair and I was alone except the soldiers who screamed something into my face. I have no idea what. Another thunderclap rumbled underneath me and I realized there wasn't any rain, not anymore, and maybe there never was. The clouds had never parted and this church could never close and the music played on and on.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
The turn signal blandly metronomed to itself against his continued fidgets against his trousers and the Escalade's leather -- were they leather? Did they book that option -- seats as the car idled quietly under the light. She wished she could turn on the radio, or maybe one of the two TVs queued up along the upper spine of the cabin, anything to cover up the silence she was offering him in return. But what else could she do, really?
Was, in fact, the car worth this? The house in the foothills, the one that she had seen on "Extra" even before they met, was that enough to balance another conversation like this out? Maybe it was part of growing older, this need to reevaluate, to reconsider your every move in life just as you're close to its end. Is that the same motivation that drives people who stayed in the movie theater to read all the credits, so enthralled with the experience of the movie that even just by sitting in the dryly unyielding theater seat for just another five minutes will somehow keep the magic onscreen from dying down quite yet (even though the houselights were already up). She never was that kind of person, even when she couldn't afford seeing movies on her own.
The Escalade lumbered quietly through the intersection smoothly as a refrigerator coated in oil and she realized he was talking again, something about his time onset with Gary Fisher, or maybe it was Gary Cooper. Someone more important than who he sees now, which was basically just her. First thing in the morning she would wake up before him, pad into the kitchen, turn on the TV and the coffeepot and decide when waking him would be worth it, when she should end her own little scene of quiet morning solitude and step into the real world, their real world. One that was very comfortable, of course, with sixteen bedrooms, three pools and a jacuzzi that came on if you clapped your hands just so, but still, she was tired. She woke up tired.
Eventually she'd wake him up, he'd creak his way into the bathrobe crumpled on the nightstand, stumble for his slippers and kiss the top of her head. Some days she'd tilt her head toward him, like there was some greater intimacy in the left third of her scalp over the center, but he seemed to like it. Coffee would be consumed and he'd flick on the big screen, which was usually turned to that classic movie channel, that one always playing something starring someone dead. She'd hear his voice rise and fall like a gravel-spiked slide whistle in some kind of appreciation and that was her cue to start her day for real, to step into the bath and commence with putting up her hair, putting on her face and beginning the Appearances. This was daily.
Today's appearances were fine. Lunch at the Pompano. A brisk walk through that outdoor mall across town where she'd pick out something nice and he'd pretend not to want to buy it and she'd pretend to be grateful. Now here, back in traffic heading to the golf course to meet Saul, who always seemed to wear that gold chain with the nugget pendant no matter what time of day. Then dinner someplace nice, then back to the big screen and it started over again. This, as her mother in Bakersfield told it, was the life.
"Aren't you going to say something? Argue with me, say, 'You're just being silly Walter,' or 'Let's not fight on a Saturday, Walter,' isn't that what you always do?" This was not getting any easier.
The ninth hole at Cloverdale is a par three, a consideration made both for its short approach and its proximity to the side of the Boulevard, a necessary geographic quirk that always seemed to get in people's heads and make them push the ball exactly where they're not supposed to. Every week, it seemed like, a shot went bad and sailed over the fence like a moonshot, arcing deliriously toward parked cars and oncoming traffic like it was born to do nothing else. The man in the khaki shorts wasn't thinking about that, or at least he thought he wasn't thinking about it. He thought he had his nine iron but, by some quirk of a really bad misadventure on the pin-side green on the eighth, he actually had his six. The man in the khaki shorts was a good golfer, but not a great one. Mishits and mulligans, they're part of the game.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
here be monsters
"Do it," Mark said, trying to sound casual. He'd been in a wheelchair since that ice storm in February, so obviously he wasn't a candidate, but there were only so many more summer days left at this point. How many more times could they go to the drugstore for a new ball, and with three days left until allowance day? Besides, even if they were lazy and took the bus it would still be an hour there-and-back, and it was already three. "It can't be down there that far," he added hopefully.
"You do it," Thomas shot back with a little laugh, trying to mask the fear. "You wouldn't go down there anyway, who knows how far it is? Let's just head back inside, or maybe hit up the arcade. That Hill's around the corner has a sit-down machine, we can use those." His eyes stayed on the bottom of the well. There wasn't anything down there, he thought, he was just being silly. Maybe a snake or something, but who wants to deal with that? It's just a stupid baseball.
But still, a thought kept gnawing at him. How much stuff must be down there? How many baseballs? He was going to be driving next year, he was too old to be afraid of the dark, wasn't he? He could get a flashlight and be down there in minutes, the way those bricks stuck out. Or maybe they could just lower a ladder down to the bottom, that really big one his dad kept hanging on the wall that telescoped to the roof that one summer they reshingled the roof. That sucked, but the ladder was easy.
"Gimme your pen," Thomas said. Mark always had a pen in his pocket, usually one of those cheapo bic jobbies or one of those cummerbund-clad government pens his stepdad seemed to get by the pound from his job in the city.
Mark made a face. "I don't have one," he said, digging in his pocket and feeling the four-color click pen in his pocket, each of the inviting little levers at the top sliding agreeably halfway down their little slots. This wasn't some pen that needed to get sacrificed to this stupid well. Red, black, blue, even green, this pen had it all, and deserved better.
Thomas shot him a look and dug into his pocket, finding just lint and his keys, neither of which were going to work. He crouched down and picked at the lip of the well until he could loosen the dirt, standing and stomping his heel into the edge until a few clumps of Michigan clay tumbled down the well's side. This idea had come up a bunch of times before, but each time the boys lost track of the debris' path, only hearing it skitter of the edge of the bricks and no doubt to some soft-landing at the bottom. Of course there was a bottom.
"I'll be right back," Thomas said.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
under the gun
I'm told that earlier this week was Blue Monday, a special little invention in Britain that apparently defined January 18 as the most depressing day of the year. This year, anyway. Their reasoning seems simple enough -- the holidays are over and, well, you live in Britain and thus probably won't be seeing the sun in a month and a half.
I certainly admire the Brits for sticking a flag in the ground for such a day (because really, their weather gives them every right), and I like the extra edge this adds to the New Order song that pounded in my head during many such Blue Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, etc., when I was in high school, but this is really just a convenient bit of calendar manipulation. Kind of like how Mother's Day falls in the middle of May -- it's not like May's a particularly hard month for moms (that I know of) or there was some kind of Mother's March on Washington that day in 1886 -- it's just a nicer month than April and June was already claimed for Dad since no major sporting events take place (or something).
Any day can be crap, and if I remember right I was feeling pretty good this past Monday as a matter of fact, despite the presence of real, live inclement weather here in Los Angeles and the fact the time was right to be awash in British melancholy. But forces are out there, emotional hot-foots and buttons that wait to be pushed. I don't necessarily think one will do it unless there's a particularly tender spot on me that day; generally it takes a multitude of things.
This is essentially a long way 'round of saying today I've been feeling a bit of crap today, and I think how the tumblers fell into place. Some were fairly on the nose -- the weather's still fantastically gloomy, something I kind of enjoy but regardless we're biologically wired to get nailed by these things (ask anyone who lives in the Pacific Northwest or, say, Scotland).
Then Massachusetts sprayed a blast of diarrhea all over what was already a fecal-friendly political climate by electing a guy who looks like the villain in 'Friday Night Lights,' and thus ensuring U.S. will not have a modern, reasonable and compassionate healthcare program in, fuck it, let's call it our lifetime.
Plus I was sick all last week and felt generally uninspired for longer than that, two obviously temporary conditions that nevertheless feel permanent when you're in them, and that's terrifying.
AND, I've got a birthday coming up, something that's certainly not a bad thing (considering the alternative) but still, it's a time to take stock of all you've done up to now and, most heavily, not done.
But i think the system running in the back of my head that finally tipped the scale was a phone call I heard on the Savage Love podcast last weekend. (If you don't listen to the gospels according to Dan Savage, i highly recommend. He's this century's Dr. Ruth if you put an improv comic's wit into her brainpan -- seriously, the guy's not just funny, he's frightfully smart.)
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Monday, December 21, 2009
and so this is christmas
Second, if you were to happen by and read some of this stuff you might be possessed by the impression that I'm one grim bastard, which is a less-accurate reflection. True, it's been a year and in some respects a bundle of years where there's plenty of material, we'll call it, to stare at my bellybutton about. But certainly not as much as others, and on the whole I'm generally not the guy at the end of the bar staring into the bottom of my glass and pondering the meaning of it all. Generally.
So today, a holiday story. Or at least an attempt at one.
One of the beautiful things about holidays is the extension of traditions, some of them so small you'd hardly notice they've been adopted until suddenly you're carrying them on. One of my favorites that we have quietly picked up through the years is acquiring odd or otherwise unique ornaments for our yearly tree, such that's it's been. We've never been the sort that rushes through Target, picks up a box of colored balls and icicles and called it a day -- not that there's anything wrong with that.
It's something that started with my dad when he was a teenager, visiting family from house to house in South Boston with my Grandfather on Christmas Eve. They'd deliver presents and have a drink and, without fail, steal an ornament off the tree at every stop. As I remember it this was an understood bit of holiday theft, and maybe there was even a moment where my grandfather would take some time to pick one out with the host's blessing, I'm not sure. But suffice to say by the end of the night my dad was fairly carrying my grandfather home as the drinks and houses added up, but out of that came my family's tradition of buying a couple new ornaments year after year.
And that's a lucky thing. When I was growing up I loved all the strange and otherworldly stars of our family's Christmas tree. I can see them now, the fake gingerbread/marshmallow house made out of chunky, Pepto-colored styrofoam. The little orange lightbulb with the clown face of yarn made by my brother in 3rd grade. A ceramic mouse napping on a crescent moon with my name on it, a gift from my teacher in 4th grade. The lanky stuffed elf in red, dangling from a rickety ladder as a string of metallic gold beads spills out of his hand and his little surprised face stitched to a tiny 'o,' only slightly larger than a pinhole. These are the decorations and stories that make up our tree, and I've adored them from every angle since I was little.
So much so that I used to sneak down to our crawlspace in Ohio, where our tree was boxed up in pieces next to a taped up green Glenfiddich box that held our ornaments. My fascination would start every year sometime toward the end of October, when the weather would turn in that unmistakably biting and smoky way to let you know, yes, Winter is coming. It all usually happened right around the time the JCPenney catalogs were expected.
I'd crouch down there in my slippers and oversized Snoopy robe and dig for some of my favorites, unwrapping them from crumpled paper and plastic to hold them up to the pale shop light that hung over our sump pump, gurgling quietly to itself in the corner. Eventually my mom would fetch me out of there, but I appreciate that I was allowed to linger a bit on that cold concrete floor.
I remember our tradition with the lights, once the tree finally went up (usually somewhere in the teens of December. My dad and I would 'build' the tree and string the lights (we've had artificial trees since I was about six or so, and I barely remember the few real ones apart from the absurdly rotund 'pregnant' Christmas tree from when I was four or five), and, like an aesthetic cavalry, my mom would come in and reshape before the decorating could continue.
The branches would be bent here or there to cover empty spaces, and the lights would be strung and restrung by my mom to get the solids over here, a series of blinking lights over here, all with the unspoken yet understood goal of giving each year's tree a unique pattern of lights to overlap with eachother on and off, a unique sort of randomness that always built a sort of tension and left no corner unlit in a thoughtfully composed holiday drama that you might see on a parade float, or some kind of gallery installation. Sometimes it took as long as an hour.
Then the ornaments would come out. My dad always placed the elf with the ladder first, just below the angel at the top, and then we cycled through the whole box, holding certain special ones up for eachother and remembering their stories. A lot of ornaments are marked by years, and inevitably those say something about the state of the family. 1981 is a simple circle of sleigh scene on painted wood, indicative of the tough times after my dad lost his job during the PATCO strike. The 1985 ornament is a Santa in a bathing cap, a tribute to our first Christmas in California after moving from Ohio. Inevitably, we had more ornaments than tree, as well as more lights, garland and tinsel than anyone probably needs. But the tree always looked perfect, and somehow better every year.
Now my wife and I have some ornaments of our own, though not nearly old and weathered. We've got a matching pair of crocheted penguins, each for some reason carrying luggage. An armory of fuzzy wool balls, each with whimsical polka dot and stripe patterns in some sort of parody of holiday colors like olive green, maroon and harvest orange. A fuzzy rabbit in a scarf and oversized knit hat. A small army of angels given to me by my father each successive Christmas since my mother died.
These all were slowly acquired year after year, carefully put away in a box, and placed sort of at random on our abbreviated attempt at an annual Christmas tree. I say abbreviated because we had misgivings about dropping a full-size dead tree in the corner, so we had little, 3- or 4-foot varieties, sold to us by bundled carnies at the neighborhood tree lot and jammed into our little hatchback. (Seriously, have you looked at the staff at the average tree lot? I think we know what happens to that guy smelling vaguely of circus peanuts and Krylon while tending to the Zipper every summer.)
This year, there would be no more of that. B finally reached her breaking point and bought us an actual, 7-foot fake tree from, yes, Target. The best faux-fir totem $60 could buy, and it is, an awfully lovely and awfully grown-up kind of tree. The tradition, the holiday as a whole, feels like it's dug in a little deeper in our lives, and it's good. But the funny thing is how quietly the other traditions have been passed along.
A few of our ornaments already have their ideal placement on the tree, and I know they'll find their way there every year (that rabbit in the hat, our first ornament, seems on its way to becoming our thin little elf). The few heavy fake-vintage glass balls hang out at the bottom, and everything else fills in. The lights, however, are all white, a shift from the rainbow-colored blinky assortment my family always preferred as I was growing up. But this Christmas I noticed that I was the one bending the occasional tree branch after we put it up, then I was the one tangled in wires and stars as I rearranged the strings of light just so, making sure every corner of the tree was lit up just right.
These days my dad still trims the tree at his home up in the desert, joined by my seven-year-old niece who I'm sure has also grown to appreciate the magic in those weird little decorations. Over the years the ornaments have evolved to where some of them light up, some have strange little movements powered by the lights on the tree, and others play unsettlingly canned holiday music. I don't have nearly the same connection with these as I did with the ones from when I was a kid, which are still scattered around the tree, but I welcome them all.
The family tree has changed, of course. The lights don't blink the way they used to -- for expedience's sake, my dad opted for a tree with lights wired into the branches in the years since my mom's been gone, and I'm sure if i was to really take the time to look at each ornament I'd barely recognize the newer ones or know their stories, or even if they have them. But each and every year when we stumble into my dad's house after making the drive on Christmas Day, I know that tree is ours.