Thursday, August 24, 2006

good, bad, and ugy news

I got a car. It's a 2003 Honda Civic. Runs fine. Interest rates are decent. Gets good gas mileage but has a tiny little tank so I'll probably be filling up just as often. It's kind of comfortable and fun to drive, looks decent but it's embarrassingly ubiquitous. I feel so mainstream. But hey, at least I don't have to worry about it melting down on 435 some morning.

The bad news is that I've got to live pretty close to the bone for the next month or so, to save up the money to pay the tags and taxes. Annoying, but not unexpected.

The really ugly news is that it may take ANOTHER whole month for my divorce to be final. Because of the vagarities of the court system, both parties are allowed a 30-day "cooling off" period after signing, and since Scott signed his response to the petition on August 10th, that means my lawyer can't even schedule a court date until after September 11th. "I'll try to get you a date in September," said his secretary when I spoke to her.

Just run over me.

Monday, August 21, 2006

good eats

I've been car-hunting for the last fortnight or so, and last weekend was a real hair-puller in terms of running around, making deals, seeing mechanics, arm-wrestling dealers, changing flats on a dark highway at night, running out of gas, etc.

But I won't go into the gory details here. What I really wanted to talk about was food. I happened to be in a small college town over the weekend and we stopped by a local brewry/pub with a number of good things to recommend it. I'm not into beer, myself, but the menu was impressive: sophisticated without being outré, good variety and everything very fresh. I had a simple BLT that was probably the best I've ever eaten; it was served on soft fresh crusty whole-wheat bread from the local bakery, with fresh tomatoes from the farmer's market, spicy brown mustard and real mayo.

This being a crunchy college town, they had a number of vegetarian menu items--again, not my mainstay, but if one is in the mood for a light lunch, veggie dishes can be a welcome break from burgers and their ilk. My companion had an avocado wrap in a crispy tortilla, with some spicy southwestern sauce, which came with a side salad coated in roasted red pepper vinagrette--really yummy. I confess I ate as much of the wrap as he did; it was that good.

But the most unusual item we tried was the potato salad that came with my BLT. It wasn't your typical Helmann's/French's/Vidalia starchfest. This was baby red potatoes, cooked tender and diced with the skins still on, a light dressing of brown mustard and mayo, diced eggs, a bit of onion, a generous sprinkling of fresh chopped basil, and some kalamata olives. Now, I love olives, but I woulda never thought to put them in my potato salad. They add salt the same as pickles would, but with a richer, earthier, more sophisticated flavor. Since I'm always looking for the ultimate potato salad recipe, this was a revelation.

Later we stopped by a coffee shop for dessert, and I had a wonderful slice of old-fashioned coconut cake, very light and tender and sweet without being cloying. Made me want to start baking cakes again. Not good for the waistline!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

sweet without the saccharine

I never thought I'd see the day when I'd endorse a Christian recording artist, but I really like Chris Rice's new song "When Did You Fall (In Love with Me)." It's just nice, without being trite or facile. Well-composed and free of cynicism. Refreshing.
You’re all smiles and silly conversation
As if this sunny day came just for you
You twist your hair, you smile, and you turn your eyes away
C’mon, tell me what’s right with you
Now it dawns on me probably everybody’s talkin’
And there’s something here I’m supposed to realize
‘Cause your secret’s out, and the universe laughs at its joke on me
I just caught it in your eyes, it’s a beautiful surprise

There's a clip of it on his site.

Monday, August 14, 2006

things I have to do next weekend

  1. Attend the Ethnic Festival in K.C., which happens to be in a scary part of town, and swing a sword around onstage;
  2. Drive to a slightly less scary burg in another state at the far opposite end of the greater City area to attend my writer's meeting;
  3. Buy a car.

Mind you, I'm not actually sure that any of these things will happen. No. 3, should it actually come to pass, will have to take precedence over the other two, but right now I'll still waiting on the bank's approval.

This weekend I've had to deal with a remarkable assortment of pushy and demanding males--lawyers, tailors, used car salesmen, relatives, editors. The lawyer was by far the most competent and easiest to get along with. At least he got everything done he said he was going to do. My divorce should be final in a couple more weeks. And I found a used car for sale by a friend of a friend that should be a pretty good deal if I can get a loan. More details on that as they happen.

Monday, August 07, 2006


Scientists have gathered convincing evidence that we all make decisions based on emotion, rather than intellect. So much for Myers-Briggs. I can't decide if this makes me feel better about my first marriage, or worse. But if this were more commonly known, perhaps it would help reduce the accusations of liberals being bleeding-hearts and conservatives being heartless bastards. Not to mention the regular admonitions to "Think!" by the opposite party. Thinking has little or nothing to do with it, folks.

Other scientists with different proclivities have rendered legible more of Archimedes' Palimpsest manuscript, by using X-rays. I knew almost nothing about this manuscript, but apparently the text was once scrubbed off by a monk (they call it the Dark Ages for a reason) who wrote prayers over the goatskin parchment. Stuff like that makes me sympathize with Sabine Fairweather.

AJ wrote a blog entry about big box stores last week, which helped wind up my resentment of Wal-Mart again. I pretty much only go in there if I'm on a road trip and have to use the bathroom; I figure they still owe me some benefits in the form of water and toilet paper, at least. Today, I went and visited, which I hadn't looked at in a while. They have lots of links to articles about why Wal-Mart is evil. Read them. Shop local if you can. Saving money is no excuse. How many DVD's and bottles of pop do you need, anyway? Try buying less and paying more for better-quality items, or things you really need instead of things that are merely cheap. You can "choose" to shop at Wal-mart, and you'll pay lower prices for a while, but their business practices are designed to make them the only choice, and after that they can charge whatever they want, can't they?

Last week I saw an article about Wal-mart and somebody else, Home Depot, I think, taking further steps to create their own banking entities. I seem to remember that Wal-Mart has encountered some resistance to this plan in past years, from whomever regulates such things--the FDIC? Must research this further. Feel free to do the surfing for me.

On a more personal note, I sat down this weekend and plotted out about 75% of "Curious Weather," which encompasses all of Sabine's journal entries and Trace's education at her hand. I still need to sequence the subplot arc of Trace's story, and one major scene I thought would go in that story may in fact be pushed back to story No. 6, which will either be titled, "Sideshow" or "Wild Man of Borneo," depending on my mood. The machinery's a little dusty, but it's turning again.

And I'm listening to Disturbed today. Really diggin' that Land of Confusion remake. Generally I think remakes are inappropriate and gratuitous, but this one seems appropriate to the day and age.

Friday, August 04, 2006

for Charlotte

He picked out the smallest bedroom on the second floor for his new quarters; it was shabby and dark, with no curtains and the ugliest yellow wallpaper he’d ever seen, but he’d lived in worse. At least it was well away from the attic workroom, and the double windows let in a cool breeze from the woodlot behind the house. That breeze was an important consideration, in St. Louis in August, when the night air clung like wet cotton, and a feather bed felt like a sweaty hand cupped around him.

Tired as he was after the restless night before, he got engrossed in the old London Physicians Monthly she’d given him and kept reading until long after dark, feeling vaguely decadent at the waste of lamp-oil. She’d marked the article on microorganisms for him to read, but he was more interested in the piece on treating nervous disorders. Having spent a year in an asylum, himself, he was grimly fascinated by the author’s theory that a sick mind was only a tired mind: like a machine, the brain could be overworked, and the best cure was complete rest. Trace had never seen a machine mend itself by sitting idle, and he’d only been cured by isolation and rest because he’d gotten smarter about not telling people when he could see things they couldn’t.

The small clock on the mantle chimed midnight, rousing him out of his light doze. He was so drowsy his head felt swimmy, but there was no need to be up at dawn to run down stray horses or get sleepy oxen moving, and he reckoned he’d best get used to her hours. Besides—the thought surfaced before he could dodge it—it had been five years since he’d tried to sleep in a room without Boz’s snoring.

He gave his head a shake and rolled onto his other side, vaguely upset in the stomach from all the rich food she was feeding him. Or maybe it was the wallpaper, he thought, glancing up from the pale cream page to the hideous yellow walls. He wasn’t in the habit of noticing decoration—didn't often stay in a room that had any, point of fact—but this wallpaper was singularly offensive. The color was bad enough, a dirty yellow shade that reminded him of a dust-storm on the horizon, but the pattern was worse. It seemed to seethe in the lamp-light at the corners of his eyes, making him feel vaguely fever-sick, or maybe morphine-sick.

He turned up the wick again, flipped back to the article he was supposed to be reading. It was interesting, but too full of unfamiliar terms for him to just skim it. He had to mentally parse every sentence in order to squeeze out the meaning. It seemed a Swiss named Lister had proven the existence of tiny creatures called “microorganisms,”—too small to see, but alive and aggressive—which attacked healthy body tissues, causing disease and putrescence. This was some different from the idea of spontaneous generation, which Trace had learned about in seminary. Spontaneous generation taught that maggots and putrescence sprang from the decaying matter itself. He’d always thought that made sense enough, seeing as how God had created the world out of nothing. But the idea of tiny, invisible creatures invading healthy flesh reminded him of ants swarming over a scorpion, or those bloodsuckers swarming the train. Nature tended to repeat the same patterns in different sizes, so maybe God had made microorganisms, too.

A whispering sound drew his gaze up from the page toward the dark eye of the window. The curtains were missing; even the hardware had been wrenched from the plaster. The wallpaper was stripped off in patches, too. Maybe someone had intended to redecorate this room and never got around to it. Trace wondered briefly how long Miss Fairweather had lived in this house and whether she had made any efforts to remodel it. It seemed unlike her to spend time decorating, especially since she did no entertaining. And yet she had the manners of a trained hostess. She was always unfailingly proper, even while insulting him. She didn’t wrap herself in frills and fripperies like the fashionable ladies he saw around St. Louis, but he’d seen her in very fine clothes on a couple of occasions, and even her plain work dresses were better-fitted and finer cloth than those of a shopgirl or farmwife.

She had money, obviously, had probably been born to it. Might even be minor English nobility. No doubt had been raised a proper lady… but that didn’t explain her education, her training in science. Trace had read of some medical schools back east starting to admit ladies, but Miss Fairweather was not much younger than he. Maybe the schools in England were more permissive. Maybe she’d had tutors.

Another scientist who supported the microorganism theory (he read) was a Frenchman named Pasteur. Some years ago he had boiled some meat broth in a glass jar, then bent the neck of the jar. This was supposed to prevent microorganisms in the air from getting into the broth, and it worked fine until Pasteur tilted the jar to let the broth into the neck of it. After that, the broth got rancid, which was supposed to prove that these tiny creatures were carried by air currents.

Appalling thought, really. Trace’s mouth curled in distaste, thinking of what he might be breathing in. As if to underscore the point, a cool gust of air touched the sweat on his arms and chest. He shivered lightly, thinking there must be a storm on the way.

The whispering came again, a faint and yet fleshy sound, like a like a hand dragged along the papered walls. Trace surfaced from his reading-doze and looked up.

Nothing stirred, inside or out. It was a very still night. In fact, he realized, there was no breeze coming in the window.

The room was stifling-hot, but his arms were tingling with gooseflesh, as if a cold breath had blown across his skin. It had been a while, he thought suddenly, since he’d taken the time to meditate. Maybe too long.

He sat up in bed, peering into the dark corners of the room, but there was nothing to see except shadows and the contorted pattern of the wallpaper. It seemed to writhe, like heat-visions on the Great Salt Flats, and most of the movement rippled close near the floor, as if something were crawling down low behind the paper. Something vaguely human-shaped, with long hair hanging over its face. Its shoulder dragged along the wall with a faint rasp and the occasional thump as it knocked past a bit of wainscoting.

“Uh, pardon me?” Trace said.

The crawling figure stopped, hunching in on itself, like a mouse caught on the pantry floor.

“I don’t mean t’interrupt, but could you maybe go do that somewhere else? It’s a mite disturbin.”

The figure resumed creeping as if it hadn’t heard. Trace lay back down with a snort, turned toward the window to find a cooler spot on the mattress, and went back to his article. But now he was aware of the noise he couldn’t shut it out. His ears tracked the slithering all the way down the wall, over the doorway and its trim work—ba-dump, ba-dump—behind the bureau, under the dressing-table, under the window—ba-dump, ba-dump—to the fireplace, where there was a pause just long enough to make him think it had stopped, before it resumed on the other side.

Trace sighed. Round and around all night would drive him crazy. By morning he’d be creeping along with it.

“Alright, you win,” he muttered, rolling off the edge of the bed. He collected his clothes from the chair, put his hat on his head, and took the lamp in his free hand. There was a whole row of bedrooms up and down the hall; surely one of them was unoccupied. “I reckon you were here first.”