Wednesday, April 28, 2010  

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posted by Mike | 7:35 PM

This blog is now located at http://mikehaddon-randomnoise.blogspot.com/. You will be automatically redirected in 30 seconds, or you may click here. For feed subscribers, please update your feed subscriptions to http://mikehaddon-randomnoise.blogspot.com/rss.xml.

posted by Mike | 7:35 PM

Friday, September 16, 2005  

The Next One

So after you do anything poignant, people wonder about the next one. They want to examine the nature of the creator. Are you a consistent performer. Are you a dynamo? Are you a one trick pony? Or did you just have an itch that yearned for some scratchin'?

I finished my first novel about a year ago. Then, about 4 months later I began (and quickly abandoned due to a baby and work and school) a search for a literary agency. I told myself I would pick it up again when I had more time. Now, I seem to have less than ever.

So sooner or later I have to put it back out there, this book that took to long to write and might very well be shit when the final yays and nays are tallied. But I have to give it another go. And at the same time I have to do it again. I have to write "the next one".

It is not so much that I think I am full of interesting stories or characters that have much to say or even universal themes that arc from the page into the readers mind. It is just that I have to have a next one. I have to because the question will come eventually "What are you working on now?" and I cannot think of a worse answer to give than "NOTHING, NOT A DAMN THING!"

So it is back to the drawing board. Only this time the drawing board is really blank because I used up all what I was pretending was talent on the last one. I have this immediate and insurmountable and intimidating blank slate and my expectation is I will fill it up in less time and with a better story than the last time out. Even if nobody likes it. Even if nobody reads it. Even if I cannot find a soul to represent it. I just have to do it. If for no other reason than when that question comes I can casually say "Me? Oh, I am working on the next one." I can say it and somehow they will know exactly what I am trying to say.

I don't know how long it will take or what the hell it will be about but you can bet your ass it will involve Tokyo somehow. I leave for a week long conference on Oct 6th and will have about 28 hours of air travel to think about how to fill up that big empty.

posted by Mike | 9:17 PM

Saturday, February 26, 2005  

Hurricane Mo

It is somewhere between 72 and 80 degrees, a light breeze blowing out to sea, enough sunshine where I can see the crisp ends of every horizon in every direction. My drink… chilled as the little umbrella descends little by little, the ice in an unhurried melting. “Sunny and 72…Sunny and 72” I whisper to myself, a mantra of purposelessness. Maybe I will grab the clubs and swing at a bucket, maybe play a whole 18. Or maybe, just maybe, I will sit here and listen to the wind play me a lullaby in the fronds of creaking palm trees.

The neighbors are shuffling about. Running here and there and buying things like batteries and bottled water. They listen to the news. They hear the weather people trying to sound important using words like weather systems and tropical depressions and category 5. Me, I drink things that come pre-mixed in long glass bottles. I mean, why ruin a perfectly good day by being a reactionary and strapping lumber to your house? What a fucking waste of time, a waste of a good tee time. Or maybe, I will just sit here. No need to prepare. No need to beg and scrape for salvageable lumber to reinforce the doors and windows of my home. Fly your flags and buy your water. What do I have to be worried about?

Think I will go get the clubs and head out the municipal course for while. Or maybe, just maybe, I listen to that mellifluous wind. What a gorgeous day!

And somewhere, 200 miles and 10 days off shore, he churns and swirls over the warm open waters, gaining intensity and maturing with every twisting rotation. He will make landfall at my doorstep and nothing will ever be the same again.

This is my metaphor of pending parenthood.

posted by Mike | 5:23 AM

Thursday, December 23, 2004  

Wandering into the frame.

It was near sundown just off the main drag in Honolulu. Kelly decided that she wanted to wander around and check out the “traditional” island shows that pop up all along the Waikiki shoreline after dark. They all feature young girls in grass skirts and tuna-bellied poi-boys strumming beat up guitars the whole scene bathed in the fire-torch lighting. Kelly likes stuff like that and the price was right so I strolled along beside her.

Kelly wanted to get a closer look so I stood back as she weaved her way through the crowd to get to a spot where she could see. Being 5 foot 4 she needs to get close. Being 6 foot 3 I prefer to stick to the back of the crowd so as not to block the view of others.

As I tried to find a place where I was out of the way but could still see Kelly I noticed that no matter where I stepped I always seemed to be wandering into the frame of someone’s photograph or vacation video. It was amazing… digital cameras, camcorders, even picture phones. No matter where I stepped I was in someone’s frame.

Theses are photographs that people take to capture a moment. They don’t take them to capture meaning but rather they tape it or snap it because it is something decidedly vacation-like. Not something they will frame and take to the office or make doubles of to share with families. I contend that out of every roll of film (or these days, gigabytes of digital data) only about 5 percent is actually meaning full. The rest is there to fill up the space. How many pictures of the sunrise over the Alps does someone really need? How many shots that guy in New York City that plays guitar wearing nothing but underwear and cowboy boots can a person use in their photo book?

Works the same way with our memories. I have no scientific proof of it but I bet that at the end of our lives we only really remember 5% of all the minutes and seconds of our lives. Out of an average 75 years we have probably only 3 maybe 4 years of information stored if played end to end on a high-speed reel. So why then… why do we think that some flower growing in Quebec City is necessarily noteworthy? Perhaps because we really want to capture everything; we are greedy and want to keep it all. We never want our vacations to end. We never want our children to grow up or our lovers to die and leave us alone. So, in the absence of the power to stop the current of time, we freeze it. We freeze it in this nice and momentarily significant block of irretrievable and unlivable time. It is not so much that we will ever look back at the tuna-bellied man who sings about his “brown island princess” it is all about the fact that we CAN. We can look at this man swaying in the cast of orange torchlight and think back to a time that had absolutely no knowledge of a future that has our lovers dying or our yet to be born children aging.

Kelly found herself satisfied with the show and came to the back to find me. She seemed happy that she got to see the production. She walked up and hugged me, pressing her firm pregnant belly into me. I bent down to kiss her and she asked me if I had remembered to take some pictures.

“Absolutely,” I said. I had taken a few. All the while folks wandered in and out of my frame. Some of them escaped the shutter close of the camera while others are forever locked in a moment of time I might never look at and if I do might wander why the hell I wasted the 387 kilobytes on the memory card to take this picture.

posted by Mike | 9:02 AM

Saturday, May 01, 2004  

30 until 30...

Perhaps there is something chemically a little off in my brain that I do not fear aging. Adding to my years does not cripple me with desperation. I am not besieged with horror that my fragile mortality is giving way to nature, to time. It is all fine with me. Perhaps because every day I get older I become more and more the kind of person I have always wanted to be.

For whatever reason I some time ago stopped measuring myself in relation to my peers. The successes or the positions of my classmates, or my friends – both current and former- and my relative successes and positions do not occupy my thoughts. I realized I am not in a race against anyone for anything. Wherever I am, whatever I have accomplished, whatever things I have acquired are all relative just to me and can only be measured against my expectations. Further, those expectations themselves are not built based on anyone else. You know what you call that? In a word: liberating.

I see people all the time that are striving to achieve and acquire things that are external in nature. They gather up, tally, and compare the sum of what they think defines them against invisible benchmarks that they think defines their class, or age, or gender, or whatever. It is not always the material, these objects people use to account for their worth. I work in an office with some woman who are approaching or have blown past the age of 30 and are unmarried. When compared to women their age they do not have a commitment of love and life. They don’t have children. This instills desperation in some, fear in others, and yet some are remarkably pragmatic about where they stand in their life. There are others who are always searching for that next career assignment that will make them feel better. Perhaps they want to be held in a certain light by their colleagues. Whatever the goal, there is this panic to obtain that commitment or attain that position.

I am 30 days from 30 years. And for much of this time the view of the future was fear more than wonder. It was dread more than peace. I worried about collecting all the ingredients that would bake a better life. My dreams were big and my punishments for failing to live those dreams were bigger. But somewhere between there and here the stopwatch I used to measure my current speed in the footrace of becoming the Ideal Mike Haddon just stopped. The importance of my life became more important than the measure of it. So what if I collect days and then gray hairs. Who cares if I outpace and outlive all my old loves and pains, if the sheer number of my years makes insignificant those things that used to matter so much? Am I any less of a success if I don’t campaign to be one?

After this will come other milestones. I will see them coming and I will watch them pass, one by one, year after year. My successes will be many. My failures will be as plentiful. And at the end of this life I will hopefully mourn more for the end of these days than the wasting of them. And to live a life you only live to get to the next thing is a waste.

posted by Mike | 6:34 AM

Wednesday, December 17, 2003  

Anarchy Frozen…

Chaos in Suspended Animation…

Crisis in Flash-Freeze Kinetics…

I went searching for an impressive and literarily inclined way to capture the phrase: emotional cease-fire. But these three lines of shit were all I could come up with. I call them shit because they didn’t just come out of me, escape from the hiding places of my brain’s word center and slither into my fingers and out onto the keyboard. I had to work at them too hard for them to be cool. Spontaneous wit is more fun, more intellectually sexy to me than belabored ideas packaged inside ineffectual mental toil.

So, being without genius, inspiration, or talent, I came up with this.

I asked for a cessation of the madness for a while, just a little time to navigate through the rest of these lingering commitments. I wanted distance from the ledge of the fault line. I wanted some space in the penalty-free zone. And, to my surprise- egos and devils, feelings and angels aside- I might have gotten my wish.

Outside of this conflict is the only place peace can take root. It’s the only place to get a foothold against the momentum, against the current of what feels like a thousand years of habit and choice. If we cannot step outside, we will die. If we cannot find strength in the neutrality of common ground we will fall. I think she sees that now too… finally.

posted by Mike | 12:13 PM

Monday, December 15, 2003  

The Lesson of the Paper-thin Crush

In the absence of knowing I fret. I fret or I ignore. Denial comes easy to me. But it is neither a long-lasting denial nor an internally assured denial. Many times it is only an outward denial; something that is broadcasted to a select set of those who give a fuck. Inside things are amplified. Stupid shit takes center stage and collects the scattered bits of my attention.

Right now I am being educated. I am learning about myself, the little things I have always wondered about. Why do I assume the worst of humanity, yet expect the best from individuals? Why do I distrust everything that is told to me yet trust almost everything I say to myself, like I am a reliable source? These are things that have plagued me my whole life, from the playground to the battleground. But I am finally learning. I am finally starting to see the places I fell off the path and the why of the fall.

There is a mini-revolution brewing. I am being told I have to make choices even though, by the classic definition, there are no options vying for selection. There is not a multitude of roads that lead into different directions. Absent options, there is no choice. But, that does not prevent those who think I have a choice from demanding I make one. And, should I fail to provide them with some answer that indicates a choice, I am equally screwed because then it will be said that I have made a choice. Did I mention there is no choice?

The difference between Shit and Stuff. Shit is all the things you know you have to accomplish, administer, and handle. Shit is the thing you schedule, reserve thought for, consider. Shit is the endgame of conflict. Stuff, on the other hand, is the left-over detail. You get around to stuff. You file, pile, reconcile stuff to getting done later or not at all. Stuff is the fodder, the sacrifice, the null-prize of completing a task. But, what people don’t realize is, Stuff can multiply and take on more meaning than Shit ever has a chance to. Shit will always be the thing you are looking out for, the punch you duck from, the grenade you dive away from. Stuff is the sniper bullet of collective incompletion… all the little things you never got to that collect, gather, unionize and then come knocking. Shit will stress you. Stuff will kill you.

The next disaster is awaiting you. Tell you what, the next time crisis comes asking for you, tell it you are not around. See how well that works out for you. The next time a family member dies, take that time to let death know you will send for it when you need it, but until you do, stay the fuck away from so much as the smallest grub in your garden. Or how about this, tell the laws of Statistical Inevitability that the rules don’t apply to you. You don’t subscribe to all that bullshit about the Law of Averages. You didn’t pay your dues to the League of Humanity so none of this shit applies. Tell the next disaster whose address label has your name on it to take a number and go wait in the coffee lounge and have a cup of joe… you will get to it when you get around to it.

My crushes are paper thin. I get them quickly and can wrap them around something completely. This is a lesson I am learning that puts my younger life in perspective. It’s not my fault. Sometimes things really are perfect. Sometimes things exist intangible and freely beautiful. My interest, my willingness, my lust to be drawn to them is what fucks up the ride. My compulsion to dig and discover the unremarkable beneath a five mile layer of importance: that is my curse. It makes realization temporary. It makes attraction and desire academic. It could be a car, or a watch, or a book, or a conversation, or a shared moment, or (and has sometimes been the case) a girl. But it has taken me a lifetime so far to realize that my projection of perfection doesn’t remove the flaws from the canvas. Sometimes, cars, watches, books, conversations, events, and girls are hopelessly devoid of anything beyond what I have assigned. Sometimes they are not… in that case please draw a line from here back to the denial section of the post. Have a nice day. Class dismissed.

posted by Mike | 1:17 PM

Wednesday, August 06, 2003  

Have you ever seen one of those time-lapse videos where the sky changes from night to day and back again in a matter of seconds and things that would usually take an extraordinary amount of time such as major building construction, traffic in midtown Manhattan, and setting up the stage for a Mötley Crüe concert just fly by?

There are some things, however, that no matter what the degree of temporal amplification is applied and caught on tape the documented change will remain substantially immeasurable. Things like the formation, growth, and death of celestial bodies fall into this category. The evolution of mankind into a species not preoccupied with the accumulation of wealth, status, and social affluence is another such thing. And, any one who witnesses countless hours watching the popular media waiting for Daisy Fuentes to be denied work due to lack of any discernable talent… also a grueling process of non-change.

I came across another the other day in my own hometown. They are building a new gas station, which is good news to me for two major reasons. Reason #1 is that marvel of the modern age, Pay At The Pump. They will have, the other two places in town that sell gas will not. Reason #2 is purely economical. I will save hundreds if not thousands of dollars a year on milk and other household necessities such as chocolate chip cookie dough, toilet paper, and like sundries that I don’t feel like driving the 35 minute round trip to the nearest grocery store. You see, out in the country where you have the gas station double as the local grocery store, you have these people who have a veritable fiefdom selling goods to the locals. They know you are not going to drive into town. You know you are not going to drive into town. So, an agreed upon price of $37 dollars for a gallon of milk and another $23 for an ice cream sandwich seems reasonable. Not so with a new gas station that will bring that great green monster of Capitalism to the boonies.

But problems abound. Construction gets delayed. The rains come at the onset of spring and with the coming of summer the dust and heat make the construction site look like a set from some B-movie about a modern apocalyptic plague. The signs are only half raised. The glass is never installed. The spots where the gas pump should be instead are covered in litter. A construction dumpster- an empty construction dumpster- sits and waits for the workers to return and make it useful. Days and weeks multiple and rejoin into large families, The Months, and then The Years. So much so that what was once a promise now seems like some money-losing joke a contractor with a “fuck you” attitude is playing on the people of my fair little town.

So I decided I wasn’t going to give in anymore. I was no longer going to expect to see progress and as a result I would not get inconsolably emotional when progress was not shown. I would let the time-lapse film roll and I would walk away from my emotional investment in the project. It they finished, they finished, and if the rains came and later the ground split to swallow the site whole, so be it. That enlightened attitude lasted for, oh… about a week.

Next I decided that I would choose an object. I would find something to focus on as I drove by that would serve as my barometer of progress. Something that, if changed or moved, would signify a significant move forward in the construction of this gas station thereby allowing me momentary cause for hope. Not all would be lost. I took the next several drives by to pick my object. I wanted something that would not be impossible to move as to prolong my anxiety, but at the same time I didn’t want to choose something easily moved without true progress taking place giving me false hope. After much deliberation I decided.

The object I chose was a stack of bricks in the drive path of one of the would-be gas pumps, pump 7 if I had to take a guess… not that the pumps had been installed. What made this stack of bricks- maybe 20 or 25 at the most- stick out to me was the yellow hose that was coiled around them, like a mother cobra protecting her brood of babies, or whatever the a collection of baby snakes is called…a mess? A pack???

For months I watched. I took trips across this planet. I had steaks in New York City. I enjoyed coffee in London. I took a boat across the North Sea to Belgium. I stood at the feet of the Lincoln Memorial and prayed to myself silently. I visited Poe’s home in Richmond. I saw the falls of Niagara. I had more steak in Atlanta. I watched baseball in Boston. I enjoyed lunch at Ken’s Diner in Hilo, Hawaii….TWICE. All during this time the bricks remained. The time crawled by. I finished 24 credit hours in school. I got married. I attended a funeral. My nation went to war. And still the bricks and their yellow serpentine protector never budged. I finally resigned myself to the fact that hope was dead and $37 for milk wasn’t such a bad deal.

The other day, I am happy to report, there came a great flurry of activity at the Quick Track. The car wash structure was built (added bonus, as I was not aware of their plans to erect one). The pumps were in stalled. The glass and the fixtures found their way into the store. And, best of all, the bricks, the yellow hose, even the pallet beneath, all made their move into the construction dumpster making it full, making it useful.

My wait is far from over I feel. There are still many things to do before I can pull into Pump 7 and fill up. Much wiring and painting must take place before I can head in for a draft-style diet coke. And before I can through down my first $10 bill to pay for a gallon of milk (competition will make it cheaper folks, not reasonable) I am sure they will have to install more fixtures. But the point is I saw progress.

Bet you were thinking there was a universal truth buried in here somewhere. Sorry to disappoint. I am just excited that hope is alive and well and I don’t have to marvel at the scene on TV in super fast motion while it benefits someone else. Tell you what, come over to my place when the gas station opens and I will treat you to a $5 ice cream sandwich. I love capitalism.

posted by Mike | 7:31 AM

Tuesday, May 13, 2003  

The Graduate (scene 9) and A Wolf At The Door (track 14)

I often think of things as belonging to me. In a very real sense these things belong to everyone, really. As we form our memories and opinions about the events that shape our lives we reach out into our environment and try to pull in artifacts, objects to bind to our memories, to make them our own. I do it with music and movies mainly. Sometimes a book will mark spot on the timeline where something worth remembering happened, something not fully appreciated unless taken in the context of the moment. Like I can tell you, for instance, what song was playing when my sister told me she was pregnant with my nephew in 1988. I can pace my first trip through Europe against the pages of a Stephen King Novel.

As I said, these things belong to me. These are the things that help add texture to my remembered life. But sometimes it is a thing much bigger than me. Occasionally a situation will happen where the relevance and the significance escape the bounds of my limited hold and these memories of movies and books or songs become just elements of something else, a memory of someone else. In these cases, the all my artifacts become the domain of that person I remember. Like the smell of wet and dead grass in November belongs to my grandfather...I smelled it at his funeral. The sound of distant and whispering waterfalls belongs to my wife. And the movie "The Graduate" belongs to a girl who once made something rupture and stir within me. These things do not belong to me, they only prop up the memories that belong to someone else.

Perhaps this is too vague a concept to articulate...I was just thinking about it a few minutes ago and thought I would try.

posted by Mike | 5:58 AM

Tuesday, April 08, 2003  

Drive-by Sorrow

Sorrow is the equalizing factor of the human struggle. It is not caused by our ability to experience or feel emotion, only enhanced by it. Every day that we are up, we could most certainly be down the next. For every victory there are inevitable and balancing defeats. Simple stuff, right? No one lives forever and no matter how good the dream, the alarm clock or the daylight are always out there.

I am not trying to be hyper-pessimistic here, but I am trying to convey my understanding of one of the rules you have to learn if you are going to move about and socialize with the humans. The rule that regardless of where you find yourself, what you rate yourself on the perpetually sliding scale of joy, thumbs up or thumbs down, you must allow for the fact that every day around you there is one person having the best day of their life and someone else hitting the bottom of the shaft.

The hospital is never a delightful place to spend time. And that has nothing to do with disease, or death, or any of the scary elements of backfiring biology. It is more a feeling. Even in the nursery where new life begins and hope springs eternal, there is a very real sense of the woods…and as you are there, even visiting, you know you aren’t out yet. I was visting my neice who was admitted for reasons more of caution than disorder. And as I write this she is at home so it wasn’t fatal, or even all that serious.

As I was walking to her room to visit last week I had to take the Map of the Fucking Stars tour just to get to where I was going. This was due to the massive facelift and construction going on at the hospital. The ward where my nieces and nephew and friend’s children were born…no more, abandoned for a new state of the art (whatever the hell that means) facility.

So through the halls I walked. I had to pass 14 radiology labs, 3 waiting rooms, 5 vending machine areas, enumerable scrub-clothed employees, a clinical psychologist that kept calling down the halls for “Gina”, and a duo of nurses that looked to have stepped right out of a NBC medi-drama or possibly a San Fernando Valley porn set. Busy damned hospital, this was.

On the last groups I passed was a doctor fresh from surgery looking into the sullen faces of people both hopeless and optimistic; as if the reality or even the notion of medicine failing was heretical pretense. The doctor was giving it to them straight and giving it to them real. Uncle John, or Aunt Geneva, or Mommy, or Daddy, or the plumber named Ted wasn’t going to make it through. God bless us all, he’s in a better place, Thank You and Goodnight.

BANG! There I was, shot by stray sadness meant for them and only them. I was just passing through on my way to see the little girl that, other than sleepy and rheumy eyes, seemed a picture of good health. I walked by the scene giving only a momentary thought that the rest of the day was going to really suck for whoever those people back there were. It was perhaps going to be their worst day.

Moments later I walked by the nursery where I saw a proud father and obsessively fussy mother fawn over their newborn child. Without question, one of their best days.

And me? I was about a 7.1 on the Joy Scale, with a thumb up, and a smile on my face. It was a good day.

posted by Mike | 3:30 PM

Monday, February 10, 2003  

My MP3 Player And The Reason I Am Not Hot…

Close inspection of the photos on this website will bear out the sad truth that I am not hot. While not being an ugly and hideous monster of a man, I am also not what someone would consider a traffic-stopping hottie…at least not someone with decent eyesight and a blood alcohol level below 68.5. But, as I have stated many times before, I am OK with this reality of my life. Sure, the cheerleaders never wanted to date me. Of course I never managed to bag the prom queen. In fact I wasn’t much success with women at all until I discovered older ones who had drinking problems and questionable moral codes. I feel this has conditioned me well for life…win some lose some…strive for the more substantial…and if you can’t be the prettiest belle at the ball, at least be the best dancer. All this is to say I have come to grips with the reality of my image. But I never really asked why? Why am I not beauty and not beast? Why am I not Brad Pitt and not Carrottop? But the other day my MP3 player told me why.

I recently installed a new stereo in the truck. It has an obnoxious blue screen that displays moving images and can get the core temperature of the Earth. I think it even serves as a satellite cross-link for the NSA to transmit crucial counter-intelligence information in our War on Terror…I can’t say for sure, I haven’t read the manual. But what I can tell you is why I bought it. I bought it because it has an AUX plug that allows me to plug in my MP3 player. I just take this plug and stick it into the ear phone jack of the MP3 player, and presto I have over 2000 songs at my disposal. Imagine that…2000 songs, many gigs of digital music from tried favorites like Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Pink Floyd, to new stuff by Royksopp and Coldplay. All I have to do is press play and I am in my own world of music.

The average homemade CD holds 16 songs- 12 if you are burning the drawn-out and moody songs of The Cure, 19 if you are listening to the tunes of the King of Rock n’ Roll- which is about 1884 songs less than my MP3 player. But here’s the strange thing: when I listen to the CD I make it through every song. With the CD I know I have a finite list of songs until I have to start all over so I listen to every song all the way through and sometimes I will listen to the same song a few times in a row. Not true with the MP3 player. With the MP3 player I am an impatient man. I can not hardly wait for the song to get to the part I really like before I start blazing through the tracks, passing up what would be perfectly suitable drive-time material were it burnt to CD with 15 of its thematically similar friends.

On the way back from visiting my mom in San Antonio the other day I noticed I just kept flying through the tracks. Duran Duran, Sam Cooke, Tool, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, Asia, Adam Ant, Nirvana, U2…the damn thing could barley keep up. There was just too much variety to keep my attention. In a moment of near clarity it finally occurred to me why I am not hot.

You see, the denial of pleasure has made me a better man. I love my wife and I treat her as best as I can, which admittedly is not as good as she sometimes deserves. I have the patience to work the hard times and relish the good times. I have this whole approach to my marriage and relationship that I think is borne from the years where I felt like I was getting obligatory affections and pity sex from women I didn’t deserve. I learned to appreciate the finite. I learned to marvel and enjoy the blessings that finally came my way. What makes matters better is that Kelly started out being the girl I was lucky to get but became the woman lucky enough to be my wife. Funny how that worked out.

The point is, had I been able to have my choice and cycle through women based on sheer whim and need for change I would have never learned to recognize that the sweetest melodies occur at the end of the song. That MP3 player was the best $250 I ever spent.

posted by Mike | 3:15 PM

Tuesday, January 14, 2003  

Dialogue with the Deity – Short Circuiting The Master Plan

I am well past the point of disputing or trivializing God. I guess you could say I learned my lesson. And this lesson, or lessons to be more accurate, didn’t arrive packaged in crisis or trauma. I didn’t have some major life event that caused me to get right with my spirituality and stop using my powers of influence and comedy to torment the religious world view of simple Christians. For me, God was in the little things.

Nature has too much symmetry, too much symbiosis and, I dare say, too much logic to be just the random birth and death of billions of independent and disconnected microcosms. Einstein is credited with saying that God is in the details…I am credited with knowing exactly what he meant.

So He and I talk from time to time. Our conversations usually center on me and how I’d appreciate satisfying all my worldly wants with as little effort as possible. He thinks I am a funny guy. I know this because he plays little practical jokes on me from time to time to let me know he is not beyond the occasional humor. Things like flat tires, speeding tickets, and flights that I am on having near-misses upon take off with small commuter planes. You know…things that scare the water out of you when they happen but then you smile this huge smile because you realize that the Big Guy (that’s what I call him) was just screwing with you.

Kelly was in Paris this past week. She went to Paris and London for a quick trip with a friend. Truth be known, I’d rather be the one on the leaving end of the equation. I miss her when I am away but it is nothing like when she goes and I am home alone, just me and my dogs who, even with their limited intellect, have no doubt that she is the driving force of the house and gives our home a soul. As far as they are concerned my total contribution to the home life is paying the water bill.

When she is gone my obsessive mind cannot help but think about the worst possible scenarios. I start to imagine things how they’d be without her. I try to stretch this uncomfortable time from the temporary thing it is to the permanent thing it could be if the Big Guy decided to take a joke too far. If the Big Guy decided that the commuter planes didn’t need to miss this time. So I ring Him up and tell Him we need to talk.

I tell Him about her value to me and what she means to my master plan. He laughs at this because, by comparison, my master plan and His master plan are not in league with one another. In fact, at the same time we are having dialogue about my neurotic fears, He is monitoring the situation in the middle east, watching over the new GM for the Red Sox and his personnel decisions (the losing ways of the Red Sox being a little joke he plays on a lot of us), and billions upon billions of other situations, happenings, and potential happenings.

He tells me to relax, that it is largely out of His hands. Sure He plays the flat tire gag sometimes, and the fast changing red light, that’s him too. But, he said, when it comes to the ugly behaviors of the depraved or chance collisions of commercial air transports…it’s not Him. Only occasionally will He get involved in “that side of the business”. This doesn’t inspire confidence, I tell Him. I say that the idea that He is the Captain of this garbage scow of insufferable humanity is what makes the whole thing work. To this He just sighs like He’s heard it all before. Then something came up in Katmandu that required His attention so He had to go.

Before He left He asked me if I knew statistics. I told him I knew my way around a Relative Frequency Histogram, yes. He said that was not what He meant. He wanted to know if I understood the concept that some go and some stay. That some live and some die and it was all part of that amazing and logical and symbiotic thing I called nature. That there is a great hand of statistical inevitability and it glides over the face of humanity causing some to fall and others to be left standing. It was a game of numbers where certain conditions needed to be satisfied for the game to keep trucking along.

Knowing the situation in Katmandu could disintegrate at any moment I fired off one last question. I asked if it was all resting on statistics, if it was all just a matter of right and wrong places at right and wrong times, then what about His will. What about this master plan. He asked me what I would say if he told me that it was His will for Kelly not to come home. The dogs would have to expand their definition of me beyond water bills and the purchasing of kibble. I told him that it would affect our relationship. He said I didn’t answer His question. I told Him that if He told me Kelly wasn’t coming home I would tell him to change it. I would say to let her come home. He asked what if that wasn’t His will. I said, you’re God (I call him that sometimes, too), change your will.

As He left He said that’s why there are statistics. It helps Him to not be the one that will choose. It helps Him watch the big stuff and the little things…namely we people…will take care of themselves. We live on with our own wills and our own cautions and whatever bits of luck and chance and skill we can paste together into our own survival. He said it just works that way. It always has.

With his voice almost not audible anymore He asked me about my grandfather who died in a plane crash when my father was only 13. That plane crash is the single biggest factor that made my eventual existence possible. If the plane wouldn’t have crashed then they would have not left Hawaii and my father would not have met my mother and…you get the idea. He said that if He gave my grandmother the choice to trade the grandchildren and the future for her husband she would choose the husband 10 times out of 10. He said that’s why we don’t get to choose. Because our wants throw the whole system totally out of whack and what ends up happening is just as right as what could happen if the numbers fell a different way.

Kelly’s flight from Europe landed at 3:02 pm yesterday and pulled into gate B33. When she walked out of the customs area I gave her a big hug and thanked that statistical power, with its sweeping hand, that she was still standing. Over by the vending machines I saw God hiding behind a trash can trying not to be seen. He said that what happens in Katmandu happens in Europe happens in Texas and it all has to do with the numbers. Besides, He said, what the hell was I so worried about…He had it on good authority that she is going to outlive me by a comfortable margin. I told him would He change it if she asked and He said it was out of his hands.

When we got out to the truck I fully expected a flat tire, but all four were fine. Enough lessons had been learned that day and needn’t be punctuated with Jokes from The Big Guy.

posted by Mike | 12:50 PM

Thursday, December 26, 2002  

“Brake Failure”

I dream in a sort of violent realism. And this realism has nothing to do with color. When you hear someone talk about the vivacity of their dreams they usually just mean they dream in color. But I’ve found that my dreams contain more than just color. My dreams have the depth of shades and shadow. They have the tactile sensations of texture and temperature. They are in full stereo with the volume set to high. And the only thing that keeps this otherworld from being an exact facsimile of my waking life is the suspension of every natural and physical law to ever exist.

Sometimes it’s the same dream. Not so much a recurring dream as much as recurring themes. Dreams about my dead dog Meatball are common. In the dreams he’s still alive yet sickly even though I know for a fact he’s really dead. The guilt I feel about putting him to sleep doesn’t recognize that he’s already dead, so I apologize to him. There’s also a theme where I find myself in a house that belongs to the parents of an ex-girlfriend. This one has less to do with guilt than it does redemption and survival. Sometimes other people are there; sometimes the girl herself inhabits the dream. I say a lot of things I could never force out in real life and sometimes she answers back. The dream I‘ve been having lately is an old standard that has been with me for years. It is always about cars I can’t stop.

Let me just say I don’t put a tremendous amount of stock in the things I see and experience in my dreams. I think Freudian analysis of what my brain thinks about when I am not in control reaches a little too far for answers and tries too hard to assign meaning where often times none exists. The dog, I miss him and guilt is a fact of life. The girl, I miss her too, but survival is a goal of life. Nothing my brain-on-standby can conjure will change the reality of my losses and failures. Like an impressionable 3rd grader, my brain has only a finite number of scenes and stories with an even smaller number of props and characters to draw from when shaping a story. The serial nature of the dreams proves this. My sub-conscience is not battling with Ids and Egos and Superegos for a sense of closure…it is merely reprocessing ghosts in a closed circuit.

Lately there has been brake failure. In cars I don’t own and on highways I don’t recognize, there is a need for a hard stop. Be it a traffic jam up ahead or a child on a bicycle, I need to stop the car. The moment I realize I have to stop, the pedal beneath my foot turns soft and seems to go to the floorboard and a bit beyond. The car doesn’t stop and at times I could swear it’s even picking up speed. A landmine in the road, the orange and white stripped barricades that warn of road closure, or the road simply ceases to exist at mile marker 187…the car never stops. The break pedal just kisses the floor and the trusted mechanism of hydraulic pressure that makes DOT 3 fluid force pads to meet rotators seems like just a silly theory of make-believe automotive science.

I never make contact. The kid never gets hit. The barricades never get driven through. The landmines never explode. But the car never really stops either. I just wake up. Like the “falling” dream where you wake up before you hit the earth, I awake at the moment just before the failure becomes terminal. And that is how it ends. Were I to ignore my distaste for analytical interpretation of my dreams I would call it fear. Like many people, I have a fear of the future. I remember being a child during the height of the Cold War build up of arms and rhetoric. When I thought about my future all I saw was a mushroom cloud and nothingness. It’s pretty bleak imagery, especially for a ten-year-old kid. Over the years the fear has subsided but it is still a ghost in my machine. It hangs around and waits for low-esteem moments to make its move. It questions me about the attainability of my goals. It preys on my self-hatreds, consuming them for the strength to survive. It might very well be finding a voice in my dreams. It builds the barricades and plants the landmines only to make me powerless to stop. And I awake before I give in and let it trap me…

Or maybe dead dogs, cute yester-girls, and perpetually failing brakes are just random cutouts that form a backwards-glancing collage meant only to decorate the halls of a mind switched off for the night. Either way, it doesn’t make the dreams any less real.

posted by Mike | 11:59 AM

Monday, November 04, 2002  


We don’t have too traditional a home life. Kelly is not a housewife. She works as a school teacher and loves her work so she won’t quit. We have schedules that sometimes mesh, but most times don’t. We don’t go to bed at the same time most nights, and during the week we don’t share too many meals. As a result we cook different meals at separate times. And this isn’t something new. It’s been this way since we got together a few hundred years ago.

Kelly uses the microwave quite a bit. I do so occasionally, but Kelly is the primary user. In fact, she is the one who brought the microwave into the relationship. Before we moved in with each other I never owned one. Every apartment I leased had one, of course, but I rarely used it. I am not against the thing, mind you. I do not have a fear that by using the microwave I am somehow subjecting my testicles to malicious radiation that will cause severe birth defects in my future and still unplanned offspring. I also do not believe that regularly using the microwave to cook peas in butter sauce will cause me to develop a nasty brain-eating tumor. I just don’t have cause to use it. I don’t eat boxed lasagna or Hungry Man dinners.

I don’t really know how Kelly uses the microwave. All I can tell you is that she uses it. I know she uses it because I have proof whenever I am in the kitchen. In our kitchen the microwave is in plain view so every time you go anywhere near the fridge, you can see the display of the microwave. Interestingly enough almost every time I go into the kitchen there is a different time on the display. Each time there is a different number indicating an aborted cook time. Sometimes it is 20 seconds. Sometimes it is 24 seconds. But it is never more than 30 seconds and is usually in the range of 12 to 17…as a rule.

So it occurs to me that this is a human trait. The new of the microwave oven has long since worn off. What was once considered a time-saver, a miracle of modern-day convenience, is now the standard. In fact, it is sub-standard. It doesn’t do the job fast enough. Thanks, Mr. Microwave, you awed us with your revolutionary cooking speed, you dazzled us with your turning platters and digital countdowns, and we marveled at your mysterious operation that was reminiscent of the H-bomb and nuclear winter. But the thrill is gone, Bub. You’re too slow and we can’t wait for you to catch up with our ultramodern lives.

So at work I did a study. In the big breakroom- where the people come to cook up their glad-encased leftovers, their boxed lasagna, and their Hungry Man entrees- I watched them, I studied them. I looked at them read the directions. I watched them fire up the ovens. I watched them step anxiously in place looking through the glass window as if their intent glower would actually assist the invisible microwaves collide harder and cook faster. And as the dials and digits neared the end of their runs…THEY STOPPED IT! They opened the door, pulled out their food, and among them left minutes, perhaps hours, of unused cooking minutes. They had no time to wait.

I asked Kelly if she knew how long it takes to make grits. Or corn, how about corn? Leftover dinner rolls, anyone? Her response in each case varied, as you would expect. So I asked her why then the microwave always was stopped short by 10, 15, 20 seconds. She said there was little difference between something cooked for 1 minute and 45 seconds…the excess 15 seconds did little to really cook the food. I countered that if this was the case then why not cook it for 45 seconds? She said that then it would be undercooked. I asked why. She said that she would pull it out after 30 seconds when the directions clearly stated a minute, leaving it underdone. I asked her is she released how little sense that line of thinking made and she said we’d talk about it when she had more time and she left the kitchen.

posted by Mike | 11:21 AM

Monday, October 14, 2002  

The End of Fraudulent Fragrance

Today marks the day I switched back to my old deodorant.

You are probably wondering why I am proclaiming this like a person would announce their decision to become a transgendered person or their candidacy for a major public office. Why even mention brand preference for deodorant at all? It’s not as if the choice of a deodorant is the most crucial spending decision a consumer is forced to make. But I have a good reason, if not the best reason, to make this kind of assertion and it all has to do with fraud and journey a person makes when they get to know themselves a little better.

I’ll explain…

Most modern social anthropologists would not classify me as a “manly” man. When running down the characteristic check list of the human male, yes, I do qualify as male. Fully developed male sexual organs? Check. Continual facial hair growth kept at bay by Mach 3 razor? Check. Rigid disavowal of any knowledge pertaining to plot, characters, theme, and content of Steel Magnolias? Check. Sudden case of illiteracy in situations involving instruction manuals or maps? Check. All this is true, I am a man, but I am not the type of man you would place in that category of men characterized by behavior that is excessively "male".

I do not change the oil in my own vehicle or my wife’s vehicle. I do not hunt. I do not fish. I’ve never used an axe. Unless I’m the survivor of a plane crash in the Southern Andes, I’m not sleeping on the ground beneath the sky. I don’t fix things. I don’t know how to ride a motorcycle. The only time I went to a firing range I was asked by the owner to leave because I missed the target and shot the clamp that holds the target rendering the whole mechanism useless; so guns, not my thing. This is just a small sample from the dossier that attests to my lack of manliness. So you could imagine the lingering self-doubt that started to take hold a few weeks back when I caught the fragrance of the new deodorant I bought and it smelled manly.

There was nothing wrong with my old deodorant. I started using the brand in 1994 and have been religious in its daily application ever since. So when the opportunity to change to a “gel” version presented itself, I was naturally a little apprehensive. But, like all fools who deviate from the rut, I thought that I might be missing something by passing on the sleek packaging of my regular deodorant’s more gelled cousin. I decided I would take the plunge and change the format of my underarms from Invisible Solid:Fresh to Gel:Cool Rush. Big Mistake.

My old deodorant went on with a room temperature slide. It had the same mechanical and comfortable feeling as any habit strengthened by daily regimen. Add to that its fragrance which, while pleasing, did its job at a level that flirted with imperceptibility. But none of this was the case with this new stuff. It went on with a sub-zero shock to the system that an adventurous man might find exhilarating at 5am, but I found distressing. And the fragrance, it was a bold rush of spice that seemed to be trying too hard. I figured I would get used to it, that it would take time to adjust to this morning ritual roster change, but I never did.

The final straw came one afternoon while at work. I was sitting at my desk doing my damnedest to lift the whole of the IT industry to unrealized gains, when I turned just so and was greeted by the over-powering smell of my own manliness…only it wasn’t my manliness. I know it wasn’t my manliness because, as we have already established, I have none. It was false manliness. It was a borrowed, fake over-the-counter manliness that went by the name of Cool Rush. I felt like a fraud. Here my body was, seated in front of a computer in the belly of a huge multinational corporation, millions of bits and bytes being processed and dispatched to do my bidding, and my armpits smelled as if I should be lumberjacking, elk hunting, or replacing an alternator in a Buick Riviera.

This, and instances just like it over the course of a few weeks, led me to abandon Cool Rush and go back to my tried and true solid deodorant. Sure, I was back sliding, falling back into a familiar and habitual comfort zone that didn’t push the envelope of my ability to adapt, but at least I was being true to myself. At the very least I was making the choice to stop pretending to be a degree of manhood I could never back up with manly actions.

Today marks the day I switched back to my old deodorant. Today is the day I accept my place as an unremarkable man.

posted by Mike | 1:51 PM

Monday, September 23, 2002  

Infinity: The Christ of Mathematics

Humans have a historic and insatiable appetite for the abstract. Even while our most visible actions are motivated by unthinking survival, it is in that place of introspection that trends towards the more esoteric where we make our most visible progress. It’s in the altruistic ideas of our social conscious. It’s in the vague and ornate language of our laws and constitutions. It’s in our uniform drive for material acquisition, for educational degrees, for an existence that transcends this life of toil and effort. All of it lives just past the indelible bounds of primitive need and calculable science in that space beyond reason; a place of the intangible and the abstract.

That is the story of Religion; and to a lesser degree, The Holy Spirit; and to a lesser degree still, Christ.

In matters of the body we are certain. We live. We breathe. We eat. We sleep. We accumulate consumer debt and populate statistics on buyer trends. We die. But the matters of the spirit are scarcely so definable. There are souls and karmas. There are sins and retributions. There are ideas called names like faith and deliverance all living on a timeline of never-degrading persistence called eternity. I mean this is abstraction, folks. This is not about meat and potatoes, hunting and gathering, or Ford recalls on Firestone tires. This is the great beyond overseen by an omnipotent being of boundless love and forgiveness. I don’t know about you, but this makes me feel important. This delve into the abstract makes this other stuff seem simple. Mortgage payments, serial homicide, checking account fees…all trivial when compared to that conglomeration of undeterminable size known as “The Big Picture”.

And I am O.K. with this because this is not revolution I am talking about here. People far smarter than me that are actually credited with being thinkers have thought and rethought this to death…sometimes literally. We all know the origins of casual religious belief and have made up our minds. I just bring it up as evidence of our obsessive abstractionism.

There is a mathematical concept that we are all familiar with: Infinity. When I was a kid, Infinity was that ultimate weapon of measured escalation…it was the peacemaker, the final say. Later, I learned about it in algebra and in business calculus. Suddenly, Infinity became more than an incomprehensible quantity. It was a concept beyond extrapolation or even approach. Talk about abstract…this thing was the crown jewel of abstraction. This was unsettling to me because mathematics is supposed to be, more often than not, an area of the absolute. It was right or wrong, black or white with an infinitesimal margin for error. But then this concept, this abstract notion came along. Eventually I got my 3 credit hours, my four grade points, and decided that the failings of using abstract philosophy as a tenent of fundamental mathematics was something best left to the mathematicians.

Once outside the sphere of academic relevance I figured my dealings with Infinity would fall back to the usual, limited level. But like the living proof of some theorem about object proximity and energy intensity, I couldn’t shake it. This concept of Infinity stuck with me. It grew from being a concept about lazy number accumulation into an emotion. It was the human differential, that margin between the stark cold nothingness of exponentially expanding integers and the warmth of trust, of love, of sex in intimate positions.

Apparently I have not labored alone in this idea.

I saw a television commercial for SBC communication. It was narrated by Tommy Lee Jones whose voice is the very illusion of trust. He has dressed up and lied to me about his identity countless times, and each time I gave him $6 for the pleasure. And in that fantasy I came to trust that his various identities told the truth, even if it was a truth I didn’t want to know. The television ad’s concept was about how SBC is a big company and that is not a bad thing. They aren’t going to steal your pension, deflower your teenage daughter, or force you into games of mortal chance. They just want to sell you phone service or, at the very least, let you know they sell it to everyone else. But the message is about trust, and not just trust, but Infinite Trust. In the span of a 30 second ad they took this lifeless and broad concept of hopeless abstraction and turned it into an emotive condition.

This proved one thing to me …with the right blend of slick ad copy, well shot film footage, and venerable voice talent you can transform the abstract into the emotional and make the hearts of the masses your playground.

posted by Mike | 12:54 PM

Monday, September 09, 2002  

The Memory of Spiders

Arachnophobia does not appear on my roster of phobias. Coulrophobia– Fear of Clowns, yes I have that one. Iatrophobia – Fear of Doctors, got that one too. But nowhere in my repertoire of irrational fear will you find the fear of spiders.

I think that the spider is an amazing quirk of science and I scarcely understand what factors of progress and evolution caused this species into being. But I respect them and, as such, I am not overcome with a panicked urge to kill them on sight except in those cases when I recognize it as the variety of spider that has venom powerful enough to kill a Backstreet Boy. Note: I do this more as a effort to safeguard my environment than a desire to make my property safe for boy bands.

Around our house word has apparently gotten out that Haddon won’t kill you. Because since moving in our house has become a gathering ground for spiders of all shapes and sizes. They have yet to reach a population of epidemic or even bothersome proportions, but there are quite a few spinning webs at dusk and into the evening hours. I understand what benefits they have in the Haddon Ecology so I leave them to go about their life, which in the grand scheme of things is not too long. The only time I will ever intentionally bother the spider is when he is building a web in one of my main traffic paths. Even then, I don’t kill him, I just urge him to relocate his planned construction to a zone more life-friendly.

I begin to notice something amazing about these spiders: I only have to tell them once, and not even all of them. If I come across a spider doing his thing in an area I think will be bad for the both of us, I redirect him and he is on his way. Presumably the spider is smart enough to make his home in the most advantageous spot available- the place with the highest kill potential such as near a light where the bugs fly or near taller grass where the grasshoppers jump. So it would stand to reason that as soon as I shoo a spider along from this prime real estate another would come along promptly to take his spot causing me to begin anew this spider relocation process. But it doesn’t happen this way. In fact, I don’t even have to re-educate a different variety of spider, just one and they don’t come back (except for the next year and that is a whole new generation so you expect that, One life lesson every generation…not so bad I must admit).

The societal memory of spiders amazes me and makes me think about how we all make similar if not the exact same mistakes over and over. Even though folks laying on the scrapheap scream their precautions, we never see the web-stitched marker that says DO NOT BUILD; our spidey-sense never tingles and tells us to seek out new ground where we have a better chance to succeed. We make the same mistakes- not just generation after generation, but intra-generation as well. Evolution teaches us some powerful lessons.

posted by Mike | 1:44 PM

Wednesday, August 07, 2002  

A Tyranny Of Spoons

We have spoons. In the same way a lot of people collect fine china, antique clocks, Faberge eggs, French Impressionism paintings, or odd and singular artifacts, we seem to be the collectors of spoons.

There are spoons in the drawer like there are daytime inhabitants of Manhattan. Different shapes, different sheens, differing fabrication, lengths, spooning capacity, and various different materials from stainless steels to slightly varnished silver. There are no sets. There are pairs. There is the occasional and inexplicable collection of 3. There are some that seem to match in certain lights and in others they are different, almost contrary. Mostly they are singular. They are solitary residents of the utensil drawer whose roots, points of origin, and age remain a mystery.

I like the “baby” spoons the least. The Baby Spoons are plentiful in number and useless in application. If you are spooning small portions of toxin or weapons grade plutonium, they perhaps are useful. But if you are an adult man looking to efficiently feed yourself cereal, ice cream, or some other spoonable food stuff, they are a pointless-to-possess culinary tool. When we moved into the new house in April of 2001 I tried to vanquish the Baby Spoons. While setting up the utensil drawer in the most convenient place, I decided to trash the entire portion of the spoon population comprised of Baby Spoons. I threw them in the trash bag and walked all 37 of them to the trash bin, wheeled it to the curb, and bid them a fond farewell to the trash dump. But they returned and multiplied.

In the near 17 months since I enacted Baby Spoon Genocide they have returned slowly to the utensil drawer. I know Kelly didn’t dig them out of the trash and stealthily replace them into our already over-crowded population of spoons. I know she did not buy any new spoons because these spoons are not in sets and they are not new. And the return of the Baby Spoons is not even the worst part…with them they brought Baby Forks! So now, in addition to having an epidemic of mismatched and totally useless miniature-headed spoons, I now must contend with their diminutive spear-headed cousins. And like mice, rats, and roaches I cannot figure out how they are making it into the house and managing to propagate their steely species.

Lately I have been sequestering the offending utensils upon unloading them from the dishwasher. This keeps them out of the way when I reach in to find their superior counterpart…The Man Spoon. This method of Sequester and Study should prove useful in determining where these things derive.

I will publish my findings at some future date.

posted by Mike | 7:40 PM
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