"When all else fails..."

Most people I've noticed appear to accept instruction sheets and booklets as just another form of packing material, like brown rice paper, newsprint, and that squeaky foam that comes in bizarre shapes.*

A model kit company (Testor's, I think) used to include on their kit instructions a drawing of an exasperated looking man, covered in bits of model airplane and streamers of glue, sitting on the floor looking at an instruction sheet with the caption: "When all else fails, read the instructions!"

Occasionally, this could be a portrait of my daddy. He was the sort who believed in opening the box, pouring out the pieces, and immediately putting the whatever together--"Instructions? Instructions? We don't need no stinkin' instructions!"

As evidence, the Commonwealth will introduce Exhibit 22B:

Time: 14:26 Christmas Day a heck of a lot longer ago than I care to think about.

Place: A house on the south bank of the Potomac River.

Subject: "Hey, let's give the new toy a whirl!"

We had received one of those new blenders from someone I forget and Daddy was "hot to trot" to try it out. He decided the best way would be to whip up some milkshakes. The two of us retired to the kitchen followed as usual by a lap fice and three cats (after all, the bipeds were heading for the place from which all good things flow). As he unpacked the blender, I snagged the instruction book as it flew by (hey, I'll read anything up to and including the wrapper off a roll of toilet paper--do you know how many board-foot go into the average roll of--oh, yeah...the story). While I worked my way through the lawyer talk in the first several pages (something to the effect of please don't be an idiot while trying to use this wonder of technology--and when you are, don't sue us), Daddy put the blender together, measured out the milk and put it, several scoops of vanilla ice cream, and a number of healthy shots of chocolate syrup in the glass part. He plugged it in and just as I got to the part that reads, "WARNING: DO NOT OPERATE WITHOUT LID IN PLACE!" pushed the button. The geyser of chocolate milkshake hit the ceiling and spread to cover him, the counters, the various small predators present, and a goodly portion of the floor. The next happening was the precipitous departure of all quadruped life forms. My mom, having been trampled in the stampede (well, at least below the knees), comes into the kitchen at "All Ahead Full," surveys the desolation, and, without cutting her throttles, makes a high speed 180 degree turn to port and exits the area of operations. My daddy looks at the new decor and says, "Well, son, I guess we better clean up." Going after the mop and bucket, the thought runs through my mind--as Tonto said, "What do you mean 'we' white man?"

*Old Poot Digression:

One of the great losses from the slow death of print journalism is the absence of newspaper used as packing material these days. Often, the newspapers could be more interesting than whatever they protected in shipment.

As most seemed to come from retailers in smaller cities and towns, one was given a snapshot of life away from the larger and, often, rather boring mainstream media outlets. Being small towns, the stories tended to be covered in an "up close and personal" way. A murder which might be covered in Baltimore only because of the novel way the dearly departed was done in and then in only two and a half short paragraphs on page 18--inside column, would be splashed across the front page, above the fold, with jumps to three different large column-inch feature articles covering what was thought to have happened, who was thought to have dunit, why they were thought to have dunit, when the heinous deed was done, how they accomplished this piece of human drama, and the fact that their (the victim, murderer, or whichever family or friend) Uncle Fudd was coming in on the bus from Chilhowie to officiate at the celebration. For those of a writerly bent, this is the grist for the keyboarded mill. Outside of Arnold Toynbee, this is the magnification at which most writers work. If writers were supposed to write what they'd experienced as opposed to what they know (the last delivered in a thick Russian accent), most fiction would be really boring. While most of us write about the experiences of our lives and those of our friends and families (in my case, this is pretty much a non-starter. None of my family have been particularly homicidal--at least to those within the family), without the wider knowledge of life we obtain through watching others' disasters, our output would be on a par with that seen on the "walls" in Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451."

18 September 2010: Feast of St. Gerreoulus. Constantine the Great wins battle of Chrysopolis becoming sole emperor of Rome 324 AD, Moscow burns 1812, "Fugitive Slave Act" passed by U.S. Congress 1850, South African troops land in German Southwest Africa 1914, U.S. Air Force established 1947, Voyager I takes first photo of Earth and Moon together 1977.

Of groupies, fanboys, and...Why do I even bother?

A lot of male authors are supposedly inundated by masses of groupies. Battalions of nubile sweet young things throw themselves at the gods of the keyboard. They walk into a con suite and faster than they can conjugate a verb, they're propositioned in six languages and hues (some of them even of legal age).

To which I say a hardy "Pshaw!" Perhaps it's something about me (please, Lord, don't let it be that!), but mostly what I seem to attract are 30+ year old fanboys smelling of Clearasil and a notable lack of Right Guard or Irish Spring. The first thing out of their mouth is, "Ooh, ooh, I love yer stuff!" (Not a bad beginning of a conversation.) This followed by, "I write, draw, basket weave, greased pole climb--what have you--too!" Line number three ensues, "How do ya break into the business?" (Son, if ever I find out, rest assured, you'll be the 234th to know.) He then launches into a presentation on the GREAT WORK of his life (usually in genre I either have absolutely no experience in or that I hate so much that I break out in purple and green spots). He expounds the entire plot of his six volumes; the main, secondary, and tertiary characters' motivations (including why the protagonist's mother's unthinking actions that particular Christmas all those years ago drive the plot); and how his elves/stardrive/magic system is truly original and how it all keys off his D&D characters. It must be admitted that this young Hugo winner of the future actually is talented--he is able to communicate all of this information as he escorts one down the hall at a walk, at the trot, at the canter, at the gallop--forward!--from the function rooms to, hopefully, a friend's room--never, never let them find your true lair. And as the door is slammed in his face, he asks if he can send the fugitive his manuscript as soon as he has it all written down.

As for the female of the species, the groupie, the closest I've come to attracting them was the rather shop-worn wife of a fellow scribbler who made a pass at me that I put down to either incipient insanity or sunstroke (there was the occasional glint of sunlight between the snow squalls that day). Of course I manfully rejected her advances because it would have been a mortal sin for both of us (adultery); besides, who knew where she had been; and the wife was just out of earshot buffing her gladius--hell nor the Defense Department hath a fury like a ticked-off Irish woman.

The preceding is what soured me on the writers' life and explains why I have done my level best not to become a known author (something at which I have been frighteningly successful).

There now, who sez I can't write fantasy?

One of those conversations:


Me: "Hello?"

#1 Son: "Dad, what temperature do you broil a chicken on?"

Me: "Uh, I don't know, how about 'Broil?'"

#1 Son: "Okay. Where do I put it in the oven?"

Me: "Is the stove gas or electric?"

#1 Son: "Electric."

Me: "Okay, put the broiler pan about four to six inches from the top element."

#1 Son: "It won't fit."

Me: "Pardon?"

#1 Son: "The chicken won't let me put it that close."

Me: "Uh, son? Is the chicken cut up?"

#1 Son: "No. Should it be?"

Me: "Yep. Unless you have a rotisserie."

#1 Son: "Okay, thanks, Dad. Bye."


#1 Son: "Dad? I can't cut up the chicken."

Me: "I don't suppose it's still frozen?"

#1 Son: "Uh, yeah."

Me: "Okay, do you have a microwave?"

#1 Son: "No, Ted took it with him when he moved to his new place.'

Me: "Okay, put the chicken down in the refrigerator. It should be thawed by this time tomorrow. Do you something else to eat?"

#1 Son: "No, I'll have to go to the store."

Me: "Alright, tip for you--always try to have some hot dogs and buns handy in case something like this happens in the future. Okay?"*

#1 Son: "Yeah. Thanks, Dad. Bye."

I think I know why I'm gray. It ain't the years, it's the having kids.

* Our lady of dragons counseled me that I really should introduce him to that other staff of single life--Ramen Noodles, succor of twenty-somethings the world over.

13 September 2010: Feast of St. Amatus. Belisarius defeats Vandals at Battle of Ad Decimium in North Africa 533 AD, British capture Quebec 1759, Los Ninos Heroes killed defending Chapultepec 1847, Lee's orders found by Federals before Battle of Sharpsburg (Antietam) 1862, second day of Battle of Bloody Ridge (Edson's Ridge) on Guadalcanal 1942, first hard drive-IBM RAMAC 305-introduced 1956.

From the wilds of beautiful Yohogania County.

I've been doing a bit of research on relations between the various British North American colonies, and the results are hilarious. About the beginning of the French and Indian War (AKA: Seven Years War to those lacking Texans), circa mid to late 1700s, a number of them were involved in a series of pier 6 brawls with each other occasionally to the point gunfire was exchanged. Most of the ill feeling was due to dueling charters and the fact that some British royals had the lifespan of a fruit fly or a Hollywood marriage.

Some of the causes of the merriment were:

1. Virginia operating under a grant from James I had all the lands from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from somewhere around the North Carolina border to the North Pole (generous guy, James).

2. Charles I granted Lord Baltimore everything from the Atlantic to the western end of the Potomac River and from the Potomac north to Latitude 40 for his Catholic colony.

3. William Penn's charter from Charles II granted him and his family the land west of the Delaware River to somewhere and from Latitude 40 to the New york border--wherever that was to end up (unlike his father, Charles didn't lose his head over the matter). There is the opinion that Penn apparently hired non-union surveyors because Pennsylvania's Latitude 40 happened to be 28 miles south of Maryland's Latitude 40. Revisionists on the other hand suggest that Penn's city of Philadelphia--already built at the time of the grant--awkwardly lying south of Maryland's Latitude 40 may have had something to do with the error in navigation (which is why one always puts the fence at least six inches in from the property line). This small discrepancy led to Cresap's War (1736-1738) between the Maryland and Pennsylvania militias. George II was forced to knock heads together and ordered a proper survey ("Paging Mr. Mason, Mr. Dixon. The Royal governors would like to speak to you about a job.").

4. At the same time, Connecticut claimed the Wyoming Valley in northeastern Pennsylvania (what would become the three counties around Wilkes-Barre--Scanton). That there were only two other colonies between the two halves of what might become the "Nutmeg State" seems to have slowed these enterprising Yankees not at all (shades of the Danzig Corridor--not to mention East and West Pakistan). Connecticut also claimed the Ohio county, Great Lakes, western New York, Michigan, Texas, and the Canadian Prairie provinces ("Worst case of MPD I've seen in all my years of practice.").

5. Adding to the fun, the Iroquois Confederation--suffering a bad bout of imperialism--and the various Indians of the Ohio country, Great Lakes, and southeastern Canada were on the edge of their very own version of a world war (though this didn't stop the Iroquois from spending their vacations in the Carolinas and eastern Tennessee visiting Rock City and beating up on the Cherokees and Catawbas--as it turns out, the Shenandoah Valley was their favorite freeway back and forth--"Look, Flitting Bird, I like North Carolina. It's the sitting in traffic four hours because some clown jacked-knifed a canoe that drives me nuts. And it's always between the Stucky's!").

6. And of course, to the north and west the wily French lurked waiting to flail good honest English men with baguettes and rosary beads.

Sometime in the future, I'll give Jacques' side of things and take a look at why American convenience stores tend to stock beer and occasionally questionable pre-made sandwiches rather than good wine and brie.

11 September 2010: Feast of St. Ambrose Edward Barlow. Battle of the Teutoburg Forest 9 AD, Battle of Stirling Bridge 1297, Battle of Brandywine 1777, Mountain Meadows Massacre 1857, September 11, 2001--need I say more?

Irreconcilable Differences: Catholics and Euterpe

(I'm putting this post up a bit early as I'm going into drydock Tuesday for repairs and modifications to my port side aural sensor and may not feel like fooling with it Wednesday.)

Why don't Catholics sing in church? This is a question that has pestered those who worry about such things since St. Peter first ran through his prayers while vesting. The propensity to break into song at the proper places during the Mass is the thing that gives away onetime Protestant converts and the odd misdirected Low Church Anglicans who stumble in Sunday mornings.

There are a number of possible explanations that have been mooted. Some of my favorites are:

1. They are harking back to the early Church when to be heard tended to result in court action before a scowling Roman judge followed by the attentions of a non-scowling lion or six?

2. The have trouble remembering how to correctly pronounce unfamiliar Latin words such as "Holy Spirit," "Virgin Mother of God," "Heavenly host," etc.?

3. Speaking of hosts--or rather the Host, they're afraid they'll be caught with one in their mouth in the middle of a hymn with the end result of being either quite rude or worse, being guilty of violating some stricture of Canon Law?

4. They're afraid the lector gave the wrong hymn number and the ones posted are actually left over from the last funeral, wedding, Bar Mitzvah (hey, collections are down and that new roof ain't going to pay for itself!)?

5. They're confused about where in the two hymn books (one paperback, one hardback), worship guide, hymnal, missal, and three handouts to find the right song?

6. They've given up singing anything not by (Saints?) Peter, Paul, & Mary or the Iron Butterfly for Lent?

7. The tunes stink? (This one is a non-starter--we stole all the good ones...okay, borrowed lovingly in a blatant act of galloping ecumenism all the good ones from the Protestants.)

Needless to say (but I'll say it anyway just for kicks), none of this is a problem for yours truly. I sing. When one reaches my advanced age, one is so sour, twisted, and bloody-minded that it fails to bother one in the least that fellow worshipers around him have bleeding ears.

Speaking of music, catch the Huron Carol on Heather Dale's album, "This Endris Night." It's available for download from iTunes and Amazon.com.
(Bought it myself, oh minions of the FTC.) I ran across this courtesy of the water-loving Cat up in the wilds of Canada. Here's the link: Click here non -techies.

8 September 2010: Feast of Bl. Dominic of Nagasaki. Titus sacks Jerusalem 70 AD, Knights of Malta defeat Turkish siege 1565, French and Indian War Battle of Lake George 1755, Second Battle of Sabine Pass 1863, first V2 hits London 1944, "Star Trek" premiers on NBC 1966.