Thursday, June 30, 2005

Checking out the fruit

This is it, our 21st anniversary. After today, you won't have to listen to another maudlin rant for, oh, another 360 days or so. Where we left it: quite ignoring The Rules*, I'd chosen something threatening for our first date -- dinner at my apartment the following Saturday night. I felt pretty good about this date. Karen, I found out much later, was far more cautious. "I still needed to check out the fruit," she said. I didn't need to check. First date, courting, the sex thing, meet-her-parents, meet-MY-parents: technicalities. This relationship was inevitable. That Saturday, I blew off studying and spent the whole day washing clothes, grocery shopping, and cooking. My place northwest of the Berkeley campus put me within three blocks of a bakery, three grocery stores, a produce market, a wine shop, a cheese shop, and a fish market. Only the best for this meal. The menu: salad, sourdough bread, seafood divan, a Dutcher Creek Fume Blanc 1978, and chocolate mousse for dessert. I didn't finish cooking until 8:30. My roommates were in and out; Roger came by to haze Karen mercilessly. Having just had his heart ripped out by a feminist (who, in retrospect, was a far nicer person than Roger), he had to make sure I wasn't falling into the same trap. Karen, I'm sure, will recall that I took part in this hazing ritual (which involved the infamous fish joke) but she's just plain WRONG. Roger did it. Roger. A bit later that evening, my other roommate Russ came by to snag two helpings of chocolate mousse and do the dishes. Russ was always doing the dishes whether he'd dirtied them or not, because he figured Roger and I were too ignorant to use hot soap and water. And, you know, it bothered him. Eventually, they all left us alone, and Karen and I spent the rest of the evening up in my room not having sex. We talked until 2AM. Actually, I think I talked until 2AM. I violated one of the most important Guy Rules, violated it the way an Atkins failure violates a Krispy Kreme. Don't tell her jack about yourself, because whatever she imagines about you is far superior to the Truth. If I failed to reveal all my secrets that night, I made up for it in our many late-night talks in the coming weeks. Who knows; maybe it was the right thing to do. She was checking out the fruit, after all, and I'd given her plenty to squeeze and sniff. I walked her home. At the door, we kissed a few times, and I said, "Well, I think we're pretty compatible. What do you think?" She agreed. In the boy-meets-girl story, you don't expect smooth sailing. You'd be damned bored if Adam Sandler didn't lose Drew Barrymore at least once before the end of the movie. You mean Karen didn't have cold feet, not even once? You mean neither of you went running back to your ex for one last fling, to the horror of the other, followed by a tearful reunion and the confession, I never realized until now how much you meant to me? Nope. Sorry. This relationship was like going down a slide on waxpaper. Three nights later, I was trying to figure out how to invite myself over to Karen's apartment (for some reason, I'd lost the nerve to just drop in like I used to) when Karen showed up with Kira. They hijacked me. Karen, it transpired, still wanted to check the fruit, and Kira was along as an independent grocery inspector. I grabbed my books, intending to study later (har-har), and the three of us took a lunatic trip through Co-Op. Not long after, Karen and I ended up in her room. She put Ravel's Bolero on the stereo and we both thought of Allegro non troppo before we thought of Blake Edward's 10. One thing led to another, although it didn't lead to much more than -- hey kids! Remember this word? Necking. And, once again, we spent a hell of a long time talking. Two weeks of talkin' and neckin' later, we finally got around to checking out each other's fruit for realsies. Karen asked me afterwards, "So. Feeling the thrill of conquest?" "I thought it was all pretty mutual --" "Conquest on both sides?" "I think it was all decided two weeks ago," I said. "That's when the 'conquest' was, if there ever was one." And she agreed. Hey, we were a couple of over-educated science geeks who thought we could control everything with our brains. To some extent we were right. We had some stressful months ahead of us -- Berkeley College of Chemistry was never what you'd call easy, and the elephant in the room was the question, Where will Doug be nine months from now? I hadn't been accepted to med school yet (hadn't even interviewed), and Karen still had a year left at Berkeley. But Fate gave us a cakewalk. Stanford accepted me into their medical school. One year later, they accepted Karen into their graduate program in Chemical Physics. In our year apart, we were never more than 60 miles away from one another; that's a long distance relationship even we could manage.
Yeah, Fate gave us a cakewalk, at least until She decided to take a fat crap on Karen's head in late '83. Our first seven years of marriage were pretty rough, thanks to Karen's multiple sclerosis. But the fact we've made it to 21 years ought to tell you something. I love you, Karen. Glad you liked the fruit. D. *The as-yet-unpublished Guy Rules. More on this some other day.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Wherein I am rogered by a cactus

. . . for two-and-one-half hours, no less. Youch. Here's the deal. My son still suffers from daily headaches. Propranolol and ibuprofen are helping some, but he's miserable a lot of the time. Someone (okay, it was me) had the bright idea of having him see a psychologist who specializes in headache. Karen and I hoped he might teach Jake some useful techniques for managing pain -- visualization exercises, meditation, etc. No success as of yet. Karen and I both think his headaches are organic, not psychological, but if you show a hammer a nail, don't expect a Hello Kitty purse. At some point, something was said by someone (me again) which made Jake a bit weepy. The psychologist felt this was Significant and asked him, "What are you thinking right now? What's on your mind?" After fifteen minutes of Jake's silence, I asked the doc, "Can any 9-year-old answer that question?" He had me tripping through Flashback City. When I was thirteen, a psychologist asked me that same thing. Thirteen. Four years older than Jake. I remember looking inside, trying to find an answer, and finding instead: (A) a wall of white static (B) a radio that wouldn't stop playing -- oh, back then, let me see, I wasn't particularly cool; I'll bet it was Yellow Brick Road -- something that passed for music. (C) sheer terror that all I could find inside me was (A) and (B) (By the way: this was in '74, well before Roger Waters did his rock opera schtick, so my wall was not a tired metaphor. ) Point -- points -- being: (A) I couldn't understand how Jake could answer a question like that, and (B) this line of questioning was making me squirm. See, I've gotten used to being empty inside. I realize it's a superficial sort of emptiness, and I'm okay with that. I mean, there has to be some degree of depth in there somewhere, otherwise where does the fiction come from? Or am I merely channeling someone who has an inner life? Jake couldn't answer the question any better than I could thirty years ago. It eventually emerged (the passive voice was created for situations like this) that he is upset by the way someone raises his voice too often (two guesses who), and Would Like It To Stop. Lest you think I'm a child-abusing ogre, I grew up in a household where the decibel level caused permanent noise-induced hearing loss after twenty minutes. Jake may hear a yell, but all I hear is a warm-up to a yell. Not even that. A yell isn't a yell unless the neighbors three doors down know your business. The pets should run and hide. Next day in school, people should stare at you and whisper. Aw, don't mind me. I'm simply adjusting to the idea that it's all my fault. And here I thought that our mothers were always to blame. D.

Blog Watch

Demented Michelle has a fine post today (Wednesday) on the benefits of blogging: I firmly believe, beyond attending conventions, one of the best networking mediums available to aspiring authors is blogging. She goes on to give a number of great tips on boosting traffic to your blog. Check it out.
In case you haven't visited The Dark Cabal yet, they're an anonymous group of SF aficionados who write intelligently about what they've been reading. They also engage in the occasional rant. In today's post, Safe Light has some thoughtful observations on Richard Bowes' Theres a Hole in the City, published in Bowes has responded in the comments, and even editor Ellen Datlow couldn't restrain herself from, erm, doing a bit of editing. Guess I better watch my mouth around there.
And then there's this photograph courtesy of Gwenda Bond, by way of Justine Larbalestier. Who says I don't get my news third-hand? Today, Gwenda Bond reprints an extended quote regarding the Philip K. Dick android. Check it out. D.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005


21st Anniversary: T minus 2 days
My friend Stan, bless his heart, wanted to find me a girlfriend. Guess he'd finally gotten fed up with my two-year-long depression following my breakup with GF v1.0. A week or two before winter break, he hosted a dinner party and invited me, Karen, Suzie, and their roommate Kira. At this point in history, Karen had broken up with BF v1.0, landing her in fresh rebound territory. Stan figured this put her off limits, which left Suzie and Kira, but Kira could serve High Tea on my head (she's that tall), so that left Suzie. We played monopoly and poker after dinner. I glistened like a coked-up Robin Williams and Karen was a whip-crack herself, witty and intelligent. Suzie was Suzie (cute and bubbly) and Kira was funny as hell, but Karen had most of my interest. In my anemic language of the time -- what I told Stan, and soon after, what I told Karen -- I thought she and I were on the same wavelength. That we were psychic twins. Amazing thing is, this didn't scare her off. I'll skip most of winter break. I had a disastrous reunion with GF v1.0. You'd think after two years I could manage a let's-be-friends scene, which was all I wanted*, but I didn't give sufficient credit to my capacity for sheer unmitigated assholishness. Winter quarter: Karen and I had one class together, Physical Chemistry Lab. She sat with Kira (we were all Chemistry or Chemical Engineering majors), I sat by myself. We had a senile instructor, Professor O'Konski, who provided endless jeering entertainment. Once, for example, he drew a stick figure of two-legged creatures and four-legged creatures (I think this was meant to demonstrate some subtle point regarding reaction kinetics) and said, "Here are the cowboys, riding on their cows." I'm not kidding. I'd have had more stories from that man, save for the fact my attention was riveted not on him but on Karen. Specifically, on trying to work up the nerve to ask her out. My tongue would not work. I had no trouble calling her on the phone, nor had I any qualms about dropping in at her apartment unannounced. I found ways of getting us together, but not in a manner that would be confused with a date. No, when it came to asking her out, I was verklempt**. At the beginning of class one day, I passed her a note: "This is a gimpish way to go about it but what the hell. Would you want to go out with me?" I'd hoped she would pass the note back with a "Sure!" but no such luck. She made me wait until after class. Then she cornered me in lab, with Kira standing over her shoulder as bouncer-on-call. "Are you going to explain this note to me?" she said. "What's a gimpish thing to do?" I hooked a couple of fingers around her arm and dragged her away from Kira. "Will you go out with me?" I half-whispered. "Elaborate!" "Huh?" "When? What? Where?" But I hadn't thought that far ahead. I mean, jeez, did I have to have everything planned? So I invited her over for dinner the following Saturday night. I gave her my address. As she walked back to her lab station, she called after me: "Jeez, some people are shy." Friday night, Kira and Stan walked over to my apartment in the rain. "Kira wants to see your apartment," Stan said, but I think actually Kira wanted to check me out a bit closer. She borrowed a few books from my bookshelf, undoubtedly a ruse to see which books I had on my shelf. Fortunately, my 120 Days of Sodom and Other Writings, Encyclopedia of Serial Killers, and Autopsy, Volume 3 were safely tucked away. And, fortunately, the half-naked Billy Idol poster belonged to my roommate Russ, not me. Following a detour to Mama's BBQ for Stan, the three of us returned to Kira's apartment. Karen was there. We all played cards until 1 AM. That evening, the feeling returned -- what I called kismet yesterday. A sense of inevitability. On Sex and the City, the women hump their beaus like brain-lesioned rabbits and date for months before the subject of marriage ever comes up. Yet here I was, thinking about the future, the far future, and we hadn't even dated yet. Sure, Sex and the City is a 21st century phenom, while all this stuff with Karen, that was in the OLD days -- the 80s! Did people even have sex back then? D. *And isn't that dishonest as hell. **Fake American Yiddish, courtesy of SNL: overcome with emotion.
Some people have decided to cast their BlogHop votes according to their honest opinion. This misguided policy has shunted Shatter off the first page of their 'Best' list. Take a look at that list and ask yourself: does Whurdsderodan really deserve such status? Or Coffee Achiever? Or Much Ado About Me? It's up to you, my non-voting lurkers, to boot yours truly back into the stratosphere. CLICK ON THE DARK GREEN SMILEY FACE (just check out the right-hand margin . . . scroll up a bit . . . there.) And, while you're at it, hop on over to Bare Rump's Diary and do the same for her. You wouldn't believe how many arachnophobes are bringin' the old girl down.
This blog runs on ego. If you like what you see here, and want to see more, you'll just have to stoke it.

Monday, June 27, 2005

21st Anniversary: T minus 3 days

Fall, 1982
Karen and I met during my last year at Berkeley. I had recently changed my mind about my future. All of those pre-meds I had despised for the last three years -- well, I still despised them, but I decided maybe they knew something I didn't know. Mind you, I had zero interest in patient care, but that (my counselor told me) wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. There was this new creature, see. All the rage at places like Hahvahd or Stanford. They called 'em MD-PhDs. I'd get to live in a lab like a PhD (something I wanted at the time) but I'd get paid like an MD, and NIH would rain grants down upon me, a veritable golden shower . . . Anyway, this change in direction meant I had to take a hard look at my appearance on paper. The one thing I lacked was research experience. And so, in Fall Quarter of my senior year, I cast around looking for a lab, and soon found myself with Professor Sung-Hou Kim. I was years-young and world-stupid enough to get deliriously excited over the prospect of twenty hours work per week with no pay, and in that mood I first laid eyes on Karen. I left Melvin Calvin Lab and skipped over to Hildebrand Library. (I did a lot of skipping in those days, skipping and moping. A sure target for the Moonies.) I had to tell someone of my stunning good fortune. I ran over to a table where my friend Stan sat with two girls I didn't recognize. I began to effuse, but Stan would have none of it. "What?" I said. "Are you still mad at me?" He was mad about something, and it was probably me. He'd dropped in on me at my apartment earlier that week, unexpected, and I hadn't been too welcoming. "Should I be mad at him?" he asked Karen and Suzie. They both kept quiet. You couldn't really answer a question like that. Later, he told me that Karen and Suzie were roommates, and I could take my pick. Later still, he found out that Karen had a boyfriend and retracted his offer. (Stan was like that back then. Different.) This bummed me out. He'd hyped her to me -- told me how smart she was, how she took math classes for fun. (Karen denies this. She says all of those math classes had a purpose.) It didn't take much hype to keep me interested. It wasn't love at first sight. It wasn't even lust at first sight. No, what I felt was far more ominous. Kismet.
Tomorrow, T minus 2 days: Smorgasbord!

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Chandler: Not a snowflake* kinda guy

Sorry to harp about Chandler, but Karen and I went to see Land of the Dead this afternoon, and I'm still trying to get the taste out of my mouth. This flick was not Dead goodness. Here's proof (I think) that Chandler didn't write from an outline, at least not circa 1947. This is an excerpt from a letter written "To Mrs. Robert Hogan", March 8, 1947, reprinted in Library of America's second Chandler collection: "One of my peculiarities and difficulties as a writer is that I won't discard anything. I have heard this is unprofessional and that it is a weakness of the amateur not to be able to tell when his stuff is not coming off. I can tell that all right, as to the matter in hand, but I can't overlook the fact that I had a reason, a feeling, for starting to write it, and I'll be damned if I won't lick it. I have lost months of time because of this stubbornness. However, after working in Hollywood, where the analysis of plot and motivation is carried on daily with an utter ruthlessness, I realize that it was always a plot difficulty that held me up. I simply would not plot far enough ahead. I'd write something I liked and then I would have a hell of a time making it fit in to the structure. This resulted in some rather startling oddities of construction, about which I care nothing, being fundamentally rather uninterested in plot." Chandler began writing The Big Sleep, his first novel, at age 50 (1938). He wasn't a fast writer, nor a prolific one by today's standards. By the time of his death in 1959, he'd written seven novels, all featuring Philip Marlowe. As for Marlowe, I think the second paragraph in The Big Sleep sums him up best: The main hallway of the Sternwood place was two stories high. Over the entrance doors, which would have let in a group of Indian elephants, there was a broad stained-glass panel showing a night in dark armor rescuing a lady who was tied to a tree and didn't have any clothes on but some very long and convenient hair. The knight had pushed the vizor of his helmet back to be sociable, and he was fiddling with the knots on the ropes that tied the lady to the tree and not getting anywhere. I stood there and thought that if I lived in the house, I would sooner or later have to climb up there and help him. He didn't seem to be really trying. That's Marlowe: a would-be stand-in for a tarnished knight. D. *Snowflake: this is not a reference to Chandler's machismo or lack thereof. I keep forgetting you're not all writers. The 'Snowflake Method' refers to a particular technique of novel outlining. See link.

Movie trailers for morons

In recent years, I've noticed an odd trend in trailers for mature films. (Mature? Read: for adults -- after all, you can't call 'em adult movies.) I noticed it again watching this trailer for the chick flick Asylum. Everything is revealed. Everything. They're only holding back on the ending, but anyone with an ounce of dramatic sense knows Natasha Richardson ain't gonna get iced by the sexy crazy man. My prediction: she breaks up with her husband but she doesn't end with Mr. Looney Tunes either. They're going to go for the bittersweet angle. Or: she'll stay with her husband, and their marriage will be somehow stronger thanks to her intimate brush with a murderer. That's the Hollywood ending, but since this is a UK flick, I'm going for option 1. The same cannot be said for children's movie trailers (and I've seen a lot of them). Their problem is they give away nearly every good joke in the movie, as with the movie Madagascar. But at least they don't give you the blow-by-blow on the plot. Could it be that adults have less tolerance for uncertainty than children? Or is there a simpler explanation? We're going to see George Romero's Land of the Dead today. That's one trailer that doesn't give away the store. D.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Lethem on Chandler

Gun, with Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem During internship, I gave all my Chandler paperbacks to an old black man dying of laryngeal cancer. He spent his time in an eight-bed ward, nothing to do but watch TV (one TV for the whole ward, forever tuned to the Spanish language channel), and when I found out he liked to read mysteries, I thought I'd do something nice. Parting with those paperbacks was like loaning out a stack of letters written to me by my best friend. I'm not usually the type to get sappy about my books, but -- The Big Sleep! Farewell, My Lovely! Take my left nut while you're at it. There's something almost painfully endearing about Chandler's protagonist, Philip Marlowe. I can't think of a more sympathetic fictional character. There's more to Marlowe than just smart-ass wisecracks (that's about all you get from most movie Marlowes -- even Bogie, God bless him). More than just his self-effacing humor, or his White Knight ethos. For me, it's the fact that Marlowe has a vision of how things should be, and he's inevitably dissapointed. He's a chivalrous character in a world that relegates its Knights to wax museums. The few SF-noir-hardboiled hybrids I've read usually don't get it. You can't do this on snarky smart-alecky patter alone. It's not enough that your protag, at least once in the novel, drinks hard, is sapped on the head, gets slipped a mickey, runs afoul of the police, and falls for the dangerous dame. You can't turn Chandler into a formula like that. The only way you can do Chandler is to do Marlowe. Halfway through Gun, with Occasional Music, I told Karen that Lethem got all the elements right, but didn't truly get Chandler. By two-thirds of the way through, I'd changed my mind. And if I had any remaining doubt that Lethem understands Chandler, it vanished after I read an interview he did with Trudy Wyss, for Borders. Here's a relevant excerpt: The Chandler detective is one who's self-aware to just a degree where he can see the absurdity of his own actions, and particularly of the urge to rescue other people. That's something Chandler was very tormented about: What does it mean to try to be a hero? To be a white knight in a kind of crumbling world?

And he's just also such a beautiful writer. The secret of Chandler is that he's really very romantic. Behind all that ennui there's this enormous yearning that causes him to reach, in this very precarious way, for all sorts of beautiful phrases and unlikely poetic comparisons. And then he's always making fun of himself for doing it at the same time. That's why writers obsess over Chandler--because he's found a way to have his lyricism and make fun of it at the same time.

So, yeah, he gets it, and in Gun, with Occasional Music, he's proven that he gets it.*

Conrad Metcalf is a private inquisitor in a world where questions have all the political correctness of the N-word. Here, Celeste Stanhunt, wife of the murder victim, is talking to Metcalf:

"I've answered enough questions today to last a lifetime. Let's see some identification, or I'm calling in the heat."

"The heat?" I smiled. "That's ugly talk."

"You're using a lot of ugly punctuation." She stuck out a hand. "Let's see it, tough boy."

It's an interesting world, not immediately recognizable as a dystopia. One of the beauties of the novel is the way it sneaks up on you like a revelation, exactly how dystopian this place is. The written word is all but extinct, and the spoken word is endangered. Morning news on the radio consists of mood music: the listener must intuit local and world events by the flavor of orchestration. Television news consists of clipped images -- politicians smiling, shaking hands, kissing babies. Nearly everyone uses drugs (with names like Forgettol, Regrettol, Addictol) and, guess what, this junk is free courtesy of the government. As time passes, what at first seemed quirky becomes, by turns, ominous, and then outright nightmarish.

That's why I had my doubts about Gun early on. At first it seemed that Lethem's approach to Chandler was a sort of novel-sized Mad Lib. For cops, substitute Public Inquisitors; for rye whiskey, substitute make (the individual's personal blend of drugs; Metcalf's is "skewed heavily towards Acceptol, with just a touch of Regrettol to provide that bittersweet edge, and enough addictol to keep me craving it even in my darkest moments.") For the lower class -- ubiquitous in Chandler's work -- substitute evolved animals. There's a kangaroo here you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley.

But things change. The mystery unfolds as it deepens, time passes, caprice becomes meaning. The author has a plan, but I won't spoil it by telling you. Trust me, trust Lethem.

Gun was Lethem's first novel, so in fairness we should compare it to The Big Sleep. Like The Big Sleep, the mystery in Gun is, ultimately, a secondary concern. You could quibble over it, but you should bear in mind a much-repeated (and possibly apocryphal) story about Chandler. Humphrey Bogart (Marlowe in the first film version of The Big Sleep) and director Howard Hawks got into an argument over who killed the chauffeur -- or was it suicide? Chandler replied that he didn't know, either. (In another version of the story, it was Jack Warner who telegrammed Chandler with the question. When Chandler couldn't answer it, Warner billed him 75 cents for the telegram.) Point being, if you're here for the mystery, then you're no fun at all.

Post script: My patient didn't do well. Laryngectomy, fistula, recurrence, sepsis. "Piss-poor protoplasm" is how docs put it when we're around each other and have to wear our stony faces. He had no family, no friends. When he died in the 10th Floor step-down ICU, I was Intern On-Call, and I had to come to his bedside to pronounce him dead, and I was probably the only one in the hospital who gave a damn about him. Some of you might say, "He would have liked it that way," but I think he would have preferred not being dead. That would have been my choice.


*Those of you who read this blog regularly may be wondering if I'm incapable of giving a bad review. That I leave all the snarkiness to my wife -- the classic good cop, bad cop. Maybe you're even wondering if I love everything I read, and that I would wax poetic over the ingredients list of Safeway's Very Maple cookies.

But I don't.

What's the point in trash-talking a book, no matter how elegant, logical, and/or humorous that trash-talk may be? Do you really need to know that I sped-read Chris Roberson's Here, There & Everywhere last night, and now I want my money back? Or that I gave up on Brin's Kiln People in less than one hundred pages because he can't control his damned exclamation points? No. You don't need to know that. And you won't find snark like that on these electronic pages.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Unrequited lust

John Scalzi openly flaunting his metrosexuality got me thinking: how many times has a gay man made a pass at me? I can count this on one hand, and that would be the hand of some guy who likes to use his band saw after two bottles of Thunderbird. Trouble is, that number still totes up higher than the number of hetero come-ons pitched my way. Not that I'm complaining. Gay come-hithers leave me feeling good about myself. After all, what could be more flattering than the approval of some fella who might one day star on Queer Eye? But the hetero advances never fail to leave me nauseated and vaguely confused. After nearly 21 years of marriage, I'm still getting used to the idea that my wife is willing to have sex with me. Of course, it might be relevant that, left out in the cold, I become unbearably pissy. Whining: Spanish Fly for the 40-something Guy. Back to gay men, and the few who thought I was hot stuff. In med school, I took my Preparation for Clinical Medicine rotation at the Palo Alto Veteran's Administration Hospital. I'd partnered with Fred, a classmate with biceps big as my thigh, a guy credulous enough to accept, wide-eyed and slack-jawed, my tale of the Latest Proceedings of the International Jewish Conspiracy. Yet Fred couldn't believe me when I told him about the slight-framed, red-headed male nurse who couldn't pass me on the ward without giving me the eye. Homosexuality was not part of Fred's world view. That sort of thing happened up the Peninsula, in shops like Hard-on Leather or bars like The White Swallow. You'd never -- never ever ever -- have to face that sort of thing here in the VA Hospital, surrounded by hordes of Bronze medal-punctured amputees with faded DEATH BEFORE DISHONOR tatts. One day, I got my chance to open Fred's eyes. I spotted my admirer from thirty feet away and elbowed Fred in the ribs. "Watch, okay?" I said. "Just watch." As we passed my little red-head, he winked at me with his whole face. It looked something like this: I'm really sorry you had to see that. Fred dragged me off into a stairwell, nearly dislocating my shoulder. "You weren't kidding!" "Of course not. I never kid. And, oh, by the way, we were discussing the fate of Your People at last week's IJC rally, and I'm afraid there are going to be a few changes around here." Kidding about that last bit.
Flash forward to 1990. Internship at Los Angeles County General Hospital, which at the time (pre-Northridge earthquake) ranked as the nation's largest hospital complex. You would most likely know County from the exterior shot used for the opening credits of soap opera General Hospital. Mandatory reading for any new intern: Samuel Shem's The House of God, guaranteed to fill you full of misconceptions on the mechanics of internship -- the chief misconception being that every female in the hospital, from medical students to attending physicians, nursing students to ward clerks, would, sans warning, drag you off into a vacant call room/operating theater/pharmaceutical cabinet to jump your living bones. True enough, there were occasional sparks of interest, like the zaftig Filipina nursing student who always had a smile for me, or the Jewish medical student who had me pegged as a Jew the very first day, and whom I had to beat away with an IV pole because when I told her I'm married her response was So? But, with rare exception, no one got laid at LA County. No one. Men of ambiguous sexuality abounded: nurses, aides, clerks. You never knew where you stood with these guys; wedding rings didn't necessarily mean anything. Gay or straight, nearly all wore scrubs, so you couldn't pick up on visual cues. I remember one fellow in particular: a night clerk named Bub (not his real name -- for a change, I'm not being a total dickwad). Bub was a fifty-something Filipino who wore white shirts stained with Ensure and the various other brands of kibble County fed its patients; white shirts that did remarkably little to conceal his whopping V-bagging elephant scrotum-sized man-titties. One night, fueled by tapioca, Ensure, graham crackers, and Saltines (the only things available after the cafeteria closed), I worked past midnight on the ward, charting. I sat at the front desk across from Bub's torpid form. The night nurses floated in and out of my field of vision like huge clumsy moths. My zaftig cutie was there, fighting with an IV drug abuser who insisted on smoking in the central hallway, tangling up her femoral line in the process. I had just reset the femoral line, and I was busy writing up the procedure note. Not easy, considering that every two minutes Bub roused from his heavy-lidded fugue to ask me for medical advice. BUB: So. Doctor Hoffmah. What do you think of this thing on my neck? All of my nights on the ward had a dreamlike quality, and this one was no exception. Comes from being half-asleep. My pen kept scratching across the page; the nurses kept flitting about behind me; Bub left his station to fuss with a chart rack. At the dimmest boundaries of consciousness, I felt him behind me, moving about. You know how you can sense when someone's in your personal space, particularly if you don't really like that someone? I knew he was back there, but I kept on working, because the sooner I had finished, the sooner I could get back to bed. Then, without warning, I felt two of the warmest, plushiest breasts I have ever felt squeeze ever so voluptuously into my back and hold there for two full breaths, not that I was breathing, because (tapioca and graham crackers rising in my craw) I was too busy thinking
and then he moved away. I jerked my head around -- I didn't know what I was going to say to him but damn it I was going to say something. Interns are paid less than minimum wage! This is harrassment! What did I do to deserve this? I jerked my head around, and saw my zaftig cutie walking away. God damn! I wanted to scream. Get back here so I can enjoy it! D.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

That honeymoon glow

Early in the 1989 flick Sea of Love, Al Pacino's character, a cop, indulges in a bit of thinking-out-loud with his partner (John Goodman). Pacino paints the picture of a first date for Goodman. Guy wines and dines the girl, gets her back to his apartment, does the wonder of me routine -- The wonder of me. When Karen and I first saw Sea of Love, that phrase jolted us out of our grad school-numbed complacency. For in those words, she saw me, and I saw myself. Yes, I had done this to Karen on our first date. Oh how I did it to her on our first date. Hose down your minds, please. Wonder of me refers to that state of being ON. You're trotting out all your best stories. You've cranked your wit to the whip-cracking-snapping point. Baby, your cortex had better glisten, especially since the gal you're dating takes Complex Analysis for fun (that's mathematics, folks, not Freud). It never lasts. Eventually, someone (me) develops a cortical flat tire, and some moronic, indefensible opinion slips the lips. You hope this happens after she's fallen in love with you. And it gets worse. One day, you realize you've run out of schtick. You have no more stories to tell, and before long you find yourself breaking up lengthy silent pauses at restaurants with, "Isn't it nice that we can just be together and not have to say anything to one another?" And she says, "Yes, it really is," but you know she's thinking, Christ, what happened to him? That's when you start making shit up. That is the birth of fiction. Well folks, I'm here to tell you, we're still dating, and I haven't run out of schtick yet. Tomorrow: my close brush with man-titties. D.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

What I learned in court today

I gave my first deposition ever today. Afterwards, the lawyer for the defendant told me, "You're the best witness I've ever deposed when it comes to understanding questions with negatives in them." The plaintiff's lawyer agreed. (And I'm thinking: Erm . . . that was just a compliment, right?) Can't divulge the details because, after all, that would be violating doctor-patient confidentiality. Let's just say it's a case of the little guy going up against The Man. Or, maybe it's a case of the little guy trying to make a buck off The Man. I don't know, and I don't need to know; that's the beauty of being a witness (rather than a defendant!) All I had to do was tell the truth. I love telling the truth. I could tell the truth all day. As long as I'm in super-honest mode, this deposition wasn't held in a courtroom, as the above title would suggest. But "What I learned in some poorly ventilated downtown office" makes for a crappy title. So there.
Let's say you've been wronged by The Man. Here are some dos and don'ts I learned today, simply by being a careful observer of the lawyers' questions. 1. Don't waste any time getting to a doctor. If you wait even a day before seeking attention, it looks suspicious. 2. Don't trust the doctor to write down the things you tell him. Look over his shoulder. Come right out and ask him, "Hey, did you write down that bit about the salted bamboo shoots under my fingernails? And the Cajun spice-and-Pepsi Cola nose wash -- Jeez, what's the matter with you? YOU MISSPELLED EMERIL!" (Note to any legal-type person connected to the case who reads this. That last quote was make believe. It's what we writers call a stab at humor.) 3. Do make sure you tell your doctor about every last symptom. Don't hold back. 4. Do tell the same story to each and every doctor you see. Inconsistencies will bite you in the ass. 5. Do hire the smartest lawyer you can afford.
True story: In my first week of my first clinical rotation of medical school, I examined a young child with an injury. The boy came from a broken family, and was the rawhide chew toy in a bitter custody dispute between two pit bulls. The injury occurred while he was in his father's care. Dad claimed one mechanism of injury, Mom claimed another. The child's mother brought him in for the visit. After the clinic closed, the father found me (somehow) and begged me to write something favorable on the chart for him. Stupid, ignorant medical student that I was, I did as he asked. I changed the chart. Some time later, I was subpoenaed to appear in court to testify (at a custody hearing) as to my chart entry. No one bothered to depose me prior to the court date. Maybe custody hearings don't warrant that much work. Anyway, five minutes beforehand, a couple of lawyers cornered me in the hall. Lawyer A: How many years have you been a doctor? Me: I'm not a doctor. I'm a medical student. That means I don't have an MD yet. Lawyer B: Okay . . . how many years have you been seeing patients? Me: I'm in my first clinical year. When I saw that patient, I was in the first week of my first clinical rotation. Lawyer A: I don't think we can qualify him as an expert witness. (That story always makes me chuckle.) In the courtroom, I answered all of their questions honestly, and when the time came, I fessed up to fanoodling with the chart. Afterwards, the judge just about patted me on the head, and both sets of lawyers seemed delighted with me. Funny thing, I'd thought my testimony was damaging to both sides. Mom and Dad sat on opposite sides of the aisle, and they both beamed smiles at me, too. To this day, I'll never figure out what I said that made them all so damned happy. D.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

the number-driven life

Each morning when I sit behind the wheel of my car, I look at the odometer and do two things. First, I check to see what kind of poker hand I have. Second, I ask myself whether I will, today, drive through a palindrome. You know palindromes: numbers or words that read the same forwards as backwards, like "Ah, Satan sees Natasha," or 34643. Why should I care about a palindromic odometer reading? Why do I have an instant of irrational worry if, after dictating an operative note, the service tells me I've just dictated #341790? Superstition, you'll tell me, is fundamentally irrational. You might as well ask why I keep a hunk of wood in my pocket so that I'll always have something to knock on. (That's a joke. Not a good one, admittedly, but I'd rather you not think me a full bowl of Fruit Loops.) I'll cop to the knocking-on-wood being irrational. But the numbers? Baby, that's in the blood.
Imagine eleven-year-old me: a good-hearted, believing bar mitzvah-in-training, though not too good-hearted. Actually, I was a surly little bastard who resented the fact that all these Arcadians in my class were a full socioeconomic level above me, and they never let me forget it. Surliness is next to godliness (what, you never heard that one?) so my teachers (who inevitably pronounced my name Dog) frequently sent me to the library to, you know, soak up some Proverbial wisdom. That's where I discovered Chaim Potok's The Chosen, and through it, gematria. Forget the Bible Code. The Jews got there a couple thousand years ahead of you guys. We've been crunching sentences into phrases, phrases into words, words into numbers, and numbers into even smaller numbers, because -- and I'm sure of this one -- we're not content to accept God's word at face value. You know that Biblical literalist bumper sticker, "God wrote it, I believe it, That ends it"? The Orthodox Jewish version would be, "God wrote it, now let's figure out what he really meant." The only thing I remember from The Chosen was the gematria -- the way the rabbi wowed his Hasidic congregation with wild feats of numerical prestidigitation. If I remember correctly, someone comments to the protag that the rabbi's math is all wrong, but no one ever cared. And, the funny thing was, I didn't care either, because the idea of parsing the Torah into numbers that had meaning struck me as unbearably attractive. I invite you now to delve into that wellspring of knowledge which has given a spiritual enema to Britney Spears, Demi Moore, and (the archetype of all Judaically born-again celebs*) Madonna: kabbalah. For gematria is, in fact, the mathematics of kabbalah. Here's that website again: The Art of Gematria. So: is this stuff really in my blood, or did it merely get its teeth into me during my impressionable youth? I'm not sure. What I know -- what I feel -- is that numbers have a life beyond the abstract; that numerical functions have a foothold in reality that goes way beyond their graphical representation; that when we look at the world around us, we see a mathematical universe, or would see it, if only our senses didn't lie. D. *Sammy Davis doesn't count. As far as I know, he really did become Jewish.

Monday, June 20, 2005

And now, from SF Hall-of-Famer Adolf Hitler . . .

The Iron Dream by Norman Spinrad For me, Norman Spinrad is most memorable as the author of the Star Trek episode, "The Doomsday Machine", better known in my household as "Kirk Meets the Cosmic Blunt". (We have alternate names for all the classic episodes. Three guesses as to the identity of "Captain Kirk, Space Queen", or "Spock in Heat". That's my wife and I. So -- knockingonwood knockingonwood knockingonwood.) Yup, "Kirk Meets the Cosmic Blunt". Still saying, "Waaaaaah?" Here's an unloaded blunt:
Now do you remember? No? Imagine William Shatner and William Windom fighting over who can chew the most scenery. That episode. The Iron Dream and I only lasted one chapter together. By then, I had tired of the overly dense writing (me like dialog) and the core joke had grown old after ten pages. Karen, masochist that she is, finished it, and penned the fine review which you shall soon read. She thinks she might have gone a little over the top in her conclusions, but what the hey. I've taken a few editorial liberties. Karen says, "I don't want to be judged over something you've written." Okay: I'll put any major interpolations by me in blue.
We Need a Strong Leader, Now More Than Ever
Norman Spinrad's The Iron Dream (1972) caused a mild stir at the time of its publication. This satiric science fiction novel features an alternate history where Adolf Hitler emigrated to the United States in 1919 and became a comic book illustrator and science fiction writer. The Iron Dream (the actual title is Lord of the Swastika. I suspect Spinrad's publisher chickened out and made him come up with a different title for the cover) is his supposed Hugo Award-winning novel of 1954, a story concerning the rise of Feric Jagger, a national hero who saves the nation of Held from the mutant hordes of inferior and corrupted humans. Written in the bombastic tones of Mein Kampf, the novel is a distorted version of Hitler's historic rise to power in Weimar Germany, and his subsequent actions in Europe and Africa. The story begins with Jagger returning from Borgravia (corresponding to Hitler's youth in Austria). He arrives in Held, the last pocket of genetically pure humanity in a world still suffering from the devastating effects of an ancient nuclear war. Held is surrounded by radiation-contaminated land which has produced grotesque mutants who must be euthanized -- for their own good, as well as for the sake of humanity. Unfortunately for the blond, blue-eyed Heldons, these mutants are commanded by the sinister forces of the mind-controlling Zind, the analogue to the USSR. Ridiculously quickly, Feric gains leadership of a small political party, which he soon parlays into control of the entire country. How does author Hitler account for this? Feric's amazingly powerful personal will and magnetism lead everyone to recognize his natural superiority. Under his magnificent leadership, the Heldon army finally confronts the vast armies of Zind in the book's climactic battle. Since Dream is written by alternate universe author Hitler, fascism is good, genocide justified, and everyone (everyone racially pure, that is) loves the good and wise hero who triumphs in the end. Spinrad's difficulty, though, lies in maintaining a readable story that's supposedly written by a psychopathic hack writer with no real insight into humanity. Thus, there is incredibly bad sentence structure and an obsession with the gory details of death and violence. Desperately needed comic relief is supplied by the homoerotic descriptions of missiles, bullets, and the "Great Truncheon of Held," Jagger's semi-magical club that he wields as the true heir to the former Kings of Held:
Stopa looked up at the great shining headpiece of the truncheon which Feric held before his face, a headball carved in the likeness of a hero's fist, with a swastika signet ring on the third finger. He started to obey Feric's command [to stand], hesitated, then touched his lips to the swastika on the head of the Great Truncheon.
Despite these attempts to shore up the narrative's deficiencies, Spinrad lets the novel drag in many spots, particularly in the repetitious battle scenes. After reading 20 or so descriptions of Feric's mighty blows decimating the mutant horde, I began to skip these passages. But there's more to this book than just the smug feeling that we are too clever to fall for fascistic propaganda. (In fact, I found a neo-Nazi review on the internet which didn't realize this was satire; supposedly, the American Nazi Party loves the book, too.) (That last link -- to -- is more interesting than you might think. According to Karen, the reviewer plagiarized the review from another she (Karen) had just read. Then he tacked on a few paragraphs at the end to the tune of "Great book! Warms the cockles of my pure Aryan heart!") Spinrad includes an afterword by a fictitious literary critic who discusses the popularity of similar stories in both science fiction and fantasy. Furthermore, the back cover quotes praise the novel as comparable to J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and G.K. Chesterton. For example: recall, from LOTR, the slaughter of the mutant orcs and the short, debased men from the south by the racially superior elves and the tall and noble Aragorn. I have read a good deal of science fiction and fantasy and I have no doubt that a tinge of fascism, racism, and sexism seeped into a great many of the so-called classics of the Golden Age. In their defense, these stories were written decades ago and one shouldn't necessarily apply today's standards. However, their undeniable influence on today's literature unconsciously leads some of us to separate different ethnic and religious groups into the 'debased' versus the 'noble', and the 'fanatically homicidal' versus the 'protectors of humanity'. That, in conjunction with the ubiquitous scenes of slaughter and battle in the science fiction and fantasy genres, may lead the desensitized reader to support warfare and death in the real world.
Thanks, Karen. Folks, her next book review will be: "Charlotte's Web: Beloved Children's Classic, or Vegan Propaganda?" D.

It's the story, stupid!

Wherein I discover the world of Mundane SF Futzing around with Technorati tags this AM, I found a link to writer Ian McDonald's lengthy discussion of Mundane SF. As I mentioned recently, I always seem to be months if not years behind the times, and this is not exception. So if I betray my ignorance of the issues in this brief position piece, remember: you cannot embarrass me with my lack of knowledge because I have no shame. But you knew that. Mundane SF comes to us from writer Geoff Ryman. (The linked page will lead you to the Mundane Manifesto as well as Ryman's blog.) In essence, Ryman espouses a theory of SF which sticks strictly (think Madame Madge Dominatrix 'strictly') to the realm of the possible. No more faster-than-light travel, no wormhole travel, no interstellar trade with aliens, no time travel -- nothing fun. It's diamond-Hard SF. If you write SF, Ian McDonald's thoughtful discussion (linked above) is well worth your time. Here's the line that had me applauding: "It’s not just the Mundane Manifesto is totally unnecessary to produce the type of science-fiction it celebrates (one very very much worth celebrating, and that is due it’s time in the sun) , it’s that the genre has a much richer palate of colours. It’s a poor manifesto that would venerate Verne (tech-speculation) but consigns much of H.G. Wells’ core texts to the ‘bonfire of stupidities’ (interplanetary war, aliens, time-travel…). To me, one of the strengths of SF is that it is an allegorical literature: parables and myths of our age." (emphasis mine) A few of you out there have read my stuff; you folks will recognize why something like a "Mundane Manifesto" gets my blood pressure up. I could sally forth against Mundane SF, but as an unpublished author my words don't carry much clout. YET. (Muwahahaha.) So, here's one small voice making a pitch for reason. The object of writing is entertainment. There. I've said it. We're not politicians and we're not social planners. You can't blame us for fostering an irresponsible attitude towards the environment. (So goes the claim of the Mundaners -- by willy-nilly planet-hopping, we encourage the idea that we can rape this planet and move on to the next.) We're performance artists, nothing more. I'm not saying there's anything bad about Mundane SF. I'm sure it has a healthy audience of readers -- all those hard SF wonks who jeered when Han Solo used 'parsec' as a unit of time. Just leave us allegorists alone, will you? D.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Here's how f'd up I am

So f'd up I can't even mention him by name . . . I mean, where did all this superstition come from? I know where I get my paranoia, but the superstition? It's being a surgeon that does it. You begin believing in lucky charms. If you have a pediatric airway emergency on your hands, you begin praying -- hell, you enter into full balls-to-the-walls bargain mode with God -- no matter how agnostic you might be. You avoid black cats. You step over sidewalk cracks. You worry when the umbrella opens by accident indoors. And you always, always knock on wood when you say something good. Here's the deal. A certain someone has been spending way too much time talking about his wonderful marriage. I like this guy, like him enough that what he's doing is scaring the hell out of me. He's calling down the bad juju. Let me repeat: this is MY problem. Intellectually, I know that. Emotionally, I'm still rattled. Fact: every time I tell someone how great my marriage is, Karen and I end up in knock-down take-no-prisoners warfare for at least a week. This generally follows within twenty-four hours of my verbal excess. True, we've always bounced back*, but you have to understand: we both learned to fight dirty as kids (Karen even moreso than me) so it's never pretty. Fact: we only fight about once a year, which is about how long it takes me to forget that I should keep my mouth zipped. So, if that certain someone happens to wander this way and read this, please, please, for the love of God, knock on wood. Your thoroughly f'd up friend, D. P.S.: NO GUESSES in the comments thread. I'm being purposefully vague to keep the bad juju confused. *Knocking on wood, knocking on wood, knocking on wood.

Natalie Portman -- shaved

I'm still curious whether outrageous name-dropping can bump traffic. Didn't work using 'Scott Savol', but then, I guess he's old news. The Sunday New York Times has a cool story on the film V, an adaptation of Alan Moore's graphic novel from the 1980s. The movie is slated for release in November. (You might need to subscribe to their site to read the article -- I'm not sure.) Natalie Portman, head shaved, plays V's apprentice, Evie. The NYT story, by Sarah Lyall, makes a good point: "In today's skittish atmosphere, it takes a certain courage - or foolhardiness- to make a film that might be seen as endorsing terrorism, or at the very least, bomb-fueled anarchy. At a time when many studio films avoid what might offend, the makers of "Vendetta" have stepped out onto a lonely limb." My question: when will someone make a movie out of Moore's other classic, Watchmen? D.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Start at the fifth book in the series? Why the hell not!

Wolves Eat Dogs by Martin Cruz Smith Arkady Renko and I go way back. Gorky Park came out in '82, and, poor student that I was, I bought it as a paperback in '84. 1984: First year of medical school. My mind was ripe for dermestid beetles munching flesh off human skulls. At that age, I hadn't read much hard-boiled fiction, and the moody, angst-ridden Renko came as a breath of fresh arctic air compared to the science fiction characters I knew from childhood. (True, Neuromancer came out that year. That, too, was a kick in the head.) And the interlude sequence, two-thirds of the way through -- when, suddenly, we are brought face to face with Renko's nemesis, Pribluda -- changed forever how I looked at fiction, both as a reader, and as a wannabe writer. 1989: the year of Gorky Park's first sequel, Polar Star. I was still in medical school (don't ask). Polar Star proved to me that a sequel could be every bit as good as the first novel. Having read at least one sequel to Dune (gotta be vague, here -- I've struck those books from memory), I'd had my doubts. Gross-o-meter high point in Polar Star: the slime eels. Yum. Red Square (1993) : This one almost put me off Smith indefinitely. Then my wife bought Rose (2000: not a Renko novel, but still a keeper). By now I was a grown-up. I'd done a bit of writing, enough that I could recognize Smith as a master technician. So I went back to the Renko series with book four, Havana Bay, and found our Investigator lower than ever. Near the beginning of the story, Renko is assaulted in his apartment. The usual rough stuff, right? No: there's a twist (no spoilers here) which hooked me in to the rest of the book. In Wolves Eat Dogs, Renko's investigation of an apparent suicide leads him to the ruins of Chernobyl. What do you do with a burnout like Renko? Surround him with other burnouts! (I wonder if Smith ever worried whether his readers would say, "Enough already.") The outskirts of Chernobyl is populated with soldiers, scientists, and folks too old to care about a little radiation. There's a strong, unspoken feeling that Death stands just behind everyone's shoulder. The investigation begins in Moscow, where billionaire Pasha Ivanov, president of NoviRus, has jumped ten stories from the window of his luxury suite. There's a bottle of salt in Ivanov's hand, more salt on the windowsill, and a pile of it in the closet. NoviRus Senior Vice President Lev Timofeyev has a bloody nose . . . and before long, he shows up dead in a cemetery near Chernobyl. Unexpectedly dead, that is. Perennial pain-in-the-ass Renko doesn't think Ivanov jumped voluntarily. When Timofeyev's body is found, Renko's boss ships him down south to the Ukraine for a bit of hot time. In graduate school, we had to wear those little radiation badges so that we'd know when we'd been poisoned. Renko gets a Geiger counter and a bit of advice -- don't eat the locally grown food. But, wouldn't you know it, before long the Geiger counter has been retired, Renko's scarfing down the local produce, lovin' the local women and scrappin' with the local brutes. You gotta love him. Smith does everything right: three-dimensional characterization, clearly written action sequences, crisp dialog, a deft plot, and plenty of poignant drama. Some folks read Elmore Leonard to hone their craft; I read Smith. D. P.S. I think I may have gone way beyond the boundaries of good taste tonight with Bare Rump's Diary. Box me about the ears if you are offended.

If Jesus were alive today . . .

From the New York Times Forums, by way of my wife: If Jesus were alive today, he would be ethnically profiled and put on the United States' No Fly list. Okay, your turn. If Jesus were alive today . . . (More later. Just taking a blog break from my NiP.) D.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Scott Savol Exxxplicit Photos

John Scalzi's blog today made me realize something: Karen and I don't often say "I love you" to one another. Even when we were dating, one of us always managed to undercut the mood. Candlelight dinner, red wine, rack of lamb -- "Hey! My gawd, we're having a romantic moment." "No, really? How did that happen?" If I can allow myself to be truthful for one moment, here are the sweet nothings we repeat to one another nowadays: Doug: Fix this. Karen: You have no shame. Ah, the sweet sound of honesty. You have no shame. Hence today's title, Scott Savol Exxxplicit Photos. Hmm. Maybe I need a link to Scott Savol to really clinch the deal. Here's a cute mugshot. And here are the Exxplicit Photos I promised. Thanks to Demented Michelle for this idea. She told me she saw a substantial leap in blog traffic when she mentioned Savol. Failed bench scientist that I am, I feel compelled to test her theory. Now that I have you all here, I'd like to point out a new link on my right margin. Click on the title below the '59 T-Bird, and you will be led to my favorite published short story, "The Mechanic". Warning: it's crime fiction, which you would soon have figured out from the URL. Didn't want you SF fans to keep expecting an alien to pop up. Crime Scene Scotland didn't pay me a penny for this story. Told you I was a slut. D.

Because I'm such a slut

See, I almost said whore. Almost. But a whore expects payment for his services, whereas I give mine up for free. Here's the deal. The other day, I learned about on John Scalzi's The Whatever (linked on the right, if you're curious). Technorati allows you to find out what other sites are linked to yours. Cool! So that's how he tracked down my wife's review. Anyway, Technorati will put up a link to my blog on their page as long as I link back to them. So if you just traipsed over here from Technorati, welcome! I'll write SF for pocket change -- I'll do it for free. Not even a crack whore will do that for you. Gotta go. Be back real soon. D.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Paging Miss Manners

Have I mentioned my raging crush on Olivia Hussey?
'Twas Olivia's Juliet (in Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet) who first made my heart race. How, how could she speak words of love to that pasty-faced, mealy-mouthed Leonard Whiting? Let's just say I've gotten very good at squeezing my eyes shut during Whiting's stage time. Also, I've developed a preternaturally good sense of timing during the balcony scene, allowing me to unstop my ears for Juliet's, "Swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon." Juliet was a sweetie, but it was Olivia's Mary who won my eternal love.
(Thank Crystal's cool piece on cinema Jesuses for reminding me of Olivia.)
Here, I was going to run off at the mouth about how Romeo and Juliet is Juliet's tragedy, and Jesus of Nazareth is Mary's tragedy; but then I realized I don't know crap about Romeo and Juliet, nor do I know much about Christianity. Sure, I read the Gospels in college, just to prove a point to Weyton Tam (a high school friend who was certain I'd convert if I read the New Testament), but when you get right down to it the story doesn't stick to me. I'm sure I'll get the details wrong -- on R&J as well as Testament II -- and I'll have to fall back on that WEAK excuse, "It's my blog and these are my opinions, even if they are based on my imperfect memory of the facts." Well, I don't need anyone's help to make me look like a fool, least of all my own. So instead of drawing ill-advised parallels between Mary and Juliet, I'm going to change the subject and ask your advice on a tangentially related matter.
A patient called in a few days ago, asking for medication for a recurring problem. I phoned in a prescription for the same medications I've used in the past -- the same ones which have helped her repeatedly -- and I had my receptionist squeeze her into the schedule ASAP. Today. "Hi!" I said. "How are you feeling?" Her boyfriend, she said, took her to his pastor, who "laid on hands and healed me". (Mind you, she'd started the medications the day I phoned them in.) As I proceeded to examine her and pronounce her well, she said, "Oh, thank you, Jesus. Praise Jesus. Thank you Jesus." I kept a civil tongue. "Whatever works," I said. "Have you been saved?" Not even a I hope you don't mind my asking but. There it was, in my lap; and you know, I'm tired of saying, "I'm Jewish," only to be told condescendingly, "Oh, you people are very close to God," or, "The people of the Book! How fortunate for you!" How good for me, even if I am going to hell. Instead, I stupidly went for the funny line. (And it wasn't even all that funny.) "Trust me, I'm beyond salvation." I might as well have bent over. "Oh, Dr. Hoffman, no one's too late for salvation. Never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever." You get the point. But, honestly, what am I supposed to say? I'm a Jew (even if I am agnostic, which my rabbi says is perfectly okay -- I have a Jewish ethos, and that's all that matters. Hey, he's Reformed). I don't believe in salvation, the divinity of Christ, the resurrection, heaven, or hell. I'm unconvinced as to the historicity of Christ. I appreciate the Christian philosophy as embodied in the Sermon on the Mount, but that's as far as it goes. If I were forced to convert, like one of my conversos ancestors, I'd become a Jeffersonian Christian. I'm sure there's a correct answer to my question. Much of Miss Manners' book is devoted to polite responses to rude questions. I've even read an earlier edition of her book, but -- and I know I mentioned this recently -- I have a memory like a sieve. Maybe next time someone asks if I've been saved, I should say, "Yes, thank you very much; the Archfiend Himself has drawn my blood, and I have signed my name upon his parchment; yea, I walk with Belial, with Beelzebub, Lord of the Flies; I cavort with the Prince of Light and Darkness, the Foul Redeemer, the Monarch of Hell; and he has cleft me with his member, cold as winter's ice, and left his mark upon me. How about you?" I mean, if I'm going to be funny, I might as well be funny. D.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Born-again virgins and other sex dwarves

Isn't it nice Sugar and spice Luring disco dollies To a life of vice
Inosensu: Ghost in the Machine 2
Listening to Soft Cell's Sex Dwarf today, my spaghetti bowl brain meandered over to John Mason, wannabe groom to runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks. Mason, you'll recall, declared himself a born-again virgin. Stop snickering. I've heard all the jokes, and none of 'em were very funny. Rather than ridicule the guy, I began to wonder what would drive Mason to take a vow of chastity, and to call himself a "born-again virgin". Ignore for the moment the obvious explanation (he's a newbie born-again Christian, and thinks "born-again" is a way cool adjective), and consider the possibility that maybe he really, truly wants to be a virgin again. And now, ask yourself this question: if you could have it all back in a Samantha Stevens nose-twitch, would you take the offer? Would you recapture your lost innocence?
All of her lovers All talk of her notes And the flowers That they never sent And wasn't she easy And isn't she Pretty in pink The one who insists He was first in the line Is the last to Remember her name
There's a bit in The Rocky Horror Picture Show where Frank-N-Furter sings, "I want to come again," and the audience responds, "So does Brad!" The joke being that Frank-N-Furter has just deflowered not only Janet (Susan Sarandon) but also her beau, Brad (Barry Bostwick), and Brad isn't complaining. Rocky Horror delights in the loss of innocence, and it's not alone. Think of The Graduate, Summer of '42, Dangerous Liaisons, and, for you youngsters, American Pie. Here in America, anyway, we really seem to love cherry-popping. But it's a love-hate relationship. Apparently, we draw the line at single-digit-age homosexual pedophilia; Fox News convicted Jackson even after he'd been acquitted, and that seemed to be the mob's reaction, too. Only the cognoscenti -- like author-lawyer Andrew Vacchs -- seemed unsurprised by the acquittal.
and you shouldn't have to pay for your love with your bones and your flesh...
Loss of innocence isn't necessarily sexual. When Jackson's "little friends" think back to their time at Neverland, what will sting the most -- memories of undercover cuddles (at least), or of their parents, who put them in that position (and for what?) Deflowering is an inadequate metaphor for loss of virginity, which is itself an inadequate metaphor for the loss of innocence. This has nothing to do with sex. It has everything to do with the sudden ejection from childhood's illusory sense of security. Abuse victims lose it in one acid instant. The rest of us lose it by degrees. For me, two moments stand out above all others. The first occurred soon after my high school girlfriend and I broke up. We'd only been together for three years, but at 19, that seemed like forever. There came an evening when we finally said goodbye to one another for good. For keeps. We wouldn't see each other ever again -- quite possible, too, since I was going to college 400 miles away. And I felt like a bird kicked from the nest long before he'd been fledged. The second time: roughly two years later. I'd been with Karen for about a year, and we were sure we'd get married. We had it all planned out -- I'd been accepted to med school at Stanford, and she'd been accepted to Stanford's graduate program in Chemical Physics. We were down in Southern California visiting my parents over Christmas vacation when she got sick. A bit of numbness at her ankle, spreading up her leg. Once she got to the hospital, things happened fast. On the way to X-ray (this was pre-MRI, mind you), a nurse gave her a shot -- "To shrink the tumor," she said. They let me stay with Karen in the hospital room that night, which surprised me since we weren't married and this hospital had a bunch of nuns running around in it. They treated us both really nice. This was scary. I think I had my big moment the following night. The tumor scare had passed, but the diagnoses the doctor tossed around weren't too reassuring (even at that early date, I think MS was fairly high on the list). So we didn't know what was happening, but it seemed increasingly likely that it would not go away anytime soon. That night (don't laugh) it struck me that life wasn't fair. Yup. That was the first time it hit home. It should have hit home a long time before that (another story for another time), but I guess it never did.
She waves She buttons your shirt The traffic Is waiting outside She hands you this coat She gives you her clothes These cars collide
Maybe we focus on the sexual angle because that, at least, is a pleasant (or at least humorous!) memory. And, maybe for some people, the loss of virginity does equate with the loss of innocence. But for me, and I suspect for most people, loss of innocence meant coming to terms with the real world. I wouldn't take that innocence back no matter how much you paid me -- because it would only mean having to lose it all over again. John Mason: abstain all you like. You can't regain your flower. You wouldn't want to. D.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Howdy, neighbor!

A very special welcome for the lovely, talented, and soon to be published novelist Lisa Adams, who I hope will be stopping by sometime soon. She may never come back here, or she may beat me up the next time she sees me. You never know with some folks. Lisa works as the Yurok Indian Tribe's in-house counsel. That means we have two lawyers here. Scott, Lisa. Lisa, Scott. This painting is for the both of you:
Judge's Chambers by Kenney Mencher
I'm sure either of you could supply the identity of the judge in question. And I'm certain this is all quite innocent -- doubtless he's reviewing some vital piece of evidence. I'd write more today, but I was up late last night taking this
out of this
I pinched that X-ray off the web here at emedicine, since in my opinion, image-napping is a far smaller sin than violating doctor-patient confidentiality. I'll try to do better tomorrow. Hi Lisa! D.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Ancestor worship

Digging Up Donald by Steven Pirie Keith Pirie (Steve to his publisher) is one of those fellas you know is going to make it big some day. Oprah big. (Her book club! Jeez.) I suck up to him every chance I get so that, when that day comes, I'll be riding on his coattails. As in, "Hey, Doug. Here's a used tissue I found in Oprah's wastebasket. Think you can make something of it?" So you may be wondering why it has taken me so long to review his book. I dunno, it may have something to do with the fact that we're living down here in Crescent City and 95% of my books are in the money pit-cum-children's tuition charity fund for my contractor, i.e., the house in Harbor. Out of sight, out of mind. And, to continue the trite saws, better late than never. More to the point, I have a memory like a sieve. Not the kind of thing you want to hear from your doctor, right? To which I must say: That's what the chart is for, bucko. I have over 2000 active patients. Do you really want me to trust my memory, especially as regards your history of anaphlyactic shock with penicillin? Hmm? Anyway, I have been known to reread books three or four times and be surprised by the ending each time. Sometimes the old Warner Brothers cartoons knock me for a loop. What I'm trying to say is, I read Donald last October, and that's a really long time in Doug years. Without further ado, here's the review I posted in Amazon, with additional commentary in green.
Digging Up Donald was on my stack with Bruce Sterling's Distraction, China Mieville's King Rat, Robert Rankin's The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse, and Nathanael West's A Cool Million, yet it was Donald I kept coming back to. The comparison to Terry Pratchett is most apt, not only in the style of humor, but also in the manner in which both authors build up a nice "what the hell is going on here?" tension. Distraction: I never got past the first chapter. Boring. King Rat: This is one I really wanted to like. Mieville has talent. Trouble was, one hundred pages into it I realized I didn't give a damn about anyone, and there were other books I wanted to read more -- like Donald. Hollow Bunnies: Wonderful title, and the first chapter is a corker, but it fell down after that. I lost interest after about one hundred pages. A Cool Million: I finished it after I finished Donald. If I can make one recommendation to all the writers here: if you haven't read West, read him. Start with Miss Lonelyhearts, move on to The Day of the Locust. The Library of America collection is well worth the $. Donald: I would have finished it even if Keith wasn't a friend. Donald met my two most important criteria for a novel: I cared about the characters, and it was fun. (I shouldn't be too strident about the 'fun' part. I'm a Le Carre fan, but I cannot think of his novels as fun.) Back to my Amazon review: This book has a host of fine points: domineering matriarchs; a sex-crazed reverend with, shall we say, unwholesome intentions for the world; young love; not-quite-so-young lust; a bar fight in the land of the dead; high tea in hell . . . I'd say more, but a large part of the fun lies in figuring out Pirie's particular brand of mythology. That's for sure. Don't expect the usual thinly veiled warp of Greek or Norse mythology. Keith's universe is Keith's and no one else's. My favorite part of the book was the well-developed relationship between young Robert and the Reverend's daughter, Joan. These passages were surprisingly sensitive and insightful. All in all, a fine read! Good heavens. Is that the best I could do? What a lame ass review. Anyway: young love does it for me every time. I remember how it feels -- the intoxication, the madness of it. Clearly, Keith remembers, too. I was/am so taken with Robert and Joan that I will be tickled silly if Keith puts them center stage in the sequel; and, really, my main disappointment with Donald (almost a spoiler!) came towards the end, when I found myself wanting to see far more of both of them. Are you listening, Keith? (Keith apparently hates blogs.) More Joan and Robert! And move that WONDERFUL animation you have on your Writers BBS homepage over to your website -- now! D.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

No! Not Eminem! ANYTHING but Eminem!

nu bookz
As an early Father's Day present, I asked my wife and son to come with me to Eureka for the afternoon. I wrote until 1PM, so it's not like I was slacking. Primary point of this trip: Borders Bookstore. I've griped about this before, but we have to drive 90 minutes to get to an actual bookstore. I tried to find books by some of the folks I've linked to. Sad to say I couldn't find anything by Gwenda Bond or Scott Westerfield, but they did have John Scalzi's Old Man's War (but I already own that!) Nor did they have Keith Pirie's Digging Up Donald, but I'm beginning to despair of finding that in a US store. Which reminds me, I need to give Keith's book a good plug here sometime soon. Here's what we got: make love!* *the bruce campbell way by Bruce Campbell gun, with occasional music by jonathan lethem (what's with all the lower case letters, anyway?) Tales of Neveryon by Samuel R. Delany Nightfall Isaac Asimov & Robert Silverberg plus a Catherine Asaro fantasy (The Charmed Sphere) and a Piers Anthony fantasy (Being a Green Mother), both for Jake. Surprisingly, Nightfall was his pick, too. I say 'surprisingly' cuz he usually doesn't read SF (unless Piers Anthony wrote it).
I'm still trying to recover from the shock of learning that our government has used pop tart Christina Aguilera's music as a form of torture at Gitmo.
I'm a genie in a bottle baby You gotta rub me the right way honey I'm a genie in a bottle baby Come, come, come on and let me out
Hey, I can't make shit like that up. Look:
Message to the Feds: if you ever want to break me, put me in a padded room with a continuous loop of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. Hell, just show me the CD and I'll talk. D.

Help a fellow blogger

Here's a link to blogger Hossein Derakhshan, AKA Hoder, an Iranian-born Canadian presently planning a trip back to Iran. He recently posted this plea for help should he be detained, or worse. I have no idea where this fellow falls on the political spectrum (I haven't read that far down in his blog) nor do I care. He's a journalist who speaks his mind and he's fearful of the price he'll pay for it. I'm going to follow his progress, and I'll hope you do the same. D.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Harris Beach

I had a productive morning. Finished a 1300+ word scene (tough one, too), finished the week's laundry, drank two cups of coffee. Aaaah. Also cool: we increased Jake's dose of propranolol last night and today he felt better. Yippee! He felt well enough that we drove up to Oregon and spent several hours at Harris Beach State Park. Currently in bloom: foxglove, daisies, salmonberry, milkweed. Present year round: pillow moss, horsetail, poison oak. We had a clear blue sky, temp in the high seventies, and a stiff wind. Nothing of note in the tidepools except hermit crabs, and regular crabs of the I-don't-need-no-steenking-shell ilk. On the beach, we found lots of desiccated sailors by the sea. Here's a photo I pilfered from the web:
Sailor by the Sea
If you'd like to see this photo in its natural habitat, click here.
They're Cnidarians -- related to the man of war, medusae, and jellyfish. There: you've met your cool critter of the day. Here's another link for Velella. With all the wind and sand, I pretended to be T. E. Lawrence while Jake spent a couple hours building dams and destroying them. When it came time for DBE (deep beach extraction), I steeled myself for the inevitable five-hours-per-mile departure, what with Jake stopping for every hermit crab, every odd rock, and -- especially -- every running stream of water (more dams, more destruction). My son the hydraulic engineer. We stopped off at the pet store and bought two land hermit crabs. I'll get a photo or two up sometime soon. Cute devils. Land hermit crabs are known to swap shells rather promiscuously, all for fun. We also made it to the library today. I picked up Michael Swanwick's Jack Faust and Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife. I was tickled to see that they have John Scalzi's Old Man's War on the shelf, and shocked to see Cintra Wilson's Colors Insulting to Nature. And here I thought I was so cool, probably the only person in Del Norte or Curry County who knew of Cintra Wilson. If you're unfamiliar with her work, Cintra is a razor-sharp humorist -- I prefer that to the stuffy 'social commentarist' -- best known for her articles in Salon. I think she's gorgeous (check out her gallery), but her home page is way, way over the top. Poor kitty! D.

Friday, June 10, 2005

A rogue Xavierist is trying to put me down.

For a brief, glorious instant, I topped the charts over at BlogHop, pushing hunky Xavier from his number one spot. I knew it couldn't last, and I was right. Some Xavier-loving fanboy has given me an "I hate it!" vote to drop my rating. Yea, verily, I say unto you: science fiction fans, don't take this lying down! I don't want you to counterattack -- Xavier has far too many votes for that tactic to be effective. Besides, he's kind of cute, and if I swung that way I'd spread him on my toast, and from what I've read of his blog he's a good, kind-hearted human being, and far be it from me to suck up to his fans to keep them from nuking me even further because, after all, they're good, kind-hearted human beings too. No, I have a simple request. If you haven't clicked on the green smiley face on the BlogHop icon, please do so. Tell a friend about Shatter and get your friends to vote for me, too. Right now I'm at 91%. Except for that B+ I got in Spanish in 9th grade, and one crummy quarter of organic chem, I've never been that low. Save me, my loyal minions. You're my only hope. Type A personalities should not be allowed to blog. D.

Time travel convention a failure? Not for the reasons you think!

In a recent news bit, the journal Science reported on the apparent flop of the May 7 MIT time travel convention (Times up on Time Travel, Science 20 May 2005). Although Dorothy (of Wizard of Oz fame), Bill, and Ted were present, the travelers themselves failed to materialize. Theoretical physicists Alan Guth and Ed Farhi were on hand as pallbearers to speed time travel to its grave. Guth lectured that wormhole-mediated time travel could only occur at the quantum level, and cosmic strings (the other contender) "could take half the energy of the universe to create". I love how these bigheads are so quick to dismiss the endless scope of the future: as if technology 100 years from now will only be a refinement of present-day technology, and theoretical frameworks will only be tweaks on the mess we have today. Folks have ignored the most obvious reasons for the conference's failure. Curious? You'll have to sit through a story, first.
As a twelve-year-old, I decided it takes humans two or three years to forget pain. Hence the usual spread between siblings, and hence the fact that our summer Voyages of the Damned happened at the same interval. My parents, Bostonians transplanted to California, regularly schlepped us across country to visit our cousins, great aunts, great uncles, and my Dad's mom. Throughout the 60s, my Dad dreamed of buying a motor home so we could make the trek with all the comforts of home. In 1974, he made it happen: he bought a great big green-and-white 25-foot Harvest. He taught math* at Roosevelt High School in East L.A., so when school wrapped up in June, we were on the road the very next day. We made it as far as Clinton, Oklahoma, before the beast broke down (for the first time). For the next two weeks, we holed up in a motel while the Harvest sat in someone's shop, waiting for parts. I'm not sure what my parents did to preserve their sanity (deep irony there, by the way), but all my brother Randy and I could do was hang out by the pool, play cards, and watch TV. Not much else to do. I think Randy was 19 going on 20 at the time, so whenever he walked, his hormones jangled. You could hear him from a hundred feet away. One day, two girls came to the hotel -- oh, they were maybe in their twenties. "Whores," my mother insisted. But Randy was on the make. He'd made it as far as their motel room when my thin tissue of lies fell apart. Mom: "Where's your brother?" Me: "Out by the pool." Mom (looking out the window): "I can see he's not out by the pool. Where did he go?" Me: "I don't know . . . oh, stop! Stop! The pressure is too much to bear. He's in Room 19 with those whores." That's a paraphrase, naturally. Mom called over to Room 19. Mom: "Helloooo? Is Randy there? This is his mother. Tell him his little brother has a high fever and we need him to run down to the store to get some aspirin." Poor Randy. I can imagine what followed. "Your mother? You told us you were transporting rattlesnakes to the Texas roundup, and that you'd stopped in Clinton to settle a score with those mob bosses who crossed you back in Vegas. Well, our boyfriends are gonna show up in ten minutes, and Clem, he wrestles alligators . . ." Randy and I used to play cards with a good ol' Southern boy, a forty-something fella named Dave. He was a dead ringer for Mac Davis, a country-western guy who had his own one-hour variety TV show back then. Remember, "I don't like spiders and snakes / But I got what it takes to love you"? Yup, that was Mac Davis. During a three-handed game of hearts down by the pool, Dave spied a forty-something gal with no ass and no boobs. But she was a loner, no band on her finger, no guy tagging along, and Dave had all the jangling hormones of my brother but another twenty years worth of finesse. Randy and I watched, slack-jawed, as Dave loped over to her poolside umbrella table, chatted her up for five minutes, and came back to announce success. "Room 22, seven o'clock," said Dave. "And forget foreplay. That pump's already primed." Those are my two best stories from that two-week dip into the bolgias. Aside from that, nothing to talk about but the usual pitched battles that were de rigeur for mi familia. But the boredom was the worst thing; I'd brought three SF novels with me (the only one I remember: Frank Herbert's Hellstrom's Hive) and had finished all three. And that's when, out of a mind-numbing not another game of Hearts or another rerun of Gilligan's Island panic, I conceived of something, a glimmer of hope that would tide me through the next few days. I would, three days hence, meet up with my future self. To achieve this, I'd have to remember the precise time and place of the meeting. This became my mantra. The irony of replacing one boring activity with an even more boring activity was, I'm sad to say, lost on my twelve-year-old self. You can guess the rest. I was a no show; my version of the MIT Time Travel Convention flopped every bit as badly as theirs. Only difference is, I understand why. Let's say I wake up tomorrow to discover I've inherited a time travel belt (anyone out there remember David Gerrold's The Man Who Folded Himself ?) Would I use that belt to go back in time and make that meeting? No way. Two reasons: 1) I've forgotten the precise time and place of the meeting. I can't even remember the approximate time and place of the meeting. I had to think mighty hard to come up with "1974, Clinton, Oklahoma", and I'm only 95% confident of that data. 2) I have no interest in meeting 12-year-0ld Doug. None whatsoever. In my opinion, those two reasons, writ large, account for the failure of the MIT convention. The conventioneers assumed that a bit of internet press would guarantee some sort of eternal memory of the time and place of the meeting. Does anyone doubt for a moment the fragility of the internet? Or the vulnerability of our knowledge to the crush of centuries? Besides: if a time traveler wanted to announce himself (herself, itself, themselves), why choose a convention of geeks dressed up like Bill and Ted and Dorothy? Which leads me to the next point: the conventioneers also assumed that our future selves would want to come visit us. This seems like one hell of a leap of faith. When I think about visiting mini-me, I feel apathetic and faintly nauseated. I suspect those future us's would feel the very same way. No, there's only one reason they'd come back. To steal Nazi gold. D. *British translation: maths