F Is For Father

My father died when I was quite young. It was a tragic thing, of course, but we’re also talking about something that happened more than 30 years ago, so addressing it doesn’t get me all emotional. In fact, not much about the topic of my father does. I mean, honestly, I barely knew the man. He was a good dad, and I loved him and all that, but really, when you factor out the first two or three years of my life (during which my memories of him are sketchy at best – a fart joke here, a kiss on a bruised knee there), I really only knew him for about four years. That’s not a lot of time, honestly.

And that, of course, is the tragedy for me personally. Because everyone else who knew him – family, friends, business contacts, students, and so on – tell me (and anyone who will listen, usually) what a great man he was. Smart. Funny. Kind-hearted. Generous. A lot of words like that. And people tell me I’m a lot like him, so that’s nice. But people also get very sad when they talk about him, because they miss him in ways I just can’t. And that makes me sad, too, but really only in an academic fashion. I’ve watched grown men break down in tears over my father’s death and it’s a very uncomfortable situation for me. Not so much because seeing grown men cry is uncomfortable (though it is, to some degree), but because I myself don’t feel the need to cry. And that’s really hard to explain to people. But I’m going to try…

See, I’m happy with who I am and where I am. Sure, I’d change a few things here or there (more money, better health for my friends who need it, etc.), but all things being equal, I like my life. And if my father hadn’t died, my life would almost certainly be entirely different. I wouldn’t have gone to school where I went to school. I wouldn’t have met a number of people whom I still know today. One of those people, my best friend Xonk, is who hooked me up with the job where I met the woman who became The Duck. See where I’m going? My father’s death gave birth – after a fashion – to my life. I don’t read anything noble of self-sacrificing into that, though. I mean, he certainly didn’t willingly die so that I could turn out to be who I am 30-odd years later. But that does wind up being the result. Which is odd.

I’ll note one other thing before I move on from this topic. Growing up without a father figure was strange, but my mom kicked ass (and I’ll talk about her in a bit). No one on the planet has a better, tougher, sweeter mother than I do and there’s not really a day that goes by that I’m not thankful for her. She tried like hell to play both roles for me in my childhood and did the absolute best that anyone could. So when I decide to write on the concept of “father” I have to include my mother, too. Because honestly, except for a tiny portion of my life, she served in both capacities.

E Is For Empire

Having been precisely the right age for Star Wars when it was released, I was also exactly the right age for The Empire Strikes Back a few years later. Like most people, I am of the mind that Empire is the best film of the entire Star Wars saga. It has humor, drama, romance, action, and it ends with a cliffhanger. Also, it has Lando Calrissian. I saw Star Wars more times than I can count in the theater – so many I truly don’t remember them all; but Empire I can count (and recount) every single viewing.

All that love aside, I also despise Empire for one teensy little thing: The Big Reveal. The Big Reveal was the first true misstep in Star Wars from my point of view (and even from my point of view as a child). The Big Reveal began the mutation from the saga being an epic narrative of a giant universe where anything was possible into the silly little story of one dysfunctional family that somehow happens to be the most important group of people who ever lived. I refused to believe the Big Reveal at the time, certain that it was a ruse by both The Revealer and The Author to mess with the heads of The Protagonist and The Audience. I searched my feelings, and I most certainly didn’t know it to be true.

So for me, Star Wars was at its best from the opening of what they now call “Episode IV” (which was not labeled as such originally) through about two thirds of Empire. Give me a wide open galaxy where anything is possible over a family drama any day. Maybe this same proclivity is why I don’t care for Dickens and Tolstoy, either? Ah, but that’s a discussion for a different time.

D Is For Duckie

Like most married folks I’ve known, my wife and I have pet names for each other. Before we were dating, when a coworker of particularly odd humor kept bringing her incredibly ugly stuffed ducks to use as decorations at her desk, I took to calling her “Duckie” and ultimately it stuck (though sometimes it is shortened to just “Duck”). Partly it was reinforced by my quoting a certain song sung by a muppet to his beloved bathtime companion as my way of saying “I love you” before we had quite reached the point of no return in using the “L” word.

We have continued to to run with the duck thing ever since, and given that our house is otherwise filled with birds, it makes a certain sense. Her pet name for me, which I choose not to reveal out of macho pride, is also animal-based, but not of an avian flavor. Let’s just say we make a great team come Easter.

The story of how the Duck and I went from befuddled to betrothed is an epic I do not seek to cover in this forum or at this moment. But it’s a great story involving a team of conscripted code breakers, St. Patrick’s Day, and the Red Elvises. Catch me over a beer sometime when you’re curious and I’ll regale you with the whole delightful tale.

C Is For Conan & Cthulhu

I’m something of a geek, in case that hasn’t already been made clear. And as such, I’m a complete sucker for fantastical, pulpy goodness by the likes of Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft (fancy degree in “lit-ra-chur” from the esteemed University of Texas aside). The visceral power in Howard’s Conan stories appeals to the whole “rugged individualist” concept so fully (and sometimes painfully) cherished by my inner Texan. Meanwhile, the cosmic dread of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu stories tickles the right spot in my gloomy Celt nature.

There are far better literary critiques of these two authors out there (I won’t insult your mad googlin’ skills linking to any, because I’m lazy this morning) than I’m prepared to give at this time. Let’s just say that if you haven’t actually read REH or HPL – instead, perhaps, only being familiar with their writing through the crappy movies that are, at best, based on their works – you owe it to yourself to give them a look. And if you are already a fan, then read ’em both again sometime. There’s more going on with both authors than one, two, or sometimes even five reads will reveal.

B Is For Baseball

The Entrance of Whataburger FieldI like baseball. A lot. But I didn’t always. I played it when I was a kid and I was terrible. I partly blame this on everyone not having realized I needed glasses until 4th grade. But I have to accept that I have exactly one iota of athletic ability in my body and it is spent making sure I recover well from trips, slips, and falls. Anyway, I was a terrible player as a kid and didn’t find much fun or interesting about the game. The coach of my little league team was a jackass of a man whose sun was the budding superstar. The rest of us kids were only there because it was technically impossible for K. to play all nine positions on the field simultaneously.

Despite my own personal issues with the playing of the game, I’ve always been drawn to it mentally. Even when I sucked I wanted to follow how my hometown Rangers were doing – from an academic standpoint if nothing else. I didn’t often understand the game (and had no one around who did from which to learn), so my knowledge grew by fits and starts. From time to time I would get distracted by other things (rock & roll, girls, and booze, mostly) and not pay attention to the sporting world. But at the same time I kept being drawn back: here by the suggestion that Jack Kerouac was a huge baseball fan, there by some strange roommates who watched the game obsessively, and so on.

When I lived in Houston I went to several games at the Astrodome and kept up with the Astros. I learned to hate the Braves. I developed a fondness for a couple of players whose last names started with “B.” And I watched as yet another hometown Texas team just didn’t quite have what it took to succeed. Then I moved back to Austin and, bereft of a major league team and again distracted by booze & girls, my attention slid.

Fast forward to 2004, which finds me married to a woman who has also liked baseball off-and-on throughout her life. Sure, she grew up in New York with Yankees fans for grandparents. Sure she got drawn into the fascinating world of Orioles baseball by an earlier boyfriend. I can let these things slide. Because her love of baseball and my love of baseball resurfaced at approximately the same time, and have fed on each other for 7 years now. She can’t quite get into the (dis)Astros – though she did pull for them along with me during that last golden age in ’05 & ’06 – but she’s totally on board with the Rangers. We also watch the Los Angeles Dodgers and Seattle Mariners quite a bit, in part because west coast baseball fits our schedules better. The Dodgers, of course, have Vin Scully, which means more than any star player or feisty manager. And the Mariners have Ichiro (’nuff said).

Baseball, like Annie Savoy says in Bull Durham, is for me “the only church that truly feeds the soul.” And since the 2011 season just got underway, I’m back at the altar nightly. Go Dodgers! Go Rangers! And try not to make me cry, Astros & Mariners. Also, watch out for the once great Kansas City Royals. They’re finally on to something again.

A Is For Avian Alarm Clocks

Am I signaling my intent to participate in the April A-Z log challenge with this post? DamnifIknow. But it seemed appropriate on just about every level. So here we go.

Zoe In MotionI live with two parrots. Zoe, who will be 11 this year, is a white capped pionus who (as noted previously) can be very sweet when she wants to be but, more often, is vicious. A friend who is uncomfortable with birds often reminds me that my life is in danger wit this violent creature in the house. And it’s probably true. But look at those eyes! It is impossible to believe just how much personality can be crammed into a tiny 200g thing with feathers.

The answer to the big question is yes, Zoe talks. She say her name (in a lot of different ways). She says “hello” with intonations ranging from sweet to pissed off, entirely depending on (and appropriate to) the circumstances. She also says “What’s up with that?” – a phrase she learned from another bird when she was being boarded one time. She has a few permutations of these things, but that’s the bulk of it. Oh, there’s also the great mysterious “mawah” word that no one understands and what we the people of the household interpret as “wow!” But that’s really the extent of it.

Leo At RestAnd then there’s Leo. He’s a blue mutation of the classic green quaker parrot (aka monk parakeet) who will be two in June. He is just settling into his life as a pet bird after having been raised more with an eye towards being a breeder. But settle in he has, for the most part, and now he’s a love sponge who wants to play or be scritched all the time. He’s still a little cage territorial (that probably won’t change) and he loves to chew fabric – you’ll have holes in your shirt pretty quick if you’re not careful around him.

Leo is just now starting to speak. He’s got his name down fairly well and “hello” and “good boy” are on the way. It’s my best guess that he’s going to turn out to be very talkative before too much longer. And then I’ll have to watch what I say a lot more closely.

Dark Fantasy: Nogoloth – The Emerald Ships

In which I continue to pen some seriously Lovecraft-inspired dark fantasy.

On the western shore of Nogoloth sits the city called Cwnuihd, where strange emerald-sailed ships crewed by ebon-skinned men dock thrice annually. None within the city claim to know the origins of these vessels, nor their destinations. All that is known is that the sailors who debark from the caravels and carracks speak – and often sing – in a tongue unknown even to the greatest scholars of Nogoloth. The captains of these crafts superficially resemble the men they lead, but can carry on great discourse in the common speech of the island-continent they visit each time the trade winds shift and the two moons of Nogoloth join together to raise the tides high enough to allow passage across the great reef that elsewise bars the harbor.

These mariner kings seldom speak of what they have seen in the unchartered waters of the world, but when they do they wax poetic, even rhapsodic, telling tales of great, impossible leviathans whose eyes burn with hatred for all the men and beasts of the land. It is whispered that only these sea dogs may traverse the greatest oceans of the world, though whether due to their extreme bravery or, perhaps, to some dark pact they have made with the rulers of the court beneath the waves none may say.

It is tradition amongst the women of Cwnuihd to greet the arrival of the Emerald Ships by dyeing their hair jet black and serenading the crews from the docks with songs that their mothers’ mothers learned from the first such fleets to brave the dark waters of the bay and anchor at the docks that were already present when the city itself was founded in centuries passed. The men of Cwnuihd are made ill-at-ease by the melodies that comprise these alien chanties – though, in truth, it is the frequently wanton behavior the ladies engage in when in the company of those who sail with the Emerald Ships that truly troubles the fathers of unwed daughters in the city. Despite the rather orgiastic scenes that often play out in the dockside taverns, no child has ever been born in Cwnuihd who even faintly resembles the sailors.

I happened to be visiting Cwnuihd one spring when the Ships arrived, and I struck up a brief-but-companionable relationship with the captain of one of the vessels – a man by the name of Vaul – in whose company I passed two fascinating evenings filled with stories of the sort that one would be inclined to take for little more than the tall tales of a man who has spent too much time away from even the sight of land. Yet there was, in his manner and upon his face, an indescribable sincerity so powerful that I would warrant his narratives to even Ste. Sibille the Blind herself.

It was from Captain Vaul that I acquired the Lantern of U’um’nn, an artifact of a different age that may well serve to render my ultimate goal achievable. Vaul refused to accept payment of any sort for the Lantern, insisting that he had already been well compensated for delivering it to my hands.

I am told by the old men of Cwnuihd that they had never heard tell of anyone – let alone a cripple such as I – being offered passage aboard one of the Emerald Ships. Yet I was indeed invited to sail with Captain Vaul and his crew when the time came for them to leave the shores of Nogoloth. I regret that I was unable to accept this unique proposition, but my work here requires that I remain ashore, at least for now. If I should chance upon the good captain and his crew once my task is complete, I will readily board their craft if the opportunity is afforded me again.

Dark Fantasy: Nogoloth – The Bells Of Pnikigystros

In which I continue to pen some seriously Lovecraft-inspired dark fantasy.

In the port city of Pnikigystros, on the southernmost shore of Nogoloth, there stands an ruined church – once consecrated to St. Xavier of the Kettle, according to the few ancient residents who can recall the times before it was boarded-up and abandoned for reasons lost to memory. Despite its dilapidation and lack of occupants, the bells of this cathedral still ring out at dusk and dawn on odd days – days that some claim are holy to the darker gods who hold sway over the affairs of man and beast. These mournful tolling bells can be heard from one end of Pnikigystros to the other, even in the fine mansions atop Warden’s Hill. The people of the city take extra care on these days, when inevitably bad luck and murder are in the air. Sailors refuse to set out on voyages on these days, and children who are born between the ringing of the bells are quite often sickly and haunted in appearance.

The residents of the neighborhood where the church stands – called Blacksend by those who live there – shun this structure, crossing to the other side of the street and spitting on the ground when they must pass it as they walk down Margrave Lane. In the early evening, when the blood red light from the setting sun streams through the building’s high stained glass windows and plays upon the cobblestones outside its doors even the least superstitious folk usually choose a route that avoids that sullen street entirely, regardless of the distance that traversing Margrave might save.

In other places of the world one might expect that such a structure would attract the attention of curious and bold children or, perhaps, the interest of a criminal element that might seek to take advantage of such a blighted place to engage in their unlawful activities out of the watchful eye of the constabulary. But in Pnikigystros, one finds no such activity. My own efforts to recruit urchins or footpads to investigate the church further on my behalf – a system which has proven useful in other areas of Nogoloth, as you’ll recall – have fallen upon willfully deaf ears. Once word reached the broader communities of these sources of inexpensive explorers I found that I was unable even to complete a friendly exchange with such citizens.

If not for the willingness of a certain sea captain and his crew of less-than-sterling repute I might never have found anyone to enter the edifice in question and secure for me the bronze vessel that proved to to be precisely where a particular venerable verger with a tongue loosened by various libations had indicated it would be found. That only the first mate of the Green Phoenix – a peculiar man named Crawford Fowler, whose bearing and features implied a connection to the Cwnuihd Fowlers – delivered the item to me, with a blank stare and far less interest in his payment than I was led to expect from one of his sort, is of no matter.

I must confess that even I – engrossed as I was in my examinations of the Kettle – was slightly unnerved upon hearing that the pirates’ ship – after sitting quietly vacant at the docks for weeks – was suddenly no longer moored on the 22nd morning after the breeching of the church – a morning, one should note, that followed the tolling of the Bells of Pnikigystros.

Dark Fantasy: Nogoloth – The Iron Line

In which I continue to pen some seriously Lovecraft-inspired dark fantasy.

The pampered academics at the Great University in Khaarm espouse countless theories about the nature, history, and ultimate destination of the Iron Line. The earthier scholars of Canton-on-Imisk have different opinions; some have even followed the Line deep into the windswept mountains of the north in search of hard, scientific truth. But even the hardiest investigators have been forced to turn back well before reaching the Line’s terminus. It seems that each of the several expeditions sent to identify the source of the Line has been driven back – smaller than it was when it embarked, as is grimly expected by the professors and administrators – due to some singular concatenation of events and circumstances or another, all of which seem natural and plausible enough to the casual observer. But that nineteen souls have perished in the pursuit of something as simple as what lies at the other end of a 3′ wide ribbon of iron that is sunken so thoroughly within the bones of the earth – extending no less than 10 feet deep, even in the hardest of bedrock – has brought something of a sense of doom to the Iron Line and its mystery.

The course of the Iron Line, which has been mapped thoroughly within the areas settled by man, runs from the edge of the cliff that rises above the port of Pnikigystros in the south and winds its way across much of the civilized regions of Nogoloth – passing as it does within no less than 1/2 mile of each of the other major cities, and sometimes through them – before taking its turn into the northern mountains. At any given moment the Iron Line may feel incredibly warm or icy cold to the touch, often radiating significantly different levels of heat a mere handspan apart. Some dedicated observers of the Iron Line report that under certain conditions (time of year, weather, and other factors contribute) the Line seems to sing (very softly) a complex, undulating melody that stirs melancholy and dread within the audience. That some people appear utterly unable to hear this song even as those next to them are able to describe what they are hearing with exquisite detail only furthers the mystery of this Nogolothian oddity.

Quote Of The Night

Zoe The Parrot“This parrot manufactures bites the way Mike Scioscia manufactures runs.”

That’s Zoe. She’s a 10 year old white capped pionus. She’s sweet and evil all at the same time. Does that make her sweevil? Who knows? She and I have a special kind of relationship. She adores me and wants to rip my face off all at the same time.

To paraphrase Elvis Costello and Paul McCartney, it must be odd in that pretty little head of hers.