Thursday, December 26, 2013

"Bill Will Never Go Back" [originally published September 7, 2007]

Labor Day is over.  Summer is over.  All the kids have gone back to school.

I haven't gone to school in years, but I still feel sorry for the children who have to go back.  Sometimes I'll be out driving in the last few weeks of August, and I'll see a twelve-year-old boy walking on the sidewalk, and I'll know exactly what he feels.  The realization has sunk in that summer vacation won't last forever, and he's desperately looking for some way to dig his nails into August and keep himself from sliding into September, but he knows that there's nothing that he can do.

In the first few years after I graduated from college, I had a hard time finding a permanent job.  The work that I could find was mostly sporadic and temporary.  It gave me a lot of time to walk around.  Sometimes, I would be walking to nowhere in particular on an early fall afternoon, and the sunlight would slant in at just the right angle . . . and I could feel myself standing on the edge of a soccer field, wearing a red sweatshirt with "St. Stephens" emblazoned on the front, and waiting for the last hour of the school day to end so that I could go home.  And for just half of a second, I would think, "It's getting time to be heading back to school."

Then I would walk a few more steps, and that world would be gone, back to the place where it forever hides.

"Politicking Bill" [originally published August 25, 2007]

Normally I don't like to talk about politics, especially when anyone can hear me.  But politics is now hard to avoid, as the 2008 presidential campaign has been in full swing for at least the past six months, despite the fact that it is only summer 2007.   I fear that, given the ever-accelerating political schedule, the 2012 campaign will start in mid-October of this year.

Some might question if we even need the 2008 election.  The succession of presidents for this era of American history would seem to be well established.  First we had George H. W. Bush, then Bill Clinton, and then George W. Bush.  Next up will be Hillary Clinton, followed by Jeb Bush, followed by Chelsea Clinton, followed by Billy Bush (from Access Hollywood).  In order to maintain the pattern, it may be necessary at some point to enlist presidents who are, strictly speaking, not part of the Bush or Clinton political dynasties, including actress Sophia Bush, musicians George Clinton and Kate Bush, and the entire town of Clinton, New York.

But now the big news stirring up the presidential race is the possible entry of lawyer, politician, and actor Fred Thompson, who for several years has played District Attorney Arthur Branch on the original version of Law & Order.  A Fred Thompson candidacy stands to alter the dynamics of not only our political landscape, but also of our television landscape.  Federal law mandates that television networks must give equal airtime to each presidential candidate.  Should Thompson make  his run official, repeat episodes of Law & Order featuring him presumably could not be aired.

A better solution would be not to embargo Law & Order reruns, but rather to give every one of the candidates a speaking part on the show.  John McCain would play a tough-talking homicide detective.  John Edwards would play a bleeding-heart defense attorney.  Hillary Clinton would play a woman suspected of murdering her philandering husband.

And Rudy Guliani would play the mayor of New York City.  Devoted Law & Order fans will notice that he's already done that.  

Monday, December 23, 2013

"Ice Cold Bill" [originally published August 13, 2007]

Is it legal to drive a refrigerator?

"Avril Lavigne Is Not a Lizard" [originally published June 23, 2007]

A few weeks ago I went to Leesylvania Park, a park along the Potomac River in Virginia.  Years earlier I had seen some Eastern Fence Lizards there, and I have been wanting to locate and photograph them.  

It turned out to be a cool and cloudy day, bad for seeing reptiles.  But I did find a tree that teenagers had targeted for vandalism. 

Mostly it was this kind of thing:

But on the back of the tree I discovered something else:

Yes, that's right, it says:

  Avril Lavigne

And thus has someone etched a testament not to fleeting young love but to the enduring punk power of Avril Lavigne.  

(The meaning of the abbreviation CBA remains unknown.)

Incidentally, Avril has, for the first time, released a song that I can stand—her new single "Girlfriend", in which she sings like a twelve-year-old girl who's eaten way too much sugar.  I would imagine that most of the song's fans are in fact twelve-year-old girls who've eaten way too much sugar.  I envision a group of them at a slumber party,  jumping up and down in time to the song continuously from 8:00 pm until they pass out at around 4:00 am.  

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

"Yes, She's a Skink" [originally published March 25, 2007]

I don't normally take the photographs that accompany my blog entries.  Marc pulls the images out from sources unknown.  But I did take today's photograph.  

This is the first skink of spring.  Well, actually it is the second skink of spring.  The first skink of spring was a male that ran away before I could take its picture.  The skink pictured is a female Five-lined Skink (Eumeces fasciatus) on the foundation of a building, with most of the tail hidden in shadows.   It is possible to identify the skink as female because of the longitudinal stripes, which are absent in the adult male. 

This is also one of the first pictures that I've taken with my new camera.  The old camera went out of service when it was dropped in the mud during a vain attempt to find Six-lined Racerunners along a railroad track.  (That's another striped lizard, by the way.)  I got a new camera that wasn't just a replacement for but an upgrade from the old model.  The new camera has an 18x optical zoom, as opposed to the 10x optical zoom of the old camera.  The new camera also allows the user to set the "optimum aperture value".

I don't even know what those words mean.  

"Ah Me, It's Bill" [originally published on March 10, 2007]

Years ago I was browsing through a book on Saturday Night Live.  The book listed the musical guests for each episode.  An episode in 1987 featured two musical guests, the second of whom was Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour.  (The first performer was, anomalously enough, Buster Pointdexter.)  Gilmour was shown as performing a track entitled "Ah Robertson, It's You".

This caught my interest, not only because of the "Robertson" part, but also because I am a huge Pink Floyd fan, and I didn't remember any similarly-titled song in the Gilmour solo catalog.  Recently I decided to find out more about the performance using the Internet, society's most powerful tool for research/time-wasting.  I quickly discovered that, like every other piece of video footage on our planet, the clip is up on YouTube [link dead, ironically enough].  

The mystery of the title is preserved by the fact that the song is an instrumental.  It is rather Floydy in the middle section, when Gilmour plays a guitar solo over organ chords, but the opening and closing sections with the horn section are not very Floydy.

I have been unable to learn anything else about "Ah Robertson, It's You", except that it is also, perhaps more correctly, known as "Song For My Sara".

I am left with the impression that the music itself does not reflect the mood evoked by either of the alternate titles.

"Song for My Sara" sounds as if it would be treacly love song.

"Ah, Robertson, It's You" is harder to pin down, but it calls to my mind an old man wearing tweed sitting in a cottage on a moor in the north of England, thinking back over his life, when he is interrupted in his reveries by the appearance of someone named Robertson, who is also old and wearing tweed.

* * * * * * * * *

While doing research related to this blog entry, I came upon a clip of my two favorite guitarists, David Gilmour and Mark Knopfler, collaborating . . . in sketch comedy.

* * * * * * * * *

After further research, I find that what appears to be a comedy sketch may actually have been a chapter meeting of the Guardians of the Protectorate of Rock, though the guy from Level 42 was probably just an Associate Member.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

"Biker Bill" [originally published March 4, 2007]

I wonder about a lot of irrelevant things when I should be doing something useful.  One thing that I've been wondering about recently is the motorcycle helmet.  I know next to nothing about motorcycles.  But I have noticed that, over most of my life, a motorcycle helmet has been a thick, bulky, visored contraption that protected, and concealed, everything above the neck.  Some time in the last year or two, motorcycle helmets suddenly turned into small black soup bowls that cover only the top of the head.  If the trends continues, in a few more years we will be looking at the motorcycle yarmulke.

Was the shift in styles strictly a matter of fashion?  Or was it discovered that the old helmets didn't offer any significant advantage in skull protection?  I suppose that I could find out by using the all-knowing, all-seeing Internet, but I don't really care all that much.

"Bill Gets Lost" [originally published February 6, 2007]

I don't watch much prime time television anymore.  Back in the late Nineties, the evening airwaves were full of great programmingSeinfeld, The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, NYPD Blue, and half a dozen more.  But gradually it all went away.  

Now the networks are dominated by the unregulated cloning of reality shows and police procedurals.  I can't stand reality shows at all.  I still watch the original version of Law & Order, but nothing similar.  I can only handle one hour per week of investigations and autopsies.  

I also enjoy King of the Hill, but that's my only contact with animation.  I don't watch The Simpsons because, blasphemous as it may sound to the ears of Generation X, I got sick of that show years ago.  And I don't watch The Family Guy or American Dad because, for one thing, I have trouble telling them apart.  The only way to distinguish the two is to remember that the family on The Family Guy lives with a talking dog, and the family on American Dad lives with a space alien who is also an aging, alcoholic homosexual.  If the Fox network ever needs to cut costs, it could combine both into one show called Family Dad, and likely no one would notice.  

The sole series in the last few seasons that has generated any excitement in me is Lost.  Creative, intricate, and bizarre, Lost is like nothing currently on television, and like almost nothing that has ever been on television.  (The only things that come close are The Prisoner and Land of the Lost; Land of the Lost holds the advantage in dinosaurs, and The Prisoner holds the advantage in paranoid Sixties psychedelia, but overall Lost takes the pre-packaged, air-dropped Dharma Initiative cake.)  I'm continuously surprised that such an "out there" show could become such a big hit.  I'm also surprised that such an "out there" show would be broadcast on ABC, and not on Fox or what used to be the WB network.
Lost has been on hiatus for a few  months.  It returns on Wednesday, February 7, 2007.  I will watch this new episode, but I may have to stop watching the show soon.  For most of the show's run, it was based around exploration and adventure, visions, hatches, a monster, and all kinds of cool strangeness.  But, starting with the end of the second season, the entire focus of the story has changed to the survivors being kidnapped and tormented by the Others, and being entirely powerless to resist.  This grim tale of capture and captivity was starting to give me nightmares.  

Normally I am not the sort to be driven easily to nightmares.  (I do, though, still have nightmares about some people from my class in high school, which is why I don't go to the reunions.)  But the helplessness and hopelessness of the survivors' struggle with the Others has gotten into my head, and led me to several unpleasant dreams. 

In one harshly vivid incident, I dreamt that I was a survivor on the island, and I was captured by the Others, and imprisoned in their compound.  I knew that I was in a dream, but couldn't get myself out of the dream.  The only way that I could find to resolve the situation was to convince myself that I wasn't the character who had been kidnapped, but rather the actor playing that character, and that filming was ending for the day.  But even as the nightmare concluded I was filled with dread that I would be returning at some point to resume shooting the scene. 

Lost is still a quality show, but it's no longer much fun to watch.   

A few months ago I was at work and I needed some information on the finer points of tapir taxonomy.  Being too lazy to get up from my desk and look in a book, I checked the internet.  During my web search, I inadvertently discovered that there is a legend in Asian countries that the tapir will eat one's dreams.  

Here was a mythological answer to my Lost nightmare problem.  And here was a perfect device to tie up a blog entry about my Lost nightmare problem.  

Oh, dream-eater
I believe you can get me through the night 
Oh, dream-eater
I believe we can reach the morning light

Everything seemed to be coming together for my strange musings on Lost.  But a question remained: When a tapir eats dreams, does use its mouth, or its trunk?  I prefer the trunk option; I like to imagine a man suffering in a fitful sleep, beset by nightmares, until a tapir enters the darkened room, and moves the end of its trunk like the nozzle of a vacuum cleaner across the man's cranium, gently inhaling the phantoms troubling his nocturnal mind.

My question inspired me to search further, where I found that someone had already blogged about using tapirs to eat dreams.   It's a small blogosphere after all. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

"Bill's Seventh Blog" [originally published February 1, 2007]

It was late on a Saturday night in early 1974.

The phone rang.

My father answered it.

"This is the White House calling.  May we speak to Jeane Dixon?" asked the voice on the other end of the line.

"I'm sorry, Jeane Dixon's not at this number," my father responded.

Now, almost thirty-five years late, this strange event has been placed in its proper context in the annals of presidential freakishness by an MSN/MSNBC/Newsweek report [original link dead] that Richard Nixon did in fact receive frequent advice from psychic Jeane Dixon.

"Bill's Sixth Blog" [originally published January 19, 2007]

I just saw an televised ad for a tax preparation service featuring Ghost Rider.  Ghost Rider is a Marvel Comics character who has a skull for a head, and is on fire.  When I was young, I read Ghost Rider's comic book a few times.  From what I can remember, he was a demon, or maybe his dad was a demon.  There was a demon in there somewhere.  Ghost Rider could also shoot flames.  He would ride his motorcycle around the Southwest, looking for bad guys, and when he found them he would shoot flames at them.

I used to work in tax preparation, and at no time did we have a Marvel Comics character as a client, let alone a flaming skull dude.  In the commercial, Ghost Rider gives his W-2 form to the tax preparer.  The W-2 is used to report income from employment.  So who employs Ghost Rider, and for what?

Unlike more popular comic book characters like Superman or the Hulk, Ghost Rider has not seeped into the popular consciousness to any significant degree.  I would imagine that most viewers didn't understand the ad at all.  Some people asked, "Why is that skull dude on fire?"

And other people just ran away from the TV screaming.

Friday, October 18, 2013

"Bill's Fifth Blog" [originally published January 13, 2007]

The New Year is here.  The Washington Post Style section has printed its In and Out lists, an accounting of faddish and passe items of popular culture, all of which are invariably current and trendy enough to be legitimately considered In.  The holidays which cheer us through the dark solstice days are over.

The vacations, celebrations, and decorations that accompany Christmas and New Year's Eve detach us, to some extent, from the world's larger concerns.  We don't fully return to these concerns until  the ornamented trees start coming down and the offices start filling up again in early January.  This year we returned to a world that is subtly changed, missing some of the people who influenced it, for good and for ill.

Or, to put it less solemnly, Gerald Ford went to heaven, Saddam Hussein went to hell, and James Brown is getting funky in purgatory.

"A Christmas Memory" [originally published December 31, 2006]

Christmas is a time for many things.  It is, for example, a time to ponder the strange congruence between the song "Sleigh Ride" and the theme to Three's Company.


Come on it's lovely weather 
For a sleigh ride together with you


Where the kisses are hers and hers and his
Three's company too

But, more than that, Christmas is a time for tradition.  Some might say that tradition is nothing other than compulsion with a better public relations firm.  To me, though, tradition has always been important, and it was hugely important when I was younger.   One of my favorite traditions consisted of the twin holiday meals of Thanksgiving and Christmas—the golden-skinned turkey, the stuffing that wasn't really stuffed into anything, the cranberry sauce that retained the cylindrical shape of its can when sitting in a bowl on the dining room table.  (I never ate the cranberry sauce, but its tubularity impressed me nonetheless.)

Feeling as I did, I was shocked when, many years ago, my mother declared that she wanted the family to eat Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners at a restaurant.  Years of preparing the holiday feast had left her sick of doing all the necessary work. 

I understood her complaint.  In fact, I suggested that we could go out to eat on every day of the weeks before and after Thanksgiving, and before and after Christmas, but not on the holidays themselves.  She insisted, though, and my father was inclined to agree with her.  After much arguing, we reached a compromise.  We would eat Thanksgiving dinner at home, and Christmas dinner in a restaurant.  

The search for such a restaurant was harder than expected.  The only place that my mother could locate was a hotel serving dinner at 4:30, two hours before we usually ate.  

Christmas came, and we set out, at mid-afternoon, on one of those dispiriting December days when the world is cold and gray, but not cold or grey enough to signal the coming of snow.  The hotel served an extensive buffet, with multiple side dishes and entrees, and a prime rib, and perhaps even a special guy with a special knife and sharpening rod to cut the prime rib.  Despite the quality of the repast, it had a desultory feel . . . and still I wonder, who eats Christmas dinner in a hotel dining roomstranded business travelers, or maybe people whose stoves exploded?

And so the meal went on, unremarkably enough, until Santa Claus entered the room, and approached our table.  He drew me close, and asked, "Was Santa good to you this year?  Did he give you a lot of presents, or just whips and switches?"

Given that I was seventeen at the time, I wasn't too happy with this development.

"Bill's Third Blog" [originally published November 21, 2006]

Friday saw the release of the PlayStation 3 video game system, demand for which was so great that violence erupted at retail outlets across the country.  All this excitement is foreign to me.  I don't play many video games, and when I do, I prefer games of the archaic arcade style.  Modern video games are too complicated and time-consuming.  With arcade-style games, I can spend a half-hour or so blowing up alien spaceships for relaxation, then forget the whole thing for the next two weeks.  Modern video games might be good if I had nothing—absolutely nothing—else to do, and I could play for ten hours straight, but I do have something else to do, which is to write a blog entry about how I have something else to do.

The kingdom of the Eighties video arcade was ruled by the Pac-Man dynasty.  First there was the ground-breaking Pac-Man.  Then there came the bold follow-up, Ms. Pac-Man, which was exactly the same game, except that Ms. Pac-Man had a red bow on top of her head.  Well, that's not quite true—in Ms. Pac-Man, the fourth ghost was named Sue instead of Clyde.  ("Inky, Blinky, Pinky, and Sue" does sound like a good name for a law firm.)  And there may have been other differences as well, differences in things that I don't understand, things with names like the "graphic interface".  Further, weirder Pac-Man variants appeared later, but I lost track of them as the dynasty went into decline.

And where is Pac-Man now?  I would guess that Pac-Man has retired to Florida, where he engages in many of the same recreational activities that other senior citizens there enjoy.  But he has to stay off the golf course, because every time that he sees the ball, he tries to eat it.

"Bill's Second Blog" [originally published November 16, 2006]

[Marc's introduction: This entry was intended for publication on October 30, but was delayed due to editorial difficulties.  Now cast your mind back to the pumpkin days of October . . . ]

Several years ago I put together a mix tape of songs that would be good for Halloween, but that is another story, or part of another story.  Along the same lines, I have been thinking of albums that would be good for Halloween.  The list so far is as follows:

*anything by the Doors

*the Cars Heartbeat City

*Genesis A Trick of the Tail

*Pink Floyd Meddle

*King Crimson In the Court of the Crimson King

One can see that  the list leans heavily on the art rock end of things.  This is partially explained by the fact that my musical tastes lean heavily on the art rock end of things.  But, more importantly, art rock bands are among the few bands who make music that is weird and spooky, music where things are a little bit off.  Some people would prefer chainsaw-massacre heavy metal for their Halloween listening.  Even more people would probably prefer dance music.  These are the people who view Halloween as a time to get dressed up like a pimp, with those big furry pink hats that pimps almost certainly don't wear but that we've convinced ourselves that they do, and go out to party.  I view Halloween as a night when one is sitting alone, reading some H. P. Lovecraft, when suddenly, without explanation, the lights go out.  And then, from deep in the distance, comes the chilling sound of an unearthly scream . . . 

"Bill's First Blog" [originally published November 1, 2006]

[Marc's introduction: By way of brief introduction, let us say this: We've known Bill since preschool. He is extremely wise in the ways of dinosaurs and reptiles and birds.  He is our first guest blogger, and for that we are thankful. Now, without further ado, the world according to William DeWitt Robertson . . . ]

Several weeks ago I went to Subway.  Whenever I go to Subway, I get the same thing—a twelve-inch turkey sub on white bread with lettuce, tomatoes, and olives.  The Subway olives are never any good, and I always end up replacing them with olives that I have purchased elsewhere.  Maybe I should stop ordering the olives, but hope springs eternal.  The simplicity of my order is usually confusing and even distressing for the Sandwich Artist, who can't understand why I shirk the wide array of condiments and strange vegetables. 

On this particular occasion, the man behind the counter prepared my sub, and as he was ringing it up he asked, "Where are you from?"

"Alexandria, " I said.  

"Where are you from originally?" he asked.

"Alexandria," I said again.  

The man told me that I soon as I had walked in the door he had  identified me as someone who likely came from "somewhere else",  as he put it.  He said, specifically, that I looked like his cousin, who is an engineer in Bangladesh.  I said that it was interesting that I should look like his cousin in Bangladesh, but that I had no connection with any other country.  

If I had had my wits more about me during the conversation, I could have further cleared things up by explaining that three hundred years ago my ancestors came here from Scotland and the Netherlands and places like that. 

I was glad to hear a few days later that a man from my new homeland had won the Nobel Peace Prize.


Bangladeshi microcredit pioneer Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for their work in advancing economic and social opportunities for the poor, particularly women.

[An Introduction to the Wandering Archives]

An Introduction to the Wandering Archives

The Wandering Archives is a collection of my blog posts from the old Wandering Army site.  Wandering Army was an online literary journal run by Marc Brush, which was was in operation from 2002 to 2008.  It posted submissions from quite a few writers, but unfortunately the site no longer exists, having been removed from the internet in early 2009.  I wrote numerous posts for the site's blog from 2006 to 2008.  I also held a title as some kind of editor, though I never actually did any editing.

Items will be posted here in the order in which they were originally posted on Wandering Army, with the dates of posting and the titles which Marc gave to the posts.  (For some of the later posts I don't have a record of the titles or the exact posting dates.)  For the most part, everything will be the same as it was on Wandering Army.  Links that Marc added to the text will not be present, nor will the random photos that he put in as headers.  Any links that I put in which have since died will not be present (though they may be replaced by other, similar links). And in some cases where Marc did some slight editing of the text I may restore it to the original version.

Wandering Army was my first experience in blogging.  It inspired me to start my own blog, Scaly Distractions, which has been active since 2010.