Sunday, May 30, 2010

Literary Mish-Mash

These are just for Tom, 'cuz he brought 'em on by lamenting the literary trend that began with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and has continued through the upcoming Android Karenina. Just wanted him to see that no matter how bad it is, it could be worse...

•Romeo falls in love with a woman who sells crafts online--Romeo and Juli-Etsy

•Mechanical hero of Scotland: Robot Roy

•Romantic comedy set somewhere over the rainbow: Oz You Like It

•Female vampire among the hillbillies; Lilith ABner

•Willa Cather's story of the first people to sell overstocked merchandise online: O Pioneers

•Gothic novel that shuts down abruptly: Northanger Ab-End

•Novel spotlighting the crazy man of Mayberry: The Importance of Being Ernest

•Mystery novel in which the detective tries to figure out in which person a missing Alien fetus has been implanted: Parasite Lost

•And of course, the tale of a genetic engineer who blends the DNA of a Greek king and a vicious dinosaur: Oedipus Rex

Telephone Lines

"I didn't know it was you."

"I didn't know you had called."

"I didn't get the message."

A couple of decades ago, these were all pretty good excuses for not taking or returning a phone call. Now? Not so much.

Thanks to caller ID and voice mail, there's very little excuse for not knowing that someone has called. Sure, about 1 out of a 1000 calls goes into a strange phone-void where the call isn't completed and the recipient has no idea a call came in to begin with... but that's pretty uncommon. And if I call a second time, it's about 1 in a million that you don't have a record of either call coming in.

Sometimes I don't even leave a message, because most phones will indicate if you've missed a call and will display the number for that missed call. Odds are, if I want to to talk to you, you already know me as soon as you see that number. If I don't think you do, I'll leave a message.

I have my phone number blocked on my iPhone so that it doesn't show up every time I place a call, but I also have programmed in *82 in front of the numbers of all the people programmed into my iPhone, so that it overrides that number-block and shows you who I am (or at least my number). I am well aware that you might not be able to take the call when I place it, but there's no reason in the world you can't call me back later on (other than unwillingness).

Even worse is the person who accidentally accepts the call while trying to screen it. I can hear him/her talking to someone else, so I know that (a) the call went through, (b) the recipient has looked at the phone and can see the number, and (c) he/she knows I called. If I can hear ten or fifteen seconds of your conversation and then you never bother to call me back, that's about as clear an "I don't want to talk to you" message as I can get.

The only thing more stark than that is the caller who, while screening missed calls, accidentally returns my call and doesn't know it. Then I not only know that you saw that I had called, but I sometimes hear you talking about it. "It was Cliff. He wanted to know how we were doing..." From there, the conversation wanders. But y'know what? Saying "I didn't know you called" really won't work then--nor will it be very convincing when you tell me "I was too busy and forgot to call you back," because I heard you doing nothing in particular while you were checking your missed calls.

When Dad was alive, there were people who he just didn't call. "Why should I?" he asked me when I suggested he give them another call. "They could just return any of the last two dozen calls I've made if they wanted to talk to me." And y'know, he was right...

So I'm taking a hint now, the same way Dad did. If I call you two or three times and you don't take my call and you don't call me back, then I will finally realize that you're not interested in talking to me. So I'll wait and see if you want to call me on your own schedule sometimes. If not, then I'm going to be okay with it.

'Cause you know, if you really didn't feel like taking or returning my calls, I guess we weren't on good enough terms that I needed to talk to you anyway...

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dream Drive

The first manufacturer who offers all of this in one vehicle, let me know and I'll sign the deal right away:

(1) Total vehicle length no more than 195 inches. at least 72" wide.

(2) 300+ HP, 6+ speed transmission, SH-AWD or equivalent, 25+ MPG.

(3) All-around camera view system, infrared night vision viewing on heads-up display, parking sensors, backup camera, collision mitigation system, driver alert system.

(4) NAV + traffic + weather.

(5) Fully adjustable driver and passenger seating (with both adjustable lumbar and thigh support), heated and cooled seats.

(6) Heated and cooled cupholders to keep beverages warm or cool (duh!).

(7) 5.1 surround sound system minimal, 7.1 preferred; 17 speakers or more; Blu-Ray, DVD, CD, MP3, AVI, DVD-A, SACD playback; front-seat viewing through NAV screen when in park.

(8) Pause and play radio for AM, FM, XM, HD Radio.

(9) Full iPod integration with voice control.

(10) Internet capability through 3G phone, complete with voice readout of emails.

(11) At least 100 cubic feet cargo capacity behind front seats.

(12) No more than 18" step-in height.

(13) Auto-closing doors and hatch.

(14) At least 3 12V and 3 115-120V AC outlets.

(15) Adjustable suspension.

(16) Self-healing paint.

(17) Automatic windshield wipers--and automatic headlights that turn themselves on not only when it gets dark, but when the windshield wipers go on as well! Most states require headlights to be on when windshield wipers are on, so let's link the two automatically, okay?

(18) Headlight washers/wipers.

(19) Adjustable headlights that turn into a curve.

(20) The ability to transfer files (MP3s, photos, etc.) to and from the car's internal hard drive.

Okay, that's the basics. Any auto makers out there ready to deliver? I'm ready to write the check!

Oh, The Places You Will Go

The other day, I stopped in a nearby used bookstore while out for an evening walk. As I scanned the SF section, I saw a copy of John Eric Holmes' Mahars of Pellucidar, a licensed Edgar Rice Burroughs Pellucidar novel that I had owned a third of a century ago but had accidentally eliminated from my collection when I weeded out a few thousand unwanted SF volumes back in the early 90s. Since I've been in a Burroughs phase recently, I decided to pick it up, still regretting that I had gotten rid of my original copy.

On the way home, I began flipping through the book in preparation to read it. One can't simply begin reading a book with the first page, of course; instead, one must peruse the book, look at the front and back covers, scan the title page and the copyright page, sample the interior font... it's a ritual for me that must preface any actual reading--and it's perhaps one of the reasons why I'll never give up physical books for e-books. Lo and behold, the book that I had just purchased was indeed the same copy I had sold to Tom at the Marietta Book Exchange many years before. While it showed some minor wear, it was still in remarkably good condition.

My best guess is that someone bought the book from Tom or from Cathy (who purchased Tom's store several years ago and has gradually processed out the science fiction he had warehoused over the years), then traded it in at the store near my house. I can't even begin to calculate the odds of a book randomly catching my eye during its brief duration on the used bookstore shelf, only to have it turn out to be my original copy!

I'd love to know who else has enjoyed this book since it left my library. Now that it's back, though, I've read through it and I give it my ERB seal of approval: strong action, Burroughs-esque story structure, a self-assured capable hero-... it's all in there!

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Ever found yourself missing someone, and not sure how?

We always know why we miss someone, I think, but the how can be a much more complex thing to discern.

In the past two and a half years, life has taken Kim and me in divergent directions. Oh, we still talk to each other once every week or two, but the conversations seem different. We catch each other up on events... but we talk a lot less about hopes and dreams and joys and sorrows and wishes than we used to.

I remember when Kim was born. I wasn't there; I was sent to stay with my maternal grandmother so that Mom and Dad could be sure that I was in good hands while Mom was at the hospital and Dad was splitting his time between hospital visits and a minimal work schedule; while Kim was born on a Thursday, the doctor had thought that she might not be born until Friday, and Friday was an extremely busy day for the Rome News Tribune sports department (mid-size towns with lots of high schools have lots of Friday night sporting events) . That meant that there was little time left for Dad to run back and forth home as well, and grandmother was always gracious about having me stay with her in Cedartown--so there I was, over a half an hour away, relying on brief phone calls to let me know when my little sister would make her arrival.

Kim was born on March 2nd, but it was March 4th before I first got to see her. I remember that she was small, red, and loud--and while the red went away soon enough, the petite nature and the enhanced volume remained inherent parts of her nature.

Kim and I shared a room for the first ten months of her life (it would be April of 1962 before Mom and Dad bought the Marchmont home that gave us separate rooms--albeit separated by only the thinnest of sheet-rock walls, so we continued to hear one another for the duration of the time I lived there). I grew accustomed to her presence after a couple of weeks, and remember feeling a little lonesome at first when I got my own room. Kim made the transition easy, though; she cried quite a bit for the first few weeks we moved to Marchmont, so I knew she was close by.

As Kim grew older, it became clear that she had been graced with whatever good looks there were in our generation. Kim always had eager eyes and an engaging smile that made it easy for her to get away with far too many childhood indiscretions. I never really figured out how the same gene pool could be so much more generous to her than to me in that regard.

Like most of us, Kim suffered through many childhood injuries--but I'll have to give her credit for suffering some of the most spectacular of mishaps. We've all burned out hands as children, but Kim wasn't satisfied with the simplicity of a reddened finger. Instead, she fell onto a hot floor furnace at grandmother's house, branding a grid pattern on the bottom of her forearm that I suspect is still there to one degree or another.

We all fall off a tricycle, but Kim took that to the next level by falling forward on the tricycle, hand outstretched to stop her face from hitting the patio... and as a result, the handlebars of the tricycle slammed full force into her elbow, propelled by the weight of her own body in such a way that it snapped the elbow instantly and bent her arm at an angle that horrified us all. I can still remember what seemed the silent seconds as the pain must have overwhelmed her senses; Kim didn't start crying until Dad was across the patio and almost at her side--and then she didn't stop. We all knew it was a horrible break, and the doctors confirmed that it was one of the worst they'd seen. (They worked with her for hours, and Dad stayed right by her side the entire time. It was only after they had finished that Dad went down the hall to the restroom and threw up, literally sick with worry over what Kim had suffered.)

Kim didn't just have bicycle accidents, she had Evil Knievelsque stunt-accidents that propelled her head first over the bicycle in such a calamitous manner that I was sure she had to be mortally wounded. I remember running to the corner after that accident, certain she'd be unconscious if not dead; somehow, though, she survived--although not unscathed. Her knee was ragged and bloody, and she said she couldn't walk, so I carried her home, convinced that she must have broken another bone... but somehow, underneath all that carnage, the bones were intact.

But thankfully, Kim's childhood wasn't all accidents and injuries. She loved to dance, as she would demonstrate upon request. She loved to sing, even moreso when she was accompanying my records. She also loved to borrow my records to play them on her child's record player, balancing coins on the top of the turntable to stop them from skipping... and as a result, I can identify Kim's favorites from my music collection by the number and size of the scratches and gouges left in the surface of the vinyl.

We watched a lot of television together, find amusement in the most mundane of shows. And somewhere along the way, we discovered that any television show became outrageously funny if watched at near-maximum volume... a discovery that neither Mom nor Dad understood or appreciated, as I recall.

I got married and moved out shortly after Kim's tenth birthday, but that didn't mean I didn't see her frequently. Susan and I were at Mom and Dad's house at least once a weekend, often more, so we saw each other regularly enough that I got to witness her entire sullen pre-teen and alienated teen phase. I remember lots of door slams during those years--but even then, we would laugh together and joke and talk.

There were years when we saw less of one another; that was the time when Kim and Johnny Pearson lived in South Georgia. I didn't realize at first how much Mom missed having Kim around; I think Mom had hoped Kim would always be nearby, and the idea that she was hours away made her feel lonely.

Then Kim moved back, and before too long there was not only Kim and Johnny but also Cole and Jess. Suddenly, the house was full, life was full, and my little sister had turned into a mother who was every bit as devoted and loving as our Mom had been.

We began to talk much more during the time when Susan and I had the farmhouse on Horseleg Creek Road. that meant that we were in Rome pretty much every weekend, and that gave us time to see one another regularly, to spend time with Mom and Dad, and to talk about more than just the superficial. I felt like I truly got to know Kim during that time period.

As the years passed, we continued to talk. When Mom was diagnosed with emphysema, we spoke of what this meant for her and for Dad. Kim was there the day after I had my heart attack; she and I were there when Mom nearly left us just prior to the Christmas of 2000. We worried for Mom and Dad, and strove to understand the progression and cruelty of the emphysema that ravaged her.

We spoke even more often after Mom recovered, and we shared a joyous Christmas of 2001, knowing that any Christmas with both Mom and Dad was an occasion to be cherished. I think both of us were aware that we couldn't take any of those family holidays for granted.

Kim became the gracious host for our family's Thanksgiving gatherings. I still find joy in the memory of the Thanksgiving of 2002, the last holiday that Mom was able to enjoy with us. It was only a week or two later that the decline began, and we were both at Mom and Dad's side when Mom succumbed in mid-December. I was always surprised at how strong Kim was, enduring loss and sorrow with a composure that I couldn't muster.

And we were there to see Dad's efforts to continue on without Mom. We worried about Dad; we both tried to talk with him regularly, and we then spoke to one another to try to determine what we could do to make life happier for him. We worried over him; as we became aware of the struggles and challenges he faced in his final year or so, we tried to help him with the burdens that seemed to weigh him down.

Kim shared Dad's final happy day with him, taking him out to lunch the afternoon before a stroke took him from us in phases over the next two weeks. I wasn't there, and Kim knew how much that haunted me, so she shared every moment of that meal in detail, letting me enjoy vicariously the good day that I had not been able to share in person.

For a couple of years, Kim's job with Randstad had her travelling all over North Georgia. The job was incredibly stressful, demanding, and unrewarding, but there was one benefit: we were able to speak to each other almost every day, and our talks were long and often philosophical. We worried together, we reminisced, we joked, we hoped...

Since we lost Dad in 2007, though, life has drawn us in different directions. I get to Rome very little now because I have trouble reconciling my love for Rome with my sorrow at the loss of Mom and Dad. Kim's job keeps her busy all day long, and she's rarely able to take phone calls at work. So now we speak infrequently, and our conversations are more about what has happened since we previously spoke.

Lives move in different directions; the connections that link us gradually weaken. I am glad that Kim has found such happiness with Phil, and that she able to share in the lives of her children and grandchildren.

But I can still miss her...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Very Free and Easy

Got a note from Sven after my summer of 1970 post. "CS&N always brings me back to those days," he wrote, and he's absolutely right--I have no idea how I could have failed to mention that album.

Prior to that summer, I had never listened to Crosby, Stills, and Nash; I had heard snippets of "Suite Judy Blue Eyes" on the radio, but had never even heard the entire song. Sven bought the eight-track early that summer, and we gave it a listen. Initially, I was surprised by the overall tone of the album--it seemed to be lacking a resonance that was present in a lot of what we were listening to at the time. But by the third playing, I was hooked by those wonderful harmonies, the intensely personal songwriting, the blending of acoustic and electric...

A couple of weeks ago, I prepared two playlists: Malibu 1970 and Summer 1970. The latter is comprised of the many songs that I listened to during that summer; some of them date back to 1967 or 1968, but those were songs that I was playing over and over again forty years ago. The former, though, is only those albums that we listened to in Sven's car that summer; it's a small playlist, and I think I have every note of every song memorized from repeated playing.

The first album I added to that list was Crosby, Stills, and Nash, that eponymous first album.

Thanks for remembering, Sven!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

That Golden Summer

Each of us has a golden summer--a year that shapes our lives forever, engraving itself on our minds with such clarity that each of our senses competes to recall it most vividly.

The summer of 1970 is the summer that lives with me always. Now, forty years after that wondrous summer, I can remember the joys, savor the tastes, breathe the fragrances, and hear the sounds of that glorious three month period.

Much of that summer was spent in Sven Ahlstrom's blue '68 Chevy Malibu, riding and talking and listening to music and envisioning our futures while cherishing a present that seemed as if it would go on forever.

Sven had an Altanta Constitution paper route at the time, and I had plenty of time. I didn't have a part-time job that summer, because I had been accepted to Berry College's Summer Enrichment program and had classes a couple of days a week. That left me with more unscheduled free time than I've had at any other time in my life, and I spent much of that time riding Sven's route with him--and riding many summer nights away as we celebrated the freedom that came with Sven's car and a modest amount of spending money. Most of that money was Sven's, of course; my income came from mowing a few lawns and doing a few chores around the house--chores for which Mom and Dad paid me far more than the going rate, thankfully.

While Susan was already a part of my life at that time--and there were the occasional Saturday that she, Sven, and I would spend together--Susan was already working in the payroll department of Arrow in Cedartown, and lacked the free time that Sven and I took for granted. So much of that summer was spent with her only on weekends; the weekdays belonged to Sven and me.

I had a stereo at home, but the only transportation regularly available to me was a '64 Volkswagen with an AM radio that worked intermittently--usually only when it was raining, in fact. However, Sven had bestowed upon his Malibu the one and only eight track player owned by any of our circle of friends, so it became a rolling concert-hall-and-listening-room for us as we endlessly played the few tapes that came to define that summer.

The car wasn't air conditioned, but that didn't matter to either of us. At home, we had air conditioning only in the living room and my parents' bedroom; the rest of the house depended on fans and open windows for cooling. Sven's house was the same, as best I can recall; the truth is, we spent little time at Sven's house and spent more time at my house or at Gary Steele's or Ida Hutchings'.

Gary had been my best friend for many years, and shared an interest in fanzines, comics, and science fiction that had been a driving force in my life; we had gradually instilled in Sven some of those same interests (if I remember correctly, he already shared an interest in SF and had some familiarity with comics, so our friendship developed quite easily). Ida was a grade ahead of me at West Rome High School, but we had shared some classes; she was easy to talk to and fun to be with, and Sven seemed to enjoy her company.

Ida's home was sometimes available during the day, and we'd spend time there. That may sound incriminating, but our afternoons were spent innocently talking and listening to music and daydreaming about the future. Since Ida's house was located midway between my house and Sven's, it was convenient to drop by on our way from either place to either place. So Ida became a part of our group, spending the occasional afternoon with us.

But Ida's home life was turbulent; her father drank too much too often, and that meant that sometimes he slept and sometimes he was angry. To those of us on the outside looking in, there was little in between. So we might go for days without hearing from Ida as she dealt with family issues; she rarely spoke of them, but we could tell that they weighed on her.

Gary would ride with us occasionally, but he was less interested in spending the summer in that Malibu--particularly since Sven was driving and I had claimed the front passenger seat, leaving Gary stuck in the back. So for most of the summer, it was the two of us.

And Steppenwolf Live. And In-a-Gadda-da-Vida. And Through the Past (Darkly). and The Sounds of Silence. And Let It Be. Oh, how we played Let It Be. It is perhaps the only album in whose mind I am sometimes conflicted as to which song comes next; while I listened to the album frequently, we played that eight-track so long that its slightly different song order seems just as natural to me as the song order on the album I played at home.

To this day, every one of these albums will take me back to that Malibu, and to the summer spent with Sven. In those albums, I am again 16 going on 17. I can still enjoy the freedom that comes with carefree hours and Detroit steel. I can still remember the plans and dreams that shaped that summer, and I find it fascinating that they have endured for four decades virtually undiminished.

I don't know if that summer means anything at all to Sven or to Ida or to Gary... but it will forever be a defining season for me, and I not only won't let it go, I can't let it go. It is as a vital part of me, and I owe much of what I have become since then to that golden summer.