Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Sleep (v.)

Sleeping is something I have, for the most part, taken for granted. Throughout my childhood, I had fairly early bedtimes. I've never been one to go out of the evening or party at night, so even throughout college my sleep patterns were pretty traditional. Sophomore year I messed things because I had a cluster of classes in the early morning and another late in the afternoon; it was far too tempting to sleep between them. I'll nearly always stay up late for a game of Risk or a LAN party. But for the most part, I've always been relatively "early to be, early to rise."

Starbucks has changed that. The schedules are not uniform times from day to day, and I often pick up shifts whenever I can. I have only clopened once, but the steady unpredictability of my sleep schedule has been something quite different. It hasn't really bothered me that much, though. I don't get quite as much sleep as I used to and it comes at odd hours, but I don't feel drained or stretched. Kerry seems more tired than me. I know that all indications are that it is bad for me biologically, but it is mentally liberating in a way: to hell with the sun, I'll sleep when I damn well choose.

Monday, July 30, 2007

New Apartment (n.)

Kerry and I are about 92% moved from our old townhouse into our new apartment. It has taken this long because so much has been going on, and we still have a good way to go in bringing over random miscellany and getting it all arranged, but I already like 103 much better than 120.

Technically, it is a downgrade. Rent was increased for all the units here, so we moved into a more affordable one. But we had considered a single-bedroom unit before. When we first moved here, one wasn't available. One opened up a month after that, but we didn't want to move again at that point. The rent increase and another opening was the effective nudge out the door.

Moving is still a pain in the ass, and I hate it very much. I hate it even more when I have to turn down extra hours, when Kerry's vehicle won't work right, and when there seems to be something besides moving that needs done every day. But we are looking forward to living here. We still get a fireplace, although we need to paint the mantle some other color than white. We get our own balcony that we don't have to share with any bird ladies. The setup is neat, the kitchen is cool, and it is a lot easier to keep the temperature under control. Best of all, it isn't a big inconvenience to get from one part of the house to the other anymore.

Nice, integrated, homey, and efficient, this new place is for us. I haven't really thought of any place as home since my apartment in Mountaineer two years ago. Brandon and I made that place our own. Bradford didn't feel like home anymore because I didn't spend much time there. Farris never came close. The townhouse was nice, but I always thought of it in terms of the stuff that Kerry unpacked but never sorted out. This place, though, is good. I hope Kerry gets a residency here so that I don't have to move the piano back down the stairs in the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Tempted (adj.)

I am so tempted right now. Kerry and I acquired J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which I am rather excited about reading. But I am in the middle of Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth, which so far is an extremely satisfying read if not the most exciting. I can either finish The Good Earth and save Harry Potter for later or I can put one book on pause to expedite the other.

I don't want to slice up The Good Earth and cheapen the experience, but I would also put my mad reading skills to the test and storm through Harry Potter so that I can participate in the discussion while the hype is still up.

I suppose it really isn't that big of an issue since neither of the stories are going anywhere. I should probably be worrying about moving stuff instead.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Clopen (v.)

Over the past 24 hour cycle (what are these days you all speak of?), I've performed my first clopen. Those of you who work in food service industries probably already know what I'm talking about. For everyone else, here's the breakdown:

Sometimes it so happens that you get the closing shift one night and the opening shift the next morning. In this instance, I went into Starbucks yesterday at 2:30 pm and worked until 11:00 pm. I came home, ate a quick bowl of noodles, took a shower, and got in bed by midnight. Then I got up at 3:45 am to clean up, have breakfast, and be back in the shop at 5:00 am. This was a pretty easy one since my shift today only lasted until 11:30 am. But nevertheless, I clopened.

Gary, our manager, never does this intentionally. But since schedules are generated on a weekly basis and aren't linked in any way, it is statistically probable that it will happen every now and then between schedule periods. Since the Starbucks week ends on Sunday and starts on Monday, that is when the clopens happen.

I imagined that I would be dead on my feet by now, but I don't feel that much different than usual. I'm ready to take a quick swim and move some things to our new apartment. Yay for caffeine.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Those People (n.)

Every neighborhood, workplace, and family has them: those people who you always cringe to see coming. It might be the scary uncle who likes to get drunk and pick fights with you. It might be the person who snaps at you for not telling them that they obviously needed a face-mask before going into the room with the face-masks and gloves hanging from the door.

It became evident to me while working with Southern Home Comforts that these people can be impossible to deal with in a service industry. They may be annoying, but they also have money--and friends who have money--and may decide to spend that money elsewhere. Aunt Judy taught me that it is never wise to underestimate the destructive potential of one displeased customer.

At Starbucks, I am dealing with a higher volume of human beings than ever before. Some of them come back day after day, and some of them I may only see once. But there are more than a few of them who are those people. I smile, nod, and give them the best service I can even when they intentionally try to sabotage me. I have to.

It is easy to let them ruin the job--to dread having to face those repeat customers every day who will change their name or order just to trick me up. But that wouldn't be good. So I won't.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Misconception (n.)

I have been blessed with Earth-shattering knowledge about coffee. Ironically, this had nothing to do with my employment at Starbucks and everything to do with Sarah Elizabeth Pitman randomly picking up one of their "Nutrition By the Cup" pamphlets and leaving it at our apartment. If you are a Starbucks frequenter, pick one up. It is a very interesting read. For example, a venti white mocha contains 550 calories, 300 milligrams of sodium, and 60% of your daily iron needs. Fascinating, eh?

What shook my perception of reality, though, was the following information:

  • Brewed Coffee
  1. Tall: 240 mgs caffeine
  2. Grande: 320 mgs caffeine
  3. Venti: 400 mgs caffeine
  • Espresso
  1. Solo: 75 mgs caffeine
  2. Dopio: 150 mgs caffeine
We have people who come in and buy quad espressos and comment about how much they need the caffeine and wouldn't be able to operate without an ungodly amount of it. Next time I see one of them, I can tell them that their quad espresso does have a lot of caffeine, but still not as much as a normal grande brew. I'm assuming that the numbers for the brewed coffee are averages since some roasts and blends have more caffeine than others. It is likely that a venti breakfast or house blend contains significantly more than 400 mgs of caffeine. If so, that is just ungodly. Since a cup'o'coffee only contains 5 calories, it is also understandable that it can leave you feel absolutely drained at the end of your caffeine high.

I suppose the coffee > espresso phenomenon makes sense in light of my last major bit'o'learnin'. Darker roasts = less caffeine, and espresso is made from an insanely dark roast. Espresso shots taste smoky and caramelly, which are not flavor attributes that occur naturally in coffee beans. To get that flavor, much of the caffeine has to be roasted out.

If you are wondering what this means for all the other Starbucks beverages, know that most of the rest of the drinks are espresso based. Generally, a tall drink has 1 shot and grandes & ventis have 2. Of course that doesn't apply to mistos, hot chocolates, frappuccino or creme based drinks, etc.

So next time you need caffeine, don't torture yourself with excessive espresso shots unless you just like them. If you do like them, you'll need six before you exceed the amount of caffeine potency in a regular venti cup of coffee. You might want to pick up a pastry too. I know first hand what happens when you try to run on 400 mgs of caffeine or more without any calories.

Quick bit'o'mathematics:
A cafe misto (what normal people call au laits) is half coffee and half milk. A venti misto will have about as much coffee as a straight tall brew, plus that much milk. That's 240 mgs of caffeine plus somewhere around 180 calories (using whole milk). That beats any triple espresso beverage by 15 mgs of caffeine. Mistos are good...

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Love Hurts (phrase)

When you love people, they can hurt you. When you love cats with claws, they can hurt you still yet more. With Helo, love hurts on a very visceral level. He keeps me up at night. He bites my feet. He lacerates my hands. I often look down at them while working and hope that customers won't be grossed out by my many scratches and scars. I do love the little bugger, but he hurts me...a lot.

Since we've had him, we have come to find out that he has an ear infection. Every morning and every night, we have to give him ear drops. He hates it. It is always a tragic ordeal in which I have to nearly strangle him to hold him in place while Kerry puts three drops into his right ear and massages it in while he whines and moans. I really feel sorry for him about it, but not as sorry as I feel for me (the restrainer). This morning I was going to attempt it by myself. I got him in my lap, tried to hold him down, picked up the ear-dropper, and giant tears started welling up in his eyes. I softened, he sensed it, and took the opportunity to escape. The process ended in him being flung from my lap and me accumulating two deep gouges up my middle finger. Then the little bastard looked up at me, tears ran down into his whiskers, and he ran up the stairs.

So all day I felt sad about him. Not only that, but the now six deep scratches (not counting the little ones) made me very uncomfortable as well. Love hurts.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Hunters of Dune (n.)

I've read every Dune novel to date. I read all of Frank Herbert's original six in high school, and I've been reading Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson's two prequel trilogies throughout college. I've been relatively satisfied with them because they've brought a new spin into the Dune universe. While Frank's visions were darkly intricate in intrigue and treachery, Brian and Kevin have brought out a lighter side to it all with their direct, almost humorous approach to the universe. I've been pleased with them...until now.

For those who haven't read Frank's novels, know that he cranked out six. The last, Chapterhouse: Dune, was meant to be followed by a seventh and final volume. Chapterhouse ended on a major cliffhanger. A major unknown enemy was encroaching on the old empire, darkly heralded by the immensely powerful Honored Matres. The Honored Matres came from beyond the far reaches of human colonization: the scattering. They devastated the old worlds with unprecedented strength in their retreat from an unknown enemy. Most of the main characters of Chapterhouse had just escaped in a cloaked ship, but not before encountering two god-like entities named Daniel and Marty.

Unfortunately, Frank died before the Dune 7 was completed and the project was left abandoned until a few years ago when Brian discovered some safety deposit boxes containing a full outline. He and Kevin initially decided not to attempt to create Dune 7, but their success with the prequels changed their minds.

What they have done is separated Dune 7 into two halves: the recent Hunters of Dune and the upcoming Sandworms of Dune. What they have done with Hunters, though, is really quite unforgivable.

*spoilers follow*

Back to Daniel and Marty--in Chapterhouse, Frank not-so-subtly hints that Daniel and Marty are highly evolved Tleilaxian face-dancers. Face-dancers are shape-shifting slaves of Tleilaxu masters. They are barely-human creatures capable of changing their genetic makeup and thus shapeshift. The theory discussed by characters in Chapterhouse is that face-dancers escaped in the scattering and developed the ability to mimick not only the physical attributes of their victims' genetics, but the mental ones as well. After a face-dancer mimicks so many minds, its mental capacities will shoot through the roof. After a few thousand victims or so...you just might get a god.

Daniel and Marty have the ability to see, communicate, and control objects apparently throughout the universe, and openly discuss their hatred for Tleilaxian masters. They allude to how they used to be oppressed and enslaved by the old masters, and talk about how hard it was for the Tleilaxu from the fringes of existence to accept that face-dancers could be independent. The last scene from Chapterhouse is a vision in which Daniel and Marty appear to Duncan Idaho as an old couple of farmers keeping their grounds while discussing the fate of the universe. It is all very ironic and ominous. The book had been building up to a takeover of the old empire by the Tleilaxu, but then all of their worlds were suddenly destroyed by the Honored Matres. Humanity was hanging on by a thread, and that was how the story ended for twenty years.

Brian and Kevin chose to entirely ignore all of this. Hunters of Dune was decent until the last chapter, when (after painfully obvious foreshadowing) they revealed Daniel and Marty--the couple that represented over two decades of anticipation and debate among science fiction fans--as Omnius and Erasmus. These were characters created by Brian and Kevin in the second set of prequels: the computer evermind that ruled the ancient machine empire that was crushed in the Butlerian Jihad and "his" foil, the independent and quirky robot Erasmus. These were were Brian and Kevin's masterpieces, and they were apparently unwilling to let them go. All of what it seemed like Frank was alluding to was usurped by the hubris of his son in plugging his own characters into what might be the biggest gap in science fiction history.

Brian and Kevin are mediocre writers compared to classical scifi standards. They are certainly no match for the great Frank Herbert. Yet here they have defied canon and broken the trust of father and fans alike. I've heard enough comments that Frank intended the mysterious enemy to be the returned machine empire, but he didn't create Daniel and Marty to be his son's machines of glory. It is so painfully and obviously wrong that I can't help but question whether or not they really even care about the Dune legacy. When fans pointed out the numerous inconsistencies in their prequels, Brian and Kevin ignored them. Now they're ignoring their creator.

I am nervous about Sandworms of Dune now. Brian and Kevin are setting the stage for all of the important players in the original Dune novel to resurface as gholas. I really don't want those characters raped and warped to suit the purposes of Brian and Kevin. They are throwing the worlds of their own prequels, the original novel, and Chapterhouse into one pot, and there is so much potential to ruin it all...

The List (n.)

I am absolutely fascinated by keeping track of the search terms through which people have found my site. I sometimes wonder what they think when they get here, and why they would be searching for these things in the first place. But just in case anyone else is interested, here are the keywords people have found me by for the past month:

~ 1 eye at a time
~ justin raymond coca cola
~ midnight oil
~ 1 eye time
~ blue clouds
~ amanda allen accident
~ the concept of "thin places"
~ abner doon
~ san antonio river walk
~ thin places thick places celtic
~ starbucks first impressions training
~ certified barista starbuck
~ first impressions shift at starbucks
~ coca cola's mistake in changing the flavour of the classic beverage
~ sublime meaning of starbucks logo
~ "little rock" sunday july 8" killed car accident
~ celtic lands fountain pens
~ left-handed desk
~ judy dunham
~ driving with 1 eye
~ deactivate facebook account
~ temporary deactivation facebook happens
~ july 1 2007 car crashes in jacksonville
~ "ashlyn shellito"
~ "sarah elizabeth pitman" arkansas
~ "prayer changes stuff"
~ onthia
~ elise wilkins

And that, folks, is a list. It is more fun than lists of things to do, schedules, or shopping items.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Transformers (n.)

While Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix didn't quite butter my bread, Transformers made my frickin' summer. I found pretty much everything about it awesome. I identified with the funny nerd, admired the hot chick, fell in love with the cute little Nokia phone gone wrong, smiled at the explosions, laughed at the jokes, got excited because of the dramatic music, admired the "cars," and nearly wet my pants with glee at the combination of it all every fifteen minutes or so.

I don't think I've ever seen a better cartoon adaptation than Transformers. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 comes close, but I think Transformers is ever better. For once amidst all this newfangled cinematic nostalgia, I felt like I was revisiting something out of my distant childhood and not just losing the old sensation entirely to a new vanilla blockbuster. Yet at the same time, it had something to appeal to everyone. It failed some people's expectations by not giving an in-depth analysis of the autobots and decepticons and not giving certain characters fair slices of story arc time. But hey, that is what cartoons are like.

I was a little weirded out by the make-out scene on top of a sentient organism...but not opposed by any means.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (n.)

I can't put my finger on why I didn't like the new Harry Potter movie, but I didn't find it as fabulous as I thought I would. I found it, to borrow a term from Donna Bowman, tedious. It isn't that I was angry at what they omitted or added to the story in comparison to the book. That is to be expected--they are two different creatures. It isn't that there was no quidditch, which is getting the movie a lot of criticism from quidditch fans. It isn't that the scenes were too rapid and jumpy, because it was, after all, an adaptation of a pretty big book.

It just seemed to be moving along at a forced pace (which it was), and I became tired of it relatively quickly. It was like being jerked through the book at a breakneck pace, or reading the cliff's notes on the book...something like that.

I also expected the end to be better. It was fun watching the death eaters and the order turn into black and white clouds and fly around each other and all, but it was disorienting and I couldn't make out what was going on. There were entirely too many shots of Harry going "errrreyaahhh!," although I found it gratifying after watching him be so emo. And I wanted to see Voldemort in his cool robes with a silver shield, not dancing around holding his wand like a ballerina.

I don't like to not like movies. This one wasn't bad...it just wasn't my favorite, especially right after seeing Transformers. I'll give it credit for being a good film, just not very great one.

Sex (v.)

In my post about Crime and Punishment, I wrote about monomania. Now, I'll write about what I think is out society's biggest monomania: screwing. From Wonderwoman's leotard to Megan Fox in the new Transformers film, sex is the inescapable common bond among all the elements of our culture and media. Not love. Not attachment. Not friendship. Just good old fashioned gratuitous screwing.

I'm not opposed to sex. I'm not even uncomfortable with sex. I'll openly talk about it in just about any circumstance. It is our most enjoyable biological urge and our most profound expression of affection and trust with another person--a seemingly perfect combination. It is natural, and yes, parents, its inescapable. I like it very much. But all monomanias are unhealthy. A collective monomania with something so biologically and emotionally powerful is even more so.

Any time I walk out my front door, I am saturated with sex. At work I'll always see a good number of customers decked out in "screw me!" garb complimented by enough arousing perfume to overpower the scent of coffee in a coffeeshop. If I go to the mall, I can't go far without seeing nearly naked mannequins or advertisements equating good with sexy. Those Calvin Klein guys are so perfect that even I'll stare at them for a few seconds. Films always need some kind of sex appeal to be successful. The internet is powered by porn. Every third song that comes on my launchcast radio is overtly about sex. The new primary purpose of swimming pools is sunbathing. Advertisements, and even the news, have to be delivered by sexy people. Sex sells alcohol, chewing gum, clothes, vehicles, and...sex! Daring to delve into unsafe waters, how many girls don't wear make-up when they leave their homes? It is expected, because society expects them to be sexy! Now even boys go through impractical routines every morning to make their hair look like they've just had a tumble in the bedroom. How can anyone not be oversexed and exhausted, whether they have it or not?

Given our society's monomania, coupled with its simultaneous taboo, it is no surprise that there is such a large demographic of people who worship sex, have incredibly unrealistic expectations regarding it, and know next to nothing about its consequences. And speaking of taboos, sex is just as much of a monomania where the situation is reversed. Sexual oppression in Tokugawa Japan was bad enough that (as a matter of historical record) many young men would ejaculate if they so much as bumped into a female. Using it to sell things and making it a forbidden sin both do the same thing: they put sex under a spotlight, a microscope, and then blow the image up on the world's largest jumbotron.

There is part of me that can't help but enjoy it when a hot chick (because it is all too awkward nowadays to call a woman beautiful) in a tube-top and a miniskirt clicks by in her heels leaving enticing fruity scents in her wake, but I'm a married man now. There isn't, or shouldn't be, anything for me there. I've been in a monogamous relationship for three years. I love Kerry, and I find her beautiful the way she is. But seeing so many people trying so hard to be prettier than they are--and succeeding on a surface level--is confusing. Those gulps that follow gazing at a head-turner: are they an expression of desire, frustration, or both wrapped into one package? Perhaps that is the reason so many people jump into totally irrational and ignorant relationships--they are just that eager to hurry up and have lots of sex so that they can escape from its all-pervasive clutches. I wonder how much more successful marriages and relationships would be if people weren't so fixated on making themselves sexier and having sex with the sexiest. I wonder how much more safe and satisfying sex we could have if we didn't make sex into an unreachable God.

Don't think me an anti-sex prude, because I'm not. But I refuse to let sex rule me as it rules so much else in our culture. It try to keep it in a healthy place in my mind. I know there are a lot sexier people out there than either Kerry or me...especially me. I know there are a lot of people who have enough of an *ahem* education to make sex a lot more of an ecstatic experience for each other. But I am still perfectly happy and content with my marriage and I don't feel like I'm missing out on a thing. How many of those sex-machines are capable of loving me the way Kerry does? How many of them are as cute as Kerry? How much can they relate to me on a level closer to my head than my waist? How many of them will buy me manga, drink my coffee, and show me things on the piano? There are bigger, better, and more important things to people than their sexual allure or potential. That is just one tiny component. I see so many people my age look at others and reduce them primarily to penises and vaginas. I feel bad for them, because by and large their relationships are either going to end badly or endure miserably...over and over again until they can see beyond the walls created for them and realize that there is more to life than tight skin and toned muscles.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Crime and Punishment (n.)

I finally made it. I finally found out how the story of Rodion Raskolnikov Romanovitch ends. It was a long, arduous journey through incredibly convoluted prose and seemingly irrelevant dialog, and I hesitate to say that everything came together in the end. But I finished it. Hot damn.

Crime and Punishment is Fyodor Dostoevsky's portrait of the utter breaking down of a man--or more precisely, the utter breaking down of a man's mind. But what makes a man more than his mind? Crime and Punishment's focus on action is nearly nonexistent. It is about external and internal conflict. Raskolnikov argues himself into insanity; the fact that he murders two people by hacking them to pieces with an axe is just an irrelevant detail.

Potential, good intentions, rationality, all come to naught for Raskolnikov. Crime and Punishment is a story about monomania: the one ring to rule them all in a different guise. We all have them at times. That paper. That patient. That client. That coworker. That landlady. Sex, drugs, and alcohol. Religion. Tradition. Progress. The i-phone.

We're always told to keep our focus, but rarely to glance away before our eyes become locked. Keeping your eye on the ball should stop short of letting it smack you in the face because your anticipation freezes you. Axe-murder is a much more serious matter than baseball (as is pretty much everything), and all the more capable of consuming a brain.

In Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky seems to me to be screaming that ever-so-great motto, Don't think about it!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Old Friends (n.)

Today, Kerry and I got to go to a portion of the Technology in Honors Education workshop being hosted by our old family, the Honors College. It was nice to go back to UCA and feel involved in the world of weird, academic types again. I miss the place, but not as much as I miss the people.

Sometimes I wish things had went smoother or turned out better. Sometimes I wonder what things could have been like if something had been said or done differently. Sometimes I just miss the good times we had together and wonder if we'll ever be able to achieve anything like those old connections in the future. That is a sad thing about graduating--coming face to face with missed opportunities to repair broken bridges, deepen relationships, or just spend more time enjoying other people's presence.

Not to wax nostalgic or anything...but it is something to remember.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Shoddy (adj.)

Today, Kerry and I were supposed to move into our new apartment. She picked up the keys last night with plans that I would move stuff all day and she would join me with her family (and Jim!) this evening to top off the heavy stuff. True to the bad luck that the day promised, it is rainy. I can deal with rain, but there are some things I refuse to deal with any longer.

Living in an apartment where things are laid-back and low-key has its advantages. High quality work isn't one of them. When Kerry moved into this apartment, the list of things that needed to be fixed seemed endless. Two and a half months later, it still isn't what we would expect for the rent we pay. But when I peeked my head into the new apartment this morning, I was utterly shocked.

I had seen the apartment before and I knew it had some problems. I didn't think that the maintenance people would fix all of them (like corner broken off the bathroom mirror), but I took it for granted that they would fix some of them (like the jammed and unopenable balcony door). As soon as I saw a cable coming out of the floor right in front of the entrance and peeled the carped back a few feet from around the fireplace to see where extra cable had just been crammed away, I made up my mind that I wasn't moving a single one of my possessions into the place. I came back with a notebook and a pen (which ran out of ink) to make a list of problems, which ended up including a shower head with barely enough water pressure to drip, ceiling fans which will wobble out of their sockets any day, and a broken sink drain. When I tried to raise the blinds in the garden window, they fell out of the wall and hit me in the head. It hurt, and I was mad, so I just left them where they fell and came back to the townhouse.

I have yet to talk to the landlady about all this. There is someone expecting to move into this townhouse soon, but I'm not moving or paying rent on the new apartment until it is livable by reasonable standards. I don't expect everything to be perfect. I'm not even that nitpicky. I'm willing to ignore the bad paint job, the remnants of cabinet paper stuck to the bottom of the drawers, the missing light bulbs, the dirty stairs, and filthy air conditioning vents. I can take care of stuff like that myself. But I want my carpet stapled down, my ceiling fans safe, and my plumbing functional. I don't want my bathroom to look like something out of the ghetto. There are some things where better than shoddy work is a necessity, and I hope I can make our landlady understand that.

And just to complain a little more, Kerry got her schedule changed so that she could move this weekend. I declined extra hours. I don't know when we'll get another opportunity like this one. I'm not superstitious at all, but maybe we should have not decided to move on Friday the 13th.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Abner Doon (n.)

Taking my newly-found freedom to pleasure read very seriously, I have finished what I believe is my fifth book of the summer. After reading and posting his own thoughts, Brandon gave me Orson Scott Card's The Worthing Saga. I found it appealing for two reasons. The first is that the narrative is told from a skewed historical perspective, with short stories following the novel that clear up "historical misunderstandings." But what I really love about The Worthing Saga is how Orson Scott Card leaves me with a character who forces me to recalibrate my perspective of reality (to borrow a phrase from Chuck Klosterman): Abner Doon.

While not the main character, and perhaps not even a major character, Abner Doon is the person out of the past of The Worthing Saga universe who put everything into motion. It is due to him that things are the way they are, and it is to him that everyone owes thanks for a better tomorrow. What did he do to bring it about? He destroyed everything.

The old universe was a decadent empire where those with wealth and power could extend their ability to keep things in stasis by thousands of years. The wheel of the empire was somec, a drug that induced perfect sleep (like cryogenics). The more powerful people were, the more they got to sleep. A low-level but successful government clerk, for example, may have received one year of somec sleep for every five years awake--a slight but still acceptable extension of life. The Empress awoke for only one day every five years to keep her empire in order. The result was a predictably stagnant and hopeless society.

How Abner brings about the fall of the empire is never directly addressed, but is alluded to in the way he plays a game (yay games!). In one of the worldwide tournaments where players purchased the rights to play nations in a computer simulation that began in 1914, one player had managed to build Italy into a powerful empire on the verge of global domination. It was a beautiful and seemingly immortal political creation that inspired the world of entertainment and academics, if merely a hologram. Abner buys the rights to play Italy, refuses to sell, and destroys it by carefully orchestrating corruption, oppression, and aggressiveness in a way that leads not to isolated rebellion, but a total and simultaneous collapse into anarchy.

When Doon topples the real empire, he does a thorough enough job to bring a halt to space travel for thousands of years. And out of the ashes rises are more diversified humanity better equipped to plumb the depths of time and space. Doon the destroyer. Doon the serpent. Doon the messiah.

Whose talent do I admire more--that of the player who built the Italian Empire over centuries of sleep and waking, or that of the man who made it fall in four days? That of the Mother who forged an eternal empire, or that of the assistant minster of colonization who quietly built the net that choked it out of existence?

When does a life of comfort and stasis cease to be life? How much adventure and uncertainty do we need to be human, and when do we slip deep enough into routine that we cease to be?

How much destruction is justifiable in an act of creation?

Is playing the devil any worse than playing God? How much does one individual have the right to force on all humanity?

So many questions for Abner Doon. I see some of myself in him, but he frightens me at the same time. I see many acts of "progress" as stasis because they merely assuage problems rather than solve them--quick fixes that prolong the arrival at a real solution. I see decadence in every corner of my society and my life and it makes me ashamed. I want to do something about it, but there is no fast solution that would have consequences not considered criminal.

But at the same time, I do see progress in a slow evolution that is beautiful in and of itself. Things slowly change, whether for better or worse, and that is at least some level of excitement in that. Perhaps history can take its course without major and violent upheavals of power from time to time.

Maybe Abner Doon was good and evil, just and wrong, God and anti-God at the same time. Maybe all those people are who enter and leave this world leaving life unimaginable without them as much as with them. And all those people who freeze canasta piles just for the hell of it, complicating the game irrevocably.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Coffee Connoisseurship (n.)

To be a certified Starbucks barista, I have to know a lot about coffee. For years, I've thought of myself as a connoisseur, but I realize now that I didn't really know anything. Sure, I could throw whatever beans or grounds I had on-hand into the machine and pump out some unpredictable yet tasty brew, but I never bothered with consistency. There was an allure in that, to tell the truth. Every cup was a surprise. Sometimes the surprise wasn't so pleasant, but that was just part of it.

Now, though, true connoisseurship is being thrust upon me. I am learning to distinguish coffees in terms of aroma, acidity, heaviness, complimentary foods, where it stimulates my tongue, and even where it is grown. The last bit sounds difficult, but it has really become quite easy to distinguish a mystery brew when it is handed to me. Light and clean = Latin America. Exotic and Spicy = Africa. Earthy and Robust = Monsoon Asia. There are those multi-region blends that throw me off, but--really--who can guess those?

I've learned that only a French press can bring out every aspect of a coffee's flavor, and then only if allowed to brew for four minutes, immediately removed from the press, and drank within twenty minutes of brewing. I've learned that an espresso shot actually goes rancid unless it comes into contact with dairy within ten seconds (which negates every espresso drink I ever made pre-Starbucks, because it takes my machine more than ten seconds to squirt out a shot). I've learned that milk needs to be somewhere between 150 and 170 degrees for it to be any good, that it can be reheated once as long as it doesn't fall below 140, and that it scorches somewhere a little above 180.

The most surprising thing I've learned, but a thing that makes perfect sense in retrospect, is that the bolder the blend, the weaker the coffee. I always thought that really stout Italian and French roasts were bound to pack more of a wallop than Columbian, but I was wrong. The strongest coffees (aside from espresso) that you can get from Starbucks in terms of strength are Breakfast Blend, LightNote, etc. These beans have been barely roasted, leaving the natural, caffeinated oils intact. By the time you get to bolder roasts, you are tasting more smoke than coffee--smoke that came at the price of burning away those peppy, eye-opening oils.

So all that time I was drinking cups of pure, dark pseudo-espresso made from artificially flavored Millstone beans and reveling in my superiority in relation to the drip-machine crowd, I was really drinking weak, rancid, bitter sludge. I became, folly of follies, a coffee hipster, and somewhere between freshman and junior years I forgot what good coffee tasted like. Now I get to start over with real coffee and tea masters to guide me. Yay Starbucks. Yay me.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Random (adj.)

1. My new watch has a clicker that doesn't click so well because it is crusted with dairy products from Starbucks.

2. I am destitute according to the Arkansas Federal Credit Union...but am eligible when factoring in Kerry's student loans (Wha? Debt increased eligibility for credit? All I wanted to do was buy gas with it...).

3. A cat is sleeping on my leg.

4. Kerry made a new dish this evening: a delicious baked rice pudding. It goes good with blush wine.

5. I cannot sing Piano Man well in the key I learned it, so I am trying to learn it in a new key.

6. I think Kerry is pretty.

7. I have a mild sunburn, and indicator that I will be a tanned hunk of man-meat by the end of the summer.

8. Kerry is pretend shooting me (adding clicking noises, which is unusual).

The San Antonio Riverwalk (n.)

The Riverwalk in San Antonio is just plain awesome. And my rationale goes beyond the fact that it is the place where Kerry and I hooked up and then returned for our honeymoon. It is cool by nature, and I wouldn't mind vacationing then any time.

First, it makes most of the cool places to be in downtown San Antonio a mere walk away. And not only a mere walk, but a pleasant walk beside a cool river with lots of greenery, ducks, and a slew of eateries. Rita's, Paesano's, Pesca, Landry's, Joe's Crab Shack, a two-story Starbucks, Hooter's, Texas Land & Cattle, Toni Roma's, and even a set of competing Irish and British pubs makes the place a wonderland of eats. Yum!

Second, you can use it to as an alternative to navigating the streets. There are lots of places above the river worth seeing, as well, and it nice to be able to hop down to the Riverwalk and avoid the intersections, buses, and transients wandering around in the scary downtown world above.

Third, it has lots of food.

Fourth, it has some neat things like a mall, a convention center, and an outdoor amphitheater with the stage on one side of the river and the seats on the other.

Fifth, there is even more nummy food. I like food.

It seems hip to hate touristy places, but there is generally a reason that places are touristy. And tourists can be fun to watch. I won't quickly forget the attractive couple who got into one of the worst cursing bouts I've ever seen in public over who would carry the baby and who would carry the stroller up a set of stairs. It is fun to turn your head and make a pissy "rawr" at such people before safely blending into the crowds.

So I'll try to make it a point to visit the Riverwalk...and it's food...again before I die, especially since there are now so many personal memories wrapped up in its already established awesomeness.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Swimming Pool (n.)

You don't have to be very astute to notice how small my virtual footprint has been as of late. And sure enough, there is a single culprit to which all blame can be laid. The greatest thing about living in Summerhill apartments is the clear, cool, gleaming pool. I can say with surety that I am obsessed, much to Kerry's water-hating, chlorine-despising chagrin.

Since I was little, I have loved to swim. I learned how to swim very early alongside my cousin Matt in Aunt Judy's pool. Back when I was a wee little Snooklet, I could always look forward to making one or two summertime trips to the pool and the Dairy Bar per week... Then it was just the pool... And then there were no more trips at all. The kids had gotten old enough that the parents no longer saw the need for pool trips. An era died. I got to swim when I stayed at hotels or went to summer camps, but that was about it.

Then, when I got my pickup truck in high school, I decided to take it on myself to maintain the pool so that I could swim in it every day after work. But to the great disappointment of Aunt Judy and myself, the liner had cracked and our old pool was effectively dead.

Now, I am thoroughly enjoying access to my very own (relatively speaking) apartment pool. It may be small, and it may only be six feet deep, but it is still enough for gliding and pretending to be a fish. I've always taken to water like nobody's business. I was even a certified lifeguard at one point. I won mile and five-mile swims when I was fifteen in an age-range that went to eighteen. I have fallen out of practice since then, and I don't know how much I'll recover since the only thing I can swim in Summerhill's pool is circles, but I still love the sensation of falling into the embrace of cold, chemically water after a long shift at the bar.

One of the downsides to moving into the one-bedroom apartment will be that it is farther away from the pool, but a little walk never hurt anyone. Once we get settled into our new and improved living arrangement and replace Kerry's car, I think this new arrangement is going to suit me perfectly. Now, I just need to take Kerry a snorkel and take her to lake Ouachita (which spell-check doesn't recognize) so that she can fall in love with swimming, too.

So please don't hate me for neglecting my posts and comments. I'm living out a whole lot of dreams at once right now.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Spare Shoes (n.)

Yesterday, there was a deluge in Little Rock. In the middle of the heaviest rains, my shift manager at Starbucks thought it would be fun to make a dumpster run. It was indeed very fun, but we also got very wet and very cold. When I got home, I kicked off my slip-resistant Rockports and put my clothes in the dryer. The clothes got dry. But the shoes did not, as I found out this morning when I tried to put them back on.

Luckily, I happen to have another pair of brown shoes. They aren't slip resistant, pretty, or comfortable (unfortunate, since this evening's shift is eight and a half hours), but they fit the bill well enough.

Lesson learned: if work requires a specific type of shoe, keep spares.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Accident (n.)

Today, Kerry crashed her car on the interstate in North Little Rock. Honestly, it was bound to happen--thought I'm tempted to pout that it had to happen to her. The way they have walls constructed on either side of the road with no shoulders, lanes shifting repeatedly, and uneven dips and cracks in the pavement, the whole mess is an accident waiting to happen. And it did happen. Kerry was driving home from renewing her CPR certification in the kind of misty rain that loosens up all the oil and grease on the road without washing it away. She lost control and crumpled up her poor little Civic pretty good.

She's fine, though. She's actually better. When I went to Jacksonville to see her, she was eating pizza after two days of stomachache-induced fasting. So this was no tragedy. Just and accident. I know the sickening feeling that follows a bad car crash, knowing that you've just escaped being severely injured and ruined something worth a lot of money. But money comes more easily and more often that people give it credit for. Life doesn't. Accidents very well may be the most entertaining part of the story.

Since nobody was hurt, we were able to have a good evening with lots of crashing jokes at Kerry's expense. We got to play Apples to Apples with her family, and had a really nice time. That, in my opinion, is a lot better way to react to accidents than to stress, bewail, and mope.

In an tangentially related vein, I had an accident of my own yesterday. Kerry and I were driving to Old Glaise to celebrate my Grandpa's eightieth. I started fingering my wedding ring instead of leaving it alone like I should have. We hit a bump, heard a clank, and then noticed my ring perched precariously on top of the steering column. I tried to save it, but instead bumped it down the column. I was able to rescue it this morning by taking apart the bottom half of my dashboard and probing through all the wires and such: another humorous accident that ended in no tragedy.

Helo (n.)

Today, Kerry and I adopted a four month old kitten from the humane society named Biscuit. After re-christening him with the name of the steely principled toaster-lover from Battlestar Galactica and subjecting him to a very stressful ride home in the truck, we have watched him acclimate to life in our new apartment. He has jumped from the very top to the very bottom of the stairs in one bound, engaged in countless random sprints throughout the apartment, made claw-marks in the card table, broken one of Kerry's decorative ornaments, and fallen in love with the tiny space beneath the baker's rack Lizzie gave us (as well as the wires to my stereo system there). After exhausting himself, Helo fell asleep and purred on my shoulder while I read Hunters of Dune, making all the preceding mania worth it.

I like the little bugger. It is like he has an on/off switch. If I set him on the floor, he is one of the most playful and rambunctious kitties I've ever seen. If I pick him up, though, he becomes nice, tame and affectionate. He is a big kitty for four months, with a gray and black tiger coat and white feet. Not my favorite colors, but still soft and furry. The personality is what makes the cat in the long run anyway. I'm happy with Helo, and I hope Helo is happy with us. It will probably be stressful on him to move again so soon, but it is a stress we'll share with him.

I am worried that we will have to get him declawed before too long. He has big, sharp ones, and he seems to like to show them off. It will be another expense, but pets supposedly lend their owners extra years of life. It'll be worth it, especially considering how much we have been given to take care of the little bugger. Thanks goes to Aunt Judy and Leslie Dunn for giving us the setup.

So, everyone come over and meet Helo.