Monthly Archives: April 2013

Starfish – A Photograph

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Sunday was a -2.4 tide at Carkeek Park in Seattle, so my family took the opportunity to go tide pooling, which is where we found this beauty.

The boys had a great time, and the little one was so delighted with the things we uncovered (more starfish, eels, rock, dungeness, and arrow crabs, etc.) that he started to turn over almost every rock on the beach!

The beaches above the normal tide line don’t seem to have as much life on them than when I was a kid, but it was heartening to see a fair amount of diversity below it, even if there were fewer vertebrates than I would have expected.

6294 – A Poem

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Photo by George Gastin (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

There once was a sheep from Kelsey Creek Farm
Some frat boys borrowed it without tripping the alarm

For dark, secret rights it was procured
So its effluent was endured

The dread night finally fell
And none too soon, because of the smell

Assembled were the initiates
And told they were to be the conjugates

To join, they’d need to rise
As the animal trainer pointed out the wooly thighs

The actives did guffaw while holding their beer
At the pledges all trembling in unbelieving fear

“Dig deep!” came the call
Focused upon one with the most gall

Told to lead the corps
An open tin was set before

Wide-eyed at the peanut butter
All that emerged was a stutter

At this, the trainer did rage
Threatening to take all them back to the stone age

“Would you like the Crisco instead?
“Before I slap you upside the head?”

“Dig deep! Don’t be too long!
“And what’s wrong with your schlong?”

Steeled for the worst and ready to commit
The lights come on – it was all a skit!

It was just a practical joke
Played upon their own folk

But one year they got caught
Because of a dumb mistake in a parking lot

The president said they were spinning wool
Which was really just a bunch of bull

Once the story hit the newswires
To pull it back was ultra vires

Though over twenty years have passed
The story still leaves some aghast

And in their eyes I see the question
That they never ask in their discretion

So I always leave them with a silent grin
And let them stew in their chagrin

Anselo’s Poetry – A Story, Part 5

The chill waves threw me ashore at Brackett’s landing and left my body shivering on the dark, rocky sand. Barnacles had sliced the skin on my hands, arms, thighs and shins, and my vital fluid and torn, ragged tissue was attracting quite a crowd of invertebrates that scuttled, skittered and jostled about for a share. Seagulls cried in the air, and I thought of my grandfather throwing the morning’s extra pancakes to the gulls in a swirling flurry of white adults and mottled gray juveniles. There was a gull larger than the rest that always came for breakfast, and he had been duly named Jonathan. I pulled my knees up to my chest, hugging them tight, trying to keep some heat, and brushed Poseidon’s pets from my legs and looked about through swimming eyes.

A crowd had gathered at the end of the ferry pier to murmur and mill about and generally get in the way of the hardier souls manning ropes and carrying life rings down to the heaving waves. A freight train thundered behind me in its rolling tremble, and I could hear sirens choppily wail between the gaps in the freight, which consisted mostly of Douglas-fir trees. Likely, a few trees somewhere in that cargo had sprouted before Copernicus’ Little Commentary, waiting patiently through sun and cloud, rain and snow, drought and deluge, Cooley spruce galls, coneworms, Pileated-, hairy-, downy- and all other sundry woodpeckers, wood-boring beetles, ichneumonid wasps, black bears, lightning, lobaria lichens, native firewood gatherers and outlasted all else that orbited around and impacted them until a plaid-wrapped hoot owl born on a wanigan and now missing his left ring and middle finger gnawed them down to stumps and put them on a railcar heading north to Everett to be turned into toilet paper.

My five-year-old soul was amoral at that point to the cutting down of old-growth coastal forests because it was the furthest thing from my mind. I was cold, my grandparents were likely dead and my favorite toy car was somewhere in the murk, probably eaten by a ling cod or being driven off to some secret, underwater garage by an enterprising hermit crab.

I did not know why I was crying. It could have been the loss of my car or grandparents, the cold and wet, the creatures feasting on my flesh or the shame and horror of enjoying the warmth of involuntarily urinating in my purple jeans.

So lost was I, I did not know I was found.

A man with a pocket protector and thick glasses was crouched down in front of me with his hand laid on my shoulder. He probably had been asking me what was wrong for at least a minute. He had a weird looking wheel made of wire on a stick next to him on the sand.

“Guh…guh…guh…” was all I could gasp between sobs.

“Everything’s going to be all right. Where are your parents?”

This confused me, as there was no good answer for that right now, and it caused another round of involuntary jerks.

“Okay, okay. It’s going to be okay.” Looking about, he seemed to connect my dishevelment with the commotion on the dock. “Were you a part of what happened over there?”

I nodded between spasms.

His hand lightened a bit, and he looked around. He seemed a bit at a loss. How could you blame the guy?

“Let’s go find someone to help you out. You’re all cut up.”

“Wher…where…?”

“Over by the dock. Can you walk, or should I find someone to come here?”

I was starting to feel a bit more safe, the sobs were subsiding, and I was able to squeak out, “Walk.”

He stood, extending his hand to me, and then remembering his wheel, crouched down and grabbed the stick attached to the wheel. “My name’s Mark.”

I stood, brushed some sand off my pants and took his hand. “Ansilo.”

“Nice to meet you, Ansilo.”

Now I had the hiccups and realized how much I ached all over. I took a few wobbly steps in the sand, slipping on seaweed and tripping over a sand collar, but his steadying hand kept me going in the right direction. He navigated us towards the dock, but I could see him glancing at his wheel, which he steered in the same direction.

“What’s that?” I said, pointing at it.

“Well, it’s a wheel I’m testing for the moon.”

“The moon?”

“Yep. The moon. I work at Boeing, and my team is building a moon buggy that astronauts will be able to drive around in when they’re there. Most of the moon is covered in dust, but there’s still a lot of rock there, so I thought the beach would be a good place to test this design out.”

“That wheel is going to the moon?” I asked in wonderment. All my pain was forgotten – I had moved from despair to euphoria by standing next to a holy artifact.

Mark chuckled. “Well, no, not this one. This one is to test the design. It’s performing pretty well though, and so far, only you and me have seen it.”

I must have done something, as he stopped and looked at me with alarm.

“The moon?” I mumbled as I fell to the sand, my brain overloaded by my morning’s arc from Rambler apogee to beach perigee. I wanted to ask him all sorts of questions, but I couldn’t quite seem to make my mouth move, and things were going dim for me as I moved into a long, dark tunnel. The gull cries and lapping waves echoed down the tube until everything was silent and dark again.

I came to in a busy industrial kitchen, with clinks, clanks and clunks, shouting, liquids being spilled, meat being chopped and hacked. I can’t quite place the era but it must be pre-industrial, as the barnyard sounded close and because I could hear squeals from the abattoir.

The floor felt like cool stone to my cheek and was pleasant on my temple, but the rest of my body was wearing whiffy, course cloth that itched, and it felt like I’d been beaten.

I was getting too old for this.

I decided I should open my eyes and sit up.

“Ansilo!”

A big bear of a man with long, matted black hair and beard startled me. He wore a wide toothy smile and the pelt of what looked like a yak, but I couldn’t remember if there were yaks with spots. He was shod in leather moccasins and a shofar hung from his neck on a silver chain.

“Who…? Where…? Wha-?” I dribbled, swiveling my head around to sound my milieu.

I was in no kitchen.

The bear came and knelt down next to me and clapped his hand on my shoulder.

“What, you do not recognize your own brother? It is me, Amielio!” he said with a hearty laugh. “You must have hit your head harder than I thought. That should teach you to watch your feet in battle, brother!”

Definitely yak. Burned yak. The perfume enveloping him made my eyes tear.

“You need water! Hoi! Slipson! Bring my brother Ansilo some water!” he barked.

Slipson put down the basketful of catkins he was carrying and scurried off.

Ameilio quickly sat and put his arm around me. “Ah, my brother. A fine battle and grand victory that was. Next time you mustn’t sleep through it!” he said as he shook my shoulders.

“Who…? How…? …”

“There’ll be time to tell the story later! Now that you’re awake, I’m off.” He used my shoulder to lever himself up.

Amielio must have had very important things to go and do because he didn’t look back and didn’t see how he had accidentally shoved me back down onto the floor hard enough to cause me to lose consciousness again.

Yet again, I was plunged into the black void.

If the USPS Stops Delivering, Will Your Business Survive?

Do you know how much of your cash flow arrives via checks delivered by the United States Postal Service? If you don’t, go find out NOW. The survival of your business could hinge on it.

Today’s news of the receipt of another suspicious letter sent to elected officials immediately made me think of the 2001 anthrax mailings and how the resulting postal mail delivery slowdown nearly finished off my startup.

2001 was a rough year, and we were struggling to keep the doors open. The dot-com bubble was almost completely deflated, and it had simultaneously erased our lower-tier client base and caused our top-tier clients to cut back. Then came the September 11 attacks, which put even more downward pressure on business. While sad about broader events, me and my team were resolved that life and business would go on, even as we continued to juggle cash flow to keep the doors open.

But cash flow requires cash, and our accounts receivable split was roughly 75% checks delivered by the postal system and 25% by electronic credit card payments. As the postal system slowed down to clean up anthrax in sorting and delivery facilities, our daily mail volume decreased 90-95%. Our cash receipts tanked accordingly.

Ongoing conversations with vendors around our already late payments became even harder and meeting payroll was a real concern. Through heroic efforts on the part of Kris Bourne, we made payroll and kept the vendors from suing us for late payments. But it was close. At our lowest point, we had only a few weeks of cash on hand to fund operations.

As things returned to somewhat normal, we moved to ensure that another delivery interruption wouldn’t impact us as severely.

We shifted as many customers as possible to monthly, automatic credit card payments by offering discounts on service. For customers who wanted to continue to pay by check, we shifted many of them from monthly to quarterly payments. For new small accounts going forward, we required credit card payments.

Combined, these measures increased our average prepaid balances significantly, had the ancillary benefit of reducing our accounts receivable aging, and ensured that if the mail stopped flowing again, we would still have steady cash flow.

Are you prepared?

Salamanders – A Short Story

The woods across the street from where I grew up were my refuge as a child.

It was a green belt amidst suburban sprawl and the neighbors, (and I when I was older and tasked with such things,) would dump the lawn clippings from cutting engines in huge mounds a few feet from the road in a hollow. The progression from Spring to Summer to Fall could be tracked by the size, color, and smell of those hillocks. As the long days would shorten, the mounds would come to tower on either side of me in green-to-yellow rainbow sours of decay along the path I followed into the woods towards a small brook that was partially fed by storm drains.

This was a new forest, unlike the older forest of cedar and fir a mile away that was eventually clearcut and graded for the corporate palaces of a software empire, mostly alder and vine maple, sword fern, tangles of blackberry, and the rare snag that had been too decomposed to provide any value to harvest. The understory was a tangle of branches and leaves, vines, spiderwebs, and various and sundry creepy-crawlies like millipedes, mice, rats, raccoons, and even a woodchuck that once erupted from the bottom of my sandbox after I had been pressure digging with the garden hose.

In deep summer, it was a dappled, rustling shade loud enough to drown out most passing vehicles save the downshifted diesels heading west and uphill. Lower in the ever-shaded cut the brook had carved over the years before I was delivered on Earth, was a year-round humid climate that supported an entirely different ecosystem.

Here were mosses and fungi, slugs and snails. And salamanders! It was a few years before I ever trapped one in my hands, being too slow and uncoordinated when I was younger, but they were previously caught many times in vision.

The pure memory of my youth has been polluted over the years by things uncountable that I have remembered and forgotten, but I’m fairly certain that my damp little friends were Western red-backs. There was one spot where a broken pipe jutted from the bank and its drips had stained the glacially tilled soil orange with rust. Or it was a bacterial bloom. Who knows?

But it was my spot to visit, because I could almost always find a salamander there, and that made me happy.

I don’t recall my last visit. I’ve often thought of returning. Hesitation holds me back. I don’t know if it would be sadder to not find them or cry if I did.

I’m afraid to find out.

Anselo’s Poetry – A Story, Part 4

“Don’t bother, the liquor generator is whacked again. Everything tastes like it’s been filtered through kwarlen litter.”

Scatological imagery is not the first thing I want to consider after I have just woken up after a rough night of Brownian motion in my quarters. The restraining straps are worn and do not hold very well anymore. Every nocturnal twitch, cough or roll had been sufficient to unmoor me. Startled awake at least five times by having my hair yanked from its follicles by the exchange fans or by groggily awakening to discover my ear or nose pressed against a ventilation grille after a nightmarish dream of being sucked through turbines, reporting for watch found me desperately in need of something to jolt my nervous system and sling my brain into gear.

Floating in front of the generator with empty container in hand, I again curse the lifecycle routines we purchased on discount and loaded into our matrix on Silvan in Triangulum last week. The previous routines had been damaged so badly in our last skirmish, we had been reduced to water, and protein and carbohydrate pastes.

The heads had also been rendered inoperable, the recycler was unable to break bonds leaving us with true garbage, and the gravity deflector fried out. We had limped to port performing a tedious series of short grips in order to minimize field drift for a rapid refitting. We had carried other wounds in propulsion, communication and navigation, and did not realize until negotiating for a dry dock berth that our credit line had apparently been slashed by our employer after becoming incommunicado and not responding to status queries. Fearing we had lost the ship, they had imposed a budget freeze on us.

We had to make do, and now that doing was undoing my morning.

Staring at the generator, I realize the futility of even trying, and I pull myself to drift left a bit. Before I can even vocalize, Bratinson gives me the second of four pieces of bad news for the day.

“And the constructor’s wonky.”

I turn to look at him, expecting more. He is deeply engrossed in his leaf and it appears that nothing more is forthcoming. He knows how much dripping information irritates me, but then I return the favor when gripping without warning.

“What do you mean by wonky?” I ask, trying to contain my growing frustration.

“Just order something,” he says to his leaf while idly gesturing and reading data flows from the most recent library squirt.

“That’s very helpful, Bratinson,” I say sarcastically. I am also annoyed that he is floating at a challenging angle to read facial expressions. I cannot discern if he is smirking at me or amused by what he is reading.

I turn back to the the constructor with a sigh. “Constructor, breakfast please. My usual.”

“Whhhzzzzzzzzttt-phhhhherrpfht,” it replies.

“See?” Bratinson offers unhelpfully.

“Constructor, breakfast!” I bark, flashing Bratinson a dirty look.

“Whhhzzzzzzzzttt-phhhhherrpfht. Gwzzzzing per.”

I can hear it doing something…squishy, but these machines are beyond me. Too many complex organic fields to weave together. Give me the pure fields of gravity to lace any day.

“Deeeeennnng,” it announces and the constructor chamber merry-go-rounds and presents me with its offering adhered to a shiny, white porcelain plate. The only problem is that I cannot quite identify what is on it. A blue blob quivers and glistens through a translucent skin like an off-shade blueberry purée, flanked by a blue membrane with tiny, very sharp looking spikes prickling out of it, all spread atop an expanse of what looks like an orange, anodized aluminum, squashed sea sponge.

“What the…”

Here, Bratinson looks up from whatever he has been engrossed within and offers me a bone, “Try it. It may look strange, but could taste great.”

I snatch my food out, grab a spoon and napkin from the rack above, and guide myself to the other end of the wardroom near the window. Bratinson is watching me now, waiting to see if I am going to take the bait. He is in a gentle rotation centered somewhere around his kneecaps, and his ankles are at ten o’clock.

I have faced down worse terrors than an orange and blue breakfast course, but then my run of luck the past couple of weeks has been less than outstanding. Gingerly spooning the blue blob, I am surprised to find it crusty-hard. I frown as I apply more force, balancing my plate on my left hand. I am worried a piece is going to break off sharply and I will have to chase it down the hall. The crust yields abruptly, and I am further surprised as my spoon slices downward to find my meal has the consistency of créme brûlée before my utensil divides the acutal spongy orange layer on its journey to a sharp clink on the plate.

“Maybe it is a sponge,” I think.

Mentally sighing, I pop it in my mouth and begin to chew.

Expecting some sort of blueberry brûlée on seafood, my brain began to wildly phantogeusia until the realization kicked in that I really was tasting prime rib and garlic mashed potatoes. It was also the best prime rib and garlic potatoes that I had ever tasted in my life. It must have shown on my face.

“Told you,” Bratinson says.

Startled, I turn to Bratinson and almost spin off into the window before steadying myself, “This is incredibly good. Strange-looking for sure, but who cares?”

“What’d you get?”

“Prime rib and mashed potatoes.”

“Order something else,” he says, eyes glittering with ankles at seven o’clock.

Sticking my plate to a tackdown, I kick back over to the constructor and ponder my next order. Do I order another breakfast item, hoping that it transforms it into a dinner item, or try directly for something complementary?

“Constructor, waffles please.”

“Whhhzzzzzzzzttt-phhhhherrpfht.” Nothing.

“Constructor, waffles!”

“Whhhzzzzzzzzttt-phhhhherrpfht. Gwzzzzing per.” A rumbling noise builds in the chamber before emitting its, “Deeeeennnng.”

This time, it is a red-glazed earthenware cup with a clear domed lid and straw. It is filled with a viscous green liquid that looks like it could be metallic paint.

Plucking it from its alcove, Bratinson watches me intently as I take a pull on the straw.

Retching, I claw fistfulls of napkins from the rack in front of me and spit the foul liquid into them.

“How about this time?”

Still spitting, “It tasted like over-buttered popcorn that had been radiated until it was black, then mixed with kuli-kola.”

Vomiting in zero-G is frowned upon, mostly because some bits always manage to get sucked into the exchangers, so I quickly grabbed a cylinder of water from the chiller and used it to swish my mouth out.

While I was doing that, Bratinson, close to my vertical, tells me that no matter what you ask for, it will not give it to you, and that it will randomly give you something gourmet or rotten. There is no correlation between color, shape, or texture to differentiate gold from fool’s.

Since constructors suppress volatiles to keep down on shipboard smells, a sniff test is useless.

Clenching my soiled napkins, I suppress urges to strangle him for not telling me this before. I settle for imagining sending him out the airlock without his vacuum suit.

“So you’re telling me we have an idiot savant constructor?”

“Apparently,” he replies bemusedly. “I ordered oatmeal and ended up with something that looked like a bronze baseball and tasted like rotten fish in honey. I tried again, and got a mottled grey banana-like thing that turned out to be an excellent vegetable polenta.”

“So, basically, you’re telling me that our ration options are water or kwarlen-shit tasting beverages and either something sublime or vomit-inducing to eat?”

“That’s about the size of it, unless you have some personal rations stored.”

“Well fuck me,” I say to no one in particular. Looking about with appetite spoiled, I abandon my first meal. “I have a grip to do. I’m off to the bridge. Prepare the cabin for G-return.”

This is when Bratinson drops the third piece of bad news on me.

“Oh, a coded squirt came in. We’re to report back to Admiral Froster.”

Before I can even swear, I am plunged into combat against a black-mailed foe wearing a bulbous black helmet that seems to bend light around it like a soap bubble. Atop a stone rampart in late afternoon under cloudy skies, clad in silver arabesque-adorned armor, my comrades grunting, cursing, and screaming amidst the grim clatter of battle around me, I trip and slip, my feet entangled in bloody entrails, and go down hard onto the flagstones and slip into darkness, one final rude punishment this day for a man deprived of his coffee in the morning by an insane entanglement of qubits.

Vexed

Some time around puberty, I conceptualized as a physical presence inside of my body my angst, my anger, my fear, my hate, my dark yearnings, and my shame. I had visions and feelings of it growing inside of me like a cancer fed by the toxic spill of my emotions; bloody, pulpy, cartilaginous, pulsing, roundish, and with creeping black tendrils.

It would move between my gut and my chest, and I used to imagine cutting myself open and pulling it out, or that I could somehow cough it out, or that I could shit it out to be free of it. But as the years went by, I learned to live with it and its moods.

Sometimes it would be front and center in the middle of my chest, pulsing wildly, and I’d wonder, “HOW DOES NOBODY SEE THAT MY CHEST IS ABOUT TO EXPLODE LIKE THAT SCENE IN ALIEN?!?” Other times, most often in the shower, it would be a boa constrictor squeezing me, making me feel weak and hopeless, and I fervently wished I knew what it would take to get it out of me and run down into the sewer where it belonged.

And then there were the times it would be silent and unmoving, hiding like a tiger in the night waiting to pounce and devour its unsuspecting prey. Those quiet times bothered me the most because I could feel it if I went looking for it. It was solid but slightly yielding in that fleshy way of gristle.

Then a few years back, I noticed it was gone. No trauma knocked it out, no nirvana was acheived to banish it, no treatment cured it – it was just simply not there. I didn’t even notice when it left.

Beside the relief, I’m slightly vexed.

Was it ever really here? If so, where did it go? Why did it go? Was it something I did? Did it just find a new way to be sneaky and hide from me?

Will…will it come back?

Vexed, indeed.