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Archives, Part 15 (September 23, 2009 to October 3, 2009)

Book Review: Beyond this Horizon by Robert A. Heinlein (7.1/10) (September 23, 2009)

You may remember that, awhile back, I began my marathon of Robert A. Heinlein books. I'm certain most readers haven't even heard of this sci-fi, so if you haven't, be sure to at least check out this Wikipedia entry on the man. Besides being extremely talented at conveying even the most indescribable thought, if you look closely at the picture there, you'll see he bears a striking resemblance to John Locke of Lost fame. Coincidence? I think not.

Anyway, as can be read in the Wikipedia entry, many of Heinlein books dealt with (to put it bluntly) two things: sex and space. Now, the ideas within the books were much more varied, don't get me wrong, but, essentially, the majority were about sex... and space. Beyond This Horizon isn't particularly about either of these, though the first does make a few appearances... and is the central point of why the man does what he does... okay, so Beyond this Horizon sticks to the same mold, but in a different way.

It's not like his later books (I'll get to those soon), but it's not like his early short work, either. This book is pure transition, and possibly for that reason, it isn't all that memorable. In fact, after only a few weeks and 2.5 Heinlein books later, I barely recall the title at all (though enough to write this review).

What I can remember, however, is that the concepts introduced within the pages of Beyond this Horizon very much fed into the later Stranger in a Strange Land, what some may consider his most fantastic novel (I would have to agree). Supermen, revolution (sexual or otherwise), eugenics... it's all here, right here, in these 240 some odd pages, and all are more explored in such detail that no current author could possibly produce better even if given a thousand pages.

Yet, as I said, a book should be memorable. And despite its merits, this one certainly is not. I'm certain others may argue differently, but Heinlein best period of work was only just beginning....

Pish Posh. (September 26, 2009)

As I've mentioned in the last few posts, I'm in the midst of a runaway Robert A. Heinlein marathon, everything from his Future History series all the way through the later World as Myth titles. So, for the last week, I've been heavily engrossed by the 1987 To Sail Beyond the Sunset, the last book published before Heinlein's untimely death in 1988, though not the last on my relatively long reading list (more on this in coming weeks).

An homage to the lines of Tennyson's Ulysses, To Sail Beyond the Sunset is, beyond a doubt, unequal in work and imagination and, above all else, an epic finale to a lifetime of work. But this is not a book review. This is a blog. So, before I go further with this, let me just say that I bring this title up not because I want to promote it (though you should read it anyway), but because between the numerous episodes of deviant sexual behavior, there are unrivaled analyses of our culture from a most unusual point of view: a more than century old woman with experience in multiple time lines.

I'd like to quote one of these passages for you, found in the fifteenth chapter entitled, "Torrid Twenties, Threadbare Thirties."

Jubal Harshaw also pointed out to me a symptom that, so he says, invariably precedes the collapse of a culture: a decline in good manners, in common courtesy, in decent respect for the rights of other people. "Political philosophers from Confucius to the present day have repeatedly pointed this out. But the first signs of this fatal symptom may be hard to spot. Does it really matter when an honorific is omitted? Or when a junior calls a senior by his first name, uninvited? Such loosening of protocol may be hard to evaluate. But there is one unmistakable sign of the collapse of good manners: dirty public washrooms.

"In a healthy society public restrooms, toilets, washrooms, look and smell as clean and fresh as a bathroom in a decent private home. In a sick society--" Jubal stopped and simply looked disgusted.

He did not need to elaborate; I had seen it happen in my own time line. In the first part of the twentieth century right through the thirites people at all levels of society were habitually polite to each other and it was taken for granted that anyone using a public washroom tried hard to leave the place as clean and neast as he found it. As I recall, decent behavior concerning public washrooms started to slip during World War II, and so did good manners in general. By the sixties and seventies rudeness of all sorts had become commonplace, and by then I never used a public restroom if I could possibly avoid it.

Offensive speech, bad manner, and filthy toilets all seem to go together.

After having originally read this section, along with two others surrounding it that I will not repeat here for brevity's sake, I had to stop and just think about what had been brought to my attention.

Public restrooms. We've all been in one at some point. And, certainly, the man did have a point. These are places of absolute filth, where strangers come to have sex, where phone numbers and crude drawings fill the walls, where toilet paper, hand soap, and paper towels are precious commodities. No one, unless they are paid, cares to keep these areas clean. I've seen overflowing trash cans, broken doors, upturned hand dryers, unflushed toilets, etc.

Would you ever allow bodily excrement to liquefy and stagnate in your own toilet? I should hope not.


But this lack of care stretches much further than simply public restrooms now, much as Heinlein indicated. Before I elaborate, I know fully well that examples could run on forever and make this blog simply a list of what's wrong with society. I don't want to do that; it's been done far too many times. Instead, I'm going to concentrate on only two examples affecting me on a daily basis within my professional life.

The first is in regard to personal space. Everyone enjoys their personal space, it's true, whether a few inches or a few feet, but there are times when this barrier must be suspended, particularly when dealing with mass transit: it is simply impossible to maintain a proper space when traveling via trains or buses, and so we let that go.

Yet, let's expand the train example. On a normal MetroNorth train, there are two rows of seats, one with three seats and one with two (diagrammed: XXX I XX). With the suspension, but support, of personal space, travelers are expected to seat in the following order: (XO), (OXX), (OXO), (OO), and finally (OOO). Please forgive the crude diagrams, but they are much, much easier to convey this concept without having to tirelessly explain every action... so, continuing.

The first three steps go without a hitch, usually (though there are exceptions), but the last two usually require someone to actually demonstrate some courtesy as, despite the abundance of storage racks, most individuals are now too preoccupied (lazy) to place their bags anywhere other than the seat next to them. Why, just yesterday, I was forced to sit between two stubbornly rude women who, after I asked to sit, mumbled under their breaths and looked sternly at me as though I was the most ungrateful asshole to ever walk onto a train (as a matter of fact, the larger of the two couldn't contain her body to her own seat without being uncomfortable, so a hefty roll lay within my small area... she didn't move until leaving the train in Bridgeport).

My second point is more a general gripe aimed at PR firms and others in the professional realm and is something I've had to deal with quite often since the market collapse late last year resulted in an abundance of layoffs. It is the inability or the lack of desire to respond to a person's or organization's request or submission. I understand time is money and that being rude and secretive in regard to answering questions penetrating "strategic practices" has been well regarded in capitalism's wake, but to simply ignore an e-mail or phone message or erase it and act like it never happened is simply childish and unprofessional. Hell, people are paid to answer questions and yet they still can't find the time to do such.

I digress.

Heinlein had a point. People are rude. They don't care about anyone other than themselves and others who directly affect their lives on a long-term basis. Am I guilty of this? Undoubtedly, as are you. It's part of our culture now to be rude and inconsiderate. Don't believe me? When was the last time you said "Hello" and "How are you?" to someone walking by you on the sidewalk you've never met before? People used to do this all the time! In fact, people didn't have to do this with strangers because, at least in small towns, most knew each other.

I don't even know my neighbor's name.

I am rude. You are rude. Heinlein knew this, or, at least saw it coming. What can be done about it? Heh, probably nothing. But who cares?

(Can you see the irony? Love it)

Creativity Chart (September 28, 2009)

So, last week, I made mention of a "Creativity Chart" I promised to keep in order to track my progress as an artist. Well, I did not lie. I kept perfect record (approximately, at least) throughout the past week, entering the alotted time I spent into an Excel sheet. Here are the results (in minutes):


Date Writing Drawing Total
September 19, 2009 40 40
September 21, 2009 60 60
September 22, 2009 25 25
September 23, 2009 20 20
September 25, 2009 40 40
September 26, 2009 15 15
Week Total: 200

As you can easily see, I have yet to meet my goal of writing for a minimum of one hour per day (though I did manage this on Monday). Total activities hit 200 minutes--just over three hours--and consisted entirely of writing, including activities on this blog as well as my current story.

A piss poor beginning, but I'm working on it. It's difficult to balance a full workload, college, social life, a fiance, reading (usually while traveling to and from work) and writing.

I think I see a NetBook in my future.

Sanity's Flaw: An Excerpt (Part One) (September 30, 2009)

Hello, all! I've got a special treat for you today: the first chapter of my brand new (and, as of yet, unpublished) novel, Sanity's Flaw. This is what is currently being passed through literary agents, and so I figured "Why should they get all the fun?"

So, without further delay, I present Chapter One: 6:03 A.M.

My first memory was of walking along the East River. It was two hours before the first death and a cold Monday morning in December. There was a fine frost on the ground and dense mist hung in the air. As I recall, the ground crunched loudly beneath my boots with every step. It was my first sound, and when I paused to look toward my misbegotten journey’s beginning, it grew ever more dramatic. Aside those murky waters, gazing at the trail I had unknowingly completed, the grinding crunch never seemed to stop. Even the latent burning of wind buzzing past my ears and the crying horns of distant ships pleading for my attention couldn’t call the sound away. I can still hear it, even now, nearly two decades later.

To say it’s haunting would be an understatement.


Yes, it was a Monday morning and I was walking slowly up the cement path, with no other person in sight to guide me. Instead, instinct alone drove me on, a notion that only fed my confusion and frustration. At the time, I already knew the city’s layout, but I couldn’t name a single street. I also knew the river, but not its origin. As to the path before me, I knew where and when each stride should land, but couldn’t describe how I had come to be there on such an icy morning. And as for myself, I could feel greatness flowing within me, desperate to be released upon the world.


Yet I was a victim of lost memories. A blank slate. And so I wandered forward, ever forward.


And as I wandered, I questioned. What was the meaning of my life? Why was I there? In my gut, I knew I was set loose with a distinct purpose, a strategic goal set forth by some creator. God? Whether or not He or She truly meant for me to target the city or the people within it, to cure it of its ailments, I still don’t know. I’m considering it in depth here, now, for the first time, so many years later, but when I looked upon New York City with an empty stare as nineteen ninety-three drew to a close, my thoughts all ended with the same question: what do I do now?


Eighteen years later, it’s just another question I have yet to answer. Eighteen years. That is far too long a time not to understand the actions of a single week, and yet there are still so many more questions. Why didn’t I simply walk away and embrace the offered freedom? Why didn’t I try to find help or attempt to rationalize my actions? Why must I remember the week now as but a disheartened soul? It is difficult to address these concerns knowing what I do, knowing that whatever woes and wherefores I now describe of my short and pitiable life, none can truly describe the tortures I, and the people I met, had to endure.


I was not unlike a marionette, a doll forced to dance by some unseen puppeteer in order to weave a tale of despair and destruction in my wake. I felt no remorse on the surface, yet my heart ached with each and every woman. Did I even have a heart that day, or did that come only later? Did Antoni do that to me?


I suppose that makes this story as much his as it is mine. Perhaps Antoni’s even more so, actually. Our paths were so fatally intertwined—what else could I have done to make amends for the rather unfortunate series of events that unfolded for my dearest friend? An apology would never suffice, and none was ever given. How could I simply apologize for setting off what tore his life apart through and through? It couldn’t be done. I wouldn’t be able to stand myself if I had but said sorry after leaving him with no hope for the future. He was a brilliant man, and quite pleasant, and I never meant to do him harm—but I will let my actions speak for themselves. No point in shaming his memory.


Before we get to that, though, I must ask that, as you follow whatever sort of storyline I inevitably create, you please keep in mind that point: I never consciously intended to harm any of the victims. Not once. And I still believe, to the deepest depths of my heart, that were it not for the actions of that week, much more damage would’ve been dealt upon the poor souls who found their time with me cut short.


It is, of course, so much a matter of opinion, but as I sit here now within this isolated terminal, pondering the lives of those self-proclaimed innocents I freed, it is not for sanity’s sake that I’ve sought to commit my atrocities to paper after all these years. Nor is it merely for historical perspective or for the occasional editorial revolutionary who believes my word is first and foremost invaluable to the scientific study of the criminal mind. No. Instead, I’m writing this now for those of you who believe—truly believe!—in what you see, in what you hear, taste, smell, and even touch. I’m writing this for the readers who walk the world in disbelief of the men and women and children who stare at the television and hang onto the endless lies fed through the mass media. This book—this account of that week in December—it’s for all of you who seek to know the absolute truth, who want access to all of the details, who wish those in charge of our lives would let us know what the true, unbiased events and simply be done with it!


I shouldn’t come on so strongly. You need to be convinced. There’s no point making an argument, a statement, like that without backing it up. Otherwise I just come off as insane and I’ve tried for the past eighteen years to prove that I’m not. So yes, I am putting off my other activities for the day and sitting down to type this with a guard at my back and bars on my window for you, and for a very specific reason…. But why should I spoil it for you? You have to see it as Antoni and I did, and then maybe, just maybe, you’ll understand everything that’s ever plagued your life.


Or maybe not.

Please check back here next week for another excerpt from my forthcoming novel, Sanity's Flaw. You won't regret it.

Americone Dream (October 3, 2009)

There's only a handful of things I really, truly, honestly friggin' love more than anything else. One of these is my fiance, Kim, who is much more than perfect (you'll see why later down this post). And as much as she would love to have this entry be written about her... it isn't. This is about another thing I absolutely love. And that thing is...

Ice cream.

I love it. Truly. I don't know how people can live without it. It might be a family trait: My earliest memories of eating and actually enjoying ice cream occurred at my great-grandfather's house, where a pint of Turkey Hill Vanilla Bean or French Vanilla was always chilling in the freezer, just waiting for my spoon to break its pristine surface. My grandfather, whom I barely knew, ate ice cream (I believe it was chocolate) the majority of his life, introducing my mom into the same kind of fate, who thus passed the idea of the after-dinner bowl into my life.

So, needless to say, I've been eating ice cream almost as long as I've been able to pee (2 seconds in!). My tastes have changed drastically over the years, from vanilla to chocolate, Neopolitan to Fudge Ripple, Cookies 'N Cream to Chocolate Chip Cookie Cookie Dough, but in 2007, my current favorite was introduced by little known ice cream makers Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield with a little help from one Stephen Colbert.

My infatuation with the wonderful creation boldly named Americone Dream began one fateful night during my junior year of college. Perry, my possibly insane yet lovable roommate, happened to stop by Store 24--the local get-everything-you-can-possibly-need-while-in-college shop--and picked himself up a pint of cold, delicious goodness alongside several other assorted nick-knacks.

I thought nothing of it. I believe, actually, that I was knee deep in a game of Halo 3 and subsequently couldn't care about anything except if it happened to block the TV. So, sitting at his computer, reading Wikipedia, listening to music, and breaking into random hysterical bouts of laughter, Perry peeled the wrapper from the B&J, and began slowly and methodically chomping away. Several minutes later, with half of the ice cream in his stomach and the rest steadily melting into a viscous pool of milky splendor, Perry, decidedly finished, said, "Dude, you wanna finish this?"

Now, I'm not the biggest germaphobe in the world by a long shot. I fully abide the five second rule, believe I have the spit of the Gods, and trust fire to kill anything that happened to land improperly on a slab of meat. But, you have to understand Perry. Junior year, there was a visible line separating our two sides, dust on his side, clean carpet on my own. Mountains of laundry, rags, empty containers, tissues, crumpled pages, and other indiscriminate filth populated his area. So, if I said no, the precious B&J would simply be added to the crude trophy case of trash that was his desk; yet, if I said yes, I somehow felt I would be violating some unspoken medical rule regarding the spread of germs and death and... I don't know. It just didn't seem right.

In the end, I simply couldn't refuse ice cream. So, of course I said, "Yeah, sure."

Oh, what joy. What an amazing flavor! My mouth was ablaze with excitement! That sweet, pure vanilla base! And what's this? Fudge-covered waffle cone pieces! A caramel swirl! Heaven in my mouth!

What more, after I stop my momentary gasp of exclamation, I go on to discover that, through the Stephen Colbert Americone Dream fund, proceeds from each sale are distributed to national charities.

My God, it was the best of all worlds.

I went on to finish that container, smiling the whole while. The next week or so, I bought another one and did the same. I was hooked. When I was sucking down a spoonful, I hadn't a care in the world! Americone Dream was my drug, and you can be damned sure I was getting in my fix.

Then a sad thing happened. I went into the store, headed straight for the frozen foods, reached for the door... and saw, much to my dismay, that the slot officially reserved for Americone Dream had another flavor in it.

Infidel!

I couldn't believe it. No more Americone Dream? Had it joined the B&J graveyard that had claimed so many worthwhile flavors (Black & Tan, Bovinity Divinity, Fossil Fuel, Orange & Cream, White Russian and so many others)? Say it ain't so!

Alas, it looked to be the end of my joy. Americone Dream was gone, as was my taste for Ben & Jerry's ice cream. I just couldn't commit myself to their $3+ pints when the best flavor in the world was simply kicked to the curb like a stray puppy. Sure, I'd try a Half Baked, dip my toes into some Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, but it wasn't the same! I could drown my lost flavor sorrows in these staples... but all I wanted was a chocolate covered waffle cone piece....

I would walk past the freezer section, stopping midstride, and scan the shelves. Week after week, month after month--nothing.

Then, one day, I saw it. A column of Americone Dream! OMG!!!!111

But, I didn't buy it. The pint was $4.59. $4.59! Seriously? How the Hell could I pay that much for ice cream? Sure, it's the best ice cream to ever be made, but I can't justify that! I walked away. I didn't buy it.

The next week, it was gone. And so went my life. Americone Dream-less. I would never taste it again.

Except, of course, that's not true. In fact, I'm spooning the last of a pint into my mouth as I type this sentence. Oh, how delicious.

It happened like this. An hour after a grocery trip saw me once again staring at an infuriating freezer, my absolutely wonderful fiance (see how that came back around?) began reading through Ben & Jerry's cemetery 


I don't see Americone Dream," she said.

"What?" I asked.

I yanked the computer from her and typed "Americone Dream" into the site's search bar. Five entries down, a title stuck out: Flavor Locator. I clicked the link. A new window came up, with a drop-down menu asking me to "Choose a Product." I scrolled to A... only to see there were no A's. What the Hell. I go back to the previous page and notice... "Stephen Colbert's Americone Dream." It starts with an S!

JOY!

I go back, I drop-down, I click, I type my zip code like there's no tomorrow and I press FIND IT.

And I wait.

And I wait.

"Load!"

Six places around me have it!

"We have to go now."

And we went. And there it was. And on sale! Two for the price of one. I didn't care, just grabbing a random second flavor (Cookie Dough) as I pulled out my debit card (I only had $1 in cash at the time) and got the Hell out of there.

Within seven minutes, I was spooning me some Americone Dream. And all was right with the world.

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