Wednesday, October 31, 2018

My Empty Chair

The apartment was dark except for the flickering light of the television set. It had been like that for days, maybe weeks; I didn't really know. The concept of time had lost much of its meaning. I could tell that time was passing from the vague fluctuations of dimness through the blinds, but what did it really matter? I suppose realizing that you're dead has that kind of effect.

Finding myself dead in my easy chair had created a rather substantial existential crisis for me. What do you do with that kind of information? I mean, there I was, dead and bloated with a bottle of whiskey hanging from my stiff fingers and the TV flickering on and on. What was I supposed to do now?

Besides sitting here and staring at myself, that is. How morbid.

It was overwhelming. Sometimes so much so that I would find myself back at my door thinking I had just come home to find an intruder in my apartment. It took me a while to realize that's what was going on. I had to come to grips with my death over and over again, but each realization was a little easier, and those events were becoming less frequent. It's hard to go through that kind of trauma, especially when you have to relive it every time you begin to break down.

The worst part, though, was that I couldn't remember dying. Once I was able to get over... I was going to say "get over my death," but I wasn't over that. I don't think you can get over that. I was stuck in this room, now, with a corpse and, even if it was my own corpse, it was gruesome. If I could have left, I would have, but I couldn't move anything or affect anything. Everything was as solid as if it had been cast in stone. I couldn't even pry the whiskey bottle from my cold, dead fingers and, believe me, I needed a drink! It was the only thing I could think about other than my corpse.

My corpse and trying to figure out how I'd died, which I couldn't remember. Once I was able to focus beyond re-living the moment of discovering my body, I could remember leaving home for the bar a few blocks away: I remembered getting out of bed and puttering around with making coffee and eating something vaguely identifiable as leftover Chinese food. Opening the blinds and quickly closing them again, all of them, because of how bright it was and how much the light hurt my eyes. I remembered the splitting headache of my hangover. I contemplated turning on the TV but decided against it because that, too, would be too bright, and I didn't want any noise at all. Then deciding that what I needed was a drink and fumbling into my clothes and going to the bar...

That was pretty much it.

I didn't remember coming home again. Or turning on the TV, though, from the low volume, I must have still been suffering from being hung over and from being drunk. I didn't remember getting the whiskey, either, and I was only just realizing that I must have been a raging alcoholic. A breakfast of beer on cereal was pretty common for me, after all. But I couldn't remember how I died and wondered if that had been it.

There was a noise at the door and, as it opened, someone said, "It's not even locked." Then, "Holy Hell! That's a smell I'm never going to forget," and the door closed again. A few minutes later -- or hours, how would I know? -- two men came in with Matilda, my neighbor from down the hall, my only friend in the building.

Matilda was saying, "Of course, I knew it wasn't locked, but I couldn't just come in. That would be breaking and entering."

One of the men said, "No, Ma'am, that's not breaking, and you didn't have to come in. If you'd just looked in the door."

"But no one answered when I knocked."

"Because he was dead."

"Hey, how long do you think he's been dead?"

"I'm not the M. E., how should I know?"

"I've been knocking on his door for over a week."

I couldn't keep track of it all. Maltilda was crying. The men were looking around the apartment using sticks or something to poke at my stuff, and one of them was taking pictures of my body. It was enough to make me sick, and I gagged and dry-heaved and found myself back at my door disoriented and confused. Matilda walked straight through me as one of the men escorted her back to her apartment, and that made me feel even sicker but, still, nothing came out.

Somewhere in all that was happening another man and some other men came in. The first one poked and prodded my body and said his guess was that I'd been dead somewhere around three weeks, and the other men loaded me onto a stretcher and carried my body away. I felt like that should have made me cry or, at least, feel sad or a sense of loss or something, but I was actually kind of glad. I was tired of looking at my corpse.

Finally, I was left alone in the room; all of the men were gone. The TV had been turned off. The bottle of whiskey was sitting on the kitchen counter, and I still couldn't pick it up.

It was only then that I realized that I was alone in the room. Alone in the room! Again! And I couldn't get out. I didn't want to be stuck in this apartment that I'd died in. Stuck alone in this one room for the rest of my... life? Death? Un-life? I didn't even know what to call whatever kind of existence this was.

I think I went kind of crazy for a while, beating on the door and walls and screaming for someone to let me out, someone to help me, someone to do anything.

Even ghosts, or whatever I was, can get exhausted, I guess, because I woke up later lying on the floor near the door. There were people with weird equipment walking around the room, and Matilda was with them. She kept telling them that she thought I was still there and that she was sure she had heard me yelling to be let out. Then, at some point, she turned in my direction and looked... well, she didn't quite look at me, but it was close enough, I guess, and said, "It's okay, John. You can go now."

I blinked and looked at the open door. I looked back at her and she nodded. The other people milled about the room with their beeping and blinking equipment and talked in low voices about cold spots and electrosomethingorothers. I looked back at the door, and Maltida said again, "You can go."

So I did.

I walked out the door and into the world, and it felt like I had never been out in the world before. Like I was seeing everything for the first time. Like I was being reborn. Reborn without my addiction and without my bills to pay or, even, a need to eat anything. I walked out into the world and for the first time in a long, long time... I was happy.


If you enjoyed this story (all three parts, so make sure you check the previous two days for parts one and two if you missed them), which I have posted here for free, I would strongly encourage that you support the author (that's me!) by buying one of my other works. Seriously, it really helps.

Also, if you enjoyed this story, please share it with your friends. That's not a difficult thing to do. You can share it on Facebook or Twitter or, even, google+ (for now, at least)! The point is, spread the word.

Oh, and this won't be up forever. I'll leave it here a few weeks, but, then, it's coming down to be collected together and will no longer be free. So enjoy it now. I sincerely hope you did!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Some Body in My Chair

The apartment was dark as I entered it, which was not unusual, as I never left the lights on when I left. It's just that it seemed darker than usual, more foreboding, even with the television set on, its light serving only to deepen the shadows in the rest of the room, broken only by the flickering of people moving about on the screen. The low murmur of voices, not quite intelligible, gave the room the feeling of a hospital room with doctors and family whispering just outside of the rooms of dying patients. It sent a chill through me and turned my arms to goose flesh.

The television being on was a problem; I was sure I hadn't left it on, hadn't even been watching it before I'd left my apartment earlier in the evening; yet, on it was. A shiver began to work itself through my body as I watched the eerie light glinting off of the hard surfaces in the room. The surface of my little dining table. The glass in the picture frame on the bookshelf. The whisky bottle dangling from the fingers of the body in my easy chair... The shiver turned violent as I realized there was somebody in my easy chair.

What the fuck! There was somebody sitting in my easy chair!

I stood by the door trying to get my shaking under control and trying not to breathe. Trying to hear beyond the sounds and knocking of my body. The beating of my heart. The rushing of my blood. The ocean roaring in my ears. Trying not to give in to the vertigo I felt as the room spun around me.

I stood there, frozen, like a squirrel in front of a car... like a squirrel in front of a car... like a squirrel...

There was something about a squirrel. A squirrel leaping from my hands and dying. Unless I was the squirrel. Was I the squirrel? Was I the squirrel about to leap and die, or was I stuck in place and about to get run down? Was death my only option here?

I stared at the body in my chair and realized that his face was turned toward me and that one large eye was open and staring at me. I quit breathing. I had already been seen!

Dizziness began to overtake me, and real panic set in. Even more real panic. I was going to pass out right in front of the intruder in my house! I was just going to fall down and die for him, and there was nothing I was going to be able to do about it. Not literally die, of course, except in the way that he would be able to kill me without a fight when I fainted. As if I was any kind of fighter to begin with.

Can you black out while standing up? I don't know if that's possible, but I think I did. All I know is that time passed, some quantity of time that I'm unaware of but enough of it that I knew that time had passed. Time had passed and the person in the chair hadn't moved. At all. Not even blinked, from what I could tell. At least, once I came back to my senses and continued to stare at the intruder, he never blinked. And his mouth was slightly ajar, chin slack, and he never closed his mouth. His tongue must have been completely dry; I had a sympathetic gush of saliva at the thought.

Was he asleep with his eye open? Because I realized, soon, that the eye wasn't looking at me. It was just staring... at I don't know what. It was flat and dull and as unmoving as the body. I felt drawn to it and, without really meaning to, took a step toward it.

There was a smell in the air, a stench. Or, at least, I imagined there was. Dead bodies are supposed to stink, right? But I don't know if there was anything I could smell or not. Even once I found myself standing over the body, the smell may have just been the result of my revulsion. My revulsion at having someone break into my apartment and die in my chair while drinking my whiskey. How sick is that?

The body was already bloated... Wait, how long did it take a body to become bloated? I don't think it's at all possible that there would have been time for that. I wasn't gone all that long. Had someone broken into my place for the purpose of dumping a bloated corpse? Who would do something like that? I felt sick...

But I kept staring at the dead thing in my chair, the t-shirt spread too tightly over the now expansive belly, the taut skin, ...the empty eyes. A chill spread through my body as I began to realize the person in the chair, the ex-person in the chair, seemed familiar. Very familiar.
The body in the chair... was me.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Someone in My Chair

The apartment was dark as I entered, which was not unusual, as I never left the lights on when I left. It's just that it seemed darker than usual, but, perhaps, that was because the television was on, the sound turned down to a vague hum, and the dim light from the screen highlighted the darkness in the rest of the room, filling it with weird shadows and flickering lights.

The television was the problem. I was sure I hadn't left it on. I hadn't even been watching TV before I left, but, yet, there it was, its pale light glinting off of the hard surfaces in the room. Glinting off the whiskey bottle dangling from the hand of the man sitting in my easy chair...

There was someone sitting in my easy chair! What the fuck?

I stood silently by the door, not moving. Not breathing. Trying to still the sudden slamming of my heart in my chest through force of will. The pulsing of the blood in my ears and the hammering of my heart drowned out all other sound and, for a moment, I wasn't sure if, maybe, an earthquake hadn't started while I was standing there. The room seemed unstable enough for it.

But, no, it was me. My world spinning. Someone in my home, sitting in my chair, drinking my liquor. I was frozen in indecision, not unlike a squirrel in front of an oncoming car.

I held a squirrel once. It was injured, and I picked it up with thoughts of helping it. I'm not sure what I thought I would do to help it since I don't know the first thing about first aid or medicine, especially to do with animals, or anything of the sort, but that's what I had thought. Its little heart pelted my hand with tiny blows as I picked it up to carry it up to my apartment. I spoke softly to it hoping to soothe it, but I could tell it was freaking out. As I was going up the stairs to my building, without warning, it sprang from my hand and bounced down the stairs. I retrieved it quickly but, by the time I had gotten up to the door, it was dead.

I felt like that squirrel, gripped by some strange hand holding a whiskey bottle. Frozen but ready to leap. If only I knew where to leap. To the phone? Could I make it to the phone and dial 9-1-1 before the man reacted to my presence? What if he had a weapon? Not that that would matter; I wasn't a fighter. I wasn't really a lover, either, but I certainly wasn't a fighter.

Should I back out the door? Matilda was just a few doors down. I could use her phone. But it was Wednesday... She wouldn't be home. Wednesday was bingo night. Leave it to me to have an intruder on the one night during the week when my one friend in the building wasn't home. Which left me wondering why I had never bothered to make any other friends in the building. Not that I really had to wonder. I knew what kind of person I was, the kind who hung out in bars with people who were your friends as long as you were buying the drinks. People whose names I couldn't remember from one night to the next. And who couldn't remember mine.

Matilda was only my friend because she'd taken it upon herself to befriend me, bringing me actual food for dinner rather than allowing me to subsist on an all alcohol diet. In exchange I did the occasional chore for her, like carrying her trash down to the bin or...

Well, it didn't matter. She wasn't home, and my only other option was to go banging door to door, and I wasn't going to do that. Not only wasn't I going to do that but doing that might arouse the intruder from all the noise, so I certainly wasn't going to do that. If only pay phones were still a thing! But I couldn't think of the last place I'd even seen one...

Other than the bar a couple blocks over, the bar I spent most of my evenings in. They still had a pay phone! It was a pretty far way to go to call the cops on an intruder in my apartment when I was standing in the door to my apartment, but I didn't see what other option I might have. Which, I suppose, serves me right for never bothering to get a cell phone. Which I didn't need. Since I never called anyone.

Really, I just hadn't seen the need after my partner died three years ago. He was the social one. The one who liked to have friends over and who, evidently, maintained all of our connections. Right up until he got really sick and people quit coming around. Despite all of the talk, it seemed people still had that same 80s fear of AIDS and, yes, people still die of it. Excuse me, people still die of complications caused by AIDS. Why bother with a cell phone; I didn't want to talk to any of those people.

A low moan drifted up from somewhere in the vicinity of my chair -- my chair! -- and I was reminded of what I needed the phone for in the first place. Stupid stupid to let my mind wander around like that with an intruder sitting in my chair not much farther away than spitting distance from me. What was wrong with me? I hadn't had that much to drink. I hadn't even needed a ride home from the bar..

The pounding of my heart in my ears was making it hard to think. I just needed to get away but, when I reached for the door so that I could ease back out, I bumped it closed instead. The noise was deafening. Or may as well have been. It was enough to attract the attention of the intruder, and his head slowly turned toward me.

You'd probably expect that someone intruding in someone else's house would have a stronger reaction than to slowly turn one's head at an unexpected noise, but he wasn't just holding the whiskey bottle, it seemed. The bottle was nearly empty. Not that I really noticed that at the time. At the time, I was frantically trying to get out the door of my own house. That's somewhat more difficult to do when you're trying to move against the opening of the door.

It didn't help that I was being stared at by a bleary, bloodshot, yellow eye.

Maybe there was another moan. Maybe it was me trying not to scream. Maybe it was the squeaking of the chair. I couldn't tell over the pounding of my heart and the scrape of the door as I wrenched it open. Then I was gone. I don't even know if I shut the door behind me or not. Not that it mattered since there was already someone in my apartment. At that moment, I didn't care. I just wanted away. What to do about the person in my chair was a problem for some other time.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Get Your "Soul Cakes" Here!

If you've been around here for any length of time, you'll know that it's that soul cake time of year. If you haven't been around here, you're probably asking yourself, "What the hell is a soul cake?" Which is a very appropriate question since a soul cake is like a get-out-of-jail-free card but for Hell. Yes, a Get-Out-of-Hell-Free cake.

If you'd like to know more and see what they look like, you can go here and, for an actual recipe, here. They're pretty tasty treats.

Unfortunately, we didn't make any this year. It's just been that kind of year. Of course, we didn't make any last year, either, but that's because Sonoma county was on fire last year, and we just didn't do it. Of course, I am writing this ahead of Halloween, so I suppose we could still make some, but I don't think it's happening this year. If it turns out I'm wrong, I'll make pictures about it.

Anyway! Even though we didn't make any this year, you can still get yours by buying my story of the same title and which features soul cakes prominently. Come on, it's a Halloween story, and who doesn't need a Halloween story? NO ONE! That's who! So pick up your copy of What Time Is the Tea Kettle?... Oh, right! You get stories for the price of one! Because it's "What Time Is the Tea Kettle?" and "Soul Cakes"! What a bargain!

Come on, help a guy out. It's even got a flying cat! And, no, he wasn't launched from a catapult. He does the flying, of sorts, all on his own.

Look, I don't ask (tell) you guys to buy stuff from me very often, so pick up your copy today and READ it. It's fun!

 soul cakes

Oh, and, hey! There's another story featuring the man and his cat coming soon!
Just soon, okay!
As soon as it's finished!

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Skin Game (a book review post)

Am I all caught up now? I think I'm all caught up now.
Actually, I know I am, because I checked. I'm so caught up there's not even a release date for the next book. And, my goodness, there are a lot of these now!
Butcher seems to be playing quite the long game with the series at this point, each book moving the over-arching story a few inches closer to wherever it is he's going with all of this, which may be feet or may be miles away.

My biggest criticism about this book remains the issue of Dresden and his association with pop culture. I get that it's part of Butcher's schtick with Dresden, but it's gotten beyond the stage where it makes any sense, if it ever made sense. I mean, come on, Dresden has been stuck on an island in a cave for a year (at least) when this book starts but, yet, Dresden is still up to date on the latest pop culture references. And, yeah, it's funny (to an extent) but, now that I've noticed that Dresden shouldn't be aware of any of this, I can't get it out of my head as I read. Plus, in this one, the parkour joke ran on a bit far. Running jokes should be more related to sprints than to marathons.

So, yeah, that's the biggest fault I found with this book. In fact, this is the first book in a while where I felt Butcher was really hitting his stride (and we all know how long Dresden's legs are, so that's saying something), again, with Dresden, pop culture aside. Maybe it was dealing with the Nicodemus and the Denarians again or, maybe, it was having Michael back. Maybe, Butcher was just hitting the right beats. Maybe it was the absence of vampires, not that I don't like Thomas, but there have been a lot of vampires for a lot of while in these books, and there wasn't anything like that this time. No stuff with the council, either.

Oh, wait, there was one other thing:
A clever author will hide a twist in a story in plain view by giving you the pieces of the puzzle but in such a way that you don't really know what you're seeing or how to put them together. A good example of this is The Sixth Sense. When the reveal happens, you kick yourself and realize you should have seen it the whole time.
A not so clever author hide the twist by hiding the pieces so that you can't figure it out at all. Sure, I suppose you could guess the twist, but that's just guessing. A good example of this is The Illusionist, a movie which has, like, 10 minutes of flashbacks during the reveal to show you all of the things it didn't show you during the movie.
And that's what Butcher does here, stops and almost literally says, "Oh, here's what I didn't tell you about that happened earlier in the story." There are ways you can make that work but probably not in a first person narration where the narrator is the one holding stuff behind his back.

Anyway... I suppose I got over that bit fairly easily because I almost forgot to include it at all despite the fact that I was quite annoyed at that point in the book.

This book feels like it has a lot of significant events in it. Little events. Not huge things like when Dresden died or when Dresden became the Winter Knight but lots of little things, all of which would be spoilery, so I'm not going to mention them. And there's one thing that happened that the un-happening of is never mentioned, though it's kind of implied that the un-happening happened, but that also seems like it should be more significant than to mention that it happened, or un-happened, and I don't know if it's significant or not! And it's kind of niggling at me and I want to know what it means!

Damn you, Butcher!

Well, as I'm sure I've said before, if you're a fan of the Dresden books, you're almost sure to like this one. If you're not a fan, it's probably because you haven't read any of the books. Or... well, I'll just say it: There's probably something wrong with you.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Tosca (an opera review post)

In my last opera review, I talked about the bel canto opera style. Well, I'm not the only one who doesn't, or didn't, like it. Verismo, which means "true" or "real," was, at least in part, a reaction to the bel canto style which dominated opera through a large part of the 1800s. Puccini is probably the most well known verismo composer. So, where last time we had Donizetti playing fast and loose with history and facts in the name of some "emotional truth" that he completely made up, this time we have Puccini paying close attention to facts and details and presenting a fictional story set against exact historical veracity.

When I say he wanted to get it all correct, I'm not exaggerating. The story is set against a particular day in Rome when they got news early in the day that Napoleon had been defeated. In fact, the news was false and Napoleon was actually victorious, so the celebrations that had started over Napoleon's "defeat" came to a sudden halt when the actual news finally reached them that Napoleon had won the battle. Puccini set his story at three specific places in Rome, actual places that are still there today, and reproduced them exactly. In fact, he wanted to include the ringing of the bells in  the church that part of the opera is set in, so he went to Rome so that he could listen to them and accurately incorporate their music into his score. There was no loosey-goosey "emotional truth" and re-writing history for Puccini!

Of course, none of that has anything to do with this production; it's just to contrast Tosca against Roberto Devereux.

As for this production, it was great. At least we (my wife and I) thought it was. Evidently, the local opera critics didn't think much of it, overall, because they felt it was not original enough... What...? These are the same people who complain when SFO stages a classic opera in some new way, as with the opera set in the museum last year (or the year before; I forget).  So you can't do it the way it's always been done, and you can't do something too original, either. What line is it they want walked, here? Oh, wait, the invisible one.

So my wife and I thought Tosca was great. The sets were stunning. Of course. And the singing...

Well, Briane Jagde was in it as the male romantic lead, and he was great. I know I've talked about Jagde before -- this is at least the fourth opera I've seen him in, maybe fifth -- and he's always quite good. Okay, very good. I enjoy him a lot. He's not one of those "stand and sing" fellows, and I really appreciate that. In fact, in this one... wait, hold that thought.

Tosca was played by Carmen Giannattasio. This was her debut to the role and to SFO, and she was also great. Giannnattasio and Jagde had great chemistry together, and they both had scenes where they had to sing while lying on the floor! Excuse me, they both had scenes where they had to sing while lying on the fucking floor! And if you'd had your eyes closed, you wouldn't have been able to tell they were on their stomachs on the floor. Do you know how hard it is to sing while lying on your stomach? Why don't you try it. And they had no loss of volume while doing it!

Yeah, I was pretty impressed with that.

All of that to say that we really enjoyed the opera. And, if you go into it without knowing the plot, it might just throw you off a bit. At least once. However, it is Puccini, so expect everyone to die in the end. Okay, well, it's not Hamlet, but Puccini may be the best at deaths other than Shakespeare.

Friday, October 19, 2018

But Is It Really Just "Stuff"?

We just had the one year anniversary of the devastating Tubbs fire here in Sonoma county. Of course, that wasn't the only fire happening at that time; it was just one of many. You can read my perspective of what happened here. Anyway...

One of the things that gets said a lot about the physical losses people suffered is that it was "just stuff." Stuff can be replaced. And, to some extent, all of that is true. I said something similar about my own stuff back around the time of the fire when I decided that all I needed was my writing paraphernalia (laptop, flash drive, notebooks) and my people (which includes animals). The rest was just stuff. And I still agree with that on the whole as evidenced by my efforts during the past year to get rid of a lot of my collectibles. [If you're interested in buying comic books and gaming stuff, let me know!]

But! But...

The Museums of Sonoma County is doing an exhibit, right now, of art "from the fire" in honor of the anniversary. One of the things said in one of the pieces was, essentially, "Yes, but it was our stuff." It included a list of the things lost in the fire that were actually irreplaceable. And I could go a lot of different directions with that including doubling down on the original "it's all just stuff" proclamation, but, instead, I'm going to go in just one direction:
It's not just "stuff;" it's memories.

As I mentioned, I'm working on selling off my old collectibles and some of that is just stuff. It's like a byproduct of earlier days when I worked in comic/gaming retail and stuff that accumulated because I was collecting something or... whatever. Just stuff. But some of that stuff that I'm going through is more than that. Some of the things have memories attached to them and, when I find something like that, it brings those memories bubbling back to the surface of my brain (which, now that I think of it, is a gross image; I may have to use it in a story some day). Some of those memories are things that in all probability I would never have thought of again if I hadn't come across the item associated with the memory.

For instance:
There was this game called Mage Knight that came out about 15 years ago. It's a miniature battle game I used to play... which was really all I remembered about it as I started pulling out boxes of surplus figures to sell off. But, then, I found one little box of figures that were set aside from all of the rest, particular figures: They were my army from a campaign I ran with a group of friends back when the game was new. I would never have remembered about that if I hadn't found that particular box, because the memory of it was tied to the army.

Going through a box of comics recently (and I have a LOT of comics), I came across some old X-Factor comics which included issues from "The Fall of the Mutants" story line and the issue with the death of Angel and the introduction of Apocalypse, and I was immediately taken back to when I first got those issues and read them and what it felt like when Angel died and the anticipation involved in waiting for each new issue. Things I haven't thought about in at least two decades, maybe longer, and only remembered because I had a piece of stuff in my hands.

And then there's the fact that one of the places I grew up (my grandparent's farm in East Texas (and my great-grandparent's, too, for that matter)) burned down in some wild fires in Texas several years ago. Those places are gone, and I can never take my kids there, now, to see them, and I don't have any clue as to the memories in my head that may have drifted away in a smokey haze because I know longer have a thing in existence to call it forth.

So, you know, sure, it's all just things. And some things are replaceable, but the cross-stitch owls I made for my grandmother when I was a teenager (which is actually in my garage because my mom sent it to me after my grandmother died) is not. And the rope art piece I made for my grandfather is also not replaceable, and that was still at the farm in East Texas when it burned.

And none of what I'm saying is in defense of having stuff, because I do believe that, as Americans in the US, we tend to have way too much stuff. I certainly have way too much stuff, which is why I've endeavored to lighten my stuff load, but, also, it's not my place to devalue someone else's stuff with the declaration to them that, "Well, it's just stuff." How am I to know what memories are tied up in that stuff? How am I to know what they permanently lost? What memories are gone forever and what things can't be passed down? What things are significant and what things are not?

I can't; that's how. So, if someone is devastated by the loss of their things, well, that's okay. They get to be devastated. And if someone else shrugs it off with "it was just stuff," that's okay, too. It's not for me to know or judge. But you know what I think you can do? You can listen to someone tell you about the things that were important to them that they will never see or have again. You can let them experience that memory by telling you about it. Maybe, that way, they can hold onto it just a bit longer. And, really, what are we without our memories?

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Winchester Mystery House

The Winchester Mystery House is located in San Jose, right in the middle of town, which was kind of weird for me, actually, because you don't think about a "haunted mansion" being right downtown surrounded by buildings and restaurants. Of course, there was no city surrounding the house when it was being built... when it was being built for 38 years.

Here are the facts:
Sarah was married to William Winchester, the only son of Oliver Winchester, the owner of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.

Sarah and William had a daughter who died after only about a month. Sarah was devastated by the loss, and the couple never had more children.

Her father-in-law died in 1880 and her husband died in 1881, leaving her with about a 50% ownership in the company and insanely wealthy.

The death of her husband drove her out west, where she purchased the property on which she would begin building her mansion.

Once construction began on her mansion, it continued non-stop up until the moment of her death, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. (As far as I can tell, there were no exceptions to this.)

She had a fascination with the number 13.

Here are the legends:
She believed she was cursed because of all the gun deaths caused by her company.

She built her mansion in the haphazard style that she did to confuse the spirits of the dead which were constantly seeking her out.

She slept in a different bedroom every night so that the ghosts would never know where she was.

I think I had some other things I wanted to say about this, but I got interrupted, and I don't remember what other things there were. Anyway...
Taking pictures inside the house is not allowed, but, as I said in yesterday's post, we went on a candlelight tour, so there wasn't enough light for pictures anyway. Pictures will be posted tomorrow from the grounds.

Fun fact:
The house was originally seven stories tall, but it lost three stories in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. It was never rebuilt to that height and remains at four stories, today.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Winchester (a movie review post)

Let me start this off by saying that I am not a horror movie person. But, then, that was not my motivation for watching this movie and, now, having seen it, I'd have to say that this is barely a horror movie, which was probably the cause of its poor reception. When you have something billed as a horror movie, the people going to see it want horror. At best, this can only be called a spooky movie. In fact, it was rather reminiscent of the TV show Ghost Whisperer.

That being said, my family largely enjoyed the movie, but, then, none of us are horror movie people so, if it had actually been a horror movie, we, as a family, wouldn't have watched it. I would have been doing that on my own because, like I alluded to, I had other motivations for watching the movie. The main one being that the house in the movie is a real place, the Winchester Mystery House, and we had been talking about going to visit it for years. When the movie came out, with Helen Mirren, no less, I figured I'd watch it since we still hadn't been to visit the house.

But I never got around to it.

Then, we went to visit the house, finally!, back in September, and that provided the motivation to watch the movie, as a family, no less, though that took some convincing because of its "horror movie" status.

As I said, my family largely enjoyed the film. Easily, the best bits were when they used rooms we had seen on our tour, at night by candlelight! (new this year), which gave the movie some personal emotional connection. The acting was fine, Helen Mirren perhaps a bit wasted in this particular role, though, since the movie didn't really rise above the ghostly mundane.

I think the biggest failure of the movie was its lack of focus on the house itself. Sure, the house features into the movie, but it's really only ever a side-effect. It's like the filmmakers couldn't decide whether they were making a horror movie or a historical movie and, so, fell somewhere in the middle, a middle which didn't really work for the public in general since, I'm sure, most of the public doesn't realize the house is real and, certainly, most of the public has never been there.

Anyway, if you like a little bit of spook, especially since this is October, this could be worth watching. If you like a lot of spook, this is not for you. If you like a little bit of history and a lot of history-fiction (shut up, I don't want to say "historical fiction," right now), this could be worth watching. If you like a more in depth look at your history in your history-fiction, this is going to disappoint, as it doesn't really ever tell you anything more than that there was a woman named Sarah Winchester who built a weird house.

And more on that tomorrow.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Hanging Chad

I was thinking today about how, sometimes, the course of history seems to bend around seemingly inconsequential moments. Moments that might even seem consequential at the time but only in the way that a kid thinks any given Christmas is consequential but, then, easily forgotten. So the moments, no matter how anticipated they were, fade into inconsequentialness, and we never think of them again even though they turn out to be pivot points of history.

So... here we are on the brink of environmental devastation... the end of life on Earth in its current incarnation... and I was wondering how we got here.

It's not like this was all of a sudden and we couldn't have made plans long ago about how to deal with it. It's been more like a gas gauge in a car, and we've been choosing to bypass all of the gas stations along the freeway telling ourselves we'll be fine even though the gas stations have been fewer and fewer along our drive...

Have you ever driven through west Texas? I have. Granted, it's been a while, but I can't imagine it's changed much. When you drive through west Texas, which is vast, there are signs along the freeway that say things like "Next gas station 48 miles," which may not seem like much, but it's a long way when your gas gauge is riding the empty line.

We're in a car running on fumes and about 20 miles into that 48 mile trip to the next station.

You do the math.

The thing is that the driver of the car has been choosing to drive past gas stations for hundreds of miles. We, as passengers, haven't been paying attention, but the driver has known all along.

See, it's a metaphor.

Scientists and politicians and corporations have known about climate change for decades. It's just the public that hasn't been very aware, and that was all the better for politicians and corporations. Still, with things like acid rain in the 70s and 80s, scientists almost convinced politicians and corporations to do something about the looming threat of environmental catastrophe all the way back in the 80s. Almost. Until corporations really looked into the cost and profit loss of fixing the planet, and they made the decision to fuck the planet and rape it for all it was worth on its way to ruin. By the early 90s, Republicans had us firmly on the path of unnatural disaster and did it gleefully.

But there was still a pivotal moment, a moment that probably seems inconsequential to most of us, right now, but that's only because we're not looking at it through the correct lens.

That moment was Al Gore's loss to Bush for the Presidency in 2000. We could even point, more specifically, to the hanging chad controversy in Florida and the subsequent Supreme Court case that handed the Presidency to Bush in a 5-4 decision. That one moment changed everything and sent us on a path to destruction that we seem unwilling to stop.

Hey, I get it. I was no fan of Gore at the time. He seemed like milk toast to me. And I never liked Bubba Clinton (still don't like him, though I'm a huge fan of his wife). Then, when 9/11 happened, I thought how fortunate we were to have Bush instead of Gore. Yeah, I was young and stupid, and, hey, I grew up in the South and still had some of that stupidity running around in my head.

Let's go back and look at that moment, though, that moment that gave us Bush, and wonder what things would be like if Gore, who WON THE POPULAR VOTE (sound familiar?), had become the President instead.

  • Gore was (and is) extremely environmentally minded. He would have put us on a path of environmental reconstruction more than a decade before Obama began making the attempts. (Attempts that Trump (#fakepresident) has completely reversed making things worse than ever.)
  • Gore would not have involved us in all of the wars that Cheney put us in. Wars motivated by profit and oil, not delivering democracy or freedom to people.
  • I'm just gonna go ahead and say that we would not have suffered the financial crash of 2008 if Gore had been in office. Much of what allowed that to happen can be traced specifically to, well, not exactly Bush, because Bush was too stupid, but to Cheney and his people. Profit at all costs and all of that bullshit.
  • Trump (#fakepresident) would not be driving our country and the world out into the middle of the desert right now in a car with no fuel.
I'm not saying everything today would be all sunshine and roses if Gore had been President; after all, there would still have been the scum-of-the-Earth Republicans (especially Newt and Mitch) doing all they can to destroy us all. But I do think things would be... better. And we would at least be on a path of environmental protection rather than one of environmental destruction. And, maybe, yes, MAYBE, the Middle East wouldn't hate us quite as much, because I'm pretty sure Gore's response to 9/11 would have been much more measured than the "bomb the shit out of them" approach the Republicans took.

It's all just something to think about. Hindsight and all of that.

It's also something to think about because I believe we're just a few weeks away from another of those pivot points in history. And, yes, we do see this one coming up as consequential, and that's because IT IS. We can't allow the Boomers another win in November. If they consolidate their power with this upcoming election, that will be the end. Authoritarianism will have taken root firmly in American soil, and there will never be another fair election in the United States again. Not without a rebellion. But, more importantly, it will spell the final doom for the Earth.

Sure, you go on and say that I'm being extreme, but, then, you go read the UN climate report and tell me if you still think that. If you do, you're one of the people in the car running on fumes, passing the last gas station while telling yourself, "We'll be okay." We're not gonna "be okay" folks. It's time to turn this thing around and start fixing the damage that's been done.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Roberto Devereux (an opera review post)

Donizetti is one of the most prolific composers of opera who has ever lived, having composed nearly 70 operas in his 50 or so years on Earth. I'm just going to assume, wait, I don't have to assume; he wrote his first opera at 19, so that's better than two a year for the rest of his life. Which I don't know why I'm telling you (or even if I told you before, considering that this is the third Donizetti opera I've now seen) other than to say that Donizetti wrote a LOT of operas, and I'm having to go with idea that they weren't always good. On the one hand, I loved Don Pasquale but, then... Well, then there's this.

I want to make it clear, here, that my problem is specifically with the opera itself, not the production. As is generally the case with SFO, the production was top notch. The set, while not as good as the previous opera we saw, was still pretty fantastic and based, loosely, on the Globe theater. It was meant as a metaphor, but I'm not sure that bit really worked. The costumes were great. And the performances...

Okay, Sondra Radvanovsky, who played Queen Elizabeth, was amazing. Seriously, she was incredible. Both her singing and her acting. I can't quite say the same for the rest of the cast. Not that any of them were bad, they just didn't rise to the same level as Radvanovsky.

And this is where bits of the opera begin to fall apart for me, though. It's a bel canto style opera, which means, approximately, "beautiful song." Donizetti was one of the central figures in bel canto. On the surface, that sounds fine, right, an opera with beautiful songs? The problem is that bel canto can better be described as happy sounding music. It's all light and bubbly and stuff and, well, Roberta Devereux is a tragedy. The words and the music don't fit together at all. It's a little disconcerting to have someone singing about betrayal and heartache while sounding as if she's singing about a glorious spring day.

Then there's the bit where Donizetti and his librettist, Salvadore Cammarano, took an actual historical event and completely fictionalized it... to get at the "emotional truth" of the story, they said. Um, wait... If you completely change the story so that it has no real relation to the things that actually happened, how can you get at any emotional truth involved in what really happened? The short answer: You can't! And they went for the wrong "emotional truth" with this story, anyway.

Which brings us to the biggest issue of Roberto Devereux:
Elizabeth governed England during a time of tremendous prosperity for the country. "She" defeated the Spanish Armada, making England ruler of the seas. And while I know it can be debated how much of this or how much of that can be attributed to Elizabeth, Donizetti reduces her to a petty, lovesick adolescent who has people executed for spite and personal vengeance. A female Trump (#fakepresident), if you will.

It was disappointing, to say the least. It played up all of the worst cliches about women while adding some horrible plot devices, including what can best be described as a "magic" ring that worked as a "get out of execution free" card. This is not an opera I'd ever want to see again, no matter the production. And it puts in doubt future Donizetti operas. Yeah, despite how much I loved Pasquale, this one was so bad that I'm not sure I want to see anything else by the guy. Especially since I wasn't crazy about Lucia di Lammermoor, either. Maybe another of his comedies.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Rebels: "The Last Battle" (Ep. 3.06)

-- "I'm sure everything will go horribly wrong."

Remember that episode of Giligan's Island where the Japanese soldier who doesn't realize World War II is over shows up in a submarine? You know, the fact that he'd been lost for... what? 20 years explaining that he didn't know. Now I'm wondering what he ate that whole time, because it was a tiny submarine. Anyway, he turns up on the island and is still busy being at war. This episode is kind of like that.

Rex, Kanan, and Ezra hit up a planet where Rex believes there's a stockpile of weapons left over from the Clone War, and he's not wrong, but, as it turns out, they've been taken by a holdout of Separatist droids who think the war is still on. And so, too, our heroes, as they stumble into a trap.

The Clone Wars frequently delved into philosophical questions, whole episodes and entire arcs being devoted more to the question being asked than to the action, but Rebels has mostly stayed away from that and, even when dealing with any kind of moral dilemma, it has kept the action first and foremost. And this episode has plenty of action, but it may be the first episode where the questions really are the focus of what's going on. Questions like, "If no one won the Clone War, who benefited?"

It's a good episode. One of my favorites of the series so far. Probably, with its emphasis on Rex and the Clone War, you could even watch it without having seen the rest of the series, assuming, that is, that you've watched Clone Wars.

"We'll be fine. We have a Clone Wars veteran with us."

"We haven't captured anyone in years."
"We haven't captured anyone ever."

Monday, October 8, 2018

Cavalleria Rusticana & Pagliacci (an opera(s) review post)

Here we are well into the 2018/19 opera season. "What?!?!" you say, "When did that happen?" Well, that happened last month when I was posting only photos. And writing various posts that weren't scheduled to go up until October. Like this one. Oh, come on. It's not like you were going to rush right out and see it anyway, so you didn't miss anything. You can just be happy in the knowledge that I got to go see it and wish you lived closer to San Francisco.

Our first opera(s) of the season was a pair of one act operas that are traditionally performed together. There's not really a good reason for this other than the fact that they are relatively short for operas, being one acts, and the fact that they were composed at roughly the same time and are early representations of the verismo movement. That's that thing that Puccini is known for. Cavalleria Rusticana is considered the first verismo opera.

It's kind of funny, actually: Mascagni wrote the opera for a contest... Yes! A contest! They had those back then, too! It's kind of weird because I always sort of thought that writing contests (of whatever kind)  were more of a modern invention, but I guess not. So, anyway, he wrote it for a contest, the first prize of which wass that the organization holding the contest would produce the winning opera. Well, Mascagni won. And you could say that it actually changed opera permanently.

But this isn't a history lesson; it's a review, so you'll have to look it up if you want to know how that turned out. Cruel, I know.

The first thing to know about this particular production is that the set was amazing! I mean seriously amazing. The two operas, the second being Pagliacci, are actually set in different places and aren't connected at all; however, for this production, they set both operas in the same small village and used the same village people for both operas as well as some of the characters. That, also, was really cool, but the main thing was that the set was amazing, and they were only able to do that by setting them both in the same place so that they didn't have to do a set change between the two performances.

The next thing to know, I suppose, is that the set (and I'm including the costuming as part of the set, just because) was the best part of the production. Which is not to say that this was not a good show, because it was. All things considered, it was pretty engrossing. As is pretty typical with verismo operas, they were both tragic love stories, not that that is not pretty typical in opera in general, but verismo kind of specializes in it.

Unfortunately, the performances didn't rise to the same level as the set. Mostly, they were solid, but there was nothing exceptional. Actually, the one guy who was supposed to be a big deal, Dimitri Platanias, fell flat. And he had parts in both operas. But he was definitely a "stand and sing" kind of guy and seemed to have problems moving around the stage when required to. He tended to be rather expressionless, too, so, when in Cavalleria Rusticana he finds out that his wife is having an affair, he comes off as kind of bored, likewise when he's challenged to a duel by his wife's lover a bit later.

It's amazing how one person's performance can affect an entire show.

And, you know, maybe he was just having a bad night. I don't know. All I know is that Platanias was supposed to be a big deal, but it's difficult for me to always know what that means. Maybe he's a big deal solely because of his voice, which is a valid thing in the opera world, but, I think, opera is changing and you have to bring some form of acting ability with you to the stage, and this guy, at least on this night, didn't have it.

Still, the production was well worth seeing.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

It's Not About "The Gays": A Look at Abuse in the Catholic Church

First, I'm writing this post in August while the Catholic church is, once again, dominating the news with yet another sex scandal. Which is part of the problem, that we look at these as individual scandals when they are, in fact, not individual but part of a pathology within the Catholic church.

Second, I'm assuming that the current scandal will have dropped out of the news by the time this posts. I'm also assuming that nothing will have changed in the church, again, so this post is still highly relevant.

Third, it's not the Catholic church that is the root of this problem, but we'll get to that in the post.

* * *

In the United States, we tend to have this perception that homosexuality and pedophilia are linked. Like one begets the other. I'm just going to say that the root of this lies in the Catholic church. The root of the perception, that is, because that's what it is, a perception. It is not a true thing beyond the fact that men have this problem with seeking out young sexual partners, which actually has nothing to do with being Catholic or homosexual and usually stops short of pedophilia.

The truth is that most, the vast majority, of the priests who have committed these atrocious acts of sexual violence against children would not or do not consider themselves homosexuals. These are not "gay" acts of men against young boys. These are acts of aggression of men in power against the only outlet they have: boys.

Which is where and why it gets complicated and misunderstood. The public has only seen it as men abusing boys -- which may be the only way the public can see it -- and interprets that has homosexual pedophiles, which causes those two things to be linked in the collective consciousness.

Probably what is needed here is a history of the Catholic church and the practice of sending young men into the priesthood, basically, against their will. But let's sum all of that up by saying that sending men to be priests because it would be good for the family or sending away the troublemakers in hopes that it will straighten them out or sending men because they simply have no other prospects are all bad reasons for anyone to become a priest. None of these men are really signing up for the "required" celibacy, so it should be no surprise when they don't succeed at it.

The problem is that when they don't succeed at it, at keeping their sexual desires in check -- And when I say "desires," I don't mean the desire to have sex with other men or with boys; I mean the desire to have sex. Period. You men reading this should understand what it's like to be young and horny.* -- the only people they have around them with whom to express these desires, the only "safe" people they have around them with whom to express these desires, are young boys. I say "safe" because they can't express these desires with each other. Let's look at those reasons before I talk about why children are "safe" targets.

  1. As I said, these men, on the whole, don't identify as homosexuals, so they're not actually attracted to their companions. Or to men.
  2. The men around them are their equals, so their silence is not assured.
  3. The attitude about sex in the Catholic church is that any sex not specifically meant for procreation inside a marriage relationship is sinful. Protected sex is sinful. Masturbation is sinful. Sex because you're horny is sinful. [I should point out, though, that it is perfectly fine for a man to rape his wife as long as he can say it was his intent to put a baby in her. The Catholic church is FUCKED UP. [I should also point out that many protestant churches, especially Evangelical churches, share these same views.]]
  4. The Catholic church (and most protestant churches) view homosexuality as a sin. They, in fact, treat it as if it is somehow the worst of all mortal sins. So, though I said that these priests don't view themselves as homosexuals, they also know that having sex with their compadres would be a homosexual act.
It's pretty clear, I think, that the idea of approaching a brother priest with the idea of sex is more than just dangerous. Priests could get excommunicated for things like that or, at the very least, severely disciplined, and it would ruin any future prospects for anyone with any kind of ambition.

Which leaves only one outlet for their sexual frustrations, the young boys working in the church alongside them. Boys because that should remove all doubt of any shenanigans. Because, you know, homosexuality is so serious and surely no priest would ever engage in anything even suggestive of it. I'm going to guess and say that the issue of sexual abuse in the church would be even greater if they allowed, also, for altar girls.

See, the thing about kids is that they are easy to intimidate into silence. Then, even if they do talk, adults are so dismissive about what they have to say, especially if it's not something they want to hear, that it hardly matters that they tried to tell anyone. And, if someone believes one of the kids, say, a mother, then she has to break through the male power structure of the Catholic priesthood to have someone listen to and believe her.

Until recently, all of this has been insurmountable.

And it takes us back to the real problem: male power structures. Because this not just a problem in the Catholic church; it's a problem everywhere you have men in power. You don't have to look any farther than our own #fakepresident to know as he gleefully boasted about how he could grab women by the pussies and they would just let him do it. And Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby and and AND! So many ands.

It's clear that anywhere you have men in power that they will abuse that power, frequently in ways that damage other people, especially if they have other men around them to help them cover up those abuses. The Catholic church just happens to be the greatest bastion of male power on the planet, so it has become the bastion of the greatest abuses.

Oh, yeah, I hear you people out there saying that women aren't any better and that they would also abuse power if they had it. But here's the thing: You have no real empirical evidence for that. You can't, because women have so seldomly been in power. And, when they do abuse power, it's almost never against people. None of which matters, anyway, because it's just a deflection from the point.

The point being that male power structures, having been built up over centuries, have a rotten core and need to be replaced. I'm not advocating for any specific replacement, but, as far as I'm concerned, the entire priesthood of the Catholic church -- including the Pope, and I like him! -- probably ought to resign. If they had any amount of honor in them and empathy for people the church has been raping, literally and figuratively, for hundreds of years, they would all step down. Unless they believe that raping children is what God's work is all about.

Then we can move on to all of the other churches where men hold all the power. And all of the other institutions and government structures.

*I once had a friend tell me that when he was horny, he was almost willing to fuck anything with a hole in it. And I had another friend who kept a special Coke bottle in his room, the old glass kind that used to come in soda machines before they switched over to cans.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Rebels: "Hera's Heroes" (Ep. 3.05)

-- "The empire is getting better at anticipating our moves."

This episode gives us a glimpse, or maybe a little more than a glimpse, into the workings of the mind of Grand Admiral Thrawn. And we get some more background on Hera in the mix.

See, Thrawn has gone to Ryloth because the guy, Slavin, who's in charge of the occupation there is, well, incompetent. Which has been working out very nicely for the rebels. But Thrawn shows up, and all of that changes. Not that the rebels know anything about Thrawn; they just think Slavin has suddenly become incredibly competent.

It's an interesting episode which includes a face-to-face run in between Hera (and Ezra) and Thrawn. It also forces Hera to make a decision between her heritage and her friends. I'm looking forward to seeing how this meeting between Hera and Thrawn will play out.

"You didn't think that through, did you?"

Monday, October 1, 2018

Rebels: "The Antilles Extraction" (Ep. 3.04)

-- "We are unarmed. You have no right to fire on us!"

One of the things that has become kind of accepted lore about Star Wars is that the rebels have better pilots (and ships) than the Empire, just much fewer of them. What the Empire lacks in skill and shields, they make up for with numbers. Lots and lots of numbers.
The opening of this episode abuses that notion as a handful of TIE fighters lay waste to an entire rebel squadron of a-wings.
It was fairly spectacular.

But, you know, early days of the rebellion and all that.
It was clear the rebellion needed better pilots...

So they sent Sabine in to get some.

And we get to meet Wedge while he's still an Imperial cadet!
Which is pretty fucking cool.

I can't honestly say at what point I became a Wedge fan. I know that it feels to me that it was before Empire came out. I mean, he did fly his x-wing right through a TIE fighter. So cool. Of course, he also abandoned Luke during the trench run, so... there's that. I do know that I was very excited that he was Red Leader in Jedi. I suppose it doesn't really matter when, just that I am. Cool character. Glad to see his origin story, per se.

"We have to make the most of this chance; we might not get another."

"What's your plan?"
"I'll tell you when I figure it out."

"We were coming to rescue you."
"That's cute."