Sunday, October 31, 2004

Mâvarin Fiction Entry: A Letter from Fayubi

The following letter was written twenty years before the events of Heirs of Mâvarin.

Art by SherlockSabedu, 5th day of Mudelem, 876 MMY


Well, I finally took your advice about that one prophecy. It only took me eleven years. King Jor turned out to be a rather nice man, with a streak of eccentricity that runs at least as deep as mine. He's worried now, though, as we knew he would be. He believed everything I said, even if he didn't understand it all. Perhaps now that he knows there's trouble ahead (not that he doesn't have plenty of trouble already), he will appreciate what he has while he still has it.

I got through the battle of Eplimar all right, wondering the whole time why the Infinite sent me here before the fighting started, and then told me not to talk to the King before the fighting was over. I managed to help the King's forces with some illusions. My only injury was then a horse stepped briefly on my foot. Nothing's broken, fortunately. I'm hardly limping any more. There were a few moments when I was in real danger, but a couple of the King's soldiers drove off the Mâtonans (not mages, but conscripted villagers) who had targeted me. I think the Mâvarin soldiers were named Jami and Pol. I have a feeling I'll see them both again someday.

After the battle, I finally found out why I'm here, aside from delivering the prophecy to the King. I was walking by a burned-out house--there is terrible devastation, far too depressing to describe to you--when I saw a girl sitting in front of it. Her eyes were all scrunched up, as if she were determined not to cry, not to show any fear or weakness. She was thirteen years old, tidy and pretty but not really beautiful. She was looking for somebody to help her bury her parents, whose charred bodies were still in the house. Mera was willing to exchange her freedom--four years as a bond servant, doing even the most degrading tasks a teenage girl might have--for her parents' burial and her own food andshelter.  So of course I did what she wanted, but not on those terms. Congratulate me, Hasi--I have a daughter!  Mera is bright and honest and hard-working, and a wonderful cook, it turns out. She's very lucky I heard her offer before some randy soldier got to her, and I'm very lucky she came into my life. Of course, it's not really luck at all, but a blessing from the Infinite.

I'm working on a comic ballad at the moment, partly to cheer Mera, and partly to be performed when I play the itinerant entertainer. See what you think of what I have so far:

The Beaver and the Bear went a-walking up a hill
(Back when the trees were growing there still).
And some bees started buzzing, like the bear’s own snore,
And the Bear said, “Look!  That’s what trees are here for!”

The Bear said the trees were for storing up honey,
And the Beaver said trees were for building a dam.
But the farmer said, “The trees here are costing me money.
It’ll be much better when I clear the land.”

The Bear said, “You’ve used trees to make yourself a house,
And so does a human, and the tiny titmouse.
But the best tree-houses are made by the bee,
Because they’re the ones that make all that honey for me!”

It will be a whole parable about the way all the animals can use the land together until the farmer ruins everything. It probably won't go over well outside Gathmak, but oh, well.

Say hi to Pata for me, and come visit when you can. Mera and I should be home three weeks from tomorrow.


Saturday, October 30, 2004

Turning Now to the Subject of Coffins, We Find...

...this tidbit from the Sun Newspaper in London, courtesy of Linda.

Dr Who fan's Tardis coffin

Inter me mate! ... Tim's funeral

Inter me mate! ... Tim's funeral

airplane coffinFunny, but I didn't see any time traveling coffins for sale the last time I was in the market. I didn't see an airplane-shaped coffin, either, until tonight.

The airplane coffin is one of many fanciful custom coffins made by the Ga people of Ghana. They also make them in the shapes of chickens, fish, boats, and even Bibles. Neat, huh?

I wonder whether Costco knows about these. Probably not, but they do have more conventional coffins available for sale, at least at their Chicago store.

My mom's casket from Adair Funeral Home was none of the above. We didn't go for fancy or fantastic, nor for the cheapest allowed by law. I didn't even go for a metal one, although there were nice ones at the funeral home for about the same price as wood. But wood seemed like the way to go. One reason for this was tradition, but also it seems silly to say "ashes to ashes, dust to dust," and then try to keep the body from returning to the earth with a high-tech, watertight metal casket with some kind of special gas release valve. So I chose the kind pictured here--I think.

Last year at Halloween, I watched a special on coffins and funerals and the history of cemeteries, along with a look at the really high-end coffins, the ones that cost about as much as a car. It was interesting, but I think it was really too dark a subject for me to watch without getting all depressed, 10 1/2 months after my mom's death. I hope you find this journal entry a bit more light-hearted than that.


Costco's Coffin Corner (NPR audio)
African Voices: Fantasy Coffins


one of several traps in the tv room Last night, as I was embroiled in the extensive PhotoShopping of those darn headstones with indifferent results (it doesn't help that all the program's filters are missing, and that nearly identical files refused to behave identically), I heard a sudden clatter, followed by frantic squeaking. I knew immediately what it was. One of John's mouse traps had snapped on a mouse - and the mouse wasn't dead.

I came into the tv room (den, fireplace room...we've never settled on a name for this room we spend so much time in) in time to see the mouse trap moving across the floor, the poor mouse pathetically trying to get away with the trap still attached ti its foot.  John watched, unsure what to do. I started crying, begging him to do something. Kill it outright, let it go outside--something! Then I left the room. I couldn't stand it. I didn't want to know.

John said afterward that he couldn't have let it go outside. It would have just come back in. We don't know how, but we think they come in through the closet in my office here. This was the second or third mouse caught in as many days. John worries that at some point we'll discover that they've eatern something irreplaceable. Hey, maybe that's what happened to my 25-year-old map of Mâvarin, which has been missing for the last several years. Nah.

 Now, John is at least as tender-hearted about animals as I am. He told me recently that he's got a lizard living in "his" bathroom. Me, I'd put it outside, but he let it stay, hoping it would eat the bugs.

Yeah, we've got bugs, too. We seldom get black widows inside and I don't think we've had a single scorpion, but we do get other spiders and a variety of insects. When a cricket or one of the tiny black erzatz ladybugs with yellow-green spots turns up in my bathtub I usually catch it and put it out the window. I sometimes do the same with a lizard or a gecko. I once did it with a mouse. Boy, did that thing leave a mess.

But we can't have mice in the house. Can't do it.usually they scoot and are gone in a second.

"Can't we get some kind of humane trap?" I asked John.

"Wecould," John said, "but those kill the mice, too."


Thursday, October 28, 2004

Here Lies Some Blocher

Weekend Assignment #31: Your Own Epitaph .Write your own, preferably rhyming, epitaph.  Extra credit:  Write a cute epitaph for your favorite loved one, relative, or family pet. Suggestion: keep it light.
Karen did just what she said:/She knew she'd die, and now she's dead./But she worked it out this way:/The writer's gone, but her books stay.

Doubting John expressed surprise/When Heav'n appeared in his dead eyes./He asked the Lord, How can this be?/'Twas Karen sent you up to me. (no, that doesn't mean I murdered him.)

Tuffy oft declared her wish/For our food, not food in her dish./Always adequately fed,/She now begs treats from God instead.

More on Tombstone and Tombstones

John at Clemens family monumentThis is more like it: the Clemens family monument in Elmira, New York, along with the headstone of Samuel Clemens. John and I stopped there on our honeymoon in 1979.

I found a really neat web site today when I looked up Lester Moore of Tombstone fame. It's called Find A Grave ( This site has listings, with pictures, for every grave at Boothill Graveyard (a.k.a. Boot Hill Cemetery) in Tombstone. It also has thousands, perhaps millions (I have my doubts, but that's the claim), of other grave data entries from across the country. You can look up the graves of the famous, the infamous, and (if you're lucky) the long-lost relative. Many listings include pictures of both people and headstones, short bios and trivia.  People can add listings and photos, or leave virtual flowers on people's memorial pages.

This was on our honeymoon, in 1979.So you know, of course, that I had to do this for my mom. Her page, if you're curious, is here. By the time I came back to the page, about five hours after creating it, someone had already left flowers. How nice!  I highly recommend this web site to those of you who have buried one or both of your parents, a sibling or a dear friend. It's a nice, easy way to build a little memorial tribute on a site where it will be seen, and it helps to build yet another database for genealogy buffs. The advantage is that this one is free. The disadvantage is that it seems to be entirely  volunteer and user-driven, and is therefore extremely spotty in its coverage so far. 
I expect that will change, though, as more people use the site. And of course, even people who haven't lost a loved one can have fun looking up the graves of gunslingers, movie stars and other famous people.

I don't have much more to say on this subject, just a few more pictures. somewhere on old Route 66, 1986To make more text around which to fit the photos, I'll tell you a little bit about Tombstone, and about the other "memorial" I once designed. Let's start with the latter, because it's short and silly.

When I was about eight to ten years old, my family went on vacation to Cape Cod. One of the beaches there was on a stretch of ocean where the water that summer's day was exceptionally cold. A few people managed to go swimming anyway, but it was a feat akin to polar bear clubs going swimming at Christmas to show that they can. So I used my sand pail (or possibly my hands) to build a gravestone-shaped mound. On it I was going to inscribe the words, "In memory of those who froze to death," but my parents suggested an edit: "In memory of those who here froze to death." Nowadays I would put the word "here" at the end of the sentence.

Nobody knows her last name, but Margaria was stabbed by Gold Dollar.Tombstone, Arizona is promoted as "The Town Too Tough to Die." The site of the Gunfight at OK Corral, the little town in Southeast Arizona has a fair number of truly historic sites, and not much money to make everything slick and fancy. One of the museums, devoted to the Wells Fargo stagecoaches and related history, went out of business years ago, and its artifacts were auctioned off. The town has Wyatt Earp Days and other annual festivals, wherein people parade down the main street in character or in period costume. They still have the Birdcage Theater, the Crystal Palace (where you can have a beer or a sarsaparilla while watching a local band play rock and roll) and, of course, the O.K. Corral. Sadly, the dummies of the Earps and their enemies that stand in the old corral look quaint and horribly fake to anyone who's ever been to Disneyland, but in a way that adds to the charm. They do have scheduled reeanactments with live people, which I expect are much more satisfying.

from 1987 brochures.One attraction that makes me ache for the people trying to make a living in Tombstone is the Historama. Now, I haven't seen this thing in at least fifteen years, so it may be better than it was, but when I saw it it was, well, kind of pathetic. If I recall correctly, it was a combination of a film (narrated by Vincent Price, of all people!) and a rotating, cone-shaped model of the town and its buildings, and a few of its people. As Price recounts the history of the town, different parts of the model come into view, are illuminated, and sometimes move. When the town catches fire, red light bulbs come on inside the buildings. When one of the Earps gets shot in the back while playing pool, his little figure falls over with an audible clack. It's hard not to laugh. But as I say, I haven't been there in a very long time. It may be a little more sophisticated now, but don't count on it.  This town is kept going on the basis of a fairly meager tourist trade, affordable real estate, maybe a little mining (mines in Tombstone always used to fill up with water), occasional location filming, and the determined love of its citizens.  Fortunes are not made in Tombstone, not any more.


Photos by Karen and John Blocher.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Grave Matters

Here's that picture again.Okay, this one is going to sound petty and disrespectful, almost blasphemous.

Why can't my mom be in a really cool cemetery?

I know how a cemetery ought to look. I've seen your blogged pictures of old cemeteries Back East, with their classic upright headstones surrounded by wrought iron fences. I've walked among the early 20th century graves in Fayetteville, NY, and much, much older ones on Nantucket. I've seen the high end statuary in that cemetery near Syracuse University, and the deer or moose shaped one at Evergreen Cemetery on Oracle Road in Tucson. I've been to Boot Hill in Tombstone. I've been to the Haunted Mansion. I've watched Buffy!

Wm Clayborne. His name, spelled the same way, is also mentioned on the nearby grave of a man he shot.No vampire would be caught dead where my mom is buried. There are very few crypts to hang around in, and hardly any upright
headstones. Grave markers--that's the funereally correct term--are set in the ground, flush with the surrounding dirt, so that lawn mowers can be rolled past (and probably over) them without the clang of mower blade on granite or brass. As best I can tell, all the Tucson cemeteries are like that, over most of their real estate - at least, every patch of cemetery that's still accepting new tenants at semi-reasonable prices. Driving by these places, pretty much all you see is a lot of short grass, a few trees lining noose-shaped drives, and a combination office and mortuary building in the middle.

Glenn Will, (1871-1953) was shipped C.O.D. to Tombstone long after the West was won.I don't know whether this practical, don't-make-it-look-like-a-graveyard approach is a function of local custom, ground conditions, or the  economic realities of the times. I do know that growing up and traveling around, I always saw the kinds of grave markers that stood upright.

Down in Tombstone, Arizona, the markers in the old Boot Hill cemetery are definitely vertical, if not as formal as the ones in Fayetteville or Syracuse. They have a gallows humor to them that still draws tourists and sells postcards. Some of the more interesting ones are scattered around this journal entry. I think I read or was told that the markers there (at least the cross-shaped ones) are replicas of the originals, the 1880s wooden markers having long since rotted away. But they're still cool. You expect good tombstones in Tombstone, and you get them.

Good old Les Moore.I'm not saying I want my mom's marker to tell of a death as colorful as the ones noted on Tombstone's tombstones. I'm glad she wasn't "Hanged by mistake," "found in an abandoned mine," dragged to her grave by a cowboy after death by smallpox, or "stabbed by Gold Dollar." I'm just saying a flat marker in the ground lacks the sense of history and romance the other forms have, even if I did design the flat one myself.

I'm not a particularly morbid person, but I've designed a fair number of grave markers in my life. When JFK was shot, I sat in a class room or lecture hall in the Hall of Languages at Syracuse University, drawing headstones. I had no clue about the Eternal Flame or Arlington Cemetery, or that a murdered president's grave wouldn't be surrounded by the graves of more ordinary folks. I just drew a lot of inverted U shapes, and put the JFK epitaph on the big on in the middle of the page.

A few years later, I wrote on a rock above the tiny grave of the only parakeet I ever had:

Stinging Lizard??! That name makes the killer's name seem normal.Here lies Friskyblue.
He was no pest.
He broke his leg,
So now he'll rest.

I had been diagnosed with an allergy to feathers shortly before Friskyblue's death. 
Within a year or so of that burial, I also laid to rest a wild baby bird we'd tried and failed to save. I think I marked up a rock over that bird, too.

Twenty years after that, in 1989, I buried Jenny, the first dog I ever had. Or rather, I paid a handyman to do it. I've already posted the poem I wrote on that awful occasion, but here's a piece of it:

Died of smallpox. Cowboy threw rope over feet and dragged him to his grave.There was no moon out as he dug her a hole,
Watched by the rabbits, gnatcatchers and me,
While hawks screamed, but only because they were free,
As he struck sparks from rocks with his long digging pole.

When he was finished, the moon rose at last.
He carried the tools out and then drove away,
While I struggled to mop up the smell of decay
From a dog still alive just a day and a half past.

Yes, Jenny got a painted rock, too. Her marker proclaimed her "The best dog in the world." I wasn't far wrong on that. She was certainly the best dog in my world.

It's more than a box.My next dog, Noodle, is in the room with me now. Her ashes are in a plain white oblong box, taller than it is wide, labeled with a paper sticker the size of a business card. Last night I discovered that at some point the intermittently leaky ceiling over my built-in bookshelves caused the ink to run, so that the sticker now commemorates "Noo [smudge] [smudge]." The only thing about it that really says Noodle to me is the old dog collar slung around the base of the box.

On the whole, I think I'd have preferred a back yard grave and a painted rock.


Color photos by KFB. Black and white ones by JBlocher. Or maybe I took some of the black and white ones, too. It was a long time ago, but I think maybe I did take them.

Tourists seem unimpressed by the fate of the McLaurys.
Above: Billy Clanton, Frank and Tom McLaury, and some sightseers.

the entrance to Boot Hill, 1986. Photo by JBlocher.
Karen outside Boot Hill at the edge of Tombstone, Arizona, not far from the OK Corral.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Democrats at the Door

Saturday morning to early afternoon is when I schedule my weekly attempt to get semi-adequate sleep, so when the canvassers rang our doorbell two days ago I wasn't dressed. Heeding my shout and Tuffy's barking, John eventually answered the door. John himself is a Libertarian, but I love him anyway.After a moment he stepped outside, away from the barking and my listening ears.

When he came back in, I asked, "Were they Democrats?"


"Did you tell them we're voting for Kerry?"


"Did they have anything interesting to say?"

"No, not really."

Fine.  This morning I found brochures by the door for a couple of non-Presidential candidates. That's fine, too, although I'd probably have voted for them anyway. (Actually, I may vote for McCain in the Senate race. I haven't decided yet.)

Today I hear that Linda Ronstadt and Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano were both canvassing door-to-door in Tucson over the weekend. Heck, I'd have gotten dressed for either of them.

Sunday morning I picked up one of those card things that canvassers hang around doorknobs, but which usually end up on the ground, as this one did. It was for Joel Ireland, running for another term with the school board. This amused the heck out of me. See, Joel Ireland, lawyer and TUSD school board honcho, is also Father Ireland, whose occasional sermons at the St. Michael's 10 AM mass are as funny as anything Father Daniel Richards comes up with, which is saying a lot. Sure enough, the doorknob card had a picture of Joel, his sons, and their two dogs. The humans were captioned as being TUSD graduates; the dogs, obedience school dropouts. Gotta have humor in a Joel Ireland communique, even if the message is simply, "Vote for me, because...."

Don't worry; I will. It won't be because of your dogs or your sons, or a piece of printed cardboard on the ground. It's because I've been listening to your sermons for eight years, and I have a fair idea by now what you stand for - love, peace, tolerance and helping the poor. Stuff like that.  It seems to me I remember another public figure with essentially the same platform, a very long time ago.

I'm not saying that all priests are trustworthy, wonderful people in every way. Heck, I live in Tucson, where the Roman Catholic diocese is in bankruptcy court after multiple lawsuits from molestation victims. But I am going to vote for this particular guy who, at 50, is still too idealistic to fit his faith and works into just one profession.


Cauldron of Plenty

Come Halloween, this will hold the treats, not
the decorations.I promised to explain about the treats we give out at Halloween.

As you may have guessed by now, John and I have both struggled with our weight for decades. We know candy isn't good for us, and so we normally don't buy it,  except sometimes in low-carb, no sugar varieties. For some adults, it doesn't matter much if the family buys bags of candy for Halloween and the parents eat some of it. For us, it's a Bad Thing. A couple of times, I've successfully bought and hidden the candy until Halloween, but that doesn't mean I haven't touched the stuff myself. Other times, John has successfully deduced the location of the candy, and eaten a quantity of it. It's better, in his view, if the stuff isn't around at all. He's right, of course, especially now that John has lost over 100 pounds and it working so hard to get and stay fit. (I really should follow his example!)

box of delights.At the same time, John doesn't feel that it's right to completely deny kids their candy at Halloween. He probably remembers as a "gyp" (if I may use that dated, non-PC term) the houses that gave out apples instead of Tootsie Rolls. Me, I liked the apples, as long as there was lots of candy too, from other houses. Of course, this was before, and just at the beginning of, the annual razor blade, poison and LSD scares that caused parents to distrust each other's treats. This is mostly an unfounded fear, as can be seen on Still, anything but wrapped candy tends to be looked on askance. The tv series Boy Meets World once had a gag in which Mr. Feeny handed out rulers instead of candy, and just last year, I saw mini-toothbrushes promoted as "treats" at a supermarket checkout. No. Don't do this.

It's true, though, that the candy isn't much better for the kids than it is for us, and it's also true that we don't want a lot of candy sitting around. So we compromise. Each kid gets about two small pieces of candy, and a packet of
stuff that won't be looked on as either poisonous or overly heathly: toys.

We don't need no stinkin' candy!
Not all of it is toys, technically, but it's all in that general vein. In our packets you'll find stickers and trading cards, play money, spider and bat rings, tiny plastic figures, friendship bracelets, tiny yo-yos, noisemakers, balloons, and whatever else we have available that year

This stuff is almost as much fun for us to assemble as it is for the kids to get.  John culls his dupe baseball cards and our unwanted trading cards (we often buy sample packs of things). This year, we looked at Wacky Packages and Garbage Pail Kids, but decided they were too gross and unfunny to buy and give out. But we do have football cards and Harry Potter cards and Lord of the Rings cards. We go to party supply stores and buy neat things by the card or the handful. I stop at the amazing Yikes! Toy Store, and pick up plastic aliens, snakes and tiny pigs.

The only tedious part of the process is assembling it. John doesn't help with this. Some years, I try to do girl-oriented packets and boy-oriented ones, so that the girls get the friendship bracelets, the boys the football cards. I generally don't approve of this practice, though. I know that when I was a kid, I loved Creepy Crawlers as much as the average boy. So this year, the packets will be Unisex. If some girls end up with football cards, they can either trade them away or learn to like football. And if boys get the few friendship bracelets I have left, they can either trade them to their sisters, or learn to like girls.

And the candy? I'm going to buy it no earlier than Sunday afternoon.


All photos by KFB

P.S. I just made my Yikes! pilgrimage at lunch. This year's additions to the toy treats include plastic sea life (from sea lions to whales to hermit crabs), dogs and cats, parachutists, ladybugs and marbles. I think I'll keep one of the whales for myself.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

The Wolf at the Door

the wolf at the door.Would your kids run from this treat-giving werewolf? I had some genuinely scared trick-or-treaters on my hands, not just the little ones but also some older ones, especially when I broke out my hoarse, growly voice. Our house has a little covered alcove / patio the kids had to walk to to get to our door. Some kids hung back at the edge, especially when they saw me!

That was two years ago, I think. Last year I bought an even scarier mask the night before Halloween, at Walgreen's for $7.99. Not wanting to freak out the younger kiddies too badly, I played the Queen of Mâvarin until about 8:30, and then donned the shroud of the ghoul. There weren't a lot of people at the door after that, so hardly anyone saw the ghoul. This year, the ghoul will probably make an earlier appearance. I haven't decided yet who will greet the early arrivals.

the ghoul awaits your children!You can tell I love Halloween.

John won't answer the door at Halloween, but he waits at his computer, playing scary sound effects when the kids show up. I discovered last year that if I'm not in the front room, I don't hear the kids arriving, so I'll be stuck by the door, offline, probably in near-darkness, quite possibly studying. Next to the door will a boombox I normally keep at work, playing music and sounds from the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland.

Benign Queen Cathma scares no one.The alcove will have fake spiders in fake webs, and eyeball lights, and probably a gargoyle on the door. A plastic jack-o'-lantern will cover the light that comes on as people approach. A real jack-o'lantern will probably sit on the a/c unit (again). We bought a fog machine a couple of years ago, but discovered that it dissipates too quickly in the dry Arizona air to be effective.

Next time, I'll tell you what the kids (about 75 of them in 2002) get for braving the spooky yellow house.


Top and bottom photos by JBlocher

Middle and background photos by KFB

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Mâvarin Fiction Entry: from the Secret Diaries of Commander Wil Masan

The following diary entries, by the Commander of the Palace Guard, are concurrent with chapters six through nine of Heirs of Mâvarin.

The Sun and River, royal symbol of MâvarinComerdu, 13th Day of Dortem, 896 MMY
There was an odd disturbance this evening, something about traitors in the city. 'Nishmû knows there have been plenty of so-called "traitors" arrested over the years, but this was different. Princess Cathma mentioned to Prince Carli at dinner that she met a girl her age at the home of the mage Rutana. Within an hour of that conversation, the First Minister had put the Palace Guard on alert. The girl, I'm told, is an impostor princess, in Thâlemar to overthrow the royal family. I have my doubts.

Sabedu, 14th Day of Dortem, 896 MMY
Queen Talea, Princess Tãrna and Prince Areno arrived from Fãrnet this afternoon. It's an awkward time for their visit, because of this business with the alleged impostor princess. She got away from Captain Herton, just barely. Instead, Herton arrested his predecessor, Captain Ramet, along with his son. I would like to have questioned these two, but Imuselti had already released them by the time I got the news--unluckily for them. I will have to get one of the Prison guards to keep me informed what's going on down there.

I did learn that the mage Dupili escaped from the political wing today, probably with outside help. Dupili had already been there for a week, a long time to defy Imuselti successfully. Naturally I'm glad that my ex-girlfriend's father is no longer imprisoned, even if I don't know how he managed it. I'm grateful that my Palace duties do not officially include what goes on downstairs in the Prison.

Interestingly, Herton dismissed Lok Awer from the Guard for attacking the Ramets after the arrest. The First Minister upheld his son's discharge. Good for him. The lad has always been a troublemaker.

Nishmudu, 15th Day of Dortem, 896 MMY
No news on the impostor front today, only rumors. The word is that the impostor princess has a brother down south somewhere. He is said to be dead or dying. Nobody seems to know the source of this intelligence, if that's what it is.

Meanwhile, we've been kept busy with the royal visit. There are few Palace duties less interesting than watching Princess Cathma show little Princess Tãrna the royal gardens and the royal wardrobe. I suspect Princess Cathma would agree with me on this.

Masheldu, 16th Day of Dortem, 896 MMY
No news on the alleged impostors. I kept an eye on Princess Cathma and Princess Tãrna as they toured the local churches. Sheldi Aldan had more interesting duty, accompanying Prince Carli and Prince Areno on a hunting trip. Modo Bruber guarded King Jor and Queen Talea. Their conference seems to have been almost as ceremonial as their children's activities. I have to wonder why Fãrnet's royal family, minus the ailing king, would travel so far to accomplish so little.

Thaledu, 17th Day of Dortem, 896 MMY
Princess Cathma was missing from the Palace for a short while today, but nothing came of it. It was during a lull in her scheduled duties entertaining Princess Tãrna. Smart girl, that Cathma. In the evening, she finally got a real break from her babysitting, attending a play with Prince Areno. It wasn't a good play, but I doubt she cared about that.

The weird news of the day is that tengremen were spotted in the city. Rather than give the order to attack the creatures that kidnapped the King so long ago, the First Minister actually met with them. My guards were not allowed in the Sun Room during the meeting, so I have no idea what was said.

Meanwhile, there was another magic-assisted escape from the political wing of the Prison. This time the prisoner was a tanner from Liftlabeth. He supposedly knew the impostor princess, but when I spoke to him he refused to say anything helpful. He seemed more bewildered and put upon than conspiratorial. He was gone before anyone else questioned him. I have not reported my failed interrogation to the First Minister. Fortunately for me, he and King Jor seem content to exclude me from the obviously political arrests. As long as Imuselti is their royal interrogator, I'm not going to do anything to change that.

Still, I would like to know what's really going on.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Red Sox Romance

There's a wonderful discussion of the Red Sox and baseball going on over at, of all places, Making Light. It includes a great explanation of the Red Sox backstory for the uninitiated, a couple of explanations of how baseball is played for the even more uninitiated, and a detailed comment on the physics of baseball. My favorite bit, though, is a description of Schilling holding his foot together with duct tape and staples.

Also, comic book writer and novelist Peter David has a parody of Casey at the Bat on his blog:

Yankees at the Bat

No Schilling in the poem, but don't let that stop you from reading it.

I'm sorry that Houston lost last night, but at least now I can watch the Series without conflict. I think the ex-Toros who were Cardinals are either gone from the team or dead now (Darryl Kile was a Toro). Go Sox!


Thursday, October 21, 2004

Notes from a Recovering Leaper

"Assignment:  What gone, but not forgotten, TV series do you miss the most?

Extra Credit:  If you had to be on a game show or reality show, which one would it be?"

This is a hard entry for me. I don't want to write about the show I have to write about. In the words of a certain vampire slayer, "I'm all avoidy."

It would be fair to say that I've spent a good chunk of my emotional, intellectual, and creative life to date obsessing about one tv show or another. Back in the early 1970s, I was always upset if at 5 PM on any weekday I was away from home, and thus unable to watch Star Trek on Channel 9. I was also upset when Channel 9 occasionally gave the series a rest, and aired Mission: Impossible instead.

TARDIS bank and MOMI buttonIn college the first time around, circa 1977, I once dropped a required course in my major because it was at the same time as Barney Miller, and infinitely more boring. The major was radio-television. The course: The Business of Television.

John spent a good chunk of 1989 out of town on business. I coped by finishing the Christmas trivia book and the first complete draft of Heirs of Mâvarin, and by watching three shows: Doctor Who (Saturday nights on KUAT), The Jim Henson Hour (for as long as it lasted, which wasn't long) and - you guessed it - Quantum Leap. It's almost a toss-up between Doctor Who and QL which one I miss more. I think I have to go with QL, largely because Doctor Who is still around in classic and restored video, new audio, and the occasional convention, not to mention the new series currently in production. Sometime soon I'll write about a particular actor from Doctor Who, but not tonight. Tonight the subject is Quantum Leap.

Autographed script of the pilot episode. I've written before about my years as Project Chairman of the fan club Project Quantum Leap and writer-editor on The Observer. I don't really want to doso again now. Instead, let me just say what appealed to me about the show. Yeah, yeah, Scott Bakula was amazingly amazing as Sam, and Dean Stockwell could be funny one moment, and show a lot of depth and pathos the next.  But really, the hook for me was the writing. The show's creator, Don Bellisario, wrote many of the best episodes, including the pilot, "M.I.A." and "The Leap Home," but most of the writer-producers had outstanding ones as well:

*VHS. I also have LD and and DVD. More DVDs are on the way. Deborah Pratt: After an unauthorized shock treatment in an asylum, Sam loses his own identity and mentally revisits past leaps in "Shock Theater." Sam (as Kid Cody): "So, uh, I'm a good guy." Al: "Yeah, you're a damn good guy."
* Paul Brown: Parallels abound and Sam almost loses faith as he understudies the role of Don Quixote in "Catch a Falling Star." Al: "More misadventures?" Sam: "Adventures, old friend!"
* Tommy Thompson: As the tv sidekick to Captain Galaxy, Sam must save a fellow dreamer and would-be time traveler in "Future Boy." Moe: "Quantum leap. I like that. I like it a lot."
* Chris Ruppenthal: Sam makes Peoria safe for rock and roll in "Good Morning, Peoria." Sam: "Al, this is incredible! I feel like I've been given a license to play!"

Observer No 27. I didn't edit it, but I did design the cover.The characters were great, the backstory was intriguing, the themes were idealistic and realistic at the same time, and, well, you know, time travel is practically like a drug for me. And I love the idea that one person can really make a difference in the lives of others, even if most of the time it doesn't seem that way in real life.

Besides my involvement with the fan club and The Observer, I wrote a couple pieces of fanfic, attended conventions, interviewed lots of people, collected at least one script from each episode, had adventures, and almost got to co-write a book. I even made a pilgrimage to New Mexico to scout out where the Project would be if it existed in our reality.

All this QL-related activity was fun, and sometimes stressful, and a bit of a drag after the first five or six years, when my obligations outlived the show. But yes, I still care about Quantum Leap, and I still miss it, even though I hardly ever pop a tape in the VCR.

Danny Strong at Gallifrey One, 2004.Quantum Leap has been gone from network tv for eleven years now, so it's probably no surprise that there have been other shows since then that meant something to me, principly Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Like with QL, the main hook for me is the writing. I didn't join any clubs or edit any zines for that show, but I've bought the DVDs, posted to a board or two, bought books and magazines, and met Danny Strong, who played nebbishy Jonathan on the show. That's as close to serious fandom as I've gotten in a decade. Yes, I miss Buffy just about as much as Quantum Leap, but that's as much a function of time as anything else.

some of my surviving QL buttons.Extra Credit: A game show? You want me to pick a game show to be on? Yuck! Okay. Password, as hosted by the late Allen Ludden.  Or maybe To Tell the Truth, as hosted by the late Bud Collyer. I'd be the one who wasn't an impostor. That's right. I'm holding out for the total time travel experience, even in my game show choices. I'll leave the Jeopardy appearance to Sarah K. - on really life, we hope!

As for reality shows, I don't watch them. I certainly wouldn't appear on one. I have quite enough reality in my life, thank you very much.


A Cautionary Tale

Pictures of the Past

When They Were Toros

Hi Corbett field today. It was all locked up in preparation for a rummage sale this weekend.What do the following baseball players have in common?

Curt Schilling
Kenny Lofton
Craig Biggio
Travis Lee (DL)

They're all former Tucson Toros whose 2004 MLB teams made it to the postseason. Half of them are hurt, but only one is actually on the disabled list. The other injured player threw 99 pitches Tuesday night, with three sutures holding the tendons together over a dislocated, bleeding ankle.
Now try these names:

Bob Abreu, Ron Belliard, Luis Gonzalez, Jason Grimsley, Trent Hubbard, Geoff Jenkins, Todd Jones, Mark McLemore, Tom Martin, Jose Mercedes, Mel Mora, Phil Nevin, Shane Reynolds, Steve Sparks, Kelly Stinnett, Jim Tracy (Dodgers Manager), Fernando Vina and Billy Wagner.

Broken bats signed by C Hatcher, T Lee, Donne Wall and Orlando MillerYup. More ex-Toros in the majors.

One more time:
Mike Brumley
Dave Hajek
Chris HatcherFrank KellnerJoe Mikulik
Ray Montgomery
Scooter Tucker
Never heard of them? Then you weren't in the stands at Hi Corbett in the early 1990s, watching the Tucson Toros take the PCL championship twice before the team morphed into the Tucson Sidewinders in 1998. Joe Mikulik had "never surrender" written on his wristbands, and was the big hero of the 1991 championship. John and I didn't start going to games until 1993, but he was still around then, and for a year after that. Scooter Tucker was the Toros' catcher in summer, a UPS guy in the winter. "Double Dave" Hajek never really got his shot in the majors because he'd been a replacement player during the strike. Chris Hatcher was a big kid with a big bat, who never seemed to get it going until about June. Mike Brumley was a good journeyman player with heart, solid fundamentals, and (eventually) his own line of t-shirts. Kellner was a secord or third generation ballplayer whose father and uncle had played at Hi Corbett in an earlier era. Ray Montgomery couldn't shake the Spiderman nickname he got after a spectacular catch at the outfield wall.

Noodle, Tuffy and me, when the Toros and Noodle were still around. Hi Corbett Field, where the Toros played, was a two minute drive from Worldwide Travel (still is, for all the good it does me). It had been around for many years, refurbished and upgraded several times. It was the spring training home of the Cleveland Indians when the movie Major League was filmed, and later became the spring training home of the Rockies. It had a green monster, an overhang to huddle under while waiting to find out whether the game would be rained out, and relatively easy access to ballplayers and broadcasters. I used to pass notes of trivia up to the radio guys, who would sometimes use the material.

three kinds of Toros jerseys.It all came to an end in the late 1990s. First the team lost its Houston Astros affiliation, ending years of continuity. The 1997 Toros were baby Brewers, except for Travis Lee, the Diamondbacks' only AAA player to that point. The 1998 team was the Tucson Sidewinders. They were Baby 'Backs, as a 2002 (2003?) t-shirt called the team. They played at a new, fan-unfriendly ballpark at the edge of town, Tucson Electric Park. TEP originally charged $2 for parking half a mile away on grass or bare dirt. I had a broken ankle that spring, and was NOT amused by the long, expensive hobble on my crutches. The broadcasters were hidden away from public access, and so, for the most part, were the players. Longtime General Manager Mike Feder, who did as much for the Toros over the years as any ten players, lost his job. Tuffy the Toro, the wonderful team mascot for whom I'd named my dog, was replaced by Sandy Sidewinder, an improbable and unconvincing snake with arms. In just two years, the team had jettisoned absolutely everything I liked about the Toros, except the game of baseball itself. I don't go to games any more, not more than once a year or so.

The 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks got us back into baseball, this time at the major league level. Their spring training was in Tucson, but unfortunately at TEP instead of Hi Corbett. We therefore never got anywhere near Curt Schilling or Randy Johnson for an autograph. Still, they did extremely well, and the Diamondbacks had their share of ex-Toros to cheer on. The team fell apart after that, but 2001 was great.
I gave up on baseball again when the Diamondbacks made fire sale transactions, dumping Schilling and Finley and Womack. But this postseason, I've been rooting for Houston, with its one remaining ex-Toro, and for Boston, with Schilling and the whole romance of battling back from 0 and 3 to beat the Curse of the Bambino.  So if I watch ESPN a few minutes longer to see whether Schilling gets an interview, can you really blame me?

1993 championship banner, autographedGo Sox. Go Astros.

Go Toros.


Tucson Weekly: Toro! Toro! Toro!

SportyReporter's Tucson Toros page

Tuffy Toro, Superstar
All photos by KFB, except for the Karen & dogs one. That's by JBlocher.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

The Lost Railroad and the Land of Salamanders

Under the bridge. Winter, 1972.This was the view under the abandoned railroad bridge at the edge of Cherry Manor in Manlius, NY, probably in the winter of 1971-1972. I know it was when I was hanging out with Tracy M, around eighth grade.

Cherry Manor was more-or-less across the street from my house. Dan Cheney lived there when we were in elementary school together. It was the stone wall behind Dan's house in Cherry Manor that occasioned an explanation from him about the ice age which I didn't fully understand. I told my family at dinner that there had been monsters called glaciers in Cherry Manor, and they'd scratched the rocks.

Perhaps half a block from where that incident took place, this bridge was the unremarked gateway out of Cherry Manor into a bit of semi-wilderness that was my favorite place in Manlius for years and years. I first learned about it in Girl Scouts, on a scavenger hunt. I was afraid to climb the steep path up to the top of the bridge, but other girls did it with no problem. I later went back to the place alone, many times, and I did climb that path occasionally. It was kind of pointless, though, because there were easier ways up. That part of the railroad track, which still had some of the wooden ties but I think no metal track, didn't lead anywhere much. Half of the railroad bridge itself was long gone, as you can see in the picture below, taken in 1971.

Iwinter of 1970-1971. Note the missing part of the bridge.f I walked under or next to the bridge, along this mostly-disused road, I would soon come to what I used to call Bathtub Pond. This was no more than twenty feet across, perhaps less, and no more than two or three feet deep. It had the following features:

1. A rusty, cylindrical tank, suitable for sitting on.
2. An old bathtub.
3. Those little black bugs that skittered along the surface of the water.
4. Frogs.

Over the years the frogs disappeared, and the pond dried up. But it was a neat place while it lasted.

Bathtub Pond was surrounded by fields of weeds, including lots of wild black raspberry vines. These were long and thorny and whip-like, and no fun to brush past. The berries were small compared to commercial blackberries, and quickly turned skin and tongues purple. But they were great. The area just beyond the disused railroad tracks was one of the best places to collect them.

Past the fields and the pond was a small forest of beeches and sugar maples, mostly the latter. If I remember correctly, the road forked and then dead-ended.  The left fork went  past a ravine I called Long Valley. I usually went right.

Maybe fifty feet from the edge of the woods to the right was a large, flat boulder.  Like the rusty tank, it was a good place to hang out, but being in the shade it was a bit cooler. It was mossy and variegated gray in color, probably granite or limestone.  Surrounding it were lots of lesser rocks, small, flat, broken ones like flagstones and rounder, smoother ones. Under many of these, when I was in sixth and seventh and eighth grade, I  could usually find and catch one or more red-backed salamanders. Each of these critters was about  two to five inches long. If you grabbed one by the tail and held it up, its tail would drop off, allowing the salamander to escape. That didn't stop me (sometimes with Tracy M.) from collecting a bunch of them as "pets." One day we caught 23 of them. I even wrote an essay for school, called "Stalking the Dreaded Red-Backed Salamander." Once or twice I also caught one of the big black salamaders with greenish-white spots, about six to eight inches long.

Is it any wonder that by the time I graduated from high school, salamanders were rare in those woods? By the time I got to high school I realized what I had done to that population, but it was already too late.

The bridge dated back to 1917 or earlier. I think there were different dates on different sides of the bridge.Going more than a few hundred feet into the woods was a disappointment. There was a house there, at the edge of some other street, not Cherry Manor but probably somewhere between there and Pleasant Street. I never wanted to trespass or explore enough to find out exactly where the access to that house was. As long as I didn't find the road, I could pretend that the house was all by itself in the woods, reasonably far from civilization. Heck, maybe it was.

But if I followed the railroad tracks south from the missing part of the railroad bridge, I would eventually come out  near Seneca Turnpike, not far from Pleasant Street.  A couple of times, I used that route as a shortcut back from my guitar lessons with Jackie, when my mom would get fed up waiting for me to come out, and leave without me. (I never seemed to finish my guitar lesson at the appointed time!)

Other days, though--on many, many other days--I would ride my bike up to the railroad bridge, calling out, "Bye, Mom! I'm going to the tracks!" on my way out the door. I'd ditch the bike in the trees just short of the bridge, out of sight. Sometimes I'd be up there with Sue or Tracy or Joel or Cindy. Most of the time, I was alone.

Afterwards, if I worked at it and there was no intervening traffic, I could ride my bike down the hill through Cherry Manor, across F-M Road and up my driveway without pedaling once.

It should be obvious by now that the railroad tracks near my old house in Manlius had not carried a locomotive on them in a very long time. I don't remember where the nearest viable tracks were, but they had to be several miles away at least.

But lying in bed, half a mile from the old, broken railroad bridge, I often heard a train whistle blow.


Photos by KFB.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

The Earthquake That Wasn't

Where I was when it happened.Over in Apple Bonker's Journal, Sarah K. took note the other day of the 15th anniversary of a 15-second quake that took place when she was 15. That's as good an excuse as any for me to tell you all a little story.

I was probably about 15 on the only occasion I ever felt the earth move. The year was about 1972. I was home in Manlius, NY, waiting for a friend to arrive by car from elsewhere in Manlius. When the house shook, I thought maybe it was because of a heavy truck going by. The friend arrived (I don't remember who), and she'd felt it too. My mom agreed with us that it was probably an earthquake. But in Manlius?! We were about 3000 miles away from California earthquake country.

So I called the news department of WSYR TV, or possibly WHEN. I think it was WSYR. (Both stations have since changed their call letters, I think.)  "Hi, I'd like to report a possible earthquake in Manlius," I said. I was as shocked as anyone at the words coming out of my mouth.  Whoever answered the phone got my name and number, asked a few questions, thanked me and hung up.

where I lived.Perhaps forty-five minutes later, the phone rang. The tv station's news anchor was calling me back. "Hi, this is John Banks. I thought you might want to know that what you reported wasn't an earthquake." Or words to that effect.

He went on to tell me that a work crew had done some blasting over at Green Lakes State Park in Fayetteville, which was about five miles from my house. I never found out why they did this. Banks (if I'm remembering his name correctly) told me that the work crew had used too much explosive, making the ground shake for miles around. But it wasn't, technically, an earthquake.

I thanked the news anchor for the information. "I suppose it was stupid of me to think there could be an earthquake in Manlius," I said.

It was probably felt on High Bridge Road."Not at all," Banks said. He told me that Syracuse was on a fault line, not a major one like the San Andreas,but enough of one that there had been an earthquake in the area in the 1940s (1945 I think).

In the years since then, I've been to California many times. I've lived for 18 years in Arizona, where some people have felt at least one recent quake, originating I think near Yuma. But the only earthquake I've ever felt was the earthquake that wasn't, in a place where no one would expect an earthquake, but which occasionally has one.

I'm not saying I want death and destruction for my personal amusement. But someday, if there are going to be small, non-destructive eathquakes anyway from time to time, I'd like to feel one that wasn't manmade. Does that make me a bad person?


Photo credits: the house and the living room photos are by Joel Rubinstein, 1971. High Bridge Road from the Town of Manlius web site, photographer unknown.

Monday, October 18, 2004

No Opinion, Expressed at Length.

Shelly has a couple of entries over on Occasional Blog about recent controversies over AOL Journalers allegedly deceiving each other about who they are and the experiences they've had, and other journalers getting all het up about it. Right off the bat, let me make it clear that I have no opinion on the specific controversies. I have no idea which journals and people were involved, and what did or did not really happen, and who did or did not criticize anyone else. I don't even feel it's my responsibility to try to find out about any of these things. I'd make a pretty good juror, I think, because unless I have a specific responsibility to form an opinion over a specific case, I usually don't. I don't know or care, for example, what Kobe Bryant did or did not do with that woman.

That said, when it comes to deliberate deception on a blog, I'm "agin it." It upsets people, and may be evidence (if the blogger really is doing it) that he or she has some personality, emotional or social problem. (Or not.) A few such people may be sufficiently mentally ill to be mildly dangerous (or at least a nuisance) to others who unwisely get involved. Whether this is true of any one of the many thousands of AOL Journalers is something I can't begin to answer on a case by case basis (nor should I), but the odds are good that it's true of somebody somewhere.

In my limited experience, journalers who admit or proclaim their mental illness tend to be nice, interesting, engaging, mostly functional people. This is also true of my two mentally ill friends. That's very different, however, from postings by people who set out to deceive. I have been on the receiving end of mild harassment by a stalker who long ago used to frequently post on Quantum Leap message boards under false identities. This person's attentions were scary enough with respect to another of her perceived enemies that the FBI got involved at one point. I hesitated to mention her existence here, even this vaguely, lest I set her off again.

So what should anybody do about blogs they know or suspect to be a cruel lie? Probably nothing. It is not the responsibility of the AOL-J community to judge each other's veracity or mental health. If somebody posts that she is going to jump off a bridge tomorrow, a person who knows where she lives should probably check on her. But that's the point: personal contact is required to really know what's going on. That's the responsibility of family, friends, employers, religious communities, social service agencies, medical people or, if the person has none of the above, anyone else who notices that someone in a bad way. The responsibility of the journaler is to exercise a reasonable amount of healthy skepticism, avoid jumping to unwarranted conclusions, and, if the journaler's claims seem dubious, to decide whether to read the journal any more.

AOL Journals are, of course, welcome to have and even express opinions. That's what blogging is about. I myself have the opinion that Shelly is a librarian who lives in or near NYC, expresses herself well and sometimes bluntly, and has spent the past couple of years working intermittently on a novel about Mars. (I think I have pretty good evidence for all this, but I don't really know that the biographical details are true.) Attacking each other, especially based on raw emotion and without evidence, is probably a Bad Thing.

Shelly, I know (or think I know), can take care of herself. But a lot of people are more thin-skinned. I was mildly upset for half an hour today because some commenter criticized my shoes. (Sorry, kid: I'm not going to limp around in significant pain for the rest of my life for the sake of shoe fashion!) It's therefore a good idea for people to try to be a little less judgmental and a little more tolerant. If someone is telling the truth, he or she does not deserve to be accused of lying. If the person is lying, there's a small chance that the accuser is making an enemy of someone who just might do something about it.


Of Blood, Hats and Husband

my personal mini-Volunteer DayYesterday I gave blood at a blood drive at St. Michael's, having slept through my Saturday Red Cross appointment. It turned out that I would have had a long wait on Saturday, but I got right into the bloodmobile on Sunday, and the guy who wielded the needle got into my vein on the first try. That practically never happens. So yay - I got adequate sleep Saturday morning/afternoon, and still gave blood as easily and painlessly as possible. The rest of the day (other than a nap to make up for only half a night's sleep Sunday morning) was pretty much all spent doing team-related stuff for my critical thinking class, shopping with John, and fixing some typos Sara found in Heirs of Mâvarin. Thanks, Sara. The last thing I did, until nearly 4 AM, was build a four-slide PowerPoint presentation for class.

This morning my head is full of a 1050-1400 word paper I have to write by tomorrow night about a decision-making tool or technique. In case you're wondering, yes, I do find the topic incredibly lame and boring. Most of the same ground was covered in my first University of Phoenix course two years ago, so much so that I'm using the old textbooks to write papers for the new course.

I decided to do this latest paper on something called the Six Thinking Hats. It's kind of a role-playing thing, in which you mentally put on different-colored hats, each representing a different way of thinking. At first glance, it seems awfully silly, but the guy who came up with this stuff, Edward De Bono, goes on about ego and method acting, and how playing the role allows the thinker to explore a different way of thinking without getting all defensive. De Bono is also the guy who came up with the concept of lateral thinking, which I do respect. Okay, so I'll look into this thinking hat jazz and write about it. We're supposed to apply the tool or technique to a problem, so I'm going to play around with the question, "How (if at all) can John get a good job in Tucson?" This is ironic, because John once planned to write a book called Get a Good Job in Tucson as an alternative to actually getting one himself.

Speaking of John, he was after me again this morning to take  better care of myself. At the time I was trying to get dressed, check my email (AOL didn't want to connect), collect some of the food we spent over $100 on last night so that I can try to stop going out to lunch, remember my morning mantra of purse-keys-book-phone so I don't forget to bring anything important, and get the heck to work almost on time. John said he wasn't nagging, but it sure felt like it.

His latest concern was that I reported my blood pressure as 132 / 88 or something like that during the bloodmobile procedure. I think John called it "pre-hypertensive" or something. I don't get any exercise, I'm not losing weight despite half-hearted Atkinsing, I get stressed out from school, and I don't get adequate sleep six and a half nights out of seven (meaning that I manage to get eight hours or more about once every two weeks). Okay, yes. It's all true. But bugging me about all this when I'm trying to do four things in three minutes on my way out the door is not a good way to resolve the situation.

More later.