Thursday, November 29, 2007


Nothing can ruin a Christmas surprise quite like a gren

There exists in my marriage an unfortunate combination of traits that makes the statement above unfailingly true. In me there is the constant vigilance for puzzles and clues. In my wife there is the complete inability to keep a secret. Together, these traits have meant that I have ruined the surprise of my Christmas or birthday gift nearly every single time.

Earlier in the year, just prior to my birthday, Moonshot and our friend Pinky had gone shopping together. Moonshot returned quite proud of her birthday purchase and told me that it was, in fact, such a great gift idea that Pinky had picked up one for her huband, Duke, as a Father’s Day gift.

“Cool,” I responded. “So all I need to do is wait til Father’s Day and see what Duke gets. Then I’ll know what I’m getting.”

She grumbled and walked away.

However, she needn’t have worried. The secret was not even to last that long. A few days later, my brother was over. We were watching Heroes in the living room and chatting through the commercials. Suddenly, Moonshot turned to Jet and said, “Oh, that reminds me, after Hereos, I have something to show you.”

I take a quick look at the screen and see a pocket watch displayed prominetley. Through college, I had carried my Dad’s old pocket watch and had often commented that I’d like to have one again. So, clearly I was getting a pocket watch…and said as much.

My lovely wife stuttered and stammered in search of a lie, but came up with nothing. Instead, she opted to overload the situation with far too much information.

“It’s not a pocket watch…it’s a wrist watch. And…just so you know, I didn’t spend as much on yours as Pinky did.”

I stared…dumbfounded. I certainly didn’t care how much she had spent…but was attempting to sort out why this was something she felt she needed to reveal.

“I just didn’t want you to see Duke’s and think you were getting one that nice,” she continued.

Jet interrupted at this point and mercifully stopped the hole my wife was digging.

Recently, Moonshot has been rather proud of some super secret gift she has tucked away for my Christmas. I have actually been trying not to guess, not to look for clues. I would, both for my enjoyment and my wife’s, actually rather be surprised in a timely fashion.

Last weekend, though, Moonshot’s family came to town for Thanksgiving. On Friday night, we got a babysitter for Norah and we headed down to Old Town St. Charles for dinner and a stroll with Mouse and FreddyJ. As tends to happen, FreddyJ and I ended up walking a few paces ahead of the women folk. We were chatting contently about some geeky thing or another when we realized the wives had stopped. I returned to them and was promptly shooed away. As I walked back out of earshot, I noticed they were standing in front of our local bicycle shop. In what I thought was pure whimsy, a playful tease at the ongoing inability to keep a gift secret, I skipped down the sidewalk singing, “Yea!!! I’m getting a bike. Yea!!!”

I had expected at least a small chuckle from my wife, but was met instead with dead silence when my little song was done. I turned back toward her to see what I can only describe as an evil glare. I quickly assumed that she was angry because I was guessing rather expensive gifts that would make her actual gift seem small by comparision (like Duke’s fancy watch, for instance). However, before I could voice such a theory, Moonshot blurted, “You always do this, you always guess!!” By the time I reached her there were the buddings of tears in the corner of her eyes that made me feel grinchlike in my consistent ability to smash my wife’s Christmas plans.

I declined her invitation to see the specific bike she purchased. At least I can be surprised at the color.

Goin’ Mobile!

After months with no laptop…I am pleased to announce that I’m mobile once again. This will make no noticeable difference for you, my readers. But I thought you might like to share a moment of joy for my joy at scoring a free laptop. See, Trixalot picked up a sweet Black Friday deal on a new laptop, which meant his old company one could flow downstream to me. It’s worn and probably on its last leg…but by god, for these fleeting days before it craps out…I have a laptop.

“Now all I need is a flash drive,” I said idly to Trixie, “and I can be totally free to roam.”

Trixie reached into his bag o’ goodies and handed me one. “I got a 4 Gigger when I got the laptop…I don’t need this old 250M anymore.”


As is my norm, I called my Mom on the way home from work. I told her about the laptop and the flash drive. As I spoke, I thought perhaps I should define what I was talking about.

“Do you know what a flash drive is?”

There was a small pause followed by a somewhat tense, “Yeah.”

I knew even then what that pause meant. I knew exactly how my mother had learned what a flash drive was.

After a moment of silence, MoMa sighed, “I’m just going to tell you….there’s a flash drive for you wrapped under my tree right now.”

My brother had overheard me wishing for a small flash drive, passed the info on to MoMa who had gone right out and let a salesman talk her into the biggest, baddest flash drive the market currently offers…a flash drive embarrassingly huge for my meager requirements.

So, as I drove, I discussed my plans for my little flash drive. I told MoMa how I really didn’t think I’d have anything on there other than the stories I am working on and various notes and such. A 250M will do me just fine.

She unwrapped the gift and plans to return it today.

Another gift ruined by the gren.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Friday, November 16, 2007

Who Wants A Hedgehog Thingy for Their Night Stand?

Mouse Asked the Gren: What is your favorite book and/or author?

Easy one, Mouse. When I was a junior in high school, my good friend Oaf (he’s since made his name public here in the comments, but I still like calling him Oaf) gave me a book and said it was amazing. I took one look at the god-awful, cheesy sci-fi cover and said something non-committal like, “Um…yeah, I’ll see if I can find some time to take a look.” After about a month, I returned the book to him unread. I tried to explain that this sort of Piers Anthony stuff just wasn’t my cup o’ tea.

“Is it the cover?” he exclaimed. “Yeah, the cover’s bad but, dude, the book is great.”

I was unconvinced, “I don’t know, man…that’s a pretty bad cover.”

At which point he ripped the cover off his paperback and handed it to me once again. What could I do? I had to read it then. He had sacrificed his book in order to ensure that I would give it a chance…I kinda owed him.

I will continue to maintain that the cover of this particular book ranks up there with some of the worst. Curse as it is with a rainbow of pastel colors and a hedgehog looking creature that looks nothing like the character I assume the artist was trying to depict, the cover still makes me cringe. However, Oaf was right…the story itself is absolutely magical. I reread it every few years…and with the speed at which I crawl through books, this is a huge complement. But I always find the time for Hyperion by Dan Simmons.

Simmons himself is an amazing writer. He’s written sci-fi, horror, mystery noir, historical fiction, and just about every other genre you could think of. And he brings an artistry to each of them that so many genres often lack. What makes Hyperion his best by far is that he tells seven different stories, each in a different genre and with a different style. All the stories are woven together by their voyaging storytellers (ala Canterbury Tales) and work toward an overarching plot. It’s a book only a genre-hopping author like Simmons could write and it’s filled with countless amazing scenes that continue to stun me no matter how many times I read it. It’s the first part of a four-part series, and while it is undoubtedly the best of the four…the whole saga is still some of the best fiction I’ve ever read.

Sound like something you’d like to read? Well, you’re in luck. About a year ago, I purchased Hyperion in hardcover so that it could take a more prominent position on our bookshelf (and also so that I wouldn’t have to look at the hideous cover art.) This left me with a spare and well-worn paperback copy. Then, as if by divine intervention, along comes a conversation with Simon in which he says a) he has never read Hyperion but would like to and b) he detests creased spines on paperback. I, being who I am, took this opportunity to a) do something generous for a friend and b) annoy him at the same time. I took my beat up Hyperion, inked an inscription in it, wrapped it loosely in brown paper, and entrusted it to the USPS with the understanding that they would in turn hand it over to Canada Post who would deliver it to the unsuspecting Simian. With any luck, they’d add a bit more “character” to the book by the time it arrived so poorly packaged, thus adding to my secondary goal.

Simon read and loved the book. Then, since Mark had also expressed an interest in Hyperion, the book was again inscribed, packaged, and shipped…this time bound for Texas.

Mark read and loved the book. Then, since Alvis had expressed an interest in Hyperion, the book again inscribed and was hand delivered to him since he’s also in the Dallas area.

Alvis read and loved the book and that brings us to the current state of things. We have a well-worn copy of one of science fiction’s finest literary achievements available for shipping. It’s no stranger to travel and is looking for a nightstand on which to crash for a little while. Our goal is to keep this little guy jumping nomadically from reader to reader until the pages can no longer be taped back together.

If anyone reads this and would like to join in the growing list of people who have loved this little paperback, just say so in the comments and email me your address and we’ll have it to you as soon as possible. By accepting this book, you agree to the following:
1) You will read it in a reasonable period of time
2) When finished you will write an inscription and mail it to the next person on the list

So, anyone out there want to spend some time with a hedgehog type thing?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ozark Oddities: Part II

Oddity #2: Still Hangin' In There

In modern day society, we are obsessed with safety. From air bags to antibacterial soap. From warning labels to child choke hazards. We scurry about removing or labeling anything that could possibly harm us in any way. It is therefore rather jarring when I stumble across a little something that breaks this rule. And, I must admit, it’s oddly comforting. Part of my love for St. Louis’s City Museum is the fact that folks are encouraged to climb with wild abandon on rusty metal, hovering several stories above the ground. Hell…they’ll even serve you beer while you do it. And so, while the UFO was a pleasant side-trip, the actual destination was something a bit more anachronistic. File it under: They don’t build ‘em like that anymore. Cuz as cool as the UFO is, no one calls that long gravel road that connects County Road A to the distant Highway 42 “UFO Road”. No…they call it “Swinging Bridges Road.” Because while the scenery along this path is truly stunning, you will eventually be forced to take your life into your own hands and cross one of the most marvelous and menacing structures I’ve ever seen.

Like an Incan RuinBuilt by Joe Dice (who coupled his poor eyesight and fourth grade education to build over 40 bridges throughout the Missouri area), the old cable and wood suspension bridge that crosses the Auglaize Creek is one of my favorite pieces of history from my hometown. The rusted metal cabling is the same that was strung across the creek with mules in 1930. The wood planks are replaced occasionally, but not often enough to keep boards from rotting away to leave massive gaps in the bridge deck. And the motion, oh the wonderfully terrifying motion of this thing. Just walking on it sends the whole structure undulating. And that says nothing about the full out waves that push along in front and behind each car that dares trust its weight to the ancient span.

Weight Limit 5 TonsThe first sight you see as you coast down the road is the bridge’s western edge juttin from the overgrowth like some sort of lost Incan ruin. The sign claims a weight limit of a mere 5 tons…but I find even that a bit optimistic.

OvergrowthYou can’t see the other end of the single-lane bridge. There is really only one way to know it there is oncoming traffic. You roll your window down and listen for the telltale “CLACK CLACK CLACK” of the floorboards bouncing under the weight of an oncoming truck. If all is quiet, you should be able to make it safely to the other side in about the time to takes to say the Lord’s Prayer.

I grew up just a few miles up the road from this piece of history. We used to hunt for crawdads in the creek below. I just took it for granted as we drove back and forth across it regularly. Today, however, I’m just astounded that it’s still here and being used on a daily basis. In the twenty minutes or so we spent there, about 5 vehicles crossed the bridge, so it’s not exactly an untraveled path. One of those five vehicles had a 20-something couple in it. They smiled as they clacked over the creek, but the girl’s smile faded after they parked and walked back across the bridge to get a closer look. In fact, she looked downright hostile toward her boyfriend who had driven them across the deathtrap.

How many snapped cables can you count?I know that at some point the old bridge will have to be replaced or reinforced. A shorter suspension bridge just around the corner was retrofitted with steel flooring and new cabling several years ago. The two bridges are still collectively called the Swinging Bridges even though only one of them still swings. It will be a great day for safety…but a sad day for me when they finally bring the old swinging bridge kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

Rusted and frayed loop supportsGaps

The Auglaize Swinging Bridge

MoMa RetreatsNote: All photos can be clicked to view a massive version...the details of age make the download time worth it in my opinion.

Another Note: There are no pictures of the second, smaller bridge because MoMa would not let us drive over this one. At first she said she’d just sit in the back seat and close her eyes. But as soon as the tire touched the wood, she started flailing about and insisted we turn around. She didn’t even like standing on it.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Ozark Oddities: Part I

People, particularly children, are poor judges of just how abnormal their normal environment is. Which is to say, we all assume until proven otherwise that the details of our daily existence are perfectly normal. I bring this up because I’ve been thinking a lot about the little corner of the world that I called home through my childhood lately. The series of stories I’m currently working on more or less takes place there, so I’ve been mentally wandering around the old locales of my childhood, looking for great locations for action, looking for colorful details to throw into the background. And what I’ve realized is that there is a great deal of oddity tucked away in the thick Ozark greenery.

Last weekend, the Gren clan ventured down to the Lake of the Ozarks to visit with MoMa. While there I cajoled the family into taking a little drive down the winding gravel roads that lead to the very rural property that I called home until 2nd grade. The old homestead itself didn’t hold much of use for my story, but there were two destinations for the drive…objects hiding down that old dusty road that I have come to realize, after being removed for so many years, are true rarities. I wanted to see them again to remind myself of their details. I’m not sure if I’ll use them or not, but nostalgia coupled with the prodding of a gren lurking in my imagination sent me directly to them.

Plus, it was a beautiful day for a drive.

Oddity #1: Imitation is the Highest Form of Flattery

There is a quiet clearing a few miles down the road from my family’s old farmhouse. I can’t recall the man’s name that owned it, but I do recall that my Dad was on friendly terms with him. Friendly enough at any rate for the eccentric gentleman to tell my father the story of what he had built in that quiet clearing.

It seems one night, many years ago, this unnamed Missourian looked up into the sky and saw a cluster of five UFOs flying low enough that he could see the basic design of the ships. He waved his arms and tried to make contact…but to no avail. He therefore decided to take measures to ensure that if these alien vessels ever returned, they would stop. So, he proceeded to construct an intricately detailed replica of one of the ships he had seen. He reasoned that if the aliens saw his replica ship in the clearing they would assume one of two things: a) that one of their ships had landed and they would follow to assist or b) that a human was making a clear attempt at communication. Either way, he figured they’d probably land there on his property.

The UFO in the clearing has been ravaged by time…weather and drunkards have done entropy’s work. But in its prime, the little concrete ship was a wonder. It was gleaming silver with a glass windshield, a leather seat and mock controls in the cockpit, and a thick metal door in the rear. These days, the silver has been all but worn away, replaced by graffiti and etchings. The door has been hauled away, the glass has been smashed, and the cockpit is nothing but a concrete cavity filled with litter. However, the surreal effect of hiking over a small hill to encounter a life-sized UFO parked in the forest is still as glorious as it was when my family used to visit this clearing for picnics.

We didn’t dally long…it was the first weekend of deer season. be concluded in Ozark Oddities: Part II

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Perfect Cookie

While falling asleep the other night.

Moonshot – I’m thinking about making cookie baskets for some of our friends and family. Maybe six different kinds of cookies. I’ll put a card in each basket and people can vote on their favorite cookie. Then, I’ll swap out the three lowest vote getters next year for new cookies. I keep that up year after year until I have the perfect basket of cookies.

Moksha – The perfect basket of cookies? For that, you know, we’ll have to travel around the world to find the perfect flour.

Moonshot – Absolutely, and then the perfect heat source.

Moksha – It certainly will be exciting and fast

Moonshot – And exciting and thrilling

Moksha – And exciting and funny.

A moment of silence.

Moonshot – You know, there is this small group of parents in the world who would understand exactly what we were talking about…and then there’s the other 98% of the population.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Holey Man

Simon asked the Gren: What's up with the nose piercing? Why'd you get it in the first place and decide to do away with it? You probably wouldn't be married to Moonshot if you hadn't lost it before meeting her, so do you believe in fateful timing, or was that just blind coincidence?

I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have told you what a pain ritual was when I was in 9th grade. In fact, I’m fairly certain I didn’t stumble across the term until some time in college. But when I did finally have it described to me, it clicked in a way that said, “Of course! That’s exactly what I’ve been feeling all these years.”

The basic concept is the marking of a life event, achievement, or milestone with a “ceremony” that a) is painful and b) leaves a mark. Painful because it shouldn’t be easy. Whatever it is that you’re commemorating took hard work and sacrifice, the symbolic version should be no different. And there should be a mark because that mark will remain as the reminder of the life event.

I blame my parents for this type of thinking. You see, I had wanted to get my ear pierced when I was in school. They wanted to give me enough freedom to express myself, but also wanted to make sure I wasn’t rushing into such things on a whim. Thus, I was told that I could have my ear pierced when I was 15. Reasonable, but my friend Brock, two years younger than me, already had his ear pierced and was more than willing to remind me of it. It was an agonizing wait.

Luckily, Mom was willing to round my age up a bit and shave about a month off the wait. On the last day of school of my freshman year, my final day as a junior high student, we journeyed into Osage Beach and got my left ear pierced at some place where the “ceremony” involved a pink plastic gun in the hands of a gum-chewing fellow teenager. It was, at the time, the only option I knew of and I walked out with the desired stud in my ear. So I was thrilled.

Perhaps it was due to the piercing coinciding with the completion of an academic level or perhaps I would have made this connection on my own, but I instantly began viewing my earring as a symbol of my completion of junior high, my entrance into high school. I equated that single stud with transition. The concept of a pain ritual had entered my psyche even though the term itself was still years away.

By the time I turned 16, I had moved on to a small 16-gauge hoop and returned to the needle to commemorate my driver’s license, giving me two holes through my left ear. High school graduation was marked by a hoop through my right lobe and then I took a break for a while as I went away to college and learned to over-analyze these things and use terms like shamanistic pain ritual. I vividly remember watching a documentary in which a suited gentleman with a bone through his nose said (and I’m paraphrasing):

“Pain rituals are not done solely for decoration, it's part of an initiation, a rite of passage. It's part of transformation.”

On the pain itself he said:

“If, while walking, I accidentally walk into a thorn or a needle and pierce my skin, there is a sensation of pain. It is a message sent by my brain to alert me to the danger to which I was previously unaware. On the contrary, if I pick up that same needle and consciously decide to pierce my skin with it, contemplate the act and deliberately do so, there is an intense sensation…but it is not exactly pain. The skin sends the same message, the same endorphins are released, but the brain, in knowing exactly what is going on, processes the information differently.”

To which I said, “Rock on!!” I would later learn that that suited-gentleman was Fakir Musafar, the godfather of the “modern primitive” movement, but at the time he was just a cool looking dude saying things that made a lot of sense to me.

In the following years, I relished my newfound ability to intellectualize what was a fairly common tribal marking of my generation. However, when my next life event unfolded, I was ready to contemplate that needle with deliberation once again.

A few weeks after my Dad died in the fall of ’97, I jumped in the car with two college friends and headed down to St. Louis to find a reputable piercer. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted yet, nose or nipple, but I knew that I was no longer going to trust it to a pink, plastic gun. I found the look of the nose piercing more appealing, but the nipple was more painful, and that suited my mindset at the time. So, I settled on my right nipple.

It was strange. The pain (or sensation of whatever) was fully bearable…intense, but bearable. What I was truly not prepared for was the endorphin rush. I had to step outside. I paced the balcony overlooking the St. Louis Loop as I took in the cold November air and tried not to throw up.

It was exhilarating.

A year later, I was living in Breckenridge, CO, but had come back to Missouri to be with my family on the first anniversary of Dad’s death. On my way out of town I swung into the piercer. I’m not exactly sure what I was commemorating. It was sort of a combination one-year-without-Dad and moving-out-on-my-own deal. But really, I think I just wanted to get a nose-ring and was looking for a reason.

I don’t think anyone really liked my nose ring. My family hated it, my friends found it silly…but I loved it. I worked as an electrician up in Breck and just loved the interactions it would inspire. I remember one very well in which a little old lady who had called for service work answered her door. An uncomfortable/terrified look flashed across her face. She tried hard not to stare at my nose and then tried harder to avoid me completely. Eventually, she mustered the courage to ask the standard opening question, “Did that hurt?” After a few minutes of discussion, we were chatting comfortably. Her granddaughter had a pierced eyebrow and she was relishing my willingness to explain why someone would want to do such a thing.

She made me chocolate chip cookies.

A few months later I was living in Ft Lauderdale and took a job installing home theaters and such. The company frowned on the nose ring and I agreed to take it out during work hours. I figured I could maintain the hole that way for the six months or so that I planned to be in the south Florida area. Sadly, (or perhaps fortunately) the hole closed up during my first 8 hours shift and I said a sad goodbye to my facial piercing. I hated losing it but it was, as mentioned, the only piercing with no specific ties to a life event. I missed the ring itself, but didn't feel that I had lost something truly significant.

And so, it was a relatively normal-looking Moksha that met Moonshot in 2002. And that’s a good thing since I have no illusions that she would have taken an interest in me had I been sporting a metallic nostril. She barely tolerates the four 12-gauge rings I currently wear. However, to address the original question, I’m not one to believe in fate on this level. On the list of cosmic coincidences that made Moonshot and I perfect for each other, the lack of nasal jewelry was but a small factor. So no, I don’t personally believe the universe had a plan for my nose.

Things have been quiet on the body modification front for several years now. Between Moonshot and an office job…there’s not much room for more stainless steel. However, I am currently looking forward to some inkwork. Lack of funds prevented me from commemorating Norah’s birth in this way, but as soon as resources allow, I plan to make the Chinese wu-fu a permanent part of skin. It may take a while to save up the funds since a) it will be an expensive piece of art and b) Moonshot has made it clear that if I get to spend such money on a tattoo…she gets jewelry of equal value, thereby doubling the cost of my wu-fu ;) And I figure that’s fair. It will be, like the piercings before it, my own personal ritual commemorating the events of my life. If she wants to join in the celebration but skip the pain part of it…I don’t think many would blame her.