You've Got (A) Life!

You know those greeting cards that play a tune or an audio message when you open them? Sure you do. A little cute, a little annoying?

They’re powered by a little chip, a tiny thing, a unitasker, and it contains more computing power than the spacecraft on the Apollo missions. Imagine that.

I don’t actually know if that’s true, but it was told to me by someone who should know, and who didn’t seem to be a guy tending toward hyperbole. It was just a little aside in a short conversation we had about our particular generation and computers. This guy, who is my age, got a computer science degree in 1979, and we were just talking. He told me the story, for example, of blowing off an interview with a little start-up company across the lake in Redmond. Stuff like that.

We mostly were talking about how fortunate we were to be there at the beginning. The computing world has changed drastically in the past 30 years, but the science is still essentially the same, just smaller and sped up, plus bells and whistles and porn.

So our learning curve has been gradual and easy. Not as easy as, say, for my kids, who grew up with icons and IMs, but we know what’s going on. Somewhere beneath the glamor is an executable file, we know; the rest is just clicking.

I worked on my first computer network in 1978, on a solid-state CRT with glowing green letters and an 11-inch screen. A few years later I watched Alan Alda assemble an IBM AT in 30 seconds on a commercial, and I sure wanted one of them personal computers.

My sister bought one in the mid-80s, as I recall. I eventually bought it from her (or her next one, I’m not sure) when my business was growing and I wanted a back-up. Kids: Cover your ears. It had no hard drive.

My first one, though, I got in 1990. It had a 286 processor, a 40MB hard drive and 1MB of RAM. It cost $2500 and I waited two weeks to get it, because they had to build it first. And, because I was a long-range thinker, I had them install one of those modem thingies.

So bulletin boards became my first online experience. I didn’t have a hobby or special interest to fuel my wanderings, like comic books or arcade games or gay sex, but it was fun to dial up and hook into someplace else. Mild fun. Kill-an-hour fun.

The rest of the time I spent teaching myself computer programming from books and borrowed assemblers, and, of course, buying new computers. My next one was a 486 with 4MG of RAM (count ’em!) and a nearly 100MB hard drive, and — and — a CD ROM drive. Suddenly there were graphics, some of it animated, and sound, not to mention Windows.

It was then, in the summer of 1992, that I noticed a free CD in the grocery store. America Online. Hmm.

For $9.95 a month, I got five hours of online joy (I hope your ears are still covered), which was much more than I needed. This was pre-WWW, and Al Gore was still building the Internet in his garage. There were chat rooms, and e-mail between other AOL users, some features, and eventually Time magazine.

It got popular. One day, I read in a magazine that Patrick Stewart, Jean-Luc Picard himself, was an AOL member. I searched the directory and sure enough there was Patrick, “actor” by profession on his profile. I thought for a long time, then sent him an email with a quote from “Merchant of Venice” and a casual greeting. No fanboy stuff. He wrote back, too, with his own quote (“Midsummer’s Night Dream”).

Of course it was him. There were only 200,000 users at that time and it was like a club. Shut up.

And then, finally, there was unlimited access, and busy signals, and “gateways” to the mysterious Internet while Al put the finishing touches on it. And, of course, there were the squawks from the true believers when all the AOL-ers came wandering around, asking dumb questions.

One day a couple of Arizona attorneys had the temerity to post (gasp!) an advertisement on the ‘net, and the cave dwellers spammed and flamed and threatened. The world shook for a while.

There must be a geek cemetery around here somewhere, with “1995” on a lot of the tombstones and sites lovingly tended with flowers and 2400-baud modems.

For all the derision, mostly I suspect because of its ubiquitousness, AOL worked because it was convenient, a browser slipped into a home page with tons of content. I used to shake my head at non-AOL friends who had to fire up IE and then go looking. It was all there, limitless choices by nature of the Web but handy-dandy stuff all in one place, too. Just sign in, type your password, and go.

Ah. There’s the rub, in case you missed it. Freedom always wins, when given a choice. Cable stuck the sword in, but wireless networks twisted it. Why set up a home network when only AOL users can use it, even when broadband is supplied by the phone company?

For nearly 15 years I was a customer, without many complaints. AOL invented parental controls, as far as I know, so my kids could surf and I could sleep. My wife ventured online in a user-friendly environment. I got free stuff. It worked for me.

Last summer, AOL-Time-Halliburton-whatever got out of the ISP business, essentially, and I could finally go cable without annoying my wife. My son’s iMac could finally connect to our network, Julie could still use AOL, and I never had to hear “You’ve Got Mail!” again if I didn’t want to. Let freedom ring.

I’m a Mozilla Man now. I still have an AOL email address, but I rarely check it; their site is ad heavy and slow, and I’m all over the speed thing.

So goodbye, America Online. You served me well, my friend, and I have nothing to feel bad about, but I’ve moved on. I seek out new experiences, new life, new civilizations, new porn. I want to boldly go where I have never gone before.

Meaning, I really want a Mac now.

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My Weekend

I work at the computer in a recliner, the only solution I could come up with to battle back pain. It turned out all right; I had to learn how to type again, but ergonomically speaking it seems a better choice, and if I have to live with the image of a lazy boy then I guess I just will.

But I fell asleep in it last week, just tilted my head back and conked out for two hours, “like an old person!” Julie thoughtfully said, and I knew something was coming.

It turned out to be a cold, is all, just sinus pain and some coughing, a little lethargy and a convenient place to nap. It could have been much worse, and Lord knows the stress of the dental week didn’t help my energy.

It coincided, though, with a wifeless weekend, just the two boys, and so there were memories of other weekends when I didn’t do a whole lot, and for reasons that still creep into my dreams. I lost a few of those.

I managed to sneak out a couple of times, shore up the supplies, and I was standing in line at the grocery store at 10 am when I saw this jaw-droppingly beautiful woman. I’m not good with ages but I’m thinking early 40s. Blonde hair, perfect body, expensive clothes, classic features, cheap wine.

A big bottle with a $7 price tag. I know this wine. I used to buy it. I haven’t even glanced at it in nearly seven months, but I remember mid-mornings and the whole thing damn near broke my heart.

And, of course, I know nothing. She could have just been errand running and buying the cheap stuff for unimportant dinner guests, but I got a strong sense of pain and I have a pretty well-developed sense of that. Been there, those mornings. Buy some cheese and maybe an apple, make it look like a spontaneous picnic, but you can’t wait to get home because your brain is screaming for relief, and that only comes in a bottle.

I wanted to hold her. I’m sort of embarrassed to write that, what with her being beautiful and fragile, but I did. I wanted to tell her it was okay, that God still believed in her, that miracles happen every day, that I could explain stuff and help her find some peace, but strangers need conventions to connect.

Maybe I’ll catch her in a meeting someday.

I’ve become a hardass, I told Julie the other day, but I have to be more specific. If I become one of those old AA pricks who talk about “we’ve raised the bottom” and sneer at people in pain, then you can shoot me, OK? I give you permission.

What I mean is that I’ve moved past cliches, as comforting as those can be, and as necessary in the beginning. I don’t craft rigorous honesty anymore, build up a nice mini-monologue in case I get called on. You get what’s on my mind, and a lot of time that has to do with my mistakes and misadventures, and sometimes my always growing conviction that it has less to do with drinking than why you would even consider it in the first place.

Not you. Me. Just another convention. Sorry.

I’ve been given back free will. I know, I know. You think I always had it. You want to talk about personal responsibility, and good choices, and I truly understand that and it’s still nonsense, at some level. I lost the power to make choices, for a while. And if you think I was “functional,” just some nice man who drank too much and came to his senses and asked for help and did the hard work and put in the time and got the education, then I could tell you stories.

I crawled into recovery. Crawled. Sustained only by an idea that I didn’t want to die yet, by the love of my family, by the hesitant notion that my higher power wasn’t quite done with me yet, by the knowledge of friendships that stayed through indifference.

Actually, honestly, by the idea that somebody out there might want to hold me.

As I said, I’ve had to learn how to type again.

I almost never go to church these days, but then of course I do. I go mostly to churches, most nights. I know churches. I can find the copier. I know where the power lies (church secretaries). I recognize the hymnals. I understand the seating dynamics.

And I sit in these churches, with people, some of whom don’t believe in God, and I swear I’m tempted to take my shoes off, it’s that holy.

And of course there’s always somebody who wants to talk about being “spiritual” as opposed to “religious,” or expresses a disdain for “organized religion,” and I can be as arrogant as anybody and I’m a hardass now and I express the opinion that for somebody who doesn’t like religion they sure do seem to be active in one.

Rituals. Sacraments. Prayer. Confession. Witnessing. Altar calls. Your typical AA meeting. We hold hands and everything.

I saw a beautiful woman in pain the other day, and of course I saw the least of us, by which I mean me.

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Time Out

Well, good. Now I have absolutely no idea what time it is.

I woke up this morning at 6:11, which is early for me but then I never sleep well when Julie’s out of town, and of course it was 7:11. I want that hour back.

Also, I blame George Bush.  Just on principle.

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Road To Recovery

Well, that’s over with. I still feel like I’ve been punched in the mouth, and apparently there’s a lot of bruising going on inside, but the pain has pretty much gone. There’s nothing quite like a little dental discomfort to make one realize that life is ultimately a miserable journey into darkness and despair, rife with suffering and pain, abandoned by an uncaring creator, brightened only by the knowledge that it will be relatively short. And your dog will die first.

So, it was a learning experience.

Since I went to the dentist last week only mildly uncomfortable in the beginning, I have to admit I harbored some bad feelings for a bit, but I think we’ve cleared that up. I’ve agreed to be better about scheduling regular check-ups, and apparently she’s going to wax my car for the next six months.

But wait! It got better!

We got a summer teaser yesterday, just stunning weather in the 70s, and that once again gave me hope. Birds were rubbing their eyes with the backs of their hands. The grass grew an inch. I saw a couple of neighbors I assumed had died. It was spectacular.

I got a little energized, too. I cleaned up the house a little, emptied some trash, listened to the radio, and decided to make quiche.

OK. I guess Ann’s going to call me a faggot now.

I hope no one tells her about the show tunes.

In defense of my manliness, I don’t actually eat quiche, but I like to make it. I actually like making anything that requires a pie shell, since a few months ago I decided to master the art of the perfect crust and an awful lot of Crisco had to die before I got the hang of it, so I like to stay in shape. And Julie loves my spinach quiche.

The secret to good quiche, by the way, aside from a flaky crust, is to add eggs.

For my manly appetite, I stuck with chili. I make chili at least once a week these days. It’s sort of become my…hmm. Can’t think of the word for that French fish stew. Starts with a B. You know what I mean. It’s that.

Whenever we have leftover meat, my stockpot calls me. In fact, I’ve got two batches currently in the fridge, one in which I cannibalized some dark turkey meat and added jalapenos, and last night’s chipolte black bean with chicken breast. Mmm. All that smoky hot goodness calls out for the addition of a beer, but those days are past me so I settle for onions, sharp cheddar and chocolate ice cream.

As I’ve mentioned before, hot chilis are my Valium. A bowlful of capsaicin endorphin stroking and I mellow out real good, toothaches go away, sleep comes quickly, and leggy blondes with potty mouths seem irrelevant, as they deserve to be. Put on some Sondheim and I will call it perfect, a new lease on life, a scent of spring, a resurrection of the human spirit, and my car is going to be all shiny and stuff too.

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Help Wanted

In the interval while I try hard not to write (or think) about tooth issues (yes, I was back at the dentist’s today. Yes, the result was about the same. Yes, at least I got a column out of it), I wanted to pass on a few things.

I’ve added some column archives (click on “Read Chuck’s Column” on the sidebar and you’ll find them). Since my column appears (usually) for a week and then disappears (sometimes a good thing), it’s always been a goal of mine to collect them all in one place. In 2004 I solved this by putting a lot of them in a book, but I’m thinking maybe you can only get away with that once. So I’ll do my best to save them here for…posterity, or sympathy, or maybe just to help me remember what I was thinking. At any rate, I’ve got the last quarter of 2006 and all of 2007 so far online, and I’ll add to that as I can. Maybe I could get a grant or something.

“Arthur” is not my favorite film, or on any of my lists of great movies, or actually on any list of mine except the one for funny movies, on which it holds the top spot. Comedy writer Ken Levine has been talking about “Arthur” screenplay writer Steve Gordon on his blog lately, and he’s posted a scene from the original screenplay that never made it to the big screen. If you share my appreciation of “Arthur,” you might be interested. And make sure you comment and get Ken to post more.

Finally, Michael Main has asked his readers to help out in a scary situation. Cheryl Huish, a young mother from south Texas with perhaps some memory problems, has been missing since February 28. Michael’s set up a Web site to help in the search, and asked us to provide a link so as to spread the word as quickly as possible. I have only a fuzzy idea how “Google bombs” work, but it’s a good cause. The site is, and your thoughts and prayers are welcomed.

Cheryl Huish

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Root, Root, Root For The Home Team

“So, what’s the game plan?”

Dr. K. has a tendency to stick her fingers in my mouth without telling me why. She will, but you have to ask. Sometimes I don’t ask, too.

“We’re going to do a root canal.”

Wow. Never had one of those before. I’m always up for a new experience. Must make a note in my diary tonight.

My adventures in dentistry have been documented pretty extensively over the past four years, ever since I first found Dr. K. I’ve tried to make up for lost time by being a compliant patient, although I haven’t been into the office since late summer. Hey. I’ve been a little busy.

I’ve noticed that people always sort of shudder when they use “root” and “canal” in the same sentence. Sometimes in the same day. But this was pretty same old, same old for me. Some numbing, some drilling, some filling. At the end, dental assistant extraordinaire Jennifer squirted some bleach up there “to kill the bad bacteria.”

Of course I asked her about good bacteria. I didn’t lose my sense of humor for another 20 minutes or so.

Bacteria, among other fun stuff, can interfere with local anesthetic. They get an attitude. So Dr. K was a little surprised but just a little when the Marcaine wore off before I was even out of the chair. She injected some more to numb me up real good before sending me home with a prescription for an antibiotic. Just another day at the dentist’s.

It took me approximately five minutes to drive from Dr. K’s to the pharmacy. At the three-minute mark, I was sore. By the time I handed over the script, I was sorer. By the time I got home, another five minutes, I was in pain.

At the 10-minute mark, I was yanking business cards out of my wallet, looking for either Dr. K’s number or possibly Jack Kevorkian’s.

This was pain that could not be rated on a scale of 1 to 10. It needed at least Roman numerals, if not a whole new character set. According to Julie, my skin took on a shade of white that would have turned an albino’s head.

Back to the office. More anesthetic. More than that. A little bit more. Maybe just a tad here. Okay, maybe another full dose.

It took 90 minutes in the chair before I started to breathe like a normal person and stopped making snide comments to Dr. K (“I knew Mother Teresa, lady, and you are no Mother Teresa.”).

At least I feel special. This was a rare reaction, apparently. I think Dr. K is maybe writing a journal article this weekend (When Nerves Go Bad).

Ah, well. Nothing like a little pain to put life in perspective. In fact, after a few hours, when the horror had faded and the Percodan had kicked in, I even bought Girl Scout cookies. Of course, my feelings about Girl Scouts are also pretty well documented, and this one was a cutie, about 8 years old.

I was actually feeling all warm and fuzzy until she held up a box of cookies and said, “You might want these. They’re sugarless!”

Probably just an innocent remark.

And I’m pretty sure my parting comment about Mother Teresa went over her head.


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I should have listened to them, 18 years ago. My neighbors-to-be, who warily watched the moving truck pull in late at night and smiled their polite smiles, waved as they drove by, and, if you snagged one for a conversation, said, “You’re not from around here, are you?”

It’s different up here, 20 miles north of the Emerald City. The people are different, the crops are different, the types of beer are different. And the wind blows in mysterious ways.

You have to understand the geography. There is water. There are mountains. There is more water. There is me. There are more mountains.

Wind blows in from the west, across the Olympics and the Sound, and also from the south, over the foothills of the Cascades, and the twain meet in my neighborhood. The meteorologists call this the Puget Sound Convergence Zone (in layman’s terms, “zone of convergence”), and sometimes it gets feisty.

So while downtown Seattle was seeing sun and blue skies, over the course of 45 minutes or so yesterday afternoon 5 inches of snow fell in Snohomish County. At rush hour.

Yup. March came in like a penguin.


(Janet Eaton — Mukilteo Musings – 7am 3/1/2007)

It also snowed some in the morning, and continued to snow into the evening, so we’ve got a lot. Half a foot, eight inches. Who’s counting?

I like to watch it snow. I like, sometimes, to walk around in it. I care less for driving, although I can do that. I’m not so big on shoveling it, rolling in it, peeing on it, or eating it (particularly in that order).

But it’s peaceful today. Quiet. John has no school, and Julie canceled her morning classes. Strider looks at the snow-strewn back steps and has been apparently mulling over the necessity of pooping, but he’ll get over that. Otherwise, we have food and shelter, electricity and Internet access, so we should be good to stay.

But you know that feeling, when you’ve been craving sugar and you’re not really sure why although you can think of good reasons and then your teeth start to sort of hurt maybe from the sugar you’re thinking so you brush them good and hard and they hurt worse and then you swear off the candy but your wife brings home goodies and then there’s birthday cake and life is too short and then you localize the hurtness to one particular tooth because if you so much as brush it with your fingertip you immediately want to confess to any number of crimes and misdemeanors and sign the damn paper just give me a pen? You know that feeling?

So I have an appointment tomorrow, since my dentist is overbooked today and nobody is canceling, and I told them I could wait another 24 hours, no sweat. If things get bad, I can just stick my face in the snow.

As long as nobody lets Strider out, I mean.

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Beta Blogging

I swear, I was this close to writing something about putting the pieces of my life back together. It’s hard to do that with a straight face when your words are surrounded by Legos. I’m going to have to be very careful, metaphorically speaking, from now on. Sticking together, coming apart, building something out of nothing, order out of chaos…I’m thinking these are all off the table.

My thanks to Gordon Atkinson, who made this site possible from the very beginning, and also to Liz Ek and Meg Fowler, who did some virtual hand holding yesterday while I flailed about this site, trying to get everything to fit together.

Shoot. Did it again. Sorry.

As far as housekeeping: I have some blogroll things to add (I apologize to Drew and Deb), along with self-promoting pages and a decent About Me (Mom, can you write that? Be discreet). There are tweaks to come and graphics to seek out, decisions to make, and possibly a hundred themes to try before I ultimately, probably, come back to the little plastic toys.

But this is where I live now. Bookmark, comment, link, grab a feed, tell your friends.

I have been organizing myself in the past few months, so this feels right. I’ve been slowly archiving the clutter, looking for coherence and settling for stability. And serenity, of course. Always a goal.

Hmm. What else? My current column is up today. My son (so far) is not. My Internet connection seems to be humming this morning. There is something falling from the sky that looks suspiciously like snow.

Oh, and Julie had a good birthday yesterday, I think, although she worked all day and didn’t make it home until almost 9:30 last night. But John and I had dinner ready, including a huge rib eye that I lovingly broiled and came out just like in a restaurant except a lot less expensive and not as good.

So here we are. Welcome. I’ll do my best to post as intermittently as always, and feel free to let me know what you think in terms of design, content, spelling errors, etc.

Just put your toys back in the box before going home. I’m really trying to get organized here.

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