As you can see, I have a pretty healthy stack of books I've read over the past year or so, but have failed to spend any time at all commenting on. I'm not quite delusional enough to think that my inane commentary is going to matter to anyone else, but I do know that I will likely come back a few years from now to see what I thought of books I'd read in years gone by. I really have done that several times, so I guess it's not all a complete waste of time.
I did take the time to collect some thoughts on one of the autobiographical books I've read in the past couple of months (I picked it up long ago, where it stagnated on my reading shelf while waiting for me to get to it), Sara Benincasa's Agorafabulous! *Dispatches from my bedroom. I heard about it on Neil Gaiman's Twitter feed, where he strongly recommended reading it. So I bought a hardcover copy and then proceeded to ignore it.
I try to mix up the genres of the books I read so I'm not reading the same types of books one after another (which is basically how I read throughout my 20s-30s). I've also read several other biographical-type books recently1, interspersed with other sci-fi, fantasy, thrillers, etc. But it was finally time to follow Neil's recommendation and get to know Sara Benincasa.
And get to know her, I did. Maybe too well.
My only complaint about Agorafabulous!: there are no photos. None. Which is weird for any biographical-type book. It was otherwise a great book and made me laugh out loud embarrassingly often (my apologies in advance - this is going to be a very quote-heavy commentary. And some of these quotes are pretty lengthy). Not exactly a complaint, but a comment: Sara doesn't have a filter. There is profanity galore in this memoir (much of which begins with the sixth letter of the alphabet). And plenty of grown-up talk about things like sex. So be warned - this book, and the excerpts I've shared, are not intended for consumption by young'uns
I've read three or four books since I finished Agorafabulous! *Dispatches from my bedroom, so I may have forgotten or misremembered a few of the more interesting tidbits I wanted to share, but here goes...
Agorafabulous!, Sara Benincasa
I'm always impressed by anyone's ability to describe a memory with richly descriptive details because my brain can barely recall what happened yesterday in any kind of detail. Sara's descriptiveness is unrivaled as she rattles off story after story. Early on, she preps the reader with a little background on her fears and various sources of anxiety. The excerpt below beings with a story about a woman who had the world's longest fingernails.
According to the SLC police, Redmond was ejected from the vehicle and sustained serious but not life-threatening injuries. She survived, but her nails did not. Each one broke off near the finger.
When I heard about Lee Redmond's accident, my first thought was not "Jesus, how the fuck do you insert a tampon with two-foot - long fingernails?" (That was my second thought.) My first thought was, "Why on Earth would anyone chooseo be a freak?" To my mind, freaks generally come in two categories: those whose freakishness was visited upon them and those who devote considerable time and effort to creating and maintaining their freak status. I am one of the former, and I have never been able to understand the latter.
When I was a child, I began to experience panic attacks that increased in frequency and intensity over several years. This condition eventually led me to develop a fear of leaving my small studio apartment, and finally of leaving my bed - even to go to the bathroom. The ensuing complications were, well, pungent.
By the time I was twenty-one, I was a full-on obsessive, cowering, trembling agoraphobe. How serious was it? Well, because I was too frightened to go to the hair salon, I let my roots grow out - which, gentle reader, is truly a sign of desperation in a born-and-bred daughter of New jersey.
The word agoraphobia comes from the Greek phobia, or fear, and agora, or marketplace. In simplest terms and most convenient definitions, my psychiatric diagnosis is that I'm afraid of the mall.
Which, I can assure you, is untrue. New Jersey claims to be a state, but it is actually a gigantic slab of cement upon which malls sprout like blisters and corns on the stubby, scrubby feet of overworked, chain-smoking strippers. These malls are interconnected by a complex, ill-conceived system of congested roads. You are not allowed to take a left turn anywhere in the entire state. If you try, the rest of us will run you over on our way to the Macy's white sale.
If you opened up my chest and examined my heart, I'm fairly certain you would find stamped therein a precise map explaining how to get from the Bridgewater Commons Mall to the low-rent Qualterbridge Mall, to the high-endiest of high-end malls, the Alpha and the Omega, the Mall at Short Hills (valet parking! Neiman Marcus! Sit - down restaurants!). I feel at home in these temples to materialism. They have many bathrooms, and if you get anxious you can always find pain-numbing food or a soothing, well-chlorinated fountain.
In fact, my own life is so entwined with mall lore and magic that everything-must-go closing sales at mall shops fill me with an unbearable sense of despair. There is nothing I despise more than a once-great mall gone to ruin, the victim of a poor economy or a competing mall in the neighboring town. These are ghost malls, and they haunt my dreams. Their stores - empty husks of commerce - are tragic reminders of our own mortality. I can't handle the recent spate of recession-era store closings. I'm still not over Structure, and that old warhorse died over a decade ago.
I believe that there should exist an end-of-year memorial montage for all the mall stores we've lost. You know, like they have at the Academy Awards ceremony each year. And I believe this montage should be set to Sarah McLachIan's "In the Arms of the Angels." A solemn voice - mine, perhaps - should intone the names of the deceased as images of their gone-but-not-forgotten merchandise flash across the screen. "Circuit City," I'll whisper. "Tower Records. Virgin Megastore." Viewers will weep. It'll be fucking beautiful.
To sum up: my diagnosis notwithstanding, I'm not really afraid of the marketplace. Quite the opposite, in fact. But I have been afraid of many other things. Here are some of them, in a handy chart form that will get you up to speed:
Things of Which I Have Been Afraid (Abridged)
Degree of Fear
Am I Over It?
Leaving my home
Prozac; Xanax; Klonopin; cognitive behavioral therapy; bringing a stuffed giraffe named Mary with me wherever I go.
Having a wet head
Avoiding the shower; using a high-power hair dryer with a diffuser for less frizz and extra curls.
Being a passenger
Insisting on driving.
New York City
Realizing that most people here are even crazier than I am. It's rather comforting, really. I'm among my own.
Moving to Manhattan so I wouldn't need to use the tunnel to visit, as I am already here.
See Lincoln Tunnel.
See Leaving my home.
Taking the bus
Not taking the bus, except when it is absolutely unavoidable.
Taking the subway
Taking cabs unless I'm in the mood for interaction in close quarters, in which case I take the subway and enjoy it. But I'm rarely in the mood for interaction in close quarters that does not involve consensual sex with another adult person.
Realizing that it can excuse you from leaving your house. Also, the feeling of relief that ensues afterward is the closest thing to a natural Xanax I've ever experienced.
Fucking people and enjoying it.
Fucking men and enjoying it while using prophylactics. Alternatively, fucking women.
Having an abortion
See Being pregnant.
Consorting with atheists and other hell-bound types, like comedians.
Source:Personal storage bank of memories, 1982 - present. (I don't really remember anything before that. l'm sure I was afraid of many things, including but not limited to light, shadow, and babysitters.)
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For the most part, Sara's story follows a chronological timeline. One of Sara's early phobia/anxiety-ridden memories took place on a school trip to Italy (Sicily, actually, which is somehow not Italy, I guess).
"Perhaps the charming locals will show us a bit of their famous hospitality rather than stab us on sight."
Thus did I end up in Sicily, the Alabama of Italy. It is a fact that my grandmother, whose people were from southern Italy but not Sicily, used to refer to my grandfather's Sicilian-American mistress as "that black bitch." There is also a charming saying that ancient racists of mainland Italian descent enjoy repeating: "Sicily ain't southern Italy. It's northern Africa!" This is generally followed either by a knowing cackle or a disgusted wave of the hand. It is a unique pleasure to come to understand as a child that your elderly relative is not using the Italian word for eggplant in a complimentary fashion when describing citizens of Sicily or. more often, Harlem.
Since many humans have never actually heard of Sicily, it is perhaps instructive to do a quick tour through this large island's colorful history. It doesn't sound like the sort of place where one would willingly send one's buxom virgin1 eighteen-year-old daughter on an "educational trip" (at least not a trip from which one hoped she would return), but the real Sicily actually has more to it than pasta and automatic weapons.
In terms of conquest, Sicily is the geographic equivalent of the drum-circle bong - everyone's hit it at least once. The Phoenicians and Carthaginians had it, as did the Greeks and Romans (who brought Jewish slaves). Then came the Vandals and Goths (not to be confused with the influential punk band and sad-eyed Hot Topic kids), followed by the Byzantines. After that, the Arab Muslims showed up. A few more Jews arrived and behaved without bothering anybody, which has generally been an unsuccessful course of action for them throughout their history. Then the Normans staked their claim. Through marriage, Sicily passed to the Swabians, who are noted for having the goofiest-sounding name in history. Then the French took over- - which didn't turn out so well.
On Easter Monday in 1282, the Sicilians (whatever the hell that meant by then) decided to kill all the new French residents. The island was independent for, oh, six seconds, at which point the Kingdom of Aragon (not Aragorn, the foxiest dude in The Lord of the Rings) kindly stepped in. Aragon and Spain joined forces, and Sicily became Spanish property. In the fourteenth century, the Black Death made its legendary European debut in Sicily. The plague killed a bunch of people, which made the Spaniards feel competitive. Bloodthirsty, mass-murdering Queen Isabella and her kill-happy hubby Ferdinand implemented their own extermination method, loosely titled "Get Out of Here, You Fucking Jew (Or I'll Stab You)."
After a couple centuries of earthquakes and pirates, Sicily went to the Austrians (or, presumably, the Austrians went to it). Then the Spanish showed up again, but there were no Jews left to banish or kill, so their heart wasn't in it. Sicily was independent for another brief moment, after which the mainland Italians popped in and took over. The economy collapsed. the Mafia rose to prominence, a fuck-ton of immigrants bounced and went to the United States, and you probably know the rest from your favorite Francis Ford Coppola educational filmstrips.
In short, Sicily is no stranger to illness, drama, or evil female overlords. My own trip would incorporate all three.
Surprisingly, my journey to Sicily was not a punishment but a reward. I'd actually asked for the trip as a pre-graduation present. My school was cosponsoring a journey to the Regions Autonoma Siciliana with an outside tour company...
1 Unless you count oral sex. Which, being Catholic, I did not.
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While in Sicily, Sara had a pretty overwhelming panic attack (belated spoiler alert!!) that derailed the field trip's long-awaited trip to the beaches of Sicily and brought the tour bus to a Sicilian hospital instead. Sara may have filled in some of these details with a little imagination, but for all I know this is exactly what happened...
Even in my hazy daze, I felt like a fraud. I was going to die, sure, but they shouldn't waste the wheels on me. They could just lay me out someplace. Maybe they could hook me up with a blanket and a stuffed animal and just let me expire quietly.
They did lay me out soon enough on an examining table in a room with spotless steel cabinets and bright overhead lights. A circle of faces peered down at me - Mr. D'Angelo, Mr. Brixton, and no fewer than three suspiciously attractive nurses, each of whom wore bigger hair and more makeup than I'd ever seen on a nurse back home in New jersey (no small feat, incidentally). Someone took my pulse. Someone else shined a small flashlight in my eyes. A third someone looked at my tongue. I should have told one of them that I was on prescription medication, but my remaining shred of vanity stilled my voice. Besides, I was about to die. That secret could die with me.
"I suppose we ought to give her some space," Mr. Brixton whispered to Mr. D'Angelo.
"You're gonna be fine, kiddo," Mr. D'Angelo said. He patted my hand. "Don't worry." The sudden fatherly gesture of caring made a lump swiftly rise in my throat. I felt tears prick the back of my eyes, and had the vague realization that the body to which I was loosely attached was going to begin crying.
I stared up at the lights, blinking. The faces moved away, and the nurses spoke to one another in lovely-sounding syllables that l could not decipher. Soon, I could barely hear them anymore. My ears were shutting down. I was relieved to realize that my body was giving up.
Maybe I could just fall asleep here and not wake up ever.
Then came a sudden whoosh of cold air and a great crashing sound as the examining room door burst open. The energy around me changed suddenly, became electrified. I saw, without seeing, that Mr. Brixton and Mr. D'Angelo stood up straighter. Slowly, I turned my head to the side and gazed for the first time upon Dr. Sophia Loren.
That wasn't her actual name, of course. I don't think I ever got her real name. What I got was the same eyeful Mr. Brixton and Mr. D'Angelo were getting: a stunning, deeply tanned olive-skinned woman with huge, luscious clouds of shining brown hair, giant, heavily made-up eyes, pouty lips, and va-va-va-voom cleavage that owed its perkiness to nature, a well-constructed push-up bra, or a talented surgeon. She wore a tight purple V-neck shirt and a black miniskirt beneath an open white lab coat. I dimly noted her large gold hoop earrings and three-inch-high black stilettos.
Then she whipped out a pair of black-rimmed glasses that looked more like a prop than a necessity, and it dawned on me that I had unwittingly wandered onto the set of a porno movie. There was nothing about the scenario that didn't scream adult film, down to the bevy of hot chicks in nurse costumes. Out of deep-seated Catholic guilt and terror, I had long resisted my occasional feelings of sexual attraction toward women. But in my weakened state, I found myself vaguely turned on.
Then Mr. D'Angelo opened his mouth and promptly took the wind out of my Sapphic sails.
"HELLO. ARE YOU THE DOCTOR?" he asked in the loud, slow voice that Americans reserve for non-English speakers (as if screaming in a foreigner's face is going to increase his or her comprehension of our mongrel tongue).
Dr. Sophia cast the most dismissive glance at him that I have ever seen a woman give a man, and I'm including women who roll their eyes at cat-callers on the street...
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Even when Sara is telling the story of how mentally unbalanced she became in college, she manages to make you laugh. A lot. But you still feel slightly uncomfortable being amused by the terrible things she was experiencing. And she certainly doesn't worry about being Politically Correct, which I love. Any comedic writer/performer who worries about that stuff should find another line of work - maybe teaching school (which Sara did until she found her true calling).
It won't be that bad. Memories of terrible things are almost always easier than the things themselves.
When I was twenty-one, I got into the habit of voiding my bladder into chamber pots of my own invention. I was afraid to use the bathroom, because I'd had one too many panic attacks there. I wasn't a religious person, but I was into the kind of hippie spirituality sold in the New Age section at mainstream bookstores. Therefore, I diagnosed my bathroom with a case of seriously bad vibes, and devised a far more soulónurturing habit of pissing in my bedroom, in dinnerware. They were actually a very nice set of plain white bowls from the Le Creuset outlet back home in Flemington, New Jetsey, where I grew up. My mother had bought them for me as a housewarming gift when I moved into that apartment, a twelve-by-ten-foot room with a sink, a hot plate, a mini-fridge, a slim closet, a twin-size mattress on a rolling cot, and a small window with a view of a smoke-choked alley. The bathroom, a feat of space maximization, was the size of an airplane lavatory with a very slender shower stall tacked on. The medicine cabinet had room for a toothbrush, some toothpaste, and a bottle of the pills I still took every morning without fail. When I sat down to pee - back when I still used toilet - my knees bumped the door. It was impossible to have sex in that shower, a fact I confirmed more than once through trial and error.
Bathrooms, regardless of size, had always been my place of refuge from the fits of terror that stalked me throughout late childhood and adolescence. I developed rituals to stave off the attacks. I sang the same old church hymn, "Be Not Afraid," under my breath, over and over again. I rocked back and forth, holding myself. I hit myself in the face to shake my brain loose. (Not hard - I used a totally normal level of force, like you do.)
When things got really bad, I'd lean my head on the wall, or even on the roll of toilet paper itself, and cry. No one bothers you in the bathroom, because only pervs try to engage with other people in bathrooms.
My friend James Urbaniak, who voices Dr. Venture on the cult Adult Swim hit Venture Bros, once played a toilet freak on an episode of Law & Order:: SVU. (That's the rapey one, not the courtroomy one or that other one.) His character installed a secret camera in a bathroom so that he could watch ladies go to the toilet. After the inevitable lurid sexual assault that occurs on every episode of SVU, the cops find the camera and trace it to James's character. They burst into his apartment. where h.s sister, played by the wonderful Amy Sedaris, is trying to hide him. Anyway, turns out the toilet freak isn't the one who committed the violent sex crime. But we don't find this out before Christopher Meloni hauls him downtown and slams his no-good pervy ass up against the bars. (James told me that Meloni pushed him so hard that the bars, which are made of plywood, actually bent and had to be replaced.)
I remember watching this episode back in 2004, a few years after l'd had my own fit of freaky toilet behavior, and feeling a strange sort of kinship with the voyeur character. I didn't get a sexual thrill from watching other people use the bathroom, but I did share his view of the restroom as a special place, set apart from less exciting rooms like the living room or the dining room. These rooms were prosaic and uninspired places where one was expected to make small talk with any number of irritating companions. But in the bathroom, even if another person sat not six inches from you in a neighboring stall, you were blessedly alone.
So you can imagine my irritation when I discovered I wasn't alone in my tiny bathroom in that cramped studio apartment in Boston. I'd moved into the place in May, and as the months passed I gradually became aware that something was following me wherever I went, sitting on my shoulder or atop my head. I didn't know what the something was. but it was definitely a bad something, the sort of something you don't want perching on your body. It would say things, unintelligible things that I could feel but not understand. And sometimes it would get rather loud.
My solution was to keep my life noisy, filled with chatter and bustle. I had just finished my sophomore year at Emerson College, a school for writers and actors and assorted other deviants. It was a colorful, loud, silly place. In the hall between classes, one tiny gay boy or another was always imitating a character from Rent or Hedwig and the Angry Inch. And when that wee flamboyant lad warbled a few bars of the show tune that had gotten him through locker-room beatings in high school, he would inevitably be joined in his crooning by a chubby girl from across the hall. Thus did countless blessed fag/hag unions form in the precious space and time between Page to Stage 206 and Mid-Century Chicana Queer Poetry 307.
I knew I couldn't sing, and I was pretty sure I couldn't act (not that I'd ever tried), but I could write reasonably well, so I did that. I had long, curly brown hair and big boobs and a belly I was still convinced was terribly pudgy, three years after Amber Luciano had made a crack about my weight on that ill-fated trip to Sicily. I made out with boys, and got As and Bs, and found a bunch of friends who were infinitely better-looking and more glamorous than me. They did cocaine and wore really tight Diesel jeans and dabbled in the kind of stand-up comedy where you made a joke about a children's TV show people remembered from the eighties and then the audience laughed and then you looked at the audience like you hated them and then you made fun of a band you secretly liked and then you rolled your eyes...
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One of the terrible things that Sara goes through is a weird fear of eating. She recounts a conversation with her therapist about her recovery from this super-unhealthy issue with a pretty funny gag. And discovers something about herself in the process.
I learned that you could spread ripe avocado on that same toast, then top it off with a (local organic heirloom) tomato, and the whole thing was pretty delicious. Every day brought a tasty new discovery, or a happy rediscovery. My efforts were tentative, but promising. Because I took tiny bites and chewed so cautiously, I savored my food in a way I never had time to do before
"Food is actually pretty fucking awesome," I told Dr. Morrison.
"Most people seem to enjoy it," he replied. "The Prozac is helping, then?"
I leaned forward. "Totally. Sometimes I put it in my smoothie. It adds this really interesting texture. Peanut butter, milk, bananas, and emotional well-being."
"I'm just fucking with you," I said.
He actually laughed at that one. I really liked the way it sounded. His laughter was near-tangible proof that I'd said and done something right in that moment. For a moment, I felt all warm and glowy inside. I decided I could get used to that kind of feeling.
Then he asked, "So how is the driving coming along?"
"Driving?" I repeated. "Oh, I don't think so."
"You sound like you're doing pretty well. Have you thought about just practicing driving around your neighborhood?"
On to the next adventure.
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Sara was raised Catholic, but was also attracted to weirder non-conventional religions. And like most college-aged kids, she was drawn toward saving animals, saving the planet, communing with nature, etc. Here's an excerpt wherein Sara talks about her "foray into the crunchier realm"...
While I was learning to eat solid foods and shit in a toilet and drive a car again, I read a lot of Zentastic, organic, free-range, fair-trade, sustainable, sage-scented self-help books, most of which were designed for postmenopausal ex-hippies with a fondness for moon worship and natural-fiber clothing. I wasn't rich enough to follow my dream of living among noble brown stereotypes, which is why this book isn't called Eat, Pray, Love. I just read books that similarly co-opted other people's cultural traditions and repackaged them with a neat, lily-white bow on top. I called this "spirituality."
My foray into the crunchier realm was not entirely without precedent. Flemington is about twenty minutes away from a lovely little riverside gay enclave called New Hope, across the Delaware River in Pennsylvania. When l was in junior high, I began spending free Saturdays and evenings there, taking in poetry readings and organic, locally sourced, artisanal snacks with equal reverence. After my mom dropped me off, secure in the knowledge that no adult male in that town had any designs on a young teen of the girl persuasion, I could get homemade rose petal ice cream at Gerenser's (it tasted like perfume, but it sure was more interesting than a cone from the Carvel back home) and walk right down the street to the two competing witch-supply stores. One was called Gypsy Heaven and was run by an actual witch with a shock of wild blond Stevie Nicks hair. The other was called the New Hope Magick Shoppe and offered tarot readings by an elderly, chain-smoking devout Catholic named Irene who taught catechism when she wasn't unspooling the mysteries of the Major Arcana.
Fresh from my Confirmation as a Roman Catholic adult, l saw no contradiction between what l learned in church and what l learned from the woman with the cards. Catholicism is steeped in mysticism, magic, and ritual anyway. And there was nothing in the cards to discourage my belief in the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, and the inherent evil of putting it in the butt. I figured Irene and I were safe from hellfire.
When I was thirteen, l loved nothing more than to scarf down my ice cream cone inside or just outside one of the witch stores (Irene didn't care if you brought your food inside, but Stevie Nicks wouldn't have it) and breathe in that mystical smell of Nag Champa incense, patchouli oil, and body odor. These stores stocked spell books, tarot cards, mini-gargoyles (to keep the bad vibes away), gemstones that could heal your physical and psychic illnesses, white sage smudge sticks to purify your home, and handmade candles that came with instructions for making wishes and visualizing one's ideal future. Stevie Nicks made her own magic(k)al herb blends that you could burn to attract love, calm an unruly pet, invite prosperity, and ease menstrual cramps. There was also a Wild Womyn Mooncycle Journal designed to help the fertile human goddess chart her sacred ovum's monthly journey.
Pantheistic earth hippies are obsessed with menstruation. A few years ago, my big gay bear friend Alan told me about some queer spring musical jamboree/fuckfest he attended on an organic farm in the hills of Tennessee to celebrate Beltane, May first. Before they could erect their giant maypole, there was a preparation ceremony. Alan, who was tripping on acid, can't remember exactly what the rationale behind all this was. Mostly he just remembers the intense, all-consuming fear that enveloped him when some of the organizers dug a hole for the pole. As he watched in horror, a couple of floppy-titted women took turns squatting over it and menstruating. After that, dudes were invited to jerk off into it. This happened during a sacred drum circle, of course. Only after the various effluvia had settled into the hole were the hippies ready to plant the giant ribbon pole in the ground. Everyone wondered why Alan stayed in his tent for the next two days.
Sadly, I've yet to attain that particular level of enlightenment. But when I was in junior high, I sometimes knelt and prayed in front of a little altar in my room, burning a blue candle (for masculine energy) and a pink candle (for feminine energy) while envisioning straight As and a really awesome date to the next dance.
When I entered Emerson College, I found myself with a pagan roommate. She told me ooky-spooky stories about passing an invisible ball of energy around with her friends, which I would later discover was a common beginner's level improv comedy game. This makes perfect sense, because Wicca and improv comedy are both packed with dorks who like to play pretend when they really ought to be learning a trade. Anyway, she was really nice and she encouraged me to read up on astrology...
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As I very briefly mention above, Sara tried her hand at teaching. And discovered, as I'm sure most teachers do, that kids are pretty much mostly unruly animals and it's a wonder so many live to see adulthood. But that's not to say Sara didn't get any good stories from her time in the trenches. This story (which isn't the story, it's just a preview of the story) is more about how ill-equipped Sara felt as a teacher. And also possibly why Neil Gaiman recommended her story - he and his wife, Amanada Palmer, are mentioned in this excerpt.
I'm pretty sure we weren't supposed to teach in a classroom without a licensed teacher watching over us. But that's what happened. every single day. And the results were predictably a mix of great success and great disaster. Which brings me back to Billy's boner.
I didn't actually notice it myself (I mean, it wasn't that big). What I noticed was the tittering and giggling that arose as soon as I entered my classroom that afternoon.
I looked around suspiciously. My initial thought was that they must be laughing at me. I knew my dyed-red hair looked a little odd with bright pink streaks, but it had been that way for weeks and they ought to have been accustomed to it by now. Was it my thrift-store skirt? My dangly plastic earrings? The other gaudy accoutrements that marked me as a stereotypically wacky. unconventional, artsy-fartsy teacher? Or had the sad joke of my complete and utter incompetence as an educator (and human being) finally dawned on them?
We were reading Romeo and Juliet, because that's what I had learned in ninth grade and I figured it was their turn to be tormented by it. I found Shakespeare's language just as boring as they did. but when I'd taken this job I had agreed to play the role of an Adult, and Adults make Children do boring things for their own good. I'd wanted to liven it up by assigning the kids Sandman by Neil Gaiman, but had gotten called up in front of the principal when ex-homeschooler Miguel Sanchez's evangelical Christian father had complained about a panel depicting a nearly nude woman. ("Technically, she's a goddess, so it's not even human nudity," I had protested when the school director scolded me.) Years later, I would interview Gaiman and his rock-star girlfriend, Amanda Palmer, in a bathtub at the Maritime Hotel in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood. Neil wore a business suit, and Amanda was completely naked. I wore a short skirt, a push-up bra, and a T-shirt that read, THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE. During a break in taping, I found my mind wandering back to Miguel's father. This was probably exactly how he had imagined I spent my free time.
Being a teacher was difficult because of all the lying that was required of me on a daily basis. I had to pretend I actually cared if my students came into the room smelling of pot smoke, or if they cursed aloud in class. Mostly, I just wanted them to have a good time, learn how to write a complete sentence, and avoid shooting heroin between their toes while inside my classroom. I had an idealistic streak when I started. I wanted to show them the poetry and novels and art and music that inspired me, in the hope that it would inspire them. But a lot of times it seemed the stuff that inspired me wasn't considered appropriate for the classroom. And then I got in trouble for using Sandman. Thus, Romeo and Juliet.
On the day that Billy's boner hijacked my classroom, we were supposed to talk about Mercutio. We were supposed to talk about his friendship with Romeo, and what it means to be a good friend, and whether your friends are always obligated to take your side in arguments. I had a lesson plan. I had designed it to conform with Texas State Board of Education standards and benchmarks. I had a short, interactive lecture. I had a quiz game. I had small-group assignments. I had discussion questions. On paper, it looked like the perfect lesson. If you'd read it, you would almost think I had actually graduated from college. You might even think I was a real teacher with some actual training, maybe a license. You might believe I had the right to stand in that classroom and wield authority. When I strode into that classroom that day, even I believed it.
And then Billy's boner proved me Wrong.
Terribly, terribly wrong.
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The final excerpt I'm sharing has Sara still on a path to become a fully-functional, licensed teacher. And involves a moment of jealousy when she discovers that Mr Wrong from a few years earlier has moved on. Without her permission.
For the first time in my life, I was too busy to worry about anything unrelated to lesson plans, adolescent social development. and the New York City Board of Education's benchmarks and statistics for success in English, grades seven through twelve.
One night in September, I went out to a pub near Columbia with some new friends. During the dinner, Tom called me and promptly apologized for everything he'd ever done wrong in our relationship. He was almost certainly drunk, but I enjoyed the moment nevertheless - at first.
"Oh, we both made mistakes," I said magnanimously, out on the street where I wouldn't interrupt my friends' heated debate about charter school funding. "And you really did me a lovely favor by breaking up with me. Now we've both moved on to better things. I'm living in the world's greatest metropolis and making a difference each day in the lives of little children, and you - what exactly are you doing, Tom?"
"Just working, you know," he said. "Seeing a nice girl. Playing touch football with my buddies. Man, I'm happy to hear you're doing so well, Sara."
"Good to hear," I said faintly. "I have to go now, and do significant things. Good-bye, Tom." I hung up the phone and leaned against the building.
SEEING A NICE GIRL? Who the FUCK had given him permission to "see" a nice girl? It had only been four months since we'd broken up! Did he have no sense of propriety? Was he an emotionless death robot sent from another planet to destroy my entire existence with a single phone call? What kind of a cold, evil bastard moved on from the greatest love of all time within four fucking months? I wanted to throw up. I wanted to punch a fist through a storefront window. I wanted to find the girl he was fucking and kick her repeatedly in the teeth, and then push him into a bubbling vat of something terrible and oozey.
Aside from a brief rebound dalliance in Texas with a twenty-year-old hippie who believed he'd been abducted by aliens as a child, I hadn't gotten back into the world of opposite-sex relations. I certainly hadn't been on any dates or "seen" anyone "nice." This meant that even though I was doing some interesting things in a cool city, Tom was winning. I-Ie was winning. And this was one thing I could not abide.
I needed to have sex with someone. Probably a series of someones. Or have a series of sexual encounters with a single someone who would then become a non-single someone because he would be my only someone and I would be his. The only problem was that I didn't know any straight young men in New York.
Well. that's not entirely true. There were two straight young guys in my program at Teachers College, but one of them only dated jewish girls and the other one was caught up in a not-so-secret secret affair with a classmate, who reported to a friend of a friend that the gentleman in question had an enormous penis. I've never been a fan of big dicks, so this piece of information did not engender any lustful thoughts in my heart. I possess a vaginal model that takes a while to adapt to the shape and size of a particular phallus. It is made of a substance not unlike memory foam. When my equipment hasn't been used in a while, it returns to its factory setting. The lack of flexibility may be pleasing to my partners, but I often find it uncomfortable. I am told that upon having children, it will become as accommodating as a wind tunnel, but I'm no closer to that event now than I was at twenty-four. I preferred that my reintroduction to the world of cocks come in the form of an interaction with a medium-to-small member of the species.
click here to show the full quoted excerpt
I'm totally leaving you hanging because I'm not going to tell you what happens to Sara that leads to her presently completely sane-ish life path. You'll just have to read the book yourself.
My talented Emeli's artwork
Here are a paltry few of the amazing things Emeli has created recently. She also has a Jaws scratchboard that's in progress that will be shared later. Emeli puts my sad little pencil doodles to shame. It's almost enough to make me wish I'd taken more art-related classes in College, just for fun.
You can get your own Emeli art if you hurry. She's selling a few of them on Mercari (I'd never heard of it, either).
I was going to make this another marathon, multi-topic post, but I've decided to end here and blather on about Potterland, Christmas, and my new digs at work later...or maybe never. We'll see.
1 Most recently, I've read All You can Worry About is Tomorrow, R.D. Hubbard; Tony Gwynn, He Left His Heart in San Diego, Rich Wolfe; Code Talker, Chester Nez; Almost Interesting, David Spade; and You're Never Weird on the Internet (almost), Felicia Day. I hope to give each the commentary they deserve, because they were each interesting, funny, or educational in their own ways.
Just one book this time - David Savakerrva (and some new Cubicle fun)
I recently finished another book that has jumped ahead of the many others in my queue, David Savakerrva (this is another that was read at the behest of the author who provided me with a physical copy). I would have mentioned it weeks ago, but I've been having major PC issues for the past several weeks (which seem to have all begun when I installed the new version of my anti-virus, but that could just be a coincidence). I can't do much of anything that touches the filesystem without the computer pretty much going into limbo (though the non-filesystem applications are working fine - no browser issues unless I'm trying to download files).
David Savakerrva was a satisfying read, but took a long time to get through (see my earlier laments about spending less time reading recently). It was equal parts steampunk Alice in Wonderland and Dune, and had a little bit of a Lord of the Rings flavor. I also remember feeling some serious RA Salvatore vibes (more Saga of the First King vibes than Drizzt Do'Urden). There were a bunch of other impressions I picked up as I was reading, but by the time I'd reached the end, many of those had faded from my barely-functional memory.
David Savakerrva, Larry Brown
David Savakerrva Volume 1 is a pretty massive tome - over 600 pages - and took me a while to finish. I found myself thinking that the editors should have done what they did to Tolkien's opus and insisted on splitting this huge book into multiple shorter books just to make it feel less overwhelming. I later discovered that Volume 1 contains books 1 and 2, which are each pretty lengthy books in their own right. Funny enough, After reading my Lord of the Rings paperbacks (I went through a few sets) multiple times, I finally picked up a Lord of the Rings hard cover with all three books lumped together as Tolkien originally intended. Lord of the Rings is definitely more overwhelming to read in a single-volume format, as is David Savakerrva.
The main protagonist in David Savakerrva is a young, very unremarkable, boy named Garth. He's very Bilbo Baggins-ish (who wasn't exactly "young" in man-years) or Harry Potter-ish. He's equally annoying in his immature floundering as either of the aforementioned characters. He comes across as whining and incompetent and all his successes are seemingly accidental. But he does grow on you over time.
As I was reading, the similarity of Larry Brown's alien language and his completely foreign/alien character names reminded me a lot of Dune, the more recently read The Rage of Dragons, or even Tolkien's Adventures in Middle Earth. It took me a while, as it did with each of the aforementioned works, to translate the unfamiliar words as I was reading. Early on, I struggled a little to translate the unfamiliar verbiage.
Here's a really long excerpt (a few pages) filled with names and alien words to give you a feel for the . It's also one of the scenes that reminded me of a demented Alice in Wonderland. But first, a little background: the "Soot" character is an alien who has kidnapped our young protagonist to curry favor with the other aliens who have invaded the alien world. Garth has escaped and his doing his best to evade capture in the alien landscape.
Misery, every crackling branch and prickly stem.
Snagged and clawed, scratched and pierced - Garth nearly missed the underworld's hot, windy gale. Fear raked like every thorny bough, but so did thoughts of what next? Soot had taken him for a reason, and though what awaited seeded terrors and plowed up dread, Garth wondered about the Kavahl.
Did they still need to stop it?
Yes! Dahkaa's presumed response. The recent past seemed a blur, but before the Cave of the Beast, Dahkaa had said the G'mach would finish the Kavahl in just seventeen moons. So, what was it now, fifteen or less? And if Dahkaa had died, then what about his plan to unite with the tribes? Was that dead, too?
Garth plowed on. Battling every barbed branch and vine, he perceived he no longer felt Soot's blows and kicks. In fact, by the occasional shouted "Feehj!" Soot sounded like he trailed at least ten feet behind.
Not much separation, not in the clear. But in the briars? A foot or two more, and the brush behind Garth would block Soot from view.
Garth surged ahead. Ducking and weaving, he weaved and bulled with all he had left. He plowed forward for a solid minute then, gasping and spent, looked back.
No sign of Soot, the branches and vines blocked like a wall.
Garth bolted like a hound. Staying low and running fast, he careened left and right, whatever opened up. No other sound penetrated his cacophonous thrash, so if Soot was shouting or shooting, Garth couldn't tell. He flew into thistles square in his path then, squirming and clawing, he broke from the forest and tumbled down a hill.
Garth slid to the edge of a creek. A mirror-smooth blue, the water reflected a face he barely knew. Soot blackened his skin, blood seeped from scratches and welts - and he didn't care. Lurching into the creek, he splashed cold water into his mouth.
Electric, the slaking, every gulp jolted and charged. He drank and gulped and drank some more, then started to cough. Hating the interruption, this need to breathe, Garth lifted his head. And watched, vaguely concerned, the passing of a sock.
Garth looked upstream. Ragged shirts and pants, knitted socks and skirts - clothes from both sexes soaked in the creek while tied to a line. But as for a washer?
Garth saw only water, a stream about thirty feet wide. Cattail-size weeds shouldered its muddy banks, and for hundreds of yards to either side, the blue-green flora stood dense and tall. Thrilled by the cover, he wondered if the water and weeds heralded a change, some break in his chain of relentless bad luck.
A branch cracked in the briar woods behind.
Garth sprang to his feet. Avoiding the mud, he sprinted on riverbank stones, then dove into the chest-high weeds. He stayed low and crawled, but compared to the forest, progress came fast. Restored by water and free of the thorns, he reveled in escape, his sanctuary of weeds.
He stopped. Squinting through the weedy stalks, he discerned a wild brown mane framing a shadowed, staring face.
Garth didn't move. But the weeds did, and as a breeze teased the stalks, the waves of sway revealed a second shadowed face, then a third. Advancing with a quiet, well-practiced stealth, the shadows crept his way.
Garth reversed course. First at a crawl, then in a crouch, he sprinted until he reached the creek.
He stopped and looked. Still no Soot; the brushy treeline looked clear.
Garth splashed across the creek. The far side mirrored the weeds just left, but halfway across, he spotted a wind-rippled tangle of long brown hair.
Shadows and hair ahead and behind, Garth stood mid-stream while heads rose from the stalks. They showed no weapons, but...muddy and grungy, they looked like hunters in ambush waiting for prey.
Garth spun around. Shoreline weeds quivered, and a woman emerged. Some primordial ideal of the feminine mystique, she wore only mud. And perhaps just an afterthought, the makings of a skirt.
"Yai ahh," she sighed. Her greeting confounded, but not as much as her smile. No shyness or fright, it perfectly suited her languid advance. She slid her toes into riverbank ooze, and with easy undulations, sloshed toward Garth. Not knowing where to look, too shy for her eyes and more so the rest, he focused on her hair. Some thistles weaved her long shocks, but unlike her skin, her hair had the gloss of clean. The dark tresses snaked into her cleavage, then tucked under a skirt flap, some iridescent shimmer spun, best guess, from dragonfly wings.
She circled Garth. Slowly closed in. Shin-deep in creek, yet basting in sweat, Garth felt the tug of her gaze. The light off the creek lit the green of her eyes, but depending on the angle, the shade shifted from muted moss to fiery jade. A moth to her flame, Garth knew he shouldn't stare, but he couldn't stop. He felt an inescapable tug to this primal she, and as this Woman of the Weeds circled in, she playfully turned.
The spell of her gaze momentarily checked, Garth noticed what she'd done with her hair. Routed around her waist, it dangled to the creek in a long, braided tail.
"Ta lef!" she shrieked, and spinning around, the woman yanked two spikes from her hair and lunged for Garth.
A gunshot banged.
The woman arched back.
"Rohf!" shouted Soot. One muzzle smoking from his two-barrel gun, he stepped from the forest and gestured toward Garth. "Sha rohf, Savakerrva!"
The Woman of the Weeds looked back at Garth. Her smolder gone cold, she peered at the boy in the creek with skepticism, the squint of a cook inspecting strange meat.
"Savakerrva?" asked a gruff voice. Heavy with authority, heavier still in the gut, a middle-age man parted the weeds with - a mace? A spiked-steel ball topped a jeweled handle, and the weapon flashed more carats than a crown. This Man with the Mace wore a long coat, and though its squarish cut had a military look, his quick, rattish glances and scraggly hair cast him more as a deserter, someone forever on the run.
"Savakerrva!" Soot answered, pointing to Garth.
The Woman of the Weeds snickered, then doubled up with laughter. Nothing refined, no lilting feminine peals, she snorted with the abandon of a sow in fresh mud.
"Der kek!" scolded the Man with the Mace.
The Woman hacked back her laughter and, slipping her fingers deep into her hair, slid back her spikes. Then wiping her eyes, this woman who bewitched one moment and nearly butchered the next just sat on a rock.
The Man with the Mace looked at Garth, then nodded toward the Woman of the Weeds. "S'lek," he said.
Still infected with smirk, the woman - S'lek, her apparent name - feigned a bow toward Garth.
"Kahbahk," said the Man with the Mace. He gestured to himself, indicated his name was Kahbahk, then nodded to Garth. "Savakerrva - oove?"
Startled by the word - oove means yes? - Garth realized these people of the weeds sounded like Eylahn and the herd. They spoke the tongue of the Worms, but if he answered their question and confirmed who he was, would they kill me right here?
"I - " Garth tried to brace himself in the creek-bottom mud. "Savakerrva, oove," he said, touching his chest.
Kahbahk's eyes narrowed. He stroked his patchwork goatee, then eyed Garth's dirty fur vest. He clicked his tongue.
A little boy and girl ducked out from the weeds. Cute, the pair, their golden curls reminded of greeting-card angels. Straining angels, for each dragged a heavy leather bag.
Kahbahk opened the girl's bag first. He dug through a clatter of jewelry and gems, then retrieved a metal square the size of his palm. Knowing he'd seen such a thing before - didn't Logaht use that in the cave? - Garth watched Kahbahk snap it open and aim it at the creek.
Rays of light swept the creek's surface. But instead of Garth's grades, the rays formed an image of Garth. Front view and side, the same picture projected to the Worms by Atta Ra now shimmered the creek. Trying to keep up, Garth recalled the General of Blood: didn't he say the G'mach had offered a reward - passage to another world - for whoever brought me to Elka?
"Vel!" Soot descended to the edge of the creek. "Cho Savakerrva, choi vel!" he declared, his scabbed lips in a grin.
Kahbahk gestured wait! He turned to the boy's leather bag, then opened it to chunks of - coal? It resembled coal, but yellow veins marbled each black chunk. Garth knew he'd seen the stuff before, but too distracted to recall, he watched Kahbahk pull out a shiny silver chest. He unlatched the lid, then lifted out a glass vial.
"Vel!" exclaimed Soot. He charged into the creek and splashed toward Kahbahk, but his gaze fixed on the vial, on the blue liquid within. "Skoh vel, skoh vel!" he repeated. Soot dropped his gun while grabbing the vial, but apparently not caring, he popped the top and shook blue drops into his palm.
Kahbahk swiped the vial back. Soot didn't care, he had his precious drops. He rubbed the honey-thick substance into a steamy foam, then slathered his face.
Soot screamed. Riveted by the sight, caught up in the drama like everyone else, Garth watched the lather dry, then slough away like old snake skin.
Soot grabbed the small silver chest. His scream receding into intermittent gasps, he peered into the mirror-like finish and checked his face.
Still a boiled-crab shade of red; that hadn't changed. But as Soot gaped and Garth looked on, no quiver animated his skin, the squirms had gone. Soot hooted and hollered, splashed a fine jig, and a happier man, Garth had never seen. Soot tossed up some water and exulted once more, then turned to Kahbahk and went still.
His arm cocked and ready to throw, Kahbahk gripped his mace.
"Ah - Savakerrva?" asked Soot, nodding to Garth.
click here to show the full quoted excerpt
Here's a good excerpt to illustrate why I envisioned a "steampunk" Alice in Wonderland as I read. This excerpt features the most steampunk of all the characters in the story: Torgen Betugen.
Torgen burst through the door of his high-tower room.
Fast but quiet, he leapt down a narrow stairwell. But with every quick turn, the bazooka-like tube strapped to his back scraped the tight walls.
He jumped to a corridor landing and charged a wall. A brick wall, by all appearance. But when he lowered his shoulder and leapt, he crashed through a plaster facade.
Torgen fell three feet, then landed on a platform in a dark, vertical shaft. Already descending, the platform quivered as it dropped, some unpowered freight elevator plunging straight down. Pulleys whined with increasing speed, and Torgen braced for the plummeting end.
The elevator slammed to a stop. Torgen tumbled off, then rocked to his feet in a cellar's quiet gloom. Hurrying through near-darkness, he splashed through puddles and ducked leaky pipes while approaching the only light: two grimy windows in a wide pair of doors.
He stopped before an inclined cargo ramp. It led up to the doors, but Torgen focused on the base of the ramp.
A dozen blankets draped a large, bullet-shaped mass.
He whipped off the blankets. Staring a moment, he watched the weak light gleam the object's sleek copper-colored skin.
Torgen crouched beside its cylindrical form. He inspected the rope tread on the centerline wheel, then checked both wooden skids. The tire showed rodent bites, and the runners some rot. The long wait had taken its toll, but it should hold together. At least, long enough.
Torgen slid his hand across her smooth ceramic skin and tapped the reinforced nose.
Solid, no give.
He moved to the control nozzles - one pair in front, the other aft - and tested each swivel and mount.
No binding, no kinks.
Torgen peered into the big, horizontally-mounted drive nozzle, then blew it clean. Dust swirled, he coughed and fanned, but when he touched the nozzle interior, he felt no syrupy residue, no fuel had leaked. Lucky, he knew. I'll need every ounce.
Pulse increasing, he ran his fingers over the rigging, the exterior lines to the four control nozzles.
Acceptable tension, no frays.
Torgen grabbed a handhold. He swung up his leg as if mounting a horse, then settled onto the narrow saddle. Rock hard, but they always were, at least until things got warm. He stuffed the bazooka-like tube into a leather holster, then lifted dark goggles off the throttle lever. He blew dust off the lenses and strapped them on, then grabbed his helmet. Torgen pulled it over his head, but it felt a little tight.
Well, he mused, at least I'll die with more hair.
Torgen checked the faceplate that shielded the right half of his face. He swung it open and shut, then eyed the leather bag beside his left knee. He reached in, removed a spiny gourd, then shook it - gently - near his ear. Three shakes later, it rattled, so he eased it back into the bag.
Torgen pulled on his ragged gloves, then grabbed the orange cord near his right knee.
He took a long breath. Should he ignore the message, pretend it never arrived? Could he just sleep through the end of the world?
Torgen yanked the cord.
Sparks firefly'd the four small control nozzles and the big drive nozzle behind. Air hissed, seeping fuel flash-banged and smoked, and after years of slumber, the sand rocket awoke.
Torgen wrapped the nozzle control lines in his ragged right glove. His machine now reined, he grabbed the throttle lever with his left. Then, looking up, he eyed the cargo ramp, the twenty-foot incline to the pair of closed doors.
A trip wire waited halfway up.
Torgen rotated the control nozzles with deft tugs of his lines. Gripping the throttle, he felt the motor shiver. Disaster loomed, he knew, his violent end waited ahead. But what was the saying, what had he always told his men?
A Sand Phantom lives with a scream and dies in flame.
Torgen sighed. And missed, with an ache, the days he believed it was true.
He slammed up his throttle. Combusting fuel boomed, the drive nozzle bellowed, and as the fourteen-foot rocket blazed up the ramp and tripped the wire, the doors sprang apart.
Riding the fire into Elka's blue twilight, Torgen Betugen screamed.
click here to show the full quoted excerpt
There is a very early reference to Frank Herbert's Dune in the story, but more Dune-like are the residents of the brutal scorched sub-side culture of the alien planet, who are very similar to Dune's Fremen culture. They're maybe even a little less compassionate than the Fremen. The Dune reference is near the end of this lengthy excerpt.
Dahkaa sat alone. Brooding between boulders on the wind-whistled peak, he ignored the auroral elations high overhead, the fleeting greens and flitting blues. Unmoved by the Northern Lights, the Man of Scars pondered, instead, the still, gray moon.
"So." Garth shivered near the cave. "That's it, we're done?"
Dahkaa didn't respond.
"I mean," Garth continued, "now what; you'll just - take me home?"
Dahkaa exhaled. "I must."
Wanting to holler and punch the air, Garth pulled back to a nod. "Okay," he said, trying to sound subdued. "Then whenever you're ready, I'll be inside." The nightmare unwinding, he turned back to the cave.
"It's always the same?" asked Dahkaa.
Garth looked back.
"Your moon," said Dahkaa. "Its face never changes?"
"Never," Garth answered. "At least, not to us."
Garth waited for acknowledgement, but heard only wind, Dahkaa seemed as distant as the stars. Places, Garth realized, he would now never see.
"And you?" Garth asked. "Your world, you also got a moon?"
"We have two."
"Yeah?" Garth moved a foot closer in. "Amazing, that's - well, this whole thing's amazing, even just our talking, you know? I mean, how come your English is so good?"
The answer irked. Cut to his indifferent quick, Garth turned back to the cave. But curiosity persisted, and wouldn't every unasked question bring a lifelong regret?
"Your moons," said Garth. "They look like ours?"
"Oh - " Dahkaa rubbed his eyes. "In some ways. But just as our world is different, so also our moons. And while the larger marks our months, the lesser counts our nights."
"You mean, days?"
"I mean nights, we have no days," said Dahkaa, pulling out his straight blade knife. "Not on my side, and because our planet refuses to turn, because our cold side freezes while the hot side burns, we call our world Corrahg."
A fricative clash rippled with brogue, Corrahg boxed the ears. "Huh," Garth managed, suddenly grateful for a world smart enough to turn. "Sounds nice."
"Corrahg means 'cursed.' Our climate kills both man and beast, and nothing about it has, is, or ever will be nice." Dahkaa stabbed a snow drift. "And though a thin strip of green divides our world, that agreeable exception has caused uncounted wars. So we call it, our lovely swath of grass and trees, the Bloodlands."
Intrigued by a place more dangerous than Detroit, Garth waited for more.
"Though in truth, all of my world has bled." Dahkaa carved a 20-inch circle into the snow. "The Tribes of the Greater Sand have battled our Great Ice Clans since the first throw of a stone, and we only have peace when there's too few to fight." Carving complete, he scooped out the snow and set it on a rock. "But your world's different, I suppose? Your Tribes and Clans get along?"
Garth wondered where to start.
"If they do, they'd be the first." Dahkaa rounded the corners of the chunk of snow. "From what I've seen and regardless of the world, men fight for the best reasons and also the worst. And sometimes, even none. So by the evidence? We seem to be the work of some very angry gods."
The word surprised. "Gods?"
"Listen to Logaht - and wherever you find humanity, you also find gods. Not the same ones, of course, the gods of the stars seem as varied as us," said Dahkaa. "Which is certainly true in my world, for though my Clans of the Ice have five, the Tribes of the Sand worship seven. Then, of course, we have the Worms."
The word sprung thoughts of Frank Herbert novels, miles-long monsters with crystalline teeth. "Worms from the sand?" asked Garth. "They're huge?"
Dahkaa scratched his nose with his knife. "The Worms, David, are people. Who lack, like their namesake, any semblance of spine." Resuming his work, he smoothed the snow into a sphere.
"Sorry, I don't understand."
"Nor do I, because once long ago, they were our best, our most promising sons and daughters from both the hot side and cold. But - " Dahkaa pulled out his flask. "Tired of the wars between Tribe and Clan, the Worms made a home in the Bloodlands, a place where everything old would die to the new. Can you guess the result?"
"They prevailed. Ancient oaths were buried, men of the ice married women of the sand, and never again did they fight. Instead, the Worms built their dream; Elka, they called it, the City of Peace." Dahkaa sipped another drink. "And while Clans and Tribes continued to war, Elka prospered, never bled. But then - "
Footsteps scraped the cave floor.
"Then came the G'mach," said Dahkaa.
click here to show the full quoted excerpt
So, to sum it all up, David Savakerrva is a well-written science fiction epic that delivers. And it's definitely primed for future sequels - the ending is satisfying and equally unsatisfying (if the story ended here).
Further Adventures in Cubicle Decor
I've had the Terry Pratchett's The Colour of Magic comics (#1 was signed by Terry Pratchett himself way back in 2005 at a Mysterious Galaxy book signing many years ago) on display on my cubicle wall, along with two issues of Doctor Who (with the exact same photo of Amy Pond/Karen Gillan superimposed on different backgrounds that I hadn't really picked up on when I bought them), for the past few weeks. I included the Doctor Who comics to finish filling up the six frames - The Colour of Magic is just a 4-issue mini-series (as is The Light Fantastic, which I had planned to display next).
I decided to display Peter M Hsu's Elf Warrior series instead of The Light Fantastic since I'd already had a month of Terry Pratchett awesomeness in my cubicle. Elf Warrior is also a 4-issue series, so I chose a couple of other Peter Hsu books from my collection: Quadrant #7 and The Adventurers #1 - to round it out since Elf Warrior is another 4-issue series from the 80s). I was also tempted to go with one of the workplace-friendly The Gauntlet covers or his Ninja Elite cover, but...well, I didn't.
Peter Hsu has been out of the comics game for a few decades, but his stuff is still worth seeking out and Elf Warrior is still pretty affordable...the Quadrant books are pretty pricey, though. And I suspect they're also much more rare.
I brought in a few of my older toys from my many toy bins, a How to Train Your Dragon concept art print I picked up at the ComicCon in 2009, an R2D2 card Emeli made me just because she's so super-sweet, and I also decorated the not-home-away-from-home for Christmas. Oh, and I bought some awesome tiny magnets from Amazon that are super strong. They've made the cubicle-decorating much easier.
There's plenty more to ramble on about, but I'll never finish this thing if I keep adding to it...
A few well past due book mentions and a visit to the Black Spire Outpost on the Planet Batuu!
As I mentioned a little while back, I've read several books over the past many months (some over a year ago) and have totally neglected to say anything about them. Which is a shame because pretty much all of them have been well worth mentioning - I noted passages from each to illustrate why I thought they were worth reading - but I suck. I'm reading less than usual and putting less and less effort into my blathering here, so I doubt any of these books will get the full effort they deserve. That said, here's a start on mentioning the members of my ever-growing stack of semi-recently-read books and the very modicum level of effort I'm willing to make...
Art Matters, Neil Gaiman & Chris Riddell (illustrator)
I had heard all about Art Matters on Twitter long before it was even available to order. Pages were being posted online for weeks before I could even get my own copy. I pre-ordered my copy from Amazon about a month before its U.S. publication date (the U.S. version was available over a month after the U.K. version for some reason - even from Amazon, which is weird because they had the U.K. version in stock). When I received my copy, I quickly read it in its entirety. There isn't a whole lot to read - it's mostly illustrations and brief, but thoughtful, commentary on the importance of libraries, the value of fiction and other creative endeavors, and the value of imagination. I liked it so much that I quickly went out and picked up a copy for Emeli (from Mysterious Galaxy, I think) and shipped it to her in Idaho.
Here are a few of the pages that really stood out to me. Most I saw on Twitter before I received my book, but I had to scan a couple of them myself. I especially like Neil's thoughts on fiction because I've heard so much negative criticism of fiction in my lifetime. And being a dinosaur who loves and prefers to read physical books, I like Neil's and Douglas Adams comments on the value of physical books.
click here to show all the thumbnails
I also heard about another book from Neil Gaiman's Twitter feed: Eric Idle's sortabiography, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.
Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, Eric Idle
I also pre-ordered Always Look on the Bright Side of Life from Amazon well before its publication date. And it arrived with more than just the book - it came with a button that has been proudly displayed on my computer bag since I received it, and a signed (presumably by Eric Idle, but who knows) book plate. So that was a nice bonus.
Always Look on the Bright Side of Life is an excellent biography of Eric Idle's event ful life. It starts out very biographical, but quickly becomes, while still technically biographical, an avalanche of celebrity name-dropping. I didn't realize Eric had been so close to George Harrison, or had rubbed shoulders with Bowie and so many other very famous people. But there you have it - take Neil Gaiman's advice (not provided in this book - see the review just a little northward) and doggedly stick to what you want to do. And get famous. And then you, too, can vacation with the rich and famous, marry a gorgeous model, and visit an awesome castle belonging to one of The Beatles.
There are several pages of color photos of the people mentioned in Eric's memoir in the center of the book (there are also black and white photos throughout the book). Here are a few of those color photos and a couple of the black and white photos.
I noted too many specific passages to mention (as usual) and several were about people other than Eric (like Robin Williams and Steve Martin) that are hilarious and interesting to read, but aren't Eric-adjacent enough for me to mention - so here are the few I noted and have deigned to share...
Firstly, we have Eric interacting with a young journalist...
Laughter is still the best revenge. One day the sun will die, one day the galaxy will die, one day the entire Universe will die. I'm not feeling too good myself. So, what have I learned over my long and weird life? Well, firstly, that there are two kinds of people, and I don't much care for either of them. Secondly, when faced with a difficult choice, either way is often best. Thirdly, always leave a party when people begin to play the bongos.
Now I just wait for the inevitable question: "Didn't you used to be Eric Idle?" That and the delicious irony that I get to sing my own song at my own funeral. I have prepared some last words. Well, you can't be too careful, can you? In the Eighties when I was still comparatively young, a man sitting next to me in the Groucho Club said, "Oh. that's funny seeing you here, I'm just writing your obituary."
I checked for vital signs, my wallet was still there, my dick was still there, my wife was still there.
"So far as I can tell," I said, "I'm not dead yet."
The young man explained that he was working for the Daily Telegraph and his job was to write obituaries of celebrities so that they would be ready to print at the drop of a hat.
"In that case," I said, "perhaps you'd like to know my last words?"
Indeed, he would.
"Say no more," I said.
He liked that. It's best to be prepared, and that does take care of the final words problem. Suppose you're having an off day and you can't think of anything funny, and you say something fatuous like "Pass the Kleenex." That would be embarrassing.
And my song goes on. I sang it at a Pembroke College fund-raiser in Cambridge in 2017 and they very kindly rewarded me with an honorary fellowship, which touched and moved me more than I can say. I sang it to the survivors of the England football team who won the World Cup fifty years before, back in 1966, when I had stood on the terraces at Wembley Stadium with Bill Oddie. I sang it at my daughter's graduation, where I was commencement speaker and Whitman College generously gave me an honorary degree. I have let Exit International use it, and, to the dismay of my wife and manager, I have turned down several large sums of money from advertisers to license it, so you will know I am either finally dead or destitute when you hear it on a car commercial. Not that I want to go, of course. I'll be like the rest of you, clinging on desperately and screaming for more morphine. Though I did want it to say on my tombstone: I'D LIKE A SECOND OPINION . . .
My funeral song will go on .. . and on . .. though obviously we don't. Dust to dust is about right. We dissipate into the carbon atoms we came from; technically. reincarnation is sort of correct, we get reassembled into other things. I'd like to be reassembled into a Tesla so my wife can still drive me.
I was born in the same place as my mother and I wonder if I will die in the same place as her, which would mean our home in LA. To be precise, in our guest room, but that's now become my wife's shoe closet. I think I wouldn't mind dying in there amongst the Jimmy Choos. I worship the ground she walks on anyway, so that would be appropriate. She, who sadly knows me best, thinks my last words will probably be "Fuck off'," but that doesn't look good on a tombstone, so instead I would like on my grave:
click here to show the full quoted excerpt
Next, we find Eric accepting an award in Hollywood on behalf of the Pythons...
A year later Monty Python was inducted into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame, and John Du Prez and I went along with our touring company to accept the trophy. There were wonderful nostalgic clips of us at the Bowl twenty years earlier, and then Robin Williams came on like a blast from a blowgun and torched the audience with a high-octane tribute.
Originally Terry Gilliam was going to join me onstage to accept the award and then we were going to sing "Sit on My Face," but the Bowl nixed that naughty song, saying it was inappropriate for a gala, and so, sadly, Terry Gilliam pulled out. He has very high moral standards when it comes to low moral songs, so that moment of particular public tastelessness would have to wait.
Meanwhile I took the trophy from Robin and said:
It's wonderful to be back at the Bollywood Hole after all these years.
I am proud to be here on behalf of Monty Python to accept this honor.
I bring messages and thanks from the others. Terry Gilliam sadly can't be with us tonight as they won't let him show his ass, which has been very favorably compared with Spielberg's ass.
Graham Chapman can't be with us tonight, as sadly he is still dead. And John Cleese is finishing a movie.
He has to get it back to Blockbuster by tomorrow.
So that just leaves me here tonight.
And so, l'd like to thank me, without whom I too wouldn't be here this evening.
I'd like to thank everyone at the Bowl for honoring us in this way.
I'd like to thank Robin for friendship above and beyond the call of comedy.
But above all l'd like to thank America and you Americans for accepting Monty Python's essentially British silliness so warmly, so wholeheartedly, and so surprisingly.
Because, you see, I never wanted to do this for a living.
I always wanted to be a . . . lumberjack . . .
- and on marched a chorus of Mounties to sing the inevitable with John Mauceri and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. Of course, as we exited we naughtily sang "Sit on My Face" . . .
After Monty Python they honored Stevie Wonder, introduced with a spot-on impersonation by Smokey Robinson. At the end, there was an incredible curtain call, where I appeared holding hands with Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson. I can die now, I thought as the crowd went wild and two of my heroes held my hands and we bowed onstage at the Hollywood Bowl.
Little did I know I would return within a year for a less happy occasion.
click here to show the full quoted excerpt
And the final excerpt I'll share is from Eric's time working with Leslie Nielsen on a 4-D ride for an amusement park...
A year later. Anheuser-Busch approached me with an offer to write one of these 4-D things. They wanted a pirate film for their Busch Gardens theme park in Williamsburg, Virginia. I was intrigued by the technology so I wrote one. In mine, when seagulls flew overhead, water would drop like bird poop on the audience. I wrote the lead for Leslie Nielsen and he said he would do it only if l would be in it too. You mean filming in the West Indies on a pirate ship with Leslie Nielsen? Well, alright then. So off we went to Puerto Rico, eventually ending up filming on a boat in Cancel Bay off St. John, where I had stayed so happily with George and Liv. At the end of each day's filming I would dive overboard and swim back to my hotel.
I loved every second with Leslie. He was extremely funny. He would play with his own fame and had found a clever way of coming to terms with it. He had a fart machine. He kept it hidden in his hand. He used it to perfection on a crowded elevator in our tourist hotel.
People would enter the elevator and suddenly notice that there was Leslie Nielsen, deep in thought. staring into the middle distance. You would see them recognize him and nudge each other. He would gaze placidly ahead. completely unconcerned. not noticing. They would be trying to make up their minds to say something, but his benign concentration held them back. The doors would close. A moment of silence and then suddenly there would be a loud fart. Louder than socially polite. Impossible to ignore. But who was it? Leslie would continue to stare straight ahead. His face would not move a muscle. There would be another loud fart. The passengers would begin to look uncomfortable. Was that...Leslie Nielsen...farting?
Now it was awkward. They could hardly burst into "Aren't you Leslie Nielsen, we loved Airplane, can l have an autograph?" while he clearly had this epic bowel problem. Another couple of floors of silent descent
and there would be another extremely loud fart. This time there was no mistaking the source. Leslie would give away nothing. Not a glimmer. Not a twinkle. The tourists' eyes would meet. They would clearly just have to pretend it wasn't happening. They would give this poor farting star the anonymity his unfortunate entrails deserved. Mercilessly, as the ground floor approached, Leslie increased the tempo. He would play a whole range of farts, little ones, big ones, short ones, long ones, melodic ones, Handelian ones, starbursts, frog farts, his repertoire was lengthy and relentless, his face a study of intense concentration as this terrible barrage unfurled. Deeply embarrassed for him, the other passengers in the elevator looked studiously at the floor, avoiding each other's eyes and this terrible secret. Finally, the doors opened and the passengers burst out, leaving Leslie saying nothing, revealing nothing. It was the most brilliant controlled display of deadpan acting I ever saw.
click here to show the full quoted excerpt
If you love the Pythons, love celebrity memoirs, love biographies in general, or just love to laugh, this is the book for you. Go get it (though you won't get the cool button and nameplate that I did, slackers!)
Alternate Routes, Tim Powers
I hate that I've waited so long to write down my thoughts on Alternate Routes, and more importantly, the Tim Powers signing of Alternate Routes at the Mysterious Galaxy book store in August of 2018. I will try to pry the memories out of my severely-damaged brain, but I'm sure much of the amazingness of hearing Tim Powers talk to the small audience of true-believers about anything and everything will be lost now. Luckily, I did jot down a few rough notes about the signing, so all hope is not lost.
I arrived late, so that wasn't great. And to top it off, I forgot to mute my phone. A few seconds after I arrived, my phone made its presence known with a loud "None of your Business!" (a sound clip of the belligerent French knight from Monthy Python & The Holy Grail), so that was awkward. Due to my inability to arrive on time, I stood near the store's entrance throughout the pre-signing and listened to Tim's many colorful stories. I seem to recall there being some open chairs set up near Tim, but I didn't want to disrupt the flow any more than I already had, so I stood unobtrusively in the back. The crowd for this book signing was significantly smaller than the semi-recent Bruce Campbell signing, which was a good thing for me, but not so great for Tim.
Tim talked about Alternate Routes for the first 20-30 minutes, then answered questions and talked about the L.A. area as a goldmine of story ideas. He referred to the inspirations as "hints, not completed stories." One of the things I actually remember was mention of a book called "Secret Stairways" - a book about stairways in the Hollywood hills that you'd never find without the book, which lead to secret valleys with weird temples, movie set graveyards, and other surreal, unexpected things to experience. There were other stories, but they've been pretty much lost in a dead end of my brain beyond a block of damaged synapses. I think he may have even revisited his Pirates of the Caribbean experience with On Stranger Tides. That seems to come up consistently at the signings. if you every have a chance to attend an event with Tim Powers speaking, I highly encourage you to attend. I guarantee you'll learn something.
After story time ended, there was a short line for the signing. While I waited, I also picked up hardcover copy of Neil Gaiman's A Study in Emerald. I thought about asking Tim to sign it just to be funny (Tim had mentioned being a big fan of HP Lovecraft) since the book is a Cthulhu vs Sherlock Holmes graphic novel, but chickened out. To tell you how elderly the crowd at this signing was, I might have been one of the youngest people there. The person in the signing line behind me actually knew Tim Powers and Philip K Dick (who I think I've mentioned from other signings that Tim Powers knew and hung out with for many years) when they were younger and hung out with them. As I was leaving, overheard Tim talking to her about the places they'd hung out and the other people who were there (Philip K Dick, specifically).
I thought I had some photos from the signing, but...I can't find a single photo (now over a year after the signing took place), so they may appear here someday if I can find them.
Now, on to the reasons you should read Alternate Routes (reasons that will be, in my defective brain, hazy at best since I read Alternate Routes months ago)...
With Tim Powers, you either get great historical fiction or great modern-day, generally set in Southern California, fiction. This is the latter - very similar to the Fault Lines series I read many years ago: Last Call (to be honest, I don't know if I read this one), Earthquake Weather, and Expiration Date. Tim Powers knows and loves Southern California. Or maybe just California in general. I can't remember any stories set north of Los Angeles right now, but there could have been some. But his knowledge of the history of the area is unsurpassed - he does his research. In this case specifically, his research would have been around secret service agents, the LA freeways , and occult practitioners of black magic (or gray magic or somewhere in-between).
Here are a few excerpts to give you a feel for the story.
In this one, the secret service and ex-secret service agents are hiding out from the government's secret occult agents in one of the many places found throughout L.A. I found this one interesting because it talks about the creepy too-real animation that's becoming more and more prevalent - and how it even spooks ghosts.
She shivered. "I imagine ghosts sitting at that other table, with a pitcher of lemonade, staring at the wall. Staring through the wall."
"Not in here," said Vickery. "They don't like the uncanny valley. Too bad the management doesn't let people sleep on the premises! Ah, here comes our dinner - - God knows what it is."
A heavily tattooed gray-haired man in a T-shirt brought two plates and set them on the table, along with plastic tableware wrapped in paper napkins. As he walked away, Vickery looked at what he'd brought them - it appeared to be cold marinated onion and carrot slices beside ladlefuls of steaming curried stuff, possibly chicken. By accident or
design, it all seemed to conform to the diet Hipple had recommended.
Castine had freed a fork and was already digging in. "Where's the uncanny valley?" she asked around a mouthful.
Vickery waved at the pictures and the nearest mannequin. "All around you. All the faces in the pictures are waxworks or Japanese robots or characters from new animated movies like Polar Express."
Castine shifted around in her chair, still chewing, to see the ones on the wall behind her. She swallowed and said, "Oh. Yes. I thought they were pictures of real people." She looked back at Vickery. "It's kind of creepy, all these realistic fakes."
Vickery nodded. "Exactly." He paused to take a mouthful of the steaming curried stuff; it was very spicy with cumin and peppers, but it did seem to be chicken. After a few moments he went on, "People don't mind most representations of faces - statues, animation - they like them better the more realistic they look. But there's a point when they look just a bit too realistic, and the approval curve drops; that's the uncanny valley, that dip on a graph. We find it creepy, but ghosts can't stand the apparent contradiction - it looks genuinely human, but you can sense that it's not."
click here to show the full quoted excerpt
In this one, our two secret service agents are sleeping in a tomb to stay off the radar of the people trying to catch them. As one would expect, creepiness ensues..
At last he fell asleep.
He didn't dream of Amanda; instead he dreamed that he was at a crowded table in a bar, and for a long time he couldn't make out the faces of the others at the table, nor remember where this place was. The conversation was lively and loud, and the words his companions spoke were in English, but Vickery wasn't able to fit them together into comprehensible sentences. Eventually he heard explosions and gunfire from the street outside - but none of his companions paused in their conversation, and he realized at last that this was the King Tiki Bar, one of the fake buildings in Hogan's Alley at the Rowley Training Center in Michigan. Hogan's Alley was a specially constructed tactical village, like a Hollywood set, in which Secret Service agents were confronted with various simulated attacks and trained in how to react; so of course the gun-battle outside was not real. But even though his tablemates went on talking as energetically as ever, Vickery now saw that their shirts and blouses were blotted with blood, and when one of the men turned to face him, the previously averted half of his face was just a gory crater. Vickery touched his own face just as the other man did the same, and he knew that he was looking into a mirror on the wall.
In the moments before he forced himself to open his eyes to the darkness of the tomb, all the people at the table fell silent, and then began to sing, very softly, an old song that he knew - and as he rolled over in his sleeping bag on the marble floor, he remembered what it was: "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?"
And though he was now awake, he was still hearing it.
The tomb was not completely dark; a faint glow of ambient city light made a narrow upright rectangle of the door, interrupted by the standing silhouette of Castine.
He saw her head turn in profile. "You're awake?" she whispered. "Check this out."
Vickery crawled out of the sleeping bag and stood up, and the floor was cold through his socks as he crossed to stand beside her.
The singing was more audible from the doorway, though still very faint. Vickery rubbed his eyes and peered out across the cemetery, and each of the tombstone-perching ghosts that he could make out was swaying gently, and the spots that were their mouths were wide; it was the ghosts that were singing. He thought some of the frail voices seemed to be those of children.
Standing in the doorway of a tomb under the infinite night sky, Vickery shivered as he listened to this secret chorus of the dead in the middle of the sleeping city, and he was glad that Castine was beside him.
She took his arm, as if for support. "The poor things," she whispered.
click here to show the full quoted excerpt
Who knew shaman (is "shamen" the plural of shaman?) lived among us in modern times (at least in the alternate universes spun up by Tim Powers). In this one, we learn one of the dangers of L.A. freeways from a modern day shaman (who has been creeping around for a long time) living in the hills of L.A. And the danger on the freeways isn't related to the fast-moving metal boxes hitting each other or stationary objects.
"All this business." Laquedem went on, freeing one hand from a crutch to wave in a circle, "making use of the current generated when multiple free wills move at a constant speed past stationary free wills, in order to see little way into the future or past--it was harmless enough, back in the days when you could only work for the few seconds a train was passing, or by driving a wagon down a crowded street; though even from the first there were canny protests against railroads, and there was the law that an automobile must be preceded by a man on foot waving a red flag, which prevented any effects. That law pretty much ended with the convoy from London to Brighton in '96.
"But when the big roads came along, providing endless streams of steadily moving free wills, the supernatural current could be strong enough so that a man might open a conduit to a sort of - what you might call - place, that exists outside of here. A region, a...situation Two times two might equal a million there, five times five might equal next Wednesday. It's a state in which irrationally expanded possibility prevails, and so ghosts gather there, and when a conduit is open they can come through to here." He pivoted on one crutch and scowled at Vickery."Someone was bound to open it sooner or later!"
Vickery nodded. "You opened it."
An elderly woman pushing a walker appeared in the doorway to the hall.
"Get out!" roared Laquedem, and she muttered a rude word at him and retreated. Turning back toward Vickery, he said, "Yes, I opened it.. God help me. I opened the...floodgates, and the Pasadena Freeway began to overlap with the Labyrinth. And as other LA freeways spread out, and the gypsies and the TUA have made more and more use of the current, the overlap has become more extensive - the worlds, as it were, have got closer to each other. Ghosts come across now without even being summoned, even entities whose never happened to occur, and all the souls who die in the here go across the other way." He bared his teeth in a grimace. "Sometimes even living people go across the other way!"
"So l've seen," sighed Vickery, "so I've seen."
click here to show the full quoted excerpt
I had several other passages noted to share, but they just didn't stand well enough on their own out of context with the rest of the story to make them worth sharing. Even though most of the excerpts I shared are pretty much rooted in supernatural stuff, there's much more to the story than just ghosts and haunted highways. Tim Powers is, as I mentioned above in regard to his speaking at the signing, a great storyteller. If you appreciate speculative fiction, you;'ll love any of Tim's books.
Return to the Dreaded Land of Disney
I was just going to blather about books, but I decided to mention something non-book-related: Disneyland. We returned to the land of Disney after over a year of avoiding the overcrowded & overpriced nightmare that is Disneyland because Emeli was home from school and Star Wars land had opened (in addition to a bunch of other changes in the parks that didn't really entice me at all). I remembered the days after Labor day being very lightly crowded the last time we'd had annual passes, so we decided to schedule a trip in September after Labor day. And while not amazingly empty, it wasn't painfully crowded. We actually went on every ride we wanted without having to wait in exceptionally heinous lines, as well as exploring the new surprisingly immersive Star Wars section of the park. It did get a little busier as the day went on, but was never as awful as it usually gets. We just parked in the Toy Story lots so we could stay as long as we wanted to.
As for the new Star War section of the Park, I was impressed. It's an interesting transition to walk from the old west in Frontier land to an Imperial outpost on some alien planet in Star Wars land. The buildings are as authentic (if you can call something that comes from a complete work of Fiction "authentic") as Disney's many other immersive areas (Main Street and New Orleans Square are my favorite "immersive" areas). The giant weird rock formations surrounding the outpost really add to the otherworldly feeling and separation from the rest of the park. And I really liked seeing all the full-sized vehicles (a land-speeder, a pod racer, an X-Wing, an A-Wing fighter, the Millennium Falcon, and a couple of Imperial shuttles) throughout the park. There were a few characters from the films (Rey, Chewy, several stromtroopers) and also a few cast members who weren't from the films dressed as Outpost personnel who were interacting with the real characters. The cast member who played Rey was spot-on - she even spoke with an English accent. I didn't get any good photos of her, but you can see her messing around with the X-Wing in a couple of photos. A wookie (possibly Chewbacca) was up there, too. I didn't drop any dough on Star Wars related merchandise, other than a bottle of water with weird alien writing.
Here are some photos from the visit (including a few that are intended to show how not crowded the park was for our visit). First, here's Main Street decorated for Halloween.
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Next, a few from Adventureland (this was the first time I'd climbed around on Tarzan's Treehouse - formerly the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse - in many years, so I took a bunch of photos of the area.
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And then on to my favorite area in all of Disneyland, New Orleans Square. Home of the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean.
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My last batch of photos all came from the new Star Wars land. They did a really good job with the details, despite the lack of much of anything to do here.
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We returned to Disneyland a few weeks later and had our Happy-Disney-Bubble burst. It was as crowded as ever and we didn't go on a single ride in Disneyland. Luckily, we'd planned for a short visit (we parked in the Downtown Disney lot that requires Downtown Disney validation with a $20 purchase for 3 hours parking or a sit-down restaurant purchase for 5 hour validation), so we were out the bucks we spent on a meal at the La Brea Bakery in Downtown Disney, but their food is pretty great, so that wasn't too painful. Star Wars land was too over-crowded to be enjoyable and it was a shoulder-to-shoulder crush of people. We did make our way to California Adventure, which was only slightly less crowded) and went on the one ride of the day: Soaring over The World (I think that's what it's called now). I hadn't been on it since it was Soaring Over California. It's as good a ride as any in Disneyland and my favorite in California Adventure, though I do enjoy the Little Mermaid ride, too. That ride feels misplaced in California Adventure, though - it should be in Fantasy land on the Disneyland side.
Here are a few of the photos I took this on abbreviated visit (mostly just to show how much more crowded the park was this time - the first photo is the transition from old west to science fiction in the tunnel to Star Wars land).
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I also thought about showing the new set of comics adorning my cubicle wall, but I decided to save those for later. And I just finished another book, David Savakerrva, that's going to jump to the head of the line for the next exciting addition of Who has the time to read all this drivel?.