Saturday, January 31, 2004


A teenage girl stood at the microphone with the audience looking down from bleacher seats. She momentarily stood and stared back. Then she reached for the microphone.

When she spoke, no sound came out. The audience could not hear a word. But a teacher came to the rescue and flipped a switch, and then she was live.

She announced the next song the band was about to play. She gave its title and named the composer. She told a little history. She fumbled with a word or two, and a look of horror came over her while she struggled to get back on track.

Yet to the crowd, she had never stumbled. To them, she was only telling a story about a song and a composer. To them, her slip made no more difference than between two people speaking on the phone.

It was no more important than forgetting a detail in a ghost story told over a campfire at night. Or mispronouncing a word in a story to children at bedtime. Or missing a note on a guitar in a room full of family singing along.

Her stumble made no difference. She should know this. All kids should know this and learn to talk sincerely and not dwell on giving a speech.

Because in the end, it is only sincerity that counts.

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 Friday, January 30, 2004

He Was Silent

You don't need to get me a present for Valentine's Day, she said.

He was silent and let her continue.

And if you do, it should only be something small, she said.

He was silent and smiled.

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 Thursday, January 29, 2004

Scott Comes to Town

He stood at the front of the room. Before him: rows of chairs full of employees waiting to hear him speak. Behind him: a wall of glass looking out on trees and bushes and the railroad tracks.

He spoke of the boom times, of years with 30% growth. He spoke of the bubble burst. He spoke of turning around, of the things he had done wrong. And he spoke of the many things he thought were going right.

He rallied his troops. He talked a good pep talk. He took pot shots at the competition. He illuminated strategy. And he showed off pictures of his kids and dog at home.

Then as he was discussing some detail of some grand plan, a train approached on the tracks outside. The ground rumbled. He stopped and turned sharply to look out the window. He didn't say a word until the yellow locomotives came into view.

I'm from California, he said, turning back to the crowd. Where I come from, when the floor shakes like that you expect more, and you head for shelter.

He was their CEO. The crowd laughed. It was funny. The crowd laughed hard.

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 Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Being Where We Are

There are some people who are never happy where they are. They're always trying to get somewhere else. For them, the present is a line they're waiting in, the means only to some other end.

A man sat two seats over from me on the plane today. He was across the aisle from his family. His wife had the two kids with her. He was bouncing his leg and making cell phone calls before we took off and balancing his checkbook while she was dealing with squabbles and quarrels and wiggliness.

He's a businessman, I suppose. He's got a lot of things on his mind, granted. But this was a chance he won't get often: to sit with his kids with work far away.

As it turned out, eventually they had to move one of the kids. (They were in each other's hair as siblings can be.) The man picked up the little boy (picked him up with the loving hug of a dad) and plopped him into the seat between us. I smiled at him, and I winked at the boy.

Is it ok? the man asked me in a low voice with an apologetic grimace on his face.

Absolutely, I said as I winked at the boy again.

And as we flew across Colorado and back to Central Texas, the father proceeded to try to get the boy to take a nap. The thing is, the boy was doing fine. He was utterly entertained, noiselessly tugging on his seat belt and playing with a picture of an airplane. But the man wanted him to nap.

After a while, I heard the man say to the boy, You are being very bad. The boy didn't respond. Did you hear me? the father persisted. You are being very bad. Do you want to play downstairs when we get home? The boy was still silent. Then take a nap.

Now, it's always easy to play armchair parent in situations like these. But as I sat there and listened, it seemed to me that the man didn't want to be in the airplane. He wanted to be working. He wasn't happy where he was. He only knew where he wanted to go. Problem is, he'll never get there.

We are only where we are. And this man's life might be passing him by.

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 Saturday, January 24, 2004

He Talked To Me

I remember the sound of his voice: sonorous, comforting, just the kind of voice for early on the weekend mornings.

I remember his blue coat with its big pockets. I remember the sparkle in his eyes. And his smile. I remember his smile.

And Jumping Bear. And Mr. Green Jeans. I remember them.

I remember What time is it, Grandfather Clock? and the clock's crazy eyes spinning around.

And when they broke for commercials, I remember the Lionel train pulling up to the Battle Creek mills as he talked about Rice Krispies.

But must of all, I remember that voice and that smile and that look in his eyes as he spoke directly to me.

Goodbye, Captain.

Bob Keeshan, Captain Kangaroo, 1927-2004.

Update: What was I thinking, Jumping Bear!? Of course, it was Dancing Bear!

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 Friday, January 23, 2004

Her Eyelids Droop


Canto I begins.

A king there was in days of old:
ere Men yet walked upon the mould
his power was reared in cavern's shade,
his hand was over glen and glade.

I read the words, and her eyelids droop. I turn my head to her and say loudly, "silver thrilled his trumpets long"! Her eyelids raise only a bit and then droop some more.


Far in the North neath hills of stone
in caverns black there was a throne
by fires illumined underground,
that winds of ice with moaning sound
made flare and flicker in dark smoke;

So starts Canto II, contrasting Morgoth's throne to Thingol's.

I read the words, but her eyelids droop. I turn my head to her and say loudly, "The Northern land lay groaning neath his ghastly hand"! Her eyelids raise only a bit and then droop some more.


When I read to her, her eyelids droop. There is nothing we can do about it. She sits on the couch with a blanket thrown across her lap and a dog curled up nearby. She sits and smiles and I start to read. But then it comes, that sleepiness, and her eyelids droop.

And there is nothing we can do about it.

Lines from The Lay of Leithian in The History of Middle Earth, Volume III, The Lays of Beleriand, edited by Chistopher Tolkien.

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 Thursday, January 22, 2004

Remote Login

He practiced his trombone. He cleaned his room. He finished his math a day early. He wrote the requisite paragraph.



Can you, um ... He was reluctant to finish. I was sending an email message.

What? I asked.

Can you enable my account on my machine?

There was some back and forth. I said no a couple times. He asked why. I mumbled about it being late, but in truth it wasn't so late. He asked again. But you could hear the resignation in his voice.

While his last asking faded off, I opened a terminal window from my machine and typed a line:

% ssh admin@vertigo

After I hit the return key, the disk drive on the other Mac spun up.

Cool! You did that!? How did you do that?

I logged into your machine.

You can log into my machine from there!?

I nodded. And I enabled his account.

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 Wednesday, January 21, 2004

On Elrond

It has always struck me that Tolkien's description of Elrond never did him justice. Sure, he was presented as a wise man, a man to whom many came for counsel. But that has never seemed sufficient.

Elrond was not only wise; he was old, astoundingly old. He was the son of Earendel, who as a child narrowly escaped the sack of Gondolin in the First Age of Middle Earth. He was the brother of Elros Tar-Minyatur, the first of the line of Numenorian kings.

This line spanned the Second Age to the Downfall of Numenor and the flight of the faithful to the shores of Middle Earth. This line of kings governed Arnor in the north and Gondor in the south. And it is to this long line that Aragorn belonged. Aragorn was Elrond's nephew generations upon generations removed.

Elrond was Beren's great grandson. Beren of Beren-and-Luthien. Beren son of Barahir the Bold who fought Morgoth's forces to the death in a rear-guard defense of Finrod Felagund, allowing him and his people to retreat to the caves of Nargothrond. Beren One-Hand, who with Luthien confronted Morgoth in the pits of Angband and fled with the Silmarils.

My heavens what continuity thru thousands and thousands of years. What connection to the legendary past. What permanence. Was it sufficient to portray him as a wise man. I think it was not.

And don't ask me about how well they did it in the movie.

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 Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Excuse Me

Excuse me. I have something to say. Excuse me. Could I use the computer now? Hello?

You know, I'm not so sure that upgrade to Mac OS X 10.3 was wise. Things were simpler before. When one of us logged in the others had to wait. One session at a time. Single file. You know -- simple.

When one of us was using the computer, short of rebooting, the others just had to be patient. Get up and leave the room for a minute? The others had to wait. Had to. Not any more.

Left the room for a moment. That's all I did. And when I returned, she had swooped down and swapped my session out. Logged herself in. That's what she did. And she chuckled when I returned.

So now here I am with pen and paper, writing down thoughts before they've fled. Writing them in hopes of typing them later. Writing them down. My thoughts. Before they ...

Well I had something to say.

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 Monday, January 19, 2004

Growing Up In Sleeping Bags

I grew up in a sleeping bag, and until recently I could sleep on anything.

A jungle hammock strung between two trees at the top of a hill in Michigan. A back yard in Alabama waiting for Christmas morning. In the Michigan woods in a canvas Army tent on canvas Army cots. In a basement in Illinois with the concrete floor under me. On the floor in a cabin in a holler in the woods somewhere in Kentucky.

Whenever we gathered, we gathered in numbers. And usually our numbers were greater than the bed count of the house. So these gatherings involved sleeping bags strewn hither and yon. And we had to sleep on what we were given.

And this was all fine by me -- until recently.

It's a funny thing about the mid-40s. It's funny how what used to be ok isn't so fine, anymore: sore knees, aching joints, fuzzier vision, and a hurting back in the morning.

It's a funny thing (really).

So it is with some pride that I share with you now the latest member of our family: a Queen-sized, double-stuff mattress that makes it possible again for me to get out of bed in the morning with no need for that hobble or that limp or that oh-my-aching-back hand on my hip.

I might have grown up in a sleeping bag, but I don't sleep in one, anymore.

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 Thursday, January 15, 2004

I Would Be Kidding You

I don't know if he'll ever run. If he does it will be his own idea. I've seen fathers and mothers running hard with their young kids. No, if he runs it will be his decision and not mine.

But I would be kidding you if I said that it didn't make me happy when he went down the street to a friends house today and he took off running as soon as he was out the door.

I don't know if he'll ever write software. He hasn't been interested in the past. I showed him Logo once. He dabbled in Hypercard. But my introduction to HTML a year or so ago pretty much flopped.

But I would be kidding you if I said that it didn't make me happy when he sprang to attention tonite when he asked a question (about my browser bookmarks) and I drew a picture on paper, saying, This is how the Internet works.

His eyes lit up. He grabbed a chair. And he pulled it up so he could see. He asked about uploading and bandwidth. And he watched me draw little stick figures and high-capacity pipes and co-location facilities and web servers and browsers. And he listened to what I said.

Maybe we got a runner and a coder, here. I would be kidding you if I told you that didn't tickle me pink.

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Childs Pay

Fingers on a lone guitar.

A boy in crew-cut hair takes another dish from the top of the pile. A girl in a pink dress watches the floor of a hotel hallway as she vacuums the carpet. Bottles roll by another girl, green, clear, brown. She slowly turns her head and breathes a heavy sigh.

Licks on a single drum join the guitar.

In a back alley, a boy in overalls hops off the back of a garbage truck to grab another bag.

An SUV rolls by at the end of the street.

A boy in dreadlocks and leather gloves works recycled tires on a machine.

The guitar holds. The drum riffs. A cymbal rings.

Guess who's going to pay off
President Bush's $1 trillion deficit?

A thumb and finger strum a few beats and then resume.

And a girl with her hair pulled back passes groceries one by one over the scanner.

The guitar holds its final note and fades.

Childs Pay by Charlie Fisher of Denver, CO
Final Winner of the MoveOn.org BushIn30Seconds contest.

Note: The original entry was composed on 12 January 2004. It was lost. This is a repost of the same entry.

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 Sunday, January 11, 2004

These Pine Trees

It is a hot summer day along Sixth Street. I am hungry and in search of food. But outside Miller Blueprint, I stop and wonder.

How long have these pine trees been here? Their trunks fill the meager gap between the sidewalk and the curb. Their needles lay strewn on the ground and in the street. The tiny patch of dirt belongs to them (for now).

The trees lean away from the concrete of the sidewalk and the walls of the building immediately to the south. They lean to the north, out over the pavement of the street, over the rushing traffic, over pedestrians walking by, reaching up to the sky that they might have just a little more sun.

I gaze at the brown pine needles at my feet. I reach out to touch the rough bark of the trunks. I follow their arcs into the sky. I see their green needles shining in the bright light of this cloudless summer day.

And then...

And then, the smell of Hut's hamburgers lures me on.

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 Saturday, January 10, 2004

2nd Saturday Morning

The morning passed quickly.

Four hours earlier, eight men went walking down into Bee Creek canyon, each carrying seven-foot juniper poles and various shovels and rakes and implements of destruction. And water -- each took water, too.

At the top of the hill with the sun still low in the eastern sky and nighttime still lingering in the air, it was chilly. Beneath the canopy of juniper and oak along the trail down into the canyon, it was downright cold.

Yet each of them knew that there was no need to be alarmed by the temperature. It wouldn't be long before some would be unzipping their jackets, and some would be stopping for yet another drink, and some would be covered in sweat with steam rolling off the tops of their head.

No, there was no need to fear the chill. It would soon be a gift.

With the poles and tools on their shoulders, they hiked a mile into the canyon, down limestone switchbacks, past the fern-covered waterfall along the creek, across the trickling stream of water, and up the other side.

Somewhere on the far side of Bee Creek, the eight of them stopped and began working on the trail. Making steps from the juniper poles. So that others might find the climb less daunting. So that runoff from springtime thunderstorms might not turn the trail into a gully.

They worked for three hours or so. The sun climbed high into the sky. The chill of the morning passed. And when they were done, they stepped back and looked at their work and were proud of what they had done.

And on the way back, on the stepping stones across the creek, on the walk past the falls, on their way back up the trail they had descended that morning, they could enjoy the hike more than they had before, since they had no juniper logs to carry.

And on the way back some of them took their time. They looked down at the clear water in the creek. They gazed out into the woods at the trees and woody shrubs. They smelled the air. They kicked their shoes against the rocks. They listened to the Wrens bickering in the woodpile and the Nuthatches flitting from branch to branch. And they watched as a Ruby Crowned Kinglet flicked across their path in a flash of red and green.

And then they all went home.

Volunteer Trail Maintenance (2nd Saturday of every month) at Wild Basin, Austin TX.

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 Thursday, January 8, 2004

The War

Lean Left on what this war is all about.

[LeanLeft/Silence]: The war is not between a Christian West and a Muslim Middle East. It is between a pluralistic, democratic world and an intolerant, murderous, fundamentalist world. Those violent fundamentalists can come from any religion, anywhere.

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Preamble for the 21st Century

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union to the extent practicable, establish justice to the extent practicable, insure domestic tranquility to the extent practicable, provide for the common defense to the extent practicable, promote the general welfare to the extent practicable, and secure to the extent practicable the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

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 Wednesday, January 7, 2004

Swiping Plastic

He only needed some bread, some meat and some cheese. It didn't take him long to get to the checkout line. Of course, waiting was different. He spent more time in the line than he had been in the store.

When he finally got to the register, he handed his credit card to the cashier. She handed it back and gently said to swipe it thru the device on the counter in front of him.

He chuckled to himself, just loudly enough for the cashier to hear. And he swiped his card, but nothing happened. He swiped his card again. And again. And again. Still nothing happened.

The cashier reached out and turned his card around. She told him to swipe his card with the magnetic strip facing forward.

He chuckled again and then muttered, It's not really rocket science.

Well I guess you should know, the cashier said, and she gestured to the embroidered NASA logo on his sweater.

There was a time, long ago, when he worked there, writing middleware for a control center, writing navigation software for robots. There was a time when rocket science was his life. But that was then, and the times had clearly changed.

He looked at the cashier (who was smiling). He looked down at the logo. He looked at the credit card in his hand. And he swiped it again.

It worked.

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 Tuesday, January 6, 2004

Don't You Write About That

We were talking about something. I don't quite remember what it was. It was something of relatively little consequence, but it made us laugh.

Then she stopped and looked at me.

Don't you write about that.

About what?

If you write about that, it will seem like we don't have a life.

Can I write about that?

She shook her head, I think. Or mumbled, No. Or something like that.

So I won't write about what she said. And I won't write about the fact that writing about what she said might make it seem as if we haven't got a life (when of course we do).

Instead, I'll write about something else. About the cold weather outside. About how much like tangerines she thought those oranges tasted. About the burgers at Top Notch.

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 Sunday, January 4, 2004

Liberal Pansies

I have a question.

I made up a poem about pansies once, and my politics are fairly liberal. So does that make me one of those liberal pansies I hear a lot about when I read weblogs online? Perhaps.

It was fall. The sky was a featureless grey. There were puddles in the parking lot from the rain the night before. My son and I were on our way to the donut shop. We always went there on Saturday mornings, but that day we took a shortcut.

We walked between two buildings and by a manicured garden next to a green park bench along the sidewalk. There at our feet was a carpet of purple (or were they blue?) pansies.

We had been talking about poems. (Who knows why.) And it was time for an example. The flowers presented an opportunity, and I quickly constructed some lines of rhyming doggerel about walking to a donut shop, smelling sweet smells in the air and walking by pansies.

Oh, wait. I can smell them now. They weren't pansies; they were petunias. Yes. The poem was about petunias.

So I guess that answers my question.

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 Saturday, January 3, 2004

Down By The Riverside

Going Alone

You two should go alone, she said. Time for some father/son time. And she settled comfortably into a chair and pulled out a book.

The two of them set out alone. She did not seem disappointed as they left.


GREY. They followed the path thru the woods to the river. The sun was beginning to sink low and night was already settling into the dark places beneath the trees. Thru shadows of grey, Oaks and Juniper and Persimmons watched their passing.

WHITE. They followed the narrow stair down the canyon walls. The steps were made of white limestone, shining bright in the last light of day, holding the shadows in the woods at bay for perhaps another hour. But the stairs ended only halfway down -- just out of reach of the swirling torrents that sometimes crash thru the canyon.

BROWN. Where the stone steps stopped, brown wooden ones continued. Unlike the stone, the boardwalk creaked beneath their feet. The bright sun had clearly taken its toll, and some of the planks were certain to need replacing soon.

YELLOW AND RED. Cut branches and saplings had been thrown to either side of the walkway, to discourage walkers from straying perhaps, or maybe to slow the rush of water down the hill. There were Persimmon trunks and Live Oak branches. There were Agarita stems with bright yellow heartwood. And there were branches of Juniper, laden red with pollen so thick that it drifted into the air like smoke when disturbed.

GREEN. At the end of the long boardwalk, there were four deep steps down to the ground and a narrow path in the sand. The path led thru shoulder-high brush to the green water of the Pedernales River. The air was filled with the river's gurgle and hiss. It fell in bubbling rapids. It turned in lazy circles. And it gathered in silent pools.

And They Were Glad

So there they were by the water's edge, following the trail up-river, walking beside the Cypress trees, crawling over the rocks. They collected beans. They collected rocks. They skipped flat stones in the water, a few almost making it to the other side.

I'm glad we came down here, the boy said to the main.

I am too, the man said back.

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 Friday, January 2, 2004

That Turntable

Now up is Dire Straits, Love Over Gold, the deep blue album cover with its stroke of lightning sitting on the copper tray beside the turntable in the living room, a Radio Shack album sleeve (one of many that I bought many years ago to protect the albums in my small collection) sitting nearby.

Yesterday started with Burundi Black, the royal drums beating loudly down the hall to wake up the boys, then Bachman Turner Overdrive Not Fragile -- royal drums of their own sort, I suppose. Then was Terri Gibbs, Somebody's Knockin'; Johnny Cash, Live at San Quentin; Spyro Gyra, Free Time; Earth, Wind and Fire, All 'n All; Linda Rondstadt, Living in the USA; and a Roxy Music best-of.

The boys have never heard music like this, I said to Trudy as we sipped out coffee in the dining room. She nodded.

And they've probably never seen a turntable either, much less one like that turntable over there. The turntable Trudy had fixed by some stereo guys on the other side of town. Guys who gasped to see a Dual and were very impressed by this babe who had one. The babe who took my turntable. The turntable that I didn't even know was missing from its box. The box out of which she had snuck the turntable in some secret moment and slipped in a Don't Panic message (just in case). That turntable that hadn't played for seven years for a short in its patch cables. Cables that were fixed by those guys across town who also replaced the belt. The new belt that came from some place deep in the Black Forest so that I could play those albums for the boys in the morning, and for Trudy who didn't know I had music like that, and for myself because I had saved my best albums just for this day.

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