Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Day of the Turkey Trot

1. The Coach

As we ran up another hill, we passed a woman pushing her young son in a jogging stroller. Just then, she recognized two women in purple jerseys on the other side of the road and shouted out a greeting. They turned and waved and shouted back.

Mommy, her son asked, how do you know all these people!?

I coach them, remember?

Oh yeah.

2. The Boy

I heard it behind us long before it caught up to us. To tell the truth, I didn't know what I was hearing. It sounded like a dog pulling and wheezing at the end of a leash. Or a wild animal. Or a snarling monster.

And it got louder and louder.

Then it was upon us. A boy (he must have been 8 or 9) passed us. He was huffing and puffing and wheezing and whining and groaning with each step.

But he did pass us.

3. My Son

We crossed the finish line together. We didn't run fast by any objective standard, but it was fast enough for us. It's been many months since he ran at all, and I'm barely getting back into the swing of it. So even though we didn't run very fast, we were plenty tired. And the bagels and cookies hit the spot.

After we had eaten, we walked up the hill to find a spot along the final stretch where we could cheer. We walked slowly, and when we got to the top, we sat on the curb.

Oh, said Ben.

I turned and looked at him. What?

Oh, my joints.

Your joints?

My joints are hot!

4. Trudy

I didn't know if we made it to the final stretch in time. After all, it took us a while to work our way thru the crowd to the bagels and cookies. Then we wandered aimlessly as we ate. And finally we walked slowly up the hill.

So when we got to the top and sat down on the curb, I wasn't sure if we got there in time. Isn't that just typical, a voice said in the back of my head.

But on that day my luck held out, and before long I saw her blue shirt and recognized her stride.

There she is, I said to Ben.

We stood up.

Trudy! Go Trudy! we shouted.

She passed right by us and smiled and ran the final downhill stretch to the finish line.

5. The Man

Professor! the man said, looking into my face and pointing at me.

I looked up from the spot on the ground where we were sitting. I couldn't place his face. I wondered if this was some forgotten acquaintance from my years in graduate school. Or perhaps from when I taught at the community college. And what did he mean by professor?

My mind was blank. My tongue was frozen.

You taught the computer class at the library, he reminded me.

Of course, this was Jim. I just didn't recognize him in running gear. I stood up and greeted him and asked him how his wireless laptop was working. And I asked him how he did in the race.

Oh, ok I guess, he said, I'm 83, and they don't have an age category for me.

Then he added, Actually they do: 75+. But those youngsters are just too speedy.

6. The Girl

After the race, we sat in the shade in the prearranged spot to wait for Trudy. There were a lot of people milling around, and a mom and her daughter and their dog were sitting right next to us.

The mom had her hands full keeping track of the little girl and the little dog. The dog was on a very long leash, and the girl had just tripped and hit her head on the sidewalk.

The girl was crying, and the dog was scared. He moved closer to me and looked back and forth from my face to the crying girl. Back and forth, he looked. And each time he would look at me, he would try to lick my face.

The girl saw this, and as she and her mom came back to sit down, she looked at me and warned, Our dog drinks from toilets!

Thundercloud Turkey Trot 2005
Austin, TX

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 Monday, November 28, 2005

Dinner at the Diner

The Blanco Bowling Club is a fixture of the old courthouse square. On Tuesdays thru Thursdays, there's 9-pin bowling in back. Tonite is Friday, and the back room is quiet. The waitresses stand behind the counter as customers arrive for dinner. Friday Special: all you can eat catfish with one trip to the salad bar. The place is almost full.

A man and his wife: she faces the door, he watches the wall. Another man and another wife: he scowls and sits down when she suggests they say hello to a couple across the room. A kid comes in, nods to the waitresses behind the counter and sits at a table by himself.

They all know each other, these people, even the kid.

Four strangers walk in -- two men and two women. Dressed like tourists, with fleece vests and jackets and camera cases hanging from their belts, they don't quite fit here as the locals seem to. They pass on the special and order hot sandwiches.

One of them takes out a camera and passes it around. "Here let me show you," one of the others says. He tinkers with the buttons and passes it around again. One of them starts laughing. She passes the camera on, and the next of them starts laughing. So it goes around the table.

They laugh so hard, they cannot stop. Tears threaten to run from their eyes. They make a terrible racket in that small room, drawing attention to themselves. In spite of the glances from the locals, they laugh louder and louder.

Which is fine, I suppose, because the locals begin to catch it too, smiles breaking on several faces as they watch this spectacle of comedy in the middle of the diner and wonder what on earth could be so funny.

Blanco Bowling Club
Blanco, TX

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 Sunday, November 27, 2005

Mayhem at Twin Oaks

As we hiked around a bend in old Johnston road that runs along the creek, we came to the place the map called Twin Oaks. There in the shade of two large trees was a bench and a woman sitting upon it. She stood up as we approached. We smiled and said hello. She did the same.

Would you take a picture of the four of us? Gregg asked, pointing to the trees. She agreed, and so we lined up in a row with the oaks behind us.

The woman took one picture and then suggested we try the flash, because the background was so bright. I walked over and fumbled with the camera (being without my glasses).

I think it's that button, she said.

Oh yes, I said, fumbling with that button and handing the camera back to her.

When I returned to the trees, the woman snapped another shot, but the flash still did not go off. She looked at the camera and then at me.

It doesn't matter, I said as I shrugged.

But now the flash was the least of our worries. At the other end of our line-of-four, there was a great commotion. Gregg was waving his arms around his head, and Kelley was, too.

It came straight at me! Gregg shouted. It got me on the nose!

There was more waving. Bees were buzzing in his hair and flying around his face. He ducked several times and then said, Let's go! It's time to go! He and Kelley walked off quickly, passing the woman and getting back on the trail.

The woman was staring at us dumbfounded. When I got to her, she just handed the camera to me and said nothing. Thank you, I said, but she had already turned and was continuing her hike away from us as fast as she possibly could.

Meanwhile, from a branch in one of the Live Oak trees just behind where we were standing and at exactly the height where Gregg's head was, we saw a stream of bees flying in and out of a large, dark hole.

A beehive! A beehive made us do it. But I have a feeling that the woman's story of the four people by the tree will be a little different.

Government Canyon State Natural Area
San Antonio, TX

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 Saturday, November 26, 2005

Plentiful Labor

You'll be a-campin' by a ditch, you an' fifty other famblies. An' he'll look into your tent an' see if you got anything lef' to eat.

An' if you got nothin', he says, Wanna job?

An' you'll say, I sure do, mister. I'll sure thank you for a chance to do some work.

An' he'll say, I can use you.

An' you'll say, When do I start?

An' he'll tell you where to go, an' what time, an' then he'll go on. Maybe he needs two hunderd men, so he talks to five hunderd, and' they tell other folks, an' when you get to the place, they's a thousan' men.

This here fella says, I'm payin' twenty cents an hour.

An' maybe half a the men walk off. But they's still five hunderd that's so ... hungry they'll work for nothin' but biscuits.

The ragged man at the camp
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

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 Thursday, November 24, 2005

On This Day I Am Thankful

In the morning we ran a five-mile race. Ben and I finished together. Trudy came running down the final stretch soon after. The sky was blue. The sun was warm.

In the afternoon, Trudy cooked turkey and ham and beans and sweet potatoes and stuffing. The patio door was open. The dog snapped at bees flying around the living room.

Later we went for a hike. The dog ran ahead. Sunlight grazed the tops of pale-trunked Sycamores. Yellow fingernail-sized Cedar elm leaves fell to our feet. Purple-white blossoms of wild Asters lined our path.

In the evening, Trudy and I drank tea and played Scrabble as the dog slept.

On this day, I am thankful for these things: a family and what we do together. But I am most thankful for the luxury to contemplate these things. In a world of pain and sorrow, of misery and death, such little things and the time to reflect upon them is a gift beyond imagining.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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 Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Unembedded Pictures

The slate walkway tiles under the wide awning would have felt cool and smooth to bare feet once upon a time. This would have been a comfortable place, in the shade and out of the sun. It would have been a busy place, with people walking from shop to shop or gathering in doorways talking. But that time was gone. Events had changed things.

Although the slate tiles remained, debris littered the walkway. The storefront windows were broken. Wires and cables hung from the damaged awning. You would not want to walk barefoot around this place today.

In the distance, a car burned, its fuel running out on the street, throwing up bright orange flames, filling the street with black smoke. The curb was littered with plastic and paper and rocks and broken pieces of brick. A blue bucket filled with debris sat in the gutter. Across the street, daylight shone thru a gaping hole in what used to be a wall.

Nearby, a woman sat on the ground near a octagonal pillar that held up part of this once-shaded place. She was covered in a black robe so dark that you could not see the folds in the fabric. Her hair was grey. Her bare forearms rested on folded knees, muscles strong from her years. At her feet were four clear plastic bottles filled with water.

She turned her head.

And at that moment, the camera snapped.

source: photo from Unembedded

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 Monday, November 21, 2005

On His Own

I remember when he left me behind on his bike long ago. We would go to the trails often, and he would ride with me as I ran. But on that day, he left me in the dust and went riding ahead on his own.

And I remember a few years later. As we did when he used to ride, we would jog together and he would stick with me. But one day as we were nearing the end, he had more kick than I and went sprinting ahead on his own.

Tonite a further landmark passed.

We sat down at the table with our turkey burgers and little yellow bowls of hot black beans. Trudy sat in her place. I sat in mine. And Ben sat in his chair with the dog at his feet. We started eating, and he looked over at me and said, "Better eat your beans, Dad, before they get cold."

There's nothing I can do. He's really on his own, now.

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 Saturday, November 19, 2005

Not Complaining About Winter

They tell me there's snow falling in Toronto and that it's on the ground in Ottowa. And there is ice on the water at the margins of the lake behind Joe's house where it seems just yesterday there were golden leaves still clinging to the branches of the trees in the woods.

It is that time of year, I guess -- mid-November, when fall makes way for winter, and the sun permanently drops below the horizon in Barrow, Alaska. And even though we were muttering about the heat just a week ago, we now sit with slippers on our feet, blankets on our laps, and sweaters wrapped around us.

My fingers get cold when I click on this keyboard. But here where we are, the sun still crosses the sky. And in the right place in the afternoon, you can still warm yourself in the sun. Snow might be falling in the north, but our coats remain in the closet, and they probably will stay there.

So maybe I shouldn't complain about the onset of winter.

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Owning Ideas

The Guardian on owning ideas and the madness of current trends in intellectual property law:

Guardian/Andrew Brown: The difference between ideas and things is obvious as soon as someone hits you over the head with an idea - so obvious that until recently it was entirely clear to the law. Things could have owners and ideas could not. Yet this simple distinction is being changed all around us.

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 Thursday, November 17, 2005

Were You Honest?

Were you honest?
I am an honorable person. Are you questioning my integrity?

But were you honest?
A bipartisan Senate committee said that they found nothing.

But were you honest?
It is irresponsible for anyone to ask such a question.

But were you honest?
They are trying two distort the historical record.

But were you honest?
It is reprehensible for you to suggest otherwise.

But were you honest?
They all saw the same intelligence we did.

But were you honest?
They all voted to go to war.

But were you honest?
They are being reckless.

But were you honest?
Global war on terror.

But were you honest?
God bless America.

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Schneier on Sony's Rootkit

Bruce Shneier on Sony's recent entree into the world of hacking:

[Schneier/rootkit: the real story]: The only thing that makes this rootkit legitimate is that a multinational corporation put it on your computer, not a criminal organization.

As they say, read it all. It's not long.

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 Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Pose She Struck

After we ate the grilled sausages, chicken-feta and black-pepper-pork, we congregated in the kitchen, rinsing the dishes and watching the dog watching us hopefully.

Trudy went into the laundry room. Ben turned on the water in the sink. I stood between them, looking first one way and then the other. I must have been talking to Ben, because I remember turning away from him to look at Trudy. I don't know what he was saying, but I do remember what I saw when I turned away.

There in the laundry room, in that tiny space between the kitchen and garage, Trudy was starting the laundry.

Now before we go any further, you must know that Trudy finds this activity (doing laundry) immensely gratifying in some way that I cannot comprehend. It is an activity, which gives her great happiness and without which her days grow long and her face grim. I shouldn't be telling you this, but I am, because it helps to explain, I think, what I saw next.

She stood there in the laundry room with her left leg straight and her right turned at a slight angle. She stood in what seemed a dancer's pose. Her feet were pointed. Her left arm was extended to the dial on the dryer. She held her right arm back with fingers gracefully pointed, as if to balance the work her left was doing. Her head was held high. And a wide smile was on her face.

Then she saw me looking at her. And she saw me smiling. And she heard me telling Ben to look. And she looked at herself, at her legs, at her still-extended arms.

And she laughed. And I laughed. And Ben looked confused as he returned to loading the dishes into the dishwasher.

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 Monday, November 14, 2005

Does this count? Is his voice enough?

In recent years, I have become increasingly concerned by a host of radical government policies that now threaten many basic principles espoused by all previous administrations, Democratic and Republican.

These include the rudimentary American commitment to peace, economic and social justice, civil liberties, our environment and human rights.


It is time for the deep and disturbing political divisions within our country to be substantially healed, with Americans united in a common commitment to revive and nourish the historic political and moral values that we have espoused during the last 230 years.

- Jimmy Carter

Hat tip: truthout

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The Lunacy of Unspoken Words

I had some important things to say, and I worked hard to put the words together. Words like deceitfulness and mendacity and duplicity. Like incompetence and corruption, resignation and indictment. Words like that.

Oh, I didn't exactly have the words ready to go. I was working on them. Getting them ready. Polishing their shine.

Oh, not exactly that, either. Truth be told, I couldn't bring myself to contemplate the necessary thoughts. And no one would want to listen, anyway, which made the words harder to find.

So I walked outside and emptied the trash. And as I rounded the corner, ducking at the web the spider there spins daily, I looked up at the sky. Standing there on the gravel path that runs between our house and the next, in that little alley of space between us, my gaze was drawn to the sky because the path was lit so brightly in what is usually a very dark place.

There above me was the moon almost full. And below the moon, only a finger or two away, was Mars racing to the west, passing the moon, dashing after Venus that had set an hour or so earlier.

And with that, I knew that those words were doomed to be unspoken, which is ok, since I didn't really know what I was going to say, anyway.

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 Sunday, November 13, 2005

Habeas corpus

Writ. Turn on your spell-checker, man.
Habeas. What kind of word is that?
Corpus. Speak English, will ya!

Writs of habeas corpus.
The world will be a safer place without them.
You may return to your shopping, now.

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 Friday, November 11, 2005

Darkness Comes Early

We sit in rush-hour driving home watching magnificent sunsets from the bumper-to-bumper traffic, watching the glowing sun go down.

When we arrive, there's still a little time -- time to run rain water on the trees and shrubs or to listen to the doves flapping in the trees.

But then you turn around. You sit down for a moment. And it's dark, daylight gone in the blink of an eye.

In my youth, days like this were cold and wet. My fingers froze as I sped on my bike in the drizzle back to my dorm, racing to beat the night.

And so even though it's warm outside right now, the early-come blackness outside my window makes me shiver.

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 Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Don't Encourage Him

I know a man who stays up late with the light on his desk casting the only shadows in the house.

He sits at the keyboard in the lonely silence and stares at his monitor until the hands of the clock spin way too far. He copies links and snippets from articles he finds and forwards them on to friends or family, adding sometimes some commentary of his own.

And if they reply, his eyes light up, and he is certain to find another snippet to follow. By merely responding, they invite yet more of the same and run the risk of a spiraling vortex.

So if you know this man, and if he sends you snippets that arrive in your inbox in the wee hours of the night, you'd be advised to be silent. Your responding words will only encourage him.

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 Monday, November 7, 2005

Listen to the Music

Mornings have always been hard for me. You could have asked my grandmother that. Everyone else in my family knows it. Puffy face. Congested head. Cranky demeanor. A face that won't smile...

This morning, as we drove northward on our daily commute, sipping half-priced coffee we picked up at the corner gas station, things were like that. Puffy face. Congested head. And the traffic was slower than usual.

Somewhere between the on-ramp and the river, Trudy reached over and turned on the radio. B-leep! It was at that point that the morning changed.

In bumper to bumper traffic with kattywompus lane changing all around, we bumped and boogied, waving our hands in the air, our bodies rocking back and forth. It made the woman behind us smile. It made me smile.

When Ben was very young and too wound up to go to bed, I would sing him a song. In minutes he'd be lying glassy-eyed and still. It was like that this morning, only the other way around. Whereas I had been numb, the music woke me.

Then north of town came the guitars. Strumming in unison. Chords and synchrony burned into my brain from many years ago.

I sat glassy-eyed and still.

The car climbed up the ramp of an overpass. The blue sky was partly obscured by a passing cloud. And the sound of the strumming guitars filled the car and filled my head and brought tears to my eyes.

I had to turn my head and look away from Trudy. But I know she knew.

What the people need
is a way to make 'em smile.
It ain't hard to do
if you know how.
- Doobie Brothers, Listen to the Music

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 Sunday, November 6, 2005


Many years ago I had a friend would call me from Texas. He would call late at night, when the rates were cheaper, and he would tell me about the weather in Austin. From the vantage point of the chilly fall and cold winter of Illinois, the pictures he painted were disorienting.

80 degrees? Blue sky and bright sun? In November? It was impossible to absorb what he said with local leaves falling, a bitter wind blowing, or white snow gathering on the windowsill outside my dorm window.

This day in Austin was like those long-distance days I heard about. The sky is blue. The trees are green. Wild flowers are blooming. And after we ran along the lake in shorts and tee-shirts, we sat outside at a coffee shop, wishing there was a shady spot to be had.

I should be telling my story and inflicting upon some northerner the disorientation suffered by me those many years ago. But instead, as I worked my way thru my daily browsing, it was I who was disoriented by northerner-Joe and his picture of a new fall day.

The leaves had mostly fallen from the trees, although a dusting of yellow still clung to a few branches deep in the woods. The forest floor was covered in new fallen brown that would crunch as you walked beneath the barren canopy. At the bottom of a hill, water gathered in a swampy low spot and the fallen trunks of trees crisscrossed each other.

I looked at this, and I felt a cold bite in the air. I smelled the smell of fall in the air. I wanted to pull a cap down over my ears. And I could hear the distant echoing call of a crow.

Why should I always be the disoriented one?

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 Saturday, November 5, 2005

A Pointless Story About A Pin

I caught a bus from a rental car drop-off to the Denver airport recently. I was on my way home from a two-day business trip.

Four women sat in the very back. They had high-heeled shoes and fancy coats and carried briefcases. They were talking about business and travel and office politics.

One of the women sat across from me. Her pants were solid black. Her jacket was black plaid. She was talking about closing deals, and the others were listening. Frankly, I wasn't really interested in their conversation. But I couldn't ignore it, since the woman had a pin on her lapel that caught my attention.

The pin was made of silver in the shape of a bee a little larger than your thumbnail. It had a shiny black stone in the middle -- black onyx, maybe.

When the driver pulled up at the airport, I walked over to her and pointed at her lapel. She thought I was pointing at something behind her, so she turned around to look out the window.

I like your pin, I said.

She was still confused.

Your pin. It's very cool.

Oh, she said, looking down at it. Thank you.

Then I turned and got off the bus.

So you might be wondering why I tell you this -- a story about a woman none of us know, about a bus ride of no importance, about a piece of jewelry for heaven's sake! You might be wondering why.

And you know I wonder, too. But it's too late now. The pointless story is finished, and there's nothing we can do about it.

I'll try a little harder next time.

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 Friday, November 4, 2005

Morning Activity

The back of the seat in front of me glowed red from the rising morning sun as the plane turned westward. I had a good view from my window.

Inbound traffic on Mopac was already backed up -- a trail of headlights extending northward from the lake. Morning rush-hour traffic from the north is always bad. But it was just past 6:30, so the inbound traffic from the south wasn't.

Our flight path followed Ben White Boulevard. I could see the street clearly, but from this altitude it was difficult to make out the cross streets. It looked so much shorter from the air than it does when you drive it on the ground.

I saw Mopac. And there was the Sunset Valley shopping sprawl. And there was the white cinder running track behind Patton Elementary and next to it the black track of Small Middle School where just a few years ago Ben started sixth grade, and it seemed then like he was no longer a boy.

If those were the schools, our house was only walking distance away. Yes, there was Westcreek Drive. And although it was hidden in the shadows of dawn and I could not see it, that was where our house must be.

I looked at my watch -- 6:41am.

Down below me in a house I could not quite see, there was Ben, eating breakfast too slowly, taking a shower too long, and not getting his clothes on fast enough. And there also was Trudy, trying to get things moving faster so that they could leave on time. And finally, there was a little black dog, wagging his tail and dashing from one end of the house to the other, thrilled with all the morning activity.

The airplane climbed higher into the sky. The cabin filled with the full light of day. And we left Austin behind.

Catching a red-eye flight
Frontier Airlines
Austin to Denver

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 Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Halloween on the Cul-de-Sac

There was an odd looking robot with a doctor's jacket standing at the doorway motioning visitors to come in. And across from him there was a frightfully cheerful, red-striped, red-haired, red-freckled Pippi/Raggedy Annish woman handing out candy.

A little boy stood half-way down the driveway peering between them into the haunted garage. He would not come any closer.

Just inside, a disembodied head spoke in growls and laughed in snarls. Spiders scrambled down the walls at the slightest sound. Tall skeleton-faced and faceless statues robed in black lined the hallway and reached out at those who walked by. A goblin in black sat motionless on the floor, his face hidden in shadows, his arms waiting to grab.

The boy saw this from his position halfway down the drive. There was a look on his face of curiosity. But it was mixed with fright, and there was no way he was coming any closer.

In the back room, flames lept out of a cauldron, and a rag-doll child lay with a pale white face in a heap in the corner, his eyes staring out from deep-sunken sockets, his slumping body looking as if he had no bones. An old woman with staring eyes walked visitors into the room and pointed out her rag-doll boy on the floor and cautioned all to look out for the bones -- at which point a skeleton descended from a hole in the ceiling and the woman started screaming.

The boy watched all this from where he stood, and when the screams started, his eyes widened, and he took a step backwards. No, there was no way he was coming any closer.

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