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Uragh Stone Circle, Ireland, by mozzercork, creative commons licenseI had never considered myself to be remotely Irish, even though my mother’s maiden name practically screams its origins with an unsubtle brogue and a fanfare of haunting pipe music blasting from across the Atlantic carrying the tune straight from Éirinn’s green hills.  Her family has been here for generations, and not even the oldest in her family is likely to remember any ancestor cooking a traditional Irish dish, or chasing leprechauns, or muttering in Gaelic when someone tracked mud into the house.

I used to complain to her that she couldn’t understand the misery of having a surname that kids found easy to turn into insults, and she quickly corrected my ignorance by telling me that kids in her day rhymed her surname with “baloney.”  I still thought I had drawn the shorter straw, because my pain affected me, and her long ago pain was not mine.

To be certain, I had no idea about the origins of “Barnes.” The children on the playground, however, were very certain they knew where the name had originated, and it was not a country. Frankly, I was afraid that their guesses might end up being more correct than I was willing to admit on the mean streets of the playground. While it was easy to refute the implications of “being born in a barn,”  and the suggestions that my heritage might not be entirely human, I had uneasy feelings about the humble origins of the ultimate derivation of my last name, and I really didn’t want to offer any additional ammunition to those merciless monsters of mockery.

And here I am many <mumblecoughyears> later, learning that my Barnes ancestor likely came here from Ireland. Like my mother’s ancestors, the Barnes family has been here for centuries, and if there was a family recipe for colcannon or boxty, well, it’s been lost. Possibly on purpose. 

While I always had hoped that I might go and see Ireland, I never expected to have any sorts of actual roots there. Any kinship I have felt with the land has been with those crafters of stories and words that have come from that far away place. I often think about how “the snow was general all over Ireland,” and how it fell “upon all the living and the dead.”

I have thought about the legends that have inspired me in my formative years, of a place where magic and mystery lingered in the very rocks and trees of an ancient land where children might find a snowy wood and a lamppost in the back of a wardrobe. 

In short order, I will see those “dark mutinous Shannon waves,” and lonely churchyards with “crooked crosses and headstones,” and perhaps see upon them names that look like my own. I will wonder about their stories and what they knew of the mysteries that lurked in these places they called home. Perhaps they will share some of their stories. I just hope they don’t feel the need to leave the churchyard.

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We Used to Be Friends

Kristen Bell as Veronica Mars Robert Voets—2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment

We met in the fall of 2004. She was still in high school, but she had a world-weary outlook and a laundry list of tragedies that had aged her beyond her 17 years.

I liked her from the start. She was quick-witted and immediately jumped to the aid of the bullied and disadvantaged, with a bit of stylish sass and a sack full of street smarts. I admit it, she had better writers than me.

She lived in the noir-blackened seaside town of Neptune, California. Her name is Mars. Veronica Mars.

For a too-short three years, we’d check-in once a week, she’d fight the corruption of the police, the disparities of race and class, all while whistling a jaunty tune, and making life-changing coffee at Java the Hutt. Granted,  I’m sure she’s a great whistler, but,the whistling thing is me just trying to make an easy joke. And, my specific form of television-trivia OCD is not letting me leave well enough alone, so I must clarify that she was a hostess at the Hutt, not a barista. I just wanted to trot out the cleverly named coffee shop, and make you think I’d come up with it myself.

I’ve missed seeing her and her gang over the years, and when there was an opportunity to return her to life on the big screen, well, I was one of those with a reel and a hook, pulling her back.

I know, most of you are completely lost. You’ve never heard of Veronica Mars. And you wonder what I’ve been talking about, because you knew there was no such place as Neptune, CA.

Yes, you’re very smart.

Except, to me, Neptune is a very real place, (Unless you’re trying to find out if I’m suffering from mental illness, and then I’ll be sure to tell you that I am aware that it’s all fiction.) and I’ve missed it, warts and all.

I thought by now it’d be out of my system, but, I just can’t quit Neptune. I’ve been basking in the glow of the movie for over a week, and I find myself thinking about it all the time, knowing that it’s not likely to be in theaters much longer, and that, while the movie is completely watchable to those that haven’t seen the television series, it’s not going to pull crowds of people. There’s unlikely to be a movie sequel. It’s mostly a movie for those of us that love Veronica best, and for today, I guess that’s enough. There are few happy endings in Neptune, as everyone knows, and so, I’ll just be happy with what there is.

Crappy Jokes Are All That I Have

Sewer cover, by Greg L English Wikipedia

For several weeks now, I’ve been living a double life. One where I spent most of my weekdays at an undisclosed location, where I sleep on a couch and use a shower, and wash my clothing. Occasionally, I’d get a night in my own house, where I could enjoy my own bed, but, need to limit the number of times I flush, and could not consider washing anything: pots, hair or underwear.  I’ve been living the life of a sewer hostage.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to turn this ongoing tragicomedy into a something suitable for this venue. I considered that I if I were to embrace my inner 12-year-old boy, where jokes about body humor are the pinnacle of playground jocularity, I might find something that I could elevate to more tasteful and sophisticated style, that would evoke the basics of bathroom humor and yet set a higher standard. I had tried to use all the techniques I knew to come up with a way to frame the whole mess into this form, but exaggeration? No one wants a mountain built out of this schmole-hill. It’s an unpleasant image, and a somewhat awkward lingual construction.

I’m not particularly adept at the vulgar, and I think it’s rude to unleash upon my readers a Shih Tzu-nami of unpleasant images, especially ones that are likely to last longer than whatever weak smiles might have been invoked before the image landed.

I do like word play, and while I can disguise a few references under a well-placed shiitake, those are very small jokes, and they seem far too obvious for a “professional” humor writer to employ. Those jokes have probably all be thought of by the audience before the joke appears in the narrative, and they don’t really contribute much to sustaining a story-length set of punch lines.

There were a few moments when I considered unleashing some dark humor, where I could be glad that all that schhhhtuff has mostly stayed in the pipes and hasn’t escaped. And, I am glad about that. But as honest as it is, it feels too gloomy.

Even after looking at all the tools in my arsenal, all the tricks of turning an unpleasant topic into something people were willing to laugh at and not feel like they needed to bathe afterwards, I realized that I could no longer find any humor in the form of solid waste matter. Something as expensive and unhygienic as the system of removing waste matter from a home is no longer capable of inspiring even a microscopic upturning of the corners of my mouth.

I guess you could say I am tired of those particular mushrooms.

I’ve spent these weeks trying to find something funny about my hostage situation. Everyone told me I had this terrific topic, easy to write about, and they insisted that there was nothing but funny in this subject matter. And all I’ve been able to do with this golden topic is fail miserably. I am certain this is not actually a success, yet, I could no longer avoid the subject entirely, because, the parade of plumbers and pipes kept me from my usual deadline.

And I’m sorry.

And still a hostage. At least for a bit longer. The light is coming.

How Can You Tell if Your Clothes Hate You?

Jeans pocket

I am certain there are a number of items in my wardrobe that have the power to attract the food items that have the strongest stain-leaving capabilities directly to the fabric most likely to be ruined. These items will absorb every molecule of potential stain-causing material, not just the substances with the worst reputations for leaving lasting souvenirs.

Usual suspects, like pasta with red sauce, or finger foods slathered in BBQ or hot sauce are not the only things that represent mortal danger to your wardrobe.   I’ve encountered salads with stealthy rogue peas, coated in just enough dressing to roll out of the clutches of your silverware, and happily bounce across your front leaving a trail of greasy tears in its wake. One single pea.

It’s practically inconceivable that one tiny pea could leave a stream of dressing wide enough to look like a full necktie has been drawn on your top, but, there, I’ve just conceived it. It wouldn’t be so bad if the pea would’ve managed to drive straight or pick a path that was centered. Where are all the warnings about drunken peas?!

If you are wearing white, your accessory will be tomato-based. If black, look out for sour cream, ranch dressing or whipped topping. Your clothes know to attract the sauce that will achieve maximum visibility, and prove that your clothes are trying to show to the world *exactly* how much they hate you.

At first, I thought it was just me.

Clearly, I was destined to coat my clothing with the memories of a thousand meals. I decided to embrace my front full of food. I could start an entire fashion trend, where it was *stylish* to wear decorative “dressings.” Accessorizing with food would be cheaper than buying boxes full of jewelry. I could brush off the horrified glances and assumptions of sub-human table manners by cheerfully proclaiming that every spot was an intentional and carefully considered contribution to my ensemble.

There are a few flaws in my plan to turn “stain” into “sparkle.”

I am not well known for being “fashion forward.” There are hobos with better instincts for fashion trends than me.  I can barely convince myself that my own fashion trend is legitimate, much less be persuasive enough to sell the notion to the actual glitterati. Best I could hope for is a show of support from an eccentric hipster crowd, who see the idea as a green way to extend the life of garments produced in sweatshops in third world countries. This is the crowd that uses their pockets to produce compost. They might even be convinced to refer to stains as “food storage and carbon efficient transport,” if I can figure out how to reconstitute it into actual food with fewer than 10 drops of water.

On second thought, I’ll just pre-treat the stains and hope no one notices.

Celebrating Generosity Day

Antique (Public Domain old) Valentine. Caption reads "To My Valentine"

I am well-known to be averse to VD. I’m sure you are too. In my case, I mean both the health issue and the holiday. If you had missed that quirk of my personality and didn’t click on the link, then this sentence will have to suffice as background for the next few paragraphs.

I had been proud of that piece of poisonous prose, and while I patted myself on the back for my wit and use of indelible imagery, I passed it along to many who were not regular subscribers to this column, thinking that they would be unable to resist signing up for it the minute they read that spectacularly awesome indictment of the holiday of 50 Shades of Red.

I was wrong.

Of the 15-20 people I had shared it with, *ZERO* signed up. More telling to me was that one of them had the courage to tell me her thoughts. She is not one to mince words. She simply said: “It was not worthy of you.”

Inside my head, InsecureFraud38 shouted “See? Everything you write is worthless! You are a fool to try and pretend you are talented enough to impose your barely literate ramblings on an unsuspecting public!

OffendedArtist12 jumped into the onslaught of self-doubt with its twist: How dare she say that horrible things about me and my art! She cannot comprehend the brilliance of my tortured soul!

About this point, InsecureFrauds 1-38 ganged up on OffendedArtist12, and the results were spectacularly horrific. Suffice it to say, there are only 11 these days.

I managed to say something, I probably even thanked her for crushing my soul and unleashing the specters of self-doubt and loathing, but then BrutallyHonest numbers 1-20 told me that she was right. I had taken the easy way out, and relied on the Crutches of Snark and Sarcasm. I could do better. I put in a request that the nicer parts of my psyche go visit with the brutally honest parts, and maybe teach them to be a bit more gentle in their delivery. Then I realized I didn’t really want any more sugar coating, because I really should cut down on my sugar intake.

About that time, I learned about “Generosity Day.” It was a way to reclaim the day of commercialized love with all its superficiality and fill it authenticity and kindness. Something not confined to couples, and lacking the burden of obligation.

Perhaps, just by sharing this idea with you, I’m losing my “street cred,” but, BrutallyHonest4 tells me I never really had any in the first place. Maybe, I’m simply getting weak in my advancing age. Or perhaps I’m just remembering the gift of honesty from a friend that I got last Generosity Day.

Super Robot Bowl

ASIMO is a humanoid robot created by Honda. Standing at 130 centimeters and weighing 54 kilograms, the robot resembles a small astronaut wearing a backpack and can walk on two feet in a manner resembling human locomotion at up to 6 km/h. ASIMO was created at Honda's Research & Development Wako Fundamental Technical Research Center. Taken by Gnsin at Expo 2005, in JapanI dreamed last night that the Seahawks had won the Super Bowl by summoning an entire squad of giant robots. Not only were they 12-foot tall and exceptionally agile, they could teleport. As they ran around the field, ostensibly doing “warm-ups,” the coaches and players for the Broncos were lodging formal complaints about their eligibility and having too many entities on their roster. Several times could Coach Fox be heard saying that if he’d known it was possible to have giant teleporting robots on his team, he’d have brought some of his own, never mind that he obviously had no idea where to find any.

The technique used to bring forth the giants was clearly routine to the Seattle coaching staff, and while no one seemed surprised by the appearance of dozens of huge, metal, man-shaped automatons, there were indications that everyone was simply “playing it cool,” for the audience.

In my dream, they never actually settled the argument of eligibility or of whether the robots would be allowed to play, but, the robots were there for the whole game, and their mere existence was so intimidating and overwhelmingly unfair, that they were responsible for the Broncos losing.

The worst part about these ridiculously-adept-football-playing robots was that the Seahawks quickly realized they didn’t need them, so the robots sat on the bench and moped for the whole game.

On the whole, the metal men were pretty glum on the sidelines. There was one exception. Somehow this model looked cheerful, and had found a vendor’s shoulder rig stuffed with pamphlets and tracts. It kept trying to hand them out on the sidelines. They had titles like “Embracing your Inner Robot” and “Robots are People, Too.”

This was clearly the most gregarious of the robots, and it kept a dialog going throughout the game that was much more entertaining than what was happening on the field. The bits that were played for the home viewing audience were bits about how he’d floated from one robot football league to another, because of its dangerous political views on robot rights. It claimed that no team really wanted it, even though, everyone would admit, it did have some useful skills beyond the standard large size and teleporting package.

From the number of times this sequence of images passed through my brain overnight, I could tell that it was something that was important to my unconscious brain to work on, and yet, it offered me no clear indication of why the game was more important to my sleeping self than it was to my conscious self.  I decided that putting it in writing, and sharing it with a city of mournful Broncos fans might bring me closer to a resolution.

At this moment, I suspect it has something to do with the ability to teleport. Or maybe I just have some deep concerns about robot rights.

Feasting on Epiphanies

The Twelve Days of Christmas song poster by Xavier Romero-Frias

I am now ready for the holidays.

It took me a few weeks, but, today there’s snow on the ground, and it’s cold, I feel like Scrooge reborn. I’ve just come back from running down the streets looking to buy the largest goose that money can buy.  I really should’ve put on a coat. And shoes.

I hardly noticed the impending frostbite as I raced along the snow coated sidewalk, filled with the joy of the holidays, wanting to wish every soul in Christendom a Merry Christmas. Admittedly, I failed to find a goose. Well. A dead and plucked goose, that is. There were plenty of living geese. They tried to bite me.

I’ve had my shopping done for weeks now, and that stress is completely gone. I even got everything wrapped and mailed. Everyone on my list should have their gifts with time to spare. No more rushing about in a frenzy for me, nope, it’s time to savor the sights and smells of the happiest season of all.  I wish I had a fireplace, to get a fire going, so I could just sit and stare at it, drinking something hot, maybe with some carols playing.

Carols! I haven’t been much in the mood for music. It starts earlier every year, and I tend to try and deliberately avoid it until at least the second week of December.  Right now, I am ready to crank some tunes. I might even be craving some good old fashioned caroling. I’m sure I can find a group of smiling people wandering the neighborhood, ready to serenade our neighbors.  They might even be wearing weather appropriate clothing. And probably smell strongly of egg nog, extra light on the egg.

I think I am now ready to spend some quiet nights around a table with some friends and family, making ornaments or decorating cookies. Maybe we could get out a board game, and sit for hours laughing and snacking while we played something fun that nobody felt compelled to keep score.

It’s probably time to put up the tree, or lights. Sure, everyone’s had their trees and lights up for weeks, but, I’ve not really decorated for years. Now I’m seized by the need to have a tree, maybe even a real one, to fill the house with the scent of evergreen. I saw a perfectly good one out by the dumpster just yesterday, and it smelled fantastic, and the needles were not dry at all!  No one would even notice if I were to borrow it for a few weeks.

Maybe I should take some time off work, and spend some time in quiet reflection. I could use some time to order my thoughts in preparation for the New Year.  I could take a few days, just to take deep breaths, and slow down, be in the moment. I think it’s time.

I Stink at Naming Cars

Underdog balloon at 1979 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Author=Jon Harder, Permission=Own work, multi-licensed with GFDL and Creative Commons

I am certain my loyal readers have noticed that I’ve left many unresolved questions in my postings lately, and I have started to feel your unstated desire for resolution nagging me from across the void. The first unresolved matter, from late in October, has to do with the conundrum of naming the new car. I asked for suggestions, and never announced a winner.

The truth of it is that I received many fantastic suggestions, and I didn’t choose any of them. None of them have quite hit the mark for me, even though I liked all of them for one reason or the other. I didn’t get any feminine names, which is strangely convenient, as I’m very certain that the car is male, since it is a manual transmission. (It has a stick.)

There were suggestions with deep “Whedonesque” roots, which speak to my love for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and for Firefly. Specifically, the names suggested were Serenity and Xander. Not having fought in the Battle of Serenity Valley, I have no personal connection to the irony nor the tragic implications of that momentous occasion, and I am concerned that bestowing that name upon my car will force it to be constantly on the verge of falling apart if I don’t have a top-notch mechanic.

Xander is a good choice,  as he’s the “Zeppo” of the Scooby Gang, the one that is always there but gets little notice. He’s the metaphorical heart of the gang, and he’s the ordinary guy who simply wants to help his friends.

Following the idea of the shelter dog everyone ignored, I got several suggestions, including another vote for Spot, for some excellent classical allusions. I also got Rover, which I liked for the literal meaning of “rove” as applied to a car, and also a suggestion of Wally, in this case, for Wally Cox, the voice of the “Underdog” cartoon.

The name Wally also found support in the form of “Wall-E” the little robot left all alone to clean up our planet.  This angle has some resonance for me on the synchronicity side of things, which is a much longer story, and probably not as interesting to you all as it is to me. I don’t want to create another unanswered question while attempting to answer one, so, pretend I didn’t mention the uninteresting story.

From the Harry Potter side of things, I got three suggestions:  Snape, Sirius and Harry.  While Snape is perhaps the most interesting character of the series, I couldn’t pick him, because even his tragic back story didn’t excuse his behavior as a bully to all the students. Sirius, of course, is the dog star, and turns into a black dog, which I appreciate for the allusions, but, in the end, not quite a fit. Strangely, I agree with the Dursleys on the name of Harry, dreadfully common.Given that the name “Harry” is now inextricably linked to “Potter,” it has become far too obvious for my tastes.

The last names pointed to the classic orphans: Oliver,  Pip,  Huckleberry Finn, and the Artful Dodger.  I admit that I never liked Pip or Oliver, and of the Dickensian orphans, Dodger is the one that I find the most appealing. Dodger has the advantage, like Rover, of being literal as well as referential, which appeals to my brain’s love of wordplay, and yet, I expect Fagan would want a piece of that naming action, and I was trying to avoid monthly payments.

All of this to say, the car remains nameless. Clearly, my skills do not extend to naming an automobile.

We Always Think We Have Time

Break out the cotton! This column represents the 104th week that this has been mailed out to the world. For those that like to use more conventional measurements, 104 weeks makes it the second anniversary.

I should be celebrating. I have had parts of this thing written in my head for weeks. I was going to tell you all about some upcoming changes and plans for moving forward. It was going to be a hilarious masterpiece of nostalgia and exciting progress.

Things change.

Yesterday, a friend died. And while my first thoughts were about her husband and two young kids, my next thoughts were that she was only 46, and this was all too sudden and unexpected.

But the thoughts that came after, the thoughts that I dwelt on, had nothing to do with her.  All I could think about was me. And not about how much I will miss her, which I will, even though, I admit, we weren’t especially close. What I was thinking was that I will turn 40 this week, and that’s only six years difference.

This opened up the Pandora’s box of horrible thoughts. I kept imagining dying alone in my house, likely on a day when my underwear were not so fresh, and all the threats of mothers everywhere coming true.

And that was enough to make me review the disaster area which is my house, and worse than the potential humiliation of un-fresh underwear, if I hadn’t already expired, I’d have died of embarrassment.

Then I became afraid that not only was I repugnant enough to have scared away all potential spouses, probably no one would even notice or miss me.  I wondered if there would be anyone to deal with the mundane parts. Then
I wondered if they were someone who had ever thought kindly of me, and whether having to deal with the vastness of the mess I had left them, would they still have kind thoughts about me?

As my worry grew, I frantically started cleaning.  Not even the fact that I’m more than 20, 000 words behind on my novel could distract me from my new priority of not being remembered for my poor housekeeping. Or at least, not being a burden to whomever was left behind.

I spent most of my weekend in a funk, which, if I’m being honest, described more than my underwear.

Reaching the end of the second year has not been easy, and I know that I would not have gotten to this point without all of you, who take the time to read the silly things I send out, and who often take a moment to send me a note of encouragement. Our time is far too short, and before I forget, I wanted you to know I’m thinking of you all, and I’m grateful for you.  My wish is that you get to spend the holiday with those you love, and that you have the opportunity to let them know how important they are to you.