Sunday, December 16, 2007

Wow, I’ve neglected this for a while. I still seem to be getting traffic, though, and not just from my wife, so I might as well put something up. I’ve thought about dozens of things to write in the last few months – actually sitting down to do it has been the problem. I’ve been intending to review the comics I pick up, so maybe I’ll start that with the next run. I’ve thought about doing books, but I don’t really read anything new, so it often feels like the discourse is over by the time I get to something (I could leap into the whole Golden Compass fray, but that’s so overblown on all fronts that it’d just be tiresome). When it comes to more personal things, well, I dunno. That’s more of what I started out with, but when I do that it’s something that I have to phrase just perfectly. I care more about the nuance of such posts, so I can’t just sit down and bang one out for all to see. How I say something is just as important as what I’m trying to say. I’d like to do some skeptical blogging, but I don’t have a lot of time to devote to it. Besides, with established pros like Bronze Dog and the Two-Percent Company out there, I don’t feel I have a lot to add, especially as it seems they have more time. I could blog on some gaming items – reviews of my esoteric collection. While that has been overdone elsewhere, that’s one thing where a fresh perspective is often welcome.

I really started this thing to help me practice my writing, in pursuit of actually doing some on a serious level. I’ve got dozens of story hooks and ideas bouncing around my head; unfortunately, I’ve always been a stronger rhetorical essayist than storyteller. I can make an inflamed, well-backed article to rival Chris Hitchens; ask me to tell the story of a man and his dog, and I’ll scratch my head for a while. Oddly enough, my talent as a skilled bullshitter translates better into the nonfiction realm than into an engaging fiction. One exception is my magnum opus of fast-talk tall tales, the “West Virginia Snow Snake”. I’ve been developing that one for more than a decade, and can go on at length about this rare and deadly breed of winter-adapted reptile. I once had a supervisor in the process of canceling her ski reservations before I let on that it was just a story. Maybe I’ll put it down in print sometime, but I really think that the telling sells it as much as the myriad of “facts” that some online goober will inevitably google to “prove me wrong” about my own damn bullshit story. With things like that, someone always misses the point. Not that I wouldn’t like to see it picked up as a meme (someone had to be the first with the “Pirates vs. Ninjas" crap), but snakes were done to death last year.

Maybe I’ll expound more later. I’ve got an essay starting in my head about the themes of absence and/or bitter domesticality of mothers in the comic Bloom County. It’s a rather obvious thing, if you take the time to notice, and Breathed, being a Pulitzer winner, is a valid target for deep examination, even a quarter-century after his heyday.

Monday, October 15, 2007

I got a letter from Mom the other day


It was strange, for no other reason than she died almost seven years ago. My Dad was gathering things to bring down for my son's birthday party and came across an envelope with my name on it. Now, to be sure, it was not the first posthumous communication I had gotten from her, but it was the first in a very long time. She left genealogical files; letters to disallow certain people from attending her services; diaries for grandchildren not yet born. They trickled in over several years, but had mostly dried up until this weekend.

Mom was a heavy smoker, and it wasn't really a shock when the cancer diagnosis came in. I mean, it was, of course; these things just don't happen to your own family, until they do. But after the initial reactions, it wasn't something where anyone could sit and rail against the injustice of it all. We had a year. It was mostly a good year, especially after her doctor beat the idea of chemo into her head. That left her functional, if not healthy, until the cancer just spread too far. In a rather cruel twist of fate, she died while my wife and I were out of town attending the funeral of my wife's grandmother. I had said goodbyes on the chance that such an event could happen, but two important figures passing a week before the holidays made for a somber season. That year, I took one of the few drinks I've ever had as part of a toast to family.

So, the letter itself was a few handwritten pages, and a printed poem. The most potent parts of the letter were admonishments to enjoy the small things in life; to take care of my family and stay close to my father and brother; expressions of pride about who I had become. I was young then. I hadn't really accomplished much, other than managing to never need bailing out from lockup. She was always proud, just the same.

The other parts of the letter were religious in nature. A lot was about her expectations of heaven, and to keep the faith myself so that we could meet there, and so on. I don't know that I was as much an atheist then. I've always been fairly agnostic, leaning toward no higher power, but I'll admit to waffling for most of my life. Mom and Dad pretty much dropped out of church life when the pastor at the church where they met refused to marry them in the church itself -- they'd both been divorced, you see. That was bad. He'd marry them anywhere else, even the parking lot or the lawn out front, but not the church itself. They declined and never looked back. That's not to say my parents didn't have faith. My father was a lay minister's son from a long line of the same, and my mother was raised in the coal camps, where religion was so deeply ingrained that not having it really wasn't an option. From then on, neither really saw a need to push it. I and my brother found our own ways, which I think is what my parents intended. We found opposite directions to take, but it doesn't come up for discussion, because that's the way we were raised.

As Mom got sicker, her old-time religion came back out. Now, she was never a forgiving person; even at her most desperate, she didn't step foot in another church. She did, however, go back to what she was taught as a child, and her own personal study. She was terrified of death. I know that. I think it just got to the point where the old programming kicked in as a defense mechanism. She didn't cry or wail to god, at least not in public. She had more an attitude of, "I've led a good life, dammit, and I'm going to heaven. Just try to stop me." There wasn't any other option, and if anyone could take god in best-of-three falls about opening the gates, it'd be her.

I have to wonder what that letter would have done to me seven years ago. In my grief, would it have pushed me in the direction of being more religious? I had been getting more exposure than ever through my wife's extended family, and was in probably my most vulnerable and seeking period. I could see it happening. I note that my mother never questioned that I might not believe; it was assumed. I think she knew better than that, though. I was never really what she assumed at any point in my life.

I sat down with my son Saturday night and talked about the Grandma he never got to meet. We do that now and then, but I usually don't cry as much as I did this weekend. It was good to hear from her.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Odd things

Have you ever just looked around your home and seen things that make sense in the context of your life, but that others might find a bit, well, off? I started paying attention the other day for some reason, and, given that the hobbies of me and mine aren't typically what you'd call "mainstream", there are some interesting results.

Master bath: A dozen half-wilted roses

Walk-in closet: A fog machine, a disassembled game of "Trouble", two toy golfclubs, a plastic pirate hook, and various and sundry other bizarre items.

Sewing/wife's hobby room: 8-inch buck knife, various dominoes, a pile of art prints, and an unassembled model of a mammoth skeleton.

Main Bedroom: 18-inch robotic ninja which, apparently, can "sense my fear".

Living room: Last year's Christmas decorations, a scooter that my niece received for the same holiday (unassembled, still in package), and a folded-up school bus play "room".

Laundry room: A 2" wide rubber band with around six feet of overall length, and a coconut. Hilarity ensues.

Kitchen: A plastic lunchbox thermos from the original run of "Battlestar Galactica".

Family Room: A Mr. T "1-800-collect" fridge magnet.

Male spawn's room: A two-foot piece of 2"x4" and a pizza pan. This is relatively clean because we confiscate most of the interesting stuff on a regular basis.

Guest bath: An unopened can of "Play-Doh".

Female spawn's room: A plastic garden spade.

My hobby/computer room: Where to start? Two battleaxes, combustible stage effects, a miniscule pair of nunchucks (perhaps belonging to the ninja above), a shelf for a cabinet we no longer own, a scratching post for cats that no longer live indoors, a bent curtain rod, a "collection" poster of M.U.S.C.L.E. Men . . . let's just say there's quite a bit.

But again, I don't think we're quite normal. Homes and lives pick up a lot of detrius as time goes on. I just think some of our detrius has an interesting story lurking somwhere.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


I counted out about $130 this morning. It wasn't mine. The small piles of sorted bills were intended for one of the people I supervise. Her daugter died last week. She was young, and the death was needless and preventable. I can't fathom losing a child that way. Honestly, I yet to really lose anyone to accident; age and illness, certainly, but not accident of violence.

I've been the keeper of this money since the poeple at work heard about the death. Being her supervisor, it just sort of works that way. I'm the bearer of information and condolences; I seek out the news reports and buy the card. I work the phone and take up the cash and find the funeral home. The money is the thing that gets to me, though.

I understand why we do it, on an intellectual level. Someone's going to have expenses and be out of work for a while. It's a way of saying, "I noticed, I care." Acquaintances can toss in something even if they don't feel close enough to call. It feels ... odd, though. The idea of mixing sympathy and money won't reconcile itself in my mind. Some people give significantly, but then the smaller donations look strange. What do three dollars say about your relationship with someone? Does it really say anything?

I received a bonus check around the time this happened. I thought a long time about just putting the whole thing in. I wasn't expecting the money. It'd be no loss to me, right? I've had the same internal conflict about it over and over. She'll need the money; there's no question. She wouldn't know that it was me, or that anyone had individually given that much; I was going to change all the small bills to large at the bank, anyway. Then, I also think that she wouldn't know the difference. She's not going to go through it and try to match money to people.

At any rate, I've always flet odd about giving money after a death, regardless of whether I had "spare" money to give. That just enhanced the strangeness of it. I try my best to be a good person. I like doing things for others; it helps keep me sane. I think it's an obligation of living in and enjoying the benefits of a modern society. The money thing just doesn't sit right, though. As useful as it is, as well as the gesture is probably going to be taken, it strikes me as crass and unfeeling compared to the loss. I feels like, when I hand this over, I'll be saying, "We're sorry your loved one is dead. Since we can't bring her back, here's a card and some money." I understand the reality of it, but something in my makeup just rails that the whole practice is an insult to human dignity and value.

I'm wrong, I think. That doesn't change how it feels, though.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


I like Saturdays. Not just because it's a day off, but mostly because of my son. He's three, soon to be four, and Saturdays are our day. While my wife and daughter go off to do the grocery shopping with a friend, I take my son around town. We have a set pattern that we have grown comfortable with.

First, we hit the Farmers' Market. It's a small, but diverse affair in the middle of town. Most often, I'm either looking for a good dinner vegetable or accent, or we're getting some pretty good fruit. Last week, we snagged some wonderful peaches that Mrs. Hobo used in a cobbler. Don't care for them myslef, but I have to admit that what I had was very good. There are some excellent vendors with jams, jellies, and honey, and we spend a decent amount of time wandering about.

Following that, we walk a few blocks to the local bookstore. There are two independent bookstores in town: The odd-smelling, used bookstore frequented by people who like to think they are young radicals, and the good one. I mean good. It's not a rare book shop, but the owner's hobby is tracking down anything someone asks for. A few years back, he showed me a book he'd been looking for for two years. It was a book that had been out-of-print for probably forty of fifty years, and the only edition he could find was a compact copy printed for overseas soldiers in WWII. Even so, he found it for his customer. That's what I want out of a shop. Who gives a crap about 20% off with that kind of dedication at your disposal? In any case, we browse for a while, and the youngling plays with the three shop cats. I usually buy something, just to do my part to keep the place open.

From there, it's time for lunch. I tried to alter this part of the routine once or twice, and found that such ideas do not go over well with my target audience. So, we walk another block to what is probably one of the better sandwich shops in the state. Great bread, homestyle soups, and ice cream made on the premises for their own recipes. This isn't fast food, and on a busy day we've had to wait upwards of twenty minutes for a couple of sandwiches, but it is an incredible value in food and time spent with my son. He loves this place. He loves the pickles, and the seats, and the building (which is in a "historical" part of downtown), but mostly he just likes to sit and talk. I love it,too. At the end of a long workday, listening to a small child chatter is not necessarily the most enjoyable thing in the world. On a wide-open day, where you're out together, it's the whole point.

From there, we drive down the road a bit to the comic shop, where I check my box for the week, and pick up something for the kid if his behavior has been decent (there's a high threshold on that requirement -- I think he's passed it once). From there, it's time to head home, because we've both been out walking and talking for a few hours, being father and son. We both need a nap. It's a very satisfying one, too.

Friday, August 10, 2007

So, that's it.

Well, last time around, I said something about a philosophical post. It's sort of hard for me to discuss things like that sometimes. Sure, once you get me started, I'll argue with you about reason and materialism and the human condition as long as anyone else. It's harder getting started from scratch.

Hmm. Maybe some background is in order. I grew up sort of a typical geek. Smart, socially awkward, etc. You know the drill. I wasn't exactly a walking target, being of a tall, dense frame, but I was more just one of those people that doesn't fit in. Everyone knew me and liked me, but not enough to invite to a party or anything. I was also a high-anxiety, fear-laden kid. Not normal fear, but odd fears that would leave me in paralyzed hysterics.

That was life until college, where I managed to reboot a bit. I found others that were as off-kilter as me. I learned how to live up to my own expectations by setting realistic ones. I lived for the first time. All in all, life got better.

Through all this, I've never been a particularly religious person. I went to church occasionally as a kid, and you sort of assume that these people aren't lying to you, but I never really took it seriously. I did believe in some far-out stuff at the time, partially because of a gifted teacher that I now realize was a total crank (she tried to train us in ESP, for crap's sake), but the religious stories never stuck. It wasn't reinforced much at home, because, while mom and dad had their beliefs, they neither attended an organized church nor spoke about religion much. I know they both attended regularly until they got married -- and that they were disillusioned by the fact they couldn't get married in their common church because they had both been divorced before. The pastor offered to marry them anywhere they wised, except in the church. I know that they considered it a real insult, and didn't let the door hit them on their asses on the way out. I think they came to an unconscious decision to let me and my brother figure it out on our own. As such, Sunday for me was always a day that started out with a big family breakfast, and often just a day together, even if everyone was just reading quietly. That taught me more about how to be a father than anything else.

Time rolled on, and I dabbled with religious ideas. I prayed. Sometimes, in times of despair or when I was greatly moved in some way, I prayed for an understanding of whether it was real. I never got an answer, which didn't really shock me. Disappointed, but not shocked. I guess I really figured it out when I was around nine. I clearly remember walking down the hall with my friend Ian, discussing something from his church class. I remember that moment as the first time I said, "There is no god." I think, at the time, it was the classic "Problem of Evil" that convinced me. I heard a few years back that the ages between eight and twelve are a hard time for pastors to deal with. There's a phenomenon termed, "The Ten-Year-Old Atheist". That's the age when a lot of kids really start to think, and that can make it hard on anything that sounds like a fairy story.

Since then, I've obviously refined my thought a bit. I like things that work, things that make sense. I like evidence. I like science and it's methods. I'm a skeptic. Show me what you've got. To that end, I generally don't declare the nonexistence of a deity anymore. I say that there's no evidence for one. I consider myself an atheistic agnostic. I don't know, and have no proof. However, even though I don't know, I have to live my life one way or the other. I have to either tune my actions as if there is something, or as if there isn't. There's no good evidence for "is", so I fall to "isn't". I haven't found a noticeable change in the number of lightning strikes nearby. Perhaps Thor is nearsighted. I don't know.

What I do know is that I'm raising my kids to think. I try to let them wonder at what's real and amazing about everything they do and see. I'm a rock and gem hound, and every time I hold up something sparkly for my son, and talk about the forces that made it that way; every time I point out a bizarre insect, or the lizards that live by our house, I feel a greater connection to what is good and right with the world. I don't need to promise some nonexistent soul to a big sky daddy to know joy or peace; I don't need the threat of eternal punishment to make me want to be a good neighbor, husband, and father. I just have to see how good things are, and how I can make them better.

For lack of a better word, I'm me. We'll work out the rest later.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Ah, Summer

The AC at work is broken, and the normal temp around here is a nice, humid 100 degrees. Crush that together with steam-jacketed mixing tanks, an extra layer of clothing, and no air movement, and you've got a recipie for the "Who Falls Out First" charity raffle and betting pool. It's not as bad as it used to be though. A couple of years back, I walked into the batching room at six AM, and there was a cloud. Not a cloud of dust, or just a lot of mist; it was a freakin' cloud. You couldn't see the room from one side to the other.

Anyway, the highlights of this week are: Daughter has been accepted to wacky religious nutjob daycare. Now, you might think this slightly insane, if you bother to browse the links to the right, but options are limited around here. We wanted a top preschool. The only decent preschools in the area are religious. Bah. Bah, Bah, Bah. I have examined the curriculum, however, and it doesn't get really loopy until a few years down the road, by which time my kids will be in real school and not attending this place. The other "plus" is that, while my daughter is now gone from my mother-in-law's smoke-choked pit, I get the privilege of shelling out an additional $100 a week for this boon. Sigh. At least my review is coming up, and my raise should cover about half that. Overtime, here I come (at least until the boy hits kindergarden next year).

My other happy this week came in the form of a lot of loose gems that I won at auction. I got 20 carats worth of peridot, amethyst, garnet, and silver topaz. That, along with some other items I already had, filled out a row in the display case I got for my birthday. Yay!

Perhaps a philosophical post next time.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Huh. So I'm here.

Well, first post of the new blog. The team blog I was on sorta died from lack of interest, though it had some good posts. Maybe I'll have some real time to devote to this one, though I doubt it.

Firstly, the name:

Apparently, according to my wife, I have odd quirks related to hobos and hobo habits. Whenever I drive under a bridge, I look for what I term "underpass hobos"; essentially, people living under the bridge. It's decent shelter, if a little loud and fume-filled on a busy highway. I used to see them pretty regularly back in West Virginia. Not so much in North Carolina.

My current Blogger avatar is the illustrious Dr. Hobo, from the webcomic VGCats (I'd post a link to an example, but for some damned reason, Blogger keeps adding it's own address to the link every time I edit it. Here's the address: http// I don't know why. It just is.

My wife has recently considered changing jobs to librarian. In trying to figure out downsides to that situation, she asked me. My response consisted of "Library Hobos"; these are the homeless folk who congregate in the public library for AC in the summer and heat in the winter. It's a common thing. That comment, however, was what pushed her into calling me "hobo-obsessed".

I'm not, really. I just think it's a funny term. As for the title, well, it's hard to get an unused title on Blogspot these days, and it worked.

More to come, maybe.