Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Thou shalt not...

When I covet, I feel guilty about it. The feeling itself however does not feel "wrong." Why is that?

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Fast. No faster.

So today I tried something I’ve never done before; I fasted. It was Yom Kippur and as much as I have a tendency to only practice the easy or helpful parts of my Judaic heritage, I decided this Day of Atonement was the one for me to fast on.

I’m not really sure what I was looking for here, maybe I thought I needed atonement for some of the things my job has made me do these last few months. Even that is cheating to say though, because no job made me do anything. I decided to do the things I’ve done and I’ve never been forced to do anything. My sins are my own, clutched tightly to my soul like a bag of cancer. Not eating for 24 hours doesn’t really alleviate those sins, but I decided it was something I wanted to do.

Naturally I woke up hungry, but I resigned myself to juice; it was necessary to keep my strength up because I do have a somewhat important job, and I still had to do it. I found though, that even though I was hungry, I didn’t miss food much when I resigned myself to not eating. I did notice just how much I eat, because I would catch every time I would have gone snacking, and it was more than I care to admit. By noon, I was in the groove though, so I had nothing to worry about.

And then 4 PM rolled around. Hour 22 of my fast, I felt hollow, but my head felt clear. This was after a bit of a headache earlier, but suddenly I felt good. It was a minor euphoria almost like a drugged state, and I liked it. In some small way, focusing on why I was doing this, I felt God, just a bit, off in the distance, in the way that usually requires a lot of prayer and thought. There He was.

I ended the day in peace, and then at the appropriate time I ate dinner, and not too much, but it was the best damn burger I’ve had in a long time.

So here I am, now with some nutrition in my body, and I still feel good. I get the fasting thing now. There’s a cleansing feeling after it, and it is good.

I may not even wait a whole year to do it again.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Random Thoughts

Well, this is nowhere near as focused an entry as I've been posting lately, but I wanted to keep a pattern of posting so I don't let this go by the wayside. The place I happen to be has a lot of repetitive days, so I don't usually have "oh wow" things to report. I had a pretty good conversation last night regarding the eventual evolutionary state of humankind, and I did read some really good comics books (highly recommend Bendis' Ultimate Spider-Man; eta ochen' horoshaya k'neega). Today I had reason to have heated conversations with locals from the country I am stuck in, and I pretty much had to be a dick, but it is part of my job.

I have an ultra-conservative sister. God bless her, she mails me a lot of goodies, but she generally includes Republican propaganda in each taste of home. This time she sent a Bush bumper sticker. I gave it to the redneck I work with and wished him good luck. I wonder if I can vote for Dennis Leary as president? Some good old Irish common sense would do the Executive Branch some good.

Jolene Blalock, T'Pol the Vulcan on that lousy Star Trek: Enterprise, said she didn't think the writers handle Vulcans, and especially her character, properly. I love her for it, but if she was a little more willing to keep her skivvies on, the writers might be a little less willing to find ways to get her into them. Don't get me wrong- my amygdala leaps with glee every time she shows up in Maxim or Stuff, but I don't need smut on my Trek. My kids watch for crying out loud.

I got a comment on one of my blogs. Yeah, it's someone I know, but it's one of my favorite people so that's OK. I'll have to return the favor, but I don't want to seem needy. Said individual just corrected Chuck Palahniuk on a couple of facts in a story in Stranger Than Fiction; I recommend that book as well even if he referred to Whitefish, Montana as White Fish, Montana.

I haven't worn a cowboy hat since I was 12.

My favorite US President is Teddy Roosevelt.

In High School I pierced my ear in my girlfriend's art class to impress her, but then I only kept it for four days because it looked silly on me.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Life of Pi

If you have not read Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, do not read any further. Simply go immediately to Amazon and buy it, or trundle down to your local Barnes and Noble and make the purchase. Otherwise, my spoiler filled review of this book begins… now:

This is one of those rare books that reaches out and punches you right in the gut, evoking a visceral reaction that so few authors are capable of. Chuck Palahniuk does it; William S. Burroughs does it; Harlan Ellison does it. Usually though they do it with a shock of some sort that’s just outside the realm of social acceptance and well into the “eww…” sector. Though I find Palahniuk usually has a coy message hidden in his stories (such as the extinction of the family unit creating our dear Tyler Durden in Fight Club), the type of writing that is heart (or stomach) rending like that is usually nihilistic. Life of Pi is different.

The story is broken into three parts. The first is about a young Indian boy whose family owns a zoo. He is a precocious little Hindu who begins to notice that God exists in more forms even than his Hindu pantheon and becomes not only a practicing Christian in addition to his native faith, but later tacks on Islam. The young boy, Pi Patel, not only finds no conflict, he sees this as his true expression of faith. Circumstances lead to his family relocating to Canada—and bringing along the zoo. They hire a freighter and set sail. The second part of the book begins when the ship sinks.

Pi makes it to a lifeboat, but he is not alone. The lad shares his space with a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan, and most troubling, a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. It becomes a story of the human will to survive as boy and tiger (the other creatures falling prey to the hyena, who then falls to the tiger) work out a way to live with one another. What Pi believes will be only a few days becomes seven months adrift.


In the third part, Pi makes it to land, and you think you have this book all figured out. Oh yes, what a great story about how this boy’s faith kept him going, and he has survived and is the better for it.

Then you get the real story, one of murder and cannibalism where each of the animal players is revealed to be a person, and that final survivor, the cunning Richard Parker is really the boy dealing with his own acts: the death of his mother, his defeat of the ship’s cook that has been so primly described as hyena. A lesser author would stop with that. Martel doesn’t.

He asks you to choose. He asks you to choose the better story, illustrating an early chapter where he compares the death experiences of two people. One, a lifelong atheist sees the tunnel and the light, and makes the deathbed leap of faith to believe. The other, and agnostic, hems and haws about asphyxia and tricks of the brain, and “misses the better story.” With the book, there is almost the feeling of being cheated, and uncomfortable pain when you realize what Pi has really endured as opposed to his incredible adaptation. He rips your heart out of your chest, and asks if you have the ability to put it back in again by accepting the better story.

It is rather serendipitous that I came upon this book right now—or maybe I’ll choose the better story and admit God placed the book in my hands when I most needed it. I have been carrying on a discussion with a pretty fundamentalist Christian about biblical interpretation; should the Bible be literally interpreted at all times? I have been trying to get him to understand that the Bible can be right without necessarily being correct. For example, whether or not there was an Adam or Eve is not the question or the point—the story illustrates how we were as blissfully ignorant as beasts before we learned the difference between good and evil; we became self aware, started building laws and religions and sky scrapers. The Bible in this case is right, but likely not literally correct.
Pi gives me a great illustration on how this can be so, and also puts me in the position of my fundamental friend. It is my safe beliefs that are called into question, and now I must decide which version of Pi’s story is right or correct. I am reminded that my ability to get people to understand different viewpoints on religion can also hurt their own, and how I must use a certain discretion. Otherwise I become as guilty as those who I accuse of attacking different faiths, rather than trying to accept and understand. Thanks Mr. Martel, and thank you God, for the kick in the guts.

Thursday, September 09, 2004


OK, let me get this straight; the media wants us to judge who we choose to be our next president based on what they may or may not have done thirty years ago in the military. I don't know about you folks, but who I was 30, or even 20 years ago doesn't have a whole hell of a lot to do with who I am now, and who I will be in four years. Can we please concentrate on relevant facts? Let's talk about 1000 dead soldiers in Iraq, or the fact that the war really never ended as much as we want to claim it has. Let's talk about Kerry's plan to add two Divisions to the US Army, and the impossible to avoid draft that will result in. You want to discuss the candidates and the military? Then there's plenty of things to complain about RIGHT NOW that are far more important than an air guard record or an anti-war book.

One more thing- I'm no Kerry fan, but if anyone has a right to bitch about a war, it's a soldier who fought in it. You know what? I'm pretty anti-war right now because I'm tired of mortars falling on my head. He fought a tougher war than I am, and if it really turned him on the military for a while, I can't blame him. I'll blame him for current plans to screw it up.

Sunday, September 05, 2004


It is very late and I am very tired, but I've been putting off talking about something I really need to get rid of. My Dad is very sick. Realize the man is 72 years old, and has never really taken care of himself, but I'm afraid to say that I don't know how much time he has left. He started getting easily winded in the summer of 2003, and the doctors decided he needed a bipass. Well, his health has been on a steady decline since. For every step forward there are two steps back. There really isn't anything I can do. I would like to be there for him, but right now I'm part of the effort to keep Babylon from consuming itself in the wake of the War on Terror. He is in the hospital again, and they have finally said that there is just nothing they can do for him. I made him promise me he'd hold out until I came back to visit when I am released from this Middle Eastern mess, but after this week I don't think he's going to make it.

A very selfish part of me doesn't want to see him; he has always been the strongest human I've ever met, and though at times he is mean, and there were parts of my childhood he made hell, I have a deep emotional bond with him, and we have always had a special understanding of one another. I don't know that I want to see him down, I don't know that I want to see him hurt. The fact is though I want to see him again and I don't know if I will this side of Valhalla. Yes, it is the natural order of things, but Goddamn I'm going to miss him.

So there it is - I've really internalized most of this. The people around me here don't really know about it, and my family doesn't know my feelings. But now it is here for all to see; an anonymous confession to strangers that I am scared my Dad is going to die. Funny huh? I almost think saying it out loud would solidify it and make it true. Now I have put it out for the world, but in a backhanded fashion. As if it is a way to confess and yet not make it happen.

Here is the truth though. My Dad is going to die, if not now, then in the not too distant future. And one day my son will have to deal with my death, and his son will deal with his. It will just keep going and going because it is the natural order of things. Objectively, I understand that. Rationally, I know it must be. Spiritually, my faith tells me death is no end. But practically? I fucking hate it.

When my Dad dies I will be separate from one of my favorite people. I will cry and probably rage, and maybe entertain a fantasy or two about revenge on the doctor who said the surgery would be good for him and give him another 20 years. But mostly I will be sad that the last thing my Dad hears won't be me telling him I love him. I tell him a lot, but I can't be there this time. I hope he knows how much he has influenced me and helped me to be the man I am today. I hope he knows he meant something, because he has always been my hero. I love you Dad.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

The Baseball

This is a story I wrote quite some time ago. Enjoy...

The Baseball
by Dan

For almost his entire life, Jacob Morris had something to look forward to. Jacob was an old man now, almost ninety, but still his moment awaited him. A moment when all his trials and tribulations would be justified. A moment when he would be complete.
It was such a simple thing, really. It had started when he was eight years old, and his now long dead father had lifted him on to his shoulder so he could see better at the ball park. He could still remember the smell of the roasted peanuts, and the burned hot dogs. He could still hear the crowd, cheering as the greatest baseball player of them all had swaggered onto the field. It was Babe Ruth, in all his magnificent glory. A huge man, not like the pansies who ran the diamond today. He was a man of presence, and to the eight year old Jacob he was a god.
Every moment of the game was a joy for Jacob. It was the first time Jacob saw the game with his eyes, rather than his mind, sitting before the old RCA, not able to tell the static from the cheers. His father had spent almost a weeks pay for tickets. Times were hard, for the entire country, but it was Jacob’s birthday, and a good father never let his boy down on his birthday. It was half-way through the fifth inning that the event that would change Jacob’s life happened.
With a sharp crack, a cheer, and a crowd coming to its feet, Babe Ruth hit yet another home run. Jacob chortled with glee as the ball sailed high, almost lost in the clouds, then hurtled back into the screaming masses below. . .
Directly into Jacob’s outstretched ball cap. His father laughed, the fan’s around him cheered, and Jacob whooped with victory. But the glory had only begun.
The Yankee’s won of course, and afterwards, the legendary Babe Ruth found young Jacob, and actually signed the prize. Jacob stood with awe as the Babe handed him back the ball, tousled his hair, and shook his father’s hand. That night Jacob fell asleep, The Baseball held tightly in his little hand. It was a day he never forgot.
Neither did New York City. The Baseball held a position of honor in Jacob’s room until the day that the Mayor of New York himself, at the request of community leaders, came to ask Jacob a favor.
The city of New York was burying a time capsule. This, the mayor explained, would be an airtight box filled with the objects of the times. Newspapers, clothes, record albums, the things that defined the city.
They also wanted The Baseball.
The Baseball would be sealed up with an explanation of whom the ball belonged to, and where it had come from. The capsule would be opened again in 80 years. Jacob resisted. He valued The Baseball more than anything he owned. Sometimes he would just sit and look at it remembering the crowd, the game, the joy. . .
“It will always be safe,” his father told him. No matter what happened, or where Jacob went, he would always know where the ball was, and that it was protected. Reluctantly, Jacob agreed.
At the ceremony, Jacob fought back the tears. He was cheered up by a personal letter from Babe Ruth, thanking him for his contribution. It was still difficult to watch that metal cylinder, so like a coffin, be lowered into the ground. Time passed.
Jacob grew. He fought in a war that involved the whole world. He married and had children. He buried both his parents, and a son who died in a war in Southeast Asia. He saw grandchildren born, and saw them provided for by his business, a mortuary. Through it all though, he waited. While stomping through the snow of Germany, he remembered the crack of the bat. Learning how to embalm a corpse, he thought of The Baseball, sitting on his shelf. At the funeral of his son, he thought about how he could not pass on The Baseball to that son, and how the boy would never come out of his own metal cylinder. He outlived his wife, and all but one of his children, for one reason; The Baseball.
After eighty years, already a new century, they dug up the capsule.

“Since 1927, this capsule has held for us a reminder of what we used to be, who we were. It has waited patiently for us to pull it out of the ground, and remember a simpler time.” New York had a new mayor now, though to Jacob he seemed too much like the man from 1927 to tell the difference.
“Also waiting patiently,” the mayor continued, “was this man,” he motioned to where Jacob sat, and in an instant a phalanx of video cameras was pointed his way. Jacob did his best to not look like a crotchety old man, though he knew that was what he was. He was here for only one reason. He wanted The Baseball.
“Eighty years ago, this man gave a gift to this city. The gift of a baseball. Not just any baseball however, but one of special importance to a nine year old boy. A ball signed by the legendary Babe Ruth.”
Ooh’s and Ah’s rose from the crowd at the mention of the Great Bambino. Babe Ruth was and always would be, an honored hero. And now, once again, was Jacob.
The capsule was now buried in the middle of a K-Mart parking lot. Sometime during the mid Seventies the store had been built. By the time the historical foundation had found out, they were already having their first Blue Light Special. The current owner of the store was being paid a great deal of money to have his parking lot dug up in this ceremony. Jacob had been here before. After he found the store here, he would sometimes drive here late at night to be close to The Baseball. It cleared his head and allowed him to think. After his wife died last year, he’d had his granddaughter Stacy drive him here for four straight hours. It was one of the reasons they had put him in the home.
Soon, the backhoes were digging, and it wasn’t long until Jacob heard the men yelling over the din that they had found it. A small crane pulled the case out, laying it on a thick red carpet laid out for this reason. To Jacob, something seemed wrong. He scowled through the applause. This was not the case that had been buried in 1927. No one else had been there when it went under, and they didn’t see the difference. Jacob stood and moved forward with a strength he hadn’t felt in years. He pushed through the crowd until he could see them opening it. When it opened, there was applause, then silence at the puzzled look on the face of the historian who had pulled back the lid.
Sitting on the very top of the momentos in the capsule was a newspaper. Jacob noticed that the picture was almost like a mirror of the scene around him. He then realized that it was the scene around him. There he was in the corner of the picture, a look of amazement on his face. He barely noticed the flashbulb go off in front of him. The paper was the New York Times, and it was dated July 17th, 2007.
Numbly he read the headline.
He could not read the rest of the story, the historian who now held it was shaking. Jacob was beginning to feel suspicious. Someone was pulling a prank, and if they had done something to The Baseball. . .
What could he do? How could they find who did this. It would have to have been done before the store was built, unless they actually had torn up the parking lot at some point. No, that didn’t make sense. Why go to the trouble? Could this really be . . . what the hell was it?
The chief historian was beginning to pull more things out of the case. A type of blanket, made from a metallic looking material. A device that looked like a computer screen and keyboard, but could not have been more than a quarter inch thick. Suddenly, the man pushed everything back in, closing the lid.
“Call the university! We need a scientist!” Jacob noticed someone run toward the K-Mart. Most people just gawked. It was almost dark before someone arrived. He had the look of a snobbish intellectual, his glasses riding on the tip of his nose. He did not seem to be happy about being here. Jacob had waited, and was losing the adrenaline rush he had experienced before. He stood wearily as the new arrival spoke tersely with the historian, and then opened the capsule.
In a moment, no one could get the scientist’s attention. He searched through furiously, marveling over each new discovery. Jacob sat back in his chair, and soon dozed off. His dreams disturbed him. Most of them dealt with the loss of The Baseball. He dreamed of his father, and of his own life. He had waited for this moment, only to have it interrupted by some strange new discovery that now lay where The Baseball should have been. What use was there now? He felt himself aging in his sleep. Growing older even than he already was. Just when his dreams told him he would never wake up again, a loudspeaker sounded, waking him.
He was not sure how much time had passed. Enough though that a stage-full contingent of scientists now stood and knelt around the objects scattered there. At the microphone, meant for a simple ceremony, a stunning announcement was about to be made. It was the scientist from before who spoke.
“For those of you who don’t know me, I am Dr. Barnes from the engineering department of the University. I was called down here today to what we all thought was the opening of a time capsule from the year 1927. What we believe we have actually discovered is. . . well a care package from the year 2087, some 80 years in our future.” There was a collection of disbelieving gasps from the audience. Dr. Barnes continued.
“For those of you who don’t believe this, we have set up a demonstration,” he motioned to an assistant who began playing with a small box on a tripod. In a moment, a three dimensional image of Dr. Barnes stood on the stage, about half as tall as his live counterpart. It spoke.
“For those of you who don’t know me, I am Dr. Barnes from the engineering department of the University,” it continued through what the real Dr. Barnes had said, then began to look like the scientist, watching an invisible image to it’s right.
“This is a holographic recording of today’s events. Reporters from the New York Times, USA Today, and American Gazette may see the articles they will write about this if they wish. There is also a collection of various items, to include some medical instruments, years ahead of our current technology.” A reporter in the front row raised his hand.
“Do we know where this thing came from?” He asked, pointing a directional mike at the scientist.
“As yet no. But we do know that it was no accident. Whoever put this here, and now, did it on purpose. We surmise it was in order to improve their own society. Our problem now is the potential for paradox.” Puzzled looks from the reporters made Dr. Barnes continue. “We don’t know if our benefactors intended only for us to use these items, or to develop them further. They may have wanted to change our future, their past, and consequently their present. If that happens, the people who sent this back may never send it back, causing a paradox.” The reporters were dumbfounded and said nothing.
“Was there anything else in there?” The question came from behind. It was the forgotten Jacob who spoke, forgotten by the nurse from the resthome, who still gawked from the audience, forgotten by the scientists. Dr. Barnes brow furrowed, not recognizing this man. One of his assistants however spoke up.
“Are you Jacob?” he asked. Jacob, old beyond old only nodded. The assistant walked forward, placing a box in Jacob’s trembling hands. The box was black metal, but felt warm to the touch. Jacob tried but couldn’t open it. The assistant placed his finger flat on top, and the box sprung open.
Jacob’s heart leapt with joy. Inside was The Baseball. It was just as he remembered it. The years had not faded the writing at all, and the leather was still a crisp white. Of course, for all he knew, the original capsule had been dug up right after its burial, replaced with the one from the future. Only this object was from 1927, separated from the box that held it by 160 years. It was all Jacob cared about.
The feeling of youth coming back to him, he smiled at the young assistant, whispering a thank you. He then walked down the steps to the stage, ignoring the looks and questions from the reporters. He went straight to his nurse.
“I can go back now,” he said. He looked at The Baseball all the way back to the home, and set it on his nightstand back in his room. He stayed up most of the night, remembering the crack of the bat, and the cheers of the crowd. The world could have its new medicines and technology. Jacob knew things would turn out all right. In eighty years, someone would care enough about an old man to put The Baseball in that capsule. He held it now, just looking at all it represented. And as he had all those years ago, Jacob Morris fell asleep, The Baseball in his hand.