Entries: February 2003


At night I hear them coughing through the ventilation ducts. In Vegas the night—or at least the early morning—is for recuperating. The days they’ve spent borrowing against their savings to play their futile games of chance, but they’ve also been borrowing against their lungs to sit in the smoke pits long enough to finish the job. An air-breather, I am an outsider here—even in Vegas, such a cliche that it’s a cliche to write about it being so.

But I can’t help but note that the people here truly struggle. Spending their paychecks is the easy part. Here they struggle to breathe, taking care to cough through their noses so that they can take a deep drag on the butt hanging from their lip on the next inhale. They struggle to walk on betrayed joints of shattered glass, working their arms like they’re conducting an invisible shell game just to keep their balance.

This struggle goes on all around me, truly defiant to that pull of chaos, as these phantom limbs itch into the night. The transaction is savings into coffers, and the only middleman is time. Nothing else is truly gained or lost, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. They pay for the privilege of time spent, and will pay until there’s nothing left. But in this is also something pure and primal. And there is vulgarity in such debasement. Nothing personal, your money for your time, it says. They’re curling back into fetal balls, tiny cocoons twitching on their twigs.

I can only see it right now because I’m an outsider right now. But how easy would it be to just forget?

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Introvert Care

It’s nothing personal, introverts just have special needs. I’ve said it before, that for some sociability is the measure of their happiness, where for me sociability is akin to using my eyes as pincushions. Misanthropic tendencies notwithstanding, these feelings can all be explained quite simply.

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By What Measure?

It’s much easier to account for the time I spend waiting for the light to change now that they’ve retrofitted a countdown timer to the crosswalk post. Keeping in synch with the beat of the universe is one of the ways that we evade the clutches of chaos—just as we do when we methodically label all the freezer meat, or when we listen to the only slightly irregular tone of our heart monitor in the ICU. These timers are so useful that I’m surprised that they haven’t shown up in more places. There’s certainly opportunity.

Imagine a register that displayed the number of mornings remaining that you would continue to enjoy that same brand of cereal. Or any cereal. Or the number of mornings you had at all. A comb monitor would keep a count of how many hairs were left in your head—a few more last November, but then back down again by early January. Knee-graphs would keep a running measure of the thickness of the cartilage between your bones, with an optional secondary display showing the number of steps you had left to step.

How many days left sitting in your cubicle at work? How many times yelled at? What would be the number of times you’d be frightened, or even more revealing, the number of times yet that you would find occasion to smile?

These are the things that call out to be measured, to be counted, to be tracked. Otherwise are we to merely guess how many orgasms, how many more trips, how many breaths, how many days until the best day of your life—or how long since? Not being able to quantify these things seems almost cruel now that they put up the crosswalk timers. And in point of fact, though I find my frustration mounting, I’m afraid that I can’t tell you just how high.

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My month of sickness applied as an imperfect metaphor to the state of the union.

Coughing for a month straight has ripped my throat to hell, but it’s done fucking wonders for my abs.

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The Mysterious Stranger

Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank god for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception. - Mark Twain, The Mysterious Stranger

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When I woke up early this morning to conduct an impromptu coughing fit I noticed there was already a hint of dawn coming through the windows. What’s this? It was only just after six, and already the unforgiving interrogation lamp that is the sun is leaping above the horizon with the enthusiasm of my grade 9 gymnastics teacher rallying us with “Up and at em!” before our semiannual six hundred mile sprint.

I hated him and I hate the sun. Call it reverse seasonal affective disorder if you must, but it’s hardly a disorder if you think about it. Despite the star-stippled portrayals of outer space in the movies, most of it is actually pitch black. It’s only when you approach a galaxy—but why would you?—that you can see any light.

Light is the exception, so of course I would find it unsettling. In fact sunlight makes me feel like I’ve been scrubbed with steel wool and lowered slowly into a vat of mustard. Summer’s coming, people, that much is clear, and it’s time to tin foil the windows.

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Watching You

Because of the intense form of autism I practice, I never was sure where to look when talking to people - or rather, when they were talking to me. I tried all the obvious possibilities, from staring just over their left shoulder to staring down at my own hand as it made a puppet mockery of the other person’s words. Nothing seemed right though, either to myself or to the person attempting to engage me. And that’s when I remembered a bedtime story my stepfather used to tell me when I was a lad.

The story was true - all of his stories were true, and that’s how he would always begin them. This is a true story. Some friends of mine - he said - adopted a cat because it looked like a cat that they had owned before.

[To the autistic, this practice - seeking relief through replacing a thing with a like thing - brings up many troubling questions. But those take me away from the story.]

While this cat very much resembled their former cat, its history was a mystery, and they noticed something odd about the cat’s demeanor soon after they brought it home. Oh it was friendly enough, and docile. But it had an unusual intensity about it, due to its unwavering focus on the eyes of whomever was nearest by. That is, it was a cat who stared. And the stare itself, it wasn’t something that one might have described as friendly, or even curious. No, this was one of those stares you usually only come across when you walk nude down the cell block at your local neighborhood maximum security prison.

A hungry stare then.

And this couple, they were real animal lovers, with big hearts and great patience. So they might have grown to accept the unwavering attentions of their new little friend were it not for one other behavioral quirk. Namely: the cat began to launch itself at their heads. This new practice didn’t happen often, but three or four sessions of flailing spastically to protect your head against a feral cloud of talons and teeth will begin to take its emotional toll.

Anyway, one fateful night found our couple entertaining guests. You know when you learn a lesson? Well you know how there’s always that time just before you’ve learned it? That’s this night. Only scraps remained on the plates, and everyone was enjoying banal conversation. Meanwhile, the cat was sitting at the edge of the Oriental rug staring silently (one might say longingly) into the husband’s eyes. Suddenly, and without provocation, the cat made a running leap at his head. But, having gone through this several times already, the man was already enjoying a heightened sense of awareness. Without pause the man swung his arm around like a bat and caught the possessed feline missile in the ribs, sending it crashing into the wall.

The cat died almost instantly, and the relationship between our couple and their guests was always kind of strained after that.

That’s the story.

So where does a cat look when you talk to it? Right into your eyes. And that’s where I’m going to look. It never even occurred to me before, but I think there’s been a lot that I’ve been missing.

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More Commuter Notes

The woman driving the convertible weighed down by carpet remnant logs piled taller than most SUVs is a woman capable of anything. Passing her by—as it is your fervent desire to drive faster than people-walking-on-sidewalk speed—you see that this woman has her windshield wipers on, and they’re on that motion blur setting that you used only once, when your hand hit the wiper controls by accident. People who use that speed can never be trusted, because there is a fine line between wanting to keep your windshield clear of rain and the desire to generate a sonic boom with the wipers strong enough to vaporize any rain within a yard from your windshield. And anyway, it’s not even raining. And what’s with the carpet logs? Crazy people commute too, see, so you should enjoy a momentary feeling of normalcy.

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I Endure

If you’re in queue in front of me, I just might reach out and discreetly touch your hair. I do it for the rush it provides, because it is bad, and I am bad, and everyone would be angry with me if they knew. If you knew. Which you won’t. Don’t worry, I take the responsibility seriously: My hands are always clean, and I would never allow my hand to linger, or allow my fingers to grab hold, or to yank. Just a passing brush—just slight enough to feel the texture. And brief. Just long enough to allow your soul to transfer from you to me, so that I might maintain my preternaturally youthful appearance.

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The Shape of Things

When they talk about the miracle of life they always show—without fail—some idyllic scene with beautiful bodies and some mystical abstract dance of cells and pulsing bits. But where’s the horror in that? When your stepfather is going all brazos locos on your ass, doesn’t he still represent a perfectly choreographed dance of synchronized biological wonder? It’s funny that form doesn’t really follow function—not really. I mean sure, you can tell by his face that the man chasing you down the alleyway with a jagged piece of glass is upset, but does it really change his form? Does it split his face down the center to let spray a fountain of pus and redolence? Does a meshwork of dark sinew reach out from his crotch? I daresay not. He too is a poetic symbiosis, and you never even stopped to consider that, not for a second.

So what are these shapes we’re trapped in? Have you ever really looked at your hand? What an odd-shaped thing to be attached to, and with little shells at the tips. Why are we not perfectly spherical? It seems that a sphere is the natural form of a thing influenced only by itself. Anything not spherical then represents a reaction to external forces, an intent to head in one direction or the other. It’s like the perfect story: In the perfect story nothing happens. It’s when you take the decisions, and you’re actually whittling away at infinite possibility, that any action happens. And I’m certainly no fan of action.

When I was a wee tyke I had an irrational fear that my head was oblong. Kind of like Giger’s alien. I was so self-conscious about it that I didn’t like people approaching me from the side. I would turn my head to face them whenever possible to avoid being seen from a perspective from which my misshapen head would be obvious. I don’t think that way anymore, but it doesn’t matter so much anyway, because in my mind I am a sphere.

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What is it when the jar lid is on too tight, but you’re the only one who ever opens your jars, so really you’re just mad at yourself? What’s that? This is the now self—hugely wizened, of course—angry at the former, lesser self. But look: you’ll screw the lid on extra tight this time just out of spite for your future self. See if you can open that, you fuck. Now it’s on good.

What with all that anger? Can’t you just get along with yourselves? Are you trying to start a riot?

And what is it when you clear the last plate from the sink, and there, caught at the bottom of the drain screen, is one single fusilli noodle that escaped hours ago, and you find yourself getting sentimental over it? Is that normal? You stand there peering down at the lone fusilli noodle, and you think of all its friends who made it out after being in their box together for so long, and here lies a lone remnant, cold now, and… diminished somehow. You pick up the pale flaccid spiral and drop it into the garbage bag with grave resignation. Then you rub your fingers as you look out the window.

But again, maybe it’s better than the alternative: unadulterated rage. Nice try you pasta fuck! Come here, the drain’s too good for you. And you add it to the other escaped pastas in that crawlspace behind your toilet.

What’s that all about? That’s not normal at all.

Get better soon.

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Morning Mayhem

If it bleeds, it leads. Nowhere is this seen more consistently than on the local fake morning news. Good morning, KTVU. Enjoying your breakfast, KRON? If I’m not then it’s mainly because I’m being subjected to a daily freakshow horrorfest peddled by fearmongers who wouldn’t know actual news if Edward R. Murrow rose from his grave to deliver it to them personally… though I’m sure they would televise that. I decided to jot down some of the headlines on a few random mornings just to see if my suspicions were accurate. Let’s tune in, shall we?

Day 1: Possible hijack attempt! Holiday travel precautions! Traffic+Weather. Teacher victimizes children! Earthquake! Weapons inspections! Bin Laden healthy! Snipers!

Day 2: Missing toddler+suicidal father! Missing plane! Car vandalism! Triple shooting! Traffic+Weather. Priest assault! Earthquake!

Day 3: Criminal investigation on freighter! Companies going bankrupt! Weather+Traffic. Child molestation!

Day 4: Church shooting! UC sex scandal! Weather+Traffic. Cell phone accidents! Cable rates on the rise! Assisted living fire!

I’m pretty sure that these stories aren’t pure fabrication, and I’m just as sure that the picture we’re being presented with here is about as accurate as a dream I had last night about people with cat heads (traffic and weather notwithstanding). It’s great material if you’re feeling the need to feed the little macabre maw. Otherwise, I think you’ll generally get a more accurate picture of the daily zeitgeist from scamper.org.

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I’ve always been susceptible to colds, but this time I’m returning to the broths entirely. It sounds like a Tuvan throat singer in my right ear, especially when I move my head. It would almost be lyrical if not for the sound coming from my own throat, which is most like a basket of wire hangers upended into a wood chipper. So staying home is an imperative. Conduct experiments: see how long it’s possible to sleep on a futon without losing circulation in limbs. Cut own hair in mirror. Avoid blowing nose repeatedly by crafting nostril plugs out of aloe-infused tissue paper. On rolling a proper nostril plug, by me: tear tissue in half, then fold in half, turn, and fold in half again, then roll into nostril-caliber cylinder, rounding the jutting bits with the thumb. Never round with the index finger. The index finger doesn’t know from rounding. Divergence from the one true path will lead to thrombosis or asphyxiation. And always remember to remove nostril plugs before you answer the door.

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NASA’s mission page for HSF - STS-107. NASA’s official statement. Two community discussions: MetaFilter + SlashDot.

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Scamper Labs is a top drawer design boutique. The right-brained corporate parent to this humble grotto.

ScamperFilter has a Flipboard zine.