Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Sakura



In my adolescence, I dedicated much thought and consideration to the hair growing on my body -- or, more accurately, the hair not growing on my body. It's all so trivial now, but as a freshman in high school who would occasionally get teased for my lack of leg hair (although the teasing never approached anything that could today be considered or thought of as bullying), I wondered if I would go through life always with the glabrous legs of an Olympic swimmer. I imagine that many virgins feel the same way about their prospect of ever having sex. I know I did.

As Goethe said (and which numerous episodes of The Twilight Zone confirm), "Be careful what you wish for." By the time I was nearing adulthood, my legs were almost as shaggy as an English Terrier's. (I'm exaggerating, of course, but not by much.) If it weren't against the social norm, I could wear shorts in winter and stay warm. Conversely, wearing jeans in summer is something I religiously avoid, because why wear denim when I already have enough of a problem with the Yeti fur grafted to my lower extremities? Whenever I look at my legs, I'm reminded of a quaint Canadian film from the 80s called The Peanut Butter Solution. I was seven years old when I watched it. I suppose, in a way, that it was a prophecy.

In general, kids are pretty clueless, right? And I don't mean that in a condescending way; they just don't have the life experience or wisdom that comes from growing older. I wouldn't scoff at a ten-year-old and say, "What the fuck do you mean you've never read The Sun Also Rises?" In the same way, I don't begrudge a kid if I see him picking his nose in a supermarket or grabbing at his crotch because he has to pee. You figure that shit out later, hopefully.

Life is not without its share of cruel jokes -- a buxom woman gets breast cancer; a hirsute man's hair falls out from chemotherapy; the second pick in the 1986 NBA draft dies two days later from a cocaine overdose -- and ironic realities. So far, I've largely avoided both, but time is patient. It always will be.

Some years ago, a friend pointed out to me that I had an abnormally long eyebrow hair growing over my left eye. Embarrassed, I tried to pluck it out, which hurt like a motherfucker and made my eyes water. He plucked it out for me. It's easier to receive pain than to inflict it on yourself. Try breaking up with a gorgeous woman versus having her break up with you if you don't believe me.

That lone-wolf eyebrow hair, that ronin, however, would always come back, like a curry burp. Months would go by, and then one day I'd look at myself in the mirror and see it working its way out again, trying to outpace its brethren, to grow longer than them, to what ultimate purpose I didn't know, and still don't.

I eventually found myself starting to care for it. It was, after all, a part of me, and its -- no, his -- constant rebirth and Herculean growth affected me. I'm not delusional; I know that a hair growing on my eyebrow has no sentience...but isn't it pretty to think so?

I never gave him a name (because I'm not that weird), and I suppose I was too rough on him those first few years, twirling him between my thumb and forefinger when lost in thought until he broke, like a kid picking his nose in a supermarket. I was truly sorry when that happened, and sad that I'd have to wait months for his return.

But return he did. And he still does. I've experienced some tumult over the past decade, nothing too major in the overall scheme of things, but nonetheless stressful, and it's always nice to know that I have a constant, something to have with me when I'm otherwise feeling alone.

He's looking a little haggard these days, though. While brushing my teeth this morning, I noticed that he's curled back around on himself, like an Ouroboros. Maybe he'll fall out soon, like leaves in autumn.

If so, I hope he comes back again. Like cherry blossoms in spring.

---

There are more terrible things than can grow on a person's body than a single rogue hair. A single lone-wolf cell, a ronin, for one.

http://www.cancer.org/

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Patina (Chapter 3)






"Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain. We've encountered a storm system, so the turbulence might be a little rough until we can get out of it or get clearance to fly over or under it. Please keep your seat-belts fastened until then."

"Mr. Loy? Are you okay?"

"Hnhh?" Jake answered through his nose. He wasn't -- not okay, not OK, not okie dokie, or anything like that. His fists were balled together and his head was bowed in an abject trinity of prayer and terror and acceptance of fate. The doomed man trifecta. The plane lurched again, and Jake let out a barely audible squeal. A dog might have heard it, but not a human.

"Mr. Loy, I have to pee."

"So go pee, then," Jake said through gritted teeth.

"But the sign is on."

"So piss your pants, then! Which do you want more, to obey a sign or your bodily functions?"

"Mr. Loy, I'm scared. Can you take me to the laboratory?"

"It's the lavatory, but...Jesus, hell, just call it a bathroom, or a toilet. Better yet, call it the piss and shit closet."

The plane rocked back and forth, its frame shaking mightily through the storm as passengers white-knuckled their armrests and the flight attendants tried their best to appear aloof to the possible danger. The cabin lights were out. Then on, then out again.

"Mr. Loy?" Cody said through the commotion, "I don't have to visit the laboratory anymore." He began to cry. The kid had pissed his pants.

---

"Aw, hell. Aw, kid..." Jake said. "Hey, no -- no shame in that. Here...look, hey, let's get you cleaned up."

The plane rumbled and lurched again. Jake Loy ignored it. He took Cody to the back of the plane.

"Sir, please stay in your seat," an attendant said.

"No can do," Jake said. "I'm going to the laboratory to help my young friend recover some dignity. Some water spilled on his lap during the turbulence and I'm going to help him wash it off. Please knock on the door if you have some pajamas he could put on. "

---

"Thank you, Mr. Loy. I bet your mother was really great," Cody said. They had been moved to business class seats. "Did you get that from her?"

"I think I did, Cody. And she was. She was a great person. An amazing woman."

"Is she dead?"

"Sad to say, she is. But she's still here with me. Always will be."

"So you are an orphan."

"I guess so. I guess you're right."

"That sounds about right. Goodnight Mr. Loy."

---

Jake Loy relinquished his wardenship of little Cody -- hell, he never did get the kid's last name -- at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Wichita Airport. The kid's grandmother was waiting there outside of a purple Lincoln Continental with a bouquet of cotton candy the size of a basketball. Jake waved goodbye, but he was pretty sure the kid didn't see it. That's how kids are at that age, he supposed.

Still, as the car drove away, Jake was sure he could see the kid's face in the back seat turn and look at him with a toothy grin. Only it looked like there were too many teeth in his small mouth. And they looked sharpened. They glistened.

But that was probably all in his mind.








Monday, July 21, 2014

Patina (Chapter 2)



"So, Cody, tell me...are you an orphan or something?" Jake Loy said.

Cody shuffled his feet and furrowed his brow. "What's an orphan?" he asked.

"I guess that answers my question," Jake replied with a short laugh. There was no malice in it. "An orphan is a child whose parents are dead. I suppose if yours were you would have heard the term by now." The beverage cart came to their seats and a severe-looking female attendant of fifty or so -- maybe a little more, unlikely a little less -- asked Cody what he would like.

"A Coke, please," Cody said.

"Gotcha," the attendant said. "And you, sir?"

"Oh, I think I'll have a Coke, too, but throw some rum into mine," Jake said.

The attendant was pouring their drinks when some mild turbulence hit. Jake clutched the armrests to each side, clenched his jaw, and stared at the blank monitor on the back of the seat in front of him. The turbulence was over in less than twenty seconds.

"Didn't spill a drop," the attendant said, handing Cody his drink. Jake was still looking at the back of the seat, so Cody took Jake's drink from the attendant and placed it on his fold-down tray.

"Um, Mr. Loy?" Cody said after the attendant had passed down a few rows. Jake seemed to be in a trance. "Are you okay?"

That snapped him out of it. "Sure am," he said, although his voice lacked conviction. He saw that Cody wasn't buying it. The kid looked a little scared, so he tried his best to employ some levity. He picked up Cody's drink and sniffed it. Then he took a sip. Cody looked at him confused.

"Have to make sure," he said. "I had to check whether the stew gave you my drink by mistake. I promised the other stew that I'd look after you, and what kind of person would I be if I allowed a six-year-old kid to get drunk on an airplane?" He picked up his own drink and finished it in two huge swallows. Then he belched.

That made Cody giggle. "What's a stew?" he asked.

"A stew, young master, is a kind of hearty soup. It's thick and full of meat and vegetables."

His attempt at humor was lost on the kid, so Jake reached into his bag of tricks to try to right the course. He didn't have to dig deep. He belched again.

Cody didn't giggle; he guffawed.

---

"So, do you need a coloring book or something?" Jaked asked Cody, who looked a little bored.

"No thank you," Cody said. "I have my iPad Mini in my backpack, but it makes me dizzy when I'm traveling."

"Then why not watch TV? I'm sure they have cartoons and stuff," Jake said, gesturing toward Cody's monitor. "Does that make you dizzy as well?"

"Probably."

"Isn't that a pickle, then." Jake said. "Well, I have an idea, Kobe."

"Cody."

"I know, I'm just teasing. Here's what we'll do. You ask me a question, any question you like, and I'll ask you one after. Sound good?"

"Okay."

"You start."

Cody looked pensive for a second, maybe two, and then said, "So, Mr. Loy, tell me...are you an orphan or something?"

It was then that plane again hit turbulence. And it was much stronger than the first time.




Sunday, July 20, 2014

Patina (Chapter 1)



Jake Loy thumbed nervously through the pages of the SkyMall catalog. A Green Goblin paperweight. A Thanksgiving turkey fly swatter. He was hot, his shirt collar sticking to his neck. Air was blowing out of the vent above him, but there was no freon. It was like a dry handjob. Kansas, then Birmigham. Then Hell, probably.

"Excuse me, sir," a flight attendant said, disrupting his dumb reverie. "I have a young traveler who needs a seat. He's an unaccompanied minor, so by law I need to ask for your permission that he sit next to you. Would that be okay?"

"Is he an orphan or something?"

"Oh, well...I'm not sure," the attendant answered, somewhat taken aback. Then, with more composure, "I really don't think I would be at liberty to say if he were.

"Am I going to have to change his diapers? Is he going to be bawling the entire flight?"

The attendant looked indignant. "Sir, he's six years old. But never mind. I'll try to find him another seat."

"No, sorry, I don't mind," Jake said, quickly tucking the SkyMall catalog into the seat pocket in front of him. "Sorry if I sounded abrasive. It's just that I get nervous when I fly. I would be happy to sit next to the kid. Might provide a better distraction than what SkyMall or the in-flight movies have to offer. What's his name?"

---

"Hi, I'm Cody."

"Hi, Cody, my name is Jake. Jake Loy. Would you prefer the aisle or the window? I don't care either way. More leg room with the aisle, but the window offers a spectacular view of our great country. It's your call, champ."

"Um, I'll take the aisle," Cody said. "But is it okay if we switch later?"

"Deal," Jake said.

"Thank you," the attendant whispered to Jake with a wink. "Let me know if either of you big boys need something, okay?"

"Yes," Cody said.

"Will do," Jake followed.

The attendant walked back to her station as the plane began to taxi. The air conditioner started in earnest. Then take off. Flight.

---

 When the fasten-seat-belts sign turned off at 11,000 feet, Jake Loy turned to his young ad hoc ward and said, "So, Cody, tell me...are you an orphan or something?"






Friday, July 04, 2014

Independence Day! (Again)

In honor of Independence Day, I went with the search phrase drunk American (because that about sums up the beloved holiday) and the following is merely a smattering of what Google found.



P.S. Paula Abdul wins the award for Most Prominently Displayed Celebrity during said search. You go, girl!


Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Canada Day! (Redux)

In honor of Canada Day, I went with the search phrase drunk Canadian (because that about sums up the beloved holiday) and the following is merely a smattering of what Google found.


Friday, June 27, 2014

Expansion (b/w Contraction)




While relaxing at home this evening and occasionally defending myself from Flash's fearsome Adamantium claws and teeth*, a paid promotion disguised as a news story ran on CNN for Wagyu beef (rhyme unintentional, acknowledged).

I'm sure Wagyu beef is quite tasty. It looks tasty. But the advert claimed that Wagyu beef has "a long tradition of several decades."

Is several decades a long tradition? My daughter, God love her, is 11 years old. Technically, that's several decades. Does she have a long tradition of being a human being? At 36 years old, do I?

When did our perception of time collapse into such a small paradigm (rhyme unintentional, acknowledged, writer starts beat boxing)? Has it always been this way? I ask in earnest, because even if I multiply my age by 2, I can't fathom 72 years being a long tradition in raising cattle. Or in anything.

* I take Flashy von Doggie up on the roof when I get home so he can run around like a hellion and poop. It's always interesting to see grown men get spooked by such a tiny beast. Maybe, at least, he should be on a leash. Peace in the Middle East.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Prodigal Son


Real talk: I fully believe that LeBron James will sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers in free agency. This is not a sports-superstition attempt at a reverse-jinx, nor is it a Heat fan's defensive acceptance measure; I am 99.9% sure that LeBron will return to Cleveland this off-season*. If I'm wrong, cool. But I don't think I am.

And you know what? If I'm right, that's also cool.

I have enjoyed watching LeBron James play basketball for my favorite team for 4 years, for 2 NBA championships, and for 4 straight Finals appearances. He is unequivocally the best player on the planet, and it has been a pleasure to see him progress as a player and as a person during that time. Hopefully he re-signs and the Heat organization can make adjustments to their bench, sign some important role players**, and give it another go, but that doesn't seem to be the narrative, at least to my precognitive basketball brain.

LeBron James wants to be liked. That sentence is a tautology, of course, because who doesn't? But factor in the vitriol he received after leaving Cleveland, the absolute social-media holy war he's endured-- 2 titles made it go away; another Finals loss brought it back somewhat -- during this stint with the Heat, and it's not hard to see how the best player in the game, the most self-aware player in the game, wouldn't try to right the ship of how he is perceived.

Again, I'd be totally fine with that. Everyone likes a redemption story (although LeBron doesn't need one; he's already had two). But a return to Cleveland would make everything better -- at least initially -- for a disenfranchised franchise. This...this would be the narrative to truly seal an already secure legacy.

I won't be writing any angry Comic Sans letters to the guy if he doesn't return. I have so many good memories of this run. If he stays, great; if he returns to Cleveland, also great. My focus next season will be on the Heat, but if LeBron is in Cleveland, I'll save some League Pass room for dessert.

But if Bosh leaves I'm taking Aubrey Plaza hostage.


* Occam's Razor

** or Carmelo Anthony, which I'm not 100% ruling out, despite how pie-in-the-sky it is and how much I worry about how that experiment would probably take more than a full season and playoffs to work out in terms of cohesion.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Seneschal


I am under the employ of a man who, in recent weeks, I have become increasingly suspectful may be taken by devils. His name is Trevor Queen.

To be sure, Mr. Queen has always been -- for as long as I've known him, at least, which my ledger informs me is six months and a day -- the sort of man whose eccentricities repel some and invite others. I suppose I fall into the latter category. I lead a dull life, and for as long as I can recall, I have been attracted to human beings who, to society in general, are not considered particularly of the species homo sapien.

And so it was that when my aunt Elma informed me that her husband's acquaintance's friend, reportedly a weird fellow who kept mantices for pets and claimed to have been born with a mustache and fingernails as long as pen nibs, was looking for a clerk, I enthusiastically applied for the position.

I was (and still am) twenty-six years old. I had been living at home with my sickly mother and my cousin, Leona, after failing my surgical exam at the University of Edinburgh Medical school. I had never had a countenance for the gruesome, but my father, a renowned surgeon (as was his father before him), who was killed when the horse he was riding while playing polo got too excited by the match and bucked him, the fall breaking his neck, made my mother promise, as his dying wish, that I continue the family legacy.

So I did. Or at least I tried to. I passed all of my examinations, time after time. The horror of seeing cadavers every day, looking at the cold, dead skin of people who were sons and fathers, mothers and daughters, receded after a few years, and I became an engine. A perfectly molded engine to repair the weak, transform the afflicted, resurrect the dying.

But my hands could never stay still. All of the humanity, or loss thereof, took its toll on me. My mind was numbed to the sight of dead bodies, but my physical being could not be as callous. It bucked at me.

I was assigned to perform an autopsy on a child, a girl, three years old. Her skull was crushed. Her torso was covered in tar. I thought she must have been a poor child run over by a streetcar, and I told the professor as much. He asked me to open her up and see if my assumption could be confirmed.

I held that scalpel over that ruined child's belly, my hand trembling, prepared to make my incision. Then I dropped the knife. It clinked on the cold stone floor and stayed there, motionless, like a dead fish washed ashore.

"Mr. Stoakes," my professor said, "you will never be a surgeon. You have neither the spleen nor the heart."

"I know," I said as I collected myself and walked out of the theater. "Thank you."

---

It was a Wednesday. I was met at the train station by Gregory, Mr. Queen's assistant. His severe arched eyebrows and bowler hat, which lent his visage a look particular to shadows falling from trees at dusk, belied his genial nature. When he spoke, my ears perked up immediately.

"Oh, Mr. Stoakes, so glad to see you. Here, let me take your bags. There is a cab waiting, don't worry. I trust you haven't waited long, have you? No? Good. Well, then, shall we be off? Mr. Queen is eager to see you, and I feel a tad guilty at having had the pleasure first. Let's keep that a secret between you and me, haha, promise? The cab has cushions, so you needn't worry about your piles on these bumpy streets. Are you hungry? No? I thought you might be, so I prepared something, veal and cheese. The cheese Roquefort, the veal I don't know. But if your appetite isn't present, more for me then, hee."

"I will eat if I can," I said. "Right now, I would rather sleep."

"Indeed, indeed! I can already tell that you and Sir Trevor are going to get along terrifically."

"Terrifically," I said, and then I fell asleep.

---

July 9, 1878: Among his office possessions, Trevor Queen keeps an ivory paperweight on his desk of a dead greyhound with a rictus smile, its inscription reading, in beautiful calligraphy, forever.

I cannot wait to meet the man. But first I must sleep.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Back in King's Landing






Note: This post plays with the geography and characters of Game of Thrones to serve my own basketball analogies. There might be spoilers.

In fewer than twelve hours, Game 3 of the 2014 NBA Finals between the Heat and Spurs will tip off. The series is split 1-1, and the Heat have home floor for the next two games. That provides some comfort for me, but that comfort is about as small as Tyrion Lannister is diminutive. The Spurs are at the Wall, and they have the man-and-giant power to breach the gate (Matt Bonner is Ygritte here, by the way).

No one is safe on the Iron Throne, and having home court advantage after taking Game 2 shouldn't provide the Heat with much comfort or confidence. As the competition and media have echoed during these playoffs, these Finals, you can never sit comfortably on the throne. If it isn't some unworthy usurper like Lance Stephenson trying to blow a maester's air-borne poison into your ear, it's the AT&T Center's air conditioning breaking to simulate the heat of the sands of Dorne*.

These two teams are like Marvel Comics' The Blob fighting the Juggernaut (the illustrated definition of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object). Want proof? Here's Grantland's netw3rk with the -- unbelievable -- stats:

Dating from the 2011-12 season, up to and including last night’s Game 2, the Heat and the Spurs have played 14 games. In those 14 games, the Heat have scored a total of 1,385 points and the Spurs have scored 1,386 points. That — in the most simplistic, reductive of terms — is the minuscule margin between these two teams over the past three full seasons. One point.

 The Heat haven't lost a home game this postseason. But neither had the Spurs until Sunday night, and they'll be seeking retribution. It's hard to protect your home floor when you have 100,000 men -- and Tiago Splitter, who is the wooly mammoth here -- marching on your gate, trying to breach your defense to pull your banners down, and seek vengeance.

Game 3 starts at 9 PM EST, 10 AM on the Peninsula. Hopefully the Wall will hold.

Nock, draw, loose.

* I don't actually believe this. But it will be a fun bit of basketball lore for years to come.