The following piece was written in February 1997, under the pseudonym "Daedalus," for Alexis Massie's now-defunct Web site Pandora's Box of Tricks.
Manhattan. Brick and concrete—trench bottom. Nose, mouth: streamers of breath break for the surface. Idling tourist buses: exhaust clouds wrestle like dragons in the street, red-lit, bellies pulsing fire. Black air, too many people.

Concert at the Garden, one hour. Time to kill. Wander. Hands in pockets, eyes on sidewalk, cold in lungs with tiny ripping teeth. Them: pairs, schools, packs—oblivious, shrill. Me: wraith, alone. Belly a fast-food rock—still hungry, not for food. Wander.

West 33rd. Red neon, lurid, magnetic—half a block. Walk past, don't look. Sidewalk sign, peripheral glimpse: XXX, private booths, live fantasy. Hungry. Too many people. Keep walking.

Streets: rich kids in clumps, fuzz-mustached cops, scraggly arms waving cups, frowning evening-wear elders, glint-eyed scalpers, open-mouthed tourists, taxis like sharks, outcroppings of thugs. Traffic. Noise. Cold.

West 33rd.

Red neon.

Full circle. Me: comet, moth. Shit.

Paper cup in my face. No thought—quarter, clink. Bum: gap smile, thank you happy new year god bless, bow—underworld doorman.

Inside.

Fluorescent white light, cloying sweet air. Yards of glassed-in shelves—sleaze for sale on video. Customers: male, middle-aged, Caucasian—quiet, detached, like art patrons. Exception: young couple, giggling, embarrassed, excited. Clerks: male, middle-aged, Middle Eastern—guns under counter? Of course, don't be stupid.

Stairs, glance up—balcony landing, dim. Doors painted red. Woman on stool, legs on railing: thighs like fat loaves of bread. Sign: fantasy booths. Glance down.

Browse: Nasty Sluts Who Like to Eat Cum #28, Nasty Sluts Who Like to Eat Cum #29, Red Hot Snatches, Anal Cheerleaders, Lez Be Friends. Stomach churn.

Eyes to balcony. Fat woman on stool looking down: hey, baby, come on up.

Shit. Look away. Lungs: no breath. Out out out out out!

Cold air.

Got away. Me: good! Good: me!

Concert at the Garden: forty-five minutes. Wander. Crowds, lights, traffic, noise. 7th Avenue, Times Square, Broadway, Sixth Avenue ... West 33rd. Red neon. Ellipse. Shit.

Inside, up stairs, fat woman on stool: dingy panties, dingy bra, dingy huddled shawl. Fat woman, standing, soulless smile: here for a show? Quick nod. Fat woman: that's five dollars for tokens, thanks honey, go there into booth D.

In booth, close door, lock knob. Coin slot, full-length glass panel, opaque cover: who is on the other side? Me: eagerness, despair, loathing, eagerness, despair. Who?

Voice from speaker grille: put the tokens in the slot.

Clink, clink, clink, clink, clink.

Cover slide open, through glass—fat woman from stool. Idiot me. Of course.

Loathing, despair. Telegram from soul: leave, leave, leave! Deer in headlights, rabbit in snare.

Fat woman: ten dollars for topless, twenty for all nude, thirty for dildo.

Autonomous hands: ten dollars through slot. Don't have twenty.

Bra off. Fat woman: take down your pants. No, no, no! Autonomous hands: obey her, disobey me.

Through glass: fat hands fondle mudpie breasts, expressionless eyes. Me: nothing, limp. Shiver, ice. Loathing. Two minutes? Five? Ten?

Eternity.

Cover slide shut. Unfreeze. Buckle pants, zip, tuck: out out out! Fat woman: already back on stool, spider settling in web.

Stupid residual courtesy: thank you.

From her, radaring back—hostility, scorn, nothing else.

Flash down stairs, outrun the scorn, outside—arrow toward the Garden. Cold air. Traffic. Crowds. Noise.

Resolution: never again. Resolution: know self, like self, respect self. Resolution: fix self.

Scorn clinging to my back, didn't outrun it after all. Scorn whispers: only one fix. Scorn whispers: disappear, vanish. Scorn whispers: end it.

Me: fuck you, scorn! Fuck you! Fuck you!

Tough words, magic words. Scorn shivers apart and flees, flees into a darker place than this city, this night, this world.

But it will stitch itself together and return. Always does.

Hope: hope my own stitches will hold.

Concert at the Garden. Half hour. Go. Thaw. Dance.

Live.


Crossposted from Memos from the Moon
Back in June, during the week I attended the Starry Heaven workshop in Flagstaff, organizer extraordinaire Sarah K. Castle put together a little panel discussion on the interactions between science fiction and actual science. Titled "Science + Fantasy = Science Fiction," the panel brought seven Wine Loft Panel Discussion, June 24, 2010 scientists and writers together to talk about how science inspires science fiction and vice versa.

Besides Sarah, who is both geologist and SF writer, the participants included writer Bradley P. Beaulieu ([livejournal.com profile] brad_beaulieu), writer and futurist Brenda Cooper ([livejournal.com profile] bjcooper), biologist and computer scientist Dan Greenspan (blog), biologist and physiologist Stan "Bud" Lindstedt, and science historian David S.F. Portree ("Beyond Apollo").

Everyone's five- to seven-minute presentations were fascinating, and I wish I had time and memory sufficient to recap them all. Instead, though, I've been meaning for a couple of months now to post the loose notes I wrote up for my little presentation. Here they are:

"Hacking Reality" )
Okay, I have to come clean somewhere, so you just got voted my confessor. Lucky you.

So Laura and I started playing Wednesday nights in a pub trivia league late last spring. It's a uniform game that takes place in different bars not just all over Chicago but in several cities around the country. Our first few outings were dismal, but gradually we improved to the point where we took several firsts at our home bar, and we regularly place near the top of the pack. During this past season, our team—then known as The Reigning Cats and Dogs—did well enough to get invited to the city league championship match on February 13th. We placed 15th out of about 25 teams.

Using cell phones to look up answers is strictly forbidden, and we never cheat on that score. Sometimes, though, if we're nervous about a question, we'll look up the answer after we've already turned in our response. We're there to have fun, but we also love winning, and we can get pretty competitive with the other regular teams. It's a friendly competition, though.

Besides Laura and me, we have a few regulars on the team, most consistently Diane and Chuck. On a normal night, we have three or four players. There is no real limit on team size, though. We've had as many as six and as few as two. Everyone has categories they're strong and weak in. Laura does great at business and advertising and celebrity questions. Diane has TV and politics. I'm good at music and science and geography. Chuck has history, and he's pretty good at sports too. We generally dread sports questions, though, and there are usually a lot of them, so we recently recruited a new player, Randy, to help shore up that weak area.

Also, we have a regular waitress at the bar who's taken a liking to our team. I'll call her Devin. She likes to get in on the act too, so sometimes when we're stuck on a question she'll drop by, under cover of taking our beer order, and brainstorm with us on the answer. She has saved our bacon on more than one occasion.

Last Wednesday night, for the first time, I was the only team member able to attend. I considered blowing it off, but I wanted to get out of the house and have a few beers, and playing alone sounded like an epic challenge. For the new season we've changed our team name to Question Authority, but as long as our assigned league number is on our answer slips, we can call ourselves whatever we like on any given evening, so that night I called my team of one the Lone Punman. Nervously, and not without a great deal of self-consciousness, I settled in at our regular table to wait for the game to start.

I usually send a few Twitter updates from the matches, and much has been made there and on Facebook about my performance that evening. But I'm here to semi-publicly confess something that my teammates already know—I'm not as amazing as I've led people to think I am. Here is a detailed recap of the evening's match, from my perspective, that I wrote up the next day for my fellow Question Authorities.

The play-by-play, in excruciating detail )
I read the following essay, which appears in somewhat different form in the epilogue to The Accidental Terrorist, in the Essay Fiesta series at The Book Cellar in Chicago, on December 21, 2009.


There is no worse feeling than, five minutes after some unpleasant confrontation has left you tongue-tied, humiliated and confused, smacking yourself on the forehead and exclaiming, "Oh, my God! That's what I should have said!"

This is not that kind of a story. This is the story of how I once delivered the perfect rejoinder, in the moment, when it counted. I tell it not to demonstrate how smart, suave, or clever I am, but because it so rarely happens that way with me. In fact, this may be the only story of its kind I have.

This happened in December 2003, at a Christmas party my wife Laura and I threw at our apartment in Queens, New York. Our parties, if I do say so, were legendary, always with an interesting mix of people, and always with good booze, and plenty of it.

Among the many invitees were my old, old friend Katrina and her new husband Bernard. Katrina and I had gone to high school together in Utah, dated seriously for a while afterward, and stayed in touch over the intervening years. Bernard was Dutch, and nine years her junior. They met in graduate school at the University of Fairbanks, where Katrina finished a master's degree in microbiology. They had just moved to Connecticut and taken jobs with a big pharmaceutical company. Our Christmas party was my first time meeting Bernard. He struck me as a nice enough fellow when I took his coat and hat at the door, if a little reticent. I put it down to the nerves you get at a party where you don't know anyone.

But an hour of sampling our beverage offerings loosened Bernard's tongue considerably. Did I say "sampling" our offerings? A better word might have been "plundering."

I was talking with a small group of friends in a corner of the kitchen when the young Dutchman—a newly minted doctor of chemical engineering—came sauntering over and inserted himself in the conversation. In a slurred accent, he said, "You know what I just found out that I did not know before? I found out in the car on the way down here. This guy here"—he indicated me with the wineglass in his hand—"he used to be engaged to my wife."

I looked around the small group I'd been chatting with. It included my long-time friend Bob, and also my friend Elizabeth, who is blind.

"Well, this is awkward," I said.

"Yeah," Bernard went on, "he like got engaged to her at some airport."

This was true. It was the Salt Lake International Airport, seventeen years earlier. I was about to get on a plane and leave for two years as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—the Mormons. Katrina and I had only been dating for a few weeks at the time, but we had fallen desperately in love—as people often do when an attraction manifests and the time to act on it is short. I wanted her to wait for me while I was away saving souls in the wilds of . . . Canada, and she had been dropping big hints that a certain question might serve to seal that deal.

I didn't like the intent look on Bernard's face, nor his belligerent tone. I hadn't been in a fight since junior high (Jason Peterson), but I really didn't want Elizabeth caught in the middle if things were about to turn violent. I tried to play it casual.

"That was a really long time ago," I said. "We were kids. I was nineteen."

"Yeah," said Bernard, "and my wife was twenty."

"Time to change the subject, Bill," said Bob, who among other jobs had worked as a merchant seaman. "You're only digging a deeper hole."

"Can you believe this?" Bernard said to the group at large, spreading his arms and sloshing some of his wine on the floor. "I only just found out. That's a pretty big thing."

I suffer, I'm afraid, from the delusion that reason and calm words can actually make a difference in the world. "Not really, it's not," I said in an offhand tone. "It didn't mean anything. To Mormons, getting engaged is like a pastime. It's a sport, it's just what you do. It's not the same as for other people."

This, also, was true. Mormons so heavily stress finding a mate and getting married that women are considered old maids at 21. But by the same token, engagements made under that intense pressure can also be rather fragile. I myself was engaged no less than five more times before it finally took, which didn't even match my father's record of seven engagements, one marriage.

Of course, by the time I did get married, I had long abandoned the LDS faith, as you might have deduced from the copious alcohol at our Christmas party. Which had somehow gotten me into this tense and uncomfortable conversation.

Bernard was undaunted by my footnotes to his pronouncements. Unfazed, he addressed the group at large, unsteady on his feet. "You know what else I found out? There was something about a ring, this ring—made out of wrapping paper?"

I looked around the group again. "Foil," I said. "It was the foil wrapper from a stick of chewing gum."

I was nineteen, had never lived away from home, and was about to embark on a two-year experiment in poverty. No way I could afford a real ring. So when I got down on one knee in front of Katrina in that airport departure lounge, I pulled out a foil gum wrapper folded twice lengthwise, wrapped it around her ring finger to size it, tore off the excess length, and fastened the ends together with a piece of Scotch tape I had stuck to the ATM card in my wallet. Voila! Instant engagement ring.

Of course, it was worth about as much as I'd paid for the gum. I came home two years later only to have Katrina tell me that she'd met someone else while I was away. (That ended up being her first husband, whom I'll call . . . Jerkface.)

"Yeah, yeah, that was it," said Bernard, wagging a finger at me. "A gum wrapper. And you know what else?" He leaned in close enough for me to gag on his breath, but without lowering his voice any. "She still has it. She still has that ring."

I was stunned, completely stunned, but I tried not to let it show as I delivered my verbal judo flip, my coup de grâce.

"That's nothing, Bernard," I said, patting him on the shoulder. "I still have the gum."

For a second there, Bernard looked like he believed me. Then everyone laughed good-naturedly, and he did too. The situation was defused. Bernard wandered peacefully away in search of other entertainment.

"You really dodged a bullet there, pal," Bob told me.

As I watched poor Bernard drift around the party showing people his stomach tattoo, I realized that I probably had. Back in 1988, that is, when Katrina broke up with me.


Crossposted from Memos from the Moon
Last April I wrote the first draft of a story called "Care and Feeding of Your Piano." It's a short, humorous piece written entirely as excerpts from the interactive instruction manual for a bioengineered piano*.

Armed with some suggestions from my writing group, I sat in my Baltimore-area hotel room a month and a half later and spent two hours applying some heavy revisions to the sucker, which including reordering many chunks of text to achieve more comic juxtapositions. I sync'd the laptop with the USB memory stick I always carried as backup—at least, I presume I did, because that had long been my habit—then rushed over to Balticon for my scheduled reading. I read that story and one called "Timesink" (which was then and is still forthcoming in Electric Velocipede) directly from my computer screen. The reading seemed to go over pretty well, at least according to Jamie Rubin, who was there.

In June, as I prepared to attend the Blue Heaven workshop, I got frustrated with all the cruft slowing down my laptop, so I wiped it and reinstalled Windows XP. At the end of that month, we moved to Chicago. As we unpacked, I became more and more uneasy the longer my black Manhattan Portage shoulder bag, which I was looking for, failed to turn up. I always carried my USB memory stick in a little Velcro'd pocket on the front of it. The shoulder bag has never turned up, one of the very few casualties of our move.

It wasn't until we'd been here a month or more that I went to the desktop machine to take another look at my revised version of "Care and Feeding." I was going to give it a quick polish-and-trim and get it out there—first stop, New Yorker "Shouts & Murmurs" submission. (Why not, right?)

But what appeared before my eyes was not my lovely revised version of the story but my first draft. Apparently, in all the excitement of preparing for the move, I had never sync'd the memory stick to my desktop machine. Fine, I figured, I'll just have to get it off the laptop.

But it wasn't there either. That's when I remembered I had wiped the machine in June, and the story directory there was identical to the one on the desktop machine. With mounting horror, I tried a couple of different low-level scans on the laptop, but to no avail. The revised draft was gone.

It took me about another six months to work up the energy to tackle re-revising my first draft. That's what I did Sunday, taking a break from the minor revisions to The Accidental Terrorist that are my focus here for the next week or so. It took me all day to achieve what felt like a reasonably successful recreation of what I did in that Baltimore hotel room, far longer than those original revisions had taken. At the end of the day, I printed out the story and read it aloud to Laura while she cooked.

I made some notes on the manuscript as I read, as I usually do. Yesterday I went to the desktop machine to pull up the story and fix the elements I'd noted. What appeared before me was the original, untouched first draft. I was puzzled. I clearly recalled syncing the laptop to the desktop machine after printing the manuscript the day before, but perhaps I had goofed something up.

I turned on the laptop, which is where I had done the revisions. I brought up the story. I felt a knot in my stomach at the realization that this, too, was the original draft.

I had sync'd the wrong way, overwriting my revised draft with the original. I swear, something in my subconscious is out to get this story.

At least this time I have a printout of what I did. All I need to do is type it back in. (No scanner here for an OCR shortcut.) Of course, all the stalling blogging I've done so far today will demonstrate how mountainous even that simple task seems to me right now.

I remember reading recently how Stephen King has lost a couple of partial novel manuscripts without a trace, so I don't feel like quite the dumbass I might. Anyone have a similar tale of woe?


* The Maedong & Daughters pNano® cG Mark VI.2, to be precise, the only autotropic concert grand piano with true Biostatic Action™.
There is a literary agency directly above me, on the 13th floor of this office building. (And thank god we're in a building that's not afraid to admit it has a 13th floor!) Sometimes when the 12th floor men's room is occupied, I go up to the 13th floor, and inevitably I see, through the glass of the agency's door, a little spaniel of some sort lying on the floor, asleep. I never see any people.

On my most recent visit to the 13th floor, though, I saw people in the office but no spaniel. This is not a story about mysterious happenings on the 13th floor, but it is a story about a runaway spaniel, and I was reminded of it by the absence of the agency dog. This happened this past Saturday night, as Laura and I were on our way to a wedding celebration.

Shaggy dog story )

Moral of the story? Um, if your dog is missing, don't give your wallet to a random stranger?

And for God's sake, don't let go of the leash!
For the past few days, I've thought I might smell just a dash, just a soupçon, just one wafer-thin mint's worth of natural gas in the kitchen. I would sniff, and Laura would tell me I was crazy. It happens.

Last night I thought I smelled it, and this time Laura allowed as how she might smell it too. I didn't call ConEd immediately, having a vague memory of a similar situation in my Brooklyn apartment and being made to understand by the man who came to check it out that I had been kind of silly not to know this wasn't the dangerous kind of gas smell.

Hair-raising scrapes and pulse-quickening reversals ahead! )
The first science fiction magazine I ever saw, read, subscribed to, submitted to, and was rejected by was Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. Back in 1983, when I was almost 16 years old, my father brought a copy home for me after it became clear to him that writing SF was just simply going to be something that I did, and there would be no use complaining about it. He found the magazine at a 7-Eleven and showed me the address for fiction submissions. It was a generous gesture on his part, especially since a few years earlier he had forbidden me to read the evil stuff.

Asimov's Science Fiction, June 1983 That first issue had a Fred Pohl story on the cover, I recall, "The High Test." I read the magazine greedily, then called the phone number inside to subscribe. The woman on the other side of the line wanted me to give a credit card number. It took some doing, but I convinced her to enter my subscription without one, and to bill me later. I'm not sure why I didn't just mail in a subscription card. I think I was just too excited to get my subscription started.

Before long, I had my first rejection in hand—a photocopied sheet of possible reasons my story was not of use to Asimov's, with editor Shawna McCarthy's second-generation signature at the bottom. Crushed but undeterred, I sent in another story. Same outcome.

Every time the new issue arrived, I would read it cover to cover. Those pages are where I first read Lucius Shepard, Bruce Sterling, James Patrick Kelly, Kim Stanley Robinson, John Kessel, Michael Swanwick, Nancy Kress, Connie Willis, Michael Bishop, Norman Spinrad, Dan Simmons, and a host of other exemplary short fiction writers I'm forgetting now. I still have many of those issues, the ones with the stories that affected me most. "Speech Sounds" by Octavia Butler is one of the first that comes to mind. More even than the novels I had long read, those stories were my first real education in the art and craft of writing science fiction.

Asimov's Science Fiction, April/May 2006 I would lie in bed some nights and picture myself in that company. I would picture my name on the cover of Asimov's.

Years went by. Editors changed. I kept writing and submitting stories. Eventually I started making sales—to other magazines. I made a lot. I even landed Shawna McCarthy as my agent and received a Nebula nod. And still that stack of Asimov's rejections got higher and higher. Something like 50 sheets high.

Then last year an email came from Sheila Williams, the newest Asimov's editor. She had received, read, and wanted to buy my novella "Inclination." The streak was officially broken.

Today [livejournal.com profile] asphalteden dropped by my office. He hand-carried me my contributor's copies of the April/May 2006 Asimov's, which should be available on newsstands early next week. (I do have the tremendous good fortune of working ridiculously close to the Dell Magazines offices.)

Twenty-three years later, my name is on the cover of Asimov's. I will admit to having to swallow a lump in my throat. I'm glad that young, starry-eyed kid is still around to see this—especially in an issue that Sheila describes in her editorial as coming-of-age–themed.
Yes, we all seem to be more up in arms today about James Frey and his partially made-up memoir than we are about domestic wiretaps, freedom of information in China, and terrorists taking power in Palestine. And it makes sense to me why.

Countless hordes of people feel like they were lied to by James Frey. The reason this is more upsetting than being lied to by the President and his cronies—which happens and continues to happen on a regular basis—is that we're used to being lied to by politicians. We may be appalled by it, but we take this as expected behavior.

Writers, however, are a breed apart. Yes, their main job is to entertain us, but when they're doing their job well they are saying something true to us about what it means to be human, something that resonates in us, the readers, to our very cores. Thousands upon thousands of people felt that James Frey had told them something very resonant and true about their own lives, only now it's come out that what he said was, in many ways, made up. Of course people are upset. Of course they feel betrayed. On some level it must feel like finding out your spouse has been leading a double life.

I feel betrayed as well, but not because I read and believed A Million Little Pieces. I have not read the book. I feel betrayed as a writer on behalf of my profession. James Frey's responsibility as a writer was to tell the truth, and he failed to live up to that responsibility.

Much more frothing on about what I mean by that )

Catch-none

Oct. 8th, 2004 03:58 pm
When I first secured my own domain, shunn.net, one of the pleasures of that vanity acquisition was catch-all email forwarding. What this meant was that any email sent to shunn.net—whether hunkylitfox@shunn.net, scumsuckingasswipe@shunn.net or mr.mxyzptlk@shunn.net—would end up in my inbox. In essence, I had an infinite set of email addresses to call my own.*

This was back in those heady days when spam was still a relatively scarce and benign offense, though even then the prudent were being warned not to put "mailto" URLs on their web sites, owing to the many robots out harvesting just such creatures to feed into their nefarious spam machines.

Over the years, as the tide of spam has risen, I've applied an increasing rigorous series of filters to hold back the onslaught. I've watched my daily spam intake increase logarithmically—maybe one a day back in the day, then ten, then a hundred, then a thousand. Yes, a thousand.

Part of this was due, I admit, to having placed many of those pesky bill@shunn.net links on my site. By the time I realized I seriously needed to scour them, the damage was done. My email address was out there, prominently listed amongst the ingredients for spam. But that was not all of it. Spammers grew more clever by leaps and bounds. They took to running whole dictionaries of common and not-so-common first names through their software, pairing each with domain names that anyone could glean from a handy DNS server. I received spam targeted at everyone from aaron@shunn.net to zusu@shunn.net.

I began filtering for spam at the client level, but then the spammers started targeting long lists of last names. smith@shunn.net, jones@shunn.net, and hickenlooper@shunn.net all were wooed with offers of low remortgaging, ch34p v14gr4, and penile enhancement. I erected my fortress walls higher, applying filters at the server level as well as at the client level.

Still the floodwaters continued to rise as spammers came up with ever-cleverer techniques for foiling the ever-cleverer filters. But even as good as the filters became, if I didn't leave my email client running all night, it could take upward of half an hour for my software to download and process all the messages that arrived in the course of eight short hours. I finally shut down bill@shunn.net entirely, shifting the burden of my personal correspondence to a different address that I'm not stupid enough to print here.

Still the levels rose.

I'm not sure quite why I waited so long—perhaps because I was loath to lose any of the increasingly rare real email messages suspended in that rising tide. But today something snapped, as I awoke to the prospect of downloading more than three thousand email messages to find the wheat amidst the chaff. Projected out over a full day, that's ten thousand emails in 24 hours. That's just unsupportable.

My catch-all forwarding is no more. I have set up a bare handful of email addresses where messages can actually get through to me, but everything else at shunn.net, and indeed at any of the other domains I now own, but everything else will bounce. And the bounces contain a message that wishes the ingestion of shards of fused silicon dioxide and subsequent painful expiration upon the senders of unsolicited commercial email.

So far today, since slamming the fortress gates shut this morning, exactly two spam messages have gotten through. I feel as if, having lain awake at night for months upon months while the neighbors run heavy excavation and construction equipment, they've finally been evicted and I can hear the crickets chirping again. Ah, blissful quiet!

If only I wasn't certain those two messages represent the leading edge of another slow logarithmic assault.


* This, of course, is not literally true. There is an upper limit on the allowable length of an email address, which means the set isn't really infinite. It's just really fucking big.
Ladies, there's a rather delicate topic that's been weighing on my mind of late, and I feel it urgently begs addressing. I will attempt to be circumspect.

For about a year now, I've been hearing and reading in various places reports of women's disgust for men on the subways and buses who sit with their legs spread wide, airing out their, er, jewel purses. While I share these ladies' unease at the blatant and provocative display of these, er, squirrel hoards, and deplore the way practitioners of said sitting position so often take up a seat and a half or more on crowded conveyances with their callously splayed limbs, I feel it incumbent upon me to point out that your male fellow travelers are in all likelihood not truly attempting to impress you with the contents of their, er, fruit baskets, except possibly in an entirely unconscious evolutionary sense.

These men may indeed be clods, but they are clods in the sense of blithe social obliviousness rather than one of creepy cloddish lasciviousness. My attention having been called to the queasy-making effects of this practice on the distaff sex, I've been putting forth a concerted effort to monitor the degree of the interior angle between my own resting appendages, and I've been horrified to discover that even a male as relatively enlightened as myself tends to open his, er, equipment locker to public inspection during unguarded moments on the commute. I have striven mightily to keep my knees in close proximity but have discovered to my dismay that this necessitates concentrated effort. I'm sorry indeed to report that the airing of the, er, lumber bin would appear to be the natural state of the seated male Homo sapiens.

It's all in the construction of the pelvis bone, you see. The way our femurs connect makes the leg turn naturally outward when sitting. To draw our knees together, our thigh muscles must flex, must perform work, must burn actual calories. I say this not to excuse our troglodytishness but merely to explain that our wretched behavior is directed at you only on a genetic level, not a conscious one, and that when our, er, birthday parcels are pointing your way we've merely momentarily relaxed our vigilence, if indeed we possessed any in the first place, in exhaustion.

With knees locked firmly together and thighs a-tremble, I remain
yr humble servant
The following remarks were delivered at the Sheraton City Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, on the occasion of the Davis High School (Kaysville) 1984 class reunion. The opening paragraph is in response to master of ceremonies Jodi Allison, my employment by the National Council on the Aging having prompted from her some mordant comment or another.


I'll tell you how I'm doing with that aging thing, Jodi. I'm still 36. At least until tomorrow.

I hope you'll forgive me if I read from my notes. I'm afraid if I wing it I'll start talking like a New Yorker from sheer nerves. Anyway, it's an honor and a humbling experience to stand before you on this beautiful Friday the 13th and remember the Davis High School Class of '84. Looking out over this crowd—man, a lot's changed since high school. Speaking for myself, I don't think I'd even fit in my locker anymore. But that's why we're here tonight—change. We've come together to celebrate not just old times but having survived all the changes between then and now. So when Cheri asked me to speak, I started thinking what it was like in that year George Orwell made ominous, 1984, and how different our world is two decades later from the one we knew then.

Let's go back to May of 1984 for a few minutes and try to remember what it was like. Ronald Reagan was in the White House and we didn't know for sure about the Alzheimer's yet, and Walter Mondale was shortly to chose Geraldine Ferraro as the first (and so far only) woman to run for vice-president on a major-party ticket. The Iran-Contra scandal was still two years from breaking, the Berlin Wall was five years from falling, and the Soviet Union, the only significant threat to world peace most of us could imagine, was seven years from collapsing under its own weight. The space shuttles Challenger and Columbia were both still flying, and the president would not use the term "AIDS" in public for another year. Closer to home, Scott Matheson was governor of the state. Today his son is running for the same office, against the son of chemical mogul Jon Huntsman. In sports, John Stockton had just been drafted from Gonzaga by the Utah Jazz. Karl Malone would be drafted from Louisiana Tech the following year.

The Billboard #1 hits so far that year were "Owner of a Lonely Heart" by Yes, "Karma Chameleon" by Culture Club, "Jump" by Van Halen, "Footloose" by Kenny Loggins, "Against All Odds" by Phil Collins, "Hello" by Lionel Richie, and, the week we graduated, "Let's Hear It for the Boy" by Deniece Williams. The Police were the most popular band in the world, Sting was still cool, and Darin Goff was the only one in the school who'd heard of R.E.M. (And Darin, you'll be pleased to hear my father still doesn't like me hanging out with you.) You could like new wave or hair metal but not both, and no one would ever have guessed that in 2004 you could put on your white socks and sandals and sign up for a week-long Caribbean cruise with Styx, Journey, and REO Speedwagon. Oh, yeah, and we mostly listened to this stuff on cassette or LP. The compact disc had been around for a year or two, but most of what you could buy on CD was classical music.

In movies, the Star Wars saga had ended the year before—or so we thought. The top flicks the year so far had been Footloose, Police Academy ... One, Romancing the Stone, and the one I cut seminary to see, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The Kaysville Theater was a year away from getting picketed when it showed its first R-rated movie, Beverly Hills Cop, and still to come that summer were Star Trek III, Ghostbusters, Gremlins, The Karate Kid, and Purple Rain. (Purple Rain. Man. Last month my wife and I had front row seats at Madison Square Garden to see Prince, together with Morris Day & The Time. What a show. It's funny how nostalgic we get for music we didn't even listen to when it was new.)

On television the top shows were Dallas, Dynasty, and The A-Team. M*A*S*H had been over for a year, and Cheers was only two years old. Seinfeld was still six years in the future, Friends ten, and The Sopranos was, you know, fuhgeddaboutit.

The state of the art in home computers was the Apple IIe, which had a ceiling of a whopping 128 kilobytes of memory. Today I carry one thousand times as much storage capacity on my wrist, in the form of a USB drive built into my watch, and at least fifty times as much as what existed in the entire computer lab at Davis High. And even that is just a tiny fraction of what comes today with the lowest-end home computer.

The Internet existed in 1984, but it linked only government, university, and research institutions. If you went online, you were probably dialing into a bulletin-board system somewhere. On today's Internet, it may indeed seem that Big Brother is watching far us more closely than in 1984, but on the other hand we have a much better view of him. The sum total of human knowledge is at our fingertips, just a Google search away, right alongside and sometimes indistinguishable from warnings about organ-harvesting rings in Cabo San Lucas, pleas for help getting money out of Nigeria, and lists of what kids in 2004 no longer know that kids from 1984 did. Back then the research for this little summation would have taken me half a day at a good library. Instead I did it at my kitchen table in less than an hour while my laptop computer played Beethoven sonatas over a wireless network connection to my desktop computer in the next room.

Okay, that's a little of what the world was like when we were in high school, but what about high school itself? In a way, every one of us went to a different high school, with different schedules and different teachers and different friends. That's one of the things that makes a reunion like this so interesting—comparing and contrasting our different memories to get a more complete picture of what that time was really like. So keeping in mind how subjective this is, I want to share some of the random things I remember from high school.

I remember the teachers. I remember English class with Mrs. Storey, who made discussing Faulkner fun, and who always had personalized suggestions of great books that weren't on the curriculum but which she was pretty sure we'd enjoy reading anyway.

I remember economics with Bryant Jensen, who made me feel as if I actually understood economics, at least for as long as he was explaining it, and who occasionally made me feel like the dumbest kid on the face of the earth, which was probably good for me.

I remember chemistry with Frank Stevens, who we convinced ourselves was the lost seventh member of Monty Python. And there was his stuffed mole, which we kidnapped as often as we could from behind his increasingly paranoid security measures and held for ransom.

I remember Lenzi Nelson, a great math teacher who always complained that in twenty years all we'd remember from his class was that he threw chalk. Well, I'm sure anyone who had him remembers the chalk, but he was my first computer teacher, and I'm still doing that today, so something else must have stuck from all those hours in his classes.

I remember Mrs. Hill, who was the advisor to the Dart staff, who let Matt Kimball paint a giant ska man on the back wall of the Dart staff room. I wasn't even sure exactly what "ska" was, but I liked having that big black silhouette gazing down on us as Emilie Bean and I laid out the paper every month.

I remember football games in the fall and winter, and how the social scene in the stands was almost as important as what was happening on the field. And then I remember the excitement of the state playoffs, going to see our team play at Rice Stadium, and showing up at those games in my black trenchcoat, long before black trenchcoats started becoming seen as a "danger sign." (Don't worry—there was no easy access to firearms at home.) But damn, that team was good, with Steve Sargent and Greg McNabb and everyone else, and not taking State was one of history's great tragedies.

I remember the marquee out in front of the school, and the little jolt of anticipation wondering what the thing was going to say this time. Often as not, it was a message from someone to someone else asking if they'd go with them to the next school dance. I mean, how could you say no to the Davis High marquee?

And that's another thing I remember—all the effort and elaborate planning that went into asking someone to a dance without actually walking up to them and doing it face-to-face. And every time, it had to be bigger and better than the time before. It was like Mutual Assured Destruction. The U.S. hires a skywriter, so Russia plans a fireworks display. Russia gets the Utah Jazz to deliver its message, so the U.S. gets the Utah Symphony. And the best part about it is the victim's reaction when the operation goes into effect. You come home and find that someone has brought in dump trucks to fill the entire basement of your house with Styrofoam packing peanuts, and the first thing out of your mouth, with genuine puzzlement, is, "Oh my heck! What's this?" So you spend the next three days cleaning it all out, and when you finally get that last final packing peanut out from under the couch and put it under your electron scanning microscope to find that someone has used a calligraphy brush made from the eyelash of a fruitfly to write "Will you go to Christmas Dance with me?" on it in ancient Chinese—then, then, you slap yourself on the forehead and say, "Oh, thank goodness. For a couple of days there I thought it might be Al Qaeda."

I tell you, we should have gotten graded on asking people to dances. We should have gotten credit toward graduation for it. There are Pentagon generals who've never done as much logistical planning as went into asking someone to a dance. But I digress.

There's more I remember, but most of all I remember people who are no longer with us. Who could forget, or hasn't tried to, the morning intercom announcements from Mr. Cook, which always wrapped up with a rundown of the lunch menu including that "one—half—pint—milk"? I remember hearing the news about Mr. Cook's passing many years ago, and I imagine he's now singing lustily with the heavenly choir—and goosing the other angels when no one's looking. ("What are you whining about, Chumley?")

And then there's Mrs. Beattie, one of the most influential and most frustrating teachers I ever had, who passed away just this spring. As far as I know she never moved to Florence after she retired, which she always said she intended to, but she lived quite a life nonetheless, and left her mark on countless students through the years.

There are no doubt others I don't know about, and there are classmates, too, who sadly are no longer with us, and who we miss. John Whicker, Kim Burton. Alan Rushforth, who's been gone for more than twenty years. If there are others, we're thinking of them all, and of the family and friends who no longer enjoy their company and presence.

Finally, one monumental part of the Class of 1984 is longer with us. I've just driven along Main Street in Kaysville for the first time in a couple of years, and I saw there's a new building that's gone up where our Davis High School stood for nearly a century. It's funny how there are some buildings you spend so much time in, whose corridors you scurry through for so many years, but you take them for granted, and it isn't until they come down that you realize what an important symbol and landmark they were in the community while they still existed, and what a long shadow they cast. I'm sure the new school will serve its students just as well, but it's still strange to think of the town without our dear old Davis High School

To close, I'd like to consider one of the great myths we tell ourselves about high school—that it's an either/or proposition, that it was either our glory days and the rest of life is all downhill, or it was hell on earth and we spend the remainder of life trying to recover from it. I think for most of us the truth is probably somewhere in between. I know it was for me, and I thank you, Class of '84, for helping to make my high school experience the good thing it was. I hope it was good for you, and that as the world has changed and our children have started taking our places, things have kept getting better from there.

The fact that so many of us actually showed up tonight would seem to indicate that this is, indeed, the case. Thank you.


Crossposted from Memos from the Moon
My attendance here has been rather spotty lately. I was derailed from this and many other activities early last week by an unexpected hospital stay.

I was sitting at my desk at work on Monday the 7th, minding my own business, when mild chest pains set in. This was soon followed by shortness of breath, lightheadedness, and dizziness. Finally, when I felt what may or may not have been phantom pains in my left arm, I hauled my butt out of my chair and made a couple of coworkers take me to the nearest emergency room. This happened to be the NYU Medical Center on First Avenue.

Oddly, it's a lot like 'Scrubs' )
It didn't actually turn into a riot two weeks ago at Iridium, but it looked like it might for a few minutes there.

The first indication of trouble came early, though we didn't recognize it as such as the time. My brother Lee and his wife were in town from Stanford. They wanted to see a jazz show while they were here, so we made reservations to see saxophonist Lee Konitz play at Iridium. The evening was part of a week-long stand at Iridium in celebration of Konitz's 76th birthday. (Konitz was playing in Miles Davis's nonet way back in 1949, so it's not a small matter that he's still around and blowing.) Lee and Emily specifically wanted to see the Iridium show because guitarist Bill Frisell was playing with Konitz, and they're both huge Frisell fans. Rounding out the quartet would be Gary Peacock (perhaps best known for his work in Keith Jarrett's old trio) on bass and Paul Motian (who played in the Bill Evans Trio in the '60s) on drums.

However, there was an extra enticement to the Tuesday night shows. The Iridium web site proudly trumpeted that, for one night only, the set would feature SPECIAL GUEST ELVIS COSTELLO. We were quite happy to be able to secure three reservations for the first set of the evening.

Doors would open at 6:30, so I arrived at Broadway and 51st nice and early to queue up to secure a good table. I was fourth in line outside Iridium, in fact. A portly, hale fellow arrived shortly after me, and the line was not much longer when Lee and Emily got there and butted in line with me.

While we caught up, a forest green BMW sedan with smoked-glass windows idled at the curb. Once or twice it drove off, only to return a few minutes later, apparently having circled the block. The guy behind us in line pointed it out and said, "That's Elvis Costello's car."

"How do you know?" asked Lee.

"I'm a huge fan. Been to a *lot* of shows, hung out, you know."

Suddenly Elvis Costello himself was walking from the car to the front door of Iridium. Lee and Emily were looking the wrong way so I tapped their arms and nodded, trying not to be too obvious about the celebrity-spotting. Elvis looked fit in a muted plaid coat and his trademark horn-rims.

He also looked somehow pained, distressed.

He peeked inside the door of the club, looked around, said something -- and then, rather than going inside, closed the door, spoke for a moment to the two women at the head of the line, then got back in his car.

The Beemer disappeared in the chilly night.

The woman said something to the guy ahead of me, who turned around to me and my brother and sister-in-law. "Apparently he's unhappy with the way the show was advertised," said the guy. "He says he was only supposed to do two songs."

I shrugged. I didn't figure Elvis Costello was supposed to be the focus of the set, but I could see why he didn't like the advertising. I passed the word to the guy behind us. The message continued Telephone-like down the queue, which was still less than a dozen people long.

We shivered in the cold for close to forty-five minutes more before being admitted to the club. By then the queue stretched all the way past Ellen's Stardust Diner.

From what happened later that evening, I must surmise that Elvis's message didn't filter back to the newcomers. Hell, even those of us who heard it didn't read the subtext entirely correctly.



The doors opened at six-thirty, as promised. After a check of our names on the reservation list, we descended a narrow stair to the basement and were shown to a table with seats right at the corner of the tiny stage. This was a long banquet-style table; three or four had been set up in rows perpendicular to the front of the stage. We were seated right down front. Lee and Emily were on the outside, looking straight onto the stage. I was seated on the inside, so that I had to turn my head or sit sideways to look at even the left side of the stage. I practically had to break my neck to see stage right.

I also practically had to break my legs to get out of my seat to visit the men's room, the patrons were packed so close together down each row. The back part of the club, filled with little round tables, was just a crowded. I doubt Iridium gets that full even on Monday nights when Les Paul plays.

We placed our dinner orders and rubbernecked as Bill Frisell sloped through the crowd on his way to the backstage door, looking relaxed, low-key, and a little befuddled. I sipped a nice Balvenie 12-year double wood with my burger, and was still nursing it when the show began.

Lee Konitz at 76 is a portly fireplug who looks a little like Colonel Sanders cast as a Fisher-Price toy. He plays with his alto extended to the limit of its leash, in front of his stomach. Bill Frisell, 52 (whose face I practically had to look straight up to see), is fuzz-haired, bespectacled, and mild-looking, and seems awkward even as he cranks out his strangely angular and distinctive electric licks. Gary Peacock, 68, is gaunt, wiry, and weathered; put a cowboy hat on his head and he wouldn't look out of place in his hometown of Burley, Idaho. His eyes are so hooded that when he closes them while he plays you're hard-pressed to tell he isn't blind. Sitting in for Paul Motian (who, Konitz mentioned in the space between the set's two long improvisations, was out getting his "metronome" adjusted) was avant-garde drummer Matt Wilson, 39, who wouldn't look out of place behind the kit for a jam band like String Cheese Incident.

The set was jazz in a defiantly free mode. Konitz and Frisell didn't play leads so much as trade cryptic lines, as if taking turns talking to each other about two entirely different subjects. Two or three times I recognized a snippet of some standard melody in Konitz's parts, as if in the course of throwing shirts out of his closet he occasionally came across one emblazoned with a commercial logo. As much as I enjoyed the set, I felt myself drifting sometimes, particularly during the first half, and I sort of halfway understood what they were doing onstage, and had even come expecting it. I had the sense that large portions of the audience were simply baffled.

The second half of the set meandered around before settling into a startlingly funky (if low-key) groove that Peacock and Wilson somehow plucked out of the swirling oil-and-water tones of the lead instruments. The rhythm section's joy was palpable; Peacock in particular looked like one of the Happy Haunts from Disneyland's Haunted Mansion. The mother was having one hell of a good time.

At last the jam came in for a landing (as did the Chimay that followed up my whisky), and the musicians accepted their applause and filed through the backstage door. The lights came up, and we kept applauding, all anticipating the band's return accompanied by Elvis Costello.

Minutes went by. The band didn't return. The crowd murmured.

We gradually became aware of an escalating commotion at one of the first round tables, near the middle of the club. Someone yelled something sharp and angry. We turned our heads, thinking some table had gotten a little carried away with their joking.

No. It was obviously club management, flanked by some muscle, trying to calm down a table of angry patrons. "That's not what was advertised!" yelled one man. "You *knew* he wasn't going on, and you didn't say anything before the show!"

More yelling, back and forth, as the crowd's murmur turned ugly. Granted, I'm quick to jump to the conclusion that a situation like that one is going to turn violent, but that's how the atmosphere felt. I was acutely conscious that I had a brother and his three-months-pregnant wife under my care (as my out-of-town guests, you know). I was trying to figure out what the best exit would be (answer: none, as I had already determined when scouting the fire exits as we first took our seats) when the yelling man stalked his way to the front exit.

"Demand your money back!" he adjured the crowd as he crossed the room. "They knew he wasn't performing and they didn't say a word!"

Then the room dissolved in cacophony. Everyone was trying to attract his waitperson to get the music charge removed from his bill. At our table, everyone near us was asking each other whether they were here to see Lee Konitz or Elvis Costello, as if to reassure ourselves of our superior jazz cred. It looked to me as if most of the rest of the room had trucked themselves in from Jersey on the promise of an intimate club gig with Declan MacManus himself. They weren't happy to have been rooked.

People were moving around in places where they didn't need to be. Over my sister-in-law's shoulder I watched some guy with a droopy black mustache and long black hair shouting down into Lee Konitz's face. "You tell that motherfucker he'll never play in this town again!" he shouted, punctuating his words with finger jabs in the old man's chest.

"Tell him yourself. The door's right there," said Konitz calmly.

"I just will!" shouted the man, and tore through the backstage door.

I thought he was referring to Elvis Costello, but my brother Lee heard more of the exchange and reports that they were talking about Gary Peacock.

Similar confrontations seemed to be taking place around the room, though none came to blows. While the three of us dithered about whether or not to pay our bill, whether or not to stick around or just get out, the manager finally made an announcement about how people could see their waitperson to get the music charge removed from their bills, and how there would be passes available at the exit which would be good for free admission to any show Tuesdays through Thursdays. He didn't apologize for the advertising, nor for the lack of a pre-show announcement.

The crowd members who were through with their waiters began struggling toward the exit, many of them grumbling about how passes for a free jazz show were worthless to them. Lee and Emily and I paid our full bill and joined the queue that was forming to talk to the manager and (we thought) get our free passes.

The manager, a 20-some Brit with a shiny pale suit and suspect good looks, was hearing petitions right next to the exit to the stairs up to the street. When our turn was almost up, a livid Gary Peacock suddenly appeared from the stairwell, pushing himself up in the manager's face.

I don't recall a lot of what was said, but it included Peacock inviting the manager out to the alley behind the club to settle this right now.

"Look, mate, I'm dealing with a lot of angry customers right now, thank you very much," said the manager. "When that's taken care of, fuck yeah, any time, any place, I'll meet you."

I thought Peacock was going to pop the manager one right there, but another club employee appeared to usher him toward the bar, not without some resistance.

When our turn with the manager came, we asked for our passes. "I'm just reversing credit card charges here," said the manager. "You can get the passes upstairs as you leave. We've got a lot of good shows coming up. Ahmad Jamal. McCoy Tyner. Jack-o Pastorius. Plenty."

"Jaco?" I said incredulously. I couldn't believe what I'd just heard. I wondered if the manager were deliberately fucking with me, to see whether I was a real jazz aficianado or just philistine VH1-addicted clubtrash.

"Yeah, Jack-o."

"You mean, the dead musician," said my brother Lee.

"It's a tribute band," said the manager, sneering like we'd soiled his spats.

"All right, whatever," I said, and we headed up the stairs.

Sadly, Lee and I had to go back down in the melee to retrieve our coats from the coat check. And then Lee had to go down again to look for a lost glove. Which he found. But we all made it out alive -- no thanks to Iridium, who advertised the show so crassly, nor to the bulk of the audience, who were too ignorant even to reason out what the words "Special Guest" mean in the context of a jazz show.

Turns out, as I learned later that week from the New York Times, Elvis Costello was supposed to bring out a birthday cake for Lee Konitz at set's end and sing "Someone Took the Words Away" from his new album North. Apparently Gary Peacock didn't want to play backup for that and an argument during soundcheck resulted in Elvis walking out.

If he'd just come out and told us that in the first place. Jesus, these sensitive artist types.



For less dramatic reportage of the fateful Iridium show, see this NY Times review:

A $400 Cake Wasn't Served, but the Band Played On

(Free registration required to view story.)
Boy, did I have a memorable birthday yesterday. Really, I'm glad everyone turned out to celebrate, but I didn't mean for us all to take over the Queensborough Bridge like that....

I was at work in Manhattan when the lights went out. It was an odd thing -- they didn't snap off so much as slowly give up the ghost, occasionally reviving a bit, over the course of two or three minutes. I tried urging my officemates to leave almost immediately, but we dithered so much as a committee that we didn't pick our way down the fire stairs (pitch dark at some landings) until more than half an hour later. Our phone system relied on office electricity, and none of us could get a call out on our cell phones.

I work at Park and 32nd. I bent my course straight downtown to Union Square (Park and 17th, more or less), where Laura and I have arranged to meet in case of emergency. I walked with two officemates, one of whom was listening to a portable radio with headphones and issuing such reports as that power was out all the way to Ohio and Ottawa. A little disconcerting.

Laura was waiting at our prearranged spot, bless her soul, and the two of us walked across to 2nd Avenue and then uptown. At first we were salmon -- everyone seemed to be coming downtown. Some businesses were giving out water (though Laura and I had both filled bottles before leaving). Around 35th or 36th, we bought very soft ice cream cones from Baskin-Robbins.

At first, there was almost a festive atmosphere. People were gradually spilling into the streets, and vehicular traffic was gradually disappearing. Whether this was because of foot traffic or because the police were blocking off streets, I don't know. But when we crested the rise at 45th Street and looked uptown, the sight was amazing. Second Avenue was filled with a sea of people, as far uptown as we could see. Occasional cars and buses made their way down the street, but mostly it was a pedestrian game. The bars along the street were full and spilling out onto the pavement, and men in shirts and ties were ambling down the street with open 40s of Bud in their hands.

Laura suggested stopping for beer, but I pointed out that the temperature was in the 90s and it would taste real cold and good until we started walking again and found we were dehydrated.

When we got to 58th, we realized that people weren't just using the pedestrian walkway on the Queensborough Bridge to get across to Queens. People were walking onto the roadways, along with the cars. We decided we may as well take the upper roadway -- when would we ever get a chance to walk across the bridge like this again?

Before long we decided this had been a mistake, but it seemed like a worse idea to try to turn around and go back down the onramp. For the first quarter mile or so of the bridge, the cars were putting along in both eastbound lanes. Further along, though, the pedestrians had basically forced all the traffic into the left lane, and by the time we reached the midpoint of the bridge the pedestrians had taken over both lanes. If I looked back, I could see the cars still moving along, more slowly than the pedestrians.

Unfortunately, by this time most of the people were wearing out and getting more short-tempered. I felt like a grain of dust in the air of a wheat silo -- one spark and we could all explode. The trek down the far side of the bridge was pretty tense, but the tension dissipated as we curved down the offramp to 21st Street in Queens.

From there it was just a long slog north. I've just looked up the figures on Mapquest, and in all it would appear that we each walked over six miles. We were both wearing sandals, though Laura was far more used to hers than I was to mine. The last mile and a half was brutal, with the thong digging between my first two toes. But at 7 pm we arrived home and blessedly kicked off our shoes. My feet were numb.

(Note to self: Next time there's a disaster, wear comfortable walking shoes.)

Our power was off in Astoria, of course, but the water and beer in the fridge were all still sufficiently cool and stayed that way throughout the evening. I unplugged all the appliances and electronics. I got a call from our friends Andrew and Stephanie, with whom we had planned to go out for dinner that evening for my birthday. Andrew had just arrived home after his long walk. We decided we would regroup for dinner another day.

All the residents of the house (an apartment on each of three floors) eventually congregated in the back yard, and eventually Laura defrosted some steaks from the freezer by sealing them in Zip-Loc bags and floating them in a sink full of hot water. In darkness, with stars overhead, beers in our hands, and a battery-powered boombox tuned to WNYC, I cooked four steaks on the propane grill out back, which we ate on the patio with Jason from upstairs and his girlfriend Kristin, who contibuted a green salad.

Laura, Jason and Kristin cleaned up, insisting that I, the birthday boy, stay out back and relax. I put the cover back on the grill, then was surprised by a procession from the house led by a Hostess Cupcake with a candle stuck in it. I endured the inevitable birthday song and blew out the candle successfully, a feat eerily reminiscent of the afternoon's events. Then we each ate a cupcake.

We retired by eleven, and fell asleep to the strains of the Mister Softee truck idling in the street outside, doing brisk business.

This morning our power is back on. I'm not getting a TV signal, not even enough of one to set the time on the cable box, though our Internet connection seems to be fine (strange, because it's on the same cable as the TV). The subways are still out of commission, though the bus routes that aren't feeder lines to the subways are running. They're telling us on the radio not to go into the city if we can help it, and we're only too happy to comply. In fact, I think I'll go now and crawl back into bed.
Looking back over the past few years, I'm astonished at some of the things I've accomplished. I don't need to enumerate them here (although it would be fun), but I will point out that I now ride my bicycle to work once or twice a week, over the Queensborough Bridge and through Manhattan traffic. For anyone who knows me well, this intelligence should astound. And that's only one small astonishment among many.

As I attempt to apprehend the responsible party, one culprit stands out by far: belief. I'm not talking talking about belief in myself. I've always had that, even at the darkest times when it was squashed out of shape and jammed deep into a locked box hidden out of sight in a secret chamber of my heart. No, what I'm talking about here is the belief of one person in another when the two share space and lives.

Like ether, that fabled invisible McGuffin of 19th century science, facilitated the transmission of electromagnetic radiation through what otherwise appeared to be vacuum, so does belief facititate the transmission of ability toward accomplishment. Never mind that the Michelson-Morley experiment drove the first nail into ether's coffin over a hundred years ago. I have demonstrated to my own satisfaction the efficacy of belief.

Its effects stand out most clearly when viewed side-by-side with the results of a control culture from which it is absent. For me, this was the period from mid-1995 to early 1998 when I lived with another writer, Genevieve. Our apartment was an environment singularly and utterly devoid of belief. Once, I ventured the opinion that perhaps someday she might support us with a job while I stayed home and pursued my writing career. After some thought, Genevieve allowed as how that might possibly work—so long as she retained the power of approval and oversight of the projects I undertook. It shouldn't surprise you that I didn't manage to sell a single piece of writing during that period.

Come to think of it, I don't recall that she did, either.

Contrast that with the past five years, wherein my writing career has slowly gathered steam and seems to be continuing to accelerate. I haven't accomplished all the goals I had for that period, true, but I've reached many of them, and some startling and pleasant surprises have popped up along the way too. Things are looking better now than they ever have.

So thank you, Laura, for bringing your belief to our relationship. I might have been able to do all this on my own, but it surely would have taken longer, and it wouldn't have been as satisfying. I used to roll my eyes at books dedicated to the ones who make "everything possible," but I don't any longer. My only hope is that my belief in you will prove just as nourishing, and that you'll astonish yourself too.

You should have seen me swell with pride hearing through the back window last night as you played "Sunshine of Your Love" on the electric bass. Keep it up.
Bear with me a minute or two. This takes some explaining.

Back in 1994, I wrote a story I called "L.A. by Night," about a software developer who has volunteered to be a guinea pig in an experiment about tracking parolees via implanted devices that let the monitoring AI see and hear what he sees and hears. The story was about the havoc this wreaks on his marriage, and on the unlikely (and unwelcome) protectiveness the AI comes to feel toward him.

The story wasn't all that great, and I had no luck with the first couple of submissions. A year later, having moved briefly to Seattle, I hit on an image that seemed to embody for me the central metaphor of the narrative and which I thought might jumpstart the story. I rewrote the story as "The Sweet Scent of Night-Blooming Jasmine" and sent it off to Scott Edelman at Science Fiction Age.

Scott liked it a lot, but ultimately rejected it because he thought Age readers might not be able to look past the prurience of the story to what it was really about. "I'll probably live to regret this," I remember him writing in his rejection.

Years passed—seven, to be precise. Sometime last year I read the story aloud to Laura, as I do now with everything I've either newly completed or am contemplating revisiting. She didn't read much in the way of science fiction before we met, but she seems to have a literary sensibility that's extraordinarily attuned to what I'm trying to accomplish. Moreover, she's almost unerring in her ability to judge that a particular piece is ready to go to a particular market. (With stories she doesn't like, this ability is diminished—she hated "The Practical Ramifications of Interstellar Packet Loss," for example—but when she likes a story, she's really on, and her enthusiasm is uncontainable and contagious.)

So I read "Jasmine" aloud to Laura, and she found it pleasant and charming, though nothing to write home about. Rereading the thing myself, I came to feel that the prurient elements were indeed unnecessary, and that the story would work better without the almost-adulterous episode that opened it. But the story still needed something else, and I didn't immediately know what that was.

It was last month, while I for some reason couldn't quite bring myself to tackle revisions on my Varley pastiche "Inclination," that I thought to look at "Jasmine" again. Why not? I've been having good luck this year with ancient trunk stories revisited—two of them should run in the next two issues of Realms of Fantasy, and one is out now in the current Electric Velocipede. As I thought about the story over the next couple of days, the solution came to me. I'd let the AI itself narrate the story, and I'd make the protagonist one of seven participants in the parolee experiment. Only now, the experiment would be more like an unholy marriage between blogging and reality TV—subscribers could tune in at will to their favorite participants, and experience all the same sensations in realtime.

The work went very slowly for the first week or so. I found that I'd essentially be starting over, and throwing out almost every sentence that had come before. I only managed to slog through two or three pages in the first half-hearted sessions. But over the long weekend just past, things started to come together. The pace of the work accelerated, and in fact on Sunday I wrote well over half the eventual wordage in one marathon session that followed a two-hour bike ride out to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. I put the finishing touches on it Monday morning before work.

That evening, I read this new story, "Observations from the City of Angels," aloud to Laura at the kitchen table, marking typos and making small revision notes in the margins as I went. About two-thirds in, Laura burst out, "I see this as a movie!" Her final verdict was extremely positive, and her only suggestion—a directive, actually—was that I change what the wife is wearing during the last scenes from baggy to tight jeans. "Fix that and send it to Ellen tomorrow," she said.

I had submitted a story to Ellen Datlow at Sci Fiction (to whom Laura referred) just a couple of weeks before, however, and hadn't heard back yet, so yesterday morning on the bike ride to work I was idly wondering where else I might send it in the meantime. Not Asimov's yet—that would take too long—do that after Sci Fiction. . . .

I'm not sure exactly where the idea came from, but by the time I reached the office I was raring to check the submission guidelines for Salon. Hey, Cory Doctorow pulled off the unlikely feat of selling them two near-future 'Net-centric stories in the past year. What did I have to lose?

I dashed off a note to Cory asking what editor to approach. He replied quickly and generously, and I labored a bit longer over my query email, sending it over to Laura for her to vet. The editor responded to the query very quickly, inviting me to submit the story. I converted my WordPerfect file to Word format, cleaned up the formatting, and emailed the attachment at 4:15 pm.

The acceptance came back sixty-two minutes later. I didn't get anything done the rest of the day. I walked around in a daze, hands shaking.

My agent has just finished negotiating the contract, so it looks like we're in business. I hope to sign the thing and fax it back tomorrow. I just hope Scott doesn't regret making the decision he did about the earlier version. I sure as hell don't hold a grudge.
It's eighteen days since the burglary, and I've only just now finished writing out my account of the event for our insurance claim. Boy, does my hand hurt. They wanted detail. I gave them detail.

I'll try to hit the highlights, because I feel like I've left everyone hanging on this one. Laura called me at the office at 3:45 that fateful Friday to tell me that our upstairs neighbor Jason had called her from his cell phone to say there'd been a break-in. I left the office immediately and got on the subway. I had a book in my bag, but I couldn't read. I was consumed with a sick anticipation of what might be missing. My laptop, surely. Stereo components? Possibly. What else? I didn't care what else. I just hoped the mess wasn't too bad.

When I changed trains, I realized that I didn't want to think any longer. I want to read about violent things happening to bad people. Fortunately, the book in my bag was Hard Freeze by Dan Simmons, and he and his antihero Joe Kurtz cheerfully obliged me for the next segment of the trip.

Thirty minutes after leaving the office, I reached the house. Jason was standing in the street outside with a police officer. I joined them. Jason had not yet been inside. He had been coming home from class when he saw the front door open and a panel missing from the bottom of the solid-wood inner front door. Through the hole left by the kicked-in panel, he could see that the door to my and Laura's apartment was open. Rather than going in, he called Laura's cell phone, then called the police.

The officer with him had not been responding to the call. Jason had simply flagged him down as he drove past, since no one else had showed up yet. Two more officers showed up within the next few minutes, and the three of them went inside the house with their hands on their guns, to be sure the place was empty. It was.

Going inside, I inspected the panel that had been removed from the inner front door. The trim from around the panel had been pried off and stacked neatly to one side, along with the panel itself, which had split lengthwise. Every police officer I spoke to that day put this down to the work of crack addicts, lying down in the tiny vestibule out of sight of people passing in the street. They all used that phrase exactly—"crack addicts." By the end of the day, it started to sound like "boogeymen," or "weapons of mass destruction." Scary, meaningless phonemes.

Inside the house, the door to our apartment had been kicked open. My office was in disarray with items from the desk strewn around the floor. I saw immediately that the laptop was gone. I'd been right about that. I also registered the absence of Laura's Palm V, which she hasn't carried with her for several months, from its cradle.

In the bedroom the mess was worse. Every drawer of every dresser had been opened. Much of the contents had been laid out on the floor. Her jewelry chest had been dismantled and the small drawers were all laid out neatly on the bed. Not being familiar enough with the jewelry, I couldn't say immediately what might be gone.

In the living room and kitchen, every cabinet had been opened but nothing appeared to be missing.

The door from the entry hall to the basement was open, and downstairs the door to our neighbor Charlie's apartment had also been forced open. I could see a mess inside, but didn't go inside.

The upstairs apartment was intact, perhaps thanks to Duke, the dachshund who lives there and barks whenever someone opens the front door.

Jason's roommate Chris showed up before long, and Laura wasn't far behind. Shana accompanied her home from the office and stuck around for the next couple of hours, for which Laura and I both were grateful. Laura, agitated, went in to have a look around. She emerged from the house with a cigarette in one hand and a glass of Johnnie Walker Blue Label in the other.

To the assembled residents and police officers she announced, "Well, thank God they didn't find the good scotch!"

Laura told me it looked like the modem was missing. I gave a statement to one of the investigating officers, reporting the laptop, Palm, and modem as stolen. Then the police left and we sat around to wait for the evidence team to arrive.

Meantime, I found the modem. It hadn't been taken; it had simply been knocked behind the desk. The connections were still intact, so I booted up, sent some email, and made a brief LiveJournal post. Laura called the bank to cancel our accounts, because there might have been information about them on the Palm.

Around 8:00 two officers, a man and a woman, showed up to dust for prints. They came up with nothing, although Laura learned a lot about printing from the female officer, and I learned a lot about burglary prevention and how it's only a game of holding them off long enough, not stopping them, from the male. After they were gone, we started cleaning up.

The cleanup actually went quickly, unlike the time this happened to Laura in the East Village. The burglars had not trashed the place. They had removed a lot of items from their proper places, but had done so fairly purposefully and methodically. We had everything straightened up in half an hour or so. (Is it right to be thankful for disciplined burglars?)

In the course of this, I found an opaque blue plastic shopping bag lying in the middle of the office floor. Inside was a couple hundred bucks in change, a pair of headphones, and Laura's Palm. It looked as if the burglars had thrown these items into a bag they found in the kitchen, then set it down or dropped it and forgotten as they left.

Sadly, the laptop didn't turn up, and Laura was also able to catalogue her missing jewelry. Five or six pieces, all sentimental.

Our friends Stephanie and Andrew, who lived in the apartment before us, brought us dinner that night. They also very generously watched the place the next day, devoid of locks as it was, while we went into the city to deal with the bank accounts.

We managed to get a bunch of new locks installed fairly quickly, but we're still working out more of the physical repairs to the house. We're also trying to get the insurance all squared away. Fortunately we have renters insurance this time, and we'll probably be able to replace the laptop. But who knows about the jewelry? Probably not.

The more difficult thing is replacing our sense of security at home. The new locks and other measures help, but Jesus—burglars at one end of the spectrum, terrorists at the other. It's enough to make you want to kick a panel out of reality's door and wriggle through.
Yesterday, as you may know, we had a veritable blizzard here. The storm dumped 25 inches of snow in Queens, most of it in our back yard.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view) it was a federal holiday, so neither Laura nor I had to work. However we did go into the city, despite Mayor Bloomberg telling us not to. We left the house at about 2:30 in the afternoon.

Laura had originally intended to go to a Pilates class, but she had called the studio and it was closed. So she planned to spend the afternoon bumming around with her friend Shana. I had been planning on Indian food and a movie with my friends Bob and Ken for several days, and in fact had purchased tickets for us days earlier. I carried my laptop slung over my shoulder in its handy nylon carrying-case, intending to camp out in an East Village Starbucks and work on a story until time to meet Bob and Ken at Baluchi's at 6:30.

We had nearly two feet in our backyard by this time. Laura and I had each taken a turn shoveling the front steps and walk earlier that day (she, heroically, went first), and getting to the N/W station was quite a hike. Going over the snowdrifts at each corner, I felt like Edmund Hillary. As we schussed along, we made fun of the people trying to dig their cars out of the snowbanks. I guess they were eager to play demolition derby with the snowplows.

We knew the W wasn't running in parts of Brooklyn, but weren't sure how often it was running in our neighborhood. As luck would have it, we arrived just in time to catch a W with no wait. The heaters weren't running in our car. We could see our breath as we rolled along. Laura got up to look out the windows at blizzard-struck Long Island City, but from the elevated tracks it didn't look much different than usual.

We made it to Union Square at about 3:15. We went west on 16th Street, walking in the street because it was easier than on the sidewalks. When we reached a clear enough stretch, we returned to the sidewalk, and Laura shoved me not quite hard enough to put me in a snowdrift. I think this was because she was frustrated that she didn't get a chance to make fun of me for being too tightassed to walk in the street.

Unfortunately, the snow was too powdery to pack into a good snowball.

We got cash at the Citibank around the corner on Fifth Avenue, then continued our traipse south. Fifth Avenue is good to walk along in a blizzard on account of all the doorman buildings. The sidewalks were wide and mostly clear. We split up at 8th Street; Laura went west to the West Village to meet Shana, while I went east in search of food and coffee.

I hadn't eaten since breakfast and I had a bit of a headache. I thought I'd grab a light salad somewhere so as not to spoil dinner, then ensconce myself at a Starbucks for the long haul. But none of the places I had in mind seemed to be open. By the time I reached Broadway, I was cranky enough to turn into Sbarro and order two slices of pizza—one sausage, one super veggie pan—and a Pepsi. I read Ken MacLeod as I scarfed down every bite.

Time now for Starbucks! I kept west on 8th Street to Lafayette. There's a Starbucks there between 8th Street and Astor Place, one of about five that are all nearly within eyeshot in a few square blocks. But I could see from the north side of the street that the Starbucks was closed, so I kept going across Lafayette.

There's another Starbucks about thirty seconds away on a normal day, on the northwest corner of Third and 8th. But that one was closed too, and I started to have a bad feeling about my chances of finding an open Starbucks.

At this point, I plowed up Third Avenue to 11th Street, skirting a snowball fight in progress (concerned about my laptop being hit), where I picked up the movie tickets at the Loews theater. Then I crossed east to Second Avenue and started south again. Before I'd reached the Starbucks at Second and 9th, I could see that it too was closed. In fact, there was a hand-lettered sign on the door of this one:

WE WILL CLOSE TODAY AT 10:00 AM BECAUSE OF THE WEATHER.  ALL SHOPS ARE CLOSED.
"Pussies," I muttered. If I could lug my damn laptop all the way from Astoria to the East Village, the least these fuckers could do was to show up for work. I would have jumped up and down and thrown a tantrum if it weren't for a) all the pedestrians around, b) the heavy laptop over my shoulder, and c) the slick pavement underfoot. Instead, I continued south in search of a place to set up camp with my laptop and a cup of coffee.

First candidate was Veselka, but though it wasn't crowded I wasn't sure how thrilled they'd be to have me sitting there for two and a half hours nursing a cup of coffee. Didn't seem like a good atmosphere for writing, either, so I kept going (warily skirting a game of touch football in the street this time). Soon I passed Baluchi's, where I was to meet Bob and Ken for dinner, and out of morbid curiosity I tried the door. It was locked. So much for that plan. I kept walking.

Cooper Diner at 5th Street was pretty crowded, but then I spied a place I'd never seen before—A Salt & Battery, a little fish & chips shop between 4th and 5th, with several tables and shiny metal counters along the walls. There were only three customers inside. I went in.

By now it was about 4:00. Intellectually, I didn't really want more to eat so soon after two slices, but I did want a nice, clean, uncrowded place to camp out, and there was a part of me way back in my animal brain suggesting pretty insistently that, as hard as it was snowing out, I really should load up on as much as I could eat in case the next mammoth didn't happen along for another moon.

So I ordered a small cod & chips, plus a large can of Boddington's, and I retired with my spoils to the counter by the window.

I got some good work done on my untitled missionaries-in-space story, and I pretty much demolished my basket of food. A top-40 radio station from London was playing overhead, so I missed the ring when Bob called to cancel. I felt the vibration when his voicemail arrived, though, and soon learned that the Q train was suspended in his neck of Brooklyn. I called Ken then and verified that he was stuck in Brooklyn too. So I called Laura, to see if she and Shana were interested in seeing The Quiet American at 8:15.

Turns out they had just left One & One, and fish & chips joint at First and 1st. The bar there was open but not the kitchen, the waitstaff having not showed up, so they were walking up to Telephone Bar. I packed up my laptop and hurried there, feeling vaguely pleased with myself for having foraged myself plenty of food despite the cancellation of dinner.

Telephone Bar is on Second between 9th and 10th, and I got there first, around 5:45. I got there soon enough, in fact, to lie in wait behind the one of the red British-style telephone booths out front with a loosely packed snowball in hand. When Laura and Shana walked by—coming from uptown because they'd walked too far on First—I lobbed the snowball right onto the front of Laura's coat. "Hey, asshole," said Shana, then saw it was me.

The place was not crowded. Laura and Shana each ordered a pint of Guinness and a fish & chips. I ordered a midnight cocktail—Guinness and port, not a mistake I'll make again—and let the waiter convince me to order a Pacific shore salad, which he promised was light and which turned out to be shredded cabbage and seaweed garnished with scallops, shrimp, and mussels. It tasted a lot like cole slaw, but infinitely better, and I ended up eating most of it . . . plus some of Laura and Shana's fish.

Laura and Shana were drooling over the waiter, a tall, strapping fellow who looked and sounded a little like Clive Owen. I said they probably had a pretty good shot with him, since from what I'd ordered he probably assumed I was the gay friend. Next time he came round, I ordered a pint of unadulterated Guinness.

At 7:30 we headed over to the theater. Still in caveman mode, I bought a pound and a quarter of that serve-yourself candy in the plastic bins. I discovered that candy by the pound is very expensive.

The movie was excellent. Afterward Laura and I bid goodnight to Shana and got on the subway at Union Square. We were home by shortly after eleven, whereupon I commenced shoveling the front steps yet again. I'd only been at it for a few minutes, though, when three fellows speaking Spanish wandered up the sidewalk. One of them asked me if he could borrow the snow shovel for two seconds. I handed it over, the caveman inside only belated wondering if he meant to bash me over the head with it and drag my woman off into the blizzard.

Instead, he started shoveling snow while one of his friends took pictures. After a bit they traded off, until all three had shoveled and been photographed. Then the first had his picture taken with me on the front steps of the house, and off they strolled down the street to take pictures of each other standing the back of someone's mostly buried pickup truck. Most of my shoveling had been done for me.

This morning I woke up and went out front to sweep the night's skiff of snow off the front steps. Then I walked up and down the street taking pictures. As I stepped back onto the sidewalk, an older gentlemen with a pencil-line mustache, looking and sounding a lot like Jerry Stiller, stopped and said, "You must come from Florida."

No, I said, I was from Utah but my parents would still be keen on seeing pictures of the blizzard.

"You should-a seen when I was a kid," he said. "It was like this every winter. You could-na seen across the street, just the swoosh when the plow went by. We're spurled nowadays, lemme tell you. But you know, this snow is good. Cleanses all the bacteria out of the air. Not enough we hafta fight those Ay-rabs, those Muslims, now we got the Koreans to worry about. This snow's good. You take care now, kid!"

He clapped me on the shoulder and off he went.
It was a maybe six to eight weeks ago that Rob came back from grabbing some lunch and said, "Guess who was behind me in line for the salad bar at Così."

"Who?" I said.

"Chazz Palminteri."

"No way."

"Yep. He's really tall, too."

Rob came back from lunch a couple of days later and said, "I saw Chazz Palminteri at Così again. And guess who was with him."

"Who?"

"Al Pacino."

"No way!"

"Way. They must be filming a movie around here or something."

But that didn't make sense, because on the set they would have had craft services. I didn't think any more about it, though, until one day the next week. I was returning to the office after getting a gyro (I've finally learned to say "JYE-ro" here instead of "YEER-oh") from my favorite street vendor, when I saw Chazz Palminteri walking down the street toward me. It was surreal. He was wearing a black beret, a black leather duster, a black scoop-neck T-shirt, and black parachute pants tucked into black army boots. I thought for a minute he was going to offer me a Vanilla Coke, but he just walked past. Probably on his way to Così.

When I got back to the office, I delighted in telling Rob that I had seen Chazz too. (By now we were calling him just Chazz.)

A couple of days later, I walked into Così to get a salad for lunch. Unsurprisingly, Chazz was there, but he wasn't alone. It wasn't Al Pacino with him, though. It was Dominic Chianese.

Of course, I didn't think to myself, "Holy cow, Dominic Chianese is at Così!" I thought to myself, "Holy shit, Uncle Junior is at Così, and he looks like he wants to shoot somebody!"

Rob came into the office one day last week with a copy of that week's New Yorker. (Yes, computer programmers read The New Yorker too.) "Hey, I figured out why Chazz and all those guys were always together. They're all together in this Brecht play."

The play was The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, an allegory on the rise of Hitler that casts him and his cronies in the roles of Chicago gangsters. It was a production of Tony Randall's National Actors' Theater at Pace University. Pace University is down by City Hall, nowhere close to my office, but we figure they must have been rehearsing somewhere in our neighborhood before opening. The cast included not just the three mugs we'd already spotted, but also Billy Crudup, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Charles Durning, Paul Giamatti, William Sadler, and Tony Randall himself.

The play runs through November 10. It was Halloween when Laura and I decided to try to get tickets. Success didn't seem likely, but we figured we'd try. We called Telecharge, and surprise! There were still seats available and while I was purchasing two tickets, our friend Brian (who happened to be over at our place) asked me to get two tickets for him too. We ended up with four seats together.

So last night Laura and I arrived at the theater about forty-five minutes early. We went to the box office to pick up our tickets. The girl in the box office directed us to the will-call table set up around the corner. There were two lines at will call: A-L and M-Z. There was a long line at M-Z. There was no one at A-L. Go figure.

When we reached the head of the line, the helpful fellow behind the table couldn't find any tickets for Shunn. "Did you purchase them through Telecharge?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Okay, you should probably go to the box office then, because they can check your purchase on the computer and print your tickets. I hope."

So we went back to the box office. After waiting in that line, I explained to the girl that our tickets weren't at will call. I gave her my name. She checked a printed list and couldn't find my name on it. "Let me just look you up on the computer," she said.

By now, Laura and I were getting a little nervous. Brian and his boyfriend would be meeting us soon. What would we tell them about this ticket snafu if we couldn't get it sorted out?

The girl swiped my credit card, which brought my ticket purchase record up on the screen. "Um, I'm sorry, but this says you purchased tickets for October 31st."

"No," I said. "I made the purchase on October 31st. We bought tickets for tonight."

"Well, this says your tickets were for October 31st."

"That doesn't make any sense," said Laura. It was already ten at night when we made the purchase. "Why would we buy tickets for October 31st on October 31st? We bought them for tonight."

"I'm sure you did," said the girl, making clear she was sure we hadn't. "We do have seats you can purchase for this evening. I have four free. Would you like to do that?"

"You mean make another purchase?" I said. "What about the ones we already bought?"

"You'll have to call Telecharge to get that straightened out. Meantime, would you like to buy these four tickets?"

I didn't have another four hundred dollars available on my credit card, which is really a debit card, and I told the girl so.

"Well, you're free to call Telecharge now and see what they say." The girl very helpfully (yeah, right) printed us out the records of the original purchases, slid them under the glass, and turned her attention to the next customer.

"Do you have your cell phone?" Laura asked, getting agitated. If we couldn't straighten this out, we were going to have to find a branch of our bank and transfer money from savings.

I just studied the printouts, looking for a clue to what was going on. First thing I saw was that my name was down as WILLIAM CHUNN. The second thing I saw was that the printouts each very clearly said, 2 TICKET(S) FOR WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 2002.

In smaller type, further down, the printout said, Sale date: 10/31/2002. The girl at the box office had been looking at the wrong field on her screen.

We got back in line.

"Oh, I'm sorry," said the girl a few minutes later, sounding anything but, when we made it to the head of the line again. "Your tickets will be under this name at will call."

So this time we got in line at A-L, and the helpful man there found our four tickets under CHUNN immediately.

"See, I knew they could straighten it all out at the box office," said Mr. M-Z, smiling. We were just glad we'd arrived at the theater with plenty of spare time for dealing with silly snafus.

As we were leaving the will-call table, Laura suddenly began slapping my arm in excitement, saying something that sounded like, "Laura Shunn! He said hi to me! Laura Shunn!"

"What?" I said. "Who? What are you talking about?" I looked where she was pointing and saw the back of a short man in a blue windbreaker, in line for will-call tickets. "He called you Laura Shunn?"

"No! He's Wallace Shawn! He said hi to me! You know me, I usually can't place people right off, but I saw him and I knew it was Wallace Shawn, so I just said hi, and he said hi back to me, but not like just hi, it was more like hi-i-i-i-i-i in that Wallace Shawn way, you know? Like he knew I knew who he was, and he enjoyed being recognized."

"In-con-theev-able!" I said. (Actually, I didn't say that, but I wish I had.)

"That's so cool," I said, and then the man in the blue windbreaker turned, and yup, it sure was Wallace Shawn.

We found Brian and Neosho outside, and we all settled into our seats for the show. It was a spirited play, delightfully and cleverly staged, and there wasn't an actor who didn't leave teeth marks all over the scenery. Pacino himself must have been dehydrated at the end of the performance, considering how much spit flew from his mouth on every plosive. The incidental music was original to the production, and was composed by Tom Waits, and the first act ended with a song sung by Steve Buscemi. (Buscemi Sings Waits—coming soon to your local record store.)

The strange thing, though, was that Chazz Palminteri's costume looked familiar to me. It wasn't just déjà vu. It was exactly the getup he'd been wearing the day I saw him on the street.

As much fun as the first act had been, the second act dragged, and it was hard to escape the realization that this was not a great production. But much of the play was enjoyable, some of it immensely so, and who could beat all that star-power on one stage?

After the show, the four of us decided to go for a drink. None of us knew any bars in the neighborhood, but across an empty parking lot we could see an Irish pub called the Beekman on the next block south. We beat a path for it.

The bar was only middling crowded, but the manager kindly seated us in the dining area, which was completely empty. When we saw the menu, we all realized we were hungry and decided to order food.

That was when Charles Durning entered with two of the other actors from the play and was seated at the table next to ours.

And that was only the beginning. Dominic Chianese showed up a few minutes later with a tiny entourage, and a couple of other groups of actors wandered in shortly as well. We realized at that point that it was probably inevitable—this was the only open bar in the neighborhood, and if we had found it, no doubt it was the obvious post-show hangout.

Anthony Heald was not in the play, but he was probably in the audience because he and a female companion ate dinner at the table across from ours. John Goodman showed up halfway through dinner, and as he bent to say something to Charles Durning, Laura looked at him and raised her pint of bass. He tossed her a nod and a smile.

By the time we finished eating, the dining area was crowded with gangsters. The only high drama may have taken place at the box office, but it was a thrilling evening nonetheless. It might not have been worth eight hundred dollars, but we certainly got our four hundred dollars' worth.

Too bad Rob is home sick today. I can't wait to tell him all about it.

April 2014

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