may 2001

I finally got the new Modest Mouse CD yesterday. It is called "Sad Sappy Sucker" (which echoes a line from their first album: sick fickle fucker), and it was supposed to be the band's first album. Most of it was recorded in 1993 and 1994, but Isaac Brock, the singer/guitarist/fucking genius who is the driving force behind the band, decided to scrap it and take some time off from music. Two years later he replaced the bassist (solidifying the permanent lineup that is intact to this day) and recorded an entirely new batch of songs that became the first true Modest Mouse album. This "new" disc includes a lot of stuff that I had already downloaded from Napster (the band used it as filler on several EPs and B-sides that they released early on), but it also has a bunch of new stuff, including nine songs that Isaac Brock left on his answering machine as a strange kind of dial-a-song service.

I genuinely do like this record, even though some of it is not as strong as their later, more formally released records. But I am so sick in love with this band that I just don't care. This should tide me over until Radiohead's "Amnesiac" is released next month.

For a while now I have resisted using my wife's name on this page. I don't know exactly why. I mean, I have deep-seated paranoia about many things, and I'm sure that factors into it, but really I have no solid reason for it. A lot of the people who read this know her name anyway. So I'm just going to start using it here from now on. Her name is Julie. There, I said it.

Last year when we moved into our house, the tree in the front yard looked terrible. We could tell that it was supposed to have reddish leaves because there were several other trees on the street like it that were in perfect health, but the leaves and berries on ours were shriveled up and dry in the places where there were any leaves at all. Not knowing anything about caring for trees, we assumed it wouldn't make it through the winter, and that we would have to cut it down and plant a new one this year.

But after Julie started to get obsessed with gardening, she grilled people at the garden shows and nurseries about what could be wrong with the tree, and most of them guessed that it was just a fungus that could be controlled by spraying the tree a few times a year with a fungicide. So she did that, and the tree seemed to be rebounding fine this Spring. Even before it blossomed, we could tell that it was much more robust looking than it ever was last year.

A few days ago we noticed some white pouches tucked into the crooks of some of the branches, and just today we saw dozens of caterpillars emerging from the largest of them. I recognized them as the same caterpillars that used to lived in the trees around my childhood home in North Carolina; I used to catch one or two of them every year, put them in a jar with a twig from the tree that I found them on, and watch them turn into whatever winged creature it was they were supposed to become.

Our current neighbor, who is a landscaper and who therefore knows quite a bit about taking care of plants and trees, saw us looking at them, and told us that they were bagworms that would kill the tree; if it was his tree, he said, he would just cut off the whole branch to keep them from taking out the rest of the tree. Now, I'm no expert, but I'd looked at those caterpillars enough as a kid to know that these were the same ones, and I remember them coming back to the same trees year after year with the trees suffering no greater ill effects than a few of their leaves being gnawed on. So I just wanted to leave them alone and let them turn into whatever it is they're supposed to turn into.

Julie, on the other hand, who is starting to get a little mother-bearish when it comes to protecting her plants, started doing research on the web. First she found out that bagworms will indeed kill a tree, and so she was ready to get rid of them right then and there. Then she did some more reading and found out that they might be gypsy moths, which are commonly mistaken for bagworms, but which can be equally devastating to trees. Finally she decided that they were Eastern Tent caterpillars, which will defoliate the area of the tree around their nests, but which usually don't do long-term damage to the tree; in other words, if the tree can make through one year, and you can knock off the egg sacs the next winter before the eggs begin to hatch, the tree should thereafter have normal foliage and blooms. And unlike some other species, this type of caterpillar no longer does damage to the tree once it reaches full size; it just searches for a place to make its cocoon and turns into a fairly innocuous moth.

But all that doesn't matter to me; I'm glad that Julie has decided that she can probably live with them as long as we catch the egg sacs next year, because I think I would have put up a fight about this one. I know it's stupid, but I would rather have let the tree die. I liked those caterpillars when I was a growing up; seeing them again reminded me of all the fun parts of being a kid. Things like the total lack of knowledge of things like pesticides and infestations and defoliated branches, and the sense of wonder at all the little animals scurrying around that adults scarcely pay attention to unless they want to get rid of them. I already feel too grown up; keeping those caterpillars around, no matter what the consequences for the tree (which I don't care for much even when it's healthy—I just don't think red leaves look right on trees unless it's Fall) would let me reclaim a little of the stubborn childish ignorance that I think most of us could do with a little more of.

When Andruw Jones, the center fielder for the Braves, first arrived in the major leagues a few years ago, all the ESPN broadcasters made the mistake of pronouncing his name "ahn-dru", instead of how they should say it, which is just like the more common spelling "Andrew". I guess the "u" threw them off (although to be fair, even the Braves broadcasters were saying it that way for the first couple of weeks of the season). Word got around quickly, though, and by the All Star break everyone was pronouncing his name normally. Everyone, that is, except for ESPN's Karl Ravech, who I don't think has said Andruw's name correctly once to this day. And unfortunately, Mr. Ravech is one of the most frequent hosts of Baseball Tonight, the ESPN show that I watch to get all the baseball scores and highlights (because I could give a damn about any other sport, although I can occasionally get sucked it when I'm flipping past ESPN 2 and I see one of the oddball sports like sumo wrestling or the World's Strongest Man competition).

I mean, I guess he's not a bad broadcaster otherwise, but it just annoys the hell out of me when everyone else around him is saying Andruw's name correctly (and have been saying it correctly for years) and he still can't break his habit of saying "ahn-dru" every time, which turns out to be pretty frequently thanks to Andruw's outstanding talents in the field and at the plate. I know there are better things to get irritated with, but hey, these are the kinds of things pet peeves are for, right?

ping-pong, ping-pong

I watched Office Space again this weekend. The first time I saw it, I thought that the first half was just brilliant, but that it started to get a little slow and unfocused once they got to the part where they activated the virus. This time, however, the first half didn't seem as full-throttle funny, but the movie as a whole held up much better. I mean, I still thought the first half was funny as hell, but I remember the first time I saw it thinking that I didn't stop laughing for the entire first half. This time it seemed a little more evenly paced. This movie is rapidly becoming one of my favorite comedies, along with Dumb & Dumber and Spinal Tap.

A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y.

So this is what's been going on at CO2: like most companies that derive a substantial portion of their income from internet-related work, we've had a slowdown since about January of this year. We were kind of planning on working most of the year doing branding, interface, web, and print projects for Welocalize, a translation and localization firm whose main office is in our building. In addition to a substantial amount of venture capital, they also had a signed contract for 2001 from an e-business company that was going to provide another large source of revenue. They had staffed up from 15 or 20 people to around 40 or 50 over the course of 3 or 4 months.

And then the roof caved in; Welocalize's main client went out of business, and most of their other leads decided to hold off on any localization work for a few quarters until the economy stabilized. They have since scaled back to fewer than 10 employees, and as a result have no need for our services at this time. We had a decent amount of money saved, and we were still getting some work (we did a CD-ROM for the National Geographic Channel and a search piece for MICA; even now we are working on a Flash piece for K12, an educational company that provides print and online tools for parents who wish to home school their children). But I guess Max and Jeff just decided that it was time for them to cut back in order to give the company as a whole a better chance to weather the current storm, which I know was a really hard decision because we were just five people in the first place. Without any warning, they sat us all down a couple of weeks ago and told us that they had some hard decisions to make, and that they would talk to us one on one to discuss the future of the company.

They talked to me first, telling me that they wanted to keep me, but that they would be giving two weeks notice to Caressa, the project manager who has been with CO2 for almost 3 years, and Greg, the junior designer. And even though I was somewhat grateful to still have a job (although I voluntarily took what is hopefully a temporary pay cut), that gratitude was tempered with the knowledge that I wasn't keeping my job just because I was a good employee (even though I think I am); if either Max or Jeff had my skills (I do HTML, JavaScript, Director and Lingo, and Flash), they most likely would have gotten rid of me too. That's what really sucks about all this for Caressa and Greg; it wasn't the quality of work that cost them their jobs, it was their bosses' inability to get organized and market the company well. I am only here because they need me; without my skills in-house, they might as well shut the doors, since they would have a real hard time luring someone new to the company when all they have to offer right now is a reduced salary and a possible employment length of six months.

Which is how much time they tell me we have now, if we don't get any other jobs. I'm still optimistic about CO2's future; every job we get probably extends the timeline another month or two, and I think it's just a matter of waiting out the current downturn in the economy. Max and Jeff are both extremely talented designers, and I think I do a good job turning their work into functional web sites or CDs or whatever. And we all still love what we do, and are really focused on trying to ensure that we can continue doing it at CO2. Even though the market has contracted somewhat, there will always be a demand for high quality firms like CO2—as long as people know about us. The lack of marketing tools is probably one of the big reasons that CO2 is in this mess in the first place; Max and Jeff have been fortunate enough to have word of mouth bring them a pretty steady flow of work for the last five years (including clients like the Discovery Channel, PBS, BBC, AOL, and the National Geographic Channel, among many others), so they've kind of neglected their marketing efforts. The web site hasn't been updated since 1997 (although they've been talking about it since I started here almost two years ago), and the logo has changed at least twice without any corresponding changes to letterhead or business cards. We were supposed to use a break in the Welocalize work in the Fall of last year to get all that stuff updated, but I don't think we actually ended up doing anything, not even sketching out ideas or brainstorming about it.

Of course, now that they have a time limit, Max and Jeff are finally doing something about our lack of updated marketing materials; I actually have the Photoshop files for the new site, and have finished production on one of the portfolio sections. Hopefully after I finish up production on this K12 piece (which is due Thursday), I will be able to jump back on it and finish the other sections fairly quickly. We are tentatively aiming for launch a week from next Monday, although we'll post it sooner if we get it done before then. It really is a great looking site; I just hope it isn't coming too late.

Really, Max and Jeff have the most to lose if they can't make CO2 work; they both live five minutes from the office now and would most likely have to look for work down towards DC, which would be at least a 45 minute commute for them each way. Not to mention possibly having to take a pay cut and having to return to the world of working for someone else after 5 years of being their own bosses. I, on the other hand, live about half an hour from the CO2 office, and I would likely be able to find work in Baltimore or Columbia, which are also about half an hour away. I could continue to make about what I'm making at CO2, and I'm also already used to being someone else's employee.

If CO2 doesn't make it, Max and Jeff really have no one to blame but themselves. One of CO2's big strengths is Max and Jeff's close working relationship and friendship; they make all the decisions about the company together, and their personalities balance each other out very well (Max is more aggressive, more of a risk taker, while Jeff tends to consider things more carefully before making a final decision). It's also one of the company's biggest weaknesses, because they have a hard time letting other people into that inner circle and delegating responsibility so that they can focus on the most important things.

It's not as though I'm disenchanted with CO2; in a way I'm kind of excited about the next six months. I'm really psyched about the new site, and can't wait to get it out there where people can see it. And ironically enough, Max and Jeff always seem to do their best work when they are under the gun, so maybe having a ticking clock on the future of CO2 will have some positive effect on the company. And even though I continue to believe that there is work out there for us now provided that we can get our stuff in front of the right people, I also believe that the financial picture is going to brighten considerably in the next 9 to 12 months; this is just a brief shakeout that is needed to get rid of all of the people who really shouldn't be in this business in the first place. And we are not one of those firms; we are very good at what we do and this type of work is all that we really want to be doing at this point in our lives.

There will be things I'll miss about CO2 if we can't turn things around, but I am strangely calm about the possibility of having to look for work in six months. Mostly it will just be sad seeing something with so much potential die from what amounts to simple neglect. If I do have to get another job, it will probably be in a more corporate environment, and won't have lots of the cool perks that I get at CO2 like a flexible schedule and an hour of Unreal Tournament at the end of every day. But I still really like this work, and I think I'll be doing it somewhere for a while still.

Or maybe I'll just go to cooking school.

A Mounds bar is not a sprinkle.
A Twizzler is not a sprinkle.
A Jolly Rancher is not a sprinkle.

I made spaghetti for dinner the night before last, so last night I decided to use the leftovers to make spaghetti casserole, which I guess I haven't had since I was a kid. My mom used to make it all the time when I was a kid. It's pretty simple: mix together your leftover spaghetti and sauce, put them in a glass baking dish, cover the top with slices of American cheese and bake it at 350 for 15-20 minutes. That's all there is to it.

The weird thing is that Julie had never had it. I know that we had this at least once every couple of weeks when I was growing up (whenever we had spaghetti), and based on how easy it is to make both spaghetti and leftover spaghetti casserole, I figured that every parent in the country made it at least once a week. Not a big deal, I guess. I just thought it was interesting.

I am a happy man when I have a new haircut.

Wednesday, our cancer cat, had her stitches out a couple of days ago (no, I'm not using questionable punctuation—Wednesday is the cat's name). She's a strange little animal. We adopted her after feeding her off of our back porch in Charlottesville for over a year; one winter day she finally got cold enough to come inside, and she hasn't decided to go back out since. We don't know exactly how old she is because the vets usually use the condition of the teeth to estimate a cat's age, and she has perfect teeth. We figure she must have been someone's pet before us, because she has been spayed. Before she developed the tumor on her right shoulder, she was the only one of our pets who had never been to the vet for anything more than a routine checkup (one of our cats has had a respiratory infection and some teeth pulled, another has been treated for ear mites and an abscess on his neck, and the third has diabetes, which has entailed so many visits to the vet that we really don't want to know how much we've spent on him). And she seems to have come through this fine. The vet told us that she would probably have trouble walking for a while, and that she would probably begin to favor her left side because he had to remove some muscle tissue around the tumor, but even the day after the surgery she was jumping up and down from her favorite chair and wandering around as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened the day before.

It's a little strange to me that one of my good friends, my mother, and my cat have all been diagnosed with some form of cancer in the last six months. Thankfully both Tom (my friend) and Wednesday (my cat) look like they're going to be okay. We have to wait and see with my mom. I talked to her this weekend before she left for Chicago, and even though she is looking forward to getting chemo over with (her last session is this Friday), the doctors also told her that she will need to have seven weeks of radiation (instead of the five or six that they estimated earlier). She should still be finished in time to go to the beach with Jane in August, and I think Julie and I should both be able to take a week off to go down and visit her (provided of course that nothing weird happens at CO2 before then). I don't know what her long term prognosis is. I'm don't know if she's talked to her doctors about it yet, and I'm afraid to ask.

A couple of nights ago on VH-1 they were playing an hour of concert footage culled from various dates on Pearl Jam's 2000 tour. I saw just enough of it know that Matt Cameron, their current drummer and the former drummer for the now-defunct Soundgarden, is being completely wasted in Pearl Jam.

So Ryan, the guy who hosts our card night every other week (he is the only one who is still single), has a bunch of Jelly Bellys from about 1997 that he keeps in a big Ziploc bag. For some reason he won't throw them away; he just brings them out every time we play cards and hopes we will eat them. What usually ends up happening is that we scatter them on the table and pick through them looking for the least disgusting flavors.

Once I picked up a brown one that I swear was tobacco flavored. It wasn't like wintergreen or any of the flavorings that they add to chewing tobacco or cigarettes to make them a little more palatable. It actually tasted like tobacco. Even if I were a smoker, I think that I would find even the idea of a tobacco flavored Jelly Belly disgusting. I mean, half the fun of picking through them is trying to figure out what the flavors are; they're supposed to include flavors like jalapeño, toasted marshmallow, cotton candy, and popcorn, but for some reason we seem to have gotten stuck with the less interesting and more disgusting flavors. (Although I have found a couple of the popcorn, and it's almost disturbing how much they actually do taste like buttered popcorn. It's almost surreal.)

Anyway, back to the tobacco flavor. Ryan also had a couple of small bags of the same vintage that remained unopened, and I noticed that inside one of them was a list of all the flavors along with a picture of each Jelly Belly so that you could match up the flavors with the color/pattern (a lot of them are spotted). I examined that list forever, and I swear I couldn't find any dark Jelly Belly whose flavor I could have mistaken for tobacco. I really wanted to. But I'm convinced that I consumed the product of some evil corporate alliance between Jelly Belly and RJ Reynolds that was secretly released into the normal Jelly Belly population for the purposes of covert test marketing.

Okay, probably not. But that sure was one disgusting jelly bean.

While we're on the subject of jelly beans...I think it's fascinating how they are made. I saw a special about the Just Born factory, where they are famous for making marshmallow Peeps. But they also make Mike & Ike and Hot Tamales there, which are their brand names for types of jelly beans. Just after a jelly bean is made, it actually has a hard center surrounded with a soft outer coating. The way that you get them to the traditional jelly bean state (a harder outer shell with a softer center) is to let them sit and cure for two or three days. What happens is that the hard center leeches the moisture from the soft coating, and in the process becomes soft itself while making the outer coating harder. So far no one has discovered a way to accelerate this process; the only way you can make a proper jelly bean is to use this curing method. So the Just Born company has huge areas of their factory filled with jelly beans that are curing, which costs them a lot of money (you can't just stick them all in a big vat; they have to sit on trays in a single layer). They gave the impression that they would need about a tenth of the space that they do if there were another way to make jelly beans so that you could just make them and ship them out immediately.

Anyway, Greg brought in some Jolly Rancher jelly beans the other day, which I had never seen before. He doesn't like the green apple flavor, so he was giving all those to me. And you know, they weren't too bad; the flavor was pretty much like the flavor of the corresponding hard candy. But the outside was way too soft; I think they're skimping on the three-day curing process.

One last note for the record: I'm not really that big a fan of jelly beans (as a matter of fact, I'm not really big on sweets in general). These things just kind of got into my head last night and I figured I'd go ahead and clear out all of my jelly bean related thoughts. So I'm done now.

Surprise Weddings 2? Where the hell was I for the first one?

Not that I would watch this again. I'm just wondering how something this tacky could have slipped underneath my pop culture radar. We watched the last half last night hoping for a rejection, but alas, they were all happy endings with the exception of one man who decided that he wanted to get married with friends and family around. So even though he didn't marry his girl on the spot, he still proposed to her and she went away happy.

We did a decent amount of stuff this weekend, even though it didn't feel like it (that is, time went by so fast that it felt like I had no weekend at all). On Saturday I got up around 8:30 or 9:00 even though I didn't get to sleep until about 2:30 the night before. We went to Sam's Club for our quarterly visit to stock up on meat, rice, olive oil, paper towels, laundry detergent and other bulk items. It was pretty crowded; Saturday is a stupid time to go to Sam's but it's half an hour away and we usually don't feel like going on a weeknight. Although we were trying to stick to basic food items (since our cat's recent $650 surgery for cancer was not in our budget), we ended up getting a copy of Myst III ($30) and a 20 pack of CD-Rs ($10). All in all we spent close to $400, but that also included our membership renewal ($35), and like I said, we won't go back again for another two or three months.

We also went to the record store, which I haven't really been to in a couple of months. I did buy some CDs off of CDnow for my birthday, and I preordered the new Modest Mouse a while ago, but I probably haven't actually been in a record store since February or so. Now, as much as I want CDnow to do well, I also try to support my local merchants whenever possible, because you can't buy used CDs off of CDnow and I'm also very into the instant gratification that comes with a brick and mortar purchase. But the trouble with the local CD store is that they're really the only game in town, so that aren't that great at keeping things in stock. I know that my tastes are a little weird sometimes, but there are always gaps in my wish list when I go there, no matter how recently released an album might be. So I usually go with a list of CDs that is about twice as long as I need, and most times I go away with about the right number of CDs (the rest of the list to be completed with a visit to CDnow at some point). This time I was unable to find Elf Power's "The Winter is Coming" (I didn't really expect them to have this one), Guided By Voices' "Bee Thousand" (which was released back in 1993 or 1994, so I didn't really expect this one to be there either), Mark Mulcahy's "smilesunset" (he was the leader singer for Miracle Legion whose solo albums have gotten him quite a following in Europe, and since this was released just a week or two ago, I was hoping they would have a copy), or Lloyd Cole's "The Negatives" (which was kind of surprising, because this has gotten pretty good reviews and wasn't released all that long ago—they even had a section for Lloyd Cole, but the most recent item in it was a used copy of a solo release from several years ago).

I was able to find the new David Byrne, "Look Into the Eyeball", although the clerk looked at me like I was from another planet when I asked for it (maybe I'm being unreasonable, but I kind of expect the clerks in independent record stores to have some knowledge of the history of pop music—I guess I was spoiled by spending most of my teenage record-buying dollars at Schoolkids in Chapel Hill and Poindexter's in Durham). I haven't bought any of his solo albums except for Rei Momo, which I had to have after I saw him perform two songs on Saturday Night Live from that record. Unfortunately, the studio recordings didn't quite live up to the live show, so I never really fell in love with that disc like I expected. This one has been getting pretty good reviews, though, and after listening to a few sound clips on CDnow, I decided it was worth a shot (it sounded like early Talking Heads, which I have gotten back into lately, except with lots of orchestration supplementing the basic song). So far I like it pretty well. It also has a really cool cover; the case itself has a plastic sleeve with alternating black and clear diagonal lines; these correspond with lines on the front and back artwork that hide every other word or song title and also make the picture of Byrne on the cover look like it is blinking.

Another purchase was the new G. Love disc, which I haven't really listened to yet; I'm almost as excited by the bonus disc of outtakes, live versions, and unreleased material that they gave me at the checkout counter. In the used bin I found the Beta Band's "Three EPs" disc, which is a compilation of their first three EPs (duh); I can't remember how it's supposed to compare to their first (and for now only) full length, but I think it will be worth it for $7. By a happy coincidence I also found one of the items on my list, Finley Quaye's "Vanguard", still sealed and marked down to only $3. I got his first one, "Maverick A Strike", a couple of years ago after hearing the "Sunday Shining" single; I didn't really listen to it for a while, but I got really into it a couple of months ago. I just recently heard about "Vanguard" (I think it was released in January or February), and I was prepared to pay up to $14 for it, but for once I got lucky.

Sunday was church, Wal-Mart (to get 400 pounds of topsoil for one of Julie's projects), grocery store, read, call my mother, call my grandfather's wife, call my stepmother, do laundry, prep dinner, and fix dinner (steaks, onions, mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes grilled, and baked potatoes that were really baked—I forgot how much better those are than the microwaved variety). My mom had her last chemo treatment on Friday, so we didn't talk long (she is always very tired for the first few days after receiving a treatment), but she did say that the cancer markers were zero, which is good but at this point means nothing more than that the chemo is working. For her to receive a true clean bill of health, she will have to have zero cancer markers ten years from now. She also said that Carrie (my sister who lives with her) got her flowers when she came home from chemo and took her out to brunch at one of her favorite brunch spots for Mother's Day. Which was nice of her. Even though I think my sister should be on her own at this point in her life (she is only two years younger than me), I think it's good for my mom to have her around now. My mom still has her radiation treatments to get through (five days a week for seven weeks starting in June), but I think she's feeling good about getting the chemo over with.

The petals on the tree outside my window are falling like snowflakes.

I think I'm done with David Markson's "This Is Not a Novel" for now. It's really not that long a book, only about 200 pages, and a short 200 pages at that, since the physical size of the pages is relatively small and the text consists of short one or two sentence paragraphs separated by two hard returns. All in all, it probably only takes two or three hours to finish, but I've taken the last couple of weeks to try and approach it from different angles: reading it straight through in as little time as possible, flipping to random pages and reading for a few pages, and reading it in order for half an hour at a time. I really like it a lot; in its own way it has a lot in common with the Tao Te Ching (which I've been exploring for the past couple months) in that they both contain a lot of direct and indirect meaning, and the way that the multiple layers of wisdom encrypted in the text reveal themselves has a lot to do with how you choose to read the text. That is, reading the texts linearly reveal different patterns than reading them in a more random fashion, but both methods are very fruitful ways to explore these particular texts.

I remember something about Poe thinking that short stories need to be written such that the entire story can be read in a single sitting in order to help keep the artifice intact, and in some ways I can see definite advantages to reading "This Is Not a Novel" all at once. It does build and expand on itself in a way that reading it in short bursts does not, and you get more flashes of insight by recognizing what something on one page has to do with something 30 pages back. Reading this text as an English geek is akin to what I imagine reading a piece of music is to a musician; you don't get the full sense of how beautiful the piece is when it is actually performed, but you see enough to know for sure that it is beautiful. It was strange to me how many random thoughts and references that I couldn't have identified if you asked me directly returned to my brain when reading them in the context of this book: remembering how much I loved the poem from which the line "Childe Harold to the dark tower came" and then how much I loved Browning in general; my initial puzzlement in reading a thought that ponders whether or not Temple Drake ever returns to college, and then remembering with startling suddeness that she was the abused female in Faulkner's "Sanctuary"; or being astonished, saddened, and bemused when confronted with the fact that F. Scott Fitzgerald's final royalty statement for "The Great Gatsby" noted that he had sold a grand total of seven copies in the previous six months, and remembering that possibly his greatest work, "The Last Tycoon", was an unfinished novel that was nearly forgotten by time.

"This Is Not a Novel" is a little depressing, but hardly enough to take away from the humor and beauty that lie at its core. It explores the human condition in the simplest way possible: by exploring the lesser-known parts of human beings who are now known primarily for the artisitic work they left behind. By reminding us that even the greatest thinkers known in human history had to endure pain, suffering, and humilation, Markson makes it a little easier for the rest of us to bear our personal burdens. No one escapes life's difficulties, he seems to be saying, but neither can you deny the overwhelming splendor it has to offer.

Or something like that. It's hard to explain. Anyway, I've now started Andrew Crumey's "Mr. Mee", which seems pretty good so far. But I think that "This Is Not a Novel" will be a text that I return to again and again, and it has definitely inspired me to read more of Markson's work.

I wonder which has made Danny Elfman more money—the royalties from "The Simpsons" theme or the royalties from all of his albums with Oingo Boingo combined.

We got Myst III last weekend on a whim when we were at Sam's Club; it was only $30 with a rebate, and I was hearing good things about it, so we decided to give it a shot. Julie and I decided to play it together with me doing most of the navigation, the same way that we played the first Myst (that first game that we bought for our Performa 630, which was the first desktop Mac that we owned). Myst was miles ahead of anything else at the time it was released, but in the years between Myst and Riven, the second title in the series, that mode of digital storytelling/gameplay had become almost archaic. Even though the screenshots for Riven were beautiful, we never got around to trying it; I guess I felt like it just wasn't dynamic enough. I wanted something more.

I must say that even though we've only played it for a few hours now, I am already a little disappointed with Myst III. The advance reviews I'd read led me to believe that this would be an experience more akin to a first person shooter, where you can wander around a fully realized 3D world in real time instead of the station to station movement that was used in the first two titles in the trilogy, Myst and Riven. Unfortunately, this isn't true; although you can look around as if the world is 3D from any vantage point, you are still restricted to jumping from point to point, which is possibly even more annoying in Myst III than it was in the previous two games because the 3D aspect means that it is a lot easier to get disoriented, especially in the levels with lots of twisting, turning passageways.

Of course it is beautiful, astonishingly so in some cases. There are certain vantage points that you can take a screenshot from and most people wouldn't be able to tell that the picture was just a digital rendering. But just as with Riven, the surface beauty isn't sufficient. I guess the puzzles are challenging enough—it took us a couple of hours to crack the first world, and we are still working on the three worlds that the first one links you to—but again, I feel in some cases as if half of the challenge is trying to navigate through the world rather than actually solve the puzzles. The developers (Presto Studios, with much input from the Miller brothers at Cyan who developed the first two titles—they decided to work on a new game codenamed Mudpie instead of finish the Myst trilogy themselves) did a good job creating the 3D panoramic views from each key point, and also created a lot of rendered video scenes that you can interact with, but the worlds still feel very static and unreal. And that's a shame; with some effort put into a fully functional 3D engine this could have been one of the best games of the year. As it is, Myst III is merely the sadly obvious conclusion to a trilogy of games that began by changing the face of PC gaming but ended by replowing the same field until it was no longer fruitful.

If you are a fan of the first two and the method of navigation doesn't annoy you, or if you just want to see some perfectly rendered 3D art, Myst III is worth buying. Likewise if you have never played a Myst title before, it is worth experiencing at least once, and I guarantee you that this one has the best artwork and most intriguing puzzles. But if there had been a demo of this game that I could have tried before I bought it, I don't know for sure that I would have purchased the full version, even at the relatively low cost of $30.

The latest issue of Newsweek has an article about the drones in Destiny's Child, and in the photograph that accompanies the article, one of them is wearing a glitterized, faux-distressed belly shirt with the New York Dolls on it. Now, even if she knew who the New York Dolls were, which I doubt, I can't believe that she's actually a fan, or has ever even heard any of their music. So what's the point? I mean, I know the point is to be trendy, but isn't part of wearing a shirt from an obscure but historically important band like that supposed to be that people could believe that you actually know who the band is, and give you some measure of respect for having good taste?

As I was getting ready this morning, some actress from CSI came on the Regis show wearing a similarly glammed-up B.R.M.C. shirt. I thought this was just more of the same, so I was hoping that Regis would ask her what it stood for and she would be embarrassed because she would have to admit that she didn't know and that she was just wearing it because that's what her stylist had picked out for her that day. As it turns out, however, she is actually a fan of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and seems to be a music fan in general because she was trying to explain their sound by making references to the Stone Roses, Jesus and Mary Chain, and Spiritualized (none of which Regis had heard of, so it didn't really help provide a context for B.R.M.C.'s music for him). I know she was still wearing the shirt mainly because it's trendy, but at least she knew who the freaking band was.

I mowed the lawn again last night, but I wasn't able to enjoy it at all. You know those caterpillars I was going on about a week or so ago? Well, they've all left their nests in the tree and have scattered all over our house and yard. Apparently one of their favorite places to sit is at the top of a tall blade of grass, especially in the grass close to the house. I started to mow in the backyard, as usual, and it wasn't until I got close to the house that I saw the first of them. Then they were everywhere; it seemed like every other blade of grass had a caterpillar sitting on it. I made Julie stop what she was doing and help me round them up. I'm guessing that we took about 30 or 40 of them and temporarily moved them under the deck where there isn't any grass. But I'm guessing that I mowed over at least that many. It was horrible. I was trying not to look, hoping that karma would take notice of my saving 30 or 40 of them when most people would have mowed right over them without caring one bit.

(Or would have even gotten some pleasure out of running them down. I remember reading a study somewhere—one of the Straight Dope books, maybe—where researchers found that just as people would go out of their way to not hit an animal they perceived as cute and friendly, like a rabbit or a deer, so would they too go out of their way to hit an animal that they saw as dangerous or threatening. They did this by putting a fake plastic animal by the side of the road, just far enough off the main roadway that they were both easy to avoid and easy to hit if the driver so desired. Snakes got it the worst—in several cases the cars slowed down and ran over the snake several times to make sure it was dead. Anyway, I can see how in this yard-obsessed neighborhood (several of my neighbors are in the landscaping business), a caterpillar could be seen as a threat that the people around here might get some small joy out of eliminating.)

Anyway. I was trying not to look, not to notice the remaining caterpillars that we had either missed in our sweep or that had ended up farther away from the house where we weren't looking. It seemed as though I would always catch sight of them right before the mower sucked them under, when it was too late for me to do anything but realize what was about to happen to them.

I don't know why it bothered me. I mean, I'm not a vegetarian or anything—as much as I might find chickens and cows interesting, it still doesn't stop me from eating them. And I don't have any particular fondness insects—I'll swat a mosquito on my arm as fast as the next person—but I just hated having to mow over those caterpillars. I hope to god they have made their cocoons and turned into moths by the next time we need to mow. I don't want to do that again.

A new review of David Byrne's "Look Into the Eyeball" is up on Plug. Check it out.

We have this unspoken policy in the office about playing music where we all basically agree to listen to music on our headphones and not on speakers, so that if someone's trying to think, your annoying music won't bother them (we have similar tastes, but they are just dissimilar enough that we can't ever agree on what to listen to at any given moment). Greg used to be the biggest violator of this policy, figuring, I guess, that the rest of us were listening on headphones because we wanted to. And he wanted to listen on his speakers, so that's what he did (completely ignoring the fact that if we all followed the same line of reasoning, the office would be a cacophony of battling speakers that would piss everybody off). This didn't annoy me when I was listening to my headphones, because then I couldn't hear his crappy music (mostly Dave Matthews, Cherry Poppin' Daddies, and irritating electronica stuff), but when I needed to just have some quiet time to figure out a programming problem, it could get really bothersome.

Anyway, everyone else in the office usually respects this rule. But every now and then, Max gets it in his head that he wants to listen to some music out loud. It usually only lasts for a few minutes, and it's easy enough to ignore for that amount of time. The really weird thing about it, though, is that the album he always plays when he's in one of these moods is Beck's "Midnite Vultures". And he's not like a huge Beck fan or anything. But that's always the record that he plays when he decides to violate the silent office policy. I can't figure it out; it's just kind of weird.

An interesting development in the Max playing his music on speakers phenomenon: for the first time ever, he played a CD other than "Midnite Vultures". This morning, he switched to Beck's "Odelay". I can't tell if that makes it more or less bizarre.

Comments on the season finales I watched last night:

The Simpsons: Worst episode ever.

Malcolm in the Middle: Umm...Hal and Lois are good characters that really help set this show apart, but I could really give a crap about their past.

The X-Files: Goddamn it. Chris Carter screws us again. But I knew he would, so it's not nearly as disappointing as it was, say, five years ago.

On a positive note, I'm really starting to get addicted to VH-1's Bands on the Run. One of the funniest shows on television, mostly because the people on the show don't realize just how ridiculous they are.

As a devoted member of the Cult of Macintosh, I felt compelled to go down to Tyson's Corner for the grand opening of Apple's first retail store on Saturday. Steve Jobs had been there earlier in the week for a press conference and media preview, but Saturday was the first day that the store would be open to the public. We are strictly a Macintosh household: Julie has never owned a PC, and her Perfoma 630 was the first computer that I really got into using (I authored my first web page on the Powerbook that I got a few months after that). Still, she is not quite as fervent as I am about Macs (she also doesn't make her living using computers), but she still agreed to go with me. (She's agreed to go with me to other similarly geeky events, the most notable being the midnight toy store opening when the new Star Wars figures went on sale—in a fit of nostalgia for my action figure-filled childhood and intense anticipation for Episode I, I decided that I had to go and get all the new figures the moment they were available).

Julie thought that no one would really show up, especially at 10:00 in the morning on a Saturday. I was convinced that it would be more crowded than the Star Wars thing (there were about 200 or 300 people at the Toys R Us that night), but I was still hoping that we wouldn't have to wait more than an hour or so to get in.

But both of us were wrong, in a big way. When we pulled up to look for a parking space, there was already a line out the door—and I mean the door of the mall, not the store itself. There were several local policeman patrolling the crowd (although I'm hard pressed to imagine a more well-behaved bunch than diehard Mac users), which had to be at least a thousand people strong and included kids, parents, geeks (like me), and elderly people, along with lots of normal looking folks.

Now, as much as my desire to attend this event in the first place might indicate otherwise, I'm no fool, and it took me about three seconds to decide that there was no way in hell I was going to wait in that line for what looked to be several hours (there was no time limit on being in the store, apparently, and I'm guessing that once they were allowed in, most people would stay at least half an hour or so, if not longer). Every time someone left the store, the guards would let one new person in; I wouldn't be surprised if there were some people at the end of the line who didn't get in that day.

We could, however, walk past the entrance to the store and look in the windows, so we did that a few times. Because the space was so open, we were able to get a pretty good look at the interior. It was a pretty cool looking store. Hardwood floors, white walls, and products displayed on pedestals around the space. Very open and clean, very minimalist—very Jobsian.

I'm not quite sure what I think of the idea of Apple retail stores from a business perspective. I don't know how profitable they will be in and of themselves, but they could have a PR value that is more than worth the price of lease. The analysts on Wall Street don't seem too enthusiastic about them, but they also thought that iMacs and iBooks were bad ideas. Apple says that despite the high cost of opening all these stores (they plan to have 25 by the end of 2001), they expect them to be profitable by 2002. And from the reaction I saw on Saturday, even if they don't bring in that many new customers, the Mac faithful will make sure that these stores are a success.

Woo hoo! won a District 2 Addy! District 2 includes NYC, so the competition is pretty fierce, which makes winning that much sweeter. Only three Addys were awarded in that category; the other two were given to a Jaguar site done by Ogilvy Interactive and the Sony Walkman site. Pretty good company, I think. I'm especially proud of zyzo, because in addition to writing all of the code for it, I also wrote all the content. It's one of the few projects that I worked on last year that's still out there on the web where people can see it (a lot of the stuff we did last year disappeared when the companies we worked for were either bought out or went out of business). Winning awards isn't really what we're in this business for, but it's a nice reminder that we are doing good work that other people in our industry can appreciate.

My friend Sam is in Africa right now. He followed his girlfriend, who had signed up for the Peace Corps right before they met. She left as scheduled in October of 1999, and after a few months of not being sure that he still wanted to be a graphic designer but being totally sure that he wanted to be with Miranda, he followed in September of 2000 (although he started making plans to leave in May or June—he basically sold most everything he owned except for a Powerbook and a couple of guitars).

I get a letter from him every now and then, but he is really out in the middle of nowhere (he is in Malawi, a small country known mostly for the high rate of AIDS occurrence in the adult population and for the scenic Lake Malawi, a popular spot with divers). He gets into the city every couple of weeks, where he does some video and graphic design work for the Peace Corps, but most of the time he spends incommunicado with Miranda. Her tour is over this October or November, but Sam's still not sure what they're going to do after that; he's talked about staying there for a while, traveling around Europe some, or coming back to the US and moving to New York or San Francisco.

Anyway, his father went over to visit him recently, and he brought back some gifts for everyone at CO2: African tribal masks. There were of special interest to me, because I got very into African literature when I was in college (both the mythological/folklore type and modern literature written by authors such as Ben Okri and Chinua Achebe). I know that in many tribal cultures, the masks were seen as vessels of the gods they represented; when the town council would get together, they would each wear a mask representing a different god and they would become the living embodiment of that god while they were wearing the mask, a concept I always though was interesting because it is without parallel in a Judeo-Christian culture.

So here are pictures of the masks that Sam sent us, along with his commentary from an email he sent telling us of their impending arrival (click on a mask for a larger image).

Ok, I got four masks. Two from Malawi, one from the Ivory Coast and one from Cameroon (no idea how to spell that). Here's what I know about them:


The two masks from Malawi are the rough ones. They are from the Guli-wan-kulu cult, which is the traditional religion of the Chewa tribe. Same tribe as the mask that Chris has actually. [He sent me a mask last Fall that looks pretty much like the mask on the left.] One of them is very similar to Chris's mask...the other is older and smaller. My guess is when the chief sold it to the fella I bought it from, the grass hair was added (thus it looks pretty new...while the mask looks older).

The Ivory Coast mask is the mask with two heads (one on top of the other). This is a female's mask that was probably used in a marriage ceremony. The smaller head on the top is to show her ability to bear children (that's a big thing when choosing a wife in Africa!). The Ivory Coast has a bunch of tribes that use masks, so I can't say for sure what tribe it is.

The Cameroon mask looks almost Asian in some ways. This is another West Coast of Africa mask (which is where the vast majority of masks from Africa originate). This is probably one of the oldest masks I have ever seen. This mask is an excellent example of two things: an old mask, and an authentic mask. See the top of it? There was a hole that was filled in with clay. A chief will not sell a mask of his tribe unless it has been damaged (the spirit has left a damaged mask, so it is just a piece of wood to them). The fact that this one was repaired and not just sold, probably says that it was used for a long time by a village deep in the bush. Usually, when a mask breaks, the chief will just have a new one made. This one must have been important in some way. Perhaps owned by an village elder. Who knows!

They are very cool looking masks, and the background that Sam provided just makes them more intriguing. Greg got the first mask at the top, the one that looks like the one that Sam sent me earlier, Jeff and Max share the one with the hair (it's too coarse and rough to be human hair—it's probably from a horse or some type of cattle), Caressa got the marriage mask (appropriate because she's the only woman in the office, even though it was hard to give that one up—it was the only one that looked like it had been decorated. You can still see remnants of blue and green paint on the ear portion of the mask), and I got the last one, the one that Sam thinks is pretty old.

Here is a list of all the major league baseball teams that have two players with the same last name and the names of those players, as near as I can figure:

Ben Molina
Jose Molina

Andruw Jones
Chipper Jones
Eddie Perez
Odalis Perez

Andy Benes
Alan Benes

Adrian Brown
Emil Brown

Eric Davis
Russ Davis

Jason Giambi
Jeremy Giambi

Ivan Rodriguez
Alex Rogriguez

Todd Walker
Larry Walker

White Sox
David Wells
Kip Wells

Bernie Williams
Todd Williams

Enrique Wilson
Craig Wilson

There are a few of these pairs that are brothers (Molina, Benes, and Giambi), but for the most part this is all just coincidence. I don't know why this is interesting to me. I've just been curious about it recently and wanted to see how many there actually were.

I probably won't post anything here until next Tuesday or so. We're going to be in Raleigh visiting my mom and grandfather for a couple of days, and then we're taking a couple of days off just to relax. But I am going to take one of CO2's digital cameras with me, so hopefully I'll have lots of good pictures to post when I come back.

I played golf for the first time in over a year with CO2 Jeff yesterday. We played this crappy little course that used to be farmland not too long ago (although it was definitely in better shape than it was the last time I was there a year or so ago)—I think the farmer may be then one running it. It's basically a walking driving range; bad shots roll for far too long and there aren't many hazards to punish you for poor aim. But it's cheap (only $10 for as many holes as you want to play) and it doesn't really get crowded until after 5:00.

Jeff and I play the infinite mulligan/no penalty for drop rules, which basically means that we hit two or three tee shots until we get a decent shot, and if we lose a ball there is no extra stroke added to our scores for the drop. Even though I had to use a mulligan three or four times (we only played nine), I was generally pleased with my tee shots (which are generally the weakest area of my game), and by the last three or four holes I was finally getting my irons down too. I had one great shot: I was about 10 yards from the fringe of the green, and the cup was about 10 yards from the fringe. It was all uphill, so I was just trying to chip up somewhere within a few feet of the cup and hope that the ball didn't roll back down the slope. I chipped up, and it was right on line with the hole, but it was going way too fast, so I figured it would just run past the cup and I would have a difficult downhill putt. Instead, the ball smacked into the flag and dropped right in the cup. I've had some good chip shots before, but that was the first time that I actually hit the pin and had the ball drop in. It ended up being the difference in our scores; I beat Jeff by only 1 stroke.

The reason that we only played nine holes, aside from the fact that we both needed to be home before too late, was because of the bugs. Specifically, the gnats. A swarm of them surrounded us from the moment we stepped onto the course, and we were never really able to shake them. Sometimes, the breeze would pick up and you would start walking and you could get rid of them for a minute, but if you turned around you could actually see them there, hovering and waiting for you to stop for just a second so they could catch up. Jeff said they were much worse than when he played the course a week ago (probably because it has been raining here for the past couple of days and there was a lot of standing water near the course). After nine holes we were both half-crazy from fighting them off for the last hour and a half, and we decided to call it quits before we really lost it.

But it was fun, and good practice for this Friday, when I am supposed to play 18 with my grandfather. We're going to try and start playing once every week or so, although we probably will try to play at courses that are a little better developed now that we're getting our swings back.

A lot of stuff happened this weekend, almost too much to assimilate. On Thursday night, we drove down to Raleigh to visit my mother. We stayed at my grandfather's house, who I went to play golf with on Friday; on Friday night went out for barbecue with two of my aunts. Saturday I picked up my sister Tori in Durham and took her out for breakfast. Then I brought her back to Raleigh, where we then took my cousin Clay to see Shrek before going out to a Japanese steakhouse for dinner to celebrate my birthday (it was two months ago, but this is the first time I've seen my mom since then). Sunday I had dinner with a friend I hadn't seen in seven years who is now married and pregnant and found out that my grandmother (my father's mother) had died suddenly but peacefully right before I took my grandfather, who was at Pearl Harbor, to see the movie of the same name. Sunday night we drove back home, arriving just in time to see our neighbor across the street hit a power box with his van, knocking out power to 10 houses on our street, including ours.

As you can imagine, I needed to rest from my so-called vacation on Monday, so I didn't do very much. Julie and I watched Saving Private Ryan (she for the first time, me for probably about the fifth) in the afternoon, and after a quick trip to the grocery store, we grilled hotdogs for dinner and watched the taped series finale of Star Trek: Voyager.

I'm pretty exhausted. Almost too tired to write this. Certainly too tired to deal with it all properly. But I have a lot of details to write about concerning these events, and also a lot of pictures to upload from the weekend. But you may have to wait until tomorrow for more.

We saw two movies this weekend: Shrek and Pearl Harbor. They made an interesting pair, since they will most likely be the first two movies over the $100 million mark this summer (besides the mummy thing, which is already well past that mark). But one will make money because it deserves to while the other will make money for the same reason that Britney Spears and N'Sync sell millions of records.

First Shrek: We took my 10 year old cousin Clay to see this one because he never gets to go to movies normally (his mother is such an addicted smoker that she can't go without a cigarette for the 90 minutes that most kids' films run) and also because it gave us a good excuse to see it. The reviews for this one have been ridiculously good, so my expectations were pretty high. And they were fulfilled, for the most part. The Shrek character was instantly likable (from the previews I'd seen, I though that Mike Myer's faux-Scottish accent would be pretty annoying, but it was much more toned down in the actual film), and Eddie Murphy's donkey had some seriously funny lines. The heroine has a secret that won't be a surprise to anyone but the kids, but it's nice to see a kid-oriented film competing with Disney that doesn't go for the Beauty and the Beast or Hunchback of Notre Dame ending, where only the outwardly beautiful people find love in the end.

The computer animation was pretty good, but that art has been refined to the point where it's almost not even that impressive anymore; it's just another style of animation at this point. But the kids around us were laughing like crazy through the whole movie, and the movie has plenty to offer to adults as well.

Pearl Harbor was a different story. Knowing that it was a Bruckheimer/Bay production that used the Pearl Harbor attack as the backdrop for a love story that spanned three hours, I didn't expect very much. In fact, the only reason I went to see it was to go with my grandfather, who was a Pearl Harbor survivor. Even with these lowered expectations, it was a disappointment: the writing was bad, the editing was bad, the photography was occasionally very poor, and the acting seemed very bad (although it's hard to tell sometimes whether its the actors or the script that's at fault). The 45 minute sequence detailing the actually attack was fairly well staged, but even still it was dripping with melodrama and empty attempts at emotional depth. Even though the majority of the film dwells on the relationships between the three principle characters, I never found myself emotionally invested in them; the fact that their stupid story seemed to take precedence over the events of December 7, 1941, was therefore all the more insulting.

My grandfather was amazed at the special effects and the fact that they could recreate the battle so convincingly on the screen, although there were several inaccuracies that he noticed. I think he liked it okay, although I'm sure the romance stuff didn't do much for him. He's not really much of a filmgoer, though; before Sunday, he hadn't been in a theater in more than 10 years (he used to go when the maid came; he would buy a matinee ticket and use the theater as a place to nap while she cleaned the house).

So I guess I would recommend Shrek, especially if you have kids or like kids' movies, and I wouldn't recommend Pearl Harbor. Not that it matters; Pearl Harbor is going to make piles of money no matter how many times it gets slammed.

My grandmother, my father's mother, died suddenly (but peacefully) early Sunday morning. She had fallen a few days earlier, and even though she was taken to the hospital for CAT scans and other precautionary diagnostics, they couldn't find anything wrong with her. She seemed a little slower than usual according to my aunt Mary Ann, who lives in Jacksonville near the assisted care facility where my grandmother lived for the last few years, but that wasn't unusual: my grandmother was well into her 80s and had suffered from Parkinson's for the last several years; my father says that he noticed her slowing down each time he went to visit her every few months or so.

She had fairly normal days on Friday and Saturday; Mary Ann even had dinner with her on Saturday night. And then early Sunday morning, barely after midnight, they called my aunt to tell her that my grandmother had passed away in her sleep. My father just returned from Jacksonville last night; they are planning to hold a memorial service in July where we will bury her ashes in the plot next to her husband in Tallahassee.

In a way we were all kind of prepared for this, even though it was very sudden. Last year my grandmother had an obstruction in her small intestines that would have killed her if it wasn't surgically removed, and yet the surgery itself posed a great threat to her life. She decided that she'd rather just take her chances without the surgery, and everyone expected her to die within the week. We all mourned for her even before she had passed, each taking our turn with her on the phone, sure that this would be the last time we would ever speak to her. And then one morning she woke up and said she was hungry. Somehow the obstruction had cleared itself, and she was able to return home without any further complications.

She had Parkinson's for the last several years of her life, and even though her long-term memory remained fairly intact, her short term memory was terrible. She would often ask the same questions over and over while she was talking to you, and even though she knew Julie and knew that we were in a serious relationship, she didn't know that we were now married; likewise she was unable to recall the marriage and children of one of my cousins.

Her name was Mary Louise, but everyone called her Mary Lou. She was a schoolteacher, and she and my grandfather (who I barely knew—he died when I was four or five) had the same wedding anniversary as Julie and I. He was a social worker, so they didn't bring home a lot of money, but they still managed to send both of their children to good schools (my father went to Duke). The house in Tallahassee where she lived for many years is still very much alive in my memory: the creaky hardwood floors that ran throughout the house; the smell of the attic, stuffed with old magazines, comic books, and relics from her teaching days; the simple, 50s-style kitchen with a shelf of mason jars fill with cereals, dried fruit, and candy; the sun-filled dining room, its windows lined with jars containing African Violets, with a single penny in the bottom of each jar. I remember driving with her in a rainstorm on the way to my aunt and uncle's lake house, where I learned to water ski, and the old plastic coffee mug that she seemed to carry with her everywhere despite the fact that part of it had been melted from coming too close to a heating element.

I don't know how to properly memorialize her here. She was a wonderful woman, caring and loving and giving, but also very no-nonsense—she was a teacher, after all. She was a very strong influence in my life even though she lived far away, and she remained her own unique self even while her mind and body were deteriorating from disease and just plain old age. Kurt Vonnegut had this idea in one of his books (I couldn't tell you which one at this point) that when a person dies, they send out mental butterflies to say goodbye their friends and family. I've always thought that was a beautiful concept, and so when my dad called me on Sunday morning to tell me that she had passed during the night, I tried to remember if I'd had any dreams about her, or any premonitions. But there was nothing; her death could not have been more a shock. Still, I know that she will remain with me for the rest of my life; I would be proud of my life if I could turn out to be half the person she was.

On Saturday I picked up my sister Tori from NCSSM, which is where I finished high school and where she will graduate this Saturday. I really like hanging out with her; I am pretty blessed to have someone that I get along with that well in my own family. I know that I often say that Regan is like a sister to me, but in truth I know that it's a lot easier to have close friends outside of your family than within your family. So I guess I should start saying that my sister Tori is one of my best friends.

We took her out to breakfast at a place called Elmo's on 9th Street (in one of the many old locations for the 9th Street Bakery, which is still around but which isn't even on 9th Street anymore). I had cheese grits, which you can't get up north, and she had the special—sweet potato pancakes. Julie got oatmeal or something granola-y like that, which seems to be what she prefers for breakfast these days.

Tori then came back to Raleigh with us to take my cousin to see Shrek, and later she came to dinner with us at a Japanese steakhouse. In between, we sat out in my grandfather's garden and took pictures of things and played darts in his garage. After dinner, I drove her back to NCSSM by myself, since I wanted to have some time alone with her to talk. She's concerned about our brother, and she's really excited about going to Chicago next year. Of course I'm a little worried about her moving hundreds of miles away (just like everyone else in the family; she's the baby and the last one to leave the nest, and also the only one who has chosen to live in a big city), but in my heart I know that she'll thrive there.

Once we got to NCSSM, we walked down to a park that I used to hang out at with my friends when I was in school; apparently it's used more by the drug crowd now as a place to get high off campus. On the way back we walked past a yard that had several bathtubs painted in pastels arranged in the front yard as decoration (it was really cool looking, but I didn't have my camera to record it). It's just really good to talk to her; she makes me feel very grounded and very happy. I wish that we lived closer together so I could see her more than two or three times a year, since neither of us is great at email (although we do talk on the phone about once a month), but she'll hopefully be able to come and visit me for a few days this summer, and maybe even come with us to the beach in August.

I don't know. I am increasingly aware of the short time that we have here (and I think I've always been a little more conscious of it than most people), and I want to spend as much of that time as possible with people like Regan and Tori. I am lucky that I have Julie to come home to every day, but I miss being near my other close friends. I know, I know, if I was around them all the time, I might not appreciate the time I have with them as much. But I just miss them a lot.
december 2001
november 2001
october 2001
september 2001
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