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Piers the handyman 2007
OctOgre 2011

We passed the second anniversary of our daughter's death with quiet reflection. I still rail at the cosmos for depriving her of half her life. Our cancer memorial wrist bands, black for melanoma, are beginning to wear thin and may in time break, so we are experimenting with other bands. So now I am wearing the original one, plus a broad PEACE band that I know she would have liked. She was a peace activist and sometimes used the nickname Peacy, for her initials P C, Penelope Carolyn. We'll always wear our hearts on our sleeves, in this respect.


My recovery from my falls continues. In the first week, I was barely able to do light exercises, and to walk out to fetch the newspapers, left arm clamped to my chest. After two weeks I was able to sleep lying down, to do heavier exercises, and to jog out for the papers. After three weeks I resumed running, faster each time, and was able to draw the right- and left-side bows again. The bashed shoulder was the left one, but it was the right-side bow that gave me more trouble. It seems that my left arm could pull better than it could push. By four weeks my run speeds were back up to par, and I resumed archery, albeit haltingly. I still feel the shoulder when I lift my arm over my head, but it's only discomfort rather than pain. In the first week, on pain pills so I could sleep, I got constipation and gained two pounds. Once I got off the pills my normal rhythms returned and the weight dropped back down. So I am essentially well again. I appreciate all the well-wishes I received.


I'm 77, but I still like sex. The problem is that once I quit with Viagra, because I refused to be price-gouged any more—I mean, $30 for one pill?--I had difficulty achieving and maintaining a firm erection. That makes sex awkward. The desire remains, just not the ability. I could do it, and did do it, but it's a bit like driving the highway with tires inflated only fifty percent, sort of a drag. So I checked out other things. To condense my experimentation somewhat, all the non-prescription remedies I tried have one thing in common: they don't work, regardless of grandiose claims. That's why Viagra and its prescription competitors get away with gouging: they know they're the only real games in town. But I thought maybe if I could rev up my whole body, that would restore my erectile function too. So I tried the hormone DHEA, which stands for such a complicated name that it's much easier to stay with the initials. The body makes it naturally, but with increasing age that declines considerably. That's one reason young men are more studly than old men. It has a slew of potential benefits: it can facilitate loss of weight, stimulate the immune system, protect against cancer, improve brain function, enhance sex drive, protect against diabetes, prevent osteoporosis, improve mood, ease symptoms of menopause (I don't actually need that), and prevent heart disease. I am interested in all those benefits, especially, at the moment, the sex improvement. I got 50 mg pills, and tried one a day for a week. No discernible effect. So I upped it to two a day for a week. Still no effect. So I tried three a day for a week. Still nothing. Finally I tried four a day, and stayed there for a month or so. Still nothing. Except that one day as I looked up in a tree to check something, when I brought my head back level I suffered a bout of dizziness. Dizziness is dangerous; I certainly don't want to take another fall. One of the side effects of DHEA can be dizziness. So I eased off, and also finally got the blood test that my fall had delayed. And got a call from my doctor's office: get the bleep off of DHEA!! Normal is something like 75. I had something like 450. So now I'm off it, for now, to allow it to sink to its natural level in my body. Then we'll see what dosage would be in order for me. It is surely worth getting it right. But I already know that this, too, is not the answer to softening erections. Sigh. I know most men my age lose interest in sex, so their incapacity doesn't bother them, but I remain keenly aware of women, especially young shapely ones, as I window-shop in public. It's like bird watching: look, appreciate, but don't touch. But I like to think that I could touch, were it appropriate. To have the interest, the desire, but inadequate ability is a serious frustration. It's not what I call a subdivision of Hell, the way a death in the family is, but maybe it's a subdivision of Purgatory. But unless Viagra prices come down ten-fold, I'm not buying.


I read The World in Six Songs by Daniel J Levitin. There's a story behind its acquisition. An acquaintance had some software for me, and said to send him a 4MB flash drive and he'd put it on and send it back. There was a sale on BigLots on 4M flash drives, about $8 per, so we went there and I think got the last two. Then nothing came of the software, so now I'd using the Kodak 4M drive to back up my current Xanth novel as I write it. While there we browsed, and I discovered used DVDs on sale for one to five dollars per. So I bought a bundle, a number of which I reported on in a prior column. And my wife found hardcover books on sale for as little as fifty cents. She relayed one to me. Originally it was $25.95, reduced to $3, then reduced to .50. Thus I got and in due course read Six Songs. I tell you, this volume is worth a lot more than half a dollar. The author is a musician who believes, as I do, that what distinguishes human beings from other animals is art, and music is a prime art. So is storytelling, but that's my thesis, not his. Not only does man have the capacity to appreciate art, it is central to his existence; wherever man has gone, art has gone with him. Art makes it possible for man to gather in larger groups without being fragmented by quarrels, and thus to displace other creatures, including Neandertal man. When it comes to song, he lists six fundamental types: Friendship, Joy, Comfort, Knowledge, Religion, and Love. There's a chapter on each, with many relevant thoughts and many songs listed and quoted. “What we call emotions are nothing more than complex neurochemical states in the brain that motivate us to act.” “The message that death is just a portal, not the end, and you will live on afterward, is more comforting than the alternative, that death ends everything definitively.” “The most elaborate and largest illusion evolution has given us concerns consciousness itself.” “This yearning for meaning lies at the foundation of what makes us human.” “No one of us alive today had an ancestor who died in infancy.” “It saddens me so deeply what we, the Woodstock generation, have done to our planet. And nobody listens! We keep trashing it, ruining it, there won't be anyone left fifty years from now and it's purely our Tower of Babel arrogance that has brought us to this.” Amen.


This book came at a time, coincidentally, that I was noting some of the songs that constantly run through my head. There always seems to be something, and it can be from one I just heard, or something I heard as a child. Some I can identify, some I can't. Some examples: the “Sheep May Safely Graze” theme, which I understand Bach wrote. “I only know when he began to dance with me I could have danced danced danced all night” from My Fair Lady. “For the banks are made of marble, with a guard at every door, and the vaults are filled with silver that the people sweated for.” “Meadowlands, meadowlands, meadows green and fields in blossom” a lovely song that we don't hear much because it is I think the Russian national anthem. “And the whale gave a flounder with its tail, and the boat capsized, and I lost my darling man, and he'll never never sail again, Great God! He'll never sail again.” “Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight. Goodnight Irene goodnight Irene, I gets you in my dreams.” That was I believe the original Leadbelly version, later sanitized to “I'll see you in my dreams.” “I feel pretty, oh so pretty...” From West Side Story. “Cheer up weary traveler; after darkness comes the day.” “Once upon a time I was falling in love; now I'm only falling apart.” “I wish I were a fascinating bitch...” “Where's that jolly jumbuck you've got in your tucker bag? You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me” from the Australian “Waltzing Matilda” with its fabulous dialect. So was Matilda a girlfriend who didn't want to dance, and it became a way of saying a person had to do something he/she didn't want to? “It rained all night the day I left, the weather it was dry...” “I joined the navy to see the world, but nowhere could I find a girl as sweet as Cindy, the girl I left behind.” “Early one morning just as the day was dawning, I heard a maid cry in the valley below: 'Oh don't deceive me, oh never leave me, how could you use a poor maiden so?'” “My favorite pastime after dark is goosing statues in the park; if Sherman's horse can take it why can't you?” “Oh sinner man, where you going to run to, all on that day?” “Glory glory what's it to ya, I run around the house with nothing on at all!” “I want a beer just like the beer that pickled dear old dad. It was the beer and the only beer that daddy ever had. A good old fashioned beer with lots of foam, took ten men to carry daddy home...” “Load sixteen tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt.” “All day we faced the barren waste without the taste of water, cool clear water.” “Everybody loves Saturday night...” “If you miss the train I'm on you will know that I am gone, you can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles.” “You put your right hand in, and you shake it all about.” “Now dragons live forever, but not so little boys” from “Puff the Magic Dragon.” “Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume, spells a life of gathering doom; suffering, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in this stone cold tomb.” “I resolve not to yell 'Take off that hat!' I'll remove it gently with a baseball bat.” “Walk beside me oh my brother! All for one and one for all.” “A cannonball don't pay no mind, if you're gentle or you're kind...” “In Plymouth town there lived a maid (bless you young women!) and she was mistress of her trade.” “But I loved my hurricane, Donna was her name...” That's my version of a once popular song fitted to a once devastating hurricane we saw in Florida circa 1960; you contemporary pantywaists haven't seen one like that. “Ah, ay, ay, ay, come to your window. Ere moonlight pale and the starlight fail, come my lovely Ceilito Lindo.” (I think I messed up the spelling.) “Young girl inside of me just had to learn, that the woman inside of me must have its turn; what meant so much to me before has no importance anymore, it's true, since I met you.” “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saves a wretch like me.” “Papa's going to shoe my pretty little foot, mama's going to glove my hand, sister's going to kiss my red ruby lips; I don't need no man.” And on; they just keep coming. Some I hear snatches of but never complete, leaving me forever wondering, like “Me oh my I love him still...” Who loves whom? There's surely a story, and song, there.


Two of my novels are being published in OctOgre. One is Xanth #35 Well-Tempered Clavicle, About a walking skeleton Princess Dawn decides to marry. He uses his clavicles to play lovely music on his ribs. The other is quite different, the horror-shocker The Sopaths, about the way overpopulation causes the world to run out of souls, so babies start getting born without them, and thus have no capacity for conscience or other finer human traits. They are utterly vicious children, and the only way to stop them is to kill them. This story is ugly in a way Xanth never is, and I expect to encounter a backlash against it, maybe efforts to censor or suppress it. I am not sure a novel quite like this has been published before. We'll see. The horror anthology What Fears Become has also been published by IMAJIN BOOKS. My short story “Lost Things” is therein, so Anthony completists can find it there. It's not horror, actually, but was written for THE HORROR ZINE. Editor Jeani Rector busted her bottom assembling and promoting this volume, and I understand there is good material therein. At the moment I'm too jammed to read a tight 373 page volume, but maybe I will once I complete my current novel.


We saw the movie Dolphin Tale, our first 3D experience. They gave us glasses to use, and I switched constantly between the glasses and bare eyes, studying the difference. Actually it's not a lot, maybe a 15% enhancement of effect, except that without them background lines tend to fuzz. The movie itself is a fairly standard family-type boy and dolphin story that takes place in Clearwater Florida: boy sees dolphin stranded on the beach and injured, and helps alert the authorities, who take it in for treatment. The dolphin likes him, maybe because he cut the tangled rope off her, and that enables him to become involved in her treatment. But she loses her tail fins, which makes swimming a real problem. Until they manage to make an artificial tail and get her to use it. Then she is healthy and happy again. It ties in with others who lose limbs, notably human beings: there is increasing hope. Well enough done, and worth seeing.


News item: soon there will be another option for disposing of the dead: melting. Dissolve the body into liquid, pour it away, or whatever. It's called bio-cremation, and is surely environmentally friendly. Will I want to take that option myself, when my time comes? Maybe; I'll think about it. I understand the average American man lives 76 years; I have beaten that, but my time is surely diminishing. Oh—and the average American woman lives 80 years. They still really don't know why women outlive men on average. Perhaps related: the world is now hitting seven billion in population. There's a national campaign 7 Billion and Counting, trying to point up the way we are crowding animal and plant species to extinction. They plan to distribute 100,000 Endangered Species Condoms. I fear it will take a bigger effort than that. My novel Climate of Change shows one way, and The Sopaths shows another. Essentially, make universal contraception available, so that women have to opt out to nullify it in order to conceive, or provide hormones that make women breathtakingly sexy but also sterile until they quit using it. How many would? Maybe as many who don't eat fattening sweets.


From THE WEEK: An editorial. “The average American carries more than $6,000 in credit card debt; about half of all retirees have saved less than a quarter of what they will need; and our elected leaders convince the gullible it's possible to balance budgets while preserving their benefits and cutting taxes.” To which I add: why do we keep electing these so-called leaders? Is our voting public really made of morons or the willfully ignorant? Or are politicians liars who don't practice what they preach? Or are the elections rigged? Or all of the above? A report says that 25 of the top 100 corporations paid their CEOs more than they paid in taxes, and 20 spent more in lobbying Congress than in taxes. Maybe that explains it. From a column quoted: “College is supposed to teach you how to think, not what you must think.” I find that seemingly minor distinction to be major. And from the same magazine's Wit & Wisdom section: “Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make a man a more clever devil.” C S Lewis. But how does that align with the prior statement? Maybe college should teach some what as well as how. And comment on smarts: raw scores on IQ tests have steadily improved over the past century. Are we really getting smarter? There is doubt. Some evidence shows that meanwhile creativity is declining. I'm not really surprised. IQ is good at measuring the ability to memorize and parrot back information, but truly creative answers are apt to lower a person's score. I, as a lifelong creative thinker, have been there. I had to get out of the box and do my own thing to make my mark. I did, though of course I get neither the money nor the critical acceptance less ornery writers do.


Newspaper article on Erotic Capital as presented by the book of that title by Catherine Hakim. She says why not use it to get ahead? Why not indeed. Smart folk use their brains to get ahead, strong people use their muscles, rich people use their money, sociopaths use their unscrupulosity. So why shouldn't sexy people use their sex appeal? Is there any other reason those empty-headed women are running for president on the Republican ticket?


I haven't had much use for DOW the big chemical corporation. But they ran an 8 page ad that impresses me. It says they are working to make lighter and more durable blades for big windmills, encouraging trees on rooftops, a huge Tower of Power that utilizes solar energy by heating air, which then rises up the tower, where turbines generate power, and releases clean air. Growing curved bamboo to make natural-substance bikes. Designing a universal flu vaccine that may be available in five years to wipe out that plague. Working on a General Motors self-driving electric pod car. I am impressed.


Robyn Blumner column: “Republicans would rather see the full faith and credit of this nation destroyed than close tax breaks for oil companies. If there is any silver lining, it's the revelation for all to see that one political party will capitulate for the good of the country, and one won't. For those biblically inclined it should remind them of the judgment of Solomon.” That is, the woman who preferred to lose her baby rather than see it hurt. That was true love. But for “conservative” Republicans it seems that greed trumps patriotism. Better to reign in Hell...


They are narrowing down the hiding places of the Higgs boson. It won't be long before they either find it or prove it doesn't exist. The idea is that Higgs brings mass to all other matter, so if there's no Higgs there's a problem. Personally, I don't see why mass has to be hand carried to every item; I think it could be inherent in matter. But I'm not a scientist. Possibly related: Now there's a theory that dark matter may consist of trillions of stellar-mass black holes. The problem is, these things are difficult to see, since they don't give off light. But astronomers are looking. And buried deep in the newspapers an item of potentially phenomenal importance: evidence the neutrinos travel slightly faster than light. Can this be true? Stay tuned.


We watched the first presentation of Terra Nova, wherein folk from the future travel to the dinosaur age for living room. It was hard to follow the dark complication of the future, but the dinosaur sequences were fun. Maybe copying Jurassic Park, but my kind of junk.


Oh—and just in case anyone has not yet caught on, I am of the liberal social-religious-political persuasion, and this is where I vent.

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