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Piers the handyman 2007
SapTimber 2013

I watched the Discover video Cuba: The Accidental Eden. It was interesting, as they all are. It seems that the political and economic isolation of Cuba for the past fifty years means that its beaches and undeveloped land have not been much patronized, so remain fairly pristine for the animals. Sea turtles have prospered, and the Cuban crocodile, and birds and bats. It seems likely that the American embargo will be lifted soon, and that will increase tourist business, and the wilder regions will be developed, and rare species will be endangered. That will be unfortunate, but seems inevitable.

I watched an old (1947/48) classic, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, starring Humphrey Bogart, partly because I remember my father remarking on it with favor, appreciating its irony. I remember that last month we happened to see on TV Bogart's movie with Katharine Hepburn, The African Queen; we had forgotten just how good that was, with the interplay between them as they floated down the river on the old boat, avoiding the enemy Germans. Bogart is good here too, as a greedy, paranoid drifter prospecting for gold in Mexico. The grizzled old timer they team with warns of the corrupting power of gold, and so it plays out, bringing out the best and worst in Bogart: best acting, worst character. He wants all the gold for himself, and thinks the others do too. In the end he dies and the gold is lost: a fine cosmic joke on them. I did not expect to enjoy this movie, and I didn't, but it was worth watching for the realism and life lesson. So if you need to collaborate with someone to try for a phenomenal prize, whether it be gold directly as in gold dust, or indirectly as in a bestselling book, how can you set it up so as not to throw it away by the foolishness of greed and paranoia? Because a writer does have to collaborate with agents, publishers, and other writers. My formula is and has always been absolute honesty (and honor, a larger and more complicated concept) in all my dealings, expecting it also from those I deal with, openly cutting ties with those who cheat me, and I don't believe that any of my business associates question that. But it can be a difficult course; I did get suspended in college, removed from my math/survey teaching position in the US Army, and blacklisted as a writer for it, and my career suffered accordingly; though I think even my opponents, if constrained to speak honestly, would concede the validity of my cases. We live in an imperfect world. The honest men in the movie lost their gold, when they might have kept it dishonestly; where is the lesson there? So it bears continued reflection.

I read When You Were a Tadpale and I Was a Fish, a collection of speculations about this and that by the late Martin Gardner. The title is from a poem titled “Evolution” by Langdon Smith, that traces his love for her from the Paleozoic time on. “My heart was rife with the joy of life,/ For I loved you even then.” It's a nice thought. There were some satisfactions for me in this book, such as confirmation that my answer to the coffee/tea problem is accurate. Here it is phrased as Dracela's blood and vodka martini, but it's the same problem. To wit: take a cup of coffee, and a cup of tea. Mix one spoonful of coffee into the tea, stir, then mix one spoonful of the result back into the coffee. Is there more coffee in the tea cup, or tea in the coffee cup? I encountered this decades ago, I (hope erroneously) believe, as a sample Mensa test question, and the keyed answer was that there was more coffee in the tea cup. That turned me off Mensa, as my tolerance for idiocy is small, and I didn't join. My answer was that the rule is displacement; the coffee displaces a certain amount of tea, and that same amount to tea must then be in the coffee cup. No math needed; they have to be equal. Elementary. As Gardner agrees. Another satisfaction is confirmation of my belief that the quote about Jesus saying that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter Heaven, was an error. That Jesus actually said camel-hair rope and it was mistranslated. I'm an agnostic who has studied Jesus, and he was a pretty sensible man, apart from being overboard about religion; no need to exaggerate his sensible analogy into a ludicrous one. Gardner says the words for camel and rope in Aramaic are spelled the same. Yes, it would depend on context. I remember when newfangled non-tube radios were in vogue, a transistor was a transistor radio, by similar popular usage; this sort of simplification occurs all the time. Gardner comments on folk like the evangelist Oral Roberts, who received messages directly from God, but lived a wastefully rich life himself. He did not give all his money to the poor, but he and his son did run up a debt of $50 million. One chapter is titled “Why I am not an Atheist,” wherein he says “I have no basis whatever from my belief in God other than a passionate longing that God exists and that I and others will not cease to exist.” He's honest about it; in my view it is the fear of death that essentially motivates religion. I don't much like death either, but I remain agnostic, not letting such emotion compromise my rational mind. He muses on the abiding question why is there something rather than nothing—I reviewed a book about about that last column—and the question of free will: is it an illusion? He seems to feel it is real; my conclusion is that it probably is an illusion. On politics he quotes the socialist Norman Thomas: “Most Americans don't know the difference between socialism, communism and rheumatism.” I love that, though I'd be hard put to accurately define the differences. So this was a fun book to read.

I read Metal Maiden, my novel of Elasa, the female robot who becomes conscious and self-willed. This was compiled from four 30,000-word novellas: To Be A Woman, Shepherd, Flytrap, and Awares, an 118,000 word story of Elasa, her friend Mona Maverick, Shep the planetary administrator turned shepherd, and telepathic, precognitive sheep. It's a wild, sexy story as Elasa fights first for her own identity, and then to save the sheep and finally Planet Earth from a truly ugly menace: getting eaten by giant spacefaring maggots. So if you passed up the novellas, here is your chance to get them all at a bargain price.

I watched Into the Blue 2 The Reef, which I got for three dollars at BigLots while we were shopping for something else because I wanted a review of scuba diving. It features handsome young men and pretty young women, well exposed. It's unrated, I presume because there are a couple shots of bare breasts which fouled up the ratings. It does have scuba diving. Then, halfway through, it abruptly becomes violent and ugly as bad guys force the good guys to dive for the parts of a nuclear bomb. It concludes mixed, with the good guys getting a rich payoff in salvage, but some of their friends dead.

I watched Point of No Return, another of the three dollar videos. This confused me, because I soon realized that I knew the story line, yet I was sure I hadn't seen it before. So I did some spot research in my files, and found that it's a remake of La Femme Nikita, which I viewed two and a half years ago. I had bought that, then discovered it was a Blu-Ray, which I couldn't play. So we bought a new computer for my wife that could play Blu-Ray and I watched it on that. So I wasn't losing my marbles in my dotage; it really was the same story with different characters. Essentially, a criminal young woman is caught, tried and executed, unrepentant, but then wakes to discover she's officially dead, but they have saved her to become a deadly government assassin. She fights her new masters, but ultimately has no choice, and learns the trade. Then falls in love with an innocent, decent young man. There are some good sequences, such as him trying to propose marriage while she's set up to assassinate a target person, a bit of a distraction there. I think the remake improves on the original, though both are taut thrillers, yet ultimately nonsense: you can't go around plugging people wholesale in public without attracting attention. Not in America. Not yet.

I read Forever, by Pete Hamill, a historical fantasy recommended by a reader. It takes forever to get into, with tens of pages of description of the original Irish homestead, but becomes compelling when it finally gets into the story. The protagonist, Cormac, born circa 1740, loses his mother and then his father to the local earl and is thus obliged to seek vengeance by killing the earl and all male descendents. But the earl goes to New York, so Cormac follows him there, along the way helping some black slaves who give him eternal life as long as he stays on Manhattan island. He kills the earl, but must wait for male descendents to come to Manhattan to complete his vengeance. Thus we see the history of New York and some interesting girlfriends—one has Cormac paint nine portraits of her vulva to post on the walls of her establishment—until the raid of Nine-Eleven, with his current and likely permanent girlfriend in one the the buildings. The novel is dense with detail throughout, and I learned interesting things about New York. As it happened, my wife gave me a Kindle reader for my birthday, and I used this big novel to break it in, learning its features. Some paragraphs were merged, especially in dialogue, but the print was readable. When I reached the final page, 615, it said I was only 90% through, and sure enough there were 50 or 60 unnumbered pages beyond that. That wouldn't have happened with a physical book. Apart from that, the Kindle is a nice reader.

One day I stepped out, and there was a brown horse standing on our drive before the house. We're three-quarters of a mile from our nearest neighbor, who doesn't keep horses, so I figured it was a stray. Soon a car arrived with two well formed young women looking for the horse. One bridled her and rode her off, bareback, while the other followed in the car. Okay, that's what passes for adventure, here in the hinterland.

Songs constantly run through my cranium, as I have mentioned before. This time I glanced at one in passing, “Lowlands.” It starts “I dreamed a dream the other night/ Lowlands, lowlands, away my John/ I saw my love dressed all in white/ My lowlands away.” It continues to explain that when she said no word, he knew she was dead. There's surely an interesting story there. But my question is, who is John? What does he have to do with the price of beans in Bohemia? Why send him away?

I bought a small expensive bottle of an antioxidant I surely have little need for, having plenty of other antioxidants (and there's a question whether they really do much good), but the name got to me: Xantho. There must be some magic there.

I assembled four novellas, To Be a Woman, Shepherd, Flytrap, and Awares into a novel, Metal Maiden. It's about Elasa the Fembot, a robot crafted for sexual purpose, who can't be told from a real live woman. Then she achieves consciousness, and sues to be recognized as a legal person, and it goes on from there. She figures into the sequel novellas, and finally is instrumental (is there a pun there?) in saving Earth from the dread space-faring Maggots who propose to eat every living thing on Earth and move on, leaving only maggot poop. Along the way we encounter telepathic precognitive sheep and the Awares, who are so aware of their surroundings that they can seem to disappear at will. It's a pretty wild story all told, so if you have been passing up the novellas, now you can get them in one swell foop. Oops—I discovered when editing this column that this is the second time I covered this. Okay, I'm leaving both in, as I phrase them slightly differently, though I shouldn't.

They made a survey and more than half responded that they don't want dramatically longer life. They'd like to live to 90, which is about eleven years longer that the current American life. (I assume that's men and women both; men live less, women more.) Well, I am at that average now, still physically, mentally and sexually active, and I'd like to live to 90 or beyond in similar state. Most say that 120 years is too much. I don't really expect to reach that, but won't protest too much if I should get there more or less intact. A newspaper excerpt from an article in the ATLANTIC by Emily Esfahani Smith remarks that there is a difference between a meaningful and a happy life. It seems that happiness is overrated; it's associated with selfishness. “Happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self absorbed or even selfish life in which things go well...” As I believe I remarked in an Author's Note, I try to live my life in such manner that when at last I have to lay it down, I will not be ashamed. Indeed, happiness is not the object. Live for accomplishment and meaning, without eschewing pleasure. I'm an oddball, as my readers know.

I continue writing, of course. I wrapped up Cautionary Tales, and started a collaboration with JR Rain, working title Dolfin Tayle, featuring, what else, a dolphin protagonist. Who makes contact with deep-sea aliens; it's science fiction. I also wrote two stories, starting off the collection Relationships 6: “Feral Femme,” about a man who takes care of injured wild and feral (that is, returning to wild) animals; then a feral girl comes, lovely, nude, silent, and he takes care of her too. And falls in love with her. Then, of course, it turns out that she's not exactly what she seems. And “Cuddling and Kissing,” wherein a middle aged woman goes to a shop there they imprint a virile young man to see her as the most attractive creature imaginable. She gets him for 24 hours, before the imprint wears off. You thought this was just a sex story? You thought right; they try to fit 50 complete sexual events into that day and night, with cuddling and kissing between times. I also worked out a summary of a potential sequel to my favorite short novel of this year, Aliena, now on sale; this one is titled Star-Man, featuring a male alien transplant. Yes, Aliena is a continuing character.

The state of Florida takes a back seat to no other state when it comes to corrupt politics. Remember, this was the state that voted for Gore for president in 2000, but was put into the Bush column, giving him the illicit victory in the presidential election. Par for the course. A letter in the newspaper by Donna Herrick sums it up with an old local analogy, “Post Turtles.” You find a turtle sitting on a post. You know it didn't get up there by itself, it doesn't belong there, and doesn't know what to do while there. It is elevated beyond its ability to function. You wonder what dummies put it up there in the first place. That describes our current elected officeholders, and we the voters are the dummies.

Newspaper item on melanoma. A person's chances of getting it in a lifetime are one in 50. It accounts for only 5% of skin cancers, but causes 75% of skin cancer deaths. Why do I care? Because as this column goes to press it will be four years since my daughter Penny died of melanoma. Watch it, in the sun or a tanning bed. Some sun is good for you, generating Vitamin D; a lot of sun is not. Penny used to garden topless in the sun. Nature can be a cruel mistress.

Another newspaper article, this one by psychiatrist Mark Epstein, titled “The Trauma of Being Alive.” The trauma of a loss in the family never goes completely away. It changes, softens with time, but remains. And why should you get completely over it? It is part of your personal history. So how do you deal with it? This says it's best to lean into it, rather than try to keep it at bay. The willingness to face traumas is the key to healing from them. I will keep that in mind.

I read about a movie, “The Invisible War,” a searing documentary about sexual assault in the military. It seems that if you watch this film, it changes you. Obviously something needs to be done, and it will not be done internally. One woman who was raped was warned that she would be court-martialed if she reported it. This riles me. Were I in change, any rapist would be imprisoned, and any officer who failed to enforce that would be brought up on charges himself and probably busted (demoted). Obviously I'm not in charge. Actually, more men get raped than women, in and out of the military, but that merely shows the extent of the problem. America is supposed to have the greatest military establishment ever? I'd hate to see the worst.

I commented last Column on my losing battle with air potatoes. Now it seems there is a bug, looking a little like a lady bug, that dines exclusively on air potato leaves. Good enough; if they ever make those bugs available to those who need them, we'll take them.

I admire well-phrased comic strips. “Zits” for 8-17-13 had mother with a pitchfork telling son to always turn the clothes heap so that it composts evenly, then moving on to muck out the bathroom. “Sally Forth” for 8-13-13 inquires of her mother why she brought her no-account boyfriend to a family function; when he's left home does he dig up the potted plants and get into the garbage?

The daily chess puzzle can annoy me. The one for 7-5-13 asked for black's worst move, and has one that costs Black the Queen. Certainly that's bad. My move is Kd6, which enables Qe7 mate. Isn't that worse?

I'd love to run on and on, but I'm jammed and must quit.

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