When Sixes Don’t Mean Boxcars

In 2013 at the World Science Fiction Convention, I had the great fortune of meeting Arriane “Tex” Thompson.   She was and acquaintance of a friend and she joined a group of us going out to dinner.  It took about 15 minutes before she charmed the entire table.    When dinner was over, I knew she had a novel being published in 2014 and that I would be reading it.  I wasn’t sure what to expect – either I didn’t ask or I had too much to drink and the former was unlikely – but I didn’t expect a western horror fantasy novel.  Don’t take the Sci-Fi portion of the convention too literally; the fantasy genre is often lumped in with it.  No one in their right minds thinks of A Song of Ice and Fire (which you may think of as Game of Thrones) as Sci-Fi and that was why I was there.

This summer, Tex’s  One Night in Sixes was published.  Having preordered it, it came with little fanfare in a box with a smile.  I had seen the cover on line, but I had not really gauged the entire “westernness” that confronted me.  I’m not really a western kind of guy.  I can say Zane Gray and Louis L’Amour because I’m observant – I’ve never read anything of theirs.  Nor have I read King’s Gunslinger series. My father always loved westerns like “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon”, but I always resisted the nonexistent temptation to watch with him.  I have seen “Unforgiven” so I’m not completely clueless. Just mostly.  That’s enough from the peanut gallery.

one night in sixes

Of course when I hear “Sixes” I immediately thing of one thing.  No, not people whose looks are slightly above average, but the Rolling Stones “Tumbling Dice“.

I’m all Sixes and Sevens and Nines

As a craps player, and thank you Dad for teaching me the game and reinforcing its joys, we want sixes and nines.  But usually it is sixes and eights or nines and fives or seven and elevens.  It is context sensitive (in addition to being fully math/statistics based).  I ‘m guessing Mick and Keith don’t roll the bones for money.  So while I hoped the novel had a dice based theme, I knew better.

I opened the book and started with minor trepidation.  Was she going to brand cattle? Teach us how to use a lasso?  Perhaps chuck wagon chili was on the menu.  Oh well, I was going to find out.  It didn’t matter after a few pages of establishing the western motif, I realized we weren’t in Texas anymore.   Almost immediately I was thrust into a new world, where western elements mixed with the unusual.  Was this some post-apocalyptic future?  Perhaps an alternate universe where the weather and man’s arrogance transformed this part of the world into a heap of dry clay, ready to be molded but unable to maintain any sort of structural integrity.  It didn’t matter; the landscape in my mind’s eye provided an ample canvas for the tale to unfold.

We quickly meet Appaloosa Elim and Sil Halfwick.   My next thought was this was going to be the literary equivalent of a buddy movie.  You know, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in “The Road to Someplace” or Eddy Murphy and Nick Nolte roaming San Francisco for 48 hours, twice it seems.  But again no, the two main characters are not really buddies and they don’t really travel together.  Yes, I do have an overactive imagination.

The basic premise of the books is that Elim and Sil travel to the town of Sixes and bad shit happens.  Then it gets convoluted and worse shit happens and it continues to go downhill, with unusual characters and their veiled motivations pulled into that downward spiral ever faster.  I wondered if Tex listened to too much Nine Inch Nails while writing the book.

If I was 14, this would be where I start to summarize the plot and dissect the characters’ actions and motivation.  As an adult, I believe you can do that if you choose to do so.    What I do want to focus on is the depth and density of the detailed mythology Tex showers the reader with.  There are multiple cultures, languages and motivations that reveal themselves at her pace.    There are not any “remember when…” moments.  This is a smart book for intelligent readers.  The novel rewards both the thoughtful reader and the multiple rereads you will want to do.

She also pays homage and leverages what has been done well in the past.  I’m not about to say that One Night in Sixes is a new entry into the big book of Cthulhu mythos, but I definitely saw some influence from Lovecraft.  In my world that is always worth 3 bonus points.

Subtitled “Children of the Drought Book One”, this is clearly the first of a series, as the small print proclaims.  I’m looking forward to future books, as Tex has a fantastic way with words.  Her prose is engaging, descriptive and refreshing.  Here are a few examples.

A stab of fear pierced the fog as Elim was hauled up to his feet, and he suddenly understood done. (Page 122)

The darkness opened her eyes, angry white tears tracked down her cheeks, and found him. (Page 214)

But even with his hair half out from its tie and full pockets under his eyes, he knew better than to wait for an invitation to speak.  (Page 339)

Why yes, I did take these at random.  That’s what makes this such a rewarding read.  Her unique style fills the pages, keeping the reader – ok, me – fully in her thrall until she decided she was done with me.  Now all I can do is wait for the next book.  I’m sure I’m not the first to say this, but you’ll be hearing a lot from her.  My book collection is waiting for fancy limited versions that are trademark of beloved books.  I’ll make room for hers on a prominent shelf.

On a side note, Tex has called me “the MacGyver of Gastronomy”.  Don’t you think you should buy and read her book just for that alone?

 

Today’s blog brought to you by REM.  Boxcars – a carnival of sorts, if you please.

 

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(Not So Great) Expectation, or New Uses for Toothpicks

“The San Francisco Airport train on the opposite side of the platform has just been taken out of service,” interrupted my normal morning commute.  Pulling in to the station, it was clear that the platform was full of waylaid passengers, ready to do their best sardine impressions.  My current cozy environment was about to become hot and crowded.  Luckily, I only had a few more stops.  My expectations were set appropriately; I was sitting in the middle of the train and it would be a game of commuter twister to exit.

I was not disappointed; I bumped, grinded and politely asked the woman who shifted 6mm to really move, as her gargantuan backpack still blocked my path.  Keep in mind, she was not a slip of a thing, her backpack was her reverse doppelgänger.  Eventually, I was able to exit the car before the doors closed, thought this was never a certainty.  What I did not expect lay before me.

The platform was overly crowded.  I had not thought about the effects of the mass of displaced humanity on stations down the line.  Nor did I expect the complete loss of common sense that on display like a Melissa Gorga dance single.  Imagine this, a narrow platform, crowded with displaced people, milling about like the children of South Park performing the works of Phillip Glass.  It was neigh on impossible to pass.  I felt like the Black Knight was trying to stop me from going forward.  There was actually plenty of room, but the imbeciles in front of me worked hard to block my egress.  I couldn’t imagine what they were thinking; their actions indicated their desire to force me off the platform into the path of the next train.  Luckily I persevered and made my way towards my morning coffee and ultimately, the office.

I’ve learned to set my expectations accordingly.  For instance, it never fails that at one intersection on my walk to work at least one car will ignore the stop sign and ignore my rights as a pedestrian in a cross walk.  Similarly in Chinatown, people will inevitably decide to veer to their left and force me to my left, because, as you know, “in Chinatown, no one walks one on the right hand side of the side walk.”  I guess I missed that lesson.    Especially today, when the man with the murderous look in his eye walked straight at me as I hugged the curb to my right and forced me to my left.  He must have thought walking in Chinatown was the same as driving in England.  I mistakenly missed that clear connection.  Of course, by now my expectations have been reset.

Upon entering the building lobby a cloud of noxious air assaulted my olfactory glands. In Peanuts Pigpen leaves a cloud of dust in his wake.  Pepe’ Le Pew does similarly with his stink in the cartoons.  Clearly, a woman in my office decided to merge the two characters and use the most offensive scent imaginable.  It was so thick you could almost see it.  I painfully trudged through it, wishing I had a fan to serve as my urban machete in this toxic jungle.  I was sadly aware that this woman had found a fragrance worthy of the name my internal monologue had bestowed it, au de Durian.

I could only imagine what the wearer of this odoriferous assault was thinking.  No one would notice?  Clearly everyone did.  One of my coworkers had noticed another coworker went heavy with her scent each month for a few days.  He asserted that it was her way hiding Aunt Flow from the rest of the staff.  If that was the case today, Aunt Flow came for a month with all of her sisters and half the street urchins from menstrual town.  Clearly her expectation that her condition would go unnoticed were fallacious.  Nothing like attracting attention when you are trying to slide under the radar, right?

Once in the office, my expectations changed.  I sit at my desk, trying to be productive.  I set my goals, realistically as my expectations, which are rarely too far off, are to be ignored, left out and asked to do some minor secretarial duty from time to time.  That’s my typical day.  I’ve become quite adept at laying low, not trying to help where I am not wanted and ignoring the circuitous conversations headed off a cliff when I have the answer they need.  They don’t want my input.  It has been made clear.

One area I look forward to is my (almost) daily trip to the bathroom.  I know you think you know where this is going, but trust me you don’t.  In the late afternoon I visit the left urinal and do my business.  Nope no colorful language, just efficiency.  There, pointing at 2 o’clock is a sturdy wooden toothpick, half under the urinal screen.  Why is this interesting?  Besides the fact it has been there more than 2 weeks, soaking up fluids from a myriad of human sources like some teenage biology experiment from one of Cthulhu’s disciples?  Shouldn’t that be enough?  I mean the bathroom gets cleaned 2-4 times per day.  Perhaps the janitorial staff need special nuclear gloves or tongs? Why are they waiting for the screen to expire at the end of the month?  What makes this so interesting is really a history lesson concerning small minds trapped in conflict with mismanaged expectations.

We moved into a new office almost 2 years ago.  Within a short time, the expectations of the facilities staff were out of whack.  They picked a very beautiful carpet and layout that looked fantastic in several magazines and advertising campaigns.  However, it was both impractical, counter-productive and filled with questionable decisions.  As an example, the carpet.  While stunning to look at in its large sweeping patterns of light colors and (rumor has it) just as stunningly expensive, it is inappropriate for a large office setting.

In an office of over 100 people (seems like a good place to draw the line doesn’t it?) there will be all types of people – considerate, careful, conscientious and altruistic.  Of course with that many people, you will also find some people that are rude, clumsy, unthinking and selfish.  It is just statistics and human nature.  So actions were taken.  Emails are sent out regularly to make sure people don’t fill their cups too full, always use a lid and heaven forbid DON’T SPILL!  If you sit at your desk too much, you must get a mat, to save the carpet.  What is too much?  I think its 2 hours a day. Since conference rooms are in short supply, people sit at their desks.  Yes, there was no expectation that people will react poorly when they are treated like a kindergarten class being unruly at nap time.  The key take away here is that everything was designed for looks, not functionality or actual use.  But don’t say anything; that would be worse.

But, enough about the carpet, back to the bathroom.  One of the first thing I noticed was that urinals were designed for maximum splash back.  This isn’t the master suite at some hotel where you pay $1500 a night, this is an office where functionality, perhaps even minimalism, should rule.  Facilities noticed there were puddles in the men’s room.  The pretty tile floor was not designed to hide the splashes that occur in many such rooms.  So immediately, this became a crisis.  Emails were sent, notes were posted and nothing changed.  The problem is the urinal, not the people.  Somewhere, a woman surely thought that most of the men in the office were doing fire hose impressions to ruin her wonderful bathroom design.  Let me assure you, men have limited control over how much extreme presume they can exert at the urinal.  But since her expectations were that emails and notes would run the people like sheep down the gangway to the slaughter of modified behavior, they were unrealistic.  Unless no one uses the bathroom that won’t be happening.

There were complaints that the modesty panels were being stained.  Too late.  Yes, stainless steel can be stained.  There was the infamous “hit it or sit it” cartoon, where someone drew in yellow puddles.  Then there were the fly stickers so the men had something to aim at, theoretically minimizing splash back.  While these were fun experiments, my favorite was the constant carousel of urinal screens.  One smelled like apple jacks.  One was ginormous.  My all-time favorite looked like square patch of AstroTurf.

Keep in mind, the urinal screens don’t really help if that’s not where the hose is pointed.  It is more to assuage some deranged need to control actions that are in way related to the original flawed design.  After all, Ford didn’t solve its problems with the Pinto through an extensive campaign extolling the virtues of NOT plowing into the rear of the Pinto in front of you.

Remember the AstroTurf?  It became a magnet for any debris that found its way near.  Let me be clearer.  Men shed pubic hair, on occasion.  At the end of the first few days it looked like the shower at the home of a victim on The Strain.  You’d have thought only Bigfoot used the urinal.  Imagine the end of the first week, then the first month, because that was how long the unsanitary removal cycle was.

When I saw the toothpick at the end of end of July, I knew it was going to be around for a while.  That’s why I often go at 2.  I wonder when it will point to 3 O’clock or become extinct, like the Dodo.  My expectations are that it will be my afternoon companion for another 2-3 weeks.  By then there will be more irrational expectations and ridiculous situations to be shared here.  I began to dwell on its ultimate disposal and the discoveries later day Darwins would find and attribute to it, unknowingly

And now for something completely different…

Protestations to the contrary, I really never fear for boredom.  On a daily basis I look around me see things that are so silly, ludicrous and stupid I can’t help but laugh.  The other day I was leaving the train station and an older, frail woman seemed oblivious to the rules of the escalator.  You stand on the right and people walk to left.  You’d think being older, frail – indeed small—she’d have no issues keep the left size clear.  Nope.  She had lots of bags and placed them in front of herself.    I could almost hear the station operator saying “Back up on Escalator 2! All Agents to Escalator 2!”

Later in the week, I was again stuck behind a slow, older woman.  And if you realize I’m in my 50s, you recognize this is odd during the morning commute.  I thought she should have been at home at her kitchen table, agonizing over which pills to take why the Sudoku book sat lonely, begging for attention.  She had an odd slow shuffle and traffic pattern of commuters prevented me from passing her.  When finally my opportunity to make a jailbreak came, I down shifted for acceleration and she stepped left in front of me.

Hitting my pedestrian brakes, I was dumbfounded.  Had she traded Sudoku for radar?  I re-shifted, hit the wheel hard the right and made my move.  I took one step and she shuffled back to the right, using the wall the same way a good cornerback uses the sidelines.  At this point I slowed down, gave up and took video to send to the producers of “The Walking Dead” in hopes a finder’s fee for showing them how zombies really should shuffle.

We know that all bad things come in threes; of course there is one more commuting anecdote.  Coming home one night the train was crowded and day was hot.  Getting home any time between 6 and 7 means 2 things:  it’s hot and there are lots of people.  This had been train that started at the airport; there were too many people with luggage.  I think travelers should stay off commuter trains.  The train gets us to and from work; the side benefit is that it takes people on vacation. It’s bad enough they went away while we work; the semi oblivious way they use their luggage to create a steeplechase is just ridiculous.  Isn’t there a law about being oblivious in public?

I had finally crawled over several steamer trunks and piles of gift bags to get off the train and make my way to the escalator.  Amazingly enough the left side is open and we are descending from the platform smoothly.  This time of year this is amazing, because there are always kids coming home from San Francisco who just stand 2 across and 2 deep unaware of the rules we adults have.  Sadly, my euphoria is short-lived.  Just ahead of me is a man with 2 large suitcases on the escalator.  With both of them in front of him, it is obvious to me he has not developed or considered his exit strategy.

I hate be insightful.  Right on cue, he and his bags left the order of the escalator and mad a pile at the bottom.  The people walking on the right had to stop, forcing those not paying attention to walk into them.  The people on the left were coming off faster than the buffoon and his bags could get out of the way.  There was jumble of arms and legs and “heys.”  It was ugly and ludicrous in a way that only stupidity could be.  How could he not know to wait till the escalator was empty or, god forbid, use the elevator.  Yep, there is an elevator for just this reason.

But ridiculous things are not limited to my commute.  This week I was catching up on several TV shows on the DVR and while the DVR makes avoid commercials easy, it minimizes them more than eliminates them.  Sadly, the bumper for the TV show “Save Me” was unavoidable on several occasions.  Yes, I was watching NBC.  The tag line for the show is, “She choked on a message from G-d.”  Seriously?  All I can imagine is that this 3 second clip is on heavy rotation in Wal-marts in the Bible belt.

I kept wondering when the Westboro Baptist Church was going to start their protest.  This seemed like this is right in their wheelhouse.  The second or third time I saw the indigestion inducing spot, I realized the start was Anne Heche.  I know that here resume has been far from stellar, with many mediocre titles to her name, but everything about this resonates career ending.  I don’t believe this is the vehicle to give her cache.  After all, isn’t the first thing you think of when I say “Anne Heche” is “Ellen’s ex-girlfriend?”

NBC generally has decent comedies, but their dramas tend to, shall we say, suck.  I guess they are trying to pull their comedies in line with those dramas. I know when I think the path to TV rating success I think NBC taking a cancelled concept from HBO and putting their own unique spin on it.  I’m thinking next time someone says Anne Heche you’ll be thinking, “ wasn’t she just cancelled?”  That’s right, I’m choking on a message from NBC.

 

What Panda Hat? Have Another Burger.

It’s always fun going to see the Giants play.  Especially when my son is taking me for my birthday.  On our way to the game, we planned to finally go to HRD Coffee Shop and check out the modern Korean fusion food (as seen on Triple D, of course.)  I had been lead to believe the place would be packed.  I was thrilled to find out it wasn’t (which I was told was unusual).  The owner, whom I recognized from television) figured out we were new and pointed us to the Mongolian Cheese Steak Sandwich for our first trip.  I must say, the Mongolian Cheese Steaks were delicious.  Restaurants get extra points for setting up patrons for an exceptional experience in my book.

As we ate a long communal bar-cum-table, I noticed the women to my left.  One had a BBQ pork scramble that I must try at some point; the other a kimchi burrito.    A few different guys in line asked what we were eating and the monkey and I both heartily endorsed our meal.  After about 2o minutes, I realized Miss Burrito had never stopped talking.  Somewhere in her monologue, she had , however, paused a few microseconds to take two sparrow like bites and announced, “this doesn’t taste like kimchi.”  I’m sure everyone in the place was thrilled for her pronouncement.  Me, I bonded with the other patrons as we relished in the simple joy of great food.  Oh yes, we are going back.

After our food (I’ve noticed that the monkey rarely finishes his fries — what’s up with that?), we continued our stroll down to AT&T park.  My eldest son had requested a new Giants hat, so we stopped a stand to get him one.  As I evaluated the many non-traditional hats available to consumers, the monkey decided we needed panda hats.  Two issues here.  First, its warm and the hats are furry.  Second, we are both over 10.  I looked at him with a stank eye he missed  and shrugged.  He works now. If this is how he wants to spend his paycheck he will.  To my dismay, he did.  He already had a hat on and it was Giants’ Fedora day, the best $0.99 hats China could send us.  Suddenly, and abundance of hats was in sight.

A while later, and by a while I mean  a beer, batting practice and stroll around the entire park, we were seated and waiting for the game to begin.  As the crowd filled in around us,  I took note of the people around us.  Who was I going to high-five when the Giants scored?  Who would I casually chat with besides the monkey (who inevitably be texting his girlfriend)?   We had empty seats on both our left and right.  As the game started I realized we had two morons sitting behind us.

We weren’t in the season ticket section, so I always expect casual fans. Like the six twenty-somethings directly behind us.  The three girls were dressed to be seen and discussed make up techniques for an hour.  I never heard the men in the group.  But directly to the left were two huge baseball fans who went on for the entire game.  For you baseball fans, I’d like to share some of their wisdom  I never knew I so little about baseball.

At one point, there was an easy bouncer to Crawford at shortstop for an easy pick up and throw to first for the out.  Baseball Scientist #1 announced loudly, “that was a can of corn!”  Let’s just go to Wikipedia shall we?

Can of Corn:  A high, easy-to-catch, fly ball hit to the outfield. The phrase is said to have originated in the nineteenth-century and relates to an old-time grocer’s method of getting canned goods down from a high shelf. Using a stick with a hook on the end, a grocer could tip a can so that it would fall for an easy catch into his apron. One theory for use of corn as the canned good in the phrase is that a can of corn was considered the easiest “catch” as corn was the best selling vegetable in the store and so was heavily stocked on the lowest shelves. Another theory is that the corn refers to the practice in the very early days of baseball of calling the outfield the “corn field,” especially in early amateur baseball where the outfield may have been a farm field. Frequently used by Chicago White Sox broadcaster Ken “The Hawk” Harrelson.

I have worked hard to educate Lambchop on exactly what a can of corn is.  She knows explicitly you don’t run to catch the can and it does not involve grounders!  Morons.  But the best was yet to come.  I don’t know who they were talking about, but he was “the perfect #2 hitter.”  Or, as Baseball Scientist #2 noted, “the perfect #5 hitter — he is both.”  I was floored. Clearly, these guys know something I didn’t. I couldn’t wait to learn how this could be.  To my thinking, the prototypical number 2 hitter, is a contact hitter, patient so the lead off hitter can steal, able to move runners by hitting the right side and fast so that he can score ahead of the big boys at #3 or #4.  The #5 hitter is a big bopper. His job is to drive in runs – doubles, homers and flies when men are on third.  Often slower than the guys in front of him.  Yeah these guys are just the same.  I was disappointed that these baseball scholars didn’t elaborate.  I wanted to revoke their SABR memberships.  To quote Bobby from Supernatural, “Idjits!”

In the second inning and older couple  came to sit on our left.  There were 2 open seats, but I was had misread my ticket and was sitting in her seat.  The monkey and I moved one seat right – there were still 4 empty seats there.  I guess as she sat next to me, I guess she decided I was in the way — she had a to the right like an old tree living too long in a windy pass — and was refused to sit still.  So she climbed over her husband to sit 3 seats over.  He must not have wanted to sit next to her either, so he moved next to me. Luckily he sat up straight and was nice enough, but his orange pants should be burned, Giants game or no.

A little later Miss Lean remarked in surprise, “don’t they usually do him second?”  I had failed to recognize this was a porno.  Where else do you do people? Maybe this was a salon, but it was really large and disorganized waiting area.  Do him second?  I’m surprised  didn’t call the catcher a goal keeper.  More people should say less, don’t you think? Whatever. I had this really cool fedora.  Simple pleasures and all that.

Fast forward a few hours.  Despite the  mouth-breathers we sat near, it was great day and I’m exhausted, glad to relax on BART trip home.  As walked to my car, the monkey announced he wanted to drive and I could relax.  Ok.  As we got near home, he produced the panda hats and told me we should wear them.  It would make Lambchop laugh.  Tired, I acquiesced.  It’s always good to see her smile and I’m sure she’d laugh.  As we approached, there was  crowd near the church.  Maybe the Jesus singers had a performance tonight.  It didn’t look like the snake handlers across the street.  Wait.  That’s past the church. That’s my house.   There were 40 of my closest friends on my lawn and banner that said something about turning 50.  OMG.  Seriously?  And the 510 Burger Truck in my driveway?  Good thing he was driving, I’d have been to shocked to park.  I might have been shaking.  I’m choking up again just writing this.  I cry at Hallmark movies too. That’s why I don’t watch the Hallmark Channel.  And the programming sucks. But it still makes me tear up.

What panda hat? oh yeah, I had this silly orange panda hat on.  It didn’t matter.   I was somewhere else.  My feet didn’t touch the ground when I stepped out of the car. Too many faces. An overload of emotion.  I can’t believe what Lambchop and the monkey did. I still can’t.  There were laughs. Toasts.  A drunk, fully clothed JenJen in the pool.  Cacti and a solution to the basil shortage of 2012. Burgers, with and without Eggs and Bacon. And much love.  And for once, I’m speechless.