Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Out of the Game -- a short story

She was the new kid in school. The “old” kids had put her through the usual meat grinder all morning. Which was a shame, because the more that Robbie checked her out, the more he found himself liking her.

Even if she didn’t wear the stylin’ clothes that the other kids did. Even if she did wear glasses. Behind those glasses were clear, blue, beautiful eyes.

It was lunchtime now – the moment when the in-charge clique would wreak their worst. Everyone had been instructed not to let the new girl sit with them. Lay down backpacks on the seats. Scowl. Do whatever it took to keep her on her feet and feeling unwelcome.

And everyone would comply. It was tradition, in this miserable excuse for a school. If you bucked it, you were screwed. The best that a new kid could hope for was to quickly find someone weaker, uglier or slower-witted, and elbow them off the next rung up on the social totem pole.

Robbie didn’t plan to fight the rules that day. He was just a normal kid, low enough on the totem pole himself, that common sense kept him quiet most of the time.

He was dimly aware of the snickers that were building up as the new girl moved from table to table, finding each time no place to sit down. The in-charge clique had spread their minions out to make sure that there would be no vacancies, not even at the nerd table.

Robbie watched her drift nearer to him, her small fists now clenched in frustration – but no tears yet. She was tough. Good for her. But it wouldn’t help.

Beside him, his blue backpack lay on an empty seat. She glanced at it for a moment. She knew he wouldn’t move it. She knew the cruel game they were all playing now. She knew he was as weak as the rest of them.

He wondered if her hands were getting tired of holding up her tray, and how soon she would just dump it in the trash and skulk away somewhere to hide.

Lunch today was Sloppy Joes and corn. Normally he liked that. But today it all tasted sour.

What if he got up and threw the rest of his lunch away? Then she could sit in his spot. No. They’d just move some other jerk to take his place.

Why should he care? She was just a dumb girl. She shouldn’t have moved here, to this rotten town.

She was standing in the middle of the room now. He could see her knees shaking. But still, she refused to cry.

Why couldn’t some grown up intervene? Why didn’t they ever seem to care?

Robbie’s backpack, nudged with one swoop of his hand, slid off the chair and hit the floor and the cafeteria hushed. The blood pounded in his head. He had just committed social suicide.

The girl turned his direction. Their eyes met. And then she was beside him. He felt her hand briefly touch his, on purpose, underneath the table, as she sat down. No words were spoken.

He knew he’d have to fight this afternoon, when the bell rang. Cold dread squeezed his guts. Who would they pick to bust him up, he wondered. The worst part would be, that the whole damn school would watch. And it wouldn’t end there, not even with a black eye and a bloody nose. They’d punish him all year. He’d stepped out, like a damn fool. You didn’t step out. You just didn’t.

He stared at the mess on his plate, unable to take another bite. He felt everyone’s eyes on him.

Beside him, she was eating quietly. She had to sense he was in hell. But she didn’t say anything.

Then her hand closed around his. He felt it, warm and soft. Their eyes met. And she let go. But it had been enough.

He stood up and all sound was sucked out of the room, all motion ceased. He walked over to the cool kids’ table. To Steve Henshaw, who was the coolest of the cool. Henshaw made the rules. He stood in front of him, silent as a statue.

Henshaw looked at him, his stupid mouth twisted in a sneer. Had the little geek come to beg for mercy?

Robbie begged no mercy. He swung his fist out and belted Henshaw across the chops.

The room exploded.

Robbie got ten days detention. It took that long for his bruises to heal, too. Even longer for the broken rib. Henshaw got no detention. He was just defending himself, he said.

But Robbie went back to school after ten days. He put his books back in his freshly vandalized locker. He walked calmly past the drawing on the wall of himself being pounded by some stick-figure thug.
They’d played their cards, and he’d faced down their ace and survived. He was out of their game, now.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Getting over the Ick

For nearly two weeks now, I have battled some tenacious cold virus.

Big deal. Millions of people actually suffer genuine pain and would call me a pantywaist for daring to solicit any sympathy.

Which makes me wonder: this thing kept me up night after night, sapped all my motivation to do anything at all and ruined great plans that I had long looked forward to. And it was just a stinking cold.

So how do people with actual serious pain, chronic pain -- cancer, AIDS, cystic fibrosis, ovarian cysts, fibromyalgia, etc -- how do they get through the day, how do they focus and get productive things done, day after day? And how do they keep from choking the rest of us every time they hear us whine about a little head cold?

Monday, February 26, 2007

Altering the World

I have altered the world.

In truth, all I did was to carry a chunk of rock out of the woods behind my house up to my yard. It was a good-looking crystalline specimen. But that hefty rock has probably been in place since the Ice Age, since some run-off swollen ancestor of the nearby creek worked it loose from the distant mountains and then left it there, on the side of the hill, deep within the woods.

I have altered the world.

Sometimes when I pass a construction site and see the dozers at work, I wonder if anybody even cares about the natural record of the land that they are obliterating. Land that once told the story of a river's rise and fall, or of the shifting of a continent, is being pounded as flat as a cookie sheet, never to speak again of the eons of time that it witnessed.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Spaghetti-O blues

I've got the annoying "ear-worm" of a Spaghetti-Os commercial in my head today, so I thought I'd spin some thoughts about it.

First of all, animated Spaghetti-os bouncing in a car to hip-hop music while a multitude of other Spaghetti-os bounce and wave from what appear to be project-style apartments -- that feels slightly stereotypical and not quite appropriate for 21st Century sensibilities. But I'm sure the kids it's meant for, just think it's cool.

The instruction to the viewer is to "give mom a high-five" if she fixes Spaghetti-Os for dinner. In other words, Mom is to be applauded for pouring cheap pasta out of a can instead of actually fixing real food. (And do kids even call it a high-five anymore, or did that go out with "far out" and "groovy"?)

I am reminded of a country song that was popular a few years ago, that paints a more realistic image of the same product. Talks about typical single girls, 20-somethings, "living on dreams and Spaghetti-Os." The idea is that the stuff is quick and cheap and will keep a struggling person alive until she finally achieves her dreams and moves out of the lonely apartment phase of her existence.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The abuse of "big" words

You can tell a good writer by many things. One is his or her judicious use of so-called "big" words. He or she sprinkles them carefully and with pleasure, like fine seasoning, into the writing that (ok, I'm sick of he-or-sheing everything -- we're going to assume our writer is a she for the rest of this entry) she creates. They are used only when a lesser word won't do or wouldn't be as much fun to play with. There's a time and a place for the likes of lachymorose, and a time for simple tears.

A poor writer dumps big words into her verbal stewpot like so much salt -- and impresses no one. A poor writer keeps a well-worn thesaurus by her side; a good writer rarely, if ever, touches the thing.

I hate jargon. I see it everyday in my job. Today I am editing some pretentious document on the subject of educational communications, which insists that all stakeholders in the division are to communicate clearly and effectively. This hopeful statement is buried deep within a swamp of awful jargon that no normal human being could possibly understand -- making it, what, laughable? Hypocritical?

The document writer even trotted out the word andragogy at one point. I assume, by breaking it up into its parts, that it must mean the teaching of humans. However, the giant dictionary in our office doesn't have the word listed, which means it's very likely the bonehead writer made it up from pedagogy, in an effort to sound Very Knowledgeable Indeed.

Things I want to do before I die

Be pooped on by a passing seagull.

Of course I'm not serious. But it happened yesterday regardless.

I have been to the beaches of Panama, England, Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, California and Washington.

I have been stung by jellyfish, pinched by crabs, pounded by killer waves, slashed by coral and nauseated by various dead things observed in the vicinity.

But until yesterday, I had never, in all my life, been pooped on by a seagull.

And of all the indignities, it happened not at the beach but in the grocery store parking lot.

Greenish white filth that probably began as filth in the first place hit my jacket with all the force of a paintball and ended any sympathy I might have had for the stupid flock of seagulls trying tenaciously to rest in the middle of the adjacent road.

Why did the Creator make the one animal that regularly inhabits the space above all our heads, the one with the worst bowel habits?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Hello out there

I'm starting to feel a little ignored.

How long does the average blog languish on the web before people start to notice it and/or make comments?

Am I really that boring and obscure?

Computers should feel pain

By simply altering a label on a huge set of computer files at my job, I have "broken the link" to all of them and set myself up for a huge project to recreate said links.

Computers are so unforgiving.

We've had them around, what, 50 years now and it amazes me that some genius hasn't found a way to make them suffer pain, or at least guilt, for the misery they cause.

Or, if that seems too unethical, at least they could have the capability to warn idiots like me, "You really, really don't want to push that button." As of now, all they seem able to do is secondguess your desire to delete stuff.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

She who litters wins my love

Time to unveil my dark side, in part at least, such as it is. If you lose all respect for eastcoastdweller now, it was merely respect for pages in cyberspace. If you had no respect for me in the first place, which is more likely, no harm was done.

Everyone has a fetish of some kind. I have several, all of which, I hasten to add, are harmless.

What you might find most peculiar is my attraction to girls and women who litter. As in, throw their trash on the ground. Yeah, it makes no sense -- but does any such predilection?

I can distinctly remember each and every instance, dating back to when I was a preteen, in which I saw a girl drop, throw, kick or flick away her unwanted rubbish in public. I cherish the memories. I still have a twenty-some year old candy wrapper which dropped from the fingers of a beautiful blonde classmate in high school.

You won't find sites for this on the web, not yet, maybe not ever. I have found maybe two other people on the planet with the same peculiarity.

You must admit it's less disturbing than masochism, infantalism, insect crush or any of the far more common fetishes.

There, I've posted it. Let's see if I merely tossed a stone into a bottomless well, or if anything is heard.

Biohazard Idols

Hit upon a program last night about the engineering of the ancient world, circa the Hellenistic Age.

No, not the usual bridges and aqueducts. This was about some sly tricks to accentuate worship. For example, the worship of Cybele, the multi-breasted mother goddess. Some brilliant scoundrel discovered that a strategically-placed altar fire could be used via principles of air pressure, to secretly force a bowl of sacrificial milk through a hidden tube into the body of the idol, squirting out copiously at the proper moment before the ecstatic worshippers and convincing them that she was lactating for their benefit.

What if some dastardly soul had figured out the secret and slipped a drop of dye into the milk bowl? What would the reaction have been, I wonder?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Fleas for today

Every so often, I have a random thought, which, when time allows, I indulge.

Today, I considered fleas.

Not that I have any.

Fleas most likely had wings at some point in their evolution, and wreaked their annoyance in the manner of the modern mosquito.

According to one website I visited,, the bouncy stuff in their legs is the most rubbery substance known.

Each type of flea has a host for which its obnoxious little body is perfectly suited. It tends to jump to just the right height to hitch a ride on said host -- a little jump for a rat flea, a taller jump for a pig flea.

Pig fleas made the leap long ago to people, when we started breeding the porcine beasties for bacon and such -- we don't really have a flea to call our own. I'm not Jewish, but seems if we'd all listened to Moses long ago, that evolutionary road might never have been traveled down.

Last thought on this itchy subject: Since parasites such as fleas require a host to exist, and some evolutionary time to perfect their parasitism, there must have been some blissful period in the history of terrestrial evolution that was pest free.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Okay, politically I'm quite conservative, as far as believing that people, their money, their property, their beliefs, etc., should be left alone.

But personally, that doesn't make what they do with it right.

For example, a rabid liberal would say that government should tax the %$# out of the richest folks and use the money to fight AIDS or save the environment. That there should be legal compulsion brought to bear on these issues.

I don't agree.

I do agree that everyone has a moral obligation to be more thoughtful of the suffering masses. Big difference.

I do believe in personally doing my own part to preserve the environment. But rather than blow up bulldozers at a development site, I'll send a contribution to the Nature Conservancy to buy the threatened land instead.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Here I am

Nothing spectacular in my first post. But you have to start somewhere. I'll be talking about old books, things that grow in the woods, good food and interesting people. And maybe some other peculiar things that interest me.