Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Writing Advice for the Easily Distracted

I'm not exactly sure how it happened, but some poor, misguided spambot (Updated, 1/25: turns out it wasn't a bot at all; my apologies, Brittany) has nominated me for a Top Writing Blog Award at eCollegeFinder. I don't have all the details yet, but I thought I'd serve up some actual writing advice before they start the selection process. You know, so it looks like I know what I'm doing.

We live in a short-attention span society, so I won't bore you by droning on and on about my tips and techniques and proper grammar. I can bore you just as easily by condensing my advice into bite-sized nuggets:
  1. I can tell you how to finish your book in one word: time management.1
  2. Don't use amateurnouns. Your readers will notice.
  3. After spicing up your novel a bit by mixing in metaphors, set it aside for a while so the plot may thicken.
  4. Omit words.2
  5. When writing non-fiction, be vicious with your punctuation:
    • Cut long passages down to size by using bullets.
    • To get rid of extraneous content, drop it with a dagger.†
    • In order to fit a bunch of people into a smaller space, slash them repeatedly.
      (e.g. Axl/Izzy/Duff/Steven)
  6. To ensure your prose is flawless, always use the perfect tense.
  7. No matter how wonderful a passage or phrase sounds, it's worthless if it doesn't advance the story. As Sir Arthur Quiller-Coach said, "Murder your Darlings. Especially if you're J.M. Barrie, because then you have a Peter Pan Murder Mystery on your hands."
  8. Writers, take proper care of your colons: Otherwise, all that follows will be a painful mess.
  9. Even if you do your writing on a computer, you need your BIC PEN. (Butt In Chair, Persistently Evading the 'Net)
  10. Use short sentences for action scenes. It moves the narrative along.
    Use long sentences for flowery prose, 20-page research papers, lists of moderate to great length, and convicted murderers.
  11. Sentence fragments. Useful in moderation. Really.
  12. And I'll end with a few examples of properly used punctuation:
    • Why would you ask me? (Question Mark)
    • She won't say why she's so moody. (Period)
    • Don't interrupt me. Anyway, I've got to— (Dash)

That'll do it for now. And remember: Writing is a journey. Don't stop believing.

1 And as that statement proves, reading and writing are essential to your success, but arithmetic is not.
2 The original advice from Strunk and White's Elements of Style was "Omit needless words." I thought needless unnecessary.
† What did I tell you? This content isn't useful at all.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

And That's When My 6-Month-Old Made Out with a College Girl

On Friday, my son (codename: The Professor) turned six months old. I find it hard to believe he's already that old, yet simultaneously, I feel he's been with us forever. I'm constantly in awe of him (and vice versa). And so far, he's hit every major milestone the baby books told us to look for:

Month 1: The Bloodening
Not long after we determined he wasn't a vampire, it happened. One moment, he was a perfectly happy baby. The next moment, he turned his head and spit up blood. The moment after that, he was a perfectly happy baby (with perfectly distraught parents). We rushed him to the doctor's office, where they performed a battery of tests (battery not included), and determined he was, in fact, a perfectly healthy baby. To this day, our best guess is he is actually a vampire had a baby nosebleed combined with baby post-nasal drip.

Month 2: Olympic Crib Swimming
When we lay my son down on his back in the crib, he'd scoot off head-first toward the opposite end, then turn around and head back to start another lap. He's the current world record holder in the 10-meter backstroke.1

Month 3: Swapping Spit
He was soaring overhead, and inadvertently drooled into my open mouth. At least, I think it was inadvertent. You never know with The Professor; he has a few Trix up his sleeve.

Month 4: Faster Than the Speed of Light
They say pictures are worth 1,000 words. Well the one to the left is worth 300,000,000 m/s.

Month 5: The Vulcan Neck Pinch
I must say, for a child with such small fingers, he sure has a firm grip. And though I technically don't pass out when he pinches my neck, I do feel rather sleepy.

Month 6: Swapping Spit (Advanced)
Six days before he turned six months old, The Professor did something I was never able to do: He made out with a college girl on New Year's Eve.2

From the moment we got to the party, she was ogling him. You could tell she wanted to hold him close. He played it cool for a little while. He smiled and laughed, and ran her hair between his fingers. Then he opened his mouth and lunged.

The girl's boyfriend tried to get him to back off, offering advice such as "Don't lead with your tongue," but it was as if my son didn't understand him. For a good five minutes, he dive-bombed her chin and cheek. She couldn't get enough of him.

So far, so good. We're looking forward to the rest of his first year, and the many milestones to come.

1 He's also fond of the breast stroke, though he sucks at the butterfly (it's made of plastic) and has yet to master the crawl.
2 No, you don't get to see a picture. Not unless you pay $19.95 to subscribe to my blog's premium content (and then build me a time machine so I can go back to New Year's with a camera).

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Day 12: Drumming Up Trouble

This post (minus some edits) first ran on January 5, 2010.
Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5Day 6Day 7Day 8Day 9Day 10Day 11 • Day 12

Finally, the last day of Christmas. It couldn't get here soon enough.

Somewhere around Day 3 or 4, Denise started telling me how great the 12th gift was going to be. How it would make up for everything. I didn’t doubt her for a second. After that initial second, however, I doubted her many, many times. There was no way one gift could make up for all I’d been through over the preceding eleven days. Still, she insisted, so I agreed to take a half-day and be back home for when the gift arrived at one o’clock.

On the way to work I dropped off the last two hens, minus their outfits, at a local dairy farm. We'd run out of money to feed the other twenty-two people in our house, so Denise and I both believed this was the only way we could protect the hens from an untimely (yet tasty) demise. Throughout the morning my stomach was in knots as I envisioned what horrors might await me back at the house, but I still signed off at noon and drove home.

When the doorbell rang, I was upstairs. Denise blindfolded me, then guided me to the living room, careful to maneuver around all the new pipes the Scots had installed on the first floor overnight. Then she whipped off the blindfold, and there, standing before me, were twelve blue men. Not smurfs, not a dozen Paul Giamatti impersonators, but actual Blue Men. Denise had hired four trios of the Blue Man Group. I eagerly took my seat as they carried in the last of their props.

A few years ago I went into New York to see a Blue Man show, and let me tell you, compared to this that was utter rubbish. The twelve performers drummed rhythmically on the massive tangle of pipes with such precision, with such finesse, it was as if the pipers had constructed the plumbing specifically for such an occasion.1 The Blue Men’s comic timing was impeccable, and the entire show came together so wonderfully that I never would have guessed the four groups had never performed with each other before. In such an intimate setting, every beat on every pipe and every drum resonated in our very bones, and it was such a captivating experience we hardly noticed when two windows had shattered, or that every surface in the house was being spattered mercilessly with fluorescent paint as they banged on their drums. ‘Twas the most spectacular show Denise or I have ever seen.

Pa rum pa pum pum.

Of course, not everyone was as enthralled as we. Shortly after the pipers’ dramatic exit, the paint started flying, and the dancers fled the scene to shield their Victorian attire. Also, when one of the Blue Men began using the turtle shells as bongos, both doves struggled their way out of them and flew off — albeit with difficulty, as their wings had atrophied — through one of the shattered windows.

The performance lasted two hours, and by the end we were exhausted but euphoric. We thanked the Blue Men profusely, and waved as they raced off to return to their home cities for that night’s shows. Four maids, having finally finished their drinks, also chose this time to take their leave.

Upon re-entering the house, we were accosted by Lord Vader, who pronounced that he had been visited in the night by the holographs of three jedis, and wished to change his wicked ways. Wanting to make up for his disgraceful behavior thus far, he asked if he might cook us dinner, then before we could stop him, he summoned his minions to get him “the biggest goose in the village.” They returned from the basement a minute later with one of the bricklaying geese (deceased). Vader set to cooking it, then made some side dishes from what little food we had left in the cupboards, and carved the bird with a light saber. We were joined at dinner by Michael Flatley and the one remaining maid, who somehow still had a few drops of beer left in her glass from four days prior. It was a delightful dinner; the goose was succulent, the entire meal exquisite, and it turns out Vader and I have a mutual hatred for Alderaan.

As dinner ended, a group of guys wearing uniforms from Jim’s Plumbing charged into the house unannounced and darted into the basement. They re-emerged carrying the three parrots, all squawking their heads off. One guy flashed an FBI badge and explained that Don Pappagallo and his two accomplices were being apprehended on the charge of racketeering. As they escorted the parrot don out the door, he yelled, “Ya set me up, Flatley! Yer dead!”

After dessert,2 we gave our guests the last three geese (two bricklayers, one tile) as parting gifts, and bid Lord Vader, Michael Flatley, and the final maid (whose last drop of beer had just evaporated) adieu. Denise and I watched them go, and I knew we were both thinking the exact same thing:

Best. Christmas. Ever.


Back inside, we surveyed the damage. There were pipes and paint everywhere. And I mean everywhere. Shattered windows, cracks in the foundation, a plethora of goose poop... It was as if the set of Double Dare had exploded inside our house. Downstairs, the basement hatch was completely bricked in, and the entire floor was haphazardly covered in dingy 70s-era tile.

Out back, the swans were gone, probably scared off by the afternoon's drumming and now flying south in search of warmer weather.3 There's also a large mound in the back corner of the yard where three lords had been buried in a pauper’s grave.4

It was pretty clear what we had to do. In fact, there was only one thing to do: burn the place to the ground and start over with the insurance money.

We also agreed on one other thing... In the future, our Christmas will last only one day. We’ll celebrate it together, without pipers or lords or any sort of poultry. It’ll just be me, Denise, the dog and cat, and Danny Bonaduce. In a pear tree.

1 The pipers had not constructed the plumbing for just such an occasion. Two minutes into the performance, all eleven of the surly Scots stormed out in a huff, screaming about “such a careless disregard for quality craftsmanship,” and how we could “expect to hear from the Pipers’ Union about this.” Whatever.
2 One Saltine each, all we had left.
3 Or the nearest YMCA with a pool.
4 No, I won't tell you why I had a pauper buried in my back yard. Just know this: He deserved it.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Day 11: Pipe Down Already

This post (minus some edits) first ran on January 4, 2010.
Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5Day 6Day 7Day 8Day 9Day 10 • Day 11 • Day 12

The moment I woke up this morning, I could sense something was wrong. The house was too still, too quiet. I ran downstairs, and to my utter surprise — and delight — I found only eleven people there.

Late last night, the lords had begun to tire from all the jumping, and one collapsed onto the couch before Lord Vader's allotted break time. Vader admonished him for his insolence as the poor sap tried to catch his breath,1 then made sure he never caught another one. Again, Vader’s henchmen carried the body off.

I assumed Vader had killed off everyone else the same way overnight, but a maid set me straight: There had been a mass exodus. Vader had stopped to argue with a dancer who had gotten in his way, and the few remaining lords leapt at the chance. All but one jumped ship, taking with them five dancers and three maids.2

The one lord who stayed behind has been matching Lord Vader leap for leap ever since. He prefers we call him Michael Flatley, rather than his formal title, Lord of the Dance. I prefer he put on a shirt.

Unfortunately, the house didn’t remain quiet (or relatively empty) for long. Just before I left for work, eleven men in kilts arrived at our door carrying bagpipes. I let them in, and, not wanting to be around for what happened next, promptly ran for my car.

Denise called me at lunch to fill me in on the morning’s events. When the plumber arrived to stop the flooding in the basement, the Scots had cursed at him unintelligibly until he fled. Then they piled their bagpipes by the door and headed downstairs.3 They repaired the leaks, started pumping out the water, and then began to completely rework all of the plumbing. Plus, they insulted Denise (from what she could decipher), made unkindly remarks to the four remaining dancers, and ceaselessly harangued the pipe-laying geese for not belonging to the Pipers’ Union. Just before she headed back to work, Denise caught a couple of them conversing with the mafioso parrot in hushed tones while eyeing the geese. I told her I’d get home as soon as I could.

I begged out of an afternoon meeting and headed home. Though I searched every room in the house — and the oven — I couldn't find the two pipe-laying geese anywhere. Everyone I asked clammed up on me. Oh, and the basement now looks like one of those old Windows screen savers from the ‘90s.

All these pipes and not one giant plumber-eating plant among them? What a gyp.

I thought about asking someone from Jim’s Plumbing — that’s the new van parked across the street today &mdash if they’d be willing to strip all this piping out in a couple days, but then I remembered my last credit card had been shredded earlier in the afternoon, and my last two checks had bounced. Instead, I decided to drink. Heavily.

And here I thought Christmas was supposed to be a time of joy, full of holiday cheer and whatnot.4 Well, it’s not a time of joy. It’s a time of pain and death and far too many birds.

Only one more day. One more lousy, stinkin' day. It can’t get here soon enough.

1Nooooooooooooooo!” (He didn't actually say this when it happened two years ago, but I was given creative license for the rewrite.)
2 I asked the rest of the maids why they had stayed. They said they hadn’t finished their drinks yet.
3 Sonya, on the other hand, stayed upstairs and spent most of her day attacking the bagpipes.
4 Especially the whatnot.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Day 10: One Giant Leap

This post (minus some edits) first ran on January 3, 2010.
Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5Day 6Day 7Day 8Day 9 • Day 10 • Day 11Day 12

With all the ladies yesterday, I should have known their counterparts wouldn’t be far behind. When I opened the front door this morning, ten lords paraded past me into the house. How can I be sure they’re lords? Because each one formally announced himself as such upon entering: Lord Jim, Lord Byron, a shorter one named Fauntleroy, and so on and so forth. Most of them are prim and proper, as you’d expect, but two don’t fit the stereotype: One has a sparkly jacket and pants but no shirt, whereas the other is dressed all in black, including a cape and a bizarre-looking helmet. That one calls himself Vader.

At first, the lords were just jumping around Willy-Nilly,1 but Lord Vader proclaimed they would all jump in unison. This naturally caused quite a stir — lords don’t like being told what to do — but Vader calmly lifted a gloved hand, and suddenly his most vocal opponent began to choke. Within moments the guy had fallen to the floor and stopped breathing. Vader beckoned for his two servants, whom I hadn’t even noticed come in, to cart the body away and bury it in the back yard.

Jump with me. It is your destiny.

I assumed the whole thing was an act, but the other lords were sufficiently spooked that they immediately took to following Vader’s lead. Most of them caught on pretty quickly, though the least coordinated of the bunch stumbled into Vader a couple times, and did not live to learn from his mistakes. Fortunately, after those two deaths, everything went a little more smoothly. For the lords, that is...

Do you remember how the Banks’s home shook in Mary Poppins every time the cannon fired from their roof? Well, with all the lords jumping together, it’s kind of like that, except the house quakes every three seconds instead of every hour, and we have far fewer valuables remaining intact.2

With so many people in the house at once, and everyone constantly getting in each other’s way, emotions have been running high. Everywhere the dancers turn, they collide with something.3 The dancers yell at the maids, the maids at the lords, the lords at the dancers, and I at the maids, lords, dancers, and parrots.4

Needing a break from the insanity, I headed to the grocery store to pick up enough food for dinner for twenty-seven people. Both my credit cards were rejected, but they took my debit card.5 I then returned home to the wonderful aroma of chicken roasting in the oven.

Problem is, I knew for a fact that we’d already gone through all the meat in our freezer. It was as I feared: When I looked on the porch, I found only two of the original three hens.

In the basement, I also found that all the jumping had caused two of the newly laid pipes to burst. The pipe-laying geese were going at it beak-to-beak as the basement flooded. The rest of the birds had lined up two by two to climb into a large Rubbermaid storage container they'd fitted with a sail.

I couldn't reach our plumber, but luckily, I remembered a van from Joe’s Plumbing had been parked across the street for two days. Surely, they’d welcome some extra business. As soon as I neared the van, however, it pulled its satellite dishes back inside and tore off down the road, presumably toward some other plumbing emergency.

I hope our plumber calls back soon; all the jumping cracked the shut-off valve, so we have no way to stymy the flow of water. And the mafioso parrot keeps giving me the evil eye because of it.

I fear what tomorrow will bring.

1 That’s one of the lords: Lord William Nilly.
2 Also, at no time has one of the maids tried sliding up the banister.
3 Walls, lords, maids, birds, furniture, large hadrons...
4 Oh yeah, and the pole dancer got into fisticuffs with one of the swans. (She lost. Never mind that the swan had neither fists nor cuffs.)
5 As in, they didn't give it back.


Monday, January 2, 2012

Day 9: Dance Like No One Is Watching

This post (minus some edits) first ran on January 2, 2010.
Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5Day 6Day 7Day 8 • Day 9 • Day 10Day 11Day 12

It takes two to tango. And indeed, a pair of ladies is currently tangoing across my living room. Two more are waltzing their way between the ol' maids in the kitchen. There are nine in total, all wearing dresses of the Victorian era, with the final five focused on ballet-, belly-, break-, tap-, and pole-dancing, respectively.1 What I find most impressive, though, is that they’re all doing this to the exact same music. Currently, it's Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls.”

My favorites are the two pairs of ladies cycling through the traditional ballroom and swing dances. They even let me cut in to see if I remember what I learned in a ballroom dance class eight years ago.2 The break-dancer spends the majority of her time on the floor, so she’s Sonya’s favorite, and has been tackled by the dog three times (and counting). The rest aren’t all that exciting, though I will say belly-dancing looks especially weird when set to rap music and done in a frilly turquoise ball gown.

I wouldn't belly-dance to that music. I'd tap that.

Nevertheless, with nine women spinning and swinging through the house, we had to roll up all the tarps, push all the furniture to the walls, and shift anything even slightly valuable to one of the upstairs rooms. And when I say we, I mean me and Denise. The eight maids — and the three hens dressed as maids — did nothing but sit back and watch us clean everything up.

The maids, though they’re a complete waste of space, aren’t costing me much as expected, since each one is still nursing the same drink she had yesterday. Everyone else, however, is slowly milking me of my savings. I now have to feed nineteen birds (including those uppity, brie-eating hens) and nineteen people (including the uppity, brie-eating ballet dancer), to say nothing of the dog (and the cat). I have to pay an exorbitant noise ordinance fine, and what I’m sure will be exorbitant cell phone and electric bills. And of course I’ll have to hire a plumber and a couple other specialists to undo everything the geese are doing in the basement.

I’ve been looking for ways to offset some of these costs. I haven’t heard back from Michael Phelps’ people about the swan race yet, but I’m in talks with HGTV to get the geese their own home “improvement” show, and Verizon is interested in doing a commercial campaign with the parrot. Verizon has been low-balling me with their offers so far, but I can wait them out, especially now that he's in the basement where I can't hear him now.

Ooh, sorry, I have to go: the upstairs bathroom is free. I don't mean I actually have to go, but with eighteen women in the house, it could be six hours before I get another chance, and—uh oh, someone's tap-tap-tapping their way up the stairs... gotta run!

1 That last one even brought her own pole.
2 Nope.


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Day 8: Cleanliness is Next to Impossible

This post (minus some edits) first ran on January 1, 2010.
Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5Day 6Day 7 • Day 8 • Day 9Day 10Day 11Day 12

Happy new year to me. When I looked out at the pool this morning, I only saw five swans. Since I was about to let Sonya out, I stepped outside to make sure the other two swans weren’t wandering around the yard where she could get at them. They weren’t. I found them at the bottom of the pool, sleeping with the fishes.1

Clearly, it was meant to be a warning. I ran to the garage and transferred the parrot mafioso to a warmer spot in the basement. I brought the other two parrots down there as well, though that was more for my sake than the parrots’. As of now, the garage is the only quiet spot in the house.

When I got back upstairs, Sonya was barking frantically out the front window. Dreading the worst,2 I opened the door to find eight maids standing on our doorstep. I sighed in relief: Maids were exactly what we needed.

Birds are not clean creatures. Well, the doves haven’t been too bad, but that’s only because they’ve kept everything inside their shells. All the others drop feathers and excrement everywhere they go. We’ve had to lay down tarps in every room to protect the carpet and the furniture. But it seemed our problems were solved: Finally, we had professional help.

I stepped aside to let the maids into the house. Without delay, they made a beeline for the kitchen. The next thing I knew, they were all standing around drinking. Some had mugs of coffee, others tea, and a couple had grabbed some beers from the fridge. Not one held a cleaning implement of any kind.

I was somewhat perplexed, but didn’t know how long they’d been on the road without anything to drink. I figured I’d go buy some groceries to feed our unexpected guests, and by the time I got back they’d be underway. Alas, no. I returned an hour later to find the maids in pretty much the same spots as before. When I asked about this, they said that they were on break; they’d start cleaning once they’d finished their drinks.

This irked me, but I was soon distracted by two investigators who came by asking about David Cassidy's final days. I told them the whole story about the pear tree and the hunger strike and all the birds, and they had me show them around the house. And can you believe it? When they were in the basement, all three parrots shut up. Didn’t say a word. I asked — nay, begged — the investigators to stay, but they made up some story about going to watch an outdoor hockey game and drove off.

When they left, I found the maids still lazing about with drinks in their hands. I again asked when they were going to start cleaning. This time, all I got in response were some aggravated sighs and rolling of eyes.

Perhaps I’m being cynical, but I don’t think they’re ever going to get to work. They’ve been milking those things for hours.

1 That’s right: along with offing the two swans, someone had also added fish to the swimming pool, presumably just to make that figure of speech accurate.
2 An octet of angry ostriches.