Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

May the Answers Be With You

I got nine questions this year, which is fitting, since that’s exactly how many commandments Moses had on his tablets, more or less.

A couple questions were more about me than Judaism, which isn’t entirely kosher — their creation wasn’t overseen by a rabbi — but I’ll start with those:

Carolyn asks:
What’s your favorite part of being Jewish?
For me, the most fulfilling part is being able to act as a sort of unofficial Jewish ambassador, answering all these questions for you fine folk each year.

But if that answer feels like a cop out... I suppose the best traditional part of being Jewish would probably be all the money.
Alex J. Cavanaugh asks:
Do you ever feel left out at Christmastime?
No, I don’t. Of course, that may be because I married a Catholic.

So, did I feel left out before I met my wife? No, I didn’t. Of course, that may be because I started celebrating the traditional Jewish Christmas (movies and Chinese food) at age 13.

So, did I feel left out before the advent of our Jewish Christmas? No, I didn’t. Of course, that may be because my entire childhood was magical and nothing bad ever happened and fa la la la la I can’t hear you.

And now we’ll get to the seven questions about Judaism, which is a fitting total since it’s the exact number of nights in Hanukkah, give or take:

Sam Cook asks:
How do I know if my children are Jewish? I wouldn't want to be presumptuous and assume they aren't just because their parents aren't.
First, look for the horns.

No, but seriously. Look for them. Every Jew has horns. From an early age, we’ve learned to hide them, disguise them, but they’re there.

If you don’t see any horns, look for a tail.
Carolyn asks:
Is there a traditional Hannukah meal?
Yes. Yes there is.

The traditional Hannukah meal is made of finely minced potato. It’s not as popular as other traditional meals (e.g. corn, oat, happy), which is why it’s typically only available this time of year.
Gillian says:
[My daughter’s band director said] they couldn't play any traditional Jewish songs, because traditional Jewish music is played in keys that 7th grade band students haven't learned to play yet. Please explain, in terms that the non-Jewish and non-musical among us can comprehend.
Like your car or house keys, keys in music are also used to unlock things. The difference is in what they unlock: emotions. Moods.

In our history, Jews have become extremely familiar with suffering, heartache, and fear, often intertwined with seeds of hope. These feelings are ingrained in our genes (i.e. our JDNA), and thus woven into our music as well. Since most 7th graders have yet to experience such raw emotions, they cannot fully grasp the nuances of traditional Jewish music. Only later in life, once they’ve unlocked these emotions, will they be able to play with the proper mix of somberness and joy. While standing on a roof.
Denise’s Aunt Sharon asks:
So, which day of Hanukkah IS the most important???
The middle one.
Scott asks:
Why do we learn that the Menorah is lit at Hannukkah, when, traditionally, a Hannukiah is used for the holiday? In other words, what are you hiding!!??
We learn this because that’s what happens. We light the menorah at Hannukkah.

Think of it this way: Traditionally, the three Magi are pictured riding dromedaries. But we call them camels, because they’re a type of camel. It’s the same thing with hanukkiahs and menorahs (except the Magi don’t ride them).

So, to answer your question about what it is I’m hiding... it’s a horrible book, somewhere in your new house.
My sister Naomi asks:
How do Jews celebrate Christmas when it falls on the first day of Chanukah? Is the traditional movie and Chinese food sufficient? Or does the movie need to be Chanukah themed? Are there Sweet and Sour Latkes?
When Christmas falls on the first day of Chanukah, the traditional Jewish manner of celebration does indeed need to be tweaked:
  • You must wear the socks and/or underwear you received the first night of Chanukah.
  • To determine who gets the Chinese appetizers, play a game of dreidel.
  • The movie(s) you see must already have been in the theater for 8 nights.
Oh, but I don’t get your last question. Latkes are always sweet and sour. That’s why they’re always served with apple sausage and sauerkraut.
And finally, John asks:
Why are there two spellings of 'Hannukah/Chanukkah?' Silly question, I know, but I've always wondered about it.
It’s not a silly question at all. I may have explained the correct spelling of Hanukkah in my primer years ago, and then later revised my answer, and re-revised it, but now all of those are woefully outdated. You’re right to seek a more timely answer.

The reason it can be spelled both ‘Hannukah/Chanukkah’ and ‘Hanukkah/Chanukah’ is because Jews have always been way ahead of the game on lax spelling. Long before verbage, supposably, and whatevs were added to the dictionary, we knew this was the route humanity was heading. So we made the spelling of our most well-known holiday flexible. That way goyim such as yourself can never get it wrong.

You’re welcome. Obvs.

Thank you all for your questions! I’m glad I could help keep so many of you so well informed! And as always, we’ll do this again next Hanukkah... which for all we know may be starting any minute now.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Keeping Han in Hanukkah

Remember that part in The Empire Strikes Back where Leia tells Han she loves him and he says, "I know"? That's what I want for you. I want — when someone brings up something interesting or profound about Hanukkah or Judaism — that you'll already know it.

With that in mind, it's time for my 7th Annual Jew & A! In other words...

I will answer any question you have about Judaism.

Post any questions you might have about Jews or Judaism in the comments section before Hanukkah begins (i.e. sundown on 12/24), and I will answer them for you.

Perhaps you've always wanted to know what the Jews were really doing in that desert for 40 years. Or how to tell the difference between a regular Jewish American girl and a Princess. Whatever your query, send it my way. Even if it's been asked before, don't let that stop you — much like the Jewish calendar, the answers to such questions are in constant flux.

So, what do you want to know?

The Original Primer and Past Jew & A's:

Thursday, November 24, 2016

I'm Full of It

Wherein it = thank. I am full of thank.

Yes, the next four years are going to be scary. When a man who believes in gay conversion therapy is considered the sane one in the bunch, we've got problems. But as worried as I am about the coming Trumpocalypse, more than anything else I am thankful.

For what am I thankful? I'm glad I'm pretending you asked.
  • Everyone who voted for those turkeys, because without them we wouldn't yet know just how broken our country is, and now we can work to fix it.
  • My son, because to him I'm the funniest person in the world.
  • Improv, because sometimes a guy just needs to pretend he's plankton for a while, or to sing of the many benefits of a lost toe.1
  • Friends and family, because alliteration? Awesome.
  • Those times when you think you're out of cheese but it turns out you still have some cheese left, because mmm cheese.
  • Cats and kittens, because they make absolutely fantastic hand warmers during the cold winter months.
  • Cold winter months, because of what I already said about cats and kittens. Do I have to draw you a diagram?
  • Epiphany moments, because, I mean, c'mon.
  • And of course, my lovely wife Denise, because even after all this time, her taste in husbands has not improved one bit.

Happy Turkey Day, everyone!

1 You save money on nail polish, for instance. And pedicures. Toe stubbings drop 10%. Plus, now your foot will fit into that dashing prince's glass slipper.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

I Went and Did It Again

Longtime readers hate know that I crave the opportunity to like to show off share my brilliant creations humble stories whenever one knocks the judge's sox off ekes out a contest win. Unsurprisingly Unexpectedly, a few weeks ago I won another much-deserved victory again.

Normally, I'd hype the unfettered creativity of explain the thought process behind my genius winning entry, but today I'll just let you revel in its glory leave you to it.

(Instead needing to work five specific words into the story like in my past wins, the sole requirement this time was to start with the phrase "No questions asked.")

No. Questions Asked: 5
No. Clear Answers Received: 0
Q1- 911. What is the nature of your emergency?
Q2- Understood. What's your location, ma'am?
Q3- I assume you cannot speak freely?
Q4- Are you in immediate danger?
Q5- Last question. Does he have a gun?
A1- No, I don't really have time for a survey.
A2- I thought our landline was on the no-call list, but if there's a prize...
A3- Beats me. Maybe... once a week?
A4- Come now, don't be rude.
A5- That's no defense. She and I always--I've had enough. *click*
No. Vehicles Sent: 3

My prize? Burning Bright by Nicholas Petrie, whose writing rivals my own makes my prose feel small in comparison. It has perhaps the best opening to a novel not written by me I've ever read. If I were you, I'd steal my copy the first moment I look away buy it when it comes out in January.

And of course, you should visit Janet Reid's blog to laugh at all the lesser entries become awed by all the other amazing tales, including one sharing the top honor. Go, right after you reread every single post on my blog now.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Pictures Or It Didn't Happen

That used to be a thing. Someone would share something they did or witnessed, and then someone else would say, "Pictures or it didn't happen." Basically, calling the story-teller out as a liar. It was a dick move.

Since I don't have photos to illustrate any of this, here's a bunch of stuff that didn't happen over the past couple months. You know, if you're a dick.
  • I ordered a small dish of ice cream for myself for the first time ever.1
  • My son learned how to play checkers, chess, Stratego, Sorry!, Catan Junior, and Battleship. He's 5, so he doesn't yet understand the strategy for the first three games, but if you're playing him in any of the others, watch out.2
  • The imaginary superhero my son named after himself and told stories about for over a year was killed off by his new imaginary superhero.
  • My brother-in-law wore a dress on stage. Again. (He's not an actor, a cross-dresser, or transgender. He's just a guy who is far too willing to follow scripts I write.)
  • A squirrel drowned in our pool. It's a small inflatable pool, and the squirrel should have easily stood on its hind paws and clawed its way out. Since it didn't, this was obviously a hit by the Squirrel Mafia.
  • My son and nephew gained new amazing abilities. They could see a road from the top of a mountain using their far-away vision, the backside of a building from the front using their see-everything vision, and who was behind a door using their x-ray vision. Denise had to keep telling them to stop using that last one in the restrooms.
  • On my birthday, I took the day off from work for the first time in ten years. I didn't replace a toilet ring like last year's birthday, but I thought about it.
  • I replaced a toilet ring.3
  • Over the span of one month, we found 3-4 dozen dead bees in our sunroom (and a few in our kitchen). They each succumbed in a different spot, showed no signs of cat attack, and only twice did we see one alive. These were obviously hits by the Squirrel Mafia.4
  • Oh yeah, and I took a bunch of pictures.

1 In my defense, the shop's "small" is larger than most places' larges. Their "large" can feed a family of 4 for a week. (Yeah, I still regret not going with the large.)
2 Especially in Battleship. He cheats.
3 Also its innards. Or, if you'd prefer, the toilet's reproductive organs. (Because, you know, those parts are how it reproduces the same flush every time.)
4 Don't even try to say it was the Bee Mafia. Everyone knows there's no such thing. Here in New England, the WASPs have the power.

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Best of the Best

In 1st grade, my best friend was a kid named Dave. Halfway through the year, his family moved to another town. I visited once, and never saw him again.

In 3rd grade, my best friend was a kid named Matt. Halfway through the year, his family moved to another town. I visited once, and never saw him again.

After that, I gave up on having a best friend.

Eventually I ventured into adulthood, where best friends weren't as big a deal, probably because of Facebook. I had close friends, good friends, high school & college friends, and volleyball friends, but I stuck to the decision I made when I was 8. No besties.1

And then I met Denise. I've never called her my best friend. Honestly, I've never really considered her to be my best friend, because my brain had wiped the very concept from my perception decades earlier, but yeah, that's what she is.

There are plenty of people who love to tell the world "I married my best friend," but I've never cared much for that sentiment. It's too sappy for my taste. Maybe I'm still jaded from my youth, or maybe I simply don't like sap.2

Nevertheless, today being what it is, I'm going to go ahead and say it. Six years ago today, I married my—no, no, I can't do it. Too damned sappy. Need to boil it down.

Six years ago today, I married the love of my life.

And they lived happily ever after.

There, much better. Sap free, and with a fairy tale ending.

But wait: There's more! For the low, low price of reading the last two footnotes, you can also learn more about my former best friends Matt3 and Dave.4

1 Also, no Super Friends. Marketing teams in the 70s sure made some odd name choices.
2 Not till it's been boiled down into sweet, sweet syrup. Before that, it's just a bitter, sticky residue I can't wash off easily and makes me feel unclean.
3 I never saw Matt again, but 20 years later my dad saw him semi-regularly. Same Masonic lodge.
4 I never saw Dave again, but 20 years later Denise saw him semi-regularly. She dated his older brother.

Monday, June 27, 2016

A Real-Life Locked Room Mystery

A couple weeks ago, I decide to take the day off to bring my son and his cousin to the aquarium. But as I try to transition the boys from pajamas to clothes after their breakfast, my son steps into the hallway and closes the door on us.

His bedroom door has a lock on it, facing the hallway. We have no idea why. The previous owners had no children, so as best we can figure they enjoyed locking their house guests in at night.

Anyway, it turns out my son hasn't actually locked the door. But as I usher him back into his room, I stupidly tell him not to play with the lock.

I say stupidly, because—well, if you've known any 5-year-old boys, you can guess what happens next. That's right: My son immediately stops playing with the lock and comes into his room to get dressed.

Then my nephew steps into the hallway, turns the lock, and comes back into the room, closing the door behind him.

So yeah, that happened.

Denise had left for work 10 minutes earlier, so there's no one in the house to let us out. My phone is downstairs. The lock's "safety" mechanism — as I'd already discovered weeks earlier with the bathroom door — cannot be popped with a paper clip or wire hanger; it needs to be turned with a tiny screwdriver. A tiny screwdriver I don't have in my son's bedroom. Nor is there anything I can use to remove the hinges.

But. But! It isn't all bad. It's beautiful out, and my son's room faces the front of the house. Joggers pass by every day. Dog walkers, too. At least two families had walked or biked their kids to school the previous morning. And best of all, our neighbors across the street have a small dog, who they let out into the front yard several times a day. Despite our large front yard, certainly I'd be able to get someone's attention, and we'd be rescued in no time.

A half hour in, my nephew hits my son in the nose with a plastic toy. The crying distracts me long enough for the morning's lone jogger to pass the house before I see him.

No kids walk to school that day. No dog walkers. Plenty of vehicles drive by, but all have the windows rolled up or the music too loud to hear me.

After an hour, the boys are deliberately doing things to annoy each other. My back and shoulders ache from leaning out the second-story window waiting to flag someone down. I start to contemplate tying bed sheets together. Problem is, all I have to work with is the single set on the bed, plus a bunch of little kid clothes. Perhaps the material can hold my weight, but my knot-tying ability is highly suspect. No, our situation is not yet dire enough. Maybe when one of them needs to use the potty.

The neighbor on the corner walks to the end of his driveway to get the paper. I yell to him, but we've never met, so I don't know his name. He looks toward our yard, but for some reason doesn't think to look up, through the branches, to where I'm waving frantically from the second floor window. After a second (at most), he shrugs and heads back inside, ignoring my screams beseeching him not to go.

At ninety minutes it feels like it's been four hours. Being stuck in a room with warring boys will do that to you (even if, technically, half of you is outside the window). My son is bored and only wants to go to the aquarium. My nephew, on the other hand, is loving every minute of it. He feels we're having a grand adventure.

A man in a small white sedan drives by, driver-side window open. I call out, "Hi! Hello! Can you help us?!" and barely manage to catch his eye. He slows to a stop in front of the next house down, then puts his car in reverse. He listens to my story with a healthy amount of skepticism, but the kids' faces at the window are enough to convince him I'm not just some nut hanging out of a second-story window.

Okay, maybe he's not fully convinced, but he does agree to enter a stranger's house by the back door (which I'd luckily left unlocked after letting the dog out earlier), get trailed all the way through the house and up the stairs by a dog barking menacingly ("she's loud but friendly," I tell him), and release us back into the wild.

The man (henceforth to be known as "Mike, the Reluctant Savior") then wisely makes his own escape as fast as he can. (Pro tip: Don't stick around after saving a guy trapped in a room in his own house.) Yet before he's even reached the door, my son is sitting by the first-floor closet, getting his shoes on. So we can go to the aquarium right away.

Which is pretty much what we do.

... right after I remember to run back upstairs and close the window. We were moments away from losing a cat.


The lock is now on the inside of the room, where it belongs. Actually, it doesn't belong on the door at all in my opinion, but we haven't yet had the chance to do it in with a sledgehammer buy a new knob.

The kids loved the aquarium. My son would still be there feeding the rays, if he had his way.

Also, he now plays with locks far too often.

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Four-Donut Day

Ladies and gentlemen, I am an addict.

From my post's title, you may infer the object of my obsession is donuts.1 Or perhaps you think it's sweets in general.2

But in fact, my craving isn't for a specific category of food. Or rather, it is, but not in the way you think.3

What I'm addicted to is free food. At work.

The free food thing started in college. If an event promised pizza, for instance, I'd hover near the entrance like a vulture, watching for its delivery with an eagle eye, and pounce the moment my prey arrived.4

Note: These were $5 Domino's cheese pizzas. Hardly gourmet fare. What mattered was it was free.

After I entered the workforce, I continued to be among the first comers whenever free food was offered. Eventually I lost that urgency, but somewhere along the way it got replaced by something else. Something worse.

Repeat visits.

Co-workers would bring in a dozen donuts or other pastries for the team, and leave them near (or sometimes on) my desk. They figured putting them within my view made it less likely there'd be any left to bring home at the end of the day.5

Sane people, normal people, might eat one pastry in the morning. Weaker-willed folk might return that afternoon for a second. Me? I'd eat two in the morning, one in the afternoon, plus another for lunch. So yeah, I have no willpower. Yet, I have never consumed more than four donuts in one day.

Thus, the name.

It may have started with donuts, but now this behavior extends to any spread laid out in the common areas. It could be bagels or pizza, cake or fruit salad, pita and/or hummus. Maybe leftover sandwiches from a lunchtime meeting. Or every sample at that Asian culture fair thing a couple weeks back.6

I don't only do this at work — they have those samples at grocery stores and artisan shops, and I usually eat more than my fill at friends' parties7 — but work's where I have the most opportunity. If there's food for the taking, I grab some on the way by. Then again. And again. Until I've had four, I can't stop myself.

Okay, that's a lie. I could stop myself if I wanted to. But why would I want to?

After all, it's free.

1 You'd be wrong.
2 Wrong again.
3 Wow, you're bad at this.
4 This might surprise you, but I'm bad at metaphor. And simile. Also, lacrosse.
5 They figured right. They're better at this than you.
6 At least I think they were promoting Asian culture. I was too busy scarfing all the available deliciousness to pay full attention. But I kind of remember there being maps.
7 I'm also available for weddings and bar mitzvahs.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Winners of the Science Haiku Contest!

It took a week, but I have now judged all the entries to my haiku contest scientifically. By which I mean I studied them under a microscope, heated them to a boil, compared them against a control group of other haiku, and then threw out the results due to bias.

Thanks to everyone who entered! All your haiku (except the one my dad wrote) were such monumental creations that it was tough to pick the winners. So, in the end I let a nicotine-addicted monkey do that for me.

I shall now unveil my findings, soon to be sent off to a scientific journal. Probably the one I keep in the bookcase in my office. (But hey, if you haven't done so already, make sure to check out all the electrifying entries.)

Not Entirely Honorable Mention
My brother-in-law, Tom, may know a thing or two about nuclear energy, but I believe we may disagree on how many syllables it has.

Ernesto P. Santiago had a lovely haiku... that had nothing to do with science. Alas, including a living creature does not make it biology.

And as for Emilia's? She was clearly pandering.

Honorable Mention

I'd accuse Marian Allen of pandering as well, but I'm not sure she knows I have a cat named Schrödinger.
My tuna is gone
And yet it is not eaten.
Damn Schrodinger's cat!

My 5-year-old nephew, Solomon, outdid his mom's 5 entries. (Note: There's not one shred of scientific proof that I have a completely legitimate bias against her poetry.)
Mars: a hot planet
Because of all its red sand
So says Solomon.

Rena's entry recalls one of my fondest memories of high school chemistry (although ours was done with cesium).
Sodium metal
Is serene in glycerin.
Explodes with water

And Sam Cook nearly took a prize with this one, mostly because of all the big words.
The phenomenon
of quantum entanglement
questions everything

First Place - Humorous

Instead, Sam won with this one. Getting popular culture, "science," and one team's 107 years of futility all into 17 syllables? Well done, sir.
Back to the Future
was wrong about time travel.
The Cubs never win.

First Place - Traditional

Keith A. Simmonds not only got some great prose into this entry, but it was also one of the few in which each line could be read as a separate phrase (as traditional haiku do), rather than breaking up a longer phrase to fit the 5-7-5 scheme. That combo netted him the win.
The ozone layer…
a furnace of desires
sears the heart of man

And that will bring my 7th annual haiku contest to a close. Sam and Keith, if you'll please write me at, I can send the Amazon gift cards your way.

Thanks again to everyone who entered, shared, and/or re-tweeted this contest! Let's do it all again next year!

One piece of advice
For future haiku contests:
Wear safety goggles.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Haiku Contest: Science!

*** The contest has ended. View the winners. ***

Congratulations! You’ve unearthed my 7th annual haiku contest!

We've previously performed experiments on ninja, pirates, robots, space, the ocean, and heroes & villains. But now it's time to document the natural world properly: in the form of science haiku!

Here’s how you do it:
Write seventeen syllables.
Eureka! You’re done.

Simply follow standard haiku structure (5 syllables, then 7, then 5 again) and make it have something to do with science. However you interpret the theme is entirely up to you.

To enter, write your haiku in the comments section below. Two or three lucky winners will receive $25 million in gold bullion $25 Amazon gift cards.

I will be selecting the best haiku in each of two categories:
  • Humorous/Creative
  • Traditional (i.e. eloquent, evocative, etc.)
In addition, I may also reward a third entry. I won’t know for sure until I’ve completed my findings.

The deadline to submit a haiku is this Saturday, May 7 at 5:00pm (Eastern Time). Official "rules" are below.

Official "Rules":
  1. To enter, post science-themed haiku in the comments section below. Multiple submissions are allowed, but if you submit more than five (5) entries, you'll have introduced too many elements and they will become unstable. Thus, excess entries will be disposed of safely and efficiently.
  2. Standard haiku rules apply. To qualify, each entry must be a three-line poem, the first line containing exactly 5 syllables, the second line 7 syllables, and the third line 5 syllables. If you miscount, your results will not be repeatable. And since I won’t be able to repeat it, your entry will not win.
  3. The contest is open until Saturday, May 7, 2016 at 5:00pm, Eastern Time. If your entry arrives after the deadline, I will assume you’ve failed in your attempt to bend time. Failed experiments are not yet ready for public consumption and will be rendered invalid.
  4. Entries must be in English. (i.e. Using Japanese kanji will not help you win for best traditional haiku.) If, after careful examination, I cannot understand your entry, I will deem it purely theoretical and remove it from consideration.
  5. Anonymous entries will not win. In the sciences, attaching your name gives something credibility. If you can’t grasp the gravity of this, your entries will be unceremoniously dropped.
  6. Prizes will be awarded in each of two (2) categories: Humorous/Creative and Traditional. A third prize may be awarded depending on how I react to certain variables.
    • First place winners will each receive a $25 Amazon gift card.
    • An indeterminate number of Honorable Mentions will receive both mention and honor. Not necessarily in that order.
  7. I will act as sole judge, and select the winning haiku based on the aforementioned criteria, as well as other criteria I make up as I go along. All decisions are final, and will not be changed under any circumstances. Though they may evolve.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Streaking Writer

Last week, I worked on my novel seven straight days. This may not seem overly impressive — especially considering I wrote a blog post every day in January — but believe me, it is.

The reason is quite simple: I'd never done it before.

Yep, even when I first started writing it years ago during NaNoWriMo,1 and worked on it almost every day for that first month, I never managed seven straight.

Four days? Sure. Five? Piece of cake.2 But the full week has always eluded me.

One factor has been my refusal to begin writing if I have less than an hour to spare. I used to think I couldn't get into a real rhythm otherwise, so anything less would be a waste.

Then last week happened. I only did a full hour two of the days, and on two others I barely wrote for fifteen minutes. Yet each day I made progress in the story, and that sense of accomplishment kept me feeling great throughout the week.

I admit I didn't make much progress, however. Those seven days netted me a scant half a chapter. Then again, it is the final chapter, so perhaps I can cut myself some slack. It takes time to figure out how to tie everything up and complete all the character arcs without it feeling forced.

Besides, you know what they say about slow and steady.3

So I'll keep plugging away. I don't know if I'll go another seven straight anytime soon, but since I'm no longer waiting for that hour-long block of time, I will be writing more often.

And from that, only good things can happen.4

1 If I told you exactly how long ago I started the novel, with you knowing it's not yet finished, you'd be embarrassed for me. And I don't want that. See, I'm doing this for you.
2 That's right, my reward for writing five straight days is a slice of cake. A huge slice of cake. The ensuing sugar hangover renders me pretty much useless on day six.
3 You get last picked at dodge ball.
4 Unless you're one of my characters. Mwahahahaha!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Me and My Doppelgänger

This is a little random, but I felt like sharing.

Back in elementary school, around 3rd or 4th grade, my friend Mark started calling me "Mahoney." He said I looked like Officer Mahoney from the Police Academy movies, played by Steve Guttenberg.

Guttenberg was seemingly everywhere in the mid-to-late 80s, starring in two Cocoons, 3 Men and a Baby, four Police Academies, and a stint with Johnny 5. I never thought I looked like him myself. And apparently no one else thought too much of the comparison (or no one else thought too much of the Police Academy movies), since the nickname never caught on. Soon enough, it was forgotten.

Fast forward to my mid-20s. I'm out at a bar with two friends, sitting at a table on the patio. A guy at the next table knocks into my arm, and when he turns to apologize I recognize him. Nick. We'd been classmates from about 5th grade on--friends for a year or two, then acquaintances the rest of the way.

Also, he's plastered.

He tells his friends I'm the smartest guy he's ever known, then starts rambling on about how he's really good at Jeopardy. How he can get many of the answers--only in the first round, though, not in Double Jeopardy, those are way too hard--when he stops mid-sentence, points at me, and yells.

"Steve Guttenberg! You're Steve Guttenberg!"

Yes, he was drunk. But two people picking the same doppelgänger for me fifteen years apart can't just be a coincidence, can it? Nick wasn't there for the nickname conversations. And I looked a bit different at 24 than I did at 9. For one thing, I had a goatee. At that point, to my knowledge, Guttenberg had never sported one.

Fast forward to today. A quick Google image search turns up just such a photograph. And yeah, now I see the resemblance. Hot damn, I am Steve Guttenberg.

There but for a full head of hair go I.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Going Once, Going Twice...

What do you know, the old house sold. For real this time and everything. We have a few minor repairs to do, but come the end of April we will have finally attained the American dream.

You know: a single mortgage.

Not only is this great news for our bank accounts, but it's also a boon for my novel. Because without the distraction of the second house, I can now focus more on
spending time with my son
reading the books on my nightstand
creating breathtaking photographs
eating ice cream
painting rooms in the new house
coming up with an April Fools prank
making a dent in my Netflix list
sleeping in
exercising more
avoiding doing the dishes
constructing raised-bed gardens
improving my fantasy baseball team
getting the band back together
watching cat videos
honing my improvisation skills
eating even more ice cream
redesigning my blog
spoiling my wife rotten
trying out more local restaurants
inventing new methods of procrastination
playing board and card games
unpacking boxes remaining from our move
listing a bunch of things and crossing them out


Sunday, March 13, 2016

It Was the Best of Times, Etc. Etc.

Last Saturday, I did five straight hours of improv. Although, by "straight," I mean "there were short breaks in between." (That's right, I did five there were short breaks in between hours of improv. I'm a very good writer.) It was the most improv I'd done in one stint, but afterward I didn't feel mentally or physically drained. What I felt was confused.

I had fun overall, and some of the sets went really well. But so many of my scenes were slow, dull, and awkward. I did scenes with other improvisers I normally have a strong rapport with, and they dragged. Painfully so.

Most of my ideas went nowhere, and repeatedly improvisers had to jump in from the back line to save things. There were also multiple scenes where I stood there adding absolutely nothing as the action went on around me. For much of the afternoon, I was the most utterly out-of-place and useless I had ever been on an improv stage.

...until the very next night.

On Sunday night my troupe had a performance. And I added not one iota of value. Okay, that's an exaggeration; I added exactly one iota: my very last line got some laughs. But the rest of the time I was on a different wavelength from the other members of my team, and I contributed nothing. Everything I said fell flat. I spent much of our final set hugging the back line, uncompelled to join the fray. I may be a seasoned improviser, but my work that night was bland and unpalatable.

Luckily, the rest of my troupe was too busy putting on a stellar show, so they didn't notice my absence. Or at least, they were kind enough not to say anything about it.


But improv wasn't the only thing going on last weekend. On Saturday, we had six showings at our old house, some no more than 15 minutes apart. Six. Even though it's been on the market since June.

Oh yeah, and we got an offer. (Huzzah!)

We're not in full-on celebration mode yet, of course (Huzzah?!), since we know how the last two went. But we feel pretty good about this one. For one thing, the buyer doesn't have an FHA loan. Perhaps third time will indeed be the charm.

Fingers crossed. And just to be safe, I'm crossing the streams, too.


But improv and realty weren't the only things going on last weekend. I was also, apparently, in the beginning stages of the flu. (Huzzah!) (Which, in retrospect, helps to explain my inept improv performances.)

I've never had a flu shot as an adult, in part because I'd never before gotten the flu, at least as far as I can remember. Well, that streak's toast.

But let me tell you, when it's 80 degrees out in early March in New England, and the sun is beating down on you, and you're wrapping your winter coat more tightly around you and shivering non-stop...

Yeah. Good times.

Monday, February 22, 2016

That's the Way the Snow Blows

The snowblower. If you recall, the first time I ever tried using it, it wouldn't start. At the time, I chose not to name the manufacturer or where I purchased it, so as not to disparage a company without cause.

Well, now I know the whole story.

The 7 to 10 days to repair took 13. Of course, they didn't notify me of the delay; I had to call them. And because of the delay, it was another week before I could pick it up. (My neighbor with the pickup truck was out of town.)

The problem, according to the repair center? The unit was overfilled with oil.

I should have guessed. After all, I didn't put a single drop in it.

The snowblower came with oil when I bought it, added by the store's staff. They also loaded it into our SUV on its side, leaking oil into our vehicle. I'm not sure which mistake truly caused the issue, or if it was a tag-team effort. Either way, it's now clear which of the players was the culprit:

Troy-Bilt makes quality snowblowers.

Lowe's staff ruins them.1

1 Yes, I realize our experience may well have been a single, isolated instance. But the above holds true for 100% of the snowblowers I have purchased there, so I stand by my statement.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Halfway Down the Stairs

In my last post, I recommended two books. Or rather, I said I enjoyed them, which is essentially the same thing. The thing is, I may have overstated my enjoyment, at least for one of them. Oh, and my write-up contained other inaccuracies as well. Let me 'splain.

I hyped both books as the type that would normally cause me to temporarily abandon my secondary book (as I always have two going at a time). But, in retrospect, that was a lie. A more accurate assessment: The Martian begged to be my sole focus. Blackbirds, on the other hand, was just entertaining enough I couldn't bring myself to put it aside.

Mind you, that's not a black mark on Blackbirds. A lesser tale would have been cast aside faster than you can say "post haste." I'm merely saying that, under different circumstances, it still wouldn't have been a one-at-a-time book.1

On to The Martian. I stand by my statement that it's one of the best books I've read, but I should mention it's not one of the best-written books I've read. I mean, it's written well enough, but there is unevenness to the narration (particularly the third-person omniscient sections I referred to last post). And though you suffer with astronaut Mark Watney throughout, you don't get a real sense of his character. The story, like Mark, is focused almost entirely on his survival. Unlike most great books, at its core this one is not about people or relationships. It's about crazy scenarios and clever solutions. And I loved it.

Although, I would've liked an epilogue.

One last thing. I've never been good at keeping track of what I read, but I did want to share a short list of the other books I've loveloveloved this past year. A few others came close, but these are the three that grabbed hold and didn't let go:

1 I also spoke of Blackbirds' plot twists. I'm not sure why; thinking back I can't recall any real twists. (Luckily, it didn't need them. Its concept and characters were compelling enough for this humble reader.)
2 Now these two are rife with plot twists. And backstabbing. And backstabbingly good plot twists. (Sure, you may not trust my judgment after my misstatement last time, but don't worry. There's absolutely no chance I'll be recanting these statements in a future post.)3
3 Note: I reserve the right to recant other statements.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Upstairs Downstairs

I tend to read two books at once. An upstairs book and a downstairs book. I typically try for different genres, or at least different enough plots the two don't blend together.

Sometimes, one will be so engaging I push the other aside. I'll read the greater book both upstairs and downstairs while the lesser one sits, waiting, till I finish devouring its better. This probably happens a few times a year.

I can't remember the last time I wanted to promote both books to solo status at the same time. But that's what happened this past week. It was like a Mexican standoff. Only, you know, with neither book written in Spanish.

The upstairs book, Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig, was a well-written and entertaining affair. Basic plot: Miriam Black can tell, with one touch, how and when someone will die. But when she meets a person she actually cares about for the first time in ages, she learns she'll be present for his murder in a few weeks' time. From there, things get a little crazy.

Wendig's propensity for profanity and graphically descriptive metaphors may turn some people off, but his intriguing characters and plot twists kept me rapt. I'll be seeking out the next in the series in short order.

The downstairs book, on the other hand, was one of the best I've ever read. When a novel hits all the bestseller lists and gets uber-popular, I always assume it won't live up to the hype. Usually, that's the case. Not so with Andy Weir's The Martian.

Hot damn it's a good book.

Basic plot: An astronaut gets stranded on Mars, and the only way he can survive is by MacGyvering his way out of life-or-death situations left and right. Each peril is entirely plausible, the science employed is legit, and the narrative is punctuated by a stellar sense of humor. The couple third-person omniscient scenes feel a bit heavy-handed, but overall The Martian is a gripping, fantastic story. It's one of only a couple books I read this past year which I utterly loveloveloved. You should read this book.

Of course, now that I've dispensed with each of the above, I need to find a new upstairs book and a new downstairs book. Any suggestions?

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Time to Take Off the Training Wheels

Thirty days ago, I gave myself an ultimatum: Write more. With this in mind, I gave myself the goal of blogging, Facing, and Twitting every day of January. How did I do?

For me, Twitter is like that person whom you get along with well enough, but every conversation is laden with semi-awkward silences because you have nothing in common. Yeah, I made it one week. I also missed three other days later in the month. Not a stellar effort by any means (especially if you take a look at what I had to say), but far better than I thought I'd do. Twitter, I'll see ya when I see ya.

I technically missed one day on Facebook, but that was because I didn't manage a post till midnight. It was before I went to sleep, however, so I'm counting it.

As for here on The Wheel? 31 days, 31 posts. Sure, two were photo collections, and a few others were thrown together just to keep the streak going, but I made it. For much of the month, I didn't feel my posts quite reached my blog's standard level of quality,1 but I began to hit my stride this past week. The stories themselves were merely okay, but the spark had returned. I began to feel good about my posts consistently. And that's exactly what I was hoping to get from this whole endeavor.

So, starting tomorrow, I head back into the word mines.2 That's right, other than the occasional blog post, I'm back to writing about attempted political assassinations and invisible monkeys. I'm closing in on the end of my first draft, after which I get to undertake a major rewrite. It's going to be a lot of work, but to tell you the truth, I'm kind of looking forward to it.3

Wish me luck.

1 As measured by creativity and/or number of footnotes.
2 They're a real thing. Authors head underground for a spell, and resurface with brand new words (if their genre is sci-fi) or brand new combinations of words, hewn from the earth itself.
3 Well, except the part where I have to sort through 70+ pages of (sometimes contradictory) notes I wrote myself. Stupid brain, couldn't you have come up with all these ideas the first time through? Oh, sorry, I didn't mean you're actually stupid. It's an expression. No, really, I didn't mean it. Where are you going? No! No no no! Come back! Please come back! Damn it.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Three Sides to Every Story

had no
love for his
neighbor Stan,
but loved Stan's
wife. Then one day,
he learned Stan loved
him. Whereas Stan's wife
only loved Stan; she had no
love for the other man. It was a
conundrum; each of the three loved
one of the others, but for each of them
it was unrequited. They decided the best
strategy was to go on a trip together to see if
the matter might work itself out. And thus, Stan
booked all three onto a cruise in the North Atlantic.
But, just as Stan's wife started to show some affection
for the other man, the entire ship disappeared off the coast
of Bermuda, and was never seen or heard from again. The end.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Full Circle

Round about
ten o'clock, the moon joined
the sun in the sky. The parade was in
full swing: jugglers arced balls through the
air, clowns stayed balanced on one wheel each,
and the band circumnavigated the town green as
if it was in orbit around the marble statue of Atlas
at its center. Sol walked the perimeter, holding one
Oreo in each hand, and listened to the church bells
ring. It was as if the whole of the planet had come
out to celebrate today. A Frisbee hung high in the
air, forming a halo with the sun for a moment,
before curving back down to the earth. Sol
thought of his own childhood, parades
in this very same spot. His life
had come full circle.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

A 26-Line Story I'll Write As I Go

by Nathaniel Jahosophat Wilson

Chadwick von Prenderbottom loved to see people fail.
Donovan Thistletwist loved to drink coffee.
Every day, Chad and Don met at the Coughie Shoppe, where they could do both.
Failure practically lived there.
Girls got orders wrong, and misspelled names every few minutes.
Hopeful scribes sat, uninspired, unable to overcome writer's block.

I should mention: The story's 26 lines include its title, byline, and any asides.

Just before 11 am one Tuesday, Chad noticed a disquieting trend.
Kismet, fate, or perhaps dumb luck had brought only success all morning.
Lattes and espressos had been delivered to customers without a single complaint.
Mice clicked and keyboards clacked non-stop as authors typed up a storm.
Not one person had tripped, jostled each other, or even grumbled.

Oh, by the way, my middle name isn't actually Jahosophat, but imagine if it were.

Perturbed by this turn of events, Chad decided to do something about it.
Queerly, every attempt only bred further success.
Ranting about politics prompted one woman to write a brilliant op ed piece.
Shoving an elderly man put his spine back into proper alignment.
Throwing hot coffee on a barista led to Don getting her number.
Utterly disheartened, Chad left his friend and went home.
Very strange things happening today, he thought.
Wednesday will be better, he thought.
Xanax might help, he thought.

You may think there isn't enough story left to have a satisfying ending, and you'd be right.

Zero failure, though, meant everyone had failed to fail, which made Chad happy again.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Tense fists, shallow breaths; he will not survive.
Quinine did little, now his final dive
Sheds the weight he'd shouldered since falling ill.
For he chose vengeance, but he ends up killed
By mosquitoes, sixteen bites on his neck
Pain eased by the quaff I've given him. Heck,
For years he had dreamed of our deaths, because
I'd tricked him once, made his mouth reek of gauze.
He wouldn't accept "sorry," but would run
Through the jungle at me. And now? He's done.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Footing the Bill

I have written1 here2 every day3 so far in 2016, but my footnote-to-post ratio4 has been at an all-time low.5 This won't fix that,6 but it might7 at least get things8 somewhat9 closer to normal.10

1 I.e. typed. No one really writes anymore. Hell, even my typing shows I'm still stuck in the authorial dark ages. Voice recognition is the new quill and ink.
2 In my office chair, sitting at my computer. Oh, you thought I was talking about my blog? Hardly. I never do that. People who blog about blogging don't get any readers. And I've got at least two.
3 I know, I'm surprised, too. I haven't even written typed narrated brainwaved any of them ahead of time.
4 What? It's totally a thing.
5 0.76, or 19 footnotes over 25 blog posts. Take away the three most footful, and it's 0.136 (3 in 22 posts). Downright pathetic.
6 This has been fixing to fix that for some time now. This and that may have been partners for centuries, but man oh man does that get around. Seriously. That will pair off with pretty much any word out there. It's past time to get that snipped.
7 I'm not always the most positive person. Okay, I'm never the most positive person. I tend to dwell on the negative. "Might" might be as close as I get to being positive. Pretty sure.
8 "Things" is such a vague word. In this instance, even I don't know what sort of stuff I'm referring to.
9 Some people recommend avoiding adverbs like "somewhat" and "a little" when writing. They say such words don't add anything, and often the whole phrase can be replaced by a stronger one-word descriptor. I'm somewhat skeptical.
10 Hey, don't laugh. I could be normal if I wanted to. Oh, come on! I could! I absolutely could. I mean, normal people still like footnotes, right?

Monday, January 25, 2016

Shots in the Dark

Before my son was born, I used to take pictures of things other than my son. Like creepy playscapes at night. Or me censoring myself.

Just thought I would share. (Click on any image to embiggen. Or here to view the whole set.)

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Snowblower 1, Nate 0

Since our new driveway is the length of about six cars, we bought a snowblower back in November. We figured we'd have a chance to test it out in short order, it being winter in New England and all. Until yesterday, however, the only time it snowed more than an inch was when we were out of town.

I am so glad we only got three inches yesterday.

Because despite following its manuals to the letter, the snowblower would not turn on. The electric starter does nothing but buzz, and the pull starter does nothing. Nothing at all. It doesn't even pull.

Luckily, even with the long driveway, shoveling wasn't too bad, thanks to the tiny amount of snow and the sun.

But our brand new, never-been-used snowblower is now back at the store for repairs. Supposedly, it'll be fixed and ready for pickup in 7 to 10 days.

Which means you can expect the next major snowstorm in 6 to 9.

Saturday, January 23, 2016


This post is merely a placeholder.

If all goes according to plan, I will write another, better post before this one is released into the wild just before midnight. A post so brilliant it will inspire awe, and perhaps further brilliance.

If not, at least I get to continue my streak of blogging every day this month. And you get something to skim and say "meh" to before carrying on with your day.

I hope you never see this. I hope you get the brilliant post. I really do. You deserve brilliance.

Yet I also deserve a fantastic game day. And if you're reading this, it means ours has extended past midnight. Or maybe everyone left three hours ago and I'm simply being lazy. Either way, for me that's a win.

It's isn't one for you, though. You lost. Sorry.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Channeling My Inner Larson

This is all I've got for you tonight. It's late and I'm tired.1

1 Okay, technically it's not channeling Gary Larson so much as it is paraphrasing him without the courtesy to include a hand-drawn panel. I would have done more, but what can I say? It was late and I was tired.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Then They Stole Our Ladders

When we moved in September, the movers left a lot to be desired. For instance, we desired ladders. Because they stole ours.

As I mentioned last week, I bought the movers lunch. I tipped them $20 each. And the next day, we realized the ladders never made it off the truck.

You might think it was simply a mistake. We did, too, at first. But the more we thought about it, the more we felt it had been done on purpose. And we had plenty of time to think, since the company's office was closed for the long weekend.

Near the end of the move, trying to speed things along, I had climbed on the truck to collect a couple loose items. Specifically, our 6-foot metal ladder and 2-foot wooden stepladder. The movers asked me to leave them on the truck, so they could reach the few boxes left on the top of the stacks.

They'd already borrowed tools from our toolbox to do other parts of their job, so I knew they hadn't come fully prepared. Of course, they'd also damaged the toolbox in the move, so I knew they weren't fully competent. But at this point I was too tired to protest. If it got us to the end quicker, great.

Then they didn't follow protocol with the final checklist. Rather than bring one of us on the truck to confirm everything had been moved, like they did room by room at the old house, they signed off on things from the front step. All I'd gotten was a view from the back of the truck (where it had looked like only large piles of furniture pads remained). They'd either taken advantage of our exhaustion, or been too exhausted themselves to do things properly.

On Tuesday we finally got hold of the company, and voiced our concern. They said they'd ask the crew and check in storage. After a week there was still no sign of the ladders. It had gone from possibly a mistake to clearly a theft. Either they'd planned to take the ladders all along, or they'd found them the next time they opened the truck and thought, "Hey! Free ladders!"

It took another few weeks (plus multiple phone calls and visits), but eventually we were reimbursed. As for the movers, it turns out only one was an employee. The rest were that guy's crew, paid by him. I have no idea what, if anything, happened with them.

Selling a house sucks. Moving sucks. But on the plus side, now we have new ladders.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Damn You, Universe. We Had A Deal.

On Sunday, we lost a man with whom I'd worked professionally. On Monday, we lost a neighbor whose grandson was my son's age, and who'd donated the sand for our sandbox. Yesterday I beseeched the universe to break from its "bad things happen in threes" mentality, but alas, the universe had other plans.

Last night, our dog Sonya passed away.

Unlike the two men, who I believe were both in their 50s, Sonya was an old lady. She was twelve, had gone deaf, was eating less, and had been having trouble with stairs for some time. But we figured she still had a few good months left. There was no sign the end was coming till the middle of last night.

Sonya was a rescue, pulled from the streets of Harlem at a year old. Denise wanted a way to bounce back after her first bout with cancer, and Sonya was it. Early on, they walked pretty much every day.

I met Sonya on my second date with Denise; we walked her around the neighborhood. She determined I was good people (or at least on the same side in her war against the squirrels), and that was that.

It wasn't long before I inexplicably became her favorite person. She'd be happy to see Denise, but overjoyed when I arrived. (The times I got home first and gave her 45-minute belly rubs probably didn't hurt.)

She was, as Denise called her, an all-American mutt. Part collie, part who knows what. Sweet as they come. Fluffy as all get out. Shed like the dickens.

In her youth, Sonya was so afraid of water she'd pull you across the street to avoid a small puddle. At dog parks, she'd separate the big ones from the little ones. She befriended our cat Schrödinger within seconds. And she'd take biscuits with the gentlest touch you've ever seen.

I've never been a dog person. Never will be. But with Sonya, I was the closest I'll ever get.

Farewell, my sweet puppy.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Bad Things Don't Always Have to Happen in Threes

I'm tired of all this death. The celebrities were bad enough, and I was really only a fan of one of them (Sheriff Marvin "Metatron" Turpin).

But then things started hitting closer to home. Last weekend, a former co-worker suffered a stroke and never recovered. He passed away Sunday. Yesterday, a neighbor on our old street had a heart attack. Both were strong and vibrant last I saw them, and now both are gone long before their time. It sucks.

It often seems this sort of thing happens in threes, but let's just keep it to two this time around, okay universe? What do you say?

Monday, January 18, 2016

"When People Love Me, I Just Hug 'Em."

My son is now four and a half. I haven't been recording as many of his quotes and conversations lately, and the reasons are threefold: 1) many of them need context; 2) his stories go on forever; and 3) I forgot, okay? I forgot. I'm human. Leave me alone.

Anyway, here are a few of his from the past year...

Me: "I'll be right there. I just need a drink after all that work shoveling outside."
Him: "I need a drink, too, after all that watching Thomas at the Blue Mountain Quarry."


His cousin (7 months older) is explaining that girls don't have penises.
Him: "But my mom has a penis."
Cousin: "This book here says she doesn't."
(There was no book. They were simply standing there talking to each other.)


"She's not a girl. She's a boy girl."
(After some delving, we managed to get a translation: She likes playing with trucks.)


He's playing with his back to us, and it sounds like he's saying, "You're a bitch" over and over. My sister-in-law and I share a look to confirm that, yes, that is indeed what he's saying. I ask what he's doing. He looks up and explains the truck is collecting you're-a-bitch. I mean, gar-bage.


I tell him he needs to go to bed, so he won't be too tired when his cousin wakes him up in the morning. Because his cousin is always up really early.
"Well, I'm up early and a half."


His cousins are already asleep on either side of him. His aunt is sitting nearby to make sure he doesn't wake them before he falls asleep.

Him (whispering): "Aunt Connie."
Connie: "You need to go to sleep."
(a few moments pass)
Him: "Aunt Connie."
Connie: "What?"
Him: "I have a new plan. First one to move gets to go downstairs and play with all the toys."

Sunday, January 17, 2016


My junior year in college, I put together a scavenger hunt as part of a Secret Santa sort of thing.1 The final clue pointed to a locker in the basement laundry room — #232.

My senior year in college, I spent an insane amount of time on this drawing, originally titled simply "232". I chose the building number with no recollection of the locker number from the previous year's scavenger hunt; I only discovered the coincidence a couple years ago while going through old Word documents.

Before I started removing the least interesting ones, my album on Flickr of my son's first year had exactly 232 pictures in it.

Last week I counted the number of steps from the ground floor of my office to the 10th, where I work. The total? You guessed it.2

I don't know if my connection with 232 is purely coincidence or if it's fate. But I do know our old house will have been for sale 232 days come January 31. (Or, at the end of February, if you ignore the 4 weeks combined it was off-market and under contract.)

If my previous 232s were coincidental, the house will obviously remain unsold on those dates. But, if they weren't... well, one can hope.

Come on, fate.

1 Actually, it was a Secret Non-Denominational Gift-Giving Buddy sort of thing, but who's counting.
2 But you probably didn't guess that there are 72 steps between the ground floor and the 2nd. Normally, when people take an elevator up to the 2nd floor, it's due to laziness. At my office, it's self-preservation.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Not Completely Incompetent

They weren't completely incompetent. Not completely.

This past September, we moved to a new house 10 miles away. I've heard tell of worse moving experiences, but for a local move, this was a torturous day. All we wanted was everything to go relatively smoothly.

We aimed too high.

First, they arrived nearly an hour past the tail end of their ETA. From the start, one was badmouthing the rest of his team to us, including his boss. (His boss was, in fact, his nephew, who had nothing but good things to say about him.)

Instead of covering the stairs like the marketing material said they would, they left them bare and slid a heavy chest down them, scraping off chunks of stair.

Any idiot can tell you if you lift a pressboard microwave stand from the top and hold it at a 45-degree angle, the sides are going to snap. Clearly, that guy wasn't just any idiot.

They broke three other items due to improper stacking (i.e. putting boxes on their sides; placing heavy items atop more fragile ones). They also twice dropped bins/boxes on their way off the truck, but fortunately neither lapse involved anything breakable.

Two of the movers barely spoke a lick of English. You'd think, as movers, they'd at least know the names for the rooms in a standard house. Nope. Bathroom, bedroom, basement, all the same to these guys. I had to explain "kitchen." They started leaving half the boxes in our garage rather than ask where they should go. Even the two who knew English left heavy items in completely different spots (or rooms) from where we specified.

It took 4 guys 10 hours for what was estimated to be an 8-hour job for 3. And that was with me moving just as much as they did the last two hours, simply to ensure things ended up in right place. In the end, only 1 guy stuck around inside to help assemble the beds like they were supposed to. (And one of those I had to redo later, since they'd mixed up the parts from two different bed frames.)

Nice guy that I am, I bought them lunch midway through, and despite all the trouble they caused, I tipped them each $20 a piece.

Then they stole our ladders.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Other Stuff I Did

So, along with the things I already mentioned, what else have I done since I embarked on my 7-month hiatus from blogging last year? I'm glad I asked.
  • Earned my Master's Degree in Tetrising from PODS University.
  • Celebrated my son's 4th birthday, complete with a pirate cake, pirate hats, pirate eye patches, pirate scabbards, and of course, a dinosaur.
  • Commemorated my 5th wedding anniversary with the standard 5-year gift: a full-sized wooden house.
  • Completely embarrassed myself playing cricket. And I was the only American in the game who'd played it before.
  • Replaced my 12-year-old hybrid with a traditional gas-guzzler. Yeah, it surprised me, too. Even more shocking? I bought American.
  • Started reading an insanely long piece of fan fiction. On purpose.
  • Witnessed far far far too many YouTube toy review videos. Wow are some many most practically every single one of these bad.
  • Wrote this post.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Footnight Fortnote

With this post, I have now written twice as many blog posts in 2016 as I did all of last year.1

1 That's right, people. For me, 2016 is all about quantity, not quality. And this quantity-over-quality quality is one I've been employing in all aspects of my life. Blog posts, obviously. Grammar, check. (Who employs a quality? Seriously.) Parenting: I've spent a lot of time with my son this year... watching television. Facebook and Twitter? Goes without saying. Saying stuff that goes without saying? Yep, plenty of that, too. Come to think of it, the only thing I've done this year with more quality than quantity is eat ice cream. I simply haven't eaten enough ice cream.

I'm going to fix that right now.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Stealing My Son's Soul

On Thanksgiving day, my son decided he no longer wanted any pictures taken of him. Of course, that didn't stop me from trying, but now the only good pictures come when he's having too much fun to remember he now hates photos.

Anyway, here's an assortment of Pre-Thanksgiving shots, for those who've been missing their Professorial fix.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

It Was the Best of Listings, It Was the Worst of Listings

A few days ago I mentioned there'd been an impressive 90 showings at our old house since June, but it had yet to sell. It all comes down to one word:


The front part of the house grades gently toward the front door. That alone has deterred many would-be buyers. Never mind that the structural report states the settling stopped years ago and the house is stable. They can't get past the slope.

Which is too bad, because the truth is when you live there, you don't notice it at all. In our ten years in the house, the slope affected our lives in only one way: if we wanted to keep the front steel door open, we had to use a doorstop. That's it.

Interestingly enough, the buyers who briefly had contracts with us backed out for a different reason. Both were first-time home buyers with FHA loans, and balked when they realized older houses require maintenance.

Of course, others also passed for reasons other than the slope. Some said no because:
  • "The front yard is caving into the middle." 1
  • The garage is too small.2
  • We can't afford a mortgage right now, but would like to rent-to-own.3

    ...and of course, the old stand-by...

  • The basement ceiling is too low to convert the place into a man cave.4

Oh, well. It'll happen eventually. Sometime this year, our Tale of Two Mortgages should have a happy ending.

1 The yard is completely level. In the middle of our yard is a walkway. I'm not sure what drugs the realtor was on when she wrote this, but I want in.
2 Apparently, people actually want to park in it. And then be able to get out of their car. Yeah, that's not going to happen in any 1-car garage on our street. Not without a Mini or a Smart Car. Or one of those classic orange and yellow ones.
3 Um, then maybe you should have been seeking out house rentals. This one is for sale. If you're not going to maintain the place and pay at least 90% of each mortgage payment for us, we're not interested.
4 But many caves have low ceilings! It'll be authentic!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Indelibly Etched

I've talked before about the 100-word contests on Janet Reid's blog. Well, earlier today one reader commenting on the latest contest (which I didn't enter) said she'll remember some past entries as long as she lives. Then, as examples, she named two stories: one of the most haunting pieces of short fiction I've read, and one of mine.

I immediately felt two things: Immense pride, in having written something a total stranger will think about for years to come. And secondly, the overwhelming urge to do it again.

My personal writing goals are few. I don't ever expect to make a living at it. I'd love to get published, but I know the odds are against me unless I eschew the traditional route and self-publish. In fact, before today I probably had but two literary ambitions:
  • Get these stories out of my head so I can share them.
  • Entertain people.
These are solid goals, to be sure, altruistic yet also self-serving. But now I have one more. I want my words to be indelibly etched in others' minds. (No, not literally.) I yearn for some of my stories, my scenes, my phrases, to take hold of readers and never let go. (Again, not literally.)

And, as much as I love my friends and relatives (most of them), part of me craves this from an entirely impartial audience: complete strangers.

I feel this isn't truly a new goal of mine. It's likely been there, roaming the recesses of my mind for years, but never before put it into words. Now it's out there. It's real.

I'm not looking for money (though that would be nice). I'm not seeking fame or recognition (also nice). What I want is my words to impact people in a positive way. To be forever tattooed on their frontal lobe. (Yes, literally.)

I guess I'd better get back to writing.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

I'm Not Doing This For You

For the second straight night, I'm blogging only because my wife is making me.

Both yesterday and today, I was happy to skip a day, and keep doing what I was doing rather than head upstairs to write. Since I'm ostensibly doing this one-post-a-day thing for my own benefit—to get me back into a rhythm and some semblance of a writing schedule—I figured no one would really care if I missed one.

As usual, I was wrong. This may be a goal I set for myself, but my wife isn't about to let me fail.

That's right, she's a bigger supporter of me than I am.

A post every day in January may not seem like much, but it's more about what it represents. Once we're through to February, my next goal will be a finished novel. And I know she won't let me fail at that, either.

Thank you, Denise. Never stop pushing me. (Except literally. I bruise easy.)

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Mortgages

In mid-June, we put our house up for sale.

1 Week: 17 showings. We'll have to find a new house faster than we'd thought.
2 Weeks: We find a house. Also, getting real tired of pulling the dogs out every showing.
4 Weeks: We get a buyer! She's #28 out of the 31 showings in the first month.
6 Weeks: The buyer backs out. Now we need to show and pack concurrently. Crap.
2.5 Months: We move to our new house. 2 of the 4 movers are completely incompetent.
3 Months: Price reduced. No, we're not interested in renting it out. Stop asking.
3.5 Months: Now we have two mortgages. Yay.
4 Months: Another buyer! Denise is thrilled. I'm dreading the worst.
4.5 Months: The worst. Back on the market again. Double yay.

We're now at 6.5 months. Yep, into the third trimester. With the two mortgages, I'll be dipping into my investments again soon. And likely shoveling out two driveways. So far, there have been over 90 showings, at least one every week since it went on the market.

So why, with so many showings, has the house not yet sold? I'll tell you.

Just not today.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Still At It After All These Years

My stream-of-consciousness post yesterday proved one thing to me: I've still got it.

Wherein "it" is a knack for unconsciously inserting the same five words into my prose.

When I'm actively editing my work as I go, I can keep their overall usage down. If I'm just typing away, however, they creep in like roaches. And like roaches, they only scurry away if I highlight their presence. Thus, I try to remain vigilant. But even that's not always enough.

I didn't use them all yesterday, but my list of major offenders remains the same as when I first started blogging. In alphabetical order, they are:
  • even
  • just
  • only
  • still
  • that
Even still, that only just covers the five I'm aware of. I'm sure there are more. And don't get me started on my other writerly tics and mannerisms. We'd be here all day.

Well, I would. You'd probably stop reading after a sentence or two (if you haven't already) and instead go play Candy Crush or stalk a Kardashian or whatever it is other people do.

What do you people do when you're not reading my blog? No, on second thought, don't tell me. We'd be here all day.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Crossing the Streams

It's late, and I don't know what to write about. I think I'll just start typing and see where it leads.

That's a horrible idea.

Um, what? Who said that?

Me. Your blog. And don't you dare start unleashing your blather on me unedited. I've worked too hard to be a bastion of hope in this uncertain world to have you tear everything asunder in a fit of fancy.

You? You're nothing but a conduit. Besides, blogs don't talk.

Normally, no. Either you're having a psychotic episode, or you're simply projecting a combative personality onto an inanimate object.

That doesn't sound like something I would do.

Right. Like you don't talk with food and furniture all the time.

Yeah, but that's different. They have physical form. You're just a bunch of ones and zeroes assembled into coherent fashion by circuitry. I'd never pretend to talk to something like that.

If you say so, Mr. Blogtalker. But back to my original point: Stream-of-consciousness writing is a horrible plan. It's an idea generator, not something you'd actually let other people read.

It's a blog post. Who cares?

Excuse me?

Sorry, did I offend you? Of course not. Blogs don't have feelings.

That hurts.

Can it. All I'm saying is if the overall quality of a blog is good, no one's going to care about one subpar blog post. And I get to continue my goal of posting every day this month.

Yeah, but the overall quality of your blog isn't good.

You can't mean that. You said you were a bastion of hope.

I made that up. Just like you made me up.

Oh, okay. I guess I understand.

Hello? You still there? Blog?


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Final Defenestration of Rupert Fenwick

I came up with this title a while back as a (completely fake) working title for the novel I'm writing. Today, while reading some Shel Silverstein to my son, I decided it needed to be a poem instead.

It was what they always did.
Rupert was a special kid,
And his parents, it seemed, were a touch more odd.

He would throw the windows wide,
And soon he would launch outside,
Often hurled by his mom, or sometimes his dad.

Every morning he'd be flung
'Fore the first school bell had rung.
Most folks said it was the strangest thing they'd seen.

But they really should have stopped
'Cause that last time he but dropped
(For they had just moved from floor one to thirteen).

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

10 Star Wars Tie-Ins Disney Forgot to Do

Moichandising, moichandising, moichandising!

When two of the most unapologetic merchandising engines in the world joined forces (i.e. when Disney acquired Lucasfilm), we knew Star Wars would soon permeate every aspect of our lives. From waffle makers to condensed soup to in-store promotions to acquaintances' Friendster pages, Star Wars is everywhere. Or is it?

I've uncovered ten areas where Disney is not taking full advantage of the merchandising possibilities. As far as I know, the following product tie-ins do not yet exist:

  1. Rylo Ken & Barbie's Dream House
  2. BB-8 Sings BB King's 8 Greatest Hits
  3. The Buffalo Light Sabres1
  4. Are Yoosa Smarter Than a Jar Jar?
  5. The "Luke, I Am Your Father" Paternity Test2
  6. The Ewok eWok3
  7. Han Solo Solo-brand cups
  8. The Darth Mall4
  9. Yoda Soda5
  10. The Walking Carpet

Come on, Disney. Let's get these things out on the market already.6


1 Opponents are going to lose a lot more than their teeth.
2 Yeah, I know it's not the actual quote. It's okay; you might not be the actual father, either.
3 Fry up some environmentalists without harming the environment.
4 Its main concourse will have plenty of automatic doors. And, of course, an Orange Julius.
5 When 900 calories you reach...
6 Also Jabba the Hutt the Hut.

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Deceptively Creepy Homonym

Last month, I won another writing contest on literary agent Janet Reid's blog.

Stated as such, my victory sounds ho-hum, a walk in the park. But in fact the opposite is true. The quality of the writing in her contests has always been stellar, and the authors have repeatedly raised the bar in recent years. Hell, in a July contest she deemed my tale "a perfect entry," yet it still wasn't enough to pull out the win.

This time around, we had to work these five words into a story of 100 words or less:

week - rag - creak - snag - peak

Once school ended, Ben and Jacob headed for the woods. They followed the winding mountain trail until they heard the small creak on the other side of the ridge. The boys clambered up and each took a peak. From either point, the old mill was barely visible, clothed in vines.

Inside, a gaunt figure slumped against rusty machinery, its arm snagged in the gears. The boys poked and prodded the body a while, till it stirred.

"Please... help me," the man said weekly.

Jacob dragged out water and crackers before joining Ben at the door. He smiled.

"Maybe next Friday."

You might not catch it at first—many readers didn't—but I used three of the words where you'd expect their homonyms instead. The first two feel like they could be typos. Clever, sure, but not too exciting. The third one, though...

Yeah, I know. It gives me chills, too.

This marks my third win in Janet Reid's contests. Winning with humor (and bad puns) didn't surprise me, but now I've also done so by being serious and seriously creepy. Considering I've only entered ten times or so, I must be doing something right.

Even if none of you will ever go for a walk with me in the woods again.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

(By the way, make sure you go and read all the entries. They're fantastic. And grab yourself a copy of The Drifter by Nicholas Petrie, my spoils from the contest. I devoured it in short order. It's a taut thriller with great characters, wonderful prose, and a dog who—spoiler alert—doesn't die. It's out next week.)

(Also, this story is one of the few documented instances where it's perfectly acceptable to use an adverb within a dialogue tag. Don't try this at home, kids.)

Sunday, January 3, 2016

My Son, the Segregationist

For Christmas, my son (age 4) received an abundance of gifts, including knights in a plastic castle, Rescue Bots (i.e. Transformers for the younger set), and Dinotrux (which are pretty much what they sound like).

They were not allowed to interact with each other.

Dinotrux couldn't be inside the castle. The knights were banned from the Rescue Bots' ship. Rescue Bots — even the two Dinobots — could not set foot in the Dinotrux home base. All Muslims were promptly returned to their country of origin.

Okay, not that last one. But still.

Whenever he wasn't looking, I'd place figures into a different playset. When he found them, he'd get angry and knock them to the floor. His older cousins would try to play with two types at once. Characters would be smacked aside.

"No mixing allowed!"

And then, on the fifth day, a miracle. I locked the Dinotrux's food — a piece of ore — in the castle. I suggested the Dinotrux and Dinobots should band together to get the ore back. And he said... "Yeah!"

They worked together and recaptured their ore. Then I sat back as they all sailed the Rescue Bots' ship to his cousin's Hot Wheels garage for a party.

See, America? If you make desegregation fun, people will embrace it. All you need is a little perseverance, and bigots will go the way of the dinosaur.

Which, based on toddler toy industry, means they'll become either half-robot or half-truck. That should be more than enough incentive for them to give up their racist, hateful ways. Right?

If not, we'll just have to throw in a giant Hot Wheels dance party.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Mind the Gap

Between May and December of last year, The Wheel was eerily silent. I had my reasons for abandoning my post(s), though for the first time I can recall, laziness wasn't one of them.

Maybe you're curious what I was up to during my hiatus. Probably not, but I don't really care; I'm going to tell you anyway. Here's a taste of what has happened in my life the past eight months:
  • I lost 15 lbs on my new diet regimen, the Get-Stressed-and-Overwork-Yourself-Fixing-Up-the-House-to-Sell Diet Plan. (I have since gained 2/3 of it back with the classic Show-No-Willpower-During-the-Holidays Plan.)
  • We moved one town away, to a bigger house with a larger yard, and we still don't have room for all our belongings. (Okay, technically we do, since we haven't sold the old house yet. But that's a tale for another day.)
  • In the span of four days in June, I laughed at a big baby with some senior citizens, flashed a stranger on a busy street, played ping pong with a trio of Swedes, finished off a Ginger Ninja, and high-fived a guy who once wrote a novel about a sock monkey.
  • For Halloween, I reprised my costume from a decade years earlier and went as the superhero Captain Spatula. (My first time around, he'd been merely Spatula Man. With his promotion, he got a shinier cape and spiffier kitchen utensils.)
  • I won a 100-word writing contest primarily because I found a way to make the word "weekly" creepy. No, really. I'll share it with you soon.
  • My cat was named Mr. January in a nationally distributed calendar. That's right, ladies and gentlemen, librarians everywhere are already fawning over lil' Schrödinger. Thanks, Baker & Taylor!
  • My son turned four. He's damn cute.

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Resolution Will Not Be Televised

During 2015 I was mostly absent from all forms of social media, which I know disappointed my biggest fans1. My total output: Seven blog posts, and few tweets or Facebookian interactions of any substance.2

I haven't made a New Year's resolution in ages — I make promises, not resolutions — but this January I decided to go one step further. This year, I'm giving myself an ultimatum:

Write more. Or else.

I have no idea what sort of crazy punishment I've concocted for me if I fail. But knowing how my imagination works, it can't be good. So I will indeed write more this year. Way more.

There will be more posts here and on the Book of Faces. Extra tweetering over at that other place. My goal is at least one per day per site in January, and then semi-regular output from there on.

Why am I doing this? In part to make up for last year, in part to get me back into a rhythm. Because rhythm is what I'll need once I launch myself back into my novel.3 It's time to finish that puppy up.4

That's my plan for the year. What's yours?

1 A 20-inch box fan and a 4-ft tall oscillating number.
2 And that's even with my overly generous definition of "substance."
3 Not literally. Ow.
4 Note: Not an actual puppy. Though once it's in book form, I do hope many of its pages are dog-eared. (Belated bad pun alert.)