Wednesday, April 25, 2007

From Crosscut: Who, What, and I Don't Recall

I thought this was pretty clever. Derivative, obviously, but still clever.

President Bush uses nicknames for his White House staff. Karl Rove is nicknamed I Don't Recall," while White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten goes by the nickname What. In turn, the president is known to his staff as Confused.

Once you understand this, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' testimony before the Senate last week, quoted below, becomes clear.

Sen. Leahy: Who told you to fire eight attorneys general?

Gonzales: I Don't Recall.

Leahy: You don't recall the name of the preson who told you to fire the U.S. attorneys?

Gonzales: I do recall the name.

Leahy: Then tell us who told you to fire the attorneys general?

Gonzales: I Don't Recall.

Leahy: You don't recall?

Gonzales: Not You Don't Recall. I don't recall.

Leahy: That's what I asked, "You don't recall?"

Gonzales: And I answered, "Not You Don't Recall. It was I Don't Recall."

See the whole piece here, at Crosscut, Seattle's new online magazine or news blog or something or other.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Accidental Tourist (Interlude 1)

"What did you do with Sawyer?"

He was tied to a tree. It had been a long time since that had happened, and it wasn't any more fun now than when he was in high school. He was underneath a canopy of palm trees, tied to a tree. Something had happened that he didn't understand, and now here he was, his shirt torn open, covered with sweat - Connecticut was never humid like this, so it obviously wasn't Connecticut - and tied to a tree. And now he was getting the third degree from two very sweaty and very angry men.

"Who in the Sam Hill is Sawyer?!" Taylor protested. "I don't even know anybody named Sawyer!" Then, after a moment, he said, "I suppose I've read Tom Sawyer, I mean, hasn't everybody? But Sawyer, that's a new one on me. Say, is that a first name or a last..."

"I want you to listen to me," growled the dark-skinned one. "I would urge to listen very carefully. A member of our party has gone missing. We want to know his whereabouts. "

The man pulled a large ... was that a machete? He pulled a machete out of his waistband and aimed it somewhat haphazardly toward his ribcage.

"There are many ways that I can use this to cause significant pain, and not kill you. Many ways."

Taylor swallowed hard.

"I can think of eight that immediately come to mind."

"Sayid, let's talk about this." The bald one suddenly stepped in between him and the crazy man with the machete.

"No! No more talking, John! You don't seem to understand that we're under attack from these ... these savages. And if he's a part of it..."

"I don't even know where I am! Now I'm supposed to be part of some ... terrorist group? Come on, people. Look, if this is some kind of prank, then point me to the camera. You win. I'm scared.
I'm ... not really sure what's going on at all.

"This isn't a prank, is it?" Taylor's voice broke unexpectedly.

"Sayid, I don't know who this man is, but he obviously isn't one of the Others. Look at him."

With that, they looked him over - a humiliating feeling if there ever was one. He felt exposed, felt ashamed of what he was wearing - his blue striped shirt, his chinos, his favorite high top sneakers that now felt childish and impulsive.

They exchanged a glance that seemed to mean something. The bald one whispered something about another person - Ethan? - and then, raising his voice slightly, said, "For the love of Pete, he's not trying to blend in anywhere. This guy got plucked from off the streets and dropped here, as far as I can tell. He's no infiltrator. He's just like us. He just ... fell out of the sky."

"Yes!" Taylor tried to point and then, painfully, remembered his hands were still bound. "That's exactly what happened. I ... I was standing in my ice cream shop, and I went outside to see if it was going to rain - the weatherman said rain, but the skies were clear as crystal - and suddenly the sky turned purple, or maroon... maybe it's that color magenta ... anyway, it's not important... but the sky turned this ominous color and then whoosh! All of a sudden, I'm hanging down from a tree and then you two ..." He trailed off then, unsure of how to end his thought without offending the people who still held him captive.

Suddenly, the dark-skinned one seemed to deflate. Taylor's hands were freed (using the machete to cut his hands loose seemed like overkill, but he was in no position to complain) and he rubbed his wrists absently.

"Well, I'm glad that's settled. So now what? Are you two going to let me know what game's being played here? Or maybe you can just let me go, and I can call a cab to take me back into town."

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Learning Tower

Kids like to climb up and sit on things. This is a fact. At some point, they just love making themselves bigger and getting a new perspective on their world. Unfortunately, the things they choose to climb into aren't always safe. For example, step stools are fun, but there are no handholds and kids can easily fall unless someone helps them up and down.

Chairs? Definitely not safe for a kid still learning about gravity.

So we got this thing called a Learning Tower. (Dorky name, I know, but stay with me.)

The tower's about three feet high. It has an adjustable platform he can stand on, with four different levels. When he stands in it, he's at the perfect height to reach the kitchen counters. So he can play, eat, or help us cook dinner. (Heh. Usually, this means that he puts vegetables in a bowl, or something fairly safe and simple. He's not quite ready to mash potatoes or julienne carrots.)

According to the literature, kids use this until age six and beyond. It cost nearly $200, but we saw it as a long-term investment.

He loves being around us in the kitchen, and before we got the tower, he would just get underfoot and drive us crazy. Now, we can keep an eye on him while we cook, and with a snack or a toy, he can easily occupy himself.

He's had it for around a month now, and has grown to love it. He now calls it his tower. "My towa!" (Yeah, he sometimes sounds like he has a New York accent.

He learned to climb into it the first week we had it, and that was a frightening discovery for us. So we have to watch him carefully, and stick to the rule that he can't be in the tower without mom or dad nearby. It does have handholds, and he is enclosed on all four sides. But that hasn't stopped him from falling out once or twice.

(Note: if you get one of these, don't let your kid sit on their butt on the platform. It's meant for standing. It's too easy for kids to slip out the sides and tumble out when they sit.)

It's caused a bit of commotion for us, as we adjusted to the idea that he needed free rein of one counter when he was in it. That means rearranging appliances (the coffee pot, toaster oven, etc.) and moving anything breakable out of his reach. But it's worth the trade off. He feels proud and independent when he's up in his tower, and he can happily keep himself occupied for a long time.

If you get one of these, you really have to have a wide open kitchen. Assume that you're bringing in something roughly three feet high with a two-foot square base into your kitchen. Make sure you have the room first. (We never would have gotten this in our previous apartment, with the hallway kitchen.) But if you can fit it, and you can afford it, this is a great idea for a toddler or a preschooler.

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Accidental Tourist - Part One

And inexplicably, he woke up laying on a sidewalk, in the middle of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Sawyer patted himself down. Nothing appeared to be damaged except his ego. But where was he? And what happened to everyone?

He looked around to get his bearings. It was your typical small town. Quaint street lights. Little gazebo in the town square. Ice cream shop - oh, excuse me, shoppe - probably run by some tubby townie. The diner looked all right - it was hard to go wrong with a diner. Hamburgers, biscuits and gravy, homemade apple pie. Maybe if he was lucky, they'd have decent fried chicken. And the waitresses were always pretty young things, working after school to earn money for their first car. Eye candy. He stepped inside and the little bell over the door rang out in greeting.

An Asian woman was wiping down a table, and flashed him a glare like he'd just farted in church.


"Beg your pardon?"

"You wish to eat here, or are you just going to stand there, letting in flies? Close the door and sit. Or, if you want to eat where you were resting, we can get you a doggie bag."

He put his hands up in surrender. "Okay, alright, I give. Where ... you got a booth available?"

"Don't be cute. Find a table. Sit down. Would you like coffee, or did you bring your own bottle of Mad Dog?"

"Uh, coffee. Sir." He grinned a little.

The glare came back, more menacing than before. This was a woman who had killed people before. He quit grinning and put on a humble face.

"Ma'am. Excuse me. Ma'am." He tipped an invisible cap to her.

She flipped over his coffee cup and filled it. If it was possible to pour a cup of coffee with malicious intent, she did it.

He ignored the food items - he knew what to eat in a diner - and stared at the logo on the front. "Luke's," it proclaimed in cartoony letters. Great. Where was Luke's? Where was he?

A scruffy guy in a baseball cap came rushing over. "I'm really sorry," he whispered.

"Sorry for what?"

"Well, Mrs. Kim's a little short with people sometimes," he said, still whispering. "Don't take offense. She's just covering some of her daughter's shifts until ... "

"Over medium is not one of the options!" the woman shouted from across the room. "No over medium, no over sort-of, no over part-of-the-way, no over just-a-little-bit. Do you want your eggs over easy or over hard? This is not rocket science!"

A terrified patron squeaked out, "Over easy! Easy!" He brandished his menu to protect himself.

The man grimaced a little and then stuck out his paw. "Luke Danes."

"Luke." And then the light went on. "Luke's Diner."

"Yeah," he nodded.

"All right, now I getcha. Don't worry about it. I've beat up meaner women than her."

He didn't quite smile, but he wanted to.

"Hey, listen, I don't want to seem like some kind of crackpot..."

"Well, you were the one sleeping on the sidewalk, so you might have some more work to do there."

"Yeah," Sawyer muttered sheepishly. "Still trying to figure that one out. Anyway, where the hell am I?"

"Blasphemer!" shouted Mrs. Kim, from somewhere behind the counter.

Luke peered at him. "Excuse me?"

Now Sawyer was whispering. "I don't know how I got here. Why I woke up on your sidewalk. How I got off the island."

"What island?"

"Never mind. But look... where is this place?"

"You're in Stars Hollow. "

"Mm." He considered that for a second. "Is that some kinda code name?"

"No, it's the name of the town. Stars Hollow, Connecticut. Look, mister, I don't know who you are..."

"The name's Sawyer. "

"...Sawyer, fine, but listen... You need to get yourself together. It's a small town, and you're already at strike two. No one knows who you are here, and you just suddenly appeared when the Town Selectman just went missing. "


"Yeah. Nobody's seen him. People are out looking for him. Which, if you knew him..."

Sawyer suddenly realized what the diner guy was saying. "Okay, wait a second. I showed up and at the same time, Mayor McCheese goes missing, and now all of a sudden everyone's giving me the evil eye. All right, here's the deal, Mel."

Luke glanced at him, suddenly confused. "Who's Mel?"

"I'm going to level with you. I don't know what in the hell I'm doin' here. I don't know how I showed up, how I just ... I guess, I just materialized on your sidewalk or something..."

"That's not what happened."


"You didn't materialize. A lot of people saw it. Some guy pushed you out the side of a Volkswagen bus."

Sawyer looked incredulous. "A Volkswagen bus?" He thought for a second and, unconsciously, muttered, "son of a bitch."

"Blasphemer!" bellowed Mrs. Kim.

The phone rang then, violently.

"Excuse me," Luke said and walked around the counter. Mrs. Kim appeared then, with catlike speed.

"Your order."

For a second, Sawyer forgot he was in a diner. He looked at the menu in his hand, a foreign thing, and then snapped out of his haze.

"I ... uh ... I haven't had time to look at this yet. Can you give me..."

"I will give you the food you order, when you order it. I will not give you time. Time is precious. Some of us have lives to return to, tasks to accomplish. Not like you, and your party-hearty buddies who think it's funny to throw people out of moving cars. I won't give you time, so you can put your head down and fall asleep on the table for a few hours and sleep off whatever drunken adventure you obviously had. Make a decision!"

She stood there, in silent furious vigil, while he scanned the menu desperately.

Chicken-fried steak." He tapped the menu with his fingertips. She made a noise in the back of her throat and ripped it from his fingers.

"Something else to drink? We don't serve beer, so you'll have to settle for non-alcoholic refreshment."

"Hey, I'm good with coffee." He consciously added, "ma'am." She swept around the counter to deliver the order to Luke, who was animatedly talking on the phone.

"I know he's sitting right here," Luke whispered, looking around uneasily. "I've got eyes, you know. Look, I don't have a lot of options here. Cesar's sick, so I'm pulling double duty behind the grill. Lane's out, and Mrs. Kim's ... well, I've got my hands full.

"Okay. I'll tell him. But you stay away from him. I'm not kidding."

Sawyer was so engrossed in eavesdropping that he didn't see the man come up behind him. Slowly, the man pulled out a huge butcher knife and lifted it above his head in one hand.

"KIRK!!!" Luke shouted. He came tearing around the counter.

Sawyer started, and then he saw the scrawny man standing behind him, wielding a knife at the back of his head.

The man raced around the table, across from Sawyer. "Aw, geez, Luke, I'm not going to kill him. I know how hard you work to keep these floors clean."

"Give me the knife, Kirk." Luke's eyes were huge.

"Can't do that, sir."


"Calm down, boss. This is all I was going to do." With his other hand, he put down first a hand-drawn map and then a brochure for the Dragonfly Inn. Then he raised the knife again.


"Fine." He spun the knife in his hand deftly, and tucked it away in his belt. Then he rapped on Sawyer's table with his knuckles.

"What you need can be found here," Kirk said.

And he spun on his heel toward the door. Sawyer was too dumbstruck to even move.

"Who the hell are you?! And what the ... what are you talking about? 'What I need.' How'n the hell do you know what I need?!"

"I think I may know you better than anyone. James."

At that, Sawyer flinched.

Kirk leaned against the door frame. Unexpectedly, the door opened and he stumbled. "Ahh, cripes." He stepped out the door as Babette and Miss Patty walked in.

"Ooh, look," said Babette in the loudest stage whisper imaginable. "There's that creepy guy who pulled the ol' bodysnatch on Taylor!"

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

You call that humiliation?

Film director and Python Terry Jones seems disappointed with the Iranians' efforts to humiliate British soldiers. From his recent editorial in the Guardian:

We would never dream of treating captives like this - allowing them to smoke cigarettes, for example, even though it has been proven that smoking kills. And as for compelling poor servicewoman Faye Turney to wear a black headscarf, and then allowing the picture to be posted around the world - have the Iranians no concept of civilised behaviour? For God's sake, what's wrong with putting a bag over her head? That's what we do with the Muslims we capture: we put bags over their heads, so it's hard to breathe. Then it's perfectly acceptable to take photographs of them and circulate them to the press because the captives can't be recognised and humiliated in the way these unfortunate British service people are.

The full editorial is here. Definitely worth your time to read.