I have spent the last 42 days splitting my time between my second-storey apartment and a hidden complex of glass-walled rooms we call the lab. I could go into great detail about the lab, how all the walls on the inner rooms are made of glass from waist-high to the ceiling, and how if you are standing in D Room and look back toward the elevator it sort of feels like you're in a carnival fun house. Someone could easily just stand still in the hallway between the elevator and the D Room, and you probably wouldn't see them because of all the weird, eerie reflections and glares. I could go on at length about the creepy machinery here in the D Room, the circulator and the penning trap, or the centrifuge… Or how about the awkward and cumbersome helmet that hangs in the corner on a shiny steel post,…
I was talking to a friend the other day about what it's like to create. This friend has recently been welcomed into the small and selective group of friends I call my Ideal Readers Group, named after Stephen King's suggestion in On Writing. I know I've spoken about that book before on this site. Anyway, this group helps me attain clarity in my books, after I've written them, but before the first real edit. During my time of shelving the project and letting it simmer, they go through it with a fine-tooth comb and make notes of anything they find that doesn't fit. Continuity errors, misspellings, bad grammar, plot holes, the usual stuff. So we were talking about how I write. Or what it's like to write. To create. The magic feeling of seeing things appear on the screen as my fingers are pounding clumsily on the keyboard - things…
I am not an old man. I still consider myself a young man. I don't feel young in my bones, in the mornings, when I wake up and creak out of bed. But I feel young in the mind. In the spirit. I do young things. And I grant there might be some merit to the argument that cause becomes effect. Maybe doing young things makes one feel young. Maybe it's the other way around. All I know is that I didn't take the adult pill when I was twenty-three, driving off the Air Force Base with all my personal belongings stuffed in the trunk and backseat of my Cavalier. I grew up, sure. And now I had a job as a Software Engineer at a corporate web-hosting company. That's not a child's job. And I didn't make a child's wage. But in my head, I just chose to take…
You can usually tell by the state of my Jeep if it's a good night to ride. But that doesn't always speak of the month, or season. If we're knee-deep in the middle of a string of 40° days and suddenly get a nice 75er? You bet, I'm taking the windows and top off Amber Waves. Because it only takes five minutes to take it off, and about fifteen to put it back on. No sweat for me, I'm gonna enjoy the weather. It's nice to be able to leave the top off for a while, and have a place to park it. Did you know they make garages you can park your vehicle inside? Well, I just learned this when I moved into this house. Historically I've always turned my garages into bars or dart alleys or beer-brewing stations, so I've never been able to get more than one…
Don’t you hate walking down the front of the electronics aisle at the big blue superstore? You know, the one where they have stacks of TVs and large bins of movies to dig through? Movies, which, by the way, this is a lot of commas, you would never actually watch? Like Sylvester Stallone’s Over the Top, a movie about arm-wrestling. Seriously? Who thought that was a good idea?
But that aisle that separates the electronics area from the rest of the store is where they lurk. Standing there with their clipboards and their nice tucked-in polo shirts… The Sales Assaultiate. Dun dun dun.
I went to a relative’s house for Thanksgiving this last year, and someone who wasn’t really part of the family was hanging around. It wasn’t awkward, as such, it was just one of those things that makes you frown for a second and pull your head back a little, and then you move on and eat a bunch of turducken. But I did have a conversation with her that I thought was worth mentioning. It was one of those things that made me frown for a second and then pull my head back a little.
So I walked into the house and shook all the dudes’ hands and kissed all the ladies’ knuckles and hugged all the kids. The usual. Then I said hi to this woman. And she saw the handgun I was wearing in a holster under my jacket, on my hip. So she sees my gun and says, “You think you’re going to need that on Thanksgiving?” and sort of made that face. You know the one. The one that says, “Ooh, you just got burned.” And I looked at her for a second and said, “I don’t know.”
It’s morning. You’ve just woken up. It looks warm outside, the sun is shining, but there’s a thick blanket of snow on the deck. A large mug of coffee sits on the window sill, sunlight illuminating the steam as it lazily escapes the heat of the mug. You may be cozied up with your chin on your knees, a thick blanket wrapped round you as you stare out the window from the overstuffed leather chair. But it’s not a happy time. It’s sad. You’ve just lost a friend, finished the final legal hoops of a failed marriage. It’s a pensive, reflective moment. All cried out. Alone. Relieved, at peace, but saddened and forlorn. A complex web of emotions hangs stagnant amidst the lingering aroma of the coffee. They’re all real. Every bit of it as real as the snow outside. The sun, too far away to melt it, serves as a reminder that it will warm someday. This ain’t the last rodeo. The fingerprints on the window also serve that hope. There is life. And when the bell rings and the kids come traipsing in the front door, your silent melancholy will be abruptly shattered.
I’ve come to find that winter is my favorite season. I do like that cold. But that’s not it. It’s like a hard reset for planet America. Or at least planet North Texas. My world. It gets cold, freezes off the trials of the summer and the first nine months of a year, drops the leaves in the street and starts over. Let’s give it another chance. Let’s see if we can get it right this time. A perpetual trial and error in small, annual runs, like caption bubbles popping, saying “Once more”. Every year I contemplate what I could have done differently to make it a better year. Have I achieved what I set out to achieve this year? Have I grown as a man? A husband? A father? Am I where I wanted to be in life? On that third-grade questionnaire, where it asked ‘where do you want to be at forty-five’ what did I answer? Rich with a mountain home and a private plane? Warm with a red-haired wife and a black dog in a small cottage? Alone with a television blaring nonsense at a sub-audible level while I play solitaire on a sticky TV tray?
Just sayin. So the story goes something like this. I play a lot of poker. I don’t host many tournaments. My buddies and I are more into the cash games, or ‘ring’ games, as they’re called. The big difference is that in a ring game, the blinds don’t increase, and it’s just a relaxing, easy-going game between friends, where any many can stand up at any time he’s ready, and cash in his chips for cash value. In a tournament, it’s kill or be killed, and usually only the top three seats are paid out. You might leave with nothing. The point of all this will be discussed in the next paragraph, so please consider this sentence the closing of the first.
So if you go look on the Android market, the Google Play Store, wherever the hell you buy your Android apps, you’ll find a metric butt ton of tournament manager apps. Seriously. Like a million. But they’re all for tournaments. And thus they mainly focus on your blind schedule, and timers that let you know when they’ve gone out. But you’ll not find a single app for cash games. Well, you’ll find one. But it’s so shitty that it shouldn’t even be mentioned. Literally, it sucks like a brand new Dyson 220v industrial elephant vac. For instance, you can add money to people’s accounts in increments of 5 25 or 50. But not 1. Or fifty cents. Because we all play small chip’s a finn, right?
It was two o’clock this morning when I heard the voice. I was lying in bed playing poker on my tablet because – well, for two reasons really. Number one, my red-haired wife is traveling. So I’ve no motivation to go to bed early. And secondly, because I’m insomniac, so there’s rarely any sleep for me these days. And thirdly, because I – wait… I only promised you two. So that’s that. I was, therefore, not awakened by the sound of a voice. But I was startled by it. That’s for sure.
It sounded at first like a woman talking in my kitchen. I was alone in my bedroom with the door closed. So it could have been coming from anywhere. But it sounded about as far away as it could be while still being inside my house and downstairs. The kitchen is the answer to that. I perked up and listened a minute. Then I went back to my poker game. Some people get arrested for taking other people’s money. I get badges. I was well into another good hand when I heard the voice again. And this time it was louder.