Thursday, January 31, 2013

Magnum Opus for Grandkids—Part I

                                 Naturally, I went with the better half to buy this thing. It was spring 2007. The tax return checks had arrived in the mail. I had cased out the joints in the company of the grandkids, who are well informed about these things. Now it was a clear, blue sky day. On days like this, which inspire fearlessness, you get out and buy. Encouraged by the sale papers, we drove through Lewiston and ended up at Staples. An entire wall was burdened with shelves with computers on display.
  I wanted to write something for the grandkids, a magnum opus. Then I could teach them that times change at the same time as times don’t change, that greed prevails, and love is amazing, and night lasts only awhile, a new day comes, that sort of thing. I wanted to have my say! I believed in culture. That's what the computer was all about and the writing class. Go ahead, I told myself, press that button on that funny looking thing. The world is opening in front of you, right? Microsoft, it said, who the hell is Microsoft? I'll tell you I was troubled, but I pushed on with it. I had seen that word before on the machines at work, and nobody seemed that troubled by it.
  Finally, I settled on a 15-inch Dell on sale for $350. In comparison to some of the others it seemed relatively sturdy. No doubt with the cover down the family cat would curl up and snooze. This equipment shouldn't die tomorrow, right? Oh, you can fold it up and carry it around? You don't have to put them in climate controlled, dust free, humidified cubicles any more? That nobody is allowed into except a scientific person with thick glasses?
  The young lady whose job it was to guide me through this confusion hinted, “The CPU on this one is old, slow.”
  Who knows at this point what can be the difference between a Celeron and a Pentium?
  “Oh,” I sighed. “I bought an IBM Selectric at a yard sale ten years ago. Maybe I should stick with it?”
  “I wouldn't know, sir.”
  A tall, energetic young man had come by. He smiled, pitched in, “You want to write, don't you? Keep a journal? You should buy something you'll be happy with. I bet you'll spend quite a bit of time with it once you get going. I bought a used iBook from the schools. It's a great deal. I write on mine all the time.”
  The wife said in a throaty whisper, “That's Apple.”
  I then explained, “At work they gave out these little flash drives. You just stick it in and it saves the stuff. So that's different. No moving parts. How can you lose anything?”
  The energetic young man danced on his toes. “Sure! Backups! It's safe. But you should buy something you'll like.” He then demonstrated how long it took this inexpensive machine I was looking at to get into Word. It took forever, and I mean forever.
  Remember the old joke about the guy who pressed the button to boot up, then went to start the coffee, and by the time he was through and the coffee in hand usually the machine was ready. Course you do, you nerd.
  “The CPU in this one is ten years old.” He explained. “This one,” he brought me over to the $600 machine, “has a Pentium. It'll get into Word in less than a minute.” Which it did. “Much better,” he exclaimed.
  Course, I didn't know if I needed Word. I didn't know what I needed. I did know that $600 was a lot.
  “Try this one,” the young woman interjected. “And it's on sale.”
  The one on sale was $500, but it was a Lenovo, the company that had just bought IBM. I thought of my Selectric and the many hours of bliss I had spent writing on it.
  “I don't know,” I said. It cost more than I wanted to pay.
  Also, I found out a few minutes later, you have to buy the software. The software does not come with the machine! It's $199 plus the computer. Wonderfully, they give you 30 days to pay for the software. Remember those days, you nerd?
  If that didn't seem like highway robbery! It reminded me of a stagecoach stickup, where the people would rather go along with it then end up in the desert. It was Bill Gates, the respected multi-billionaire, sticking you up. Looking back, it has always been a matter of some amazement to me that people like me are so willing, in fact eager, to hand over their money to Bill Gates. They never seemed, except maybe recently, to get mad about it. But the minute I heard this sordid tale, I became aggravated. Poland, my ancient forefather, always in the dark background, was in an uproar. The swords were sharpened and laid out for the battle!
  I left that day without a computer. And I went without a computer for a long time till 2008 when finally I had to break down because without computer understanding I was making a fool of myself in the world. I studied the various manufacturers, and I dreamed.
  I gravitated toward Apple. I went to the Apple store in Portland. Now there are some mighty fancy machines! Something inside me jumped, whispered “yes”. It was as if the devil had offered me a favor. Then I looked at the prices. When I got over the feeling that somebody had just punched me in the solar plexus, and the better half recovered her usual healthy color after turning pasty white, I staggered around the store for awhile in a sweat.
  It just so happened that my grandson was showing up with an iBook he had got at school. It used to be boys had puppies, now they have iBooks. Mine was the responsibility of checking out this newfangled way of doing things. On the Internet I found a website where refurbished iBooks were sold. The company was in California and it had a great reputation, and you could buy one for not too much—$250. The day I got the little white iBook and booted it up I knew I'd have something to amuse myself with for a very long time. And no Bill Gates, there was the other guy instead, Jobs, who was almost as bad, but cleverer about it. I have not figured out yet why Steve Jobs, though equally creepy as Bill Gates, did not disturb me as much.
  After not very long I was experimenting with Linux. If you're a hands on person and mildly curious and you like hanging with similarly inclined people, you should give Linux a whirl. I've played with twenty or so Linux Operating Systems, but I've used seriously about six, and now I have pretty much settled on Xubuntu, at least for the next few years. But if you don't mind getting up off the big money, oh well, be my guest.
  Although the electronics has gone past, the iBook still works. Then a friend gave me an HP DV7 he was junking. Linux runs excellently on generic computers with AMD CPU's.
  So I set away the old Selectric, put it up in the hay barn with the clutter of old stuff, and armed with new found expertise I began work on the magnum opus.

My first desktop build and the 2002 iBook running Debian.

This is a better look at Moe.

This is Another Moe, which was a junker I refurbished. This one is running Xubuntu.

   On these machines I have written a good bit of my magnum opus. But there is more. Wait till you see! But that is another story.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Junker Driver Part 2

                        A JT (Junker Turismo) hits you in the face. It's the car that is parked under the tree with bird shit sprinkled all over it. It is easily more than ten years old; the mileage on the speedo says 150 thousand, but the mileage gauge got broke a long time ago. The compression has dropped by 25% or so and it might be using a quart of oil every thousand miles. Maybe it belongs to you, you old junker driver! It handles kind of rough. The power steering squeals, and your lonely bed will sputter anxiously climbing a steep hill. The work is harder as the years go by, but it still starts in the morning. It still takes you out shopping day after day. Do you hear any thumping in the bottom end? No! That last unhappy condition is what will put you in the junkyard. A tight, beefy bottom end gone to hell will hopefully not be the reason your junker ends up crushed on the boat to China.
  Now in '85 good times miraculously beset me. In amazement I stared at big paychecks. After awhile they made a consumer out of me. Old Shel, who had tweaked the Dodge Horizon GLH (Goes Like Hell), —did it ever!— had already worked up a formula for the Ford Mustang. So in '85 I bought one. It looked almost exactly like THIS. (The video is very cool.) I used to amuse myself and my fellow workers very often with wild burn outs. Everybody loved that car! The 305 would rev all day. The only problem I had was the retention of passable rubber—you know how that is. Almost nothing else happened; while it was a GT it also was a JT. At well over 100,000 miles, nothing wrong, I had to sell it. After the Mustang—it so happened I got laid off and was broke and never saw those fancy paychecks again, ta-ta—I searched high and low for another JT.
  At that time the Japs glutted the market. They were cute little devils. Up in Maine Subaru was popular and still is. Datsun, now Nissan, exported a strong four cylinder. But none of these were true JT's. It was the rust! Jap cars to this day are still nagged by rust.
  In the 80's the auto makers finally got the knack of dipping the chassis in rust inhibitor. But they made them a lot lighter, too—less metal to rust a hole through. A junker driver might keep the family JT out of the junkyard a few years past a dog's lifetime if he garaged it. I had a shade tree, but no garage. A shade tree will protect your Junker from prolonged UV's, cracked windshields due to summer overheating, etc., but the tree will shed and the birds that settle in the tree will shed and most of it will land on your Junker. An occasional hit with a thick coating of Simonize is worth it. When I was with the Mustang, I got a habit of a monthly Simonize, which made a big difference.
  That was in early '90. I needed a small car to fit under the shade tree, and the juice was then taking another big hit, heading for well over two dollars a gallon. Even after the Beetle and the Civic the idea that a four-cylinder engine could power a JT was novel. I searched high and low. I wanted a car that was a real family car, and hopefully not a death trap as the Beetle had been. I turned again to Volkswagen. At one point I had almost bought a Rabbit, the model that followed the Beetle. They were building a snappy and attractive four-door sedan, the Jetta. VW still adhered to the idealistic notion that the purchase of a car should be a once or at most a twice in a lifetime event. The rustproofing was exceptionally thorough and their drivetrains didn't tend to goof up in major ways, although minor peccadilloes did tend to surface from time to time. 
  At that time VW was not enjoying a happy run. Companies fall into bad runs. It is usually the details that suffer; but then the devil is in the details. But bad run or no, this little Jetta, in which a four-cylinder diesel engine labored excitedly, was a JT. I knew while I was still a mile away.
  It turned out as I expected. The only big failure happened when the alternator brushes fell apart. I soldered them back together, but that didn't work and I had to buy a new set. All the rest could be fixed by the backyard mechanic at very little cost, or ignored. Soon my wife learned the clutch and stick shift, and the car was hardly ever in the driveway; it was off on some whirl wind tour. It was hardly ever home even long enough to do an oil change. I could write a book about this car and all the things that eventually never did go wrong with it.
  But, as far as I can discover, that was the last of the true JT sedans. By '95 computers were entrenched. The carburetor was evolved out of existence and the injector and throttle body—with numerous electronic sensors—had taken over. Amazingly, the promised advances in fuel economy never developed, until recently, finally. The vehicles became very similar in design—front wheel drive hatchbacks. The problem now for the Junker Driver was the purchase of special tools and a scanning computer. These tools were so grossly overpriced that anybody would vomit to purchase them. Those mechanics who did eventually purchase these tools, in order to avoid a decline and backwards sliding to pick and shovel work, were now stuck with a technology of which they knew less than nothing. The error code hid in a mysterious smoke screen. Hardly anybody knew how to interpret beyond the error code and proceed to particulars. Diagnostic skills got lost in a purple haze. Even the "factory trained" technicians in dealerships became worse than useless. The manufacturers loaded the cars with electronics which DID NOT MAKE THEM BETTER. At a certain point the vehicles broke down. The reign of chance succeeded to power. Nobody knew what to make of it. The shotgun approached was employed. The mechanics were unable to diagnose exactly what had gone wrong, so they tried this then they tried that. The bottom line, once the owner got the repair bill, was terrifying. (This may not be exactly true any longer. Certain mechanics CAN pinpoint a problem and fix it. But it ain't cheap.) 
  Junker Driver to the rescue! These are the rules I worked out.
  1. Never take your car or truck to a dealer for anything, ever. They know less about your car than you do. Unless, rather than fix it, you have decided to buy new.
  2. Ignore what ever is wrong until it breaks resolutely and finally, then the mechanics MAY be able to find the source of your problem and fix it without utilizing the shotgun approach, in which they replace everything that might conceivably be related to your problem. This does not mean that it will be any less expensive when you do decide to get the repair. Be prepared for a shock.
  3. When you run into a serious malfunction, especially electrical, which you cannot ignore, if the car will start, then drive or, if the car won't start, push it to the end of the driveway and wait for a Junker Driver to stop and purchase it for a song.
  4. Become a Junker Driver yourself!
  Although I had a personal experience in my youth in which I saw spirit in the machine, for my father had owned a Studebaker, that is not necessary to become a Junker Driver. A lack of money is one motivator; a lack of intelligence, which goes with the lack of money, is another. Also a few tools collected over a life time will get you going, and a flat spot in the driveway, preferably out of the direct sunlight. You may suddenly find yourself cussing more than usual, but that thing is just a dumb machine. And you are a man, a Junker Driver, prone to swagger. And be careful because when the wheels are off and the car is on the jack stands and you are under it hacking and pounding, if something happens so that it decides to fall on you, that is not fun.
  If you have not collected any mechanics' tools, then get some, and start accumulating a vocabulary. You may surprise yourself by finding the work amusing. It comes with nicked fingers, at times considerable physical exertion, frustrations, broken bolts. One job may lead to another, often accompanied by mystery. But when the job is done, and the thing works, there is a general happy satisfaction.
  Some people go out shopping, find an old Super Bee, the car they used to drool over in high school, and they get to tinkering with it, frequenting junkyards, and they join an auto club, learn welding and whatever other necessary skills and this amuses them till old age and senility. Their clothes get dirty and they carry about them the odor of old motor oil; and thus they meet the challenges of the second childhood without having to hustle a new young wife and follow her to Florida.
   But they are not Junker Drivers when they don't use these cars to go to Walmart every other day. No! You are a Junker Driver when the wife says, fix that thing now, or it's over. I'm leaving. When it comes to that point, the only friend you have who loves you is the half-inch drive ratchet you continually mistreat with the encouragement of a three foot length of iron pipe.
  For these reasons Junker Drivers form a communal underground. They share tools, acetylene torches, air compressors, impact wrenches, welders as if nobody owned anything. (It is a communist society right here and now in America! Don't tell the CIA! Or that woman who nailed Bin Laden. Oh no!) They donate their time to each other. Strange, ruggedly independent hard heads get all goopy and compassionate when a fellow Junker Driver is broke down beside the road. Off they go to the rescue!
  A major overhaul may evolve into a joint venture between the Junker Driver and his friendly neighborhood one man repair shop, payments to be decided later.
  Soon you'll learn who will remember you when he happens upon a set of almost new tires. Or who will put a nice spin on an inspection sticker. Or who has the skill, the handy test light and the ohm meter to find an electrical malfunction when nobody else could.
  You'll need a box of wrenches and ratchets. Compressed air is a wonder, for it drives the proverbial impact wrench, although sweat and elbow grease is still king. A work bench with a vise and a drill press is a big help. It may even be that the only person who can fix your car and keep it fixed is you. 
  Maybe your marriage is founded on that Junker out under the shade tree. 'Ja ever think of that?
  Go to, Man! The future is now!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Pick up the Trash!

This story comes from my collection US Delivery. Please consider reading it. You can find US Delivery here.

                         They had just left Corky's. Their stomachs were puffed up with extra carbs and sweet animal fats. That was the food they fed you in heaven—brat on a bun, home made potato salad and beans, and Rolling Rock draft. Eddie, the owner and only employee of US Delivery Co., was continuing on his rounds with Tom, his friend, driving right hand seat. The rags, The Boston Gay Weekly, weighed on his back like a thousand bulging sandbags. On the front page Jack and Jackson, ecstatic, hovered naked, their eyes unglued.
  Eddie said, “Probably ought to head down to City Hall while we're fed and in a good mood and all the hormones in balance. That way dropping off Jack blowing Jackson won't bother us so much.”
  “If our hormones were in balance, we wouldn't be going to city hall,” Tom said.
  “Maybe somebody over there will ditch them. I just deliver.”
  When he delivered The Boston Gay Weekly to City Hall, he piled them on the far corner of the receptionist's counter. Why did the whole world have to be exposed to Jack blowing Jackson? The photo was front cover, forward, impossible to ignore. What did the editor expect to accomplish? Eddie imagined a florid, smiling little man, well fleshed, assured editor to the world.
  “Besides, there's the receptionist woman,” Eddie said. “She'll ditch them the minute she sees them.” Eddie had run across her numerous times when he delivered financial documents. She was a blunt, middle-aged woman, very businesslike. But that didn't make him feel any better.
  “Why don't YOU ditch them?” Tom said. “Ditch them in the river, and we'll go somewhere, take a break and reason it out. Once you start reasoning, you can find a good reason for anything.”
  “Then somebody else can reason. I'm gonna deliver.”
  “Suppose you were on your way to Treblinka...”
  “Now wait. What the hell brought that on?”
  “It's vaguely similar, isn't it?”
  “Anyway, what would you do? I mean Treblinka. Deliver?”
  “I don't think I would.”
  “What would you do then?”
  “Try to figure a way out.”
  “You're killing me, man. I'm not gonna pursue this matter because it is an inaccurate analogy.”
  “Inaccurate analogy?” Tom giggled. “Where'd you learn that?”
  “Guy on the radio.”
  As he drove his delivery van, Eddie listened to the radio. He had been in love with the radio since he was a little boy. David Brudnoy on HGH was into books, he was a real scholar, that guy, and Jerry Williams on RKO was a gentle loudmouth. What else had he to do, driving around? It was Jerry Williams kept saying, “That's an inaccurate analogy!” Short. Glib. Solid. Delivery man Eddie sounds like hot shot Jerry Williams! Inaccurate analogy? They could get on at length. Talk, talk, talk. Couldn't they? Pain in the ass. Why not silence? No! Even noise was something.
  “Treblinka? Go on. Decide, Eddie, decide!”
  “No, ya pile of shit.”
  “Then dump the stupid rags in the river.”
  “That's different.” Eddie was Polski. No doubt Polish Uncles had engineered the locomotive. He could just hear them now, the scumbags—“They killed Christ!”
  “Because,” said Eddie, “there's a big difference between those rags and the showers.”
  Eddie drove inbound on Boylston, crossed the old saintly Public Gardens onto Beacon. Then he drove up the hill and turned onto School Street and drove around Gov Center, approaching from the rear. It was a big glassed in hole in the rear end of Gov Center. Finding a place to park and getting past the security guard might be a problem. Depends on who was covering. Eddie knew them all.
  By now the traffic was beginning to pick up. There was a loading dock, a slot into the back cellar: up the old asshole of big city government. Eddie always expected a toilet to flush. Watch out! A big brown wave of politics rolling down the staircase!
  The uniformed security guard stood on the sidewalk just outside the loading dock. Eddie parked out of the way nearby, half on the sidewalk and the road. The guard was Ralph Kelly, Chief of the Security Guards for Government Center, city of Boston, USA. His brother was Walter Kelly the well to do lawyer and Mayor White's chief of staff. There was a lot of that kind of thing in the last years of Kevin White. Eddie was convinced Mayor White was a good man, but after awhile it takes a saint to ward it all off.
  Eddie had never seen Ralphy boy here on Saturday. He came from a big Southie family, and Friday night, you know how it is. When Eddie did run across Ralph, he was always noisome in a big city way. He was a smallish man, but rugged and straight. He had quick hands that he delighted in putting to use when he figured he was good for it. 
  Eddie was getting out of his van, and Ralph Kelly ambled by.
  “Hey, you can't park here,” said Ralphy.
  “I'll be only a minute,” Eddie replied. “I need to take something up into the lobby.”
  Eddie had the rags in his hand, but Ralphy boy didn't seem to care about them.
  “What did I just say?” Ralphy exhaled suddenly, blasting Eddie with hot alcohol fumes.
  “Donno. Just two minutes, then I'm back and outta here.”
  “What did I just say?”
  “You said your sister was a slut?”
  “I said, idiot, you can't park here.”
  “Well, tell it to the judge. No, I'll see you in court. No, you got an affidavit?” The affidavit one was Eddie's favorite. It made it better because he didn't know or care what an affidavit was.
  So Eddie turned around and he was heading to the entrance, and Ralph was close behind.
   Says Ralphy more loudly. “My brother is advisory to the mayor.”
  “Really? I feel sorry for your brother, and your sister, too, the slut.” 
  Then Ralphy grumbled, “Do you know who I am?” He grasped Eddie's arm. “Do you know who I am? I can make it really hard on you.”
  In fact, Eddie did know how close he was cutting it.
  Ralphy went on, “This spot is for Mr. Diamond of Chelsea. He has an appointment with the Mayor. He is not going to be happy. I always watch Mr. Diamond's car when he is here.”
  Eddie left Ralphy out on the sidewalk, steaming.
  There was another guard at the guard desk. He was more friendly. He was a black dude. He was struggling not to laugh or smile. He lifted his hand to his mouth, tipping back his head in the universal gesture that indicated you know what.
   Eddie hustled up the staircase to the lobby, and he dropped the handful of rags on the reception counter. Nobody was at the counter or in the lobby. The lobby was big, dark, cavernous. He was very happy nobody was around. Eddie left in a hurry, worried that the guard might tow his van, though Tom was in it and he'd drive it away. But the van had not moved, and the guard was still on the sidewalk steaming. Tom was hanging out the door window, his eyeballs rolling. “'Mon, Eddie. A real weirdo is bugging me.”
  “Invite him for the ride to Auschwitz,” Eddie said, jumping in.
  “Say anything?”
  “Yeah, his brother is the King of Siam, and that makes him Prince what's his face.”
  “I wonder what that means, though? Think about it. Like anybody should care.”
  “Deluded? Your favorite word?”
  “I mean where did he learn that anybody should care? Family love?”
  “No kidding? Fuck the family!”
  “Just drive, Eddie. Don't think. You don't do very well when you think.”
  “I wasn't thinking. I was just adding up one and one.”
  “For you that's thinking.”

This is where Eddie argued with Ralph Kelly that day 30 years ago.

   But Eddie kept on thinking anyway. Sure, Ralph Kelly was politics as usual. But Eddie had noticed driving that a big chunk of the city north and east, especially east of Dover Street was no longer the hell hole that it had been but almost livable. There were pots of flowers out on the brick walls. Tiny front yards were little gardens. Everybody knew about the North End marketplace and the Back Bay around the Prudential but few except Eddie, who was tied to the streets, a kid of the streets, would know about the row after row of broken down brownstones that had been for years bedeviled by bitter poverty and had been made by some iron will better. The gangs were gone, the litter. If Ralph Kelly was politics as usual, what was the rest of the stuff? How had these frail men, with all that corrupting power and money, actually managed to make things better?
  Maybe the people in the neighborhoods just said enough, and it wasn't the politicians at all. Maybe it was the people who cleaned up the void.
  Eddie remembered meeting Mayor White one day. He was standing on the loading platform, white shirted, walking around, waiting for the document Eddie was delivering from Providence. His sleeves were rolled up, his tie loosened sideways. Eddie handed him the package.
  “Mr. Mayor, what's the hardest job,” Eddie had asked.
  He snapped out of his thoughts, as if waking up, “Pick up the trash!”
  Salvation? Just pick up the trash!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Another Moe

                      So I called the computer repair place. The voice on the telephone sounded far away. He said his name was Jim.
  “I won't be there,” Jim said, “but someone will be there to fix you up.”
  Why should I turn my back on my problems? The damned laptop did not work! What is that gunk that is coming out of the video? I have touched it. I hope it will not make me sick or kill me before my time. How can you know? Chemicals everywhere. The air you breath; the water you drink! I ought to ditch this laptop, heave it into a landfill. I got it for nothing, and that is what it is worth: nothing. But I can't let it go. It is a big time, powerful laptop. The guy who is junking it paid $750 at Walmart less than two years ago. I have put into it an SSD. It has a second hard drive bay, 4G of RAM, a dual core processor, numerous I/O connections, including eSATA, and a 17" WXGA video, which is now so streaky it is useless.

Another Moe using Xubuntu

   This computer does not say to me, “How are you today, Mr. Gigas?”
  And I don't say to it, “Pray, could you tell me where is the nearest four star restaurant?”
  It's not my wife for chrissake. It's just a big, dumb machine.
  I've solved the overheating. DV7's are noted for overheating. Bring on the aftermarket hackers! A kit arrives in the mail. Clean the fan, install the kit and there is a big difference. It used to overheat almost till you couldn't touch the keyboard. Now I don't feel any heat at all. The keyboard has the sweetest touch, better than a Mac Pro! It boots up fine. Now I can do real work on it. You can't expect it to think for you? It can't think. It's dumb! I don't know why it exists; I guess because it is time for it to exist. Who decides these questions anyway? God must decide. If it is God, then how can I know anything about His ways? Everybody tells you God's ways are mysterious, not man's business to understand. Look, I can't even understand what the hell that gunk is seeping out of the video!
  That night in my midnight madness I took apart the video monitor. I did it before I had looked into taking apart video monitors. Only a masochist, only a gadgeteer would take apart a laptop monitor. And I am a gadgeteer. I don't know why I spend all day checking out motherboards and computer fans; and all night studying the ins and outs of hard drives. But I do. And now I have a video to take apart. That it did not work was a big bonus as far as I was concerned because how can I screw it up worse?
  In fact there was not a whole lot to it. The bezel popped off with pressure from the fingertips. Some of them use glue, which makes the process a lot harder, but this one was not glued. Once the bezel was removed, the screws which held it to the laptop lid frame were revealed. Loosen the screws, snap apart a few electrical connections, and the video comes right out. The next step is to take apart the video. The process is more a hassle than hard. The electronics board on the back is very delicate, and if it gets rapped or shook, it's all over. Remove the pressed on metal frame and the bulb or LED light will be there, and several sheets of reflecting paper. It's easy to forget how the photo paper comes apart. Then how do you put it together again? Make sure you have a camera handy, you can take snapshots, which help you to remember. Since in this case the video was hopelessly broken, why should it matter? What was this gunk seeping out? The picture didn't show a clear image. Or had the gunk somehow accidentally dripped in and now it was dripping out? Could it have been that it was not supposed to be there? Anyway, my thought was to wash it away. So I got out the window cleaner and I scrubbed and washed. It must have been that this gunk was supposed to be there, because when I put the monitor back together the picture was even worse than it was before.
  I am relieved that morning has come so I can head out to the computer repair place. I cross the Androscoggin on the Cedar Street bridge, then drive out bound through Lewiston on Lisbon Street. Action Computer, the repair place, is at the top of the hill. I get there. Nothing is happening till eight. Don't know what to do with myself. Read a book. A guy comes out in t-shirt with Action Computer printed on it. He lights one up, and hides behind the dumpster. It's really a nice morning. We haven't had much good weather lately, and he's smoking so I don't want to interrupt him. He is trying to press out his cigarette, as if his smoking is a secret. “No it's all right,” I say. So he takes another drag. Then I explain myself. “I talked to somebody here, Jim? He said you had a DV7 monitor that worked.”
  “Yes. I took the machine apart and it was working when I took it apart. But there is a little spot on the bottom.”
  Then he went on: “take the cover off,” he said, mentioning “denatured alcohol”, and I lost him. I'm constantly losing track of what people are telling me. What does it all mean? Then he concluded, “I'd have to find out about pricing.” That's exactly what he said.
  I said, “Jim said seventy-five dollars.”
  But, I thought, doesn't that seem like a lot?
  So we walked across the parking lot and we went inside.
  There was a large square room with electronics spread out on benches all around. The room was dry, silent, perhaps overly warm. It reminded me of a library. The monitors showed mostly Windows displays. But there were a few Apple displays. Larry, the name of the fellow whom I had met outside, said that Apple computers don't end up in the shop very often. (No Linux displays. Linux users do it themselves?)
  Another fellow came in the shop, sat down, started to work.
  Larry began to disassemble the monitor I wanted to buy. He got the screws out and gave them to me. These tiny black laptop screws are very interesting to me. I love screws and carefully sort them out. But then he hit the glue.
  “Glue!” He said. “I hate glue. Apple started the glue.”
  All progress stopped dead. There was no way to dig the screen out of the bezel without manhandling the board, which was flopping around. So this board that is attached to the video monitor got banged hard.
  “No,” I said finally. “This isn't working out.”
  “Well, you're right,” said Larry.
  So I left.
  Then I bought a new monitor on line. It is guaranteed for two years. Now there is no gunk dripping out. I never did find out why the gunk was leaking out. But now the old junker is working fine. I call it Another Moe to go with my homemade desktop which I named Moe. Every day I do serious work on it.


  Another Moe is close to a year old now. I still don't know for sure how he came to be. What possessed mankind to invent such a contraption? I blame God, but why should I blame God for everything? A man I know who is a poet never goes near a computer. He writes with pen and ink in a notebook. He wouldn't spend five minutes reading an HTML textbook. He's too busy studying the great poets, whom he calls his brothers. Eventually his poems end up on the memory stick his wife carries around. Doesn't that seem to make more sense? Do I study the great poets? Hell no! I study motherboards all night long. A good collection of pictures of Asus or Gigabyte or Biostar boards and I'm happy, a schematic and I'm in heaven.
  Another Moe usually does what I want him to. But he doesn't say to me, “How are you today, Mr. Gigas?” He can get cranky, too. Sometimes he won't boot. You press the button and things happen to a point, and then nothing happens. When he gets to that place, you have to remove the battery and depress the start button for thirty seconds or so, return the battery and press the button again. I like to pray.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Elvira Keening for Her Kittens

  In our house are two cats, Elvira and Bunny. Harmony is buried in the ditch outside the window, but she is in the house too, and I'll prove it. Elvira looks like Harmony. But she does not act like Harmony. If you want to compare the two, you can bring up lots of subjects. For instance, Elvira had kittens; Bunny had kittens too. But Bunny has a white face and white front paws.There can be no question about how real their kittens are. But Bunny doesn't remind me of Harmony. Elvira does.
   Harmony was fixed before we got her. Cats have a personality peculiar to themselves. Harmony was friendly more than average. For many years she got along with Peaches, our dog. When Peaches decided to slip in bed with us, so did Harmony. Then not too long after Peaches died, Harmony died. I don't know what she died of. I found her lying in her favorite spot in the yard. I thought she might be dead, she was so still. Harmony never had kittens. We did not have any cats for a long time after Harmony died, then my wife got two tiny black kittens from a neighbor's barn. She named them Elvira and Bunny. 
  Elvira looks more like Harmony, who was all black, but she does not act like Harmony. Harmony was laid back, a kitten of the world; Elvira is more innocent and nervous. Not being quite as domesticated a cat as Harmony was, Elvira is wilder and more self sufficient. She likes my wife more than she likes me. When my wife is tired or not feeling well and she goes early to bed, Elvira comes round to be her friend.
  Everyone would agree that Elvira is real. She's alive. But would you say that Harmony was real too? 
  I remember perfectly well where I buried Harmony. I buried her at the base of the electric pole a few feet from our bedroom window. The electric pole used to be circled by a bush. It was a cool and well protected spot, and often you could find her there. That's where I dug a hole to bury her in. Then I raked up a little mound of stones. But though out of sight, she was never out of mind. I don't think she is less real now she is dead than Elvira is who is alive in front of me. Which is real and which is unreal is not a subject that comes up when I compare the two.
  Elvira had two litters before she was fixed. Don, a vet in nearby Norway, fixed her. He does them on certain days of the week a dozen at a time. Don is a family friend. He was kind to us when Peaches died. He spent several hours sitting up with us the night she died. Peaches, our dog for many years, was very dear to us.
  One day I talked to him about kittens. He agreed with me that a litter of kittens is fun for a family to get involved in. It teaches something about caring. But come to a certain point kittens are no longer fun. Persistence is often in short supply, and kittens have to be taught where to do it. Rugs are often their first choice, and the urine has a very showy smell. Harmony never had a litter because she was fixed early on, but Elvira had numerous kittens. That is a statement as clear as I can make it, and we can forge on with it. 
  Elvira had two litters before she got fixed, but that doesn't make her more real. These two words, real and unreal, are just game words. People play games with lots of words. Elvira is hovering around me right under my chair. But Harmony I imagine, for she is dead, and yet she is hovering around me too. Kathleen even a few minutes ago called Elvira Harmony! She thinks about her too, and that makes her real. So if you want to play that game, go ahead, but I don't see much sense to it. The problem is the word unreal must represent something, even if not my kitties, else why would there be a word at all? But what?
  Though there is nothing left of Harmony—how much clearer do I have to be? Don't tell me you're confused about that statement, too!—except how I remember her, she still bats about the house purring, and I can even hear the soft thuds of her paws on the floor.
   Now, Elvira was a very good mother. At first kittens start out as little fuzz balls; you wouldn't think them big enough to be alive. In my opinion they are little miracles of nature. So tiny! Elvira was always hovering over those kittens. They started out in a little space between the boxes under our bed. Then they worked themselves into the bottom drawer of the file cabinet my computer is on. I kick that drawer open to use as a footstool, so I must have left it open, and Elvira hauled them into the empty space behind the folders. She was always in there nursing and licking. None of Elvira's kittens died. But you take Bunny. I think she forgot where she put them. Two of them survived, but they are very handsome long haired flaming tabbies. My wife feeds them still, when they are around. They are outdoors cats and very hard to catch. I caught one of them in my have-a-heart, but my wife insisted I let him go.
  There is a memory now of Elvira keening for her kittens who are no more. It is a specific, true memory which is no less real though a memory. I personally can attest to the truth of it. This is what happened.
  Once Elvira weaned her kittens, she had, of course, less to do with them. But she did not abandon them. She checked on them, she seemed amused by them. She'd sit by the woodstove and purr softly, and they would gather around. They were house broken by then, and we tried to keep them indoors because we were trying to "sell" them (for $0). Sometimes she might lie down, and they'd buss her teats. On rare occasions she'd take a snooze, and the six of them would snooze beside her, making a dark, slowly breathing little hump in a cardboard box we left for them. After awhile, her nap passed, and all well with the kittens, Elvira jumped up, stretched and waited at the door for someone to let her out.
  During the good weather, I can expect to see her covering the nearby woods and pastures. One time I caught her sneaking around the logging road almost a mile away from the house. When Sunshine, our dog, who is a Shepherd mix, is outside, they will wander together down the driveway and turn onto Kittridge Brook road and amble sniffing as far as the Rocky Hill. Sunshine thinks she is a cat, and often Bunny will join the menage. But usually they are content to loiter around the end of the driveway, and after a short time they'll return to lie down in the sun in the dooryard. 
  These kittens of Elvira's are healthy, lively little buggers. Time to get rid of them and time to fix Elvira, too. They are precious, cute little fur balls. Trusting souls, they flop and fall asleep in the middle of things. Even should a sprawled out tail be stepped on, though they will jump up squalling, in a minute they will drop wearily in the same spot. Only later does the idea of a hideout develop.
  Some of these people who show up wanting a kitten shouldn't have ANYTHING that needs taking care of. The kids fall out of a broken down SUV; they are smiling ragamuffins, but unfed, unwashed, and already gone askew. Goats are the worst. Oh, do they want goats! But goats are needy critters; come the first sign of adversity, they'll mope around through the fall, and come winter they will surely die. My wife often refuses them goats; she'll even refuse them a breeding. There are in this world many well educated, glib, proud owners of half dead goats. But you can't kill a cat, right? They have seven lives, and I'm not kidding. I see them often on my way to work at night, eyes glittering in the headlights, a mangy mother leading a trail of little shadows.
  Usually within a day or two after the sign has been put out, somebody will come to our door. And then the kittens are all gone. I don't know what they do with them. Maybe it is some weird religious cult. It seems mysterious. I never ask. On this particular occasion a Ford pick up with Harley-Davidson stickers all over it rolled up to our door. Three people dumped themselves out. A snapshot of them together would have made an excellent Harley-Davidson sticker. My wife, by now having had enough of kittens, let them in. Within seconds the two women, one of them looking every day of her middle age, were each purring at the kitten in their hands. Then they announced, "We have to go to the bathroom." So they disappeared with kittens into the bathroom. Then a plump, long haired, ear ring sporting young man appeared. "Oh, they're in the bathroom," says my wife. So the next thing I know he's prancing into the bathroom, too. Finally they came out and the middle aged woman said, "We want all of them." I should have chased them away. 
  No sooner had the dust settled from the pick up driving away that Elvira came back from hunting. She looked up and down for her kittens. She looked inside, then she looked all around outside. Then she was keening, calling for her kittens, which were no more. For two days she about drove me crazy. Finally, she stopped.
  All of that is real. I'm not bullshitting you! Though Harmony is no more she is real because I remember her, how she used to curl up on the floor beside my desk. And there is Elvira, sitting up beside the wood stove, where she once gathered her kittens. Her head nods briefly, surveying her brood.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

What About the Internet?

                              Unless you are drunk all the time, and totally uncomprehending of the real world, then you must know that when you boot up your computer all privacy vanishes. It is amazing to me that there are people, very well known people, who think they can send Emails to their second significant other; and get away with it! Why do well known people persist in getting into jams? It can't be ignorance, else why would they be well known? In our present fruity world of money and fame the claim of intelligence may be specious, but how can they be that dumb?

Folksy monastery worker on internet machine.
   Doesn't any one think it is laughable to expect privacy even—especially—when Facebook or Google are busy claiming it? It is an amazing hypocrisy when without a visible tremor they claim privacy at the same time as they are turning privacy into existential data that they will sell to the highest bidder. Can it be that they honestly don't know what hypocrisy is? To the Zuckerbergs, for instance, hypocrisy must be such a rare and vague term that it is mysteriously beyond their intellectual capacity to define it. But there is nothing complicated about hypocrisy. When you would do to others what you would bitch and complain about the others doing to yourself, that is hypocrisy.
   Why would any busy technocrat complain when their system gets hacked? The hacking goes both ways. But that's not the sum of the issue. The important facts relate to this wonderment: why do people seem so eager to put up with it? Why are the most personal matters imaginable regularly discussed on Facebook? Why do the most incriminating Emails continue to be entered into Google Mail? How has it come to be that most people do not really care whether or not they are tracked from the minute they get up to when they finally shut off the electronics and go to bed at night? Even if they are guilty of some very embarrassing transgression, they seem nonplussed.
   Can it be that the claim of innocence is retained even amidst their transgression? I have often thought that criminals are how they are because they are incapable of seeing clearly enough to disclaim innocence in anything. I think it would be farfetched to think they don't understand evil; they just don't understand what they are doing, whether good or evil. They live in the fog. Either that or they think that what they are doing is something they have to do.
   The Zuckerbergs—yes, even they get burned—are not as much to blame as one might think. After all they are capitalists who want to make money, else why would they be capitalists? Who are to blame are the consumers who lie timidly in the middle of the road while a convoy of trucks rolls over them. Can it be that they want to get caught? Or can it be that there is no privacy any more anywhere, and no matter what you do or how you do it, you are going to get found out? This attitude may even effect the thinking of famous ladies who cannot escape being photographed. Still, though they are constantly one step away from internet notoriety, they get hardened to it, and they will survive. It is worse to watch children ruin their lives. They think their "friends" on the internet will really be there for them. Why should they understand that they won't? They are not old enough to understand much of anything.
   I remember the day I downloaded on the trusty old iBook the Swiss Army knife of all apps, that sprawling mansion of open source, dripping with a patina of nostalgia and hope, Emacs. Before that I had hardly any interest in the Internet. I thought that watching clumsy, silly You Tube videos all day was a total waste of time. Then all those You Tube videos and websites taught me how to use Emacs. I really did want to get Google and flash off my back, but they were teaching me. Eventually, I booted directly into Emacs and used it for everything. I hooked it up to WWW and an Emailer. I did everything on it, or whatever I could do, given the fact that my hardware had gone past. Then I gave up on OS X. Where did Apple get off trying to tell me to do this or that? Instead I installed a bed of roll-your-own Debian. When I had a question I emailed a Chinese comrade. My cloud was a 1G snap drive I carried around in my pocket. It was a simple world without distractions. For hour after hour I tapped out sentences, rolling back the darkness assaulting me, and since they couldn't fine me, I was of no interest to anybody.
  For me, the snap drive had been the game changer. I could finally backup easily and safely. I did not need to put my precious files at risk. But then there was Dropbox, and I began to use the cloud. The cloud! That mysterious feeling of Zen. That deep down feeling that somebody up there cares about me, and He will not let my precious files die. It was a service; it worked. Also, I evolve into solid state disk drives, which are much faster and more efficient. But unlike a platter disk drive, it is very hard to get any data off an SSD that has ceased to function. Back-ups have to stay up to date. Starting around 2009 my journals are full of enthusiastic notes about the wonders of Dropboxing. I didn't have to carry a flash drive around any more! I had been using Dropbox on my desktop since 2008. No matter what OS I was using it was very easy to install. It was cleverly done and although it tended to use quite a bit of juice just sitting there, it seemed fail safe. The best thing was: when I started to use SSD's, I could depend on Dropbox to give me a relatively instantaneous backup. Should the SSD—this in my experience is farfetched—suddenly quit, very little work would be lost, if anything at all.
   Then the famous Google ad came out. In this ad laptop after laptop was destroyed in numerous egregious ways by a weird looking person in order to demonstrate how Google, custodian of our precious files, still remained for another day. Of course, on the other hand, wifi in the outback of Australia? 3G? I think, as I remember, the scenario was a safari in Africa. Google has always considered itself omnipresent, sort of like God. I guess you would be dumb to miss the point. Why should they have to tell you? Google is the web; Dropbox is a disciple.
   Now I was actually using Dropbox. It seemed like a good idea. I could use the desktop back home in the monastery and the laptop on the road. The theory was that if what I was working on was in the Dropbox—Why wouldn't it be?—the files would be the same (synced, another buzzword) whether desktop or laptop.
   Then I began to hear rumors? I couldn't have been the only one. Security was easily breached; valuable files were lost. They disappeared into the digital never land of flickering, multicolored bytes. This went along with the news about keystroke identifiers—spyware—and Email thefts and password hacks and all the other stuff. And, seriously, who is in control of my files? And why would he be more worried about my files than I am? Why should he be less prone to error than I am?
   Suppose I am an important person. Why would I want some innocent peccadillo to be bandied about via the internet? Needless to say, my fellow Americans, we do not tend to be monks in monasteries. Surely a computer shouldn't make anyone want to be a monk in a monastery! Our laptops now have powerful batteries. We are off to visit this person and that. What about the wifi at the airport, or in that truck stop you had lunch at? Or suppose no wifi at all. Pencil and paper? What's that?
  The answer must be that 3G dongle. Be serious. (They say 4G is better.) (And incidentally, you're running 4G on, say, Linode or even Amazon. You had better be prepared to get up off your wallet. Dropbox can get expensive too.) Set up an SSH tunnel to the monastery at home? A possibility I guess. Really, how much faster is 4G when you have a hundred or so files to transfer? It's a big tangle and confusion. The privacy issues make me extremely nervous. There was all this other stuff too. It began to remind me of fishing in a swamp. Why would you want to go there?
   Now, at some point I made a difficult decision to organize my data. There was so much of it, what could I do? After much thought, because my database was going crazy and I was going crazy trying to organize it, I invested in a very nice search and organizer app. It certainly wasn't Emacs, but it had a lot of cute frills. You know how they do. So it happens that it runs only on OS X, (boy am I dumb, that is so dumb!) and certainly not Chromium or Zoho writer. Anybody who thinks they are going to get serious work done on Chromium or Zoho writer will soon be disillusioned. Richard Stallman is all over the internet warning people of the dangers of proprietary software. Stallman gave away Emacs. I hate painting myself into a shadowy corner, but I bought into commercial software. In fact, I am writing this on DEVONthink rather than Emacs. In five years DEVONthink may be in the toilet while Emacs will be sailing merrily along. If I have a couple of terabytes of files organized on DEVONthink, which goes belly up, how commercial companies often manage to do, then what? Or suppose I take a disliking to Apple hardware? All my carefully organized files have suddenly become a chaos. Fortunately, U*NIX has Sed and Grep, should the very worst transpire. My excuse is that in writing you tend to collect things. I don't know why; you'd think I'd develop a better memory.
   One day I picked up a bug in St. Paul. It takes a half hour to boot up. Now what? I can't afford another MacBook. I'm trying to fix it, via the internet (wifi in truck stop restaurant), and I need to download 2G's of files from the monastery. It's a jungle out there. Was it the bug, or did Dropbox mash my files? But is that really the issue. The issue is: I gave up possession of my files. Why would I do that? It's convenient. There's a Zen thing. Me and my little touch tablet on the road. I am me, spiritual wanderer. "If I get burned, I get burned." I have thought that in innocence quite a few times in my life, and it never worked out.
   So there I am. The new man at work, outsourcing my backups, and, I might add, attempting to outsource a load of other things, too. It doesn't work out very well; nice in theory. If I stayed in the monastery and didn't have to actually go to work, it might have been all right.
   It was such a relief to get off the Dropbox. I still have it in my arsenal, and might sneak in a file now and then, but I don't depend on it. I have to pack a little extra junk—an external drive and a little safety case of snap drives. But it seems to me I sleep better at night.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Sign

                    It was almost Christmas. Christmas was in a couple of days. The frozen sky followed me into Al's Bar, and I slammed shut the door against it. Bones sat on the bar stool closest to the big window. “Hi yer, Stranger,” Bones said. It was cold and dark outside, but warm and bright inside Al's Bar. It was very cold in Chelsea that night. I says “hi” to Bones. I walked over and sat at the bar beside John. He was drinking a beer and studying the papers. Usually John went to Jack's to study the papers after work. Jack's was on Broadway near the corner of Fifth Street. Jack's was a quiet place till they started happy hour at six. Sometimes they started happy hour at five.
  Bones turned to EJ who was sitting beside him, and he said, “Hey, look at that light!” 
  EJ, perched precariously on the bar stool, turned, and leaning back, the beer bottle glued to his lower lip, he peered past Bones out the window. “Light? What light?” EJ said. 
  “Over there,” Bones said. “I seen a light.” Bones was very thin; he ambled along through life a bag of bones. Sometimes he worked at the chicken processor, other times at the riggers'. The flesh tightly wrapped his face. When he laughed he tipped back his head and made with his mouth a big, happy, silent circle. “It's over there,” he pointed out the window. 
  “He seen a light,” EJ explained to himself, “a light on the brain.” EJ was strong shouldered and thick around the waist, and he walked with a limp, claimed that he had got an extra bone in his leg while doing hard time in Viet Nam.
  John, the old man, glanced up from the newspaper, and said to me, “They're drunk, and it ain't even night yet.”
  “Am I lying?” Bones said. Waving his arms, he slowly swiveled the bar stool. “'Cause why would I lie?”
  Al stood behind the bar, leaning, smiling broadly, his big nose shiny under the light, his tiny eyes pinched in the slots.
  “Look for yourself,” Bones said. 
  But EJ said, “We don't needa look.” 
  So Bones stood, shuffled the short distance to the window, made a bowl on the window between his palms, pressed his forehead into it. “By Jesus, it's a light. Don't tell me. Between the buildings.” 
  John snorted and EJ grumbled. 
  “Don't tell me whud I seen, when I seen whud I seen.” 
  “Yeah,” EJ said, “the light between your ears.” 
  “I ain't got light between my ears. I ain't got nothing between my ears. The light's out there.”
  Bones and EJ commenced swearing at each other pleasantly. EJ summed it up, “Light! Ya bum!” 
  Bones cocked his leg, swung it over the bar stool, sat down and said, “Oh, yous shad dap. There's a light over there, I'm telling yah. On the horizon, there, between the buildings.”
  That's when I says, “I saw a light, too. I was walking down the street and I saw a strange light over there far away to the west.”
  “See?” Bones says. “That's what I say, Stranger, the same as what you say.” 
  “Where?” EJ says. He tips back off the bar stool, leans toward the window. “There ain't a light. It's dark.” 
  “Between the two buildings, beyond the vacant lot.” Bone's fingertip stumbled toward the light.
  “Don't shit me, now,” EJ says. “If I get up and look out that window, where you're shitting me, I'm gonna swat yous both.” 
  “Oh, I'm so sceered,” Bones says. Then he explained confidentially to Al, “he's pro'ly gonna swat me down, Al. I'm so skeerd.”
  Al's eyes under the clean, pale forehead, locked in their slots. His mouth made another slot which struggled not to laugh.
  “Shaddap,” EJ says. He straightened his shoulders, stepped toward the window, cupped his palms, peered out the window between his palms. “Well, I'll be damned. An askteroid? Or one of them wazzits? A comet? No. The bomb blast. It's the A bomb, blasting off. Finally. No more Chelsea!” 
  “The A bomb!” Bones said. “It ain't. It's the light.”
  John looked up from the newspaper, and said, “Now I seen it all. The whole bunch of them seen a light.”
  “Then come look!” EJ said, peeved at John. “You old bassud.”
  “I ain't goin' there. Whud I wanna go there for? Whud I look like?” John said.
  EJ was still looking. 
  “Pro'ly a comet,” Bones agreed. 
  “Comets have a tail. That's just a light. Like a star. A light,” EJ says. It's his idea now. 
  “Well, what then?” Bones wonders. 
  “How'na hell do I know?” EJ lurched back to the bar, cocked his leg over the stool, sat. EJ's and Bone's necks were loose, hangdog.
  Chicky sat at the bar half way between EJ and John. Chicky was patiently counting his pennies. He alleged loudly that he had personally counted out and stacked in front of him on the bar five neat stacks of ten pennies each, the price of another beer. Chicky worked with EJ and Bones too, sometimes, at the chicken processor. He liked to play poker with the boys. His place was across the street. Ma Janny, a Maine Indian woman, kept the house. She was a good housekeeper and the boys liked to go over to play poker, but Chicky chiseled pennies. Al counted every penny because Chicky would count just nine pennies to a ten penny pile. Al disapproved loudly; Chicky must think Al's Bar was the neighborhood piggy bank. He threatened to throw Chicky out. Chicky denied resolutely that nine pennies were in a ten penny pile. Al counted out nine pennies, so Chicky threw in an extra penny for good measure. At the conclusion of threats and counter threats Al brought him a Millers. Chicky's connivance interested and amused the men, and they were jolted out of their doldrums.
  EJ recommenced debate concerning the origin of the light. Could it possibly be the lights at the airport? 
  But Bones argued, “The airport is that way,” cocking his head in the direction opposite. “It must be the bomb, I guess. They finally let her off and she's comin to Chelsea, and the whole place is gonna drop off into a sinkhole. Just a few empty beer bottles rattling around, and two of Chicky's nickels with Chicky's hand wrapped around them cut off at the wrist.” Then Bones turned away to catch Chicky's eye. Chicky sat counting a new pile of pennies that he had chiseled. “Chick,” Bones said, “is that a light or is that a light?”
  “How'na hell do I know? Either one, I guess. Now, don't bother me. I'm busy.”
  John burst out laughing. Here the old man was, reading the papers, trying to learn something about the world, instead of being a dumb ass all his life, and he had to put up with this! He said, “No wonder I usually go to Jack's.”
  Then I, Paul Paris, whom they liked to call Stranger, spoke up suddenly, “I saw a light, too. I thought it was beautiful. It was to the west.”
  EJ and Bones looked at me lazily. John blushed because he had to be sitting beside such a nut. John was peculiarly unable to prevent himself from blushing. A lot of things made him blush.
  Chicky stopped counting. He used to teach school, but it turned out that he hated the little “barstards”. Chicky turned toward me, and he said, “What?” Then he shook his head. “As if I don't have enough to do. So quit botherin me.” 
  “Who the hell's botherin you,” Bones interrupted. 
  “You! So shaddap.” 
  “Whudder'ya mad at me for?” Bones said, opening his arms. 
  Chicky glared at him, tossed a last penny down on the bar. Grunting, he stood up, walked purposefully to the window, glared out, grunted, walked back, sat down and announced, “It's the junkyard.” 
  “The junkyard!” Bones says, waving his arms. “That way is the junkyard.” Pointing off awry.
  Chicky hunched over his pennies, counting. “I said it's the junkyard. Now don't bother me.”
  EJ looked at Bones; Bones looked at EJ. They burst out laughing. EJ slapped his thighs. Every time Bones' mouth formed the big round circle, a new silence came out. Both having finally stopped laughing, EJ and Bones up an walked to the window, and they glared out. 
  “Donno,” Bones said. “Can't hardly see it no more.” 
  “Hell, I never did seen it,” EJ said. 
  They walk back, cock legs, sit. 
  “Most likely won't ever seen it again,” Bones said. 
  “Al, 'nother beer for the boys,” EJ said, meaning for himself. 
  “Must have a name though,” Bones said. “Because if it has a name, nobody's gonna pay much attention to it. But since it don't have a name, watch out.”  So Bones stood up, turned. 
  “What now?” EJ shouted. 
  “I just wantta have one more good look at her.” 
  “It's an askteroid. I told ya.” EJ was getting all befuddled by this activity. 
  “Oh oh, asteroids don't have names.” Says Bones. 
  “Then siddown and shaddap. Drink! Simple. Nobody bothers ya.” 
  But Bones was not to be talked out of it. He cupped his hands at the window, and said, “There it is! We thought it was gone. But there it is! Brighter, too, looks like, wouldn't be surprised.”
  “Awright. Wouldya just sid down and shad'dap? Who cares, for cryin out loud?” 
  “Funny,” Bones said softly. 
  So now EJ was about to have a fit. “What's so goddamn funny about it?” He said. 
  “Well, it wasn't there, and now it is!” Then after a long silence Bones added, wistfully softly, “Blinking?” 
  “Sure. Pro'ly the stop light down the corner.” 
  “Nahh. Oh well,” Bones concluded. He walked, cocked, sat. Thinking about it. Silent. Musing on it.
  Al brought “the boys” another beer, picked fifty cents out of the pile E J had accumulated on the bar.
  Then I said, “I don't think it blinked. Lights like that don't blink. Something musta got in the way for a second.”
  “That's what I say, Stranger,” Bones said. “That's maybe true.” 
  “Maybe it's a sign,” I said. 
  “Could be. Yes, could be a sign,” Bones said. “But how would I know a sign even if I saw a sign?” 
  “Why not get off our sorry dead butts and go find out?” I said. 
  “Let me tell you guys something,” EJ concluded. “There must be a load of really stupid bullshit going on around here, because I feel like I'm gonna vomit.”
  “Here's a sign,” Chicky said, throwing ten pennies on top of the bar.
  “That's one thing,” John said. “I'm reading the papers, and I don't like people botherin me.”
  “Yeah,” EJ said, loudly. “In short, shad'dap!”
  “From God,” Bones said. “Did you ever think about it? A sign from God?” 
  “Only one way to find out,” I said. “Get up off our sorry butts, and go find out.” 
  “Colder than a bitch out there, Stranger,” Bones said. 
  “A lot of things,” I says. “Cold. Impossible. Who's going to believe you? From God. Come on!”
  “You know what it looks like to me?” Al said. “Gus, at the junkyard. They put up lights, you know, so the crew can work late.”
  “But that's not the right direction,” Bones said.
  “Sure. It's reflecting off the buildings. I've noticed it the last couple of nights.”
  “No!” I said. I didn't want it to be the lights at Emerald Auto Parts. What would make Gus and the crew work late on a night like this? It was almost Christmas. Christmas in a couple of days. No, it must be something else, but I didn't know what. Why can't a regular guy get a sign, too, because other people do? If I had a sign, I'd know what I was doing. I really wanted to know what I was doing. Because I didn't know what I was doing.
  “Oh well, I guess,” Bones said.
  It was zero outside and the wind howling, and inside Al's was warm and bright. Nobody went anywhere.
  “No sense running around,” EJ said. “'Mon, have a few. Nothin bothers ya.”
  Then Rosie dropped in, EJ's lady. Boy, she was a handful.