Wednesday, December 31, 2003


So its not enough to encounter the white stuff out on the peninsula, it has to follow us here. Here, to the domain of temperate weather. The Noive!

Actually, its a really pretty outside right now - a mantel of white draped over the as-yet-unraked leaves in the back yard. The trees are heavy with it - its a wet snow that sticks to everything, and the bronze cat birdbath is wearing a white hood. Its down to flurries right now, but the air is cool and crisp and the decks and porches are bare (big overhangs on the eaves).

This sort of thing makes me happy I finished my short story yesterday and hand-delivered it to the editor - I don't want to leave the house at the moment. And since I have a project with an immediate deadline I am working on, Kate's in the kitchen, and nephew John Michael is downstairs with the X-Box (The Monkey King lent me some of his games, which were a life-saver), all seems right with the world.

More later,

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

The Pacific

So my nephew, John Michael, is out visiting over the break. He's nineteen, going to school for computer technologies back in PA, rail-thin, and growing his first beard, a sparse collection of hairs on his chin that makes him look like "Shaggy" from Scooby Doo (Aunt Kate teases him regularly about this). So we've been "doing stuff" in addition to all the other work I'm needing to get done over the break. Saturday I took him to the Space Needle and the EMP and shushi, and right now Kate's braving the unseasonably cold weather here to go to the Museum of Flight.

But the last two days we have been on the Olympic Peninsula, a huge chunk of land to the west across the sound. Most people think about Seattle as being on the West Coast, but actually, we're miles and miles in from the ocean itself, protected by this huge chunk of new mountains.

We got there by heading north, to Mount Vernon, then west across Deception Pass - a steep-sided narrow waterway that turns what was thought to be a peninsula into an island (hence the deception). Its a sharp-edged gorge, and we got there at a great time - right at sunset. Nice view, but as a result, I was driving south to the ferry in the dark (I seem to be doing a lot of driving in the dark in these stories). We ferried to the Olympic Peninsula itself, to Port Townsend, where we stayed the night, and had dinner with Steven, an old WotC buddy. Steven would join use the next day to explore the area.

Port Townsend is a nice, small community on the Juan de Fucca passage, which connects the Sound with the ocean and forms most of the northern border of the peninsula. Its an old, mildly eccentric town - their motto is "We're all here because we aren't all there." (They have bumper stickers for that). Indeed, the entire peninsula has a sort of an offbeat, eccentric nature to it - I ended up following a pickup truck with a full gun rack and a "No War for Oil" bumper sticker.

It was surprisingly cold out there. We had been out in this area previously in early spring, and while brisk, its been relatively mild. Now it is nasty-cold, and as we moved inland, we started to hit snow on the ground and wet icy spots on the road where they have sanded. My car (the four-door) now has a tan lower-half from all the road-grit it has taken on and looks like I've been running it down the Baja.

Kate's original plan was to hit Hurricane Ridge, overlooking the town of Port Angeles on the northern coast, but was disuaded by the fact that snow tires were needed to get up there and the ridge itself was wrapped in clouds. So plan "B" was to head to a beach she had been to before, on the Pacific Ocean - Third Beach, just north of the Giant's Graveyard. Got there in plenty of time, and hiked down about a mile through temperate rainforest to reach the beach itself. The beach was great, since it was one of the few sand beaches I have seen on the Washington Coast - most are black igneous rocks smoothed by the waves. The greatest peril is climbing over the huge pieces of driftwood that piled up at the high tide mark. To the south, the Giant's Graveyard was a scattering of spires marching out into the sea, like, well, tombstones.

We were the only ones on the beach at the time, and the tide was coming in, so we did not stay longer than a half-hour. There were small shapes in the water - either diving birds or otters, floating on the heavy waves. The surf was strong, and both Kate and I got wet from being in the wrong spot as the waves surged up the flat beach.

But it was getting late, and the wet roads were turning to ice between us and Port Townsend. We headed back in the dark, with a brief stop when a young woman flipped here truck ahead of us at Sappho Junction, right at the bridge across the Sol Duc river. She hit an slick spot heading down to the bridge, rebounded off the guard rail, and flipped onto her side right at the bridge itself, blocking the road. She was shaken up pretty badly but unharmed, thank goodness. What impressed me was that the amount of walkie-talkies and radios that suddenly appeared from the other drivers, and that one of the other women in the backup had an EMT rig in her trunk and was checking out the victim before the firetrucks got there, while others directed traffic and made sure the truck wasn't leaking anything but radiator fluid. Very prepared they are, out in the peninsula.

But it was another long drive back in the dark, navigating the twists in the road in the failing light. Passage across the Edmunds ferry and home in good time, but it was a long trip, and I'm still a little bleary-eyed about the whole thing. So today I'm spending rewriting a story that I finished right before leaving town, and doing some contract work that is due Monday.

More later,

Friday, December 26, 2003

The Five

From this week's Friday Five.

1. What was your biggest accomplishment this year? I'd say the work I did for the 'Kids. I think I did a good job, and I think people will like it. They are already releasing news about the DC Heroclix: Unleashed set on the Wizkids site, and its getting a very positive response (I particularly enjoy the Hal vs. Kyle Green Lantern arguments - for the record, I voted for Kyle). There are a couple more things that will be coming out that have not been announced.

2. What was your biggest disappointment? Definitely the layoff from Wizkids. Quick, sudden, and unexpected. Even so, it wasn't the worst moment of my life or my career. The worst part of it was the huggamugga caused me to blow a short story deadline, for which I am terminally embarassed (though the editor held the door open for me long enough for me squeeze in, I don't like running things that fine).

3. What do you hope the new year brings? I get back up again. The old saying is - "Failure is not being knocked down - Failure is not getting up again once you've been knocked down." That's a motto I can get behind, along with "Living well is the best revenge."

4. Will you be making any New Year's resolutions? If yes, what will they be? I rarely do - they set one up for regrets later. So while I could shed a ten-spot worth of poundage or relearn to play the piano, I will try the following: "Play more games". Particularly the video ones (which aren't really games, but that's another story entirely).

5. What are your plans for New Year's Eve? Um, playing games. Probaby European Board Games.

More later,


Cue the "Charlie Brown Christmas" music.

Kate and I had a pleasant and mildly exhausting Christmas. Pleasant from a standpoint that it was smaller - we normally go a tad bit overboard. This year Kate and I got each other books and clothes, with a big gift of a DVD player and a new cordless phone/answering machine which have been on the "need to buy" list for some time. I did indulge and got Kate a new, lighter Tai Chi sword.

The day was exhausting because Kate and I throw a Christmas dinner for single friends and couples without kids. A sit-down dinner for 13 people. And THERE we overdid. Poached salmon and a brined 20 pound turkey (more on that later). Green breans, stuffing, potatoes, carrots, rolls and biscuits (corn and bacon). Stuffed mushrooms and rumaki as appetizers, home made cheesecake and chocolate tart for desert. Three types of tea, late harvest reislings, a rouge, and mead. Verily, 'twas a spread, and it was good to gather everyone together (conversation went from movies to politics to the mideast to ancient cities, and at one point I volunteered my Britanicas to settle a dispute). My only regret always is that Kate and I are cooking and hosting and have very little time to just enjoy.

But it was wonderful, and one of the best parts was the turkey, a 20-pound bird that we brined, pulling a recipe from an Alton Brown article in Bon Appetite. Brining is immersing the bird in a salt marinade - in this case a combination of hot water, salt, sugar, vegetable broth, and chilled with ice (to kept the bird below 40 degrees). We brined it in a cleaned cooler we set in the upstairs bath, using bag-wrapped bricks to keep raise the fluid level and cover the entire turkey. After eight hours of this, we blasted the bird for a half-hour in 500 degrees to get the skin right, then slow-cooked for another 2 1/12 hours. Despite a series of follies involving the oven probe not working, we finished about an hour ahead of schedule, which allowed up sufficient time to rest the bird. The resulting turkey was, without a doubt, the best-looking and tastiest bird I've ever served.

So I'm converted to brining, which I have previously mocked as being the latest food fad. Still not going to deep fry the turkey, yet.

The end result was a wonderful meal with good friends and definite feeling of exhaustion. Next year we're seriously talking about doing a menu that involves more stuff prepared in advance, with a minimum of last-minute prep, so we can spend more time drinking and gabbing with the guests.

Yeah, we're already thinking about next year. More later.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

I Remain Employed, Kinda

It's been an interesting week past, and promises to be a hectic holiday week. One of the harder parts of freelance is that there is no official "time off" - no holidays, unless you declare them yourself (and work harder to keep up with the deadlines).

First off, I've agreed to take a position with True North, run by Rich Kaalaas. They're a firm that does web design, graphic design, and content for Hasbro (among others), including on-line activities, promotional copy, and flash animation. He's bringing me on as a copy writer, which is a new/old thing for me - I've done it before, but never as the headline part of my job. Rich is old-school WotC, and I am friends with two guys already working for him, Steve Winter (great editor) and Steve Conard (great idea man). So that starts on the 5th of January.

So, I am effectively still temping - I'm hourly, and it all depends on how much work they can scare up. But they do have medical benefits, excellent pay, and a lot of potential for growth. They seem to be building a solid rep as a company and, to be frank, it looks like its exactly the sort of thing I thrive on - a lot of cool stuff, all happening at once.

In the wake of this news, WotC has informed me that they wish to extend my current work out to the End of January. I was wrapping things up with a ribbon for the 19th of this month, since they hadn't said anything definite. Now, True North thinks it will eventually get me the hours for a full-time after a month, but the first month should be a bit shy, so this works out, since the Wizards work will be heavy in the early going, then taper off. So I'm back with them on the 5th, and go to the end of the month.

So far, so good - I think I can serve two masters. Then today an opportunity shows up from Hasbro through True North which needs a designer/developer, which involves heading for corporate HQ in Pawtucket for the first week in January. The stresses of having two corporate masters (even in the same corporation) are already starting to be felt.

Did I mention I still have to do the world-building that's due on the 5th, and a short story that's due on the 1st?

And of course the Christmas shopping, which is done this year - Kate was the last one on the list, and I got her stuff today. And there have been a lot of parties and friends in the past week, so I'm working through a busy social schedule as well.

And despite it all, Kate and I got to see Return of the King. I have thoughts about it, but the interesting thing that I've heard from my friends is what I haven't heard - there's sort of a stunned awe that spreads through when discussing this. Its a huge film, and an amazing achievement. More on that later.

No really, more later.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Five for Five

A very sluggy net today, but here's the Friday Five:

1. List your five favorite beverages:
Diet Coke
Hot Tea (Earl Grey or Monk's Temple)
Sun Tea (Lipton)
Beer (Guiness)

2. List your five favorite websites.
The Writer's Almanac (initial page)
Echelon (politics)
Daily Kos (politics)
Gaming Report (industry)
PVP (humor)

3. List your five favorite snack foods.
Peanut Butter Crackers
Pretzel Rods
Ginger Snaps
Beef Jerkey

4. List your five favorite board and/or card games.
(Note: Games are social activities - playing these games remind me of particular people, and that's why I like them).
Settlers of Cataan
Magic: The Gathering
Robo Rally

5. List your five favorite computer and/or game system games.
Civilization (all incarnations)
Railroad Tycoon
Warcraft/ Starcraft (various incarnations)

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

The Blog Goes Ever On and On

Except when it doesn't. I haven't been ignoring this on purpose, but I've been busy with about five jobs at once.

Job Number One is the Day Job, which concludes this Friday. It was helping with the Star Wars miniatures game (which has been announced, so I can say it). Yeah, its going to be a lot of fun.

Job Number Two is the Contract Job that follows the Day Job, and is due on the 5th. Its a bit of World-building, but will carry me through the holidays.

Job Number Three is the Looking for a Job, for that position that hopefully will open up after after 5 January that will see me through the rest of the year.

Job Number Four is a short story due to a friend at the beginning of this year. Its a collection that involves a lot of talent, and I'm very excited about it, but I can't tell you any more about it.

Job Number Five is the holidays. Shopping, of course, mostly for Kate, but also prepping for our annual Christmas Day Dinner. And a couple parties in the meantime.

So its a bit hectic. How hectic? I won't get to see Lord of the Rings until Monday or so (and that's because Kate is even more buried with H&R Block).

More later. No, really.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Mideast Meets Midwest

Two pieces of good news out of the Middle East today (or if you prefer, Southwest Asia). One of course is the Capture of Unabomber (well, he LOOKS like the Unabomber) outside Tikrut. No smart comments, just a commendation of a job well done to our military forces and one more thing that is no longer on their "Honey-Dew" list.

Second bit of news is that my friend Doug's daughter (who I remember from when she was a rugrat) is doing her Boots on the Ground in Kuwait. As with everything else in the military, this is subject to change, but it is a good sign.

More later (cold clearing up, so of course I spent it doing yardwork),


Saturday, December 13, 2003

How Po-Mo Am I?

Fighting a cold at the moment, so this will have to pass for real content.

theory slut
You are a Theory Slut.  The true elite of the
postmodernists, you collect avant-garde
Indonesian hiphop compilations and eat journal
articles for breakfast.  You positively live
for theory.  It really doesn't matter what
kind, as long as the words are big and the
paragraph breaks few and far between.

What kind of postmodernist are you!?
brought to you by Quizilla

More later

Friday, December 12, 2003

Five For Friday

Today's Friday Five.

1. Do you enjoy the cold weather and snow for the holidays? Only if I'm not going anywhere. Usually I prefer snow and cold at a safe distance, so that if I suddenly take leave of my senses, I can go visit it ("Oh, look, Rainier is all white").

2. What is your ideal holiday celebration? How, where, with whom would you celebrate to make things perfect? We have a traditional Christmas Day dinner party with friends. This year I'm thinking of brining the turkey. Wish me luck.

3. Do you do have any holiday traditions? We engage in Vegatation Sacrifice by getting a live tree. We set out candles in the window every year. Kate pulls out her collection of historical dolls and we turn the living room into a big doll-room. I add flour directly to the gravy, as Kate screams "Noooooooo!".

4. Do you do anything to help the needy?Nothing above the other 364 days - donations of cash and clothing. Well, maybe a little more at this time of year, but people need help in June, too.

5. What one gift would you like for yourself? "Let me pay off your house, Jeff - now get to work on that novel" :)

More later,

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

A Little Nostalgia is a Dangerous Thing

So this little quote showed up at, in regards to Ken Hite's review of the the latest Marvel Universe Role-Playing Game. Bold and Italic mine.

"Marvel hired veteran game designer Dan ("Paranoia") Gelber, along with Jeffrey Simons and Evan Jones, to create its very own Marvel Universe Roleplaying Game (126 page full-color 7.5"x11" hardback with bound-in cardstock Character Action Display, $24.99), which bowed much earlier this year. As a superhero game, it suffers a trifle by comparison with Jeff Grubb and Steve Winter's 1984 masterpiece Marvel Super Heroes , but what doesn't, really?"

It only took twenty years, but NOW we're Geniuses (Bwah-hah-hah)!

More later

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

I Visit Distant Relatives

This one takes some explaining, at least as to explain how, the day before Thanksgiving, I was trespassing with my brother on a farmer’s land outside the town of West Sunbury, PA, near the town of Slippery Rock.

First off, my sister is taking two classes at Slippery Rock, which was not only my father’s college but also his birthplace. The building that he was born in, a low structure on a small hill overlooking the road, is still standing. Also still standing is the building just up the hill from it where he grew up, and when a small child, had his picture taken in a goat cart. That picture, along with one of my sister, aunt, and uncle in their military uniforms, and a faded color shot of the entire Grubb clan at my grandparent’s fiftieth wedding anniversary (I was what, 14? at the time) are hanging in my family room.

I digress. So my father was born, raised and college educated at Slippery Rock, and now his daughter is taking classes there and his grandaughter is doing daycare. My sister invited me up to see the monument and have lunch. My father is class of 1952, and through his efforts, teaming up funding from his class, and those of 51 and 53, arranged for a monument to Slippery Rock's Vets (who made up much of those three years of schools, including my dad). The monument consists of a bronze plaque on a chunk of local stone, with a brick plaza in front of it a trio of flags, right in front of the Alumni Center. Pretty much my father’s concept, though they brought in a professional designer who added some lighting and pair of Flintstone-style benches and collected the check. The incription reads:

Alumni Veterans Memorial
In gratitude to
the alumni of
Slippery Rock University
who served their
country so valiantly.
This memorial is a tribute to
those ROCK alumni who
answered the call of duty.

And in smaller type:

This project was made possible
by the classes of
1951, 1952, and 1953

And in smaller type still:

Planning Committee:
Zane Melxner ‘49, Robert Bidwell ‘51, John Grubb ‘52, Ron Becket ‘53, William Bearry ‘56, Robert Watson ‘70, Michael Saraka ‘89 (M), Eric Holmes, ‘93, Leo Gelbel 95 (they missed a apostrophe here), Tom Perry ‘02.

So I went up to Slippery Rock to view the monument and have lunch. The folks passed on the chance (Dad is little grumpy at the designer about those benches), but my brother Scott expressed an interest. Scott claims small interest in family history, but he’s searching the web for contacts for my mom (the family geneologist) and his ability to read German is particularly helpful given our Swiss-Germanic roots. Indeed, the depth of his knowledge on the road (going into depth about one ancestor, J.R.Black (my Grandmother’s line) and his history in the Civil War), impresses me.

For me, I have sense of direction, another Grubb heritage. We found the old graves of Gideon (Great great grandfather) and Peter (his father) in separate cemetaries. Indeed, the entire area outside of Slippery Rock, about an hour north of Pittsburgh, is littered with Grubbs, Aikens, and Blacks, standing sentinel beneath their tombstones.

Now, Western Pennsylvania in November is a grey, dreery landscape. There is greenery on the ground still in a lot of places from a warm spell, but the trees are denuded of cover, the air cool, and the clouds low and grey for the brief days. Traveling through the area, through identical vales and similar hamlets, is a bit soul-wearing and exhausting.

So at last we got to the homestead of Peter Grubb (Primeaval patronomic ancestor - Not Heinrich, the first over from Switzerland, but the first in these parts). It was granted to Peter after the revolutionary war and now sold and resold into other hands. We hallowed the houses on the property but got no answer, and ended up driving back into the woods along a one-lane road. The foundations were on the far side of stream, across from land the current family is developing for housing. The woods itself has overgrown the area, leaving little but a squarish hole with a few blocks covered with bits of snow that still clinging to the shade. If you didn't know what you were looking at, you wouldn't know what was there.

Here is my family (a good chunk of them, my father's line), tucked within a twenty-mile area of Western PA, beneath these low grey skies and empty trees. I've only visited during Thanksgiving break, but it always gives me the feeling of the Land of the Dead - barren, empty, and dark. I have fled west, like the man who married Gideon’s wife after he passed on, leaving her behind to buried, with her second name (Erikson) next to Gideon and Daughter Melvira.

And here is my youngest sibling, the sister taking classes at Slippery Rock. She has moved from the South Hills of Pittsburgh where we grew up, and gone to Cranberry, which is on the southern edge of this region. Into the region of ghosts that is my family history.

More later,

Report from Red America - About This War

“I think this war in Iraq is a mistake.”

I heard that increasingly during the week I recently spent in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh has its rep as a steel-town, and therefore a Industry/Labor/Democrat stronghold, but I was in the South Hills of Pittsburgh, the suburbs. This part of the territory is Red America - Scaife-Mellon country (he runs the Trib-Review, the “Republican paper” in the area, and was a leading Clinton-hatah), Talk Radio land (Rush Limbaugh honed his chops at KQV back in the 70s when it was rock station 14K), the Scarred, Scared, Scarborough Country (my folks keep the TV tuned to news and weather, and wonder why they’re so nervous all the time). So I was a known liberal among conservatives, but to most of them, I’m still local, and in some cases, family. So they can talk to me, and know that I will be, at least, polite.

But among my right-of-center friends and relations, there comes a moment when the sentence slips out. It happened once when I was out here in May, but four times on this trip. There isn't a lot of talk about politics and national affairs here right now (this after eight years during which not a single feather fell from heaven without family commentary picking up how it was all the then-administration’s fault). But it does come up, and there’s a pause, and then the sentence comes out.

“I think this war is a mistake.”

They say it in a quiet voice of “I think my spouse is having an affair.” There is disappointment in the voice, and the hint of betrayal. No anger. Just disappointment.

For my part, I say “Well, you’ll have that”, or "You may have something there," or something similarly neutral and polite. To me, its seems like a simple fact. This war IS a mistake. We dived into the underbrush, like a deer hunter chasing a six-point buck, and stepped into a bear trap. There's not a whole of discussion that's necessary at this point. It's a recognition of sad fact.

But what interests me is why they say it the way they do - in private, quietly, and to an understanding audience. Why so quiet?

Here's what I think - Consider that deer hunter with his leg caught in the bear trap. The hunter is really hoping that the guy who originally set the trap will come by and let him out. He hopes this because, if a DIFFERENT hunter comes along, even though he be free, it would be embarrassing. The story would spread. People would laugh at him at the local tavern. So he really wants the original trap-setter to show up, and refuses to call out for help because, well, others might find out, and that would be embarrassing.

I’m not worried that another hunter will come along, or even original trap-setter show up and frees us from this situation. I’m worried that the bear will come along instead when we’re caught in this trap. And that's my worry.

More later,

Monday, December 08, 2003

American Life - Unemployment

Be careful what you wish for. In an article below, I listed five people I would like to hear from, I mentioned Joe Karpierz, old college friend, gaming buddy, and individual who gave us the name Zrieprakus (spell it backwards), the evil lich in Azure Bonds. So when I get home from Thanksgiving vacation, there's a message on the machine from him.

Not because he saw my note. Rather, he's been laid off from Lucent Technologies. I called and we commiserated (because I have gone through not one but two layoffs since last we spoke).

In the course of the discussion, I found at that ANOTHER old friend was just sacked at Motorola. He's a bit more lofty in position, so is looking for another part of the company to land in, but he's scrambling.

And let's add to the mix a long-time reader of this blog who was put in the situation of having his department merged with another, and forced to re-interview for his own job. Welcome to the business equivalent of the Roman gladiator pits - two gold-color workers go in - one comes out.

All these guys are younger than I am, but not by that many years. It seems, having eaten most of the seed corn, most of the young talent, American corporations are now going after their veterans, at least those in low-to-no management positions, in order to maintain (heck, in order to make) their hideous profits. Because, you know, otherwise they might have to examine their own management decisions, and no one really wants that.

Have a happy economic recovery. But hang on, it gets worse.

American Life - Deployment

Just got the word from an old writing associate in the Midwest today. His daughter's unit is being deployed to Southwest Asia. No, they aren't getting much more specific than that. It could be Kuwait. It could be Bagdhad. But it definitely isn't Ohio.

And our gaming friend in Kate's Star Wars game, the one with disease-control background? He's on hold - should be ready to ship out but no one is exactly sure when or where. They've put his life on "pause". Don't worry, but don't go buying any green bananas, either. Its good to have him around (though his new military regulation haircut could qualify as a crime against humanity), but its not a reprieve, only a delay.

I'll try to be sunnier in the future. No, really.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Play: Plum Crazy

Over The Moon Written by Steven Dietz, Adapted from P.G. Wodehouse's "The Small Bachelor", Directed by David Ira Goldstein.

Why review a play after its closed? With everything going on, including the Pgh trip, we had to move the tickets to the last possible date for this frothy, frenetic comedy. So why talk about it - its not as if anyone you tell can go out to see it now?

Well, one reason is talk about the nature of the Repetory Ensemble, and the comfort level that it provides for the audience.

First off, let me talk about the play itself - PG ("Plum") Wodehouse, creator of Bertie and Jeeves, is in a class by himself, perfecting the British upper class romp and claiming it as his territory. I've made the comment (and earlier this year saw it repeated on-stage in "Afghanistan/Kabul") that Wodehouse wrote one story, but wrote it 150 times. While pithy, that statement is actually untrue. Instead Wodehouse used the same toolbox, the same repertory company of stock figures, and threw them together repeatedly to produce variations on the theme, the equivalent of literary comfort food. You knew where you stood with Wodehouse, and while he will through bumps and curves, its all as smooth a modern tube-coaster, and just as well-planned.

Right, the play. Wodehouse wrote of lot of his work while in America, which worked out well because it allowed England itself to advance through the 20th Century while he crystalized and preserved its Jazz-age thought-processes in literary amber. "The Small Bachelor", which this play is based upon, is a rarity among his works - a story set in America, and the Wodehousian characters are filtered through an American Lens. The ever-knowledgable Jeeves transforms into pamphlet-writer Hamilton Beamish, while Bertie of the Drones club becomes flustering, flummered George Finch. He's in love with Molly Waddington(who's in love with him), but match is opposed by the formidable Mrs. Waddington (cut from the same heavy cloth as all of Bertie's heavy-jowled terrorizing aunts). Add a cop who wants to be a poet, a former burglar turned valet, a manservant turned gossip columnist, a fortune teller, a pickpocket, and a father of the bride who loves the American West and you have the frothy mix of plan and counterplan and plans gone awry that all work out with everyone on-stage and pleased and resolved at the end of the play. Its light stuff, and it works very, very well.

Part of it is the adaption - Stephen Deitz catches the Wodehousian meter and description, and the characters dodge their way among the heavily verbal artillery. Yet the entire ensemble brings a great deal of physical comedy to the play that is the equal of Wodehouse's language, culminating in a great deal of dashing about and slamming of doors.

And this is where the nature of the Repetory Company truly comes shining through. Almost all of the actors here (the exception being Bob Sorenson, who plays Hamilton Beamish sharply), have been with us before on-stage at the rep, so their performances are leavened and tempered by previous experience. We have seen Jeff Seitzer, Officer Galloway, as Shakespearean fools, and Liz McCarthy, Molly, as the stalking vicitim in "Boy Gets Girl". R. Hamilton Wright was in "Boy Gets Girl" in a serious role, but was also the comic center of "Inspecting Carol". We know these people as actors, and when they look like they're having fun, we're more than willing to go with them. We're in good hands, and that smooths the path for the entire play, relaxing the audience.

How relaxed was the audience? They applauded a set change where an ornate garden wall dropped from the ceiling. The cast would have had the audience eating out of their hands, were there a sudden deficit of plates and saucers.

It was light, it was frothy, it was amusing. It was a perfect holiday play without needing to be about the holidays.(last year they did "Light Up the Sky", and the Rep generally tries to keep the fare lightweight in the holiday period). Kate and I both liked it, but the only sad thing was, given such a farce, that there was very little to talk about afterwards. It was generally devoid of deeper meaning, just a script and a director and a set of very talented individuals who put everything together and delivered the goods.

Good show. More later,

On the Road Again - Pittsburgh Edition

Seattlite complaints about the traffic always amuse me. We supposedly have the worst traffic in the world, though in part this is an idea actively supported by our development community, who believe the answer to this horrible situation is more roads (and with it, more government support).

Yet Seattle hardly holds a candle to Pittsburgh, which has traffic so absolutely rotten that it defies all measure. Imagine, if you will Seattle without the major highways, where all traffic is channeled down residential streets, where driveways and businesses regularly open out directly on major thoroughfares, where major four-lane roads are shrunken to two lanes every Sunday by a battery of churches along the main drive. Where the lights are not just badly timed, but deliberately counter-timed, so when the light turns green in front you, you can see the next light turn yellow (“Mt. Lebanon - we want you to savor every minute you spend here”).

The nearest “real” highway from where my folks live is about seven miles away, reached by an arcane connection of back routes. Out at the light onto Route 19, down to Gilkeson (which becomes Connor across the street from it) winding down Painter’s Run Road (four lanes going to two quickly, then a left, up the hill to Vanadium, wind down the streets, hang a hard left by the abandoned and burned factories, up a hill to a badly (of course)-timed light, hang a hard right, then a hard left again, and then, only then do you reach I-79. That’s the closest thing to a direct route.

Now, everyone knows that route, its everyone’s direct route, so its backed up, from the bottom of one hill to the top of the next. Add to that the driveways, the business exits, the odd and often imaginative parking jobs, and reluctantly admitteding to the advanced age of some of the drivers (some have yet to get a grasp on this new-fangled turn indicator device), and its like living in a driver’s ed film. Within five minutes of getting into town, I was sputtering at bonehead moves and talking back to drivers. Which means I was driving like a Pittsburgher, and the muscle memory was remembering the old driving habits.

Upon my return to Seattle, we had that massive windstorm that knocked out power on the East Hill for 9 hours, resulting in a 45-minute drive from WotC back up through completely snarled traffic. Here it was a cause for patience, and to be honest, most of the drivers did very well. Back in Pittsburgh, this would be called, of course, "The Normal Commute."

More later,

Saturday, December 06, 2003

American Flight

So when I was growing up, train travel in America was in decline. Call them the Amtrack Years. There were still a few great lines, but the days of the Pullmans were gone, replaced by Interstates and the “Discover America” program that loaded small children into station wagons and sent them out to view the world’s largest ball of twine. And while the romance of the railroad hung on for many years, the reality was that passenger travel had passed, and the golden age of passenger trains was over.

Similarly, American Passenger Aviation.

In the past two years, it has become no fun to fly. Part of it is the grim reality of the After Eleven world, but even the unsmiling lines of shoe-sniffers at the TSA are no more than a recurring echo of the sixties, when “Take Thees Plane to Coo-bah” was a punchline on prime time sketch TV and those little detector gates first appeared. More importantly, the airlines have taken this historic opportunity to re-evaluate their positions and holdings, and in the name of security and the bottom line, have cut anything that resembles a perk or benefit for the passengers.

Flying Delta into Atlanta earlier in the year, I was confronted by brown-bag lunches , dispensed from bins at the boarding gates in a manner similar to the old Ford Trimotors. Flying into Pittsburgh on US Air (their motto - "we don’t have to like you anymore") I encountered for the first time that meals were only available in the main cabin for those willing to pay premium rates for the priviledge.

Was this news in any of the papers? Or was this reported alongside the latest news from Afghanistan, in the middle of the night, in the back pages of the Home and Garden section, in the eariest hours when no one is listening? Let’s get an incredible barrage of news on Michael Jackson, but something affects people (and makes advertisers look bad) gets quietly shuffled off stage left.

Kate and I got meals,thank you, because we had used frequent flier miles to upgrade to first class. Or rather, upgraded to the back of first class. They ran out of some of those few meal choices as they made there way down the cabin. The headsets were free, but the online music had been cut (replaced with the audio track for “Freaky Friday” in english and spanish), and some of the earphones did not work. The cabin staff on the trip out was surley to say the least, and since there was limited interaction with the passengers, hung out up at their forward station, griping. On the trip back, the crew was kinder, but had this weird vision problem that prevented them from seeing (or serving) the left half of the plane.

Add to that the fact that even finding a direct flight to the hub airport was a chore - We left later than desired, and returned later than intended. And this was for flights booked a month and a half out. The airlines are running fewer flights now, and filling them to capacity. Most of the people onboad have that beaten, herded look of people who have to travel as opposed to want to travel. The thrill, definately, is gone

The first class seats were still wide, but they were avatars of an earlier, more gentile age. Everything else has been peeled away in the name of corporate profitability. The SST is grounded, residing at the Museum of Flight next to an early Air Force One. The airlines have moved from the grand adventure of flight to the commonplace to how much flesh they can cargo at the least cost possible. They have in effect become bus lines with wings. And not horribly nice bus lines at that.

Welcome to the Amtrack Years of Flight

More Later,

Movie: Life O’Brian

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World: starring Russel Crowe, Directed by Peter Weir, Screenplay by Peter Weir and John Collee, based on the novels of Patrick O’Brian.

Margaret Weis got me clued into Patrick O’Brian about seven years back - a voracious reader in addition to being a dedicated writer, she had the novels at her place. Up to that time, I was aware of C S Forester’s work (Hornblower), but not O’Brian and his heroes - Captain “Lucky Jack” Aubrey and naturalist/spy Stephen Maturin. Since then I’ve read about four of the books and listened to another pair on tape on the long trips to and from Bellevue. The story arc of the books involves the career of Captain Aubrey, who in turn is based upon life of Lord Cochrane, and many of Aubrey’s career highlights mirror those of the British captain. The time is the Napoleanic Wars, a period of various conflicts and military doldrums. The basic plot is: They sail around. Stuff happens.

Now Patrick O’Brian does not weave a sea tale as much as he extrudes it. His books, as historical adventure, lack the tight plot and rising action of modern books. The basic plot is: They sail around. Stuff happens. The high point of action can take place in the first or second third of the book, with the rest of the book “filling in the bits” around it. The books almost feel like the publisher would show up at O’Brian’s door once a year and cut off another slab of Aubrey’s life.

From this standpoint, the movie is excellent, in that it deals with but one section of an Aburey novel, shorn of all the accoutrements that usually hang about O’Brian’s work. The action within the movie, the pursuit of an superior French vessel with a captain the equal to Lucky Jack, fits neatly within the berth of an O’Brian novel, with additional barnacles of British society, letters to his fiancee (and later wife), the prize courts, the wildness of sailors on leave and the pigheadedness of the British Naval System (Indeed, one of the continual themes of O’Brian’s books is that the Britsh Navy survives because of captains like Aubrey as opposed to the bureaucracy that they support). The opposing vessel that is the movie has much faster lines and bigger guns - it the the unbeatable foe. In this way, the movie evokes nothing so much as Jaws.

The ritual and repetition of shipboard life comes across nicely in the film, as well as the stratified nature of ship’s society. The turning of the glass, the sending of mail home, the grinding of the holy stones on the deck. It captures the feeling of the era. Bits from other books in the series drift in, like being becalmed, the nature of the ship’s Jonah, and the impromptu brain surgery of Dr. Maturin. But the film never makes true landfall - even taking on supplies off the cost of Brazil happens at sea. When they do land, it on the deserted Galapagos, so the integrity of the crew as a single social unit, a single entity within the film.

And the crew is the star. Yes, Russel Crow and Paul Bettany take the lead as Aubrey and Maturin, but the rest of the characters, gleaned from O’Brian’s pages, take their turns as well. The ship’s master, Allan, acid-tounged grumbler Killich, the child midshipman Darby, young leader Tom Pullings all make appearances and lend their coloring to characters that are often a bit bland on the page. Aubrey from the books is tall, massive, bluff, and red-haired - Crowe is shorter, blonder, and more driven. Stephen from the books is shorter, stouter, and much more Irish than presented here - here he seems to belong to Buffy's secret organization of Watchers.

Indeed, Stephen Mauratin’s presence here seems an oddity in the way the movie is presented. Since the movie picks up in mid-adventure, there is no way to tell the movie audience that most ships of the Suprise’s size would not have a ship’s surgeon, or that Maturin serves as a British spy. Espionage has no purpose at sea, so Maturin seems to be an odd accessory aboard ship (though of course once he finds the walking stick insect, the rules of the movie indicate how the film will resolve).

This film remains true to the text, improving it dramatically through the strength of film (Peter Jackson’s version of LotR does the same). I see a lot of the mechanics of screenwriting operating here (characters are resolved, lessons are learned), but also some brave cinematic moves in stressing O’Brian’s world of random death, and the primaries remain blooded but unbowed by their travails.

Its a good film, thought one not aimed at the mass market (Indeed, it was outscored by “Elf”, a forgettable Christmas Comedy, on its initial weeked). Wier has done O’Brian well by taking his work into a new media, expanding it while remaining true to the core.

More later,

Thursday, December 04, 2003

The Blog Goes Ever On and On

OK, I'm back. I've spent the past week-and-change in Pittsburgh, visiting family for the holidays. It was fun. It was family. I got a lot of work done on a short story and made a lot of small blog entries, which I will get around to posting here over the next week or so.

The day I have written this, Western Washington State was hit with a massive windstorm. The winds came from the East this time, funneled by the Cascade passes to come down directly in my neighborhood. No real damage, though my umbrella for the patio table took flight and my neighbor brought it back, and it looks like another large tree came down in the backyard scrub, opening the vista on the Grade School behind us a little more. Power was out for about eight hours, during which time both Kate and I were at work. Of more concern was the fact the traffic lights were out, creating a traffic jam as bad as any I have seen up on the hill since the Nisqually Earthquake a few years back. Other than that, we weathered it pretty well.

Anyway, power is back on, and Kate and I made pudgy pizzas with a sandwich iron in the fireplace. We keep dry wood in the garage just in case we have an outage, along with a lot of candles. What are pudgy pizzas, you ask? They're a sealed sandwich - two slices of buttered bread with tomato sauce, mushrooms, pepperoni, and mozarella cheese, held together by a device that looks like a waffle iron with two long handles. You press it together and set it on the fire for a few minutes to toast it. Not bad at all.

We're also catching up on our sleep. In addition to being time-shifted from the West Coast, the guest beds were a tad bit hard compared to our heated waterbed, so both Kate and I have been enjoying deep, luxurious sleep, awakened only by the sound of large branches crashing into the yard.

More later,