All posts by jkkblog

I'm a freelance editor and writer with a background in history and foreign languages.

Obdud; or, The Story of Maeve the Dog

Many’s the time I have said that marriage is about learning to compromise and accept about 85% of what one wants–and to do so with authentic grace and satisfaction. If you sign on to the deal, but grump about it for the next decade, that’s not authentic grace and satisfaction. If, of course, the deal later hands you large rations of shit that you didn’t bargain for, but you bear up anyway, a certain amount of grumping is not unreasonable provided you don’t recriminate. It’s the difference between “We have the worst dog in the whole world” and “Thanks a lot for making it so we have the worst dog in the whole world”. The first is simply a judgment on the animal (in our case, justified); if true, it might be borne. The second blames the judgment on one’s spouse; whether true or false, it would open and jab at a painful bleeding wound in one’s spouse’s soul. People who do that crap don’t stay married long, nor happily.

Deb, who is a dog person, married me, who am dog-phobic. Not universally, not always, not every dog, not every situation; just mostly. This includes all unfamiliar dogs that bark at me, run at me, or otherwise inflict themselves on me when I am not bothering them. I often shorten it to say that I hate dogs, but that’s lacking in nuance. I should say that I dislike them, would rather never deal with any again, but that there are very few dogs I wish ill, and none that I wish mistreated. My respect for dogs’ abilities and varied talents is profound, and if they practiced them all far away from me, in full health and decent treatment, I would have no issues.

In our marital lifestyle compromise, dogs were what my labor representative wife would call a “mandatory subject of bargaining.” Until we bought a house, I staved off the question on grounds of lack of yard. When a yard came, I had to honor my side of the bargain. We got Fabius, a black Lab puppy. He lived thirteen years, the last of it apart from Deb due to our life circumstances (me holding the fort in Boise while Deb went ahead to get established in Portland, essentially glamping in a studio apartment that did not allow large dogs).

While I didn’t like Fabius (him being a dog, after all), I took care that he received humane treatment and, in his dotage, extra patience. His life had met a couple of my key criteria to earn some sense of respect, insofar as I can have that for a species for which I have no fundamental affinity. When he couldn’t easily process commands to which he once leaped with alacrity, I waited a bit and re-issued them. When his final days arrived, and it was clear he was suffering, I had him hospitalized and made comfortable until Deb could arrive to see him off. She loved that dog. I didn’t, but I owed him consideration and my wife good stewardship as well as respect for her feelings, and that’s as good as I’ll ever get concerning dogs.

As Fabius had aged, we obtained Leonidas the miniature Schnauzer. Fabius was obedient, cooperative, and when not attempting to coat me with nauseating salivas, a bearable klutz. Leo simply didn’t want to cooperate, and didn’t care how anyone felt about it. He was a canine Huck Finn and barn cat rolled into one small package of untrainability, insolence, and inconvenience. I liked Leo even less when he not only developed dogabetes, but due to Deb’s schedule I ended up with much of the duty to administer his dogulin shots. (Weird: his shots were the one and only soul-of-cooperation aspect of that dog’s life. Put another way, he was a complete jerk until you wanted to stab him in the neck with a needle; then he was fine.)

We could ill afford Leo’s illnesses, and we cut the budget in order to compensate. Not brutally, but he was a $200/month dog for the last year of his life, and that was $200 that didn’t get saved, or spent on something more fun (say, colonoscopies). To the very end, I maintained that Leo would have been much happier had he been able to manipulate his front paws such that he could raise a middle claw at us, thus making the physical gesture of his inner canine soul. But Leo’s last days came, and as with Fabius, I went along with Deb to see him off. (For some reason, both dogs had always considered me a reassuring presence. I wonder if they came to associate profanity with a protective figure. They had always run to me during fireworks.)

For the first time in nearly two decades, Leonidas’s passing rendered us (for me, blissfully) dogless. Deb knew that both dog situations had grossly exceeded our original understanding (“Okay, but it’s your dog, you deal with it”), extending me far beyond my comfort zones. Neither was her fault, nor the dogs’ fault; stuff had happened, dog stuff, life stuff. I knew that she understood my actions as motivated by a sense of duty and deep love for her; she’d said so, and she’s so rarely dead serious about emotions that her utterances in that area stay with me for decades. Deb hesitated to rush right out and seek a new dog. Part of it was a reward for me: she felt that I had earned a few blessedly dog-free months before the return of a semi-purgatorial status.

I milked it out as long as I could, and not just for selfish reasons. I wanted to consider dogs, undistracted (thus, currently uninfuriated with any) by them as I had not been for most of my middle age. My lousy relationship with Leo had done nothing to improve my life. I gave some thought to how, while remaining true to myself, I could have more influence over whatever dog Deb might bring home. Would Leonidas have behaved better had I invested a bit more time and energy in him? We’d never know, but here’s what I did know: two dogs we’d had, that were supposed to be my wife’s responsibility and problem, and I’d ended up as their caretaker, barf-cleaner-upper, one-time-late-night-ocean-of-barf-faller-into, and expensive-check-writer. Had I been unable by now to realize that this agreement would never hold in its original form, and that the future held more dogs I’d wind up looking after whether I liked it or not, I’d have been a hopeless boob.

It seemed time for a different approach. No, I would never, at heart, like dogs, want dogs, want to be around dogs, etc. Could I go so far as to at least let the thing be around me when Deb was gone, and accept its desire to pal around with me a bit? Up to a point. No, I would not embrace the dog as “our” dog. No, I would never tolerate dog salivas. Fabius had a tongue like a big wet raw steak, and could leave two acres of saliva on any surface he chose (including, one wretched time, my entire forearm). But would I recognize that on some level, I’d given Leo a reason to wish he could flip me off (unlike Deb, who doted on him, and received as much odious treatment as me)? Yeah. I believe in personal responsibility.

Decision made. If I wound up despising this one also, it wouldn’t be for lack of effort on my part.

When my approximately three-month dogcation came to an end, as it had to, I told Deb how I planned to do it differently this time. You can imagine her delight. Deb knows better than to push such things with me; she took her 85% and smiled. She is well aware that what was once a simple childhood dislike matured into an adult phobia and loathing partly due to smarmy and stupid things said by dog lovers, in part because of misbehaving dogs encouraged by dog owners, and sometimes both. She would do not one thing to push me in her idea of the wrong direction, and would change any practice I might reasonably ask of her.

We made a couple of trips to local humane societies, and we learned that Portland does not have a stray dog problem. Portland in fact imports strays from other states, and most of these land quickly on waiting lists. All those places euthanizing strays should study whatever Portland is doing. While we were there, a big ten-year-old German shepherd mix mourned at full volume for the people who had abandoned him. Before we finished our own adoption, even the mourning howler (too large for us; Portland is basically Tiny House Living) had found a new home.

I insisted that we prioritize chemistry and reactions over website pictures and descriptions. I wanted us to consider the dog who seemed to love Deb on sight, and to tolerate me at least. I also wanted a dog who looked like a correct dog, not an overgrown rat. Deb had a hard time grasping my appearance criteria, but I told her I’d know a correct dog when I saw it. Good enough. It had to be small; Deb is 58, and if young, this dog would likely see her to 70. Manageability mattered. No purebreds (hybrid health, please), none purchased from breeders, no puppies. We intended to adopt a rescued dog that needed a home.

Two visits to the nearest shelter were useless; they had only a couple of dogs. Maybe two dozen empty kennels, two dogs. I mean it when I say it’s hard to find dogs to adopt around here. Off we went to the Portland Humane Society, over in the Gothic wilds of northeast Portland near Ikea and the airport. It’s a beautiful facility that manages not to even smell like dog turds. One surveys the dogs, and may place a brief hold on a given dog for a nominal fee. If the dog already has a hold, and it expires, the next hold gets a phone call. Holds last for one or two days–better not fool around.

We met a tiny, dog-looking Cairn terrier mix called Mavis, a seven-pound yearling California import with a face resembling that of a baby monkey blessed with precocious facial hair growth. Mavis looked stressed, but was friendly. Excited, Deb paid the fee to get in her hold line. By the next day, if the people ahead of us didn’t pick up Mavis, our own clock would start.

There commenced about twenty-four hours of jitters, pins, needles, and anticipation as Deb could barely stand the wait. I assisted by reminding her that it was not a sure thing, and not to be too crushed if someone else got Mavis. Pointless on my part. When around noon the next day the society called to let Deb know we could come get her dog, for a moment there I thought my wife might go full puppy and piddle herself in excitement. Having promised, of course, I had to attend. Little Mavis would ride to her new home in my lap, resting on a towel I hoped would absorb all the bodily substances that an unfamiliar car ride might elicit (joyously, she emanated none; early gold star).

We bandied names. Leonidas and Fabius had received names from antiquity, and in their own ways had deserved them. The sexism of history means that there are fewer well-known historical women than men. Mavis did not really seem like a Cleopatra, Nefertiti, or Messalina. She didn’t really seem like much of anything except a seven-pound wiry-haired terrier mix, black and rusty brown, fairly chill. No ancient woman jumped out of my memory’s throng, very annoying to people with ‘history’ on their I Love Me walls.

Moving afield, I had an inspiration. I like Ireland and visiting Ireland; Deb loves Ireland and would move there next month if feasible. Maeve was an ancient Queen of Connaught, she who launched the Cattle Raid of Cooley (in Irish, Táin Bó Cúailnge), and I could think of far worse spirits with which to imbue this little dog. It sounded enough like Mavis, a pound name to which the creature hadn’t had time to grow attached. I advocated the Irish spelling of Meadhbh (also pronounced to rhyme with “pave”), but Deb rejected this cultural nod; I took my 85% and smiled. And thus was designated little Maeve.

Or Obdud. Longtime blog followers may remember that I’m not known for my embrace of modern telephone technology. I can text, after a laborious fashion and having zero fun while I do it. It was Deb’s first day away at work (Maeve’s second day in our place), and my doting wife was concerned about her new animal. She texted me to ask how it was going. My flip phone has a T9 Word function that offers some predictive text based upon the alpha/numeric keypad, though some words are futile and must be spelled out in the old style. Some of us won’t do that and simply expect our regular contacts to do some deciphering. “Fending” goes through as “demeio” and I expect poor Deb to figure that out by now. “Home” will always return “good” so if she gets a “Headed good” text, she knows to expect me. So I typed M A E V E (6 2 3 8 3). My little screen said: Obdud. You can see where it got those, of course: NMO ABC DEF TUV DEF. I said screw it and kept typing: Obdud is laying on her blanket by my office door.

My wife questioned this. I explained, again, the impact of T9. There’s no way I am going to spell out old-style a dog’s name, so at least in texted status reports, Obdud she is.

Maeve, sometimes called Obdud, is happy and feistier now that she’s away from a kennel full of other, noisy dogs she can smell but not touch. Deb is also happy and feistier.

As for me, well, we have a dog, and I’m trying. We’ll see how that goes. Right now it’s time to take my 85% and do as I agreed.

TWYHAE (That’s why you have an editor)

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

Aspiring writer transforms into actual writer by authoring partial ms. This happens in fits and starts, with numerous backtracks to rethink, proofread, self-edit, and self-doubt. Eventually:

  • loses motivation
  • ascribes loss of motivation to mythical ailment called “writer’s block”
  • joins writers’ group in order to overcome mythical ailment
  • finds that entire group has also elected to blame loss of motivation on mythical ailment
  • realizes that no one in group has any solution for this
  • gets sick of attempting to critique screenplays, so-called “young adult” (kid) lit, and elfy/dwarfy/vampy/wolfy urban paranormal without collapsing in apathy
  • realizes also that writers’ group is mainly an emotional support group
  • fades away from writers’ group
  • lets ms sit for months or years
  • realizes one should one day return to ms
  • dreads returning to ms
  • castigates oneself for not completing ms
  • sits down and reads existing ms
  • overwhelmed with despair and futility, bawls
  • tries to think how to fix all the problems
  • bawls some more
  • says screw this and bakes cookies, or pounds nails, whatever s/he finds cathartic

Is this a hobby or avocation, or is this autoneurosis?

If one does not have an editor–and I mean a true advisor, sounding board, guide, and helper, rather than the glorified fascist proofreader that many writers imagine all editors to be–I can understand this. If you’re in it alone, you wander alone in the wilderness. If you find a way out, great; many do not.

If one does have an editor, the real deal, one has a solution to nearly ever failure point on that list: TWIHAE. One says to oneself: “That’s why I have an editor.” One either continues to create, confident that any problems will be resolved later with assistance, or one contacts said editor for help getting past the sticking point.

I’ve written a ms of my own; I’ve had my writing published. I understand compulsive self-editing that leaves the first third of the book rather refined and the last two-thirds fairly raw. I understand halting halfway through and saying to myself: “This is such crap. No way would anyone pay for this.” I understand trying writers’ groups. The only part I don’t understand, except from an academic standpoint, is writer’s block. I truly don’t understand lying to oneself. Sometimes one doesn’t want to write, or life means one can’t. There’s no such thing as writer’s block.

There is no such thing as writer’s block.

Everyone who has the time and physical means to write, does so. Everyone else doesn’t want to write that badly, or they would be doing it, even if it was to write a lament on how painful it is to have this writer’s block thing, and how convenient it is to have an imaginary condition to help avoid facing facts.

But that’s one reason why you have an editor: to give you another take on facts. The main reason is to allow you to create. To create, rather than backtrack over and over; get hung up on plot points; feel overwhelmed; rush back to rethink Chapter 1; have other crises that mean you don’t write.

If you have an editor, when you notice your first craterous plot hole, you give it some thought for the afternoon. If you still don’t solve it, you either contact your editor, or you drop a reminder comment in the margin and move on. That’s why you have an editor. If you have an editor, when you find yourself tempted to go back and smooth all your prose, you realize that someone else will help you with that and there is no point messing with it now; you say TWIHAE, and you move on. You return to creating. Your back is had.

And if you feel temptation to smoke the opium of blaming lack of motivation on a mythical ailment, seeking to take comfort in the community of futility, you have an editor to cut through all that self-defeating baloney.

Not that having an editor can help everyone past everything. Some people’s emotional and life issues overwhelm them. That isn’t writer’s block (because that’s non-existent), that’s life happening. All one needs to do is admit that one is overwhelmed by issues that impair one’s ability to focus and create. There are some people who can’t write because the potential trauma of feedback has them in paralysis, and who may have past issues to process. (An editor is not a suitable stand-in for a qualified professional therapist, for example.) And there are writers who grow so proud of their flaws, or who are so emotionally needy, that an editor will recognize them as setups to failure.

We can’t help everyone. And that’s okay, because one of the pervasive parrotings of our time is “everyone deserves…” followed by some benefit or fundamental. It’s one of those Bullshits One Is Not Supposed To Call Out As Bullshits. Not everyone deserves help with writing, and it makes no sense to think so. Not everyone is cut out for any given activity. I’m not cut out for parenting, acting, basketball, veganism, teaching special ed, renovating crawl spaces, or any number of other things at which I am or would be incompetent. Writing is no different. Heretical truth: some people shouldn’t. It’s worth trying, we try and fail at some things. Some we try, fail at, and return to later on in light of new wisdom. Writing isn’t an exception to the list of Stuff Not Everyone Can Do.

But if you can, and you find yourself continually sidetracked by self-doubt and self-editing and self-questioning, an editor can be your guide out of the wilderness.

That’s why people have us.

In memoriam: Jim Bouton, 1939-2019

Word comes to me of the passing of one of my life’s most inspirational figures: James Alan Bouton.

Jim was a professional baseball pitcher, inventor, author, and motivational speaker. He enjoyed brief but eye-opening success with the Yankees in the mid-sixties–won two games in a World Series, for example–until his arm began to give out. Reinventing himself as a knuckleball pitcher in his first comeback, he caught on with the inaugural Seattle Pilots in 1969. The Pilots traded him to Houston during the second half of the season. He was mostly effective in relief for both teams, but not enough to guarantee staying.

Few of his teammates realized that, during 1969, Jim was writing a book. Unlike most baseball books, this one would tell the whole truth. Ball Four, perhaps the most important baseball memoir ever authored, would forever polarize Jim Bouton’s world. His detractors would accuse him of revealing material shared in private, embarrassing baseball, ingratitude toward the game, and other unwelcome deeds. His supporters, including me since my teen years, would laud him for writing a very interesting book; telling the honest truth about the lives of professional ballplayers; refusing to conform to the establishment (and baseball’s establishment has long been full of Stuffy McStuffshirts); and countering the dumb jock stereotype.

Neither side is entirely right or wrong, but there can be no doubt of my position. I’ve never imagined Jim Bouton as a perfect man, nor does he present himself as such in Ball Four or his subsequent books. For me, a bullied intellectual trapped in a horrible situation with nearly no person or institution to take my side, Jim’s book gave me heart. It may be one of the reasons I didn’t go all the way around the bend.

In 1990, while unemployed, I took the time to find a mailing address for Jim Bouton. I felt he needed to know how much I appreciated his work, and I told him what it had meant to me. I didn’t expect a response. Three months later, a UPS driver delivered me a small parcel: a copy of the 1990 re-release of Ball Four. I opened it to see the inscription: “For Jonathan. Smoke ’em inside. Jim Bouton 8/90.”

You may imagine what that meant. Later, with the rise of e-mail, I would have a couple of exchanges with him. I would learn that my letter had made it into a special file where he kept those that meant most to him, letters he would take out and read again on bad days or for inspiration. I learned that as much as Jim Bouton mattered to me, it turned out that in a small way, I also mattered to him.

Jim made a second baseball comeback in the mid-1970s, ultimately reaching the Atlanta Braves. He didn’t stay, but he did reach his goal, and in the process had a number of adventures including a turn with the Portland Mavericks. Let’s give you a sample of Jim’s writing style, and let him tell it:

“The Mavericks were the dirty dozen of baseball, a collection of players nobody else wanted, owned by actor Bing Russell. The team motto could have been “Give me your tired, your poor, your wretched pitchers yearning to breathe free.” In a league stocked with high-priced bonus babies, Maverick players made only $300 per month and had to double as the ground crew. Revenge being a strong motivator, the Mavs had the best team in the league.”

I so wish the Mavs still existed.

Jim Bouton meant more to me than a distant inspirational figure in another way, in that I also made two baseball comebacks. The first occurred when I was 29, having not played since my high school catching and outfielding days ended at 17. Six years later, including five with the Seattle Giants (PSMSBL; just to be clear, I always had to pay to play; I was never paid to play), my achilles tendon parted as I took a step toward the dugout at the end of an inning. We moved from Seattle to eastern Washington. The walking cast came off. I followed the instructions. And then I learned of a local MABL league that was offering tryouts. Even lousy catchers always get drafted, and I turned out. An expansion team picked me up, but the next year that group would morph into the Tri-City Rattlers. I would play there until I was 44, when a brief juke to avoid a fastball to the knee tore my cartilage and induced me to hang ’em up.

For that second comeback, I switched from my old number standby of 9 to 56, Jim’s number all through his big league days. It always made me proud when anyone would ask about it. I even worked hard enough on my own knuckleball to get two pitching tries, one a start. I’m pretty sure our manager knew we were going to get clobbered and felt that our usual pitchers were in serious need of rest, but I still went five innings. I’d watched people try to bunt the knuckleball from behind the plate, but never from the mound. Most amusing.

One may well see reasons I always felt close to Jim Bouton. Later in his life, he added to his authorial body of work with a fictional story about a bribed umpire, then the non-fictional story of his efforts to save an aging historic ballpark. His website advertised his services as a motivational speaker, and he was in demand at Old-Timers’ and commemorative events. I fell in with the Facebook group Ball Four Freaks, a hilarious place where it is always customary to respond with lines from the book. A new member shows up? That’s part of the heckling. “Hiya, blondie, how’s your old tomato?” “That sure is an ugly baby you got there.” “Okay, all you guys, act horny.” Everyone who loves the book gets it immediately. We don’t get many phonies. One fun aspect is that Jim’s son, Michael, will stop by now and then and can answer a question or two.

Jim Bouton did much in life, most of it after his best playing days. He kept playing semi-pro, then amateur baseball until his seventies, when he helped start up an old-time flannel league. To the end, he was as accessible as he could be to those of us whose lives he had affected. He wrote a number of great books, all themed around baseball. He has now stepped off the mound for the last time.

He will be remembered after many of his contemporary athletes have faded from the public mind.

As for me, my eyes very rarely even begin to water in grief. They water easily when I am moved by action or achievement of valor, but rarely in grief. It is not that I do not mourn; it’s that I mourn in introspective silence. This time, they watered.

Books by Jim Bouton:

Ball Four: The Final Pitch

Foul Ball: My Life and Hard Times Trying to Save an Old Ballpark

Strike Zone (with Eliot Asinof)

I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally

I Managed Good, But Boy Did They Play Bad (edited/anthology)

New release: Out of Their Depth, by M.R. Cook

This new fantasy novel is now available in print and e-book. I was developmental and substantive editor.

I had known Mike very long ago, but we had not been in touch for most of our adult lives. We reconnected through a mutual friend from those old days who had also sought writing guidance. They had been part of a long-running fantasy role-playing game (akin to D&D) and were both writing stories based upon their gaming adventures.

Before you judge, know this: the unfolding of any RPG campaign is in essence a story writing itself. It always begins with characters in conflict; always with external forces, and sometimes with each other. Some of it is slapstick, for it is a proven impossibility to form any RPG gaming group without at least including one total gonzo. I was in one group where a player played a necromancer (magician who communicates with and animates the dead). His day job? Funeral director.

There are, of course, IP issues with using mutually generated creative content in a for-profit book. Mike has handled it the way I would do were I to write one: by sharing royalties through written agreements. Just in case you were also thinking of writing stories about your RPG campaign, yes, that is a valid method. Not only is it the right thing to do, it is essential legal protection. Don’t accept “Oh, I don’t mind, just go ahead.” Explain to them that fair is fair and you appreciate their contribution. One can also explain that this will give them a reason to promote the book, if one desires.

Out of Their Depth began life as a novella and evolved into a ms about double the basic novel length. That’s not to say that it is too long; my assessment is that the original story was too much to contain within novella or basic novel length constraints. Its evolution involved great strides in character development, for a typical RPG adventure story can have several protagonists depending on how the author chooses to emphasize and POV them. Mike has gone with a method in which I’d estimate 40% of the book is from the main character’s perspective, but his four comrades divided up the remainder of the time. He has done so very effectively.

As a writer, Mike’s greatest natural talent is descriptive verbiage. Where I didn’t persuade him to dial it back–thus, where I felt it paid its way–this talent goes on full display in the novel. His wartime experiences add a grittiness and realism to scenes and discussion of combat. One talent–or more correctly, one acquired knowledge set that adds great flavor–is Mike’s plentiful vocabulary of now-obsolete medieval terms. I am not, shall we say, accustomed to having to look up many English words unless I’m reading something very technical. (One of my sidelines is technical editing. That doesn’t appear on my credit list for multiple reasons, beginning with NDAs.) By the time the novella morphed into a novel, I’d headed for the dictionary a dozen times. I now can define terms like ‘culet,’ ‘oculus,’ ‘assart,’ and many more.

Since a temple is very prominent in the novel, I wonder how Mike managed to avoid the term ‘narthex.’ He may take that as a challenge. It’s the front sort of reception area of a Lutheran church, as I should know, having been marched to Lutheran churches at parental insistence until I finally realized that I was an exhibit rather than a youngster, and if I exhibited embarrassing behavior, I would no longer be subjected to attendance.

Another aspect Mike has handled well is gender. Most novice writers do not portray the opposite gender well. Though many try, it’s not an easy thing. I hammer on it especially with male clients, because in case they do not know this, they had better learn it: women tend to do more reading than men, and most will readily notice non-credible or derogatory female portrayals. They’re perfectly fine with a variety of female roles, attitudes, and ethical levels, but they will groan and tire when faced with characters and reactions that ring false. On the upside, when women like what they see, they vote for it with loyal pocketbooks. If a male fiction writer wants to succeed, he needs to learn to see and paint the world through her eyes. The story contains several strong yet diverse women, all with important roles to play; in fact, the toughest fighter in the protagonist’s party is a scarred, well-armored (no chainmail bikinis here), blocky ex-sergeant who provides most of their combat leadership. I feel confident that readers will conclude that Mike gets it on gender.

In fact, Mike Cook might be one of the most coachable writers with whom I’ve had the pleasure to work. Ever want to know how I size up a client’s potential? About half of it is by coachability. The other half is by the quality of questions asked. Mike was always a bright, articulate guy, and he hasn’t wasted the past three decades. A good client challenges me with great questions. Mike wanted to understand the logic behind my guidance, and where I did not volunteer it (I normally try), he sought it point blank.

This is very healthy, because I ought to have reasons for everything I advise, and it’s well within a client’s rights to want to understand the reasoning. An editor who cannot stand to be challenged in this way does not plan to teach. An editor who does not plan to teach is more or less hoarding knowledge. I do not believe knowledge workers benefit from hoarding knowledge. If your work is to share your knowledge, then its generous sharing will not only give good value but also signals that you aren’t in danger of running short on knowledges.

(Side note: early in my editing days, I had a client named Shannon D. Jackson who asked the best questions. Even better than Mike’s, because any time questions came up, she would ask me: “What questions should I be asking?” When asked that, it opens the floodgates for me to volunteer everything useful I can think of. She ended up with an outstanding parenting book.)

Mike placed quality and reader experience above all. He engaged artists. He hired a proofreader whose results proved very disappointing; so disappointing that I took the unprecedented step of doing it myself. I can’t ever take money to proofread my own edited work, but I can volunteer to do it simply to assure that justice is done. If there are still any typos, this time I am to blame. Even at the end, he was addressing potential loose ends in the storyline. The overall result of the process is a satisfying story by an author with great writing ability, a refreshing sense for physics and realism, and who progressed as much during the project as anyone I’ve known.

Writing as M.R. Cook, Mike has applied himself with as much diligence as any author with whom I have worked.

So, after a great deal of effort and time invested, it is with pleasure I announce his first novel.

P3: Punishing porch pirates

By now most of you have heard of the new suburban crime: porch piracy. You order stuff from Blue Nile, or Yangtze, or Congo, or Amazon, wherever. In some cases, a postal worker delivers it; in others, a UPSS driver. In others, it’s an obvious meth-head. Either way, they may or may not ring the doorbell before they throw it into the exact spot that will keep you from opening your screen door to retrieve it.

And some amateur porch pirate, following the delivery vehicle around town, pulls up, leaps out, darts up to your porch, steals your parcel, runs back to his/her car, and drives off.

The police aren’t doing much about this. I understand. This doesn’t raise revenue, so it’s not important to them. However, the police will definitely prevent us from doing anything really decisive about this. For example, I’m pretty sure anyone who fills the porch pirate’s ass with 12-gauge rock salt will face much stiffer penalties than will the porch pirate. This falls into line with my view that the basic purpose of policing is to maintain social control while shielding bad people from real consequences. This view is controversial, and is rooted in my personal experiences. I don’t expect other people to agree with it.

But I bet even those who think I just wrote the most horrible thing still don’t themselves much like porch pirates.

Since we can’t really punish them (and this is me going on firm record as strongly advocating that we not really punish them in any illegal way), we’re going to have to get creative.

Do in such a way: wait until your next sizable parcel from a vendor who uses clear plastic packing tape and normal brown cardboard boxes. Turn it over (so that you do not damage the shipping label, which is usually right across the box closure), take a box cutter, and gently slit the tape holding the box bottom together. Take out whatever you ordered.

If you happen to make/receive regular trips to/from Somewhere Else whose resident also wants to punish porch pirates, you can gain added security. Get them to do the same with their boxes, and when you meet up, swap. The porch pirates aren’t going to stare intensely at the label or match it to the target address before they leave; the savviest might merely glance to make sure the label doesn’t show signs of the re-closure you plan to do. When they get home and start opening Santa’s haul, if the one containing the goodness has an address in Bug Tussle (and you do not actually live in Bug Tussle), they will think it was grossly misdelivered or something and open it anyway. They probably won’t remember where they got that one.

Okay, let’s get on with the fun.

Do you have cats? If you do, great! If you do not, you probably know someone who does. He or she probably talks about them more than you would like, but now comes your reward for enduring it with sainted patience. Pick the person you know that has the most cats, and ask if they have any heavily used litter box contents they could part with. Most people who own litter box contents are generous in spirit and will gladly part with clumps of cat-urine-caked litter and cat turds, especially in a good cause. There are people who hoard cats, but few who voluntarily hoard cat excretions–and that’s golden for your purposes.

You should also get some glitter, preferably a pound or two, and some powdered sugar. Another great tool for this purpose, to anoint what I will call the Goodness, is a Vietnamese anchovy sauce called nuoc-mam (nook-MOM). I put it on my Thai food. It’s very salty and smells very fishy. Do not ever, ever, ever, not even to your worst enemy, squirt this stuff into the heater vents of anyone’s vehicle.

If you grocery shop, you probably have a small collection of flimsy, crappy plastic bags, the absolute cheapest things the store could buy in bulk that stand half a chance of getting your groceries to your car. Now, because you care about climate change and the environment, you are going to do the ecologically friendly thing and repurpose two of the bags while disposing of them in an appropriate way. You are so green. Double the bags and fill them up with as much goodness as you can arrange: cat sanitation disappointments, powdered sugar, any condiments you may care to add, and glitter. Don’t tie up the top.

Now lay the bag on its side and reclose the box bottom around it, without spilling any of the goodness (for safety’s sake, do this outside, especially if you are butterfingered). Re-cover the bottom tape seams with fresh clear packing tape, taking care not to tilt the box. It may help to have an assistant, if you know anyone else who hates porch piracy. Do as good a job as you can at making the tape look professional.

Put it out on your porch and be patient. Sometimes porch pirates rush up and leave behind an empty box, to keep watchers from getting suspicious. Either way, as they walk away, they are almost guaranteed to spill the goodness. When they open it, with luck, it will spill all over their vehicle. Or, if they wait until they get home to open their haul, on the floor. Maybe on the dining room table.

Wherever they spill it will likely never be the same.

And the beauty of this is that you haven’t mailed anything illegal because you haven’t mailed anything to anyone. You put a box on your front porch, one that no one has the right to inspect or abscond with. One great mistake people make in life is answering nosy questions just to “be nice.” Why did you put it there? That’s none of anyone’s business, and they can go to hell for asking. Other people pile tons of stuff on their property and no one asks stupid questions about it, unless it’s the Homeowners’ Stasi.

You can put any legal substance you desire into a box that sits on your own property. Cat urine clumps are illegal to mail, but not to put into outdoor storage on private property in manageable quantities. You have deterred a porch pirate in the only useful way that is safe from the law: by leaving them something not terribly pleasant to steal.

Anyone seeking to report you for this, presumably for being a Big Meany to Poor Downtrodden Criminals, would also have to admit to having stolen the package. While the police would protect them from more direct retaliation by you, I’m pretty sure that if the porch pirates filed a complaint, the police would be laughing almost too hard to arrest them.

Since what they stole had low value, of course, it’s unlikely they would or will get in any trouble. But it is likely they’ll have a bad day and question their choice of careers.

If that’s all the compensation you can get, might as well get it.

A childhood tale: the weirdness of memory

Until I left high school and youth behind, the last happy years of my life were the early elementary school years in Hutchinson, Kansas. (McCandless Elementary School and East 14th Street, represent.) Now, Hutch was at that time known for three things: the Carey salt mines, the state fairgrounds, and either the world’s largest grain elevator or a fair contender for the title. My buddy Hoby’s dad worked at one, and he went to all the trouble to take my parachute-equipped G.I. Joe to the top and drop it off so it could float down to us.

Mr. White, you were a good soul.

One cool aspect of Hutch, for a lad excited about astronomy, was the planetarium. It was a small round building with a sort of domed ceiling, and one lay on the carpet to watch the ceiling projection show. Outside the building on clear nights, volunteers with telescopes would show us the Galilean moons and such. It was fun. I would eventually receive my own telescope, which would provide me many escapist hours in my later youth, and would finally in my fifties part with it. A school needed it more than did I.

About thirty years passed. I grew to adulthood, finished college, started to grow up for real, got jobs, got laid off, got engaged, broke off engagement, met future wife, moved in together. I decided to drive back home for a visit. I wanted to see family, reconnect with my childhood buddy Jeff and the elementary school teachers who had done me so much good, and most of all, have one last fully lucid visit with my ailing grandfather. The latter didn’t go so well, sadly, though it paid a dividend in that my relatives were angry on my behalf, with him, over the way he had spoken to me. I had no experience with that. I am still processing it.

But that happened after I met back up with Jeff. A great kid, he had grown into a great adult guy. We took our now-fairly-elderly teachers to dinner in Jeff’s family transport pod, and we had a wonderful time. They critiqued my penmanship with mock sternness. So odd it felt, these frail older ladies over whom I now towered, who had once held benign power over my joy or misery. It was so good to be able to let them know what good they had wrought.

The day after that dinner, Jeff took me to the Cosmosphere. The old planetarium, it seemed, had grown into a full-fledged aerospace museum. All right, sounds fine, let’s see what’s new there.

As an old Epinions crony of mine used to say, jeezum crow. In addition to the rocket standing outside, the SR-71 Blackbird on struts just inside the front door let me know that this was not my childhood planetarium, which seemingly had been dozed to make way for this huge modern museum. It had the Apollo 13, with burn pitting still visible. Soviet cosmonaut suits. A V-1. A Me-163 Komet engine. A restored V-2. It had more than you could imagine, including a brand new planetarium with reclining theater seats. Artifacts. Science exhibits.

Jeff suggested we see the rocketry demonstration, called Dr. Goddard’s Laboratory. It was in an insignificant little side room near the main entry hall. A young man used liquefied gases to demonstrate rocketry on a small scale. Kids wowed; we enjoyed. But while we enjoyed, I also had a very creepy, weird, ghostly feeling. I’m not very sensitive to that sort of thing. Something was strange, something I ought to know but could not place.

I looked about the room. It was round.

I looked at the ceiling. It was gently domed.

It was the old planetarium. It hadn’t been dozed. They had built the museum around it, and now used it for science demos.

I had been here, three decades before. I had lain on this carpet, or at least on whatever had covered this floor.

 

Some corner of the mind is eidetic, I think; the problem is that the mental library’s card cataloging and shelving system falls to hell. But it’s still in there, waiting to be jogged.

Campaigny McCampaignface

It is not well known that I have a little sideline selling stuff, on Ebay as well as on retail consignment. In the consignments, which I market in retail establishments, the worst thing that ever happens is that the retail venue hires a cretin who does not grasp that I need to get my tags back. Those enable me to see what sold, determine whether I am making reasonable profit, and (if need be) tell the IRS what I did sell. I can live with the occasional cretinous moment.

That frustration is nothing compared to Ebay, which I have taken to calling “Ebenezer.” Don’t most of us normally assume that major changes to policies and technology that are used by millions of people happen only after various committees and managers review them, think through the potential outcomes, and schedule implementation? Don’t we assume that, on some level, these people are smarter than most of us?

I don’t. I think it’s possible that they really aren’t too bright. My experience-based belief is that the technical changes at Ebenezer are directed by a pointy-haired boss who parlayed a gentleman’s C- at a low-rated business school into a six-figure income managing Ebenezer’s “vendor experience.” I don’t think this PHB answers to anyone, ever. I think he just gets whims in his head, sends his code monkeys* a memo, expects them to work 100-hour weeks implementing his directives, then starts to cook up another memo.

In the year I’ve been doing us, the list of Ebenezer’s f-bomberies is long and monthly. Every month, every single month, it’s some fresh hell. I can live with the fact that it’s always pitched as though it’s to our advantage, when in fact it’s the opposite, because I expect that of all corporations. The key phrase is “to serve you better, we are…” That’s b-speak for “because we can screw you, we are…” What are most irritating are the petty stupidities, and those are what convince me there is no oversight here, no management. I think it’s just some PHB with a Word memo template and a deficient intellect.

Here’s an example. When you sell stuff on Ebenezer for a fixed price, there are a couple of ways you can push it. You can set up to entertain offers, and you can set auto-accept or auto-reject amounts (or choose to listen to any offer at all, which I think is smarter, because you can then counter with something rational). You can also use promoted listings. In these, you agree to pay Ebenezer an extra fee if the item sells because they shoved it in someone’s face. This, in my experience, gets rid of more stuff than does considering offers.

Now, sometime in the past, the PHB determined that it would be nice if sellers could name and track promotional campaigns. That seems reasonable, doesn’t it? What’s to complain about? It even defaulted to creating a campaign named (in my case) something like “US Campaign [date]”. Sounded so official, so markety, so businessy. It made me want to ramp up my solutioning of problems, my verbing of nouns, and my total quality management to get to the client delight level. Okay, whatever. I accepted the default name, and thereafter that was the default campaign for promoted listings. About three months later on, it decided to start a new one for me, similar rubric. Okay, fine, don’t see how this is going to hurt me.

This meant that when I was relisting, say, a hundred items, I didn’t have to make a choice on that dropdown box unless I had some reason to assign a given promotion to a given campaign. Lacking such reason, I plowed through, accepting the default. Until one day the default changed without notice.

No longer was the default campaign an existing campaign. Now the default was to begin a new campaign. If I didn’t make a dropdown choice, every single item I chose to have promoted would be assigned its own new, special, unique campaign. I would eventually run up against some limit of total campaign listings.

Now, because a PHB (in my supposition, which I admit is based mostly on outcomes and plausible explanation based on having worked for a number of PHBs) told a code monkey to change something–or, perhaps, simply failed to review a code monkey’s work–all of a sudden there was an extra step necessary. Just one more step, where there wasn’t one before. I only created three new campaigns by mistake before I realized what was happening.

I also learned that I couldn’t just reassign existing listings to a given campaign, the better to clean up the mess. The choices were greyed out. I could delete a campaign, but that would remove the promotion from any listings currently live that were using that campaign. A feature that was nothing to me, transformed into an unannounced pain in the rectum: that’s Ebenezer and its vendor experience PHB.

So I got annoyed. When I get annoyed with a corporation, which is not infrequent, I find a creative way to mock it. Even if I am the only one who gets a laugh, that’s the candle I light rather than cursing the darkness. More accurately, I light it while cussing the darkness pretty hard; fair enough. But I do light it.

I needed a campaign name that would sort to the top of the list, that I would recognize, and that would reflect my opinion of the PHB and his (in my experience, men are more likely to be PHBs) vendor experience management.

Campaigny McCampaignface was born.

Now, at least, I get a laugh every time I relist an item and choose to have Ebenezer ram it in people’s faces promote it.

 

*I get the term “code monkey” from one of my cousins, who posted a video long ago to explain what his work was like. It is not meant to disparage those who write code, but to highlight how management uses those coders’ skill sets.