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Monday, September 28, 2009 9 comments

White Pickups, Episode 2


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Tina stopped at the QuickFill near the freeway exit for gas and doughnuts on the way in. A couple years ago, she had started bringing doughnuts for her department on Thursdays and it turned into a habit. The others took turns bringing bagels on Friday. Since this particular station was closest to her house, and Kelly worked here two days a week, this is where she usually got gas and doughnuts.

Merging onto the freeway, she noticed the white pickups right away. If anything, there were even more of them on the road than yesterday. To Tina, it seemed like they represented every fourth or fifth vehicle on the freeway. Even so, she might have missed them if she hadn’t been looking — they all seemed to be ideal drivers, giving plenty of room, signaling lane changes, and generally being polite. It was always the tailgaters, the rocket sleds, and the weaver-birds that stood out (and caused most of the problems when things got away from them). Then she thought about the QuickFill stop, and couldn’t remember seeing a single white pickup at the pumps. Had any gone by on the street? She couldn’t remember. Hell, there might have been three or four of them, but she’d been preoccupied.

Chirping from her Blackberry interrupted her train of thought. Traffic again was moving well, and she had enough room in front of her to risk stealing a glance. Email from a client; not marked urgent, so it could wait until she got in. By this time, she would usually be stuck in traffic and checking her phone risked only the ire from people behind her wanting to get moving again, but —

Some moron in a grey Prius cut right in front of her and across three lanes to make the off-ramp; Tina cursed and laid on the horn as she saw the guy yapping at his cellphone all the way across. Two white pickups were between him and the ramp, but one sped up and the other slowed down, giving the idiot room to make the exit and another day to live. “Now that’s more like Atlanta traffic,” she grumbled as the adrenaline rush subsided, “except for the trucks with manners.”

The other oddity was pulling into the Maxcom parking deck 20 minutes early. On a whim, she cruised the deck, looking for white pickup trucks. There was only one to be found: it was grimy, identified itself as a Ranger, and sported Braves and Thrashers stickers at either end of the rear bumper. She entered the building, dropped her doughnuts on the table outside her office and got to work.

After a couple of hours of answering emails, Tina noticed that things were unusually quiet: Jaya, the contractor, hadn’t been by to get her time sheet signed, and there had been only two interruptions (Frank needed a priority check and Adam was having trouble with the Client from Hell). She checked the table; she saw doughnuts and stood to count the survivors. They were usually long gone by 9:30, but just past 10 there were still four. Walking through the cubes, Chi, Jaya, Sara, and Thakor appeared to be no-shows; their computers were off or showed a login screen, and no jackets warmed the chairs. None of them had called in or emailed, and they were among her most reliable workers.

She noted the apparent absentees, double-checked her email and voicemail to confirm none of them had called in, then called HR to ask if they knew of a flu bug. “No,” the admin told her, “but it’s got us all worried. We have several people out here too, no call — and none of them ever stay out without calling in. If it’s like this tomorrow, we’ll probably send everyone home early.”

“Thanks. What about job fairs in town? Have you heard anything like that?”

“No, I don’t think anyone is staffing up yet. There’s talk about it starting mid-Spring, though.”

“OK, thanks. Is there a problem with me calling their cell numbers? I have them here with me.”

“No, just pitch it as concern rather than anything else.”

“I understand. Actually, that’s all it is — it’s been pretty quiet today anyway. But if you’re having the same problems… well, thanks again.” Tina thought a moment, then dialed another extension.

“Morning, Tina,” said Connor. “What’s up?”

“Hey Connor. Does Tech Support have a lot of no-shows today?”

“Oh, hell yes. I’m guessing about a third of the crew went AWOL on me. Even Kumar’s out, and he never stays out without calling at least twice and emailing once, and offering to help anyway. You think it’s a virus going around?”

“I don’t know. But your call volumes — how are they looking?”

“Hell, if anything they’re down even farther than my staffing. That’s the only reason I hadn’t called you begging for mercenaries already.”

Tina laughed. “I’m missing a bunch of my own staff, and the most reliable ones at that. You don’t think they’ve all bolted for a start-up or something, do you?”

“If there was a startup looking for that many bodies in Atlanta, we’d have both heard about it. Hey, it’s almost 11. Wanna grab an early lunch downstairs?”

“I’m not that hungry, and I want to call my own AWOLs first, but I could go for a cup of tea. See you at the elevator in about 20 minutes.”

“Did you get anyone?” Connor asked as Tina sat down. Café Eclipse was in the basement, so the owners decided to work with the lack of light and decorated the place in an astronomy motif. A total eclipse replica burned from the corner.

“No. They all went to voicemail.”

“Same with my guys. So… how are things at home?”

“Pretty good. Kelly’s getting good grades, works at the QuickFill on Tuesdays and Saturdays. The usual freak-out artists on the HOA are flipping out over the two walk-off houses, but we’ve got a plan to keep them maintained and trimmed until they sell.”

“Oh, sure. I meant… you know.”

“Charles? We don’t talk much. He keeps in touch with Kelly, and she spends a weekend with him every month. If he’s available. Charles and his — boyfriend — have been having problems lately, so Kelly skipped the last visit. How about you? Still married?”

“Yup. Kids are doing well, and Jayne and I have managed to work out our differences for now. The counselor hooked us up with a financial advisor, so we can make an honest assessment of our responsibilities. It’s really up to her, now — she still has to go to her meetings, and probably will for life. I go with her for moral support, but I mostly zone out. Those guys have got the fever or something, but I guess it’s better than the addictions they had before.”

“Yeah. Charles can put the booze away, but I don’t think he lets it control him. Maybe he’s gotten a little better about it since the divorce.”

“Could be. What about you? You seeing anyone yet?”

Tina sighed. “I’m kind of demoralized about the whole dating thing. I can’t stop thinking that maybe I made Charles… what he is. I’d be devastated if it happened again.”

“Don’t think like that, Tina. Charles was always gay, he just denied it until he couldn’t deny it any longer. If you want to cast blame, blame Charles for not facing up to himself sooner. Or blame society for making him think he had to hide it. You’re not to blame.”

“I suppose.”

After lunch, Tina checked some news sites; she found a couple of “breaking” articles about mass absenteeism but no explanations. By three, she sent the rest of the staff home, logged out, and left. There were even more white pickups this afternoon, but she barely noticed. Arriving just behind the bus, she watched Kelly jog up the driveway in front of her.

“Hey, hon,” Tina greeted her daughter. “Feeling OK?”

“Fine, Mom. But almost half the kids were out today, and we had lots of subs. They’ll probably close school tomorrow if the teachers don’t come back.” She paused a moment. “Mom… have you noticed anything — weird — on the road?”

“The white trucks?”

“Yeah! You see it too? They’re like, everywhere.” One rolled down the street. “Are they electric? I don’t hear a motor.”

Tina sighed. “I don’t know. I’m not even sure whether to be relieved that I’m not going crazy, or terrified that the world is.”

“It’s spooky, Mom. I don’t think I’m relieved.”


Saturday, September 26, 2009 2 comments

In the Drink, Literally

With Mrs. Fetched sidelined due to her knee injury, there are two guys she and her mom have helping out at with the chickens — one who has been around a while, and another more recent inmate at the free-range insane asylum. Call him Panda, given his general shape… Mrs. Fetched has known him all his life, he enjoys farm work, and doesn’t have a regular job to keep him otherwise occupied, so he’s around a lot. His only drawback is that he seems to get himself into potentially dangerous situations that turn out to be funny — like getting hold of wires that everyone thought were supposed to be cut off at the breaker box. As Daughter Dearest said, “I laugh at him when he gets electrocuted. He laughs at me when I fall on my butt. That’s how we roll!”

So this morning, the two guys are already walking the chicken houses, and Mrs. Fetched asked me to run down there to turn up feed spouts. These spouts dump feed into trays in between the hoppers, and they make feed more accessible to the chicks during the first week or so. After a point, the chicks get big enough to jump in the hoppers and end up scattering feed out of the trays and into the dirt, so cutting off the supply to the trays is important around this time. What with the heavy rain in the last couple of weeks, things are a little more chaotic than usual… rainwater found its way into the #2 house and all sorts of interesting cobble-jobs have been deployed to cope with that. The pump house, which supplies our rental place and (until recently) the chicken houses, had about a foot of muddy water standing in it and the overflow pipe was not letting the water out very quickly.

But I digress. While I was dealing with the spouts, and raising water lines to compensate for chick growth, Panda got tagged to get a roll of hay for the cattle (who were watching us across the fence, complaining about life in general). He had to go by the pump house to get to the hay barn, and decided to have a look at the pump house. A concrete slab, which usually goes over one of the cistern chambers, was standing against the wall — and as it turns out, partially blocking the overflow pipe. Panda went over to move the slab… not realizing that a big open pit full of water was between himself and the slab (the water was muddy and hid such minor details). One step too many, and he was suddenly up to his chin in cold spring water. He leaped right out, jumped back on the tractor, and brought the hay.

When he told us what had happened, Mrs. Fetched’s mom started laughing so hard she couldn’t stand up. I texted Daughter Dearest (on a baby-sitting gig) with the gist of things, which also cheered her up quite a bit. If he’d not been able to get out, though, it might have been a while before we found him. Fortunately, it was just another one of those incidents that are funny only because they aren’t tragic.

Thursday, September 24, 2009 2 comments

Now it’s Mrs. Fetched’s Turn

Tonya HardingOK, that’s it: Tonya Harding is now our official mascot at FAR Manor.

The heavy rain may not have brought it on, but chicken houses prefer to screw things up at the worst possible moment, so of course that’s when the water line (or water main, if you will) broke and created the usual havoc. So for the last few days, Mrs. Fetched (and everyone she could recruit) have been up to their knees in mud and so forth — there’s also a foot of water standing in the pump house, since some debris has clogged the overflow pipe.

I was working at home today, when the phone rang about 11. Mrs. Fetched’s mom: "She hurt her knee, I think she has to go to the doctor. Bring the crutches."

"Fine, I’ll take her.” I had accomplished the two primary tasks of the day, and it was almost lunchtime anyway. As it turned out, she didn’t need the crutches; Mrs. Fetched’s mom has a walker and loaned it to her. I packed her in the car and took her to the chiro-cracker, which is whom she wanted to see first. He took x-rays, saw that her knee joint was a little uneven, and did what he could to straighten it out. He seemed to think it was otherwise OK, just stressed a lot from the mud work.

"Stay off it for a few days," he told her, "ice it, and wear a knee brace. Put a little weight on it when you can." She took a fairly long nap this afternoon, after which she sounded a lot more like her usual self, and I got her settled in the chair where I mostly lived a month or so ago while nursing my own knee issues.

So Mrs. Fetched finally gets to rest a little while. and no cheating. That means I’ll probably be the one sitting in a boat tomorrow night, running a plumber’s snake up the overflow pipe into the pump house. In the rain. With any luck, the boat will be off to one side.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009 6 comments

After the Deluge

Swollen creekOf all the disasters FAR Manor is heir to, natural and not (cough chicken house cough), flooding doesn’t make the list. We’re on top of a hill, a good 40 feet or so above (and half a mile away from) the nearest creek. If we ever had to worry about flooding, I’d board the ark as it floated by.

If I had to guess, I’d say we probably got close to 12 inches of rain in the last week, half of that over the weekend. I took this pic yesterday evening on the way home from work; it’s somewhat down from its crest earlier in the afternoon. Mrs. Fetched, with her penchant for overstatement, told me a different creek was about to come over the road earlier in the afternoon — which would have put it roughly 8 feet over its banks — but by the time I crossed, it was just a few inches over its banks, no big deal.

But still, that’s not to say that we’re completely unaffected by heavy rain. Indeed, we had a couple of occasions where heavy rains gave us more trouble than usual getting in and out of FAR Manor (that occasion was brought on by 6 inches of rain in one hour). The county re-did the culverts that got washed out and they seem to have all held up this time.

In short, what you might have seen on TV the last couple nights wasn’t anywhere near the manor. The sun actually came out this afternoon, and things are getting quickly back to (what passes for) normal around here. Down in the 'burbs and in the city proper, it sounds like they might still have some drainage or repair issues to get past.

Monday, September 21, 2009 7 comments

White Pickups, Episode 1

In a few short days, at the end of one particular summer, our world ended…

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The commercial babble on the radio gave way to the traffic jingle, and Tina Ball turned the volume back up. “Atlanta traffic’s lookin’ good on all major routes out there,” the traffic reporter chirped. “No accidents or slowdowns. The clouds have come in, and that’s certainly helping out you westbound commuters, but no matter which way you’re heading home, you’re in great shape. Just a little slowdown through Spaghetti Junction, but nothing serious. For Sky-Eye Traffic, I’m Jeanie Scott.” They cut to commercials again and Tina switched the radio off.

“And now the weather: cloudy with a chance of white pickup trucks,” Tina tried to imitate the chirpy traffic woman. “Brought to you by Generic Motors.” She merged onto I-85, which was moving better than usual. “At least I don’t have a car that looks like everyone else’s.” She gassed her bronze Impreza, new as of April 8th, and slipped into a gap between a white pickup and a worn-looking Tahoe.

“Who ta-ho’?” she chanted, glancing in her rearview mirror at the behemoth behind her. “You ta-ho’!” She turned her attention to the truck in front of her; it had sped up a little to give her some room. It was small, clean, and devoid of all markings, badges, or stickers. The lines were all rounded; Tina could usually guess the make of a vehicle by looking at it, but this truck defied her. The windows were tinted — the laws about how dark they could be were often ignored, and Tina had no idea how the cops enforced it or whether they even bothered — but then another white pickup slid past her on the left. Even the front windows were dark, and that was certainly illegal; she glanced over but could only see the outline of the driver. It was a twin to — or even a clone of — the one in front of her, no markings and immaculately clean. It continued on, passing the truck in front of her and moving over.

Tina checked her mirror; her brown hair (page-boy cut for convenience, highlighted to match her hazel eyes) was still in place, but the Tahoe had crept up and was getting pretty close. “Jeez, idiot, the passing lane’s open! Why not go around me and get it over with?” Double-checking confirmed it; Tina slid over and sped up. To her left was the HOV lane, the only one that didn’t have a white truck in it. Maybe they finally have enough lanes on I-85, she thought, at least for now. The digits on her speedometer crept toward 75, and she eased off the throttle to maintain her speed. The Tahoe zoomed by on her right, trailing a little blue smoke; it swerved around one of the white pickups and cut back across two lanes, disappearing behind a moving van.

With no sudden slowdowns or stops to contend with, she watched the rest of the traffic as the miles slid by. There seemed to be a lot of the white pickups around: passing, being passed, and another one just ahead of her on the off-ramp. The things you notice on a Wednesday afternoon, she thought.

Tina’s house was in Laurel Hills, a development between Duluth and Lawrenceville. After the divorce, back in 2006, she bought the house for its arm’s length from the freeway, the quality of the high school for Kelly, and its appreciation potential — the financial fiasco a couple years ago had set her back on that front, but that had bottomed out and things were starting to pick up again. Kelly would be in college in a few years, and Tina’s plan was to sell the house for a tidy profit and get a small condo close to work. But even at the worst, Tina’s mortgage had never gone upside-down, and there was plenty of time to make up lost ground before she had to even start thinking about listing the place. She thumbed the garage door remote, sighed when she saw Kelly’s Civic in its usual spot, then wondered why she was relieved.

Kelly pushed away from the dining room table as Tina came in. “Hi Mom,” she said. “Just trying to finish up this homework. Supper’s ready whenever you are.” Kelly was mostly a younger version of her mom: hair darker and shoulder length, trim figure that didn’t need nearly as much attention as Tina’s to stay that way (yet), dressed more casually in pre-faded jeans with a strategic rip above one knee and a Falcons t-shirt. Her blue eyes and long nose came from her dad.

“Go ahead and finish it. I have my usual first stop to make,” Tina grinned and ducked into the guest bathroom. “Was school OK today?” she called through the door, open a couple inches.

“Yeah. Mr. Spencer didn’t come in, though. And there were quite a few kids out, too. Is something going around?”

Tina flushed, washed up, and stepped out. “I hadn’t heard of anything, honey. But now that you mention it, we had some no-shows at the office too. Maybe you should take the bus to school tomorrow? If you feel bad in the afternoon, you won’t have to drive home sick.”

Kelly sighed. “I guess. I just hate getting up so early. But I’m not working until Saturday anyway, so I can do that.”

“Good. Anything in the mail?”

“Mostly junk. Some bullsh— crap flyer from the HOA about the walk-off houses. Bills. The usual.”

“Sure. Well, let’s get supper on the table.”


Sunday, September 20, 2009 No comments

White Pickups: Table of Contents

I’ve moved this to the White Pickups page, but decided to keep this post in place so anyone who has bookmarked it can find the new place.

If you have bookmarked it, please update!

Saturday, September 19, 2009 2 comments

Weekend Roundup

Mrs. Fetched with MasonYet another pic of Mason, just because I can. We haven’t seen him all week, which is probably a good sign because it means The Boy and Snippet haven’t needed our help.

And happy birthday to the great-grandparents, Mom (tomorrow) and Dad (on Monday)!

FAR Manor being FAR Manor, there’s still plenty of stuff going on even without a grandson in the house. Even when it has rained pretty much every day since we got back from vacation, and rained here a few times while we were gone. You know all that rain we didn’t get in May, June, and July? We’re getting it now. But we get a break most mornings, which means this morning I took care of most of the “go outdoors” stuff before breakfast: replace the kitty litter, empty the compost bucket (a coffee can) into the composter, pick a few tomatoes. Today ’s rain, as seen on radar, is moving in a little slower than I expected — but it finally got here.

After taking care of those little chores, then scarfing some breakfast, DoubleRed shocked the living daylights out of me: she asked me to follow her to the bank and (almost) caught up on all her rent… since May! I now have something in my pocket that Mrs. Fetched might like to get her hands on for a change.

I’ve mentioned problems with the manor windows before — not only do they have aluminum frames, which aren’t exactly wonderful for keeping out the winter chill, the funky mechanisms that are supposed to hold them in place when you raise them are pretty much all wrecked. Mrs. Fetched got curious recently when someone at Home Despot was trying to interest anyone in their window installation services, and considerably brightened the day of a rather discouraged worker. She made an appointment for their window guy to pay us a visit, and he did so late Thursday afternoon just as I was wrapping up my work at home day. With 18 windows that need to be replaced, fortunately all standard sizes, the total bill came to $12K. Um… thanks for your time, dude. I still want to replace at least the two windows in the bathroom, but with standard sizes and a friend who’s done that kind of work giving us advice, I might be able to get to that before winter. Meanwhile, I have a roll of window film that has been waiting for me to put it on the bay window in the kitchen, and I’ll be getting to that shortly. It helps that I figured out (on Thursday, while Window Dude was measuring) how to go about it with the least amount of waste.

Mrs. Fetched had been asking me to cash in some stock for some time, just to cover Daughter Dearest’s college for the rest of the term, and (during vacation) it got to where I thought it was worthwhile. The “problem” was, I thought I was cashing in stock options when I was actually cashing in restricted stock… so I ended up with a check for four times as much as I was expecting (but not enough to cover the window replacement). That caused a moment of panic, thinking the guy cleaned out my account, but when I pulled it up again I realized what happened. We’re going to kill off a couple of nagging bills and cover most of Daughter Dearest’s second term. Mrs. Fetched suggested I go ahead and accessorize my camera — so I ordered a smart flash and a 100-300mm lens last night — that should pretty well cover everything now: I have the 50mm f1.8 and the flash for indoor venues, the 28-135mm zoom for some indoor and short- to mid-range outdoor work, and the new lens will cover long-range work. What DoubleRed handed me this morning more than covered it.

Finally, if you haven’t seen it yet: this is NSFW, but very funny. Check out the woman’s expression about 6 seconds in. Besides, it’s good advice: I learned long ago, what you don’t do to the chicken, the chicken will do to you.

New story starts Monday… it’s coming along well, so I’m pretty comfortable with the head start I have.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009 6 comments

Obligatory Grandson pic, and Update

Mason sleepingOK, I was going for arty: dump the color, bump up the contrast. I like it anyway.

The Boy and Snippet (and Mason) spent a couple days at the manor, giving the new grandparents a little bonding time with the new guy and giving the parental units a little distance from their current housing situation. It seems that their roomie, who was working at the same place as The Boy, managed to get himself fired back in July. He supposedly has been looking for work ever since, but hasn’t managed to actually find any. The Boy, imbued with a new (perhaps pregnancy-induced) sense of responsibility, gamely tried to hold up both ends of the situation. He even tried to continue paying us what he owed for the move-in, and actually managed to keep it going until the end of August. He had to let his cellphone bill slide, but managed — just barely — to keep the rent caught up and chow in the pantry. Then he got swine flu and had to stay out of work for about a week and a half. He’s been there long enough to get medical benefits, fortunately, but not long enough to get sick leave. That pretty much stuck a skewer in their finances.

For a little while, it looked like they’d be moving back to the manor. I wasn’t thrilled about it, nor was he, and Daughter Dearest even less so, but: a) it wasn’t The Boy’s fault his roomie wasn’t holding up his end; b) none of us were about to let a newborn live in a car if it could be avoided. Fortunately, it looks like they hooked up with someone who has work and will be able to manage half the rent; the apartment management will help to remove the non-performing guy if necessary. So the whole boarder-friction thing has been averted for now. As it is, we’ll be seeing a lot of them for a while. At least I hope so.

Now to go print off some pix and send them to the newly-minted great-grandparents…

Wednesday, September 09, 2009 2 comments

FAR Future: Table of Contents

I had some requests for this from time to time. As promised, now that the story is done I’m delivering.

Part I
Shortages Everywhere

Episode 1: Blackouts or Whiteins?
Episode 2: Ir-ration-al Behavior?
Episode 3: The Happenin’ Library
Episode 4: Smart Move
Episode 5: Card Sharps
Episode 6: Down on the Farm
Episode 7: Headin' Out
Episode 8: Crossin' the Line
Episode 9: Time Off, and the Barter Economy
Episode 10: Great Timing
Episode 11: October Surprises

Part II
Rise of the Militias

Episode 12: Election Rejection, What’s Your Secession
Episode 13: Nothing Secedes Like Success
Episode 14: Marching Through Georgia
Episode 15: Wow
Episode 16: Holidaze, Shortage Style
Episode 17: Froze in the Middle
Episode 18: Political Theater
Episode 19: Up Against the Wal
Episode 20: Spreading the Wealth
Episode 21: Awakening
Episode 22: Why Are We Still Here?

Part III
Water Wars

Episode 23: The Prophet
Episode 24: Interlude
Episode 25: So Far So Good
Episode 26: Let the Water Wars Begin!
Episode 27: Here We Go Again!
Episode 28: On the March
Episode 29: Battle Lines
Episode 30: War is Hell
Episode 31: Quiet
Episode 32: Thanksgiving in the Midst of Disaster
Episode 33: Starting Over. Sort Of.
Episode 34: Is This Thing On?
Episode 35: Spring is Sprung
Episode 36: Political Storm

Part IV
The Junta Years

Episode 37: Dubbayou. Tee. Eff?
Episode 38: Coup Coup Land
Episode 39: Our Glorious Nation
Episode 40: What Comes Out of a Rump Congress?
Episode 41: Maximum Disruption
Episode 42: Holidays and Happiness
Episode 43: Wallyworld Rising
Episode 44: High-Stakes Hide & Seek (part 1)
Episode 45: High-Stakes Hide & Seek (part 2)
Episode 46: Reporting In
Episode 47: Young Love in the Time of the Junta
Episode 48: The Talk(s)
Episode 49: La Imagen se Escapa del Marco
Episode 50: Tightening Up
Episode 51: In the Blink of an Eye

Part V
The Last Oil War

Episode 52: It’s the Big One, Elizabeth
Episode 53: Sunrise, Sunset
Episode 54: Iraq and Ruin
Episode 55: Caught in the Draft
Episode 56: A Letter from Boot Camp
Episode 57: Marching Orders
Episode 58: A Dispatch from the Rear
Episode 59: Tanks a Lot
Episode 60: In the Tank
Episode 61: It’s All Over, Rover

Part V

Episode 62: Slip-Sliding Away
Episode 63: The Peasants are Revolting
Episode 64: Summertime, and the Junta is Sleazy
Episode 65: Run, Run, Run, Run Away
Episode 66: Farewell, Sammy
Episode 67: Letters on the Eve of War
Episode 68: Starts Off With a Bang
Episode 69: Besieged
Episode 70: Not a Bang, but a Whimper
Episode 71: When Johnny (and Kim, Serena, and Rene) Come Marching Home
Episode 72: Adventures at the Chautauqua
Episode 73: Serena’s Chautauqua Story
Episode 74: The Opt-Outs

Part VI

Episode 75: Interlude (Pattern Shift)
Episode 76: Before the Deluge
Episode 77: Don’t Have to Live Like a Refugee
Episode 78: School’s In
Episode 79: Letters From the Sand
Episode 80: White Valentine’s
Episode 81: Spring of Discontent
Episode 82: Search and Research
Episode 83: The Boy on Tour
Episode 84: Office Revisited
Episode 85: An Old Friend
Episode 86: Generation 3
Episode 87: Virginia Slam
Episode 88: Heat Wave
Episode 89: Making the Call
Episode 90: Dropbox
Episode 91: The Boy Saves the Day
Episode 92: The Boy Goes to Washington (and Beyond)
Episode 93: Homecoming

Part VII

Episode 94: Interlude (To Sleep, Perchance to Dream)
Episode 95: Dreams
Episode 96: I’m History
Episode 97: Traffic Jam
Episode 98: The Rat Race, Continued
Episode 99: Funeral for Our Friends
Episode 100: The Final Vision
Episode 101: Summertime Blues
Episode 102: Conference Call
Episode 103: Too Much Fun

Episode 104: Epilogue (The Music of the Spheres)

Monday, September 07, 2009 11 comments

FAR Future, Episode 104: Epilogue

Given the title of the story, I thought it would be fitting to set at least one part of it (albeit the end) truly in the far future.

It’s a melancholy feeling, reaching the end after over two years. I appreciate everyone who has read it all the way through, especially my friends who got Orson Wells’ed back at the beginning. A complete list of episodes (with links) will be going up shortly. I’ll also post diversions and an alternate episode from time to time.

A completely new story starts September 21.

Fall, year unknown
The Music of the Spheres

The universe, and all that is in it, dances to the cosmic vibration. Life, cultures, nations, civilizations — all follow the rhythm of birth, growth, reproduction, senescence, and death. Across the Earth, weather systems twirl to their own beat. Ice caps dance a two-step, forward and back, following yet-undiscovered astronomical pulsations.

Humans continue to be humans — seeking, loving, grasping, warring — until after a particularly brutal war, when the survivors agree to become something new. So begins a breeding program that lasts for millennia: they select for intelligence, disease-resistance, and non-aggression. The results are not perfect — nothing ever is — but good enough. War is yet studied, but only to explain the terrestrial scars that thousands of years have only softened. The neo-humans experiment with various civilizations — primitive, ecotechnic, industrial — even attempting spacefaring anew at one point. Fortunately, they discover an impending asteroid strike during this time, and the great rock is broken into hundreds of smaller rocks before impact. The dust in the air brings on a Little Ice Age, but the neo-humans know to keep their population below the earth’s carrying capacity. A generation of colorful sunrises and sunsets inspires new schools of art and poetry.

And the beat goes on.

FAR Manor is long gone and long forgotten. The minor figures who lived there as the end of an age drew near are also long forgotten, but their descendants yet roam the Earth. Kim’s art, Christina’s raw intelligence, the strength and compassion of Daughter Dearest, Rene’s and Serena’s storytelling, the music of The Boy and Pat, Ray’s rapport with animals… all express themselves across the new ages that come and go in their turns. Where FAR Manor once stood — an indeterminate point in a world where the Greenwich Observatory no longer marks longitude — has been forest, city, desert, a lakeshore, and grassland.

After ten thousand years pass, we come to a particular sunrise. The land is once again a mixed forest, familiar to all of us except in the details… for example, the people now grow their houses from living trees — they would be aghast at the waste of cutting trees into pieces and building a large wooden box from the pieces. Their roads wind through the trees, following the land — they would call it madness to lay roads in straight lines and alter the land to support them. You or I might think their life primitive in comparison to ours, but we would be wrong. A technology called bioinstrumentation — which had its beginnings in near-prehistoric times, using canaries to detect methane in coal mines and dogs to find illicit drugs — has been refined through the millennia until communication devices and lighting, among other things, really do grow on trees.

The morning is cool, and a youth emerges from one of the houses that make up this loose community. He climbs up the trunk — for a moment he resembles a spider, or perhaps a spider monkey, but his long limbs and fingers are normal for his people — and eats a quiet breakfast on a sturdy limb. Nobody else stirs as he drops to the ground. He looks at the house where he has spent much of his life, and spends a few minutes on the morning necessities: making sure the glow lamps are hung where they can recharge in the afternoon sun, checking the water in the catch basin, fertilizing the roots. He then goes back in, emerges with a cloth sack and a cape for the chill to come, and jogs to the road. This is the custom of the people: after seventeen years, they begin a time of wandering. Some find a mate and return. Some find a mate and stay. Others make a life of wandering, with or without a mate.

At the edge of the community, an old woman stops him. “Who are you?” she asks.

“I go to learn that,” he says.

“And where do you go?”

“East. I will walk toward the rising sun until I come to the sea.”

“And what will you do there?”

“I will learn who I am.”

“Will you return?”

“If Father God and Mother Earth will it.”

The old woman smiles. “Then go, child, with our blessings,” she says, and embraces her grandson for the final time.

“Thank you, grandmother.” He takes her wandering gifts: a walking stick, food, and a water flask; then he blinks at the bright morning sun and sets off. When he looks back, he is alone. He smiles, hears music from beyond, and begins his journey with a dance.


Sunday, September 06, 2009 10 comments

I Can Haz Grandson!

Everyone say hi to Mason, born today at 2:18 p.m.:

Mason and family

6 lb 13 oz, 21 inches, everyone’s tired but doing fine.

Yup, we all got a promotion. Mason has a great-great-grandmother, and I will definitely have to get everyone together for a 5-generation shot ASAP.

Now I’m going to go be stunned for a while…

Friday, September 04, 2009 No comments

Vacation Pix: Iconic Allegan

When you grow up in a picturesque town, you have to leave for a few years before you can really appreciate it. Allegan might be small enough to photowalk in a day — I’m just hitting the highlights here — but you might want to bring extra memory cards and make a weekend of it.

Icons of Allegan

Canon EOS 40D, 28-135mm IS/USM lens
various exposures

Top left: The 2nd Street bridge, one of very few 19th century iron bridges still in use. Built in 1886, it’s one lane plus a walkway. It spans the Kalamazoo River, and connects M-89 to the industrial east side of town. The bridge was renovated after nearly a century of use, and is now the anchor of an annual “BridgeFest” in town. Not too many Historic Register places that are used for their original purpose, but this is one of them.

Top right: The Regent Theatre has been showing movies for… well, I think my mom went there when she was a kid. It looks pretty much the same as it did when I was a kid, standing in line outside to buy a ticket for the latest show. Here’s another Historic Register site that’s still used for its original purpose.

Bottom left: The Griswold Auditorium. I’ve seen plays and travelogues here, and was on stage and backstage a number of times myself. Whoever built the place had a sense of humor: “ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE” is emblazoned above the stage itself. It was years after I first saw it that I learned it was a line from Shakespeare.

Bottom right: The Allegan Public Library was one of the Carnegie libraries. It has been expanded since I moved away, and I have no idea whether the beautiful wooden floors and shelves are still intact upstairs. The kids’ section was downstairs, and I plowed through it pretty thoroughly in my younger years.

I didn’t get nearly as much time as I would have liked to explore, especially to see what has changed — I know the old free parking down by the river has been partially turned into a riverwalk, with a concert gazebo, and it really looks nice. Not to mention the storefronts…

Tuesday, September 01, 2009 6 comments

Joe Klein and the Beltway Insider Problem

So… it appears that once again, Joe Klein (a Very Serious Person who writes for Time on behalf of the rich and powerful) and Glenn Greenwald (a constitutional lawyer turned blogger at Salon) have tangled once again. And once again, Klein gets his ass handed to him, then whines about it at his blog on Swampland. In his hissy-fit, Joe demonstrates a lack of understanding, exceptionally woeful for a supposedly super-journalist, about what constitutes a “private communication.” To wit:
  1. At one of the cocktail parties (actually a beach party in this case) so favored by the Beltway Insider clique, Klein rather loudly rants to a young woman about how “Greenwald is EVIL! EVIL!” and many other things. He took particular umbrage when she pointed that Greenwald was recently given the I.F. Stone award, telling her “[she] shouldn't talk about things [she doesn't] understand.” (The woman in question is I.F. Stone’s granddaughter, which is quite funny when you think about it.)

  2. Having been schooled in public, both by mere bloggers and a young woman whom he dismisses as “a rather pathetic woman acolyte of Greenwald's,” Joe Klein (often referred to as Joke Line in the blogosphere as of late) resorted to the 8th-grade tactic of saying nasty things about Greenwald behind his back. It’s probably likely that he was already well under way by the time he got pwned at the beach party, but he began trashing Greenwald on Journolist, a “members-only” mailing list for the Beltway Insiders and some of their favored friends. One of the other members forwarded some of the emails to Glenn Greenwald, and much hilarity ensued (again, at Klein’s expense).

Joe Klein is perhaps part of the problem in what passes for journalism these days, but he is best seen as a symbol for what I call the Beltway Insider Problem. Journalists, who are supposed to be about afflicting the comfortable, have grown uncomfortably chummy with the inner circles of power lately — whether in DC, on Wall Street, or City Hall of most locales. The problem begins, but does not end, with:

The Access Fetish

At some point, I’m guessing the early 1980s, “access” became more important than truth to journalism. Perhaps it started with the Reagan regime, more likely with early budget cuts in newsrooms, I don’t know for sure (and admitting I don’t know proves I myself am no Beltway Insider). But reporters who asked tough questions of those in power began to be shunted aside in favor of the sycophants and stenographers that seem to make up the entire Beltway Insider clique these days. Joe Klein sucked up to the Bush Administration for quite a few years, indeed was one of their primary cheerleaders for the Iraq war, all to maintain that all-important “access.” He and his fellows seem to have forgotten that when you’re doing some real journalism, that you’ll get access anyway. After all, short of outright admitting to bad behavior, “XYZ refused to comment on this story” is pretty close to self-indictment.

One of the more unfortunate effects, of the Access Fetish, besides the outright toadying-up to the powerful, has been:

Replacing Fact-Checking with “Balance”

The most glaring example of this problem with the Beltway Insider clique has been their “coverage” of climate change issues. It doesn’t matter how much evidence of the 150-year warming trend piles up, how many scientists think it’s actually worse than the consensus position, the insiders will find an ignorant blowhard like Sen. Inhofe or a paid shill for Exxon who will counter claims with nothing but their opinion, and then present both sides as equally credible. Truth is truth… unless you’re an Insider, then it’s just a matter of he-said-she-said. And they think that’s doing their jobs.

Which brings us to the third problem:

The Insider Echo Chamber

Tools like Journolist and the cocktail/beach party circuit allow the Beltway Insiders to collaborate. That in itself is not a bad thing — an investigative journalist might hear a crucial piece of information from a fellow, for example — but the problem is that the Insiders use those tools to develop a “narrative” rather than just get to the heart of the matter. Media narratives are convenient for lazy pseudo-journalists, as they provide a framework to hang a story on. We see this dreck all the time: Hillary was inevitable, health care reform is dead (and the screamers were concerned citizens rather than bussed-in provocateurs), financial bailouts are necessary to preserve… something important, probably the Insiders’ access to bankers.

This is exactly why more and more people are getting their news from the Internet these days — sure, you get biased sources, but you have a pretty good idea what the bias is and everyone gets to chime in and correct facts or point out the bias. Me, I haven’t subscribed to a newspaper or newsmagazine in 15 years or so, and people like Joe Klein are perfect examples of why.


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