Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

I’m applying for a job in Trump’s cabinet. Why not, at this point I have as good a chance as anybody. I could hang in there for 10 days, do something I won’t admit with a porn star named after the weather, and play chess with the Russians (they’ll collude to let me win). I guarantee you that no one in that confederacy of dunces knows anything about ’80s music, except for Rick Perry, who still dances in his underwear to “Wake Me Up (Before You Go Go).”

Yes, I’m leaving soon for a trip to D.C., and then I fly to Massachusetts and Antique Parent Land, where all the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and the children are middle-aged. I won’t be back for a while. But before I go, I have to settle something, and that something is the challenge I threw down in my last, very exciting post about spare change. Somebody won. Bigly.

I have a friend who goes by the handle Accused of Lurking. He’s also a superhero who fights disorganized crime as Khaki Man. Accused of Lurking is one of the scariest people I know. He’s so organized that the Library of Congress, knowing they need help, keeps him on a retainer. (When Lurk was 12, they paid for his retainer.) If you give him something, he will not only save it, he’ll cross-index it. Accused of Lurking is the only person I know with the stamina to interview 15 contractors and input their data in a color-coded spreadsheet before he decides who is going to paint his fucking house.

Facts stick to Lurk and never fly away. He could break Jeopardy. Things stick to him, too. Rosebud! He lives with every computer he’s ever owned, including the Apple I he bought out of Steve Jobs’ garage in Los Altos in 1976. (He also lives with a woman who, on the occasion of their marriage and through total force of will, compacted her name from 20 letters to seven. She’s scary, too.)

Thus you won’t be surprised (but you will be frightened) to learn that Accused of Lurking has almost exactly guessed how much money my jar holds when it’s full.

Drum-machine drum roll, please.

The amount in the jar varies based on my impatience to go spend the cash already and how many quarters I steal from myself while the coins are building up. But the range never varies: $65 to $68. I write the dates and the amounts on the inside of the lid.

$65.85 on January 22, 2018
$65.35 on September 23, 2016
$68.98 on June 9, 2014

Accused of Lurking’s winning entry: “My mayo jar guess is $65.”

Second place goes to my friend mikenr with $51.43. “Given the parameters of your story,” mikenr writes, “your mayo jar should hold $51.43. But my official guess will be – one cent (virtually, no, literally, guaranteeing me an interview-free interview, merciless or otherwise, which is a ‘prize’ I do not care to win. But it’s the journey that counts, right?).”

In third place we have my friend Mr. Seaside, who sent this story:

Looks like $21.73 (though this estimate may be as much as $3.47 too high). Gallon glass jars are the way to go in coin accumulating. I had a friend who picked up all of the coinage he found on his daily walks. After decades of doing so he had 5 or 6 large jars of cash with coins dating back as far as the 1920s. Then he ‘cashed in’ before he was able to cash in the coins. Just a small part of his legacy.

Nice try, boys, but you will never be as scary as Accused of Lurking. As Count Floyd used to say, about something that wasn’t scary at all, “Vazn’t that scary, kids?” before pretending he was being filmed in 3D by repeatedly lunging at the camera. To commemorate Lurk’s triumph, he will receive a lifetime supply of Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco treat, and a lousy copy of our home game. No, he will be mercilessly interviewed. No, I think I’ve done enough of that already. He’ll receive something, because he deserves it. Perhaps an ash tray from my first cabinet meeting, but not the contents of my jar the next time I empty it.

When I get back, we’ll explore the House of Herbie Hancock, spin the most depressing albums of the 21st century (that post will not be required reading), and I’ll unveil my latest innovation in marriage technology: Anti-Wife Movie Night.

Until then, Ryan Zinke says, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”


I had a boss in the 1970s who once told me, when he wasn’t yelling at me or grabbing the ass of his favorite female subordinate, that every night he emptied the change from his pockets into empty tuna fish cans on his bureau. He claimed he harvested two or three hundred dollars a year from this happy system.

Remembering what I do of this gentleman, I’d guess that his hundreds of dollars went straight up his nose. I wish that Mr. Boss Man had said “Buy a U.S. savings bond every payday” or “Someday, everyone will have a computer in their home” or even “Yoga.” But he said to save your change, and it sounded like something I could do, and it involved money, which I like, so I did.

Humans are generally bad at long-term projects. We lack experience. We’re too easily distracted. But throwing coins every day into an empty tuna fish can is something any human can do. That includes me.

I eventually grew tired of the empty tuna fish can aesthetic and graduated to an empty mayonnaise jar. In the ’70s and early ’80s I paid for most things with cash, so my mayonnaise jar filled three or four times a year.

(It was difficult to get a credit card in the 1970s. The banks feared that we cardholders would fall into debt and not be able to repay what we owed. They hadn’t figured out that they’d make more money if they pushed us into debt and we never repaid them.)

I collected about as much money as the boss said I would. I took my coins to the bank, the bank handed me the cash, and I immediately spent it on books or music or my favorite female subordinate.

(Editor’s note: She’s not actually my subordinate. That is a literary construction. #Justkidding #Nothimtoo)

Futurists have long predicted the paperless office and the cashless society

If you work in an office, you know paper isn’t going anywhere. But we’ve made progress toward a cashless society. It now takes me almost two years to fill the jar, even with the help of my wife and sometimes my Dad, a kid from the Depression who never met a penny he didn’t like.

Last month, I decided my jar was full. I took it to my credit union, Unitus, the one bank in town that still offers the use of a no-fee coin-counting machine to its depositors. I poured in the metal tide, the machine funneled everything through a series of sluices, channels, and gates, ejecting Canadian coins and anything that had been beaten flat by a truck or a train, and spat out a receipt. I took the receipt to the teller, who handed me cash on the barrelhead. As they sang on Portlandia, the dream of the 1890s is alive in Portland.

It occurs to me that my habit of dropping coins in a jar and spending the jarful might be a metaphor or a psychodrama. I grew up in a family where our unofficial mission was to stockpile objects (in Latin, “Multa res accumulare,” or literally, “If I get rid of this, I know I’ll need it in 20 years, and then where will I be?”). You stockpiled objects until they disappeared and were forgotten, and then you had the pleasure of stockpiling the same objects all over again.

Maybe filling and purging my jar is my way of undoing the family chaos. Then again, sometimes a jar of coins is just a jar of coins.

Tonight’s challenge: How much money does my empty mayonnaise jar hold? The person who comes the closest to the average figure will be mercilessly interviewed for this blog.

Random Pick of the Day
Stevie Wonder, Talking Book (1972)

You will never tire of blasting “Superstition” out of your boombox, your stereo, your computer, your tablet, your phone, your gramophone, your car, your scooter, your bike, your Segway, your yacht, your car ferry, your jet pack, or the nanoprobes Google implanted in your neural core while you were downloading that cat video. Talking Book belongs in every music library between here and the Kuiper Belt.

If you were a teenager in the 1970s, this record was part of the soundtrack of your life, as every song in this set made it to AM and FM radio. A couple of the ballads are slow; “Lookin’ for Another Pure Love” occupies what would shortly become Billy Joel territory, if not Tony Orlando & Dawn territory. But any complaints melt away before the majesty of the closing track: “I believe when I fall in love with you/it’ll be forever.” C’mon, let’s fall in love.

Random Pan of the Day
Bell Biv Devoe, Three Stripes (2017)

Their first album since Bell Biv Devoe in 2001. The first few tracks rock hard. The rest of the album is mostly crooning. The one thematic element that unites their material is their refusal to stop saying their own name. They’re really just a gospel group that likes loud music.


In 1980, one of my stories appeared in a science fiction anthology called New Dimensions. I was a member of the Science Fiction Writers of America at the time, and the following year I learned that two people had recommended my story for a Nebula Award.

I never got anywhere in this process, so I don’t know the details, but I believe it ran approximately like this: If you collected enough recommendations, your story was entered in the playoff bracket. There followed a series of competitions, involving singing, dancing, evening wear, swimsuits, and hand-to-hand combat with erasers and typewriter ribbons. The stories that survived the playoffs entered the medal round. One story eventually won a Nebula. It all started with someone taking the trouble to say that she or he liked your story.

One of my two recommenders was Marta Randall. I’ve always appreciated this, Marta, wherever you are today, but since you’re the editor who bought the story for New Dimensions this was not a surprise.

The surprise was the other person: Ursula K. Le Guin.

What? The author of The Left Hand of Darkness, which taught this teenage boy that science fiction could be about something other than rockets and robots and fearless North American white men defeating dark-skinned alien hordes with the help of a few comic Irishmen, liked something I wrote?

“The only sensible ends of literature,” Nathaniel Hawthorne said, “are, first, the pleasurable toil of writing; second, the gratification of one’s family and friends; and lastly, the solid cash.” Not bad, Nat, but you forgot something: The otherworldly feeling you experience when something you wrote speaks to someone you don’t know.

Eventually I met Ursula and spent some time with her. I’m unsure how this began. Deborah had taken three of her writing workshops in Oregon – in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, on the McKenzie River, and at Cannon Beach; Ursula had a fine sense of place – so it must’ve been in the wake of the first one.

We had dinner a couple of times with Ursula and her husband, Charles. We met their cats. We stayed overnight at their Cannon Beach beach house, where our dog Emma, who had her moods, totally charmed them. Ursula thought that Emma, racing around us on the beach, looked like Isadora Duncan, her scarf jauntily thrown over one shoulder.

Benjamin Franklin said it best in his Autobiography: “When first you wish to make a favorable impression on a new acquaintance, send in your dog.”

In a discussion with Ursula about writing I referred to my challenges in getting published. I was probably making a joke, but she listened seriously and said, “I’ve never understood that.” She wasn’t being nice. Making nice was not her thing. Ursula could be quite sharp. In her presence, you never wanted to say something stupid (my forte). These four words were enough to make me worship her, but of course I already did.

We never saw them often, and in this century even less. An occasional email. Christmas cards. She drew pictures of funny cats and dogs in the style of Thurber. She called herself “Buntho.” She called Deborah “Gort” because she’s tall. She called me “Dominant Male” (misspelled “Donimant”) because I am. (Shut up.) She was there in the background of our lives, writing another book I want to read (Lavinia, Buffalo Gals), giving another interview or talk.

How lucky we all were.

Au revoir, Ursula. Thanks for the vote of confidence in me. If I had gotten as far as the swimsuit competition, I would’ve given it my best.



I just saw Thor: Ragnarok. The studio chose “Ragnarok” instead of “Ragamuffin” or “Turmoil in Asgard!” or “Domestic Disturbance, Call 9-1-1” because Ragnarok sounds like an evil Norwegian metal band plus it ends with “rock” so you know this film is going to RAWK!

Ragnarok didn’t, though it was far better than I feared, thanks primarily to everyone in the cast who isn’t Chris Hemsworth. Chris’ older brother, Luke, was particularly good at playing an actor playing a big blubbering God of Thunder.

But Ragnarok did display the usual trends in superhero and sci-fi movies. Like how they all resemble The Lord of the Rings. Ragnarok comes complete with orcs, a Balrog, the Army of the Dead, and thousands of Australians with perfectly feathered hair.

These films also resemble Star Wars. “Asgard is not a place,” Odin tells us, in his best Obi-Wan-explaining-The-Force-voice. “Asgard is its people.” It is not. You spent the first two Thor movies convincing us that Asgard is a special place because it’s the crossroads of the universe and the home of the gods. Now you say it was just an address and you’re going to find a new home on Earth? That’s so original, not counting Battlestar Galactica. I suppose the next movie in the series will pit Thor against Trump over immigration.

But let’s set these resemblances aside and ask why superhero movies are always about the fate of the world. Doesn’t that make them all the same movie? Can’t superheroes take on criminal masterminds who rob banks or steal identities? No, sorry. Gotta build a big spaceship. But whatever spaceship we build, the villain will build a bigger one in the next movie. He’ll name his ship Endowedbadguy1177.

I love you, man
Speaking of men, of which this film has too many, Ragnarok proudly maintains the science fiction tradition of fractured father-son relationships that miraculously resolve in the final scenes. Yes, this time around, Thor and Loki find out they have a sister, Hela, the Goddess of Death. I don’t know where you seat the Goddess of Death when she comes over for Thanksgiving. But even though Hela is out to rule the cosmos, and even though you can dress Cate Blanchett up as anything and she’ll be smashing, it’s all just a plot device that forces Thor to admit to Odin, “I’m not as strong as you,” so Odin can tell him, “You’re stronger,” which finally teaches that blond dickhead a few things about relationships and responsibilities.

Odin can now die in peace, but of course he’s already dead. He’ll reappear with an encouraging word whenever Thor is once again trying to stop Mr. Wrong from destroying the world, which locates us comfortably back in Star Wars.

Chris Hemsworth as Thor showed some talent at physical comedy, but without his hammer and hair he’s just another doofus in a cape, and as usual he was outplayed by almost every other actor in Ragnarok. This includes Jeff Goldblum’s hybrid Bill Murray/Stanley-Tucci-in-Hunger-Games dictator and Mark Ruffalo’s impersonation of Woody Allen. Praise the costumers for dressing Ruffalo in Tony Stark’s Duran Duran T-shirt and the Hulk fans in green. Almost everyone else in this film wears black. Almost everyone in outer space wears black. When everyone wears black, wearing black means nothing. Give me a Star Fleet uniform any day.

I unexpectedly enjoyed Thor: Ragnarok, though I would have enjoyed it much more if it had been half an hour shorter. As it stands, it’s way shorter than Blade Runner: 2049 and light years funnier. Go see it? Why not. It’s perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon. Need a bathroom break at the halfway point? You won’t miss a thing!

Tip of the day
Stay through the credits – all the credits; there’s about a kilometer of them – for the best speech in the movie. It rawks.


Last night I went to an 8:15 p.m. showing of Blade Runner 2049, a 2-hour-and-44-minute endurance contest. I didn’t fall asleep, possibly because the film features the loudest soundtrack since All the World’s Garbage Trucks, and unlike the 17 other people in the theater I didn’t take a break to visit the bathroom.

Was this evening well-spent? Is New Blade Runner an improvement on Classic Blade Runner? Was Deckard’s dog real? Can you sit through a 2-hour-and-44-minute movie without going to the bathroom? Let’s see if we can answer some of these questions by running New Blade Runner through the 7 Deadly Sins of Science Fiction Movies meat grinder.

Sin #1: The plot revolves around/humanity owes its survival to an evil genius white male billionaire.

Look, people, in today’s world, science gets done in teams. There wasn’t one white male who invented the Cassini probe in his garage, sold it to NASA and the ESA for billions of dollars, and then became evil. Science is too complex and expensive for one man to create international havoc on his own. The last major scientist to work by himself was Nicola Tesla, and he’s been dead since 1943. No grant, no angel investors, no science.

New Blade Runner and Classic Blade Runner are both guilty here. In Classic Blade Runner, the evil genius white male billionaire is killed by one of his creations – another reason why you need a team.

Sin #2: Women of the future have one of two roles. They can be naked or they can be men.

New Blade Runner satisfies both requirements on the Hollywood diversity checklist.

Sin #3: No matter how advanced the technology, all conflicts will be resolved with a fist fight.

In New Blade Runner, the replicants played by Ryan Gosling and Sylvia Hoeks fight in the surf outside the Los Angeles sea wall. This is obviously director Denis Villeneuve’s homage to Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr making love in the surf in From Here to Eternity.

Sin #4: All post-apocalypse cities look like Soylent Green. If you venture underground, they look like THX 1138.

Those movies were made in 1973 and 1971, respectively. I guess you can’t beat ’70s science fiction, huh? (Oh yes you can: Battlestar Galactica, The Incredible Hulk, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and this is just crud from the USA!)

New Blade Runner: Yes and then some. However, I have to admit that the junkyard was awesome. I want to be their artist in residence.

Sin #5: Never hire a writer. If you do, find ways to work around him or her.

The main writer on this picture was Hampton Fancher, who was the main writer on the original. He’s either lost a step since 1984 or he was stymied by the natural reticence of these characters. Most of them are not talkers. Gosling in particular is playing his introverted character from Lars and the Real Girl, except now he can shoot people.

The dialog is colorless, except for what was written for Sylvia Hoek’s Luv, who should’ve been a villain on Downton Abbey, and Jared Leto’s evil genius white male billionaire, a super-annoying mansplainer who thinks he’s too sexy for his shirt.

Robin Wright and Harrison Ford rise above the script. Edward James Olmos has about three minutes of screen time and we get no full view of his face, and yet, in his monochromatic way, is dominating. And Ford’s dog is brilliant. I want to teach my dog to stand malevolently in the shadows instead of racing ahead to get loved up.

Blade Runner goes to the beach.

Non-Blade Runner goes to the beach.

Sin #6: The villain always reveals his secret plans to the wrong people.

This is a specialty of superhero movies. It runs like this:

VILLAIN: Let me explain my plan. I haven’t carried it out yet, I just love the sound of my own voice.
SUPERHERO: Thank you. With this information, I was able to stop your plan.
VILLAIN: So that’s how it works.

New Blade Runner: Leto’s character couldn’t possibly spill the beans, because he speaks in riddles. He’s the son of David Clennon’s evil genius white male advertising exec from Thirtysomething, who was also super-annoying.

Sin #7: Men are terrified of sexually aggressive women.

This is a specialty of Star Trek. The poor men trapped in these scenarios turn into maladroit middle-schoolers when faced with women who want what they want. This isn’t screenwriting, this is memoir.

New Blade Runner: Sexually aggressive women are just fine, but don’t expect us to talk much afterwards, or even at all. We barely said anything when you walked in.

Final score: Five out of seven sins. It’s hard to be a saint in the city.

Final word: New Blade Runner is unexpectedly involving but, in the end, totally unnecessary. Classic Blade Runner said it all (and Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? said even more). I’m not sorry I saw it, and I enjoyed my walk home in the starry night, and now I don’t have to think about it again.

The dog was a hologram.

I hope this helps.


Twenty years ago, was the place you went to buy books, CDs, VHS tapes, and games at half the original price. That was a most excellent arrangement. But then eBay bought Half and prices were set free, and that was even better! Salvagers who bought unwanted books, CDs, and etc. by the pound began selling them for 75 cents each (a common price for books) and even a penny (uncommon, but I found some).

Half’s home page hasn’t moved a millimeter past 2005. The categories never changed: Books, Textbooks, Music, Movies, Games. Special D handled Half for the two of us early on. She did well there in the years before eBay’s takeover, clearing our shelves of excess books and fattening the pile of gold coins in the basement. I may not be remembering this exactly.

I’m going to miss all the reading and music I found so inexpensively on Half. When you’re a writer – when both of you are writers – inexpensive counts for a lot!

Last album bought on Half: Elvis Costello, Get Happy

Last book: Gail Caldwell, Let’s Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship

Last words: At least there’s still the library. And Bookmooch!


Somewhere on the way to the South Pole.

Karen Marlene Dunning was Karrie to everyone she knew. And she knew everyone. Karrie moved easily within and between so many subcultures that she must’ve been at least one degree hotter than Kevin Bacon.

When I met Karrie, I was new to Seattle and deeply involved in science fiction fandom. I only dimly understand sci-fi fandom today, but in the early 1980s there was a sharp division between people who watched the stuff and dressed up like the stuff vs. people who read the stuff and published fanzines that were at least sometimes about the stuff. I, being a snob, was of course firmly in the literary camp. Karrie recognized these divisions but saw past them. I never met a person who had anything negative to say about her.

Karrie was my girlfriend in 1981 and 1982. I left her for another girlfriend. I wanted to leave our relationship, but this wasnt the way to do it. The next girlfriend was a hair-raising mistake. Karrie took me back. (It didn’t last, but she did it.) Karrie had no room in her heart for hate. I was one more man who had wronged her, but she had little time for feeling wronged. She had too much to do. Prince, for example (“Ooh baby!”). Unfortunately, she never had that chance.

Even though Karrie predicted, late one spring, “It’s going to be a bean bag summer,” she packed more into her life than I will in my life even if I live two lives. She was born already knowing how to practice mindfulness, a concept I’m still stumbling over. I don’t believe there was an hour in the day that escaped her full attention, and I mean the full eight days a week. (Karrie was a lifelong Beatles fan. She and her sister saw them twice in Seattle and spent hours practicing their Scouse accents.)

Things I will always remember about Karrie:

Dancing with her at Norwescon to Manhattan Transfer’s “Twilight Zone.”

Putting on a satirical version of the con, Invisible Norwescon, complete with unhealthy snacks and a ridiculous slate of programming, in my hotel room.

Going to the 1982  rerelease of A Hard Day’s Night at the Cinerama in  downtown Seattle and staying to watch it three times.

Karrie visiting the hotel where I was playing in a chess tournament and providing the kind of motivation between rounds that sent me into the next game without a clue to which opening I had studied.

Karrie bravely volunteering to take my parents sight-seeing when they came to Seattle in 1987 for my wedding. My parents are not easy. After she dropped them off (at their hotel, not in Elliott Bay), she had to go home and soak in a hot bath.

This appreciation is difficult for me to write because Karrie and I have had no contact in more than 25 years. When Special D and I put on our first formal seder, Karrie and her boyfriend at the time, Frank, were two of our guests. But that was in 1989. We gradually moved into other orbits.

I always thought, someday, someday I’ll call her, but there are no more somedays. Karrie has died. I urge you to read her obituary, because the extent of her adventures has left me in awe. You will rarely read about a life like Karen Marlene Dunning’s. Rest in peace. Your friends were a big help to you at the end, but overall I’d say we got by with a little help from you.