Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

I Won The Moth!

This is just to announce that I won last night's Moth Storytelling Slam at The Bitter End. This means I get to compete in the next Grand Slam six months from now. I'm thrilled as hell, though admittedly it was a weak night (only six real competitors; they had to beg audience members to fill out the list to the usual ten storytellers), and it actually rates as one of the lower-scoring stories I've told---unfairly, to my mind, but it was that kind of scattered sort of evening. The important thing is, I got the t-shirt just in time, because I didn't have time to go home and do laundry. Today, for a change, I'm wearing white.

Later I'll be posting the story I told---a story about my dad which many of my students (hi, Angela!) may be familiar with. But right now I really have to catch a bus. Happy payday!


'Tis the Season Part II

I don't know what it is about this time of year (or, for that matter, this particular year), but my brother went to our 20th high school reunion in Tucson (which, for the second decade in a row, I failed to get an invitation to) and came away a little stunned. "Dave, it was amazing!" he told me later. "We all looked horrible!" He met a friend of ours we'd hung out with every day since junior high and neither of them recognized each other.

So a few days later I got an email from Kentaro Ogawa, a friend of mine from high school who---get this---didn't go to the reunion, but just saw the invite, thought of me, and decided to give me a Googling. Ken, who once tried to convince me to listen to heavy metal by hand-writing out the lyrics to Accept's "Balls to the Wall" in P.E. class, is now married and has multiple children. This is the first I've heard from him in twenty years.

Then it gets weird. The same day I heard from Ken, I also got an e-mail from Chris "Christian" Wulfsburg, who is still married to the same woman he got hitched to in college when we were all at the First Evangelical Free Church. Most of my friends were Inter Varsity parachurch folks, but Chris was the exception: one of the few Campus Crusade people who flitted back and forth between groups. We all thought he was crazy when he announced that he was marrying some woman he'd known only five months or so. But it seems to have worked, since he now has five children. FIVE. The orthodontia alone gives my credit rating sympathetic sweats. He lives in Texas and just thought, "Huh. I wonder what Dave's doing now." Google google google: voila!

He's no longer an evangelical, but---like Franky Schaeffer and Dostoevsky---turned Orthodox. (Actually Schaeffer's Eastern Orthodox and Chris is Russian Orthodox, but distance doesn't matter that much once you've all agreed to back the same twelfth-century antipope.)

Oh, and we haven't spoken or hung out since I left the E. Free church ... [mental math] ... thirteen years ago. What a wonderful surprise!

Then yesterday I heard from "Rebekah McGhee," who I know as "Rebekah, The Totally Hot Girl From Our Church Young Adult Group." She ran into a mutual friend of ours (Hi, Derek! How's the multiple kids?), my name came up, Google ... you know the rest. The cool thing is, she's in a band! Tucson's a great town to do that in.

Anyway, I just wanted to take this opportunity to say howdy to all these people who seem to be suddenly re-entering my life. Great to see y'all! And you came just in time, because I'm writing a book about evangelicalism and I want to make sure I characterize it with reasonable accuracy. So please be my consultants, okay? You'll be hearing from me as soon as I get the first fifty pages down solid.

In the meantime, if you're just catching up with me: in my opinion, clicking on the February posts tells you the whole blow-by-blow story of my move up here, while July, I think, represents the site at its best and most entertaining. (i.e., when I'm not too busy to update it because I'm dating and/or writing books.) So check it out! And howdy again, ya'll! I feel all at home again.


'Tis the Season Part I

Tonight after work I'm going to see the Annual Village Halloween Parade, which I'm kind of excited about. But it struck me just the other day that what I'm *really* excited about is actually living in New York for the holiday season, of which Halloween (if MovieTunes is anything to go by) is just a foretaste. This year, I'll actually be able to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in person! When they sing "City sidewalks, pretty sidewalks..." I'll be walking the very sidewalks I've always pictured! After years of watching Miracle on 34th Street, this year I actually work on 34th Street! And at least once, I intend to be one of those poor saps actually huddling outside waiting for the ball to drop inTimes Square on New Years Eve. (And you can tell I'm a New Yorker now because as soon as I imagined Times Square on New Years, I thought, "Where the hell do all those people go to the bathroom?" Because if they don't have a zillion port-a-potties, the line at Starbucks is gonna be around the block and three folks wide.)

Anyway, since I came here last February, I've been quite giddy with all the coolness, but it just struck me to day that, precisely because I came here in February, I haven't seen anything yet. The best is yet to come, as Frank Sinatra (whose birthplace is in New Jersey, right across the George Washington Bridge, which I can look at right now outside my window) said a few times. Or, to put it another way, "Woo-hoo!"


Monday, October 30, 2006

Book Update

Yesterday I was at Barnes and Noble (down the street from the $6-matinee theater) reading Andrew Greeley's new book, The Truth About Conservative Christians, which purports to blow away a lot of the myths about conservative Christians, but which sort of falls apart the instant they reveal their methodology, which is based on an unhelpful attitude survey. In short, they divide "Conservative Christians" among anyone who believes in 1. literal interpretation of the Bible, 2. acceptance of Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior, and 3. necessity of spreading the good news. This has a lot impact later when they're mushing up numbers and belies some of their conclusions. For example, did you know that white "Conservative Protestants" (i.e., evangelicals) are only 7% more likely to vote Republican than white mainstream Christians? Neither did I. And neither, I suspect, did the evangelicals in the study. Instead of drawing data from tables, the researchers should have just gone around to specific church parking lots and counted bumper stickers.

However, buried in the book (they minimized tables, which makes the book rather frustrating to read) are a few useful facts---such as the fact that self-identified "evangelical" or "non-denominational" Christians make up 25% of the U.S. population. And there is also this wonderful quote, in the chapter on sexual behavior:

Ninety-five percent of Conservative Protestant men have had only one sexual partner in the last year, compared to 96 percent of Mainline Protestant men. For women, 98 percent of both the Conservative Protestants and Mainline Protestants have had no more than one sexual partner in the last year. These numbers are often ridiculed by some social scientists who point out the random sexual couplings at professional association meetings as evidence to the contrary. One has to reply that most Americans are not social scientists and do not attend conventions (p. 133).


Holiday Sighting/Warning

I discovered that you can actually see $6 movies in Manhattan if you're willing to get up early on a weekend and slip in before noon to certain matinees. That's how I found myself, yesterday, going to see "Shut Up and Sing," a very good new documentary about the Dixie Chicks and the fallout after Natalie Maines criticized Bush onstage just before the Iraq war. Mini-review: It's not as good as the filmmaker's earlier "Harlan County U.S.A." and "American Dream," but since "Harlan County U.S.A." is the best, most staggeringly honest political documentary I've ever seen, that's a tough bar to beat. But it's absolutely recommended---I'd even say essential---if you've ever been a fan of the Chicks, since I walked out of the movie wanting to buy three of their albums just for the hell of it.

Anyway, I mention this because, thanks to the time change last night, the movie theater wasruning an hour late and I got to sit in the theater listening to MovieTunes. And everything was fine---or rather, it was MovieTunes, so it was sucky but mostly ignorable---until the voice announced, "And now here's [some Irish performer or other] singing an arrangement of 'Ding Dong Merrily on High' in time for the holiday season." And sure enough, I heard my first Christmas carol of 2006.

But it got worse: two songs later---and I wish I could express how much this depressed me---they played Mannheim Steamroller. "Deck the [Fucking] Halls." Unbelievable.

Oh--and at one point, between songs, the announcer said, "MovieTunes is now heard by over 3 billion people worldwide. Thanks for listening!" And I wanted to yell back, "Since when did we have a choice, you giant-voiced monster?"

P.S. By the way, one of the reasons I wanted to see "Shut Up and Sing" is that NBC won't show ads for the film. First they're censored by country radio, and now by one of the big three networks. Now that the President has 36% approval, it's really time to give them a goddamn break.


A Comic Book Story I'd Pay To See

In this origin story, our hero---through some adventure or other; maybe he crashes his car into Stonehenge---is summoned by ancient gods to be given great power and help out our world. But first he must choose an object to base his power on. Will it be a sword or a book?

Our hero chooses the book---and it turns out to be a switchblade book! Very cool. (Alternate ending: it's a hollowed-out book with a gun inside.)

(P.S. Yes, this is based on an early-morning remembrance of the story of Captain Britain. I can't believe I still remember stuff like this.)


Friday, October 27, 2006

I Am A Scrabble Godling!

This screen, from an online Scrabble game, represents what I think is the highest score I've ever managed, in or out of a tournament. 578 points! FIVE bingoes! This is just shortly after I crossed another threshold, getting an online rating of 1300, which I think is just about as high as I can go without memorizing The Top 500 Bingoes and the four- and five-letter words.

Of course, it's hard to get a really high score without facing a player who was having a bad game or using weak strategy. I don't know what the deal was, but I was playing a player named Neldajo, and the game went like this:

Neldajo: change 5
Me: JAPER (44)
Neldajo: GOT (17)
Me: OUTLIVE (67) [bingo]
Neldajo: YE (26)
Me: FROZEN (41)
Neldajo: WE (24)
Me: change 6 (I had UOIIIB)
Neldajo: NEAT (19)
Me: ADO (23)
Neldajo: OWE (25)
Me: jAILBIRD (90) [bingo]
Neldajo: SQUAB (49)
Me: MINX (21)
Neldajo: PUG (12)
Me: BLUE (18)
Neldajo: GRAVE (10)
Me: SITUATE (63) [bingo]
Neldajo: FRAY (42)
Me: COOF (9)
Neldajo: EN (2)
Me: INCHOATE (89) [bingo]
Neldajo: ZIP (14)
Me: DEIL (21)
Neldajo: HM (28)
Me: ALKALIDE (80) [bingo]

Part of me thinks I may just have scored more than that at an early tournament (the numbers 581 and 612 keep floating around in my head), but I'm not in the National Scrabble Association anymore, so I don't have access to the tournament files. Sigh. It was the New Orleans tournament, probably four or five years ago. Anyone know where I might find those records?

In other Scrabble news, read this really fun report on the highest-scoring Scrabble game ever.

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Tic Tac Toe for Grown-Ups

I've never actually written this down, so far as I recall, so I thought I should share a game I invented that can't possibly turn to my financial advantage, and may amuse some of my friends who sometimes find themselves stranded in airports. I call it...

TACTIC-TOE (by David Dickerson)

The gimmick---stolen from Diplomacy---is that you plan your moves three at a time, in advance, and then reveal them simultaneously. But it requires a little tweaking, so here are the details.

You get two players and a couple of blank tic-tac-toe grids (for however many times you want to play). But you also have a master grid---for handy reference---that's numbered from the upper left ("1") to the lower right ("9") so that each sector has a number. ("5" is the center square.) Each person also has a private scrap of paper on which to write their plan.

THE PLAN: Each player then secretly writes down three numbers in a row. Let's say Player A chooses 2, 3, and 7, and Player B writes 2, 7, 1. This means that A wants an X in space 2, then 3, and then 7, and B wants an O in 2, then 7, then 1.

THE RESOLUTION: Players reveal their three moves, and they are resolved in simultaneous consecutive pairs. Whenever there's a conflict, the person who was in a square first stays there, and the later move is invalid. If two people choose the same square simultaneously, neither symbol goes in it; they both "bounce out."

So in our example above, in move 1, both A and B have chosen sector 2. So nothing gets written in, and we go to the next move.

In move 2, A chooses 3 and B chooses 7. There's no conflict, so 3 takes an X and 7 takes an O.

In move 3, A chooses 7 and B chooses 1. But 7 is already taken, so A's X is not entered. But B is unoccupied, and so B gets an O in position 1.


To provide slightly more interesting play, the game is played in three rounds, and each round follows different rules:

Round 1: You can't write the same number twice, you can't choose 5 (the center square) and you can't choose any three-in-a-row win. Round 1 is all about setting yourself up.

Round 2: You may now choose 5, but you can't choose any number you chose in Round 1.

Round 3: Anything goes---go anywhere, repeat as much as you like. If the center square is still unoccupied, you can write "5, 5, 5" and take it no matter what. (Unless, of course, your opponent writes 5, 5, 5 as well.)

You only play a Round 3 if there isn't already a winner in Round 2. (Duh.) But you also don't play past Round 3. If there's no winner by then, you simply call it a cats game and move on. Note, however, that it's also possible to get a tie game, which is not quite the same thing as a stalemate. Do a shot or something.

I'm happy to field questions on the game, though I imagine it speaks for itself. One thing you'll find is that you still wind up with a lot of tie games. But still---I'm proud of the fact that I developed a form of tic-tac-toe that an adult human being can actually win. Try it today!


Friday, October 20, 2006

Why I Blog Religiously

Someone writing anonymously on my Tony Campolo post said the following, and I think it deserves a response, because it's a wonderful question:

Dave this is what always goes through my mind when you write about Christianity (of course I always find the writings insightful, funny, and thought-provoking)....

No doubt that the fundamentalist wackos are pretty out there. And I think you had a pretty severe experience yourself. But what does that have to do with the legitimacy or truth of Christiniaty?

You certainly don't judge Islam by the fundamentalists; do you think you do this when it comes to Christianity?

In fact, I don't think I judge Christianity at all unfairly, precisely because I don't think I've ever said a single unkind thing about Methodists or Lutherans. The reasons I continually critique evangelical Christians include the following:

1.) For all practical purposes, they believe they're the only true Christians. (That is, they may sit down with Catholics and Episcopalians, but they'll only be comfortable with them as long as they're conservative, literalist, and so on. Put another way, evangelical Christians are mostly interested in worshiping with other faiths to the extent that the other faiths feel evangelical.) A Lutheran will tell you, "There are all kinds of approaches to Christianity, but Lutheranism is the tradition that I personally respond to, and that's why I'm a Lutheran." An evangelical Christian will believe, to at least some extent, "I'm an evangelical because mainstream churches are liberal hotbeds of heresy and they don't take the Bible as literally as everyone should. We're right and they're wrong. It's not really a question of choice."

2.) Evangelicals have succeeded---at least in America---in taking over the brand name of "Christian", and this not accidentally. An evangelical Christian bookstore is called a "Christian bookstore." Evangelical Christian music is called "Christian music." And---most damningly, I think---an evangelical church is often called a "nondenominational church." Evangelicalism, as a sectarian movement within mainstream Christianity, is effectively invisible, both to evangelicals themselves and to the public at large. For the most part, evangelical Christian and"Christian" (or at least "conservative Christian") are basically synonymous.

3.) As the largest, fastest-growing, and most vibrant expression of Christianity in the world, it unleashes a lot of power and a lot of very good intentions. This makes it the most relevant form of Christianity today, and therefore worth looking at more carefully. (Or, in my case, critiquing to remove its tendency to destroy its own adherents with those same good intentions.)

And actually, while I don't critique Islam for its radicals (i.e., I don't think that Muslims are all violent extremists who want to blow us up), I do criticize mainstream Islam for the same irritating tendencies I find in evangelical Christianity: they treat women like second-class citizens in the name of purity, they deny evolution, they basically worship a book (and believe a lot of bizarre untrue things about it) and they haven't found a single truly decent way to treat homosexuals. Mormons? Same thing.

My limited reading has suggested that, while the "liberal" wing of evangelical Christianity is possibly growing (and all the liberal-evangelical books say so!), this "liberalization" will be expressed not as an embrace of liberal identity politics (i.e., you're never going to see an evangelical church comfortable with gays), but as a shedding of its dispensationalist framework---less fear of the U.N., more embracing of poverty relief, etc. Tony Campolo's book, which I read last night, has some pretty interesting points about this that I hope to blog on soon.

But the upshot is that there really isn't a liberal evangelical movement---not a szable one to speak of, the way you could oppose Democrats and Republicans---and I don't see how there can be. The same urge that makes you read the Bible literally---no matter what the other experts say about, say, stem cell research---is the same urge that tends to make you vote conservatively and (I'll get to this later, too) be extremely cautious about sex. So while there may be a "liberal" version of evangelicalism, it's like the "liberal" movements in Islam (try to find a pro-gay Muslim theologian sometime) and Mormonism: for all practical purposes, though I admire the liberal wing for trying, they have no power over the mainstream and don't reflect the religion as most people practice it. (Shorter version: anyone who thinks, "Gee! Brian McLaren seems like a really nice guy! Maybe I'll give evangelicalism a try!" is bound to be consistently disappointed with all of their local churches.) I hope that makes sense.

P.S. I guess I do "critique [mainstream] Christianity" in the sense that I don't believe any of it is backed up by history. But I don't demand that people believe what I believe about their religious books. I do, however, want very much for fundamentalists to stop hurting themselves and others in the name of books they don't understand as much as they think they do. And while we're dreaming, I'd like to make evangelical beliefs safe for a modern democracy, so I don't wake up one morning and find they've turned the whole nation into a dry county for no sensible reason. But that's another post.

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Barack Star

Barack Obama came to New York's Barnes and Noble (The one at Union Square) yesterday at noon, and I took an extra-long lunch to see him. I figured it would be a mob scene. I was right.

I went up on the fourth floor and got a wristband that allowed me to stand behind the seating area, but I was told that if I wanted him to sign a book, I would have had to stand in line over by the Art section on the far right, which meant not seeing him. So I said, "Hell, I'm not buying a hardback book anyway on puzzle-editor money" and I stood in the middle of the room---which turned out to be a little walled-off area for the press. So at the main event, they were all standing in the way. Ah well.

Here's what the crowd looked like at eleven, an hour before he showed:

Notice in that third picture that there's an empty poster stand. That's because, while we were waiting around, a guy just walked up, brazen as you please, took the "Barack Obama Will Be Signing Books Today At Noon" poster out of the display, rolled it up, and put it in his backpack. If someone had wanted to sell locks of Barack's hair, I think they could have cleaned up. Senator Obama is a guy who should have no trouble raising money for a campaign.

Anyway, we were standing around and there was a little grumbling about the crowd, the long wait, the difficulty seeing, etc. But then, come around noonish, and while the Barnes and Noble staff were announcing, for the fourth or fifth time, the policy ("He'll speak for only five minutes so he can sign everyone's book. He will only sign copies of his books. He will not sign anything else. He will not personalize signings. He will not pose for pictures..."), the woman behind the podium was interrupted by a burst of applause from several floors below. (I was next to the elevators.) It was like an avalanche---the cheers just kept getting louder and louder, and then---bam! There he was, striding to the front, waving and smiling.

(I snapped a picture, but it turned out blurry and lousy. The upshot: He's shorter than I expected, and looks really young for a man of 49.)

And he got on stage and had a standing ovation before he'd said a damn thing.

Then he began to speak, and even though he spoke only for about seven minutes, he got interrupted three times with applause. (I wrote one line I suspect we'll hear again: "We need to look at how we got where we are, and find out why our politics isn't as decent as the American people.")

I have never seen anything like it outside a rock concert. If this guy doesn't run in 2008, I'll eat my hat. I can't imagine aomeone going to event after event after event like this and not getting the idea that maybe people would vote for you. (Although this could be a skewed sample. At the Al Franken reading, someone yelled out, "Run for Senate!" and everyone cheered, and Al laughed and said, "Great. The Upper West Side of New York wants me to run in Minnesota. I'll remember that.")

He's making the circuit to promote his new book about what policies might improve America. (A book ... about policy? Before an election? Hmmmm....) Look for him in your town. But get there really early.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Campolo and the Prostitute

I've been trying to understand the liberal wing of evangelical Christianity---its penetration, its strength, where in the list of conservative evangelicals it draws its agreements and distinctions. And so I've been reading a good deal of Brian McLaren (whose best book is probably A Generous Orthodoxy) and the most recent book by Tony Campolo, Speaking My Mind. The two came together a few nights ago when I was reading McLaren's new book, The Secret Message of Jesus (which is a fine, cheerfully written book, but isn't exactly news to Bible scholars who've spent the last several decades writing articles like "The 'Messianic Secret' Motif in Mark.")

Anyway, I found this story about Tony Campolo in Brian McLaren's book, and it's so cool I simply had to share. You can find a zillion versions of this online if you Google the right words, but I think McLaren's retelling is the least glurgey.

From The Secret Message of Jesus, by Brian D. McLaren (and the original version of the story is in Campolo's book, The Kingdom of God is a Party):

My friend Tony Campolo tells a true story that also serves as a great parable in this regard. He was in another time zone [from other accounts, it was Honolulu] and couldn't sleep, so well after midnight he wandered down to a doughnut shop where, it turned out, local hookers also came at the end of a night of turning tricks. There, he overheard a con­versation between two of them. One, named Agnes, said, "You know what? Tomorrow's my birthday. I'm gonna be thirty-nine." Her friend snapped back, "So what d'ya want from me? A birth­day party? Huh? You want me to get a cake and sing happy birthday to you?" The first woman replied, "Aw, come on, why do you have to be so mean? Why do you have to put me down? I'm just sayin' it's my birthday. I don't want anything from you. I mean, why should I have a birthday party? I've never had a birth­day party in my whole life. Why should I have one now?"

When they left, Tony got an idea. He asked the shop owner if Agnes came in every night, and when he replied in the affir­mative, Tony invited him into a surprise party conspiracy. The shop owner's wife even got involved. Together they arranged for a cake, candles, and typical party decorations for Agnes, who was, to Tony, a complete stranger. The next night when she came in, they shouted, "Surprise!"-and Agnes couldn't believe her eyes. The doughnut shop patrons sang, and she began to cry so hard she could barely blow out the candles. When the time came to cut the cake, she asked if they'd mind if she didn't cut it, if she could bring it home-just to keep it for a while and savor the moment. So she left, carrying her cake like a treasure.

Tony led the guests in a prayer for Agnes, after which the shop owner told Tony he didn't realize Tony was a preacher. He asked what kind of church Tony came from, and Tony replied, "I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning.” The shop owner couldn't believe him. "No you don't. There ain't no church like that. If there was, I'd join it. Yep, I'd join a church like that."


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Flame And Variations

In the puzzle biz, you run across a lot of quotes. Not only in anacrostics and cryptograms (though those are big), but in little things like Letter Drops (I think Penny Press calls them Quote Falls) and mini-anacrostics (Dell calls them Figgerits) and suchlike. As a result, a lot of quotes, proposed as solutions to puzzles, pass my gaze. Most of them are merely competent and/or indifferent variations on Readers Digest themes like "To get success you must strive," "Don't talk so much," and "Pessimists are bad." It's a rare one indeed that arrests the attention.

The other day, however, I chanced to notice one that has been bugging me ever since. I hereby award it the Bourbon Cowboy Prize For Understatement in a Quotation. Here it is:

"It is bad advice to settle with a flamethrower what could be accomplished with words."

Well, yes. Ever since then my mind has been fermenting and coming up with variations on the quote that might make a little more sense and actually be worth solving. Such as these:

"It is bad advice to settle with a flamethrower what could be accomplished with words, and whoever gives you this advice should never be offered a cigarette."

"It is bad advice to settle with a flamethrower what could be accomplished with a single clean shot to the head."

"It is wrong to settle with a flamethrower what could be accomplished with words. But it's way more fun."

"It is bad advice to settle with a flamethrower what could be accomplished with words. But if you're ever tempted to, tell me ... where did you get the flamethrower?"

And so on.


Book Stuff

This is just to announce that---although it's hard to tell with rough drafts---I have looked at the beast and I hereby declare that the rough draft of By Dick!: A Novel About the Well-Intentioned Voyages of St. Brendan is now complete (and about 300 pages long). Which is why I haven't been posting much and why posting is likely to be light for a while, as I get the book up to agenting snuff.

But when I'm done with that book, I'd like to start on a nonfiction book that's been in the making forever, called How to Love God and Be Brave. (I was originally going to call it How to Love God and Not Be a Jerk, but I think the new title is more accurate and more sellable.) However---and I've mentioned this before---I also find that when I don't have a specific topic, I tend to circle back and repeat myself.

The book itself would ideally be a diagnosis of the ways in which well-intentioned religious people adhere to beliefs that are more or less predestined to bring out unpleasant behaviors---arrogance, sexism, know-nothingism, etc. And to propose ways of rethinking evangelical theology to avoid the worst tendencies of the faith. Not that I would then follow such a faith, but it's a way of at least making evangelical Christianity safe for an adult multicultural democracy.

Anyway, I'm proposing to divide the book into different sections, identifying things I'm trying to save. So far I have the following:

Saving the Bible (how to read prophecy without being naive; how to read scriptural contradictions without making absurd apologies for them; how to understand the way other traditions understand Bible texts, etc.)

Saving the Mind (how to be an evangelical and not freak out about evolution, homosexuality, etc. This could be a very long section!)

Saving the Soul (how to strike a balance between being open and accepting and being thoroughly naive; how to find meaningful worship without necessarily requiring hell or conversion from the outside)

Saving the Heart (how to be evangelical and have a reasonably healthy attitude toward sex)

Saving Atheism (or How to Be an Atheist and Not be a Jerk).

Note that I don't claim to know the answers to all of these questions (particularly that last one), but it's my hope that if I have an actual goal in mind, my writings on these topics will have better shape and come together more nicely.

So I'm asking: if any of you have any suggestions, or specific questions you'd be curious to see addressed, please let me know. (And for those friends of mine who just want to know about who I was and how I changed, I imagine the whole book will be about 35% autobiographical as well.) And with that, it's time for work.


R.I.P., Humbert Z.

It's no secret that, back in college, I was heavily into role-playing games. What may not be generally known is that I didn't like Dungeons and Dragons---I much preferred a superhero game called Champions. This brings me to a very silly story that I don't think I've told before. It'll only take a few sentences.

One night, in one of our player's dorm rooms, one of our wackier members had just made a new hero and when I asked, "What's his secret identity?" he turned to a Tucson phone book, opened it at random, jabbed his index finger down and read, "Julian Mason."

We were all very impressed, and so we all decided to rename our heroes for the hell of it. The next guy who tried it flipped further to the end, stabbed his finger, and declared, "Alex Strong." We couldn't believe it, but there it was. He'd found a keeper almost completely at random. (I assume "almost" because the next name was "Alexandra," so I suppose he may have shifted a little.)

So then--as if his life were a setup to an actual joke--a third friend of ours (who played a Captain America-type patriotic hero named Captain Steele) flipped even FURTHER to the back, dropped his finger, and read, "Uh, Humbert Zumudio."

After that, no one wanted to risk it. But since then, the name "Humbert Zumudio" has been my default name anytime I'm called upon to make up a silly persona for some reason. And I tracked Humbert over the next few phone books---he lived in Green Valley, which meant he was probably a retiree---and he vanished, presumably forever, in 1989.

I mention this now because a friend of mine proffered this name-meme, and according to the site's wordlist, no one named Humbert Zumudio exists anywhere in the U.S.!

Not true! A small group of role-playing geeks does remember you, Humbert. Don't let the onomastics Nazis get you down.


Thursday, October 12, 2006

Bar Napkin Cartoon 10

Stapler and tape dispenser added as staighteners because the napkin got crumpled. This cartoon brought to you by Swingline (tm).


More on Black Nerds

Geez! In all the excitement I completely forgot why I brought this up in the first place. For those of you who don't keep track of every post on every issue, the original "black nerd" post---where I came up with it as a potential crossword theme, and then said, "Dang! No one will ever publish such a crossword, even if you constructed it"---got a recent comment added to it that I hereby share.

"My name is Ben Tausig, editor of the new Onion crossword puzzle premiering this week! You can get it on newsstands, or through my weekly crossword puzzle listserv:

The themes will be precisely along these sorts of lines."

The first puzzle was written by my friend Francis "Snakes on a Sudoku" Heaney. The second came out yesterday. (It's only in the print version, alas.) So if you're in New York or environs, check it out. Francis's included the clue "Boo-yah!" Very nice.

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Black Nerds: A More or Less Complete List

I was watching "30 Rock" last night (great show---and yet another sitcom that suggests we may be seeing the death knell of the laugh track, thank God!) and an uptight black person---one of the writers---complains that they lack a "samovar of coffee." And one of the other characters says, "Are there other black nerds, or is it just you and Urkel?"

As you know, I posted about this issue a few months back, and I was thrilled to be able to add this character (Toofer, played by Keith Powell) to my list. (Side note: I met a woman in Kansas City who told me she met Colin Powell at a show that Colin Powell's daughter was performing in. How many black Powell actors are there?) Here is the official accounting, thanks to friends like T. McAy, Toonhead!, Maelstrom, and other folks I'm probably missing. I suck at tables and fancy graphics, so this is going to be a little primitive:


Steve Urkel
"Family Matters"
Genre: TV sitcom
Actor: Jaleel White

Carlton Banks
"The Fresh Prince of Bel Air"
Genre: TV sitcom
Actor: Alfonso Ribiero

Geordi LaForge
"Star Trek: The Next Generation"
Genre: TV sci-fi drama
Actor: LeVar Burton

Star Trek: Voyager
Genre: TV sci-fi drama
Actor: Tim Russ

"30 Rock"
Genre: TV sitcom
Actor: Keith Powell

Burton “Gus” Guster
Genre: TV comedy/drama
Actor: Dule Hill

Genre: comic strip

Oliver Wendell Jones
"Bloom County"
Genre: comic strip

Lamar Lattrell
Revenge of the Nerds
Genre: film
Actor: Larry B. Scott

Jiff Ramsey
Genre: film
Actor: Eddie Murphy

Raj Thomas
"What’s Happenin!"
Genre: TV sitcom
Actor: Ernest Thomas

"The New Archies" (1987)
Genre: animated cartoon
Voice Actor: Colin Waterman

Stevie Kenarban
"Malcolm in the Middle"
Genre: TV sitcom
Actor: Craig Lamar Traylor

Tony Sinclair
Genre: Tanqueray commercials
Actor: Rodney Mason

I know I'm missing some people: There have been black nerds in every major African-American sitcom I can think of, and I remember at least one minor character in the movie House Party who wanted embarrassed himself by wanting to watch Breakin' 2. But bear in mind that I'm interested mostly in fictional representations of black nerds, so this leaves out real-life black nerds like Condoleezza Rice, Bryant Gumbel, Wayne Brady, or Darryl Dickson-Carr (haven't heard of him? He's the best professor I've ever had and he just wrote an award-winning book, so I'm just writing his name down now so I don't have to update later).

And may I point out that, so far in my research, I have not found, on IMDB, the name of a single person who voiced Franklin in any of the Charlie Brown TV specials. “The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show” (1983) even had regular appearances from Rerun Van Pelt! But not Franklin. Empty your inhalers on the ground in memory of our unseen fellow homey.

NOTE: An earlier version of this post shamefully neglected to include Carlton on "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air." Bourbon Cowboy regrets the error.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Make *What?*

While I'm posting things some of you may have seen before, here's a piece of paper I've been carrying around since I found it two years ago on the lawn near one of the heavily Greek sections of Florida State University. It's getting kind of old and faded, so I figured I'd better post it to preserve it for eternity. I can't seem to search my own site, so I don't know if I've posted it before. If I have, sorry. If this is your first time, enjoy the bafflement.

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Let Me Get This Straight...

North Korea tests, or appears to test, what may have been a nuclear weapon, and McCain and Condi Rice are blaming Clinton? Jesus fucking Christ, the man is brilliant! Hasn't been in power for six years, and yet Bush seems helpless--helpless!--to do anything to change the policy or to even talk to Pyongyang even one single time. Because for Bush, diplomacy is weakness. (Or maybe is just "Diplomacy is too hard.")

I've found the best roundups on the situation---the North Korea disaster, and the weird Republican push to blame it on something besides our current policy---here and here.


What I Would Have Said Last Night

(Pause to exult over resumed internet access...)

Did the Moth Storytelling Slam last night and was only one of the three that didn't get picked. So there's nothing to say there, except that Andy Christie won again, and it became clear that if I'm ever going to win one of these things, I either have to lead a much more interesting life, or wait until a night where at least five people I can think of all come down with laryngitis. And, of course, a night where there are only ten names in the hat, so everyone gets called.

Anyway, for once I thought I'd share the story that I would have told, because I happen to have it written down as the introduction to a book I'm working on, called (tentatively) How To Love God and Not Be a Jerk. The theme was "Deception." See if you can figure out where I would have thrown in a reference to that.

It's a story I've told often, so I apologize if any of you have heard it.


I can pinpoint exactly when my theology changed and I lost my certainty about traditional evangelical Christianity. It was in 1991, when I sat through a Sunday school lesson taught by a man named Richard Ruiz. Sunday school lessons aren't supposed to matter. This one changed the way I see everything.

The warning signs of radicalism were there ahead of time. For one thing, Richard Ruiz was the only avowed Democrat in the sizeable Evangelical Free Church I went to. Normally, a man like this shouldn't have even been in our church at all. It says volumes about what a wonderful man he was (and is) that he was not only a member of our church, but he'd been elected to the elder board. This is why I think he was brought in to speak--if he'd been a Democrat from the outside, he would have been eyed very suspiciously before he was allowed to teach. But Richard was an elder, so they must have figured he was safe. Anyway, on the day that I'm describing, someone cancelled at the last minute, and Richard was called in to supply our college-and-young-singles group with the Sunday School lesson. It was a simple lesson, and I'm sure he didn't intend it to lead me where it did.

"Today we're going to talk about Adam and Eve," he said, "and how God's law is different from man's law." Simple enough. Like most Sunday school lessons, this sounded like it didn't even need to be taught. We already knew that man's law was bad and crushing, and God's law was good and worth following. We had our Bibles open to Genesis before he had even finished his introduction.

"Now, you know the story. God creates Abraham, and then tells him about the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. What does God say?"

Someone raised a hand. "Don't eat the fruit."

"Right." And then Mr. Ruiz said, "Now what does that mean?"

We were quiet. Wasn't it obvious? Richard didn't think so.

"What if he licks the fruit? Has he eaten it then? What if he bites into it, but then spits out the pieces? What if he swallows, but regurgitates it? What if he squeezes it into a glass and just drinks the juice?"

Some people laughed, and so did Richard, but he said, "It sounds silly, but I'm serious. I just want you to notice that there's an obvious point at which God's law has been broken--when Adam chews and swallows an entire fruit--but there's also a wide range of activities that God did not specifically define. There's a big gray area where God trusted Adam to act within his conscience.

"So now Eve gets created. And Adam passes on God's law. What does he tell her?"

"Don't eat the fruit," someone said.

"No! Look at the verse. It's down in chapter 3, where Eve's telling the snake the way she heard the rule: 'You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die.' When Adam passed the word along, the rule changed from 'Don't eat the fruit' to 'Don't touch the fruit.' Do you see what's happened?"

"It's the same thing," someone said. "If you're eating the fruit, you're touching it."

"No. The difference is that touching is a discrete action. You can tell by looking whether or not someone is breaking the law. It's extremely easy to judge, and there's no gray area involved. Did she brush her arm against it? She touched the fruit. Did she trip and bump her head on it? She touched the fruit. When Adam passed the law on to Eve, he made his job a lot easier, by defining the sin in a way that minimized the number of interpretations he had to work through.

"But in the process, he also did something else. He told a lie and he misrepresented God. Immediately after she talks to the serpent, Eve takes the fruit to Adam. They eat, and then the scripture says, 'immediately their eyes were opened,' and the Fall occured. If touching the fruit was a sin, the Fall would have happened before she even made it back to Adam. The sin was eating the fruit. Touching it never mattered, even though Eve had been told it did, and if she had accidentally touched the fruit, she would have felt condemned for no reason.

"And I submit to you that that is what human beings do all the time when they're given God's law. They turn around and make it harsher in order to make it easier to understand and follow. So whenever we're faced with a rule, we have to be sure to go back and ask, 'Is this what God originally intended, or has mankind been tampering with it?' Otherwise we'll wind up wasting time on issues that don't matter."

He went on to make other points, which I assume were about legalism, a popular topic in my church. Was dancing okay? Were R-rated movies seeable? No doubt he was going to distinguish between the real issues (love your neighbor, don't have premarital sex, etc.) and these non-issues that mere humans construct. But I honestly don't remember anything else about that lesson. My own mind started playing with the implications. Could Richard be right? Was it possible that God is always giving his commandments with gray areas built in, and we're always trying to eliminate them?

Then I thought, "That's ridiculous! We all know that God has definite rules and he wants us to follow them. What else is religion if it's not a moral guide?"

And then I thought about Jesus, and I felt something like scales fall from my eyes. I suddenly remembered all the times that Jesus was asked a simple moral question by the Pharisees ("Who is my neighbor?" "What should we do with this adulterous woman?", "Should we pay taxes or not?") and he didn't provide the simple answer they were looking for. Instead, his responses wound up questioning the questioners and asking them to judge for themselves. Pieces fell into place. Wow! I thought. What if Jesus really was interested less in handing out rules and more interested in developing people's consciences? Suddenly I could understand why he had mercy on prostitutes and traitors, but hated the Pharisees with such great passion. After all, the Pharisees had rules for everything, from whether to heal on the sabbath, how much to tithe, which offering to deliver when. If you were a Pharisee, you could go your whole life and know exactly how to act in every situation and know God's stance on everything and...

...And then I looked around the room at my fellow evangelical Christians and almost gasped. My god, I thought. I am in the church of the Pharisees!

Suddenly it all made sense. Everything we did was for some biblical reason. Everything question we had was certain to have a biblical answer. I had always been a little bothered by the fact that we had a tendency to deliver divine pronouncements on modern moral issues (such as genetic engineering) by appealing to verses in the Bible that were clearly not intended to answer these questions. Now I knew why: the Bible was being pressed into service to provide a solution. But maybe that wasn't God's agenda! Maybe God was more interested in the process of facing the problem. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like God might actually be interested in challenging us with moral questions, and it seemed like my church was bound and determined to assassinate every question before it could cause problems and doubts. It was a few more months before I left evangelicalism entirely, but after that day, I started looking for the exits.

[Note: this is, of course, an extremely truncated version of what actually happened, suitable for a five minute storytelling competition. In actual fact, the next thing I felt was, "Wow! The world is actually exciting and adventurous!" I didn't even know why I felt this, and I'd certainly never registered that my spiritual life was in any way trammeled before. But at that very moment, adventure entered my life. Alas, further expansion of this point deserves either another post or (fingers crossed) the completed book.]

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Monday, October 09, 2006

Beau Sup

Detritus, 115th Street and 5th Avenue. Notice that, although it's half of a sign, it still spells two legitimate words. Yay serendipity!


Monday Monday

STILL no goddamn Internet at home, which means if I want to post something I either do it at work after hours or I do it from my girl Rose's place---and Rose has her own problems with Time-Warner; she's waiting for them to come fix her flawed cable, which has her Inernet operating at a sub-dialup crawl. It can take ten minutes to load gmail.

So THAT's why the posts have been so light. And I have to get going. But it was a good weekend. I saw Mike Daisey's new show, TRUTH, at the Ars Nova Theater, and it was very good and most inspiring. (I want to do a show now about my years at Hallmark. Wouldn't that be a great topic? I'd call it Greeting Card Whore.) I finished one of the annoying unfinished chapters of my novel ("The Floating Hermit and Possibly Judas") and wrote ten pages of another ("The Ship of Fools: A Drama In Two-Thirds of an Act"). And once I finish THAT today, the only thing left between me and a rough draft is the two chapters at the very end. I'm quite giddy with anticipation.

I was just telling Rose the other day that I can't remember the last time I was this happy. Except, of course, for the fact that I don't have much money. And the Internet's not working. But still--if you can read this, I'm probably smiling right now.


I Don't Mean To Brag, But ...

After picking away slowly at Bejeweled 2 Deluxe, that perfect waster of time, I finally found myself at the following screen. Only took three years. I had to commemorate it. Apparently, the universe ends somewhere in Death Valley.

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MLK Mural

Public art, 116th and Frederick Douglass Boulevard.


Friday, October 06, 2006

The Copper Lady

Statue of Liberty. Duh. Taken on a "booze cruise" of the harbor with my coworkers. Nothing like that episode of "The Office," in case you were wondering.

I may have posted this before, but I figured, what the hell. It's still one of the most moving sights I've seen in New York, and I get choked up pretty much every time.


Building That Apparently Doubles as a Clock

An old photo from the Haystack, so it's down in that area. Alas, I no longer remember the street.

By the way, I still have no Internet at home, and I have a Mac I borrow here at work, which is new to me. Do you know how to save a picture on a Mac? 1. Click on the picture; 2. Drag it to your desktop. It's so damn easy that it's taken me months to figure it out. Now I *finally* have access to several pictures I haven't been able to post for the last several days. Expect many.


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Ultraquick Dave Quiz

I just passed a bookstore window carrying a fantasy book titled Bloodspell. The title struck me as such an agonizing cliche that I came up with the following question:

If you take any two of the words BLADE, BLOOD, SPELL, and STORM, and turn them into a book title---either as one word or two, and in any order---which do you suppose would be the most popular? And which two words, as search terms, do you suppose would return the largest number of hits on, say,

I know the answers. I'm just asking y'all to guess.

P.S. The answer to the Al Franken puzzle was LIBERALS and BALLSIER.

What The Hell An Irish Marathon Apparently Is

Was looking over some really old crosswords today and discovered the entry IRISH MARATHON. The clue was "Relay race." And I thought, "Uh-oh. That sounds like it might be an ethnic slur." Sort of like giving the name DUTCH TREAT to a set-up where no one is actually treated, or WELSH RABBIT to a dish that contains no rabbit. Or, for that matter, DUTCH COURAGE, MEXICAN STANDOFF, CHINESE FIRE DRILL, INDIAN GIVER, or any number of other terms that are jokes on nationalities, and which we really want to avoid if we don't want people sending angry offended letters. Surely the reference to "Irish marathon" is a way of saying, "The Irish are so lazy or stupid that they need four people to finish a single race."

Of course, it could also be a legitimate cultural entity, like Australian football or German chocolate cake. Or even "Shaker gun," which is a dummy gun that makes fun of the fact that Shakers are pacifists, but in such a way that I doubt the Shakers mind. So I looked into it. And I couldn't find another damn reference anywhere. Wikipedia had nothing. My vast NI2 dictionary had no such entry. And even Googling "Irish marathon" left me with no actual information. You get references to "Irish marathons" (which are inevitably marathons held around St. Patrick's Day), and even a reference to THE Irish Marathon (it's in Belfast). But no information on how it's held, what the procedure is, and if there's any relaying involved. And certainly nothing to suggest that an "Irish marathon" was anything specific or peculiar to Ireland. So at this point, I was not only afraid that the term was offensive; I wasn't even sure it was a real thing.

So I asked a colleague, who turned to a single volume on his shelf---some ancient thing called "A Dictionary of American Slang", and found it instantly under "slang terms for racing events." Clearly, according to at least one compiler, Irish marathon = relay race. But there was no indication about whether or not it was considered offensive. And, since the book was not only old, but contained the entry "midnight express---A Negro runner", also with no note about offensiveness, I was left not knowing what to think.

I eventually went with, "No one seems to know this phrase at all, so who the hell cares if it's mildly offensive," and let it stand. That's the professional angle. But personally, I'm still really curious. Does anyone have any references that might help me out here?

P.S. This post has also inspired me to try to invent a few new slur phrases that haven't been invented yet---preferably to insult groups that don't normally get insulted. So far, mostly I've come up with terms that actually offend me. But I do like the phrase "Hit the Italian brakes!" for blowing one's car horn. If it doesn't already exist, I hereby claim patent.

P.P.S. Come to think of it, after reflecting on it further, I'm inclined to think that AMERICAN CHEESE is a slur as well. Excuse me while I write an aggrieved e-mail.


Post Birthday Post

I hope someday to get back to the freewheeling, multiple-posts-a-day, one-topic-per-post style of a few months back, but every so often I develop an actual social life---and last night was particularly busy, what with it being my birthday and all. So while I've got a few minutes still at lunch I want to thank everyone who showed up at Chumley's (Andy, James, Jeff, Leslie, Ryan) and a HUGE big mushy public hug to Rose for putting the thing together. I also apologize to Cassie, who I seem to have missed by a fraction of a second. It would have been cool. (If you're reading this, by the way, and wondering, "Hey! Why wasn't *I* invited?", the answer is that it was arranged with only a week's notice, and I decided to only call the people most likely to come: friends who I've hung out with one on one since my move here, who live in Manhattan proper and are unmarried and/or without children. Or, in the case of James, people who showed up to Andy's "Liar" show and who I remembered I liked and decided to invite in person.) Thanks also to everyone who sent me wishes or gave me a call.

Scratch a comedian/humorist and you find a sentimentalist. Sometimes it expresses itself in the kind of anti-sentimentalist bitterness that Mark Twain and H.L. Mencken eventually succumbed to; the kind of anger at the world that wouldn't exist if you couldn't stop believing it should be better. But mostly---and in performance--it's the schmaltz of every screen comedian dangerously handed the freedom to do anything, a tradtition that started with Charlie Chaplin and has found its most recent Waterloo in Robin Williams---who, between Patch Adams and What Dreams May Come, demonstrated definitively that his blood courses with equal parts cocaine and treacle.

I mention this because I'm a sentimental fool, and I hope I don't hacknify when I say that I was really, really moved by everyone's presence (and occasional presents---Damn, that's fine bourbon, Andy!), and while I'm not certain exactly WHY I find it amazing that people are pleasant to me (Lord knows I had a nice enough upbringing), I can still be brought to tears by a birthday cake and a bunch of friends singing. So thanks, everyone. And if I missed you, I have a twin brother and a sister born on the 2nd, and so we always had a relatively loose definition of "Birthday." So don't be afraid to holler. I'm happy to hang out and share drinks.


Monday, October 02, 2006

I'm Wikisponsible!

By the way, if anyone looked up "St. Brendan" in Wikipedia at my last post on the topic, one thing I managed over the weekend (in lieu of writing the actual book) is that I updated, and effectively doubled the size of, the St. Brendan article. What I added: The actual title of the Navigatio; the varying accounts of the number of monks that went with him; more doubt about whether Brendan actually went on said voyage (the original was unbelievably gullible in this respect); the St. Brendan Society; the note on imrama and the Irish ascetic tradition; Jasconius, which went bafflingly unmentioned in the original even though it's present in the art; and the note that Frederick Buechner wrote a novel based on the legend (called Brendan: A Novel) in 1987. Now I feel smart.

When I get to add "The novel By Dick, by David Dickerson, is another take on the myth and will be published by Publishing House Y in the year XXXX," I'll be very happy indeed.


General Monday Morning Stuff

Spent the weekend with my dear friend Rose, and when I got home yesterday ... the Internet wasn't working again! I've been dealing with cable companies my entire adult life and I've never had this much problem maintaining a fucking signal. Oy!

I didn't get nearly as much done on the novel as I expected, and have switched my hope from finishing it by my birthday (tomorrow) to finishing it by the end of the month (much more realizeable).

Anyway, I just thought I'd let you know that Talking Points Memo has a lot of good reporting on the pre-election Foley investigation, which I hope hurts the Republicans at the polls (upshot: Republican Rep. Foley resigned after a series of lewd e-mails he sent to a 16-year-old page, and now it turns out that the Republicans in congress knew about it for at least a year, possibly as many as five, and not only did nothing about it, but avoided reporting it to the only Democrat who shared a committee with him. Cover up much?)(TPM's theory, which seems sound to me, is that this is another result of Tom Delay's management style: Foley was kept around because, with such a big secret, he was probably easier to control.)

But the happy news of the day is that Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum is reporting that he watched Wordplay, got hooked, and even wrote his own crossword puzzle. So the joy of puzzles really is catching! Cheers me up to know.

P.S. My twin brother isn't the only one with a birthday close to mine. Happy Birthday, Sis!

P.P.S. Just found a whole slew of cool photos hidden in my camera in a folder I didn't know existed. ("Outbox": for the photos I tried to send but failed the first time.) I'll start posting them when my goddamn Internet's back. For some reason I can't seem to do it from my work computer.