Thursday, December 26, 2013

Forty-Second Beginning: Because I'm Tired of Hearing the Joke Told in a Fashion That is Wrong.

No, the Engineer does not see the glass as being twice as big as it needs to be.  The Manager might think that way, but the Engineer knows better.

As a for instance, the Brooklyn Bridge has a safety factor of over 3.5.   And that's true even though a subcontractor delivered a load of inferior steel cable, because the engineer had designed it with a safety factor of 6.  

It's why the nuclear plant in Onagawa, Japan, came through the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami with a flooded basement and an efficient shutdown even though it was 68 miles closer to the epicenter.  

Engineers LOVE safety factors. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Forty-First Beginning (NaNoWriMo 2013) The Buddy System 02

Other folk lived in the woods. Most of those hunted or raised tusked pigs or gathered wood to sell at the inn. The family was one of two who made charcoal, which was lighter than wood and could be sold down the mountain with a hand-drawn cart. Nevvic had once made the mistake of asking if it wouldn't be better to go to the inn and sell the charcoal to a drayer who had emptied his cart there and could use a load for the way back.

Uncle's reaction had been slow, but violent. Nevvic had been cuffed, shoved, and bodily thrown from the house. There had been grunts and loud, strangled noises. Anger and contempt had been plain in the tone of them, but only a few words could be heard picked out clear from among them and not much more could be guessed at. Nevvic concluded, in the end, that Uncle was very distrustful. Or that he was uncomfortable with change. Or that he resented a mere boy, and one beholden to him for food and shelter, daring to question his ways. Or maybe something else. Or all. It had been a painful experience and Nevvic had never risked repeating it.

That event and the reactions of the rest of the family to it had put a stop to Nevvic asking nearly anything. He even stopped asking about his mother and his father . . . and hid name.

Jenko sounded good. He would consider Jenko. He scrambled on toward the inn, keeping on the shadowed side of upthrusts or scraggy bushes when he could.

Nevvic usually kept pretty quiet at the inn. He tended not to ask strangers questions until he'd seen someone else ask and that the stranger didn't mind answering. Even then, Gripper, the innkeeper, usually did most of the talking, balancing his store of news against inquiries as to the guest's purpose on the road and experience in the trip.

Inquiries about the weather and the state of the road were allowed and expected. You wouldn't get a direct answer to a direct question about prices of good that were passing through, but a general question about prices in general would get news about prices being up and down. Questions about the cost of fish or flour or salt would be answered and elaborated on, so long as that wasn't what was in the guests's bales or barrels.

Spreading news of bandits and taxes, traveling bards or wizards seemed to be an obligation. These things didn't have to be asked after. Some would talk spontaneously of fashion or of paladins and their quests or of thievery in other areas. And everyone swapped news of dragons.

Dragons were a bane on the land and every man's hand and eye and rumor was against them. All longed for a world free of them and all knew that world would be a joyous and wonderful thing. Strangers and known merchants would speak of recent predations and would compare the steps that people used to protect themselves against them and to make life with them bearable. Here in the wilds, the inn was as near to a kremlin as the area had. In case of attack, folk would come here, if they could. Gripper would expect them to bring blankets and food if they could, but he'd make room.

Nevvic had always listened raptly to tales of dragons. There was a new goddess in the land who was sending paladins against dragons. She was giving them special magic. there was a rumor that they could give ordinary men the magic to find dragons and to call her in. He wanted to learn more. He was ordinary, if anyone was.

There were no carts in the cutoff near the inn, so there were probably no merchants inside. There would be locals, though, gathering for the morning gossip. And maybe travelers. Nevvic scanned the sky, then risked cutting through open scrub to the inn.

There were horses in the staging area near the entrance of the overhang. Nevviv hurried and found that a group of four travelers were eating their breakfast and dickering with Gripper's son, Tote. Tote left to load the group's packs onto their horses, along with the food and fodder that they had just purchased.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Forty-First Beginning: The Buddy System 01 (a late beginning on NaNoWriMo)

Maybe his name was Jenko. Jenko was a good name. Solid, yet jaunty. Responsible, yet not dour. Nevvic yearned for a bit of not dour. And for a name. Uncle ruled the family and never called him anything but nevvic - nephew. Uncle approved of little, including loose talk and direct questions. Uncle would not approve of his trip to the inn, but he was so unlikely to approve of anything else Nevvic did that there was really no reason to avoid the trip.

The family lived deep in the woods, far from proper roads. Woods or not, the whole area was an odd mix of rounded hills and upthrust rocks, partway up a spine of mountains that reared up sheer cliffs a couple of days' walk further west. Having tall peaks to the west made for cool springs and falls and cold, cold winters.

The mountains sent down rills and streams in a net of wandering meanders. Salmon sometimes ran the streams and sometimes didn't. Dried salmon was a cheap staple that would keep through the winter. Uncle didn't approve of cheap so much as he despised spending any cash or trading anything away. He didn't approve of Nevvic wandering about, checking to see if any of the streams were running salmon, but the latest hive of charcoal had been sealed and was underburning away.

Nevvic's hands weren't particularly needed for marking the next trees to fell and definitely not needed for watching the hive and tamping the cloak of soil that had been heaped over it to smother the flames and cause underburning, an action near to burning, but that left charcoal instead of ash as it finished. The boy had big feet, but was weedy and had no weight to push down with.

Better to keep the task with his own sons. Better that they worked the knowledge and skill of charcoal making in through their hands and feet. Better that they develop the eye, the nose, the feel of wood making itself to charcoal underground. Better that they stay in the dense woods, away from the sight of dragons. Nevvic had been told yo stay under cover since he had come to the household as a toddler. If he didn't make use of what he'd been told, that was his own load.

If Uncle had been the sort to visit the in to lift a mug and trade talk, then it would have been risky to go there, instead of up and down across the hillface. But he wasn't. Nevvic could go to the inn and offer work for trade and if the salmon were flying, someone at the inn would tell of it.

Sometimes Nevvic traded sweeping or scrubbing or fetching water for a cup of soup and a bit of bread. Sometimes he would brush and comb a horse for a traveler, for a copper. Sometimes he would haul bales or barrels of goods into the storeroom, for the innkeeper or for a merchant. That was the hardest work, but the innkeeper would add a cup of ale to the soup and bread. If the merchant was important, or paid well, there might even be butter.

The inn was built of stone. It had started as a slab of upthrust that had split from its brothers and fallen between them. The held it up, making a tall roof on the top side of the slab and a low roof on the broken side, with plenty of overhang. That was a heavy enough hat to keep any dragon out. Over more years than was accurately remembered, the innfolk, and others, had carried stone to be worked into walls under the slab. The walls wandered a bit, having been raised at different time to different purposes.

There was a path near the inn, circling through a line of upthrusts thick enough to give decent cover. Over years it had been widened into a road, one that could span a wagon pulled by a team of horses or oxen. There was just enough traffic to keep the inn in profits. Folk came to live near the inn. Folk who fished the streams or panned it for gold, which was scarce, but which came down in flakes and grains and occasional nuggets from the high cliffs during spring floods. These folk lived in upthrusts not very near to the inn. Crowding the inn would have been endangering it.

Other folk lived in the woods. Most of those hunted or raised tusked pigs or gathered wood to sell at the inn. The family was one of two who made charcoal, which was lighter than wood and could be sold down the mountain with a hand-drawn cart. Nevvic had once made the mistake of asking if it wouldn't be better to go to the inn and sell the charcoal to a drayer who had emptied his cart there

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Fortieth Beginning: 8-Bit Christmas Carol

[Inspired long ago by 8-Bit Theater.]
[[Yes, I read too many webcomics.]]

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
. . . .twelve werewolves leaping
. . . .eleven giants pounding
. . . .ten black belts kicking
. . . .nine healers healing
. . . .eight old men sizzling
. . . .seven twinks a'shooking
. . . .six guards a'dying
. . . .five sword-chucks,
. . . .four intern ninjas,
. . . .3+ gloves
. . . .two forest imps,
. . . .and an urge to destroy the whole world.

Monday, September 23, 2013


Have you ever started a journal?  More than one?  That keep sort of damping out?  [That's a spring equation metaphor.] This is from an old one that didn't get very far at all.  But now that it's here, I get to erase the fool thing.
This is meant to be deliberate, but searchable, babbling.  I am going to base it on a review of a book and on my work projects.  I’m also going to be talking about personal things, which is probably not wise on a work computer.  But I hope this will integrate my thoughts and tighten up my priorities. 
The book is The Procrastinator’s Handbook:  Mastering the Art of Doing it Now.  I’m talking, here, about a book partly to reinforce what I’m reading and partly to explore a hypothesis.  The hypothesis is that I’ve been socialized to the written work more than I’ve been socialized to people.  This may meet my craving to interact in reading/writing.  This may use writing to point me toward interacting verbally.  It may wean me away from the internet and cut back my library book list.  Or it may not.  [Oh, did it ever not.]
A word about babbling:  it’s listed as an onomatopoeic echoic, the sound of a brook- - murmurs - - foolish talk - - baby talk.  I’m using it to mean unstructured talk.  I’ll go where the thoughts go.  As an example of babbling, researchers have shown that babies born in signing households babble in sign.  The research was done to answer the question of whether A) children speak when their brains are capable of language formation or B) they speak when their brains are capable of controlling their vocal apparatus.  The answer was A.  Babies raised in signing households would attempt to communicate at about the same time as babies in speaking households. 
When babies were trying to speak, they would make one sound and repeat it multiple times.  Speaking is done with the lips, mouth, tongue, and vocal cords.  Signing is done with hand position, hand location, and hand/finger movement.  When babies were trying to sign, the would make one hand position and repeat a movement with it multiple times.  Although language acquisition comes at nearly the same time, on everage, many babies can sign before they can speak, so that learning to sign will allow them to communicate sooner.  For other babies, the opposite is probably true, but it doesn't come up as often.
But on to the book.  I’ve read through it at least once before and have started it several times.  Still, I couldn’t tell you the exact contents.  I’ve read several similar books and, as I tell my children, I have a mind like a steel sieve.  I’ll be able to write in this book due to a gad thing (good + bad = gad).  It was a library book at one time.  My cat peed on it.  Not enough to make it unusable, but too much to send it, in all good conscience, back to the library.  I paid the fine and now I have the book to keep. [I totally and completely do not remember this.]
Something similar happened to me regarding my knees and a root canal.  I have arthritis in my knees and have had surgery on one of them.  After recovering from the surgery, things were still stiff, awkward, and precarious.  Then I got the root canal.  The dentist described it as ‘one of those squishy ones’ and referred me to a specialist.  He prescribed Vioxx while I waited, to pull the swelling down.  On the third day, my knees were feeling better, and more important, were working much better.
I called the bone doctor to enquire and he said, oh, sure, that was the cause.  He prescribed Vioxx for arthritis all the time.  So I asked for a prescription.  I have no idea what he was waiting for.  I’ve gone from Vioxx to Celebrex to Mobic as the medical warnings have come in waves.  Getting the diabetes pills has helped, too, though I have no clue why.  I’ve forgotten to take my morning NSAID, and I can tell you that I wouldn’t want to be without them as a regular thing.  That root canal was a real blessing.
But on to the book.  Like all personal improvement books, it’s mostly chatty anecdotes and arguments about why the change is needed.  In this case the change is Not Procrastinating.  I’ll try to pick out the bones here.  I have to divert to mention that the Acknowledgement section gets me. 
Most Acknowledgements or Dedications get me.  You know the kind:  the ones where dozens of people are thanked for their help writing the book or supporting the author.  I’d have a hard time telling that many people that I was writing, let alone asking for their help, advice, or free meals.  Maybe that’s why they’ve published a book and I haven’t. 

First Chapter:  Tackling the Dread
Despite the title, the chapter starts with comments about the inaccuracy of most gut feelings about how long a task will take.
·         It might not take as long as you expect.
·         It might take a lot longer than you expect – so you’ll need to re-evaluate.
·         It might take longer than you expect, but you’ll feel good making a substantial dent in it
The first exercise is a 60 minute jump-in.  Do something that you’ve been putting off for 60 minutes and see what happens.  No breaks or distractions and you can quit after 60 minutes even if you’re not done.

This reminds me of the hypothesis I once tested of “you can do anything if you spend 20 minutes a day on it.”  I’ll tell you about that later.  This is blue so that I don’t have to read through this whole thing to get to find it again.  [I may have already posted the twenty minutes a day story.  It's also known as the elephant grass story.  Yup.  It's embedded in a fragment of Organizing Aunt Sheila.  It starts about halfway down.  You can't miss it.]
Don’t let yourself be stopped by things that you hate to do.  Acknowledge the hate, first, then find a way to deal with it. 
·         Do the hated parts first for a limited period of time
·         Visualize the relief and sense of accomplishment.
·         Play music or listen to a book on tape if it’s boring
·         Find someone else to do it with
·         Make lists of the dread – you may need to get tools or something else organized first
·         (mine) make lists of other things to do so that you won’t be worrying about forgetting them while you do this thing
·         reward yourself
·         deprive yourself
·         be sure you’re doing enough interesting stuff not to feel deprived 

At the end of the chapter I was supposed to make a list of big and little rewards.  I think I’ve been working at that, although I haven’t been withholding.  Hmmm.  I’m thinking about a few specific things, that might work, although they’d be withholdings, and it didn’t ask for that. 

Damn, I like writing. [So the question is: why is it so hard to get started?]

Chapter 2 What’s Your Excuse  [I think that's about as much as I can legally post.  It wasn't a bad book.  I did find it useful.  Of course, at the time I had no idea that there was such a thing as ADHD-PI, or that I had the condition.  I'm taking pills for that and now I'm not self-talking about procrastination, I'm self-talking about focusing.  There has been improvement.]

October 18, 2010 – It’s been awhile since I even opened this.  [This isn't the date that I wrote this, it's a date on which I came back, noticed that there was no date, and dated a very small comment.  I'm going to give myself permission to stop here and delete this vestigial journal from my hard drive.]

Friday, August 23, 2013


This is not my writing.  This is a compilation of quotes from the webcomic Digger, a wonderful creation by Ursula Vernon.  (Digger website here: Ursula’s website here:  Sofawolf link here:   Amazon link here:   Amazon/Ursula here:)   

If you don’t know what Digger is, go read it before reading these quotes.  The quotes are not the best lines from the webcomic.  No, there are too many of those to be contained in a mere list.  If you want the best lines, go read the comic.  If you don’t want the best lines, particularly, go read the comic.  Seriously.  Go read the comic. It will enrich your life. 

As I was saying, this isn't a list of best quotes.  It's a list of the quotes that illuminate Wombat Culture as it exists within Digger.  If you’ve already read the comic and just want a little reminder of the joy of experiencing a touch of Wombat Culture, this is the list for you.  If you haven’t already read the comic:  read the comic.

You'll see from the quotes that Wombat Culture is centered around geology and engineering and general underground pragmatism.  A bit of humor may sneak into the list, of course.  I’m a sucker for humor.  Also, the page numbers refer to the website, not to the printed books.  Those didn’t exist when I compiled the list.  Enjoy!


Page 6

One of the first things a young wombat learns is that if she's lost, tunneling around at random only gets her more lost. Fortunately, there's a direction that she can always count on to go somewhere eventually.  Straight up.

Page 12

"Dip me in chalk and call me a limestone conglomerate!"

 Page 16

"Can't carve a tunnel with tears," as my Grandmother used to say.

Page 33

"Well . . . I suppose no one was ever killed by a cave painting.  Except Great Aunt Ruby that time, and everyone said that was a fluke."

Page 35

"Man, don't you know not to mess with a sleeping wombat?  We swing pickaxes for twelve hours a day.  We're like biceps with feet."

"Remember Tunnel 17!"  (If you want an explanation of that one, read the comic.)

Page 36

"Now, what in the name of the dirt under the claws of the Mother of all Wombats is your problem?"

Page 48

" . . . all this talking philosophy is like trying to tunnel through water."

Page 55

"But let's not panic.  Just think of it as a cave-in.  There's no immediate way out, but that's okay.  Relax.  Breathe slowly.  Don't worry about the people back home, because you can't do anything about that right now.  Stay calm.

Don't try to fix everything at once.  Focus.  Just assess the situation and do whatever needs to be done next.  And don't waste air."

Page 58

"And as Cousin Shalesides used to say, "Momma wasn't raisin' no ingrates."

Page 73

". . . 'Cos everyone I met was madder than a mole in Maytime."

Page 82

"Mother of moles. . . "  (exclamation)

"Well, you can't brace a tunnel with haste . . . "

Page 111

"-- Cousin Tunnelfast found an ornamental pond of blind cave koi in an old dwarfholt that not only talked, they argued philosophy.  In Limerick form.  With two inch fangs."

Page 103 (yes, it's after 111 in the webcomic archives - the page numbering is as distorted as the cross-spatial entry tunnel – it might be helpful to know that you can go to any page directly with the address  and put the page number after the =)

"Ah, well. . . Better working that weeping, as my Mother used to say."

Page 107 (yes, still after 111)

". . . Blood of the Architect!"

Page 120

"Hold your moles, I'm comin'."

Page 142


Page 131 (yes, it's after 142:  magic - twisting - space - hole)

"We’ve got like three inch hides down there.  It's practically armor plate.  All stabbing it does is get us REALLY ticked off."

"Aw, molecrud."

Page 133 (not before 142)

"You call that a hammer?  I wouldn't tenderize a turnip with that hammer!"

Page 147

Hag:  "How do you feel?"

Digger:  "Like I've been run over my a mine cart.  And the donkey it was attached to."

Page 149

Hag: "But, don't you have old women who run things?"

Digger: "Yeah, we call them '"Senior Engineers.'  Men, too."

Page 150

"Unghgh.  Blood and shale and bracing, my head."

Page 143 (do I have to explain this?)

"Eh. Done is done.  The rock is split, might as well carve it as cry over it." 

Page 145 (ditto)

"Okay.  As my Uncle Braceforth used to say, 'There are very few problems that cannot be made better with a night's sleep, breakfast, and a pickaxe."

Page 656 (I can see it coming)

" . . .And by the time I got back to the warren, my fur would be white and all the good engineering jobs of my generation would be taken."

Page 657 (wait for it)

"Merciful Mother of Moles. . . "

Page 660 (still waiting)

"I've said it before -- wombats aren't much good at melancholy.  And there's something absurdly cheering about being attacked by a vampire squash.  I men, you gotta laugh."

Page 160 (zing!  knew it.)

"(List of difficulties due to excavating while working around an arrow wound.) But still, it was a root cellar.  There's no such thing as a joyless root cellar."

"As eulogies go, it was somewhat more religious than I liked, but it had an almost wambattish brevity that I admired."

Page 175

"There aren't any wombat gods to tell stories about.  We wouldn't stand for it."

Page 172 (you know the drill)

"I'll bet you diamonds to dolomitic conglomerates . . . "

Page 211

(translated wombat curse) “I will construct its dwelling using inferior materials!”

Page 199 (these are not the page numbers you’re looking for)

“Blood and shale . . . “  (Most frequently used exclamation)

Page 200

“Great.  Well . . . in for coal, in for diamonds, I suppose.”

Page 226

(I’m not sure this qualifies, but I like it, so it’s in.)

“Boy, you can sure tell I was high when I dug this thing, can’t you?

(Our favorite wombat had hit a pocket of bad air while digging.

Page 213 (same drill)

(footnote to song) *Various bloodthirsty and off-key versions of this song exist, commemorating the legendary battle of the flood tunnels, where hundreds of heroic wombats gave their lives in the fight for better quality assurance standards, setting the stage for the Great Mortar Rebellion some years later.

Page 233

“—If this is less than a thousand years old, I’m a thrust fault.”

Page 247

“. . . a few load bearing beams short of a tunnel.”

Page 249

“But, as Mom would say, ‘If you didn’t want to go swimming, you shouldn’t have tunneled under the lake!’”

Page 292

“Always double-check your math if there are explosives involved.”  (Part of an explanation of what evil is.  You need to read the rest of it in context.  I’m tickled that failing to perform with due diligence is an obvious evil, to a wombat.)

Page 353

“And if Ed was involved, I’d personally eat my pickaxe.  Without salt.”

Page 386

“I can see you two are gonna get on like a tunnel explosion. .  . “

Page 391

Digger:  “I’m starting to suspect . . . look, do humans ever have baby humans that get . . . lost?  Go missing?  And then they’re raised by moles?”

Murai:  “Wolves are more traditional with us.:

Page 406

“Ed, sweet ancestors, what’s wrong?”

Page 393 (shhhhh!)

“People don’t get to be rude just because they save your life -- ”

Page 401

“Shadow, what in the name of the Mother of moles are you doing?”

Page 428

“Okay, wait just a shale-draggin’ minute here.”

Page 443

“Think about - - er - - moles.  Yes.  Nice moles.  With velvety snouts and soft fur.  Happy moles.  Gamboling in a tunnel.  I’m in my happy place, with moles.

Oh, man.  I’m losing it.”

Page 463

Random hyena:  “What was that song she was teaching us, anyway?  About the milkmaid and the thrust fault?”

Page 477

“The problem with lecturing someone about ethics is that it always comes around to bite you in the knees. . . . Well.  Honesty is the best policy, as Grandma Rootslash used to say.” 

Page 470 (**whistling**)

“Oh, Mother of moles, my head feels like a mining accident.”

Page 472

Mother of moles, no one should have to explain cultural relativism on a queasy stomach, particularly since wombats aren’t cultural relativists.  We know full well that some stuff is just wrong.”

Page 484

“That’s a big ‘ol load of coproliths, statue.” 

Page 564  (There is much exposition about the way wombats pack for a journey.)

Page 540

“Grim Eyes, this is Murai.  Be nice to her.  The ladder goes all the way to the bottom of the mine shaft, but here are no landings, if you get what I mean.”

Page 558

Grim Eyes:  “Heh.  Do you have any children?”

Digger:  “Me?  Blood and shale, no!  Not really old enough, and I haven’t met anybody I’d want to enter into a binding legal contract with, never mind including reproductive clauses . . . “

Grim Eyes:  “That’s how earth-rats reproduce?”

Digger: “No, we do that in the usual way.  We just make sure all the forms are filled out first.”

Page 549, the next page (you know the drill) goes into more detail, but the conversation is as much character development as wombat culture, so I’m skipping it.

Page 575

“And furthermore, should you hurt its feelings, I’m going to smelt ore with your bones, understand?”

Page 598

“I deserve this.  My fifth grade vocational teacher would have my head.”

Page 591 (calming breaths)

“ . . . but if wishes were ingots. Beggars would smelt, as Great-Aunt Ironbit used to say.”

Page 665

“My dear hunter-gatherer, allow me to introduce you to lignite.  Grim Eyes, Lignite.  Lignite, Grim Eyes. “

Page 669  more about moles

Page 676 discussion of ghosts and their differences due to species.

Page 686

“He . . . listened closely and politely, asked occasional geological questions, and generally gave the impression of watching someone dig a hole they weren’t getting out of in a hurry.”

Page 749 a few details about wombat inheritance

Page 757

“. . . it wasn’t magic, exactly.  It felt like .. . oh, like the itch in your claws you get when you walk under a ceiling that could come down at any moment.

The whole world felt like an impending cave-in.”

Page 781

“I’ll make him regret the day he slid out of his mother pouch –“

Page 799

“But – just – I – oh, ancestors bugger it . . . “

Page 863

Villain:  “Do you have any idea how long twelve thousand years is?”

Digger:  “I know it’s not long enough to make a good rock.”

Page 876

Basic mine safety covers working safely in total darkness. 

Page 908

“There’s always something that needs doing, as one or the other of my grandmothers used to say . . .”

Page 912

“Don’t ask me why I felt like that.  Boneclaw Mother could probably have told me, but I didn’t really feel like having her mine that particular vein out.”


This would be the end of the list, but I just have to add at least one Oracular Slug quote:  “Don’t salt the messenger.”  Page 114.

And a special thank you to Ursula Vernon for creating and sharing Digger and for giving me permission to post these quotes.  You have made a fan very happy.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Thirty-Ninth Beginning: Prayer Support

[This one was mentioned as in uncompleted story in Organizing Aunt Sheila.]

It was only natural to zone out during employee orientation, Bob thought.  Anyone would do it.  It wasn’t just him and, shoot, even if it was, what was the harm?  He was a quick guy.  If something came up he could adjust to it, handle it just fine.  Nothing exciting ever happened during an orientation.  Bob had been through a few and they all followed the same pattern.  Patterns were the key.  Once you knew the pattern, you didn’t have to pay attention to the details.

Bob’s mind floated, recalling the basic pattern of an orientation.  He had been through a few.  First the introduction of the orienter and an explanation of what he would be doing.  Which was bogus and brain dead since everyone already knew what they were there for.  Sometimes you even knew the guy’s name already from the letter that had come in the mail.

Then there would be either a list of topics to be covered or a rah-rah speech.  Topics would probably include insurance, vacation and sick leave policies, retirement, and other things that would have no real effect on Bob.  Bob was only moving through.  That other stuff might be meaningful later, when he started making plans, but it wasn’t time for making plans yet.  You couldn’t make plans when nothing was really happening.  Dress codes or punctuality requirements or conflict management processes might conceivably impinge on his style, but only to the point of making him move on a little sooner.  Bob was comfortable with himself and if other people weren’t comfortable with him, well, he didn’t need the money all that badly.  Things would work themselves out.

Bob got up with the rest of his group and walked down a hall.  The walls were covered with calendars, most of them filled with scribbling.  Some of their pages waved in a breeze that Bob didn’t feel, but didn’t think about.  He scanned for racy or interesting pictures, but didn’t see any.

The group was sorting itself into four doors, two to the left and two to the right.  Bob walked on past the, to be out of the way, and then turned halfway to watch the sorting.  He stretched and yawned in order to look casual and in control.

He tried to sort out which group he’d like to be with, but there was no one interesting that he could see.  Everyone was older, except for one kid who couldn’t be more than, what, eight?  Her parent would get points for bringing her along, wouldn’t they?

At the two nearest doors, smiley rah-rah faces were going right and very worried faces were going left.  Bob was about to slide down to the next two doors when he felt a tap on his shoulder.  A guy with a baggy sweater and a clipboard crooked a finger at him and Bob mentally shrugged and followed.

They traveled through a maze of hallways.  Bob tagged along, disinterested.  He couldn’t have said when the calendars gave out.

Baggy sweater lead him through into a small conference room with a round table.  There were six people seated and a few more milling around.  One of the millers had a clipboard.  Millers?  Millees?  Oh, well.  One woman in a red suit had a clipboard, so there were at least two official people in the room.  Bob checked to see if he was starting to get hungry and he wasn’t.  He sat down in an empty chair.  Baggy sweater plopped the clipboard in front of him and left the room.

That got Bob’s attention for a few minutes.  Were they going to expect him to take charge, in some kind of role-playing thing?  But no one seemed to expect him to do anything but sit an be ignored.  He checked out the clipboard.  It was a cheap clipboard holding five bland sheets of paper and a half-empty blue bic pen.   Bob started doodling, drawing a line of little heads with small mouths and noses and out-sized eyes and ears, the eyes showing a series of different exaggerated emotions. 

Bob was bent in concentration over the clipboard, connecting a large cluster of heads into a bunch of balloons, when he heard his name.  He looked up to see that everyone was now seated around the table and looking at him.  He sat up and looked attentive and willing.  Then, when everyone kept looking, he decided that it must be "tell us something about yourself" time, so he started in.

"Hi.  My name's Bob and I'm looking forward to working with everyone here.  I'm mostly a student but I kept thinking about changing my major, so I thought, heck, why not take a year off and try working in the real world for awhile, to see what things are really like.  I mean studying for a degree isn't the same thing as using that degree, is it?  So I thought I'd get a real job and just sit back and live life for awhile and check things out."

It didn't seem to be going well.  This wasn't what they were expecting.

"Not that I don't mean to pull my own weight.  No, way.  I intend to do a good job.  I learn things really fast and I have good ideas.  I intend to make a contribution while I'm here."


A Grandmother type with really frizzy hair and shiny glasses held out a hand toward Bob.

"Could I see your clipboard, please?"

Bob passed it over.  Three pages were filled.  For a second he was worried that they wouldn't like him drawing all over someone's paper, but then he thought, heck, what did they expect him to do?  The Grandmother looked through the pages carefully.  A fat teenager was examining the clipboard that the red suited woman had had.  He passed it to a hippy with grey braids, pointing to an elaborate bush drawn in one corner.  Grey braids nodded and flipped through the papers, concentrating.

Grandmother passed Bob's clipboard to a greasy biker with a bandana.  She took off her glasses and looked at Bob with kindly worry.  An oriental woman with blunt bangs leaned toward her and said, "he must have been going to a job interview."

"Bob," said Grandma, "none of the images you drew were complete.  If you were going to complete one, which one would it be?"

This was wrong.  Doodles were just doodles.  He was sorry that he hadn't been paying attention.  He could have understood it if they had been annoyed, or even flat out mad, but making out like his doodles were something big and important, that was just weird.  Maybe it was their way of getting back at him.  You know, a put on.

"The bunch of balloons was almost finished."

"Yes, but they're obviously stationary balloons.  And balloons don't stay stationary if no one is holding them.  Who would you have drawn holding them?"

Bob thought about the bush on the red woman's clipboard.

"They could have been tied to a tree."

"Fair enough.  What sort of tree would it have been?  And how tall?"

Bob considered that they might want him to draw whatever he described.  He could do a jagged Christmas tree, like kids did.  No -

"It's a tree that's been cut down.  You know, just a stump left, but it's put out this sucker, see, and the sucker's been cut off, too, only higher up, maybe about a foot off the ground.  And there's this one little branch that's got a few twigs and leaves on it.  And the balloons are tied to that.  But the balloons are pulling up and you can tell that if a wind catches them, that they're going to rip that little branch right off."

"A complete image, but not much sense of connection," the biker said. 

"The balloons are connected."

"Only because they have to be.  And they're all basically the same head.  So they're really only connected to themselves.  Like a guy walking down the street talking to himself.  He's having a conversation, but he isn't really connecting."

"The stump is connected to the ground," said the woman in red.  There was a pause while everyone looked at her.

"I think that's important to you," said the fat teen (was it a girl?), "but I think that Bob, here just thinks of the ground as blank background.  He's not thinking of the earth, he's thinking of blank paper.."

"It is a stubborn stump, though," said Grandma.  "And they're stubborn faces, too.  They pretend to be as different as you please, but all the time they're staying the same."

Bob almost said that the balloons were connected to strings.  But he could tell from the pattern of the conversation that the next question would be about what were the strings like.  And when he thought of that, he thought of drawing little floating imp faces on the slack ends of them.  He sure wasn't going to say anything like that to these people.

Bob took another shot at looking attentive and willing.

"Perhaps Bob needs something undemanding and quiet to give him a chance to just relax."

"Does he have time for that?  He's really only still in the corridors because of his cousin. . ."

Damn.  Was Bill doing him favors again?  Bob hated listening to his family's advice and he hated Bill's advice most of all.  If he got a job because of Bill, family time was going to be hell.

". . . and she's young and can be presumed to be going through a phase."

Kayla?  Was he here because of Kayla?  She was just a kid - an earnest, quiet kid.

Bob checked to see if he needed to go to the can or something.  He didn't.  Damn.  Usually his bladder was more reliable than that.

"We have to put him somewhere.  Sorting is easy."

Bob started to zone again.  Talk about boring jobs always did that to him.

"No I think he needs to make a connection.  Maybe he can work the counter?"

"Does he have enough focus to work the counter?"

Hey, that was insulting, wasn't it?  Except for the bangs woman, Bob was loosing track of which person was saying what.  Bangs had an edge to her voice that he didn't like and couldn't ignore.

"We'll have to check it out with Mell, of course.  He never takes anyone else's advice.  Easier to ask him than to guess whether Bob would fit.  If Mell takes him, then that's the place that he should be.  If Mell doesn't take him, we need to find someone who will.  Don't think of the job.  Bob doesn't need a job, he needs a mentor."

"Is he Telemachus, then, keeping his father's house while he's away?"  Boy did he hate that voice.

"Congenial co-workers, then."

Bob checked out the walls, then the ceiling. The ceiling was covered with those acoustic tiles with the holes in them, like the ones he had seen on that Twin Peaks tape that his mother had rented.  It had been a killer shot, looking like it was starting in a deep dark tunnel and then pulling out to an innocuous, plain ceiling tile.  It had even been cool after his father had made some pointless comment about asbestos and how everyone always thought they were saving the world and contributing to progress while yada yada yada. 

Bob wouldn't mind seeing the world go to hell in a handbasket if only he could discover a way it could do it without his father pouncing on it joyfully, as if it were his personal accomplishment. 

A completed silence impinged itself on Bob's awareness.  He looked up.  The red suited woman was being led away by the fat teen (damn, it was a girl!) and the hippy.  Grandma was standing and smiling at him.  Smiling his most cooperative smile, Bob got up and walked toward her, hoping Bangs wouldn't come along. 

She didn't.  The Biker did.  The back of his grungy, sleeveless denim jacket had 'Street Dogs' drawn on it in gothic letters with a felt marker.  You could almost feel the stencil looking at it.  They led him through a few more corridors and into what looked like a busy burger joint.

When his guides frowned and looked uncertain, Bob slid into a molded plastic booth and prepared to wait.  People were milling like maggots.

"Damn, I forgot it would be lunch rush.  We'll never get near the counter."

"Perhaps we can flag an employee and send him a message."

"He won't leave the counter during rush.  Not for anyone."

"Hey, I can wait," said Bob.

"Rush lasts for hours, man.  Maybe we'd better try someplace else first.  I've got my own stuff to do."

"As do I, dear.  But we can't just leave him here, he's not asleep."

"Hey, I can pretend to be asleep, no problem."

"No, dear.  Sleeping people come here to eat and you couldn't do that."

Bob frowned at the oddness of her words.  Something wasn't right.  The pattern was off.  People didn't mill in a burger joint.  They went for what they wanted.  If they had to wait in line, they waited, maybe fidgeted or rocked in place.  These people were milling - milling and wandering.  Most of them never got near the counter or the salad bar.  Something wasn't right.

Reluctantly, Bob focused on the people closest to him.  Half of them had no faces.  Their faces were blurs or blobs or spheres of short hair, as if their heads had two backs.  One guy had a turtle neck sweater pulled up to his eyebrows.  And some of them were definitely milling.  They would walk in one direction until they bumped into something and then they'd turn just enough to be able to walk in another direction and continue on.  Most of the time the thing they bumped was another person.

Bob looked further.  Even the folks who had faces were weird.  Some were in their pajamas or nighties.  One wore a tuxedo and top hat and huge Scooby Doo slippers.  Bob stopped looking and shrank down into the booth.  A kid in jeans and a flannel shirt covered in blood wandered up.

"You're not eating anything.  Want some of my fries?"

"No thanks, dude."

"If you don't have any food yet, you're supposed to stand in line.  Why aren't you standing in line?"

"Ah, shit," said the biker.  "Don't answer.  You've already answered one question.  Let him get on a roll and he'll never stop.  That's the way sleeping kids are."

"He looks like he's more than sleeping with that blood all over him."

The kid grinned. 

"That's probably because my mom keeps saying that I'm going to break my neck if I keep doing that."

"Doing what?"

"All kinds of things."  The grin stretched.  "So what are you doing here if you're not going to eat?"

"Don't.  I'm warning you."

"They say I need to find a coach."

"Shit.  Didn't I tell you not to answer."

"The Coach isn't here.  I know where The Coach is when I'm asleep and it isn't here."

Grandma and the Biker stopped short and stared at the kid.

"You know The Coach, dear?"

"Sure.  I talk to him all the time.  I've even seen him when I'm asleep.  He's big and fat and looks like he'd have trouble walking fast, let alone running.  But he's a great coach."

Grandma and the Biker looked at each other.

"So where would The Coach be, exactly?"

Bob had heard of people who rolled their eyes toward the ceiling when they thought, as if they were reading the answer off of the top of their heads.  The kid looked like he was doing exactly that.  Nothing but the whites of his eyes showed. 

When the colored bits rolled back into view, the kid said, "He's in the support cubicles, the ones near the frog, in the autonomous section.  I can take him there if you'd like."

Grandma and the Biker checked each other out again.  Bob could see it coming.  He was used to everyone having more important things to do than to deal with Bob.  No sense waiting to be brushed off.

"Come on, little dude.  Lead the way." 

"Cool.  This way."

"Wait."  Grandma reached into her pocket.  "We can't have you getting lost once you've dropped him off." 

She handed the boy what looked like a half-eaten bun.

"Put it in your pocket and follow the trail of crumbs if you get turned around."

"Sure."  Said the boy, jamming the lump into a fold that didn't look big enough to be a pocket.  "This way."

They re-entered the corridors, and again it seemed like a maze to Bob.

"You sure you know where you're going?"

"Sure.  I can always find The Coach.  He's helping me train to jump off of the roof.  Mom's going to hate that."

"You sure he's on your side, helping you do that?  You could get blood on you for real."

"Blood's not that big a deal.  But I'd hate to sprain my ankle again, or to break something.  He reminded me how hard it was to just sit for so long.  And he said that I needed to work up to it.  That at first I'd better not jump off of anything that I couldn't jump up on.  To build up my legs.  Mom thinks I've gone nuts.  I jump up and down, on and off things every chance I get - metal railings, picnic tables, whatever.  I can feel my legs getting stronger.  Coach says maybe when my legs are stronger I ought to try pole vaulting."

"That sounds like a plan.  Especially if you can get someone to teach you when you're awake.  Like a school coach.  That would be, like, organized.  Moms don't get nearly as upset over organized stuff as they do over stuff that you make up yourself.  No matter what they say, if everyone else was jumping off a cliff, they'd probably let you do it, too.  They might even ask what was wrong if you didn't want to jump off a cliff.  'Your cousin Bill jumped off of cliffs higher than this when he was twelve'."

The bloody boy laughed as Bob's voice went high and fluty.

"Cool.  You're probably right.  I hadn't thought of that.  That's so cool. . . You sure you don't want some french fries?"


"You could just hold them, or whip them around, or throw them at someone or something."

"Hey, I got it,  Gimme a few."

Bob arranged the fries in his buttoned down breast pocket, as if they were a hanky.


"We going to be there soon, dude?"

"Do you want to be there, yet?"

"Does that matter," asked Bob.  It never had before, that he could remember.

"That's all that matters, here.  Well not all, but it's a big part of it.  I can feel The Coach whenever I think real hard about wanting to win.  But I can't open a door and have him on the other side unless you want to go through, too."

"Sorry, short stuff.  It's not that I don't want to meet your coach.  The guys advice sounds good to me.  It's just that I'm not sure that I want to go to work for him."

"Oh, you wouldn't be working for him.  This is the autonomous section.  That means no bosses.  Well, sort of bosses.  They call them advisors and make fun of them behind their backs."

"They do that with regular bosses, too."

"Yeah, but this is different."

"If you say so."

Bob and the boy kept walking.  Bob wasn't getting tired of walking, not exactly.  At least, his legs weren't getting tired.  But walking, and the idea of walking more, eventually began to pall.  The boy kept eating his fries and sloping along in that bouncy, I'm glad to be pressing my feet down against the ground way that some kids do.

"Autonomous, huh?"

"Yep."  Munch.

"Cubicles don't sound very autonomous."

"I'd like to have my own cubicle.  That would mean that I'd have my own computer and drawers to fill with my stuff and walls to tack things onto."

"Just because it's my cubicle, doesn't mean I get to do whatever I want."

"Sure it does.  It's an autonomous section.  If you do what the advisors don't want you to do they get all disappointed and helpful, but only during meetings. Or when they're walking by," the boy admitted.

"That's not too bad.  Maybe.  What's your name, little dude?"


"Whoa.  My name's Bob.  How odd is that?"

Bobby shrugged.  "Maybe not too odd.  The Library Lady says that all Bobs are One Bob.  Of course she'd a little odd, herself.  She makes lists.  She's trying to figure it out."

"Figure what out."

"Life, the Universe, and Everything, she says.  She says that Everything is capitalized."

"Hey, I read that book.  That book was cool."

"Well she's one cubicle up and one cubicle over from The Coach."

"Who else is there?"

"I'm not sure.  I only get to go in to see The Coach.  And folks tend to stay in their cubicles.  I've seen the Engineer, but he doesn't talk and he looks gross.  And there's the Cat Lady.  And the frog.  And a guy that no one sees because there's a fog around him."

"Has anyone ever kissed the frog."

"No."  Bobby said that the way boys say 'that's gross'.

"Or walked into the fog?"

"Don't know."

"Does the Cat Lady have cats or do they call her that because she has whiskers."

Bobby giggled.  "There's at least two cats."

"And what kind of support do they do.  Even if I don't have to do it because the advisors will only be disappointed and nothing else will happen."

"It's prayer support."


"It's like the support line for when people's computers don't work, only it's for prayers."

"Dude, God does prayers.  Or someone.  I'm not involved in anything like that."

Bobby stopped.  He looked earnestly at Bob.  Red shone from his chin to his knees.

"Look.  I can eat the fries.  I'm only asleep.  If you're in the corridors and you're not asleep you're either one of the workers or you're dead.  I know that much.  At least, I know it when I'm asleep."

Bobby waited for a reply.  Bob didn't seem capable of a reply.  He was thinking of the words: 'he must have been on his way to a job interview'. 

"You okay?"

"No.  Apparently I'm dead."

"That's okay.  The Coach is dead, too.  He told me about it once.  I forgot it when I woke up, but I can remember him telling me."

"The Coach is dead."


"As in, he used to be alive."


"He's not some weird freaky thing that eats dead people's heads, or something?"

Bobby giggled. 

"He's a nice guy who used to be alive and who likes sports."

"And when kids pray to win, he answers their prayers."

"Yeah.  That doesn't mean you'll win, it just means that he answers."

"And the Library Lady used to be alive."

Bobby shrugged in a way that used about 7/8 of his body.

"I've only ever talked to her through the cubicle walls.  I never asked that."

"Is there something that I ought to be warned about.  Maybe killer demons wandering the corridors and hiding behind doors waiting for someone who doesn't want to find anything to open a door?"

"Not that I know of.  The Coach said that you're not supposed to bother the frog, though.  If the frog gets upset he farts reeeeeeeally stinky.  The advisors don't even talk to him anymore."

This time it was Bob who giggled.  The giggles settled in for a bit and kept going.  Bob wondered for a moment if this was hysterics, but decided that hysterics probably didn't feel good.  Bobby waited them out patiently.

Bob looked around.  The corridor was beige.  The walls were beige and blank.  The floor was beige and mottled.  The ceiling tiles were off-white and didn't even have the little holes to make them interesting.  Even the doors were beige - the same shade as the walls. 

"Is the frog beige?"  Bob asked.

"Don't know," said Bobby. 

"Let's find out," said Bob, and he grabbed the nearest door and opened it.  Fog dribbled along the floor.  There was a muted sound of ringing telephones in the air and a sense of wide, high space overhead.  Bob recognized that the ringing was only there because he expected it.  It was his interpretation of prayers dialing in.  It would go away if he ignored it.

He turned to Bobby, the brightest thing in the corridor.

"Take me to him," he said.