Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Vernal Falls

One of the first places Denise and I went together was Vernal Falls in Yosemite. At the end of the trail is a climb to the top of the 318-foot waterfall. It takes almost as long to climb to the top of the fall as it does to reach the start of the switchbacks. I'm not sure how far we went before turning back. The rocks were slick, and we weren't in great shape, smoking, etc. I remember the amazing view, though. It was something like this:
I'm posting a contour map too. You can see how the two trails diverge. The trail climbs more steeply when the contour lines are closer:

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Getting Ready for the Solar Eclipse

So, with the solar eclipse arriving on 8/21/2017, the first thing you should remember is never to look directly at The Sun, even during the eclipse. There are commercial solar glasses available, but before you buy, make sure the lenses you purchase are really certified. There is an onslaught of counterfeit vendors of solar glasses now.

Also, note that looking at The Sun through a film (developed or undeveloped), polarized glass, or (even the best) sunglasses is NOT SAFE. Even if some light is blocked, there is a full electromagnetic spectrum that your retinae are exposed too.

There is, however, an excellent (and cheap) way of observing the passage of The Moon across The Sun. The simplest version requires two pieces of paper or cardboard:

Also, you want to be mobile in case the weather changes. Be flexible with your plans. Get wherever you are going early and be ready to move if necessary.
NASA is having cross-country events where they will have 1,500,000 solar viewers available. Here is a link to find an official viewing site nearby:

Monday, July 31, 2017

Friday, July 28, 2017

Distribution of Metal Bands in Europe

Ok, let's imagine that there are 4 band members in each band. That means about 2500 people per million in Finland. In other words, one in every 400 people of Finland, including babies, is in a metal band.  Hey, Sweden is pretty kick ass too.


Monday, July 17, 2017

The Grind Show by Phil Tucker

The Grind ShowThe Grind Show by Phil Tucker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Grind Show is an early novel by Phil Tucker that explores a world where demons cohabit with humans. Only a few human beings can perceive them, both through sight and esp. For other humans, these demon fighters are insane. Our protagonist is one of the demon hunters who gets a special unwanted gift from one of the "unclean ones," setting off a course of events that places him opposed to a bad ass mf demon controller.


It's a long sequence of action from the beginning of the story until the end, which works here because it's a span of three days of high-speed insanity. The use of fragments, especially in the action, reinforces this mood. The fast pace is compelling and makes for an easy one-sitting read.

There is also more going on than what is happening at the surface but the story ends without revealing much about the world. We don't know why there were angels or why they left or what any of this means in a philosophical context. Tucker's demons are just evil creatures without many purposes or are they? Is there something deeper going on? Jason, the protagonist, isn't wired to think about philosophy. He is a man of action and few doubts, guided by reckless humor, and unworried about consequences except how it affects his friends.

The best part of the story, indeed, is how Jason, through Twain, Javier, Jeremy, and the others, expresses his loyalty. Earlier in the story, I thought him 2-dimensional and superficial, but Jason grew, rising to the challenge, responding to his errors by evolving. This worked well for me.


This book really needed a careful edit. I looked for an updated edition on Kindle without success, so I'm guessing there are still plenty of errors in the text. Being self-published is no excuse for being sloppy, especially when you can ask people to beta read it for you. There are homonym confusions, grammatical syntax errors, and redundant word choices that can be eliminated even with online tools without much effort. This should have been done.

As for the story itself, for what it aspires as a light demon hunt romp, I have no objections at all. The action is a bit like a Michael Bay film with shotguns going off all the time. The story fulfills the need for violence and action like a glove.

For the characters, I felt there was a bit of a cookie-cutterness to them, but this is a demon hunt, not literary fiction. Jason is often puerile and Twain a bit too lackadaisical about losing, well, everything. Also, this Father Martin is paper thin. What are we really talking about here? What is this language of angels?

I get the feeling that there is more to the story than what is shown.

Still, all in all, it was fun to read.

View all my reviews

Sunday, July 9, 2017

UCF Production of Seminar

I enjoyed the performance of Theresa Rebeck’s Seminar, a story about four aspiring novelists who sign up for a weekly writing seminar with a well-known literary figure, Leonard (played by Earl Weaver.) The four authors are Kate, Izzy, Douglas, and Martin. Kate, a feminist who reads Kerouac in the tub, but lambasts his work, is played by Alexandra Pica. Eranthis Rose Quigley plays Izzy, the nymphomaniac whose praised work is discredited by the others because of her affinity for blurring the teacher-student relationship with sexual grease. Martin, who so fears rejection that he doesn’t present anything until the end of the story and then rejects Leonard’s praise, is played by Logan Ayala. Finally, Sebastian Gonzalez plays Douglas, the only writer that has any semblance of success. Although I was most impressed by Mr. Weaver (especially the soliloquy in response to Martin’s attack), all the actors did a tremendous job.

So, to appreciate this story, you must understand how hard it is for writers to feel confident in their work. We lay out our hearts on the page, hoping that it will make some difference, some emotional connection to someone, anyone, and watch as their hope wilts into despair. If you do it right, your story is written in blood and tears, your soul left raw, and you never get callouses. I remember a story that Stephen King tells about how he gave a manuscript for his novelist wife Tabitha to read while they were on a trip, how he watched for her reaction to his humor and how his anticipation made her ask him, “Why are you so damn needful?” It’s a deep vein. So, Seminar focuses on this vulnerability and hits some canny points, though it exaggerates and is a bit clumsy, sometimes sewing whole cloth with railroad spikes. Douglas’s rant about exteriority and interiority and so forth is a funny lampooning of literary criticism, but in truth, such analysis is essential in organizing our discourse for investigation of our art, a discourse essential for discerning deeper meaning (if that is our goal.) 

On the other hand, is there any writer who doesn’t tremble when a reader they respect reads the first sentence of their work worrying that it isn’t up to snuff? How long does that take? LOL. When Kate says, “That’s not even the whole sentence!” after Leonard can’t get past her semi-colon, her frustration is the echo of thousands. But then later Leonard says, “If you’re defending yourself, you’re not listening,” and dammit that’s true too. I think I mostly identified with Kate in the story, but a younger version of me that cared even more about acceptance. When she says, “If I want somebody to tell me I’m wasting my time, I can just call my mother,” I felt so bad for her, but authors want truth more than anything else. Truth is the commodity that is most useful.

I guess this is a good time to say that Alexandra Pica became Kate; it was a brilliant performance. Kate’s part is complicated: The fact that Leonard’s criticism of Kate’s 6-year-old short story forces her to another topic reveals a growth path to her career is insightful. Leonard criticizes her work as something so overworked that it has lost its soul is a common fear I have, especially about my old stories. We always want to make the work better, but sometimes you can never duplicate that white hot tongs in the inferno effort that brought you to the story in the first place. Sometimes maybe we can rewrite it into a “desiccated corpse.” That really hit me. Still, not all of it was harrowing, Kate’s argument that Leonard attacked her work from a male chauvinist perspective was on target, but I cannot imagine how Jane Austen’s work can be held up as a feminist expression either, except in tongue-in-cheek humor. 

Martin, the character that is paired with everyone, passes through the social experiment unruffled except for financial woes partially caused by the cost of the seminar. Mr. Ayala brings power into the liquid role, well positioned against the other men and rotating between the women for sex (Izzy) and lodging (Kate.) It’s Machiavellian and clever. 

His relationship with Leonard is frightful because Martin fears rejection and Leonard is rejection incarnate. Martin has a couple thousand pages of work that he is afraid to present (“a regular Emily Dickinson without the charm” is Leonard’s gruff retort.) To be frank, I had some trouble correlating his role with his actions, because his outward personality is not self-reflective like I would expect it to be if he felt so vulnerable. Instead, Martin attacks Douglas’s literary chops and fortunate son status, enjoys a love affair with Izzy, and takes Kate for granted, assuming she is as needful as he. When he has his best chance to be a good friend (when Kate destroys their illusion of Leonard by inventing her Cubano transvestite gang-member who offers to take her place in the group, ironically proving Leonard right while she tries to dismiss him) instead of being supportive, Martin condemns Kate too. Odd.

Feminism is a common topic, especially between Kate and Izzy (who paint it differently) and Kate and Leonard, who are opposite poles. The men in the play, incidentally, are male chauvinists, while the women are too happy to assume traditional sexual roles for gain. The only queer reference in the story was when Leonard tells Martin that he doesn’t need to worry about being sexually dominated because he isn’t his type. 

I have to say that I was distracted by the excessive cursing, not because I think it is foul—I don’t—but because it loses its effectiveness (to me at any rate) in excess. Language, being a key topic of the story, I thought it odd that the most dramatic words faded into the background, their power sucked away by their distressing frequency.

Now I want to discuss Izzy and sex. One second while I compose myself. That's better. ;-) 

Her part demonstrates how sex both opens doors to success and makes any such achievement questionable. Izzy illustrates a fundamental truth: Professional women—even in modern times—cannot express their sexual selves with power and still expect to be respected in their profession. Men can. We’re expected to, but women must foreswear their sexual selves and beautiful women have it the worst. Izzy, who radiates seductive enticement, gives a casual twist of that knife of truth. And there’s the rub. You see, Izzy's sex appeal doesn't reduce her. She is its master and this freedom gained allows her to achieve her objectives. In fact, if we subtract the assumption that her work is without merit (why should we presume the other writers are right? Because of society's preconceived notions?), then perhaps Leonard is being sincere in his praise of her talent with the Shanghai story.

Izzy is the group's glue. She tells Martin, “Stop making a big deal about language,” meaning for him to stop using it as a wedge against Douglas. She pleads with them all to cooperate, that they’re all in it together. Plus, her instincts are right about Martin’s feelings for Kate (revealed later when she rejects him.)

She is no fool, nor does she have time for illusions. Her biological clock is ticking and her intention is to succeed. She is the most feral of Leonard’s cats. When she states that her goal is to write drug menace books and pose for the cover with her shirt off—this said as she dances topless around the sofa—she is undiminished. Rather she emotes territorial presence, feline prowess, and sets a consistent tone for the rest of her story, where sex is a game of low consequence where she always wins. When the confident Izzy says, “I just hate all those women who are hung up about sex,” it divides her from Kate, a good Samaritan who longs for deeper expression than physical intimacy, someone who exudes discomfort. Izzy is played by Eranthis Rose Quigley (her site - GREAT job on your site, Mademoiselle who can run in heels and do headstands) who brought the right amount of daring and self-awareness to her part. Bravo! 

And that brings us to Douglas, the anointed one, whose uncle is famous and has a lever over Leonard, because of a past accusation of plagiarism. His submission to the New Yorker is given to Leonard and he waits for praise but instead is called a whore. Let’s get this right: “Capable, graceful in places, a detached tone of perplexed intelligence, you have a relatively famous last name, in literary circles, not too famous but famous enough. It’s not a home run but it’s a standing double.” Ouch. 

Then Leonard advises for him to write for Hollywood, because “you’re talented, like I said, but you’re never going to be great. And there are a lot of people who are never going to be great, most fiction writers just evaporate, really, but that’s going to be a problem for you because of your kind of whorish attitude to the whole thing, the name dropping, and of course the name.” Most fiction writers just evaporate. Ouch. Ouch. Whimpering sound. 

Gonzalez plays his role to perfection, crafting the image of the lucky guy whose success you might resent, but whose talent you must admit. When his fate is illustrated by Leonard, though, your heart is stone if you don’t feel pity for him. And he still looks whorish. I loved his performance. Fantastic. 

The tour-de-force performance, though, belongs Weaver, who slew. His Leonard articulated the wall of rejection that author's face and he made it all too human. When his students object, he replies (I think to Kate, but maybe Martin), “The fucking critics will say worse. To all of you. If it gets in. If it gets in, at all, you’re doomed.” Sigh. And then in his own story, where he responds to the perjury charges, he tells his story of literary success. At one point, around the second or third novel, he says, “You’ll feel like you’re in the 9th Circle of Hell, where the betrayers of Christ are frozen in eternal cannibalistic silence, only it’s not flesh you’ll be consuming, it’s your mind.” 

And maybe then it's important to reflect on the quality of the class:

Student 1: Kate. Moves on from a story vacuum sucking away her life. Now moving forward in her career.

Student 2: Izzy. Gets to meet Salman Rushdie, one of my favorite authors.

Student 3: Doug. Gets a meeting with the Weinstein brothers who run studios like Miramax.

Student 4: Martin. Decides to work with him and fuck him up like Mephistopheles in his pocket.

A good deal overall, in my opinion, though getting there was probably painful.

Anyway, the miracle of Rebeck’s story is that all of this horror becomes pretty damn funny. Great direction, lighting, and audio too. 

You made me proud, Knights! Charge on!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Father's Day Post from Denise.

I don't usually post anything personal, but Denise's post to me was so touching that I wanted to share it with you.

Charles (center), Kyle (on the right), and I (on the left).

I love the picture, but the words she wrote made me cry. What a woman I have. I am so lucky.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Shiny Side Stayed Up

From high in the passenger seat of a Peterbilt truck, the featureless expanse of the Great Plains stretched to the horizons. Beside me The Cisco Kid, a Canadian trucker, my ride, a lonely soul who spotted me hitchhiking in Sacramento, thumped the steering wheel, keeping time. It was March, and Cisco — I never learned his real name — kept the cab cold and the music loud, just above the CB chatter.
“Ooh, I'm driving my life away, looking for a better way, for me,” Cisco sang in his scratchy voice. It was the hundredth time I’d heard Eddie Rabbitt’s song since my road adventure started.
Behind us an 18-wheeler carried a load of concentrated juice. Cisco drove and drank sweet creamy coffee while I smoked and told stories to keep him awake. Eddie Rabbitt was fading away, but never very far. Cisco reached for the CB and increased the squelch.
“Breaker 1-9, Westbounders on the I-80, how’s it look over your shoulder?”
“Lake Rat here. Y’all look good back that way,” a disembodied voice said. “Copy?”
“Cisco Kid copies.” He took a gulp of sugary caffeine juice. “Clean and green your way, but smile and comb your hair east of Des Moines. 4-10?”
“10-4. Keep the shiny side up and the rubber side down.”
The Cisco Kid winked as he hung up the mic. “Pizza and Murder by noon.”
“That’s right, boy. Chicago. The Windy City. Find me some country music.”
I gave a silent groan and fiddled with the dial. Seconds later Eddie Rabbitt’s voice returned. “Well, the midnight headlight finds you on a rainy night…”
“Great job!” Cisco said. “Yeah.”
“Gotta keep rollin',” Eddie sang. “Ooh, I’m driving my life away…”
Two thousand miles we’d come together, and I was far, but still nowhere further. I rummaged for my notebook and wrote a couplet.
“Looking for a better way,” Eddie sang, and the Cisco Kid grinned. I smiled back, inhaled toxic smoke, and watched the snow-covered cornfields shoot past.
“Looking for a sunny day,” I whispered along.
He’d heard me anyhow.
“That’s right!” he said. “Gotta keep rollin’.”

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Adventures of Jesus Christ, Boy DetectiveThe Adventures of Jesus Christ, Boy Detective by J. Bradley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Adventures of Jesus Christ, Boy Detective

It’s disingenuous to begin a book like J. Bradley’s The Adventures of Jesus Christ, Boy Detective and not expect to wallow in irreverence, so don’t read it if your religious feathers are easily fluffed. Mine are not, so I enjoyed this tale, especially because it works at two levels, one at an unexpected depth, raising incisive questions about our society’s love affair with violence and how it is justified by faith, belief in the unproven and unprovable. As always… no spoilers. ;-)

Some of the reviews point out that there is no cohesion between the beginning of the book and the cases that follow. That’s just wrong. The second half of the book happens because of the geas laid upon Jesus by his father.

The book was good, but not without (in my opinion) flaws, and maybe it’s best I deal with these first, to focus on the positive, so here are my complaints:

(1) Mystery. A twofold problem here… First, the book is written in 3rd person limited omniscient with Timmy as the principal pov character. There are other characters too: God, the Holy Ghost dove, Simon/Peter, Uncle Leopold, Chief Inspector Donaldson, and Marie/Mary. One of the advantages of this strategy is that the narrator can disclose information to the reader to which the characters are ignorant. This is an especially effective device in a mystery, where a good part of the fun is guessing the meaning of the clues before the detective does or watching suspects incriminate themselves. Unfortunately, Timmy/Jesus, is divine and has far more hidden information than ever could be revealed, including access to Timmy’s stored history on his computer. This happens many times, especially in the cases, and it frustrated me because I feel excluded from the crucial part of the whodunit, not because I am outsmarted by Poirot’s little gray cells, but rather that Timmy/Jesus has access to clues I never heard about. Again, this is so part-and-parcel to the idea that Jesus Christ is the detective, right? And maybe the real observation to make is that AJCBD isn’t a detective novel at all, and, in fact, it’s right there in the title: It’s an adventure story, a triptych of Timmy’s adventure with Jesus at the conn. Fair enough, then.
In a few instances, however, we get to watch what was just revealed to one character get revealed to another, using dialogue, and it comes off a bit boring. If I were editing, I would suggest summary instead of dialogue for these instances. There were other minor editing issues (for example, “lighting rod” instead of “lightning rod”), but overall the book is well produced.

(2) Feminine Perspective: Aside from Colleen, I would have liked to see the female characters better developed. There is a real opportunity to use the Marie/Mary angle (in the “Hand of Fate” part), and I confess that I waited for the gut punch, but it never came. This is not a fatal flaw (Tolkien only has one “she” reference in The Hobbit), and you could argue that it reflects the sexist nature of Christianity, but I raise the point, because I felt there was a missed opportunity, just as it would have been cooler to see God be a woman with a punk haircut than a bald middle-aged man. Anyway, I really missed this angle. The “She was chosen” whisperings makes me wonder if this aspect is just well hidden.

Before I begin to discuss what was so pleasurable, I must describe the general layout. Essentially, about the first half of the book is a 7-chapter novella, “Hand of Fate”, that plays out a game of life and death with a demon and a deck of enchanted cards. The second half of the book is a mock purgatory (there is a real Purgatory with an interesting perspective, by the way) where Timmy/Jesus must solve 8 cases, each a bit more disheartening until he/He loses faith in humanity. The final two “cases” are mysteries without tangible solutions and form a conclusion, which I will not discuss further, besides saying that it is a mind boggling table turning.

Statistics: About 54,000 words. Favorite words: kipped, clownery, unsheathes, and clomps.

Now to what worked best for me, and I’m sorry, but I am somewhat constrained here by my no-spoiler rule:

This book isn’t really about Timmy Hightower or Jesus solving cases, although there is quite a lot of that going on. It’s a book about a conflict between God and Jesus about how worthy humanity is. Jesus says this in “Early Bird Gets the Shaft,” a story that explores, shall we say, extreme acupuncture solutions:
“Humans are so desperate to hold onto their mortality, they’ll try anything. My father keeps them good and scared because he needs them to die and from that fear, they create things like Scientology, crystal healing, yoga, acupuncture, things they think will stave off death if they practice them, believe in them hard enough. If they knew the truth, knew of the broken promise that awaits them after they die… until then, my father will continue doing everything he can to make sure they keep missing the mark.”

Jesus maintains a faith in humanity not shared by Jehovah, who true to form is selfish, arrogant, and uncompromising. I liked how this contrast was done, although I would have liked to see a little more of the revolutionary tone of the New Testament.

In truth, when I finally read the Bible cover-to-cover (as an adult), rather than excerpts selected by pedagogues for indoctrination, I was astounded by the contrast in the voices of the Old and New Testaments. That aspect of Jesus’s voice is not captured, though his insurrection is incorporated into the defiance that is the backdrop of the second section of the novel, “Cases.” Until the last two sections of “Cases,” it is Timmy’s inflection that seems dominant, and no attempt is made to incorporate the Thou and Thys. This was probably a good choice for a contemporary audience, and not much is lost, because Bradley still paints the willful nature of Father/God/Jehovah/JVHV/Tetragrammaton and a loving, caring Jesus.

The core of the book is about bringing the real offenders to justice, and I guarantee you that the twist at the end is worthwhile, outrageous, and thoughtful.

What else?

I enjoyed how Timmy Hightower’s world was painted and how his character evolved. Expressions like “rush minute” for the hallways at school made the story realistic. I liked the adolescent tension between Timmy and Carlos, but (again) I think that more could have been done with Marie. I would have enjoyed watching Jesus deal with some adolescent sexual tension. This is more than casual interest because, at one point, Jesus elucidates us on an undisclosed (except perhaps in the Gospel of Thomas) aspect of his life:

“Chief, I was married, despite what you may have read. I never required my followers to be celibate, either. My father, however, believes if his followers aren’t getting laid, then they use that pent up sexual energy to serve his purpose. The means to an end don’t really matter to him, as long as he gets what he wants.”

So, then, I wondered… If Jesus is brought back to humanity to save us, he must have left his wife somewhere, right? I can only imagine how being inside a 12-year-old Timmy with so few opportunities for sexual release (besides the obvious one) may complicate possession. And that led to wondering whether possession includes such hormonal responses. Does an adult who possess an adolescent get the baggage? I maybe shouldn’t be overthinking this?

Anyway, I liked the dialogue here, although (again) I thought there was too much. It did seem realistic.

In general, Timmy’s character is well articulated, and I especially like how, towards the end, we get more Jesus domination as the tension increases.

Another aspect that must be addressed is the chilling vision of modern society that is painted in these cases. The casual violence and the blasé murder of innocents, five here, six there… It is, unfortunately, an accurate enough portrayal of the real world we construct together. Every week we probably traverse the crosshairs of murderers, and our children are often victims.

Until the cases began unfolding, each of them a depiction of human shortcoming, I wasn’t paying attention enough to the background radiation of death and destruction. This is probably because it was so ubiquitous that I didn’t give it weight, but each of these cases resolves into a personal story, almost always involving a horrible end, and—look—the storytelling tone isn’t different. It’s a cant, a bit whimsical, but overwhelmingly disturbing when you realize what is being discussed.

And I think this is where Bradley really succeeds and, by syllogism, also disappoints. If the premise is that God is responsible for all of our violence, that it’s some kind of game to prove humans are unworthy, then we have no agency. That’s the problem with ascribing our choices to divinity. While it apologizes for them, removing us from the blame—I am so sorry I must have sinned—we lose the power to fix, well, anything about our flippant savagery. And while that’s not Bradley’s fault… That’s our fault. It would be nice if we aren’t looking for a way to affix it to anyone but ourselves.

That isn’t what the book is about, though, but it gets my mind there because of the theological questions raised and a clever ploy where Bradley works in the paradox of the Trinity to answer the “Why are you here?” question.

So, is the book hopeful or hopeless? I am going to fill in the “both” response, and I’ll back it up with quotes:

“I have to believe, Leo, I have to keep believing in them or all hope is lost.” (About humanity. Jesus says this.)
“Great reward does not come without great risk. Faith, Peter, remember?” (Jehovah taking a chance on Jesus’s soul.)
“When you are ready to give up on humanity, I’ll let you come home.” (Jehovah setting up the parameters of Jesus’s spell with the humans.)
“Monsters… aren’t born. Moments like this… make them.” (Leopold about why he doesn’t let Jesus murder, so he won’t become like his father.)

Finally, I really liked this expression:

“Motherfuckers back from cresting over his bottom lip.”

Lots of fun! Recommended.

View all my reviews

Friday, April 28, 2017

Cold Observer

Supine was I, diagonal, set upon the table,
eyes frozen, fixed upon two paper lanterns—
suspended like dirigibles: Crest white 
and cash green. Still, but more in motion
than I who lay below, shivering, lying,
telling myself two hundred dollars matter. 

You plucked fish from fans splayed
across my refrigerated skin; you prodded
sand dollar shells shielding my aching nipples;
and you laughed about my brazen vulnerability.

I’ll answer now your bass and tenor speculation, 
the “why does she?” of my nyotaimori
When you push away, bellies full, balls starving, 
if my talents are inferior, why did you pay me?

Monday, April 3, 2017

Portrait of the Brontë Sisters (and Branwell fading in) by Branwell Brontë

Did he reuse the canvas or is he seeping into our consciousness? The artist, Branwell Brontë, elder brother of the sisters, hoped to become a professional artist. The painting was described by author Elizabeth Gaskell in 1853 when it showed just the 3 sisters separated by the column. Now Branwell is emerging from the column.
It was found folded on top of a cupboard in 1906 by the second wife of Charlotte’s husband Reverend A.B. Nicholls.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Teaching the Insomniac

Our marriage’s tides rise and ebb. I sense their rhythm, those neap phases and spring highs. Denise, my wife, loves calm water, but I yearn for the surf, so we each steer our craft different ways. Somehow, we avoid floundering.
In 2009, I traveled alone to Switzerland on business. It’s my most frequent destination, because I write computer programs for a customer in Sankt Gallen, near the Austrian border. The Swiss are punctual and demanding, but their fame for honesty and discretion is well-earned.
The all-night flight spent working, a train, a taxi, speaking rusty German, and the daylong office debriefing all took their toll. After showering off the travel muck and sliding between my bed’s crisp sheets, exhausted and half-drunk to boot, the hotel walls closed in, leaving me studying the ceiling. Ten almost identical nights followed. I exchanged wine and tequila for hashish and absinthe, but aside from adding psychedelic patterns to the ceiling, nothing improved. I programmed past midnight, stumbled back to my room, and fought demons until dawn.
Imagine my joy when a couple I knew, Raul and Simone, invited me to a club on Langstrasse, in Zurich. They knew a local reggae band playing there. Since I was returning to Florida the next morning, I offered my hotel’s sofa bed, sparing them the return drive to their Alpine cottage. Switzerland has zero tolerance for driving inebriated.
We met at the club, and they introduced me to the band. Simone used to sing with Ernst, the drummer, in another act. The band grooved, and by set break, the audience was ecstatic. They left the strobe lights and steam machine on, creating a surreal ambiance. Hoarse from screaming and smoke, I angled for space at the bar, squeezing in between a lip-locked couple and an inked transvestite in a sleeveless frilly gown. Simone and Ernst were the tonsil-probing pair beside me.
The crowd around me tightened. Before I was crushed up against the lovers, I escaped downstairs to the street level, feeling alone in the multitude. I squeezed outside onto the sidewalk where I could breathe freely again.
It was late, but the streets were still busy with happy cavorters. I set off to explore. A few blocks away, as I passed through a park, someone called my name. It was Raul.
“I’m waiting for coke,” he said.
His restless pacing suggested he had already indulged.
“There’ll be plenty.” He licked his teeth, making fleeting eye contact. “You can have some.”
“My twelve-hour flight’s in seven hours, Raul. I haven’t slept for a week.”
“He’s late. I already paid.”
I wasn’t comfortable leaving him alone, but neither did I want to stay. Zurich is almost Disneyland-safe, but blow attracts violence like sugar does flies. His nervousness was contagious. I worried about the police too. People smoke pot on the late-night Zurich trains, but cocaine is just as illegal there as America.
“We should go back to the bar,” I said “Simone is there.”
His frenetic motion ceased and he squinted at me, studying my face.
“She’s always been a free spirit,” he said. “Besides, they are old friends.”
“Hey, if it works for you guys, that’s great.”
He heard disapproval in my voice I didn’t intend.
“Michael, this is Europe, not America. We live in the twenty-first century. We are modern people. We can love whomever, whenever, and wherever we want. It’s our life, our rules.”
In my mind I heard the crash of the surf. I envied him, imagining the myriad fantasies they could pursue together.
“And I am a man who lusts for novelty trapped in a traditional marriage?”
He snickered.
“You must be so frustrated.”
“Simone never gets jealous when you stray? My wife would slice off my cock.”
“No. I am faithful, though. Once you have the best, why keep searching?”
I was stunned by the gap between my fantasy and their one-sided reality. Fortunately, my awkward moment ended with the arrival of his apologetic dealer, returning the money. By then, Raul wasn’t craving it anymore anyhow. In fact, he was yawning. I was still wired.
We found Simone alone at the bar, the band long departed. I checked the train schedule and discovered we had a half-hour to reach the station. Between gulps of beer and kisses, she detailed her conquests while we meandered empty sidewalks.
“They let me sing,” she said.
“I’m sorry I missed that,” I said and meant it. Simone has a great voice.
“Everything is shit,” Raul said when we reached the station. “I’m shit. You are all shit.”
“You’re just tired,” I said. “Let’s catch that train.”
“Trains are shit too.”
He bolted off. Simone, bored, remained leaning against a spotless marble column. She shrugged, and I realized that I was a mere extra in their frequently replayed drama.
After a while Raul returned. They argued in German, too fast for me to understand. Raul started crying. She left him and approached me, her voice a conspiratorial whisper.
“He’s so possessive.”
“Can you make sure he doesn’t run off again?”
“He won’t. I promised we’d screw when we get to your room.”
“We? Us?”
She made a face.
“No. Me and him.”
Swiss summer nights being short, the sky brightened before our arrival. After showering, I discovered them fully dressed, snoring, entwined, in my bed. I left for the airport.

Life sometimes arranges a parade. Going home, I observed couples, loving yet imperfect, just like Denise and I are. Raul was right: We all make our rules, choosing whichever ones work best, and that night I realized a libertine lifestyle was not for me. The true lesson, though, took years longer. I now realize now that it’s not the ones who satisfy every fantasy who win at life. It’s those who can enjoy a good night's sleep.