Sunday, November 30, 2014

Three Loves Seven, Chapter 20, Part 1 - "How Engineers Do Hard Time"

Dear Gentle Readers,

Our hero Clete remains incarcerated, sentenced to drudgery meant to improve his character and cultivate good Buddha nature. Qi is about to learn that such a penal system will never work on an engineer. They will just continue to refine processes and materials to make things more efficient.

We move on to his second day in jail, but this time from Fei's point of view.

The story continues ...

[Reporter’s note: It seems that the Second Chilin Guardian Princess [Fei] was actually self-aware enough to keep some notes about this time period. This is totally out of character for her. I actually complimented her on the fact that she could write something that was not a tutor’s assignment. For some reason, she thought I was being sarcastic and became petulant reluctant to share—this is her true character. At her mother’s insistence, I must add, she finally cooperated.]

[A relevant entry from Fei’s journal]

Island Time: Dragon, Month 7, Day 1, Xingqi 5
[U.S. Time: Friday, August 17, 2012]

I am not one to keep a diary, after watching our houseguest Dr. Wong last night taking the time to write everything down that happened yesterday, I asked him about it. He said it is a good habit to form. “Record observations over time. It is absolutely essential to be a good scientist, or even just a person who wants to improve oneself.” He has said this in our classes. But I see that he does it himself. I am going to try.

We finished our weeding duties in one of the north gardens early, so we were released. Some of the Seconds were going to practice diving with the snorkels. I was invited but there were other things I needed to do. I came back home and found Dr. Wong outside in the yard. I still had to get used to seeing him out of his usual khaki bush outfit. He had brought a table out into the sunlight and was hunched over looking carefully through a mounted magnifying glass and was working with some tools.

     “Hello Dr. Wong.”
     “I think I hear Faye there. Hello! You’re early.”
     “Work is completed. Would you like me to help you with prepping today’s mash?”
     “It’s done.”
     “Your skin is not accustomed to being exposed to the sun. You are starting to burn.”
     He did not look up. “Am I? I hadn’t noticed.”
     “May I apply some thanaka?”
     “What’s that?”
     “An orange paste made from tree bark that we wear to cool and protect the skin. It’s something one of the grandmothers from the Third Branch tradition brought from her country.”
     “Oh really? In my country we call it sunblock. Sure. Need me to get up?”
     “Stay where you are, I’ll grind some.”

I made up some the paste and put it on his back, shoulders, and face. I drew little flowers and faces into the paste so that he would have patterns in his tan after he washed up. That will be very funny. He was doing some very close work with some of the bugs.

     “So do I look like I have war paint on? Ooogah boogah!”
     “Excuse me?”
     “Don’t mind me. Just being racially insensitive. I think I just offended three ethnic groups.”
     “What are you doing with those bugs?”
     “Attaching artificial legs.”

On the table he had set up an enameled tray. Several tiny creatures, insects, spiders, centipedes, and the like, were all gathered about as he was carefully gluing tiny, hair-thin silver wires onto a beetle.  I started to ask him about this when there started a rumbling sound from behind the cottage.

     “Sounds like another batch is done. Come on, I’ll show you what I’m doing over there.”

Behind the house was a machine with a metal drum spinning with things that were clattering about inside. He shut it off, unloaded as many coconuts as would fit inside that could be agitated. All been worn smooth as buffed metal. He threw them into a large basket. He then reached inside and gathered all the wet fibrous material, the coir, that had been knocked off the nuts. He put that all into and area he had set up to dry in the sun.

     “Another three batches and we’re done.”
     “That’s amazing. You just started doing that this morning? That takes forever by hand.”
     “Nothing like an industrial tumbler. Started it up as soon as your mother left. I’m surprised she left me alone. I think I convinced her I would not escape.”
     “Sorry. Poor choice of words. I am staying here for a bit.”
     “About that. Why ARE you staying with us? For how long?”
     “Another couple of days. As to why, ask your mother about that.”
     “This fiber has been really tenderized. It’s almost garment-soft. We use it for making rope.”
     “Your mother is not due back early is she?”
     “No. If anything, she’ll be late. Why?”
     “Faye, I am going to surprise her at some point at how quick I am with these assigned tasks. So let’s just keep my machine work a secret, shall we?”
     “You got it Dr. Wong. I like secrets and surprises.”
     “Atta girl.”
     “You’re not hurting those bugs are you?”
     “No,” he said as we walked back to his worktable, “or I am not trying to. I noticed so many of the bugs that live in your perimeter are injured and missing body parts—missing legs mostly. I had gathered a few to see why they behave the way they do here. They’re docile. Got me wondering why. I realized I had some titanium wire about the size of their legs and decided to design and graft little legs onto them to return some of their balance and mobility, just to see if I could. That’s all. Their reflexes are all off. See how they all gather together as I work on this guy? That should not be happening. They’re all different species. They should be attacking one another.”
     “It’s not strange. They are helping each other out. They’re guiding the new limb into the best spot as you attach it.”
     "Don’t be silly. It’s probably a chemical imbalance.”
     “All creatures can be very collaborative, Dr. Wong. What kind of glue are you using?”
     “Sap from the tree in the corner. I tried spirit-adhesives in my kit but they were too toxic for the little guys.”
     “Is the end of the new leg sharp or dull?”
     “Everything at that micro a level is sharp to us. Titanium, however, is more rigid than any part of their exoskeleton. They could puncture me if they wanted to, but they’ve been behaving themselves.”
     “How many have you done?”
     “I stopped counting. They kept showing up. I’ll try to gather them up again tomorrow and see how they’re all doing. I’ve given some little loops or hooks on the ends as well.”
     “I was asked to bring you your phone. Mother said you need to call your banker or your office?”
     “Excellent. Excuse me for minute.”

The Professor punched in a number and gave instructions to someone on the other side. He was speaking in his English business jargon, so I did not quite understand everything he was saying.

     “Do me a favor Faye. Before you take that phone away. Snap a couple of pictures of me as I sit with some of the Soul Birds. They’ve gotten used to me. I want to send them as joke to a ornithologist friend of mine. She’ll get a kick out of seeing these weird birds and she’ll laugh her ass off seeing my own flabby tush in a fundoshi. She’s Japanese. She’ll think I’m on a drunken bender. Hah!”

At the time I wanted to ask why he thought I would be taking the phone away. But I did as he said and he then pushed a few buttons and sent his pictures on their way.

     “Battery’s low—plug it in to recharge and give it to your mom when she gets back.”
     “What are those two containers of fluid?”
     “The cloudy one is my sweat, collected. As I was sitting here working I was swarmed by everything in the yard.”
     “They weren’t biting you were they? They’re not supposed to.”
     “No. I think they were licking the salt in my sweat. Waving them off didn’t keep them away. So I sat out in the sun for a while in such a way as to let the sweat drip off of me into that container. Once I had enough I just set it alongside me so they’d go there instead. Gross hunh? But it worked. They all got off my face and back. That’s the leftovers.”
     “That’s a LOT!”
     “You haven’t noticed have you? I’ve done nothing but shed moisture since I came on this damn hell-hole of an island. Getting twice that much was easy!”
     “And the dark one?”
     “My blood.”
     “I drew out about 4 ounces using my medical kit. All the bugs here are moving in slow motion. I thought if I offered them a blood meal, karma free, they’d get a little better. Everybody who wanted a sip has been. That’s also leftovers.”
     “Do you think there is there something special about your blood and sweat that the bugs like?”
     “No. I’m type O-negative. That’s about it.”
     “Mind if I take them?”
     “Why? This not some kind of weird voodoo ritual of yours is it? You going to turn me into a zombie? If so, no.”
     “I know someone very sensitive to various salts. You are a novel source to The Island. I have an idea.”
     “Really? I smell a research project. Let’s hear your hypothesis. Now you have ME curious.”
     “Not yet. Please?”
     “OK, but be careful working with human physiological substances. We need to have the bioethics lesson sometime. I suppose I should start prepping our dinner then. Rice porridge and fresh herbs and greens?”
     “Don’t bother. Auntie Feng will be sending Wen over with dinner for us tonight and Wen will join us.”
     “I don’t think your mother will approve. She wants me to do the drudge work.”
     “She never refuses Feng’s cooking, EVER. Don’t worry. Why are you doing labor here for us anyway?”
     “Again, ask your mother. I apologize for being here and disrupting your household rhythms.”
     “Why apologize? I enjoy hearing you and Mother have spirited conversations. It’s a lot of fun. You two joke with each other a LOT.”
     “Faye? Hang on a minute. Let’s get this straight. Your mother and I do NOT like each other. OK? Don’t be mistaking our banter for anything other than verbal sparring in animosity. Do NOT associate our behavior with anything positive. I do NOT want you taking away false impressions that will cause you to have bad relationships with men. Got that? We are NOT a good example.”
     “Whatever you say, Professor. You sure say ‘DO NOT’ a lot. Are you sure you're not somebody's father?”

© Copyright 2012 by Vincent Way, all rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Malibu morning picture of the day - Thanksgiving Eve, Wednesday, November 26, 20124

Dear Family, Friends, and Gentle Readers,

Here's Wednesday morning at the coast. Looks pretty much like yesterday though.

There are two huge cargo vessels out there on the water, Probably waiting for a spot to open up down in San Pedro.

If you are reading this, it means you didn't take the day off to travel to your hometown. When you work for a Southern California college, as I do, practically everybody disappears on a day like today.

I mentioned the Eleanor Tree and the Jospehine Tree yesterday. I am told that in many agrarian cultures it is a common practice to plant a tree when a child is born. I'm sorry I never thought to do that when my kids were born, but if I had, there would be six more trees on this property that would suffer from neglect.

Since I also mentioned that I grew up (at least some years) in my house, you might wonder if there is a "Vincent Tree."

Gotta be my tree... old, bitter, shaped like a V for victory,
of course I look like an inverted V, but there you go...
Turns out there is a candidate. My dad bought this house in 1956 when my older brother was born and sometime thereafter his grandmother (we called her "Ty-Ty," which I am told means "Missus" in Cantonese) planted a Chinese grapefruit tree in the backyard. The year it went in is not clear since everybody who could tell me is dead or demented. So, it could be the "Randall Tree" or the "Vincent Tree."

Looks pretty horrible doesn't it? It's frequently overgrown with climbing fern and passion fruit vines. This last summer the kids pulled off the overgrowth and apparently it's main canopy went away.

Now THIS is a real turkey...I think this Mama's really cool
If you think that fruit might be good, no. There have only been a couple of years where it tasted any good--very rainy years, which are rare in L.A. I'm sure the bacteria, birds, rodents, and insects think it's just fine though. This is probably why it got written off, not just by me, but by my parents before me. And yet it endures with no care.

I'm sure brother Randy will not claim it, so I will. What better metaphor for a writer who has not mass-published yet--a tough, short, old tree, barren on top, spread out to the sides, that bears lots of fruit that nobody eats. Ah. Just the kind of character I like...

I won't be in Malibu the rest of the week, so the blog goes on holiday. See you back Monday. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.


P.S. While we are on the subject of turkey-sized birds, to those of you who are reading my "Saturday serial story" who may be wondering what the so-called "soul birds" look like, here's an artist rendering of the type of bird I have in mind, but I imagine them being all black, and rather threatening looking.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Malibu morning picture of the day - Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Dear Family, Friends, and Gentle Readers,

Once again, a clear, blue day on the coast. Winds are still this morning.

It may be hard to see, but this is the visual span between Catalina on the left and Santa Barbara Island right at the margin on the right. There is an interesting zig-zag pattern on the water at the right. Probably a large sea serpent just underneath, don't you think? Heading out after feeding on a surfer?

There is no worthy second look today. Everything looks like the above.

Revisiting a topic I touched on yesterday, here is an interesting link to a story about the palm trees of Los Angeles from our local public TV station KCET. It covers  the exposition event I alluded to related to the planting of many palm trees, the L.A. 1932 Olympics. They report it was a make-work effort for the city's unemployed started in 1931, just happening to coincide with the Olympics. How legends develop!

Young palms line Canon Drive in Beverly Hills, circa 1918. Courtesy of the Title Insurance and Trust / C.C. Pierce Photography Collection, USC Libraries.
Beverly Hills, Canon Drive, about 100 years ago...
If you don't care to read local history, here's a picture from that website of Beverly Hills, early in the 20th century, yet to be developed with young palm trees planted. This is Canon Drive.

If you've been to BH, you know that all these modest houses are now gone, replaced with great mansions.
However, a lot of the palms remain. In the picture below, the tall, skinny ones with the small heads are probably some these that you see here that have made it to old age.

By the way, when the old palm trees fall over, the city does not replant palms.

They put in something a bit more suited to the climate and which will provide more shade. The ones they put in front of my house are tabebuia trees. When they are mature they will look like this.

A tabebuia tree, I think this is color flower ours produces...
They went in the year that my eldest grandchild was born, 2011, so we call them the "Eleanor Tree" and the "Josephine Tree," bearing both of her names. They flowered for the first time this last spring. Right now, they just look like 7-foot branches that are unable to stand on their own. How these things grow in the wild I have no idea. I will not probably live long enough to see them look like this, Who knows what the next owners of the house will do either?

That's all for today. Have a wonderful Tuesday.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Malibu morning picture of the day - Monday, November 24, 2014

Good morning dear Family, Friends, and Gentle Readers,

The winds have picked up and it's yet another Red Flag Warning Day for wildfire here in Southern California. The sky on the coast is blue.

Yeah, yeah, I know. This picture is rather sepia-toned. But trust me, it's basically blue. Here's another for contrast.

A LOT of jet trails out this morning. Somebody was doing some practice rounds...

It's a rather rare phenomenon in Los Angeles for an older person to be living in the house that they grew up in as a child, but that is my case. I have resided in one of two houses adjacent to one another in the southeastern portion of Hollywood near Silverlake nearly all of my 56 years.

East Hollywood on Sunday night
As I was working on my fiction writing last night, I glanced up to see that the sunset was that smog-colored vermilion that we get here in the Southland. I went out on the porch just to capture a few pictures with my phone. I felt I was looking back through my eyes as a 9-year-old.

The trees are probably bigger, but I don't think those Mexican Fan Palms nor that fir tree that you see silhouetted are very much bigger. I believe they are at a plateau-maturity. In fact, that palms are starting to die and fall over my street, one by one. Mine fell over years ago. OK, my ex-wife knocked one over, but I'll take some of the blame since I taught her to drive. She was a new driver at the time. I understand that the City of Los Angeles planted many of these palms for an international exposition  (for which Exposition Park in South L.A. was named) that was hosted here nearly a century ago. All the houses were there from 50 years ago.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)  Beata Beatrix  Oil on canvas, 1864-1870  69.3 x 87.5 cm (27.28
Beata Beatrix by
Pre-Raphaelite Dante Rosetti

NOT a Greene & Greene interior (replica from Fine
 but all my friends' houses in Hollywood
(we all lived in old houses or in modern apartments)
FELT like this, but weathered and beaten up,
usually painted Sinclair Navajo White.
For some reason, the pictures in my head of my childhood all feel like Pre-Raphaelite, glowing landscapes at sunset, with quarter-sawn oak furnishings designed by Greene and Greene. It's a mental landscape where it's easy to imagine ghosts floating about. The movie Chinatown gets the sense just right. I think its because all of the public spaces and other people's houses had a dark shadow essence to them, in contrast to the bright sun of noonday L.A. Roman Polanski was not from L.A., but he certainly got the interior sensibilities correct. Interiors of the 1960s, unless recently built, were poorly lit by today's standards.

That's all for today. Have a wonderful week.


A personal note to my daughter and son-in-law who follow this blog (everybody else disregard):

We had a joint service a church on Sunday to dedicate a remodel of the sanctuary. Here are two pictures. The lighting was changed to low-cost LEDs but is much brighter now, the paint is white rather than beige, the platform is now hardwood, and the carpet is blue instead of rust-orange.

New Dawn did all of the construction. We hosted the Thanksgiving Luncheon after a late combined service.

If you ever want a lively choir piece, program "We're Gonna Have Church" by Pepper Choplin--that's one of the things we performed.

They had me carve turkeys for this crowd. There were five, and there were NO leftovers. I guess we were hungry...

Hope you got the baby shower stuff from me, The electrical plug stuff is from me FYI. That vendor does not gift wrap. (pillow too)

You realize of course if you call her Hattie, she will probably NEVER wear a hat out of spite...

And apologies to BP for hauling you into my "Breaking Bad" riff. That posting came just as I was done writing up a bit of criminal fiction, so my head was in the mood.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Three Loves Seven, Chapter 19, Part 6 - "Head Lice Are Not Sentient Creatures, Are They?"

Dear Gentle Readers,

Chapter 19 finally wraps up with this installment, and Clete ends one of his most eventful days on Dog Island. However, his fun in jail will not stop yet.

Today you will be reintroduced to the sacrosanct Island law that essentially prohibits an unmarried man from sleeping under a roof with a woman who is neither his wife nor kin. Remember it--it will show up again.

In this section you will read an allusion to an apocryphal story about the apostle John, who dealt with a problem that a lot of U.S. urban dwellers are plagued with today--bedbugs. It's for real, check it out sometime. The story is so cute, I had to have a character latch onto it sometime, and dear, vegan, zero-karma-tolerance Qi seemed the best.

As I said, Clete's incarceration continues, but we will shift point of view for Day Two in our installment next week.

Thanks for reading.


The story continues ...

Eventually dinner was served to all residents of the Qi-Fei House. After the requisite clean-up, Faye, Qi, and I settled down in the yard together as I showed them how to use their household’s new e-book reader. Since Shakespeare was on Qi’s mind, I pulled up Merchant of Venice from the many thousands of works that I had Sally load into these things, and we did an out-loud reading to ourselves as that evening’s entertainment. They loved that there was a man who could lend voice to the male roles. I almost found myself forgetting that I was a prisoner of that house.

If it seems odd to you that I would socialize so easily with a woman who blithely commits human rights violations, torture, and acts of psychological terror, it’s because we seemed to share the project of shielding Faye from having any negative thoughts about our relationship, or about anything period. To Faye, it was just her family’s turn to host me for their style of dinner and home entertainment. I think I was starting to understand married couples who keep up appearances “for the sake of the kids.” She didn’t tell me, I didn’t tell her, we just did it. And it seemed right. But I knew it was NOT right because it was dishonest and I did it anyway. Is creating illusions of well-being the project of parenthood? And if it is, why am I feeling this way about Faye? Part of Faye’s problems, and her stunted aptitude in academic work is that I think her mother is too indulgent and too controlling. And yet, here I found myself in collusion.

And then there is the paradox of Qi as well. She is the Ferrari of emotion—meaning that her moods, feelings, and affects change direction, start, accelerate, and stop on a dime. Once she goes into friendly, loving, nurturing mode, it’s impossible not to like her. The guy who makes a life with this chick will have to be absolutely flexible or entirely bland and neutral, or at least figure out how to shift her into her good mood.

The daylight eventually faded and the electricity was turned off. I was wondering how this legalistic bimbo of a judge was going to deal with the cardinal rule of the Island prohibiting me from sleeping under the same roof as either she or Fei. Not to worry. She had come up with her workaround when it was time to turn in. She got a bundle of cloth and led me out into the yard and hung a hammock on sturdy hooks that were mounted on two trees.

     “This is your hammock. You will sleep here tonight. Get in.”

I promptly complied. She then hung a second hammock on the same two hooks. She removed her clothing, loosed her hair, and climbed into that second hammock so that we were essentially hanging, pressed against each other.

     “Just WHAT do you think you’re doing?” I said.
     “You may not sleep under the same roof as me, so we are out here where there is no roof.”
     “Why do you have to be out here?”
     “I have to be sure that you do not slip out of the perimeter and go do your work in violation of your incarceration order while I am asleep. I am tying us  together by our legs together as well.”
     “You’re going to have to stay up all night then. What if I just untie the rope while you’re asleep? Aren’t you worried about that?”
     “Nobody can untie my knots but me. You’re welcome to try.”
     “I’m not playing games. I promise I will not leave the premises.”
     “Your word is not trustworthy at this time.”
     “Even so, tying yourself to me overnight is a bad idea.”
     “You are a middle-aged woman with aging-body issues. I am a middle-aged man likewise with issues.”
     “What issues?”
     “I gotta get up and piss at least three times in the night. It’ll be very annoying to wake you up.”
     “Why must you urinate so often?”
     “Enlarged prostate gland. Things don’t empty out completely.”
     “Hmm. Well I have highly interrupted sleep patterns with episodes of night sweats. Don’t worry about me. It will be instructive to watch you as well. Take off your fundoshi then. It will be troublesome for you then.”
     “Don’t you think this sleeping arrangement is highly inappropriate?”
     “How so?”
     “I’m not an anthropologist, but don’t you think the law about a man not sleeping under the same roof with a woman who is not his wife or family member is essentially a cultural prohibition against pre-marital sex?”
     “Then what is the point of that law? We may as well be sleeping in the same hammock.”
     “Would you like that? For me to climb in with you there?”
     “O God no!”
     “Why not? Am I not attractive in that way?”
     “I really don’t want to sleep in a hammock alongside you either. Put a longer rope on my leg and I’ll sleep on the ground.”
     “But it’s not as comfortable.”
     “You wanna know fuckin’ why? You have a goddamned bad case of head lice! I don’t want lice. Geez! I can even see them crawling on you in the dark. It’s gross! It makes me itch just to look at you.”
     “I consider them pets.”
     “That’s great for you. Guess you don’t have to buy pet food then. I’m getting on the ground.”
     “Keep your place. I will ask them to move off during your stay.”
     “Are you nuts? Lice are not sentient. They don’t take orders. They just move toward heat and scent.”
     “You are a Christian are you not? Your own holy book teaches that such creatures are sentient.”
     “The Bible is not a science book, but there’s nothing about lice there.”
     “In the Acts of Saint John, the Apostle John asks the bedbugs at an inn in which he is lodging to vacate while he sleeps the night. They obey and he blesses them as they return to their home in the morning.”
     “What looney-tunes Bible did you dig that out of? There is no Acts of Saint John.”
     “We have a copy in Old Portuguese in our classroom library.”
     “The hell? OK, so maybe you do, because some weird-ass heretic-refugee washed up on your shore a long time ago with his banned books, but it’s not part of my Bible.”
     “So you just pick and choose what parts of your religion you wish to believe? How consistent is that? And you seem to value consistency so highly. They are already moving off. My lice will not trouble you.”
     “If you want to believe that, fine. I’ll just endure and delouse myself after this whole ordeal is over. Tell your little friends that if they set up house on my head it’ll be curtains in a few days. Jesus! BUT, I still do not want to be this close to you.”
     “Frankly? I really didn’t want to say this because I was trying to be nice, but you stink. You smell like a homeless person. You reek of every foul body order that I can think of. Being next to you is punishment for me. I mean, don’t you believe in washing?”
     “I like to think that my own sweat is my body’s way of cleaning itself. I also walk into the ocean.”
     “Weren’t you in the tub the other week, when the Security Council took a bath together and Na got all pissed off?”
     “I do not get into the tub. But how do you know about that?”
     “Long story. I just know. And since we’re talking about Na, you smell even more rank than her and you’re covered in bugs. You probably have crabs, worms, and fleas too. Yet Na is a pariah and you get a free pass with everybody giving you deference and pity. Explain that one to me.”
     “I do not want to talk about Na.”
     “You wanna know what I think is going on here?”
     “You are just going to say something cruel. I would not if I were you.”
     “Don’t you have any self-respect?”
     “Don’t you have any self-control? Especially over that horrible mouth of yours? You have no friends do you?”
     “I don’t need friends. They all fail and bail eventually.”
     “You are so cynical.”
     “Only because I’ve been taught to be that way by bad, flaky people. I like to think that I have very high standards of loyalty. And I have nothing else to say. Rejoice! I’m shutting my horrible mouth.”
     That forced her into a very long pause. She eventually muttered to me. “You stay in that hammock. If you think you are being punished by being next to me, so be it and all the better. This is your prison after all. You suffer. You sleep. And wake me up when you need to urinate.”

It was the most unpleasant of nights to pass together. She tossed constantly and broke into sweats and made loud grunts of impatience. I could swear that she trembled and shook at times, in a way that I would almost think she was crying to herself. And like clockwork I got us up at 1:30 a.m., 2:30 a.m., and 3:45 a.m. to piss (all my usual time points), but after that third emptying it all settled down for both of us and the next time we opened eyes it was daybreak. Sleeping together old-person style is NOT a romantic move by any means.

© Copyright 2012 by Vincent Way, all rights reserved.