Folks, expect a little downtime: the Brunette is in the ICU. I've been banished from the hospital for the night to shower and pretend to sleep, but there is nothing firing in this ole brain of mine.


Society Hijinks

I was following a mini-van on East-West Highway when I was astounded to see a plastic bag and a bit of paper fly out the window of said mini-van. For a moment, I thought perhaps the occupant who had just dirtied our streets was attempting to disseminate a "Save Me" message. Maybe he or she was being kidnapped, and breaking the law in this way was the only manner he or she could think of to alert the world. Well, if there are any police paying attention to this blog, I wrote down the license number: Maryland plates, M556173. Maybe you can check out that Odyssey and see if anything is wrong...

Potbelly Games

My imaginary friend Bertie has a brother named Bob. Bob's not much like the gregarious Bertie. Bob is shy and a bit skittish. He's easily startled, you might say.

"I've got bad news," he told me when he called. "But I can't tell you over the phone."

"Is Bertie OK?" I asked anxiously.

"Why?" he squeaked. "Have you heard something? Ohmigod, I hope Bertie's alright..."

"I'm sure he's fine," I interrupted. "I'll see you in a bit."

So we met at the College Park Potbelly Sandwich shop. (It's directly across the street from a Subway, natch.) Bob was pale and shaking, but this was nothing out of the ordinary. We stood in line.

"SIR! WHAT KIND OF SANDWICH?" the counter boy shouted. I jumped, a little. Bob fainted.

I picked Bob from the floor. He blinked owlishly behind his Harry Potter glasses.

"Don't worry," I told him. "It's just the sandwich maker. He means no harm."

I have to give Bob credit. He sucked it up, stiffened his upper lip, and strode confidently to the counter. I was almost proud of him when he only flinched at the counter man's repeated shout. We told him our orders and moved down the line. Bob barely reacted at all when the sandwich guy shouted the milkshake order down the row. The place is definitely designed to maximize the noise levels.

The woman behind the counter asked us again what kind of sandwiches we were having, but she didn't shout. We told her our desired toppings. Then we moved further down and once more repeated the names of our sandwiches.

"How is it efficient," I asked the cashier, "for me to repeat my order three whole times?"

"Actually," he replied. "You say it once and only repeat it twice."

"Look," I said, when I could control my voice. But Bob interrupted me before I could get any louder.

"C'mon, let's not make a scene," he told me. "I feel a little woozy."

So we paid and sat down. All along, I grumbled loud enough to show that I was not happy about being trifled with and that I could keep control of my anger as well as the next man. But believe me, that grumble indicated, my anger was so big, it would not do to be antagonized.

"So, what's up?" I asked Bob at the table. He stared at me a minute, and I swear he seemed to be deciding whether I might faint from whatever bad news he had in store today.

"Remember that last game of Settlers we played?" he asked, finally. Of course, I remembered. It was the first time Bob had won. He had fainted three times from the excitement. I nodded. "I never liked that other game--"

"Guillotine," I said. His eyes widened. He gulped and nodded. Guillotine was the first game we'd played together, a good card game, but the role of French Revolutionary executioner was too much of a grisly concept for Bob, no matter how cute the illustrations and descriptions were. He couldn't even play solitaire for a week because he was nervous about turning cards over.

The Brunnette and I were disappointed at this reaction, of course. It's hard to find players for our card and board games, and we thought Guillotine very addictive. But Bob did like Settlers of Catan. The sheep and forests are very relaxing, I imagine. (His brother, Bertie, also ilkes the game: he enjoys the concept of taking a pristine island and making it productive by cutting down all the trees and setting up mining operations.)

"Speaking of games..." he started, then stopped.

"Yes?" I prompted. I knew if I'd shouted at him to just spit it out, he'd turtle up.

"I know how much you two like to try new games," he put his hand on my shoulder. "It's obviously one of the things that binds you two so closely together. But I thought I should tell you that I was up at Columbia Mall a month ago, and...well, they're closing down the Wizards of the Coast store."

He sat back and waited for my reaction.

"Wow," I said, uncertain how to react. "It was awfully nice of you to let me down so gently."

"I know these things can be a shock," he said. I nodded.

"I wouldn't worry, though," I said, "I'm sure we'll find somewhere else to buy our games."

He smiled and sat up straighter, glad to see me so brave. Over Bob's shoulder, I noticed Bertie enter the shop. He ran over quickly and jabbed his brother in the sides, shouting "Bro!" Bob leapt into the air a good two feet.

And I knew, somehow, that everything would be okay.

Heartfire (Orson Scott Card)

Great-Uncle "Leadbelly" is grizzled. I haven't decided how old he is yet, but he definitely has a full white beard and bushy eyebrows. Not so much like Santa as you might imagine: the only other hair he has is on the tops of his ears and he hardly ever has a twinkle in his eye. He's the imaginary brother of my paternal grandfather (on my sister's side). He has a tendency to ramble, but I suppose that runs in the family.

Great Uncle Leadbelly and I don't often agree on much. He is distressed by all this talk of terrorism, but mostly because he thinks we're going soft on Communism. I bring that up because I learned something interesting when I visited him the other day. Leadbelly lives on the special Republican Retirement Ranch out in Montgomery County -- a place where the aging can celebrate their capitalist culture, at least as long as Medicare and Social Security hold out.

"Hi, Great Uncle," I said, breezing into his apartment. I headed to the kitchen to grab a soda. The fridge is always full of RC and random brands of root beer. Leadbelly never outgrew his sweet tooth. I returned to the living room, expecting to interrupt his daily dose of Fox News.

"Great Uncle!" I exclaimed. "You're reading!"

"Of course, I'm reading," he grumped back at me. "All the characters in your little stories read."

I had to give him that. I'm pretty sure even Bertie reads; I just haven't figured out what yet.

"It's why you'll never succeed," he continued. "All those silly utopian worlds where everybody reads. It's just not commercial enough."

"Well, Great Uncle, you put my greatest fears into words. What are you reading?" I tried to pull back the cover, but he pulled away. Great Uncle Leadbelly doesn't like to be touched.

"Listen, boy,don't you go encroaching on my territory," he said. "If you must know, I'm reading a book called Heartfire."

Now, this little tidbit floored me even more than the simple concept of Great Uncle Leadbelly reading at all. Orson Scott Card is one of my favorite authors. I had some real trouble imagining Leadbelly warming up to his writing. I also understood his reluctance to let me actually see the book. It has a terrible cover: a half-naked man is groped by a woman while he holds his hands outstretched. It looks like a romance novel.

But it is not a romance novel.

"Why, Great Uncle," I said. "That's one of my favorite authors."

"Should be," he said. "You're named after one of the characters in this series."

This statement was both true and not true at the same time. Isn't that fun?

"Yes, Great Uncle. These books and the Ender books have taught be everything I know about building community and embracing tolerance. Ender especially taught me that you can't hate your enemy if you can understand him."

Leadbelly just stared at me. After a moment, he said, "Poppycock. Where do you get these pinko ideas? Ender's Game was all about how military preparedness and the will to do what must be done were essential for saving the Earth from pesky aliens. If the hive mind wasn't a symbol of Communism, I don't know what is. And this book," he held up Heartfire, "is all about how traditional American values build the strongest people."

Then, it was my turn to stare.

"But, Great Uncle," I stammered out. "That particular book is all about how the society was wrong to condemn some people just because they were made to behave a little differently. I think the witch trial is a great analogy for the gay marriage debate today."

That left Leadbelly somewhat flabbergasted. He sputtered. He frowned. His cheeks turned red.

"You obviously are thinking of some other book," he said, finally. "This man is a patriot. You shouldn't try to paint him pink."

I shrugged. I knew there was no point in arguing with him. I certainly wasn't about to tell him that Vigor Church's curse was a good warning for our actions in Iraq, today.

"Guess I'll let you get back to your book," I told him. "Sorry to have bothered you."

He harrumphed a bit. "Maybe we can discuss this more fully when the series is done," he said.

"Really, Unk?" I asked. "I'd like that."

"Don't get mushy on me kid."

"Sure, Great Uncle. I'll see you later."


From the Washington Post:

Toward the end of the news conference, Bush was asked what lessons he had taken away from events since the Sept. 11 attacks. He stopped, shook his head, looked quizzical and then came up empty, although it was the kind of question he must have been told to prepare for. "I'm sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, all the pressure of trying to come up with an answer," he said. "But it hasn't yet."

I was going to say something insightful or witty, but nothing pops right into my head. It must be all the pressure...

Right on Target

It seems that some of the men at my new client do not have the best aim. There are posted warnings on several walls in the Men's Room, reminding us that we should be considerate.

Apparently, the men on the 2nd floor don't have the same problems. No signs there.

Metro Madness

A Train of Thought

You can tell Spring has come in on its big fat cat feet. Thumpa-thumpa-thumpa. The trains are full of teeming throngs of teenager tourists. $3.60 is a lot of money to pay for the privilege of standing for 45 minutes of an 80 minute trip. Sadly, weather or no, Dunn Loring is too far to bike. Maybe I can spend more time at my Medical Center client. I'm not sure the distance, but at least it's the same state as my home.