Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Mysterious Flame of Highland Valley Road

As I slowly work through the novels of Umberto Eco, I find myself on the cusp of finishing The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, still enthralled with the adventures of Yambo rediscovering his past after succumbing to retrograde amnesia.

Most of the book takes place at the summer house of his youth in a small town named Solara (in Northern Italy, though there are two towns named Solara, both very close to one another). There in the attic, the scenery, the books on his shelf, he encounters his past, attempting to piece together his lost past.  It occurred to me, about halfway into the book, that Yambo's experience was much like my own, and I'm thought about it sometime, meaning to get thoughts to paper.

After my parents split up, I spent my weekends at my father's ranch house in North County San Diego. It was rather isolated, literally atop a mountain named after an incident during the Mexican-American War, when Mexican Forces attempted to starve a portion of the US Army. I spent most of my weekends learning every inch of the 12 acres my father owned, which was not particularly awful. There was plenty of fruit available for casual consumption, which was convenient, because my father (at the time, he's a lot better now) was a stingy bastard and wouldn't buy us food (or clothing, or toys, or bedding, or anything else). Given that my father was a farmer and local seller at a farmers market, I'm sure he considered it a tax write off.

My father in his 20's (I think)

My father, even to this day, remains an enigma to me. Most, if not all, information I've learned about him has been via secondhand resources (friends, family, and various documents). And much like Yambo, I spent the days at the ranch house either combing the countryside for interesting things to discover, or searching through his personal effects, hoping to glean any information I could on this mysterious person that was my father.

The garage was most interesting, full of bric-a-brac. Newspapers, chemicals, car parts, bike parts, dusty old books and magazines, furniture, and amazing booze (of which I did not partake) could be found in the heap. And even though I have hazy memories of my childhood when my parents were together, the many portions of that house I grew up in were ever changing. My father was attempting to remodel the house for most of my life, replacing the porch with a master bedroom and leaving the upstairs carpet-less for at least 10 years. But despite the slow changes, I was able to glean a few things...


  • My dad had almost 20 years worth of National Geographic collected and meticulously organized. I would spend most of my time looking at the pictures inside. Discovering that some had natives in the nude would fuel an early addiction to pornography. 
  • My dad was a cinephile, and had a wide array of films (both good and bad). When the first DVD players were available, my dad purchased one, along with a $6,000 widescreen TV (rated at 480p). At around the same time, my mom was asking for help for the cost of my braces. My dad said they were too expensive. 
  • My dad had a plethora of maps. Detailed, topographical maps of San Diego County, Hawaii, and others that came with his National Geographic subscription. 
  • My dad was a collector of antiques. He once used a 100 year old apple press to make apple juice on the sly to sell at the farmers market. (Probably breaking numerous health violations in the process.) What's more amusing was the intoxicating stench of alcohol produced, as the rinds fermented on the hill beside our house. 
  • My dad had a large safe. It was ancient, not unlike those seen being broken into by bandits in westerns. I knew he used it for collecting coins. Every once and a while I would see him depositing new valuables, recently purchased from California Numismatic Funding off of East Vista Way. 
  • My dad had a storage unit, which was once a large camping trailer beside his watering meter up the hill. Inside was all kinds of things, including a vintage pool table. When he sold it to my aunt, she once told me in passing that the rubber cushions were the original ones from when the pool table was manufactured in the late 1800s. 
  • My dad preferred to keep his wares in mint condition. His VHS tapes often still had the plastic wrap covering the paper containers, preserved by cutting slits around the bottoms of the tapes. 
Today, unlike Yambo's eventual recovery of his faculties (via a stroke), I still know very little about my dad. I wish I did. The house was sold in 2005 or 2006, I can't remember when exactly...

I hated that place. I hated every minute I spent there, so much so that when my cousins from Germany moved stateside I would spend most of my high school years there, leaving my poor brother to fend for himself alone. Incidentally, the house was burned down during the Witch Creek Fire in 2007, when I was away at UCSB for my Freshman year. It wasn't until a year or two later that I revisited the orchard to find my father's orchard in ruins. The subsequent tenant let the property go to waste, and what was left was destroyed. 

Life is funny like that, isn't it?

Sunday, June 16, 2019

"Sight Without Sight" - An Original Short by Stuart Warren

His coat was a charcoal grey, faded black, from months of exposure in the noonday sun upon the saltflats. Now he knew, what is was like to be hunted, a fear potent with the tang of sweat and urine.

In the cataclysm, the great war between the United People of Corvelia and the rest of the known world, he was a janitor at the Camp of the Sunless, a place where prisoners of war were sent to go mad in sensory deprivation. Moping up feces and sick, he would hear their screams outside, encountering each other in the abject blackness.

He was once called to the recreation room, where bloated generals stroked what remained of their graying hair in the polish of aluminum. In an argument over cards, one of them had flipped the table, spilled some coffee and trays of boiled cabbage, served with salted potatoes. And as he cleaned, covertly, he would look into the void at those who had not yet died, shambling forward with spittle on their uniforms.

Sitting on the transit platform, waiting for a railcar to take him to the park, Lawrence closed his eyes, trying to forget.

Two hours later he was in a park, thrust into the center of the green that defiantly remained despite the breath and scope of New Halberad.

As he sat on the bench, feeding the rats that skittered around between his legs, another body approached. He could hear the tapping of a stick against the cobblestone streets, and in the periphery it sat beside him. Lawrence glanced sideways and saw an elderly woman perfectly still, with rummaging fingers diligently retrieving a leather sack of mouse feed. Etched into her arm was a black sun, with edges faded like spilt watercolor.

Stories of the Camp of the Sightless were varied. As to how the political prisoners and activists lost their sight is up to interpretation. Many simply entered and could no longer see, met by a blinding whiteness that burned out their retinas instantly.

She hummed the tune of a ballad, scattering the feed across the ground.

"Well? I'm here. Will we talk, or are you just content to sit there?"

Lawrence straightened up, sniffling.

"Good day to you," he said, attempting to smile.

"Is it? I can't tell..."

The words were like sinking barbs, tearing at his flesh. Nevertheless, she chuckled.

"I'm giving you a hard time, Lawrence... I can feel it. The sun is out. It must be beautiful outside."

Lawrence had met Cordelia at one of the amnesty dinners, five or six years previously. She was slightly older than him, having been twenty years old at the time she was taken from her college dormitory. He never asked why.

"I had the dream again," Lawrence said, leaning forward. His knee bounced up and down under the ball of his foot. "I'm sorry. Please forgive me."

Cordelia chuckled. "I don't know if I can. But you are here. That is, at least, something."

A rat crawled up his leg to Lawrence's hand. Open palmed, Lawrence pressed his eyes shut and let it feed.

"I could have done more. I was a janitor. I had keys..." he shivered, waiting anxiously for the rat to leave.

Cordelia snorted with a laugh that shook her whole body. "What could a boy do?"

"Something..."

"We are here, Lawrence," Cordelia interrupted. "That is enough."

Saturday, June 15, 2019

How to Make a Sandwich

Making sandwiches at a deli, catering event, or at home for a friend, is a sacred obligation. Don't fuck it up.

Some might say, "But why does it matter? A sandwich is up to interpretation. There are many kinds of sandwich. After all, some would argue a hotdog is a sandwich."

To them I would reply, "You could believe that if you were a moron and didn't subscribe to Sandwich Fundamentalism."

After working a natural juice bar and deli for about 6 months, let me tell you, there is only one way to make a sandwich.

Otherwise cheese and tomato placement is flawless... Good Job!

Step 1: Take two pieces of bread. Lay them flat on your prep counter. Is there a whole in one slice? Is one slice noticeably more thin than the other? If either is true, get new bread. Don't be a bastard. (If cutting a slice from a roll, like ciabatta, cut the roll with the side facing up directly downward. None of this flat-on-the-counter-awkward-side-cut bullshit. 

Step 2: Apply condiments. How many will be used? Two? Then apply them separately on each side. (Ie. mustard on one side, mayo on the other.) Lightly apply them! Do you have any idea how quickly condiments soak through bread? You can't even get to the picnic benches outside the supermarket before its falling apart, into a soggy mess, and all you can think about is how (and why) a sandwich suddenly became a metaphor for your poor life choices.

Step 3: Apply meat and cheese. The foundation of all sandwiches is built on the bedrock of meat and cheese. They constitute the barrier between the wetness of tomato and lettuce. The rigidity of cheese, it's shape and preparation should make where it goes absolutely intuitive. If you put it in the center, then fuck you, you should be fired for crimes against humanity. 

I will add that there is no international consensus, as of yet, for the proper placement of meat. This is due to the varied states of meat. (Pulled pork may be naturally "wet" when applied, while roast beef and turkey could be dry.) If meat is dry, apply directly against the opposite slice of bread as the cheese. If the meat is wet, take each slice of cheese (There are always two. But you only have one? Jesus Christ...) 

*sandwich anger intensifies*


Step 4: Apply vegetables in even layers on top of the meat (which serves as the floor of the sandwich). Don't stack the sandwich! If it's one of those fuckers that asks for every vegetable to inflate the mass of the sandwich, make every layer evenly distributed. This is high art. You are Leonardo da Vinci. Don't let this fucking pleb' tell you how its done!

Step 5: Fold top half on top (with only cheese and condiment applied) on to lower half. You may be tempted to mash the top downward onto the meat and vegetable medley, but you don't have to. If you did "Step 4" properly, then you don't have to. Bread is supposed to be fluffy and airy. 

Step 6: If the customer asks you to toast it, counter with, "but why ruin a good thing?"

Step 7: Don't cut the sandwich in half. Why people do this is beyond me. Who saves a fucking sandwich for later? Just eat it now. Commit!

Hey, the world needs janitors.


With the above, the sandwich will be complete. It will be immaculate, a work of modern art, a testament to your making the best of working for minimum wage, right out of college. Work well. Work fast. Work with all the pride of a person grotesquely in debt. Didn't go to college? Well... then just you do you. You don't need soft skills to make sandwiches.



Saturday, June 1, 2019

Child Rearing Revelations

So I was thinking about generations, how we are the product of our parents and, by extension, our grandparents...


It's funny because it's not funny.


Living in Santa Barbara has taught me that living paycheck to paycheck is not only normal for people my age (born between 80'-91') but also the aging boomers I work with. (This could just be symptomatic of the area I live in, where rent for a 1 bed room apartment is about the same as a mortgage for a house in the Midwest.) This period of economic hardship I face today, specific to those in my age bracket, is not what my parents experienced, where a BA in the 70's was equivalent to an MA today and working at a single job right out of high school until retirement was normative. But there is this dilemma of stagnating college kids, unable to find work, and somehow their lack of progress is exclusively their fault, according to common opinion. Considering that using the word "Millenial" has gained a pejorative connotation among most in today's popular culture, exerted with the same vehemence as an elderly specimen choking on a biscuit, I resent when people write off financial hardships, both mine and my peers, as if they were something to scoff at, or that I could somehow "work harder" to attain stability.

This mentality doesn't consider the extenuating circumstances however. The second World War was immensely profitable for the United States, which unilaterally industrialized the private sector to power the war machine that brought us unanimous victory (economic, philosophic, political, and national) and international prominence. It was the sudden explosion of the middle class, those coming home from the war and the rise in prominence of the other 50% of the population (i.e. women), that created the suitable ecosystem for young-twenty-somethings between the late 60's and mid 70's. What I'm getting at, is that this generation took advantage of this profitable period and lived beyond their means, thereby creating a precedent for inflated housing costs and living expenses, and, in so doing, the Boomers fucked us all over. Today the third generation is paying for it.

It was the Boomers that inherited the wealth and success of their forebears and pissed it all away on youthful rebellion, drugs, and market speculation. So before you call me a "Millennial," take a hard look at everything your parent's wealth bought you and go fuck yourself.

Sorry... Rant over.

Seriously though.

How did I get here? It was about raising children... which has been on my mind a lot since my daughter turned 2 a week or so ago. As people of my age begin to have kids and raise them, I've wondered what example I'm setting for Eowyn. I can think of a few different ways right off the cuff.

Boomer's, and, to a lesser degree, the "Greatest Generation," have given themselves over to a false dichotomy between conservatism and liberalism, with either position profiting off the lack of education in matters of economics, politics, ethics, and philosophy. The "I earned this" mentality, has engendered a sense of entitlement among those that would accuse me of complaining unjustly about my current state of affairs. Because, again, we always inherit what our parents gave us. If the economy was exploding in the post-war years, is was our grandfathers and grandmothers that fostered that environment. Likewise, if we inherit wage inequality, democratic impotence, and poor infrastructure it was because our parents were too busy snorting coke in the 80's or endorsing conservative policies with alarming blindness to take notice. And make no mistake, I feel like those of liberal leanings can shoulder some of this blame, taking the path of least resistance and complaining while not offering realistic solutions to ongoing problems. Impotent policy, foreign and domestic, doesn't help much either, but that's another matter altogether.

Additionally, in light of the recent arrival of American Exceptionalism, resurrected like a Haitian zombie from the mausoleum that was the 1920s, the example I wish to set, always, for my daughter is that you can be anything you want to be, if you work your fucking ass off. (This opposed to the inflated sense of worth we have for "being American," and all that comes with it.)  For all the poor opportunities available to us in the current employment ecosystem, the 2010s has been a renaissance for those with entrepreneurial expertise. Software as a service, grass roots industries (culinary, agricultural, manufacturing, hospitality, publishing, etc), and creative innovations of existing markets (Uber, Venmo, GoFundMe, etc) have lead to a decentralization of industry, which in my opinion is the ultimate resolution to wage disparities in the United States. I have learned first hand from witnessing those that have set out to make something new, that this is not only possible (with incredible effort) but critical to striking down the monolithic industries that have strangled the working class for the last 100 years. When Marx talked about seizing the "means of production," I feel like this is the most reasonable culmination. Other countries have succeeded so much more successfully than we have in matters social and political, that we have lost our right to boast. (In my opinion.)

Oh my god...


When Alyssa, told me she was pregnant with Eowyn, the first thing I did was set up a college fund. (Because that's what you do, right?) Even $100 a month for 18 years is something like $19,000, and of course progressively increasing it along the way will eventually net quite a nice lump sum. I'm doing this for her, so that she can ultimately decide what to use the money for. If she doesn't want to go to college, the money is there for a down payment on a house, or her wedding, or a business loan. I think this is something that everyone my age should do. If anything, simply to spite our parents for not being forward thinking and spending the money on superfluous shit, instead of investing in their future. I was extremely fortunate to have parents that valued higher education enough to support it. But many aren't, and it's up to us to set an example for our children to value things that make society great (public education, art, freedom of speech, technological advancement, space travel, and all the other non-dystopian stuff of science fiction).  At the end of the day, what we seem to love most is money (unless God is already your highest love), and what we spend our money on reflects what we value.

I had several revisions of this post. Not sure why. I wanted to spend a little more time on it than usual.

***Misc Book Updates

If it's not obvious by now, my third book has been delayed, mostly because my wife is finding a lot of stuff that I missed, which is fine. Plus, I'm always overzealous in my timing.

The nice part about the wait too is that I'll be able to likely time the release against any tax refund I might get. Which could aid in getting books printed for a "Make 100" Kickstarter.

But we'll get there when we get there.