Fall Fishing

October 22, 2006

Skittish breeze breaks icily over the bow,
Where I sit, line around finger,
Anticipating my counterpart’s tug,
Below in depths reflected airly in the clouds.

Abeam I spy the stark upright branches
Of white beeches stretching before wintery repose,
Springing from chocolate banks of the now
Secure rock and sand of the strand.

Last day to hook a fish,
To spend on water lazing towards season of stasis,
I reel in my bait, to find him shriveled
Like my father’s hands.


Empty Seat

October 22, 2006

The following is a short piece I’ve been meaning to write for sometime.  I am fascinated by people, and increasingly try to pay attention to detail when I have the chance.  I had an enormous amount of “stuff” I wanted to fit in, but decided brevity of language, just as “Danny” has brevity of form, would do the subject justice.

When you enter the doors of the local VFW, you might confuse the scene with that of an actual battle, as the smoke billows so thickly from the bar it harkens to the days of napalm and incendiaries.  Instead, the culprits of this air strike puff contentedly on cigarettes of a variety of flavors.  No matter the state of your olfactory prowess upon entering, the sickly-sweet perfume of old beer, old smoke, and even older men wafts about as you move from the lighted entrance down into the dark clubroom.  Descending down a set of concrete steps, you move through a double-door breezeway and find yourself in a dim, vault-like square space—a pool table along one wall where in earlier times shuffleboard was all the rage.  A jukebox idly spits out samples from time to time, to entice the bar into feeding it dollars.  Sometimes the bartender will pop fresh popcorn to add that strand to the weave of smells.  A 21st century smoke eater spins around on a ceiling fan motor, bringing to mind the whisk on the end of a mixer, whipping the air to a froth.

            The ubiquitous TV drones from a corner or two, a bartender brings over a beer in a plastic cup, and one might rate a “How ya doing?” from a few of the patrons.  Increasingly, I’m greeted with “Where the hell have you been?” as my visits have become less than infrequent in the last few years.  The U-shaped bar forms a half-height barricade, complete with a firing step under its lip.  In the early afternoon it takes a few minutes for your eyes to adjust in the dim light, and these greetings seemed to float like disembodied crys until your vision caught up to your ears.  In years past Danny would be hunkered over the bar on the left.  He was gaunt, tall, clad in denim, cowboy boots, and a well-worn, off-white hat.  He would often offer his calloused and leathery hand, cracked with age and the elements, though no one who knew him would take it—his grip would purposefully crush your paw as he pumped your arm like he’d just struck oil.  To protest would elicit a question of your manhood, or your wife’s for that matter.  Danny constantly stood from his stool, and extended this same arm, in a sort of horizontal stretch, clenching and unclenching his fist during his sojourns at the bar.   That arm had left Danny once, victim of an open window on a pickup truck and a roadside post in the 1970s.  He constantly complained of pain, but I wondered if he was merely inspecting the appendage to ensure it wasn’t plotting to separate from him again.

            Danny was loud, obnoxious, and possessed his own vocabulary.  “Laripin,” “Skunk eggs,” “coyotes” (pronounced kiy, yoteez), and a variety of well-known “Dannyisms” flew into the heavy bar air like leaves in a stiff midwestern wind, supplied by the smoke eater.  Constant innuendo was his forte; “I know your sister!” he barked at regular intervals, until it became nothing more than background noise.  A steady stream of Marlboro’s and Schlitz was his only fare.  New visitors to the bar would find out he was “Living proof that the Indians messed around with the buffalo,” as he stoically related, finding amusement in providing strangers with an image of so unlikely an occurence.

It would be understatement to say Danny was tan—at the height of summer his skin took on a hue not unlike mahogany, with the exception that its grain was deeply crevassed, and intricate lines of laughter and pain ran from forehead to shirt collar.  His silver-black hair stuck straight down from under a large Stetson and the hat was marked with the oil and grime of labor, showing where he gripped it before wiping his brow.  His well-worked muscles strained to be contained under that brown skin—to say he was as skinny as a rail only fits if the rail were a 2 x 4.  Sinewy and straight, he hadn’t any extra flesh, demonstrating an efficiency of matter to make a physicist proud.  He instead lived and worked off the calories hops and barley provided him breakfast, lunch and dinner.

If you wanted to actually talk to Danny, you had to choose the right stool; if it was the left one you would get the ear that he could still hear out of, the other would exclude you from conversation—at least one in which the other participant could hear what you said.  When Danny announced his departure each afternoon, close to 4:00, he would lament the oppressive nature of the judicial system, and those sum a bitch officers who lay in wait for him.  Danny had established an elaborate route home, a 25-mile rally course to the south and west, using dirt roads, hardtop, and various types of subterfuge to circumvent the law.  Unfortunately, the truck he drove and his tall, upright figured capped with that broad-brimmed had marked him as clearly as if a forward observer had painted him as a target.

Danny last possessed a valid driver license sometime in the 1980s.  A stack of DUIs, accident tickets, and jail had opened a gap over the last twenty years that no amount of money or lawyers could fill.  A few years ago, I often took my Labrador pup out to Danny’s country place to romp around, and tried to train him to look for the elusive quail.  I only was in Danny’s house once or twice, and found the interior bare as his wallet.  A shredded sofa sat in the midst of a kitchen-family room combo, overflowing garbage bags of Schlitz cans, judging from the reek and cloud of insects far from empty, poured some of its contents out on the floor.

I quit taking my dog out to Danny’s as I became busy with other things, so I missed what he termed the Sunday morning “town meeting.”  Weekly, a friend of his would park his pickup in the opposite direction from Danny’s truck in that backyard, putting the two cronies driver door to driver door, in a green space that was really more of an overgrown patch of grass that gave context to the cornfield which loomed close by.  At around 7 am they would begin the meeting, swilling Schlitz while sitting behind unused steering wheels, sometimes talking, sometimes listening to the AM radio’s farm report.  Periodically they would open a door to relieve themselves of processed beer, commenting on the inequities of this world–they continued a conversation that they had been carrying on for decades installed there in an old Chevy and an even more older, decrepit Ford.

I had also not born witness to what the bar folk at the “V” have told me is a bad situation.  Danny no longer goes to work—he was a carpenter by trade for 40 years, framing houses around the area for his brother, who owned the business.  He built hundreds of houses, moved thousands of feet of lumber, year-round.  His current abode is not his; instead he rents it from the last scion of the homesteading days where land was as cheap as occupancy.  For sustenance Danny lives on the charity of those he drank with for all those years, and apparently took a liking to him.  They bring him a sack full of groceries sometimes, or a carton of smokes.  His truck rarely runs, requiring something other than alcohol or nicotine to function.  People celebrate that they can bring him happiness by dropping off a case or two of Schlitz—giving him some feeling of normalcy, no doubt.

“You wouldn’t believe it if you saw him.  He’s actually lost weight,” the bartender told me, after my last foray into the “V.”

“Really, did he have any to lose?”

“Well, you know Danny, he isn’t going to ask anyone for anything.  And all those years he came in here and would drop $50 on a round for everyone, when he really didn’t have no money to spend.  His cistern got contaminated too, so I don’t know how he is bathing.”

“Really?  What happened?”

“Somehow the cistern got poisoned.  After a couple weeks his daughter finally got him to go to the hospital.  He was hallucinating and getting sick.  They figured out it was contaminated with something, and it will cost a lot of money to get it fixed.  ‘Course he don’t have no money for the doctor, much less to fix that damn house.”

“So what’s he doing for water?”

“Using that stock-tank he has on the back of his truck.  I took him a bag of groceries the other day, and some beer.  He just don’t look good.”

“What is he now, 65?” I queried.

“Yep, but he sure don’t look it.  You just wouldn’t believe how bad he’s gotten.”

I guess I would believe it, but I must confess I haven’t gone to see for myself.  There was a time I went out to shoot the pigeons that nested in the buildings around his rented house.  I saw a snake in the rafters once, and learned that indeed they can climb like linear monkeys.  When he was there, or awake, he always went to bed with the sun, we would chat for a bit.  He’d tell me what he thought of my dog, or of the weather, or in his drawl mention the folks he disliked.  There is a small pond on the back of the property, with a little plywood duck blind sitting at one end.  He always told me I could come out anytime, just to make sure I didn’t shoot anything that wasn’t his.

End of Raiding?

October 21, 2006

Does the very act of being one of forty people in an instance, all clamoring and angling for the same purple drops as the guild moves forward farming Molten Core, or Blackwing Lair, ultimately end up being a let down?  Once a guild begins to work an instance, and people get a taste of decent gear, the real pressure comes to bear on the ego of the individual.  Couple this drive for “stuff” which becomes the cyber equivalent of the Indy 500 with no entrant limitation, with the veil of privacy interacting over the web brings, and it is a two-pronged assault of asshatdom aimed at the casual player.  We all have stories of people who have changed after getting a few “uber” drops, but why does it happen?  Can we peer ahead into the dusty future of MMORGS and see a time when civility and personal happiness with trump the stampede to get gear?  I think not, though the gaming population ages, there will always be new players, as well as those who have been rewarded by their behavior with getting just what they want, be it attention, loot, or both.  Look at the WoW realm boards–they are full of posts aimed at illuminating an individuals online prowess, or the inverse, their lack of skill.

Add to the mix of loot pressure the relative anonymity of the web, and the meek, bespectacled, computer club graduate becomes the new Reichsfuhrer Stormwind.  I must admit, after perusing the RL pictures of guild-mates and other people on a particular server, going back to my MUD days, I am always struck by the thought, “That’s the human sphincter whose children I roundly curse?”  I’m sure that no one really looks like the nightelf warrior with triple-Ds I imagine they do, especially as  90% of them are male, but certainly one might be led to believe the mysteries of shaving are not arcane magic to this all around game expert.  However, the transformation process is not confined to the young, though I believe their drive for immediate satisfaction makes most younger gamers the most egregious offenders.  I have seen a number of what are relative oldsters turn into the denizens of Hell’s seventh circle in the space of a few short game weeks.

Do I write this with a particular person(s) in mind?  Sure, it wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t.  But I don’t believe those people are specific to any one guild.   In all the games I’ve played that allow players to band together in the little commune called a guild, I’ve witnessed this morphing of the beginning player into a loot-hungry class/raid boss tactics expert.  If it stopped there I guess I wouldn’t have to lament the trans-formative power of the on-line gaming experience.  Indeed, it seems the stimulii of the entire process begins with the seemingly innane smaller collections of pixels that the bigger collections leave behind their corpses like rabbit pellets in a hutch (drops).  Once a player gets a taste of a decent drop, one they didn’t have to lift off the in-game purchasing system, human psychology takes over like Pavlov’s dog listening to the hunchback of Notre Dame.

Fleshing out what drives a player to climb over his/her guildies to get at the full set of gear, higher pvp rank, or whatever in-game reward one can name has led me to a conclusion.  Simply, I guess if I don’t want to deal with the stubborn, overbearing, game done-it-all-know-more-than-you guy who spouts wisdom in the form of satirical put-downs and emotes, I will have to end my raiding days.  Gearing classes with an eye to moving up the tier system, in WoW terms, requires a large number of people, perhaps 60 to account for absences on various nights,  in order to be successful.  While I am certainly not a statistician, it appears the group dynamics in a number that large invariably dictate a number of the group will fit the above profile. 

An analogy I saw on a Las Vegas “behind the scenes” documentary comes to mind–when a prominent hotel/casino operator was interviewed about high stakes gamblers, who drop tens of thousands of dollars at a time, the operator of the casino said that for the very wealthy, dropping that figure is no more exhiliarting that say, a plumber on vacation gambling $100 dollars on a blackjack hand.  People have to have more or they become bored (though how boring is it to run MC 100 times trying to get full T1 sets?)  I think I will follow Wilhelms lead and get back into the theme of my pen and paper days, enjoying the wee instances for what loot they offer, and not as a stepping stone to push past 60 other people.

Read his article here:  http://tagn.wordpress.com/2006/10/18/in-defense-of-instancing/

Braided Line, Some Drops, and an Anchor

October 21, 2006

For now, this post appears twice–it is also on my “About” page.  I assume it will be inched down the page as I add posts, but feel the theme is central to the purpose of my blog, and wanted to leave it for visitors to peruse.

Trolling the Community

I’ve sat in the bow of my small, tri-hull fishing boat, running a quarter inch braided nylon line through my hands just about every summer for the last few years.  I tend to fight the crinks of age as I hunker down, my face inches from a wet wakeup call, pulling the vessel along behind me, as it were, looking into a midwestern lake’s silty depths.  I don’t know why I do it, except perhaps for the thrill of finding a fish twisting on a drop, and the satisfaction of knowing I’ve outsmarted a creature that has been on the earth far longer than myself.  The more summers that go by, the longer it takes me to get up after letting the anchor go at the end of a run (softly so as not to shake loose the bait).

Words sometimes run through my head as well–a few have a hook through them, most are empty, but ever so often I can feel myself take the bait–if I’m feeling in sorts I’ll jot down the idea.  Some of the musings have made it into a line or two, scattered about as free time, and not so free time, impede on me.  Recently I’ve discovered, unbeknownst to me, something changed a few years ago.  At first I just thought I had a new perspective on life, what with two kids in the house, a decent job, and enough time to pull my boat back and forth to the lake on the weekend.  But the more I think about it, and the more I write about it, and the more I talk to kids I work with about it, I find the it to be frustratingly elusive.  I get one of these ideas twisting on my line, and want to express it, but lack the medium to do so, as well as the words.  Increasingly I discover I’m not alone in this and that expression of what life is, even to one person, typically has a universal theme we can all share. 

Enter the blog–like any good trot line, you need to have something to keep things tight; an anchor.  So I present you with a few of my scribblings, and I hope you enjoy them, or perhaps find something familiar to you.  I have kept a few journals of poetry since I was in college (an increasingly distant past that is).  The catfish, drum, occasional gar, even sometimes a bass will wind up on the end of a line, expressing by action their similiar tastes.   We end up in much the same way being more alike than we are different, expressed by the interactions we take for granted everyday.

I am starting at the beginning, I guess, and working backward–I put up a few poems and will be adding to the site as time allows.  When I look back at my journals it is easy to see the things all the oldsters have preached as each generation broke upon the one before it–impatience, violence, and the like.  I will whittle away at the posting.  Thanks for visiting.