Yearly Archives: 2010

Two-Thousand and Ten Answers, But No Solution

I have the singular ability to embarrass myself, which is convenient because it saves you the effort. The way I beat you to the punch by deprecating myself, I consider that a service I excel at. Like mama always said, if you can’t say anything good, say it about yourself, because for every finger you point there are three others pointing back and a thumb pointing off to the side. Just kidding, she never said that. She said she was proud of me, which counts in matters of the family.

In other news, alcohol is a helluva drug. I don’t drink often, but when I do, I drink dos drinkos. Or something like that.

2010 sucked shit. Did you know that? It had great promise, it did. End of the worst decade of my life. But you know what? I somehow ignored those promises and let them pass me by. I withered and shrivelled some, and then I whine about being alone. I’m the cause of my own misery. Did you know that? So what hope do I have in 2011? It’s just a year. It’s just another span of time, and the quality of my existence is not affected one iota by the name of the year. It will pass with or without my attention.

I have all the answers. I do, I have them. I know how to make myself and my life better. But I can’t take advantage of the answers. Too fucking proud to reach out and bring people in. I learned years ago that I have an unwelcome habit of making myself unwelcome by inviting myself along to the social whatevers. It was a painful, painful lesson, and I lost face from it. It’s best to go it alone unless I’m explicitly invited. But here’s the other edge of that blade: if the world doesn’t know you’re waiting on the call, it will be more than happy to let you stay alone while the more interesting people go off and do their things.

In the small world of small towns, small schools, and small groups, it’s easy to notice who’s alone. But the world at large, with all its billions of social circles, cliques, and ecosystems of people, the fact that you’re alone will never, ever be noticed, because to others, you may look like you’re too busy with your own little circles to join theirs. Which is, sometimes, the farthest from the truth.

So fuck 2010 for the embarrassment. And fuck 2011 for the solutions it won’t provide.

My Friend, the Devil

In high school, I ran with a group of guys who, in retrospect, I call “The Four Horsemen”. Greg, Steve, Doug, and I, with our gaggle of girlfriends and anciliary characters. Doug was the last of us to join our group, with me the third. I met Greg in bowling class, and Steve through his friendship with Greg; I’d join them for lunch because they were nicer than most. Doug I met a year later in drafting class; a loner, he’d go off to not eat lunch down by the DECA snack bar. Finally, after enough harrassing, we got him to join our ranks and we all proceeded to do adolescent nonsense at each other’s houses.

I think it was my 18th birthday or somesuch. Maybe a sleepover. My mother, preparing for a houseful of hungry guys, made a huge pot roast with all the trimmings for dinner. It got loud and raucous, as we were wont to do sometimes. Occasionally we’d attempt to outgross each other. Stuff guys do. And so the meal went.

I took a bite of meat and chewed for what seemed like forever; there was gristle or inedible fat in my bite, so I reached in, pulled it out, and set it on the side of my plate. Without missing a beat, Doug, who sat to my right, reached down, picked up the chewed-up wad of beef fat, shoved it into his mouth, and commenced to eat it until it was gone.

It was then that I knew that my friend, Doug Marshall, was the Devil.

Run forward to the end of that year. I had returned home for the holiday after my first semester at college, and I would hang out with these guys, all high school seniors at this point, as much as possible during the holiday break. Doug’s family was gone to north Arkansas for the holiday but he had to stay behind due to his pizza delivery job, so we went to his place a lot. Can’t let a buddy stay way out there alone with no parents around, right? Call it charity.

The Marshall compound was, by my standards, a rather sizable house with a pool, hot tub, pond, patio, woods, and fireplace miles beyond the farthest end of South State Line. It took a considerable amount of time to get out there depending on which path you drove — there was no such thing as a quick run to the store. You could drive the longer, normal route, meaning you took Highway 71 and Line Ferry Road, or you could go the quicker, fun way, which is the network of twisting, half-paved, half-graveled unimproved county roads beyond South State Line. We took to the fun way as often as we could.

One night, three of us were hanging out at the Compound. Steve was on the phone in the game room, Doug was loading up the fireplace in the den, and I was in Doug’s room dubbing off CDs onto tape. Doug walks in and tells me he and Steve are going to go collect some firewood. I nod at him and return to my dubbing.

An hour later, I hear the faint sound of the outside door slam, and Doug stumbles down the hall and into his room, barefoot, dazed, out of breath, and with his forehead covered in blood. “Shawn, c’mon, let’s go. We just had a wreck.”

We jumped into his mother’s car and headed back up South State Line. “Where’s Steve? Where’s Steve?” I asked.

“We went to town and picked up Jennifer.” Jennifer was Steve’s underaged girlfriend. Their dating was forbidden by her parents, given their age difference, so she would have to sneak out after they went to bed. So by now it’s obvious who Steve was calling. As we went, I could make out the faint shape of Steve and Jennifer hobbling towards Doug’s house. We picked them up, and went up to examine the wreckage.

The wreck was at a quick dog-leg in the gravel road where a large oak sat inches from the outside of the curve. Doug’s silver econobubble looked like it was breaking quantum physical laws by sharing spacetime with the tree, like the tree was growing through the front right corner of the car. The driver side of the windshield was spiderwebbed around the impression of a head, steering wheel bent at rough angles. Doug clutched his chest. The driver seat was twisted at the right shoulder from where Steve flew into it from behind before crowning himself on the dash. Luckily, Jennifer was buckled in the back next to Steve, so her injuries were minor. The front passenger seat? It didn’t do so well, either. Anybody sitting there would’ve been pinned and damaged for life.

I don’t know what caused the wreck. Don’t know if Doug was up to his usual risky behavior. Maybe his headlights were off while going fast, trying to prove he could drive the familiar road blind. Maybe he swerved to miss some sudden wildlife. Maybe it was a random patch of ice. Who knows for sure anymore?

But I know that it was Doug’s bald-faced white lie that saved my life. If I knew they were going in to town, I would’ve dropped my tapes in search of adventure. If I knew that “collecting firewood” meant “going to pick up Jennifer”, I would’ve been in that passenger seat. But the Devil lied to me, and as a result I live able-bodied, twenty years almost to the day later, to tell the tale.

I never really thanked him for his betrayal.

Goodbye, Milky Way

Been doing some light reading about the Golden Record carried by both the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 space probes, and reading up on the two spacecraft themselves.

The Golden Record is a disc, fashioned after vinyl records, made of copper, plated in gold, packaged with a stylus and a needle, and is encased in an aluminum dust sleeve inscribed with basic listening instructions and mounted to the outside of the craft. It was designed and placed there by a team headed by Carl Sagan on the chance that alien civilizations could discover the craft and listen to the record. It is a slim hope, but it provides a time capsule proving the existence of humanity.

The disc contains a selection of recordings of earth sounds, greetings in several languages, and a cross-section of world music (including “Johnny B. Goode” from our country’s own Chuck Berry). Also encoded on the record is a set of rasterized images which, if the aliens decipher and follow the instructions on the dust sleeve, will show them various depictions of our culture and our planet. The first picture is of a circle, matching the circle on the dust sleeve, as a confirmation that they’ve correctly decoded the signal. Also among the pictures are: some primary scientific and mathematical principles to help understand the rest of the images; the location of our solar system in relation to 14 pulsars; the makeup and ordering of our solar system’s planetary bodies; the composition and structure of earth and its land masses; depictions of our basic evolutionary path; images of animals; scenes of human life, fetal development and human physiology. Really cool stuff.

Both probes are now in the thick of what’s called the “heliosheath“, which is an egg-shaped area around the solar system where all the particles that stream from the sun lose their velocity and come to a halt. The heliosheath is essentially where the momentum (which is mass times velocity, remember?) of the lightweight solar particles is not enough to push through the gasses that exist in the near-empty regions of space between stars. Anything that uses this solar wind of particles to accelerate through space will lose the speed assist but, due to Newtonian physics, will keep going forward if it’s heavy enough. Both of the probes are reporting that their velocity isn’t changing much, maybe slowing down a little, and that the compression of the solar particles around them in the sheath is raising the probes’ temperature slightly. Once the probes punch through this cloud in a few years, they will truly be the only man-made objects to go into intergalactic space.

However, although the probes are still powered up and running, 33 years after their 1977 launch (yeah, before we had desktop computers), they cannot remain operational forever. The plutonium fuel in their thermal reactors does have a half-life, and with that radioactive decay comes a reduction in power output. One by one, scientific instruments will have to be shut down in a carefully-planned sequence spanning over the next 15 years. It’s calculated that there will not be enough power to run the inertial gyroscopes, necessary for calibrating locational instruments and for aiming the large radio dish in the direction of Earth, by 2020. In order to keep the main electronics and radio running, the gyros will have to be shut down. It isn’t known how long radio communications will last after that point. The predicted final gasps of power are expected in 2025, when the reactors will cease to provide the power needed by the core electronics.

After a very, very long service life doing exactly what they were designed to do — survey the outer planets of our solar system with never-before-seen detail — with very few problems, they will then sail on into the black. By the time our extra-terrestrial friends find them (the nearest star system is over 4400 light years away) the spacecraft will have become electromagnetically-dark, lifeless metal husks; their reactor cores ice cold and turned into radioactively-stable byproducts. Then, hopefully, the aliens will find the records and hear the words of a hopeful, and hopefully still existent, planet.

“Greetings, from the children of the planet Earth.”

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And…Scene

The most dangerous habit I have now is to watch a movie while I’m eating dinner. Any sort of forward momentum I may have with my projects or creativity is halted the moment I press Play. The rest of the evening after the credits is a mental waste while I swirl in the eddys of motivation and try to justify spinning back up so soon before bed.

I should stop that.