Friday, December 18, 2009

My Morning Adventure

So I'm stumbling along in the dark this morning, Kee Kee Meow tagging along expectantly. I'm going to let her out; she's been begging for half an hour. Then comes that undeserved, unexpected agony, the kind that gives you about a second to think about it before it kicks in, just to let you know it's going to be BAD. It's in my left pinkie toe, where I stubbed it full force into this brick thing on the floor that used to be part of a fireplace. MA-MAAAAA!!! I scream. Kee Kee Meow darts off into the shadows. OOOOH MAMA...!!! OWWWWWwww... I bellow as I teeter precariously on one foot in the dark. While it's hurting at maximum capacity, I have time to think about what life will be like when the pain finally fades. Oh boy, life used to be good before agony. It hurts and hurts and hurts and goes on hurting, so I hobble and shuffle into my room so I can put on a shirt, because it's cold and I don't think I'm going to be getting back into bed just yet, as excruciating pain makes it kind of hard to sleep. Or so I hear.

I have a flashlight in my hand that I keep by my bed for when I wake up in the middle of the night and get the urge to read a few pages of whatever book I'm reading. Somehow I had it in my mind to use it to find my way to the door this morning to let Gray Kitty out, but that thought just never fully congealed, and now I get to enjoy life + agony for a while. I can't decide what to do first - find a shirt or inspect the damage. Morbid curiousity wins, and with some trepidation I shine the flashlight down onto my foot. I gasp. It looks like the toenail is torn off... I bend down to look more closely. Ugh... the toenail is ok, but my toe is split right down the middle. There is a half a centimeter long gash that runs right down the front from where the toenail starts to the bottom of my toe, sitting there wide open and bleeding. I notice a trail of shiny red blobs and follow them with the flashlight as they lead back into the living room. A bunch of new ones are welling up and falling all over the floor at the foot of my bed. Great...

So by now, the pain has finally faded, and I have to deal with this toe bleeding everywhere. It's been 20 minutes and it just WON'T STOP bleeding. It's pretty gross, as I have several wads of dark red sticky blood soaked tissues building up in a pile. I hope I don't bleed to death. This is worse than a bloody nose.

Ok, it's been another 20 minutes and it's STILL bleeding. It doesn't hurt anymore, now it's just annoying and gross.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

One Giant Leap

I'm a catechumen now. Sunday I came forward during the liturgy and Fr. Justin said some awesome prayers over me, and then I moved from one stage of my life to another. "That's one small step up to the iconostasis, one giant leap of faith into the Mystery." So, I was nervous and my stomach was hurting, which always happens when I get anxious. I've been known to get so nervous that I make myself sick and have to run to the bathroom and evacuate the contents of my stomach; however, that didn't happen then, thank Heaven.

So, it's right after the...Homily, I think, and then there's the Augmented Litany...

:::checks the little liturgy pamphlet:::

...yeah, right about then, Fr. Justin motions me forward. So, I step forward and I look up at Fr. Justin and he's SHAKING HIS HEAD AT ME! Oh no, how did I screw up? What did I do? I'm just standing here.. ok, I should look down then... no, not too far down, because he's still shaking his head! No wait, he's nodding now! Whew. Ok, I'll keep looking down. Now he starts to recite the awesome prayers, of which I can only remember one part... it's about me letting go of my delusions, which is why that one part stuck in my head, probably. So, Fr. has his hand on my head and I'm imagining that with these prayers he is conducting God's grace straight down from Heaven...

(7:39 pm :::phone rings:::talkie talkie talkie:::hang up::: 8:11 pm)

...and into me like water flowing through a canal.

Now here is something that's decidedly odd. I had completely forgotten about vespers and the basics of Orthodoxy class tonight until I received a call from a friend a few minutes ago. And here I've been, all involved in writing about becoming a catechumen. How could I have my mind on this and forget so thoroughly about vespers and class tonight? It's weird, in an unsettling way. It completely... I mean COMPLETELY slipped my mind.

Anyway, back to the story. We didn't rehearse this or anything, so I didn't necessarily know what to do when Fr. Justin removed his hand from my head and disappeared behind the Royal Doors. I stood there in front of the altar for about two and a half seconds, and then I high tailed it back to the bay windows and into the safe sphere of influence cast by my sister Cheyenne who was waiting back there. We waited for the choir to sing the Litany of the Catechumen, which always makes me tear up because it's so beautiful, and then I told her that it was my cue to leave.

As we step out into the bookstore foyer, the choir starts to sing the Cherubic Hymn, which is my favorite. I had mentioned earlier to Cheyenne about how pretty it was, and she went back into the sanctuary so she could hear it better. I went into the library nook and choked back a few tears. The Cherubic Hymn always makes me cry; it's just so heart breakingly beautiful. From now on though I'll have to listen to it from the library nook, but I can still hear it fairly well.

So, I settle down there on the bench area where the fold up chairs and the coats go and read a book while the liturgy proceeds. When it's over, Leah takes me home and on the way I start to babble on about everything in a fairly incomprehensible way until finally I blurt out, "Fr. Justin was shaking his head no to me. What did I do? I was too close to the altar... or I shouldn't have looked up... OH! Duh... I forgot to cross myself... I didn't put my right hand on my left hand... ramble ramble ramble..."

Leah said, "He was blowing the Sign of the Cross over you. From left to right and then up and down."

I shut up and pondered that for a few seconds. Ah. Not shaking his head... he was blowing the Sign of the Cross. Left to right. Ok, it just seemed at first like it was a "NO YOU'RE DONG IT WRONG!" gesture. Then when he nodded his head, seemingly in weary acknowledgement that I had finally stopped screwing it all up, he was blowing the Sign of the Cross then, too. Left to right, then up and down. How novel... to blow the Sign of the Cross. Come to think of it, I seemed to remember Leah telling me about that part when I asked her what I should expect. But you see, I'm retarded.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A lengthy read

I've struggled with the idea of God for most of my life. On the one hand, I'm a very logically minded person and require that things follow a pattern that makes sense. Above almost all things, I crave the basic simplicity of a fundamental order. I want things to be provable; to be observable. I am very interested in science, physics, space exploration, quantum mechanics, string theory, subatomic particles, evolution, the possibility of life on other planets, the possibility of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, whether or not intelligent aliens have a Bible, whether or not God appeared to them in their own alien form as he came to us in the form man, what that could mean in the great scheme of life and God's plan for the entire universe, and just about every curiosity or puzzle the beckons to be figured out.
In a way I wish that I wasn't interested in those things and that I had never heard of or learned about any of that stuff because it has made it all that much harder to accept God as a reality when there is no observable evidence that can be scientifically examined. However, I have never been happy with the idea that God doesn't exist, and I abhor the thought of being an atheist with all of my being. I've always wanted God in my life, but there is a force in me which has made it impossible for Him to exist within me. No matter how much I wanted to believe in God, this force has relegated me to the status of a miserable agnostic. It has been a terrible thing for me... that I should have this powerful desire and need for God, and at the same time to have a built in barrier, over which I have no control, that seems to render faith impossible. For the last 28 years, that's how it was for me.
For a couple of years now I have been in the process of recovering from a bleak time in my life... that absolute bottom, that blackest of pits; that place from which the only direction to go is up, and I've been guardedly optimistic. Almost a year ago, In early January, I was introduced to St. Maximus Orthodox Mission by a friend and have been attending services and going to classes. As a result I have been able to reconcile myself largely to the aforementioned problems. It has been a miracle for me, that I can now look into my heart and really sense true belief there, a belief that defies all of the logic which has defined my core being for so long. I attribute this miracle to God's mercy; that maybe the 28 years of flailing about in the darkness was necessary in order to prepare myself so that I could finally accept God into my heart... that I was required to hit rock bottom in order to build anew from the bare foundations of my 'self'.
This new belief is still fledgling though, and during the past year I have experienced a definite, almost predictable pattern of ups and downs; like peaks and valleys. During the peaks, everything seems so easy and natural. I am enthusiastic, I read the Gospels regularly (usually before bed), I pray often, I go to church, I attend classes, and I feel comfortable and at ease. None of those logical problems bother me. It's as if they don't even matter; that they have been nothing more than distractions and obstacles set in place to hinder me. I feel the presence of God and I am aware of His miracles around me.
Then there are the valleys. At these times I tend to argue a lot with people close to me. I find myself vehemently defending Orthodox Christianity to those who aren't Christian, or just not Orthodox, while at the same time feeling that I am a hypocrite. As I sink deeper, I start to second guess myself. I remember all of the reasons why I used to think that Christianity was just one of thousands of religions invented by man, and that religion is nothing more than a comforting technique inspired by an inordinate need for us to escape the fate of meaningless oblivion. I begin to question the basic tenets of Christianity, such as the virgin birth, Jesus Christ as God incarnate, the miracles described in the Gospels, and the resurrection, as things that are physically impossible. At my lowest point, it's as if almost all of the faith that I have built up has been torn down, and I'm back to the foundations of myself. Sometimes these valleys occur as a result of something specific but more often they just happen, as if they are part of a repeating cycle.
At some level I understand these peaks and valleys as my own personal battle with the forces which have been hindering my belief for almost 30 years. When I step back from it, I can see this battle occurring, and I can identify my obstacles as things that are not of my own will; objects that are actively trying to tear down my faith. I suppose they could even be called demons, as that's as good a name as any for an active force which is working inside me and against my own will and well being. It's heartening to think of it this way, as it then becomes a tangible thing which I can grapple with instead of succumb to. I don't recall anyone telling me that becoming an Orthodox Christian was going to be easy.
Now I come to the crux of my essay. Ironically, I have never had a problem with science and religion. I've always believed that if there was a God, that all of the observable scientific phenomenon we have discovered that describes the ongoing existence of the universe - evolution and the big bang being two prime examples - are Gods own tools, and that He made the universe this way to operate according to His will. However, as I've pointed out before, much of my trouble comes from trying to reconcile the basic elements of Christianity with observable reality. Lately I have been experiencing a pretty severe valley, but the other day something happened that promises to permanently defeat those things which have been working against my will and to my detriment.
A few days ago I was watching a program about quantum mechanics which presented me with a wonderful possibility. Now, in order to fully explain this, I would have to delve into the subject at a fair length, a daunting prospect at best, so I'll try to explain it simply. At the quantum level, subatomic particles follow a rather strange set of laws that differ greatly from those at the macroscopic level... that is, the level with which we are familiar; from complex molecules and on up to galaxies. What quantum mechanics states is that all of the subatomic particles which comprise physical reality exist in a state of flux - that is, these particles haven't settled down into any kind of form that can be measured; they all merely represent potentials. Here is a crude analogy - Imagine a spinning roulette wheel. Until that roulette wheel stops spinning, it is impossible to know where the ball will come to rest. It is similar with subatomic particles in the quantum world. All of these particles are 'spinning', each with the potential to be either 'here' or 'there', or maybe moving 'this fast' or 'that fast'. The catch is, all quantum particles will remain in this state of potential until they are observed. I know, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I think that one would need a degree in astrophysics to really grasp it, but suffice it to say that quantum mechanics describes it that way.
So, in effect, according to quantum mechanics, nothing really exists as a definite, measurable or observable entity or phenomenon until it is observed. It is a mind boggling concept... that unless someone is there to witness a thing, that thing does not exist. It's similar to the the old adage which states "If a tree falls in the forest but no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?" It's the same principle. Now, the gist of the program was that since everything is merely unexpressed potential until observed, that humans in fact create the reality merely by witnessing it. At this point the writers of the program indulged their egos by suggesting that because of this, everyone is a god. However, I chose to see it somewhat differently, in that it is not 'we' who cause the quantum potential of reality to take form by observing it. That honor falls to God, and He is the one doing the observing which sets the gears of creation into motion.
It really was a great epiphany when I realized this. Suddenly, in my mind, anything is possible. All of the miracles are possible. Anything could have happened, can happen, and still might happen. Everything is defined by God, created by God, and witnessed by God. I can believe everything now, from the miracle of Jesus turning water into wine, to the coming resurrection of every single person who ever lived and died. And the best part is that I don't have to understand it.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Imaginary Undies

I folded my underwear with the scorpion still inside. I heard its fitful pleas as it was rubbed mercilessly against the skid marks, but I persisted. It's claws tore a small hole in the weak part where uric acid had dissolved it into a thinner weave. Screaming triumphant vengeance, the scorpion jumped out of the hole it had produced with its claws and then the cat ate it.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A dream - alien ritual

Out towards the horizon, a long range of thunderheads had gathered in the gloaming, a far away threat which still managed to cast a note of foreboding upon me. Lightening flashed in their depths, immensely bright green lightening. I watched as these flashes illuminated the yard from my position on the front porch. Each flash lingered for much longer than would be expected of an ordinary lightening flash; green irregular patches of light that resembled the type of light that a spotlight would cast. They moved around the yard in irregular patterns, and they lingered, very much unlike the brief, time-freezing light cast by ordinary lightening. These green illuminations allowed time to pass within their depths, and whatever they brightened existed in unnatural duration for several seconds, as if ripped from ordinary time and forced to exist in hellish time. Lurid, green, and patchy, their power did not diminish, even considering the fact that their source was 40 miles away. They were frightening.

One of these patches of light fell upon the strangely shaped head which was mounted on one of the fence posts. Strange though it may be, it was still a normal fixture that should not provoke fright. However, once bathed in the eerie green illumination, it became almost transparent, in that a purple brain appeared within. I became alarmed as I sat there transfixed by it's pulsations, and I sought to warn someone. I became vaguely aware that I was shouting this fact out loud, that a purple brain was visible inside the head fixture, but I don't know if anyone heard me. I got up from my seat on the porch and stood in the front yard, staring out towards the unnatural storm, transfixed by it's eerie phosphor glow. As the green light moved about the yard, it fell upon me now and then, changing the world to shades of green and back to gray and back to green again. I stood paralyzed and wondering why the clouds were doing that and I grew even more fearful.

At this time several of my friends appeared, as if responding to my frightened call, and they seemed to revel in the light. As the light passed over each of them, they began to float up into the air. I watched as they reveled in the experience of floating. They were all enthralled with ecstasy as I watched them, all of them, hovering at different relative altitudes, and the idea came over me that I would enjoy this sensation. So I reached out my arms and began to float up, too. It was a glorious feeling, and all fear left me, even though my view of the green clouds increased as I flew higher. From way up there I could see that the clouds stretched all around us and formed an unbroken circle of flashing green upon the horizon. I looked down and saw the green patches dancing all over the yard, the house, the pasture, as far as I could see in every direction. Thousands of patches of light, moving around erratically, almost like a strobe. It came to me that this effect of light might be hypnotizing me in some way, disarming me, making me susceptible to it's effect, and in panic I lowered my arms and fell down to the ground, landing hard, jolted and completely disillusioned.

I couldn't think clearly, and I couldn't move after that. I could only watch as the monsters approached. They were all tall and purple, with big heads holding their big brains, their ill will emanating from them in invisible waves. Once we were in range of these ill waves, their intent became clear to us. They captured us and took us with them, into the green light, and I was aware of their thoughts as we were carried away, into their ships, down long hallways filled with propaganda posters and into the presence of the queen, who was terminally ill. I was certain that she would use our lives to extend her own. We were food for her, no more, and in her presence everything ceased to be.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Vespers in East Texas

The other day my mom called and asked me if I could house-sit for several days so that she and Ed (my step-dad) could attend a wedding in Massachusetts. Having no prior engagements or responsibilities tying me to Denton from the 6th to the 14, I considered it my good fortune that I happen to be unemployed at the moment. Oh, and incidentally, my 20 year class reunion is this weekend. I really don't understand how this is possible, by the way... can anyone explain this to me? The last I checked, I was in my 20's...

...anyway, other than the impending feeling of encroaching doom as the date of my reunion approaches, I'm looking forward to a relatively stress-free week here in Winnsboro as I relax, set things on fire in the backyard fire-pit, read, watch the tube (they have satellite TV here on a 46 inch screen!), mess around online, enjoy the abundant contents of their pantry, and play with my four favorite dogs.

Today I was thinking that it would be cool to attend an Orthodox service while I'm here. I thought I remembered there being an Orthodox parish in Tyler, so I did a Google search... and lo and behold, there are two - Holy Apostles Antiochian Orthodox Church, and St. John of Damascus Orthodox Church. Intrigued, I loaded the website of Holy Apostles and read this description on the main page:

"We teach the ancient Traditions of the Apostolic Christian faith with a contemporary message that will enrich your life. "

The 'contemporary message' part kind of threw me, so I loaded the St. John of Damascus website. The first paragraph describes the church as a mission of the Orthodox Church in America, so I closed the other website (sorry, Holy Apostles) and checked the service schedule for St. John of Damascus. As it so happened, there was a vespers service scheduled tonight at 7:00. If I left at 5:30, I thought that I should be able to get there on time (Tyler is about 50 miles south of Winnsboro). So, armed with that knowledge, I resolved that I should check out this East Texas Orthodox church.

It was inevitable that some kind of unforseen complication should delay me, so I got started later than I had planned. Since mapquest wouldn't print the maps directly, I had to grab screenshots of little pieces of the map, load them into Photoshop, and manually splice them together so I wouldn't have to rely only on just the directions. Finally, with map in hand, I walked out the back door at 5:47. According to the directions, I had to make a left turn on Farm Road something-or-another, so I dutifully made my left turn... onto a podunk back road filled with hairpin curves and dotted with slowpoke drivers. I consulted my map again and saw that if I had just stayed on the highway instead of taking this back woods trail, I would have enjoyed a straight shot to Tyler. I compared the two routes on the map and saw little or no difference, except that Farm Road watchamacallit was shaped like the readout on a heart monitor, while the highway had a zen-like curvature which was very attractive. Apparently mapquest had seen fit to supply me with a shortcut or something. Maybe that left turn was a shortcut in Virtual Fairy Land where 50 miles is only an inch and a half, but not here on planet Earth. So, after about a mile, I turned around and high-tailed it back to the highway.

The rest of the directions were relatively easy to follow, and I found myself pulling up to St John of Damascus at about 6:55. I was surprised to see about a dozen cars crammed into the small front yard, and I had to squeeze into a narrow space between two which were parked at 45 degrees to each other. I got out and gave the place a once over. It was a small church, occupying what looked to be a renovated house with narrow, vertical windows installed on each side of the entrance. I went inside and peeked tentatively into the foyer. To the right was a room where three or four people were talking and apparently waiting for the service to start. I turned my attention to the sanctuary before me. To the right was the iconostasis, and to the left of it and against the wall was the choir, which was involved in an animated practice session. There were about 10 people in the choir; I saw 3 kids who looked to be about 8 or 9, a few teenagers, and several adults ranging from their early 20's to late middle age. I decided, since I apparently still had some time, that I would sign the guest book. I looked around for a pen, but there wasn't one so I went back out to the car to dig around. I was rummaging through the glove box, looking for a pen, when I was approached by someone.

"Can I help you?" I heard behind me.

I turned around and saw a man dressed in a black cassock. He looked to young to be a priest, so I assumed that he must be the reader. I admit that I felt a little put off, as I have often been the subject of suspicion in similar circumstances where I happen to be the stranger hanging around purposefully in a clean cut group. And this was East Texas, after all, where people are known not to take too kindly to folks of my appearance. Then again, maybe I was just being paranoid and this guy was only trying to be helpful.

"I'm just looking for a pen so I can sign the guestbook," I replied.

"Ok," he said with a smile as he walked back into the church. Having procured a pen, I followed him in and signed the guest book; which, I noticed, hadn't been signed since July of '08. It was then that the Priest approached me.

He extended his hand and said "Hi, I'm Father John."

I took his proffered hand. "I'm Ashley. I'm from St. Maximus Orthodox Mission in Denton. Father Justin is the priest there."

"Oh yes," he replied, nodding his head vigorously. "Do you know..." He mentioned someone by name, but I can't remember who it was. "He's been around for about 3 years."

I didn't know if he meant that this person had been around St. Maximus for about 3 years, or St. John of Damascus. It was moot anyway, because I didn't know the guy. "No, I can't say that I know him," I replied. "But I've only been attending services there for about 9 months, and only during the past 3 have I had the chance to attend the divine liturgy frequently because now I don't have to work on Sundays."

Father John nodded and smiled and said, "So, what brings you to this area?"

"I'm here house sitting for my mom, and since I'm in the area, I wanted to see the vespers here tonight."

Father John nodded and smiled. "Oh yes, we'll be starting in a few minutes. Thank you for coming."

He disappeared into a room to the right of the iconostasis, and I was left alone there in the foyer. I didn't want to stand there like a lump, so I decided that I would just walk into the sanctuary and wait for the service to start. I stood there for a few minutes, wondering if it was ok to venerate the icons (the choir was taking up a lot of space around them). I finally decided to go ahead and venerate them. There was a music stand placed directly between the two icons which made it awkward to traverse the space between them, so after I venerated the icon of Christ, I had wriggle and writhe my way around the stand and between a couple of people so that I could venerate the icon of the Theotokos. After that, I stepped back and waited for the service to start.

One thing I noticed as I stood there watching the choir practice was that people in this church were a lot more casual and talkative before the service. Several people in the choir were joking and laughing, and I also heard laughter coming from the foyer. One thing that was exactly the same, however, was the abundance of little children running all over the place. This wasn't surprising; parents do have a habit of bringing the little buggers with them wherever they go. I felt a pang of friendly jealousy as I watched them running and laughing, that unlike myself, these kids were probably born into the Orthodox faith.

Finally things started to quiet down and the service started. I don't know why I was surprised that I was so familiar with the entire process, but it felt good and I was filled with a serene feeling of 'belonging''. These people were perfect strangers, yet I felt close to them at the same time; as if we all shared a well kept secret that only a few lucky people ever had the good fortune to discover. As the service progressed, I began to feel a kind of euphoria and I felt that I was on the verge of an epiphany. Everything seemed more right than it had ever seemed to me... suddenly it was all so easy. I reveled in this feeling.

When the service ended, I venerated the icons again and then I just kind of stood there, looking around at everybody. Someone approached me and introduced himself, but I'm terrible with names so I don't remember his. He told me that he used to be a deacon at The Church of Christ until about four years ago, when he discovered the Orthodox church. I asked him if he knew about the 'Real Live Preacher' blog, about the Baptist minister who was attending Orthodox services. He replied warmly that he had in fact read that blog, and we shared a feeling of closeness. We talked some more, and he invited me to the adult class that was about to begin. I had to beg off though, because I was anxious to get home and let the dogs in. I told him that I would like to attend the Sunday liturgy, though.

Then, on the front porch, I had another nice conversation with Theophane, who happened to be the one who had addressed me earlier before the service. I hope I remembered his name correctly. He was the most unique looking of the group; possibly of hispanic descent, with a dark complexion, long black hair, and a full beard. When I mentioned that I was from Denton, he smiled a familiar smile and said that he knew Father Justin well.

I finally left at about 8:15 after talking for about 30 minutes with various people. As I was driving home the feeling of euphoria persisted all the way.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Odd and unlikely things

Last night at about 9:30 I took a long walk, reading by flashlight. I like to do this a lot now, as it combines the normally sedentary activity of reading with the normally tedious task of walking nowhere in particular, which is oddly satisfying. At about 11:00, as I was just getting to the really good part, I took a right on Jagoe St. onto Oak St. and headed west. I had just passed Marietta St. when I saw somebody about a hundred yards up ahead. Unperturbed, I continued for a while until I was distracted by incomprehensible shouting. I didn't return immediately to my book, and as I walked and watched, I saw her (I determined by her voice that this person was of the female persuasion) sit down on the curb at the corner and stretch her legs into the street while lying flat on her back on the grass beside the curb. It was dark, and I don't think she had noticed me thus far, because when I was almost upon her, she suddenly sat up straight and hugged her knees to her body. It was then that I realized that... hmmm. It was quite shadowy where she was sitting, so I can say that her modesty wasn't completely compromised, but I was by then close enough to see that she just flat out wasn't wearing any pants. She was, however, wearing something on her legs that looked like leg warmers, except that they seemed more like regular pants legs that stopped at the knee. Imagine long shorts, or knee length knickers, but reversed. Maybe they were just socks... it was dark and hard to tell. It was a decidedly odd and surprising sight, and I stopped short for about a half a second before I continued on with my nose buried in my book. She didn't look up as I passed, and I didn't stop, intent on avoiding a potentially embarrassing situation.

After I passed her, I saw something about a hundred feet ahead that looked like a big jumble of shapes lying on the curb and partially in the road. My first thought was that the woman was the dazed victim of a car wreck. Or a dune buggy wreck... or possibly a golf cart wreck? I was close enough to see that it definitely wasn't big enough to be a car. I hurried forward to discover three large green city of Denton trash bins, all of which were knocked over into the street and spilling copious amounts of debris everywhere. Relief turned to irritation as I set about righting them and clearing the trash out of the road.

After all of the trash bins were lined up again on the curb, I became quite still as the Rube Goldberg contraption that is my mind kicked into gear. Two thoughts eventually congealed in my head... firstly, one doesn't normally find three large trash bins in a row knocked over and spilling into the street, and secondly, neither does one usually encounter a fellow pedestrian lounging on the curb sans pants in the middle of the night. Could these two unlikely items be connected? If I remembered correctly from high school algebra, when two negatives are multiplied by each other, the result is a positive. I considered that each unlikely situation represented a negative variable. If I multiplied them together, using this rule of algebra, then the resulting positive solution should be represented by a likely situation. Armed with this logic, I concluded that It seemed likely that the two unlikelies, when combined, formed a likely, and that it was likely that these two unlikely events were somehow connected.

I looked back to see if she was still sitting there. Apparently she had high-tailed it, so I shrugged and continued my walk. At about 2:00 I was nearing the end of the book so I went home. Once I was safely ensconced in my kitchen, rustling up some grub, I reflected briefly on the oddities of the walk I had just taken. I then sat down and finished my book and went to beddy bye with a full stomach and the satisfaction of a book well ended.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A meeting with Mormons

Earlier today there was a knock on the door. I looked out through the peephole and two well dressed, conservative looking young men holding what looked to be small packets of paperwork were standing there. They looked like FBI agents. Curious, I opened the door. They both were wearing name badges with the title of Elder, and neither one of them could have been older than 25... probably closer to 18. They were Mormons, I saw from their badges, which had 'The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints' printed on them. Hmmm, thought I... didn't I just go through something like this last winter? So, they introduced themselves (I can't remember their names at all, I'm really bad with names) and said that they were conducting a poll about why there are so many diverse religions all over the planet.

A poll? Ok. I said something to this effect:

"The reason I think that there are so many diverse religions is because of various factors like climate, geography, and culture which have served to isolate various groups of people from each other over the course of the last several thousand years, which resulted in these various groups developing different ways of thinking."

One stood a little forward from the other, he was taller and had black hair and a round face. Very friendly looking. The other had strawberry blond hair and a freckled complexion. Also very pleasant seeming. The taller one seemed to be the leader of the two, and it was he with whom I exchanged the most conversation. He replied thusly:

"Do you think that it is God's will that people should be so separated from each other?"

"Yes," I replied, "I think that is God's will. I think that everything I see around me is God's will." What other answer could I give?

"But God wants us all to be united and share the same religion and to accept Jesus Christ as our savior. Isn't that God's will?" said the dark haired one. Or something very close to that. That was the gist of what he said, anyway.

I thought about that for a second and said, "Yeah, I think that's God's will, but God also gave each of us free will. Ironically, that is also His will."

"Then would you agree that it's His will that we -" refering to his partner "- have travelled almost 3000 miles to share this message with you? Isn't that a little more than just coincidence?"

I wondered vaguely what had happened to the poll. "Yes," I replied, "I do believe that is His will. I don't think that you guys have made a wasted trip down here, and I believe that we all do God's will in everything we do, even though you guys are Mormons and I'm an Orthodox Christian." That was a tiny fib, I'm not baptized yet, but these guys didn't know that.

"Then is it not the oddest coincidence..."

"No, I don't think anything is a coincidence. Or just merely coincidence. What I think has a lot of meaning for me is that I just happened to move to Denton within walking distance of the only Orthodox church in town, after almost 20 years of a nearly atheistic viewpoint. If there is meaning in conicidence, then that's what holds meaning for me."

As we were exchanging these pleasantries, the leader and I had been sharing eye contact, which neither one of us was intent upon breaking first. I began to grow somewhat nervous. His gaze didn''t seem as friendly as it first did, although I was positive that it was just my imagination. I broke first and glanced at his partner, who smiled. I looked back at the leader. I looked down and saw that they were both holding the book of Mormon. I looked back up at the leader, who said, "If you would allow us to share some things with you..."

"Hang on just a sec." I walked away from the door. My hands were shaking. I felt short of breath. What was the deal here? Why was I so suddenly and inexplicably nervous with these two people? Hadn't I dealt with this exact situation back in January? In fact, I had met up with a couple of Mormons at an ice cream shop and talked to them quite calmly back then and without any nervous tension at all. We were almost friends. They were very friendly; I was very friendly. We parted with them knowing fully that although I was thankful for their attention, that I was starting to express an interest in Orthodox Christianity due to someone I had met recently. The friendly undercurrent to the situation was one of, 'dangit, the Orthodox got to him first. Shucks!' and fingers were snapped and eyes were rolled and laughs were uttered and we all parted on great terms. They even let me keep a book of Mormon, a personal copy of theirs, with personal notes and inscriptions written here and there.

I went into my room and took a deep breath and wondered if I should invite these two people inside. They were just standing on my doorstep, waiting. I saw my wallet on my bedside table. Sudden inspiration struck. I opened my wallet and took out Fr. Justin's business card. I went back to the door.

"Here, you might actually be better off talking to this guy. He's an orthodox priest here in Denton." I handed the card to the leader. "Maybe he can answer some of your questions better for you." I felt somewhat guilty, pawning the situation off on Fr. Justin like that for him to deal with, but I didn't know how much longer I could keep talking, as it seemed as though I wasn't getting enough air.

The leader looked at me with vague disappointment. I held out my hand and he shook it. "I don't think your 3000 mile trip was wasted," I said. "God has His plans for all of us and it is up to us to live our lives as best as we know how and trust that God knows what He is doing with us." I thought about what Fr. Justin said once, about us having free will... but then how can everything be God's will if that's the case... and about how God exists outside of time so it is poinless to try to understand His methods. I wanted to explain this to these two, but words completely failed me at that point. Then the other one said something, the only thing he said during the entire conversation.

"Do you think that Jesus loves you as much as he loves your priest here?" he said, indicating Fr. Justin's card. I thought that was a decidedly odd question.

"Of course I do," I said.

"Do you mind if we give you a card too?"

"Sure, thanks." I held out my hand, into which he deposited a generic, non-personal Latter Day Saints card with printed on it.

They smiled, we exchanged thank-you's, and they walked away.

Friday, June 26, 2009

That Hideous Paperware

As some of you who may be reading this might know, I have recently become (or more accurately, am in the process of becoming) an Orthodox Christian, and the evening of Monday, June 9, at about 6:30 found me and Leah at St. Maximus Orthodox Mission in Denton attending Vespers. Our Vespers service was special that night, as St. Tikhon's Mission choir, an octet from St. Tikhon's Orthodox Theological Seminary in South Canaan Pennsylvania, was visiting our church. Our parish is very small, so a visit from such a prestigious choir is quite an honor. Not only did they sing the entire Vespers service, but they also performed a short concert afterward. I won't try to impart how amazing it was; suffice it to say that there is just something about those centuries old tones and litanies that is beyond description.

So, after the concert everyone went into the kitchen for food and coffee and and whatnot. There was a lot of everything, being that the week of June 8th through June 14th is a fast free week celebrating Pentecost; meaning that it is actually forbidden to fast. Basically, what this means is that everybody is allowed to enjoy all kinds of goodies all week because we have to fast again from June 15th through June 28th.

So, adhering proudly to the rules and being somewhat of a pig, I got in line and started to load down two plates and two bowls (these receptacles, in retrospect, being of dubious strength for the purposes I intended) with sausage, spaghetti, cheese, crackers, chips, cantaloupe, strawberries, potato salad, bread, hummus, cookies, cake, tomatoes, chicken, casserole, and quite possibly a few other items. Man, was I hungry and looking forward to inching my way over to the drink table, where I would pour some tea, after which Leah and I would make our way to a place where we could munch away in peace.

However, it was not to be because halfway to the drink table, the contents of my overburdened and thus weakened paperware decided to take a magical mystery tour of my forearms, chest, thighs, and shoes; a brief sojourn which ended as a pound and a half of food impacted with a square foot and a half of floor. The spectacle was witnessed by Fr. Justin, Matushka, sub deacon Dax, the entire St. Tikhon's octet, reader Ben, and about a dozen other parishoners. Matushka rushed over with some paper towels, saying something about the plate balancing skills which she had acquired while waiting tables... skills which I obviously lacked completely. After scooping it all back up onto one plate into a mound about 6 inches high, I had to qualify my embarrassment by announcing that I would have gone ahead and eaten it if I'd been at home... which I would have, really. As it was, I had to toss those dreams into the trash and share Leah's sparse plate. I just couldn't bear standing in line again.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The radio bit

A few weeks ago I was at work; slinging taquitos, ordering what-nots and hoo-jiggers,
checking customers, etc... my usual duties as the Ass. Manager. We were in the middle of the regular morning rush when the phone rang. Ah, Terry, thought I... what does he want? He's probably going to remind one of us to send the gas competition or to keep the coffee trough fresh. I picked up the phone and answered with my stock phrase - "7-Eleven Oak Street". I was mildly surprised when someone who wasn't Terry said "Who is this?" in a fairly commanding tone.

Normally I find this fairly rude, to have my identity immediately demanded by the caller, but for all I knew it might be one of those corporate fuddy duddy's calling for something or another. So, after I gave my name, the caller wanted to know who else was working. "Ryan and Vicki," I replied. At the mention of Vicki's name, I heard some snickering in the background, and my hackles rose as I began to anticipate some sort of prank phone call. "Let me talk to Vicki," said the caller, who then proceeded to qualify the request with "We've got somebody on the line who has a crush on her."

Ooo...k. So I gave the phone to Vicki, wondering what all of this was about. I knew that Vicki was married, so I thought this was decidedly odd; especially considering that Vicki is in her 50's and probably closer to 60. Not that it would have been out of the question for Vicki, at her age and married, to have a secret admirer, but this method of revealing ones self seemed a little puerile. So, I handed the phone to Vicki and proceeded to get back to whatever I had been doing 30 seconds before. After about 30 more seconds, Vicki handed the phone back to me and said, "They want to talk to you again." I exhaled in exasperation. I had become fairly certain that whatever was going on was some kind of prank, and I didn't have time for games like that on a busy morning while trying to order, check customers, make coffee, etc.

I took the phone from Vicki and said "Hello?" The voice on the other end said, "Hey man, we've got a guy on the line who wants to ask the girl who works mornings out on a date." By this time, the store had begun to fill up with customers and I definitely didn't have time to waste playing infantile games with strangers, and after making this clear to the caller in no uncertain terms, I immediately hung up. I thought about it for a bit, and decided that whomever it was probably just wanted to get Vicki to believe she had a secret admirer. It was probably some punk kid who thought it would be funny to prank call a 7-Eleven; someone just retarded enough to be unaware that prank phone calls had been obsolete since the early 90's when star 69 and caller ID had come into ubiquitous use by pretty much everyone.

I wasn't surprised at all when the phone started to ring again. I picked up the phone and immediately hung it up. Five seconds later, it rang again. This time I just let it ring, and nobody else tried to answer it either because we were just too busy. It rang and rang and rang, and it just kept on ringing and ringing and ringing. I was becoming quite exasperated by about the 20th ring, when it finally stopped. Then, about two minutes later, it rang again. I glanced at Vicki, we both rolled our eyes, and she answered it. After they exchanged the usual pleasantries, Vicki handed me the phone again. "7-Eleven on Oak," I answered. This is how the conversation went:

Them: "Hey man, put the girl on who works mornings."
Me: "You just talked to her."
Them: "He says that's not the girl."
Me: "Look, I already told you that I don't have time for this. We're busy."
Them: "Come on man, he wants to ask her out on a date. Have a heart. You're live and on the air, man."


By this time, I'm beginning to figure out what's going on; that it's a radio station calling and that somebody has called the radio station - somebody who has noticed Leah, the girl who usually works mornings, and is trying to get her attention by calling in to a radio station, and in turn, getting the radio station to call the 7-Eleven where she works so that he can ask her out on a date, live and on the air. Well, as my grandpa used to say, I just seen red - that is, I got extremely irritated:


Me: (finally realizing the situation) "She's my girl."
Them: "Come on man, have a heart. Put her on the phone."
Me: "What? No. This is my girl you're talking about. I don't want some stranger asking my girlfriend out on a date."
Them: "You're live and on the air dude. Have a heart, man. Give her the phone so he can ask her out."
Me: "How many ways do I have to put it? She's my girl, ok? It isn't going to happen. Now quit calling because we're too busy for these kinds of shenanigans."

And I hung up. They didn't call back after that. However, about 30 seconds after that last little exchange, a cop came into the store and asked if that was me on the radio just then...

...Ok, I was sure it was a radio bit. I told the cop, "Yeah, it was me, and they were trying to set my girl up on a date with some guy who called in." The cop laughed and said something else and then left. After that, curious people came in out of the woodwork. Everybody wanted to know if that was me on the radio and was the morning shift girl really my girlfriend... yeah, that was me; yes, she's really my girlfriend. I think the guy who made the call even came in, because when I explained for the umpteenth time that yes, she's my girlfriend, he seemed disappointed as he looked down and shuffled out of the store. Also, one customer gave me a description of the guy who had originally called the radio station, and this particular guy matched the description he had given of himself on the air.

Later I became curious as to what radio station it was that had called, so used star 69 and got the number. This is the conversation which ensued:

Me: "What radio station is this?"
Him: "It doesn't matter."
Me: "What?"
Him: "You missed your big chance, so it doesn't matter now. You don't need to know."
Me: "What big chance?"
Him: "It doesn't matter now because you blew it."
Me: "What radio station is this?"
Him: "You can't get your chance back dude, so just forget it. You blew it."
Me: "I don't know what chance you're talking about. I'm just curious as to what radio station it was that called the store."
Him: "I already told you, it doesn't matter. You blew your chance."
Me: "Ok, what chance did I blow?"
Him: "It doesn't matter. You don't need to know now."


By this time I've figured out that the chance he's referring to is having the store advertised on the radio, which by the way, I could give two hoots about.


Me: "You mean the chance to set my girlfriend up on a date with some random Joe Schmoe on live radio? Excuse me if I don't exactly jump for joy."
Him: "You could have told us it was your girlfriend. But no, you just kept hanging up."
Me: "What are you talking about? I told you she was my girl. Several times."
Him: "No, you didn't."
Me: "Yes, I did. Several times."
Him: "No you didn't.
Me: "You're lying! I can't believe this..."
Him: "Well, we have the whole thing recorded, you know."
Me: "Play it back then, right now so everybody can hear it, because I distinctly remember you telling me that I was live and on the air and it was right after that I told you that she was my girl -"


He hangs up on me and they won't accept any more calls from me. Well, that's the end of that, I thought, except for the deluge of customers coming in all day and asking "Is this the 7-Eleven that was on 97.1 The Eagle, the Lex and Terry show, earlier this morning?" and "Is she really your girlfriend?" To which I answered, "Yes, this is the store, yes, she's my girl." I must have answered that same couple of questions 50 times that day. At least I found out which station it was that called, and even the particular morning show.

Later I noticed a message on my phone. I'd had the ringer turned off because the night before I was at church, and I'd forgotten to turn it back on. Anyway, the message was from those schmucks at the radio station. They wanted me to call back the next morning at 6:00 am for another radio bit. Well, I was tempted to, just so that I could get in a few words edgewise now that I knew exactly what was going on, but I couldn't because it was just Leah and I working the next morning... if there had been a third person, I could have spared the time. So, I guess their show had to survive without me.

However, we had customers coming in all that next morning telling us that Lex and Terry were talking all kinds of crap about me, saying that Leah wasn't really my girlfriend and that I just didn't want anyone else going out with her because I was too chicken to ask her myself. I also heard reports from various customers that I was too chicken to call in to their show. Well, radio guys are known for doing that kind of thing, as they get their ratings by bashing others while seeming unbashable themselves. That's cool, whatever earns them a buck.

It was definitely an interesting thing to happen to me though, and now the entire Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex, along with every radio station in the United States of America which carries that show (it's syndicated nationwide) knows that a guy named Ash is dating the cute morning girl at the 7-Eleven on Oak St. in Denton, TX.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Words and stuff

I'm off for two days in a row. Yesterday and today, which is payday. I walked a lot today which is rare for me now, but I used to walk a lot last year. Matt has the car and he's in East Texas. And rightly so, it's his car, although I hog it a lot. It used to be mine, you see, and I think that the psychological vibe still leans in my direction as far as the car goes. I'm going to stop using it so much though, because it's not my car anymore, and I feel like Matt needs to have dibs on it. I think I'll walk to church and work from now on, except on weekends, when I usually need it to drive the deposit to the bank and pick up the change fund for the store. So, anyway, yeah. I walked a lot today, and listened to music while I walked. Mostly Pinback, but also some of that 'new' Silverchair album... Young Modern. That's a great album; for anybody who is reading this, buy it and listen to it and then e-mail them and compliment them on their greatly underappreciated music.

Anyway, here's some catching up on recent Ash activity. I used to blog a lot about this, but lately I don't because I spend so much time with Leah. I'd rather spend time with her anyway, but I'm at home now on my day off and before I step onto the front porch with my guitar and play for the neighborhood, I think I'll yak some and catch myself up on stuff that's happened during the last couple of months. Let's see... well, to begin with, Mike C. got fired, which made me kind of sad. I really like Mike. When Terry was on vacation during spring break, Mike, Ryan and I had a pretty good time at work. It was slow with all of the college kids off getting in trouble at places like South Padre Island and Matamoros, so we had plenty of time to goof off. We invented a couple of new sports... the most notable being hot dog bun ball throwing. The object is to nail your opponent with a hot dog bun ball. Try to guess what a hot dog bun ball is, okay? Anyway, I had the idea to place something hard inside the hot dog bun ball, but that's kind of an evil idea, so instead I just threw a couple in the oven and they came out nice and toasty and hard. You have to be careful aiming the toasted hot dog bun balls though, because it can get kind of serious throwing those around as they tend to leave bruises. However, there's usually no limits placed on the throwing of soft hot dog bun balls, and any part of the body is fair game for targeting. Allow me to demonstrate a case in point by reconstructing a certain situation. Ryan was over by the coffee bar, making coffee, and Mike C. was standing by the lotto machine, holding the paper and trying to figure out the scrabble puzzle. I was leaning on the counter, doing something or another, probably trying to solve the scrabble puzzle too. Next thing I knew, PAIN! Instant, severe, debilitating, undeserved pain. It lanced through my left ear, shot through my head, down my neck, and dissipated somewhere in my left shoulder. My body reflexively straightened and I staggered around a bit with my hand on my ear, probably cussing up a storm. I don't remember exactly. Now, this particular hot dog bun ball attack probably wouldn't have been so excruciating if it hadn't hit my recent cartilage piercing, which was still red and fresh and painful. I heard Ryan mutter 'Oh shit. Sorry man!' I sumbled into the back room and sat down and waited for the pain to diminish, which it did, fairly rapidly, which surprised me. As it turns out, Ryan had been aiming for Mike C.'s nether region, and his line of sight from the coffee bar passed just above my head. Of course, his aim was faulty, and the hog dog bun ball hit my ear instead of Mike's crotch. It was great fun.

After that, the logical progression of invention was to somehow develop a way of launching these hot dog bun balls with more efficiency and force. I came up with the idea of using a plastic 7-Eleven bag as a sling. By cutting away most of the bag, leaving only the two handles connected by a thin strip of plastic, it was possible to launch a hot dog bun ball with great impetus by placing one at the bottom of the bag and flinging it around and around and around by the handles, until sufficient momentum was achieved, and then snapping the wrist just when the upswing was starting, thus launching the hot dog bun ball across the store. We practiced with this for a while in the store, and after some impressive impacts with the sides of the freezer, we moved it outside. It was at this point that I decided that it would be much more fun to launch an actual hot dog instead of a hot dog bun ball, so we broke some old hot dogs in half, took them outside, and proceeded to launch them with our plastic bag slings. It was immensely entertaining... Mike actually hit the top of the gas station awning with one, resulting in a mini-meat storm, complete with thunder and chunky pink rain. Right after that, he misjudged his release and, to his chagrin and the amusement of myself and a few customers, hit himself in the eye with a high speed hot dog. Hilarity ensued.

It was soon after these fun times that Mike C. got fired for payrolling 40 dollars in gas, pumping 4 cents, and then paying himself $39.94 in change. It's a loophole that allows one to pay themselves an advance, since anything payrolled comes out of your check. However, we are only allowed to payroll $40.00 a week, and such a large amount is kind of obvious. Although there aren't any rules against it per se, Mike was fired. However, I don't think that it had as much to do with his payrolling shenanigans as it did with his threatening to kick Terry's ass. Terry actually had me witness it when he fired Mike, because he said that Mike was a hot head and could fly off the handle. I guess I was there to defend Terry if this happened. All I know is that it sucked, having to stand there and watch while Mike got fired. I don't think Mike was really going to kick Terry's ass... he was joking obviously, and he only said it after he saw that Terry had scheduled him with only about 8 hours between two shifts. I believe his exact words were, 'Terry, if you schedule me like this again, I'm going to kick your ass'. Anyway. Mike still comes by now and then and brings his hackey sack, and we have a few minutes of fun kicking it around behind the roller grill.

Since then, Tony has quit, Brittney was hired, Phyllis quit, Preston was hired back and fired within a two week period, Christina was hired back and seems to be doing well after a bumpy start, Willard was hired, William quit, David put in his notice to quit, and some girl was transfered to our store from Lewisville. All off this within about a two month period. There's a lot of turnover at that store. I believe that Ryan and Adela are the only ones still working who were there when I started in December of '07, except for Terry. Next would be J.P., then Leah. Everybody else is still too new to be worthy of mentioning. J.P. has been there for almost a year, and Leah since October... about 8 months. Speaking of Leah...

I remember when she started work. I recognized her, of course, as she had been a fairly regular customer. Anybody who knows her is familiar with her 'feature' on her temple, so it's kind of hard to forget her face once you've seen it. Once. And I'm not good with remembering faces. Anyway, she came in last August, I think, and got an application. I always think it's neat when a regular customer fills out an application, by the way. So anyway, she filled it out and turned it in, and a few weeks went by. Then she came in the store and I asked her if she was going to be hired. I didn't know her at this time, by the way. Anyway, she said that Terry said something about the store being fully staffed or whatnot, his usual response to people who turn in applications. Then somebody must have quit, because Leah started work in October. I was excited that she was working with us, because I had always though that she was cute and maybe interesting, because she appeared to by kind of shy, and I wanted to get to know her. I'm super shy myself, so I always went out of my way to try to make her feel comfortable during the brief periods that I saw her, which was usually during the shift change, since she was on 2nd shift and I was on 1st shift. So, every time I saw her, I would say 'Hi, Leah!' and that would just about be it. But I said 'hi' to her as often as the opportunity presented itself.

Then she was moved to 1st shift. Now, usually when you put two shy people together in a situation with no other people around to offer any kind of social buffer, the result is two people who tend to shut the hell up a lot, and that's the way it was for a while when we worked together in the mornings, which tended to be slow. But eventually we started to yak and yammer at eachother a little, and after a while, the ice started to break somewhat. When I learned that she had read Enders Game, that clenched it for me. Leah was officially cool. We started to hang out together a little bit outside of the workplace, and I learned that she is an Orthodox Christian. She invited me to church once, and I liked it. I've slowly been working myself into a state of faith, attending mostly night services because I work on Sunday. I'm trying to get more Sundays off, however, and I think I'll just have to start requesting them off, since Terry isn't very receptive to requests for time of for religious reasons. Anyway, I'm thankful to Leah for taking on the burden of helping me to find something I've been desperately looking for and wanting since about 1990. Eventually I want to be baptized, but I realize that I still have a ways to go. It's a serious thing, converting to Eastern Orthodoxy, not like just up and joining a protestant church. By the way, Leah is the first real friend I've made since... oh, lets' see... around 1996, I guess, when I met Louie in Austin. I've met a lot of people since then, of course, but none that I would actually call REAL friends. I could consider Ryan a friend, and I do, but we've never hung out outside the workplace. I also think that Adela could be a potential friend, as she is really nice and cool. Also, Sean Davis, who used to also work at 7-Eleven, is someone I could consider a friend. But he quit, and since then we just haven't been in touch. I could call him, I guess, but there's that whole shy thing again. However, his girlfriend, Alice, recently applied there. Maybe she'll get a job, and through her, I could hook up with Sean again. That would be cool, I think.

So, I've been an Ass. Manager there since around October now, but I've only been acting in that capacity officially since... oh, around January. My duties consist of pretending to run the store, pretending to listen to Terry, pretending to like the customers, making sure the coffee trough is always fresh for the grazing, and most importantly, managing the ass, and occassionally kicking some ass. I have times when I cannot STAND working there. I get irritated with something tiny... like wanting to go out and take a smoke break and not being able to because customers keep coming in. That irritation will grow into genuine anger, like a snowball rolling downhill and picking up snow, getting bigger and bigger. It's a real attitude problem I have. I also tend to talk a lot of shit about people when I'm at work, which is something I never used to do. I'm trying to cut down on all of that, and when things get really bad, I say the Jesus prayer to myself over and over and over until I'm calm. It seems to work more often than not. There really isn't anything wrong with working at 7-Eleven. It's honorable work, and I get paid. I'm just not a people person, and customer service just isn't the field I am suited for. I'd rather be doing research on particle physics, locked in a laboratory, or in an observatory counting asteroids, or stationed at the south pole searching for extremophiles which might survive on Mars with a little genetic alteration. But, it's all about attitude, and there have been a few days when I didn't mind being at work at all, and the people didn't piss me off at all, and I was in a good mood all day, and I just didn't mind. I wish I could set my mind to be like that all of the time.

So, anyway. I think I'm through blogging for a while. It's time to go play some guitar.

Friday, May 8, 2009

High Heavens

Kaxtorplose was cold, and getting colder by the minute. His damaged environment suit, the result of a botched landing in the murky swamp, was barely able to retain enough warmth to keep his extremities from freezing. Moving constantly and vigorously through the ubiquitous morass of tangled plant matter and chopping away with his makeshift machete helped to keep the cold at bay, but he had already had several warnings pop up on his HUD during the last few minutes. Within the next half hour, if the status quo remained unchanged, he would start to enter the first stages of hypothermia. The air temperature registered at a few degrees above the freezing point of water, but it wasn't the air which was leaching the heat from his body. It was the stagnant swamp through which he methodically toiled. All he could do was slog onward and try to keep his mind occupied, hoping that he would reach his destination in time. According to the nav com, which maintained a tenuous link with his orbiting ship, he was almost there. Just a few more kilometers... hell, the outskirts would be visible now if it weren't for the damnable fog... but the resistance he encountered as each step was temporarily mired in the rotting vegetation of the swamp was dangerously slowing his forward progress. He tried to take his mind off of that, plus the fact that his only means of returning to his ship had just been thoroughly wrecked, by letting his subconscious take over. Step. Chop. Clear. Chop. Step. And so on. His thoughts wandered with the mundanity of the chore, and he found himself mentally reviewing he odd stellar arrangement which made life on this planet possible.

The system consisted of two stars... the primary, a neutron star, and the secondary, a red supergiant currently undergoing helium flash. The neutron star was a mass of densely packed neutrons, measuring only about 20 kilometers in diameter. This seemed tiny when compared to the 200 million kilometer diameter of the supergiant, but amazingly, the neutron star contained about five times more mass than it's companion. However, by itself, it did not emit nearly enough heat to warm the atypical planet which revolved around the tiny, compact ball of degenerate matter... there had to be another source of energy. This came in the form of a steady influx of elements which flooded in from the secondary, pulled by the enormous gravity of the neutron star. Viewed from the perspective of several AU's above the solar ecliptic, the binary system resembled a vast whirlpool. Mass from the the supergiant, falling steadily into the primary, swirled inevitably around the region of acutely warped spacetime until it impacted the surface of the ancient husk at relativistic speeds. This process actually stretched the shape of the supergiant into an oblate spheroid roughly the shape of an egg. The narrow end extended itself inexorably towards the primary, as if it were reaching longingly across space for the embrace of it's ages dead companion. Viewed in the infrared part of the spectrum, the supergiant took on the uninterrupted shape of one long piece of stretched material that got thinner and thinner as it wrapped itself several times around the neutron star before finally joining with its surface. Where regular matter impacted neutronium, a cascade of x-rays shone like a interstellar beacon, outshining the equivalent energy of a thousand stars. When enough matter from the supergiant finally merged with the neutron star, it's mass would finally reach a point where its imminent collapse could no longer be held in check. Once that happened, the neutron star would implode in upon itself, forcing all of its mass into an infinitely dense point called a singularity. It would become a black hole.

But that wouldn't occur for millions of years, of course... no danger there. Not that Kaxtorplose had millions of years... according to the latest warning flashed across his HUD, he had about fifteen more minutes before he really began to shiver. The fog was still as dense as ever ahead of him, but it seemed to be clearing in a pattern which would soon dissipate over his position. He could see behind him now for quite a distance, and was now able to make out the alien landscape in some detail. The swamp stretched on for as far as he could see in all directions, dotted here and there by dense clusters of native vegetation. He could just barely make out the silhouette of his lander on the distant horizon, brought into relief by the dim red light of the setting supergiant. The distant haze of the retreating fog scattered the faint illumination of the binary pair, offering a lurid cast to the stagnant, ominous landscape. Any positive respite that he had imagined with the parting of the oppressive mist now seemed to languish as the encroaching gloam slowly usurped the twilight.

The HUD flashed for his attention. He was about to dismiss the warning again but the audial tone was different this time. Kaxtorplose stopped in mid stride, slowly bringing the sheared piece of metal that he was using as a machete down to his side, and squinted. He switched on his helmet lights, which until now had been all but useless in the dense fog. Through the thinning, swirling mist, he could dimly make out a structure of some kind. His suit sensors were definitely picking up a weak but massive infrared source just another couple of hundred meters ahead. His HUD was getting brighter as the fog cleared, letting more and more infrared energy through, and then his heat sinks kicked in. Normally used to dissipate waste heat, he had reversed the programming so that they now absorbed any ambient energy which might be available in the general vicinity. The heat sinks made a comforting thrumming sound, and with a sense of profound relief Kaxtorplose began to feel his extremities warming up as they tapped into the radiation being dispelled by the structure ahead. He summoned his reserve energy and waded ungainly towards the outskirts of the 'city'. As he got closer, he began to make out detail. There were buildings, of a sort... strange, geometrical protrusions which seemed to wind, twist, fold, convolute, and weave in all directions. It was very hard to discern at first, but there was definitely the impression of an overall pattern. He had suspected it based on orbital scans, but now it was confirmed. These structures were of a fractal nature. Thick, primary nodules jutted from a base substrate which rose out of the murky water by several meters. Kaxtorplose was still about a hundred meters away, but from this distance he was relatively sure that the primary nodules were about a meter thick and of a uniform, jet black color, narrowing to what appeared to be very fine termination vertices at their towering endpoints. Rising to a height of several dozen meters, each primary nodule was positioned at severe angles to the others, forming intricate juxtaposed branches and narrow interstices. At regular intervals along the length of each nodule and all around their circumferences, other nodules emerged, seemingly duplicating the original except in size. From each of these smaller nodules, even smaller protrusions would appear in regular patterns. This pattern continued until it was no longer possible to discern individual nodules... they became as insubstantial as the recently departed fog. Taken in as a visual entirety, it was apparent that what appeared random at first was the epitome of order. Each nodule pattern seemed to mesh perfectly with the surrounding patterns of other nodules, forming an intricately and perfectly woven three dimensional structure, a fractal suspension matrix.

The fractal design had many benefits, the most immediately obvious being the amount of surface area which was available for efficiently processing the tenuous illumination of the binary pair. Instead of presenting and utilizing only one uniform face to an energy source, such as with a solar panel, each fractal nodule was able to absorb energy from every direction at once, using all of its surface area. However, energy storage was merely a side effect of the true purpose of the dense fractal structure, which Kaxtorplose had began referring to as Mandlebrots Folly. Compared to the mere manipulation of holographic photons, which was the basis of traditional holographic storage techniques currently in common use, this fractal 'city' provided an increase in capacity by orders of potentially infinite magnitudes. By storing information using a quantum fractal structure at a distinct level of simultaneous causality, it was possible to store an infinite amount of data in a finite space. The only limitation to this method was the capability of the arbiter medium. Which brings us to the modern problem of the practical application of quantum fractal theory... that data can not be stored or retrieved with 100% efficiency by using any method known to modern technology because of Heisenburg's uncertainty principle. At a quantum level, the qubits, or quantum bits, which comprise the fundamental base storage unit of a potential quantum information field, cannot be observed directly or the very data you are trying to retrieve or store would be altered. It was the ultimate in data security, able to be bypassed only by viewing the raw information through some sort of arbiter medium... essentially, a 'window' which can bypass the uncertainty principle, comparable to the way a wormhole acts as an arbiter medium for bypassing the light speed barrier. It had been theorized that access to certain dimensions might provide a sufficient arbiter medium if used as a filter for observing quantum data, but the practical application was still as far away as the idea of actually building a quantum fractal suspension matrix to begin with. Yet, here one existed, right before his very eyes. Obviously someone or something had been able to turn it into a practicality.

Kaxtorplose spent a lot of time inspecting the matrix up close and came to the conclusion that the uniformly dark color of each nodule was for the express purpose of maximum heat absorption. Upon closer inspection however, he found that the surfaces of the nodules themselves (the parts he could actually observe) were constructed of another type of fractal material, and that only about half of it was actually of the black absorptive variety. The rest was of a nature that eluded all attempts at inspection (by his rudimentary suit sensors, at least). The eyes seemed to 'slide' away from these areas, and it was impossible to actually observe them in any detail whatsoever. Unless he actually tried to focus on the nodules closely, they appeared to be uniformly black. Otherwise, it was like looking at a piece of black marble striated with veins of 'nothing'. Not exactly an accurate description, but the closest Kaxtorplose could come to describing it. It was distinctly weird, he thought. He concluded that this 'invisible' material was most likely a surface manifestation of qubits, and required the arbiter medium to view directly.

Being involved with his inspection of the quantum matrix, Kaxtorplose didn't notice the shape which was quickly bounding toward him until it was only about twenty meters away. His peripheral sensors popped up a warning on the left side of his HUD, and he turned his head in that direction to regard a bizarre creature. The creature seemed to have noticed that it was now being observed, and was momentarily still, so Kaxtorplose was able to zoom in on the creature for a good look. It vaguely resembled an alligator, superficially. It was scaley, had a long tail, and a pair of long jaws with many rows of exceptionally dangerous looking teeth. It had extremely long, agile looking legs however, and a formidable set of prehensile forward claws. The idea of a head seemed to be entirely bypassed. The long, narrow jaws, instead of connecting with a braincase, oddly enough merged directly with a thick, stumpy, muscle corded neck. Kaxtorplose followed the length of the jaws outward from the neck, noting the rows of menacing teeth, until it became clear that there actually was a head. A small nodule of bony flesh sat blatantly near the edge of the upper jaw, giving the overall impression of a long paddle with a hemispherical nub protruding from the end. A pair of small, forward facing eyes were embedded in sunken sockets occupying each side of the nubby head, while a set of narrow nostrils were in place between the eyes. It was a decidedly odd sight to behold. Suddenly, the creature launched itself from its perch and landed on the stumpy end of a dead tree. It repeated this feat several times, each time using a different stump to propel its sleek, muscular body, coming closer and closer to Kaxtorploses' position. Kaxtorplose didn't hesitate. He unholstered his microwave laser and pointed it in the general direction of the nubby headed horror. Setting the beam to wide dispersal, he fired, intentionally coming up short. Where the maser beam struck, the brackish water boiled and bubbled, casting off torrents of steam. The creature was bounding toward him now, following a straight line of stumps, and Kaxtorplose brought the maser to bear, bringing the line of roiling steam directly in line with the ungodly horror. At a distance of approximately three meters, the maser beam struck the creature. Luckily, Kaxtorplose was wearing his environment helmet... because if you thought that fetid swamp stank before, you should catch a whiff if it laced with the nauseating aroma of fried, nubby headed gator brains.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Pascha, from my perspective

It's been a long time since I blogged anything. So what's to tell? There have been many blog-worthy occurrences at work and what-not, but my laptop computer is currently being held hostage by a beautiful yet cunning she-vampire and I can't seem to get access to the net when I'm in the mood to write. So, at the moment, I'm at home in my brothers' room, making use of his accommodations. I think he wants to usurp his workstation soon, so... whatever. Nope, never mind, he just went to the library.

I'll talk about Pascha, mmm k? Just recently I attended my first Orthodox Pascha service. Let's see if I can describe it accurately without making an idiot out of myself... Pascha is Easter for Orthodox Christians, and I THINK that it actually means 'passover', which I think... if I'm not completely clueless... is named thusly because the Old Testament passover was some kind of precursor. Or something... anyway, it actually begins by kicking off Holy Week on Lazarus Saturday, which was April 11th this year, and lasts until the end of Bright Week, which was April 26th. That is if I'm not completely retarded. My first taste of it started during Holy Week, where Leah and I went to a few of the night services to get warmed up. I'm not even going to try to remember which services they were... liturgies, matins, vespers, or vigils... as I still have a hard time discerning the differences between all of them. Anyway, Pascha is the culmination of about 40 days of fasting. Lent, in other words. It is the celebration of the resurrection of Christ from the dead after He was crucified. From what I understand, it is the most revered and anticipated event in the Orthodox religion. When I stop to really think about it, I can understand why Pascha seems to be... well, how do I say it without being completely wrong... more important? ... than Christmas, or Nativity as it is referred to by Orthodox Christians. It is sad and joyous at the same time. I think it's the Orthodox celebration or event or holiday... I'm not quite sure how to refer to it... that MEANS the most.

What one is supposed to do is go the entire 40 days adhering to the fast, which mostly consists of cutting out meat, dairy, oil, and wine. There are certain days when wine and oil are allowed, and a very few days when it's ok to eat fish (my birthday, March 25th, is one of them... yay!), but mostly it's kind of like being vegan for 40 days. Well, I of course cheated quite a bit, but for the most part I think I did fairly well... with the fasting, anyway (there's more to Lent than just fasting, but I won't get into that. I'm not even supposed to be talking about my fasting experience, come to think of it... oh well).

So, I pretty much succeeded in cutting out MOST red meat from my diet. There were a few times when I ate some of the vile food at 7-Eleven (I work there), and when my grandmother died just recently in March, I went to my moms for a few days and ate some eggs and cheese and ham. All in all I'd say that I fasted correctly for a little under two thirds of the entire 40 day period.

So anyway, back to Pascha. Like I was saying, the end of the fast was approaching with the weekend. Gravewatch was also coming up, so Leah and I signed up for a couple of shifts. I've never done anything remotely like this, so I was intrigued and looking forward to it. Basically it's this... on Holy Saturday (I think), everybody takes an hour long shift standing next to Christs' tomb while reading Psalms. The idea is to have somebody there at the tomb, keeping a vigil, in case Christ decides to choose that specific Pascha to come back. My shift was at 2:00 am and Leah's was at 1:00 am. Leah and I decided to combine ours into a single two hour shift with both of us taking turns reading the Psalms. So, I set my alarm for 12:45 so I'd have time to get up, pick up Leah, and drive to the church. Thusly prepared, I kicked back to take a nap at about 11:00 pm. I was pretty sleepy (the week before was tiring, what with the night services combined with my work schedule) and, still dressed, I laid back and konked out pretty quickly. The next thing I knew, I woke up and it was 1:20 am.

ARRRGH!!! Why didn't my alarm go off?? I groped in the dark for my phone. I had set the alarm, I was SURE of it! I happened across it, flipped it open, and saw that Leah had called about 30 gazillion times. I checked the alarm settings... they were set correctly. So, What gives?? I checked the ringer settings. Wulp, that explains it... the ringer was turned off. I rolled my eyes, thumped myself on the ear, hopped out of bed and scrambled around in the dark for my shoes. After wasting about 45 seconds doing that, I located the presence of mind to turn on my bedside lamp. I was blind for about half a minute, and it was almost 1:22 am. I finally found my shoes and hurridly put them on. I started looking for my keys. I spent about one minute in my room throwing clothes all over the place, trying to uncover them. I gave up and pretty much ran into the living room, where I saw them lying on the coffee table. By then it was almost 1:25 am, and I was still not quite wide awake as I rushed out the front door which slammed shut behind me. Next I got the car door open and shut, this occurring within about a two second time frame, with me occupying the interim for just long enough to wind up safely ensconced within. I started her up and backed quickly and haphazardly out of the yard and onto Sena St. Gas pedal to the floor, I braked almost immediately and turned left on Gober. Gas and brake again, then straight across Scripture and onto Jago I went. I screamed past Leah's apartment complex, but I didn't bother to stop... I was sure that she hadn't overslept, and I fully expected to find her at the church, grave-watching and reading Psalms. Ok... right on Oak, pedal to the floor for about a quarter of a mile, BRAKE and then a quick right turn into the church parking lot. I swooped into a parking place and in one fluid motion I put it in park, turned off the ignition, doused the lights, opened the door, and before the door was shut and remotely locked with my handy remote control key chain, I was through the front door and in the book store. I saw Leah in the sanctuary, standing next to the tomb, with a bible opened in front of her on a stand. I slowed down and composed myself and walked in. When I opened the door, I could hear her, and was surprised that she was chanting the Psalms like a tonsured reader. She told me she'd be doing it like that, but it was still somewhat of a surprise. After a few seconds, she turned around and smiled, and I mouthed the words "I'm sorry!". Then I sat down and listened to her read.

After about 5 minutes, Leah stopped and approached me with some candles. She gave them to me and I put them in a candle stand by the tomb and lit them. Then she asked me if I wanted to take a turn. So, nervous and still a little out of breath, I got my chance to read. How do I describe the experience? I don't know... fun? No, not that, too whimsical of a description. Interesting? Definitely, but that doesn't do it justice. Relaxing? Hmmm... kind of. Looking back on it, I realize that with the candles providing an intimate kind of atmosphere while I stood there pretty much motionless except for turning the pages of the Psalm book and reading those Psalms in a kind of droning monotone (I didn't chant, I was too self conscious), the combination of environment, mood and actions must have put me into a trance-like state... kind of like when I used to hypnotize myself. Let me put it like this... Leah and I read the Psalms in 'shifts'. About 10 minutes after I arrived, Leah invited me to read, and I read. After just a few minutes of reading (or so it seemed to me), Leah offered to spell me for a bit and she took another shift. I sat and listened to her read, and It seemed like she read for about a half hour before she invited me to take over again. I read for what seemed like another 5 or 10 minutes, and then Leah read for what seemed like another half hour or more. It was at this time when Tikhon, who was scheduled at 3:00, showed up for his grave watch shift. What? thought I. He's very early... I wondered if he thought his shift was at 2:00 am instead of 3:00 am. Tikhon went forward and prostrated himself in front of the tomb. And now I must interrupt for a bit, because I suddenly just remembered this...

... that night was the first night for me to venerate anything. Veneration (this is my understanding by the way, without looking anything up or asking anybody anything, so I'm probably retarded) is when one pays respect to an icon or, in this case, the tomb of Christ, by either crossing yourself in front of it, bowing in front of it, prostrating yourself in front of it, kissing it, or a combination of all of those. So, shortly after I arrived at the church, Leah asked me if I wanted to venerate the tomb, as we had discussed it earlier. We stood together in front of the tomb, she close by my side for support, and we venerated the tomb together. We crossed ourselves and prostrated, twice, then we went forward to kiss the icon lying in the tomb, and then we crossed ourselves and prostrated one more time. There... I had crossed a thresh hold. I had been nervously dreading doing this for months, for what reason I was never quite sure, and I had finally done it! I wasn't sorry, I wasn't uncomfortable, and I didn't feel stupid. Huh... I guess I knew the reasons after all.


... Tikhon approached the tomb to venerate it and Leah noticed him. When he was finished, she stood aside and Tikhon took her place and started reading. I thought this was all decidedly odd, as I had expected to be there for at least another hour, but maybe Leah was just tired. So, after we exited the church, I asked Leah why we were leaving so early. Of course, as it turned out, we weren't leaving early at all... it was 3:00 am. What had seemed like 5-10 minute shifts as I read turned out to be 30-40 minutes each. Time didn't just seem to go by faster, it FLEW by. I really was amazed that all that time had already passed... an hour and a half had only seemed like 30 minutes. Looking back, I'm sure now that the I had put myself into a light hypnotic state. The low light, the flickering candles, the standing still, all while reading in a dull monotone was very conducive to this; it was a lot like meditation. Oh, and by the way, I discovered my favorite Psalm... Psalm 102, which is a poor man praying to God in desperation. The imagery is very moving... here's a link.

So, finally it's Pascha. Everybody is there at 11:30 pm on Saturday evening (technically it's Sunday because Orthodox Christians count it as tomorrow when the sun sets) and we all crowd in. The service starts, and the music is just phenomenally beautiful. Orthodox Christian services consist mainly of music, sung by a choir, with no instruments. When I first started attending services at St. Maximus The Confessor Orthodox Mission (that's the full name of the church), I was a little disconcerted that there was no piano or organ. After my first vigil however, I realized that we didn't need no stinkin' organ. The music at an Orthodox service is some of the most beautiful music I've ever heard, and it often moves me to tears. During the Pascha service that night, I had to struggle to keep the tears in check. What I heard that night was heart-breakingly, astoundingly, just flat out phenomenally beautiful. I saw other people wiping there eyes and the sound of sniffles was ubiquitous. I was wondering... is this it? Is this how it feels? Did it finally happen? Am I filled with the Holy Spirit? I didn't know and I still don't know, but at one point that night during the Pascha service, I was profoundly happy.

For the first half of the service, it's almost pitch black in the church. The only light comes from the choir so they can read their music. Then, at a designated time, everybody goes outside and marches around the church three times (symbolizing the three days that Christ lay in the tomb) while following Fr. Justin, Fr. Christopher, Dax and the altar boys as they carried something... it wasn't the entire tomb, we did that the night before. I believe it was an icon or that golden book which contained just the Gospels, both of which had been lying in the tomb. Anyway... so, after three processions around the church, something else happens that I'm not clear on. I think Fr. Justin knocks on the church door and says something, and somebody inside replies with something, and then we all go back in to find that all of the lights are turned on and the tomb has disappeared! Then the service turns into a joyous occasion, with Fr. Justin and Fr. Christopher blessing everything with the incense censers and crying, "Christ is risen!" with everybody replying "Indeed he is risen!" Then there is a lot of hugging and kissing and crying, which freaked me out at first, but then I just took some deep breaths and let it happen. And honestly, it wasn't so bad.

The whole thing lasted until almost 3:00 am, by which time I was about to fall out from weariness. However, I also felt kind of energized... it's a difficult feeling to describe. I was looking forward to breaking the fast, which is what everybody does after Lent and Pascha. So, once the service was finished, Fr. Justin blessed the food and then we all lined up and grabbed some beers and some brisket and everybody sat down to eat, drink and be merry. I had a little bit of brisket and some other various meat products, plus a Guinness, and Leah and I sat next to Fr. Justin and Matushka. It was imminently enjoyable, but we didn't stay long as we were both exhausted. So, after about 45 minutes we left church for our respective abodes. I got home, crawled into bed, and with my last waking thought that of looking forward to the afternoon picnic (there was a picnic planned for Pascha Sunday in the afternoon, after everybody had slept and recovered), I slept.

I woke up only about two hours after lying down with horrible stomach cramps. OWW!!! It hurt! I ran to the bathroom. I did some stuff in there that was awful and uncomfortable and gross, and then I went back to bed. Five minutes later and I was back in the bathroom, moving meat through intestines that hadn't experienced such for 40 days. I couldn't believe that I was actually having a negative reaction from fasting! Even though I was in severe pain and wanted to lose consciousness, I felt good at the same time because the pain was proof that I really had fasted, in a way. Not perfectly, but enough so that my intestines didn't know what meat was anymore. This went on for about two hours, and I was beginning to worry that I wouldn't be able to go to the Pascha picnic. I did get better though, and was in fair shape by 2:00. There was a vespers service at 3:00 before the picnic, and Leah's parents had flown in for the occasion, so we all went together. I was afraid to eat the meat, but it looked so damn good that I just piled it down onto the plate and took my chances. I am not lying or exaggerating one bit when I say that THAT food was the best tasting, most satisfying, most appealing meal I've EVER eaten. EVER. I'm sure it had something to do with depriving myself from the good stuff for so long, but I'm also wondering if there was more to it... you know, just 'more' than can be described by plain ole logic and what-not. Like, it tasted so good and it WAS so good due to the circumstances of Pascha. I'm sure that was a big part of it.

I've been attending services at St. Maximus off and on, mostly at night, since early January 2009... for about four months. My best friend Svetlana Leah introduced me to Orthodoxy, and I thank her profusely for her kind patience and personal sacrifice as I struggle with, witness, and embrace the ongoing process of my conversion to the Orthodox Christian Church.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Work and after work

Ok, where to start. A lot of this happened a few days ago... at work, of course. What else do I ever write about? So, like I said, it’s a few days ago and I’m at work, busy with a purpose, at the coffee bar - or The Trough, as Leah refers to it. As I’m slopping the pigs and cleaning up their considerable refuse, a full fledged Coffee Bar Emergency goes into effect. The little tray that sits under the cappuccino machine is full and needs emptying. This tray has no way to drain, so it just sits there and collects cappuccino backwash until it overflows and floods the local area (referred to forthwith as the coffee trough). Anyway, it’s filled to the brim and overflowing, so I pick it up very carefully so that I can take it over to the sink to safely dump it’s contents (there is no sink next to the coffee trough, which is a major pain in the ass). This is a very tedious process, because any slight movement to the left or right will cause the built up backwash to slosh accordingly. Once it starts sloshing, the process is self-reinforcing, which almost always results in the imminent formation of a tiny tidal wave of backwash. So, it’s important to ‘roll the feet’ in order to keep the sloshing at a minimum (the rolling of the feet is a method by which each foot moves smoothly from heel to toe, as if one’s feet were confined to the inside a hula hoop or bicycle tire. Anyone who has ever marched in high school band will know this method, to which Adela can also attest). I use this technique to great effect as I make my way to to the sink, and no self propagating tidal waves of backwash are created.

Anyway, after I empty the mini backwash trough, I’m wiping up the mess it made when I notice that there are little drips forming on the bottom edge of the coffee trough. I wipe these up deftly and thoroughly, but to my amazement and befuddlement, they remain unwiped. I bend down so I that I can examine them more closely. It only takes me a second to realize that little stalactites of coffee sugar are forming along the bottom edge of the coffee trough. There are several (about a dozen in all) and I run my hand along them, noting their smooth and unyielding surfaces. Amazing! I can imagine anthropologists digging up the site of this 7-Eleven in a few million years and discovering fully formed coffee stalactites, measuring several meters in length. I relate my discovery to Leah and Ben, who agree enthusiastically with my theory. Since that day, I’ve been thinking about writing a dissertation on it so I can get into graduate school.

Later that day, Leah presented me with what can only be described as a ‘rope of receipts’. In effect, it consisted of about 20 receipts which had been spit out consecutively by the receipt printer. They were all still attached at the corners because when they’re spit out, the machine doesn't cut them apart completely (the only reason I can think of for why the brand new receipt printer won't cut completely through each receipt is because whoever invented it must wanted to leave something for the cashier to do). So anyway. Leah then approached me and, to my utter joy, she gently draped this receipt chain around my neck. I proudly connected the two ends, transforming it into a bona fide necklace of 7-Eleven receipts. As several customers stood transfixed, watching with affectionate smiles as this touching scene unfolded, the one closest to us shouted unabashedly: “Hey, you just got lei'd!”

Earlier this week, I had noticed that my right front tire was getting low on air, and per my usual habit of procrastination, I promptly forgot about it. This caused me great worry and distress later when Leah was borrowing my car. I spent what seemed like an eternity imagining that tire popping and causing a horrific wreck, resulting in her severe injury or even death. It was pure torture. I was relieved beyond description when she survived unscathed. So anyway, guess what? The tire finally went completely flat the other day at work. Several people told me about it, so I a used a can of Fix-A-Flat to fix that flat after work. Now the flat’s fixed and I don’t have to worry about Leah dying horribly anymore.

Let’s see, what next... oh yes. Yesterday was an extremely good day, I've been told. As many of you know, I recently completed Ass. Management training at 7-Eleven and am due an imminent raise as a result. Terry, who had been taking his sweet time, apparently had finally gotten around to handing my paperwork over to his boss Buno, as I was duly informed that I would be receiving a raise of one dollar an hour. He qualified this by telling me ‘not to get my hopes up’. Well, I certainly got my hopes up, only to have them dashed by Ryan today. So there I was, hopes all up and everything, and I told Ryan what Terry had told me about my dollar an hour raise. Instead of replying with an envious congratulations, Ryan instead told me that I was getting jiped. He said that his brother-in-law had been making $11.50 an hour when he was an assistant manager, and that his sister had made $14.00 an hour at one point doing the same job. I did a quick mental calculation: at my present rate of $8.70 an hour, a dollar an hour raise would move me up to $9.70 an hour. Not even 10 dollars an hour... wait though, I thought to myself, that doesn’t include the performance review raise which I am also due. I breathed a sigh of relief and then asked Ryan when he thought we could expect that particular raise. He told me that we should be getting it soon; either by the end of February or sometime in early March. I asked him how much I could probably expect, imagining an optimistic 70 cents; the same as my last raise. With a 70 cent raise, stacked on top of a dollar an hour raise, I would be making about $10.50 an hour. Not so bad. So, Ryan then said that his last performance review raise was only about 20 cents. Mother F’er. Ok, so I wouldn’t let it get me down, I'll still be getting a fairly large raise.

I received another tidbit of good news yesterday. NCO, the collection agency which handles my student loans, told me that I would be out of default soon. I called them today and it was explained to me that I would only be owing one more payment, after which I would be finished with the initial phase of my payment program. Apparently, my loan is to be sold to another company, who I will continue payments with after March, at which time my loans will then be officially out of default and taken off of my credit report. This means that if I want to, I could actually apply for loans now and get them in time to start school this fall. I haven’t decided what I want to do, but this is f’ing-A news. Yee Haw!

Oh yeah. Last night, Leah and I decided to get our ears pierced. We went to a place called Ace Tattoos and Piercings and after an interminable wait, during which time I attempted to talk Leah out of it (yeah, I’m a wimp. Oh, and I also have a needle phobia. But hell, I’ve gotten my ears pierced several times before... however, this time was going to be different). She would not be budged, so we both got cartilage piercings at the tops of our left ears. I'd heard before that cartilage piercings were extremely painful, and I watched intently as Leah was getting hers pierced. However, I purposefully didn’t look at the needle as it went in, so I had no idea what kind of needle it was or how big (seeing that might have resulted in me up-chucking a lot of gross 7-Eleven food all over the floor of Aces Tattoos and Piercings). So, the chick who worked there... Dorian, I think... sat Leah down on the couch and drew a spot on her ear where she was going to put the needle through. Leah said that she flinched (I didn’t notice) when she did this, thinking that the tip of the marker was the needle. When the spot for the piercing was approved, Dorian asked Leah if she wanted a countdown. Leah replied in the negative, and then her ear was promptly pierced and a hoop was inserted. Again, I didn’t see her flinch, so my confidence grew. I was next, and as I sat up on the couch, I balled my hands into tight fists on my lap. Dorian went through the same process with me, and I approved the piercing site, just like Leah. I too was asked if I preferred a countdown, but for some reason, having it said to me made me quite nervous. Why would they ask if I wanted a countdown, unless the pain was interminably severe? I imagined a white hot poker being shoved through my cartilage and I stared straight ahead, not blinking, and waited. SHNICK! The needle went through. It hurt, but not that bad. Then the hoop was shoved in. That hurt a little more. Then we were finished. At this point, Dorian asked if I was ok. I replied that I was, and she said she was concerned because I hadn’t blinked during the entire several minutes that I was seated on the piercing couch. Apparently, this is a reaction she is used to, and I’m thinking that it represents extreme petrification with fear in the one at the business end of the needle. So, Leah and I got out of there, giddy with our new ear piercings, and we are now proudly attached at the ears.