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March 24, 2005

Books and blogfesters

This one is for my bride, She Who Must be Obeyed, with her six linear feet of paperback romance books stacked six rows deep and waiting to be read.


My thanks to Delftsman (who got it from Lucianne) for this link.

And speaking of Delftsman, husband of the unstoppable Mommamontezz, he's got a photo of the illustrious, nay, infamous Darth Misha I, Lord Spatula, Denita Twodragons, and a whole bunch of others who attended Texas Blogfest 2005. Go here for the post and photo.

And Lila? Your new hairstyle is great. Consider a new photo for your blog!

Posted by Weaselteeth at 01:12 AM | Comments (1)

March 17, 2005

Texas BlogFest 2005

Some choices are easy — but not this one. When you’re given the chance to meet and socialize with some of the very best and brightest people in this blogging thing, what do you do when they hold competing events?

Mamamontezz got all wired up last year about the now-infamous Georgia Blogfest, where some of the truly crazed great southern bloggers convened in Helena, miraculously avoiding the magic words tow truck or jail.

But this time, Lila had a choice to make. Either return to the scene of the toenail-painting (and other general weirdnesses) — or scoot down to Texas and be part of Texas BlogFest 2005, which kicks off tomorrow through the 20th in Dallas.

Attending will be Darth Misha I, Lord Spatula I, and a stellar crew of others from the internet's one and only Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler. And Momma. And her husband, Delfstman. And as many copies of this that Mama can stuff into their vehicle.

So anyway, I was trying to catch up on the latest, and here's an example of what makes Texas the great place it is. The Dallas-Fort Worth Gun Range is giving the Texas BlogFest attendees the run of its facilities, this Sunday. Mentions of test-firing a Uzi have been made.

I expect to see some really outrageous stories come out of this. It is the least this people can and should do!

Posted by Weaselteeth at 12:20 PM

March 09, 2005

A full life celebrated

I won’t pretend I have many, if any, answers for the way these last seven days have gone. All I know is that some events were very painful, some unfortunately necessary, and a few were both cathartic and also educational.

My uncle's vital organs had shut down in his final hours, and even if the surgeons could have restored them, there was honest doubt as to the quality of life he would have led. His family made the best decision possible, following his wishes to not be kept alive by protracted methods. They accepted that this man — who had devoted his life to the subject of final transitions — was completely ready to make his own.

From start to finish it was a relatively quick period of time. Four days, from admission to the hospital to his interment. No chance for protracted arguments, no second guesses, no lingering doubts. Four days was "about right," in the tempo of such things — a time for the rest of us to draw together and console the family, share our memories, and embrace our own mortality.

There was an 18-gun salute by the American Legion, at the graveside service. He’d been a member for 50 years. "Taps" was played. Prayers were said. And then we went back to the church in a record turn-out at what the funeral director called the “fellowship” gathering, but even us non-Irish call the wake. Lots of food and coffee and other church-safe beverages. A chance to see old friends and new, and gather with our own families, if only for a while.

My father's branch of the clan at a long banquet table, my father at one end and me at the other. Between us on both sides, my sister and her husband, her daughter and son and his wife, and my nephew’s mother-in-law — another in my graduating class, whom I hadn’t seen in years. My wife directly across from her, and me in between. A relative roar of conversation in the large room of tables jammed with people. Me focused on hearing from someone I knew but hadn’t really kept up with in the years since we grabbed our diplomas and ran.

More from our class were also there, at other tables. Lester's son and his wife. Gary, the funeral director as well. Here and there a few others, these classmates my frame of reference on a day where transitions were officially made.

Gary had worked for Lester for years before ultimately buying the business. This service for this man was his supreme challenge of professionalism, and he met it with total competence. Cosmetology and casket arrangements were perfect. Masonic lodge apron and cap carefully placed, along with Lester's military ribbons and the coveted Paul Harris Fellow award from Rotary. The folded American flag, reminder of Lester’s time with the Army Air Corps in Africa. Everything simple — direct. Not one thing awry. I’d seen hundreds of funerals and Gary knew I wasn’t speaking just to fill time. I meant it when I told him he’d done damn good work.

But that morning, Gary made a remark to me about a topic I can’t now recall, and ended it with, “like us old farts.” An hour after that, Marisa, Lester’s granddaughter, up at the podium, reading one of the funniest, truest funeral addresses I’ve heard from anyone of any age. I sat marveling at how much more self-assured she was, compared to what I would have been in the same situation.

Continuity. A full life celebrated for its many successes, but quiet assurance this is not the end but only a bookmark on a continuum. Lester’s grandchildren, with their lives still ahead — reminders that 39 years have passed since I was about their age, or Kevin’s, my wife’s son seated at this same table.

Us old farts had a lot to think about, talking to old friends, from the magic years of our own youth, when everyone but Lester’s clan (and those like me who worked for them) all thought we would live forever.

Posted by Weaselteeth at 10:57 PM | Comments (3)

March 03, 2005

Uncle Les

Back on February 20, my favorite aunt and uncle celebrated their birthdays with a group of about 30 family members and friends. There was a mix of hard sleeting rain and snow going on, outside, and so everyone agreed it was a terrific turn-out for that sort of weather. But then, they were that sort of people. Same birthdate, she at 88 and he at 87.

Lucy was a distant relative to the May Department Store family, and Lester was a young funeral director in the days when they still called themselves undertakers. They moved around Michigan a few times but finally settled in what I still think of as my home town, Clinton, about 55 miles west of downtown Detroit. This put them about seven miles from their mother's house, in Manchester, where my own father and mother met, got married, and started their own life together.

Lester was the first of 12 kids to graduate from high school, and first to graduate from college. He was the only one of his siblings to have seen army service, in North Africa during the war, at the time a mortician without the formal background. He made up for that on the G.I. Bill, at Wayne State University, and by the mid-1950s or so had settled in Clinton, cater-corner from my father's house, in the funeral home I grew up thinking had “always” been his.

He was better than good at what he did. I worked for him in minor ways, off and on through my high school years, at more funerals than I can count. He was a perfectionist and thoroughly professional, and he expected and got my very best — and I was glad to give it. He was the one who undertook to keep his head and get things done, when so many around him were unable to be objective, overcome with grief. Even more than my own parents, he taught me right from wrong, a rigid unbending interpretation that has kept me out of more scrapes than anything else I can think of. (The scrapes I did get into were the ones where I forgot what he’d told me, but that’s a different entry.)

Years after I left Clinton, I spoke with the president of the Michigan Funeral Directors Association, who knew Lester very well. It’s a humbling thing to hear such praise heaped so knowledgably on a relative, from someone who was so obviously sincere about what he said. Lester was more than just a professional. He was an example, for others to follow in a profession so unjustly tarnished by Jessica Mitford and other critics.

My cousins, his three children, all understandably saw him from a different standpoint. I don’t dare speak for them, but I believe they'd agree he was hell on wheels as a taskmaster, and an impossible act to follow. I saw him as a wonderful insightful man who’d had the uncommon good sense to see his real life’s-mate when he found her, and between the two of them I had unofficial parents when my own folks were busy elsewhere.

A few months back, I finally got the opportunity to do something for them, when my father came to me and told me he’d had two gravesites set aside in a family plot, in the same cemetery where Lester had conducted so much of his life. Les and Lucy wanted to be buried beside family, and almost before my dad could ask me, I told him, go ahead and give him the two sites. At no charge, even if I have to pay you back myself for what they cost. That's just a given, the right thing to do because I owe both of these people so much, and always will. They were overjoyed at the news. I came away from that absolutely radiant. Not for me, but for them. Finally, a way to say, I love you two, I’ll do whatever it takes to remove what obstacles I can.

At that birthday party, 11 days ago, Lester was almost overcome with gratitude that so many people had made the effort to get there, including a second cousin and his son from my maternal grandmother’s side of the family (the first I’d ever met). His eyesight was just about gone in recent years, but he still navigated the room, saying hello to everyone.

“I want you to come over and see us,” he whispered in my ear. “I want you to write my story. The things I’ve done aside from funerals.” I knew some of it already. I told him I’d get over when I could. Privately I knew it would be a lot of work — but he had done so much, and since I was the only other family member with military service, I thought I could do real justice to that part of telling his story.

Today, my father called me twice.

Yesterday, Lester was taken to the hospital and diagnosed with pneumonia. While there, he suffered a heart attack and was life-flighted to St. Joseph's Mercy Hospital, outside Ann Arbor. He died at roughly 5:00 p.m. this afternoon, surrounded by his family.

Now it is time for others to keep the clear heads and undertake to get done what must be. A fine man has died, and now it is time for all who knew him to grieve.

Posted by Weaselteeth at 08:28 PM | Comments (11)

March 02, 2005

Keep the Forum Civil (fiction)

I honestly don’t know if I will do many fiction pieces on this site. This piece was written for a message board I frequent, and appeared today in their creative writing forum.

“They gave me no choice,” Witop said, swinging his feet up onto a corner of the battered old classroom desk. “None at all. The state cut back funding, and so the university made commensurate cuts. We got this project through Poli-Sci research funding, originally, and add-on funding from Psych and History. Everybody got cut. We're done as of the end of classes, today.”

The six students in the front row were never shy, but Halyer was the first. He always was, the idealist bleating in the dark. “What about interim funding?”

Witop shrugged at him, holding Halyer’s gaze like a cobra does a mouse. “With what? The ads we started running? Oh, it's true — we do pay our bandwidth bills. Barely. But we got to be a victim of our own success. The more people who signed on as members, the more page-hits we got. The more hits, the more bandwidth we used.”

Shoulders, the capitalist: “Weren’t the ads pro-rated, based on hits?”

“Some advertisers were, yes. Others don’t, on the bulk-rate plan.” Witop sighed. “In the end, we were losing money. Everything we had from the college was going into stipends, for you people to act as forum moderators. Because of the 24-hour nature of message boards, the dean could see that part. What he can’t see is paying monthly fees to the present web host. Either we do it on the cheap, through Computer Sciences — and give it away who we really are — or we give it up entirely.”

Shoulders again: “What if we voluntarily take a cut in stipends, to cover bandwidth?” Three of the others turned on their seats and stared at him. Shoulders sank back on his own, defeated.

Witop was regretful but brisk. “It wasn’t much of a stipend, but it helped with course fees and the like. I’m sorry. The dean’s mind is made up. I’m supposed to pull the plug, before they end their business day over there.” Witop glanced at the classroom clock. “Make that an hour from now.”

“It's been fun,” Amber said brightly.

Ever the optimist in real life. Witop nodded cheerily. “That it has.” He grinned. “And you were good as the wicked witch.”

She grinned back. “I hated myself, most of the time. God, what a bitch she was!” The rest of the team laughed, nodding. She had been all of that, a 19-year-old white Jewish American Princess who’d successfully bamboozled 4,719 message board members into thinking she was Spicer, a black retired mail-carrier who hated the world as much as herself.

“So what now?” Dunn asked, from over in the corner.

“We pack our toys and go home,” Halyer said darkly. Everyone smiled. It was his last shot at playing Thompson, the other forum doomsayer. “We go on-line and threaten to kill each other, and—”

“No,” Witop said quickly. “Dean's orders. Straight from the man himself. The site shuts down without notice. These things happen. It won’t be the first time.” Witop popped the top on his laptop computer and then fired it up, watching the desktop icons cascade into place. “If the truth be told, I think the dean is afraid of what you’d say. That someone would give it away, we were just a lab experiment.”

Finally the FORUM icon came up and Witop clicked on it, opening the folder with other icons, the shortcut to the message boards themselves and the route to his administrative panel controlling the whole set-up. “I was just learning how to block by IP number, too,” he drawled, and several people laughed. “But you have to admit, banning the trolls by their e-mail addresses let the worst ones come back in, and gave the rest of you something to talk about.”

“Not to mention us,” Dunn said, “when things got slow. I must have burned up a hundred screen names, in six months alone.”

“Didn't we all,” Witop said. “We’d scarcely get a handful of posts, and then ‘admin’ would have to ban you. Jessica Mitford would have loved that one, eh? The American way of cyber message board death.” He entered the admin password and opened the control panel. A few keystrokes later it was done, no more posts allowed from anyone except himself.

Witop stared down at the screen, then back up at these reluctant cyberwarriors, the core of people he had recruited from two Poli Sci classes to help him run this message board. At first they’d created all the posts, until Witop learned about web advertising and then the “civilians” showed up. Now there were 4,719 registered members — and now with one keystroke he’d just locked them all out.

“I want you to know that I think all of you did excellent work on this,” he said frankly. “It's not easy pretending to be so many people. At least, doing it convincingly. Opposite genders, political parties — religions as well. I’m giving all of you an A+ for the course. It was a real hardship on some of you, keeping the late hours.”

“Pizza and coffee helps!” Dunn said.

“More like beer,” Amber said archly. “That thread you started about legalizing incest was pretty whacked-out.”

“Please!” Witop said, cutting it off. Everyone laughed. That one had gone to the Dean’s Office, after the web host at the time had cut them off from service, based on a dozen complaints from legitimate users. It had taken one of the geeks in Computer Science to straighten that one out, somehow erasing various archived copies of that thread which appeared in several sites around the Internet. Then they’d had to rebuild their audience at the new web host, another six months of hard work these kids had all performed so well.

“It’s better this way,” Witop assured them. “If they can’t post, they can’t complain. We just fade away into the ether.”

He swung his feet down off the desk and stood up and stretched, a short man with a big belly and far too much hair for a man in his late fifties. “Anyway,” he drawled, “it's been fun, but I’ve got a meeting in 20 minutes. Thank you again for all your work.”

And after ten minutes more of small-talk, they finally all left the Poli Sci 413 classroom, leaving Witop alone with the faint hum of the wall clock and some vague noise through a partially-opened window. He listened for a moment and then caught the thump of a marching-band bass drum. God save them, the band was better than the team.

He sat back down at his laptop and now called up another shortcut in the admin folder, the one linking him to the control panel for one of the two new web-hosts. A few minutes later he had completed the shift, transferring the existing web site to a third new server and host. At most, the civilian users had been inconvenienced for about five minutes. Witop then opened the panel for the second site, this present one they’d all been using. He found the section for banning people by their IP-numbers, then cut-and-pasted a list of numbers from a document on his desktop. ENTER.

Done. The PS413 team could go to the IP number they’d all been using, but all they’d get would be simple 404 message, the page could not be found. Regular users — the civilians — would click on their own link and see the same message board, but never know they’d been rerouted, pointing them to this third and newest site. Witop smiled, hunched over his keyboard. If any of the PS413 kids ever tried entering the forum name and not using their IP-number connection, then there’d be questions. Better start hatching answers, in that unlikely possibility. Maybe a name-change. Turn it into a poll among the civilian users, drawing a few of them in as moderators in the process.

Witop thought a moment and then started a new thread on the old board in its new location.

Due to the severe arguments between certain longstanding members of this forum, I have made the decision to sever their memberships, forthwith. Those names will appear in black on your screen, as I complete the banning process. Please keep the board civil.

ENTER. SEND. Shut down the control panel. He’d have time tonight to actually ban all the screen names and e-mail addresses for the kids in this class . Witop clicked one more icon and now was in the hated Outlook Express mail system that his biggest advertising client preferred.

OK, it’s done, he wrote. They think we’re shut down. I’ll kill their accounts, tonight, to be sure, and upload the new ads for you. Witop out.

He stretched again and powered down the laptop.

The site was now making over $250 a day in advertising revenue, not just covering bandwidth. Nice change for the product of someone else’s work, play-acting they were other people, on the anonymous and creative World Wide Web.

Witop was humming as he shut the laptop lid and got up again. Time to go talk to the dean again, this time about running a small-business site.

Posted by Weaselteeth at 10:45 PM

March 01, 2005

Mama's new adventure

“Well, we’ll be damned,” opines Emperor Darth Misha I, over at the Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler. It's a review — and a book plug — for the one and only Lila Meyer, better-known in blog circles as Mommamontezz.

“And yes, we’ve read it," His Rottieness adds. “We approve very muchly.”

Congratulations to the new author. Long may the royalty checks wave.

Posted by Weaselteeth at 01:20 AM | Comments (2)