Wait…I’m Dracula?!?

I had two posts stacked up, ready to post…

Yeah, the important word in that sentence is the verb: had.

One of the benefits of getting ahead on posts, by the way, is that you gain the time and distance you need to read and honestly evaluate the material before you hit the “Publish” button.  On review, both of those posts saw me hit the trash can icon rather than the button to post them.

One of those posts I kinda regret nuking, but only because it was basically harmless.  It was, in all honesty, just an exploration of the meaning and impact of a couple of songs.  Unfortunately it also wasn’t any more than that; it offered nothing new, nor anything particularly interesting for anyone but me.

That is the great danger of this kind of writing, by the way: the urge to devolve into internal monologues and self-absorption.  It is all too easy to forget that even a blog has to have a point.  Even a blog has to work to communicate something to its audience.  A work that is nothing more than the stream-of-consciousness spouting of internal thoughts and feelings with no purpose is a diary,* not a blog.

*Or freaking “Prufrock”…but, then, I hate that damned poem.  “Dare I eat a peach…” my ass.  Harrumph!  Those who love that poem, however, have a totally different opinion.  YMMV.

One of those posts that I deleted, however, had a core that did have something to say…even if that core needed to be stripped of the bitter, half-drunk trappings with which it was surrounded.  Now, what got me started on this particular post was re-reading that bit, while simultaneously thinking about a couple of discussions with some new friends…

Just like when I was living in Yellowstone, I find myself surrounded by — and socializing with — those who are significantly younger.  That’s not entirely bad, to be honest.  There is an energy and an honesty to youth that those of us who have weathered more of life’s shit can quite easily lose.  I know I personally have lost quite a bit of that energy and hope.  Unfortunately, youth also owns a callowness and naivety that can grate on your damned nerves…

One kid — 19 or 20, and dreaming of wealth and better things — talked about getting into “affiliate marketing” and “drop shipping”.  Now, whether you go old school and call them pyramid schemes, or adopt fresh new terms, those things are still nothing more than vehicles to abuse the young and stupid.  Sorry, Ethan, but that’s the truth…

Others with girlfriend/boyfriend troubles…

The loss of an apartment, and couch-surfing with friends and acquaintances…

When you get right down to it, the pure naive belief that the world makes sense, and that the universe is — of all life’s dirty words — “fair”…

I’m still utterly convinced that Dracula, and his particular brand of magic and mesmerization, is nothing more than an allegory for someone with decades of life and experience living among the young and naive.  A deep, dark part of me — one that I don’t invite to parties — knows it could manipulate these “kids” into, well, pretty much anything.  Experience can predict response; wisdom can guide impetus and action; cynicism can manipulate reaction…

God, I’m an evil bastard.*

*Errr…actually I’m a writer.  Which amounts to the same thing, when you get right down to it.  Who else but a serial killer or a writer would ever Google shit like “castration” and “eunuch” and actually read the damned results?!

“Why would you do that?” is the cry, of course.  “Why would you ever abuse the naivety and inexperience of the young?”

Just wait until you are over forty, then go talk for a half-hour with someone who is less than half your age!  You have two choices at that point: nostalgic memory for your own youth, or bitter cynicism at everything you have lost…

Shit, someone should write a story about that!

Wait, I think I might have that covered…

Okay, so someone should open a brewery where that can be written!

Ummm…well…I pretty much have that covered, too…

Shit…wait a damned second!

Did I just take away my last excuses for not producing my long-brewing fantasy series?  Dammit!

Random Thoughts: Us Versus Them

I was listening to a program this morning as I drove around on some errands.  It was a program about whales in general, and specifically about an upcoming film “featuring” one whale in particular: the 52-hertz whale (also called “the loneliest whale”).

Now, I’m not going to get into the story of that particular whale, no matter how fascinating the diversion between the actual science/research, and the emotive storytelling that has sprung up around him.*

*Yes, it is in fact a him — apparently, it is the male whales who sing, not all whales.  I did not really know that until the marine biologist on the program brought it up.

No, what I keyed in on as I listened — and what spurred me to ignore the business & planning stuff I should be doing in favor of typing away at this while I sip a beer in the sun — was a couple of specific observations.  Those observations I found, as both a writer and someone who has been fully immersed in the wilds, to be thought-provoking and well worth a bit of stream-of-consciousness exploration.

**Pointless Irony Alert!!**  There’s something, erm, kinda wrong about eating a bowl of poke while writing about the most impressive and amazing of sea-critters…

First off was a one-liner that I love: we humans are self-obsessed, we can’t help but anthropomorphism everything else.  The anthropomorphizing thing I’ve talked about on this blog before, but I absolutely love tying it back to our self-absorption as a species.  We are, to ourselves, quite literally the only things that matter in the universe.  Now, before you start yelling at me, please understand that I do realize just how overly broad and simplistic is that statement.  I realize all of that, and I still wrote it, so stop yelling!

Believe me, the intellectual dissonance in that line, and my own outlook on the universe, is a thought I could explore for…oh…at least a few thousand words.  The key thing to remember is that we humans, when you press us back to our most basic instincts and drives, cannot stop ourselves from resorting to, well, let’s call it tribalism for the moment.  By tribalism, I mean that instinct and drive of ours to divide the universe into us and them.  That instinct, by the way, is always there, no matter how we try to suppress it.  As soon as any group of ours grows to three or more, you can count on the fact that there is at least some element of us-versus-them.

That us and them leads directly to the second observation that I liked: we cannot — and do not — even begin to appreciate the wonders of the world, and animals in particular, until we have at least some form of personal experience with them.

Let me put some perspective around that thought.  You all know how I have spent the last several years.  I have been inside grizzly and wolf dens.  I have been eye-to-eye with a bear just feet away.  I have watched a wolf pack take down prey just yards away.  I have smelled the breath of a curious bison.  Nature and I, to put it mildly, have developed something of a romance, and that romance has given me opportunities and experiences that only a few (modern day) humans have shared.  On the other hand, I have had, in my own sense of pride and accomplishment — in my own sense of us versus them — a certain amount of contempt for those whose only experience of the same animals is through a spotting scope deployed on the side on the side of the road.

It is fair to say, however, that 90% or more of those who visit Yellowstone, and use binoculars or scopes or cameras to view the wildlife, have never before scene those animals anywhere but on a TV screen.  And very, very few can leave that park without a certain sense of attachment to — and fondness for — the animals they finally got to see in person.

In my YNP days, I led groups of visitors out into the night to listen to the howling of the wolf packs.  There is nothing more powerful, by the way, than to sit under the light of just the stars and listen to those powerful, primal calls.  To listen to that music.  It gives me — still! — the chills to think about it.  I can close my eyes and see the stars, hear the cries…

So what if none of those who sit on the side of the road and watch a mother grizzly teach her cubs to forage and hunt can describe just what a mother smells like?  Does that make their experience any less powerful?  Or any less important?  No, it does not.  Those folks have had their own magical experience.  They have watched a massive apex predator treat her young with all the motherly care, and all the urge to teach them to grow up “right”, that we would expect from a young human woman.  If they are lucky, they have seen, even, those “kids” play and horse around just as would any pair of young humans.

I can tell you, from thousands of conversations over the years, that those experiences change folks.  It is very hard to advocate for the uncontrolled hunting and slaughter of animals that you have stared at in real-world awe and admiration.*  And that is a good thing.  That is, in fact, the very heart of the reason for America’s national parks: To give folks that exposure to nature — to the wild and beautiful places, and to the wildlife — that they would never otherwise have.

*I’ll skip over the exceptions here…and they (sadly) do exist.  There are those few who live and work on the borders of Yellowstone, and even within the park itself, who still would eagerly hunt and kill every single wolf in North America.  Since they all were/are hardcore Q-Anon/Trumpistas, I get to write them off as the nutjobs they truly are.

If you truly want, you can find backcountry guides who will take you to places you should not go.  Just are there are guides on the water, and in the mountains, and on the tundra, who will work only for their own benefit, without care for the animals they exploit.  Those who will use chase-boats to herd whales or dolphins into tight areas, and trap them there, so high-paying tourists can “switch with them”.  Just are there are those who will take you to wolf den while the pups are still unable to leave.  And those who will leave out drugged bait so you can “just happen across” a somnolent polar bear.

That is, unfortunately, one of the dark-side effects of us-versus-them: Our penchant to abuse and exploit them because only us truly matter.  You see it in our society and culture; you see it in our politics; you see it in every single thing we do.  And that is the bitter part of bittersweet, the inevitable cost.  The experience of nature and wildlife can be — and very often is — life-changing to many folks, but we have to always be mindful of the cost.

When the wolves are gone, we change the world.  We not only change the ecosystem, we lose something unique and beautiful from the world.

When the whales are gone, we will lose a piece of our souls.  Listen to their songs, watch their stately movements, and remember this final thought:

For all the power and majesty of nature’s wonders; for all the size and intelligence of the whale; for all the soul-touching sounds of the wolf; for all the wily creativity of the bear; they live on our sufferance.  A whale — or a bear, or a wolf — can kill a single human with no trouble.  Just trust me on that one, I know very well and very personally.  But we humans, in our numbers, and with our technology, can wipe out their entire species without even intending to.

{Musical Note — is this song the best fit?  Probably not, but I’ve been looking for an excuse to use something from these guys for a long time now…}

Snippet: “WTF?”

Holy cow, how did it get to be July already?

Wasn’t it just yesterday that I woke up for my last day in Yellowstone?  No?  It was a month-and-a-half ago?  Are you freaking kidding me?!

Note: You all know me well enough by now to imagine the swear words I’m using at this particular moment, so feel free to insert your own here…

Oh, and just to add a random thought for the day: Beach sand and bluetooth keyboards don’t mix particularly well.  That is all.  Nothing to see here.  Move along.

One of the fun things about coming to rest in a new place, by the way, is the exploration factor.  Everything is new and unknown, everything is a surprise.  Every restaurant is an unknown variable, every bar a new experience.  When you go into that with no preconceptions, it can lead to a lot of fun, new experiences.  It can also, it must be said, lead to undercooked chicken and overcooked beef.  Worse — for me as a brewery nerd, anyway — is that it can lead also to bad beers, and to tap handles (actually, the lines that lead back to the kegs) that are infected and dirty.

*shudder*

Tasting grass and horseblanket and smoke in your beer?  That’s good.  Tasting butterscotch and corn and banana?  Yeah, that’s bad.

**Beedo!*Beedo!**Squirrel Alert!**

Wait, whaddya mean those tasting-notes don’t mean anything to you?  Good lord, people, get yourselves down to your local craft brewery!  Pronto!  Make sure you spend a while talking to the beertender behind the bar, too.  If the place is worth a damn, he or she will be able to teach you a thing or two about the flavors to expect in different types of beers…and the flavors to fear.

Okay…bigger digression avoided.  All clear now.  We almost had a major rant building there, but I pulled up in time and you’re safe now.  Phew.

It has, at any rate, been over a month since we heard from Connor (and Oz).  Given that this post has already gone completely off the rails, let’s just give up on it and have a bit of a check-in instead:

“What the fuck?”

The sound of steps and the closing of the door.  Silence, then, as Connor continued to stare straight ahead, continued to stare at that disconcerting view.  Finally, he pulled his eyes away.  He leaned back in the chair and propped an ankle on his knee, the very picture of arrogant insolence.

He’d be damned if he’d let some takie bastard see him sweat.  No, just like he had told the shotcaller in the prison yard, it was never a good idea to push too hard an ikiryo with nothing left to lose.

Connor finally did turn, a few heartbeats later, when the tense silence was broken by the sound of ice clinking into a glass.  Tall and thin the man was, but that was all Connor could tell.  He stood with his back to Connor, and the rest of that vast, now-empty office, as he mixed himself a drink in the corner.

It was an attempt, Connor knew, to assert control, and to make him impatient and nervous.  A transparent attempt.  So…it was going to be a pissing contest after all.  The world might be different — the kamo richer and more powerful — but the rules…the rules of the game never changed.  Connor’s game.

“A scotch for me, thanks,” he called, his voice almost as relaxed as if he’d been calling an order to Marie.  “But only if it’s Islay single malt.”

That brought a look, thrown back over one expensively-clad shoulder.  Genuine surprise on that face, to go with a certain amused disdain.

Connor continued to study the man, his stare intentionally direct and disconcerting.  In prison, what had kept most of Connor’s fellow inmates at bay was the worry that he was more than a little nuts.  It definitely would not hurt to have this svine worried about the same thing.  Connor knew he was not likely to make the man comfortable or trusting, but uncomfortable was almost as good.  Uncomfortable usually meant nervous, and nervous people made mistakes.

The guy was young, perhaps ten or twelve years older than Connor himself.  He had the same rail-thin attempt at effete elegance that Connor had seen on so many of the idiots down on that plaza, as well as the same tightly-tailored dark suit.  His face, however…his face was very different from the drones below.

Arrogance and confidence in that face, and a certain note of self-indulgence.  Brown hair, brown eyes…not bad looking.  Oz would have had the guy wrapped around a finger in about thirty seconds, Connor decided with an inward grin.  Connor knew, however, that he would have to use tactics very different from those of his dead friend.

The man wordlessly placed a tumbler in front of Connor, then moved around that impressive desk to sit and begin his own inspection.  He stared and studied, sipping at his drink all the while.  

Connor stared right back.  On both of the man’s hands lay some of the most extensive and intricate tattoo-work Connor had ever seen.  The colors and designs shifted and changed, but not with the cheap randomness he had seen in prison.  No, these changes were subtly patterned and timed, suggesting meanings and purposes at which Connor couldn’t even begin to guess.

A reach and Connor took up his own glass, every bit of him full of slow confidence.  A slow, steady swirl — at least the guy was smart enough not to waste ice on whiskey — then he took a sip.  The surprise didn’t make it to his face, thankfully, but beneath his cool exterior he was all-but knocked off his mental feet.

Good booze had always been well beyond Connor’s means, but Oz had from time to time brought home bottles given by his clients.  Some of those bottles had been top notch stuff, hard to get even on the Station.  What was in that glass, however, made every drop Connor had ever so much as sniffed pale in comparison.  That little calculator in his mind — the one that assessed the value of everything the takies so took for granted — told him he did not want to know what those few ounces were worth.

“My family helped to build all this, Mr. Spogelse,” the man said with a wave vaguely towards the view behind him.  “LRC is the largest resource exploration and assessment company in the entire system.  We may not be one of the colony’s Founders, unfortunately, but we are one of the top five hundred companies in all of human space.”

If he’d known he was in for a recruiting speech, Connor thought, he might very well have decided to stay in prison.  Just who the hell did this debil think he was?

“Boss, I don’t know what you’ve got in mind, but you can skip the sales pitch.  Those folks down in your lobby might have resumes and references, but I’ve got nothin’ but a fuckin’ rap sheet.  I appreciate the drink, but can we skip the bullshit and just get to the point?” he said, interrupting what threatened to be the biggest waste of time in all of human history.

Irritation flared in the man’s eyes.  Irritation that was very, very close to outright rage.

So…the guy did not like to be interrupted.  That was good to know.  Anything and everything that could throw him off balance was ammunition for Connor.  You learned that, early on, when you were young and small; learned to never let the other guy have control.  Piss him off, confuse him, even make him laugh…but never, ever let him have control.  Not in a situation like this.

Yeah, but you got your ass kicked a lot, too, the memory of Oz’s voice laughed.

Much like Connor, Oz had been, socially and culturally, a ghost in life — an ikiryo in Dockside’s patois — but why the hell did Connor’s best friend have to end up a real ghost, too?

“Stop haunting me, Oz,” he muttered under his breath.  The scariest thing to Connor?  He didn’t mean it.  Connor knew it was crazy, but there was no voice in the universe he wanted more to hear.  Not even Nat’s.  He still loved Nat, still thought and dreamed of her, but Oz was…special.

Oh yeah, there was real rage now on the face across that desk.  The man stood and glowered, leaned across the expanse of wood and glass.  “If you’re wasted now, you little shit…” he spat, just what he would do left unsaid.

Connor almost laughed.  Once, he would have been on his feet as well, in the svine’s face and ready to fight.  Once, but no more.  Who the hell cared?

“Relax, boss,” he said, his weak attempt at soothing ruined by the amused cynicism in his voice.  “You went to a lot of trouble to get a goddamned worthless ikiryo out of prison and into your office.  Why don’t we sit down and talk about that?”

The rage was still visible on that pampered face, but only because Connor knew what to look for.  To most observers, he knew, the man would be the very picture of a calm and controlled professional.  That control would even have impressed Connor, if the guy were less of a privileged ass.

A long sip of his drink and the man sat.  “You’re quite right, young man.  But, I do need to get a feel for you.  To do that I have to assure myself that you understand just what it is I do here.  I do not generally meet with young delinquents, you know.”

From rage to patronizing condescension.  Yep, definitely a privileged ass…just like the takies who had been Connor’s prey for so long.  And just like those takies, this debil was starting to irritate him.

“We can make this as short as you want.  You know my name.  You know where I came from.  There, the basics are out of the way.  Now it’s my turn.  What the fuck do you want?”  Connor’s stare as he spoke was, if anything, even more direct and challenging than his voice.

“Call me Mr. Chapman.  Or sir,” came the reply, simple and matter of fact.  The mouth carried just a hint of a smirk.

Even Connor couldn’t read through the man’s growing control, and that made him nervous.  If he couldn’t read his kamo, he couldn’t manipulate them.  Then an even more disturbing thought hit him: just how much was this svine manipulating him?

Shit.

Chapman studied him in silence for several moments.  The old nerves, the ones Connor had thought long gone, returned with a vengeance, fought with his growing irritation.  Suddenly, it was Connor’s turn to stand and pace the length of the office.

He held his drink more to give his hands something to do than because he wanted the alcohol.  A year in prison with nothing but cell-made pruno meant the potent liquor in that glass was affecting him already, and he suspected getting drunk around Chapman was not a terribly good idea.

It was, however, time to regain some of the initiative, he decided. 

He moved to the bar in the corner, took a moment to study it.  Shit, there weren’t even any bottles.  Just clear, engraved decanters that he very much doubted came from any local glass shop.

His years years living in Dockside’s chaotic corruption had, however, taught him to adapt.  The secret to survival was confidence.  Even if you didn’t know what the hell you were doing, you never let anyone else see that particular weakness.

Connor took his time, moved with all the slow arrogance he could muster.  He picked up those decanters with contents that looked similar to what was in his glass and sniffed.  A moment to visibly savor each aroma — most of which meant not a single thing to him — then he settled on one.  It might have been the same as what was in his glass, or it might have been completely different.  He had no idea.  He took his time, however, and poured slowly another few ounces into his glass.

His shoulders were itching.  He knew the svine was staring at him, could picture the rage growing behind those cold eyes.  That thought almost made him smile.  Almost.

A tap, Connor heard, as he started to turn.

“Marcy,” Chapman barked, “send in the Security Director.”

Uh-oh.

You always did overplay your bluffs, Oz whispered at the back of Connor’s mind.

The door opened and Connor tensed, expected a squad of rvac ready to beat the crap out of him.  Maybe he’d see that empty field, after all.

It wasn’t a squad of guards, however.  It was just one man.  One very, very familiar man.

Connor dropped his glass, stood frozen and immobile.

“Sonthi?  What the fuck?”

{Muscial Note — if you go all metaphorical with the lyrics, this song works for Connor’s new life…}

Enough Already!

I had a conversation with a friend back in Yellowstone the other day.  I wanted to catch up with her, of course, but — honestly — I mostly just wanted to see how things were going back in paradise.  And how are things going?  Record numbers.  Not just crowded, but the busiest month the park has seen…ever.  And that is before the “busy season” starts!

I might miss the wolves and bears, and all the back country shenanigans that were my form of relaxation, but the crowds this summer are going to be biblical.  Honestly, I’d rather have the plague of locusts than the even-more-record numbers that are going to be filling the park in July and August.

I’d make a joke about how I hope the bears eat well, but some folks have a tendency to take me far too literally for that!  No, I don’t want a grizzly to eat a camper — do you have any idea how high in cholesterol American campers are?!  The poor bear would have a coronary!

Ahem.

Speaking of record numbers, and of people just wanting to be out and about again…

Can we be done with this shit already?  No, really…can the damned pandemic just be done?  Let’s do a Vietnam War thing and just declare victory and go home.  I know, I know, things are relaxing, and a lot of the nuttiness is being pushed aside.

A lot, but not all.

What’s funny is that the things that really did/do better against COVID are what are gone — or at least going — but the what remains, and may never leave, are the silly things that are far more performative than they are legitimately effective.

What is saddest is that these are the things that are probably going to stick with us when full “normalcy” returns.  Good lord, every time I see one of those stupid plexiglass shields in a store or restaurant, I want to go all QAnon and just start screaming incoherently…and don’t even get me started on the damned temperature sensors!

Yeah, I’m vaccinated…and I want the old world back!  I want to be able to party at a waterfront bar on Hvar!  I want to be able to be all superior and condescending to lost tourists in the Roman Forum!  I want to be able to sail along the Amalfi Coast!  Hell, I’ll even let a French waiter be all superior and rude to me — without telling him I understand every damned thing he’s muttering under his breath — if that means I can drink wine in small Provençal villages!*  And don’t even get me started on the places I’ve never been!  I want to be able to see a baobob tree!  I want to be able to experience the steppes of Mongolia!  I want to be able to explore Egypt and Iran and Cappadocia and all the other places that were as ancient to Rome as Rome is to us!

Harrumph!!

*A bit of unrequested travel advice for everyone: when planning a trip abroad, you could do a lot worse than plan your visit around staying in towns of no more than ten thousand folks.  Preferably fewer than five thousand, actually.  You will not regret it.  Just trust me on that one.

I read in an article a while back the theory that once you relax all of the pandemic-related restrictions and regulations, you will never again be able to re-implement them.  That I believe whole-heartedly.  People are done with the restrictions and, once those finally disappear, no one will accept them again.  At least, not without a Monty Python-level pandemic.  Honestly, I’d have to say the odds of getting me to self-quarantine once again are roughly the same as the odds of me starting for the LA Lakers…

p.s.

Random bit of insight for you — here is what I have in the back of my mind when I say that I miss living on the water:

And here is what I get:

And, yes, hyperbole is fun!