Last evening my wife called me as I wrapped up at work and let me know that she had just learned that my nephew's thirteenth birthday dinner was about to begin at the local Hibachi Rocks Japanese steakhouse, if I could break from work to come join my brother's family. Sadly, Friday traffic took forever to wade through, so I missed both the meal and the subsequent present opening by a matter of mere moments.
I did get over to my brother's house in time for a spirited game of Clue, which was great fun (as always happened during my childhood, my brother, a complete and utter genius with a keen mathematic sense, won with a Sherlock Holmes-ian calculation. Imagine, as Rod Serling might say, growing up in a household in which your thirteen month younger sibling does everything you can do better than you can do it, and also gets dressed in blue while you are dressed in brown. It's okay, though, because in Rod Serling the older brother always ends up as space food sticks for space aliens or something, and I only had to be a lawyer, which is not all that Night Gallery-ish. Besides, he's a good fellow and has a nice wife and son).
Then we all played the card game Munchkin, a D & D relative based on humorous fights and deeds and monsters. I had played once before, but not really understood the rules. This time the rules "took", although always in such games, new rules like "Elves get experience for that, but nobody else" popped up, overwhelming me like chickenpox. I was just one experience point from victory when my nephew pulled out a level 41 thermonuclear dragon or some such, which pulled defeat from the jaws of victory, as even my MT Suit and Lawyer cards were of no avail. We all had great fun, and we all needed a little fun, I think, at this particular time. I cnanot believe my cool nephew is 13. It all happens so fast.
When I arrived home, I discovered that LiveJournal had experienced a power failure, which was kind of cool, like taking a hiatus through deleting my journal, except I always imagine that if I deleted my journal, people would be kind enough to say "Poor Judd is Dead", instead of updating every 200 minutes with "Gee, those necro-backups and server-gizmos and whizbang wonkerdoodles are really slithy in the wabe".
I went to the Free Internet Chess Server and began to play numerous games of three minute chess. I found myself repeatedly getting credible positions, but then being unable to win the game. I looked at the "history" function, and saw that I had only scored a single draw and two wins in my last ten games.
I pondered my new strategy of playing the Philidor, the Old Indian and the Old Indian Reversed against every opening. While I am familiar with the strategies to those systems, I kept getting infinitesimal advantages in a few games and losing disadvantages in other games.
I thought to myself "what did I play back when I was really good?" The question was rhetorical, as I knew that I played the Colle System as white except against the King's Indian, when I played the Geller Quiet System to transpose into a fun kind of Pirc/Modern. I knew that as black I played the Caro-Kann against e4, the Slav and Orthodox defenses to d4 and a Bg4 Slav-like system against everything else.
Like all the "systems" I tend to adopt, this particular system places one over and over in similar piece and pawn positions, so that one becomes familiar with the themes of the openings over time. It was this modest but very solid system that led me to my biggest wins, as I am really a player with very little natural talent for the game who grabs a pawn in the middle game, keeps things boring, and then holds on to win.
I began playing my old system in the blitz games, and suddenly began winning virtually every game. My blitz rating is still pathetic, but I know that I am back on a better trail. I thought of our local pro football coach, who said something I like: "You are what you are". I like the idea that it's not how much talent you have, or how good you are capable of being, or what your "form" normally is supposed to be. Instead, I agree with Mr. Parcells that how you actually perform defines how well you perform, not how you "could" or "should" or "ought" to perform. Thus, rather than being "rusty", or "older and thus less quick" or even "hampered with 'I cannot say what'", I can just accept that right now I do not play blitz chess very well, and then move on to work on playing better chess.
This morning I slept until 8:30, and took it very easy all morning. I had enough work to do at the office that I could have worked today, but I needed the break. I played more blitz chess, with less success, but more confidence. I got out that Poet and Writers Magazine, and picked the first two poetry competitions I will enter, pursuant to my New Year's resolution to try to submit poetry and enter chapbook contests. I have enough material assembled for one competition already, but the other will require me to write substantial new material. I have roughly a month and a half to do the new material, which is about right. Although I learn something new every day, I know what my poetry is and what it is not, and have few illusions about my limitations and meager talent. The experience will be interesting, even if nothing comes of it. I am always surprised, by the way, by what gets published, as the things I think the most prosaic are the (very few) things that get published, whereas my main critique of my own work is that I write prose with line breaks rather than poetry.
My wife had a seminar with her investment club, so I went by myself to Dickey's barbecue, which made a very capable meal of pulled pork and beef with great vegetables. I brought home the huge plastic yellow Dickey's cup, a milkshake cup sized solid plastic "complimentary cup", which constitutes the majority of our "casual glasses" these days. There is something charming about a yellow cup that says on one side "A Texas Tradition since 1942" and on the other side says "LIP SMACKIN' FINGER LICKIN' RIB TICKLIN' KNEE SLAPPIN', FOOT STOMPIN', GREAT TASTIN'......Now that's good barbecue...that's DICKEY'S". I read an article in Poets and Writers about an academic who said she and a friend invented the word "chick lit" to refer to post-feminist novels, and then the word got co-opted for a world of Bridget Jones novels.
I liked her article and her take very much, but I also got reminded of the way that the analysis of the medium too often becomes the message, which I consider a bad thing. I like for the message to be the message. "No one receiving--the radio slips away" is what I think the Eno song says, although this may be one of those "marmots come out of the sky" misheard lyrics.
I drove up to nearby Fairview, a rural community with huge houses, to visit the Heard Natural Science Center. We are members there, and I took to the wooded Hoot Owl Trail before finishing up on the wetlands Bluestem Trail. The temperature was roughly 45, but the wind was slight, so it was quite comfortable in my fleece. As I walked up to the Heard, I saw mockingbirds cavorting on the ground.
On the Hoot Owl Trail, lots of robins hopped about in the woodland, while a gorgeous male cardinal was visible perched on a tree. I saw a bird I could not identify, so I took a "mental photograph" to look it up in my new "Birds of Texas" book. I saw a titmouse and both black vultures and turkey vultures. Although the trails were nearly winter-empty, the bare trees with lots of birds time is one of the best times at the Heard.
The Heard had an incredibly interesting exhibit of engravings called "Birds through a Naturalist's Eyes", featuring framed prints of John James Audubon, John Gould, and Edward Lear. The framed colorful birds really fascinated me. I loved the way that they put the display litho pages in frames, like paintings, each its own little wonder. I did not know as much about Gould, and I only knew Lear slightly as a comic verse writer, so I learned a lot from the exhibit.
They also had a new emphasis on venomous snakes. I found most interesting the tank that held both a water mocassin and a harmless Texas water snake, seemingly identical, except the poisonous water mocassin has the diamond-shaped pit viper head. I grew up where water mocassins were abundant. The books always say they are shy (like their relatives, the copperhead), but I always found them intensely curious, territorial and almost leering as they approach people.
I've always found a metaphor in the water mocassin, which I apply to law and life. The mocassin seems hyper-deadly, and is quite aggressive, but almost nobody dies of its bite. The coral snake, by contrast, is a shy, retiring, rainbow colored thing without fangs, and yet its bite can be deadly. In Texas, we can complete the triumvirate of the metaphor with the Texas rat snake, which hisses, thumps its tail, and feigns attack on any provocation, but is non-poisonous and actually plays dead rather than actually biting. I infer from all this that it's not how loud you hiss, but how much venom you really carry, that carries the day. I also infer something about standing staunch even if people thump their tails a bit and feign attack.
I listened to "This American Life" on the radio, and found tears come as a story focused on a National Guard unit from Clarksville, Arkansas, now north of Baghdad. I know Clarksville, a tiny town of 7,000, and that part of the world, so it brought it all further home to me. I heard a mother about my age talk about her 19 year old son being sent over. I find myself disenchanted with talking heads and glib phrases on both the right and left about the events overseas. I resolved to try to find out how to send things to people from Arkansas in the middle of it all.
I remember once driving near Fordyce, Arkansas, where a military-truck-driving National Guardsman befriended me a bit. It was odd, one of those times when I got to talking to someone I don't know at all, and who on paper would have nothing to say to me and vice versa. I vaguely think I did him some minor good turn, or something--the kind of nothing thing you do for people, like help them with packages when their hands are full. It is coming back to me--perhaps I got him a drink when he did not have his change with him at a stop at a burger place walk-up window--I don't know.
He was really appreciative, though I cannot really remember why anymore (who knows? maybe he did the good turn, and my memory is unduly self-laudatory). Somehow we got to talking, which is not usual for me. But I find that I can communicate with people sometimes, and I speak very good Arkansas. I remember sitting in a roadhouse coffee shop some miles down the road with the fellow, who told me about the benefits of being a weekend warrior and also, I think, his kind words about his girlfriend. I remember an older man, whom I took to be a WW II veteran, passing on his way out and making fun with a quick cutting comment of the "think you're hot, don't ye?" ilk to he earnest young guardsman as he told of the wonders of service and the benefits of the weekend soldier life. The guardsman just shrugged and went on with his story. I am sure that both the guardsman and I then would have imagined that his role in the military would be limited to homeland defense in the last extremity, or world war. Twenty years later, things are much different. The radio said that 40% of the fellows in Iraq are guard or reserves. I don't know the real statistics. I never saw that fellow again, but I am glad he got to serve in 1984 rather than 2005.
I stopped today to get a soft drink at an Exxon Ready to Go Mart, while the band Big 'n' Rich poured out of the convenience store sound system with a mildly witty rap involving a double entendre. The man ahead of me bought two bottles of cheap Chardonnay and a huge sack of ice, which with hindsight perhaps qualified as a kind of poor man's watch party bit of elegance--he had had to consult his wife by cell phone as to choice of wine, which puzzled me as a curious mid-afternoon folderol, but does not puzzle me now. I wonder if the Steelers and the Jets are really a chardonnay experience rather than a Bud Light experience, but I did not watch the afternoon football game.
I did pick up my shirts at the dry cleaner's so that I am ready for the week to come clothes-wise. I will have to do a bit of laundry tomorrow. My wife was home when I arrived, and she got new orange container pansies to plan on our back porch. She took our dog for a walk while I answered e mail. Then my wife and I went to her favorite restaurant, Papparazzi. This Italian place makes everything from scratch--quite time-consuming but very tasty.
We talked at dinner about our favorite record sleeves from the LP days and I told her about a concert poster I had seen in which the Donnas were made up like Kiss back when Kiss was really more cool than now. We discussed also the progress I made today in finding music notation software that will let me write songs that can be played, MIDI style, without the click and hiss of the analog recording I have been doing. With perhaps my friend Scott's help, the software I am about to order, and a MIDI to .wav or MIDI to mp3 application, I can bring to fruition this cool idea for making music which is both aesthetically pleasing ambience and free of the recording limitations of my prior efforts. I see it all before me, easy, fun and satisfying to me. I just have to make it happen. I have allotted myself several months to do this project, and I am off to a promising start. I got an e mail from the software design company answering questions. I love the way that mom and pop software folks can be so responsive sometimes.
My wife told me about her work and we both discussed recent events in our family. We did not have dessert, as the food was too filling. Consonant with my recent resolution, I am not much for big desserts right now anyway.
We headed home, where we chatted while the football game involving Atlanta and St. Louis played. We telephoned my mother and father. Then my wife feel asleep, tired after a busy day attending the investment seminar. I went upstairs to my computer, to find that LiveJournal lives the life of Lazarus.