The last day of my twenties

October 10th was the last day of my twenties. For a long time, I had no idea what I would do to celebrate the twenties I’d lived. Should I jump out of a plane? Go bungee jumping? Hang gliding? Parasailing? All of those were too involved, and it would be hard to fit them on a Wednesday in the middle of a workweek.

So, I decided to celebrate my twenties I would do something I was fond of in my twenties that I should probably quit in my thirties. Something to cap it all off. So I went to Corbett Burgers and Soda Bar and ordered a quadruple cheeseburger.

You know you’ve done the order right when the cashier has to call in the manager to figure out how to put it in the system. Then the woman who brought it to my table told me she would be watching to see if I could actually fit it in my mouth.

It was a challenge, but I could. I also finished the whole thing. By the end of it, I felt like I was ready to leave this tradition behind. Now I’m thirty, and I practice portion control.

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Demopoly

Constitutional Democrazy is an experimental game I invented a while back to try a mechanic where players write the rules of the game as they play using voting.

As it stood, the game was an expansion of the existing game “Democrazy,” where besides the rulemaking aspect the game was just about colored chips.

In brainstorming what I was going to do for my birthday, I had the idea to apply the rules to another game entirely, and what game better than the classic Monopoly?

It didn’t take long from the start of the game – someone traded the last property for a light blue Monopoly to Tom. Shortly after, Henry proposed a law that light blue be zoned residential 1, or R-1, preventing more than one house from being developed on each space. He showed us pictures on his phone of the beautiful wildlife that would be protected by this restriction. Over Tom’s protests, we passed the law 5-1.

Shortly after that, Henry bought the monopoly off of Tom for the last property to give him a green monopoly. Then James passed a law designating green R-1 (5-1). We passed an “Eminent Domain” law requiring forcible transfers of property to be paid for according to the mortgage value.

I passed a law saying when you land on Chance or Community Chest, you draw three instead of one card and act on each in order. This law passed unanimously. Tom and Henry bribed me to pass a law that would benefit them and Ben, but Ben surprised them by voting against it. Future bribes were conditioned on the law actually passing.

James passed the “Honesty and Transparency in Corruption” act requiring bribes to be paid as promised (Monopoly doesn’t enforce time-delayed contracts by default). We instituted payday lending, where someone could get $50 from the bank once at the cost of gaining nothing on their next go pass.

Henry passed a one-time law letting everyone get a $5 for each $20 they had. Then he tried to pass a couple laws that would take away everyone’s money and give them all $250. They tried to bribe Ben by giving him free houses on his property, but again he voted against it. Then James passed a law requiring all financial redistribution laws to get a unanimous vote to pass.

The game does not technically prescribe a win condition if the game ends prematurely, so we voted on one. For whatever reason, instead of the obvious “whoever has the most assets wins” we randomly selected a winner from a distribution weighted on assets held. I voted against this because I wanted the win condition to be “highest rent on a single property” (I held a developed Park Place). Even though Henry had the most money, Tom ended up winning.

The game received unanimous praise. Beyond merely being fun, many thought it was actually something of a simulation of how capitalism and democracy interact. James suggested he might write a paper about NIMBYism based on this game.

I look forward to playing again.

Chicago

A view looking up from beneath The Bean
Tile patterns in the Chicago Cultural Center
Notice the swastikas in the designs. This building was built well before WWII made the symbol anathema in western culture.
An inaccessible central courtyard is full of ladders and rope bridges to nowhere
One of many ornate glass ceilings in the Cultural Center
Thousands of dog tags from MIA soldiers in the Vietnam War above escalators at the Chicago Public Library. A touchscreen allows patrons to search for their loved ones.
Chicago deep dish pizza
Dipped Italian beef sandwich

 

The creation of a mad confectioner
A federal prison looms in Chicago, built flat to satisfy the founder’s deeply held belief that the third dimension is a privilege for the law abiding.

Note on the jokes:

The apparently flat federal prison in Chicago was not actually designed to satisfy a benefactor’s belief in depriving inmates of the third dimension.

A visit from Philipe

In Maine. I made a “Monte Cristo” this morning.

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It’s a ham and cheese sandwich made on french toast. The Challah bread was thickly cut, so I didn’t cook it all together. I just cooked the ham and french-toasted the bread, then put it all together with some smoked gouda. One of the breakfasters worried she was losing her mind because the combination tasted like alcohol, but I put her at ease when I divulged I had added a capful of whiskey to each slice of bread.

Two nights before, we were visited by a raccoon. We were in the second floor bedroom and we heard a scratching at the window.

aaa4e23a-8a29-4fcf-85c2-9dbb22892719.jpgb8544591-71dc-4e44-bfd5-e1fef5aaa9fb.jpg The home’s previous guest was also visited by this enterprising vertically-gifted procyonid. It is in the account written by her where he earns his name “Philipe.”

Raccoons are a good omen, so we welcomed this auspicious visitor!

[Matthew] Wade Avenue

The characters in this story are not based on real life people. Any similarity to a person living or dead is purely coincidental.

“It’s your fault, really,” Matthew’s doctor assured him.

Matthew stared from the one eye that wasn’t covered in bandages. He couldn’t see very far. The hospital was clear. Dr. Jonquil’s lab coat had a smudge on the collar, which was rumpled. Outside the window was just a blur.

“Do you have a headache?” Asked the doctor.

“Why is it my fault?” Matthew tried to get the words through the gauze on his face.

“What’s that?” asked the doctor.

“Why is it my fault?” Matthew repeated with all the volume he could muster.

“Oh, well, what did you think would happen when you bicycled into Wade Avenue when the light was red? You teenagers always think your immortal. I try to make a point of teaching you that that’s not true.”

A chill passed over Matthew. He tried to think of a clever way to confirm that Dr. Jonquil was not going to murder him, but as he tried to think, his head ached until he gave up. He said nothing.

“That didn’t come out right,” apologized the doctor.

“I do have a headache,” said Matthew.

“Come again?”

“I do have a headache,” Matthew shouted.

“Oh, that’s right. Good. You’ll just have to avoid concentrating on anything. Focus is the issue. You said you’re captain of the chess team?”

Matthew tried a stiff nod, the bandages keeping him from moving very far. The effort strained his neck.

“Yes. Don’t do any more chess until you’re recovered.”

“When will I be recovered?” Matthew shouted.

“You play the trumpet? Three year award winner in marching band?” The doctor moved between Matthew and the window to the blurry outdoors. The move made him a silhouette. Matthew nudged his head down. It didn’t hurt too much and seemed to get the point across.

“You shouldn’t do that anymore either.”

Matthew moaned.

“Are you focusing again? That’s not good. You need to heal.”

“When will I be healed?” Matthew shouted again. The doctor shrugged.

“Let’s see.” The silhouetted Jonquil had a clipboard in front of him, “You are second place statewide in wrestling and your coach credited you personally with carrying the team to victory in a regional lacrosse match. Voted most likely to win a tennis scholarship.”

Matthew groaned.

“What did I say? Just stop focusing. Let your mind wander. You’ll have to stop all those things of course. You’re lucky you even have legs after what you did. Take good care of them.”

Matthew couldn’t help himself, “When will they be healed?”

“Oh, I just can’t understand you at all” whined Jonquil, “you don’t really need all this over your mouth.” He reached for Matthew and yanked down the bandages.

“When will my legs be healed?” asked Matthew, grateful for the ability to be heard without shouting.

“Oh, who can say?” Jonquil answered, “maybe never.”

Matthew jerked up in his bed and cried out in pain at the sudden motion.

“Oh, don’t do that,” chided Jonquil, “probably not never.”

Matthew forced himself to relax and lay down again.

“eh, maybe not never.” Jonquil corrected.

Matthew brooded in silence. His head started to ache, but he resisted the urge to complain, lest Dr. Jonquil censure him again. “What can I do?”

“Just rest.”

“No, not to heal, what can I do at all? There doesn’t seem to be much.”

“Well, you can look out windows. Play games – simple games. Maybe after a few rounds of candy land you can try moving up to chutes and ladders. Read, but not anything too challenging,” he looked down at his clipboard, “I know you got a letter of thanks from the Goethe Society of North America for your Senior English class essay on Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, but have you heard of this lovely series ‘Amelia Bedelia?'”

“Doctor,” Matthew was losing his patience, “This isn’t ok. There are expectations of me. I’m about to go to college, and you can’t even tell me if I’m ever going to be able to concentrate again?”

“I wouldn’t recommend college at this point.”

Matthew ground his teeth together. Jonquil stepped closer.

“Matthew, sometimes we need to learn to accept who we are. We need to accept the limitations placed on us sometimes through no fault of our own, although in this case it is entirely your fault.”

Matthew said nothing and glared.

“Did you know when I was your age, no one thought I would ever be a good doctor?”

Matthew kept silent.

“I accepted my limitations, and now look where I am! Oh, hold on, did I give you the wrong IV solution?” Jonquil inspected the drip bag hanging above Matthew, “False alarm. It’s the right one. Ha ha!”

“All right, so think about what I said,” said Jonquil, “but not too hard. I need to go help my other patients. Here’s a nice window for you to look out of.”

Jonquil left the room and Matthew returned to looking out the window. He thought there was a tree out there. A green blur on top with a brown blur below it. He tried to get his eye to focus, but his head started to hurt. It was a piercing ache behind his forehead.

“Just because the incompetent doctor thinks you’ll never walk or think again doesn’t mean that’s the case.” Matthew said to himself. “Now, the first step to getting well is to do exercises to restore lost function. So if I make a list…”

Matthew groaned and clutched his head. He went back to looking outside at the green and brown blur that might be a tree.

Wandering

“Some who have read the book, or at any rate have reviewed it, have found it boring, absurd, or contemptible; and I have no cause to complain, since I have similar opinions of their works, or of the kinds of writing that they evidently prefer.”

J.R.R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings, Second Edition.

I use my blog mainly for experimentation. It is an opportunity to have a deadline, which forces me to make peace with something I might otherwise fret over for days and eventually discard. My blog has never been a place for meticulous work. From my own perspective, it has at times been a place of beauty, but that beauty is always the kind stumbled upon. Rather than the diamond cut painstakingly from the stone, it is the stone itself, that reflects the light of the sunset in an unusual and captivating way after a long day of aimless wandering. Over the roughly ten years I have maintained this blog, this latter is the beauty I have been better able to achieve.

In the background, I am struggling to create the former sort of beauty. I have spent years now on and off attempting to extract the diamond from my installment series The Cleaners and transform it into a real novel. In the meantime, my blog continues to meander. Sometimes it follows me to an interesting locale, or more often into my kitchen. Other times, it has ventured into far off lands or taken the role of untrustworthy adviser. I sincerely hope that no one has followed any of the advice in my “Sam’s Guide” columns. Sometimes it follows me through literal wanderings through whatever forest in which I find myself.

Those of you who are still with me on this journey, I hope that you continue to enjoy my blog. Coming up, I hope to renew the spirit of adventure where this all began with “Sam’s Japan Blog” in 2007. I can’t say exactly what this will entail. It may be that my blog will become weirder and harder to understand, but so be it. I shall wander, and if you wish to wander with me, I shall welcome the company.

Carrot

Why did I think it would work? I mean I guess the flaw in my reasoning seems obvious now, but at the time I didn’t even consider that it might not work.

When I found those two little carrot seeds hidden in a discarded packet on this godforsaken junk planet, what can I tell you, I just thought who wouldn’t jump at the opportunity, you know? I mean, you can’t call the synthesized stuff you get from the Feedos real food, can you?

Those seeds were my babies. I could barely interpret the cheap paper packaging, but I followed every instruction to the letter. I collected all the food scraps I found and put them in a pile to rot and make nutritious soil. I planted the carrot seeds three inches apart. I even hoarded my water ration in an old plastic bottle to pour on them every couple days.

This was where I expected failure. Growing vegetables from seeds wasn’t easy even when I did it with schoolkids back on my home planet. One of those little seeds survived, though. Day after day I watched it grow, terrified another inmate would spot it and dig it up or carelessly step on it. For three months, that’s all I thought about. That carrot kept me going when the heat seemed unbearable and the rising stink of the garbage pile threatened to drive me mad.

It was one day that I heard a washing machine had tumbled off a pile a couple miles away and nearly killed somebody that I couldn’t wait any longer. The future wasn’t something you could count on here. It was still weeks too early, but I dug up the carrot.

It was a sight to behold – small and skinny, bent and with two ends, but vivid orange and sturdy. I couldn’t remember the last time I had something crunchy that wasn’t fried. A real carrot. It reminded me so much of home I wanted to cry.  This would be the first carrot Chucky had ever seen.

He was eleven now. Born on the ship, Chucky knew nothing of home. He fidgeted on his chair, black with the yellow foam showing in a tear on the side. “Mom said you had extra rations for me.”

“Yeah,” I said, “check out what I grew.”

He looked at me like I was going to lift my shirt to show him a tumor on my chest. I carefully unwrapped my carrot, and he squinted at it. “What is that?”

“It’s a carrot, buddy. It’s for you. Try it, it’s good.”

I held the carrot out to him, and he stared at it for some time before snatching it from my hand and putting it in his mouth.

“blech!” he shouted, throwing the carrot away into a nearby pile of old socks and takeout cups. He stared at me for a moment, then he said “that’s not carrot! What are you trying to pull?” He scowled, looking paradoxically like one betrayed, and fled. I retrieved the carrot, of course.

At supper time, I went to the vegetable Feedo and swiped through the options until I found the “carrot” option. The cartoon character representing “carrot” was smiling and bespectacled. “I’m good for your eyes!” it chirped in an overwrought falsetto. I pushed the VEND button and received a little orange box with green trim.

“Carrot” was shaped in the platonic ideal of a carrot – an oblong cone with a spiky green cap on top. The coloring was somewhat askew, with the orange of the carrot extending well into what presumably was supposed to be the green stem.

“Carrot” yielded immediately to my plastic spoon, and I scooped it up and into my mouth in the way that one ate most Feedo vegetables. As I expected, it was a sweet mush whose flavor represented only the most distant memory of that of a real carrot.

That evening, I carefully washed the dirty sock smell and ingrate saliva off of my precious carrot and consumed it bite by bite. It took most of an hour to savor that meal. It was the best I’d had in years.

It's about whatever I say it's about