The pub was situated in an alley a block away from Seattle's Pike Place Market. It was an unusual place for a job interview. Not really private, but busy enough that any conversation would be lost in the noise.
"Alright Sean, let's get down to business. What makes you think we'd be interested in you? We aren't the usual background check firm. And, to be frank, we don't get many applicants with your history, not that it it would preclude you from the position."
The attractive thirty-something who sat across the table from me had an air of smugness. I knew quite a bit about her of course—her identity was hidden from the usual internet scrutiny but one thing which hadn't been scrubbed was her meteoric history in role-playing games. It was a matter of pride, possibly the only weakness she had. It didn't take too long to get her story once I had cracked her avatar. A small fortune made in on-line games, starting small when only a teen, then a lucrative algorithm which turned game points into cash; she got out just before the Russians who ran the system could catch up to her. She was a legend in RPG circles, even more so now that she had 'vanished.' The money she 'made' started this business. It was a 'background check' service which did do the routine stuff but wasn't above supplying (or removing) information for blackmailers, divorce lawyers and other grifters. I had run across her before, but kept the information secret.
"I am the person you want to be on your side, believe me, Alleystar."
The mention of her online alias erased her tight smile for a millisecond. A forehead vein started to pulse, nothing most people would notice, but something a card shark would term "a tell." I knew I had the job now, the rest were formalities.
"I see. What is it you really want?" spoken coolly, but that vein kept throbbing.
"I want to work. And I want to work with the best." Pride was her weakness.
"When I got the recommendation from your last employer I gave you an interview as a courtesy to an old friend. May I assume that you know what our business really entails?"
"Sure, I know that you work for both sides, making sure that everyone's names stay out of the paper and off the internet while the cash flow remains invisible. All for a small percentage."
"I ask again, What is it that you really want?"
"I want to disappear."
"You've got the job."
Guest instructor: Björk
Lord, I love this woman.
Sharon We Dance
Qualm dances with calm.
Trip the light fantastic with Sharon, Fridays at Flippism is the Key
Used by permission
Stale air rattled out of the motel air conditioner. It was dark in the room, a faint glow from the window shade and a sliver of light from under the bathroom door were the only sources of illumination. Molly was in the shower, after a while the sound of running water stopped and a few minutes later she came out of the bathroom dressed in a full slip.
"This sure beats those sweaty jeans I had on..."
The previous 12 hours we had spent on the plains in our hot car was just a rapidly fading bad dream now. Tomorrow we'd leave South Dakota behind and head northwest, into Montana, and then the Rockies. It would be cooler there. We would finally reach Seattle tomorrow night. She had a lead on an office job; her mother lived above a basement apartment we could rent cheaply enough. I had a lead as well. I was looking for something more stimulating than sitting in a cubicle with a monitor and a telephone.
"I don't have anything nearly as provocative, but I'll shower and put on a clean tee."
As I stood under the shower, I thought about the previous week, how she had taken control of my life. I had been living alone too long. My usual defenses against starting a new relationship were drowned in our second bottle of wine. It seemed alright, this time. I wasn't worried about what could go wrong, not like the earlier times I fell in love, but maybe it was just that I didn't care about those things anymore. As I stepped out of the shower I realized that my clean clothes were in my suitcase- on the luggage rack by the bed. I thought about just walking out naked, but we hadn't quite yet reached the stage of 'casual' nudity. I wrapped a towel around my waist and headed out.
"Oooh! You look delicious!"
As she grabbed my arms her lips parted, her teeth reflecting the light from the open bathroom door. She playfully lunged at me with her open mouth but she had misjudged the distance. As her teeth sank into my chest her jaws clamped shut- hard, forming a pair of red semicircles just over my heart. They began to bleed.
"Ohmigod! I'm so sorry- I didn't mean to hurt you!"
"It's alright, it was just a reflex action."
She turned me around so that the light from the bathroom feel on my chest.
"That's gonna leave a mark!"
We both spoke that corny old line almost simultaneously, then laughed. After a minute she spoke:
"That'll leave a mark, all right. Just wait and see... and you'll find I can leave all sorts of marks."
"A biter. I never would have thought it."
"Go back and turn off the light... and leave the towel."
A red band of blood began to cover my chest.
"I'll need a couple of band-aids first. That really might leave a mark."
I have a confession to make. While pretending to be a scholarly and prudent professor, I've recently spent way too much time viewing a site which displays such seductive images of naked beauty that I have become addicted to it, the most insidious form of pornography:
Salivating over image after image of these au naturel dwellings has permanently warped my architectural sensibilities. No more Gehry! No more Wright! I lust after these humble (and not so humble) abodes with impure thoughts of rustic siding set amidst wilderness locales; fantasies of cozy nights spent fireside in a one room shack. I don't care. I am lost. But you,
my dear reader, now that you've read the story of my sordid fall from grace, need not suffer my fate.
What ever you do, DON'T CLICK ON THE LINK!
Image: Shake Rag Street, Mineral Point Wisconsin, 2011
The Sorrows of Young Werther
by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
This book (the blockbuster of 1774) is the story of a troubled young man whose conflicts were almost entirely internal. It was Goethe's breakthrough novel with an almost cult-like devotion among its admirers and numerous parodies from its detractors. It has been credited as the spark which ignited romantic literature. It remains a perennial favorite and is no doubt the inspiration of thousands of stories of unrequited love. I received a copy courtesy of Music Box Films via Caroline at Beauty is a Sleeping Cat as part of her German Literature Month theme last year (thanks Caroline!)
It's hard to review a classic of literature- one which has stood the test of time and has had a life of its own since its publication. It really isn't a coming-of-age book either, for Young Werther fails to achieve any sort of insight or maturity- a good part of the book's appeal is in its shocking, messy and most unhappy ending. Werther's situation is almost a case study of manic-depression, where he goes from the highest peak of euphoria to the depths of despair, often between chapters. Written in the form of letters and journal entries (with comments from the "editor"), the book's form had a definite appeal to my voyeur instinct. While a very short book its florid language made it read much longer. Werther's "suffering" quickly came to be a bit much- at least for this reader.
Ketchup with Sharon, Fridays at FITK
Used by permission
Stacy, Minnesota, 1981.
It would would never be this easy again. No mortgage, no hassles, no money, but young enough to enjoy the spare time that would be in short supply in the future. Life was good then, wasn't it?
Why a Duck?
The Google+ fiasco is only growing. Google search results are so loaded with SEO- tainted (Search Engine Optimization) ads that its almost the the old bad internet (let's party like its 1999!) There are alternatives, one of the most pleasant ones I've found is Duck Duck Go, good for general searches, and the results come back clean- no bogus ads or other malarkey. And if you want to go further, there is always a link to Google or Bing at the end of the results. It doesn't do images, but does have a "goodies" section with handy converters and other neat stuff.
Finally, check out their privacy page to see how ALL internet sites should operate.
UPDATE: There is now a hack to restore Google to its original function
We pulled in to a dusty roadhouse–but not for a beer. We had too far to go that day before we could start drinking again. Just a break from the heat and the road and the sun and all that monotonous farmland. Stultifying. The only breaks in the monotonous horizion were rows of other-worldly wind turbines marching across the terrian.
The roadhouse was a small place decorated in beer signs and worn-out farm implements. There was a stage in the corner for the weekend bands. After the noise of the wind and the road the tavern seemed profoundly still. The bartender was restocking the bar; we were his only customers.
"Two lemonades, thanks."
"Hey play something while I hit the can." Molly said. It was that quiet. The joint still had a jukebox. The Seeburg held mostly country, or what passes for country nowadays—no Hank Williams Sr—but I managed to find a dollar's worth of listenable tunes. As I sat down at a table in the corner the music started to play. The bartender brought the drinks to our table. Molly came out of the ladies room. She had washed her face, but hadn't redone her makeup. I guessed there was not much point in doing that, not when you're going back out to a car without A/C.
It had been too noisy to talk in the car and now as we drank our sours we continued to exercise our right to remain silent. The last song started; it had an old Fred Rose lyric I liked.
Every night alone I miss her
Her eyes as blue as a clear sky after rain
She told me soon she'd be returning
I see her at the train...
"You would have to play that song."
We had only met the week before. We had hit it off, as much as two people who have been through the routine more than twice are capable of doing. Love may be wonderful the second time around, but not the third. There weren't many illusions between us but there were novels full of unread pages in each other's life stories.
Now I'm fading like the embers
"Sorry, it's just something- nothing really, you couldn't have known."
Of a fire left out in the rain
I try so hard to keep my hopes up
When will she be on that train ...
I tried not to gulp my lemonade.
She said she'd come back in the winter
As the song ended there were tears rimming her lower eyelids.
When snow replaces rain
I know now never will I see her
Blue eyes on that lonesome train...
"Let's get out of here... I'll drive."
What's this about luck be a lady?
Free Sharon Now! Fridays at FITK
Used by permission
I had been living in a small house for years, renting it from an agreeable Mexican landlord who lived next door. One day he moved out and asked us if I would like to rent both houses. Knowing several people who were looking for affordable housing, I said yes without hesitation. After the landlord moved out, we quickly got a group of people together and settled in. This shed was in the back of the lot. The landlord said to use whatever I wanted from it. It was packed with boxes and cans, old wood, appliances, even a barrel of umbrellas. But the roof had been leaky for some time and everything in it was rusted, moldy or decayed.
I just ignored it for a while, but when the kids started to come it obviously had to go. So we knocked it down, got some dumpsters, filled them and had them haul it all away. We planted a nice flower garden where the shed stood and gradually the place actually became pretty nice. I was surprised at the difference. It is one thing to have a picturesque building to photograph. It is quite another to live with what was essentially a big pile of trash. I had been getting down on myself and my lot in life for a while; getting rid of this junk made a big difference in my outlook.
Mooney by Batty, Batty by Mooney, Minneapolis, 1979
I don't remember exactly how this situation came to pass, but be assured that we were just two crazy kids with a shared a love of ceramic tile. Notice the elegant Japanese inspired wrap on the the young woman and the always fashionable paisley print shirt on the young man. The classic Hawaiian shirt on the door was property of the bathroom's owner. A vintage anodized aluminum drinking glass perches twixt the toothbrushes. A small vase of cut flowers completes the festive, yet simple look.
I'm Ok, You Aren't
“You have one identity...”
“... The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly...”
“... Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity...”
~Mark Zuckerberg in The Facebook Effect
The single-identity, let-it-all-hang-out approach is libertarian—the kind of libertarianism that leads to thinking of 1880 as the Golden Age of Liberty (because only straight rich white males are real people, after all—everyone else is just support staff).
~ "Dr. Science", commenter on Crooked Timber
Facebook, Google+ and other "social networks" are moving toward an enforced lack of privacy. I've been running this blog pretty much under the "Professor Batty" nom-de-plume- a pen name or literary double- a pseudonym adopted by an author. It helps to simplify things, in that I don't have to worry too much about people I know getting themselves tied up in knots over what I've posted here. It is also liberating, in that most people expect a comic book character to create things out of the norm, to inspire and provoke thought about life in new ways. Just how much of this "Professor Batty" may actually accomplish is debatable, but it remains a clear line of demarcation.
Mark Zuckerberg is a 20-something billionaire who lucked out on a formula to generate wealth by selling personal data to corporate interests. You can be sure that he has a whole team of people securing his right to privacy, (with a notable lack of success!) I hardly think he should be the final arbiter on personal interactions. Google+ is even worse, with the same intentions, but hid behind pages of "privacy protection" which only insures that their customers (the advertisers- you are the product!) have a more profitable experience.
By eliminating the ability to create an internet personality, one is faced with the possibility of Identity Theft completely destroying a person's on-line presence with no recourse to build another (a very useful tool for political operatives) to say nothing of the loss of an on-line presence to those who have been victimized by stalkers and predators (already a reality.)
So it goes. There is a sizable reaction growing to these abuses of social networks, there a numerous start-ups trying to supplant FB and Google+, hard to do when the competition has billions of dollars, but not impossible. The internet was built on pseudonyms and artificial personas. Eliminating them, so that everyone except those who can afford it becomes naked and vulnerable, is a big step backward.
I know not for what I come
nor from whence I came.
Phone home with Sharon, Fridays at FITK
House parties were the norm when young and poor. A few of cases of beer was cheap enough, and more than enough. No food needed. Remnants of the awkward divide between the boys and the girls, left over from high school, still lingered. If you weren't coupled up, you ran the risk of standing by yourself in the corner- just like grade school when you had been bad. Any chance of pleasant small talk was drowned out by raucous whinnying between the young stallions.
And if you went home alone, no one cared.
Won't you dance with me?
I'm sad and lonely too.
Won't you dance with me?
I'm fallin' in love with you.
Just like you I'm wondrin' what I'm doin' here.
Just like you I'm wondrin' what's goin' on.
Won't you dance with me?
The night will soon be gone.
I have seen you standing in the smoky haze
And I know you're gonna be mine one of these days,
Take a chance on me.
Please let me ride you home.
~Wallflower by Bob Dylan
The new year brings opportunities- resolutions made, vacations mapped out, major purchases considered, but with all the turmoil going on these days, it has become hard to plan anything. If the US Postal Service can't be counted on, what can? I seem to have developed a wariness of "Meatworld"- physical reality- versus "Dataworld"- the internet, media and other abstractions. I think I'm more comfortable in Dataworld because I pretty much know that most of it is baloney, and I know which part of it is. Meatworld, on the other hand, is messy, smelly, fraught with uncertainties, and what can be even more terrifying- opportunities.
I think it has to do with my hair. When I was young I wore it long, it kept people away. Since I turned 50, it has been shaved once a year, in accord with the seasons. It is getting long now, and is pretty much white. For some reason, people find me more approachable- "I'll just ask this nice old man." The last time I was in the supermarket TWO women struck up conversations with me. That has never happened before. One was looking for shampoo so we had a nice chat about the pros and cons of the various brands (I like "Mane and Tail" horse shampoo) and she was undecided, but the extent of her (visible) tattoos made me think she was just looking for a diversion until her boyfriend got out of prison. I ran into another woman as we were both scrounging around the bottom shelf of the coffee display where were both looking for the Kona Blend. She had a sense of humor about the ridiculousness of the situation.
At any rate, It's the NEW YEAR. I spent the hour before 12 o'clock on New Year's Eve wrestling with a satellite TV remote that was so confusing that the only show I was able to select was "New Options for Prostate Health".
I hope that isn't an omen.