Wednesday, July 30, 2014

From Paradise to Sunrise

I had a free day last week so I spend it getting reacquainted with central Minnesota along and near Highway 65.

When I was thirty years old I’d actually biked an 80 mile stretch of it a couple of times to a rented a log cabin a few miles north of Mora. The cabin was on the verge of falling down, but was in a beautiful location. I couldn’t remember exactly where it was—things had changed just enough that I didn’t find it—perhaps it had been torn down. I did take a walk around in the town, however. The movie house had gotten a new coat of paint, but otherwise not much had changed. I also stopped at a quite mad boutique a few miles outside of town (see previous post).

About twenty-five miles southeast of Mora is the township of Sunrise (birthplace of actor Richard Widmark). It adjoins Wild River State Park, a place popular with boaters and hikers in a quiet, low-key way. There are a couple of rivers winding through it which I thought I’d check it out for a possible future canoe trip.  Along one edge of the park is a small pioneer cemetery nestled among the trees. I don’t have any relatives buried in it, but a few months ago I discovered that one of my college friends had been interred there. Of course, I just had to stop.

It was a beautiful place, and was as peaceful as my friend’s life had been turbulent. I hadn’t helped it any either, our relationship was always stormy—mostly due to my cluelessness.  Although in reality I was standing six feet away from what was left of her, she is always in a little corner of my heart: alive; young; the brightest light of my darkest day.

Regret is a fool's indulgence.

As I stood there, in the sunlight dappled pine duff, the whispering of the trees seemed to be saying, speaking to me in her raspy voice: “It’s alright now, everything is alright.”

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Monday, July 28, 2014


Near Mora, Minnesota

Brasseries on the porch!

Nuns riding bicycles!

This place is crazy!

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Friday, July 25, 2014


This is chapter 11 of The Matriarchy, a serial fiction novel on FITK

In Missoula, Sean stopped the car at a Subway fast food restaurant.

“Nothing spicy on mine,” said Mary. Her nausea hadn’t returned, but she was still a little on edge from the near miss with the deer. “I’ll stay in the car, I’m going to check in with Seattle,” Mary said, calling her point person at the legal firm.

“Robinson here. What do you have for me?”

"Ms. Robinson, have you seen any of the on-line tech magazines? You and Sean have gone viral. TechCreeper has plastered a picture of you two across their home page."

“We haven’t looked at the internet in a couple of days. We’re on vacation. What’s the gist of the story?”

"The story is harmless enough, it's about how you and Sean cashed in on the ADR sale, but the backlash appearing in the tech forums is becoming scary."

“The usual jealously trolls, I suppose?”

"Well, it has gone far beyond that. The misogynists and racists are out in full force as well. It appears as if there is an orchestrated attack on your character."

“Not much they can do about it now. The checks have been cashed.”

"I hope that there isn't. Where are you two? When will you be back? The media has been calling us all day for interviews," said the lawyer, peeved.

“That’s nobody’s business. I’ll check in every couple of days, keep a log. If something really important comes up, like a subpoena, we can be back in 48 hours. Absolutely no interviews—it only feeds the trolls. The internet will forget about us in a couple of weeks.”

"Billing to be sent to your home address?"

“Yes, don’t worry, we’ll be back by ‘net thirty days.’”

Mary ended the call and closed her eyes. When Sean returned with the food he found her asleep.

“Mary… ”

“Oh, I must have dozed off.”

“What’s the news out of Seattle?”

“Oh not much, just that we’re the latest internet celebrities. The ADR sale.”

“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

“Sean, you know that I’ve always been one to stay out of the spotlight.”

“To be expected when you're running a private investigation service.”

“There's more to it than that. I learned early on that as far as business was concerned my race and my gender were debits. For most men, the tech world is structured exactly like any other business enterprise: a woman on top is a woman who needs to be pushed down to her proper place. The anonymity afforded by the internet allows the real depths of hatred to be revealed. Evidently, due to the ADR sale, I've become a target, and you as well.”

Sean paused a moment before speaking.

“There isn’t anything we can do about it, is there?”

Now it was Mary’s turn to pause.

“Sean, let’s make a family, a real family, not just you and me and the baby, but your Aunt Tina, maybe my stepmother, maybe even my stepfather, maybe more kids someday, but something more than being just a man and a woman who happened to ‘get together’ for a while. The internet stuff will fade away soon enough, but in the meantime, we can build something real together.”

“You didn’t mention my father. Billy thought he killed my mother.”

“That’s a real problem. But how can you mend another person’s broken heart? His whole life is based on cruelty, selfishness, and bullshit. Let’s let that problem ride for now, but I want you to think about what I’m saying. We will have to come to grips with the Icelandic child as well.”

“You’re right, I understand what you’re saying.”

They ate in silence. Finally, Sean spoke:

“Mary, we can do this. I’m with you all the way.”

“May it always be so.”

Sean drove the rest of the day, with Mary drowsing from time to time, but when they got close to Billings she suddenly sat up.

“Oh Sean, have you ever seen the mountains so beautiful? All the colors are so vivid, it’s as if I’m seeing the world for the first time.”

“It is beautiful, Mary, it is all so beautiful.”


By Professor Batty

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Waiting for Lady Gaga II

Harpa, Reykjavík, October 2012

   Lost in the now. A non-event, nothing happened. Yet within these organisms are billions of cells, each with its own strands of DNA, each cell living in coordination with the others. The code is complete; it has been refined through thousands of generations. Pinnacles of evolution,  now motivated by a culture of conflicting desire and conformity.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Friday, July 18, 2014

On the Road, Again

This is chapter 10 of The Matriarchy, a serial fiction novel on FITK

Mary and Sean were leaving Idaho, driving through the Clearwater National Forest, heading into Montana. Mary was taking the first shift, hoping that her nausea wouldn’t flare up again.

“I was never really aware of how big the world was until I helped my stepmother move,” she said. “When I was young my world ended at the Bainbridge Ferry.”

“She’s in Santa Fe, right?” said Sean.

“Yes, she’s been down there for fifteen years, since the divorce. She loves it there. It’s too dry for me.”

“Do you ever hear from your stepfather? He’s still in Seattle isn’t he?”

“He lives in the University district. He doesn’t have much to do with either of us. I don’t think he was ever comfortable with the idea of adoption; I’ve never quite figured out the dynamic between him and my stepmom. He acted as if he was open-minded and progressive. I think that what he really thought was that adopting a black child would prove to the world how morally superior he was. I would characterize him as a ‘distant’ father.”

“What about your stepmother? Why did she want to adopt?”

“She wanted a baby, she was infertile, although later on, when I was a teenager, I think she regretted it.”

“Was that because you are black?”

“No, it was more about the fact that she could never appreciate my nerdiness. I think she read too many articles about D&D players being devil-worshipers. When the internet took off in the mid-nineties I started to make some real money gaming.  She thought I was doing something illegal.”

“Which you were?”

“I understood how to game the games. It was my ‘gateway drug’ to data mining.”

“And now you’ll be going cold turkey?”

Mary paused before answering.

“I never thought I’d say it, but I’ve come to the conclusion that there are better ways to live than interacting with a computer all day.”

“Is that one of the reasons you became pregnant?”

“Having a baby is beyond reason. My new role model: Supermom. Besides, your Icelandic love-child needs a cousin.”

“Hmm. It seems like a pretty half-baked plan for starting a dynasty. That child could  be Billy’s,” said Sean.

“A cousin either way,” said Mary, “I do wonder why you got that photo of the child, with no letter attached. I would think that his mother would be looking for some child support or, at least, an acknowledgment. We should have our lawyers look into it when we get back.”

“A guilt trip? Or maybe the Senator’s lawyers got to her first. He has a history of paying out hush money.”

If they know about her and the baby. You didn’t tell anyone about her, did you?”

“Sally O'Donnell knew I had seen her, but that’s all—as far as I know. They thought she was one of Billy’s girlfriends. I don’t know if they followed up on her.”

“That’s the Montana border ahead, Missoula is another 45 miles, let’s get something to eat there and then you can drive. I want to check in with the legal team.”

“Cold turkey, huh?”

“That sounds delicious. No, I just want to see what happened while we were gone.”

“And I should call Tina; let her know when we’ll be there. If we push it, we can make Rapid City tonight and Decorah tomorrow.”

“That’s a couple of very long stretches. We should stop in Billings instead; we’ve got time. Let’s stay off the interstate, the world can get along without us for another day. Call your Aunt tomorrow.”

“Sounds like a plan… a fully baked plan.”

“I’m starting to like being out of the loop… ” Mary said, “… no clients, no employees, no one scrutinizing my every move.”

“Inscrutable Supermom. I like it.”

“Please don’t become a ‘Distant Dad.’ I’ll need you with me on this.”


Mary slammed on the brakes as a mule deer bounded in front of the car, missing it by inches. The scent of burning rubber filled the cabin. Visibly shaken, Mary pulled the car over to the side of the highway.

“You O.K.?”

“That was too close,” Mary said, turning off the engine, “I think it’s your turn to drive, Sean.”

They got out of the car to change places. After undergoing a couple of hours of road noise, the silence of the forest was palpable. Sean put his arms around Mary, she was trembling.

“Are you sure you’ll be OK?” asked Sean.

“I’ll be fine in a minute. I… when that deer was in front of us, she turned and looked at me, there was something in the eyes… it was as if she knew me.”


By Professor Batty

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Thirty Years Ago…

Stacy, Minnesota, July 1984

   Looking back at the pictures of the kids is always bittersweet, although there is little to be gained in going over the "what might have beens". The kids turned out OK, in spite of some setbacks and lapses in judgement on my part. These were good times, to be sure: the children were given the freedom to play, fresh air, good food to eat, clean water to drink, a safe place to sleep; with each new day offering new opportunities.

   That is more than many kids have; the horrid wars of hatred still fester, stealing the childhoods of many. But this day, thirty years ago, this day was perfect.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Sam's Fence

   Down at the end of the block is Sam's place, noteworthy for its magnificent yard full of gnomes, milk cans, butterflies and other decorations. As long as I've lived here the spindly fence around Sam's yard has always been in a state of decay.  Sam always patches it up, I'll see him working on it while out on my evening constitutional.  I'll say hello, he doesn't talk much, but is always friendly.

   This has been a 'good' year for garage sales.  Good tools, three boxes full of primed cedar shakes (which I put on the front of the garage to match the house) and some other supplies I know I'll use.  Of course when ever things like that are for sale it means that another old guy has hung it up, either incapacitated or gone, leaving a widow and/or children with his lifetime of accrued possessions. My turn is coming, I've already gotten rid of a lot of stuff I thought I'd never use, but a lot remains. Actuary tables suggest that I've got at least a couple more decades to go, but then again, it could be tomorrow. And if I do go longer the house will need upkeep, so I keep buying stuff.

   It's been a couple of months since I've seen Sam.

   His fence needs work.

UPDATE: Sam's story continued here

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Stormy Weather

This is chapter 9 of The Matriarchy, a serial fiction novel on FITK

Seattle's tech community is all a twitter over the latest news that the secretive data mining firm Applied Diffusion Research (ADR) has been bought out by Amasales, the internet marketing colossus. Founder Mary Robinson and her partner Sean Carroll have reportedly each received a seven figure payoff in the sale, with additional stock options for Ms. Robinson. Sean was notorious for his role in the Billygate affair (which sank Senator Clarkson's 2012 presidential bid) but had fallen off the radar in recent months. Mary has always been a shadowy figure, even to those who worked with her, none of the ex-ADR employees we contacted would speak to us, but others who have dealt with her in the past have described her as brilliant and ‘driven. It is thought that by purchasing ADR Amasales was seeking to beef up its communications security, recent embarrassing incidents have led Amasales to rethink its approach to data encryption. ADR's proprietary systems proved to be unhackable during the Billygate affair, a system without an NSA 'backdoor' according to experts in the field.

As a couple, Mary and Sean have been seen together more often since Sean's return from Washington D.C.. Mary has also been spotted with Molly Berenson, Sean's former girlfriend, starting tongues in the tight-knit tech community wagging. Pictures and more on page 5.

“Oh, Mary,” Sean said, embracing her.

“Careful, you wouldn’t want to squeeze any more barf out of me,” Mary said, “I’ve just surprised you with the news that I’m pregnant, I’m reeking of puke and yet you still put your arms around me. Most men would run away. Your mother must have done something right when she was raising you.”

“And my Aunt Tina,” said Sean, “I know what I want and I want you, and our baby. Anyway, what’s a little vomit between friends? There’s mouthwash in my shaving kit.”

“I never thought I’d have a man, much less a baby, but there is something about all this, the things we’ve gone through… how we got together… it’s as if we’re in some weird techie rom-com. Do you think, maybe, there is some greater force at work?” Mary’s eyes were glistening.

“Destiny? Sure, why not? Stranger things have happened. To me. Mary, this is such a great thing. For us. Mary… are you crying?”

“I’m going to use that mouthwash now,” Mary turned away and went back into the bathroom.

A low rumble in the distance signaled the approach of a storm. Sean went out onto the  small balcony where he could see lightning sparking over the distant mountains. A thunderstorm here was different than one in Seattle. It was also different from the glorious thunderstorms he experienced as a child, in Iowa. Here the sky was open, almost clear in spots, with its ethereal electrical discharges playing among thin clouds—not like the massive Iowa thunderbolts that burned jagged paths to the ground. Sean heard the bathroom door open and saw Mary come out. Joining him on the balcony, she wrapped her arms around him and kissed him.

“You’re a good man, Sean… ” she whispered, “… may nothing ever come between us.”

Roger Ramsen, alone in his home office, scrolled down the front page of Tech Creeper. His eyes narrowed when he read about Mary and Sean’s buyout. It was obvious from the article that he had not been the only person interested in the couple. He picked up his phone and entered a speed dial code.

"Ayup," came a terse reply.

“Ramsen here. What is the latest information you have on Carroll and Robinson, besides what I can read in the online tabloids? Any reaction to the baby picture we sent Sean? Any scandalous actions at all?”

"No reaction to the photo that we know of. No records of any calls or trips to Iceland. Your guy is a deadbeat dad. I've got some photographs of him and Robinson coming out of a dive bar, but it's nothing really. They don't lead the most exciting lives."

“What about the surveillance cameras on their apartment, anyone seen going in or out, any parties?”

"Nobody went in or out but them. What are you looking for?"

“I need something to discredit them: drug dealers, hackers, spies; what about that Molly woman—she was connected to that guy who got out of prison—there's a picture of Mary and her together in a coffee shop in the Tech Creeper story, ferchristssake. Have you looked at all the surveillance footage?”

"Everything but the night footage of their balcony. They turn off the lights around ten and then they get up around six."

“Did you look at it at all? Look again, look at all of it, there has to be something.”

"OK, Mr. Ramsen. There's ten hours of it at one frame per second, it will take a while, even at a faster playback."

“Call me when you’ve finished.”

Ramsen hung up. He was tired but too agitated to sleep. He surfed the net, intently, as if he was on the verge of a great discovery.  After an hour of this restless behavior, he was interrupted by a knock on the door.


Sally O'Donnell walked in.

“Aren't you going to bed? It’s after midnight,” she said.

“In a minute… ” Roger said, “Just a few things I'm working on”

As he was speaking the phone chirped.

“Excuse me,” He picked up the receiver, “Ramsen here.”

"Good News, bad news. Good news: I've got something. I put the best shots in an email, they're still raw, but you'll get the idea."

His computer flashed a notification in the corner.

“I’ve got them.”

Ramsen opened the files. The images were of Mary on her balcony with arms upraised. She was naked.

Sally looked over his shoulder at the screen.

“Great work, where are Robinson and Carroll now?” said Ramsen into the phone.

"That's the bad news. They're gone, the last confirmed sighting was at 1100 hours, boarding the Edmonds ferry. The tail that I had following them missed the cut-off. They haven't returned. The Olympic Peninsula is pretty big."

“They’ll turn up. Get those files enhanced and send them to me in the morning.”

"Ayup Roger, over and out."

Roger hung up.

“Roger, this is still about Sean and Mary, isn’t it?” asked Sally. “Why won’t you leave them alone?”

“He’s not going to get away with this. He’s got money now, enough for a lawsuit. He’ll try to take Clarkson for every penny he has.”

“What is that picture supposed to prove?”

“It proves that that black bitch of his is a witch.”

Next Chapter: On the Road Again

By Professor Batty

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Yellow Submarine

Apple Films

   Some songs gain a life beyond the music and lyrics. Paul McCartney's simple child's ditty (written with a little help from his friends) is one of a number of Beatles songs which have entered the gestalt: a structure, configuration, or pattern of physical, biological, or psychological phenomena so integrated as to constitute a functional unit with properties not derivable by summation of its parts*  (or something to that effect.)

   The song's charm starts with the first line of the first verse with all the other nouns equally evocative; starting with a routine tale (town—born—man—sea—life—land) and throwing in the kicker, submarines, turning the story into an exotic adventure:
In the town where I was born
Lived a man who sailed to sea
And he told us of his life
In the land of submarines
   The next verse turns surreal, with a trip to the sun and its mysterious sea of green:
So we sailed up to the sun
Till we found the sea of green
And we lived beneath the waves
In our yellow submarine
   And quickly turns into a party:
And our friends are all on board
Many more of them live next door
And the band begins to play
   Everybody sing!
We all live in a yellow submarine
Yellow submarine, yellow submarine
We all live in a yellow submarine
Yellow submarine, yellow submarine
   And, like the fairy tale which it is, everyone lives happily ever after:
As we live a life of ease
Everyone of us has all we need
Sky of blue and sea of green
In our yellow submarine

   The song began as a tune to give Ringo a vocal presence on Revolver which is perhaps the most critically acclaimed Beatles album. With the exception of Eleanor Rigby, none of the other songs have such a wide appeal. Yellow Submarine grew into a colossus with an animated feature film which was followed by a tsunami of merchandise: toys, clothes, and uncountable ephemera—which continues to this day. Other Beatle songs have inspired art in other forms: Norwegian Wood figures heavily in Haruki Murakami's novel of the same name; the new film The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, draws its title from the song (which was the flip side of the Yellow Submarine single.) In addition to the films starring The Beatles, Sgt. Peppers, Across the Universe, P.S. I Love You, Helter Skelter, Can't Buy Me Love, I Wanna Hold Your Hand and many others show up from time to time. But none of these have had the cultural impact of one of the simplest tunes in the entire Beatles canon.

*Merriam-Webster Online

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Monday, July 07, 2014

The Blazing World

A Novel
by Siri Hustvedt

   This Minnesota-born writer has  attained some measure of repute—not only for her novels—but also for her non-fiction and essays. Recurring themes are mental disorders, Art and its perception, and gender roles. This, her latest book, combines all three in a vigorous mix. It might be a mistake to label it a novel. It is formatted into a series of chapters: each one a journal entry, essay, reminiscence, or other literary device. All of them concern an artist, Harriet (Harry) Burden, and her struggle to be accepted in the male dominated world of the New York gallery scene. As the book unfolds the reader learns things about Harry but because the POV of the different chapters is always changing and the narrators are unreliable the reader is never quite sure whose stories are accurate. Further complicating things is the fact that some of the content in the chapters may have been "written by" Harry under pseudonyms.

   Technically the book is a tour-de-force; the book's conceit, that it is a 'real' biographical study (complete with numerous footnotes and references), never lets up—even to the ending.  Siri's descriptions of Harry's art projects are fascinating (I'd go see them if they were real) as is Harry's struggle to find acceptance for them regardless of the artist's gender. Less satisfying are the facets of the book which cover art scene itself. It was written to make it appear shallow, and it is, to the point of almost making me not care at all about story.

   There's a lot here to enjoy, Hustvedt is a clever writer with an elevated intellect. Not for those with simple tastes (or those desirous of a continuous narrative), but nourishing for those who are up for a challenge.

Image: Werner Pawlok

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Friday, July 04, 2014

Our Own Private Idaho

This is chapter 8 of The Matriarchy, a serial fiction novel on FITK

“That’s an eighties group, isn’t it? Who are they?”

“Umm… they might be They Might Be Giants.”

“Could you turn it off, please.”

Sean and Mary were traveling through southeastern Washington State. During the drive, Mary had complained about carsickness. The cheesy pop music wasn’t helping things any. They had spent the morning in Seattle getting ready for the trip to Sean’s Aunt Tina, in Iowa: packing, paying bills, stopping mail, getting cash. Lots of cash. Their destination for the night was a picturesque Bed and Breakfast in southern Idaho.

They had taken the precaution of starting the trip by going west on the Edmonds-Kingston ferry, then driving south, down the Olympic peninsula, to connect with Highway 16 going east. Miles of empty two-lane had eased Mary’s concern about being followed. Only their lawyers knew that they had left Seattle; Mary told them that they would be ‘camping.’ They had taken along one of ADR’s ‘Roswell Phones’, phones that had been set-up to make any calls made on them to appear to be originating from New Mexico. Mary could monitor any follow-up activity concerning the sale of ADR with the legal team without giving away her location.

“I think that my body is responding to finally letting go of all the stress I’ve been under the last few weeks.” she said.

As Sean drove across the Washington State border, into Lewiston, the sun was beginning to set.

“Pull into that drugstore, I need a few things,” said Mary, “I’ll only be a minute.”

It was almost dark when they drove up to the B&B.

“Good choice, Sean,” Mary said, as they were unpacking, “I’m feeling better already.”

“I’m feeling better too,” said Sean, “Now that we’re out of Washington, our ‘vacation’ can really start. Shall we go out for supper?”

“You know, I’d just as soon stay in and lie down a while. Would you go and get some takeout? Just a sandwich—nothing spicy—ham and cheese or a turkey club. Fruit juice. I saw a deli on the way into town.”

On the way to the deli, Sean found himself checking his mirror for suspicious cars. Compared to Seattle, Lewiston was like a ghost town. Sean had been on edge, but as he drove the nearly empty streets he could feel the rope of tension between his shoulders start to unwind. The deli wasn’t crowded and, outside of the clerk taking his order, no one even glanced at him.

My cloak of invisibility must be working,” he thought, smiling.

To be invisible, to disappear, wasn’t that the reason he had come to the West Coast in the first place? And now he was going back to his roots—not exactly home—but to the place he where he had taken his first steps, where his dear Aunt Tina had taken care of him until he was old enough to be in daycare. Those early years on the farm were happy memories. The haze of time had given them a golden glow; it was as if he had been living in his own Garden of Eden. Sean also remembered crying on the day he left the farm to live with his mother in her apartment in D.C.  He thought about the good times he had with his mother when he was little: reading stories, going to the park, how she encouraged his interests. Then he thought about the times she would look at him with what seemed to be sadness in her eyes. No, it wasn’t sadness, it was longing, that longing was what he remembered most about his mother.

“Sir? Your order is ready, sir,” Sean’s reverie was broken by the clerk, who handed him his food.

He returned to the B&B. Mary was in the bathroom, with the door shut, when he entered their room. As he placed the bag from the deli down on the table Mary came out and sat down. She was trembling. A faint scent of sick was in the air.

“Are you alright?” Sean asked.

“A little queasy, but better now,” Mary said, as she poured herself a glass of apple juice. “I'll sip on this and… ” She got up quickly and went into the bathroom and shut the door. Five minutes later she came out, sat down and began drinking the juice.

“You really aren’t feeling well, are you?” Sean was alarmed.

“No, I’m OK, it will pass,”  Mary shuddered, then was calm, “I’m O.K.. Really.”

“Is there anything I can do for you? There’s some chicken soup here.”

“I’ll try the soup in a minute. You sit down. Eat,” Mary paused. She forced a smile and took a deep breath, “You and me. A romantic getaway.  Our own private Idaho.”

“You’re all right?” said Sean.

“Sean… ”


“I was pretty sure about this before, but now I know… what it is that’s going on. When I stopped at the drug store I picked up a kit.”

“A kit?”

“Sean, I’m pregnant.”

Next Chapter: Stormy Weather

By Professor Batty

                                                                                     All original Flippism is the Key content copyright Stephen Charles Cowdery, 2004-2024