Thursday, September 29, 2005

Will Someone Dust Off the Bully Pulpit?

Barring the odd riot or Force Majeure event (such as Hurricanes Andrew or Katrina, or the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906), the U.S. has had comparatively few incentives to remake or modernize the way we design our living spaces. The prevalent opinion has been, "Heating oil's a buck a gallon; it ain't broke, so we ain't fixing it." It takes a major disaster, or a prolonged, high intensity conflict, to even think about rebuilding on a serious scale, and then, innovations are shoved aside for quick (cheap) fixes.

We haven't had a major donnybrook here since the Civil War, and it's not on the table as an option now. Which leaves us with natural disasters as a prime mover.( Speaking of civil, to keep the topic manageable, let's just pretend that the only possible disasters are ones that we have already seen, or have first-hand knowledge of, such as tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes or droughts.)

As we have seen from time to time, any of these weather events may inflict enormous destruction to life and properties in their respective paths, and sizable numbers of dislocated citizens in their wakes. As to manmade disasters (such as Lake Baikal or our own Three-Mile Island), it's fairer to say that we're better at selling the "benefits" of a course of actions, than we are at acknowledging the risks of pursuing them. We get zero points for professing naivete, after the fact.

A little light might dispel a bit of the darkness from this topic. It occurs to me that, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina especially, we are getting some messages in very clear terms:

1) Disasters, especially large-scale events like this, offer the opportunity for pundits and politicos alike to vainly assign knowable costs or predictable timetables to set things aright. Hyperbole and blame set aside, there are few comparable precedents with accurate enough accounting to predict either of these with much confidence. Historically, clean-up efforts have begun with much fanfare, only to die with a whimper at a later date.

2) Hurricane Rita, following close on the heels of Katrina, offered a grim reminder that, despite our superior technology and armed forces, our ability to preempt Mother Nature is not amenable to quick-fix approaches. Our previous attempts at jury-rigging the system (including the Army Corps of Engineers' efforts to unkink the Mississippi River) have, if anything, shown how much attention we spend on cautious analysis, and how little we spend on correcting known problems after the fact.

3) Many Americans still see disasters as a kind of "pay per view" event, but with twinges of compassion as an added incentive (Note: I'm not mocking or denigrating compassion, nor the desire to help those who need it. But, I am making a comment about the general inability to directly help from a distance, except through donations of food, clothing or money. The simple truth is, most of us are not mentally or fiscally able to drop whatever else we do with our lives, and pick up a hammer or shovel. We do as our consciences dictate, within our own limitations.) The real risk here is a false sense of security that stands to be unmasked, should nature's fury be directed into our own neighborhoods. Recent history continues to provide unlikely examples for us to learn from.

Part of the preparation for the unthinkable lies in the acknowledgement of what is possible, talking heads aside. How we, as the recipients of disasterous events, will cope with ourselves and our fellowmen turns largely on our personal perceptions and our abilities to see ourselves as either donors or recipients of aid, and how we, person to person, react to the situation. As a nation, we have seen that putting ourselves in the correct mindset (or even, an approximation thereof) to be of any use takes more time than is typically available. Putting the question in slightly different terms may change the way we view the answers: "Which parts of the problems created by disasters don't have purely monetary answers?" or, "Are there any parts of the problem that are not expeditiously solved by throwing bucketsfull of cash at them?" I'll wager that there are many places where sweat equity is the right currency, as, where, and when required.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Back To The Empirical Salt Mines

After dalliances with one field of technology or another, over more years than I can believe have passed, I finally have to admit that most of them have been, glamorous, sexy, and ultimately, bad news for humanity. Mea culpas are like noses, though; Everyone's got one. The mystery looming in my path is,"Is there a way to re-establish a foothold in humanity, and manifest a genuine concern for interactions with real, flesh-and-blood people?" It may sound a little demented, but I'm actually regressing in the field of face-to-face communications. I've set myself up in a small cocoon from which I radiate whatever messages I please, real or contrived, to whomever I wish, actual or virtual, at any time of the day or night.

Reliance on a purely electronic umbilical strikes me as a dangerous and slippery dependency, like a diet based on the exclusive consumption of red gum drops. I'm pretty sure that one of the reasons why my first reaction to news of any sort is one of strident skepticism stems directly from my lackadaisical interaction with other people, and a willingness to shut out messy, high-maintenance attachments to people, places, and ideals that are really deserving of better treatment.

I can say that a blog is a sort of anonymous sandbox wherein any moat, bridge, castle or sculpture is possible. Of course, playtime must be modulated by other demands upon the day, even the ones that you'd be perfectly content to ignore for just a few more minutes. I seem to function best with a binary, "all, or none at all" self-discipline.

Therein lies the rub.

I know my life's around here somewhere, wherever mislaid. And I know that there are people in that life, people sorely tested for a hug, handshake, pat on the back, or kick in the pants, things that are hard to accomplish from behind my monitors. Especially if I have been paying enough attention to even notice. Beyond that, there are more people I still haven't met, but will, if I get off of my ass and share what there is to share of life. I imagine the day when the networks are down, through some oversight or screw-up, and what was merely an option, suddenly becoming a necessity. Rather than waiting for atrophy to hold sway, or for neglect to achieve an insurmountable head start, I propose that I'll go forth and try to scout up a quorum. With luck, I'll run across some newly-liberated miscreants to swap fishing stories, and generally make a fuss over. That is, if they're not heads-down in the middle of a post.

The news gets better. I'll be writing fewer posts, and reading more of _your_ stuff.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Twice?

I continue to accumulate seemingly trivial wisdom. While it's possible to drive west through water's reunion, it's not a good idea, on average. This lesson was perfectly obvious, in hindsight "Hmm. So these masterstrokes of brilliance come in different grades of sensibility. Interesting... still, how often does one face those 'one-off' decisions?" , sitting at the crest of the ridge. Life camoflaged it's repetitions well, with a sophistication commensurate to the intellectual horsepower challenged. After an hour or so of navigation like a rat in a maze, I sat shading painful brilliance from sunlight that bounced from everywhere. Behind me, a series of iffy traversals and nebulous assumptions about navigability, the view before me would have been a beautiful meringue to a poet, but to me, it was the piece of a damned clever way into work on an impassable day, the one bit that was still up for grabs. Expensive, boxy little townhouses would later provide reference points on the right ridge, but on this sunlit day, all that was obvious was the very terrain itself, and that only in a vague way. Tabla rasa. My trusty heap, now missing its reverse gear, mumbled uncertainly into the snow which began at its fenders and spreaded irregularly to infinity, in all directions.

Almost. Just over the ridge lies the last leg of the course, a road which must be open, regardless of Mother Nature's whims. I've driven this route, hundreds of times, so many times that I could drive it... The drifting powder went about its business casually, obscuring every detail of the underlying countryside, the road playing no part in this revisionist landscape. The absense of any tracks meant that nobody had taken this path in hours, which would mean driving it as though I was... ...blindfolded. ...blind.

Maybe it was the flaky radio voices' influence, but I've occasionally found myself either humming or singing obsolete little tunes, to myself. I was out, alone in this pristine whiteness, and no real way of going back. I yanked the shifter down, startling the numb tires.

"It's now, or never..."

Friday, September 16, 2005

Had I been this way, once?

Stately. Implacable in their slow procession, the glaciers had rested here momentarily. Lucky ice punched no ones clock, agreed to be nowhere at any moment in history. Above, some 40 miles north, mountains like crumpled bedsheets had, in their newness, thought to impede the flow, but few tears were shed as the slab made its way forward and downward, to where it met the water in the estuary. It's path wore the effects of both the march and the odd hiatus, these lakes being the latter. As if to say, "You see? No need for concern, but water stands to meet water. Please, step aside. "

There are times to proceed, with a will, and other times when the standing's the thing, a moment of contemplation, usually preceding some folly.

It had been raining like a son of a bitch - several inches an hour, for several hours. The romantic notion of being the warrior returning from the outermost picket, combined with the inexperienced judgement of the age, had led me where lunatics only dare follow. Nothing left but the heavy sighs of the receding winds, the tears ceased falling, but continued to roll. I stopped. The guard wire rails peeked provocatively from where the two adjacent lakes at last reunited. The guard rails were of braided steel cable, intended only to slow the ingress of foolish motorists into one or the other, without impeding the lovely view of the lakes. Beneath the widening connection, the roadway rose up on a berm, now submerged. Yeah, I can do it. The guard rails are below the grade line, and I can still see the tops of the posts. Just keep the car centered, and I'll be through in a jiffy. Easy, easy does it.

At least, the air was fresh. I rolled up the windows and started the old beast up again. I used up the last of my visible roadway, aiming it toward the next stretch of visible pavement, only about 500 feet away, picking up a little momentum before the old tires began negotiations with the rising waters. Here's one for the journal: While you live, in situations like this, you'll have time to think about the course you've chosen.

The tires continued their negotiations, despite a somewhat weakened position. Roughly 150 feet into the venture, all four tires had surrendered any contact with the road beneath. Regardless, the rear wheels continued to churn, although the car had lost interest and was instead yawing gently, slowly to the left. The lake was before me, and the guardwire below me, but the car was content to windmill gently. The road behind me was now before me, but only for a moment, as the car scanned the lake to its left (which had been on the right). This was all wildly interesting.

In the meantime, neither lake could agree to accept my car, and the procession drifted onward, despite any reasonable alternate outcome. Seconds or hours later, the right front tire touched terra firma again, through some oversight. Hmm, what's the rulebook say about good right front tire only contact? A moment of concern?

See? Piece of cake...

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Where's the Joy in Fission?

Seems like that question's been coming up pretty often, these days. You can probably imagine that any talk of increased fishin' makes me nervous, but it looks like you land-walkers may already have a bigger problem with fission, in it's many forms. Damned unfortunate homonym's got everyone sleeping in their boots, when they sleep at all.

Okay, so there's no confusion about fission vs fusion, fusion's when you jam two (or more) things together to make a single, different element, fission's when you split things apart. Fishin's when you drink a lot of beer, lie about the one that got away (me, in most cases), and make a nuisance of yourself, by throwing hooks, lures, and empties into the water. As far as I can see, people do just fine with some parts of fusion, but don't deal with fission very well at all.

Maybe a better word would be disaggregation, since folks devote enormous resources separating themselves, by degrees, from everyone else. Are you all worried about losing that special little sump'n sump'n, my unique snowflakes?

Speaking on behalf of fish everywhere, there are times when that good old pioneering spirit can lead you straight into the jaws of something worse. Fish are learning something new, every minute of every day, and yet we often still travel in schools. This little subterfuge serves, among other things, to present the image of something just slightly more cumbersome than a convenient, bite-sized snack, to the predators.

It occurs to me that we fish already know a little about traveling in schools, something that you terrestrials will just have to learn, along your path of devolution.

The sad truth about group socialization is that it's not the big picnic that it might seem to be. Most of us either don't even know, or else, actively dislike our neighbors, but to the extent that groups fulfill other survival needs, we've figured out that alone isn't always the right modus vivendi. So, we swim together in the moment, setting aside grudges and grumbles while we must, and eat the fry when we can. When the going gets tough, we pull together (and the going's usually tough): When the going gets tough for people, they send email or leave voicemail ...or fly planes into buildings - anything to avoid their human abilities to reason and survive.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

A Popular Treat

Another week draws to an end, and with it, thoughts turn to the familiar pleasures of a simpler life. There are those who would argue that shoveling out trenches IS the simpler life, but even I have moments when I've seen enough dirt and debris for a while. I just want to set aside my shovel, find a comfortable seat, and get my hands on some good, old-fashioned, Vanilla pudding.

Believe me, I hold the world record for most burnt teapots, saucepans and such, but I think that I've found tasty pudding recipes, particularly Vanilla pudding, that even I can manage. I'm a little gunshy though, and besides, I haven't made my monthly trip to Martha Stewart's sand-blasting shop- there's not a useable saucepan in the house. Pick a color that goes with whatever you're having (the link lists various flavors which suggest effortless textures and lovely pastel shades), and whip up a batch. Goes down smooth, doesn't it? Could easily become a dietary staple, if you don't watch your diet.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Whereness

"Eh? ... Wassat?... Tuba mirums spargen sonum? Wuz dawg barking?"

Befuddled and torpid, the confused perceptions stumbled out, sotto voce, in each others way. Let's start by getting this blanket off of my face. Sometimes, it makes sense to hold your tongue, until you can make sense of your circumstances.

4:13 AM. Blackout. 4:13 AM. Blackout. 4:13 AM. Blackout. 4:14 AM. Blackout.

Sitting up seemed like a good first step, while the rest of my sensibilities checked in. Coming to upright was pretty much what I'd expected, like being wrapped in rug and bludgeoned with large clubs. So dark. An oversized alarm clock was about it for ambient light, revealing more and less than I wanted to know.

"mmm... ozzat...mmm." Dreaming, a knee dragged a calf and a thigh across another thigh. Like a cello but bent, sacral dimples where the f holes belonged, a slight shift of flesh. Curly tendrils. Arch top is right. One sheet to her back, three to the wind, that ship sailed on. I sat, swimming, on the quay.

I seem to recall that from before but it had been behind me for most of my visit. A passing car, lights leering through the blinds, climbing the wall like a tiger, revealing in its languid stride a gun rack. Rifles and shotguns. Well, I know where I'm not. Where am I? Gravity's a funny thing. Must drive off the urge to chuckle, and figure out where my clothes have landed. Shaking my head slowly: That made two cases of unexplained landings last night, at least.

Tongue. Dry, but functional. Check. The thing to do is lick my shoulder. Yes, it tastes, and therefore, probably smells like a salt lick at the zoo. Fix it later. Better to stink and leave a doubt, than receive a double buckshot enema and confirm it. While I'm waiting for the seriousness of the matter to shove aside the image of her saturnine grin, may as well get dressed. How is it that that sticks in my mind? Breathe a little there, Sir Galahad. A quest for true romance could not have survived the wreckage of last night's gauntlet. You were simply a cut of meat not shown on her menu. With a cold shower and a few aspirin, yon maiden can figure out the reason for her sudden change of tastes, -another tiger prowled the window- and explain it, to whoever needs to know.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Murky Merriment

Now, I can imagine you land-walkers up there, looking down into the water and wondering, "What an idyllic life fish must have! All they have to do is swim around, looking at beautiful coral reefs, shipwrecks, and stuff. No cell phones, no laptops, no business meetings to disturb their tranquility- just endless gliding through the shimmering, shadowy light. It must be kind of boring, though. Wonder what they do, to pass the time?"

I'll take your look of puzzlement to mean that you're curious. Well, mostly, it's about the game, down here. Let's face it, we're not much use as beasts of burden, most of us aren't set up to lay around fucking all day or fixing broken appliances, and though there are lots of interesting objects down here, we can't pick them up and do things with them, the way you folks can. So we made up a game, out of what's left us as options: swimming, getting bigger, squirting other fish, and trying not to be eaten. The rules are pretty simple- you're born anonymous, and you remain in the game until you're dead.

Grouse all you want, just don't upset the gameboard or distract the players. To the extent that minnows may aspire to one day be sharks, the game proceeds, heedless of time or tide.

That's actually a slight exaggeration, as the players keep peeled weather eyes of their own, ever vigilant that fortune cuts no side-deals, forms no adverse alliances with opponents. Lesser fish emulate the playing style of greater fish, and so on, down into the very spectators in the crowd. Unlike games with fixed, finite rules, you really do miss things if you show up late or bow out early, as both players and viewers frequently miss important signals while the game's in play.

As a zero-sum game, the goal is to finish the game all alone at the top, with no competitors or spectators, no cheerleaders or trainers on the sidelines, the whole prize firmly under fin.

It's actually an accomplishment in itself that the game has gravitated to these rules. Not too long ago, it was common for errors to pass undetected, and be corrected as part of the ongoing tactics, simply because the scoring and referees weren't up to snuff. All that's changed now, thanks to modern decision-making tools, though fewer minnows will find themselves promoted into sharkdom. As things stand, fewer sharks or minnows are actually required, and of course, shrimp have long since been marginalized. There's a long list of applicants, awaiting certification as plankton.

We can probably tighten up plankton requirements in this round- a fine strategic move, for a bright new shark. The focus seems to be on getting the sharks, vice-sharks, and the various assistants-to-vice-sharks to continue to play the game, subsisting on one another while making their own tactical maneuvers, even as the game discounts their relevance to the outcome.

All of this sounds rather boring, with a predictable outcome, but nothing could be farther from the truth. The sharks and their minnions have turned the tables on the hierarchical rules, to the utter fascination of the audience, and are now dancing, singing, and performing sleights-of-hand to disguise their own lack of value to the game.

An earlier variation of the game incorporated these built-in entertainments at a lower hierarchical level, but the game moves on, minus those hierarchies which were eliminated earlier in this game, and so these masters of predation find themselves roused from their fitful naps. and pressed into service directly. New phalanxes of combatants, mercenaries for the most part, must be conjured as though out of thin air, battle hardened and ready to start kicking asses, formed up for orders, resplendent in blues and greys. Behold, orders have been off over the last couple of years, and the regiments grow restive. Jeering from the audience is a sure sign of disapproval, and the hecklers question the usefulness of all of these excess soldiers. But the wily sharks at the top are about their business, and unleash yet newer variations of the game, which entertain and confuse the dwindling crowds.

The sharks are an odd bunch. Spectators seem to really think of them as harbingers of good fortune, natural leaders for any large undertaking. The sharks are content to foster this illusion, to the extent that it frees them to make any such undertaking smaller. Their true versatility lies in their ability to chew up opponents, then, when opponents are scarce, to adjust their diets to include their own friends and family. So, another aspect of the game rests with spectators, namely, determining how and when to just watch the game, rather than becoming a participant. Sometimes, a different venue is the right answer.

At any rate, the sharks really are gifted tacticians, even during relatively slow stretches of the competition. You might be thinking, "The shark could keep those excess legions around as snacks.", and you'd be partly right. But take the sharks point of view: The game itself is what keeps his predators away, not the end of the game. Besides, who wants to waste energy, chasing snacks? Better, more colorful, to have the legions advance in ranks, and eat each other from time to time, if there are no other adversaries around. Then, after the smaller fry have been consumed, show the survivors why you're the Boss by eating a few freshly stuffed legionaires. Sends the right kind of message, sets the proper tone, eh?

So, there you have a few seconds worth of play by play analysis from our game down here. You land- walkers ought to be glad that there's nothing like that, in your world. If I don't get eaten first, I'll tell you a little more about it some, another time.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Here To Kill Time, Not People

Man! Am I tired of hearing variants of that old chestnut, "History repeats itself" - It doesn't repeat, but it does bend all the screws, imitating itself. I take what comfort there is from the words of those who have been down this road before, but only fleetingly. I stumbled across a few quotations from some dead Romans, who knew a little about mixing it up in a "civilized" world. Apart from being an Emperor, Marcus Aurelius was a Stoic, which means (at least, to me) that he'd rather pay for the lesson once than twice- something to keep in mind, if it turns out that our money's no good here. For one reason or another, I got many more hits on old Marcus than on his other fraternity friends. Ah well, "when yer roamin', do as the Romans do...", however the saying actually goes. I wonder how these pearls of wisdom have weathered the ages?

"That which comes after ever conforms to that which has gone before." -- Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (121-180), Roman Emperor

Okay. So far, so good: Our struggle to plant the seeds of democracy in the torrid wastelands of Iraq, lead them to promised land of social and civil rectitude, etc., is seen variously as: An unsolicited attempt to undo the years of abuse by a hated despot; A shameless grab for oil by a global bully; A valiant attempt by a smaller, weaker nation to retain it's national sovereignty against a far superior interloper. Wonderful! There are plausible (if superficial) explanations for any point of view one supports,wrapped in bunting and presented in a familiar military context.

"Look beneath the surface; let not the several quality of a thing nor its worth escape thee." -- Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (121-180), Roman Emperor

Alright, so none of these explanations really holds water, by itself. By many accounts, Iraq was already one of the most progressive nations in that part of the world,

(NB: Progressive, by western standards. Like some other countries, they had their share of repressive sociopolitical issues, and probably still will, when the smoke clears.)

with a history of moderate religious tolerance, women's rights, and relatively stable society. In other words, a perfect candidate for comparison to, and malignment by, western societies and their standards of discourse.

I admit, I was quick to the conclusion that this was simply a play for oil (~112 billion barrels of reserves, by estimates), but there's something a bit hollow in that reasoning. Iraqs oil has been under embargo for nearly 15 years, during which world demand has presumably been steadily increasing. Even assuming that there's been a black market trade in Iraqi crude all along, a lot of their oil's still in the ground. Much ado has been made of resurrecting oil from Iraq, but there are perfectly sound reasons why it's been slow to happen- many of them painted desert camo, a few wearing turbans. Basically, the oil stays put, until the fighting stops and the searches for terrorists and WMDs is done. While that's going on, there's this big standing army, parked right on top of a "closed" reservoir of oil, right in the middle of oil country, for an indeterminate duration. If memory serves, one of the reasons that Iraq invaded Kuwait (at the outset of the first Bush Sr. v. Iraq war) was that the Kuwaitis may have been poaching oil from the Iraqis, sort of like sharing the same milkshake through two straws, except there was no offer or request to share. I'm not sure how that all sorted out, after the fires were put out. No doubt it was an honest mistake, one that's long since been resolved. The good news is, so long as there may be bad guys hiding out, planning nastinesses, our standing army should serve as a deterrent watchdog against interested foreign interlopers seeking oil, for years to come. Iraq finds itself in a rather precarious position, sort of like Poland, at the outset of WW2. Obviously, they are located on some prime real estate, smack dab in the middle of the world's oil patch. The entire region seems to be beset by political systems under siege from within and without, meaning that they can probably count on their neighbors to take big bites out of their asses, should trouble arise. That description fits dozens of other flashpoints in the world, in which we manifest little interest. But, when one considers that they have an enormous petroleum reserve, have (or had) the nearest thing to a lay government, and inadequate defenses to protect against a modern army, it's a recipe for a "hostile" takeover. Sadly, the world does not favor leaving them to mistreat their goats, tend to knitting, or generally live by their own lights. It really devolves to a question of, "Which great beast would you have devour you?", or maybe, "What's the best deal you can make, out of a lousy situation?". Either way, the answer is less than transparent, but on the whole, this is probably the best one. It serves US interests in that it doesn't leave the world's main oil producers floundering in a theocratic rat's nest or power vacuum. It may serve Iraq's interests, and the region's, to take a break from their patterns of internecine squabbling and tribalism, if only until the oil's depleted. Ironically, we have our own set of problems with the fusion of religion and basic government. Maybe we can swap notes?

"Whatever happens it all happens as it should; thou wilt find this true, if thou shouldst watch closely." -- Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (121-180), Roman Emperor

I don't know if the good guys ride off into the setting sun on this one, or not. More likely, a world of hurt awaits as the future unfolds, even though this problem - petroleum dependence - is nearing it's end game. We have to shrug off complacency and familiarity with what is, and get to work on whatever is to follow. The same price in upheaval and mayhem is exacted, but one path may involve survival.

"People readily believe what they want to believe." -- Julius Caesar (100-44 BC)

Sunday, September 04, 2005

What Season Is It, Anyway?

A) It's still Summer, for a couple more weeks. Autumn (in the northern hemisphere) doesn't start until the Autumnal Equinox, in a few weeks. From that point on, nights will grow longer, until they hit their maximum duration on the Winter Solstice.

B) It's still Winter, until Spring begins around the 22nd. After that, the days will grow longer, peaking in late December.

C) It's time to start taking an accounting of the crops we've sown, either intentionally, or as a consequence of the profligate cast of seeds to the wind. It is a time to count hands, those who are better at sowing seeds (without regard for the crops harvested), and those who've consigned themselves to reaping the harvest (in whatever form). An exact accounting equals the number of people - every one - with a stake in the harvest. The crops may be classified, as the harvests come in.

D) I take exception to either A), B), or C) as an answer, for reasons I can't quite put a finger on.

E) What's the point of this question?

Extra Credit: Correctly classify your role as being mainly either a reaper or a sower.

Answers may be submitted in ink, lipstick, dust, mud, blood, or using a handy #2 pencil. Take as long as it takes to answer, and for God's sake, check your work.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Stress Reveals Strange Flavors, Given Time

I got a phone call a bit earlier from an old friend of mine, a work colleague from another time and place, I was surprised and vaguely titillated to hear her voice again, after many years of lost contact. The call itself was reasonable enough, even setting aside memories- she was curious to know if I'd heard of any job opportunities in her technical field. With base closures and mergers & acquisitions in the private sector, I could easily imagine that the going was considerably tougher in her search, so I gave her my best steers, and promised to keep an eye out in unusual places for something down her alley. We exchanged a bit of history to cover the years since we last spoke, and handled other questions as delicately and openly as possible, given our imperfect recollections and changed circumstances. I had gotten a call like this a few years ago, from another old college friend, which was both harrowing and electrifying, at the time.

I should probably stop here and allay any fears that this might be a prelude to some juicy, lurid, "kiss and tell" stories. I owe both women rather large debts of gratitude for pulling me out of a social maelstrom that promised to make my life much more complicated than I could have maintained. As I did not explain myself at the time (by either word or deed), I'm hoping to clear away a bit of the mystery, without going into personal details not mine to reveal. Historically, both women had special roles in my life at a time when I was just beginning to consider platonic relationships with women. Don't laugh too hard, even if it seems a naive or nebulous concept; maybe some of my peers can recall similar "issues" from their own pasts. At the time, I remembered the whole man/woman chemistry thing as a formula with some definite flaws, but since most of them seemed to result in a steady, varied sex life, I wasn't bitching about it too much, at least, not at the time. After a while, I began to sense an approaching decision in my road ahead. Over time, the whole experience seemed like a jumbled series of vignettes, including monogamy, monogamy with side relationships, and eventually, a series of flings, with extras. Near the end of this sequence, I decided that there had to be a way to have relationships with women where I could bring something (in fact, almost everything) other than pure physical indulgence. Circumstances more or less chose my two special friends for their parts in working through this. My first caller was (at the time) the girlfriend of one of my oldest friends, who had transfered to another university to finish his degree. I had a part-time job which forced me to drive into the city, which was typically a pleasure in itself. The distance would have separated my friend from his girlfriend, and I was already driving there anyway, so I offered to act as unofficial livery. That worked, until they had a falling out, somewhat later. It was a peculiar potpourri of intimacies- genuine, not the candystore variety that seem to trip most people up. Then as now, my rule was to never complicate friends relationships, for any reason. There was a separate degree of difficulty-she was stunning to behold, and treated me with a kind of rough proximity at all times. This made our two- hour jaunts a bit of an exercise, but at least opened my eyes to the possibility of steering away from physical intimacy without losing a friend.

My recent caller appeared near the end of the merry-go-round. My romantic life was still mostly blood and feathers, but in the midst of it, I decided to ask her out on some fairly innocuous outings. I was surprised when she agreed. We knew each other from a previous job, and she had sublet a room to a girl who I had seen for awhile, so we'd seen each other in more or less close quarters over a few months time. We went to art auctions, movies, sunbathing, after-hours clubs. This was a different challenge, as she radiated an aura of sex as easily as breathing. Again, this was a friendship, with no physical component (neglecting the odd pangs of unrequited lust, for my part). While it lasted, I enjoyed our times together, but time caught up with us all, eventually. All of us wound up on different paths, married people from outside the cauldron (or, from other nearby cauldrons), had kids, etcetera. To the best of my knowledge, one of my friends has gotten a similar call (yet another woman) over the years, but the other lines have been silent. My little circle of male friends and I have survived the years, and kept in touch, but that seems to be the exception to the rule.

I normally wouldn't make any proclamations, either advocating or decrying my private past. Really, who gives a hoot? It was what it was, everyone made it through okay. But don't be surprised if the phone rings, or you find yourself dialing a nearly forgotten number late some night. It's no threat, it's only a part of your past asking, "That time; Were we there? Did it count for something?" A "yes" answer isn't a hanging offense.