Friday, June 20, 2008

Spaniards. Part 1

Way too long to finish in one post.

Spaniards.

When I came here, I had the mistaken belief that people were people the world over. Okay, sure, we all know China and Japan have an almost alien way of life with customs and philosophy that a westerner can’t really fathom. (On the street they have vending machines with not only 40 oz beers in them, but also women’s panties. That’s a culture I would expect to visit and see some major differences from what I am used to.)

Spain, not so much.

I expected to come over here and find that the people were similar to what I had grown up with. A little tanner, a little shorter, more black hair and hopefully too smart to fall for the horrible fashion statement known as “sagging.” But no, not only do their youth wear their pants halfway down their ass, the Mullet is still big here too. This place is a fashion nightmare. On Blackwell’s Ten Worst Dressed list this week it says “1. Victoria Beckham. 2. Lindsay Lohan. 3. Spain.”

Basically, I thought I was going to meet Americans that spoke another language.

Not so.

Spanish culture is shockingly different not just from American culture, but from most parts of Europe as well. In class, students from other parts of Europe express the same shock that I do about certain customs and habits most Spaniards exhibit.

Let’s start the good, move to the different, then finish with the bad.

Spaniards still have a very close family life. It is not uncommon to see an entire Spanish family strolling through a park at eleven in the evening. Teenagers, newborns, grandparents, all out together for a stroll in cool night air at what would be a very late hour anywhere else in the world. And they are very physically affectionate. Mothers will walk hand in hand with a sixteen year old son or have an arm draped over their father, his arm around her waist. One of the peculiarities of the culture is that the children will live at home until they get married. No matter how late that is. Once married, it’s not uncommon for a couple to visit their parents every weekend. And well, they should considering how much they owe them.

We were studying the family unit in Spain in class. There is a photo of a happy family posing with this curious caption underneath it. “Juan (57) and his wife Maria (54) live in Madrid with their three children, Jose (31), Mary (27) and Pilar (24).”

Can you imagine? You know what will help you imagine? “Makin’ babies.” This is a common expression for Wendy and I when we go jogging through a park in Madrid. “Did you see the couple makin’ babies over there?” Over there could be a park bench, or a clump of bushes or the swings or just in the middle of the grass under a tree! When you both live at home with your parents, where else do you go at thirty one years old to get some snuggle time with your date?

I’m happy to say, Spaniards are very proud of their culture and their language. If you are in a bar and ask about a dish, they will happily explain it to you. At the bullring, if the crowd starts to jeer, you can ask the guy next to you what’s wrong and he will happily explain the long history of bullfighting and why this bull is awful or what this matador is doing wrong to illicit catcalls and protest clapping from the audience. Ask them about Jamon and be prepared for a man who will lovingly tell you about the finest meat on the planet, how you should enjoy, how lucky you are that you have never experienced it until now, and please, take this beautiful meat that I am giving you, find a beautiful woman, an expensive bottle of wine and watch the sun go down with her. Please, no other setting is adequate for your first taste of Jamon. He bids you “adios” with a tear in his eye.

Stamina – No one has stamina like a Spaniard. What they lack in peripheral vision, lack of awareness that there are other people in the world, tact and grace, they make up for in stamina. Spaniards can stay awake longer than a college student on Ritalin and Jolt. They can, and do, regularly go out to the clubs until eight in the morning, go home to shower and then head to work. During the two hour lunch siesta, they will sleep in the park then go back to work, finish their shift and then call their friends to see where they are going next. Not just for one day, but for weeks at a time.

I compared notes on this with my friend Peter Jensen whose son is married to a Spaniard. His story is identical to mine. The first thing Spaniards, or even people who have adapted to Spanish culture want to show you is tapas. Tapas is the little snack that comes with each drink that you order. Sometimes, it’s not just the tapas, but maybe a racion that is particularly good. Racion’s you have to pay a small fee for, but they are the food the little bar is famous for. Different bars specialize in different little quantities of food. So, you arrive, you get some sleep, and then it’s time to see Spain. And by Spain, I mean, the bars.

You stop at one quaint little bar with a wall of wine behind the bar and ordered for you are “Seta’s” which is a mushroom with a little alioli sauce on a little piece of toast. Delicious! And so is the wine! Then you are off to another restaurant where the specialty is Gambas al ajillo, which is tiny shrimp fried in olive oil with a small red pepper and a lot of garlic. Oh that’s hot. Also delicious. But you need a beer to wash down that strong garlic and pepper. Then you’re off to a new place that has muscles in a hot tomato sauce. Also amazing and again everyone gets a drink. Then to a bar that specializes in Bacalao which is fried cod pieces that you eat with a toothpick. Just delectable, but a little salty, better have a beer with that. Hey, how far have we walked now? A mile? Three? What time is it? Not quite fortified yet, your hosts would like to hit just a few more tapas places and then, the discotheque! Which is so packed you can’t even move, let alone dance. And the drinks are ten dollars apiece.

At three a.m. I fell asleep standing in a large, tightly packed room playing American pop and stayed there for two hours and never fell over.

Spaniards, and those who have lived here long enough, can go forever. They can drink from two in the afternoon to seven in the morning and then go to work. Large Russian men raised on copious amount of Vodka have been known to beg “no mas. Por favor, no mas!”

“No no, just one more place I have to show you. Okay, maybe two.”

Festivals – Can I even list the amount of things that Europeans have going for them over Americans? (Which isn't to say America is bad, I still love America. It's just that some things, Europe actually does do better. Some things.) Well, let’s start with a small list. Universal Health care is one. Five weeks of vacation a year when you first sign up for a job is another pretty good one. The ability to go to lunch, have a beer or a glass of wine and not only not get fired, but not warrant a second glance is pretty good. Tasteful nudity everywhere. Porn videos discretely sold at every corner newsstand. And of course, the festivals.

In Spain there is a festival every three weeks. Sometimes a bit less than that, often quite a bit more than that. Added on top of that is the very special, and yet, still very common, “puente,” which means bridge in Spanish. For one thing, have you noticed in the states our holidays are one day, and sometimes you don’t even get the day off? July fourth. Labor Day. Halloween. Martin Luther King day. New Year’s day. Two days out of the year, (Thanksgiving and Christmas) you will probably (not guaranteed) get two days off in a row. Woo Hoo! Lucky you!

There’s a reason we’re the most medicated country in the world.

Spaniards would riot and burn all of Spain to the ground if they got as few days off as Americans.

Many Holidays in Spain last two days. Some last three. Some three weeks. And they don’t move holidays depending on what day it falls on to maximize the work week. No. If a Holiday falls on Thursday, then they have a four day weekend. A Puente. If no one is coming to work on Thursday, why would you work on Friday? Wouldn’t a four day weekend be much better? Of course it would, so everyone takes one. And they don’t use vacation days either. This a puente. The business just doesn’t open. The best puentes are when there is a holiday on Tuesday and Thursday. Free week off for everyone! (Well, everyone except the service industry which is always the worst industry in the world to work for because of this. Really, who wants to work on Christmas? )

In May there was a two day holiday. Madrid’s second of May is similar to Mexico’s “Cinco de Mayo” or fifth of May, celebrating the kicking of Napoleon’s ass. Now, the second of May was actually on a Friday, but for some reason, Thursday and Friday were both Holidays. Maybe they were off on Thursday so they could get ready for the holiday. I don’t know. School was closed both days. One of my teachers asked if we could have class on Tuesday instead of Wednesday because she was leaving early Wednesday morning to beat the traffic out of the city.
See if you can follow this.

Friday is the actual holiday.

Thursday is sort of a gimme.

Most businesses closed by noon Wednesday because the next two days were holidays. My teacher left early Wednesday morning to get out of the city before the traffic started to get bad.
In America, you might not get Friday off (the only real actual holiday) but in Madrid, you leave work at noon Wednesday.

Can you see the draw to live in a country that doesn’t care about nudity, gives you five weeks of vacation the day you sign up for a job, allows you to have a beer at lunch break, has health care for everyone, a proportionally stronger economy than the US, and leaves for a Friday vacation at noon on Wednesday?

They’re kind of relaxed here.

The flip side of that is, they’re kind of relaxed here.

How is that bad? Well, they don’t post hours on the doors of businesses. That way, they can open and close whenever they want, and often do. I’ve tried the door at McDonalds at ten in the morning and found it closed. While searching for a time they opened, nothing could be found on the doors or windows. Wendy and I once waited , starving, until nine p.m. (their normal opening hour) to visit our favorite Paella place only to be turned away at the door. “Why?”

“Well, business was so brisk in the afternoon we just decided to stay open through lunch and close early.”

Great!

Waiters don’t live on tips so it makes dining much more relaxed. Rather than upsell you, if you ask, they will even tell you that yes, fatass, you have ordered too much food for the amount of people you have. And they love it when you dawdle at the table because they are not in a rush to turn it. If you leave they have to do more work on the next people that come in. They have to get them menus, then take orders, then get drinks, then the orders are ready… So much bother! It’s much better if you just sit and have another glass of wine. On the house.

Of course, the downside of that is… waiters don’t live on tips. I’ve been ignored for an hour and found my waiter watching TV when I finally tracked him down. Of course, ignored would be too strong a word. Ignored is what would be happening in America. In Spain, it’s just the culture. The attitude is, hey, you were having wine with a pretty woman . If you wanted something else, come in and find me. No problem. Glad to help, just ask.

Eventually the waiter will come back and ask if you are finished and would like anything else. Dessert perhaps or some coffee? No, nothing else. Totally stuffed, thanks.

Plates are cleared. You have made it plain that you want nothing else.

The waiter disappears and the bill never comes. No matter how many times we go out to eat this always astounds me. Again, the relaxed culture. It’s rude to present the bill to the customer after he’s eaten. They don’t want to rush you out. You have to specifically ask for the bill or it won’t come. You could sit until doomsday. We have actually sat at a bar until they started putting chairs on tables and pulled the metal gate halfway down to obscure the door. We finished our drinks and Elvio asked - "What are you doing? Where are you going?"
"Um, you're closing."
"You shouldn't rush like that, it will affect your digestion. Relax, we still have more to do" and poured us another galss of wine. On the house.

It’s just funny in Spain. When you do remember that you have to ask for the bill after a meal, the waiter will offer you an after dinner drink. There are a select group of traditional after dinner drinks that you can ask for, and are normally free. I assume as a gesture of “Hey, thanks for eating here.” I prefer Licor de Hierba. Which is a green drink that has a nice minty taste to it.

They bring you a little shot glass and the bottle.

That’s right, the whole bottle.
Have as much as you want.
Sit as long as you want.
It's very relaxed over here.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Evolution

It feels great to be writing again. It feels great to be getting some good feedback and support on the things I’ve been working on.

I finally had learned enough Spanish that I needed some time to absorb it all. I have a stack of flashcards as long as my arm. All of them have been entered into a computer program called “Supermemo” and I learn a little more every day. I can do the program for an hour at a time and still not get to the end of them and see a repeat. I still have private lessons with Montse twice a week, and I have conversation class four times a week to hone my speaking and listening. Without class in the morning, and homework that took me two hours a day, I have some time to focus on my writing career again. Which I so desperately needed. On the other hand -

Spanish is maddening.

I’m told it takes two years to become “fluent.” Considering I didn’t start taking classes until last October, I still have a long way to go. And I feel like I am working so, so, so, hard at it and the progress is glacial. But I don’t have any choice. If I want to make a life here with Wendy, I have to be able to speak the language. I’ve always hated people that move to a different culture and fail to learn the language. I’ve always hated that. That won’t be me. But class is frustrating right now. There is an endlessly revolving door of students that come and go. Right now, every single person in my conversation class listens and speaks better than me. Since the students are constantly changing, sometimes I’m the head of the class. Other times, like now, I am the dumb shit. And I hate being the dumb shit. It’s like being in High School again when I didn’t know how to study and showed up to class every day and was embarrassed when the teacher called on me. Only now, I study every day and still can’t keep up.

The good news is, Raquel is the conversation teacher this week. Remember how I explained my prejudice about Italians? Well, I don’t know if my bitching to Montse brought this about, or if she is just as sick of it as I am, but yesterday she delivered some smack down.

“Francesco! Other people are talking!”

“Daniele! This is Spanish class not Italian.”

“Francesco! Daniele! Do you have something to share with the class?”

“Francesco! Enough! Move over here and sit by me. I’m separating you two.”

I was in heaven.

Life is just so wonderful and so weird right now. A lot of introspection.

I know, I just know, that if I can catch a few breaks I can get an agent and be a real writer. The things people tell me about how my writing moves them makes me confident I’m not just pissing in the wind with this dream. But a lot of it is luck. I think if I can get recognized by the right people, things will work out. If I can’t, I’ll be a self published author and never get national coverage or be a real success. Which scares the crap out of me. I don’t know if I’ve said it a thousand times on here, said it a thousand times to Wendy, or just thought it a thousand times in my head, but here it is, possibly again - It’s very hard to go from “Jamie can you sign this card for me?” and fifty comments on Star City saying “What a great column this week, thank you” and “You were such a great husband while your wife was sick. Your blog was an inspiration”- to “Jamie, you are the dumb shit in class this week, you have no income and your girlfriend orders your food for you.”

Quite a change.

But life is about change. I was awake this morning thinking about this entry long before it was time to get up. Have I told you how much I love Wendy? I can be wide awake, thinking about writing or playing WoW or watching UFC or wondering who won the latest primary and I can’t force myself to get out of bed. I just want to wake up next to this woman and kiss her cheek and hold her as she wakes up. Just so she knows I am there. I have lain in bed for an hour staring at the ceiling waiting for her to get up some days. She’s my best friend, and every morning, I just want her to know I’m there and will always be there for her.

Work continues on Marilyn’s Story. Most of my writing efforts are devoted to that and this blog. Wendy’s help on this has been invaluable in convincing me how important it is to turn a blog into a novel. Ways to transform it. Things to add or subtract from the story to make it appeal to people other than solely those who know me.

Chris McMahon’s editing has educated me on the endless, incredibly painful task of making a novel fit for publication. We are on our sixth revision of “Quest for the Pro Tour” and I am applying his lessons to “Marilyn’s Story.”

Bob Young made a nice donation to my Paypal account so I sent him the almost complete “Marilyn’s Story” in hopes of getting his thoughts. He replied with “I just wanted to let you know how much of a gift your writing is to me and my girlfriend. She is reading Marilyn’s Story right now with a glass of wine and has come to get hugs from me about 20 times because she is so touched by your life. “

Which is endlessly encouraging. There are times when I wonder if anyone will even want to read a story about a brave woman who dies from Cancer. I wouldn’t want to read it. Why would I want to be sad? And yet, I loved “Love Story” while hating “Terms of Endearment.” But other people loved Terms of Endearment so there must be an audience out there of people who need a good cry. Or a profile in courage or something, I don’t know. I just hope it finds an audience and that line about his girlfriend inspired me.

It’s amazing where your thoughts take you. None of this was what I wanted to talk about today and yet, here we are. 1090 words later and I’m still not on the topics I wanted to talk about this morning. Let’s see if we can move in that direction. Hey, you got a funny story last week, now you get the deep, badly organized philosophy.

Wendy went to Paris on Thursday to meet with her evil overlords and then visit (my former girlfriend, her best friend) Collette. (They slept in the same bed. Insert my twisted thoughts here.) So I was alone for three days. I spent the time playing WoW, watching UFC and working on Marilyn’s Story. A lot of reminiscing happens when you do that.

It’s interesting remembering the best times of your life. And I say that knowing full well that the best time in your life is always changing. For example : Before Magic and before AC/DAOC/ WoW the best time of my life was college. It drove Marilyn crazy. We would get together with Hilary, Michelle, Brian, Dan and Rod and all we (we meaning everyone but Marilyn) could talk about was how great college was. I actually day dreamed about finding a way to go back to college. IT WAS THE BEST! We had so much fun then!

Then we all became obsessed with Magic. We got shirts made up for “Team Quarterstaff” and through my writing achieved some small amount of fame. One guy actually saying as we entered into a tournament “that’s Team Quarterstaff. I want to kick their asses.” And based on our performance that weekend, I am 100% sure he got his wish. Then I published a book. Holding that book in my hand, that was the best time of my life. I had done it! Then I won a PTQ with Secret Force. OMFG I won a PTQ with a mono green deck that I made! And people actually lined up to get me to sign cards! Can life get any better?

Yes, yes it can.

Then we discovered Asheron’s Call, and through a very careful afternoon, I got Marilyn addicted to it. I don’t think it’s possible to describe the adventures you can have to someone that hasn’t been there and experienced the addiction of online role playing games. Every single day is like Christmas and your birthday rolled into one. Sleep is an annoyance you have to put up with solely so you can play some more when you wake up.

Two stories I am compelled to write. To illustrate. To purge myself. Hopefully, to entertain.

Marilyn loved blue sparkly armor. We were in an absolutely terrifying Monounga (giants) dungeon who howled like wolves on the hunt. I will never in all my life forget the echoing sounds they made. We made a mistake and died at the very bottom of the dungeon, and in Asheron’s Call, when you died, your best items were left on your corpse. So, we’re standing at the lifestone, and we’re almost naked. Marilyn’s painstakingly collected blue armor is on her body at the bottom of the very scary Monounga dungeon. The only way to get it back, is make our way to the bottom of the dungeon, with no armor. Think about the ramifications of that for a second. We died at a place where we had all our best, most powerful items on. Now, we have to get those items back – naked. To top it all off, the admins of the game at that moment choose to do a global broadcast and say “There is a problem with this server, we have to restart in fifteen minutes.”

Terror. Sheer terror.

Marilyn starts to cry.

I start contacting everyone I know, and start yelling to all around us that we need help. Since this was the early days of online role playing games, everyone wanted to help. People were playing these games to be heroes, and this was their chance. We took everyone around us, recruiting more and more people as we made our way lower and lower, slaying everything in our path, the resistance and thickness of the monsters getting exponentially harder each level. The howling as we faced that dungeon with so many people trying so valiantly to get my wife’s armor back will never leave me. And every minute, a global broadcast goes out that says “Server restart in 14 minutes. 13 Minutes. 12 Minutes.”

Do you know what happens when the server restarts? All the corpses are wiped out. The pretty blue armor Marilyn had been collecting over six months would be gone.

We keep losing people. Lower level people who should not be this deep in this horrible dungeon are with us, trying their best to do whatever they can to help us get to the bottom. When they die, they are losing their best armor, weapons, rings, in order to help a woman they didn’t even know. We were all on a mission and sacrifice didn’t matter. We had to make it.

Next to me, Marilyn is weeping.

The countdown continues and the Monounga are howling there terrible cry.

“AAHOOOOOOOOOO! ARRROOOOOOOOO! HARUUUUUUUUUU!”

We are surrounded by brown ape like giants now. The thump of giant clubs on our friends skulls reverberates through our speakers. The Monounga are howling and everyone around us is dying as we are going too fast and are being ambushed from all sides. People apologize for dying and losing all their best armor and weapons by trying to help us.

“Server shut down in one minute.”

A club takes the last of my life. Marilyn succumbs seconds later. We appear at the lifestone, naked.

The screen goes dark.

Marilyn screams, crying, and throws her keyboard into the air. The dogs go insane. The keyboard lands and pieces snap off onto the desk. Marilyn goes upstairs and cries in bed. I do my best to comfort her. All that work. All her pretty blue armor. Gone.

Ring, Ring.

Who is calling at three a.m.?

“J?”

“Yeah?”

“It’s Keith. The server just came back up and you have four bodies in the Monounga pit. You need help getting them back?”

It was the first time a server restart didn’t result in a body wipe.

We get together with everyone that just helped us, moving slowly and methodically and everyone recovers everything they had lost.

We moved to Dark age of Camelot next. After two years we started to crave a different gaming experience than Asheron’s Call. I moved alone. No one wanted to leave AC, but I was bored. As would become a habit, I would explore a new world, slowly convince Marilyn to just play for a couple hours with me, and over a week or two, convert her to the glories of the new game. Once I convinced Marilyn to follow me to a new game, everyone else followed a week later.
Dark Age of Camelot was amazing. Lots of good stories there. My favorite one is called “Operation Strikeforce.”

Dark Age of Camelot is based on castle warfare. You level your character up fighting monsters until you’re level fifty, and then you go out into the frontier and try to take the other two realms castles. Whoever controls the most castles has access to the best dungeon in the game, “Darkness Falls.” This wasn’t just “kind of” the best dungeon in the game, this was far and above the best place to play in all the realms. You had epic raids, fantastic loot, great monsters and at any time the dungeon could trade hands and you would fight the other realm that just gained access. It was the prize of prizes.

So important was Darkness Falls to each realm, that professionals with sixty hour a week jobs would stay up until four a.m. defending or trying to take just one more keep from their defenders so that they would have access to DF the next day. Each night dozens of castles would be filled with dozens of defenders and outside was dozens of attackers. People would go to work bleary eyed and exhausted for weeks on end because they couldn’t quit fighting at night. Marilyn and I tried to keep up, but we just couldn’t. We weren’t that great at keep warfare and with her chronic fatigue, we just could not stay awake until four a.m. night after night after night and then work a full day. It was insane.

Finally, I came up with a brilliant plan. (I won’t be modest, I still think it’s a brilliant plan. ) I posted on our message boards that each morning, at 7:00 am, I would be equipped with a ram for taking down a keep door, and anyone who wanted to join me, could help me take back keeps before work. So each night, working men and women would stay up until the very wee hours of the morning ensuring that they controlled the most keeps. The winner usually being the people who could survive the most sleep deprivation.

Marilyn and I would get up at seven a.m. each morning, log on, sip coffee and collect our party of raiders. Because at seven a.m., no one else was awake to defend. The only things we had to fight to gain a castle for our side was the computer controlled guards, which were a hell of a lot easier to defeat than fifty other human controlled players fighting tooth and nail to hold onto their castle. Keith and Stacy joined us most days and we had a few others that lived on the east coast and had jobs that started at nine.

We would gleefully head out into the frontier, take over the nearest two keeps in an hour and then go to work.

The other realms became baffled and their spirit broke. No matter how much sleep they missed, no matter how many keeps they took, no matter how hard they fought, in the morning, Darkness Falls belonged to Midgard.

Every morning.

It took about two weeks to break their spirit for about six months.

Those were great times. Just, fantastic times.

The evolution of life is fantastic. May you live in interesting times. I know I am. At each juncture, I think “this is the best time of my life.” College. Magic. Online Role Playing Games with a wife that enjoyed them.

Oddly, all of that bores me now. I’d hate to go back to college. I am like the Ken Shamrock of Magic. I used to be good but the game has evolved past me. I wish I still loved it and maybe I will again, but for now, it has passed me by and I’m not good enough anymore. (I still love every single person on the design team that honored Mare’s memory. Thank you again.) WoW bores me. I play it because it’s better than reading political threads on the Outpost for hours on end when my beautiful Wendy isn’t around and I can’t write any more.

Now I find my excitement in this new wondrous part of my life.

Just when I thought I had seen it all and was ready to shake off this mortal coil, Wendy came into my life and changed it forever.

I don’t even know the last time a Wakefield has left North America and now I’ve been to Spain. To Provence. To Paris. Berlin. I’ve seen the magnificent Arc de Triumph. The Louvre. The Mona Lisa. The bombed out remains of a church near check point Charlie. I’ve seen dozens of Bullfights and on June 21st I’m going to a Capea, which is where I actually get to get into the ring with a small bull. (Okay, cow. Whatever.) I get to use a cape and do passes. Hopefully I’ll get hurt and can post pictures. (Oh yeah, running with the bulls didn’t happen. Wendy had too much work that weekend so we couldn’t make it to the town in time. But it’s on my list, I need the points.)

It’s amazing to me how life has evolved for me and those around me.

Hilary used to want to slap me for not buying my parent’s comic store and now he’s owned one for the past five years.

My sister was a waitress for a decade before quitting to find out what she really wanted to do. She now works for millionaires (possibly billionaires, there wealth is staggering) taking care of forty dachshunds.

Her husband (Prince Todd) was a burnt out executive chef working the same job, endless hours a week for two decades before starting work for the same women my sister works for. And he has never been happier.

Wendy earned a law degree, hated it, got an offer to work in Madrid and took it, shipping over all her stuff, starting up a brand new business and now has more insanely important clients than I can even fathom and lives in the country she has alwasy wanted. To top it all off, she has the man of her dreams. (I think.)

Me? I used to be able to make scrambled eggs and boiled hot dogs. I never wanted to leave my house, I hated crowds and thought I could see everything I need to see right on my television. Now I make scrambled eggs with onions, green peppers and mushrooms and know why the onions go in first. I can grill steak, chicken, pork and burgers on my BBQ and know how hot the flame needs to be, by touch, for each one of them. I grill salmon and fry up sea trout. I have a pig’s leg in my kitchen that tastes like nothing found in America and I carve it myself. I’ve flown. I’ve been in riots. I’ve been in a stadium of 24,000 people and not felt panic. I’m working on a writing career and learning Spanish. And more. So much more.

Life is good.

And you can never know where it’s going to take you.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

San Jamie de los Pajaros



I've always wanted a picture like this.


And now I have it.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Stunning

Today in class one of the subjects we talked about was art and graffiti. Which reminded me of a funny story. People like funny stories so I’ll go with that for now.

I used to work for a small computer repair shop. One day, a man came in that looked pretty scruffy. Sheep shit on his boots, faded green overalls, unshaven face. Most likely a farmer, and I was right, he was a farmer. He had a disk with him and needed a file recovered from it. Now, we had a number of utilities that could do that to erased files, but there is one way to unintentionally erase a file that we can’t recover. If you open up a blank document in Word and save it with the same name as a very important file, that file is gone; replaced by a document with nothing in it. I’d be happy to explain the file allocation table and why we can recover other files, but I’m betting people already know, or don’t care.

I take the disk downstairs, take a look at it, looking for a backup copy or a temp file with the same info in it, but no. I come back upstairs and explain to him that there is no way to recover the file. He asks me if I’m sure. I explain as best as I’m able and the other techs near me agree and also explain. He presses again. Finally I tell him “Look, it is possible to get the information off the disk, but we would have to send it away to a lab and it would cost a lot of money. We’ve never done it because most people balk at paying $400-$600 dollars to get some info off a floppy disk.”

“But they can recover the file?”

“Yes, for like, six hundred dollars.”

“Excellent. Send it out as soon as you can.”

Shit on his boots guy wants to pay six hundred dollars to get a file back?

You can imagine my surprise.

I became pretty good friends with the man over the next few months. One day he was in the main tech room with me, watching me work on his computer and chatting. His cell phone starts to ring and he answers it.

“Yeah.”

“Well not really.”

“No, we have to fly there to see it.”

“He doesn’t want it leaving the house, doesn’t need the money and he doesn’t really want to get rid of it so he doesn’t care if we come or not.”

“He wants fifteen million. “

“I know it’s not worth that and so does he. He doesn’t care.”

“Okay. “

“Yeah. Fine. I’ll see you in LA on Tuesday.”

I became pretty good friends with Jim over the years. As it turns out, Jim worked for Sotheby’s auction house for a number of years and then, like a lot people, thought it would be cool to have a farm in Vermont.

If I remember correctly, Jim graduated with a Masters in Art History or something similar. He then went to Sotheby’s in Manhattan and asked the secretary if he could speak to the head boss so he could convince him to make him an art buyer. She said he was booked all week. Jim told her he would wait, and took a seat.

He sat in the office with a brown paper bag lunch, morning until closing for the next four days until finally the Boss relented and agreed to talk so someone so persistent. He got the job.

He brought his computer to me many times, I specced him out a new one every few years and I visited his house a number of times on printer or network issues.

One hot summer day he called the shop and asked to speak to me.

“Hey, I need you come down and look at something. Today. That possible?”

“Yeah, I’m just building systems, I’ll be down in twenty minutes.”

I pull into his driveway and see his assistant working outside. She is a young, staggeringly beautiful blond runner with hair almost down to her ass. I know she runs marathons and one look at her thighs proves it to anyone. Despite being a runner her figure is very curvy. Playboy magazine of kind of curvy, but so fit, she glows with a healthy aura. She is in a flimsy purple sundress that does absolutely nothing to hide her figure. It might as well be clear purple silk.

I can barely manage to say hello she is so breathtaking. And in such revealing almost see through clothes.

I stumble up the steps and Jim opens the screen door and offers me a Coke. I gratefully take it and move over to his computer desk, which happens to look out the window to where his assistant is working.

“She is something, isn’t she?” Jim says.

“Man. I mean, as a writer, let me just eloquently say ; wow. Just... wow. Magnificent.”

Grinning. “Yeah.”

“So, what’s wrong with the computer today?”

“Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”
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