Free Live Free by Gene Wolfe

Wednesday, 30 November 2005

This en­try brought to you with­out hy­phens and a dis­tinct short­age of com­mas.

Free Live Free by Gene Wolfe is a book by Gene Wolfe in a con­tin­u­ing se­ries of books by Gene Wolfe that I have been read­ing a lot of Gene Wolfe lately, haven’t I? I’m now read­ing a col­lec­tion of short sto­ries by Gene Wolfe called The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories.

Free Live Free takes place in what was at the time of pub­li­ca­tion con­tem­po­rary Chicago. Four down on their luck sol­diers of for­tune take up an ad­ver­tise­ment on its of­fer, free liv­ing space. The sol­diers of for­tune in­clude an ex­tremely short and near­sighted un­li­censed de­tec­tive, a door to door joke sales­man, a fat pros­ti­tute and Madame Serpentina. This book pro­ceeds as a com­edy of er­rors un­til the last ten pages or so when in typ­i­cal Gene Wolfe fash­ion all the tum­blers fi­nally fall into place and a lit­tle door opens shed­ding bright light all over the place and mak­ing you squint your eyes a lit­tle bit be­cause the light is so bright it hurts a lit­tle since you’ve been wan­der­ing around in the dark for so long that you for­got you were in the dark.

Ben Free’s house is con­demned and the four ten­ants are en­listed to help de­fend it. They do a pretty good job for a cou­ple of hours, but end up boot to back­side and home­less. They sneak their way into a hotel and de­cide that the now dis­ap­pa­rated Ben Free had dropped enough hints to in­di­cate that he had some sort of trea­sure hid­den in the house. The ten­ants bicker and bitch and even­tu­ally de­cide to go in to­gether find the trea­sure and split it.

At this point the story in­ten­tion­ally frays into its com­po­nent parts and you won­der what the hell hap­pened to the plot. At one point all the threads come back to­gether in an il­lu­sion of co­he­sion. Hilariously, all of the main char­ac­ters and var­i­ous sup­port­ing char­ac­ters end up com­mit­ted to Belmont Asylum when all they tried to do was go visit some­one there. That part goes on for a while, but is so tongue in cheek and ab­surd that it doesn’t get old. Each per­son they run in to psy­cho­an­a­lyzes them and finds them ir­repara­bly in­sane even though they aren’t. Needless to say they end up tak­ing over the asy­lum and then es­cape. Everything frays apart again and they each pur­sue their own par­tic­u­lar heart’s de­sire. They get them, and find out that their heart’s are lack­ing.

I won’t spoil the end­ing.

Link of the day: For all my veg­e­tar­ian friends and fam­ily: Vegetarian Beer List.

Citizen Air Pollution

Tuesday, 29 November 2005

I spent two hours and fif­teen min­utes yes­ter­day lis­ten­ing to Denny Larson talk about air pol­lu­tion and how cit­i­zens can take ac­tion when the gov­ern­ment won’t. I wasn’t ex­pect­ing to spend two hours and fif­teen min­utes there, but the de­ferred pay­off and Denny Larson’s love for hear­ing him­self talk [and who wouldn’t en­joy talk­ing with 4 pho­tog­ra­phers and two re­porters present] en­sured that we were stuck there for two hours and fif­teen min­utes. My im­pres­sion might be in­ac­cu­rate though, be­cause, af­ter two hours and fif­teen min­utes, and no ap­par­ent end in sight, I left early.

The en­tire rea­son I showed up was to learn how to as­sem­ble home-made air pol­lu­tion mon­i­tors, us­ing five gal­lon buck­ets. Similar “bucket brigades” as they’re called ex­ist else­where and have worked with some suc­cess. Although they aren’t very high-tech, they are rather ex­pen­sive. Denny Larson men­tioned, two hours into the meet­ing, af­ter I asked him, that each bucket costs about $125 dol­lars to make, mostly be­cause of the pro­fes­sional grade valves that are used. Ever since I started sub­mit­ting pol­lu­tion logs to OCA, they’ve been call­ing me about once a week ask­ing me to help more. I agreed to do some bucket mon­i­tor­ing, but I can’t af­ford to drop $125 dol­lars for a bucket and pay the lab fees for the pro­cess­ing. Pollution logs will have to do.

I did hear, al­though no proof was of­fered, that the Ohio EPA and the Cuyahoga County Air peo­ple are get­ting paid for do­ing noth­ing, that they have no portable equip­ment, and that the mon­i­tor­ing sta­tions are ei­ther far away from the pol­lu­tion or not mon­i­tor­ing for the right things at the right time. I al­ready knew that the Ohio EPA doesn’t work be­fore 8 or af­ter 5, so that pol­lut­ing dur­ing off hours is ba­si­cally given free rein. I also learned that one short-lived ac­ci­dent can pol­lute more than an en­tire year of nor­mal pro­duc­tion. And even though agen­cies in this area are be­ing paid to mon­i­tor en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact, they aren’t do­ing their job and folks in Tremont and Slavic Village have to take mat­ters into their own hands. If you’ve got an ex­tra $125 lay­ing around, that is.

The fact that it took two hours and some prompt­ing to get to the ac­tual meat of the process is what has me so grouchy this morn­ing. Someone should have been mon­i­tor­ing the hot air be­ing emit­ted from Denny Larson. He should have taken no more than an hour, in­clud­ing the as­sem­bly of the buck­ets.

Link of the day: Make a Paper Box in five min­utes. Not two hours and fif­teen min­utes. If you’re crafty you can use in­ter­est­ing things printed on pa­per to make in­di­vid­u­al­ized boxes to hold the sev­ered body parts of those dear­est to you. Or not.

An Open Letter to Connersville, IN

Saturday, 26 November 2005

I sub­mit­ted this to my old hometown’s news­pa­per, the eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment group, cham­ber of com­merce [the on­line form is bro­ken!] and li­brary [pro­vided email ad­dress does not ex­ist], since I was able to ac­com­plish vir­tu­ally noth­ing on­line this week­end. I didn’t send it to the mayor’s of­fice be­cause they only sup­ply a snail mail ad­dress and a phone num­ber. No won­der every­one leaves town.

An Open Letter to Connersville, IN.

Dear old home­town,

I know that un­so­licited ad­vice is sel­dom ap­pre­ci­ated, but while I was home for the Thanksgiving hol­i­day I spent a good while try­ing to find a de­cent in­ter­net con­nec­tion some­where in town in or­der to do a bit of telecom­mut­ing. Failing that, I ul­ti­mately de­cided that un­so­licited ad­vice is bet­ter than no ad­vice at all. I cur­rently live in Cleveland, where I can check my email just about any­where in less than two min­utes. In Connersville it takes al­most three-quar­ters of an hour. While Cleveland is sev­eral or­ders of mag­ni­tude larger than Connersville, it comes from a sim­i­lar in­dus­trial and man­u­fac­tur­ing back­ground and is go­ing through a sim­i­lar process of re­de­f­i­n­i­tion. So I’m go­ing to steal some plays that are cur­rently work­ing for Cleveland and scale them down to a small town level.

In my mind, the most ef­fec­tive bang for your buck will come through de­vel­op­ing and en­hanc­ing the tech­nol­ogy of the area. This can be done on an in­di­vid­ual, busi­ness, mu­nic­i­pal and even re­gional level. You’ve got broad­band, now go wire­less. The Fayette County Public Library would be the per­fect place to set up a free WiFi net­work; and every town that wants to grow into the new tech econ­omy should have at least one. In a per­fect world an en­tire town would be wired, but a few places here and there is a good start. Free WiFi acts as a cat­a­lyst for net­work­ing and in­for­ma­tion shar­ing.

You’ve got a city web­site, but it is sta­tic and ne­glected and, frankly, about a decade be­hind the times. A Connersville wiki [funny name, I know] would al­low the com­mu­nity to give de­tailed de­scrip­tions of the area in their own words, and mul­ti­ple users could en­sure that in­for­ma­tion about the area is up­dated quickly and ef­fi­ciently. Check out the Wikipedia for an ex­cel­lent ap­pli­ca­tion of this tech­nol­ogy. Start your own weblogs about what­ever you find in­ter­est­ing and talk to your chil­dren about this kind of on­line in­ter­ac­tion, they prob­a­bly al­ready use free so­cial net­work­ing and weblog­ging ser­vices like Blogger, MySpace, Friendster, LiveJournal and Upcoming​.org.

A few more quick sug­ges­tions: The News-Examiner puts its con­tent on­line—very good — now make it in­ter­ac­tive: al­low com­ments, free on­line clas­si­fieds like Craigslist, et cetera. Honestly, the News-Examiner web­site is al­ready bet­ter than The Plain Dealer’s site in Cleveland. There should be a Connersville-speci­fic bul­letin board for events and ac­tiv­i­ties and a com­puter club at the high school or formed lo­cally that holds com­mu­nity train­ing ses­sions and sets-up web­sites and wire­less net­works for lo­cal busi­nesses.

What are the up­shots of all this grass­roots ef­fort? There are far too many to list, but some of the most vis­i­ble and im­por­tant ones in­clude in­creased com­mu­ni­ca­tion among com­mu­nity mem­bers and a mod­ern and tech-smart busi­ness im­age that will seem much more at­trac­tive to pos­si­ble new eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. IT com­pa­nies or new me­dia busi­nesses that would be amenable to small town and ex­ur­ban lifestyles aren’t go­ing to look at Connersville un­less the web pres­ence is there. You’re sit­u­ated to tap into mar­kets in Cincinnati, Indianapolis and even Dayton. Distance isn’t re­ally mea­sured in miles so much as megabytes these days. That’s all for now. Hopefully I’ll see you in cy­ber­space.

Yours Truly,
Adam Harvey

I Found Your Pink Thong

Monday, 21 November 2005

I posted this at Craigslist:

I was at the Tremont Laundromat, which in­ci­den­tally, didn’t have raw sewage flood­ing out the front door to­day, and af­ter I brought my clothes back to my apart­ment I found it. Yes, it. At first I thought I’d in­herited a raggedy piece of pink dryer lint, but upon closer in­spec­tion I dis­cov­ered that it was, in fact, your thong. Not just any thong, though. Your thong. This one is also, ap­par­ently, made of cheese­cloth. The lit­tle bits of fab­ric that ap­prox­i­mate cov­er­ing are only dis­tin­guish­able by be­ing slightly wider than the ac­tual thong, and a lesser shade of pink. Also, com­pletely sheer.

Wearing see-through un­der­wear [if one could be said to ac­tu­ally “wear” this item, and if a thong counts as “un­der­wear”] is some­thing of a co­nun­drum. Roland Barthes’s es­say Strip-tease may of­fer some in­sight into the para­dox­i­cal na­ture of cov­er­ing that is, in fact, not cov­er­ing; but I think it is rather ob­vi­ous that this thong serves as lit­tle more than gar­nish for a care­fully or­ches­trated rap­proche­ment be­tween var­i­ous and sundry gen­i­talia.

Stealing a page from Duchamp, I have taken to wear­ing your thong on my head, with the lit­tle tri­an­gle doohicky act­ing as a nose-guard. Thankfully this un­der­gar­ment had been washed be­fore I at­tempted this ex­per­i­ment. As a nose-warmer, the thong lacks a cer­tain ef­fi­cacy that I can only at­trib­ute to its screen-door like con­sis­tency.

Currently, your thong is pinned to my bul­letin board, be­tween a pic­ture of my first dog and a po­lit­i­cal flyer from the Ward 13 Councilman.

In any case, Miss, if you would like me to fa­cil­i­tate the re­turn of this sex­u­ally charged un­der­gar­ment you may send me an email and I am sure that an agree­ment can be reached.

There Are Doors by Gene Wolfe

Saturday, 19 November 2005

There Are Doors is Gene Wolfe’s ver­sion of the an­cient Indo-European leg­end of the Goddess/​Queen of the Wood and the Horned King. Of all the var­i­ous ver­sions I’ve read of this story, Wolfe’s def­i­nitely has the most in­ter­est­ing and nu­anced por­trayal of the these fig­ures. In this it­er­a­tion the re­la­tion­ship be­tween The Wood and The World is de­scribed in sev­eral dif­fer­ent ways, as re­flec­tion, fre­quency, and per­haps most strongly as Sea and Land. Mr. Green [Horned King] is in search of Lara/​Lora/​Marcella/​Tina [The Goddess] through both worlds. Once a per­son from The Wood has met a per­son from The World, doors take on a spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance and act as por­tals be­tween the two ar­eas. I’m used to read­ing about the Goddess as a cold-hearted and puis­sant woman who is mourn­ing the loss of her lover, usu­ally with­out ex­plain­ing why is this way. Wolfe adds sub­stance to her dis­tant na­ture by mak­ing her the only im­mor­tal in ei­ther world, and by adding a twist that every man from The Wood who has sex dies im­me­di­ately af­ter, like drones in a bee colony. When the Queen seeks love she has to go to The World, but also has to leave her lover af­ter­ward. So her cold­ness is a way for her to pro­tect her­self from the pain, As she takes other lovers, each of the pre­vi­ous ones be­comes a bit sar­don­ically a cuck­olded ver­sion of the Horned King. We find that she does in­deed love all of her Kings, and ones that are per­sis­tent enough to pur­sue her and catch her are al­lowed to serve her. The ser­vice isn’t sub­servience, but an ex­pres­sion of love.

Gene Wolfe is rapidly be­com­ing one of my fa­vorite au­thors. His books move slowly and ap­pear to jump around un­til sud­denly the pieces fall into place and run smoothly and rapidly to a con­clu­sion. His great­est strength seems to be his abil­ity to lace a story with enough am­bi­gu­ity that un­cer­tainty never re­ally leaves you un­til the last page, if then. Mr. Green is in and out of men­tal hos­pi­tals through­out the novel, so we’re not sure if the world through his eyes is true or not. The type of sto­ry­telling isn’t like Peace, but the doubt is ever present. I’m start­ing to round up any­thing I can find by him.