Free Live Free by Gene Wolfe

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

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

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
aharvey@organicmechanic.org

I Found Your Pink Thong

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

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.