Thursday, December 29, 2011

Excerpt from 'God Bless Great Uncle Halbert'

It was that evening, over dinner, when finally I was introduced to Great Uncle Halbert. My new-found family had been uncannily reticent in relating him to me: the cousins only giggled and smirked, Rudolph and Emilia demurred to comment, and Aunt Christine unfailingly changed the topic whenever I inquired as to his character. Neither bribes nor threats could extract a useful kernel of information from the servants, further, though their furrowed brows and the occasional eye-roll did not escape my attention.

In any event, I was greeted with a round and jolly man of advanced years. Great Uncle Halbert fairly exploded from his greatcoat, which a servant rushed to snatch before it collapsed to the hall floor. He stamped the snow from his boots before entering the foyer proper, and he appeared to me quite well attired, if a little askew at certain points. A droll little grin shone between plump and florid cheeks, and from behind his cut spectacles his dark eyes glistened and wondered at every moving shape in the room. I was immediately disposed to like him, a lively, good-natured engine with infectious energy: indeed, conversation seemed to brighten and heighten around him as he moved about the room, greeting each relation with genuine warmth.

The table chatter, when we had been seated, roved about many topics. Rudolph was called upon to demonstrate what calculus he'd mastered; Aunt Christine expounded upon a touring musical troupe from Paris, lodging for a week not three houses away from us; Uncle Donald and his children related a particularly ill-fated fishing trip of their recent experience. Great Uncle Halbert took it all in, entreating to be kept abreast of each family member's life for the past year.

"Does it happen that he only visits around Christmas?" I whispered to Emilia.

She nodded, finishing her soup. "It's quite strange that he should spend the main of the calendar in warmer climes, yet insists on making his way up to our estate when it's at its coldest." Emilia shrugged slightly and tucked her mouth in a curious way as her bowl and spoon were spirited away.

It seemed I had attracted Great Uncle Halbert's attention by incommoding his great-niece ever so slightly. "And you," he called from the far end of the table in a jolly voice, then faltered to recall my name. "I'm afraid that, were I to ask your rendition of the hitherto unrevealed dimensions of your previous life, we should lose the rest of the evening to its doubtlessly voluminous oration!" He chuckled quite heartily at his own comment,  the hemisphere of his well-nurtured belly bouncing in mirth, but I wasn't sure I grasped what he intended to express nor what was expected of me here. In place of asking me about my history, he offered to regale me with his current favorite joke:

"What wedding is it that no woman wishes to be late for?"

I was sure I didn't know.

"Her own!"

Hereupon erupted such a blizzard of laughter from his own gullet, I was sure we would witness seams and fissures break out all down his double-chin as he shredded his throat with hilarity. Once again at sea, I looked about the room to absorb or ascertain cues as to how I should react. Emilia was staring intently at the trout, steaming before her, and Rudolph had found some interesting thing in the egg-and-dart molding to scrutinize at length. Uncle Donald made a soundless whistle and reached for his wine glass; Aunt Christine began to grin gently at her boisterous guest but instead averted her eyes and fussed with her serviette in her lap. The cousins goggled at each other for a moment, then clapped their hands to their mouths to stifle their laughter, crouching beneath the table's edge. I noted the brow of one butler, momentarily furrowed, before he excused himself on a sudden errand; the maid at his elbow permitted a slight eye-roll before following him out of the room.

Undeterred and oblivious, Great Uncle Halbert roared until he wheezed, dabbing at his eyes with his serviette, still shuddering in his jocular state. When no one was willing to make eye-contact with me, I nodded politely in my Great Uncle's direction and tucked into the steaming and tender trout just set before me. I should misrepresent myself to express any distaste for this merry and round gentleman of my relation, certainly, but I would be remiss to not intimate that perhaps I was not now quite as charmed with him as prior.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

My First Batch of Home Brew Ale: A Memoir

Like so many before me, I'm getting into home brewing. It's not necessarily more economical to make your own beer: it's more like a love-of-the-craft kind of thing. You start out with pre-assembled kits, get used to the process, start following complex recipes, trade recipes with your friends, and... I don't know what comes after that. Probably growing your own hops and making your own malt extract. I'm a very long way from that.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Self-Education in Your Free Time

So you find yourself unemployed! You join the ranks of the illustrious, my good fellow, for I too have been struggling to find gainful engagement within our System. Yes, hard as it may seem, many businesses don't seem to feel an inordinate need to hire someone to point out their misuse of quotation marks, suggesting better words to use, correcting their spelling and all sorts of other embarrassing tendencies. I can't help what I'm good at! or that at which I'm skilled.

But being jobless is no excuse to sit idly. After you've struggled with your cover letters and thrown out your résumé to a dozen places that won't condescend to reply, think about self-improvement in other directions. The blessing of the Internet provides us with a plethora, indeed, no dearth of online courses and educational resources. Allow me to review some of the most useful.

Say you're already involved in computers and would like to break into Content Management. It's a great job title, and a lot of places need the Web-based equivalent of a Renaissance man/woman. If you can master Google Analytics, you're going to be valuable to both new and established businesses. Show off your PC prowess with a bunch of handy keyboard shortcuts not many people know about. Social media is the hot thing currently, so get acquainted with the ins and outs of Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, and Tumblr. If you want to be fancy, learn YouTube's new video editing suite—this could come in handy.

Or if you really want to get down into it, learn how to code or learn web development. Pretty intense! Check out Google Code University as well, for all they have to offer. w3schools.com is an excellent resource for teaching yourself XML, CSS, and many other webdesign languages.

Of course, for general education, there's MIT Open Courseware and UC Berkeley's video and audio lectures. Receive all the benefit of attending their classes, for free and in the comfort of wherever you're logging in from. Attend Khan Academy to learn everything from Art History to Calculus; hone your own critical thinking skills, absolutely essential to reading the news; train on how to protect yourself and your family and assist your community in the face of emergencies and disasters. If you'd like to really show off, familiarize yourself with Wolfram|Alpha and all it's good for.

In general, self-education is an increasingly popular option that's attracting a lot of attention. It takes little effort to find many blog entries or resource lists for autodidacts:
Lastly, if you're actually sick of your old job and want to break into something new, peruse the 100 Best Self-Education Sites for Switching Careers. No matter what, please make sure you act on this information as soon as possible before the government shuts down the Internet to protect DVD sales.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Why We Can't Have Nice Things

Every year, Trader Joe’s releases a special little candy, their Belgian dark chocolate sea salt caramels. They’re seasonal and only available around the end of the year. My wife and I discovered them several years ago, and each year as we did our holiday shopping we looked forward to picking up two boxes. One would be enjoyed over the following week, meted out one-a-day, and the other would sit in the freezer for a later date.

We missed out on them last year because we were going to school in Indonesia for all of November and touring Thailand for December. Even in the midst of all that wonderful food and stunning scenery, we recalled what we were missing back in the States. We promised each other we would pick up a box at the appropriate time.

This is impossible, of course, because we weren’t the only people who loved them. They gained such a reputation that other people, fucking white trash scumbags, realized that there was a demand for these candies. In year-long intervals momentum built up and these soulless fucking opportunist assholes realized they could make money off of someone else’s labors. That’s the capitalist way, isn’t it, the American way? Profit by exploitation? All of our corporations are built upon the business model of getting other people to do your work for you. There is no corporation where the people who do all the work make as much money as the President/CEO.

My wife and I went to Trader Joe’s today to buy our two boxes—I think two boxes for two people isn’t greedy—and the clerk informed us they were out. Greedy, loveless scalper fucks had already scooped up the entire stock before Thanksgiving, everywhere. No longer can regular, loyal Trader Joe’s customers show up and pick up a box at their leisure: they have to haunt the store in hope of outracing the conscienceless, ravening fucking pillagers who seek to deplete the entire supply and set regular customers to bid against each other for their own illegitimate profit.

Illegitimate: they didn’t produce these candies. They didn’t contribute to their production. They didn’t labor, they didn’t harvest, they didn’t even package them. They don’t work in the store, they don’t work in shipping. They just showed up, bought much more than they wanted, and are selling someone else’s product off for their own profit.

Yes, it’s such a small thing. Yes, you think it’s comical to get so upset over something so small. It’s just candy, isn’t it. To me, it was one nice little thing I could count on each year. The weather will do what it will, Westerners will destroy the climate and resolutely deny doing so, politics will come and economics will go, but I could always count on driving out to Trader Joe’s and picking up a nice little box of these chocolates.

Now, I don’t even have that. I lost my youth, I lost two jobs, I lost all faith in my corporate-controlled government, and now I can’t even buy a favorite box of candy.