When the Well Runs Dry

I’ve been stuck for a while. And by ‘stuck’ I mean the words won’t come. Inspiration has flown the coop. Whether the lingering pandemic, political ennui or simply running out of gas, this turned into my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad summer for writing. A brief recap:

May. No need to panic just yet. It’s only been a month since I posted something on my blog. I’ve had worse dry spells in the past. I’m sure my twelve loyal readers will hang in there. Besides, I have plants to maim and kill.

June. According to the ‘stupid holiday’ website, where I go for ideas in times of trouble, this is National Bathroom Reading Month.

*yawn*

Another check of the headlines shows that little has changed since I checked fifteen minutes ago. Social media is next…there should be plenty of shiny objects on facebook with which to distract myself.

July. Afghanistan is a shitshow as we clear out in the wake of The Great Negotiator’s secret deal to hand the country back over to the Taliban – two trillion dollars well-spent on training the Afghan military, which is in the process of folding like a house of cards. And they’re still pulling bodies out of the rubble of that collapsed condo in Florida. Hilarious stuff.

August. So I’m back to staring at a blank page in my word processing program, waiting for inspiration to fill in all that whiteness. Meanwhile the cursor blinks at me impatiently, mockingly. I had to remove the clock from the bathroom because, from my desk here in the bedroom I could hear its incessant ticking, reminding me that I was accomplishing nothing while my death was drawing ever closer, implacable and non-negotiable, one second at a time.

We went camping with friends from back in Michigan this month. I thought a change of scenery might do me good. One night we were all sitting around the fire, stargazing. Nothing like the vastness of the cosmos to make that knee-slapper I planned to write about my travails with excessive earwax seem a tad picayune.

September. This is serious – I just googled “ways to overcome writer’s block.” And now I’m sorry I did. Suggestions range from ‘go for a walk’ to ‘brew some coffee.’ And my favorite, ‘just write.’ What the hell do you think I’ve been doing for the last five months?!?

A sampling…

I almost ran over another goose today. They congregate here like the Harley crowd to Sturgis, thanks to some guy who introduced them to the area back in the fifties. Maybe that would make a good story, something about all these geese…like they’re illegal aliens (from Canada, get it?) and why isn’t the government doing more to stop them.

Two paragraphs is all I could muster on that one before I decided it had roughly the equivalent comedic value of an ingrown hair.

There will always be the anti-vaxxers and covid deniers – surely I can find some humor there. Low-hanging fruit, I suppose, but at this point I just want to get something down on paper.

So New Hampshire’s motto is Live Free or Die. Maybe something like Live Free and Die. Or how horse dewormer or a rectally-inserted ultraviolet light is so much more sensible than a simple shot in the arm.

Come to think of it, how funny is 700,000 dead people? Okay, moving on…

My wife recently lost 80 pounds on the Keto diet. The problem here is that I have a metabolism that burns like the core of a nuclear reactor – losing weight has never been on my radar. We are a house divided. So maybe a survival guide for those caught in the Keto wasteland.

Maybe not. Have you ever gone back and read your work and realized that you’ve apparently been channeling the spirit of Jeff Spicoli for an undetermined length of time?

Not quite the muse I was hoping for.

Let’s try this again. It was a dark and stormy night…

Happy Freaking Birthday

I’m not sure when I started to hate my birthday. Growing up it was just the usual thing – maybe a small gathering of school friends, some presents, a cake, the requisite blowing out of candles. Nothing elaborate, as we never had a lot to spend on these affairs, but enough to make a kid feel special.

Once I had kids of my own, the focus naturally shifted to them, and I sort of lost interest in celebrating my birthday. It began to seem superfluous, pointless. Maybe I would finally get that nifty trekking pole or fleece pullover I was too cheap to buy for myself, but the day came and went with less fanfare, and less meaning, every passing year. And while age truly is just a number, all the same my number is becoming a bit unwieldy, a fact for which I no longer require an annual reminder via Hallmark cards pointing out the hilarity of going deaf or what a great job I’m doing keeping candle makers in business.

To be clear, I don’t dislike birthdays in general, only mine. Wishing others well and imploring them to enjoy their special day is perfectly fine in my book, should they choose to put such information out there (although I will admit to finding those who celebrate for the entirety of their birthday month a bit tedious). And while turnabout is fair play, this is one time when I’m happy to not be on the receiving end.

It’s difficult to admit this and not sound ungrateful. Actually, I’m appreciative of all those who want to show their love for me by recognizing the anniversary of my expulsion from the womb. It’s just unnecessary. I would rather let the day pass unannounced, but that doesn’t seem to be an acceptable practice.

My family? Sure – I don’t mind being told to have a happy birthday by those closest to me. But that can be the end of it. Social media? Well, I finally got Facebook to stop reminding all my cyber-friends about the day, but someone (I’m looking at you, my blushing bride) insists on slipping in a public post to draw attention to it every year, despite my protests. “It’s not about you,” she argues, bringing all her Jedi mind-trick skills to bear. “It’s so other people can do something nice for you.”

At which point we typically fall into a back and forth that could have been lifted from a Dickens novel: “Keep birthdays in your own way and let me keep them in mine,” I retort.

“But you don’t keep them.”

“Let me leave them alone, then.”

It’s not that I get depressed, particularly, a pitfall for many who share my aversion to having a to-do made of ‘their’ day. I don’t wallow in self-pity while taking stock of all the things I haven’t accomplished to this point in my life. Rather it’s more that I’m uncomfortable with all the attention, even embarrassed by it. It simply feels a bit foolish now that I’m officially a fossil.

And the inevitable queries start coming in a few weeks before. “The kids want to know what to get you for your birthday.” I reached saturation-level some time ago where the material world is concerned, having accumulated every do-dad and trinket I could possibly have or want. But things like world peace and clean energy are probably tough to wrap, so I opt for a gift card from a favorite restaurant or a contribution to the Sierra Club. Distinctly un-fun presents to open around the birthday cake, but how many pairs of tube socks can one man have?

Here’s the thing – this day is about me. And my birthday wish is to not celebrate my birthday. Apologies to all the candle makers out there.

Toasters of a Lesser God

It looks as if there will be no early exit from the shitlist on which I find myself. The one I have occupied since killing my wife’s prized KitchenAid toaster several months back. Instead, it appears I have simply put a fresh coat of asphalt on the road to Hell.

The interim toaster was brutally utilitarian. Black, bulbous, squat – it was like having a bowling ball sitting on the counter. In all fairness, it wasn’t purchased with the kitchen in mind but rather pulled hastily from the RV to fill the gap until something more elegant could be procured. Serviceable but homely. And with every ‘ca-chunk’ of the popping mechanism, a reminder of my profound failures as a husband and a human.

And then, what appeared to be salvation. Long and sleek, at first glance it seemed to exceed expectations. The dearly departed had been a ‘one-slotter’ – a single, extended trench where two pieces of toast could be inserted end to end. This successor had the correct shape, so it would fill the vacant spot precisely, but with two long slots for toasting up to four pieces of bread at a time. Think of the entertaining possibilities!

Of course, there could be no getting around the fact that it was not the proper color (what KitchenAid called Majestic Yellow – a kind of pale mustardy hue that the bastards have discontinued), but at least it wasn’t bright red or cobalt blue. Just a neutral, unobtrusive white. Made by some firm I’d never heard of before but was willing to gamble on if it meant I could avoid another kitchen remodel.

But I may have to break out the power tools after all. Or continue the search. That’s because test slices in the new rig have been…inconsistent. What one would expect to be a moderate setting (somewhere in the middle of zero and six at the top end) is in fact more like ‘Center of the Sun,’ baking the bread to the consistency of a charcoal briquette. No doubt a person could fire pottery at the highest setting.

A few more slices were sacrificed as I tried to find this appliance’s sweet spot, which appears to be somewhere around one and a half. Though it’s hard to say exactly, based on the finished product. Thus far every piece of toast has come out resembling one of those sample paint cards you get at Lowes with all the varying shades of brown – a gradient scale, going from burnt russet to ecru, not only from one end to the other but also front to back. Regardless of its position in the slot.

As they say, you had one job.

And it doesn’t so much pop up as launch a piece of toast, like a pilot being ejected from a faltering F-16. You could lose an eye if you happened to be peering into the slot to assess doneness just at the moment of liftoff.

So while all men may be created equal, the same cannot be said of toasters. As for this one, PM me if your kiln ever craps out.

Requiem for a Toaster

As near as we can figure, it dates from 1999 – a gift to christen the newly renovated kitchen at our previous house. It was ever the cheerful toaster, like a ray of sunshine in the gloom of west Michigan (what KitchenAid refers to as ‘Majestic Yellow’). With a somewhat retro appearance, it has browned innumerable loaves of bread and untold truckloads of pop-tarts.

Only in the last year or two had it begun to show signs of aging. The large plastic tab used to lower product into the chamber and begin the toasting process worked its way loose, causing one’s thumb to sometimes slip during the downward push. An inconvenience easily overlooked for such a trustworthy friend.

Its demise was swift and, I can only hope, painless. While some might label me as lazy, I like to think that I was saving energy. During reconnaissance in the bowels of the freezer, where half-bags of tater tots and long forgotten veggie sausage patties lie in cryogenic stasis, slowly becoming entombed in ice crystals, I came across some Trader Joe’s hash browns. Pre-formed, like what you might get at McDonalds, but without the ‘golden arches’ guilt. Just the thing to break me out of my breakfast rut of toast and a banana. I would resurrect one of these potato hockey pucks, maybe throw a fried egg on top, a little OJ…

I was already salivating as I pulled them from their frosty sarcophagus.

But my anticipation was put on hold when I read the instructions. 15 minutes in a 400 degree oven. Seems like an excessive output of energy for one measly hash brown patty (imagine my family’s joy at having Captain Planet in their midst). So I opted for the toaster. It would probably take a few cycles with the browning control set to 11, but the process would still come no where near expending as much fossil fuel as the oven.

In it went, with me leaning over the bread slot to keep an eye on how brown it was getting. And a smug smile on my face for having outwitted the energy wastrels at the TJ’s test kitchen.

The fatal flaw in my plan – as the patty warmed, it also softened. So much so that when the toaster timer hit its limit and tried to pop up, the patty had slouched casually to one side, catching on the wire innards of the chamber and keeping the mechanism from fully ejecting. A fork meant to dislodge the flaccid spud cake proved ineffective, merely tearing pieces loose that then tumbled into the guts of the toaster. All I could do was tip the entire kit and caboodle over and shake violently until the patty fell limply to the counter, along with several decades worth of accumulated bread crumbs.

And when I set the toaster back and went to put the patty in for a second time because, well, it wasn’t done, the locking mechanism that keeps everything in the down position no longer locked.

At that moment I thought I heard the sound of ‘Taps’ being played…gently.

Even bringing all my formidable handyman skills to bear (which in cases such as this usually involve banging on the recalcitrant device with varying degrees of force) wasn’t enough to mend its broken soul. It still heats up, mind you, as long as you stand there and hold the lever down, but that appears to be a deal-breaker for some.

It was the trendsetter, with enough cachet to dictate the design of our current kitchen here in Colorado. The mixer, purchased in the same ‘Majestic’ hue, the backsplash chosen for its hints of pale yellow, the matching butter dish, salt box, sugar bowl and wall pockets that would contrast perfectly with the smoky green color chosen for the cabinetry. So nothing else will do. And, of course, it’s been discontinued.

I’ll see you in Hell.

And in the mean time, mornings will find me standing over the toaster, holding down the lever. Because it’s either that or another kitchen remodel.

Picture Perfect

It would appear that, for now at least, the forces of authoritarian evil have been defeated, and those of us who cherish democracy can get back to business as usual. Which in my case means returning to the job search. And since typical avenues of employment during the pandemic remain, uh, challenging for those of us of a certain age, there have been some truly out-of-the-box considerations. For instance, a suggestion that I pursue a career as a ‘mature’ model. You know, in case they’re still looking for someone to replace the Dos Equis guy.

But here’s why flooding local talent agencies with glossy headshots may not be the best idea.

My writing efforts have, for the most part, been met with spectacular indifference. Just check the number of followers I have amassed on this blog after eight long years. But there was that one shining moment long ago, that started with an innocuous email.

An editor from Newsweek Magazine was informing me that she would like to print one of my missives. Wait, what? One of the biggest periodicals in the country (with claims of 19 million readers at the time) wanted to publish my stuff? In all honesty, it had been so long since I sent the unsolicited piece that I had forgotten about it.

After changing my underwear I called the editor, who told me they would be running my essay some time in the next four to five weeks, just as soon as they could schedule a photo shoot.

Pictures? Of me?

“We like to include a portrait of the author with the column,” she explained.

Here’s the thing – as a subject, I am incapable of taking a good picture. Usually I’m caught in mid-gesture, with an odd look on my face, as if I’m about to say something. Even as a kid I was always squinting and grimacing uncomfortably in family photos. Some Native Americans held the belief that when you took their picture, you were taking a piece of their soul. I can relate.

But there was no point in arguing. It was Newsweek Magazine, after all.

“And we need to think about props, too. Something that ties in with the piece.”

This was turning uglier by the minute. “The piece” dealt with my conflicted feelings over ethnic diversity, manifested through a new tattoo that called out my Scottish ancestry.

“Do you have a kilt, or maybe some bagpipes?”

“Afraid not,” I answered. That was the point of the article – that I rarely even acknowledge my heritage, much less make a show of it. And then I caved. “I might be able to get my hands on a Scottish flag, though.” One was stored in a box somewhere, thanks to my late aunt. As the clan matriarch and repository of our collective history, she was my complete opposite. The woman reveled in the thought that we had descended from proud Celtic stock, all bearing a striking resemblance to Mel Gibson (I never had the heart to break it to her).

Despite being separated by an ocean and several centuries of haphazard cross-breeding, in her eyes we were still noble moor dwellers and God help the half-wit who didn’t know better or the family member who strayed from the fold. Anyone foolhardy enough to offer her a green hat or four-leaf clover to wear on St. Patrick’s Day might very well draw back a bloody stump.

“That would work. I’m going to pass your name on to our photo editor, who will contact you shortly to set something up.”

Several more phone calls and emails ensue before I’m on my way to meet Fabrizio, the photographer who will be doing the shoot. It was his idea to hold it in a tattoo parlor as a way to further tie in with the article. He also reassures me that it shouldn’t take more than a few hours to capture what he’s looking for. Really? It’s just the family badge on my upper arm – I could have snapped a picture of it with the camera on my phone and been done with it. I’m having second thoughts about all of this, especially the damned flag.

After some discreet inquiries, we are cleared to shoot a few photos around a “tat” in progress. It seems other people want to be in this picture more than I do. So the three of us (did I mention Fabrizio’s assistant?) squeeze into a tiny booth where a young woman is having something from Picasso etched on her shoulder blade. In order to get everything in the shot, I’m instructed to stand uncomfortably close to her. Fabrizio is also telling me to shift my weight around, try some different emotional looks, do whatever comes “natural.” At that particular moment the most “natural” thing I can think of is to run screaming from the building.

“Okay, let’s try a few with the flag.”

Shit – I was hoping he’d forgotten about it.

Now, this isn’t one of those tiny flags stapled to a wooden stick, like the kind kids wave around at a Fourth of July parade. This is a thing of substance, the size of a beach towel – what soccer hooligans drape themselves in as they’re squaring off with police in the stands at the World Cup finals. And to clarify, it’s not the “official” Scottish flag, a white X (the cross of St. Andrew) on a blue background, but rather what’s known as the Lion Rampant, the banner of the royal monarchy. Bright yellow and red, it has much more visual impact, in a garish sort of way.

Before long I’m draped in it, the assistant throwing it around my neck and carefully arranging the folds of material across my chest. Bunched up the way it is, though, it simply looks like a gaily colored scarf, a really big one. The shot is a test of all my new-found modeling skills, as I try desperately to conjure up a facial expression that conveys something other than ‘Kill Me Now.’ But, of course, things could always be worse.

“What if you took your shirt off and then we go with the flag?”

There’s a momentary silence while everyone in the room considers that scenario.

19 million readers. And me in need of a wax.

“I’d prefer to leave my nipples out of this,” I protest. “Let’s not.” There are some things for which even Newsweek doesn’t rate.

Fabrizio accepts defeat with a terse sniff and moves on, having me try several nuanced versions of the classic bicep-flexing “muscleman” pose. I’m pretty sure the tattooist, who looks like he should be rearranging someone’s features with a crowbar on Sons of Anarchy, chuckled audibly at that point. Finally, mercifully, the artist in Fabrizio can sense the energy in the room evaporating, so we head to the lobby for another excruciating session of stilted posing in front of the “samples” rack, sans flag. After two hours of torture and hundreds of photos, this was deemed the best of the bunch.

Despite my demands, they have never released the originals to me. And yes, I’m still looking for my soul. Which is why I think I’ll hold off on those headshots.

Words of Wisdom

Photo credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” — Voltaire

“To sin by silence when we should protest, makes cowards out of men.” — Ella Wheeler Wilcox

“If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed…and we will deserve it.” — Lindsey Graham

I got nothin’ else.

I Get Knocked Down…

Disclaimer: This piece was posted roughly six hours before 2021 came completely off the rails, compliments of President Trump. At this point, where the new year is concerned, all bets are off. Watch your step!

I’d really like to welcome the new year with open arms, but at the moment I’m still busy scraping the last of the dog turd that was 2020 from the bottom of my shoe. Mostly, that entails another seemingly futile job search on the interwebs in an effort to reintegrate myself into the workforce. But all things considered, I regard myself lucky I only lost my job last year.

It’s been a little more than six months since I was involuntarily sent packing, unceremoniously given the boot by my employer as the first wave of the coronavirus crisis swept the globe. Not whining, because a lot of other folks got the same treatment – just giving some background. Besides, I wasn’t terribly enamored with my job – as a medical courier, I didn’t necessarily feel I was living my best life. Yes, it was a paycheck (albeit a small one), but I can’t in all honesty say that I leapt out of bed every morning reaching for the rubber gloves while exclaiming “Let’s collect more urine samples!”

I’ve chronicled some of my long and winding career path in previous posts. Everything from restaurant work to accounting, marketing shlub to radio and TV journalist (or, as I now refer to it on my resumé, ‘enemy of the people’). An interesting ride. And I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet – I would still like to find something to keep me busy and supplement the government dole.

Network television makes it look so effortless. There was a show a few years ago, Parenthood, where the characters seemed to float from job to job without consequence or travail. After interning at the family business, one goes on to be a writer, then a photographer, then the super at an apartment complex. Others ran a footwear company, but then decided to start a school, and even a recording studio. In Hollywood, changing careers is as easy as falling off a log.

Here in the trenches, things aren’t quite so glamorous. In fact, the last few years have been little more than a patchwork of entry-level jobs as I scrambled to maintain gainful employment. There was the overnight grocery store shelf stocker job, the construction gopher, those three weeks spent as the worst barista to ever don a Starbucks apron, and finally that medical courier position. None felt particularly rewarding, or held the promise of long-term opportunities. And were most assuredly not the stuff of compelling television.

So now it is that I find myself in my early sixties, with about 25 million others treading water here in the unemployment pool alongside me. Simply put, the odds of finding another gig any time soon are decidedly meager.

Yet I am unwilling to go quietly into that retirement good night. Instead, for inspiration, I look to Gandalf, the lawn goat who stands guard at our front walkway. Being on the top-heavy side, Gandalf’s balance is somewhat tenuous, as anything above a stiff breeze is enough to upend him. Along with everything else, this past year has been exceptionally windy here on the Front Range and saw him toppled more than his share. And each time, I took a bit of pride in putting him back on his feet, readying him for the next rogue gust, like Rocky getting up off the mat when everyone is telling him to stay down. While that song by Chumbawumba kept playing in my head.

I’ve never been the type to make New Year’s resolutions – I try not to let the calendar dictate when it’s time to initiate life-altering decisions. Nor am I one to give others advice. But if ever there was a moment to shake off the old and start anew, this seems like it. So here’s to a better year for everyone. And no matter what happens, be like Gandalf and get back up again.

I, for one, want to believe better days are ahead, and that all the dog turds are behind us.

Hope for the Holidays

It’s the time of year when we work that “Peace on Earth, goodwill toward men” stuff pretty hard. A nice gesture, perhaps, but I really don’t think we can achieve that first goal so long as “men” are part of the equation.

To elaborate, I cut someone off on the freeway the other day. An unintentional act, as I was moving over to allow merging traffic in and didn’t check my blind spot. Totally my bad. Understandably, there was honking and frantic hand gesturing from the wronged driver. But it didn’t end there.

He pulled alongside at the first opportunity and flipped me off. Not the most original response, but something I myself most likely would have done in the same situation. He was also hurling epithets, the gist of which I was able to grasp even though I couldn’t hear him through the rolled up window. A request that I have intimate relations with myself, while calling out my resemblance to the discharge end of my digestive tract, mostly.

I tried to convey the fact that I was an idiot, putting my hands up in conciliatory fashion and mouthing “sorry,” but this only seemed to enrage him more. He edged his car closer to mine, then pulled ahead, cut in front of me and stepped on the brake, a move which nearly caused me to smash into his ‘Coexist’ bumper sticker. When I changed lanes to give him a little space, he did it again. We played this game for several miles before I got to my exit.

Nor could I claim the moral high ground. Despite being clearly at fault, there came a fleeting moment during the dust-up when I considered forcing my adversary off the road, jerking him out of his car through the sunroof and pounding him senseless by way of an apology. That John Lennon’s Imagine was playing on the car radio the entire time seemed oddly appropriate.

Acute phallic psychosis, better known as Toxic Masculinity, is more than just a ‘guy thing’ – it’s unhinged behavior that has been tolerated for far too long. Millennia, in fact. We just can’t shake all that “hunter-gatherer” crap, even though we’ve been out of the caves for a good fifty-thousand years. Somewhere in the ancient, uncharted folds of our gray matter, we’re still squatting around the tribal fire, scrapping for our share of Mastodon filet. Which goes a long way toward explaining our fascination with watching large, loud people pummel one another with folding chairs.

Remember when Rodney King asked, “Can’t we all just get along?” Well, apparently we can not. Not as long as men run the show, anyway. Getting along is not something we’re all that good at. We don’t go in much for talking about our feelings or empathizing with others. It’s much easier to simply lock and load.

Statistically speaking, men are 3 times more likely than women to be involved in a fatal traffic accident and about 15 times more likely to abuse a spouse. And when it comes to initiating a global conflict or leaving the toilet seat up, it’s a guy every time. Which begs the question, why are we still in charge? We should all be sedated and kept locked away in pods for the good of society, like in The Matrix. So long as we’re getting NFL Game Day in there you could be harvesting our organs and we wouldn’t care.

Aggressive behavior had a certain place in our evolution, but there is very little call these days for crushing someone’s skull over a swatch of saber-tooth tiger hide. Testosterone is a cruel mistress, I’ll grant you, but times have changed and we need to change with them or be replaced by a newer model. One that doesn’t thump its chest while shouting things like “Who’s your daddy?” or “You want some of this?”

Peace on Earth? That’s probably best left to the women-folk. Maybe New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, who gave a Master’s course in COVID Crisis Management, or Angela Merkel, who’s handled Leader of the Free World duties with aplomb these last four years. If the guys just stick to what they’re good at – opening jars and killing bugs – perhaps we’ll all have a happy holiday.

Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

Image credit: Utah Department of Public Safety

It may have stood in the red rock desert of Utah for nearly five years – images from Google Earth show it appearing some time between late 2015 and early 2016. Miles from anywhere, it was only random chance that the thing was spotted by a helicopter crew doing sheep tallies for the government. A mysterious three-sided metal structure, maybe twelve feet high, dubbed ‘The Utah Monolith’ for its other-worldly similarities in origin (unknown) and meaning (anyone’s guess) to the inscrutable black slab from Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 classic, 2001, A Space Odyssey.

Barring actual extraterrestrial interaction, the most likely explanation had to be an art installation, along the lines of the environmental pieces conceptual artist Christo did back in the 60s and early 70s. But whereas Christo always made a show of his work – like the giant orange curtain that was draped across a canyon here in Colorado – this appears to have been done on the down low, erected without fanfare and left for someone to stumble across by and by.

Officials waited a few days before releasing pictures of the anomaly on November 23rd, no doubt debating whether to make them public at all. They refused to reveal its location, hinting only that it was very remote and they didn’t want people trying to find it and getting lost or ‘stranded’ somewhere requiring rescue. But, of course, it only took a matter of hours for someone to ferret out its whereabouts, between flight path tracking apps and the fact that every square inch of the planet is viewable on our computers.

I was among those who looked for and found the monolith, at least on my laptop here in my room. It was a story that instantly piqued my curiosity because there are so few, if any, real mysteries left in this world. A column of polished steel, hiding in the desert, untouched and unexplained? How irresistibly cool! I entertained, briefly, the idea of a pilgrimage but knew that was a pipe dream. Despite the official warnings, it was, in truth, too accessible.

From what I could tell, it was maybe a five-mile hike from a fairly well-established road – albeit a dirt road, and maybe 30 miles down that road from the nearest pavement, but certainly not somewhere requiring days of hiking across barren, baking red rock. Yet I can appreciate that not everyone has enough common sense to act responsibly, a fact for which we all pay the consequences. The feds were simply covering their asses. They knew full well we couldn’t behave ourselves.

But the cat was most definitely out of the bag. Within a day or two, the social media one-upsmanship had begun. Photos of interlopers were already making the rounds, obligatory selfies (the currency of our celebrity-obsessed society) with the monolith looming in the background. And then, just as quickly and mysteriously, it was gone, vanishing some time overnight the Friday after Thanksgiving.

Having stood unnoticed for five years, it was undone in five days.

The Bureau of Land Management, in whose jurisdiction the monolith resided, is professing ignorance, claiming they don’t know what happened. The local county sheriff has offered similar lip service – a dismissive shrug, in essence. Surely both are greatly relieved.

Understandable, as there were no accommodations for people to visit the site, such as a parking lot or bathroom facilities. Even though, technically, BLM land belongs to all of us, the agency reports that vehicles, lots of them, were parked on delicate vegetation and ‘human waste’ was found at the now former site of the monolith. Others would argue that the monolith never belonged there in the first place, that it was the interloper.

And so the worst fears were confirmed and it had to go, for our protection as well as the planet’s. Whether whisked away by government officials, the remorseful artist who first installed it, or the aliens who realized its enigmatic message was lost on we low-wattage humans, only a triangular hole in the ground remains.

Some speculate that Kubrick’s monolith represents mankind’s quest for knowledge. If anything, the Utah monolith is a symbol of our fatuity.

Room to Write

Personal space is important, but not always easy to come by with 7 billion of us (and counting) jostling for elbow room. One of my shrines, the great outdoors, is being overrun, sending me further and further off the beaten path in search of solitude. Hell, these days it’s even getting tougher to make a place to do a little writing in my own home.

Back in the Before Times, when only bank robbers wore facemasks and toilet paper wasn’t delivered in a Brinks truck, I had a cozy lair in the spare bedroom. Sure, I shared it with a derelict treadmill, but the rest of the room was mine. There was a huge desk, a comfy chair in one corner, and plenty of space to spread out. At the time, I was doing some freelance writing for a few business publications and could close the door so as not to disturb anyone (or be disturbed) when conducting phone interviews, or doing online research at sites like Wall Street Vixens the Wall Street Journal.

Then came the coronavirus. And my wife got the green light to work from home. The only suitable space was, of course, mine. So we found the tiniest desk we could, squeezed it into a corner of the guest room, and voila, welcome to my new office.

I just recently upgraded from that three foot wide postage stamp of a workspace to a luxurious four foot wide desk in a move meant to alleviate the awkwardness of having my office located in the guest room, despite the fact that we never have guests. Still, this new arrangement is less than ideal, as I have simply moved across the hall into the master bedroom, wedged between a couple of dressers. It’s okay, I guess, but not the type of environment in which I envision John Steinbeck turning out The Grapes of Wrath.

Stephen King used to write in a closet to get away from the clamor of family life, so my whining has little justification. Nonetheless, as I was bemoaning my predicament, I remembered a quote from the author Annie Dillard, who said, “You can read in the space of a coffin, and you can write in the space of a toolshed meant for mowers and spades.”

At that moment my gaze turned to the backyard where, out the window, sat my brand new toolshed, the paint hardly dry. Serendipity.

I would be in good company, as writers have a long history of sneaking off to their private places. Thoreau may have started the trend with the rustic hovel he famously constructed on the edge of Walden Pond, but others from Dylan Thomas to Virginia Woolf also holed up in retreats of varying nature where they could do their thing, without distractions.

A pair of more contemporary authors, Ken Gordon and Michael Pollan, have written about how each, like Thoreau, attempted to build their own ‘writer’s cabin.’ As Gordon notes, “For the writers who can muster it, building the cabin is as important as inhabiting it.” A sentiment echoed by Pollan: “I wanted not only a room of my own, but a room of my own making. I wanted to build this place myself.” And while I didn’t start my project with such intentions, I better understand their motives now that I’m done.

Here I think it’s important to note that neither of these guys had spouses who were planning on getting extra storage space out of the deal instead of an elitist man-cave. So I was on my own when it came to informing my wife that her dream of a pristine, uncluttered garage would have to wait, at least until I hit the best-seller list.

You would be surprised at how quickly you can go from writer’s cabin to doghouse. And since my humble shed has no heat, lights or running water, I am currently in negotiations for an extension cord and a five-gallon bucket.