It’s been another busy week–or how many days?–since I
wrote last. Taxes still loom over me. I have to delay paying until my next
paychecks come tomorrow, and then I have to scrape together enough money to
keep my credit card from maxing out completely. I really hate that I’ve got a
maxed-out card. I don’t think I’ve ever had one. But I didn’t quite expect a
$9,000 tax liability. And Lazarus still needs medical care, even though he’s
healthy for an old man. Two visits this month for antibiotics to kick a
UTI–you can relate!–and he needs a lump removed from his neck. Not helping
lower that debt.
I own your truck now. Did I tell you that? Hard to remember.
I do feel age creeping into my brain. It’s hard to know what I’ve said and what
I haven’t, and I’m often asking people to repeat themselves, not because I’m
hard of hearing, but because I just can’t process what they’ve said to me. I
need to hear it again. Anyway, I just loaded up your truck with about a quarter
of the waste wood from my old deck. I think I’ll hold onto it for a while, as
some of it came in handy building Mother’s ramp. I’m going to drive it over and
store it behind your garage, though.
When did I last write? I don’t know. Months. Not good
months. No one is to blame. Life gets too busy to handle. One person’s
anxieties clash with another person’s anxieties. Changing life situations catch
us by surprise and make the ground beneath our feet seem unstable. We take it
out on each other.
There has been little to no progress on the house since I
last wrote. I take that back. Christian has organized the tools. Ethan and
Christian have cleaned up the basement, actually trying to reclaim it as usable
space. Ethan unearthed two lab cabinets that you have bought decades ago. I
remember carrying them into the room I think of as the “lab” room. It
contains the water tank, the darkroom, the electrical panels and phone
interface. It also has your workbench that you built in the 1960s with your own
hands. It has the bloody (literally, as I recall) steel lab bench with the
transite top that we bought from Sacred Heart Hospital. And it has lots, and
lots and lots of oscilloscopes. And one last b-52 gunsite. Oh, and, yes, one
Last year my friend and mentor Howard Weinstein floated me a call for submissions for an anthology. Then untitled, it was to be published by Five Star Press, who published Howie’s excellent first Western novel, Galloway’s Gamble. The deadline was short, but it was a good opportunity. I dropped everything and wrote “Boxcar Knights,” a story set shortly after the civil war, in which two Confederate orphans hop a freight to go west in search of their fortunes. I love railroad stories, and I got to do a lot of cool research on hobo culture. I’ll never be able to listen to the folk song “The Big Rock Candy Mountain” the same way again.
Well, my drop-everything effort paid off. The story was very well-received by Senior Editor Tiffany Schofield. Within days, it was slated for publication in Hobnail and Other Frontier Stories, ably edited by Hazel Rumney. I had an overwhelmingly positive experience working with them, and now it’s shipping in glorious hardcover! Please buy a copy or ask your library to order a copy. And, once you’ve read it, review!
So much has happened in the last six weeks, it’s been hard
to keep up. Mother was in the hospital… Jim Heller died… Christian got a
car… Tax season hit…
I already talked about Jim. That was a blow, and really got
me thinking about my career and what I want out of it. Still thinking, so I
won’t say a lot about that.
Mother’s hospital visit and aftermath… I wrote about her
homecoming already. Since she’s been home, things have been stable, but our
lives have changed a bit. Mother’s more forgetful than she was before. A severe
urinary tract infection can do that to someone who’s 92 years old. They affect
the brain, sometimes permanently. Mother is very aware of her short-term memory
loss, and very frustrated by it. She asked me the other day why she had lost
the ability to focus on something like doing her taxes. “I always did our
taxes,” she said. “Your Daddy never did. Why can’t I do them anymore?
I try, and it just frustrates me. I get exhausted just looking at them.”
I explained to her that the human short-term memory is like
a table. When you’re young, the tabletop is big enough to hold, say, three rows
of five index cards. Everything you can write on those cards, you can think
about, all at the same time. As we get older, the available space shrinks–the
tabletop has to hold our pills and our eyeglasses and our hearing aids. And
photos of our grandchildren and the parents we lost a few years ago. After a
while, maybe there’s only room for three index cards, and that’s all you can
think about at once. If it takes seven index cards worth of information to do
your taxes, well, you don’t have space for that anymore. You need to put them
on another table, namely someone else’s brain.
A friend asked me recently, “You’re under a lot of
stress, right? Like, all the time?”
I had to say, “Yes.”
I am under a lot of stress all the time. Maybe it’s been that way my whole life. Maybe I do it to myself. I used to ask Ethan, when he was little, “What’s the going rate on trouble?” To which he would respond with a blank look in his little, blue eyes. And then I would explain, “Because you’re borrowing a lot of it.”
My little future economist would not then ask me to explain
usury, because, of course, he knew it inside-out by the age of two. He would,
however, ask me what it meant to “borrow trouble.” It’s a high art
form for a lot of us, imagining all that can go wrong, stressing over it,
planning for how we’ll handle it. It’s the natural state of a lot of science
fiction writers, of which group I am (quite) nominally a member. It can be a
valuable skill, anticipating what could go wrong, so you can prevent it from
doing so. It can also drive you batty.
I also used to tell Ethan the tale of the three Sillies, the
fairy tale about the man who went out in the world to see if he could find
three examples of people stupider than his fiance and future in-laws. The deal
was that, if he found those three, he would marry into a family of idiots.
You get that feeling that you’ve heard this story before…
Almost two years ago–shy five days–I posted that Lazarus (the
scruffy, orange fellow pictured above) had liver cancer. And then he didn’t. He
had pancreatitis. Still, we were told he was going to die. Soon. And then he
Two days ago, we were once again told that Lazarus probably
had liver cancer, and we began mourning all over again. And now he doesn’t have
liver cancer. Honestly, I think the boy’s liver was a gift from Loki, or maybe
Anansi. It likes to f**k with us.
I also think that I’ve found cause to deny Harlan Ellison’s
claim that “Let me help” are the three most important words in the
English language, even up against “I love you.” I think “It’s
not cancer” are those words for me. This is not the first or the second
time I’ve heard them, about a cat or a human, and their emotional impact simply
cannot be described.
At 1701 hours on September 26, my old friend Lewis G. Aide,
West Point graduate, IT Wizard, Convention Magician and actual magician, first
responder, senior center volunteer and NeighborRide driver, left this life.
And he left it better than he found it.
I met Lew in 1986, probably at a committee meeting for our Star Trek convention, ClipperCon. I
don’t recall the exact circumstances or what we talked about. I know I first
heard his name on a phone call with Marion McChesney. I was doing the con
program book and needed to verify the spellings of all the staff and guest names.
“Oh, there’s two people you haven’t even met yet,” she said. “They’ll get a
kick out of being listed as committee members.” Marion played fast and loose
with formalities. She had met these guys somewhere, and just decided they
should join us. Lew Aide was taking over my old slot as “assistant film
chairman,” also known as the poor schlub who threaded the 16 MM films and, more
and more in those days, popped the VHS tapes in and out. Marc Lee was the other
new “hire.” He was filling the new committee position of Being Marc Lee.
It snowed yesterday, and pretty much everything shut down. I
suppose, if you could plan a snowstorm, this one would count as being pretty
well-planned. It started before rush hour, on a day just cold enough to keep
the snow from melting. Roads had been salted, but snow accumulation out-paced
the chemically induced melting, and my street, which is normally kept plowed
clear throughout a storm, was snow-covered for most of the day. Because of the
timing–we were expecting the snow as early as 1:00 in the morning–schools and
offices had already decided to close the night before. And now, the day after,
the roads are clear, and, at 36 degrees with an expected high of 51, the snow
I realize that having to close costs businesses money.
Full-time employees still have to be paid, and no revenue is coming in. Howard
County must lay out about 1.5 Million for those eight lost hours, but having
the decision made and having it all over with in a day seems pretty low impact.
Even the trash was picked up on time.
Of course, some people still have to go to work. The staff
at Mother’s nursing care facility all came to work. All of my colleagues in the
Fire service came to work. The Emergency Operations Center was activated for
the County, and everyone who supported it was working. Also of course, having
every location connected to the Internet, as we certainly do in Central
Maryland, means you can go to work without going to work. I wound up working
five hours yesterday. Were you able to work from home? I don’t recall you ever
doing it while I was growing up. You had an office, and all manner of papers
and equipment around, but I don’t recall you working.
I wrote this entry in a time of turmoil. Your house was
suddenly ours. Mother was still in the nursing home. My employer was still
settling into a new office building and adjusting to a new leader. There were frustrating
family issues. As I publish this, a good friend is in the hospital, dying, there
are still work frustrations and family frustrations. There are still bills that
I’m trying to figure out how to pay. In all of this, a friend of mine wrote
today, it might be best to “go full Vulcan.” That is, to turn off our
feelings, like Mr. Spock could on Star Trek, and just make all the right
intellectual choices. I think you would have considered that an attractive
option. Well I wrote this response to you seven months ago, and I still think
February 20th, 2019
I remember you, red in the face, angry at me about
something, demanding “What’s so damned wonderful about having feelings?” I was probably 15 or so.
I didn’t know what to say at the time. Now I do.