Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Ode to the Atomic Testing Museum*

I few years ago I took a trip to The Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas. It's a branch of the Smithsonian and easily your best use of time and money in Vegas.

I won't go into the entire rehash of that trip, but it is a really really cool museum. The only problem I had with it was this weird cheerleadery vibe it gave off. There were a couple movies with guys who worked at the Yucca Flats testing facility for 30 or 40 years and they had the attitude that dropping the bomb at the time was the right decision. In retrospect, knowing what we know about its effects, it was still unequivocally the right decision. We should never have stopped testing, we'd drop another one tomorrow if "we had to."

Now the guys who worked desperately through WWII and throughout the Cold War on these weapons are certainly entitled to their opinions, and they are coming from a much different perspective than I am. I don't even remember the Cold War, though I was born before the end of it. I've never had to know what the fastest route to my local bomb shelter is. But this pro-bomb attitude pervaded the entire exhibit, even the parts talking about all the innocent bystanders (sometimes literally) who were harmed by the tests, let alone the devastating and ongoing affects on Japan.

The tests in Nevada (where they were moved after the accidental radiation poisoning of a bunch of Pacific Islanders hundreds of miles away from the original South Pacific test sites) became a tourist attraction. People would stand a "safe" seven miles away from the blast. You had to either put on sunglasses or turn your back, until the shock wave passed.

It just blows my mind that anyone would want to. There's a part of the museum where you can experience a simulated atomic blast. They blow wind at you, and it's loud but not loud enough to say, damage the hearing of the average museum patron. The white out is not searing light, it's just a white screen.

And I still thought it was terrifying. I think both my mother and I came out of that theater in tears. It's horrific enough that the government subjected our own service people to it, essentially to see what would happen to them, but these tourists were all civilians.

I also saw some footage of Nagasaki immediately after the blast. The main target had been a naval base that had housed something like 10 or 20 thousand troops. In the footage it was just a guy walking around a big empty field, marking out what used to be the perimeter. You just had to take his word that we were looking at anything.

You could see from the angles of char and the skew of windows where the blast had come from on the surviving structures. It was recently declassified film made by the war department, and devastatingly hard to watch.

Sorry, this has gone on a bit too long, like I always do when I talk about this museum trip, but the pervasion of Atomic Bomb imagery throughout our culture, and its history is a subject that is endlessly fascinating and chilling to me. It's terrifying, but also, so cool. It's because I'm a sci-fi geek. I mean, it all ties in with the Space Program, and Ray Bradbury, and pretty much every single one of my favorite B horror or science fiction films. Scarier in reality than it ever could be on film.

*This is another old post that has been cleaned up. So now I can refer people to this instead of talking their ear off about this museum.

Crazy Kinda Poetry*

Yesterday my girlfriend and I went to see Lucy's Legacy, the current main exhibit at PacSci. It was really, really fantastic. The first half covered the history of Ethiopia which was pretty cool in its own right, 3.8 million year old bones found there not withstanding.

The second half was about fossils, and how they're dated, and how they could tell that Lucy was a biped based on the position of the skull in relation to the base of the spine. There was CGI animation of the skeletons of a chimp, a human, and Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis), and how they (probably) walk. There were skulls from various species of bipedal primates, some of whom went on to evolve into us, some of whom did not.

The actual Lucy was, well... a box of dimly lit bones. But the exhibit did a fantastic job of making you feel the import of this discovery. I got teary. There was also a life size sculpture of Lucy done by a guy who has probably the coolest job in the world. There was an exhibit past the gift shop (where I manfully did not buy the "I Love Lucy" t-shirt, no matter how awesome I thought it was) all about the sculptor and the work he's done around the world for various history museums and things and that was pretty fascinating. The way he has to combine artistic skill with forensic anthropology and biology and anatomy to create life-size sculpture of animals that only exists as bone fragments.

Anyway. After the exhibit we went to the ballet (Jewels, for people who know stuff about ballet). The GF is a ballerina and she was excited that this one had no plot, just choreography. She said when she listens to the music she imagines the choreography in her head. This would be fun since she wouldn't have to make the dances up herself.

I had never been to a ballet before. Well, ok, I went to the ballet version of Edward Scissorhands at the 5th last year, but I'm not sure that counts. I shall be honest. This was not the best ballet ever. I enjoyed it, the dancers were amazing, but the music was too quiet. You have a stage full of people floating around basically doing insane things and making it look ridiculously easy, but when you can hear each "thud!" when they land it ruins the illusion somewhat.

But the really nice part of the evening was the walk back to parking. We discussed the ballet, and I decided that though the ballet was not as awesome as the exhibit, that there was a beautiful symmetry to all of it. We started with the very roots of humanity. Walking upright freed our arms and fingers from bearing loads, allowed them to become more delicate and dexterous, and to use tools. It freed up our diaphragms so that we could develop speech, and song. And then to close the evening we rejoiced in a pure expression of all those qualities and abilities that are unique to our species.

Lucy's legacy indeed.

*This is a cleaned up and more succinct version of an older post.

A Screenplay About Death

I debated putting this up here or on Tumblr, since my tumblr is more frequently used these days, but I don't think it's a particularly good place for fiction writing, so this goes here. It's a piece I wrote when given the prompt to write about death. So fair warning.



MAX DAVIS, a 46 year old Sheriff’s Deputy with thinning hair stands in the headlights of his patrol car. Max is a skinny man, but his bullet proof vest makes him appear puffy. His badge gleams in the light. Max is taking a statement from JON VENNERI (65). Jon is covered with a thick layer of dirt and wheat dust. There are dark streaks under his eyes where he has wiped away tears. The grime on his hands and overalls is black, some of it may be blood. There is a dusty wheat truck and a combine parked just outside the circle of light. Both men avoid looking at the truck.


I, I just…We radioed him around lunchtime but he didn’t answer. We figured that he was just having a cigarette or something. I sent the other guys home already. I hope that’s ok.

Jon pauses to take a shuddering breath.


I can get statements from them later. You were first on the scene. Go on Jon.


We didn’t get worried until Tim was supposed to meet us at Ober’s Field and when he didn’t show, we went looking. He was sort of…slumped over. It was like he’d fallen asleep or something. But then I opened the door and there was all the blood. There were flies. Everywhere. It was so hot and I tried to get them away…

Jon stops talking to swipe at his face again. He makes the smears worse. Max reaches out to pat him on the shoulder.


It’s alright. There was nothing you could do. Tim He wasn’t acting strangely at all this morning? He didn’t seem depressed?


No. Nothing like that. His son just turned three. Tim was going to use the harvest money to put a down payment on a new house. He’d been drinking. There was a whisky bottle on the floor. It was empty, but I think it got knocked over so I don’t know how much. It, it had to have been an accident.


It looked like he was cleaning the gun. Or something. I don’t think this was intentional. I have all that I need for today Jon. Why don’t I drive you home?

(takes a steadying breath, trying to get himself under control)

You still have to tell Maurine?

Max nods.


I’ll be ok. I’m ok to drive. You still have a long night.


If you’re sure….


I’m sure. I’ll be ok.

Max and Jon both get into their vehicles and head towards town. Max follows Jon most of the way before turning down the road to Tim and Maurine’s house.


Max is standing on a covered porch. The porch light is a bare light bulb and there are moths fluttering around it. The curtains are drawn but the room inside is warmly lit. Max stares at the door for a long time before he finally knocks. MAURINE FLEMMING, a young frowsy woman in baggy pajama pants and a sweater answers almost immediately. BOBBY FLEMMING, a big eyed three year old is behind her. Both of them are surprised but pleased to see Max.


Officer Max!

Max smiles weakly at Bobby.


Hey there Bobby.


Hello Officer Davis, what can we do for you? C’mon inside.


Thanks Maurine. 

Max steps into a warm living room done in pink floral wall paper. All the accents are frilly.


Did you bring your doggy? Can I see him?


Sorry Bobby, not this time. I need to talk to your mom for a while ok? Maurine, I need to speak to you privately.

Maurine realizes that this is not a social visit after all and she is becoming alarmed. 


Bobby, you go watch TV. Mommy needs to talk to Officer Max, ok honey?

Bobby grins and toddles off down the hallway. Officer Max is much less interesting without the allure of the dog.


What’s happened? Is Tim alright?

Max gently draws Maurine to the sofa and sits down next to her.


Maurine, there’s been an accident.

He watches Maurine steal herself for the news. 


Tim’s dead.

Maurine gasps, but it’s a prepared reaction. She is wringing her hands in the bottom of her sweater and shaking a little.


Wh, what happened?


We’re not completely sure. He was in his truck and apparently he was cleaning his gun and it went off. It hit him in the leg. Dr. Robert’s said it hit his femoral artery. He bled out in seconds.

Maurine has gone pale and her shuddering is more pronounced now.


He shot himself cleaning his gun? He’s never done that before.

Max starts to speak, and then pauses, unsure if he should continue.


There was some evidence that he’d been drinking. It was just an accident.


But…that’s so stupid. He knows better than that.


Maurine, I am so sorry.


Where? Where is he? I need to see him.

Max glances out the window and sees that another squad car has just pulled up outside.


The body is at the coroner at the county hospital. I can take you there now if you like. Officer Barrow is outside. She can stay with Bobby, or take him to a neighbor’s house.

Maurine straightens up and nods decisively. This sounds like a sensible idea. 


The Mackenzie’s will watch him.


Ok. She’ll take him there and make sure they understand the situation. I’ll take you to the hospital whenever you’re ready.

(near whisper)

Tim’s really dead?

Max nods.


Yes Maurine. I’m so sorry.

Maurine’s brief practical fa├žade crumbles and she falls against Max’s chest sobbing. He strokes her back and lets her cry.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Lesbian Commune

So this is what I think would be great. An ideal living situation. I want to share a house with 3 or 4 other women (they needn't be lesbians really, just "lesbian commune" has a ring to it). A biggish house obviously so there is plenty of room for everybody. Ample bathrooms, lots of windows.

It'll be on the outskirts of a major city, Portland or Seattle or San Francisco or similar. We'll have a big fenced yard with a garden and some chickens and a nanny goat. I'll have the poodles and the house will be big enough for another dog or cat (preferably not a cat) if somebody else wants one. We will all have day jobs which so it is good that we're situated so close to public transportation. Or perhaps I'm close enough to work that I can ride my bike.

Everybody will contribute to the little farm and we'll have tons of produce. Maybe a peach or apple tree too. It will be idyllic and low cost and nice.

I don't understand why these aren't everywhere.

Heh, the puppy is dreaming pretty vividly. Running and biting in his sleep.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tales from the Bookstore: Precicious Child #1

So I have acquired an exciting new job at a local independent bookstore. I am very happy there. I like my coworkers and I enjoy the work and the customers and the windows and everything. No more dogs. Except my own of course. I am mad at them right now because despite my best efforts they got into my Christmas candy today (I was only away for 4 hours, but that's all it takes) and made themselves very sick. I came home to a lot of vomit, which I guess is good because if they hadn't thrown up all over everything I own they'd probably have died. If they don't die I may still murder them. Right now the puppy is crying because they are confined to a cage in the living room lined with piddle pads. Tough shit Bertie. I'm not letting you sleep with me until I am completely satisfied that the bouts of diarrhea and vomiting are completely over. Anyway, this has nothing to do with the precocious child.

Thus far at the bookstore there have been several precocious children. There was one grandmother who came in with three granddaughters and let them all pick out their own books and they spent a loooong time pouring through the stacks. Another lady came in last week and asked to see the children's atlases. Her 9 year old grandson (or possibly nephew?) likes maps to the exclusion of all else. The maps in the children's atlases sucked so I suggested we look at the regular atlases that had all sorts of precise detailed maps in them. She said she was worried about him lugging a big heavy book around. I said I'd willingly dragged all sorts of heavy books with me when I was a kid. She replied that she wasn't worried about him, she was worried about his parents reaction because apparently he would insist on taking it with him where ever he went. He had even dragged one of his maps to the ballet and got very upset if he had to leave it behind. So I suggested maybe the small pocket atlas, or one of each, the big one for home and the pocket for travel. Don't know what she finally decided but it was hilarious listening to her talk about this kid. I figure he'll either become a cartographer or he'll grow out of it and be pissed when people keep giving him maps for the rest of his life.

But the best precocious child was the one who was in today. She was 9 or 10 and wearing one of those knit hats with the long strings and it had teddy bear ears. She came up to my register and said she was looking for the "grown up" version of The Secret Garden.

"Do you mean unabridged?" I asked. She frowned and I could tell she didn't know what that word meant.

"I want one with the whole story. Not one with parts missing."

"I know exactly what you mean," I said. "I don't like the ones with parts missing either."

I showed her over to the wall of Children's Classics. The Secret Garden was on the top shelf, and it's public domain so there are lots of versions both abridged and unabridged. I pulled one down at random and checked.

"See?" I said. "This is the one you're looking for. If it says 'unabridged' that means it's the whole book." She said something about wanting one by the real author and pointed to the version on our bargain rack. The bargain books are lots of 'childrens' books like Frankenstein or Dracula or Romeo and Juliet. All public domain and most are abridged to one degree or another. But they're also nice hardcovers that are cheaper than most paperbacks. The book she's pointed to has a note along the side that says "adapted from Burnett's original version."

"That's how I knew it wasn't the real one," she said.

"Ah, sharp eye!" I said. I was absolutely delighted with her, and moreso when she came up with her mom and her sister and a huge stack of books for all three of them. We can despair for some of today's youth, but not for this one.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Obscene Poetry

So I spent (wasted) several hours today going through old writing. I couldn't find what I was looking for which means I'll probably have to turn on my old piece o' shit e-machine to get at it.

However I did find a poem I wrote during my senior year of college when I should have been working on a paper. I had stolen some lilies from the opening of the senior show and they were just disgustingly slutty. Pretty though. Also they set off all my allergies.

Bright, brazen petals entreat, "Come, delve into my soft folds. Plumb the sweet nectar of my depths."

The heads of turgid, upthrust pistils glisten and drip with clear, sticky sap. The stamens, erect and velvety, beg for something, anything, to rub against them and relieve them of the thick coating of pollen that has made them so thick, flushed and dark.

The flowers accost passersby with their intoxicating scent, fairly shouting, "Come on baby! Pollinate me! Fuck yeah!"

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Some Cartoons

I thought I would share my work from class 2 at Animation Mentor. I went a little crazy from stress so am currently taking a break and will restart class 3 in January. I won't show you any of the work from my abortive class 3 attempt because it was all...not ghastly, just half finished. I was never able to put time into any of it to get it up to the (my) required standard. But I liked what I did for class 2.

1st Project- Side Step (turned into more of a hop)

2nd Project- Dive

3rd Project- Dance (this dance was a bit over ambitious because this dude was a crazy awesome dancer, but even though it still needs work (re: arm flailing) I'm pleased with most of it)