View from the end of our street, February 22nd, 2019

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Preview of Coming Attractions

          Wow!  We've survived another Christmas, huh?  Well, some of us did, anyway.  We gave a lot of stuff, and got a lot of stuff, and everybody seemed to like what they got.  I, too, collected some nice swag, but mostly what I wanted was that warm fuzzy feeling you find in the gathering together of a bunch of folks with a long shared history of caring about and loving each other.  That was felt around the Hideout, and a second dose will be obtained, as my wandering son, the Axeman, will be coming in from Colorado for the second week in January.  That's great from my point of view, as he avoids the Holiday travel rush while extending the Holiday cheer for a couple more weeks.

          This will be my last post of 2011.  All in all, it has been an enjoyable year, though as any Taoist can tell you, it's almost impossible to stay on top for a year, and there have been a few speed bumps, but that's okay.  We're all still here, we have what we need, with maybe a little speck extra, so who's to complain?  I've dealt with a few car problems, a health scare, and needed to replace a couple of major appliances, but we got past all that, and we're all here, safe, warm, and fed; life is good!  I don't make New Year's Resolutions; never have, never will.  They just set you up for failure, disappointment, and feelings of inadequacy.  All I try to do, and you can call it a resolution if you want, is try to do well for myself and my family, and right by those I impact, as I always try to do at all times.  If you can live up to that, you'll find you don't need a list of formalized resolutions.

          I anticipate making some changes to the blog for the new year.  Again, call these resolutions if you want.  I've been hacking away here for nine months, and as is always the case with initial endeavors, some things have turned out well, and others, not so much.  I plan to drop Tales of my Kids from the rotation here.  You haven't seen much of that in any case, but Bonnie is covering it in some detail in Across the Years, and our daughter, Nine, posts her own recollections, among other things at The Spinster Aunt, so I'm just triplicating information better passed on elsewhere.  That isn't to say I won't post an occasional anecdote if I feel the need, but it won't be in the regular rotation next year.  Another thing I promise to lighten up on is controversy.  I understand that you can't have a footprint on the web without being controversial, and that's fine, but this is not a political blog, and I'm not doing it to rattle cages.  I may not be able to avoid controversy entirely, but there is no need to court it with articles purporting to tell you what effect video games will have on your kids, for example.  I have experience, and I have opinions, but I don't have any special knowledge or insight, and there is no particular reason for me to be muddying the waters... not that that particular water could get any muddier...  The news feed will go, unless someone really likes it, and says so, and I'm going to change the visitor map.  The music may get changed more regularly; details, those, but site improvement, nonetheless. 

          I will periodically weed out my recommended sites for you to visit.  The start of a new year seems like an appropriate time for a performance review.  I don't just recommend a site as an entertaining stop because I know the URL.  Every site that went on my list was added because something about them "grabbed" me in terms of content and production.  A couple of old friends are on the dime right now, and whether they stay or go depends on what I hear from them in the next week or so.

          That's what I'm taking out, so what, you may ask, will I be putting in?  Well, I plan to take more trips around this beautiful region I live in, and document them for your enjoyment.  People from all over the world spend thousands of dollars to come here for a week.  I live here.  I own a camera, a fairly new digital model that I'm becoming more proficient with every day.  It is, quite simply, selfish of me to go out to relax, and not share the experience with you who make this particular hobby possible, or at least enjoyable.  Over on the now-defunct family blog, The Tyler Gang, I talked of a regular feature called The Other San Diego, which would look at the stuff the tourists miss.  I even did a couple of posts, but I let it get buried.  I intend to bring it over here for your edification.  I'll look at spots to visit, casual dining, off the main track events, and generally try to give you a feel for what it's like to be a permanent resident in a tourist Mecca.

          Television.  I have a strange technique for watching television which I'll share over the coming months, along with stories, reviews, and fun facts about things I've been watching.  Movies will be covered in similar fashion.  Games I've been playing.  Books.  All will be given the treatment.  I'll talk about why I like the things I do, from Ass Kicking Women to a well-drawn Villain.  I'll even share a favorite recipe from time to time.  Hopefully, you'll enjoy it, and come back for more.

          Speaking of coming back, the chatboard will be putting in a renewed appearance, and I hope someone will get around to using it; yes, Axeman, you know who you are.  It's a great way to drop me a quick text message about whatever's on your mind.  And rest assured, if you do, I will reply, most usually within a couple of hours, tops!

          The Hideout's tagline from day one has been, "Good. Clean. Fun." I have gone to great lengths to keep it clean.  I flatter myself that it is good.  All of these changes should go a long way toward amping up the fun.

          One last nod to politics:  I have closed virtually every post with the words, "Now get out there and live life like you mean it!"  That's good advice.  You only get this life, and to waste it sitting around being worried about things you can't control is foolish at best.  But there are more important things to consider right now.  Until this country that I love, with all its warts and blackheads, is pulled back from the brink, and put back on track, I will close with instructions on how to fix it:  Throw the bastards out!  That's right.  I'm not trying to be controversial by way of convincing you to change your political convictions; by all means, hold on tightly to what you believe in.  No, what I'm suggesting is that you reboot the whole concept of belonging to one party or the other, because they are no longer distinguishable from one another.  Democrat, Republican, Independent, Green, every politician of the 21st Century enters the arena for one reason:  To fatten his wallet at the expense of yours.  Case in point:  Me.  Events of the last six months have made me ashamed to admit that I've been a staunch Republican for most of my adult life.  I finally gave up and voted for Obama because I couldn't take any more of what was happening to my country.  Obama ran on the notion that he had a plan to fix the economy.  Maybe he did.  We'll never know, because the same bunch of octogenarian, ten-plus term Republican congressmen who drove this country into the ground in the first place has risen up en masse to block everything Obama has tried to do.  You needn't look any farther back than this summer's debt ceiling fight, or December's attempt to extend the payroll tax cuts to see the same old gang of Republicans willing to drive this country into Third-World status before they'll allow Obama to "attack" people who harvest, on an annual basis, a level of wealth that would provide a comfortable living for ten thousand families... EACH!  And what is their definition of "attack?"  That would be to make them pay their fair share.  For the love of whatever God you recognize, how many Americans, on the left and right, have to freeze, starve, or die of untreated diseases in alleys before they decide enough is enough?  Well, the solution is simple:  The first term is when they learn how to line their own pockets; the second term is when they get serious about doing it.  If none of the miserable bastards ever gets a second term, problem solved.  Throw the bastards out!  There should be no such thing in the United States of America as a Career Politician; leave that stuff to Cuba and North Korea.  It seems to work for them; I gotta say, it ain't going so good here.

          All right, that was my political rant for the year, and as it's the only one I intend to allow myself, I made it a good one!

Irish Destroyer
          Moving on now to more enjoyable matters...  Long-time followers will be aware of Chops, my best friend of three decades.  Chops operates The Irish Navy, a blog that has thus far concerned itself with a favorite game of his called Dystopian Wars.  The game allows players to fight sea battles with miniature ships in an alternate Steampunk reality.  All right, now hold that thought.

          Long-time followers will also be aware that I have written five novels.  None of them were of suitable quality to be sold into the market.  That's all right.  I enjoyed the experience, both of writing, and having conversations with publishing professionals.  I would write more, but I'm 63 years old.  It takes a year to write a novel, and most of that year is spent in seclusion developing characters and plotlines, and I don't know how many years I may have left.  I don't want to steal that kind of time from those who love me, and enjoy my company.  I do still enjoy the creative process, and have considered the short story as an alternative, as well as being teased by a notion to dabble in the fascinating world of alternate time lines.  Now hold that thought.

          Dystopian Wars paints the alternate history with a broad brush stroke, and leaves the player to fill in the details of his own little corner of the world.  Chops' little corner of the world is Ireland.  The official history devotes six words to the Irish conflict:  "Great Britain invaded and conquered Ireland."   "Not so fast," says Chops.  "That may be what was released for public consumption, but it's hardly likely that a nation of world famous brawlers went down so easily."  He then undertook the project of fleshing out a whole backstory of what really happened in that conflict, a story ferreted out by one Shackleford Banks, a journalist of some repute, defying the best efforts of the British War Office to suppress it.  We have of late been involved in some extensive talks which appear to be leading to two parallel series of short stories, his concerning Banks at 40, dodging a steampunk James Bond to bring the truth to the world, and mine focusing on Banks at 20, fresh out of school, and developing the character that will drive him into this crusade for truth in later life.  Think Sherlock Holmes works for a newspaper, and you'll have an idea.  We are discussing having the series run on The Irish Navy, and could start by the middle of January.  We're pretty much certain they're going to run somewhere, so watch both sites for updates.

Heard around the tree:

         A guy bought his wife a beautiful diamond ring for Christmas.  After hearing about this extravagant gift, a friend of his said, "I thought she wanted one of those sporty four-wheel-drive vehicles."
          "She did," he replied, "but where was I going to find a fake Jeep?"

          Okay, that should be enough to keep you going for a while.  I'm going to spread my posts out a bit next year, maybe doing three a month instead of four; preparation is eating up a disproportionate amount of my leisure time!  See you next year.  And, one last time, get out there and live life like you mean it!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Here's wishing everyone health, peace, happiness, love, enough to get by, and the will to help those less fortunate, should you be blessed with a little more!  It's been a wonderful year at the Hideout, and I'm looking forward to another, filled with stimulating conversations with friends, old and new.  Check back Tuesday, after the dust settles, and these old bones have recovered from the grandkids' onslaught.  I'll be making some changes for 2012, and will be posting a little preview; hopefully, they'll be to your liking.  Now turn this stupid machine off, and go open presents!

Thanks for coming!
Love you all -
- Jack!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Are You Done Yet?

          Christmas shopping, that is.  We are (we think!), having wrapped it up just a couple of days ago.  Almost nobody else we know is finished yet, so for the final installment of my pre-Christmas series before the Big Day, I'm going to offer some help with your mood.  As the time grows shorter, the stress piles up, and you might think that's what I'm going to cover, but no.  Stress is well-known and well-documented, and if you're suffering with it, nothing a virtual stranger can put in a blog post is going to help you.  No, I'm going to work on the other end of the problem:  Willpower.

          There are just four shopping days left (check pulse here!), and the shorter the time gets, the more the stress rises.  If you are feeling this stress, and who isn't, you are more likely to make impulse buys on the grounds that "I have to have something!" and these are the ones that are most likely to break the bank.  Unless you're an aged and wise yoga master, you probably can't switch off the stress, so if you don't want to spend the next five years paying for something like this, your willpower must come to the fore.

          There have been several recent studies on the subject of willpower, and not surprisingly, there are some conflicting findings.  A recent piece on NPR talked about willpower being a finite stock of brain energy that is at its strongest early in the day, weakens as it's used, and can be built up by exercise, just like muscles. 

          According to this article, willpower is worn down by being in proximity to things that challenge  it.  If you are a fool for powdered donuts, then, the theory goes, having a box of powdered donuts open on the next desk will grind down your willpower simply by being there, and not just your donut resistance, either.  It will wear down the willpower you need to keep slogging through that boring report that's due before you go home tonight.  The implication here is that the worst thing you can do is to go shopping after work, when you have none left.  Unfortunately, that's the time that you nine-to-five people have to do this, that or on the weekends, when the crowds alone will give you all the stress you could possibly want.  How can you tell when your willpower is low?  The warning signs are irritability, intense feelings about minor issues, and strong response to stimuli.  But, there's hope.  The same research suggests that your willpower can be given a temporary boost by a shot of glucose.  A shot???  Relax.  Glucose just means real sugar, so have a Coke, or chow down on one of those powdered donuts you've been trying to resist, and you'll be ready to face the malls with a chance of coming out with your bank account intact.  I know, it's a paradox; you recharge your willpower by giving in.  But, hey, if your willpower isn't being used to resist powdered donuts, then it isn't really a paradox...  Is it?  The study goes on to say that you can increase your willpower by exercising it.  The exercise takes the form of consciously working to change some habit you have.  If you slouch in a chair, hound yourself to sit up straight at all times; if you curse alot in your daily speech, focus on eliminating all the colorful words from your language.  This is supposed to do it.

          But wait, there's a counter study.  Isn't there always?  Who hasn't followed the debate on wine and coffee?  One thing's certain, they're either good for you, or they aren't.  The counter study was done at Stanford, and suggests that the material I've expounded on above is completely bogus.  [I should point out here that the above material is from a legitimate study as well.  I was driving as I heard it, and was unable to make notes, and I have unable to find the references; that shortcoming on my part doesn't mean there aren't any.]  The Stanford study maintains that willpower is not a finite resource, and that you don't need breaks, or sugar, or to do your toughest chores in the morning.  What you need to do is put your head down, and keep plugging.

          Now, I don't like the Stanford study.  After all, it suggests that when I take a break from a crappy chore, or indulge in a sugary snack, I don't gain anything from it, other than the knowledge that I'm a lazy bastard.  Of course, just because I don't like it doesn't mean it isn't correct, and  there was another aspect of it that played right into my religion and personal philosophy.  That aspect was the discovery that people who believed that they had a lot of willpower, as a general rule, did, while those who believed more or less what the first study said, tended to take frequent breaks, feel defeated, and outright give up much more than the other group.  You may have heard the old saying, "Whether you believe you can or believe you can't, you're probably right."  Stanford suggests that that is absolutely true, that what you believe has a tremendous influence over what you are able to do.

          Okay, it's time to hit the stores looking for that one last bargain.  This is supposed to be helpful to you in keeping control of the purse strings.  I realize there are two opposite findings presented here, but that's all right.  Just adhere to whichever one seems more likely to work for your personality and beliefs, and you should be okay.  Either have a big ol' root beer float, or take a few deep breaths and remind yourself that you believe in you, and you should be fine.  Hell, do both!  There are an awful lot of people out there at this time of year especially, who are working hard to take your money.  Some of them are willing to give honest value for it, and unfortunately, a good number of them aren't.  Hopefully, what I've given you here are the tools you need to hang onto enough of your paycheck to buy food the week after Christmas.

          Okay, I've done my bit.  It's all on you now, so get out there and live life like you mean it!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

How bad is it, really?

          A couple of weeks ago, I started a series of pre-Christmas articles designed to offer helpful tidbits of information that I have gleaned in my many years of postgraduate work at the University of Hard Knocks, World Campus.  This week, I'll be focusing on young parents, and some of the grandparents out there who didn't have to face the dreaded "V" word when their own kids were growing up.  That's right, folks, this week, I'm going to look at Video Games, and specifically that raging debate about whether they engender violence in children.

          So, do they?  Judges, not wanting to provide an easy scapegoat for a sociopathic child, deny any connection between video game play and real-world maladjustment.  Researchers are divided on the issue, as evidence can easily be found, manipulated, or outright invented, to support any agenda the publisher may have.  I'm coming to you here to present my own take on this, based not on any courtroom cases or research studies, but my own daily observations conducted over about 60 years of raising children, influencing grandchildren, and being a child myself.  Here's what I've learned:

Me at six (1954). Note flintlock pistol
lovingly cradled in arms.
          I was a child during the 1950s.  Video games weren't a mischievous gleam in a programmer's eye; hell, programmers weren't a mischievous gleam in their mothers' eyes.  What we had for entertainment was the dawn of television.  I've posted elsewhere on my infatuation with a sci-fi character called Commando Cody.  He, his cohorts, and their associated villains gallivanted around the solar system shooting each other with ray guns, both hand-held and ship-mounted, trapping their enemies in various buildings and setting them on fire or filling them with toxic gas, or using a remote controlled robot to bludgeon each other senseless.  Fess Parker's version of Davy Crockett, as produced by Walt Disney, was another early favorite.  He shot people.  People tried to shoot him.  He died at The Alamo, immersed in violence.  I loved this guy!

Period ad for Mattel weaponry.
          He was the point man for the 1950s wave of Westerns that inundated television.  During that decade, about twenty-five first-run TV westerns were running during any given week.  At three hours of prime time a night, seven nights a week, the three networks offered a potpourri of action series set in the American and Canadian west of 1860-1900, old Mexican California (Zorro), and the Australian outback (Whiplash).  Most of them were 30 minutes, while some ran the full hour.  They owned the airwaves.  Every cowboy, marshal, gambler, drifter, or Shaolin monk, you name it, had a gimmick to try to set him apart from the others, and the vast majority of the gimmicks involved their guns, and the way they were used to kill people.  There were rifles, sawed-off rifles, sawed-off shotguns, six-guns with a shotgun load under the regular barrel, pistols that built up into rifles; how long have you got?  Every kid in the neighborhood had a collection of guns that would put a militiaman to shame.  Of course, ours were cap guns, but the point is that every kid on the block had an easy familiarity with firearms that almost negated the need for weapons training when we later got drafted to go to Vietnam.  We not only had most or all of the gimmick guns of our favorites (I was usually Johnny Yuma, The Rebel, and carried a Remington Navy .36 and a sawed-off, double barrel 10-gauge), but we had a full array of military and sci-fi guns as well.  There was no problem in the 'verse that couldn't be solved by killing somebody, and that was the culture we grew up in.  And we didn't watch it happen as we were pushing a few buttons on a game controller, oh no!  We acted it out in all its gory detail.  As an eight-year old, you were expected to shoot to kill, and if you were shot, you were obligated to perform a death scene worthy of a Hammy Award; every time.  Not only did we not, on the whole, grow up to be a generation of homicidal maniacs, but we produced the generation of hanky-wringers who are fueling this whole debate over, "What are we doing to our children? [sob, sob]" 

Space Invaders
          Before this Great Debate got started, there was Pong, two little lines batting a square of light back and forth.  My boys must have been about two, too young to manage the fine motor skills required, and anyway, the damned thing was close to one hundred 1978 dollars.  No way a government clerk with twin toddlers is going to spend that on a game like Pong.  Ah, but then they were about five when Atari 2600 hit the shelves.  I eventually bought that as a bonding exercise.  It worked.  I played games with Alex right up until he moved to Colorado, and Brian still sits down to a game session, albeit with his sister rather than me.  Atari offered such fondly remembered titles as Space Invaders, Centipede, Asteroids, and Defender.  This still wasn't too far advanced beyond Pong, though there were recognizable real-life (sorta) situations.  By seven, the Nintendo Entertainment System was in our rec room, and movie-style games with full-length plots were the norm, and while the graphics had a long way to come yet, what you were doing was clearly recognizable.  The finest video game I have yet to play (The Legend of Zelda) was on NES, and there was more killing in that game than any John Wayne war movie I've ever seen.

The Legend of Zelda
           My sons played this game, and many like it, and they went on to acquire Sega, Sega Genesis, Nintendo 64, every mark of Play Station, and both X-Boxes.  Now, my boys were, and still are, pretty rough customers, but before you lay the blame at the doorstep of Sony and Microsoft, let's look at what else was going on in their lives.  First of all, mea culpa.  Trying to be a good dad, and in the absence of the sort of hindsight I have now, I got us lodging in a lower middle class neighborhood in hopes of saving enough money for their sister to take dance lessons, them to play in Little League, and all the things that suburban kids are said to enjoy.  It worked for a while, until the neighborhood turned into an open cesspool of drugs, gangs, pimps, and prostitutes.  When a child, especially a boy, is surrounded by a gang element, that gang looks at him and sees a member, a supporter, or an enemy.  They began to fail in school, and I started learning the names of the cops on our beat, as did the boys.  They got into more and more trouble, both around the neighborhood, and in school, until they dropped out; fortunately their troubles remained relatively minor.  Failing to recognize the one overriding principle that was at work, I spent their teenage years harping on them about making better choices, never realizing that they were making the choice to stay alive.  To complete the story, they both turned out all right.  One went on to found his own business, and the other works depot security for the Army, but if you have kids who are having trouble in school, in the community, and in their social lives, maybe the first finger you point shouldn't be at the game system.

Grand Theft Auto
          I have grandkids now, the oldest of whom is Brian Jr.  He's thirteen, and has been playing video games since before he could read the prompts on the screen.  An early favorite of his was Wolverine of the X-Men, who had a most disagreeable habit of disembowling mooks with the blades that grew from his hands.  His current favorite seems to be Saint's Row, a gangland clone of Grand Theft Auto, which he also plays, along with a wide array of military shooters.  He steals cars, he brains old ladies with his Louisville Slugger, he shoots cops with rocket launchers, and laughs in awe at the results.  All that said, Brian is what the owners of the Mexican heritage on his mother's side of the family call a soft-heart; he wouldn't harm a fly.  He's a goofball who enjoys an elaborate practical joke or a comic insult contest, looks out for his three younger siblings, and is in high school prep courses in his middle school.  He doesn't know any gang-bangers, and on the days that he comes to our house after school, he understands that his homework is to be done before he fires up the game machine; it is a rule that we never have to enforce.  His sisters, ages nine and eleven, have their own personalities, but in terms of game play, they are very similar.  They are both fans of Left 4 Dead, a pretty violent game in its own right; I can't detect it leaking into their personal lives at all.  Their little brother's four.  He likes Left 4 Dead, too.  It's a little early to tell what effect games may be having on him, but he basically seems to have a normal personality for a four year old with three much older siblings.  The point is, with the older ones at least, if all these violent video games are going to corrupt them, they'd better get started.

Saints Row
          My conclusion is that video games are one of many, many influences on your children, our children, and I suppose it's possible that a child could become a delinquent because of their influence, but it would almost take a clinical effort to cause that to happen.  Children aren't as stupid as a lot of people want to give them credit for, and I contend, based on a lifetime of direct observation, that a child knows the difference between what happens on a screen because of what buttons he presses, and what happens in real life if he shoots somebody with a real gun.  Case in point:  I own a real gun.  All the grandkids have seen it, and whenever it comes into view, they back away from it like it was a poisonous snake, partly, I believe, because their video game experiences have showed them in no uncertain terms what a real gun can do.

Left 4 Dead
          It's Christmas, and if you have children of a certain age clamoring for a game that you might find objectionable, especially in the current sea of media psychobabble, stop worrying.  Your child is much smarter than they want you to believe.  Let him have it, and be glad he's safe on your couch instead of out, God knows where, hanging out with a street gang, or experimenting with drugs, or sex, or whatever.  Learn to play, especially in cooperative mode.  Use it to bond with him; very little will bring you and your child together like coordinating a hunt for evil terrorists, or standing back-to-back holding off a horde of zombies, and your kid will see you with a whole new aura of cool!  Lighten up, let them play, and you may just open lines of communication and camaraderie that you never knew existed.

          Okay, I think I've made my point.  I'll see you next week.  Now, get out there and live life like you mean it!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Mistress of the Present

          As we begin our final approach to Christmas, the year's big gift holiday, I thought it might be a service to talk about the art of giving gifts.  Most people tend to occupy the extreme ends of the spectrum on this subject.  Some folks really couldn't give a rat's patoot about this.  They'll buy a case of something cheap, break it open, and give one of whatever it is to everybody they know.  At the other end of the scale are the folks to whom Christmas, birthdays, and anniversaries are competitions to give the most extravagant gifts, and if someone outdoes them, they act like that person has betrayed them.  It can be nice to know one of these people when you unwrap a big-screen TV, but I think I'd feel too guilty about their ruined finances to enjoy it.

          And then there's Nine.  Nine doesn't have a lot of money to spend on frivolities.  What she does have in abundance is a free-wheeling determination that she's going to enjoy the giving.  She listens to her subjects, analyzes their personalities, budgets her gift fund, and researches the market.  Then, when one of her astonished beneficiaries stammers, "How in the..." she smiles conspiratorially and says, "Thuh intranet is mah friend."  A few examples:
          Thanksgiving, several years ago.  A bunch of us are in that overstuffed, after-dinner glow, sitting around the fireplace reminiscing about our childhoods, and the warm fuzzies we remembered.  My turn came around, and I told the tale of the game I got for my 13th birthday.  It was an electronic wonder by Mattel, similar in concept to Battleship, but involving the stalking of submarines.  The players hid their subs under their respective halves of the translucent sonar screen board, and on your turn you used the center dials to move a cross hair to a spot where you might expect a sub to be lurking, pressed the firing button, and if a sub was there, the flash of an explosion announced a hit.  You won by sinking all of your opponent's subs, but be careful!  Four mines were scattered among his subs, and if you hit one, the raucous buzz! of the damage alarm jerked you out of your contemplation.  Hit all four and you lost, regardless of the current score in subs sunk.  An ingenious, and especially enjoyable feature was a small periscope on each side of the board that allowed you to watch your opponent taking his turn under the board.  Shortly after this release, it was eclipsed by games with rudimentary computers, and it went the way of the dinosaur fairly quickly.  There weren't many of them made by industry standards, and if you look up Mattel Games on Wikipedia, this is one of the few that has no additional information to offer.

          At Christmas two years later, as we took turns opening our gifts, and ooh-ing and ah-ing over each others' treasures, Nine handed me a large, flat box, and I peeled the paper off to find a fully restored copy of Sonar Sub Hunt, every piece accounted for, every system working flawlessly...  And in its original box, no less!  I was in awe, and it still takes my breath away.

        I once mentioned a movie I had seen at the age of 18 at an open air theater on a tropical island.  It was a movie about a tropical island, called Kona Coast.  It starred Richard Boone, one of Hollywood's true fire-breathing badmen, as one of those waterfront characters who owns a boat in Hawaii.  He's willing to putter around minding his own business until a rich dabbler in recreational drugs kills his daughter with an administered overdose, upon which he reverts to character and lays waste to half the population.  The movie wasn't as great as I remembered, the perspectives between 18 and 63 being a mite different, but it was great nostalgia, Bonzo loved it, and the point is that I mentioned it around Nine, and some months later, opened a gift and there it was.  The movie has never been for sale on home video of any medium, and when I saw the over-the-counter writable CD in the package, I thought it was maybe some converted grandkid movies.  Nope.  Don't know how the hell she did it, but it's mine now!

          Finally, I have a sneaking admiration for the steampunk subculture.  I love that whole Victorian, skewed technology, exploring a mysterious world in a dirigible scene.  If I was young; well, young and good-looking; and, let's throw in popular, as long as we're fantasizing, I might wear some of the clothes and accessories.  That's not going to happen, but Nine is aware of my guilty little pleasure.  I have a decent collection of fantasy weapons, and though you may be ahead of me here, for my last birthday, she added the Consolidator to it.  What else need I say?

          This, then, is the art of gift-giving, as espoused by the Nine.  When she was a wee little girl, she accompanied me on a shopping expedition to buy a special gift for my beloved Bonzo. During the trip, I explained that the perfect gift is something the recipient will love, while still reflecting something of the giver. Little did I imagine what that one sentence, poured into that questing little mind, would grow into! Nonetheless, she embodies how you do it. Her gifts are always special acquisitions, kept safe in places of honor and shared with special friends, and that's because of what she puts into it. It doesn't require a ton of money to be the Wizard of Gifts; I know this, because I know she doesn't have access to a ton of money. Here in the age of the Internet, it doesn't require endless slogs from store to store. Some attentiveness, a little facility with a search engine, and you can be that special relative who's known, loved, and talked about for your gift-giving acumen. The lovely side effect is that it turns a huge chore like Christmas shopping into an adventurous scavenger hunt worthy of any steampunk-themed graphic novel.  I know.  I'm still learning from my former protegee, and it gets more enjoyable all the time.

          Take this attitude on your next shopping trip.  You'll know if you've truly mastered it, because you won't be "fighting" the crowds any more; rather you'll be "flowing" in a mystic zone of treasure hunting for loved ones, and enjoying every minute of it.

          Well, that's it, friends.  Look for me in about a week; actually, if I can hold to my schedule, it calls for posts every Tuesday through December.  Now, get out there and live life like you mean it!