Undercover Genius Here

I took an online IQ test a few days ago. It was a link I stumbled across on Facebook so, you know, totally legit. I ended up scoring in the Genius category, so I naturally assumed the whole thing was rigged. Mama didn’t raise no dummies, but she also didn’t raise no Einsteins, know what I’m saying? A couple of months ago I found an online grammar test and decided to have my team take it. I got suspicious when we all ended up with perfect scores, so I had some other random people in the office take it, too. Folks who aren’t writers. And wouldn’t you know it, every single person scored a perfect 100 percent. No way, I thought, so I retook the test, intentionally choosing the wrong answers. My result? A perfect 25/25.

Hence, my skepticism over the IQ test. But this time, when I shared it with my coworkers, they did not all get perfect scores. I took it again, missing questions on purpose like I did with the last test, and according to my results the second time around, it was a bit of a miracle that I had been able to dress myself that morning. The IQ test, it turned out, wasn’t fake. Which begs the question: am I a genius?!

I dunno. Maybe I just got lucky. My mom has told me she had our IQs tested when my brother and I were young, but always refused to share the results. Based on her response, I’ve operated under the assumption that I did either really poorly or really well, and she didn’t want to burden us with that knowledge, or Scott’s score was so vastly different from mine that she didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. Like, if he tested at a genius level and I was actually an imbecile, the kind thing to do would be to spare our feelings, right? Now I’m not so sure. Maybe my whole life I’ve been an unwitting genius completely unaware of my mental superpowers! If that’s the case…well, sorry, Scott.

If I am a genius, talk about a wasted talent. I still can’t figure out how to unravel Saran Wrap without having it bunch up and stick to everything. Mostly me.

We were up north this past weekend, helping Anne move.

Now, I’m the type of person who never volunteers to help out when it comes to moving. Not only do I avoid it like the plague, I actually think I’d prefer coming down with a case of the plague. In fact, if I so much as hear the “m” word I usually walk away from the conversation as quickly as my feet will carry me, pretending not to hear a word of what is being said. If I had to rank helping somebody move on a list, it would look something like this, in order from worst to best:

  1. Dying a slow and painful death.
  2. Dying a quick death.
  3. Speaking in public.
  4. Helping somebody move.
  5. Paying taxes.
  6. Listening to rap music.

If I should inadvertently not scoot out of earshot quickly enough and somebody does end up asking me for help, I usually come up with a fake excuse of some sort. I’m sorry, I’ll tell them. I have a bar mitzvah to attend. Or, Aww, shucks – I’m having my gall bladder removed that day. You know, something believable-ish. The more difficult to confirm, the better. But Anne is family, and I felt I couldn’t very well say no this time.

Plus, she knows I’ve already had my gall bladder removed.

Annoyingly, Tara was much more chipper about the whole thing. “Think of all the Karma points you’ll rack up!” she declared. I wanted to respond by letting her know that ‘Karma points’ are not an acceptable currency in any store where I shop, but didn’t have the heart to break this news to her. So I gamely agreed, even though she did let me off the hook by saying I could stay home instead if I wished. Fortunately, I’ve been in enough relationships to recognize this as a trap. Sure, I could have remained behind, sitting on the couch watching a mind-numbing, endless parade of television instead of lugging heavy furniture and boxes, but I’d have been paying the price for that decision for weeks to come. It doesn’t take a genius (ha!) to see that the Benefit-Cost Ratio would have landed firmly in the negative column, for all my accounting friends out there. So of course, I went and helped.

And really, it wasn’t that bad. At least there were no stairs to contend with, and Anne was getting rid of a lot of stuff, so we didn’t have to pack up the contents of her entire apartment. Plus, my gall bladder never once flared up. On the downside, it rained. But now Anne is all moved into a nice little house that is all hers, and I have banked a shitload of Karma points.

I’ll try not to spend them all in one place.

I’m Not a Robot

I think it’s weird whenever I come across one of those CAPTCHAs designed to thwart spam and I am asked to check a box stating that I’m not a robot. Because inevitably I click the box and a few seconds later, my comment has posted. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad the process is so easy, but should the process really be so easy? Robots are supposed to be a million times smarter than humans, right? If a robot has the ability to solve a complex quadratic equation in nanoseconds, don’t you think he’d be artificially intelligent enough to check the box indicating he wasn’t a robot in order to bypass the system and spam the shit out of somebody? I’m pretty sure it would be easy enough to program “subterfuge” into his operating system.

Is it really wise to rely on the honor system when it comes to network security, folks?

But what do I know. I’m just a human.

Apparently, I am now in the wholesale egg distribution business.

Now that we found an egg guy who will deliver, I decided to let the entire office in on the opportunity and sent out a company-wide email yesterday. I told my coworkers we found a local guy, his eggs are great, and we’d be placing a regular order with him every two weeks. Anybody interested on getting in on the action could pay us $4 a dozen in advance. We got orders for 10 dozen this first go-around, which isn’t terrible. I actually thought there’d be more takers – I mean, who can resist farm fresh eggs, delivered for free to your workplace?

Maybe they just aren’t aware of how much better fresh eggs are compared to what you can buy in the grocery store. Oh, well. They’ll come around.

And if they do, I might need to consider a new line of work. Deb said we should be charging $5 a dozen and splitting the extra dollar as profit for our hard work in engineering this whole thing, collecting the money, placing the order, etc. It IS quite a bit of effort – I started a spreadsheet, for crying out loud! – but I’m too damn nice to try to actually profit from this. I just like the idea of supporting a local farmer.

A couple of friends expressed concern over the fact that he’s got “hundreds of chickens” and were afraid he might be cooping them up to mass produce, but that is not the case. Our egg guy promises they are, and I quote,

Farm fresh free range eggs from hens of many different breeds, so there is a good mix of colored eggs. The chickens are fed produce, germinated grain from local farmers, germinated sunflower seeds, egg and oyster shells, alfalfa hay and mealworms that I raise.

It doesn’t get any more humane or organic than that, folks.

We’re going to schedule our next delivery for the end of this week. Good thing too, as Tara and I already used up our last couple of dozen.

So, my parents are in Florida for a few weeks.

My parents have a nice gas grill. We live in an apartment complex that does not allow grills. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Tonight, we are taking advantage of their grill to cook us up some nice ribeye steaks. And we’ll take advantage of their empty sunroom to eat them in.

Might even take advantage of the chilled bottle of wine in their fridge, too. If there is one.

Mom and dad, you have been warned.

The End

Quite unexpectedly, I finished my novel this afternoon. I still don’t think it’s sunk in yet.

As you may recall, I began writing “Dream Sailors” four years ago. Soon after moving in, Tara suggested we set aside time every Sunday to write. She has long been supportive of my writing – was, in fact, the first person to buy “No Time For Kings,” long before we even started dating – so I was strongly in favor of the idea. It had been a couple of years since NTFK was published, and I was feeling the writing itch again. There were a few false starts as I decided what to write; at one point it was going to be a sequel, but then I decided I wanted to go in an entirely different direction. First-person POV instead of third-person; male protagonist rather than female; a story with a sci-fi element versus a straight-up thriller. An NTFK sequel would have been easier; revisiting the characters I had grown to love would have been like slipping on a favorite pair of shoes, familiar and comfortable, but I feel it’s important to challenge yourself as a writer and not take the easy route.

I have long been fascinated with dreams. After all, a particularly vivid one brought me and Tara together, so they seemed like a topic worth exploring. Throw in my own personal lucid dreaming experiences, and the stage was set for my next novel.

Things went well in the beginning. For a few weeks, we set aside a good chunk of time every weekend to write. I worked on my new novel, and Tara blogged.

And then we both just stopped.

I don’t really know why. I think part of the reason is the fact that living together was a novelty, and we were both out of work at the time, so we filled our weekends exploring. And then I landed my dream job as a content specialist. Writing five days a week for eight hours at a stretch, I didn’t particularly feel like doing the same thing in my spare time, too. So 30 pages in, my novel languished. I had zero motivation to continue.

Time passed.

Years passed, actually. There was a wedding. I sold my townhouse. My daughter came to live with us. We moved to an apartment. I guess you could say life happened. I was now a professional writer, but was I truly a writer?


Last year, I started to get the itch again. After publishing “No Time For Kings” in 2011 I was content to rest on my laurels for a long time, but I started to miss the process of writing. The “writer’s high” is a real thing, and I began to crave it the way an addict craves drugs. So I hatched this plan to try NaNoWriMo, booking myself a vintage trailer for a weekend writing retreat in order to kick-start my long-stalled novel and get back into the groove.

It worked. I “won” NaNoWriMo. Dashed off 50,000 words in 30 days. Breathed new life into my long-gestating novel.

But then November ended, and my frenetic writing pace came to a halt.

I expected it would take me another couple of months to finish “Dream Sailors.” It ended up taking four and a half. Because I am a creature of habit; once the daily motivation of word counts and monthly goals was gone, I struggled to continue.

But I knew I had something good, and the finish line wasn’t that far away. So I pushed on. I didn’t write every weekend, but I wrote most weekends. 50K words turned into 60K. 60,000 turned into 70,000.

The finish line was near.

I wrote for a couple of hours yesterday. The finish line was still near, but also distressingly out of reach. I figured I had another month or two to go.

Then I fired up my laptop this morning, and a funny thing happened: I quickly realized I was close to finishing my novel. Like, really close. Everything clicked and fell into place. This is how it works when you don’t have an outline: quite suddenly, it can all come together. And that’s exactly what happened today. I quickly realized the finish line wasn’t only within reach, it was right there, ripe for the grabbing.

So I grabbed it.

Around 1:00, I knew I was two sentences away from finishing. I didn’t want to rush the process – I still didn’t know exactly how the book was going to end, believe it or not – so I shut down the laptop and went for a long walk. I knew that I’d be mentally engaged in the ending and would come up with something, so I left the house and let my mind wander. 45 minutes later, I had my perfect ending. So I came home, added one final paragraph, and then typed the two best words in the English language – “The End” – and that was it.

“Dream Sailors” is finished!

“Finished,” of course, is a relative term. It’s simply a first draft. Now I have to go through and edit the whole thing. After finishing “No Time For Kings,” two years passed before I actually published it. I am 100% certain the process will be quicker this time around, but I’m still months away from publishing. And I’ll have to decide whether to go the traditional route (try to find an agent and a publishing house) or self-publish again through Booklocker. My experience with NTFK has been nothing but positive. I may very well end up going the same route, and there will be no shame in that if I do.

It’s all a little unreal. I did not wake up this morning thinking I’d finish the novel I’ve been working on for so many years, but lo and behold, it is done. So I’m drinking wine in celebration and allowing myself to bask in the glow of a job well done.

The Agony and the Egg-stacy

I feel like an extra in a Portlandia sketch, because I’ve got my own egg guy now.

This all began last week when a coworker arrived with a carton of farm fresh eggs. She said she had a supplier and might be able to hook us up, too. I was immediately interested, because fresh eggs are, shell we say, quite divine. So when she told me that her egg person did not have enough to go around, I figured that was it, my dreams had flown the coop and I was destined to continue purchasing my eggs from the grocery store like just another commoner. I did learn an important life lesson, though: don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

Why, yes. I am breaking out the egg puns in earnest. What can I say? They crack me up.

Just when I thought all hope was lost, Deb said she found somebody on Craigslist who could get us farm fresh eggs. Best of all, he delivered, as long as we ordered a minimum of five dozen. He charges a mere $4 a dozen. Granted, this is more expensive than what you’ll pay in the grocery store, but about half the cost of what they charge at the farmer’s market, and the quality is far superior. I have to admit, I never would have thought to look for something like that on Craigslist! I was so proud of my coworker’s ingenuity I wanted to give her a standing ovation. I scrambled to find additional people who were interested, a task that went over easy. Before long we had a commitment for eight dozen eggs. The guy showed up at our office two days later, and I have been enjoying farm fresh eggs ever since. They are, dare I say it, eggcellent.

We are planning on opening this up to the whole office and making it a regular thing. Our egg guy has lots of chickens and can easily meet our demand. We’re thinking a delivery every two weeks should be sufficient.

Never a dull moment around here, folks.

Tara and I have new neighbors in our apartment complex. And these neighbors have dogs. Let’s just say things are off to a rocky start.

I’ve never been much of a dog person to begin with. I just prefer the no-fuss nature of cats (though I will admit I’ve known some pretty cool dogs in my day – Sadie, Lily, and Hank come to mind). Regardless, I’m a live-and-let live type of guy for the most part.

But not when your dogs bark constantly, as in incessantly, as in nonstop for hours at a time. Which these dogs do, every single moment that the humans next door are gone. Which is most evenings until 8:50 p.m.

Things got so bad, I finally broke down and called the management office to complain. They were actually sympathetic and told me they’d already received other complaints, so they were going to talk to these people and let them know if they can’t control the barking they will either have to get rid of the dogs or get rid of themselves. I was satisfied with this response.

A little while later, we were coming home from the grocery store and ran into the neighbors. First time we’d met them since they moved on. Immediately, the guy goes, “I’m sorry about our barking dogs!”

Now, I could have said, “Oh, it’s okay. No big deal.” But it is NOT okay and it is a big deal. I wasn’t about to let him off the hook that easily! I might have been graded a C- on social graces, but I’m pretty sure I got an A on Telling It Like It Is 101. To his credit, that made him apologize more. I still didn’t let him off the hook – trust me, his dogs are really annoying – but I respect him for admitting they are a problem rather than getting defensive about it. The sad thing is, he seems like a nice enough guy. I really hope they can get those pups under control. Seems like their bark is worse than his bite.

Oh, you thought I only did egg puns?

No such luck…

The Long and Short of It

I just finished reading my 5th book of the year! I know that isn’t a huge number to a lot of people, but for me it’s pretty good and puts me on track to blow my modest Goodreads 12-book reading goal out of the water. This no-looking-at-the-phone-in-bed rule I instituted at the beginning of the year – call it a resolution if you must – is paying off pretty well for me.

Just because the cool kids are doing it, here’s what I have read so far:

  • “Martin Eden” (Jack London)
  • “The Silent Girls” (Eric Rickstad)
  • “Born to Run” (Bruce Springsteen)
  • “The North Water” (Ian McGuire)
  • “Frozen In Time” (Mitchell Zuckoff)

That’s a pretty diverse list, actually. You’ll find both classic and modern literature, an autobiography, a stupidly cheesy mystery/serial killer/police procedural, and a fascinating nonfiction account of a WWII plane crash in Greenland and the present-day attempt to find the wreckage. They have all been, well, good reads with the exception of the stupidly cheesy mystery/serial killer/police procedural (no offense, Eric Rickstad).

Immediately upon finishing that last book, I “went to the library” and “checked out” book numero six. It’s a short story collection called “Crow Fair” by Thomas McGuane. I very rarely read short stories, but this book had excellent reviews from the literary community so I decided to try something new. (By the way, I added those quotation marks up there because going to the library actually meant going to the library’s website and checking out a book involved downloading it to my Kindle. Ahh, 21st century, how I love thee.) You know how sometimes you can read the very first sentence of a book and know right away that you are going to love it? That’s what happened with “Crow Fair.” McGuane’s writing immediately drew me in. Bonus: I finished the first story on my lunch hour, which is a nice sense of accomplishment. Can’t wait to dig in further.

I am actually fascinated by short stories. I have always wanted to try my hand at writing them, but find it a difficult art form to master. For some reason, I have a much easier time writing novels. Go figure. Maybe I’m just too long-winded, ha. I feel like it’s a real challenge to tell a tale concisely. How do you adequately develop characters and come up with a beginning, middle, and end in only 20 pages?! And yet, people do. I have written exactly one short story in my adult life, and I think it’s decent, but I’ve been stymied in my attempts to do more. I’m thinking “Crow Fair” will provide me with the inspiration I need.

Ironically enough, it was a short story that fueled my passion for writing to begin with. Back in junior high I entered a short story contest sponsored by my local library on a whim, and won first place. It was called “The Egg” and is a pretty dark and cynical tale of a post-apocalyptic America. I still have it, and occasionally dig it out to read. It’s actually not too bad. I think the prize was something like $50, and I could not tell you what I spent the money on to save my life. Probably Atari 2600 cartridges or something. After all, it was the 80s and I did love me some Pitfall. There were a couple other short stories in college that, come to think of it, were also  dark. Both involved bad people who harbored secrets. Hmm. This strikes me as odd, given my normally sunny disposition. The one I wrote 10-ish years ago is called “The Autumn Gate” and isn’t quite as dark as the others, though it does explore the theme of mortality. It’s basically the story of a guy walking down the street of his childhood hometown, which he is visiting for the first time in years, and watching some kids playing baseball. I actually have no idea if it’s any good. All I know is, it’s about twelve pages long, so GO CONCISE MARK! Good job.

Just writing this post really makes me want to take another stab at short stories! I suppose I should finish my novel-that-is-taking-forever first, though.

It’s been a pretty great weekend so far. Friday night we went out to our favorite neighborhood bar, Shanahan’s. Unfortunately we couldn’t grab our usual table thanks to a private event, which meant our regular server, who knows us (and our orders) by heart, couldn’t wait on us. We ended up sitting at the bar, but those tequila sodas and fried pickles tasted as good as ever, so no complaints.

Afterwards…well. Let’s just say I lead a fun life.

Saturday, we went to the Kennedy School – part of the McMenamin’s chain – for lunch, cocktails, and a movie. “Star Wars: Rogue One” was playing and we hadn’t seen it yet. The tickets were $4 and this theater has a collection of plush, cozy chairs and loveseats annnnnd you can eat and drink right there, so it’s always a fun time. Let me just say, the movie was excellent and we both enjoyed it very much. It wasn’t even on my radar when it first came out, but it does the Star Wars franchise justice. Go see it.

Afterwards we drove into Portland. I wanted to walk around the waterfront to see the cherry trees, which finally decided to blossom this week, a final dagger in the heart of what turned out to be the coldest winter around these parts in over three decades. The cherry blossoms were beautiful, and everybody else in town seemed to have the same idea. It great to get out between rainstorms, though.

Came home and watched “Deepwater Horizon.” Talk about an intense movie. I highly recommend that one, as well.

A Feast for the Eyes

Lately, whenever we go out to eat, Tara cringes. Because it usually ends up being a party of three: me, her, and my camera. Like many people, I’m sort-of obsessed with photographing my food. This would probably be okay with my wife if I did so subtly – a quick snapshot with my phone, say – but for some reason, she gets embarrassed when I drag out the Nikon. Doubly so if I use the flash.

Admittedly, I try not to go to such extremes. I don’t want to annoy my fellow diners or draw attention to the fact that I am taking pics of my food. But even without the flash, it’s kind of hard not to notice the guy with the big red camera pointed at his plate. In my defense, I say this: food is art, and should be appreciated by both the eyes and the mouth.

There are downsides to photographing food, aside from attracting the ire of the other restaurant patrons. It takes time to position the plate just so, focus the lens, remove unnecessary items (took me a long time to start paying attention to things like straws in glasses and Stevia packets on the table). So by the time I am able to actually dig into my food, it is no longer piping hot.

Here’s the thing, though: food represents memories. I can take a look at a plate and instantly conjure up where I was and what I was doing at the exact moment I took the photo. If I were to stroll down this foodie version of Memory Lane, for instance, I would recall…

The amazing crab-stuffed salmon from the first Valentine’s Day Tara and I spent together.
My first bacon maple bar from Voodoo Doughnut.
Our annual visits to The Bite of Oregon, a foodie’s dream.
The 2-lb. burger from Big Jud’s in Boise. It was large enough for four of us to share.
The best thing about Fresno.
That time we ate snails during our celebration of national food holidays in 2013.
The first time we tried oysters. To our surprise, we loved them.
Celebrating our honeymoon at Elway’s Steakhouse in Denver.
An artfully arranged plate of snacks during an anniversary trip to the Oregon coast.

I think you get the point.

Some foods photograph better than others. Split pea soup, no matter how good it tastes, inevitably ends up looking pale and disgusting. But a hearty bowl of ramen? Much more appealing.

Or a great sandwich.

Even something simple like pork rinds.

I have love for cocktails, too.

And an entire gallery of Bloody Mary pics.

Last night, we met up with our foodie friend Kara to take advantage of Portland Dining Month. Naturally, I brought along my camera. And naturally, I embarrassed Tara.

Lumpia from Clyde Common.

But damn, was it good. And again, I say: art on a plate.

Beef tongue Spam Musubi from SuperBite.

How ’bout you? Do you take the time to photograph your food, snicker at those busting out their cameras or phones, or do you not care because you are too busy diving right in?

An Umbrella Reversal

I have famously gone on record as being anti-umbrella. Living in the Pacific Northwest, using an umbrella is frowned upon by the locals. It’s just not “cool.” One of the surest ways Portlanders can identify people from out of town is when they’re walking in the rain carrying an umbrella. We even have a term we use for these folks.

We call them “Californians.”

Tara was confused by this umbrella revulsion when she first moved out here. “Without an umbrella, you get wet,” she said.

“That we do!” I replied. “It’s like a badge of honor.”

At that point, she just shook her head at me sadly and walked away. Into the rain. Carrying an umbrella (and in the process proving that she is the smart one in this relationship, I suppose – or at least the one with dry hair).

Despite this well-known statue in Pioneer Square, no self-respecting Portlander carries an umbrella.
Despite this well-known statue in Pioneer Square, no self-respecting Portlander carries an umbrella.

I never really felt the need for an umbrella, having become quite nimble at making mad dashes across the parking lot whenever the heavens opened up. For years, I didn’t even own an umbrella. But that all changed two weeks ago, when I picked one up in a gift shop in Long Beach, Washington.

And I’ve actually been using it, too.

Why the sudden change of heart after so many years of denial? I blame the roughest winter we’ve had in my 20+ years of living here. It’s been raining, which of course is nothing new in the PNW, but the amount and intensity of the rain has been staggering. We’ve already had over 10″ of rain in February alone, blowing past our average monthly rainfall (just over 3″) in the first few days. It’s actually now officially the wettest February in Portland history. After a wet January, and a wet December, and a wet November, and…well…you get the picture.

And when it hasn’t been raining, it’s been snowing. Lots of that, too. The winter of ’16-’17 is one for the ages, no doubt.

So I finally broke down and bought that umbrella. I had to. I like to walk 3-4 miles a day, and too often found myself stuck inside because of yet another torrential downpour. Or soaked, because I stubbornly clung to my no-umbrella policy and insisted on braving the elements. And then one day recently I went out walking during lunch and came back to the office drenched. I had to peel off my shoes and socks and aim a portable heater in my direction while suffering through wet jeans the rest of the afternoon. It was in that moment that I finally saw the light. Now, I’m carrying around an umbrella. I still feel a little weird doing so, but I am also experiencing another sensation – dryness – and that’s kind of a novelty to me.

Just don’t call me a Californian.

This weekend has been damn near perfect.

Friday, we ventured out for a night on the town. Our first stop was a great little tapas place called Navarre for dinner. Unfortunately, when we were seated and began looking over the menu, we discovered that most of our favorite dishes were no longer on there. RIP, crab cakes. So we were faced with a dilemma: should we stay and order a bunch of things we didn’t really feel like eating, or bolt instead for greener pastures? In the end, we chose Option B. I mumbled some excuse about “a family emergency” to our server as we hastily beat a retreat. Awkward moment, but we don’t get out as often as we used to, and I really wanted to enjoy it! We ended up at Eastburn instead, where I had a fantastic steelhead filet over barley risotto, and Tara enjoyed a wild boar ragu. Leaving, in this case, was the best thing we could do.

We then headed over to Mississippi Studios for a Neil Young tribute. Three local bands were performing three of Neil’s albums in their entirety (“Comes A Time,” “Harvest,” and “Rust Never Sleeps”). The music was great and the cocktails were stellar. We didn’t get home until well past midnight, but it was a lot of fun.

Saturday we had a rare break in the weather, so I left the umbrella at home and we drove out to Lyle, in the Columbia Gorge, for a 4-mile hike along the Klickitat River. We stopped in Stevenson for a drink and a quick bite to eat before heading home. Gorgeous views and, though the trail was mostly snow-covered, it was pretty easy to navigate.

Today we are meeting my parents for lunch at Rusty Grape Vineyards. They do a mean wood-fired pizza and, of course, there will be wine.

Have a great week!