Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Gambling in Dallas

"I am shocked!  Shocked to discover that there is gambling going on in here!"
--Louie, Casablanca

So for about five minutes there, everybody in the country seemed to think they'd become multibajillionaires in one swell foop.  Something called "Powerball," which I guess is kind of like Rollerball, except that after the match they're less inclined to kill you.  The pot went up to like $600 million, which is almost enough for Romney to bet against Perry that one of them will change his mind about which two (three?) departments he's going to eliminate from the Cabinet after he loses the election.  Then two people won it, and everybody else heaved a collective sigh and went back to whatever they were doing.  Going to work, probably.  

At my office, like lots of others, there was a Lottery Pool, which, I gather, works like this:  Everybody tosses in a few bucks, somebody goes to buy tickets, and if, by that 154-in-600-million chance, somebody's ticket happens to win, everybody splits the pot 22 ways.  I'm sure we could each manage on our $27,272,727.72, in between feeding Namibia for a year and buying 6 or 700 pairs of size-eight black high heeled shoes.  But I found myself plunged into a Situation almost immediately.  You see, the last time The Lottery got high enough for an Office Pool to be generated, I wasn't an Official Buddhist yet.  I mean, I was walking around acting like one and so on, but I hadn't Taken The Vows, as it were.  This time around, I had (have).  And guess what one of those things is that Buddhists aren't supposed to do?

Yeah.  Right up there with not drinking alcohol.  

Mind you, Buddha didn't actually say, "Don't spend money on Powerball tickets; lots of poor people could use a good meal."  The actual quote in the Dhammapada is something to do with not betting on horse races, which could very well be where "Don't bet on the horses" comes from. What did Buddha have against betting on horses, you may want to know.  Well, from what I understand. it's a couple of things.  First off, it's an addictive behavior.  Bet on the horses once and you want to bet again, especially if you lose.  No, really, it's more addictive if you lose.  You want to get your money back and the best way possible is to--leave immediately and make prudent investments in the future.  Well, maybe, but no one ever thinks of that.  No, they think of betting on the next race to win back what they just lost.  Obviously, this cycle could continue as long as you have money.  I saw it on an episode of Intervention once.  

Besides being addictive, gambling is a form of attachment to the material world that's pretty hard to ignore.  If you're hoping to win money, you're grasping at money.  Grasping is attachment.  Attachment is one of the things that gets between you and serenity.  Walking the Middle Way means neither grasping at things nor pushing them away.  Kind of hard to do that when you're watching the races and yelling "Move your bloody ass!" at the white one with the black spot on his head.  

So, okay.  No gambling.  Got it, never really liked it anyway, casinos worry me, all the flashing lights are disorienting and you can never find the damn ladies' room to save your life.  The last time I was in one, which was a couple of months ago on my drive to Tulsa, I just went in to get lunch and spent most of the time I was in there worried that somebody would recognize me.  (Nothing else was open.  The whole town was essentially deserted.  Except the casino.  Go figure.)  But then, this office pool thing.  How was I going to gracefully bail out of the office pool?

Then I discovered that there was no bailing out.  I'd already entered.  The last time we had an office pool, we'd won the princely sum of $154. Not really enough to retire on, unless you live in Bangladesh and make shirts for Wal-Mart, but it was enough to buy another round of tickets for everybody.  So there I was.  Part of the office pool, whether I wanted to be or not.

One really, really good reason that I should not gamble is that I'm superstitious.  You wouldn't know it, because I keep it under wraps most of the time, but wake up that superstitious streak in my head and it won't shut up until I take an Ativan.  One of the really good ways to wake it up is to indulge in a little gambling.  My first thought, besides the one about how guilty I needed to feel about this gambling that I'd been forced into, was whether I'd jinxed the whole thing.  Surely if I were in the office pool, the pool had no way of winning.  My very presence would prevent it.  Only by exiting the office pool could I help my colleagues win.  

And if that wasn't silly enough, I then began to wonder if instead, we would win, and winning would ruin everything.  We'd all quit our jobs, burn through all the money on stupid frivolous things like sexually oriented T-shirts and Web episodes of Hell on Wheels and end up broke, destitute and lolling in a gutter somewhere.  Worse, we wouldn't be a law firm anymore.  We're a good little law firm.  What would happen to our clients?  What about all the justice we had yet to insist on, all the plaintiffs with multiple injuries that needed compensating?  I mean, the implications were staggering.  And, okay, I was staggering.  I've had a stupid cold for like two weeks.  It's affecting my balance a little.  

Eventually, I calmed down, we didn't win the lottery and things went on as normal.  Phew.  That was close.  I think we won eight bucks, which probably isn't enough for another office pool.  But if the pool thing comes up again, I think I'll try to stay in the one where I get wet.  Intentionally.  

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Ballad Of The Shape Of Things

You guys, I am so sorry.  Not only is this post a day late, it's a day late for last week.  That's not like me.  I'm usually spot-on, at Afrah every Thursday, hammering this sucker out over baba ganouj and pita bread with a lemonade and an occasional cup of gelato.  November's brought a host of interesting goings-on, from a stupid back injury to a--common cold.  Weird to call anything common that's so darn rare, at least for me.  I don't get colds.  Oh, I get a sinus infection that warps into double pneumonia, or viral bronchitis that lands me in bed for a week, but a cold?  Pshaw.  Never happens.  Except that, at the moment, I have a cold.

Last Thursday, Joan and I had tickets to a play called MacHomer. Think Macbeth as done by the Simpsons.  Macbeth happens to be my favorite play.  To see it done as a one-man show by a guy who can convincingly imitate about 20 Simpsons characters is, well, special.  We saw it before, several years ago, but the sound quality at the theater was so bad that we missed three-quarters of the jokes.  So when we saw it was coming back around--and playing at the Winspear, which is an opera house and which Does Not Have Bad Sound--we got all excited.  Thursday night, however, we made the mistake of meeting at home for dinner before the show.  Halfway through dinner, we started looking at each other, and finally I said, "This isn't going to happen, is it?" and Joan said, "You mind if we lose the ticket money?" I said, "Of course I mind, but not enough to pile into the car and go down there."  Joan said, "I want to have gone, but I don't want to go."  Which was pretty much how I felt.  So we ended up watching something on the History Channel, and I fell asleep on the couch.  I do that.  This is how you know you're an old married couple; you start deteriorating at the same speed.

My stupid back is a lot better, no thanks to the Chiropractor We Send All Our Clients To.  Actually, there was nothing wrong with the chiropractor; it was her staff that was the problem.  The first time I went down there, I was in her office for 2 1/2 hours.  Of that time, about 15 minutes amounted to actual treatment.  The rest amounted to being shown into this room and that room and long periods of being left unattended for reasons that were never satisfactorily explained.  That was my first visit.  My second visit only took an hour and a half, but in that time, my treatment plan changed from three to four visits over two weeks to twenty-one visits over three to four months.  One of the minions tried to take me back for an X-ray that the doctor had already told me I didn't need, and when I tried to make her life easier by saying, "Look, I'll just refuse it, okay?" she said, "You can't do that."

(Um, I assure you that I can.)

But the topper was when a different minion took me into a treatment room for this electric-stim therapy that's kind of like a TENS unit on acid, I guess.  My stupid back injury was kind of below my waist and just above my butt, so to get at it they kind of had to take my pants partway off.  This woman hooked me up to this electro-zapper thingy, with my pants partway off, and left me there, again for the requisite 45 minutes.  With two big Mexican (male) laborers in the same room.  No, I am not kidding.  I finally peeled the electrodes off and wriggled myself off the table (not without several muscle spasms) so that I could for Godsake get dressed.  I mean, the Mexican laborers were polite and all that, and didn't stare, but for crying out loud, people.  That was a little ridiculous.  I don't wanna send my clients there anymore.  (Chiropractic Doctors Clinic on Belt Line.  You're welcome.)

So thus endeth my third bad experience with chiropractic.  There will not be a fourth. It's been about a month since I got hurt and I'm mostly back to normal, with a little residual stiffness.  My massage therapist, the endlessly talented Kellum, has been filling in for the auspices of modern medicine.  I think that did just as well as chiropractic would have done.  Probably better, since Kellum doesn't leave me lying places with my pants off.  Bless his heart.

Okay, so I couldn't swim for about three weeks.  Swimming made my back worse (probably the cold water; I'd just tense right up) but walking made it better, so I did a lot of walking.  Result: Legs and lower back got stronger, but lost lots of muscle tone in my arms and shoulders.  I'm back in the pool now and I get sore, people.  It's a little embarrassing to crawl out of the pool after an hour and be barely able to lift my frick'n swim bag.  I start lifting weights again on Sunday.  Seriously, this needs to be fixed.

We spent Thanksgiving with good friends Tammy and Tracy and some other friends at their place in Oak Cliff.  Everybody brought something so it was a pretty eclectic mix of food.  Joan made Texas caviar, which is kind of a bean salad thingy with onions and Italian dressing, and cranberry sauce.  (Not together.)  The sweet potatoes were first rate, the stuffing was great, there were two kinds of bread pudding (I had a sliver of each, mainly as an excuse to put spray whipped cream on them--I love spray whipped cream) and, oh yeah, a turkey.  I gave a slice of breast meat some courtesy nibbles.  I have never been fond of turkey.  I know this makes me a Philistine, but I'll survive somehow.  We spent the evening telling silly animal stories (since most of their friends are zookeepers!) and being harassed by their three cats and a visiting dog.  It was a great way to spend a holiday.

So now we're in the middle of the North Texas Mensa Regional Gathering, where we hang with the smart people and learn cool stuff about computer vision and Civil War diaries and play card games until three in the morning and other strange things.  The programming is great, but the hotel--People, this hotel needed to be torn down two years ago.  It's like the Dallas Shining.  The towels are frayed, the air conditioner covers are cracked, there are mirrors missing in the washrooms and they've been replaced with boards, there are ceiling stains--it's pathetic, really.  The whole place speaks of serious neglect, bad management and we-didn't-bother-to-do-a-site-inspection-before-we-signed-the-contract.  I'd be embarrassed to book anyone there.  I'm almost embarrassed to walk in there. (Night Hotel Dallas at 635 just past Josey Lane.  You're welcome.)

And my NaNo novel?  Oh, let's not talk about that.  Suffice to say it kind of crashed and burned on me 16,000 words in.  But that's actually okay, because I got an idea to do something else, and it's going to be fun.  (As Lawrence of Arabia) The trick is not to mind that it hurts.

So, anyway, that's where things stand.  I'm about to crawl into bed, soon to leap back up and go flying out to the Dallas Shining for Day 3 of the RG. We'll see how long I last before the murdered twin girls pop out of the hallway walls and say they want me to stay and play with them forever and ever and ever.  Cheers, all.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Post-Election Red Tape Blues

Don't get me wrong, Harry & David are two of my best friends, but does it bother anybody else when they email you a list with presents all picked out for everyone you know?  I mean, yeah, thanks for thinking for me and all that, but I'm quite capable of deciding for myself what to send to my great-aunt, Maude, thank you very much.  And my great-aunt Maude doesn't like Moose Munch.  I'm just sayin'.

Anyway:  I didn't go to work yesterday.  The Official Reason was that I had Female Issues, which was true, actually.  Sharp pointy cramps low down and across my back.  I hurt my back recently, as I may have mentioned, and my third adventure in chiropractic turned out about as well as my first two (which is to say, really badly), so I'm wondering if that had anything to do with it.  I don't normally have very serious Issues that direction, much less bad enough to call in dead.  (Which is, I think, a first for me at this job, or maybe a second.)  But the Real Reason was that at about 4:00 on Election Day, I ran out of cope. Just shut down.  When I woke up the following morning, the only thing I wanted to do was put my fuzzy robe on, snarf down about a fistful of Advil and go back to bed.

Eventually I let Joan talk me into this.  I called my Official Boss (TM) and he couldn't get me off the phone fast enough.  Ladies, if you have a male boss and you need a day off, just mention Female Issues.  Not only don't they want to know anymore, they have an oh-my-virgin-ears moment trying to get away from you, which is kind of comical.  Well, it would have been comical if I'd been in a better mood.  Then I called the office manager, talked to her answering machine, and nosedived into bed, there to stay until the manager called me back about nine-thirty.

She was nice.  I told her I was thinking of maybe calling my doctor and seeing if she'd call in something stronger than Advil, which I may have done and I may not have done; I don't actually recall.  When I'm out of cope I can't waste precious cope on trying to remember things that are going to be irrelevant in twenty-four hours anyway. She told me to take the day off after I made noises about trying to come in later. Which was fine with me.  I went back to sleep again and stayed there until my stomach started poking me about one in the afternoon.

I got up, prowled around the kitchen, found Something to Eat (I think it was a bowl of granola) and went back to bed.  This time I didn't wake up until Joan came home from a dentist appointment about four.  By then there were some signs of returning cope.  We made a pizza and ate it.  Some frozen yogurt was shared. We both went to bed early and this morning, when I woke up, my cope tank was filled back to normal.  And my cramps, while not gone, were once again responding to Advil.

Now, this is not  a scientific theory or anything, but I can't help but notice my being out of cope happened right around the time a lot of people that would normally know better were making fools of themselves in public in various ways.  A lot of them were pretty excited and a fair number of them were also angry.  Angry because things weren't going their way, because people that they had counted on to do one thing were doing another thing, that all those naysayers they were going to show up on this particular date were instead committing the ultimate crime of being right.  I wasn't there and I have not seen the video but I understand that Karl Rove even raised his voice. 

Now, I'm a rather sensitive type, and I tend to pick up other people's feelings whether I want to or not.  Hence my love of horror films, though they're not nearly as much fun unless I'm actually in a crowded theater, freaking out with everybody else.  I notice anger and tension way before anyone's willing to tell me what's going on.  I even pick up on people dying halfway around the world, and I've been known to do a pretty good job of locating recent dead bodies.  (Yes, folks, I'm the psychic equivalent of a corpse-sniffing dog.  Too bad I can't turn it on and off at will; I'd have my own reality show.)  So I'm thinking, if I'm in a country where half the electorate is angry, excited, disappointed, freaked out, thinking about moving to Canada or otherwise perturbed, I might very well run out of cope just trying to stay balanced.  A country's a big place, folks, and there are a lot of people crammed into it.

So that's my theory.  The United States of America made me sick.  That, and bad cramps.

Oh, and hey, we had an election, didn't we?  Did the black guy win again?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

It's November! And That Means It's Time For...



Oh, you know.  National Novel Writing Month.  There's that crazy guy, Chris Baty, who lived in San Francisco in the 1990s.  The last year of that decade, he and 21 of his closest friends decided that they'd have a better chance to get dates if they were also writers, so they got together in November 1999 and set out to write novels--one each--in a month.  True story.  And it worked so well that they did it again the following year, with more friends, and the year after that, and then they got onto the fledgling Internet and November hasn't been the same since.

Write a novel in a month, you say?  Impossible, you say.  Hogwash, I say.  All you have to do is sit down in front of a keyboard (or a notebook, if you're old school, with a handy pen) and write 1667 words a day.  That's it.  That's all.  Do that every day for a month and at the end of the month you'll have 50,000 words.  A short novel is about that length, so it's entirely possible, if you're diligent and type/write reasonably fast, to write a novel in a month.  I looked back at the stats on the Web site and discovered that I've iu fact done this four times; 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009.  I actually finished the novels from 2006 and 2007, though to be honest, they weren't much to write home about.  2008 yielded No Accounting for Reality, which is still for sale right here and here (and yes, proceeds still go to Children's Hospital). 2009 started off badly and didn't end well, but I got half a manuscript out of it, and maybe something'll still come out of that.

So when Kevin reminded me that NaNoWriMo was about to start, it occurred to me that I wasn't exactly doing anything else at the moment, apart from moping around and not exactly writing.  So I figured what the hell, and on Halloween Night I signed up for the 2012 edition.  I solemnly swore I would show up, write my 1667 words a day, and just keep going no matter what.  So far it's a jangled mess of long rambling statements about birthday dinners, Buddhism, the existence of God and running into Muslim men in awkward situations (in short, a lot like this blog; hm, could there be a connection?)  but maybe it'll start making sense as I get further into it.   As Julia Cameron said, many times in many different quotable ways that I can't call to mind right now, just show up and start typing.  God fills in the rest.  Good advice for life, too. 

Anyway, if you're interested, check out the Web site and if you feel like jumping in, it's not too late.  A friendly warning, though - don't start writing to publishers and agents in December.  They pretty much aren't taking queries the whole month because of the holidays, and what with the hurricane and all, most of them are probably shut down until next year sometime.  Always check the agents' Web site to see if they're taking queries before you send 'em, folks.  Meantime, here's my cute li'l Writer Page link.  44,751 words to go!