Friday, August 24, 2007

Footy on Long Island

This weekend my Aussie Rules team is heading up to the Big Apple to play New York. This is a big game, probably determining the winners of the Eastern Australian Football League. After much to-ing and fro-ing, it appears we are playing at Floral Park-Bellerose Elementary School. 198 Atlantic Ave, Floral Park, NY - if anyone feels like coming along, feel free!

Plans for Saturday night are up in the air; it appears we might have a couple of beers close by, before heading back into the city to go out later that night. If anyone wants to hit up the cell, let me know. I'm staying in the city, in Murray Hill, and am returning to DC early Sundar arvo.

Go Eagles!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Moscow Rules

I am an unabashed William Gibson enthusiast. I was first made aware of him over a decade ago, when some documentary on TV that discussed computers and cyberpunk happened to mention him. Suitably intrigued, since I both loved Science Fiction and was contemplating pursuing a degree in Computer Science and Mathematics, it was with some amount of glee that I discovered that my first University girlfriend (Vanessa, all pink hair and piercings) had a copy of "Neuromancer" on her apartment's coffee table.

I still remember sitting cross-legged on Vanessa's apartment floor, devouring the novel as I waited for her to return from meeting a friend, when there was a knock at the door. I was slightly surprised, upon opening it, to find an older woman carrying what appeared to be a load of washing. A fellow resident of Vanessa's apartment block, maybe?

"Who are you?" were the first words out of this woman's mouth. Strange.

"Vanessa's boyfriend," I replied. "Who are you?"

"Vanessa's mum."

Oh, right. And that's the first time I ever met the mother of a girlfriend of mine.

Anyhow, "Neuromancer" fired my imagination like few other books have, and remains one of my all time favourite novels. I read "Count Zero" and "Mona Lisa Overdrive", rounding out his "first trilogy", along with the short story collection "Burning Chrome" (notable for including "Johnny Mnemonic", which was adapted into a failed Keanu Reeves vehicle). I also picked up his "second trilogy", "Virtual Light", "Idoru", and "All Tomorrow's Parties". But nothing really touched "Neuromancer", not for me.

"Pattern Recognition", released in 2003, was a bit of a departure, set as it was in the current day as opposed to some future dystopia. I read that during my travels around Ireland and London, which prefaced my move to the US. In a lot of ways I appreciated his latest effort more than any other since his debut, and not just because the heroine of "Pattern" (Cayce) mirrored the protagonist of "Neuromancer" (Case).

This month saw the release of Gibson's most recent novel, "Spook Country", which appears to be a sequel to "Pattern Recognition". I must say "appears", because as with his previous trilogies the books do not follow each other in clear succession, but rather contain linked settings, characters, and themes. I literally just put down the book, and urge anyone who has enjoyed his previous efforts to pick up this one.

I have also trawled through some of Gibson's interviews (here is one from Salon.com). One item that he has mentioned repeatedly, and something that I find quite interesting, is how the internet, and Google and Wikipedia in particular, have affected both the writing and the reading process. He mentions how there are projects on the web already (WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS) detailing Google links and pictures of items that appear in the novel, which closely mirror paths he found himself following when researching for the novel. I find this fascinating from both perspectives, not only to have a deeper appreciation for elements he touches upon in the novel itself, but as how I use these same tools as a writer. In fact, in my last minute preparations for National Novel Writing Month last November I printed out several Wikipedia articles on alcoholism and addiction (yes, my novel was an artifact of sweetness and light) to get myself kick-started.

While going through some of these collections of links and articles inspired by "Spook Country", I came across a reference to "The Moscow Rules". "The Moscow Rules", for those of you who are not Cold-War-Heads, "is the name for rules of engagement said to have been developed by the CIA during the Cold War to be used by spies and others working in Moscow". While reviewing the list I couldn't help but think that here was a great little list to have in mind while you played poker, be it cash or tournament, legal, or not-so-much. I'm not saying that these are Poker Gospel (I can nitpick with more than one or two of these) I just regard it as a nice set of guidelines to keep close at hand.

Wikipedia lists two sets of rules, and I have decided to repeat the set that is displayed at the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC. I may have to print these out and keep them by my side during every session.
  1. Assume nothing.
  2. Never go against your gut.
  3. Everyone is potentially under opposition control.
  4. Don't look back; you are never completely alone.
  5. Go with the flow, blend in.
  6. Vary your pattern and stay within your cover.
  7. Lull them into a sense of complacency.
  8. Don't harass the opposition.
  9. Pick the time and place for action.
  10. Keep your options open.
There is another "rule" that is not part of this particular set, but which I'd like to add to the previous ten: "Once is an accident. Twice is coincidence. Three times is an enemy action."

Words to live by.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Bob and the Cider

I have to admit, when I went up to the outskirts of Buffalo a few weeks ago I didn't quite know what to expect. Saunter had assured me that there would be a veritable cavalcade of characters, so when Bob showed up in his truck to help out with the pig roast I was somewhat prepared. Bob is one of those "salt of the earth" types, his family having lived in the area for generations. A tall and lean man, with grey hair and moustache, I was hard-pressed to guess his age. Somewhere over 60, I guessed, but whereabouts I was unsure.

Bob lived close by, and had brought along his truck containing all sorts of tools and implements that might be necessary for a backyard pig roasting operation. I watched and helped document the action as various more qualified people, Bob among them, got busy with details such as lopping off the legs of the pig so it would be able to turn on the spit safely. I was called into action to help carry the pig on its spike into the roaster itself, and with sharp implements out of the way I was able to assist with the rest of the pig preparation.

Once the pig began cooking, after every hour or so we would open up the roaster, put in some more coals and some applewood, and sprinkle seasoning on the pig. Just after 11am or so Bob and I finished the hourly pig maintenance, and found ourselves at a bit of a loose end. We hadn't really chatted as of yet, but Bob instantly labelled himself as a man after my own heart with his next words.

"Are you on beer detail?"

I grinned briefly before replying.

"No, but I can be."

With that I set off for the outside fridge, swiftly returning with two beers. Bob and I sat down in two chairs near the roaster, and opened up the first drinks of the day. Looking after a roasting pig is thirsty work.

Suitably comfortable Bob began to chat about the area, things he liked to do, what he was up to. I discovered that he had five or so boys, most of whom would be coming that evening for the roast. His mum was over 90 years old and still kicking. And he made his own still cider.

Still cider, eh? Colour me intrigued.

Bob promised that he would be bringing some that evening, and I said that I looked forward to trying some.

Fast-forward. The roast is in full swing, as tables of people enjoy the pork that had been harvested by Bob's five sons, from under the watchful eye of Bob himself. I had already partaken my share of food, as well as more than my share of Labatt's, and I was busy playing in an impromptu game of pick-up volleyball. This allowed me to add grass stains to the beer, barbecue sauce, and pig's blood stains already festooning my pants. As late afternoon gave way to night, a bonfire was lit and I retired from volleyball to continue my drinking in earnest. I made my way to find Bob, and informed him that I thought it was high time to try some cider. He agreed, and I went with Saunter's soon-to-be-brother-in-law to find it.

After lugging back the extra-huge Gatorade bottle the cider was stored, we carefully poured the cider out into three plastic cups. Raising it in toast, I took my first speculative sip. The drink was cool and tart... and most definitely alcoholic. Bob, however, was starting to show a few signs of being worse for wear; apparently during the afternoon when Saunter kidnapped me for a whistle-stop tour of Buffalo the soon-to-be-brother-in-law and Bob had retired to Bob's place for some afternoon drinking. Good man.

"That's enough for me, but you boys should finish that off."

Bob gave us the direction firmly, and we two boys looked at the cider, looked at each other, and shrugged. Who were we to argue? Before too long Bob informed us that we was completely shit-faced, and staggered off to walk home. As for us? Well, we had cider to drink.

And that's how I ended up putting myself away on home-stilled cider. The next morning I woke up feeling as clear as a bell, which I found mildly amazing. I was also aware, in the cold light of morning, that I had been way drunker the night before than I thought I had been at the time. If nothing else cider had amplified my ineptitude during my first ever game of Euchre, as Saunter and I were punished by Tim and Tom the twins. On second thought, I think I just sucked... but I sure as hell was drunk while doing it.

Bob appeared again the next morning, before we headed off to the airport to return home. He looked fine, at least as well as I felt. He shook my hand heartily and informed me that the next time I came up we'd have to have a real drinking session.

I'm sure it will involve still cider. I may need to practice.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Four More Years?

Today is the fourth anniversary of my touching down at Dulles Airport at the beginning of my United States Adventure. Four years! When you say it out loud it seems like a long time, though looking back it doesn't seem like it has been 48 months since I staggered into the lobby of the Oakwood Estates in Rosslyn, clutching only my carry-on baggage (my checked-in luggage had been lost somewhere in the Seventh Circle of Hell known as LAX).

Four years is the amount of time it took me to get my Bachelor's degree, which included an extra year to pursue my Honours. Four years is longer than the amount of time I have spent living in any one place, except for where I lived while attending University. This is a bit of a mirage; I have spent longer living in the little town where my parents live, though that was a two year chunk here, and a two year chunk there... and now I think about it, since I was six years old it would have only have been about four years or so that I actually spent there, once you add up the three separate chunks of time I spent co-habiting with my folks.

What I'm trying to say, in a roundabout way, is that four years is a bunch of time.

The time I've spent here has been fantastic, an experience I could not really have imagined way back when I was in Sydney and first turned down the offer to transfer me over here (after all, I had lived for a couple of years in Canada, had no urge to live in the US, and why the hell would I choose to live in DC?!). And though I have long maintained that there are other places in the US I would love to live (no. 1 is San Francisco, no. 2 is Chicago, and every so often New York flits into my mind) I am very happy in DC, and would need what I call a "Compelling Reason[tm]" to leave.

Having my company tell me they no longer need my services certainly qualifies as a Compelling Reason[tm], but that is more along the lines of "might have to move back to Australia" rather than "might be moving to a different city in the US". Even that Compelling Reason[tm] is up in the air these days; even as my current November 30th deadline approaches with a slow yet steady gait there appears more than a glimmer of hope that my terms of employment will be extended at least into the new year, while further machinations progress that may allow me to slide into other opportunities that will help shield me from premature expulsion. During all of this I sit and wait and watch my Green Card application process ooze forwards, ever hopeful that I can make it to the Promised Land before I am forced to leave these fair shores.

Four years. It's a long time. But not long enough.

__________________

This past weekend I managed to experience a series of "firsts", which at least let me feel like less of a stranger to this country. During the weekend I did the following:

  • Visited Buffalo
  • Ate cheese curds
  • Was an active participant in preparing a pig which was roasted on a spit
  • Prepared, and then consumed a "s'more"
  • Drove a car in the US
This last one in particular was quite the milestone. Though I am not quite ready to face the insane stylings of the DC Metro Area commuters, it was very cool to get behind the wheel and drive on the wrong side of the road. Many thanks to Saunter, who was quietly insistent that I not be a pansy and actually give it a shot, and many more thanks to the Gods of Driving who saw to it that I did not stall the car while taking off for the first time while being filmed by Saunter's sister.

Though it was my first time driving on the wrong side of the road, it had been 3.5 years since my last driving effort (and that only lasted 2 minutes). It had been just over 4 years since my last extended driving, when I drove around Ireland for a couple of weeks. And it had been over 8 years(!) since I had regularly driven at all.

Thankfully I had a manual to drive, as I have only ever driven an automatic on rare occasions (and usually find my foot searching for the clutch interminably). Having the stick on my right side as opposed to my left wasn't too bad; up-shifting wasn't a problem, but I discovered when approaching a corner my left hand would ram into the car door as it went looking for the gear stick that wasn't there, much to Saunter's amusement. I only switched on the windscreen wipers once instead of my turn signals, so that was a win. But do not worry, Drivers of America. You are safe.

For now.