Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Octopod

November 1994

The weather was cool.  We dressed in full suits for the evening meeting and they were black and double-breasted.  The tags went on the pockets and we went out into the dirt streets of San Juan Popoca.

Lazaro walked fast half a block ahead of me.  Stray dogs here slept against the pastel plastered houses, up against the road, or in the street.  I'd seen him pull back and kick sleeping dogs in the ribs and laugh, shaking his head and looking back at me as they coughed and stumbled away.

This Monday two dogs knotted together mating in the street.  He looked back, grinning, and then sprinted toward them.  He planted kicks like a placekicker wherever he found openings.  The shrieking dogs bolted for opposite directions, failing, and he danced around them athletically.  The eight legged beast wobbled in circles howling loudly enough to attract passers-by and a crowd gathered.

Vamos, I said.  Let's go.  He didn't respond, still kicking.  The crowd watched and some of them encouraged him.
Vámonos, I yelled but he ignored me.  I leaned up against the wall of a store and waited.  When one of the dogs started bleeding he stopped finally.  He shook his head again laughing.
¿Listo?” he said.  You ready?  We boarded the bus for the meeting.

February 1995

Months passed and I worked with Gasquez.  A señora who worked behind the counter in a store told us about a young black-suited man like us who bested an eight-legged monster in the center of town.  She saw it with her own eyes.
“Was the jóven a gringo?” Gasquez asked her and winked at me.

She watched me with squinted eyes.  “No. I don't think so,” she said.  “Well, it could be.”  She continued with the tale as if the jóven were the hero.  The monster had either one or three heads but she couldn't recall. 

“It seems like an important point,” Gasquez said. “How many heads it had.”
“To the monster at least.  I think there were two,” I said and told Gasquez about the incident with Lazaro.
Ay, la octopoda, Gasquez said to her.  “Is that what she's talking about?” he asked me.
“I don't know.”

August 1995

I served in the city of Puebla now, nearly an hour from San Juan Popoca.  Others came by in black suits too and we talked about the Chupacabra sucking out the life of livestock all over Chihuahua in the north and even as close as Tlaxcala.

“I just came from San Juan Popoca.  Weird things there,” said Sorensen.
“That was my first area!  It's magical.  Did you hear about the UFOs that hover in the hills there and at the cusp of the volcano?”
“Which one, Iztaccíhuatl?”
“No, Popocatépetl.”
“Oh.  I did hear of that.  They caused the eruption.”
“They landed in the hills while I was there,” I said.
“No.”  He didn't believe it.  I didn't at first either.
“Well, we were in Atlixco that day.”
“How do you know then?”  An accusation.
“They all said so.  All of them.”
There was a moment of quiet.

“Oh!” he said, “You hear about the Octopod?”
“No, what's that?”
“An eight-legged hydra that sprung from the streets by the zócaloThey said a goofy-looking gringo in a dark cloak defeated it with nothing but an umbrella.  Well, some people thought it was Quetzalcóatl or St. Thomas.”

“No.  And watch your mouth.”

Friday, January 31, 2014

Gravity's Rainbow

(Originally posted Summer of 2007)

After much deliberation I bought a copy of Gravity's Rainbow and started to read it. Although I love literature, I haven't read a book for a long time (well, except for Self-Made Man, which I recommend - but that's not really literature). Too busy. So I may be too busy to read this impenetrable thousand page behemoth which is why I deliberated so long in buying it. I don't like buying books and not reading them. Which is why I never bought Ulysses and never will. Blechh..


The book centers around Germany's V-2 Rocket Bomb. The V-2 rocket became an archetype of 50's science fiction completely divorced from its wartime origins. Now with that characteristic shape come visions of peaceful and optimistic earthlings spreading their utopian peace across the universe in cold-war era movies and short stories. Even so, I'm excited to delve into it.

Speaking of rockets, Rebekka and I took the kids out to the park the other day to launch one. We found a ready-to-fly Estes model rocket at Target for $17 and I decided to drag my family along to visit my childhood. My last experience as a child with a model rocket was watching my carefully constructed and painted (black!) space shuttle burst into flames before my eyes as I tried to hide my tears from my father. That was painful enough to discourage any return to the practice of model rocketry until last week.

We launched the rocket four times. I expected my son to love it and he did. What surprised me was how much Rebekka and my two girls enjoyed it. On the fourth and final flight we lost the rocket. We spent about an hour looking for it, but never found it. That's ok though, because as Gabby (my 6-year old) said, "it went into real space!"

After we returned, Gabby asked me if anyone had ever been to Mars.
"No, but we've sent robots up there and we have a lot of pictures.", I said.
"So when are people going to go up there?", she asked.
"Oh, in maybe fifteen or twenty years."
"I want to be that person!", she said with a huge grin.

(Image: A Tintin Comic: Destination Moon.  I have a French version of this book from a summer I spent in Belgium.)

I Was An Atomic Mutant

(Originally posted 2006)

I bought this PC game a few years ago at a Wal-Mart in Lee's Summit, Missouri for $3. The gameplay is repetitive and the in-game graphics are unimpressive - but it hooks me. It's a ValuSoft title developed on a shoe-string. A single developer is credited for the engine. Its redeeming strength is that its atmosphere totally captures the 50's and 60's era sci-fi and monster movies it imitates.

Thematically the game resembles Destroy All Humans! and Destroy All Humans! 2, which are far better games but don't quite nail the atmosphere of old sci-fi flicks like this does. The Destroy All Humans! are too self aware to fully capture those movies. Another game with a similar feel is Godzilla: Save the Earth which, while clearly much more polished, scores one point below Atomic Mutant on Metacritic (64 vs. 63). And I Was An Atomic Mutant scores a full thirteen points above our own vastly ambitious but ultimately underwheming Superman Returns.

So what does this mean? It would be irresponsible to draw any conclusions from this example, but it is interesting.