The Weekly Essay

It’s Another Story.

‘Twas The Morning After The Night Before Christmas.

All of us kids woke up early and came downstairs on Christmas morning. The presents were there like always. The fire had burned out overnight but there was still the sweet smell of ashes in the air. Ma was in the kitchen getting breakfast started. We were going to start opening presents when we noticed Pa in the corner, just sort of rocking back and forth. Ma came in, still wearing her bandanna over her hair.

“Why’s everybody so quiet?” she asked. “What’s going on?”

“Something’s wrong with Pa,” I said. “Look!”

“Oh,” said Ma, “so this is where you went after you left the bedroom window open. I had to get up and close it. It was freezing out there. What were you thinking flinging it open like a crazy man in the middle of the night anyway?”

“So much noise,” Pa muttered quietly, still rocking. “There was so much noise outside I had to see what was going on.”

“I didn’t hear anything,” said my big sister Emily. She looked at us. “Did any of you?” We all shook our heads except for my little brother who picked up a piece of candied fruit and started sucking on it.

“He was flying,” Dad said, his eyes wide. “I swear it’s the truth. He was flying along in a tiny sleigh pulled by miniature reindeer.”

“Reindeer aren’t that big,” said Emily. “Some are less than three feet tall at the shoulder.”

“Hush,” hissed Ma.

“He—he had names for them,” said Pa. “Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen and Blitzen.”

“Somebody’s Blitzen all right,” said Ma. “What’s with you?”

“And Donner,” Pa added.

“Like the party?” asked Emily.

“They landed on the roof,” said Dad, oblivious to the question. “So much noise. They were stamping all over the roof.”

“It wouldn’t have been so loud if you’d replaced the insulation in the attic this summer like I told you to,” said Ma.

“How’d you know they were on the roof?” asked Emily. “Did you lean out the window and look?”

Pa kept staring ahead. “I came downstairs. I came downstairs and he came in the house.”

“We were robbed?” said my little brother. “On Christmas Eve?” He started crying. I nudged him.

“Cool it. The presents are all here, see?”

“What happened?” asked Ma. “Did he fall through the roof where you haven’t replaced the shingles?”

“He came down the chimney,” said Pa. “Just popped out of the fireplace with a great big bag.”

“Didn’t we have a fire last night?” asked Emily.

“He was a large, round man in a bright red fur suit trimmed with white,” Pa went on.

“Where do you get bright red fur?” I asked.

“Somebody probably threw paint on it,” said Emily. “Fur is dead, you know.”

“I just sat here and watched him,” said Pa, “watched him pull presents out of this great big bag he carried. He put them under the tree and then when he was done he went back into the fireplace and flew right up it.”

I giggled. “Because his ass was on fire!”

Ma gave me a smack and said, “Knock it off!”

“I looked out the window and he just flew away into the night yelling ‘Merry Christmas!’ loud enough to wake up the whole neighborhood,” said Pa. “Didn’t even go to any other houses. Just us. Just us.” He started rocking back and forth again.

We were all quiet for a long time, then Ma said, “Kids, your father’s been under a lot of pressure lately. Let’s just give him a little bit of time. He’ll come around.”

We all got quiet again and stood around awkwardly. The silence was only broken by a loud snap from the kitchen.

“I’d better go check that mousetrap,” said Ma.

Yule Need This.

So a company that makes those coffee makers that use small pods—I won’t name the company because they’re not paying me enough; more specifically they’re not paying me anything, and they’re so ubiquitous they don’t need me to shill for them anyway—has made a machine that makes cocktails from pods similar to the ones that are used for coffee. The problems with this should be obvious. Aside from the fact that the coffee machine already takes up a lot of valuable kitchen counter real estate, leaving precious little for dishes, cups, take-out Chinese food, mail, umbrellas, briefcases, keys, pocket telescopes, pill bottles, and the assorted flotsam and jetsam of home life, anyone who wants a wide range of cocktails would be better off going to a bar. I know the same could potentially be said for coffee, but even though the machines can make a wide range of lattes, cappuccinos, espressos, frappes, and draperies there must be a limit to how much they can do, otherwise all those coffee places wouldn’t be so ubiquitous they don’t need me to shill for them. And while you can pick up your coffee at a drive-through window I’ve never met anyone who went to a bar and asked for their Bloody Mary to go. And part of the appeal of the pod-cocktail maker, as it’s advertised, is that it can make beer. Apparently they haven’t noticed that beer is already easily available—to go, even—in bottles and cans. So is coffee, although that’s a more recent development and probably got the idea from beer. And no one who’s interested in brewing their own beer at home does it casually, as you’ll know if you’ve ever been cornered at a party by someone who tells you beer brewing is their hobby and within five minutes you realize it’s really their obsession and fifteen minutes later you realize they can’t talk about anything else and an hour later when you finally get away you feel like you’ve been squeezed into a small plastic pod and had hot water forced through you, but that’s another story. And even though cocktail-making is more of a niche activity people who are serious about it are the sort who take it seriously enough that they prefer the hands-on approach to making a sidecar, a margarita, or a martini, and, hey, how hard is it anyway to combine vodka and vermouth or gin and tonic or scotch and asparagus? And because it’s the end of the year the cocktail maker is being promoted as a great gift or the ideal accoutrement for your holiday parties even though it doesn’t make egg nog, or any other variety of nog, which I think is really the only drink, aside from mulled wine, which is also really easy to make—just think about it—for the season, one that should be shared with friends and family around the yuletide fire, which reminds me, what is “yule” anyway? When I was a kid I thought it was some sort of animal, like a small moose, which made the idea of a yule log really unappealing, and then I thought maybe it had something to do with Euell Gibbons who could concoct winter cocktails from pine needles and sap, or maybe Yul Brynner whose movies always seem to play around Thanksgiving and Christmas, et cetera et cetera, and then I pretty much forgot about it until now. It turns out Yule is an ancient Germanic solstice celebration that provided both the timing and many of the symbols associated with Christmas, including the decorated tree as well as the feasting and drinking. And I wouldn’t have thought to look that up if I hadn’t hitched onto this holiday line of thought, so something useful has come out of that cocktail maker after all.

Get Stuffed.

Every year when Thanksgiving is celebrated in the United States there are certain traditions, including turkey and its own special side dish which, depending on where you are, is known as either stuffing–because it’s sometimes stuffed into and cooked with the turkey–or dressing. Regardless of what you call it it’s an essential part of the Thanksgiving meal, but varies widely from state to state. Here are the most popular stuffing, or dressing, ingredients across the United States.

Alabama-corn bread



Arkansas-hot springs mud

California-walnuts, oranges, self-loathing


Connecticut-PEZ candy

Delaware-disc golf




Idaho-potatoes, Napoleon Dynamite DVDs

Illinois-pizza (deep dish)

Indiana-waffles, basketballs

Iowa-formerly corn, now mostly ethanol


Kentucky-bluegrass, white linen suits



Maryland-clam chowder


Michigan-perch, pierogis

Minnesota-mosquitoes, hockey pucks, public radio programs

Mississippi-cactus, old issues of National Geographic

Missouri-barbecued ribs

Montana-a steak stuffed inside another steak

Nebraska-corn husks

Nevada-corn chips, casino chips

New Hampshire-grapes, pewter

New Jersey-Skee-Ball balls

New Mexico-lapis lazuli

New York-pizza (thin crust)

North Carolina-microbrewed beer

North Dakota-gravel

Ohio-cash registers


Oregon-Flexiturducken (a chicken stuffed inside a duck stuffed inside a turkey stuffed inside a tofu loaf)

Pennsylvania-sports mascots

Rhode Island-macaroni, feathers

South Carolina-iodine

South Dakota-accordions

Tennessee-fried okra, dreams of making it in the country music industry



Vermont-artisanal ice cream

Virginia-overdue library books

Washington-octopus, silicon

West Virginia-coal

Wisconsin-cheese curds

Wyoming-prairie oysters

Star Man.

Orion is rising west by southwest in the mornings now. It’s the second constellation I learned to identify after the Big Dipper, Ursa Major. It took some time before I could find the Big Dipper, before I even understood what constellations were. I was five when I overheard an older kid, some sunny summer day, say that he was going to look for the Big Dipper that night. I didn’t even know what a dipper was so I asked my mother and she took me out that night and pointed up at the stars. “There’s the spoon,” she said, “and there’s the handle.” I’m sure she explained that a constellation is a picture made up by connecting the stars like dots but I missed that part and thought, what is she talking about? All I see are stars. And I was terrible at connect-the-dots puzzles anyway. I’d get bored somewhere around three and skip ahead to nine so no matter what the picture was supposed to be it always looked like an amoeba, but that’s another story.
I finally learned how to find constellations from a planetarium show where pictures of stars were projected on the convex screen and bright lines drawn between them, and I thought it was pretty imaginative that someone had put together a trapezoid and a line and seen it as a great bear. Even more interesting was knowing that the constellations are three-dimensional constructions seen in only two, flattened out by space and distance so that from another world their shapes would be very different.
For a long time every time I looked at Orion I wondered why ancient astronomers—the constellation was named by the Greeks—had called it that. Why Orion? Almost from the time I could read I was fascinated by Greek and Roman mythology—any mythology, really, but Greek and Roman was the most available—and Orion always seemed like a pretty obscure figure. He doesn’t play a major role in any big myths; in fact Orion seems to have long since been constellated by the time Jason goes looking for the golden fleece, not to mention the fall of Troy and Odysseus’s epic voyage. Why does Orion get such a prominent place in the sky, rising in the mornings at the start of winter in the northern hemisphere, gradually moving to the evenings as Earth approaches perihelion? Who was Orion, anyway, besides a hunter?
And that’s when I understood. Orion’s rise doesn’t mark the beginning of winter. Orion’s rise marks the end of the harvest and the beginning of the hunt, an ancient tradition that’s still with us. Winter is when ancient hunters’s fancy lightly turned to thoughts of meat, and now, some will argue, they go out to thin the herd, to spare the deer and elk from winter’s privations. The same ancient astronomers who named Orion believed Sirius was his dog, his faithful companion, or, maybe, the wolf who culls the sick and the weak and strengthens the herd.
All this came to me while I looked at Orion, and then a meteor streaked through the constellation, its brief glow like human existence against the backdrop of time.

Saving Time.

It’s dark now when my wife and I get up in the mornings to go to work, and soon it’ll be dark in the evenings when we get home too, thanks to Daylight Savings Time and the autumn tradition of falling back, as opposed to springing forward, although I’m never quite sure what’s “back” and “forward” on a clock. It’s even worse when someone tells me to move the clock up an hour. Does that mean I should add an hour or subtract one? And why do we have to change the clocks anyway? The American poet Randall Jarrell said that when he was training for the Air Force during World War II he and his fellow airmen were put on Double Daylight Savings Time which still baffles me because I can’t imagine telling someone they’re getting up at 5am when it’s really 3am is going to do anything to boost morale, and might even makes things worse because it just puts dawn that much farther away. At least there’s a benefit to the end of Daylight Savings Time in the autumn and that’s one extra hour of sleep on Sunday, which makes me think we should just change the clocks once a year, but that’s another story. Anyway here’s an ode to the end of Daylight Savings Time I wrote several years ago.

It’s over. Time to crank the clocks back an hour

And face the fresh week with a little more

Sleep. An hour to live over, to wince in the light out

Earlier than before. I have to wait

A few days until morning dark again wraps the house.

I march to shed sleep’s robe with a quick wash

While the digital clock’s bright gash

Fades into a faint red nimbus.

The hour went as quickly as it came

And added a trace of storm

To my hair. My legs rebel at the thought,

With pain, of lifting me out

Into this light. It’s made me a witness.

A life is composed of hours.

Unwatched they collapse into years

And in a moving moment condense.

The leaves talk against the window in this bright

Wind. Movement, all of it, can’t separate

From time, but the fall of day has a taste

Of denial, a wrinkle that wants to be missed.

Dawn wicks away night’s flesh and color

Until it’s only a skull bleached

By the cold. In a moment that never

Happened blood surged through skin touched

By time turning backward. My hand

Slid that hour through falling sand

And like a dark red worm from my chrysalis

I come into a clean, dry place.

See Androids Fighting.

Source: Wikipedia

Kino’s red eyes pulse gently. The effect is disquieting. It’s as though he’s really looking at me.

We’re in Athena’s workshop in a corner of warehouse in Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay, a space she shares with other “artisan engineers”. We’re surrounded by peg boards covered with tools and heavy tables with meters, oscilloscopes, cogs, wheels, and other spare parts. It’s like being in a combination of Frankenstein’s laboratory and a hobbyist’s garage.

She has her own carefully organized tool box with multiple trays of carefully labeled parts, as well as peg boards with a wide array of larger tools, and a safe where she keeps Kino. I’m surprised when she pulls a small screwdriver out of the red bandanna that holds back the thick, curly hair that frames her head like an enormous halo.

“It came with my first kit,” she says. “It’s my magic wand.” The metal end is still shiny but the plastic handle is worn and cracked. It still works, though, and she uses it to tighten screws in the back of Kino’s head.

Kino, of course, is Athena’s android. She dislikes the term “robot”, derived from the Czech for “forced labor”, and Kino’s humanoid body, she explains emphatically, make the term “android”, from the Greek for “man-like”, more accurate. It—Athena insists on gender-neutrality—stands three feet tall and is very much what you might expect an android to look like. More than anything else it resembles a stripped-down astronaut, all molded white plastic, with a slightly squashed helmet and, of course, those red eyes. Advances in battery power have allowed the removal of the bulky backpack from earlier models. The name comes from Robert Kinoshita, one of the original designers of Robbie The Robot, not the first robot in film but arguably the first robot film star. Kino’s only decoration is a decal on its torso of a red, snarling beast on two legs, the monster from Forbidden Planet, a movie that Athena’s father loved.

“I wanted to pay tribute to him,” she tells me. “This is not where he first wanted me to be but I think he’d be proud.”

Her father, who died when Athena was nine, expressed hopes she’d be a lawyer like him, or perhaps a college professor.

“He used to put me to sleep reading The Iliad and The Odyssey to me,” she says, then gives a short laugh and emphasizes each word. “Put. Me. To. Sleep.” When she took apart and rebuilt his lawnmower he changed tactics and started buying her robot kits, a practice her extended family continued. She excelled academically and would eventually go to MIT where, in spite of continuing to excel, it would still take her six years to graduate.

“I came home a lot. There weren’t a lot of girls in the engineering program, and most years none who looked like me, you know?”

I know and yet I don’t know, unable to really imagine the challenges of being an African American woman in engineering, a field where the pace of demographic change has been glacial. After school she went on to a successful career in robotics, advancing autonomous vehicles and the machines that would build them, and was even a founding partner of a robotics firm. All of which leads to the question that brought me here: why did she leave all that to build fighting androids on Coney Island?

Instead of answering me she says to Kino, “Bed time.” Kino’s head swivels around and it steps backward into its storage safe. Then she turns to me. “You like Hungarian food?”

While we’re waiting for the food to be delivered she carefully puts her tools away, saying, “A place for everything and everything in its place, that way there are no surprises.” Then she says, “I really didn’t leave my career. This is more like a sabbatical. I was all wrapped up in the business side of things and I wanted to get my hands dirty again. I wanted to build something again.”

There’s a knock at the door. She taps her phone and the door at the end of the warehouse slides open. A young man with straight black hair comes in carrying a canvas bag.

“Sawasdee,” he says.

“Good evening Adrien,” Athena replies. “You know where to set it down.” She then turns to me. “Adrien prefers the restaurant business but he helped with the coding of all the androids except Kino. I did that one myself even though programming is something I can do but it’s not the strongest item in my wheelhouse. Sometimes staring at a screen it gets to be like staring into The Matrix, you know?”

I think I do know: computer code is less of a language and more of a filter, a way of processing input and generating output.

As we tuck into our soup Athena continues her explanation of why she and a small band of followers Athena continues her explanation of why she and a small band of followers have embarked on this project.

“Everything I was helping make was also putting people out of a job,” she says. “Automation is a growing field but it doesn’t always create as much as it takes away. We’re still adapting and some people are being left behind. And while I was thinking about that I was seeing what was going on in sports, all the injuries, even all the deaths. And I thought, here are these African American men injuring themselves for entertainment in almost every sport.” She snorts. “Except hockey and wrestling. I don’t want to put them out of a job either but I also said, why not let technology do what technology does and build something to take people out of harm’s way? Boxing forces two men to beat each other until one can’t get up. If people want the spectacle we can have that without the hurt.”

“But you’re setting up something you’ve made to be damaged or even destroyed,” I say. “What about that?”

Athena shrugs. “Pyrotechnics. People who make artistic fireworks put all that effort into something they know will get blown up. How different is that? Or this?” She plucks a dumpling from her soup with her chopsticks and holds out in front of her. “Why make food that looks good when all it really has to do is feed us?”

We talk a bit more about how machines, even though they’re supposed to create leisure time, seem instead to prompt us to spend time creating more machines. Then I change the subject slightly and ask if she’s concerned about the singularity, the hypothetical artificial intelligence that could exceed and even wipe out humanity. Athena shakes her head.

“It’s possible but we haven’t even started to reach that. Predictions that put that within a few decades, or even this century, are way off in my estimation, even at technology’s current pace. Look at Kino. Everything it does is programmed and predictable. Right now even if we could build even the equivalent of a human brain the space needed would be enormous, and you have to build a brain before you can build a better—.” Her watch dings and she looks at it. “All right. Let’s go fight some robots.”

The fight is held in a theater near Luna Park. From the outside the building doesn’t look like much, a smaller version of the warehouse we just left. A wooden cutout painted to look like a circus tent frames the door. Ahead of me Athena and Kino walk side by side. I expect to see them greeted by fanfare. Instead they step aside behind the bleachers. In the center of the theater a band is performing “Little Red Riding Hood” by Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs. It turns out the android fight is the lower half of a double feature. I settle into a seat to wait while Athena and Kino go to the back to get ready.

The fight does not go well.

Kino is, structurally, indistinguishable from its opponent, Gort, but still seems outmatched. At first the robots circle each other, hands up, not unlike real fighters, but it lasts too long and the audience gets restless. Then Gort throws a punch. Kino blocks it with a hand but is still thrown off balance and falls to the floor. Traditional-looking boxing ropes mark the ring but the floor is concrete, not canvas, and Kino crashes hard. Athena, in the corner, is unable to help, but the referee, a bald man with wire-framed glasses and a tie-dye Doctor Who t-shirt, steps in to put him upright again. Gort punches with his left fist. Kino steps aside but Gort, apparently having predicted this, hits with the right. Kino goes down again, this time cracking an arm. More parries and hits follow, with both Gort and Kino having to be lifted up, but Kino takes the worst of it. After several more blows and visible cracks and pieces of shattered plastic thrown to the floor Athena walks around the ring and talks to the young man on Gort’s side of the ring. Together they step into the ring and talk to the referee, then Athena turns to the crowd.

“Thank you, everyone. We hope you enjoyed the show.”

Later, outside the theater, Athena looks slightly dazed. To our left we can see a low yellow moon almost perfectly framed by Coney Island’s Wonder Wheel.

“Do you think you’ll try to reprogram him?” I ask.

She shakes her head. “I don’t know. That was hard to watch.”  She pats Kino’s head. “Come on, let’s go.”

As they walk away from me Kino reaches up and touches Athena’s arm. She stops and looks down at him, then takes his hand, like a mother and child, and they continue on.

What To Expect When You’re Infected.

Source: IMDB

So you’ve come into contact with an alien parasite. Chances are this wasn’t planned. You were expecting your life to go a certain way and suddenly everything’s about to change. You’re probably asking yourself a lot of questions like, How did this happen? What can I expect? Will this affect others around me? How long have I got? Is there anything I can do? Could I have avoided this if I didn’t work at an arctic research station, for an interplanetary mining operation, or live in a small California town?

Most of these are good questions. Don’t worry! This brief guide will offer you some information about what you can expect. For now we’ll just focus on some of the most common alien parasites you’ve likely picked up. And cheer up! Your body is going to be undergoing some strange and exciting changes soon, but it’s all part of the miracle of life. More specifically it’s all part of the miracle of life adapted to survive the harsh darkness of interstellar space. Good luck on your incredible journey!

So you’ve been infected with…

Xenomorph Type A: Able to absorb and replicate any carbon-based life form, transmitted through direct physical contact.

Gestation period: Under an hour.

Pros: Lucky you! You’ll be able to replicate and successfully pass among humans or other dominant life forms, easily assimilating others. Better do it in private, though, and keep the noise down. You don’t want anyone knowing that you’re not one of them—at least not until it’s too late! Your ability to perfectly duplicate not just looks but the speech and behavior patterns will allow you to pass unnoticed and created fear and suspicion, which is really entertaining to watch. That’s just where the fun begins, though. You’ll also be able to contort, twist, and reshape your body. You’ll even be able to send individual pieces scuttling away if the rest of you is damaged or even threatened. Even more exciting you may not retain any individual consciousness but you will have the knowledge from all previous lives giving you the ability to construct an interstellar craft in case you need to make an escape or if you’re just ready to move onto another planet. And if you can’t do that you can also survive in deep freeze for an indefinite amount of time, just waiting to be thawed.

Cons: For the host, assimilation is quick and only somewhat painful. For the parasite, reveal yourself too soon or get caught in the act of assimilating someone and you’ll give your presence away. Be careful about who or what you assimilate because you’ll also pick up any physical ailments. Each cell of your body will also act independently so something as simple as a hot needle in a petri dish of your blood could give you away. And keep in mind that you’ll be really susceptible to fire.

Xenomorph Type B: Grows inside a host from a larval form. Retains some characteristics of the host species but has a distinctive body armor and chemistry.

Gestation period: Several hours.

Pros: Oh boy, this is a lot of fun! Well, not so much if you’re the host, but if you are, relax, it’ll be fine. After a nice long rest you’ll wake feeling refreshed. You’ll appear healthy and happy and just fine right up until the point that your alien parasite bursts out of you in a messy, excruciatingly painful birth process that, let’s be honest, is going to kill you. If you’re the parasite, good news! You’ll literally hit the ground running. You’ll be strong and energetic, and while you might need to hide out for a bit, don’t worry. It won’t be long before you’ve matured into an extremely large armored creature capable of surviving even in the vacuum of space. You might even have a chance to be a queen and lay hundreds or even thousands of eggs. And no need to worry about any nasty cuts. Your acidic blood will eat through almost anything.

Cons: Because you’re so formidable you’re going to be wanted by large, vague corporations intent on exploiting you for military purposes. Some alien species will even hunt you for sport, practice, or just as a rite of passage. And keep in mind that you’ll be really susceptible to fire.

Plant-based Xenomorph: Grows from a seed pod, externally replicating a usually sleeping host who then dies.

Gestation period: Minutes to hours.

Pros: I would say you have a lot to be excited about but you won’t have any more pesky emotions! Other than that you’ll blend right in. No need for heavy spacecraft either: your seed pods can be ejected directly into space. Also once there are enough of you you’ll be able to identify the remaining humans by pointing and emitting a loud hissing scream which doesn’t really do anything but looks cool.

Cons: The lack of emotions will make people who knew your former self suspicious. Any interruptions of your gestation process could create bizarre a chimera if, say, your pet dog is nearby. And keep in mind that you’ll be really susceptible to fire, and pretty much everything else.

Getting Deep.

Spending the night in a cave was fun.
I went in with my Scout troop. Spoiler alert: I also came out with my Scout troop. Well, most of them, anyway. We might have lost one or two. We were touring Cumberland Caverns in Tennessee. Part of the fun was that we left home after school on a Friday afternoon in the fall so we arrived after dark and had to make our way up the trail to the cave entrance with our flashlights out and our sleeping bags on our backs. The cave rangers, a group of guys in olive drab, heavy boots, and bright yellow hard hats, led us down a stairwell and into the main entrance room, a high-ceilinged area that was brightly lit and had a canteen area and restrooms at one end and at the other stretched away into darkness. We were told to leave our bags there but to choose a spot carefully because it was where we’d be sleeping. I picked a spot away from the main group. I wanted to get the full cave experience and if I rolled over to one side I could look into the abyss. I didn’t think about how that might affect my sleep. In fact we were then taken on the spelunking tour at what seemed like very late at night. In fact it was probably not later than six or seven, but I realized time has no meaning in a cave. There is no day or night underground. There is only the passage of time, a passage that, for most caves, is measured in slow, steady drops that build hanging stalactites, the rising cones of stalagmites, and that wear away the stone to reveal crystals of quartz or gypsum. In one massive room we were told that where we were sitting had once been the ceiling, that it had collapsed approximately ten-thousand years earlier, and I hoped it wasn’t due for another makeover, but that’s another story.
After we had been through the “wild” part of the cave, where the only light we had was our flashlights, where we had to crawl through tight spaces, and where we went through the infamous Bubblegum Alley, a stretch where the mud nearly sucked the shoes off our feet, we were brought back to the main room. Everyone settled into their sleeping spots. All the lights except the ones just overhead were turned off so that we were in a warm pool surrounded by darkness. One of the rangers, a tall skinny guy who stood out because he was the only one without a beard, came and stood among us.
“I’m going to tell y’all why you don’t go spelunking alone,” he said. Shouldn’t this have been covered before the tour? I thought. “I’m going to tell y’all about a Scout like you who was at the back of the line and decided to go explore a side tunnel. His name was Kevin. He thought he could find his way back, but if you’ve done spelunking you know the way back never looks like the way in. There are turns and tunnels that you didn’t see that open up. Not all these caves have been mapped either, and we don’t know how far they go. Search parties were sent out but Kevin was to deep, and he kept moving. If you get lost in this cave,” and he looked hard at all of us, “you stay in one spot. It’ll make it easier for us to find you.” He walked among us, continuing to talk. Kevin drank water from pools he found and ate the cottony fungi that grew on the walls. It tasted terrible but it was all he could find. Then he started to catch small cave fish, and he caught bats and would drink their blood. Kevin managed to survive a year, then two years. His clothes were shredded on the rocks and he went naked. One night he found his way into the main room. As the ranger told us this I thought about Gollum, and stories of subterranean humans, and wondered if those creatures were inspired by real events. None of us asked how the ranger knew all this in such detail.
“It was late at night and Kevin walked among the sleeping campers,” the ranger went on. “He knelt down next to a boy and touched him. The boy woke up and screamed. All the lights were turned on and Kevin saw his own body for the first time in a long time. His skin had become translucent, his organs visible and pulsing. He ran and disappeared before anyone could grab him.” The ranger crouched and started tracing the dirt with his finger. “No one knows if Kevin is still out there. People think they see him sometimes on the tours, and rangers report finding footprints in the farthest ranges of the cave. We don’t know if he’d hurt anyone but where he touched the boy he left a mark, a white mark, right on the boy’s jugular vein, where the blood flows, like the blood of bats that he drank to survive.”
The ranger stood up. “Well, good night kids!”
All the lights were turned off and we were left in total darkness. There is no moon, there are no stars in a cave, only a ceiling of stone.
I was bleary-eyed at breakfast the next morning. After picking up a pack of cereal and a carton of milk I sat down at one of the long tables across from the ranger who’d told us the story. I looked over and noticed he was wearing a name tag.

Dragon By The Tail.

To: All Employees
Subject: FAQ Regarding The Dragon
As many of you have noticed the company has recently acquired a dragon. The dragon is currently located just off the main lobby on the first floor but may be moved if needed, and if time, staff, and the dragon itself will allow.
In the interest of providing a safe working environment we’re providing this FAQ regarding the dragon and general employee conduct.

1. Why a dragon?

Excellent question. Dragons are an exceptionally good low-cost security option, providing both efficient and extensive safety for the building and other company resources. Companies that have adopted dragons have found that losses due to theft drop by as much as 21% in the first year alone, before the dragon is fully grown. The dragon can also be used to incinerate large quantities of company documents. A single dragon can replace a single floor and hundreds of hours of shredding, again providing great security. Dragons are also exceptionally good at accounting.

2. Is the dragon dangerous?


3. Are there special precautions I should take around the dragon?

Yes. Most dragon-related problems can be avoided with simple common sense, though. Do not startle the dragon. Do not step on or try to step over the dragon. Do not approach the dragon from behind. Do not eat near the dragon. Do not wear perfume when the dragon has a cold. Do not wear jewelry around the dragon.

4. Can I talk to the dragon?

It would be best if you didn’t. There are also certain topics you shouldn’t discuss around the dragon.

5. What topics should be avoided?

Again use common sense, but we suggest avoiding Sean Connery, Peter MacNicol, Beowulf, the works of Tolkien, McCaffrey, Rowling, Andrew Lang, Perrault, and the Brothers Grimm, dairy products, swords, lances, and various world mythologies. A more thorough list will be posted in the break room and updated regularly.

6. Dairy products?

Let’s not get into it.

7. What does the dragon eat?

Mostly large quantities of sulfur as well as a proprietary mixture we cannot disclose.
On an unrelated note all employees who donate blood as part of the semi-annual company Dragon Drive will be entered in a drawing to win a $10 gift card to Chipotle.

8. You’re saying the dragon drinks human blood.

We’re not saying that.

9. But the dragon drinks human blood.

If that were the case–and we’re not saying it is–then we’d like to advise all employees that there could be unpleasant consequences if this need were not sated at least twice a year.

10. Is it true the dragon ate half the accounts payable department shortly after arrival?

We can’t confirm that, at least until a settlement is reached, but let’s say that mistakes were made and the full implications of owning a dragon had not been completely studied until after the dragon had been delivered and installed.

11. Can anything be done about the smell?

“The smell” has been added to the list of topics that shouldn’t be discussed around the dragon.

12. Could you define “around the dragon”?

Yes. This is still being studied but for the time being let’s say the entire building and the surrounding area in a radius of approximately ten miles.

13. Has the dragon reached full size?

No. Employees are advised to get used to entering through the second floor. A ramp is being installed and may be updated as necessary to provide a third floor entry.

Finally we don’t like to suggest that any employee is expendable but we are exploring filling departmental gaps with the dragon’s teeth.

All About That Spice.

As every summer approaches its end there’s a chill and a thrill in the air, a spicy tang, a bittersweet tinge that makes the shorter days a little brighter and the longer nights a little softer. It’s a time to savor, to reap, or maybe sow, or even knit if that’s your thing. It’s a time to drink in what life has to offer. In short it’s pumpkin spice season.
Pumpkin spice season runs from September 15th through November 30th.
Pumpkin spice was invented in New England and was used as a form of currency for more than fifty years.
Pumpkin spice is a non-proprietary blend of cinnamon from Sri Lanka, nutmeg from Malaysia, ginger from India, and allspice from Jamaica because only tropical imports could make a large mutant gourd palatable.
Pumpkin spice is an oxidant. Or anti-oxidant. Whichever is the good one.
Pumpkin spice should never be consumed by itself but can be part of a complete breakfast when combined with other foods—say, olive loaf.
Pumpkin spice has been gluten free since rehab.
In recent years pumpkin spice has been gaining popularity in Britain, gradually supplanting the much more traditional turnip spice.
Your friends have your back. Pumpkin spice has your front.
Spoiler alert: it was pumpkin spice the whole time.
Pumpkin spice is an EGOT winner. Twice.
Pumpkin spice is a scientifically proven cure for the common epizootic.
Pumpkin spice enhances glazed doughnuts and causes glazed eyes.
Pumpkin spice knows all your secrets.
Combining pumpkin spice beverages with pumpkin spice candles can cause severe burns.
Pumpkin Spice is the only one of the Spice Girls still touring.
Consuming large amounts of pumpkin spice will give you the ability to fold space and time, facilitating interstellar travel. Watch out for sandworms!
The elements of pumpkin spice were first isolated in 1955 at UC Berkeley by a janitor and part-time physicist named Herb.
Your feelings toward pumpkin spice are not reciprocated.
Pumpkin spice knows all the words to “Louie Louie”.
When you gaze into pumpkin spice pumpkin spice gazes back into you.

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