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Tuesday, July 27, 2004

NEW UPDATES 8/5: Your predictions, please----UPDATE has been UPDATED...ONCE AGAIN

Okay, I can't stand it. There has to be some sort of contest on my future baby's birthdate. A few readers already chimed in in the comments of the last post. Their guesses will be listed herein. For details of Mrs. Otis' condition, see the previous post. Please post your guess in the comment section. Also feel free to guess the sex of the child as well.

Not-so-fine print: If you choose a sex and time of birth, I'll use it as a tie-breaker.

The winner will receive the following: A guest writer spot for one day in which you are allowed to write any story, embarassing or otherwise, about Editor Otis.


Squeaky Wheel: July 28th

Tatwood: July 30th, (BOY) 7:45pm

Brian: July 31st (GIRL) 7:45 AM

BrotherHampton: August 1st, 3:45pm (BOY)

Frankie: August 1st (GIRL) 7lbs3oz

SPG: August 2nd (GIRL)

Aaron: August 2nd (BOY) 9:35 P.M.

CJ: August 3rd (BOY) 1:00am

Brad D: August 4th (BOY)

Cappy: August 4th (BOY)

Wife of RJ: August 4th (GIRL), 2:32 am, 7 lbs; 12 oz.

Two-Hands: August 4th (GIRL)

NOTE: For those following Baby Watch, Mt. Willis had a big time false alarm between 10:15pm and 1:30am. Alas, no kid.

Marty: August 5th, (BOY) 5:37am

Dr. Beaker: August 6th. (Girl)

Todd: August 6th, 3:55pm (BOY)

RJ: August 7th (GIRL) 10:59pm.

Ruth: August 8th (BOY)

Pauly: August 9th (GIRL)4:20 am, 7 lbs and 7 oz.

Chippy: August 9th (GIRL) 6:03pm, 8lbs and 8oz.

Sandra: August 10th (GIRL)

Drowned Rat: August 10th (BOY) 2:47am

NOTE: Otis picks August 13th, but doesn't get to participate

G-Rob: August 14th (BOY)

Monday, July 26, 2004

Boy, girl, or monkey?

On the screen above my head, the Maury Povich show is quietly broadcasting screaming mothers and would-be fathers in the timeless tale of paternity tests and the men who hate them.

If I let my head slip just a little more toward insanity, you might hear me say, "Gibbon? I'm having a fucking gibbon?"

The response would be "Gibbous, sir. The moon is a gibbous moon. And your wife isn't in labor...yet."

My mind is jumpy.

My wife laid down next to me in bed this morning (she'd been up most of the night suffering severe discomfort in just about every region of her body).

"I could be in labor," she said.

I had heard this one once before. The first time it spawned an evening of running around, packing bags, and fretting about the lack of a car seat in our cars. This time, I muttered something about whether she was having contractions.

"I don't know what a contraction feels like," she said with the whine of a puppy on his first day in a new home.

I think there should be an anthology of poems dedicated to nothing but what a contraction feels like.

It is here we reach the time in my wife's pregnancy in which we start speculating less on the sex of the baby and more on the birthdate.

A little background:

About three weeks after we conceived the kid, Mrs. Otis went to the doctor. Said doctor confirmed that conception had, indeed, occured. Said doctor said the due date should be August 2nd.

Thereya go. A date. Let's start planning.

But, nuh-uh.

About four weeks later, Mrs. Otis started having a few minor problems that required an ultrasound. Now six weeks into pregnancy, the nurse performed an ultrasound and said, indeed, the due date was August 12th.


I consulted Dr. Beaker, Brother of Otis, who said the ultrasound due dates are notoriously unreliable. Pay more attention to August 2nd than August 12th.


So, here we sit on July 26th and Mrs. Otis wakes me up with labor talk. That sounds about right.

The labor talk found its way to work, where the subject of the impending Baby Otis is dominating the conversation. As newsrooms are wont to do, we started the speculation.

Speculation #1 (and the genesis of this post): We are currently in the middle of a gibbous moon. Saturday July 31st is a full moon. Junk science says because of gravitational pulls and whatnot that more babies are born during full moons. A 1994 study of more than 4000 French babies showed that fact to be unreliable, if not entirely untrue. Still, my boss thinks Baby Otis is coming this weekend.

This speculation runs along the same lines as the Hurricane Otis speculation, which is quite unlikely since there are no hurricanes in the Atlantic at present. Regardless, the speculation runs like this: Some doctors there believe a drop in barometric pressure -- which happens when a storm hits -- causes pregnant women to go into labor. Again, junk science. Unreliable, likely untrue. And, again, the Atlantic is quiet anyway.

Two other myths that get a lot of play: Spicy foods and sex induce labor. I can attest that one of those isn't true.

We've been eating a lot of Mexican food.

Speculation #2: This is my own. It just so happens that the 13th of August falls on a Friday. A few people who know me well know that the first movie I ever remember seeing was Friday the 13th. Seems about right. So, here's my prediction: Friday, August the 13th, labor to begin shortly after noon, birth to occur around 9:30pm.

Of course, that means that the next post you see here will likely be announcing the birth of Baby Otis.

Hopefully the kid will only be a monkey in spirit.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

But he was posting so much...
Yeah, he was.  And I will more, hopefully soon.
Thing is, work is a little busy (15 months of my life are culminating in one courtroom), I've been contracted to write something for a fairly new magazine, and I'm trying to do daddy stuff before I actually become a daddy.
Oh, yeah, and I'm trying to define America. 
All that shouldn't take too long, should it?
Back soon.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Fate's spindly fingers

Tuesday morning, a new project and an amazing poker run kept me awake much past when I should go to bed. Mrs. Otis, as she is wont to do, offered a half-hearted lecture. "Your day job is more important than your 'night job'. You shouldn't come to bed this late."

I knew she was right, but felt somewhat vindicated when I finally hit the sheets. I couldn't sleep anyway and stared at the clock. The LED numbers ticked past 4am to 4:30am. I finally drifted off, not knowing what was happening 55 miles south.

"I'm going to smoke."

She was 27 years old and carried IDs and mail that showed addresses in three different states. She'd been riding with the Gold Trucker for the past two days. He and his son were from Wisconsin, on a southbound run that would've likely took them to the Port of Charleston. Though his arms were covered in tattoos and he wore the face of a retired biker, the Gold Trucker didn't like smoke. He didn't mind picking up hitchhikers, even if they professed to be Wiccan and wore goth clothing. He just didn't like smoke.

"Don't go far," he said as she climbed out of the rig and onto the cooling asphalt of the interstate rest stop.

"I'm just going to that pavillion."

The Gold Trucker fell back to sleep, preparing for the next day's ride.

No one is sure exactly how much time passed before the trucker's cb radio crackled to life. His road brothers were looking out for their own.

"I-26 is shut down, boys. They're landing a helicopter there."

The Gold Trucker shook himself awake and noticed his Wiccan road partner hadn't returned from her smoke. He climbed out of the rig and looked out to the interstate. It was awash in emergency lights and law enforcement officers.

My phone rang before it should. When that happens, somebody is usually dead, either one of my friends or relatives or somebody else's. Nobody calls before 8am unless something bad has happened.

I rubbed my eyes and checked the caller ID. Like I do every time since my dad fell ill, I let out a little relief sigh when I saw the call was coming from work. Sometimes I think I should feel guilty when I'm releieved that somebody else's family member is dead and not my own. But, like a lot of things in life, I've conditioned myself to work on a jaded and often sick sense of "better you than me, bud."

A friend (with whom I also work) was on the other end of the line. He relayed the story like any newsman would. Point by point, with a little suspense, and a none-too-happy ending.

My immediate presence wasn't required, but another phone call an hour later told me what I already knew.

I needed to get on the road.

The initial call into 911 offices was that a woman had been hit by a car. Her breathing body lay in the interstate's median.

But Assistant Fire Chief Tom Workman knew from experience, "that woman wasn't hit by any car."

But the processes were already in motion. The E-911 center was already calling medical rescue helicopters from four different hospitals. Three of the helicopter crews refused to make the flight. Dense fog had socked in most of the region. Most of the crews just couldn't fly.

But one of the four said they would come. They had a clear path. The pilot, flight nurse, and paramedic were on their way.

The woman, her dark clothing likely still stinking of smoke a little bit, was moved into an ambulance. The EMTs on the scene made a quick diagnosis. The woman's greateast injury was a broken leg. The tibia. Maybe the fibula, too. Life-threatening, her injuries were not.

But there in the sky was the helicopter. It landed safely. Since it was there, since it had made the trip, the crews moved the mumbling woman into the chopper. Workman moved his firetruck out of the traffic. It was building up on I-26 already.

He watched the chopper rise slowly off the ground and climb toward a line of tall pine trees in the Sumter National Forest.

"Everything looked normal," he said.

But seconds later, the EMTs who were still cleaning up their mess at the roadside heard a thud. They thought there had been an accident on the interstate, but saw nothing.

By 8am, the rest stop parking lot was full of media trucks and emergency vehicles. By noon, both camps had grown larger and agreed to work together.

The county Sheriff had a list in his hand and read as the reporters jotted chickenscratch in their notebooks.

The Sheriff read off the names. The pilot was dead. The flight nurse and paramedic were dead. The hitchhiker, two-day-friend of the Gold Trucker, was dead. The chopper, only 15 months into its tenure at a major Upstate South Carolina hopsital, was barely recognizable.

The federal investigators were on the ground within an hour or two. It took eight hours to get the bodies out of the wreckage. No investigator would say the obvious out loud. They would often begin with, "One of the bodies was so badly entangled that..."

We all finished the sentence in our heads.

The view from the air was sub-par at best. The Sheriff agreed to take the reporters for the 20-minute ride into the forest. He believed, once the bodies were out, that everyone had a right to see what he'd been looking at all morning.

The collection of media loaded itself into a convoy of ATVs, talking some, but more holding on and doing its best not to sink into a familiar pattern of gallows humor that often accompanies such scenes.

Most of the reporters who had seen one sort of crash or another expected to see large pieces of chopper spread out along a long path. I've ridden in a helicopter more times than I can count. I suspected I'd be able to inventory the damage with some amount of accuracy.

I only recognized the rotor blade. The rest was a mass of charred wire and metal. I was glad the recovery crew had already moved the bodies.

Fate and how it toys with things has always fascinated me. Life and death are made up of a collection of if/then variables that no one can easily determine until it's too late.

If only the Gold Trucker didn't mind the smell of cigarettes. If only the EMTs had recognized earlier that the woman's injuries weren't life-threatening and didn't require a chopper ride to a hospital.

No one knows for sure whether the woman got in a car with sombeody else on purpose or she was kidnapped. No one knows if she jumped from a moving car or was pushed out. No one knows exactly why the chopper crashed.

Sure, the collection of media and rubberneckers had their theories, but no one will ever know. No one will know if she got into a black suburban with a man. No one will know if that chopper clipped the tall pines or if something more catastrophic happened.

It's the type of thing that will likely eat away at the victims' families until they finally run into fate.

It's the type of thing that makes me never want to answer the phone when I'm toiling away in a technicolor dream. It's the type of thing that makes we wonder how easy it is for fate to dial the phone numbers with her long spindly fingers.

Monday, July 12, 2004

36 weeks

After an interlude to comment on the growing politization and futility of America's terror fears and efforts to combat domestic attacks, it's time to return to the "Get to Know Your Otis" series. Today we tackle another tough one.

Tell us how you are feeling about the upcoming birth of your first child. --Su

Saturday night, after a day of moving a friend from a small apartment to a spacious mountain estate, Mrs. Otis and I set out to have a little fun. Another friend was throwing a downtown party that sat on two home lots. Live bands played on a makeshift stage. They smoked an entire pig, rented porta-johns, and generally rocked the night away. As we mingled through the crowd and bobbed our head to the bands riffs and raffs, Mrs. Otis looked up and said, "Your baby is being so quiet."

I thought what I didn't say. "I haven't heard it make a peep in months."

That's one way of saying, where Mrs. Otis lives minute-to-minute with the reality of our future parenthood, I only face it when I see my wife's belly or when I allow myself to consider that this time next month, I'll likely be giving my child's name to the people who fill out the birth certificate.

It's not that I don't want to think about it, because I'd really like to be able to consider it seriously. My problem is, I have a hard time ruminating on things that I can't comprehend. When I try to think about the beginning of the universe, the existence of a higher being, why people hate, why people die, and how my mind works, I often think long enough for my temples to throb, then I think about something mundane. Like mayonnaise. Or marbles.

That's the thing. I don't know how I feel about the birth of my first child because I have no idea what it will mean. There's a part of me that feels like everything in life will change immediately and forever. Those spur-of-the-moment trips to parties, quickly-decided weekend trips, and late-night gatherings on Mt. Willis will be a thing of the past. Then there's a part of me that thinks that life will change for a while and for the better, but we'll still be social and fun people.

There's a part of me that feels completely unprepared on every level to be a dad. While I have a means of income, I don't make much money. While I'm generally responsible, I'm specifically stupid. While I have aspirations, I'm paralyzed by possibility. Those things, combined with several other factors make me look in the mirror and occasionally freak the fuck out.

But, then there's the part of me that knows that poor people have kids all the time and do just fine. My folks were pretty poor when they had me and I turned out...okay. While I am specifically stupid, I've been known to show remarkable moments of clarity when faced with serious decisions on responsibility. While I have aspirations, I'm young...sort of.

Last night, my dog was tired. She's had a long day and just wanted to sleep. When it came time for me to crawl into bed, I found her already there and asleep. I pulled her 13-pound frame up next to me. She rested her head on my arm like it was a pillow and fell fast asleep. I can only imagine the sense of peace that offers is one hundred-fold when it's with a kid.

Today, Mrs. Otis reached her 36th week of pregnancy. From what I understand, that means if she should have the baby before her August 12th due date, the baby would be just fine. That means that if she should go into labor this weekend, I could be the father of a healthy kid by the beginning of the next work week. While this likely won't happen, it's a bit sobering.

That brings me to this little reality: No more beer.

Sure, that sounds a little silly. I know it is, but that doesn't overshadow the fact that I have a case and a half of beer in my fridge and two more cases in the garage. It doesn't overshadow the fact that while I am "generally responsible," I do spend many an evening propping up my downtown bars.

Don't think I'm lamenting anything here, because I'm not. There comes a time in every man's life when he must take the tap off the keg and get his deposit back. This happens to be that time for me. I'm not saying that I've got a seat reserved on the wagon, but for the foreseeable future, the boys at Yellow Cab are going to have to find someone else to take home on Friday nights.

I'd like to go back and erase the preceding three paragraphs because the make me feel a little bit like a lush. But I won't, because we're being honest here. So...there.

In the next week or two, I'll pack the bags for the hospital. I'll outfit the family cars (jesus, we're about to be a "family") with car seats. I'll review the three routes to the hospital and make sure my cell phone is perpetually charged. When I go out of town on June 19th, I'll spend eight straight hours freaking out about getting back home. And eventually, Mrs. Otis will saying something to the effect of, "Hey, it's time to go."


Here's something. I've never taken on a perpetual responsibility. The end of my responsibility to my child will end when I give up the ghost and not a second before.

Heesh, again.

But then there is this: Within a few months, my parents will get to start spoiling their grandchild. I will get to start a project in which I plan to teach my child to say "chartreuse." Eventually, that child will call me dad and give me a hug when I'm feeling overwhelmed. One day that kid will form a sentence in which he/she uses a simile or metaphor. They'll make something they are proud of and give it to me. Eventually, that kid will be smarter than me and I'll be proud of that fact.

How do I feel? I have no earthly idea.

I more scared than I've ever been and more excited than I've ever been, but that doesn't quite sum it up.

I guess you have to have been there to know.

And I'm almost there, folks.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Terror alert raised to "red ass"
Warning: Topical, timely, nationally important post ahead. No drivel contained.

Two posts for the price of one today.

Here we go.

Tom Ridge and his lackeys (or is he a lackey himself?) are a bunch of monkeys.

I hesitate to even approach the hackneyed topic of the America's color-coded terror alerts. Way too much has been written, and way too many jokes have been made to really reach any new conclusions about the ineffectiveness of such a warning campaign.

But, I've had it. They lost me today.

After what could amount to the most dire warning to date about the possiblity of a terror attack, Tom Ridge and the Homeland Security folks said they don't plan at this time to raise the color-coded terror alert level.

Now, if I'm Ridge, I take a hard look at my own color-coded terror alert warning. We're at yellow. What do we need to make it up to orange?

Orange: High Condition
High risk of terrorist attacks. In addition to the previously outlined protective measures, the following steps may be taken:
*Coordinating necessary security efforts with armed forces or law enforcement agencies
*Taking additional precaution at public events
*Preparing to work at an alternate site or with a dispersed workforce, restricting access to essential personnel only
Source: Homeland Security


High risk of terror attack?

* Al Qaeda plans a large-scale attack on the United States "in an effort to disrupt the democratic process" before November's elections, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said Thursday.

* "The reality is of increased risk here in the homeland over the next several weeks, the next several months," Senate Majoirty Leader Bill Frist said.

*When asked if the threat is considered higher at the political conventions this summer or as the nation gets closer to the presidential election in early November, an official said concerns are high from this point in time forward.


Coordinating with law enforcement agencies?

* The Department of Homeland Security is addressing the threat and has efforts under way to "ramp up security," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.

* Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said the Bush administration based its decision to bolster security on "credible" reports about al-Qaida's plans, coupled with the pre-election terror attack in Spain earlier this year and recent arrests in England, Jordan and Italy.


Taking additional caution at public events?

*We have briefed the campaigns, both campaigns - the Kerry-Edwards campaign as well as the Bush-Cheney campaign - about the security measures that are being put in place for those conventions in New York and Boston," said White House press secretary Scott McClellan.


No one said anything about essential personnel, but, frankly, I'd betcha that wouldn't happen until those essential personnel were already dead.

So, even though we've seen countless pieces about the uselessness of the terror code, after doing this little comparison, I gotta ask...what the hell?

So, there you have it. The warning sounds pretty dire to me. Election terror. Plans to disrupt America's elections. Fear, FEAR, ladies and gentlemen, should be employed. Or, at the very least, embraced until you leave the voting booth.

Cynical much, Otis?

It's a rental

First, let me thank all of you for your questions. They've been inspiring and provided fantastic fodder for thinking and writing. I may just keep asking for questions. I find it easier to write when I have a topic. So, here we go with another installment of "Get to Know Your Otis."

Why can't things be like they were in Juniper? --franky5angel

Forgive me if I'm repeating a story here, but it speaks well to the question.

Mom and Dad's sectional couch served as a great buffer between the front door of 1931 Juniper Circle and the DMZ. Inside the DMZ, any amount of boyish ribbing, physical violence, or alcohol consumption was fair game. Over the course of a few years, the couch had served as a bed, a brothel, a courtship idol, an ampitheater, a hospital, a drunk tank, an artist's canvas, and and ill-advised ironing board. It was blue, gray, and tan, not to mention caked with every kind of dirt and bodily smut you can imagine. In short, it was a symbol of our home.

We were a tight collection of college buddies who'd moved in to the duplex when we tired of dorm living. Eventually, our female friends moved in to the adjoining residence. It was a commune fit for free love, free thinking, and free fun.

On this particular evening, we were settled into the couch, seats guarded by a much-fabled "seat-back" rule. The television blared background noise, just enough to sound-mask the steady hum of the saltwater fish tank against the wall.

Movement of any sort on such an evening usually only signalled a trip to the john or the fridge, so Frankie's upright posture took us all by a little surprise.

He held his beer can out, turned it over, and poured his drink into a puddle on the carpet. The collection of malcontents in the room collectively raised its eyebrowns. The question was obvious. Frankie's spoken answer was as well.

"Fuck it," he said. "It's a rental."

After a few hurrumphs and a couple of growls, we returned to whatever we were doing. Many months later, Frankie would serve as chief carpet cleaner upon our exit from the rented duplex.

1931 Juniper Circle was home for a few years. We planted an orange plastic tree in the back yard. We named a giant living tree in the field behind our house "The Green Monster." One day, a hot air balloon landed in the grass behind our back porch.

We watched the old man who lived in the nearby rest home try to escape once a week, each of us hoping against hope that someday he'd make it to freedom. We wanted him to be as free as we were.

We were free, after all. While a few of us held down part time jobs, most of us were just content to be passing our classes and not getting arrested. We hosted massive parties. We hosted a harem of women. We laughed, fought, cried, and puked our way through several glorius years.

We invented games that you won't find in the Olympics (yet). We stole each other's women. We painted the garage in a collection of frightening murals that would guarantee the landlord would sue us if we didn't repaint the walls. We collected beer bottles of every brand we could find, including Pink Triangle, at the time the only beer marketed to homosexuals.

In short, we lived the lives of single, free, young men. While at the time many of us might have claimed to have been miserable in one or more of our pursuits, looking back, most of us know it was the best time of our lives. We know this because we are all still fantastically close friends. It takes no more than five minutes at any reunion to again realize our bond.

Some nights now, when we drink Corona and lime on Thursday nights like we did on the back porch many years ago, we ask ourselves, "Why can't life be like it was when we lived on Juniper."

Although Frankie was the latest to ask the question, he may not realize that he answered his own question years ago.

It was a rental.

Only after having moved several times and made many friends have I realized that we were living on rented time back then. When we first signed the lease, we had no idea how quickly it would expire. We had no idea that ambition, aspirations, family, love, lust, and fate would divide us geographically for the unforseeable future.

Now, we boys and girls live in several states. Many of us have kids. I have one on the way. We all have jobs and varying degrees of job satisfaction (although we've all reached the age in which we say...maybe I should figure out what I'm going to do with the rest of my life).

However, what I've come to realize recently is that while Juniper was, in fact, a rental, the whole time we were putting down a healthy down payment on a lifetime of friendship. That may sound sort of corny, but it's the closest I can come to how I see it.

But Frankie's question was why. Why can't it be like it was?

I see it like this: Nothing so perfect lasts. Dynasties fall. Rainbows fade. Puppies turn into dogs.

As much as I would go back and do it all over again (may a few more times), I know that if we tried it now, it wouldn't work. For one thing, Frankie has matured too much to randomly pour beer on the floor. And I don't think Marty could stand having so many kids running around (even though, that's all we were when we lived on Juniper).

Nostalgia likely adds to the mystery and history of it all. It was likely more imperfect than I let on.

But I don't think so.

Rental or not, it was home.

And if you can't accept that, Frankie, try this:

Life still is like it was on Juniper.

It still is.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

A couple tough ones

As the "Get to Know Your Otis" series continues, I've decided to bite the bullet and tackle a couple of the tough questions together. They come from of people I respect and admire for their tenacity, maturity, and frankness. Before I begin, you should know that i have no idea how or if this post will end.

Question: Why are you afraid of life? What are you trying to avoid or escape? --Aaron

Question: Why are you so unsure of yourself? Whenever I'm with you, you project warmth and calm and confidence, but when I look in your eyes I see a very unsure young man. You have every advantage -- you're smart and good-looking, you have a terrific and beautiful wife, a respectable job, you're funnier than hell and great to be with. Everyone likes you... except maybe you. So what gives? --SW

Bill Clinton's PR people came up with a really good line when they prepped him to do the publicity tour for his book, My Life. When asked to explain why he did what he did in the Oval Office, he was instructed to preface his statements with a disclaimer (paraphrased): When trying to provide an explanation, please don't think I'm offering an excuse. There is no excuse.

While no huge fan of the former President, I thought this was a good way to set up his explanations. More often than not, efforts to explain negatives often sound like poorly formed excuses.

So, while loathe to borrow from Clinton, I guess I will.

I have no excuse.

That said, I find it interesting that people perceive me as fearing life and efforting to run away from it. I'd like to think I practice the contrary, thus, loving life and embracing it. But perhaps that's not the case.

I have to believe that I'm no different than most people in my inborn belief that it is my duty as a member of the breathing human set to become something greater than I was created. If not to grow intellectually, humanely, spiritually, and, sure, financially, then what is my purpose? I reject that my purpose is simply to be. And if that is my purpose, then I reject the notion that I cannot try to rise above the premise of my being.

I do not believe that growth has to be tangible or even realized outside of my personal recognition of it. That said, if I don't see growth, or movement toward purpose, the stagnation scares me. I feel as if I'm moving backward.

Perhaps, you say, that's a little heady. Focus more on being a good person, a good father, a good worker and then you're doing your job.

Chris Rock has a bit where he takes parents to task, those parents who take credit for taking care of their kids. To paraphrase Rock, "Fuck you. That's your job. That's what you're supposed to do. Don't expect a pat on the back for that."

Maybe that's a little harsh, but that's sort of where I am. I'm striving to be good at the things I'm supposed to do, then move past that toward whatever the greater purpose may be.

A lot of people I know would suggest that I'm lost because I have no underlying spiritual guidance, that my lack of regular church-going and tangible prayer are making my quest for purpose impossible. I reject that as well, just as I would reject most anybody else's suggestion that they know how I should live my life. The only person that knows how I should live my life is me.

But that doesn't answer the question. What am I running from? What am I afraid of?

The easy answer: Failure.

While I don't know what the end-game is, I'm perpetually afraid of failing to meet the goal. Of course, it's awfully hard to fail at a game in which I alone set the rules and I don't know what the winning score is supposed to be.

There's the rub, friends.

I am not a perfectionist in many things. I'm happy to let a paint drip be. I'm happy to miss a spot when Windexing the mirror. However, when it comes to moving forward and not growing stagnant, I'm always aware of the minor flaws in my action.

I can hear the chorus of the reasonable folk out there: You, Otis, are a puss. Grow up. Get in the game. Financial well-being means nothing. Success is defined in many ways. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Grow a pair and get out there.

I know. I do.

I'm not unhappy and I have no real need for material things.

Why am I unsure of myself?

In short, because I know, I know I can be better. It's as simple as that.

Here's the thing: I've been fortunate enough to have no real problems in my life, especially in my childhood. I lived a happy middle class life, kept both my parents and all my grandparents until this year. There are so many people out there who've had to endure so much that I'll never have to face.

Because of that, I feel like I am obligated to springboard off that good fortune and become...for lack of a better word...something greater.

So, that is it in a nutshell. I don't really fear anything but failure. I'm only unsure of my ability to not fail.

I'm sure there's probably some social pathologist who could pinpoint my neurosis, but, frankly, I'm not all that interested in hearing it.

I'll figure it out.

Now, can we please get on to an easier question...

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Rock on

First, thanks to JFK for making me look smart. Or, at the very least, thanks to JFK for making the obvious choice. Again, I don't give a damn, but at least the race will be interesting now. Now, onto the continued series, "Get to Know Your Otis." While I promise to get to the tough questions (my first kid, what am I afraid of, what do I keep running from, why am I so unsure of myself, can I borrow $50), I'm going to stick to an easy one today.

Why aren't you any good at rock, paper, scissors? --G-Rob

The hardest part about answering this question is actually admitting that the premise is correct.

I am not good at rock, paper, scissors.

Damn, that hurts.

In the past, RPS was simply a means to decide who took out the trash, who got to ride shotgun, who had to buy the beer, or who had to be the designated driver for the night. I, like many people, thought it was simply a game of chance.

Turns out, that is incorrect.

RPS is actually one of the purest practices of high-level game theory. Lesser minds might suggest that anyone who suggests there is a science to such a game is full of hooey. If you doubt me, try running a Google search on game theory and see what I mean.

Game theory can be applied in almost all levels of human interaction. It applies in business, love, war, and, yes, games. Loosely defined, it is making an educated, yay, scienfific prediction of what your opponent will do next based on actions he/she made in the past.

In short, it's getting in somebody's head.

Great game theorists make great poker players. The 2001 World Series of Poker champion is a respected game theorist, not to mention a helluva swing dancer. Poker got me interested in game theory and game theory got me interested in Rock, Paper, Scissors.

Within the past year, I started trying to apply my limited game theory knowledge to RPS. During bouts of Drunk Olympics (an irregular game of chance, sporting ability, and mental strength against the poser of the aboved question)I would suggest a game of RPS. I was sure I could use my poker power and recently acquired game theorems to achieve victory in the contest.

It was then I discovered the greatest flaw in game theory: To use it effectively you must use it wisely and be sure your opponent isn't applying a greater knowledge of the theory against you. (Perhaps that is not a flaw in the theory, but a flaw in the practice, eh?)

In short, while efforting to apply high-level theory to the game, I opened up my mind widely enough for my opponent to crawl inside and track my every move.

He got inside my head and could've told me my next move before I even knew what it was going to be.

I'll admit, the defeats were humilating and shook the foundation of everything I believed about the game. I discovered that the only way I could win is if I completely cleared my head and made the game completely random.

While a terrific exercise of zen (it felt really neat to go completely mentally blank and function without thought), it didn't do anything to help me better understand game theory.

Since that time, I've nearly stopped playing RPS. I've been working on my poker game and have developed a greater understanding of the larger theories.

Every year in Canada, hundreds of participants come from many countries to participate in an international RPS championship. Someday, perhaps, I'll go.

For now, though, I'm happy to admit that I'm no good at the game. Why? Because I let my opponent in my head.

And that's something you never want to do...unless of course, your playing games of the heart. In that case, I'd recommend it letting folks in. It feels better that way.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Apolitical, asexual, apathetic

I woke up and realized that unless something was happening within my .67 acres of land, I didn't give one diddly damn about it. I looked out the window and my grass was still green. Some weekly newspaper carrier had thrown the celebrity rag in my driveway. I made a mental note to discard it after the rain had turned it to mush. A plastic shopping bag blew across my grass. I worried briefly whether I would have to take care of that as well, then the wind picked up again and blew it into my neighbor's yard. Voila, crisis averted.

Despite being a hard core newsman, I've been having a hard time maintaining interest in the news. I think many of the news folk--like me--are in the middle of some sort of doldrums that keeps them from putting too much effort into their product.

Perhaps the story that holds the most suspense, at least for newsies, is who John Kerry will pick as his VP (Sorry, Mr. Peterson, your story holds little appeal outside of California, death voyeurs, and husbands who are waiting to see if, in fact, adultery carries a life or death sentence). The media are currently playing the Speculation Game ad naseum. The three names that keep popping up are NC Senator John Edwards, MO Congressman Dick Gephardt, and Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack. Some people are talking a bit about Florida Senator Bob Graham, but I don't think anyone is really serious about that. Then there are those folks that love to talk about the possibility of Hillary getting in the race (Drudge quoted an unnamed Dem source saying the former first lady was a lock for the Veep nod).

While I will again not vote in the November general election, I think I know who Kerry would be best served to pick. First, the non-picks:

*Hillary--No one except excited news people and Republicans really consider this to be a possibility. Hillary wants to run in 2008. She can't do that if she is VP. Simple as that. The only reason it would serve Kerry well to pick her is that it would be the biggest political news story in years. The problem for JFK is that if Hillary joined the ticket, she would overshadow him as a candidate. Bad idea jeans.

*Graham--I've met the guy. I've talked to him. He will bore the hell out of you if you let him. He has two things going for him that would serve Kerry well. First, he's been elected statewide in Florida. That helps any presidential candidate. Second, he's so boring, he wouldn't overshadow Candidate Kerry. He would be the Al Gore of the race. Maybe that's what Kerry needs, but I don't think so.

*Gephardt--He's got the organized labor vote. He's not unpopular in my homestate. But he's a loser. What's more, he's almost as boring as Graham. He's a wanna-be who peaked years ago. He'd be better served by staying home and running for Missouri governor someday, then retiring.

*Vilsack--One word. Vilsack? Please. I guess he gives Kerry a stronger arm in the Midwest (not an un-key vote), but for the love of all that's holy...part of his last name is SACK. Maybe Kerry needs someone with a sack. Maybe this guy is more popular than I know. I figure Kerry's recent appearance with the guy has to mean something. Vice President VilSACK? Help me, Rhonda.

So, that leaves us with...

*Edwards--Al Gore reportedly considered Edwards as his running mate in the 2000 election, but eventually opted for a Senator with a little more in the way of experience. Edwards had none. Opponents of Edwards getting on the ticket say he offers no more than a pretty face. I disagree. He offers charisma. I've met and talked to the man. He'll make you believe in what he's saying. What's more, he'll help Kerry with his "Massachusetts Liberal" label. Edwards is a southern boy, with southern charm. The Veep doesn't really do anything anyway except take over when the president kicks it. Unless Kerry's hair eats his face, I don't think we have to worry. Edwards could potentially outshine Kerry on personality, but Kerry's experience will keep him above Edwards for a few years.

You may wonder why I care. Answer: I don't. I'm not voting and I won't apologize for that. I don't like either side (or any of the underparty candidates). I'll vote in November, but only in local races in which my vote will make a difference and for a candidate I believe in.

Still, I think the process of picking a VP is a little fascinating. I'm intrigued by the concept of finding someone who won't overshadow the candidate, while finding someone who has enough experience, while finding someone who has enough charisma to campaign effectively.

Democratic sources are telling CNN that Kerry has made his decision and he plans to announce it via e-mail to his one million website subscribers. That's cute.

Since I don't watch much news anymore, I'll probably see the breaking news of Kerry's decision on the internet.

And as for the title of this post, I've covered two of the topics. As for the other one...my wife is eight months pregnant.

You figure it out.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Gut-ter ball

I've been awake now for 21 hours. I've been working for about 17 of that. The day isn't over yet (some smartass might say it is just beginning). Since I'm not entirely in control of my faculties, I thought this might be a good time to re-visit the "Get to Know Your Otis" series and answer one of the easiest questions in the lot. (By the way, if you'd like to particpate, feel free to leave a question in the comments section. I'll warn you though, you've got a few folks in front of you).

Now, the question:
Light beer with fewer calories but less taste, or real beer with more consequences but actual flavor? --Marty

Marty used to be a real prick. I've always liked him, but there were a few months in 1993 and 1994 that he took the role of "antagonizing friend" to a whole new level. One of his favorite activities during that time was the "poke Otis in the belly and laugh like a doughboy" maneuver.

In those years, my beer gut was a little more pronounced. The boys hooked me on malt liquor, poured Mickey's big mouths into funnels a six-pack at a time, and watched my gut grow. Then Marty poked at it.


Eventually, the gut got smaller (it's still there, but the navel depth isn't quite as deep as it used to be).

The simple answer is this: I don't think a diddly damn about calories when I drink beer. I barely think about the calorie's evil cousin, Carb. Generally when I'm drinking beer, I have one of two goals in mind.

The most obvious is catching the not-so-elusive buzz. The Bait Shack has dollar draws all day. Shaums has $1.25 bottles for happy hour (if you don't mind the possibility you might get shanked in the bathroom). In college, I wrote a song about The Fieldhouse's penny pitcher night.

When I'm going for the buzz, I'm going for the lightest beer possible. Less filling, if you will. My tolerance is such that if I drink a heavy beer, I get full before I get loopy.

However, when I seek the second goal, relaxation, I might go after a Guinness. A nice thick beer tastes, in a word, good. Newcastle makes me warm. A Bully Porter, while making me full after one pint, reminds me of the old days.

The good middle ground is an Unfiltered Wheat (Boulevard's is the best). It's one of my favorite beers. However, I'm convinced that the unfiltered nature of the beer allows some medieval poison to remain among the hops. I drink two Unfiltered Wheats and I puke. That sucks when it is your favorite.

Marty isn't a prick anymore. I saw him a couple of weeks ago and he didn't poke my belly once (although he did punch me in the shoulder six or seven times while on a puke-inspiring bender).

My only question...how does the guy who has drank more beer with me than any other single person I know ask a question about my beer preference?

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Rapid Eye Reality is the personal blog of writer Brad Willis, aka Otis.
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