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Corporate Torsos

Love in the Time of the Improvised Explosive Device Why, yes, the new book does have a soundtrack, too-

It’s not done yet, the soundtrack, and neither is Love in the Time of the Improvised Explosive Device, the book. But if you want a hint of the feel and fun that’s coming to you THIS Dec. 21, have a listen to what exists so far. And let me know what you think!

You might recall that Corporate Torsos also has a soundtrack available on Spotify. The songs-to-chapters synchronization rubric, book notes, blog guide, and more, will be available soon for download in Corporate Torsos: A Reader’s Companion. [I know that title isn’t the catchiest. Send me a better one, please.]

The Pierley/Redford Dissociative Affect Diagnostic

Have you ever taken a test that made you feel really bad?

I know, this could describe basically every single test you’ve ever taken in your life: the MCAT, court-appointed drug tests, the LSAT, paternity tests, colonoscopies, the SAT and the PSAT and the GRE, lots of other classist and ethnocentric little gates to allow some people in while keeping others out, or to diagnose you with cancer, or fatherhood.

Yikes. This post went south fast. Can you tell I’m behind deadline on my next novel?*

*At any rate, you can expect it on the 21st: Love in the Time of the Improvised Explosive Device. Let me know if you wanna check out a couple of chapters ahead of time and I’ll send them over!

Anyway, tests. One time I happened upon this personality test in the dark corner of the Internet. This was before the later and larger spike in online personality tests where you find out what famous Internet cat best represents your personality. (Mine is keyboard cat. I know. What can I say? I’m basic.) It was also tucked into a dark corner of the Internet but not the Dark Web, so it didn’t seem so inherently risky, just a little bit off.

Then, the deeper I got into the test, the more it didn’t just seem risky. It felt risky. Kinda wrong. A little bit of an abomination. Like check this out, for example:

Q9 from the Pierley/Redford Dissociative Affect Diagnostic

The test isn’t as static as this screenshot would lead you to believe; the shapes actually flicker, slightly, while you’re taking the test. After only a few questions, you don’t feel so great, like, internally.

Much like the sinking feeling most humans get while completing the aforementioned elitist college entry tests of this century, arranged in the same oppressive structural way as the inequitable system itself, the Pierley/Redford Dissociative Affect Diagnostic leads you to feel you are adopting a dissociative affect just from the mere act of taking the test.

When I first encountered the test, there wasn’t any explanation about it, as I recall. It was just a link on a page. I don’t even remember how I found it. Since then, its author has given more background and structure to the test series, and identified himself, so it’s no longer poised to be a terrifying mystery that sparks a market research disaster fiction novel.

The artist moved on to create other frightening tests too.

Screw you, test.

Unfortunately, they’re all created in Adobe Flash Player, so your computer could potentially be compromised just by accessing them and the whole product line is unstable and soon-to-be unsupported.

(But if you get a chance before Adobe Flash gets retired forever, check this one out: http://www.hypnoid.com/EM_entropy/. Spooky!)

I really appreciated this bizarre little feel-bad mystery survey when I first came upon it way back when, and between this and the curious patents of Hendricus G. Loos, it sparked the mind-controlling market research survey in Corporate Torsos Need Not Apply. Well, that, and also my own experience working in market research. Both probably very co-influential, now that I think about it.

Kudos to the artist, who also turned out to be a novelist, and I look forward to reading the Undernet, probably as brilliant and terrifying as these psych tests? Will report back.

Love in the Time of the Improvised Explosive Device The New Espionage

When I was a kid, I loved spy novels. I couldn’t get enough of them. One summer I read all the spy novels I could find. And by the end of that summer, I was a total misogynist.

This year I decided to check out current spy novels. You know, to see all the progress. 

“They’ve probably changed a lot,” I thought. 

Wrong!

Still the same amount of racism and misogyny. I was disappointed. I’m not a kid now, so I can’t just read that crap like it’s normal, ignore it, and get brainwashed. The second I see some bullshit, it ruins the whole story for me.

The New Espionage Series is about giving readers the adrenaline of James Bond without the white supremacy. Temple of Doom-esque mystery without the xenophobia or hating on blond women. It’s possible for humans to travel the world and kick a lot of ass without the entirety of our limbs. Heroes can have different bodies or interesting scars too.  

Corporate Torsos Need Not Apply, Love in the Time of the Improvised Explosive Device (21 Dec 2020), and the New Espionage genre are about new villains, new threats, new perspectives. Fun, funny, life-affirming adventures.

For all the people.

Except Swedes.

Live, on the Apocalypse Nana Show!

Ok, it’s not live anymore…in case you missed it, though, here’s a re-play of my very first author appearance to promote Corporate Torsos Need Not Apply on the one and only Apocalypse Nana Show!

Oh, hey, how’s it g- I GOT MY FIRST PUBLISHING DEAL

If you haven’t talked to me in the past four days, then you haven’t had the pleasure of me screaming this into your ear:

I just signed my very first publishing contract!

And it’s not with some loser corporate publishing conglomerate, either-

My short story “Rats” is going to be part of an independent thriller anthology published by the one and only Craig Martelle.

Yay!!!

Also, I think I’m going to be on an Internet show this week? More details to come…

Book trailer preview!

Corporate Torsos Need Not Apply will soon be a paperback! In honor of its birth in this new, less ephemeral form, I made it a book trailer. Hope you enjoy…let me know what you think!

Corporate Torsos book stack Paperback writer!!!

Okay, okay, I hear you. You’ve been staring at a screen for six months straight. Me too, friends.

Oh good I was hoping there would be five more Zoom meetings today I’ll keep sitting here

You want to read a book. You even want to read my book. (Aw, thanks.) But you don’t want to read an eBook. You want a real-life book, made of matter.

Cue the music!

I thought it was going to take a lot longer, and I was aiming for December 21st (when I publish my next novel, Love in the Time of the Improvised Explosive Device!), but as it turns out, I can get a real-life, made-of-matter, hold-in-your-hands copy of Corporate Torsos Need Not Apply to you much, much sooner. And I think I can even make it so that you can buy it in your local bookstore.

When, you ask?

As soon as this month, I replied, and I felt 50% sure I could do it within that timeframe.

If you want to know the moment it hits, sign up for my newsletter! I’ll share other fun things with you too, but not all the time. I don’t want you to get overwhelmed or stare at a screen too much. That was the whole point of this blogpost! Pretty ironic, right? Now stop staring at this screen, and go have fun.

Literary magic Writing with Alexander Chee

Do you ever have a project that you start ambitiously and then become terrified of midway through, abandon, and cower in the proverbial corner for a decade or two, then drag yourself over to it in the middle of the pandemic and think, maybe I should try this again?

Me too! What are yours?

One of mine is to finish learning how to play the Capricho Arabe. It’s a workout but totally worth it. Check it out if you get the chance. When I finish learning it, I’ll play it for you the next time I see you. So far it’s been twenty years.

Another one of my paused projects is a memoir. I started mine when I was 25. That’s right, I thought I had enough content to book when I was 25, and now it’s waaaaay later. Good luck figuring out what to include in that AND keeping it under a thousand pages.

I’m still back and forth on whether I should even go through with it or not, and there are lots of other, more fun writing forms I want to tackle first: my play (Foxhole), my screenplay (Book Midwife), a short story collection (Plant), others. I don’t have to tell you about them; you already know, they’re in my Stories section on this website.

While I was gathering memoir courage to even re-read my old draft, a motivated writing friend told me about the Alexander Chee course available at The Shipman Agency. I tried to resist enrolling, but it was futile. I had already taken a great poetry class with them, and I had so much FOMO I couldn’t miss out on Alexander Chee. The Alexander Chee. I’m just telling you all about this to be friendly – much like my writing, I don’t get any compensation, and they don’t know who the hell I am. My hopes of Alexander Chee knowing who I was because of this class were dashed by the volume: 400+ other students.

I should have known he was a big deal because when I purchased a Loyalty Bookstore pandemic-episode grab bag, with a request to get me only the most awesome books, they sent a copy of How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, by guess who? Yep. Alexander Chee. Looks like everybody knew about him already. A lot of the other people in the class were also famous authors. Famous people and/or great writers tend to know about each other, it seems.

I have one more week to wow them all with my Zoom sitting!

And one more week to figure out the essay writing process, which may or may not help with the memoir writing process. I have a panic plan: memoir poetry chapbook – Au Revoir, Memoir. That’s the title. I’m hoping to beat the lure of false memories by shoving them all into poems.

Wish me luck!

Earth magnetic field I was going to write a new blog about electromagnetism and memory BUT I FORGOT

I’ve been trying to write this blog forever, but as the title indicates, I completely forgot. This is what the blog is about: the relationship between electromagnetism and memory.

Since Corporate Torsos Need Not Apply was published, I thought it would be fun to create an annotated bibliography of all the science in the book, so readers could check my sources, learn more about what’s the science, and what’s the fiction. I’ll write a few gray papers, I thought. Then I tried to recollect the actual sources of everything in the book (it’s a 24-year project; I didn’t keep comprehensive notes all the way through…I know, I know, I’ll do better next time) and this was the most difficult to assess. Where did I get all this crap from? Did I make it up or read it somewhere? Was it science or pseudoscience?

Pole shift. I know my Torsos research started with a flood story, but I really got into it when I learned about pole shift. Soon I was neck-deep in research on the flipping of earth’s poles, sparked by Charles Hapgood‘s book. This was connected to my fascination with the original source of the Piri Reis map and other dubious archaeological claims that make amazeballs fiction stories.

Hapgood’s book appears super legit. It’s got a forward by Einstein. Yes, the Einstein. Later on in life, Hapgood starting hanging around with a medium. People who write about science and people who hang with dead people-talkers are usually two different groups of people. I understand why, but I also think it’s kinda a shame to miss out on the diversity in the long run.

Anyway, I believe I got the idea that human memory and electromagnetism are linked based on Charles Hapgood’s book (The Earth’s Shifting Crust, 1958) and cataclysmic pole shift hypothesis. You’d think there would have been an update in knowledge about the topic since 1958, and maybe there has been. I haven’t really been tracking. I suppose you could say the evidence in the cultural record for that kind of cataclysm exists, but you don’t know what kind of exaggerators these authors were. After a few generations, your story has to be really good for it to stick.

And a good story is a little different from a true story.

Here’s the idea in my book: human memories get worse when the electromagnetic field of the earth weakens.

True or false?

First of all, does your brain even know what a magnetic field is?

Back up before we talk about that. What is an electromagnetic field versus a magnetic field, and what’s the difference?

People refer to earth has having a magnetic field instead of saying an electromagnetic field, but really it’s both.

NASA says, “The core of the Earth is also an electromagnet. Although the crust is solid, the core of the Earth is surrounded by a mixture of molten iron and nickle. The magnetic field of Earth is caused by currents of electricity that flow in the molten core.”

So whether you say magnetic or electromagnetic field of the Earth, it’s basically the same thing.

FYI, NASA also says there’s a dent in it. Isn’t that weird?

According to the USGS, earth’s magnetic field does not affect human health. But, based on my rock-solid memory, which may or may not be affected by the magnetic field of the earth (I can’t remember), I read somewhere that the weakening of the electromagnetic field of the earth affects human memory capacity. Was it pseudoscience? Where the hell did I read that? Why can’t I remember anything?

Researchers (who do this kind of a thing for a living, legitimately, not people who read a lot of books and google a lot, like yours truly, not to poo-poo reading and googling, both of which are the cornerstone of my whole life) have copped to the idea that animals use magnetoreceptors for navigating and other handy processes, and humans are animals, so…obviously then they did this fun experiment about it to prove humans can also sense magnetic fields.

Following Hapgood’s book (I actually don’t know if he said the thing about earth’s field weakening causing human memories to fail, so if you’ve read it and remember that line, let me know…I can’t stress that enough) I must have gotten into some fun journal articles, like this one, where they briefly list “Known Interactions Between Brain Frequencies and Natural and Simulated Geophysical Fluctuations.” Then maybe I read something like this, “Billions of Human Brains Immersed in a Shared Geomagnetic Field…” and you can see how I took off from there if you’ve read Torsos by now.

The other part of this investigative “What the hell was I thinking/reading?” thread is that all the articles I’ve posted here weren’t written yet, when I was investigating different hypotheses for major cataclysms as background research for Corporate Torsos Need Not Apply. I also didn’t have a smartphone or own a computer.

I didn’t even have a telephone. In my house. But that’s another story for another blog.

Things have changed. Now I’m surrounded by electromagnetic fields all the time, and scientists are focusing their research on that. If we all lose our minds from an earth magnetic field problem while we’re simultaneously getting brain damage from a cell phone magnetic field problem, then civilization is really in a pinch, right? A couple billion people will be okay, as long as the zombie portion doesn’t kill the no-techs in the process. Did you read Stephen King’s Cell? Fun book.

Side note: I know everybody is talking about this very negative movie about social media and I understand that social media can have adverse effects, but I’ve been reading this saga about an epic woman’s life on Humans of New York lately, and I’m telling you, even if it’s deteriorating my brain, it’s completely worth it.

Okay, so to wrap up, I can’t remember anything, including where I got the idea that human memory is linked to earth’s magnetic field. I’m going to keep working on the magnetic field-human memory research. In the meantime, if you’ve seen anything interesting about it, leave the info in the comments, or call me to chat about it on our cell phones!

The United States Supreme Court Writing with Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Last week I was reminiscing about my legacy with one of my writing heroes, David Foster Wallace. Last night we lost another great.

These days, when you lose a brilliant legal mind who came from a now-past era, it scares you. How many of those do we have left? you think. Where are the other ones? How can I stem the tide of loss with my own work? Are new hardworking legal geniuses being born right now?

Unlike DFW, RBG wasn’t one of my young heroes. I remember her nomination but she didn’t come to my attention until she became the Notorious RBG. My hero was Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female Supreme Court Justice. When I was 8, I wanted to be a Supreme Court Justice just like her. And an astronaut. I didn’t know anything about life, higher education, or careers. Or making choices.

I gave up on my Supreme Court dreams twenty years later when I started the law school application process. Law school teaches you how to think a certain way, they say, and the closer I got to admittance, the more concerned I got with standardizing my own thought processes. Standardizing your thought processes might help you practice law, but I didn’t think it would be great for writing. And, unlike being a Supreme Court Justice, or an astronaut, writing was something I was already doing. I didn’t want to get my thoughts standardized. It didn’t sound good.

When RBG went to become a law clerk, she got denied due to her gender, and she went on to spend most of her law career remedying that kind of inequity for others. Unlike for RBG, by the time I decided to become a published author, there were almost no barriers. You could even publish yourself, so I did. This year. Having a barrier to entry can be very galvanizing, and not having one can make you very lazy. I’m not making excuses for that novel taking me 24 years to write. I’m just write-thinking here, about greatness.

As for doing my part, as a writer and not a lawyer, I do have a new fiction series in production designed to teach young and new adults about critical thinking, civic education, and public administration. (And coffee varietals. It’s gonna be good!) I hope her ghost will haunt me as I write it.

I hope it helps young people think about governance and social justice.

But it’s no RBG. She’s notorious. May she haunt us all.

Afghanistan

Love in the Time of the Improvised Explosive Device Love in the Time of the Improvised Explosive Device

I opened junk drawer number one: no.

Junk drawer number two: not in here. Maybe I was wrong. 

Third and final junk drawer? 

There it was. 

I thought Elise had been storing our hammer in a new spot, but I couldn’t quite place where. Why did she have so many junk drawers, only to use them for storing things that

a. weren’t junk, and

b. had a clear location elsewhere?

7:30 pm. 

Elise used to give the kids a bath around this time, and I was sick of noting it, day after day. I heaved myself off the couch.

It was time to do something about it.

I ran upstairs to the bathroom. Not as fast as that other day. I slammed open the door, I raised the hammer over my head, and I brought it down on the side of the bathtub 

that day the water spilled out over the top and onto the floor, the water and the— 

as hard as I could. Nothing happened. 

No hairline fracture. Not even a chip. 

It was resilient. 

I didn’t need this bathtub anymore. 

No Elise. No kids. Every night when 7:30 pm rolled around, I came up here. Stared into its depths like I would learn something. And you know what? I never learned anything.

The hammer was worthless. I needed something bigger. 

I headed for the garage, paused in the kitchen. I rearranged the magnets that held a fingerpainting on the refrigerator. 

James had loved painting but Allison hadn’t quite taken to it yet. She would start out with confidence—get her cute little fingers all painted up, and just stand there. Considering her composition, I suppose. Hell, I don’t know. Then she’d cry when the paint dried on her fingers without making it to the paper. 

This one, though. This painting had been a breakthrough. Her first work of art without tears. 

I moved on.

She’d just turned three.

I turned my back on the painting, and I moved on.

In the garage, behind Ally’s tricycle, I spotted it: our sledgehammer from the basement finishing fiasco of six years ago. 

Back upstairs.

I raised it up over my head and brought it down hard on that close side, the rim where the water had spilled over that day. It was overflowing when I opened the door. That day. 

An eyeball-sized chunk chipped off. 

It was a start. 

I kept working, kept smashing, kept bringing that sledgehammer down, my arms were on fire, but let’s be honest about who I am, they would have been anyway, from the least little exertion. I kept going until the bathtub broke into three. Three pieces. 

I had to keep going, keep smashing. I could hardly breathe after I finished pulverizing the first piece. Bathtub dust all around me. I thought to flick on the fan switch, but it was weak. Barely worked. One more thing I was supposed to fix and didn’t.

I moved through the second piece, then the third, until they were dust. Every bit of that bathtub was destroyed, pipes coming out of the wall that led nowhere now. Dust stuck to every part of me, went in my mouth and I tasted it. The sweat rolled off, white ceramic mixed in, sliding off my face. I dropped the sledgehammer, swept that sweat off my chin. 

I sat down on the floor. Rested my back up against the wall. I turned the disembodied faucet on so the water could run out onto the floor. Watched it soak the right leg of my jeans. 

But no, I wouldn’t sit around in there again. I’d done enough of that. I turned off the faucet, I left the sledgehammer where it lay, and I closed the door on my way out.

My wife and kids had been dead for three months. Now the bathtub where they’d died was gone, too.

Who could I blame? 

Myself? The mesh? Whoever thought it was a great idea to market chicken wire to string up my wife’s collapsed vagina? The company that sold the death of my whole family? The doctor who installed it? The FDA? 

Yes, yes, and yes. And yes, yes, yes. 

And yes, I still went back. Back to work at the FDA.


Love in the Time of the Improvised Explosive Device is available now on Kindle Unlimited.

Love in the Time of the Improvised Explosive Device Why, yes, the new book does have a soundtrack, too-

It’s not done yet, the soundtrack, and neither is Love in the Time of the Improvised Explosive Device, the book. But if you want a hint of the feel and fun that’s coming to you THIS Dec. 21, have a listen to what exists so far. And let me know what you think!

You might recall that Corporate Torsos also has a soundtrack available on Spotify. The songs-to-chapters synchronization rubric, book notes, blog guide, and more, will be available soon for download in Corporate Torsos: A Reader’s Companion. [I know that title isn’t the catchiest. Send me a better one, please.]

The Pierley/Redford Dissociative Affect Diagnostic

Have you ever taken a test that made you feel really bad?

I know, this could describe basically every single test you’ve ever taken in your life: the MCAT, court-appointed drug tests, the LSAT, paternity tests, colonoscopies, the SAT and the PSAT and the GRE, lots of other classist and ethnocentric little gates to allow some people in while keeping others out, or to diagnose you with cancer, or fatherhood.

Yikes. This post went south fast. Can you tell I’m behind deadline on my next novel?*

*At any rate, you can expect it on the 21st: Love in the Time of the Improvised Explosive Device. Let me know if you wanna check out a couple of chapters ahead of time and I’ll send them over!

Anyway, tests. One time I happened upon this personality test in the dark corner of the Internet. This was before the later and larger spike in online personality tests where you find out what famous Internet cat best represents your personality. (Mine is keyboard cat. I know. What can I say? I’m basic.) It was also tucked into a dark corner of the Internet but not the Dark Web, so it didn’t seem so inherently risky, just a little bit off.

Then, the deeper I got into the test, the more it didn’t just seem risky. It felt risky. Kinda wrong. A little bit of an abomination. Like check this out, for example:

Q9 from the Pierley/Redford Dissociative Affect Diagnostic

The test isn’t as static as this screenshot would lead you to believe; the shapes actually flicker, slightly, while you’re taking the test. After only a few questions, you don’t feel so great, like, internally.

Much like the sinking feeling most humans get while completing the aforementioned elitist college entry tests of this century, arranged in the same oppressive structural way as the inequitable system itself, the Pierley/Redford Dissociative Affect Diagnostic leads you to feel you are adopting a dissociative affect just from the mere act of taking the test.

When I first encountered the test, there wasn’t any explanation about it, as I recall. It was just a link on a page. I don’t even remember how I found it. Since then, its author has given more background and structure to the test series, and identified himself, so it’s no longer poised to be a terrifying mystery that sparks a market research disaster fiction novel.

The artist moved on to create other frightening tests too.

Screw you, test.

Unfortunately, they’re all created in Adobe Flash Player, so your computer could potentially be compromised just by accessing them and the whole product line is unstable and soon-to-be unsupported.

(But if you get a chance before Adobe Flash gets retired forever, check this one out: http://www.hypnoid.com/EM_entropy/. Spooky!)

I really appreciated this bizarre little feel-bad mystery survey when I first came upon it way back when, and between this and the curious patents of Hendricus G. Loos, it sparked the mind-controlling market research survey in Corporate Torsos Need Not Apply. Well, that, and also my own experience working in market research. Both probably very co-influential, now that I think about it.

Kudos to the artist, who also turned out to be a novelist, and I look forward to reading the Undernet, probably as brilliant and terrifying as these psych tests? Will report back.

Love in the Time of the Improvised Explosive Device The New Espionage

When I was a kid, I loved spy novels. I couldn’t get enough of them. One summer I read all the spy novels I could find. And by the end of that summer, I was a total misogynist.

This year I decided to check out current spy novels. You know, to see all the progress. 

“They’ve probably changed a lot,” I thought. 

Wrong!

Still the same amount of racism and misogyny. I was disappointed. I’m not a kid now, so I can’t just read that crap like it’s normal, ignore it, and get brainwashed. The second I see some bullshit, it ruins the whole story for me.

The New Espionage Series is about giving readers the adrenaline of James Bond without the white supremacy. Temple of Doom-esque mystery without the xenophobia or hating on blond women. It’s possible for humans to travel the world and kick a lot of ass without the entirety of our limbs. Heroes can have different bodies or interesting scars too.  

Corporate Torsos Need Not Apply, Love in the Time of the Improvised Explosive Device (21 Dec 2020), and the New Espionage genre are about new villains, new threats, new perspectives. Fun, funny, life-affirming adventures.

For all the people.

Except Swedes.

The Plot

It was another beautiful night in Kabul. I was on the terrace, watching the bats flit around a neighboring floodlight and thinking over a few things. Earlier in the evening, in a kind and thoughtful gesture from the government of Afghanistan, a Colonel with the National Directorate of Security (NDS) stopped by and informed me they had received intelligence that I was the target of a kidnapping plot. Unfortunately I wasn’t noteworthy enough to be a political kidnapping; this one was going to be for financial purposes. These would-be kidnappers obviously hadn’t seen my 2009 income tax returns.

A kidnapping would be a big fiasco for me personally. Maybe if it had happened earlier in my stay, I would have had the energy for that sort of thing, but I had been living and working in Kabul for months already. I was tired and frayed around the edges. Besides, I had led the majority of my loved ones to believe I was in India and it seemed hurtful for them to learn the truth from a Yahoo! news brief.

What to do? Well, Kabul Conference was coming up, which meant lockdown was at hand in a few days and movement around the city would become nearly impossible. The Colonel from NDS had suggested I disappear for a week, possibly take up residence in another hotel such as the Serena or the InterContinental. Both seemed unlikely options, as they were not within the budget of a civil servant such as yours truly and would soon be loaded with guests who were political kidnapping worthy. Besides, I already knew the risks at my current site: it was haunted by freaky ghosts and people were trying to kidnap me. Who knew what I would face at the new location?

My visa expiration was rapidly approaching anyway, and my departure from Afghanistan was imminent—less than a week away. Although I was going to miss my Central Asian home, it was time for a vacation.

Propane Nightmares

I never thought I would be the kind of person who was intimidated by or jumped at loud noises, but propane accomplished its mission of fully scaring the hell out of me when it somehow ignited and exploded in the shower this morning. Luckily I was practicing the wasteful western habit of letting the water run for no good reason while I accomplished other tasks at the time. I made an executive decision to stop trying to take hot showers, as they get tepid at best anyway, it’s July, and the rise in temperature isn’t worth the accompanying skin graft.

Transportation Dialogue

G: How are you?
J: Good. Just got back from a UNDP meeting. I am like not entirely excited about going places in a car marked with UN in big letters on the side of it since that one got attacked.
G: Yeah, don’t go high profile. Keep it low.
J: There’s no way, they put a gigantic UN on all the vehicles. A car was attacked last week, the driver was shot. I don’t know the details. Maybe a gambling debt. But they always blame the T.
G: We’re always using soft shell local vehicles with local drivers. That’s a lot safer than a big hard shell with idiots.
J: Yeah, if we rode around in taxis with cracked windshields and no AC I guarantee there would be no attack. People would realize we had suffered enough.
G: That’s right.
J: They would probably offer us some funding from their kidnapping money so we could be more comfortable.

Horses and Carts

My car pool had determined that as a native English speaker, I was obligated to teach them two new words a day. The program seemed to be going well.
On Wednesday the driver pointed at the windshield.
“Windshield,” I said.
It came out the next day that this had been a misunderstanding. The driver had actually been pointing through the windshield at a horse and cart.
I explained the options for animal-pulled transportation and their various conditional uses: cart, carriage, buggy. The lesson was satisfactory and met with some approval. Later on in the day the lesson became more relevant when Kenta needed to change money on the way home, and a donkey-pulled cart collided with our vehicle as we were stopped on the side of the road.
“I never should have asked to stop for my personal reasons.” Kenta shook his head regretfully.
“At least the English lesson will be useful,” I said.

That afternoon I stopped by a French development organization that had offered me a job.
Me: As headquarters explained it to me, they can’t hire me until this other key position has been filled, or it’s like putting the cart before the horse.
Them 1: Right, except in this case, we don’t even have a horse.
Them 2: There is no horse.

The Loss of My Friend

Things haven’t been the same around home since My Friend left, a key staff member at my hotel. He was a vital component to interests near and dear to my heart, like breakfast. I don’t really know what My Friend’s real name is. There was a Japanese woman around for a few days who has been coming to Afghanistan since 1996, and one time she called him Hussaini, but I never heard him introduce himself as anything other than My Friend.
At first, none of us took My Friend’s alleged departure to the south seriously. “He’s been saying that for two years,” Abdullah said. Still, I threatened to hobble him, and Ged and I discussed some sort of captivity plan. Eventually My Friend escaped anyway. As a former teacher, he had to fulfill several more contracts before he could receive his pension. They sent him to Kandahar along with ten other teachers, perhaps Helmand and Uruzgan to come. I haven’t really been able to secure a breakfast since, and the days of two cups of coffee in the morning are long gone.

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Above: My Friend gleefully shows us his plane ticket, as we all voice our disapproval. “I’ll take a picture in case you get kidnapped,” I offer. “Okay,” My Friend says. “Thank you.”

Foreigner Landscaping Techniques

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A pond of fecal waste material, complete with decorative fountains, outside a military installation in Kandahar.

Photo complements of Paul Junior, reporting from Kandahar.