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December 3, 2001 ... Once upon a time, a young man noticed that his household was out of milk. He had a sudden and transient craving for cereal, so even though this young man was broke, and even though it was raining outside, he resolved to go to the market.

As he walked, dodging raindrops in the dark alley behind his home, he chanted:

Milk and butter,
peanut butter,
Garlic salt and onion powder.
Mac 'n' cheese
and broccoli
And eggy eggy eggies.

The troll under the bridge heard his chanting, and leapt up into the alley.

"Oi, you," said the troll.

"Garlic salt and onion powder," said the young man. "Mac 'n' -- what?"

"Uhm, nothing, never mind, just realized I'm in the wrong fairy tale," said the troll, and promptly disappeared. The young man gained 44 experience points from the encounter, went up a level, and learned the skill of Set Grocery List To Music.

At the store, the young man went through the aisles, shopping for milk and butter, &c. Occasionally, he would face the temptation of Buy One, Get One Free, or 50 Cents Off, but the young man was strong of heart. He knew his true purpose in going to the market, so he quickly dumped the sale items in the cart -- after all, Getting Food On The Shopping List is merely a subset of Buying Things You Know You'll Eat, which is quite a noble cause.

On the way home, the young man skipped through the sunny streets -- except that it was dark and raining and he wasn't skipping, but that's neither here nor there -- and used his new setting-to-music skills. After a few false starts, he sang:

Milk and butter,
peanut butter,
Garlic salt and onion powder.
Mac 'n' cheese
and broccoli
And eggy eggy eggies.

The troll came back, and was promptly run over by a passing car.

It took the young man several iterations to realize that the Grocery List Song fit almost perfectly into the rhythm of "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." (Try it yourself -- just squeeze "onion" where the "do" should go, and "powder" in in place of "cious.") This occupied him on his entire trip home, and he made it back unbothered by the rain -- thanks partly to the fact that the Grocery List Song coincidentally happened to also be an ancient Native American weather ward, and thanks mostly to the fact that he was wearing an overcoat.

And the young man lived happily ever until the credit card bills arrived.

December 5, 2001 ... Alright, readers, pop quiz time!

I've spent the last three hours combing the 'net for a handful of statistics -- some predictable, some surprising, and some that are there for no other reason than to throw people for a loop -- and now, my minions audience, it is your job to match these crazy slices of Americana with the numbers that represent them.

Here's how it works. I will provide two lists. You will open up your notepad. This shouldn't be too hard: (PC users) Start Menu -> Programs -> Accessories -> Notepad; (Mac users) Apple menu -> Notepad; (Luddites) Desk Drawer -> Notepad. Once that is accomplished (and Luddite users also boot up a Desk Drawer -> Pencil -> Fumble -> Retrieve From Underneath Chair), you simply match the numbers to the categories. 1-A, 2-B, 3-C, etc., although obviously those won't be the real answers. I'll provide the answers, the source links, and a scoring guide tomorrow, at which point you can brag about your scores in the forum.

Without further ado, then, let's get to the quiz. Our topic is: How many Americans performed the following actions over the course of a year? (The year in question is the latest one for which I have statistics; if I think it makes a difference, I'll note it with the choice.)

For your reference, current U.S. population is about 285,600,000.

How many Americans, in one year ...

  1. Hunted big game (e.g., deer or elk)?
  2. Voted (in 1998, when we weren't electing a president)?
  3. Have home Internet access? (in 2001)
  4. Were convicted of a felony?
  5. Bought a new car (not counting trucks)?
  6. Died of some kind of cancer?
  7. Have an account at Livejournal?
  8. Reported over $1 million in income on their tax return?
  9. Strongly believe the Bible "is totally accurate in all that it teaches"?
  10. Got divorced?
  11. Moved?
  1.     193,828
  2.     265,174
  3.     549,838
  4.     980,000
  5.   2,380,000
  6.   8,140,000
  7.  11,300,000
  8.  17,800,000
  9.  83,100,000
  10. 117,000,000
  11. 165,000,000

Good luck. Keep your answers handy; I'll post the real ones tomorrow night!

December 6, 2001 ... Here they are -- the QUIZ ANSWERS!

What quiz answers, you ask? Go to yesterday's entry if you haven't taken the quiz yet. Don't worry, we'll wait.

First -- and to provide some spoiler space for those who have yet to fully tune in -- let me talk about scoring. This isn't going to be as intuitive as it could be, because I screwed up and lettered the choices I should have numbered (and vice versa). I apologize for the extra brainpower that figuring out your score is going to take; I suggest that you consider it a free value-added extra, and enjoy the process of score tabulation in the spirit of a challenge of wits.

Quiz scoring is going to be golf-style: Lower scores are better. A score of 0 will be perfect. (A score of 60 would be the worst possible, but that would take much more talent to achieve than actually getting them all right.) Here's how you calculate your points.

On every question, look at your answer and the quiz answer. If they're the same, score 0 for that question. (Yay!) If they're different, score 1 point for each letter they differ by. In other words, if the real answer was C, and you put down B, score 1 point. If you put down J, score 7. (Think of it this way: If you translate the letters into numbers, J=10 and C=3. 10-3=7.)

The following chart may help, if you understood that last parenthetical comment. No, this has nothing to do with what you score for each answer, it's just which letter of the alphabet each one is:

1234567 891011

At any rate, then, on to the ...


1. Hunted deer, elk, or other big game -- G. 11,300,000.
Percentage of these who were male: 91.
Amount these guys spent on firearms and ammunition: over $2 billion.
Number of armed deer in American forests: 0.
    Source: http://www.census.gov/prod/3/97pubs/fhw96nat.pdf (PDF)

2. Voted in the 1998 off-year election -- I. 83,100,000.
Americans have a shameful record of taking their democracy for granted. Even in the latest presidential election -- the prospect of electing the nation's top official tends to draw more voters than usual -- only about 105 million of the 200 million Americans eligible to vote (18 years or older with no felony record) went to the ballots. And yet our country keeps pretending everything is business as usual, because nobody in power wants to admit that half of the U.S. has lost faith in the political system.
    Source: http://www.census.gov/population/socdemo/voting/cps1998/tab01.txt

3. Had home Internet access (in 2001) -- K. 165,000,000.
... And still relentlessly growing. This works out to about 58 percent of total U.S. population. We are a nation of netheads. Incidentally, about 16.3 million Americans -- over 15 percent of the online audience in October -- visited eBay, and used it for an average of 100 minutes each over the course of the month.
    Source: http://www.nielsen-netratings.com/hot_of_the_net_i.htm

4. Were convicted of a felony -- D. 980,000.
I have previously pointed out that the United States has the highest rate of incarceration, per capita, in recorded history. And six out of seven of our country's inmates are in jail for non-violent crimes. The prison-industrial complex is an insane consequence of this nation's racist, senseless drug laws.
    Source: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/stssent.htm

5. Bought a new car -- F. 8,140,000.
This statistic doesn't even count the 6.4 million trucks that rolled off assembly lines into driveways in 1998. New motorcycles? Only about 430,000, but putting the three together, about 1 in 20 Americans buy a new vehicle each year. And you wonder why you can't watch half an hour of television without seeing a car commercial.
    Source: http://www.bts.gov/btsprod/nts/Ch1_web/1-10.htm

6. Died of a cancer -- C. 549,838.
At least that's my best interpretation, after a little more web research, of what "malignant neoplasm" means. About 2.4 million Americans die every year -- one percent of the population, give or take -- and cancers are the second leading cause of death, after heart disease. Suicide ranks 11th, claiming 29,000 lives per year. Nearly 4,000 of those are 15 to 24 years old, and in that age bracket, it's the third most common killer, after accidents and homicide.
    Source: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/lcwk2.pdf (PDF)

7. Have a Livejournal account -- B. 265,174.
This is about two-thirds of all Livejournal users. At any given time, about 200,000 of them are staring at their friends page and clicking "Reload" every six seconds, which is why it's usually impossible to read LJ without getting "Request timed out" messages.
    Source: http://www.livejournal.com/stats.bml

8. Filed a million-dollar tax return -- A. 193,828.
I don't really know what else to say about this, except that it's highly likely that every one of them will end up buying a Segway.
    Source: http://ftp.fedworld.gov/pub/irs-soi/98sec2.pdf (PDF)

9. Believe in Biblical inerrancy -- J. 117,000,000.
A 2001 survey found that 41% of American adults strongly agreed with the statement that "the Bible is totally accurate in all that it teaches." Including, one is forced to assume, the parts that condone slavery and suggest genocide of non-Christians, and the verses in which the Bible contradicts itself. Color me scared.
    Source: http://www.religioustolerance.org/inerran4.htm

10. Went through a divorce -- E. 2,380,000.
Let's reflect for a moment on the claim that "God hates divorce," and that it's a sin, because if that's so, we're collectively going to Hell. The country recorded almost 1.2 million divorces in 1994 -- presumably with twice that many participants. Overall, nearly 10 percent of Americans are divorced. Half of all first marriages end that way, and 432,000 people are stalked by a creepy (ex-)spouse each year.
    Source: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/pubs/pubd/mvsr/supp/44-43/mvs43_13.htm

11. Moved -- H. 17,800,000.
Look at it this way: Our society's mobility is a sign of our affluence. Throughout the third world, and in fact throughout most of Earth's history, the only two real reasons for members of agrarian societies to move have been famine and human displacement (such as war). The fact that Americans can -- and do, fairly frequently -- pick up their roots for such reasons as "to live closer to work" or "to get my children into a better school" means that we're enjoying historically unprecedented prosperity. Viva la industrial revolution.
    Source: http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/housing/ahs/ahs99/tab211.html

Finished adding up your points? See how others did, and tell us your score!

In case anyone cares, by the way, I pulled US population figures from http://www.census.gov/.

A note about the statistics: Some of the sources cited are links to documents in PDF format. If your browser can't handle PDFs, an easy workaround is to do the following: Copy the URL; go to Google, enter the URL in the search box, and click on the "View as HTML" link in the result that appears.

A note for the pedants: Some of my numbers may disagree with the official statistics cited (by less than a percent) due to rounding. This was in the interests of giving similar answers the same degree of accuracy, to avoid having people second-guess which numbers were "official" data and which were estimates.

December 10, 2001 ... I am informed by Antwon that some unfortunate websurfer somehow ended up visiting his site through the Google searches:

tomorrowlands tricks on free experience
tricks on free experience at tomorrowlands
tricks on free experience at tomorrowlands with no antwon or .org

Twon points out that all three searches only turn up one result page -- last November's journal. So exactly how this searcher kept ending up at antwon.com is a mystery to both of us. It is amusing, though, to see his increasing frustration with the web's lack of "tomorrowlands tricks on free experience." You can almost hear him scream, "Stop sticking me with those weird journal page online text site thingys! Give me FREE EXPERIENCE TRICKS!"

Speaking of which, what exactly is a "tomorrowlands trick on free experience"? My best guess is that it: (A) has something to do with Disneyland, and (B) is a trick for free experience. But that's not much to go on. What kind of free experience? Does someone want to go on all the rides without paying? Do they want to release Mickey into the wild? Do they want to reach fourth level in the Disneyland RPG and multiclass into a geek/paladin?

I doubt the poor sap would agree with me, but Google is an invaluable resource -- if for nothing else than to see who's talking about you. Just like every other webmaster with a pulse, I occasionally search for my name and my website's domain on major search engines, and see what links come up. One of the more interesting results this time around was just how much my name recognition shot up by becoming an editor in the Open Directory Project; the thing has countless mirrors around the web, and many are indexed by search engines (whoops), so my not-unpredictable editor login name gained me at least a dozen citations.

Honestly, I think I'm content with my net status, just as long as nobody's trying to find free baxil experience. I do have a going rate, you know.

December 12, 2001 ... Alright ... so, apparently, "Lord of the Rings" is racist.

What is it about supercilious liberal academics that makes them think, "I have the foundations of a good idea here; therefore I am allowed to spout out the most credibility-defying B.S. to support it"? (It must be something about moral high ground. Moral high ground makes people stupid.) Consider the following excerpt from the above-cited article:

Tolkien's entrancing vision has long been extraordinarily popular, not least with the far Right. If you have doubts, call up a few white supremacist sites on the Web. Tolkien is recommended reading for families hoping to bring up their children in a wholesome, racialist atmosphere. It sets the racist mental framework in an appealing and unchallenging way.

Uhm ... excuse me? Last time I checked, the majority of white-supremacist groups in this country were fundamentalist Christians, and the vast majority of fundamentalist Christians have no sense of humor about fantasy.

But, hey. Don't take MY word for it that the idea of Tolkien as an archconservative icon is absurd: Do a websearch on some phrase like "tolkien and white supremacy". You will find the Web testimonials of such right-wing racist religious nuts as lesbian Frodo Okulam and "Summer of Love" participant Tim Fitzgerald. (In case you didn't catch it, that was, in fact, sarcasm.) It took me half an hour of searching, but I DID finally find a single actual white supremacist who admires Tolkien's writing. I guess he's in good company.

So why is Tolkien supposedly such a racist? Because he stereotypes, I guess: "The races are either dangerous or they are benign. An orc - any orc - is without question an enemy. A hobbit would never side with an orc." Well, no, one wouldn't; and I suppose if blacks had spent the last few centuries systematically raiding white encampments and demonstrating a complete inability to live in a civilized manner, that might even be a reasonable analogy to draw to our lives here on Earth. Of course, isn't that where the argument always falls apart? "Oh, here's this work of fantasy that has different races behave in stereotypical manners. These stereotypes must relate to reality somehow! The author must be trying to make a point! And since he's stereotyping he must be the most vile kind of racist!" I've got news for you, my dear liberal media lapdog: it's called A LITERARY DEVICE. Tolkien wouldn't have had room to write the saga in ten books, much less three, if he'd spent enough time going into orc stories to present them as a fully-fleshed-out, non-stereotyped race. This can, of course, be a problem if one is writing histories -- but this isn't exactly eighteenth-century London we're reading about.

The critic goes on to complain about Harry Potter, saying that -- even though HP books have no mention of race at all, they're still racist because they're elitist, which "is a racist view of the world, and to that extent, Harry Potter's appeal is to the racist within us." As well as that of every myth or fantasy since Homer's "Odyssey," I guess. Joseph Campbell once wrote of this storytelling cycle he called "the hero's journey," which was basically a cross-cultural outline of the vast majority of myths ever written -- the story of one powerful protagonist, facing incredible odds, picking up friends, consulting wise men, and ultimately triumphing over everything in his way. Call me dense, but isn't that elitist -- and by extension, basically every myth of not only Western civilization, but practically any human culture that tells stories?

Of course, maybe that was just the critic's point. Later on in the article -- I'm not making this up -- he asks why these "racist" stories have such appeal, and goes on to answer his own question by saying:

We have been so isolated in our little consumerist, suburban cocoons, being told relentlessly how important we are as individuals - not as a group. Multiculturalism tells us that no culture has primacy over another, no habits are superior. We must tolerate everything. We must esteem our own culture, our own values, no higher than others.

... Which -- that's right -- damages people's self-esteem, and makes them turn to racism!! You heard him right, folks, multiculturalism causes racism! I don't think I have to even dignify that one by the implicit acknowledgement of pointing and mocking; I'll leave that to the racists who would be all too happy to agree with the piece's author, and let the left wing sort it all out.

It is true, as the author suggests before his credibility self-defenestrates, that there is a high degree of correlation between stereotyping and racism -- and that stereotyping is a thing to be avoided. It's just how he gets from there to criticising multiculturalism that I don't understand. "Racism is bad! So let's abandon our system of teaching people to accept other races as equals and ... uhhhh ... go back to teaching that a person's own race is superior, so that people don't start believing that ... uhh ... their race is superior!"

Of course, I should leave myself open to the possibility that I'm being insufficently tolerant of the author's subgroup; perhaps among his people, self-contradiction is a sign of cleverness and erudition.

If that's the case, count me among the Tolkien readers of the world.

December 16, 2001 ... Well, this is it: Tomorrow I'm employed again.

I've been fairly silent for the last four days because I've mostly been asleep the last four days. Trying to catapult from a night schedule onto a day schedule is never easy, but I seem to have found a novel way of approaching the transition: Sleep so much that I can't keep track of what time of day it is. For pretty much the entire weekend, I've been on an "awake-8, sleep-12" schedule. Which is patently ludicrous, but at least -- I hope -- I won't be staggering through tomorrow's assignment like a zombie.

I'll be working a call center for the first time in my life. Check that: I'll be training so that I can work a call center for the first time in my life. The first three weeks are basically a time for me to cram as much knowledge about loans into my head as is humanly possible. (Dragonly possible. ];=8))

On the off chance that the rest of you need a chuckle for your Monday morning, take a look here. I'm not sure what possessed me to make an animated banner ad for Tomorrowlands, but it does seem to be a crowd-pleaser.

December 17, 2001 ... So, my family and I were in this cabin out in the middle of nowhere, taking a well-deserved vacation from the rigors of American life. My parents and sister and I were in the kitchen and living room, lounging around, cooking breakfast, and generally enjoying the new day, when I heard this odd sound in the distance.

It was this repetitive beep, beep, beep, beep, beep ...

"Aw, dammit," I said. "I must have forgotten to turn my alarm off. Be right back." I got up, walked through the narrow wooden hallway to my room, and located the little digital contraption on my bedside table. I picked it up and looked at it for a few moments, still slightly unfamiliar with its workings, then pushed a few buttons at random. Nothing changed.

Beep, beep, beep ...

"Okay, I know, already," I grumbled, and took a closer look. There were a few switches at the top. One of them was the primer that controlled whether the alarm could ring or not. Triumphantly, I thumbed that over to the left.

Beep, beep, beep ...

"This is getting ludicrous," I muttered, and yanked its power cord out from the wall.

Beep, beep, beep ...

Helplessly, I took the alarm clock out to the living room. My parents looked at me, amused. I sat down on the sofa and started to push at everything on the clock that would move. Finally, just as it was about to drive me irrevocably bugnuts, I found some well-hidden master switch inside a box that folded out from the back -- what looked like a circuit breaker in the line between the clock's workings and the external speakers. I flipped that, and the clock went dead.

Beep, beep, beep ...

"Ah, crap. I'm dreaming, aren't I?"

I rolled over, stared at the ceiling, and gradually focused in to reality, at 5:35 in the morning, to the wall-muffled (but still very audible) strains of my housemate Tim's alarm clock. (Mine are a clock radio that plays music, and a clock that emits a continuous buzzing. The beeping was new.) I wasn't due to get up for another hour or so, and I debated the merits of: (A) attempting to ignore the persistent beeping; (B) jumping out of bed long enough to silence the clock, and getting that extra hour of rest; and (C) just giving up and waking up early. I opted for (A), but after another 30 seconds had gone by, I reached the breaking point, and hauled myself to my feet.

Just then, Tim returned from the bathroom -- where he'd gone to shave after accidentally hitting the snooze button instead of turning the alarm off -- and made the beeping stop.

I later commented to him that if he'd just been about a minute quicker on the draw, I would have had nothing to show for the whole experience but a completely incomprehensible dream.

December 21, 2001 ... Erin and I, while talking tonight, decided that we really should start up a company that makes musical instruments.

Of course, we would call the company "Really Shitty."

If you were in an angsty, cynical, self-deprecating teenage garage band, wouldn't you want to play on a Really Shitty guitar?

December 23, 2001 ... Sunday night. Late, late, laaaaaaaaate Sunday night. The end of my first weekend after my first week of work. Not insignificantly, now (by the clock) December 24th, and me still struggling to get what few presents I've bought properly wrapped. My total gift budget this year was about $30, and I'm kind of proud that I managed to get anything for anyone with the dire financial straits I'm in, but it still leaves me feeling like a cheapskate. Can't we just fast-forward a week and a half?

They've got me working on Christmas Eve, and New Year's Eve for that matter; and for no extra pay, no less. (It sucks being hired two weeks through December.) What gets me is that the holiday season is doing its best to go on without me, and I feel like my work schedule is casting me in the role of one who kicks dogs and small babies. For example, my parents have done everything short of buy me a plane ticket to get me to go down to California for Christmas. Given that I have approximately 36 consecutive hours between leaving work the previous day and arriving at the office on the 26th, and given that I lose my job if I take a day off, I just can't see how this could be worthwhile. "Himomhidadhere'syourpresents, theflightwasokaybutsecuritywasanightmare, how'slifewithyouI'mbrokebutyouknewthat, whoopslookatthetimegottagoloveyoubye." By all accounts, though, they'll be coming to Seattle after New Year's, and I'll look forward to the visit then.

Honestly, the "fast forward a week and a half" idea I mentioned above would be the best resolution I could really hope for. I wouldn't even miss New Year's Eve -- I celebrated mine at our house's Solstice party this Friday last, staying up with friends until the sun rose.

I know, I know -- technically, Winter Solstice isn't the start of the pagan new year (that's Samhain, at Halloween time). But our culture seems to have this fascination with ending things right in the middle of the dark bits. Traditional New Year's is smack dab in mid-winter, not the end of summer as with the Celts. The day starts at midnight, not at sunrise. So in some vague, culturally biased way, "Yule-as-new-year" is more aesthetically pleasing than "Samhain-as-new-year."

(This from a guy who argues fervently and persistently that they day should more properly start at dawn. Score one for the fuzzy logic of New Age paganism.)

December 27, 2001 ... You know, in hindsight, I actually enjoyed this holiday season for the first time in years.

One of the major factors in this was Dave's Yule party last weekend, which involved staying up throughout the longest night of the year in order to ensure that the sun rose the following morning. (Old pagan tradition.) Sure, on one level it was an excuse for about 15 people to fight sleep together, consume alcoholic beverages, and throw combustible materials into the fireplace. But simultaneously, it had a far deeper aspect -- a connection to the earth, to our natural rhythms and the shared beat of our hearts with the Mother's ... aw, who am I kidding? I went to a party and had fun.

Which isn't to say that the spiritual aspect wasn't important. I was one of the few who stayed up the entire night (and, in fact, ended up pulling a true all-nighter, in that the lost night of sleep didn't end up affecting my sleep schedule), and there was some small sense of accomplishment in "fulfilling my duty." I specifically took time out to watch the sunrise (or some reasonable facsimile thereof), and that's always an uplifting experience. The house was also lit by candles all night, which was a wonderful change from the traditional, sterile glow of light bulbs (under which I spend far too much of my time).

The party was also memorable in that it pulled me away from the computer for nearly the entire night. Up until the festivities started breaking down at 5 AM, my only computer time was the 3 minutes I spent taking the online copy of the non-virgin purity test. (I remember the interesting fact that my score, plus that of the second lowest scorer, added up to 100. I further remember that Erin scored very nearly half of what I got. I will say no more for fear of embarrassing myself.)

But even after the party was over (and I'd "celebrated New Year's"), the holidays weren't. Christmas, too, managed to touch me, in a way that it hasn't for over a decade. To wit, I received a Christmas gift that meant something.

I do not mean to imply by this that I have only ever received meaningless gifts. In fact, the vast majority of them have been creative, appropriate, and have meant a great deal in the context of the relationship I have with the gift-giver. What the gifts I've received have always been lacking ... is memory, perhaps. I don't know if it's possible to boil it down to a single word that wouldn't be corrupted by assumed meaning. What I'm looking for is the quality present in the autographs I get from celebrities, and having made that comparison, I will promptly need to go off into an explanatory tangent.

Madeleine L'Engle showed up in 1996 at the University of California, Santa Barbara, to give a speech of some sort. (I later bought a taped copy, which is downstairs in my room, but the title of the talk she gave escapes my memory for the moment.) Afterward, I joined several hundred other fans in the inevitable line for book signings. I waited patiently for half an hour as the line crawled up to the front of the auditorium. Finally, my turn came; Mrs. L'Engle turned toward me, smiled, reached out -- and realized I didn't have a single book on me.

"If you'd be willing," I quickly explained, "I am here to get an autograph -- but the point of an autograph is to act as a record of meeting with someone, is it not? To invoke memories later on, after the event is over. So I was hoping I could just have you autograph my mind, as it were, and bypass that middle step entirely." Of course, I paraphrase, but apparently the logic was sufficiently appealing that she agreed. (I can guess why, after half an hour straight of signing books.)

I asked one or two of the questions that her presentation had brought up, and we chatted briefly; I stepped off to the side after some thirty seconds, so as to not hold up the line, but the short of it is that I accompanied her out of the auditorium after everyone else had long dispersed, and we talked in some depth as she walked to her car.

Now that is an autograph. I won't be able to sell it in thirty years on E-Bay, and I won't be able to pass it on to my grandson ... but equally, it can't get stolen, lost in the attic, or ruined by a bursting pipe. Anyway, I wouldn't sell it for money -- even if I could -- and my grandson will have his own idols to chase after. I got the thing that should be (but often isn't) the essential core of any autograph: What I got meant something.

In the same manner, this year I received a meaningful Christmas present. 'Patron 
of the Arts' button

I could tell you that I got the button to the right from a man playing an autoharp in one of the downtown bus tunnel stations. I could tell you that my donation of $5 was what prompted him to give it to me. Of course, neither of those facts mean anything to the Christmas present, and in fact, rather miss the whole point. I could tell you that he played (and sang) the theme song from the Beverly Hillbillies, Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues," and "Silver Bells," and that would at least be a relevant detail. More pertinent is that -- as this was 2 PM on Christmas Eve -- he and I were the only people within sight. Or that we exchanged horror stories of stiff wrists and discussed the subliminal artwork on the wall behind him. Or his smile ... or even that he stood too close to me.

The present, as I hope you realize by now, was his autograph. The button was merely the wrapping paper.

December 30, 2001 ... The entrance to the ancient underground halls was dark, forbidding ... and warm. To be honest, it wasn't so much that the stone passage was warm as it was that the mountain around it was covered in a thick layer of snow, and the wind was whipping around my face like a thousand tiny needles. My breath caught in my throat -- once I entered the ruined dungeons, there would be no going back. This was the moment that adventurers lived for -- and the moment that most adventurers died after.

My ears caught a sudden rumble. I glanced up, and realized with slowly dawning horror that the mountain above me ... was moving. An avalanche! I was still several paces from the entrance, but it was my only chance to survive the falling wall of snow -- so I struggled to reach the tunnel in time. I was leaping for the cozy safety of the darkness when my time ran out, and my world became a white blur.

The snow tossed me, spun me, bounced me, shook me. Somehow, though, it failed to tear me apart ... and once I regained my bearings, I realized that I wasn't even too deeply buried. I clawed to dig myself free, and quickly found my hand bursting through into empty air. I followed it -- into the welcoming stone womb of the tunnel I'd been trying to reach. Apparently, the wave of snow had shoved me inside.

I walked around a corner to find a well-lit room, decorated with multiple weapon racks and pleasing yet nondescript ancient art. There was another man inside -- perhaps a fellow adventurer. He noticed me, and started walking to the room's other exit, a doorway in the opposite wall. Thinking he wished me to follow, I hurried after him, only to have him stop in the doorway, turn around, and pull a long, wicked knife. His aim wasn't to guide me -- it was to bar my passage.

I tried to reason with him, but he advanced on me, knife raised. I knew I had to defend myself, so I hurriedly backpedaled to one of the weapon racks, on which I found a shiny flail with nine heavy metal heads. I grabbed the weapon as he closed in on me --

And we rolled for initiative.

I'm quite clear on this point. Up until then, it had been a standard, if vivid, dream. However, right at the moment combat started, the dream shifted over to 3rd edition AD&D rules. I knew the statistics of the flail I'd picked up -- d4+1 damage, +1 to hit, 10" range increment, a successful hit using it as a thrown weapon stuns your opponent for one round. I rolled a 20-sider for initiative -- rather, I was aware of having rolled a d20 for initiative, even though I was the character, and the person doing the rolling was some abstract, elsewhere "me". As it turned out, I lost. The knife-wielding man advanced on me and swung. I twisted out of the way of the weapon -- knowing that I had an AC 11, and that I was lucky that he'd rolled low.

In response, I took a step back and flung my flail at him from five feet away. Smack! A direct hit. He staggered back, stunned, and missed his next combat turn due to the stunning; so I stepped forward, picked up the flail again, and hucked it at his chest a second time. Wham! I caught him just as he was recovering, and caused him to reel again; but this time my flail landed too far away to grab before he could regain his senses. So I backed across the room to another weapon rack, grabbing a greatsword.

The opponent recovered, and ran toward me, enraged. I held my ground, swung my greatsword, and --

"Hey!" cried my housemate Sarah, the encounter's gamemaster. "You can't do that. It's his initiative turn."

And that's where the rule dispute began.

Ultimately, I convinced her I'd legitimately swung; I'd spent a turn to refocus while we were 30 feet apart and he was still stunned, and therefore raised my effective initiative score to 20, beating his 17. Sarah complained about this, and I replied, "What do you want? I'm a first-level fighter, and he's second level. I have to take every advantage I can get in order to keep him from mopping the floor with me." I hadn't actually done anything against the rules -- I was just applying them as intelligently as possible.

So I swung the greatsword -- I'd already rolled a hit -- did 2d6 damage, and killed him. As my opponent was dropping to the ground, I woke up. I later related the dream to Erin, and she pointed out, "You know you're a rules lawyer when you argue about the rules even in your dreams."

What can I say? I've always been a methodical person, a very by-the-book type as far as gaming goes; I'd just never really thought of my actions as over the top (especially since, during a game, I'm just as likely to point out a rule that benefits the GM; my main concern is consistency, not advantage). But on reflection, the conclusion grows less and less escapable ... I am Brian Van Hoose.

... Heck, I've even got the "imaginary girlfriend", with the difference that anyone who's talked to Thea can tell you just how "imaginary" she is.

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