Random blog-like rambling from Rachel's brain. A mixed up mess of usability posts, fiction, and travel.


hard-boiled - \HAHRD-BOYLD\


1a : devoid of sentimentality : tough
1b : of, relating to, or being a detective story featuring a tough unsentimental protagonist and a matter-of-fact attitude towards violence
2 : hardheaded, practical


Her favorite books are the old detective novels. The heroes, dark and brooding, practical and relentless in the pursuit of justice. She spends hours under the covers imagining black toned alleyways, gun fights, and in the end, murderers behind bars and the hero at his desk, scotch or whiskey in hand. 

She stole a swig of her father's whiskey once, but it burned all the way down. It made her love those PIs in her books even more. Men who drank whiskey could handle anything, bullets and fist fights included.

She inherited most of these books from the same father whose whiskey remains in the dusty liquor cabinet in the den. He wandered out the door one day and never came back, but he left these things behind at least. 

When she hides away with her books she always pictures the detective as her father. Dark hair and dark eyes, a face like weathered stone and shoulders broad but hunched. He haunts the loneliest nights and most dangerous cities, making the world safer one long distance bedtime story at a time. 

She knows that sometimes, in some books, the hero loses. Sometimes he dies and a killer goes free. When this happens she methodically tears out the offending pages. She'll rip them into strips and one at a time burn them away in her mother's ashtray in the middle of the night. When it's over, it's as if the ending never happened at all.

The next day, she'll find a new book to read, always certain the ending will be the right one. 


deem - \DEEM\\


1 : to come to think or judge : consider
2 : to have an opinion : believe

Havers of Opinions

There's a thing about 1 am at Joe's. That late at night the boy's have had a few. More than a few maybe. Maybe even quite a lot. Tending bar I try to keep track, to know who's too gone and who is just shy of too gone. That's not the thing though.

Barney is usually the first to get truly boisterous. He has the kind of voice that blusters like a strong wind and the more beers he had the louder the storm. It wouldn't be so bad if he didn't have to talk politics.

Barney has opinions. He owns opinions like a religious nut or a member of a cult. I tune him out but little Andy Pratchet can't do it. You can see the tension in his hunched shoulders escalate with each explosion issuing from old Barney's lips. He's a tiny, red grenade waiting to go off. See, because Andy has opinions too. 

It only takes about fifteen minutes before the two are screaming at each other. Glasses of beer swinging dangerously between them, tipping and sloshing wetly onto my floor. I'll have to clean that up later. Barney leans over Andy like some gnarled and very angry oak tree. Andy is a viper hissing and snapping around Barney tossing barbed words like darts from a blow gun.

It ain't pretty, is mostly what I'm saying. Andy and Barney are only the beginning of course, because at 1 am every drunk in the world is a Haver of Opinions. There's still an hour to closing and I surely can't pry Andy and Barney apart and at least they haven't exchanged blows. The rest of the bar alights with more yelling and posturing. I try to let it slide over me while I start closing up tabs. By 1:45 I'll need to start tossing people out anyway.

When I've pushed the last drunk out the door and the bar is finally, blissfully silent, I grab a mop and start to clean up the spilled beer. I hum to myself as I do and try to imagine a world where no one gives a shit about anything. It sounds almost lovely.



collop - \KAH-lup\


1 :: a small piece or slice especially of meat
2 : a fold of fat flesh


She'd met him in a coffee shop. Not a chain, because he would never buy coffee from a chain. No, it was one of those local places, with bad art on the walls and spotty wifi. It had character. He only went to places that had character. 

She first noticed his shoes, scuffed and worn DMs with stickers misaligned on the toes. By the time she saw his eyes, blue of course, she was smitten. She went back to the coffee shop every day for two weeks before she asked him his name. 

He introduces her to all kinds of wonderful things. Bands with lengthy names played on vinyl; hummus with olives; poetry slams. They go to the art cinema and watch foreign films. She's never been happier.

He's vegan and he teaches her about sustainable food, animal cruelty and healthy living. She reads the books and watches the movies. She is a convert.

He tells her he loves her.

They live together in a studio apartment and he cooks for them every night. She loves his fajitas and she loves him too. She also has a secret. 

On Friday mornings, when he leaves for work early she slinks out once he's gone. She walks down their block until she can smell the distinctive aroma of bacon sizzling. Around the corner is the diner. It's dirty, old, it doesn't even have character, not really. She's drawn in though. Her secret affair is a plate of pancakes with syrup and a hearty helping of bacon on the side. 

She won't see him for several hours, but she chews several sticks of gum after to rid herself of the smell of unsustainable, cruel, bacon. 

She loves him. When she sits back, chewing thoughtfully in a dim booth at the diner, she thinks that no two people can have absolutely everything in common. 

Across town, before he goes to work, he buys a sausage and egg McMuffin, wolfing it down guiltily.



lapidary - \LAP-uh-dair-ee\


1 : a cutter, polisher, or engraver of precious stones usually other than diamonds
2 : the art of cutting gems

Confessions of a Hobbiest

After the death of my wife I discovered that I was boring. She probably kept this fact hidden from me during our 30 year marriage out of kindness. Suddenly on my own, I was confronted with the problem of spending more time with myself than I was used to. It happened at 3pm on a Wednesday. After finishing the crossword, the soduku, the word find puzzle and that game for children where you try to find the five differences between the two seemingly identical scenes when it struck me. I was boring, and if I was to spend another minute with myself I might well go crazy. Also, I was only able to find four differences and was dangerously close to setting the newspaper on fire.

My daughter told me I needed a hobby. "Something to keep you busy", she said in what I was sure was the same tone she used with her own children when they were bothering her. Still, this was the only idea I had at my disposal. I would, I decided, find myself a hobby.

Unsure how to get started, I went to the bookstore and found a section labeled, helpfully, "Hobbies". I had never known how many useless pursuits there were and for a moment considered going home, having a tea, and trying out "napping" as a hobby. I persevered. After a half hour of browsing, I chose a book about gardening and took it home.

I learned over one week of planting, weeding, and dirt under my fingernails, that I was a useless gardener.

I returned to the bookstore despondent. Perhaps I needed an indoor activity. Gardening involved far too much time in the sun, on your hands and knees. Also, slugs. This time I spent more time selecting, it would not do to fail again so spectacularly.  After much consideration, "drawing" seemed harmless enough.

My daughter came by during this week and saw my drawings. Her reaction was some sound I was unfamiliar with, but her words of encouragement sounded very much like her praise for the fingerpaintings her 5 year old has pinned on their refrigerator. I knew the drawings were poor of course, but I also knew that unlike my grandson, I had had very little fun making them.

Over some months I made my way through learning chess, playing the harmonica, model ships, and even stamp collecting. I began to despair for my ability to enjoy just about anything. I was about to pay for a book about origami when the young woman at the counter smiled and said to me, "My father used to polish stones". I was momentarily baffled and could not understand why anyone would want to do such I thing. This probably showed on my face, she added "he found it very relaxing I suppose".

I tried to imagine myself polishing stones. When I thought about it it was no less absurd than any of my other attempts over the past several months. "I haven't seen any books on that" I said.

"We could order one" she offered with a bigger smile, adding "you remind me of him." somewhat more quietly. It seemed rude then to not agree to this. 

The book came in a week later, well after I had grown tired of folding paper into obscene approximations of animal shapes. The polishing of stones, of course, required additional equipment which I rounded up at a hobby shop, the proprietor of which I'm sure was growing tired of me. I started in on my stones the next day. 

It is hard to know, I suppose, what types of activities may interest a person by merely looking at them. However, the young woman from the bookstore clearly saw something in my face that said "stone polisher". The motions soothed me, the stones, once polished, were cool and smooth in my hands. While in the midst of my new hobby, I found that I was, perhaps, enjoying myself a little. 

I am still boring. No one would call stone polishing titillating entertainment. The days seem less long though, and sometimes I even feel as if I may not be lonely. 



poetaster - \POH-uh-tass-ter\


An inferior poet

The Student

He fancies himself a poet and dresses accordingly. His slacks are vintage and his blazer has patches on the elbows. He carries a pipe in one pocket and a half hazardly organized stack of notecards in another. The pipe is for show. The notecards were an idea he took from Nabakov, who he hasn't read, but someone once told him was the greatest novelist of the twentieth century. He figures perhaps the notecards were critical to gaining the master this title. 

His class schedule is a mix of literature and writing theory. He does not care to actually attend, preferring instead to haunt the campus coffee shop, drinking espressos and writing on his notecards in an illegible scrawl.

He never capitalizes his letters, a trick learned from e.e. cummings. 

He and his friends discuss the merits of free verse and disparage the use of rhyme and meter in any fashion. He carries a copy of "Howl" with him everywhere he goes and owns a vintage typewriter he found at an estate sale. 

He once heard that Tolstoy's wife transcribed his work for him. He decides that this would be ideal, but his relationships tend to be over too quickly for him to introduce this idea. He types up his poems himself bemoaning his misfortune. After receiving rejection letters he sulks at the nearest bar. Someone told him that Bukowski favored Reisling and he follows along, getting drunk on sweet German wine.

His GPA drops steadily. He burns rejection letters in his trash can. He learns to smoke the pipe and tries hash. He writes all night, but cannot read the writing the next day. 

Sometimes, after three espressos and ten notecards, he wonders about switching majors. Being a writer, he is finding, is more work than he had anticipated.

Theology, surely, would require less dedication.