Tuesday, December 23, 2014

FLASHBACK: December 23, 2001

*A 13th Anniversary Special FLASHBACK*

Near the Day of Purification, there will be cobwebs spun back and forth in the sky. A container of ashes might one day be thrown from the sky, which could burn the land and boil the oceans.

Destruction of the Fourth World - Hopi cosmological prophecy

As Ric and I finished up the 18th hole at our usual course, Lake Orlando Golf Club, we made plans to have a few beers at a new neighborhood gay bar we'd not yet visited on Edgewater Drive in College Park. I was a little apprehensive since we had just spent the afternoon together the day before at Sea World, the whole day here golfing and I was reaching my Ric-overload point. But my buzz was wearing off from the beers we'd had during our round of golf and I had the urge to keep the party going.

I felt on top of the world. A couple weeks earlier I was on a business trip to West Virginia and Ohio and upon returning back to work last week, my boss and his boss congratulated me on feedback they'd gotten from the branch managers at those locations. They were even talking about wanting to mentor me in obtaining an executive position with the company at the headquarters in Longwood.

The weather this weekend had been exceptionally warm for December and Ric and I made the most of it with a theme park visit on Saturday and golfing today. So, yeah, I wanted to keep the celebration going.

We got to the place and there were immediately signs that made me try to convince Ric to go elsewhere. First off, the place was dead. Well, of course, it was only around 6:00 pm. Next was the fact that although it was a gay bar as evidenced by the pride flags behind the bar, it was after all a neighborhood bar so it was small, dark and smelled of stale beer and desperation. As patrons started filing in, it, like Hank's just down the road, was looking like mainly a bear hangout. Not a twink in sight. But the beer was cheap and came to us ice cold in good-sized plastic pitchers so...

Before long we were both smashed. It wasn't even 9:00 before we were politely cut off. Ric tried to convince the bartender to give us one more pitcher. The guy was very nice about it but held firm to his stance. Ric "forgave" him and we stumbled out to the parking lot. He was trying to get me to follow him to another bar but even I knew I'd had enough and I saw he could barely stand. I told him I was going home. He asked if I was okay to drive and I insisted I was.

I knew I was seriously drunk but like I always do when drunk, I was also seriously in denial of my handicaps. The fact I could hardy walk meant I was more apt to be focused when sitting. The fact I fumbled and dropped the keys when unlocking the car door was just moisture in the air. The fact I stalled my car twice when starting it because I forgot how to ease up on the clutch was the stupid car's fault. The fact I had to close one eye to compensate for the inability of my drunken brain to process the optical parallax distortion was just simply ignored.

So with one eye squeezed shut, a shaky left foot riding the clutch and the stereo blasting loudly to keep me awake I cautiously made my way home. I turned up the A/C, opened the vents to alleviate the noticeably building fumes of alcohol spewing from my noxious beer breath and popped a Breathsavers into my mouth.

I can do it, I thought to myself. But then I noticed I was starting to forget where I was. I quickly remembered back to the night of my first DUI and realized that getting lost was the biggest mistake then. So I focused really hard and made my way to OBT. I knew if I made sure I was heading south on OBT, I'd get to easily recognizable landmarks very close to home.

"Just hold it together and stay in the left hand lane. Keep going straight for about 10 miles. Just 10 miles." This was my mantra and it was actually pretty good advice. Had I made it without incident, I would have likely been able to make the turn at Americana and been home free. But I forgot one very important fact.

This route took me smack through the heart of Cracklando. The area around OBT (Orange Blossom Trail) where it intersects with Kaley and Michigan. About halfway through this 10 mile quest. Of course I needn't be concerned about the drug dealers, but the police cruisers in the area watching out for them were another thing.

On this night, Officer Meeks was assigned to patrol this area. Likely he thought he'd be bringing in someone intrinsically tied to the milieu of the area. Drugs, Violation of Probation, Robbery, Theft, Assault, etc. These are the crimes of the hood. Little did he know when he started his shift that his nab around 9:45 pm that night would be a middle-class white guy driving drunk through the ghetto.

I stayed in the left lane as I'd self-instructed. Good. No slowing down or stopping unexpectedly for people turning right or cars merging into the four-lane thoroughfare. It was a big broad boulevard traversing the city and pretty much a straight shot and flat throughout. Thousands of cars each day travel it without a problem. In 2001, it had just emerged from a two-year makeover and was smoothly repaved and very well-lit.

But it was the last weekend evening before Christmas and there were miles of strip mall after strip mall on this road so traffic was a bit heavier than usual for a Sunday night. Staying in the far left lane also meant you were constantly under pressure from cars behind you to speed up. Being so far gone as I was, I maintained my slow and steady 35-40 MPH average regardless of the hot heads around me and though I noticed the honks and cut-offs I had to endure from other impatient drivers, I just nonchalantly ignored them.

Unfortunately that nonchalant attitude was shifting rapidly into a non-conscious attitude and I found myself continually fighting to stay awake. During one nod-off I veered too far to the left into the concrete curb of the median and my front left tire rammed hard right into and over it. I jolted awake and pulled the steering wheel to the right to get back onto the road but this brief lapse in driving ability was not to go unnoticed. Officer Meeks, parked in his cruiser in a strip mall parking lot just 50 feet away saw the whole thing.

After hitting the curb and coming to, I realized I was going to have to try harder to focus to make it without hitting another car. What's more, this area of "The Trail" as Orange Blossom Trail is also known locally, is littered with obnoxious or idiotic pedestrians. They walk across this massive multi-lane boulevard constantly and you had to be aware of them since some would boldly walk in front of your car forcing you to reduce speed and sometimes outright stop for them. I hated this section of OBT and forced myself to wake up and get over into a middle lane in order to get ready to make my right-hand turn which I saw was only a few miles away.

I came to a red light, now in the third lane from the right and noticed a white and green Orange County cruiser pull forward parallel to me to my left. It was Officer Meeks, of course. Though I was conscious of his presence, my body and brain also knew I was stopped at a red light and it conspired to make me extremely sleepy since I wasn't actively moving in my car at the time. I remember thinking, almost abstractly, that it might not look good to the cop watching me that I was dosing off at the wheel.

Of course, as the light turned green and I moved forward, the cop changed lanes, got right behind me and snapped on his flashers. He politely, yet firmly ordered me through his loudspeaker to pull over. I complied, safely using my directional lights and parked to the right in what I thought was a fully sober frame of mind. But I realized, I wasn't chemically sober. It was just adrenaline. I knew I was fucked.

"Do you know why I'm pulling you over?"

"I hit the curb back there?"

No doubt smelling it on my breath, "Have you been drinking tonight, sir?"

"I've had a couple of beers."

"Would you step out of the vehicle for me, sir?" Mumbles into his walkie-talkie. He needs backup.

Of course I failed the field sobriety test. I remember thinking after he gave me instructions for what I needed to do; recite the alphabet or follow his penlight with my eyes or stand on one leg or walk a straight line, that I'd ace this. Simple, I thought. Then I watched almost disembodied-like in utter amazement as I so laughably failed.

Clickity-clack, clickity-clack went the handcuffs around my wrists. I was read my rights. I was placed in the back of the cruiser and the cop, now joined on the scene by another, was chatting outside the car with the other officer. I looked back at my beloved 2000 Ford Focus and hoped she'd be safe.

I didn't cry. To my drunk mind, though I knew what was happening, it was simply an interesting yet somewhat-disjointed experience. I was tired but adrenaline was pumping me up. I watched what the cops were doing, I looked around the interior of the cruiser, I looked out the windows of the car at the stores around me and the cars moving past on the road. I looked up at the stars in the sky. Was this really happening, I thought?

At the DUI Testing Center I blew well over twice the legal limit.

I was transported to 33rd Street. The Orange County Jail. There I was booked and processed, that is, photographed, fingerprinted, relieved of my possessions including my belt and shoelaces and placed in a holding cell.

I sat uncomfortably for hours on a hard metal bench surrounded by cinder block walls under harsh fluorescent lights. My alcohol buzz wore off and I was hungover. I was tired and wanted to sleep but my handcuffs were still on painfully constricting my hands behind me. Though I begged them to be taken off or at least loosened I was ignored. I later found out that they keep drunk inmates cuffed for eight hours after intake since they tend to be an outburst risk while they're still under the influence.

Well into the wee hours of the morning, my handcuffs were finally removed. I noticed I had numbness in one of my hands and this symptom percisted for almost a year thereafter. Nerve damage. I was instructed to shower, had de-licing agent sprayed on me and donned my dark blue XXL jumper suit and orange rubber flip flops. I was ready for central holding.

You see, I had spent the time up to now in essentially a drunk tank, a smaller cell which at the time I was there had only one other passed out inmate. Here I had to stay eight hours until I could be placed into general holding, a much larger room filled with rows of double-decker bunk beds.

I selected what appeared to be the only vacant bunk out of what looked like 60 or so in the large room. It was an upper bunk. Though it was uncomfortable and I was constantly in fear of falling off it, I was extremely tired and eagerly laid down to pass out for a few hours.

After I came to a few hours later when the CO's (Correctional Officers) were rustling us up for breakfast chow, I became somewhat overwhelmed by a flood of executive function thoughts and worries: When can I get out of here? How will I make bail? I don't belong here. Look at these losers. They're clearly druggies and criminals. I need to get out of here!

I tried to get information from a CO who was just then on his way out of the room through the security doors. He flatly told me he couldn't help me and was being a total dick so I continued to pursue him trying to make him realize I was an educated white-collar professional white man with a brand new car, a luxury gated-community apartment and several major credit cards. He was decidedly unimpressed. And when I made the jailhouse no-no of following him out through the security doors beyond the painted black and yellow lines on the floor warning inmates to go no further without permission...oh the look I got. He immediately tensed up and assumed the stance with right hand on his baton. Two other COs nearby perked up and stared steel-eyed directly at me. Had I not backed up, I knew, I was looking to get a severe beating.

I dejectedly backed off and made my way back to my bunk. I found out later, from inmates who saw I was a total noob and took pity on me, that I could queue up for the phone and call for a bondsman. Of course this had been the way it was back in '97 during my first DUI arrest but it had been mostly forgotten.

The bondsmen wouldn't talk to me of course. Like last time, I had no property to put up for collateral. And this time I had no family to do so for me. So I called JT, my boss at Sears, but he was unavailable each time I called. It was a workday, being a Monday, but methinks he was not much in the office since it was, after all, Christmas Eve day. I finally got ahold of him and told him my predicament. I asked if he could help me. He said he'd try and do what he could. Hours went by. Long painful hours. I called him back several times but couldn't get ahold of him.

Finally, as I'd surrendered to the concept that I'd be spending another night in jail, I was called for and a CO brought me to an office. There I was offered an opportunity for release under a monitored personal reconnaissance program. I would be allowed to be released if I agreed to call each day until the pre-trail into a probation office hotline. I signed the paperwork, thanked the worker and was sent back to the holding cell where about an hour later I was told to go to the releasing area where I received my clothes and possessions back and was shown the door.

Living only a mile or so away, I joyously walked home that late afternoon a free man. But now, fully sobered up, I also knew that the foolish decisions I'd made that got me into these horrific circumstances would hinder my freedom for years to come making the joy I felt quite bittersweet.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Places Everyone!

Finally after eleven months away I'm returning to the theater. I can't believe it's been so long. Not sure why, really, other than the fact I hadn't seen any email alerts, news or advertisements for shows I'd wanted to see. (Jersey Boys: Forget about it. Motown the Musical: No-town. Phantom of the Opera: Was great...the first three times I've seen it (four if you count the very similar "Love Never Dies")

But mainly, of course, I was waiting for the brand new Dr. Philips Center to be completed rather than endure even one more depressing visit to the horrible Bob Carr Theater.

The show will be the much anticipated musical comedy "Book of Mormon" and I think it'll be a hoot. The date I reserved is for New Years Eve. What could be a greater send off to this cloyingly Christian dominated "Holiday" season of phoniness and duplicity than an evening of good ole' heretical spoofing of one of the more twisted facets of this weirdo religion?

Of course I did have a bit of back-and-forth with myself over the decision to yet again break my self-imposed freeze on spending, but I had indeed been wanting to see this show for years now. When I found out that during one of the scenes the lead character sings out his secret wish and prayer advocating to God his desired placement to serve his missionary obligation was none other than here, Orlando, well, you know I couldn't resist. How cool it'll be as the actor belts out the name of his dream city and he actually happens to be performing in that city. I can't wait to witness the reaction.

Here's the number I'm talking about. The stuff about our fair "City Beautiful" starts at 2:17.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The End Of Civilization?

Two days ago I decided to temporarily thaw my freeze on spending and finally bought Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth. It's been out for a couple of months or so now but I'd hesitated buying it since the reviews were decidedly mixed with many reviewers saying they saw it as little more than a new skin on what's essentially Civ V.

I'd hoped to find out that they were wrong but unfortunately I agree. After about 8 hours of gameplay I feel quite disappointed. I spend $50 for what could have been done in a free mod to Civ V.

On the bright side, during my research into what the 4x strategy gaming community felt about the latest Civ iteration, I learned of another new 4x strategy game that's been recently released called Endless Legend. After a couple of rave recommends from gaming YouTubers I went and turned up the heat on that freeze a tad more and sprung another $35 to buy this. All I can say is wow!

Endless Legend is, albeit a fantasy setting rather than future sci-fi, what the new Civ game could have....nay...should have been. I've been playing it and haven't bothered with Beyond earth since.

Don't get me wrong, I won't boycott Civ:BE forever. It is pretty and the interface is oh-so familiar (since it's the same Civ engine and UI, but there are just some really bad problems with it.

First, it got really boring, really fast. Unlike Civ V, the factions have no soul like the historically-derived civilizations have and the map terrain is a bit crisper and certainly more colorful than Civ V but the hue is quite dark and the hex-hugging, straight-edged territorial borders do nothing for me.

Units, both human and alien, look great and have cool animations but, as stated before, this is done by many mods available for free for Civ V so if Civ:BE is just going to be graded on visuals, than it's a big failure since it's neither unique nor cost-effective for the Civ V fan.

But in contrast, Endless Legend is not just pretty, it's gorgeous.

Given, it's an entirely different game and a wholly different publisher so it did suffer from the "been there, done that" effect of Civ:BE so boredom was avoided, but it also seemed better balanced in the decisions it imposed upon the player. I don't feel like it's such a grind.

The different races in Endless Legend seem more fleshed out and have really significant differences from one another.

And the map and battle graphics are super exciting. It's very evocative of the CG faux-model stylings of the animated map sequence during the opening credits of the TV show "Game of Thrones." Fantastic castles and spires that gracefully and dramatically erupt from the flat map surface, as the chunky cliffs, springy foliage and blocky outcroppings all morph into 3-D around them is pure genius. Battles are set up in somewhat the reverse wherein the combatants from both sides position themselves as the 3-D map details subside and morph down into a flatter, more streamlined battleground arena. And all these effects done with such great use of that oh-so-popular photographic effect of tilt-shift focus.

I could go on and on about the differences between these two games but I do thinks it's sad that finally, after all these decades of Civ's hedgemony...

There's a new king on the throne, baby.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Small Changes To ABIR

In the previous post, just published earlier this morning, you'll see I've put together my 7th annual end-of-the-year collage called "A Blog In Review." As always the pics represent selected posts to this blog over the past year broken down by month. Like last year, I've decided to omit labeling the strips by month since I think most people can figure it out...first strip is January, second is February and so on.

A few changes this year...

Not only are there more than four pics per month, but they're larger this year.

They no longer link to the month of posts, they instead do the standard thing when clicked on...they allow you to view the original strip in its larger size. If you want to display the posts of that month to hunt down what each pic represents, simply do so the usual way using the sidebar archive list.

The pictures are also unique this year in that none are from the original post. They may be a different version of a pic used in a post or something else altogether that also represents the post subject matter.

Also, just for fun, I made sure that each person or face in this year's review wasn't smiling. Frowning, sneering or just looking bored, but no smiles. It's not an indictment of the year like saying I hated 2014, on the contrary I thought it was a good year...just thought I'd give myself a challenge in finding similarly expressive photos.

I'm a little early in getting this up this year so there are a couple of pics for December's strip which haven't any posts yet. One of them, the "evil elf" is going up the morning after Christmas Day. That's right, I'm bringing the carnage count back!

By the way, FYI, do you know it took me almost 10 hours to complete this? And I'm using two really simple editors: Irfan View and, gasp, Microsoft Paint. Hey, it's easy, and gets the job done...plus it's free.

SCRAPBOOK: 2014: A Blog In Review

Friday, December 05, 2014

Could It Be...?

So I get a call on my cell a few hours ago and didn't bother getting up to answer it since I could see it was not from someone I knew. But looking at the number closer I realized it looked really odd. It was from phone number 999888777. Huh?

I just finished a search on Google and it pointed to a bunch of "Who Called Me" forum sites. You know, where people bitch and moan over telemarketing/collection calls and the like. Well I'm not the only one who got called by this number. Seems to have been happening over the past week or so to a lot of people. And all seemingly people with phones that have a Florida area code.

Most people report that they, like me, didn't answer it. Some tried to call back but got a service provider recording indicating it was not a valid phone number. Only 9 digits, see? Weird.

Many people state they did answer when it rang and the "person" on the other end either hung up, in most cases, or, others claim, they heard someone speaking an unintelligible language and then the caller hung up.

All I noticed, almost right off the bat, is the very odd sequence of the numbers and, like one of those sequential or differencial IQ test math riddles, what the logical next three numbers would be.


So the next 3 would be?

Like the Church Lady says: "Hmm, well now, who could it be...?

Secret Muhammad Time

At work, the annual Secret Santa exchange is taking place today. Several staff get small gifts for a other staff members who have been chosen from a random draw and deposit the gifts for them in their office or work area. Later at the "Holiday" party next week, each will have the option to play a round-robin swap of their gift with others. Oh what fun, right? And you don't have to be Christian in order to participate...it's just friendly fun.

I stick out among most of the rest of the staff in that I never participate. And until recently, I've never been questioned about this choice. The same one I've made for four years. Now, it seems I'm getting sideways glances from people when I let them know that I am not participating. I haven't said exactly why other than to state that I don't celebrate the "holidays" and leave it at that.

I don't bother explaining because I already know that most people don't "get it" when it comes to being an atheist.

Workplace Secret Santa exchanges sound on the surface secular enough since the company is using "Santa" in the modern American sense as a supposedly secular icon of the "Holiday" season so as not to promote one religion over another.  But all supposedly "good" intentions at inclusiveness aside, lets talk about the facts behind these "politically correct" traditions:

The Santa tradition may well hearken back to Germanic paganism and Odin's Yuletide but today's Kris Kringle is the jolly fat man in the red suit intrinsically tied to Christianity and the celebration of Jesus' birth.

When companies call the December get-together the "Holiday" party, supposedly they are including other "cultural" end-of-year celebrations. But really, they're not. It's Christmas. No matter how you say it. Even Chanukah is seen by most American Christians as a "Jewish Christmas."

This morning, a co-worker, Mary, who's a nice lady and seems genuine asks confused, "So, what do you celebrate?" with her face crunched up slightly. She's subtlety betrayed that she's quite afraid of the potential heresy of my answer. She wouldn't, of course "get it." So I simply, yet honestly say "I don't celebrate anything. I just try to ignore it."

Her look of pity and near-revulsion was just precious.

I would love to see her suddenly and unceremoniously dropped into some alternate universe Fundamentalist Muslim America where corporations have a slightly different version of "Holiday" traditions...

"So Mary, daughter of Allah, are you participating in the Secret Muhammad exchange?"

"Um, well, I'm Christian so I don't celebrate that."

"But we have named the celebration a "Holiday" party so infidels, er, I mean even non-believers feel welcome...and maybe you'll see our mutual joy in the glory of Allah and come to join us? No?"

"I think I'll just try and ignore it."

Wrong answer. Her co-workers just behead her, shriek "Allah Akbar!" and call it a day.