An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
25 July, 2016

So last time, I called it quits on account of fatigue.  This time I’ll try to finish what I started.  Last time, I touched on Brussels and Rock Harz.  That brings us to…

So first of all, let me just say, I fucking love Italy.  Every time I go there, I’m smacked in the face with this feeling of, “Oh, yeah, I could totally fucking live here.”  This time was no different.  I stepped off the plane in Rome, looked around, saw mountains and olive trees, and yup, I could totes fucking live there.  But Rome was just the airport.  That’s not where we were staying.  And I say “we” because this was a group adventure.

The Reader’s Digest version goes like this.  My buddy’s parents rented a magisterial villa in the mountains above Sorrento for a week.  In their infinite generosity, I and several other friends of the children were invited to tag along, there being plenty of space for everybody.  Having all grown up together, it made for a sort of extended-family vacation, so to speak.

To be perfectly honest, at first I was a little iffy as to whether or not I ought to go.  There was a part of me that felt like I had already fucked off to Brussels and the metal festival and as a result was already missing the point of why I’d come here in the first place; namely to hunt down a job and get myself here on a more permanent footing.

However, when I brought this to some close friends in order to take their counsel on the matter, they uniformly looked upon as me though I’d had either several head or perhaps just one truly ugly one.1  “Are you mad?” they asked, independent one of one another?  “You have the chance to go to Italy and stay in a house.  With your friends.  For free.  And all you need to do is buy an airplane ticket?  If you don’t go, you’re a bigger asshole than I thought.”2  I quickly put aside my hesitations and booked the flight.  And this was undoubtedly the right move because…

This place was, and I don’t mean to be crude, but this place was the tits.  There was a Jacuzzi.  There was a pool on the roof.  The view looked out onto the Bay of Naples.  Medieval kings might have had bigger palaces, but we had electricity.  And a sweet kitchen.  And, you know, running water.

Anyway, as you might have already guessed, this was a lovely couple of days.  Wine was drunk by the barrel.3  Casablanca was watched.4  The Jacuzzi was floated in.  Glorious meals were cooked.  Friends were outbehanged with.  All the finer things in life.

And there was an added bonus this time.  Last year, we did the same thing, but in Biarritz (Southwest coast of France).  But last year, I was simply a guest, living off the largesse of my friends’ wonderfully generous parents.  This year, however, I was able to make a meaningful contribution.  They needed to rent a van, in order to accommodate my friends’ mom’s wheelchair.  And this being Europe, the van was naturally of the manual transmission variety.  And so, the only people who could drive it were myself and the father.  Whereupon did I volunteer to offer my services as chauffeur.

And so it was that I found myself shepherding this big old van up and down the narrow mountain roads above Sorrento and through the tight city streets of that city (as well as Naples).  It was harrowing and challenging, but also, in a masochistic sort of way, fun.  Which is not to say I “enjoyed” it.  But it was a pretty cool experience, taken together with the fact that I successfully avoided any kind of collision and kept my embarrassing stalls to a minimum, and largely in places where an experienced driver might nod and say, “yeah, that’s a tough one.”

The point is, when you go to such a luxurious place as somebody’s guest, and partake of the best wine and the best food and are asked for nothing in return, it’s easy to feel like a bit of a deadbeat or hanger-on.  The fact that, this time around at least, I was able to make a contribution, which qualitatively made my hosts’ lives a touch easier, was rather gratifying.  Well, so much for Italy.

Berlin I:
Oh right, the reason I’m here.  When I got back from Italy, I finally settled into my old Airbnb from last year.  I’ll come back to this presently.  But first, two things from the preceding weeks I’d like to touch on.  First, we finally found our metal bar!

Anyone who knows me knows that back home, our go-to metal bar is Duffs, in Brooklyn.  Also known as one of my very favorite place on planet earth.  For years now, I’ve been going there with Vinny and Joschka.5  It’s our metal home.  It’s where we’ve spent so many drunken nights, only to walk over the Williamsburg Bridge to have “breakfast” at Wo Hop.6

So for a long time, Joshcka and I have talked of trying to find “our” metal bar in Berlin.  Well, we finally found it.  I mean, I found it.  But we went together to check it out.  It’s everything we’ve been looking for.  And I found it by accident too.  It happened to be on the way from the Airbnb in P-Berg to Joschka’s house.  When I walked past it, I knew this would be it.  And it was.

When we walked inside, it was dark and Immortal was playing on the PA.  There was a Lemmy signed Rickenbacker on the wall and life-sized Uruk-Hai statues standing ominously in the shadows.  The tall, hot, skinny, red-headed bartender spoke something like 6 languages.  They had good scotch.  It was Duffs’ German doppelgänger.  Praise be to the Blackland Metal Rock Pub!  #Amen

The other thing I wanted to mention was that I found a Jewish bookstore.

*Flashback* Several months ago, I read a book called “Yiddish, a Nation of Words.”  Yiddish has always been in the background of my life.  Truthfully, I didn’t even realize how much so until I started learning German.  Then, all of a sudden, things I’d been hearing my whole life started to make sense.  Anyway, something happened when I read this book.  It woke in me an interest and curiosity about the language of my ancestors.  A language, which btw, was largely dumped when people started coming to America.7

And so, being a ‘language guy,’ all of a sudden, Yiddish jumped up my list of languages I needed to learn.  But there was something more than that.  And I hesitate to write this, because I suspect it’s going to sound…I don’t know what the word I’m looking for is.  There’s probably a Yiddish word.  I think I’m going to sound like an asshole here.  But I’m gonna write it anyway.

I feel a certain sense of responsibility.  See, Yiddish was for a long time the lingua franca of the Ashkenazi Jews.  Although it is essentially a dialect of German with a bunch of Hebrew sprinkled in,8 it was spoken all over Europe and eastwards throughout Russia.  I say “was,” because The War changed all that.  Not to put to fine a point on it, but the Yiddish speaking population of Europe was exterminated, or at best, expulsed.  With the foundation of Israel, Yiddish was consciously pushed aside – a relic of a humiliating past – in favor of the strong, muscular, ancient and sacred Hebrew.

Which brings me back to my overdeveloped – and probably obnoxious – sense of ‘responsibility.’  In the same way that we want to see Buffalo roaming freely once more over the plains of America, I want to see Yiddish cling to life, grow stronger, take its place, in its ancestral home.  I was beginning to have fanciful ideas of sprinkling Yiddishims into my German.  Afterall, Yiddish is basically German, and even if it was going to sound “wrong” to German ears, I knew people would understand it.  So I was going to be a Jew in Germany.  And I wanted to do my part to bring back מאמע לאשן, mama loshen.

*End Flashback* So I found a Jewish bookstore in Berlin, and the website said they had at least a few Yiddish books.  I had to check this out.  And so I did.  What I found was perhaps a little – but not entirely – disappointing.  I was, maybe, hoping to find some Sholem Aleichem.  And indeed they had some.  Translated into German.  Damn.

But I did pick up a book of children’s stories, written in the 20’s and/or 30’s in proper Yiddish and yet also with a German translation in the back/front.9  So this is another of my new ongoing projects.  First of all, obviously, I need to simply get good at reading the language phonetically.  That will come with practice and exposure.  But I’m hoping that between my knowledge of German and my ongoing Hebrew studies, I’ll be able to read it well enough to get the gist and learn something along the way.  Of course, at some point I’ll require some actual instruction, be it from meetups, classes or books.  But being able to tap into this on any level right now, connecting with my roots, it’s exciting.  And if I can in any way do something, anything, to reclaim what was violently stolen from me, from my people, so much the better.  Yeah, like I said, I probably sound like an asshole.  So much for Yiddish.

Berlin II:
So here I am, back in Berlin, back in the same Airbnb where I spent two wonderful months last summer.  And I’m positively delighted to be back here.  I don’t know what else to say, other than that it simply feels like home.  My hosts/roommates are fantastic.  To wit:

On my first night back, they made me a welcome dinner.10  And the pretty girl from upstairs was there too.  The food was great.  The company was great.  I was able to keep my head above water, German-wise.  Yadda Yadda.  I’m not doing a good job of capturing the sentiment here.

I hadn’t seen these guys in about a year.  And yet, they were clearly happy to have me back.  How do you express how that makes you feel?  They made a special meal, they poured me endless wine.  We all sat around the table hanging out, eating, drinking, smoking.  I brought them a bottle of limoncello from Sorrento, and so we naturally had a schnapps together.  They didn’t have to do any of this.  They wanted to.  And I was so glad of it.  I’m only here until the end of August.  But I know, for as long as I’m here, I’m in the right place.

And the location is great.  Since I’ve been here, I’ve spent afternoons in my old ‘secret garden’ (Körner Park) reading with a beer.  I went exploring to the South, where there are trees and parks and cute, pretty little houses.  I’ve eaten impossibly cheap yet impossibly good Turkish food.  While it’s true that there are whole swaths of Berlin that I haven’t yet seen, nevertheless, Neukölln is my ‘hood.  I feel about this part of town the way I felt about Chinatown.  There are things about it that are kinda gross.  But man, I f’ing love living here.

Berlin III:
One last thing, and I’ll try to keep this short.  Saturday was Pride Day here in Berlin.  Only they don’t call it Pride Day.  They call it Christopher Street Day.  Which is awesome.  Not only for the obvious reasons, but just as a New Yorker.  Like, yeah, we kinda are the center of the universe, ain’t we?  All these people celebrating CSD.  That’s my Heimatstadt, bitches!

Anja did herself up as Amy Winehouse for the festivities.  But both her and Mischa also donned Bavarian-style dress, in solidarity with Munich after Friday’s bullshit.  I thought that was pretty fucking solid.  Anyway, they went on together, to make a day of it.  I went a bit later by myself, simply to check it out.

What a sight.  Here’s my overriding impression.  I came out the train out the train at Brandenburger Tor.  And all you see is happy fucking people.  People celebrating, dancing, drinking, having a good time, loving life.  Straight, gay, queer, trans – people from every point on the spectrum.  And all they’re doing is being happy together.  You look at Trump and all the garbage that floats in his wake.  All the hate.  And how?  Why?  How ruined a person do you have to be to look at something like this and feel hate?

By way of a coda, there was a lady giving out rainbow Israeli flags.  I don’t know the politics behind it, I don’t know the “cause” or the reason.  But man, lemme tell you.  If there are gay Jews openly celebrating in the heart of Berlin, well, that is some kind of win.  Baruch HaShem.

  1. Quiet down, you! []
  2. Knowing well the extent to which mine own dear friends consider me an ‘asshole,’ this was really saying something. []
  3. Or would have been, had we been able to secure whole barrels of wine. []
  4. I’d never seen it before.  (IKR?) []
  5. At some point, Niki too became part of the Duffs family, despite not being any kind of fan of metal. []
  6. Where I would proceed to drink tea by the potful. []
  7. I once asked my Great Uncle Art if his parents spoke Yiddish.  His answer: “My father didn’t speak Yiddish.  He always said, ‘If somebody spoke to me in Yiddish, I would answer in Yiddish.  But I’m an American.  I speak English.’”  Noble, perhaps.  But that’s how you lose a language, people. []
  8. And also a greater or lesser degree of Slavic derived lexemes depending on where it was being spoken. []
  9. When a book is in both Yiddish and German, which is the front and which is the back? []
  10. The main course was lasagna.  Now, anybody who knows me knows I’m lactose intolerant.  Well, these people know me.  Mischa told me he went out of his way to find lactose-free whatever he need.  I mean, wow.  All the feels. []

An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
21 July, 2016

Although I left New York on June 28, it’s really only now that I finally feel like I’m properly back in Berlin.  Until yesterday, in fact, I felt like I’d been everywhere but Berlin.  I was two nights in Brussels, four nights at a metal festival in the middle of nowhere and three nights in Italy.  Sandwiched between those adventures, I was two nights at Joschka’s place, three nights at an Easy[jet] Hotel down the block from Joschka and five nights at an Airbnb in Prenzlauerberg.  To put it another way, it’s only today that I’ve finally unpacked my suitcase.

My foregoing adventures may well each deserve a journal entry of their own.  Unfortunately, my laptop did not accompany me on any of them, nor did I seek out the time to journal through them by hand.  When I was accustomed to travelling alone, I always made time each day to put down my thoughts and impressions in a little notebook.  That, along with my pipe and a beer/wine, was always a nice way to end the day.

These days, though, my adventures seem always to be undertaken in the company of others.  In this case, it was Brussels with Charlotte; Rock Harz (the metal festival) with a gang of twenty or so; Italy with the Morgensterns and entourage.  Thus does it seem rather a bit futile to try and recapture those experiences in any meaningful kind of way.  And yet I find that some measure of record is called for.  The records shall be brief and episodic.

This was a birthday gift from Charlotte, believe it or not.  She bought me a round-trip flight from Berlin and took care of the Airbnb to boot.  As birthday presents go, this was a winner.  I found the city itself to be small but charming.  Our accommodations were lovely, however.  We stayed in a rustic old apartment, smack in the middle of the city.  We saw some sights, chief among which was the Atomium, a giant model of an atom left over from an old World’s Fair.  This consists of a series of aluminum spheres connected by metal shafts.  From the topmost sphere one has a panoramic view of the entire city and its surroundings.  The other spheres housed historical or artistic exhibits.  The connecting shafts had escalators running through their dark interiors with colored beams of light for illumination.  I felt a bit like Scotty, climbing through a Jeffry’s Tube or a warp nacelle.  It was, I think, the sort of thing that passed for “space age” back in the day.  A bit gimmicky, yes, but cool all the same.

Two other structures stood out, in terms of architecture.  One, of course, was that staple of any major European city, the gothic cathedral.  Like all gothic cathedrals, it gave the double effect of “seen one, seen ‘em all,” and yet feeling entirely unique.  When we walked in, we were greeted by some pretty impressive organ music.  This meant, of course, that there was a service going on.  As a result, we weren’t able to fully explore the cathedral, but it was still pretty cool.

The other building of note was the palais de justice.  This structure was absolutely enormous.  In fact, it seems to be one of the biggest structures built anywhere in the world during the 19th century.  Despite large portions of it being covered in scaffolding, it was nevertheless quite awe inspiring.  Sitting, as it does, atop an almost sort of cliff face, it has a way of towering over the rest of the city.

As lovely as Brussels was, however, the highlight was simply getting to spend time with Charlotte, whom I had not seen since she left New York in December.  We spent our evenings drinking Belgian beer, singing songs with the guitar and playing dice games.  The days were spent wandering the city, eating fries (and other Belgian food) and of course drinking Belgian beer.  And as for that beer, while I can see its attraction, it is probably not my favorite.  The flavors are deep and rich, of course.  But they are so heavy, that each one is like a meal.  And in the summer heat, I find they offer little refreshment.

All in all, it was a wonderful weekend.  I was delighted to see my dear friend again, and to see that we still travel together with all the ease and comfort in the world.  It is hard to imagine a better companion for the road.  On the way to the airport, we started a list of other places we would like to visit.  Time will tell how many of them we shall have the good fortune of getting to.

Rock Harz:
What can you say about camping out for four days with twenty crazy Germans?  It is, quite possibly, the most fun one can have in a year.  Certainly many of our party feel it is the annual highlight.  It is, however, also the most exhausting four days of the year.  And here, perhaps more than anywhere else, I am confronted with the limits imposed by my aging body.  I simply cannot drink as hard as I used to.

Vinny was able to make the trip again this year, and it is a great comfort to have a like-minded English speaker along.  We went to the field to check out some bands and made some happy discoveries along the way.  Back at the camp it was a lot of partying and napping; though for me, napping probably outweighed partying; at least during the day.

At night, I would break out the guitar.  For me, this is simply a bit of catharsis and relaxation.  But the gang do see to love it.  Mostly I play Irish folk songs for them, while sprinkling in as many German songs as I can muster.  This year, the highlight was absolutely Zehn Kleine Jägermester by Die Toten Hosen.  I knew this was a big hit back in the late 90’s, but I didn’t know if it would fly with this crowd.  Die Toten Hosen are a punk band, and we are a metal people.  But as soon as I started playing, every last one of them was singing along.  I’d never had that happen before and it was so much fun!

Well, the next thing should be Italy, to say nothing of Berlin.  But I find I’m quite exhausted now, and so I think I will end here.  Time permitting, I will pick this up again tomorrow.  Until then…

The Adventures of Col. Starrkin (ret.) #6

The Adventures of Col. Starrkin (ret.) #61
A Vaguely Star-Wars-ish Kinda Thing
Mostly for Dale

Colonel Starrkin was meeting with The General. Meanwhile, Micky, Nick and Reg were relaxing in the lounge with Tony. After offering his guests a drink, Tony pulled four glass bottles from the refrigerator and passed three of them around. As Mick opened his, a hiss escaped from the bottle and bubbles zoomed to the top.

“What’s all this then?” he asked. “Some kind of clear beer?”

“No, I’m afraid not,” answered Tony. “Unfortunately, The General doesn’t approve of alcohol on base. No,” he said as he unscrewed the top of his own bottle, “it’s a special drink brewed exclusively by the Muun. It’s called ‘Selzter’. It’s quite refreshing,” he added as he took a sip.

“Hey, this isn’t bad!” exclaimed Reg, following suit.

“Not bad a’tall,” agreed Nick.

“I’m glad you like it,” answered Tony with a smile. “Indeed, it pairs quite well with the pickled gherkins made by the Toydarians.”

“Pickled what?” asked Mick.

“Who are the Toydarians?” asked Nick.

But before Tony could answer, the door to the lounge shshed open. Roger and Spliff entered, followed closely by a young blonde officer whom the newcomers hadn’t seen before. In contrast to those they’d already met, who wore khaki shorts and V-neck T-shirts, this young blonde officer was dressed in formal Imperial Officer-Wear™.2

As Mick, Nick and Reg stared at the newcomer, Roger idled over to the couch where Tony was seated and eased himself down. Spliff spoke.

“Gentlemen, allow me to introduce Sergeant Huxtable. He has a brief presentation he would like to share with us.” At this, Mick called out.

“Huxtable? Like the bloke what drugged all those actresses so’s ‘e could shag ‘em whiles they was passed out?”

“No relation, thankfully,” said the blonde man stiffly. “But do please call me Hux.”

“’Ave it your way, mate,” responded Mick.

“Indeed,” said Hux as stiffly as before, his hands clasped behind his back. Spliff now also took a seat on the couch.

“Can I offer you a seltzer,” asked Tony politely.

“No, thank you,” said Hux coldly. And then, almost needlessly, he added, “I don’t drink Muun sludge.”

At this remark, Nick and Reg shifted uncomfortably, making eye-contact which bespoke their discomfort at such thinly veiled racism.

“Bet you’re ‘appy to bank wif ‘em tho’,” muttered Mick under his breath.

“Better not ask him if he wants a pickle, eh?” whispered Roger to Tony, elbowing him in the ribs. But Sergeant Huxtable seemed not hear any of this. Or, alternatively, having heard it but whishing to appear as though he hadn’t, he raised a fist to his mouth and coughed. His audience fell silent. He looked about the room with cold, hard eyes.3 Then, reclasping his hands behind his back, he began to speak.

“Gentelmen,” he addressed them boldly, dramatically, “the days of the Empire are over. The galaxy is on the verge of a grand reorganization. The strong will band together to take what they want. They weak will huddle together to keep what they can. It is my fervent wish that you will join me on the side of the strong.”

“I’m going to have to stop you right there, mate,” called out Reg.

“And what is your name, pilot?”

“It’s Reg, sir.”

“Very well, Reg. Have your say.” Huxtable was smiling coldly.

“You say the Empire is over. But ‘ere you are at an Imperial outpost, and wearing an Imperial uniform no less. So from where I’m sitting – and I’m no politician, mind you – but from where I’m sitting, the Empire is still very much a going concern.”

“Well of course it appears that way at the moment,” said Hux calmly. “But that’s just a façade. The Empire is crumbling from within, daily growing weaker.”

“You say that, mate,” cut in Mick, “but where’s the evidence?”

“And you are?”

“I’m called Mick, sir.”

“Mick. Yes.” Huxtable smiled in a way that made Mick’s skin crawl. “But you see, Mick, appearances can be deceiving. Although the Emperor is dead, and Lord Vader with him; although Death Star II has been destroyed – “

“But that completely contradicts your argument,” interrupted Roger, whose remarks caught the cold glare of the blonde sergeant. “I’m Roger, by the by. But if your argument is that the Empire is crumbling from the inside beneath a façade of strength, well, you completely contradict that by citing the downfall of leadership and the loss of key visible military assets, don’t you? I mean, if your initial argument is to be believed, then we’d expect to see something like an impotent figurehead leading a fragmented planetary polity, wouldn’t we?

Sergeant Huxtable blinked repeatedly.   At last, he spoke again.

“Allow me to clarify my position. Despite these key and visible losses, as you say, it appears for the moment that the reach and strength of the Empire is nonetheless intact. However, this is pure inertia and bureaucracy, the two weakest forces in galactic politics. Without strong leadership, the Empire will fracture.”

“I’m going to have to disagree with you, Sergeant Huxtable,” said Mick.

“Please, call me Hux.”

“Alright, Hux,” went on Mick, “It’s precisely inertia and bureaucracy what’s held the Empire together all these years. I mean, how else do you explain a system wide perpetual video rental system?”

“And not even a very good video rental system at that!” added Roger.

“Gentelmen,” said Huxtable, working hard to cover his growing exasperation. “Video rental hardly enters into it. We are talking today about the great political question of our day!”

“That’s just like you inner-system types,” said Roger. “You’re always talking about elitist things like ‘the big picture’ and ‘great political questions.’ But what about Main Street, eh? What about the little guy? Because from where I stand, it seems to me that no matter who’s in charge, my videos are never going to get ‘ere on time.”

“Look, Reg,” tried the Sergeant.


“Look, Rog,” said Hux with an audible sigh.

“I’m Reg,” said Reg. “’E’s Rog.”

“Yes,” blinked the Sergeant before trying again. “Look Rog, try to see beyond your own limited borders.”

“So now we’re just dumb provincials, clinging to blasters and video rentals. Is that it?” asked Tony hotly.

“That’s not what I…” stammered Huxtable. He could sense he was losing the room. He looked plaintively in the direction of Spliff, who had introduced him. Spliff, whether because he actually believed in the Sergeant’s message or because he didn’t want to lose face for having introduced the man, tried to cut in.

“Gentlemen, Sergeant Huxtable – “

“-Just Hux-“

“Sergeant Hux has come a long way to speak with us. Let’s at least show him the courtesy of hearing him out.” Upon which he went around the room making eye contact with each of the men. For a moment, there was a bit of grumbling, but at last they quieted down. Spliff turned once more to the Sergeant. “Please continue.” Huxtable nodded politely before going on.

“Let me begin again. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, the galaxy is on the verge of a grand re-organization. Already there are moves to re-establish a successor Senate. Indeed this has the military backing of the Rebel Alliance. No doubt they will draw a fair number of weaker systems to themselves, hoping to find strength in numbers.”

“And at least some portion of the Imperial fleet, I should think.” This was Mick. “I mean, surely there are Task Force commanders sympathetic to home worlds that would join up with such a Republic. We should assume therefore, that they would take their Star Destroyers and various escort vessels with them, shouldn’t we? I mean, if such a Senate were to be established, surely they’d need the backing of far more than a handful of X-Wing squadrons and a few Mon-Cal cruisers, wouldn’t they?”

“I warrant Mick is right, Doctor Huxtable,” followed up Reg.

“I’m not even a doctor,” sighed the Sergeant. “And please, call me Hux!”

“Six of one, am I right, gov?” came back Reg playfully. Hux was not amused. Reg went on. “Still, Mick ‘as a point, don’t ‘e? I mean, successful as the Rebels were at taking out isolated targets – even targets as powerful as the Death Stars – these were little more than PR scores if you think about it. After all, it’s one thing to take out a single space station, it’s another thing to enforce order on a galactic or even multi-system scale. They just don’t ‘ave the numbers. You see where I’m going with this, yeah?”

Hux raised a Starrkinesque eyebrow. Reg continued. “All’s I’m sayin’ is, without the defection of a significant number of Star Destroyer task forces, this new hypothetical Senate simply won’t have the military backing to establish itself in opposition to whatever New Order you’re proposing.”

“And you are proposing some sort of New Order, ain’t ya?” Now it was Nick’s turn. “I mean, you’d need to be able to knit together a whole slew of worlds over a panoply of star systems under one government for this to be of any import. Otherwise your New Order is just a small-time regional warlordship, innit?” He looked at Hux who was now shifting his weight uncomfortably from one foot to another.

“So really, if I’m reading this correctly,” said Reg, picking up where Nick left off, “what you’re saying is, you mean to establish your group at the top of the existing Imperial bureaucracy while simultaneously taking over the majority of Imperial resources – including shipyards, research facilities and who knows what else – in order to establish some sort of “new” order, which will ultimately be little more than a successor state to the once proud Empire to which we all have devoted our lives, fortunes and sacred honors already.” Reg paused for effect. “Well, sir. That’s all well and good. But I took an oath to serve his Majesty the Emperor. And with him being dead and all – and I think I speak for my comrades here – if you can show us a new emperor, by which of course I mean a valid successor to the last His Majesty and one whose own values are consistent with those we all hold dear, to say nothing of having the military backing to support his claim, well…I reckon we’d be with ya.”

At this, Sergeant Huxtable was nothing short of astonished. His mission to convert these men and their little outpost to his cause had nearly disintegrated under his very nose. And yet, by simply keeping his mouth shut, these same men had very nearly talked themselves round to joining him and his cause. All he needed to do now, he reasoned, was to seal the deal. And so it was that a slim, firm, creepy – and even almost slimy – smile crept upon the lips of one blonde Sergeant Huxtable. And behind this smile, he gathered his wit, his wisdom, his oratorical training and his own intangible charisma to make one final push.

“Gentlemen,” he began. “Comrades, if may be so bold. I have discerned in you a wisdom and a clarity of thought which bespeaks your great and inestimable value to whatever cause you should pledge yourselves. And so, I shall speak plainly with you. You have discerned aright. There are many who would claim successorship to His Majesty the Emperor. But our leader is the True Successor. Not only is he great and mighty in conventional terms, yet also is he strong in the Force. He alone has the power to gather unto himself what is left of the Empire, and to unite these uncertain factions in a New Order. But that is not all. No! In addition to our Great Leader, we have already begun construction of a new weapon, a weapon greater than any that has yet been known in our galaxy. When it is complete – and yes, it’s completion will take many years – there will be none who can stand in our way. Therefore I ask you. Nay, I do not ask. I offer. For with a full understanding of our cause and of our power, no asking shall be needed. I offer you the chance to join us. I offer you the chance to be a part of the power that will rule this galaxy for the next thousand years!”

The impact of these words, and the passion in which they were spoken, had a profound effect upon the room. The hearts of the newcomers were riven just as much as the hearts of those who had inhabited that lonely outpost for years. Had Sergeant Hux simply stopped there and asked for their signatures, they would have signed on to the cause with hardly a thought. But feeling flush with demagogic prowess, he decided on one final, fateful push.

“Comrades,” he said proudly, “for I now dare to call you thus. Our very way of life is under threat. Through generations of cloning and eugenics, His Majesty the Emperor has brought to bear upon this galaxy, at last, a race of strength and of wisdom and of, I daresay, greatness. But these are difficult times. And we are threatened by impurity and weakness at every turn. We have but two choices. We can band together and secure the supremacy of our race as masters of the galaxy, or we can give in to weakness and allow the impure to dilute our strength. And so I call upon you now to join us. And with our mega-weapon, we will not merely subdue our enemies, we will destroy them! We shall take their lands and make them our own. We shall take their men and make them our slaves. We shall take their women and make them our concubines. We shall take their children and put an end to them. Under the guidance of our Great Leader, we shall establish a new Empire, A New Order, indeed the very First Order of the galaxy. And we shall take our rightful place as rulers of this galaxy and build a Realm to last a thousand years!”

By the conclusion of these remarks, sweat was pouring from the brow of Sergeant Huxtable. His hands were waving in a mania of twisted delight. And behind his eyes burned the fire of a thousand suns. But for all this, he missed his mark. The room was silent; not so much in awed rapture as in creepy awkwardness. Reg looked at Mick. Mick looked at Nick. Tony looked at Roger. Roger looked at Spliff. Spliff’s cheeks burned red with shame at having introduced this odd, blonde, little man. Finally, Mick rose to his feet and spoke.

“Err,” he began clumsily. “We were with ya, mate, we really were. But this last bit. I mean, where to begin? First of all, it sounds like your entire plan hinges on the construction of yet another Death Star. And honestly? Maybe it’s time to try something else. I mean, apart from the fantastic waste of resources – which, I think we can all agree, have been epic – they’ve simply been ineffectual. Right, so the first Death Star destroyed Alderaan. And where did that get us? Lit’rally nowhere. As for the second Death Star, well that never even destroyed a single planet! And both were taken out by the Alliance with appallingly little difficulty. Therefore I must conclude that any strategy based upon such a weapon not only demonstrates a failure to learn from past mistakes, but indeed is evidence of a general lack of creativity.” Mick rubbed his eyes. “As for the rest of your statement, I think I’ll let Reg take over.” Mick sat down and Reg stood in turn and began to speak.

“Look, Hux, I’ll be straight with ya, mate. I find your talk of racial purity and so forth to be highly offensive, to say nothing of closed-minded and ignorant. And honestly, sir, I don’t know where you get your ideas. One can argue for the expediency of a clone-based military, but nowhere in Imperial literature have I ever seen a racial argument such as you’ve just now put forth. Love the Emperor or hate him, there’s simply nothing to support your claim that his Empire was in any way a racial campaign. But even all that aside, racial ‘purity’ on the order of which you speak opens yourselves to a targeted viral attack or any other narrowly specific genomic weapon. There is strength in diversity, Sergeant Huxtable, not in ‘purity.’”

As Hux stood there listening to this, his cheeks were burning red, not with embarrassment, but with rage. He spoke now in rising torrents of hate, his voice reaching an almost wretched squeal.

“I should have known! To come here and find you drinking that Muun filth, I should have known. The First Order will be stronger without you! We will destroy you before the end, and we will be triumphant in final victory!” With that, he clicked his heels sharply and stormed out of the room.

As the door shshed shut behind him, all eyes were on Spliff who was trying his best to disappear into the couch cushions. Finally, Tony spoke.

“Spliff, mate, what the Wampa’s Whatsit was that?”

“Err, I’m really sorry, lads.” Spliff was shaking his head. “I had no idea it was going to be like that. I thought it was going to be some sort of Union presentation, that’s all. Honestly. With the Emperor being dead and all, I thought he might be able to answer our questions about health benefits, retirement plans and all that.” He sighed. “Boy was I ever wrong.”

“What ever gave you that idea?” asked Reg scornfully. At this, Spliff made no verbal answer, but rather abashedly pushed a small folded leaflet towards his interlocutor. On the cover were the words “The First Order: Time to Think About Your Future in the Galaxy.”

Tune in next time4 for the continued5 adventures of Col. Starrkin (ret.)…

  1. I’ve decided to give Episode 5 a miss for the time being. The story still needs to be told, and it will need to slot in after Episode 4 but before this next bit. So we’ll just leave 5 open as a place-holder for now and come back to it later. []
  2. Though his rank of sergeant precluded him from the all-coveted riding pants. []
  3. That is, Huxtable’s eyes were cold and hard, not the room’s. This should, of course, be clear from context. But syntactically, it could go either way. And so rather than rewrite the sentence, I’ve decided to simply add this exegetical footnote. [Author’s note] []
  4. Or, in this case, last time. []
  5. Or, better, “ongoing.” []

The Adventures of Col. Starrkin (ret.) #4

The Adventures of Col. Starrkin (ret.) #4
A Vaguely Star-Wars-ish Kinda Thing
Mostly for Dale

The little outpost sat upon a large asteroid. The large asteroid hung listlessly in a sea of smaller asteroids. The sea of asteroids was minding its own business on the fringes of the Outer Rim of The Galaxy. In contrast, the Outer Rim of The Galaxy scarcely had any business to mind. So, thought Colonel Starrkin as he and his three wingmen approached the lonely outpost sitting upon the large asteroid, this is where they’ve sent us. Not even a proper bloody planet. Not even a moon. Just a lonely little outpost in some forgotten asteroid field. He shook his head forlornly. Well, that’s politics for you.

The four spacecraft formed up to land. The Colonel’s TIE Advanced was in the lead position. The three Interceptors followed close behind. Starrkin switched on his intercom.

“Colonel Starrkin to Imperial Outpost number 7-4-2-6-7-3-Alpha-Charlie-Tango, requesting permission to land. Over.” For a moment there was nothing but silence; then a click as a rather bored sounding voice filled his earpiece.

“Lonely Outpost to Starrkin. Bring ‘em in, chief.” The com clicked off. Colonel Starrkin waited in awkward silence. The bored voice spoke again, this time with a hint of annoyance. “Do you copy, Colonel? I said, bring ‘em in.” Underneath his flight helmet, Colonel Starrkin raised his left eyebrow.1

“Err, yes, I copied.” He paused awkwardly. “But you didn’t say ‘over,’ so I wasn’t sure you were done speaking. Over.”

“Well, you heard me click off, didn’t you?” There was no longer any boredom in the voice, just annoyance.

“I suppose I did, yes,” said the Colonel. No answer. “I’m sorry,” he said with a hint of confusion. “This is Imperial Outpost 7-4-2-6-7-3-Alpha-Charlie-Tango, is it not? Over.”

“Well it’s certainly not Jabba the Hut’s Pleasure Palace, is it? Check your coordinates, chief. You’re in the right place.” The com clicked off again. The Colonel waited in awkward silence once more. The com clicked back on. “Ugh. OVER.”

“This guy’s a regular Dagoh Bah Bah Blacksheep,2” came Reg’s voice over the ship-to-ship. Starrkin ignored this remark.

“Indeed,” replied the Colonel to the space-traffic controller. “It’s just that you identified yourself as ‘Lonely Outpost.’ Over.” As he clicked off, he could swear he heard laughter in the background.

“Oh, that,” said the space-traffic controller. “Well it’s a lot easier to say ‘Lonely Outpost’ than ‘Imperial Outpost number 7-4-2-6-7-3-Alpha-Charlie-Tango,’ innit?” This time the Colonel sighed audibly into his mouthpiece. Hearing this, the controller spoke again. “Look mate, out here we don’t say ‘over’ every time we’re done speaking. You’d best get used to it.” The Colonel noticed that the controller had yet to call him ‘sir.’ He was about to say something about this, but then thought better of it.

“Very well, Lonely Outpost,” answered the Colonel. “Beginning our approach. Over.” Colonel Starrkin considered himself to be a highly adaptable sort of fellow. But old habits die hard, as they say, and he wasn’t ready to give up his ‘over’s just yet. He waited a moment for confirmation. But when it didn’t come after a few seconds, he decided it never would. He switched on his ship-to-ship.

“Alright, gentlemen, let’s form up for landing.” He checked his scope and found that his wingmen had already anticipated his order.

“They’re a silly lot, ain’t they,” said Micky.

“I’ll say,” agreed Nick.

“Bloody provincials,” added Reg for good measure.

Colonel Starrkin would have reprimanded this sort of chatter. At least, he would have done, were he not already thinking the same thing. As the four little fighters began their approach, the sight that greeted them was something altogether new. On the asteroid was a little ramshackle structure which they took to be the Outpost proper. Beside it, scratched into the rocky surface, was a small landing strip. And lining the landing strip were two-dozen spacecraft. Nothing about this was unusual. Except, that is, for the fact that none of the ships were of Imperial make, save a single Lambda class shuttle.

“Colonel, you sure this is the right place, sir?” asked Reg.

“You heard my communication with flight control, pilot.” The Colonel didn’t want to make any definitive answers, mostly because he had no definitive answers to give at the moment. “Alright, gentlemen,” he added. “Let’s make this look good. Let’s show them how it’s done.” With that, the four little fighters executed a textbook landing that would have impressed even the most seasoned of pilots. Once safely on the ground, they hopped out of their ships and looked around. Only, the thing they were looking around for was nowhere to be seen. Specifically, nobody was there to greet them. They all four looked at each other. And though their faces were all hidden behind their flight helmets, the three wingmen knew instinctively that the Colonel was arching an eyebrow. Though which eyebrow he was arching was a matter of not a little interest to them. For they had lately begun to place bets on this matter.

With a wave his hand, the Colonel began to make his way towards the ramshackle structure. The others shrugged collectively and followed. In a moment, they were standing before the door. Nothing happened. The Colonel looked around for a buzzer or a bell. Finally, he spotted something buzzer-sized. This buzzer-sized object was, honestly, shaped exactly like Darth Vader’s helmet. Hesitantly, he pushed on it. Nothing happened. He pushed on it again. Nothing happened again. Then, after a long pause, a little video screen located just beside it lit up. In the center of the screen was an image of a man, sitting behind a desk. The right half of another man could be seen to the left the center man.

“Whozit?” asked the center man.

“Who do you bloody think it is?” asked the other man, leaning further into the picture.

“How in the salt mines of Kessel should I know?” said the first.

“Well it’s obviously the bloody Colonel what just landed,” said the second. “Who else would it be?” he added rhetorically.

“Could be the postman,” answered the first, missing the fact that the question had been rhetorical.

“The postman?!” screeched the second. “Four fighters show up requesting permission to land and you think it’s the bleedin’ postman?”

“Well, it’s just that I ordered a few videos for rental last month, and I was hoping maybe they’d finally shown up is all.”

“Nobody gives a Hut’s left tit about your bloody video rentals, Roger,” said a voice off-screen.

“Nobody bloody asked you, Tony,” yelled Roger over his shoulder. Then he turned back to face the video screen. “So are you the postman or the Colonel then?”

“Colonel Starrkin, reporting for duty,” said the Colonel as professionally as he could. The man in the screen looked disappointed.

“That’s just the way, innit?” said Roger. “You order a video and it never bloody comes, does it? I mean, what good is all this bureaucracy if you can’t even get your soddin’ videos on time? What am I even paying taxes for? Coruscant is more than happy to garnish your wages for Imperial dues, but when it comes time to serve the little guy – “ he was cut off by the second man leaning into the screen and speaking into the monitor.

“Don’t mind ‘im, mate,” said the man. “’Is girl left ‘im for a Corellian smuggler, she did, and now all ‘e’s got to look forward to are his blasted video rentals.” At this, Reg elbowed Nick in the ribs. “But what am I saying? Do come in. Come in!” And reaching over Roger, the second man pushed a button which simultaneously opened the door and shut off the video screen. The four men entered through the door and into an airlock.

The four men stood and looked at each other awkwardly as they waited for the airlock to decompress. When a large indicator light finally flashed green, they removed their flight helmets and held them in the crook of their arms liked the seasoned veterans they were. Micky was the first to speak.

“I’ve seen womprats with more sense than this lot,” he said.

“They’re like bloody jawas without the hoods,” added Nick.

“Or like tall, skinny Ewoks,” offered Reg.

Colonel Starrkin facepalmed. At that moment, the inner door shshed open. The second man from the video screen stood before them. He was wearing khaki shorts and a cotton T-shirt with his rank insignia printed near the v-neck collar.

“Sorry ‘bout all that,” he offered apologetically. “Right this way, please. The General will want to see you right away, Colonel. As for your men,” he said, gesturing in their general direction, “they’re welcome to relax in the video lounge. I’m afraid we don’t have anything current. But we do have Dagoh Bah Bah Blacksheep’s comedy special from the Emperor’s Silver Jubilee.” He paused. “And a couple o’ skin flicks, if that’s your fancy.” He winked at the pilots in a way that made each of them slightly uncomfortable. “Follow me.” And he walked off, not bothering to see if his new charges were actually following him. And for a moment they didn’t. But soon enough they were hurrying to catch up. After a left turn, then a right turn, and then a bit of straight, they found themselves in the space-traffic control center. Their docent gestured towards a man sitting dejectedly at a desk. “You’ve already met Roger,” he said with a roll of his eyes. Roger looked up and nodded at them, unaware, apparently, that he should have been at least somewhat embarrassed. “And that’s Tony,” he said pointing to a man in the back of the room. Tony waved, but didn’t look up.

“And who are you, corporal?” asked Colonel Starrkin.

“Oh, how thoughtless of me,” said the man. “I’m Spliff, begging your pardon, Colonel.”

“Spliff?” belched Reg. “What, were your parents hippies then?”

“Reg!” hissed Colonel Starrkin.

“Oh, it’s quite alright, sir,” said Spliff. “I get that all the time. But no, it’s short for Spliffander. Me old dad’s name was Spander, you see. And me granddad’s name was Liffim.3 So they just mashed up ‘em up for me, my parents did, and here I am. Spliffander, at your service. Bit of a portmanteau, if you will.”

“Port-man-what?” asked Micky.

“Tony, will you show the new pilots to the video lounge?” called Spliff, ignoring the question. For a moment, Tony seemed not to move. Then, grudgingly, he got out of his chair and hobbled over.

“Right this way, lads,” he said, waving them on to follow him out of the room. With that, he hobbled slowly away. Reg, Micky and Nick looked at each other before following, walking at half speed to keep pace with their lame leader. Colonel Starrkin looked after them, arching his right eyebrow briefly before self-consciously switching to his left. Noting this, Spliff offered an explanation.

“’E wasn’t always like that, you know.”

“How’s that again?” said the Colonel, trying to sound nonchalant.

“’Is leg, sir. I saw you lookin’ at ‘im,” said Spliff deferentially. “What ‘appened was, ‘e was stationed at the base what the rebels stole the first Death Star plans from. ‘Ad his leg shot out from under ‘im, ‘e did. Tell ya what, though. ‘E killed many Bothans on that day. A real hero of the Empire, ‘e is, and there’ ain’t no mistake.”

“Indeed,” was all Colonel Starrkin could think to say.

“Yes, well.” Spliff was overtly disappointed that the Colonel was not more impressed by this. “Right then. The General will be wantin’ to see you, sir.” He turned and started to walk out of the room. “If you’ll follow me, sir,” he called over his shoulder. And so, Colonel Starrkin followed him out of the room, off to meet The General.

Tune in to the next installment of The Adventures of Col. Starrkin (ret.)
Wherein the Colonel meets The General…

  1. He’d been practicing with his left lately. The reason for this being that he had begun to feel his right eyebrow was outpacing the left in strength, due to all the recent archings he’d put it through, and he’d begun to feel a tad bit worried that it was giving his face a bit of a lopsided look. []
  2. Dagoh Bah Bah Blacksheep was a well known Imperial stand-up comedian. In fact, his videos were the most highly rented throughout the galaxy. []
  3. Spander and Liffim: Two very Star Warsy sounding names, if I do say so myself. [Author’s note] []

The Adventures of Col. Starrkin (ret.) #3

The Adventures of Col. Starrkin (ret.) #3
A Vaguely Star-Wars-ish Kinda Thing
Mostly for Dale

Colonel Starrkin was trying to keep his composure as he stood before his men in Break Room 24 of the Forward Starboard Quarter1 of the Imperial Star Destroyer Triplicate. He had just got done explaining his promotion and their re-assignment to the Outer Rim. The men were staring at him with a collective look that stood somewhere between confusion as to why their “reward” was to be shipped out to the Great Galactic Backwater and annoyance as to why they should be having this meeting in Break Room 24, when everybody knew that Break Room 17 had the better view and the only frozen yogurt machine that could be relied upon to function with anything approaching regularity.

Reg was the first to speak. “Sir, now that you’re a Colonel and all – and congratulations on that, by the way, sir – well, the men and I were wondering, sir. Can’t you pull some strings and get us some time in Break Room 17, sir? It’s just that, well, sir, Mick and I, we was really wanting some frozen yogurt. And I know the timing is terrible, sir, what with the death of the Emperor and the Death Star going all up in ashes. But, you see, sir, a bit of fro-yo would soften the blow, so to speak.” Colonel Starrkin returned an icy stare. Reg frowned, but soldiered on. “Sir, if it’s about Nick being lactose intolerant, well, ‘e already said ‘e didn’t mind, sir. Says ‘e wouldn’t feel left out. Says ‘e’s watching his weight, ‘e is.”

“That’s right, sir,” chimed in Nick. “It don’t bother me none. Way I see it, I reckon Reg and Micky deserve a bit of comfort food, sir. After all, sir, we may not find any frozen yogurt once we get out to the Rim, sir. And as for me, sir. Well, it’s just as Reg says. I’m watching me weight.” He patted his belly. “Or, at least, I’s trying to, sir.” Colonel Starrkin pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed sharply.

“Gentlemen, I fear that you fail to perceive the gravity of the situation.”

“Or was that the captain of the Executor, who parked his ship in the gravity well of the Death Star!?” Micky slapped his knee as he guffawed at his own joke. Reg and Nick registered their approval slappingly upon his shoulders. Colonel Starrkin, however, was not laughing. Micky looked up, slightly embarrassed. “Too soon?” he asked meekly? The Colonel shook his head in silent disapproval. The three pilots shook off their laughter and sat at attention.

“Now then,” said Colonel Starrkin. “As pilots, your service has been exemplary. In this most recent battle, my five kills earned me a promotion. Thus, since as a wing, we produced nine kills, it seems to me that you all deserve promotions as well. It is with great pleasure, then, that I raise you three men to the rank of Lieutenant.” There was stunned silence. “Are there any questions?” Micky tentatively raised his hand. “Yes, Micky?”

“Sir, does this mean we’re now eligible for vision, sir?”

“Excuse me?” The Colonel was a bit confused.

“Insurance, sir,” clarified Micky. “Now that we’re Lieutenants, are we eligible for vision insurance? Glasses and all that, I mean, sir.”

“What a ridiculous question!” cried out Reg. “You’re a pilot. You’ve got bloody 20/20, haven’t you? What on Coruscant do you need vision insurance for?”

“Well, sure, I’ve got 20/20 now,” said Micky defiantly. “But what about down the line? Your eyes get worse with age, don’t they? I mean, maybe I’ll need glasses ten years from now.”

“Not bloody likely, that,” came back Reg. “You’re genetically engineered, mate.”

“You want to put your stock in Imperial engineering then?” asked Nick. “I mean, just look at the bloody Death Star. Or should I say, Death Stars?”

“You mean Dead Stars,” called out Micky.

“Too soon!” cried Reg. “Too soon, mate.” And Reg shook his head in disapproval.

“Gentlemen, please,” moaned Colonel Starrkin, thinking that if he had an Imperial nickel for every time he’d had to say ‘gentlemen, please’ he could have retired to a small Bespinian cloud-farm years ago.

“Sorry, sir,” groaned the three men in unison.

“Thank you. Now, are there any other questions?” asked Colonel Starrkin. And just as a Mon Calamari admiral almost immediately regrets bringing his fleet out of hyperspace, when the enemy is nowhere to be seen and an unfinished Death Star hangs over an idyllic forest moon in the springtime when the flies swarm around the Ewok dung-heaps, so too did the Colonel almost immediately regret bringing those interrogative words out of his mouth, in the stillness of the Break Room when not even the hum of a working frozen-yogurt machine may be heard. Nick raised his hand. The Colonel braced himself. “Yes, Nick?”

“Sir, what about dental, sir?” He seemed, for the moment, a bit chastened. “Do we get dental insurance with our new ranks, sir?” Colonel Starrkin tried to look out of the window, but found his view blocked by turbo-laser battery. And so he stared at the battery for long moment, studying its features. He wondered what his life would have been like if he were just a simple anti-spacecraft gunner’s mate. But deep down in his soul, he knew the truth. Anti-spacecraft gunners’ mates weren’t eligible for vision or dental, and they certainly weren’t eligible for riding pants. No, he concluded. He could never have been anything other than what he was. And what he was was a –

“Well, sir?” Nick’s question brought him abruptly back to Break Room 24. Colonel Starrkin looked at his three men and smiled.

“Yes,” he said pleasantly. “Vision and dental both.”

“Bullocks,” muttered Nick.

“Bullocks?” repeated Reg. “Why in a bantha’s balls did you ask, if you don’t even want it?” Reg was astounded.

“It’s to do with the Mrs., I expect,” whispered Micky.

“The ex-Mrs.,” corrected Nick. “She’s still on my plan, mate. If I get dental, that means she’s covered too. And I’d just as soon see her rotten teeth fall out of her stupid whore mouth.” With reddening cheeks, he looked up at his commanding officer. “Begging your pardon, sir,” he added softly. The Colonel, who was not accustomed to meddling in the personal affairs of his men, looked thoroughly confused. Reg, upon seeing this, offered an explanation.

“Left ‘im for a Corellian smuggler, she did,” he said gently. “And after all ‘e’s done for ‘er, too.” He sighed. “It ain’t right, sir.” Colonel Starrkin caught himself playing with the flares of his riding pants, trying to hide his embarrassment. He tried to gather his thoughts.

“Well,” he said slowly. “I don’t want to give you wrong information, Nick. But I believe you don’t have to accept the dental plan. Still, I suggest you see HR2 about it.” At this answer, Micky whistled in dismay.

“You’d better get down there right now, mate,” said Reg. “It’ll take weeks to get through all the paperwork. And by then, she could have all new teeth. And a spare set too.” Nick shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Finally, he raised his hand again. Colonel Starrkin nodded to him.

“Sir, may I please be excused, sir?” The Colonel nodded again. And with that, Nick bolted out of the room and headed straight for HR.3 The Colonel threw one last longing glance at the turbo-laser battery. Turning once more to his two remaining men, he spoke.

“Now then. Are there any other questions?” Reg and Micky both raised their hands. “That don’t have to do with your benefit packages?” Reg lowered his hand. “Or Break Room privileges?” Micky lowered his hand. “Very good.” The Colonel was just about to adjourn the meeting when the Break Room door shshed open. In walked the Secretary carrying a pizza box, which he placed fastidiously in the very center of the Break Room table. The Colonel arched an eyebrow while Reg and Micky looked on with a mixture of disdain and hunger.

Ceremoniously, the Secretary opened the box. Instead of one little, round plastic table in the center of the pie, each slice had its very own little, round plastic table nestled just in front of the crust. “Gentlemen,” said the Secretary regally, “the Admiral sends his compliments.” Colonel Starrkin arched his other eyebrow, giving his usual eyebrow a bit of a much-needed break.

“Thank you, Secretary,” he said with a hint of disdain. “But what’s with all the little, round plastic tables. Seems a very un-Admiral-like waste of resources.”

“Oh, that?” The Secretary smiled proudly, glad that anyone had noticed. “The Admiral fancies that they make each slice look like little Star Destroyers.”

  1. This Star Destroyer was fitted with 30 Break Rooms per Quarter. There were, counterintuitively, 16 Quarters on the ship; four quarters per Quarter, as it were. Thus were there a grand total of 480 break rooms on the IS Triplicate. The name, of course, was an homage to the Imperial bureaucracy which the Admiral loved so well. []
  2. HR took up the entire Port-Aft-Quarter of the ship. From the Admiral’s point of view, no amount of space was too much space to dedicate to the glorious bureaucratic machinery of his ship’s HR department. []
  3. He arrived 2.5 hours later. It was only a matter of minutes by turbo-lift. Unfortunately, the turbo-lift was down at the moment. Fortunately, the Secretary had filed the paperwork for repairs as soon as he learned of the malfunction. This meant that repairs would begin as early as next month. []

The Adventures of Col. Starrkin (ret.) #2

The Adventures of Col. Starrkin (ret.) #2
A Vaguely Star-Wars-ish Kinda Thing
Mostly for Dale

Major Starrkin sat in the anteroom of the Admiral’s Secretary’s office, which was itself an anteroom to the Admiral’s own office, which was itself little more than an anteroom to the Admiral’s private squash courts. The fact that the Admiral had a private squash court1 aboard his active duty battleship, some felt, spoke to the decadence and deterioration of the Empire. None of the people who felt this way, it is worth noting, happened to hold positions of power within the Empire. Thus were their critiques rounded down to sour grapes and tiny violins.

For his part, Major Starrkin reserved judgment. The critiques were not without merit, he reasoned. But on the other hand, what good was having a Galactic Empire if it didn’t come with perks such as private squash courts, Twi’lek masseuses and free video rental privileges. Against this last indulgence, Rebel propaganda asked why, if the Empire was so great, were they still using an outdated video rental system? Should they not just make streaming video freely available to all citizens? Surely the burdensome2 tax structure imposed by the Empire would more than cover the cost of such a simple service. As it happened, however, Major Starrkin didn’t read Rebel propaganda. Though had he done so, he likely would have reasoned that you can’t have private squash courts on Star Destroyers and free galaxy-wide streaming video and still have enough left over to crush a nattering rebellion. Some people, he would have thought, always want to have their cake and eat it too.

“The Secretary will see you now,” said the Secretarial Ante-Room Matron in a rather nasal and condescending tone of voice. Major Starrkin stood up and pressed the pleats of his uniform, accentuating the flairs of his riding pants. He was very proud of those pants, actually. Throughout the Empire, riding pants were seen as a sign of respect. Horses, on the other hand, were rarely seen. Form, in this case, had apparently outlived function.3

The Major strode proudly into the Secretary’s office. Although he had borne personal witness to the destruction of the Second Death Star,4 he still carried himself as an officer and a gentleman. It was a bad day for the Empire, to be sure. But Major Starrkin was ready for the next battle.

“Please have a seat,” said the Secretary without looking up from his video display. Major Starrkin took a seat. As he waited patiently, he heard a soft whirring sound emanating from the Secretary’s desk. The Secretary himself was still staring intently at his monitor. “Sorry, Major,” he said vaguely. “I’ll just be a moment.” More whirring. The Major sat ramrod straight. At last, the whirring stopped. A smile of simple satisfaction passed over the Secretary’s face. “At last,” he said, almost to himself. Then he pressed a button on his desk, which ejected a videocassette into his waiting hand. Gently, he placed the cassette squarely and neatly on top of a pile of other videocassettes. Finally, the Secretary stood and turned to face Major Starrkin. He wore a slightly apologetic smile.

“Sorry about that, Major. But the Admiral insists that all of his videos be rewound before being returned to Central Library. ‘I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay a red Imperial cent in rewind fees,’ he always says. ‘I run a tight ship,’ he always says. And you’d do well to take note of that, Major. That sort of attention to detail may well land you a command of your own one day.” It was clear that the Secretary considered himself quite lucky to be working under one of the more clever commanders in the fleet.

“I shall keep that in mind, sir.” Major Starrkin tried to sound both impressed and grateful, or gratepressed as it was called in OCS. The Secretary seemed pleased by this.

“Now then,” said the Secretary, picking up the Major’s after-action report. “Someone had a good day yesterday, didn’t they?” He was smiling. Major Starrkin was trying to figure out why.

“With all due respect sir, I don’t think anything about yesterday was particularly good.” This time he tried to sound grateful with a tinge of deferential confusion, or gratedefcon as it was called in OCS. As the words left his mouth, the Major briefly wondered at the resources that must have gone in to creating such a byzantine system of nuanced interlocution. And as the words reached the Secretary’s ears, he himself was awed by the attention to detail that went in to crafting such a nuanced system of Byzantine interlocution.

“Hmm? No, no of course not. Death of the Emperor and all that. Tragic, really. Still though, he had a good run. And between you and me, Major, the Old Man wasn’t going to live forever, was he?”

“No, sir. He did sir. I don’t imagine he would have sir.” Major Starrkin tried to sound as deferentially polite as he could, though the Secretary found his tone not nearly obsequious enough. The Major was quick to pick up on this, however, and quickly added an afterthought. “Still though, sir. Terrible about the Death Star. Tragic loss of life, sir, if I do say so.”

“Hmm?” The Secretary arched an eyebrow. “Ah, yes. Tragic loss of life. Quite right, Major. And yet, I’ve said all along these Death Stars are a waste of resources. Force willing, we’ve seen the last of them.” Now it was the Major who arched an eyebrow.

“But surely, sir, they provided an element of fear throughout the Empire. And is it not fear that keeps that local systems in line?” The Major was arguing from doctrine while sounding deferentially confused,5 which was the only permissible way to question a superior.

“I see you’ve studied your Moff Tarkin…Major Starrkin.” The Secretary grinned at his play on words. The Major coughed, slightly. “Yes, well. The truth is, Major, that way of thinking has simply gone out of style. Unlike our fine riding pants, which I pray never will.” He looked at the Major for approval. The Major nodded. “No, it is not fear that keeps the local systems in line,” continued the Secretary. “It is bureaucracy. Ponderous, opaque, world-crushing bureaucracy, plain and simple. There is no greater…force…in the universe.” He smiled proudly at his pun. The Major twitched the left corner of his mouth slightly upwards. The Secretary walked out from behind his desk and stood face to face with his subordinate.

“You’re a pilot. And a damned fine one,” said the Secretary. “Tell me something, Major. How long does it take to bring an Imperial Star Destroyer, traveling at full impulse speed, to a dead stop?” The Major looked momentarily confused by this line of inquiry.

“Well, sir,” he said slowly. “That depends on a number of variables, from gravimetric anomalies, atmospheric conditions (if applicable), state of overall repair of said ship, spatial density – “

“A perfectly tuned Star Destroyer in a total vacuum. How long, Major?”

“Twenty-seven minutes, sir.”

“Twenty-seven minutes. Very good, Major. And that’s just for one ship. A single Star Destroyer. Now imagine that that Star Destroyer is a galaxy-wide, barely competently run, Byzantine bureaucracy. How long would it take to bring it to a total standstill?”

“I’m sure I have no idea, sir.”

“Generations, Major. Generations.” At this last word, the Secretary stomped his foot smartly against the plushly carpeted deck-plating. “You see, the very incompetence for which the Rebels incessantly lambast us is, in actuality, our single greatest strength. It doesn’t know how to stop. It couldn’t stop if it wanted to. To put it in terms you, as a pilot, will understand, Major, it is inertia, pure and simple. Emperors come and go. Death Stars are built and destroyed. But bureaucracy, Major. That is forever.”

“Yes, sir,” defconned Major Starrkin. “I suppose I never thought of it that way, sir.”

“No, I don’t suppose you have, Major,” said the Secretary with a tinge of pity. “They teach you a lot of things in flight school, and still more in OCS. But if you want to have a future in this Empire, Major, you’d do well to take a course in political theory.”

“I shall make every effort, sir,” said Major Starrkin defingenuously.6

“See that you do, Major. See that you do.” Before he could say anything else, the Secretary was distracted by a flashing red light on his desk. “Ah! The Admiral will see you now.”

“Thank you, sir,” said the Major as he made his way to the Admiral’s office.

The Admiral’s office was full of all sorts of treasures from all sorts of worlds. Every inch of countertop was covered with some or other trinket, no doubt pillaged in the course of his Imperial duties. A full catalog of these could be found in the ShipLibrary. But the most conspicuous of all was a stuffed Ewok sitting atop a beanbag chair in the shape of the Sith Lord Darth Anakin Skywalker Vader’s helmet.7 The Admiral’s office was, however, conspicuously lacking in one very important detail. And that was the Admiral himself. With nothing else to do, Major Starrkin stood at attention and waited in the uncomfortable stare of that freshly stuffed Ewok.

After a few minutes, the back door to the office shshed open, through which the Admiral made a grand entrance from his private squash courts. The Major snapped off a salute. The Admiral looked momentarily confused before returning the salute. Major Starrkin had never personally met the Admiral before, and so had no idea what to expect. The sight which greeted him was breathtaking.

The Admiral stood there, glorying in his squash shorts8 and polo tunic, sweat dripping from his luxuriously quaffed hair. He eyed the Major, and smiled.

“Major Thtarrkin, I prethume?” The Admiral had a pronounced lisp. It was impossible to know, however, if this lisp was a natural defect or a polished affectation. Lisps had become quite fashionable of late in the Imperial Court, and it was not uncommon to find high-ranking officers with political aspirations developing finely crafted lisps of their own these days.

“Yes, sir.” Major Starrkin had no political aspirations.

“Very good. Do pleathe have a theat.” The Admiral gestured to a luxurious chair, draped with a Wookie hide, before his desk.

“Thank you, sir,” said the Major with utter deference as he sat himself down. The Admiral, however, remained standing, arms akimbo.

“What do you think of my thquath thortth?” asked the Admiral with a slight twist of his hips. “I had them thpethially made, you know.”

“I have never seen their equal, sir,” defconned the Major. This, at least, was true.

“Are you a thquath man, Major? I could have a pair made up for you, you know.”

“I’m afraid I’ve never squashed myself, sir, no. But thank you, sir.”

“Pity, that.” The Admiral paused, as though he were in deep thought. “Now. What wath it you wanted to thee me about?”

“Sir?” Major Starrkin was confused. “I was told to report to you, sir.”

“Tho you were! Tho you were.” It was all coming back to him. “You had quite a day yesterday, Major. Quite a day!”

“I suppose, sir.” The Major was in full defcon mode now. “Still though, sir. Dark day for the Empire.”

“How’th that again, Major?” The Admiral seemed not at all to understand.

“With all due respect, sir, we lost his Majesty the Emperor, Lord Vader and the Death Star yesterday.”

“Yeth, pity, that.” The Admiral tugged at the flares of his squash shorts. “Thtill though, Major, you mutht admit. It didn’t put a dent into the bureaucrathy. And bureaucrathy ith the thing, Major! The very thing! We shall live to fight another day!”

“Indeed, sir.” This time Major Starrkin hit a higher note of obsequiousness, if only to avoid the need for further comment.

“Yeth, well. That ith the very thing I wished to talk with you about, Major. The very thing.” The Admiral tugged at the belt of his polo tunic. “But firtht, tell me thomething, Major. Do you watch videoth?”

“I’m afraid I hardly have the time, sir.”

“No, I thuppothe not. But maybe you will one day. And if you do, Major, a word to the withe. Alwayth rewind. We here at the Empire have the motht advancthed bureaucrathy in the hithtory of the galacthy. And if you don’t rewind, Major, they will find you. And trutht me, Major. That ith a late fee you do not want to pay.”

“I shall keep that in mind, sir. Thank you, sir.” So pleased was the Admiral at the Major’s display of obsequiousness that he gave the flares of his squash shorts an outright tug. The Major blinked the longest blink he dared blink. “Sir, what was it you wished to see me about, sir?”

“Ah, yeth.” The Admiral sat down behind his desk, satisfied that he had thoroughly impressed his audience with the magnificence of his wardrobe. “I have rethently had the pleasure of having had your after-action report read to me.”

“Read to you, sir?” This day was testing Major Starrkin’s defconning abilities.

“Oh yeth, Major. I alwayth have them read to me thethe dayth.” The Admiral seemed oddly proud of this fact. The reason for his pride was soon made clear. “I uthed to read them mythelf, you know. But they’re jutht too depreththing.” He smiled in a way that seemed wholly inappropriate. “But now, I have them read to me while I thqauth. Much eathier to take bad newth on the courtth, you know.”

“I suppose it would be, sir.”

“Anyway, Major, your report was tho ecthraordinary, I nearly miththed my shot!”

“Thank you, sir.”

“For what?” The Admiral was entirely confused.

“Nothing, sir. Sorry, sir. Please go on, sir,” said the Major.

“About what?” Too many videos, thought the Major, were not good for one’s attention span.

“My after-action report, sir.”

“Your after action report?” The Admiral stood up and fiddled with his belt buckle in an effort to hide his confusion. “Do you know thith belt buckle wath a gift from the Emperor’th thecond couthin’th third wife’th daughter? We uthed to date, actually. It theemed like a good political move at the time. Thadly, she never quite mathtered her lithp, tho I had to break it off. But she wath a thweet girl, tho I kept the buckle. Nithe, don’t you think, Major?”

“Very, sir.” Major Starrkin coughed slightly. “Sir, I was told you wanted to see me about my after-action report?”

“Tho I did! Tho I did.” The Admiral rummaged around his desk and pulled out a copy of the report. He handed it across to Major Starrkin and asked him to read the kill-summary. The Major had a sneaking suspicion that the Admiral could not, in fact, read.

“Five kills, sir.”

“Five killth,” repeated the Admiral. “Very good! Very good indeed.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Well, that’th jutht the thing, Major.” The Admiral was frowning now. In fact, his displeasure was getting the best of him. So much so, in fact, that he forgot his lisp. “You see, it’s almost too good. With all the losses we suffered yesterday, your success stands out like a sore thumb. Indeed, one might even think you were enjoying yourself out there; on the very day during which we lost not only the Death Star, not only Lord Vader, not only the Executor, but His Majesty the Emperor himself already.”

“I assure you, sir,” cut in the Major in a gross breech of etiquette, “I did not enjoy it in the least.”

“No,” frowned the Admiral. “I’m sure you didn’t. Still, we must keep up appearances. Do you realize what it looks like for you to score five whole kills on a day of such tragic loss for the Empire? Do you know what that does to morale?”

“But, sir.” Major Starrkin could not believe what he was hearing. “With all due respect, sir. I scored all five of my kills before we lost the Executor, let alone the Death Star or His Majesty the Emperor.”

“And that’s lucky for you, Major.” And then, inexplicably, the Admiral smiled. He was in control again, of his emotions and his lisp. “Or should I thay…Colonel?”

“Sir?” This time there was no deference. Just confusion.

“For your actth of valor, for your conthpicuouth bravery, and for your thervithe to the Empire, I hereby promote you to the rank of Colonel, with all rank and privilegeth pertaining thereto.” Major Starrkin was speechless. The Admiral continued. “Of courthe, it won’t do any good to have you here, around the troopth. And more to the point, Colonel, I can’t have you around me. I’m on the fatht track to the Imperial Court, you know. And thuctheth thuch ath yourth would dim my thtar, tho to thpeak. That ith why I mutht, I’m afraid, tranthfer you and your wing, to the Outer Rim.”

“But, sir!” interjected the newly minted Colonel, after an appropriately long pause which he used to parse the Admiral’s lisp.

“Now, now, Colonel. No need to thank me. Indeed, it ith I who thankth you!” The Admiral tugged at the flares of his squash shorts again. “The Thecretary will have your orderth for you on the way out.” The Colonel stood for a moment in stunned silence. He had no more words for the Admiral.9 Whereupon did Major Starrkin salute and turn sharply on his heels to go. But as the door shshed open before him, the Admiral called to him one last time. “Oh, and Colonel! Do let me know if you would like a pair of thquath shortth! It’th the leatht I can do…for a hero of the Empire.”

Colonel Starrkin nodded, his back still turned to the Admrial, and left. The Secretary was waiting for him as he entered the room. “Your orders, Colenel,” he said with a smile as he handed him a sheaf of papers. Starrkin took them silently in his hand, hoping to leave without any further discussion. But the Secretary didn’t let go of them, and he met the Colonel’s eye.

“Can I ask you something, sir?” The Secretary hung on the word sir. “I suppose I have to call you sir now, don’t I, sir.” Starrkin nodded. “Sir, I was just wondering.” He seemed to hesitate.

“Yes, Secretary?”

“Did the Admiral offer you a pair of squash shorts?”

Colonel Starrkin sighed loudly, no longer needing to genuflect before a subordinate officer. With that, he wrenched his orders from the Secretary’s hand and left the office without another word. As the doors shshed closed behind him, the Secretary muttered to himself. “Bloody upstarts.”

  1. Two, actually. []
  2. “Crushing” was actually the word used in Rebel e-leaflets. []
  3. This was another criticism lobbed at the Empire by Rebel propaganda. “The Empire: As Useless as Riding Pants” went the slogan. Where one stood on (or perhaps in) riding pants often determined one’s politics. []
  4. Already being referred to by the lower ranks as “the Dead Star.” []
  5. Defconargudoct being the official term for this. []
  6. With deferential disingenuousness. []
  7. The fact that Ewoks had only just lately triumphed over Lord Vader was an irony not entirely lost on Major Starrkin. []
  8. These squash shorts were little more than riding pants which had been cut off at the knee. []
  9. In the Imperial fleet, this was known as the Quiet Insult, or the quietsult. []

The Adventures of Col. Starrkin (ret.) #1

The Adventures of Col. Starrkin (ret.)
A Vaguely Star-Wars-ish1 Kinda Thing23
Mostly for Dale

The mottled space-Snuggy of blue and white receded into a quilt of shining stars as the almost farcically large Imperial Star Destroyer dropped out of hyperspace. If the crew stationed on the port side of the ship had been permitted the luxury of looking out of their windows, they would have seen the nearly completed Second Death Star hanging ominously in space, like the ruins of some ancient spherical, and let’s be honest, really quite evil and nefarious, temple, upon which the savages of time seemed to be working in reverse.

In the event, they were not actually allowed to look out of their windows. For had they done so, they might have felt a twinge of awe. And awe, in the Empire, was an emotion specifically and legally reserved only for His Majesty the Emperor; and to a legally prescribed slightly lesser extent, His Lordship and Second Sith Darth Anakin Skywalker Vader. That was his official title, anyway. Among the troops, he was lately being referred to – albeit rather furtively – as Black Daddy Sith. This epithet had only lately replaced the now little used Force Lord Robo-Pop.4

As the massive ship took up its position, a wing of TIE Interceptors emerged from its starboard launch bay. The little ships buzzed and whizzed and zoomed their way into formation, despite the fact that such onomatopoetic sounds should hardly be possible in space, above the forest moon of Endor.

Major Starrkin, the group leader, clicked on his intercom:
“Here we are, gentlemen. The forest moon of Endor.”
“Forest Moon of Endor. Does nobody else have a problem with that?” came the reply.
“How do you mean?” came a third voice.
“Well, just, what is it with all of these worlds of homogeneous geography? Forest Moon of Endor; Swamp World of Dagobah; Desert Planet of Tatooine; Ice World of – “
Major Starrkin cut in. “This is hardly the time, gentlemen.”
“But Major,” came the third voice. “I reckon Reg has a point here. I mean, surely it goes against everything we know about astrogeography, to say nothing of the laws of physics.”
“Thank you, Nick.” Reg again. “I mean, of course you would expect to find jungles and forests in the more temperate regions of Kashyyk, but all the way up to the poles? It strains credulity.”
“To say nothing of the Cloud Planet of Bespin,” came a fourth voice. “I mean, what’s even under all those clouds? Is it just clouds all the way down?”
“I never even thought of that one, Micky,” answered Reg. “That’s a right good question.”
“Tell you one planet that was normal, was Alderaan,” said Nick. “But we eighty-sixed that one, didn’t we? I mean, makes you wonder doesn’t it? Was that really a political move, or were they snuffed out merely for their conformity to the laws of astrogeography?”
“Ooh, that’s a bit conspiratorial, even for me,” said Reg. “Still though, I wouldn’t put it past Force Lord Robo-pop.”
“I thought we were calling him Black Daddy Sith now,” added Micky.
“Gentlemen, please!” Major Starrkin was getting annoyed. It wasn’t that he minded his men’s idle chatter. Indeed he thought it was good for morale. But Space Traffic Control would be monitoring their frequency, and this sort of discourse would make for an uncomfortable debriefing. If they survived the battle.

Major Starrkin waited. Static greeted him over the intercom. “Thank you.” He checked his instruments. “Right. Now the rebel fleet is expected to show up in twelve minutes time, just above the Forest Mo-…just above Endor. Let’s look sharp!”

The fighter wing joined up with two others and now presented themselves as a mean little ensemble, ready to tango. Or at least salsa. And this they did with aplomb. In the course of the ensuing battle, our band of fighter pilots accounted for nine rebel kills, five of which went to Major Starrkin himself.

It happened, however, that there was an unfortunate inverse relationship between fuel-supply and battle-duration. And so it was that the Major gathered up his merry band of wingmen and headed for the mother-ship, there to top-up their tanks. It was then that the unthinkable happened. Reg was the first to notice.

“Major,” he called. “I think the Executor is on fire.” Starrkin looked for himself. Sure enough, the Executor – Super Star Destroyer, flagship of the fleet – was definitely on fire. What’s more, it seemed to be caught in the gravity well of the Death Star, it’s nose sinking precipitously towards the surface of the space station. Stunned static reigned over the intercom.

The men watched as the actually farcically large battleship descended slowly to its doom. As the craft made contact with the killer orb, one explosion after another cascaded up its hull, engulfing it in flame as the oxygen of its life support systems burned itself out in a blaze of glory. In less than a minute, there was nothing to see but a giant crater on the surface of the Glory of The Empire.

Micky was the first to speak. “It’s all so…senseless.”
“This bloody war,” answered Major Starrkin. “The loss of life. Yes, so senseless.”
“Well, yeah, that,” replied Micky.
“I don’t think that’s what he meant, Major,” said Reg. “Go on, Mick.” Micky was only too happy to oblige.
“Well, it’s just bad tactics, innit? I mean, a ship that size. And the flagship of the fleet, no less. What’s it doing anywhere near the Death Star’s gravity well?”
“I reckon you’re right, Mick.” Reg was working it out as he spoke. “I mean, the damage to the ship was hardly fatal, even if the engines had been knocked out, which, I think we can assume was the case, based on what we’ve just seen.”
“Exactly my point, Reg,” said Micky triumphantly. “Way I see it, had she been outside the gravity well – i.e. where she should have been – she would have been dead in the water, sure. But we could have formed up several star destroyers around her in a protective convoy. Then we would have had a chance at saving her.”
“It’s all down to politics.” This was Nick. “It’s a well known fact that Lord Vader has purged the best officers, and usually for no better reason than they didn’t take The Force seriously. So now you’ve got a bunch of mediocrities in charge, and they clearly don’t know the first thing about spatial dynamics. And now look where it’s got us.”
“There he goes again,” called Reg. “Nick and his conspiracy theories.”
“Well how else do you explain it?” Asked Nick plaintively.
“It’s very simple,” said Reg professorially. “After the first Death Star debacle – and I think we can all agree that’s exactly what that was – High Command didn’t want to take any chances. They knew the Rebs would be looking for a way in with their little sports cars all over again. They simply wanted to cover the new Death Star with as much firepower as possible, so as to prevent a repeat of last – “
“Umm, you guys,” cut in Mick.

They all looked up. Small fires were breaking out all over the Death Star. The space station seemed to shudder and heave in its orbit. The battle stood still around them. You could have heard a pin drop. Or at least, you could have had the Empire kept up its intercom contract with Sprint. As it was, all you could hear was cold static. And then, the Voice of Reason. The Voice of Reason was called Reg.

“Nothing to worry about, I’m sure. Probably just a coincidental occurrence of crashing ships, isolated fire-control failures, and a tactical adjustment of the inertial dampeners.” He paused. “The only other explanation, of course, would be a complete failure of the reactor core. But the odds of that – “

Nobody heard the end of that sentence. For just at that moment, the intercoms went dead it the wake of a massive electro-magnetic pulse. This however, was secondary to the blinding flash of light which accompanied said EM pulse. And this blinding flash of light was itself secondary to the mammoth, titanic, gargantuan explosion which was the cause of said blinding flash. It hardly needs to be said that said explosion was Death Star II doing its best impersonation of Death Star I. As impersonations go, this was somewhere between Dana Carvey as George Bush and Larry David as Bernie Sanders. Which is to say, quite good, but not nearly as funny as it could have been.

“Umm, you guys.” The intercom system had been reset. Mick’s brain, not so much.
“Wasn’t the Emperor in there?” called Reg. They all knew that he was.
“And wasn’t Black Daddy Sith on there too?” asked Mick after a pause.
“No, he was on Endor, I think,” answered Reg.
“No, he was definitely on there,” declared Nick.
“And how do you know?” asked Reg.
“My cousin Ralph is mates with Vader’s shuttle pilot,” said Nick coolly. “He texted me just after we launched that he was taking “BDS and that Skywalker punk” up to see “The Old Man.”
“Well I’m just glad Skywalker went with it,” added Micky, sounding still a bit stunned.
“Is that the same cousin Ralph who caught the clap from that Twi’lek dancer on Ord Mantell?” needled Reg.
“He’s a damn fine pilot!” shot back Nick.
“Not if the way he treats his joy-stick is any indication,” chided Reg.
“That’s enough!” cut in Major Starrkin. “This is a dark day for the Empire. And that’s to say nothing of how many brave men have just lost their lives to this senseless rebellion. I’m ordering you to cut the chatter.” He glanced down at his display. “I’ve just received orders from Base-ship. We’re to dock immediately. And then we’re getting the hell out of here.”

“Aye-eye, Major,” answered the three wingmen professionally. But as they made their way home, the sound of two hands slowly clapping drifted over the intercom. Reg, apparently, did not feel that this last insult constituted “chatter.”

Tune in next time for the continued adventures of
Col. Starrkin (ret.)

  1. Star Wars fans tend to take these things quite seriously. However, I can’t be bothered to do even the least bit of “research” for this project – hence, the “-ish.” [Author’s note] []
  2. I’m hoping to do at least a few serialized posts. We’ll see what happens. [Author’s note] []
  3. All footnotes should be read as if supplied by the narrator, unless otherwise noted thusly – Author’s note. []
  4. This epithet had a short but popular lifespan in the wake of a viral video in which an old Daft Punk video was Photoshopped to include a dancing – and somehow smiling – version of the Sith Lord. The video was, of course, quickly banned. But the name hung on for quite a while. And there were many who thought – though fewer who dared to say – that the popularity of such a video spoke volumes for the state of the Empire, and not at all in a good way. []

De Dracula

De Dracula1

So, thanks to hurricane whatever-the-fuck-we’re-calling-this-one, I’m stuck inside trying to write this post without my trusty pipe. On the other hand, this weather allows to me say honestly, if not well-writtenly, that it was a dark and stormy night. In any case, trying to write this post pipeless, as it were, may be somewhat fitting. After all, did Professor Van Helsing smoke a pipe? Did Jonathan Harker? Or Dr. Seward? Or any of the other characters who kept a journal in Bram Stoker’s vampirepic?2

But let me take a step back. What the hell am I on about anyway? If the title of this piece is any indication, I mean to talk about Dracula. But which Dracula? Stoker’s book, yes. And also the Lugosi picture. OK, actually, just those two. And really mostly the former.

Another step back. Years ago, when I was but a boy, I read some sort of abridged version of Dracula, meant for children.3 It scared the hell out of me. Didn’t sleep for days. Or rather nights, as, not being a vampire, I generally didn’t sleep days.4 The point is, I didn’t exactly take to horror-fiction as a young’n. And I didn’t much go in for horror films as I got older.

That all changed, however, when last fall, while in a used book shop in Philadelphia, I picked up a copy of Jules Verne’s Le Château des Carpathes.5 Now, mind you, it wasn’t properly horror or gothic; nothing supernatural. It’s JV, after all. There’s a scientific reason for everything. However, it was dark. And it took place in the mountains of Transylvania. And I was hooked.

All of a sudden, I wanted more “darkness,” whatever that meant. So next I grabbed a copy of Gaston Leroux’s Le Fantôme de l’Opéra. After that, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. While in Santa Fe last month, I picked up an H.P. Lovecraft paperback, though I haven’t started it yet. Because, at the moment, I’m working through Bram Stoker’s Dracula.6

Funny thing about Dracula though, I can put it down.7 By that I mean, the prose is just stilted enough, just 19th century enough, just affected enough, that it can be a bit tiring at times. And yet this very thing that so often makes the book feel like a chore – the language – is that which I found most interesting about it.

You see, the English that Stoker uses is hanging out in a really interesting place-time. It straddles the border of Victorian and modern. You can see our language in transition here, and it’s downright fascinating. I’ve been noticing this all along, but somewhere around chapter 19, it occurred to me that I might want to knock this post together, and so I started taking notes. Now, obviously, the bulk of my notes are going to come from chapter 19 and onwards. But I hope there’s enough meat there to make my points.

I’m going to pass over the “old,” that is to say, the Victorian. There’s no point in putting any of that down. If you’ve read Dickens or, gods help you, Austen, there will be no surprises there. What I want to focus on for the moment is the “new” English; the English that’s ready to break out into the 20th century.

For example, I’ve run across a number of idioms that would be nearly familiar to anybody reading today. And yet, they’re not quite the same. A few examples:

  • “Dog’s-eared” (of a book; opp. “dog-eared”; ch.19)
  • “Of the first water” (of magnitude; opp. “of the first order”; ch.20)
  • “Keep touch of” (to stay current with; opp. “keep a hold of”; ch.20)
  • “These times” (of current affairs; opp. “these days”; ch.20)
  • “At all events” (resumptive; opp. “in any event”; ch.21)

Now to be fair, Stoker is an Irishman writing (for these phrases, at least) English characters. Still, to see these idioms developing is quite interesting.

Then there are the “Americanisms.” I found two turns of phrase which the author, through his various narrators, identifies as being uniquely American. Yet, these two phrases are well known to us all today. I think we should expect to find them in any part of the English speaking world:

  • To “take no chances” (ch.19 & earlier)
  • “A story”, as in a news story (ch.20)

The former is interesting to me in that it is so commonplace nowadays, that needing to mark it out as American caught me off guard. The need to do so would seem to indicate that in 1897, the year of publication, the phrase was hardly known in England. As for the latter, well, the same is mostly true. Except, I remember using the term “story” to describe a news piece with a non-native speaker and being surprised when the word caught her by surprise. Though she was able to understand it from context easily enough, she’d never heard it before. And so perhaps on some level, even now, that word could fairly be marked out for extra explanation.

So much for idiom. But Stoker also plays with dialect. There are four dialects in particular which I think warrant at least a look-see. One is of course Van Helsing’s speech; but this I shall leave to the last. Then there is the working-class cockney; the mariner’s lingo; and the (I think bucolic?) dialect of the zookeeper.

The latter three are fascinating insofar as I take them to be fairly faithful renderings of the actual speech of real people (or a real class of people, at any rate) with which Stoker must have had at least some first-hand experience.

Tackling the most difficult of these first, the old mariner’s dialect was barely decipherable. To give but one example, what the hell can this possibly mean?

“I must gang ageenwards home now, miss. My granddaughter doesn’t like to be kept waitin’ when the tea is ready, for it takes me time to crammle aboon the grees, for there be a many of ‘em; an’, miss, I lack belly-timbers sairly by the clock.” (ch.6)

Well, the first sentence isn’t too bad. “Gang” is obviously some version of “go” and “ageenwards” seems to be an adverbial use of ‘again’; though ‘again’ is itself an adverb. Obviously, the granddaughter has made tea and doesn’t like to be kept waiting; clear enough. But “crammle aboon the grees?” No idea. Presumably this refers to physical obstacles he must pass on his way home. I take “crammle” to be some sort of verb of moving; “aboon” as a variant of “upon” and “the grees” as perhaps “the grass” or “the green.” And yet, noting that “there be many of ‘em” throws some shadow of doubt over those conclusions. “Belly-timbers” I take to mean strength, whether physical or spiritual. “Sairly” I wager is adverbial both by the ‘-ly’ ending and its placement in the sentence. “By the clock” must also be adverbial, though I can only guess at its meaning. Taking them together (and with context), I gather that at this late hour, he is weakened by drunkenness, and so expects his journey home to be arduous due in part to the landscape.

I may have got that mostly right or mostly wrong. In the grand scheme of reading the book, it doesn’t really matter. But that’s the amount of thought I needed to put in to try and make sense of just those two sentences. My other choice would have been to simply disregard it. So now, perhaps, you can see what I mean when I say it can be, at times, a tiring text. And yet fascinating.

But the fascination works on two levels here. The first is simply to a reader who is interested in language. Working though that in the way that I have outlined above is, for me, fun; no matter how tiring. But it is also meta-fascinating. By which I mean, it is fascinating outside of the context of the story. It is fascinating as a representation of the way in which a certain group of people at a certain time actually spoke; and, I suspect, no longer speak. What a window into a world that was!8

Likewise for the speech of the Zookeeper, which occurs in the context of a newspaper “story” in chapter 11. Here now, the language is much easier to follow. But I excerpt a more challenging passage:

“My opinion is this: that ‘ere wolf is a-‘idin’ of, somewheres. The gard’ner wot didn’t remember said he was a-gallpoin’ northward faster than a horse could go; but I don’t believe him, for, yer see, sir, wolves don’t gallop, no more nor dogs does; they not bein’ built that way. Wolves is fine things in a story-book, and I dessay when they gets in packs and does be chivyin’ somethin’ that’s more afeared than they is they can make a devil of a noise and chop it up, whatever it is.”

So as I said, this bit is much easier to understand. And yet there’s all sorts of neat things going on here which are meant to represent a certain style of speech. Some of it is accent, as with the elision of initial “h” (e.g. ‘idin’) or the contraction of “dare say” into “dessay.” Some of it is grammatical construction, as with “no more nor dogs does” for “no more than dogs do.” As a guide for all this, I took an example of “rustic” British English from Monty Python; the Flying Sheep sketch. I don’t know if this is a good, or even remotely close, guide, but it served well enough. In any case, the point is, it is one more representation of a certain style of speech. And though it can be tiring to read it at length, it is nevertheless highly interesting on its own merits.

Next we come to the working-class cockney of late 19th century London. Now, I don’t pretend to be an expert on cockney, not by any stretch. But I’m familiar enough with it to at least be able to read it with far less difficulty than the two foregoing dialects. An example, from chapter 20:

“Well, guv’nor, I forgits the nubmer, but it was only a few doors from a big white church or somethink of the kind, not long built. It was a dusty old ‘ouse, too, though nothin’ to the dustiness of the ‘ouse we tooked the bloomin’ boxes from.”

As I said, easy enough. One can easily read through the misconjugated “forgits” or “tooked,” just as easily as one can read through the mispronounced “’ouse” and “somethink.” What really caught my attention here is, for all the effort Stoker puts into capturing the ‘sound’ of these dialects, is how “th” does not become “f.” What I mean is, in modern cockney, we would expect words like “somethink” and “nothin’” to be pronounced as “somefin’” and “nofin’”. Do Stoker’s spellings mean that the “th” to “f” transition hadn’t happened as of 1897? If so, what an unexpected look into the street-talk of a bygone era!9

Having thus dealt with the mariner, the zookeeper and Mr. Cockney, I have only to treat with the speech of the revered Dr. Van Helsing. But as his speech is, I find, of a different order, and as I have now exhausted the e-cigarette, which I purchased as a substitute for my much-beloved pipe, I think I must here pause and take up again when I have the means to write further…

…And now I have the means. It’s a bit colder out than I’d have liked, but at least the storm has passed and I can work outside again with my pipe (and some main10 fine tobacco wot I purchased not long ago in Colorado). And so, whither Van Helsing?

Stoker has Van Helsing speak in a sort of broken “non-native” English for lack of a better word. This seems to manifest itself almost entirely by means of odd grammatical constructions and wrong idioms, but never by accent. In reading this, I did not take it as an accurate representation of the way an actual Dutchman might speak the language but simply as a way to mark his speech out as “other.” My suspicion is that as opposed to cockney, for example, Stoker perhaps didn’t have an actual Dutchman to model the speech on. That said, his rendering is not without linguistic intelligence.

For example, he often has VH assign male gender to inanimate objects; something that we do not regularly do in English. I don’t know much about Dutch, other than that it is Germanic and fairly close to today’s High German. But if you’ve ever spoken to speakers of gendered languages whose English is far from perfect, you will probably have noticed this phenomenon. So in that regard, I think it was a clever device on Stoker’s part. And yet perhaps not clever enough. For he only ever has VH assign the masculine gender, at least as far as I noticed. And so one example which stood out to me was when VH refers to blood as ‘he.’ I noticed this in particular,11 because in Greek as well as German, blood is neutral, not masculine.12

I’ll move on from this bit rather quickly. I don’t think there’s much to be gained here from putting down examples of his odd turns of phrase or grammatical mistakes other than to say that they are constant. And while interesting on some level, and even fun at times, it is also tiring at length. And as Van Helsing has quite a bit of dialogue, it is tiring often.

One last thought on VH’s speech. All of his dialogue is recorded in the journal entries of other characters, save for his memoranda in the last chapter or two. And here, I think it is an interesting conceit to suggest that the other characters went to the trouble of putting down VH’s language exactly as they heard it, rather than paraphrasing it into their own English; and that furthermore each character – Seward and both Harkers – interpreted his speech identically. But, that is, apparently, what they did.

A couple of other things regarding the language were of interest to me. One is the use of foreign language in set phrases. This is done primarily (if not exclusively) by VH, who throws around the odd bit of French and Latin, and even one (really rather wrong) Greek quote of Archimedes.13 But I thought this was kind of cool, as it shows the breadth of Stoker’s learning. He even shows he knows a bit of German in the first couple of chapters.

Another point of interest was hyphenation. It is fairly common in English that when new compound words are introduced, they often start out hyphenated, before the hyphen is eventually lost. And so, here, in 1897 we see “To-morrow” as the preferred spelling. And yet, in chapter 20, he refers to “chopsticks.” I was first of all surprised to see this word in so comparatively old a text (though that may simply speak to my ignorance); but doubly so to see it compounded without hyphen.

Next, there were some old words and phrases which were not unfamiliar per se, but which, by their usage seemed strange to me. In chapter 19, I came across the phrases, “in an indexy sort of way” and “helping his fads.” From context I could glean the sense of them, but these were usages which I had not seen before, and which, presumably have since died out.

Another example was the apparent use of “earnest” as a noun. I give here a portion of the sentence: “…when I had promised to pay for his information and given him an earnest.”14 I considered whether this was perhaps a typographical error15 and should have read “in earnest,” which of course is a common collocation. But reading it over two or three times, I took it as it was16 and interpreted it as something like “a substantial enough offering to demonstrate one’s sincerity.”

Finally, there was the note written by the barely literate laborer. This was cool, as it showcased in microcosm Stoker’s attention to phonetics. The little note simply read: “Sam Bloxam, Korkrans, 4, Poters Cort, Bartel Street, Walworth. Arsk for the depite.”17 I didn’t feel too bad when I read down the page and saw that good Jonathan Harker had as much trouble with this as I did. It should have read: “Sam Bloxam, Corcoran’s [a lodging-house (another hyphenation!)], 4 Potter’s Court, Bartel Street, Walworth. Ask for the deputy.”

So much for the language. Two other observations and I shall wrap this up. It occurred to me that Stoker’s Renfield and Tolkien’s Gollum are of a type. Both are misshapen creatures – Renfield mentally, Gollum physically and mentally. Both ostensibly serve higher masters. Renfield with Dracula, Gollum with the Ring. Both have a taste for live animals – Renfield for flies and spiders, Gollum for fish. Both spend most of the story as ostensible bad guys, but both end up serving the heroes in the end (though in fairness, Renfield less integrally than Gollum). And both, for all their misdeeds, ultimately show themselves to have a shred of decency in them that makes them worth saving; or at least, worth trying to save. For both end up dead in the end. Not being an English Lit major, I was left wondering if these two are mere manifestations of a larger trope in our collective literary history. But the parallels were striking to me. And as a “so great fan of Tolkien,” as Van Helsing might say, it was an interesting way to read the character.

The last point of interest I will mention in this post concerns class. I found a striking similarity in the way Stoker writes the London working class and the way Orwell writes the Proles in 1984. Both seem to be below the radar of respectability, so to speak. Neither class seems worth writing about as “real people,” if I can say that. They both seem to operate outside the vision or understanding of the main characters, in whose worldview we the readers exist. Their entire function seems to be to drink when they are not working and to pay next to no attention to the dangers of the “real world,” whether that be the political machine of Orwell’s book or the threats of the Transylvanian Count in Stoker’s. And, for that matter, the world in which they inhabit seems as foreign a land to Harker and his band, as the inner city of the Proles seems to Winston, however much he might be intrigued by it. I may be off base with this, but I’ve always felt that a bit strange and un-American, if I can say. As if it is in someway a reflection of the striated class society that we as Americans rejected in the 18th century.18 That’s how they both read to me, in any case.

Well, it’s nearly 3:30 and I am cold. So I think I shall end here. All this to say, in the end, that I found Dracula to be a fun read, though not an easy one. Yet, it is the difficulties that made the text far more interesting to me than it otherwise might have been. You can find many flaws with this book, if you’re so inclined. But one if its virtues, to me at least, is as a window into the English language of 1897.

Oh, but I did mention in the beginning of this post that I would say something about the famous movie too, didn’t I? Well, I guess I lost track of that. But I’ll close with this. The absolute best line of the movie comes when Renfield19 first meets Dracula in his castle. There is an awkward silence as both men hear the howling of wolves outside. And then Lugosi/Dracula says, in the most badass way imaginable, and with that killer accent, “Listen to them. Children of the Night. What music they make.” And, you guys, it’s in the book! That actual amazing kick-ass line is in the freakin’ book! And when I read that, I nearly jumped out of my chair and did finger-pistols in the air.

But the second most badass line in the movie? Well. To be honest, I might screw it up. A while back, I was trying to locate a free streaming version of the film online. But the only one I could find was a German overdub. But, needing to practice my German, and figuring that this movie could only be more evil and badass in that language, that’s what I watched. And re-watched. And watched again. Anyway, in the caste, Dracula offers Renfield some wine. And Renfield is all, “aren’t you gonna have any?” To which the Count replies, “Ich trinke keinen Tropf…Wein.”20 Oh man, so fucking evil! Gives you chills, I swear. But alas. That one’s not in the book.

  1. “De” takes the ablative, so you know the last “a” is long. #Latin Dracula, btw, means “little dragon” in Latin.  Also, this is as good a place as any to note that, to the handful of people that actually read this blog, you will probably find this post quite boring. #fairwarning []
  2. That portmanteau seemed cooler in my head. []
  3. Or, more likely, “young adults.” Because I’m pretty sure children should not be reading about vampires. I mean, even German fairy tales don’t deal with vampires. And there you can find a happy ending wherein the wicked stepmother is executed by being sealed into a barrel of boiling oil…which also has poisonous vipers in it. I’m not even kidding. (And if you prefer an English rendering, you can find one here). []
  4. Naps notwithstanding. []
  5. The Carpathian Castle []
  6. At the moment at which I started this post, anyway. I actually finished the book this afternoon. []
  7. Yup, you read that right. []
  8. And if it be, in any way, a window into a world that still exists, how much more fascinating!? []
  9. Pity my children, if I ever have them, that they might one day have to endure reading books with me in this way… []
  10. In several of the cockney passages, I noticed the use of the word “main” to mean “very” or “rather” (ch.20). []
  11. Though before I started taking notes, and so I cannot cite an example. []
  12. αἷμα in Greek (haima, whence hemoglobin, for example) and Blut in German. []
  13. And yet, there is some further indication that Stoker was at least peripherally familiar with Greek. In chapter 20, he uses the word aërial, spelled thusly with the umlaut. This is indeed reflective of the word’s Greek origin (ἀήρ aer, whence our air). The umlaut shows that in Greek the ae were not blended into a diphthong but that the letters were distinct vowels. We probably wouldn’t spell the word this way today, and indeed my spellchecker here tried to remove the umlaut.  This conclusion is also furthered by his invention (which Seward claims as his own, at any rate) of the adjective “zoöphageous” to describe the “life devouring” Renfield; the umlaut again signifying the difference (lost in English) between the Greek omega and omicron. []
  14. Ch.20 []
  15. It is here worth noting that all references and quotations are taken from the 2007 Sigent Classics edition. []
  16. We should always prefer the lectio difficilior. #nerdspeak []
  17. Ch.20 []
  18. And indeed, Lord Godalming frequently uses his rank and privilege to get away with things that “regular” folks could never do. In contrast, I kinda love how the one American in the book – Quincey Morris – routinely refers to His Lordship not just by his first name, but even by a nickname: simply “Art.” Because Americans think titles are bullshit. []
  19. Though in the book it is Harker. []
  20. I don’t drink…wine. []

You Can’t Take Me Anywhere

You Can’t Take me Anywhere

If you’ve read the title of this piece as though it were being shouted by an angry protester who had just been politely handcuffed by understanding police officer who, despite any personal misgivings, must, in the course of his duty to the city which he serves, lead the aforementioned protester away from the scene of the aforementioned protest to the cozy surrounds of an only-now-mentioned police station, well, I’m afraid you’ve read it all wrong.

For you see, “You can’t take me anywhere” is something that I say after I’ve said something rude, foolish, offensive, salacious or e) all of the above. I say it, you see, to save my friends the trouble. That would be: The trouble of shaking their heads and saying apologetically to the person I’ve just offended or hit on or, more likely, offended while hitting on, “I’m so sorry. We can’t take him anywhere.”1

Last night I was at a birthday party for a friend. Patrick Stewart – the Patrick Stewart – was also there. But more on that later. By way of Introduction,2 I should like to make clear my purpose for this post. Namely, I wish to commit to writing an impression of last night’s party. And the reason that I say ‘impression’ and not ‘recounting’ is that among many truths, I will also write several untruths which I think will make for a better, albeit less accurate, story. And I do not mean to make clear which is which.3

I’ve been friends with L for something like six years now.4 In the course of those six years, I’ve always enjoyed going to her birthday parties, which are generally set in Brooklyn beer gardens. And because I don’t know how to talk to people my own age, I tend to spend the better part of these parties shamelessly hitting on one or other of her very pretty friends. Not coincidentally, these parties tend to provide me with ample opportunities to say, “I’m so sorry. They can’t take me anywhere.”

This year, however, was slightly different. For this year, every one of L’s very pretty friends was of the beboyfriended variety, of which Berlin was such a blasted cornucopia. And so it was that I had to find other ways to amuse myself, and in the process, offend others. I give here an example.

We were all seated at a long wooden bench in this particular and peculiar5 beer garden. And at the end of the bench nearest me there sat a blonde girl. Now, as I am about to describe her in somewhat unflattering terms, and as she is a friend of L, I daren’t give her name. In fact, I leave it to you the reader to decide if she was even blonde.6 In any case, let’s say she was blonde. She was not, however, fat. Yet neither was she skinny. She was just sort of stout and not particularly beshaped of womanhood. Not that she was man-shaped, for she was not. She was just sort of shape-less.

Normally I would not mention these things as they have no bearing on who she is as a person. But as I found that I didn’t particularly care for who she was as a person, I have allowed Honesty to be a bit brutal as opposed for the silence so strongly argued for by Tact. But of course I didn’t know this when she first sat down. What I did notice was that her face was somewhat pleasant; or at least could be if she could be bothered to smile. And so I was deciding if this was something I could work with – and indeed, how many drinks ‘working with it’ would require – when I noticed her necklace.

From her necklace was strung a golden coin, which from where I was sitting looked for all the world like a gold-plated quarter. “I like your necklace,” I said. R, another friend of 6+ years and a seasoned veteran of L’s birthday parties was sitting beside her and cringed, expecting the worst. “Thanks,” said the blonde girl, withholding anything like a smile and therefore anything like a pleasant face. Well, I thought, this isn’t going to end well. Nevertheless, I shall have to blunder on, never considering the alternative, which would had have been simply to shut up. “Yeah, I think that’s really clever how you carry around an emergency quarter in case you run out of change at the Laundromat.” To which she anti-smiled, further depleasanting her face. R closed her eyes and shook her head.

“I’m so sorry. They can’t take me anywhere,” I would have said if she had so much as up-turned one corner of one lip. “Hi, I’m Dave,” I said instead. “Nice to meet you,” I definitely did not add. Whereupon I allowed Awkward Silence to have its say. Then, when Awkward Silence had done its bit: “Sooo, I’m gonna go talk to other people now,” which is exactly what I did, leaving poor R to either clean up that mess or pretend she didn’t know me.

L and I have an awkward relationship. It’s not that we don’t like each other. In fact, we’re quite fond of each other. It’s just that we’re both sort of awkward people. And rather than simply accepting that and moving past it, we tend to get caught up in it, often remarking how awkward we are together. However, these days, we tend to remark how less awkward we are now than we used to be. And having thusly remarked, her boyfriend asked if we thought we would ever stop talking about how awkward we are. To which we responded in unison, “But we’re doing so well!.”

And so it was that I apologized once more. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I’d go talk to those people,” I said gesturing towards the end of the table whereat sat the blonde girl, “but the blonde girl already hates me.” L wasn’t so much puzzled by this as curious. “Uh-oh, Dave. What did you do?” “Me?” I asked plaintively, summoning my most earnest of Earnest Faces. “I didn’t do anything. She just doesn’t have a sense of humor.”

“I absolutely have a sense of humor,” argued the blonde girl, summoning her most indignant of Indignant Faces, which I nearly confused for her resting unpleasant face. “Then may I suggest,” I offered helpfully, “that you take it in for a tune-up. It’s clearly faulty.” It was only then that I realized that the previous indignant face was not her Most Indignant Face, but rather the one with which I was now confronted. Awkward Silence had something to say about this as well, and he said it rather loudly. So loudly, in fact, that he had the last word on the matter.

There was another girl at the party, however, who did have a sense of humor.7 I shall refer to her as J1, as there happened to be two J’s there that night. In any case, the reason I know she had a sense of humor is because she would smile quietly to herself at some or other of the ridiculous things I would say. Not because they were terribly funny, mind you, but because she seemed to understand that I was just being silly. She was in on the joke, so to speak.

Now, J1 did not have a particularly pleasant resting face either. However, her face was quite pleasant when she could be bothered to smile. No, I shouldn’t say that. It was no bother at all for her to smile, which is, I think, the point. Neither was she shapeless. She was, in point of fact, perfectly woman-shaped. Though not so woman-shaped that the words “child bearing” came easily to mind. None of this matters, however, as she was there with her boyfriend. Let’s call him J1+1. And it was to J1+1 that I got stuck talking about Japan.

Now, I don’t want to give the wrong impression. J1+1 was a perfectly lovely fellow. He was nice, travelled and curious about the world. It’s just that, from where I was sitting, he was really quite boring. And as I was sitting directly across from him, I feel like I was in a good position to make that assessment.

And as we talked about Japan, which he had visited four years ago, he told me nothing about that country’s creepy youth-fetish or their advanced toilet technology. He did tell me that his cousin was stationed there with the Marines, that Tokyo is spotless and that it’s hard to score drugs because of the Yakuza, who control the drugs.

I thought it was going to be an interesting conversation, but it just wasn’t. And I really wanted to get out of it. But I couldn’t find a way out. He was just so bloody nice, you understand. So I just had to smile and pretend to be interested. And yet, so boring was this conversation that even Awkward Silence – whom I can usually count on – stood well clear of it. However, they say that all good things must come to an end. And while this conversation clearly was not a good thing, it at least had the decency to finally act like one.

There was another girl at the party. This was L’s boyfriend’s roommate, or LBfR. LBfR was a very petite, very pretty South American girl sporting a pixie cut, a vibrant personality and a fully functioning sense of humor. She was also sitting at the next table over. This geography allowed me to speak quietly with L’s boyfriend on the subject. “So,” I said in a way that I can only imagine looked sketchy to anybody happened to observe it. “I was thinking of trying out the other table. But before I do…your roommate…she has a boyfriend?” His response came in the form not of words but of laughter. Then he turned to L and repeated my query. Whereupon she also laughed. “Yes,” he said with actual words. “She has a boyfriend.”

“Then she’s dead to me,” I said, slumping my shoulders. “And I don’t care if she lives or dies.” But realizing that that might have sounded a bit cruel, I added the following, “And considering that she’s probably going to do both of those things, why get worked up about it.” And rather than be offended by this, L’s boyfriend laughed and remarked that he appreciated my ‘philosophy.’ He’s a good lad, that L’s boyfriend. And I decided that I was quite comfortable where I was.8

Now, I realize that the better part of this post has been taken up with complaints. But in fact, there were plenty of good things that passed in the course of the party. For instance, did I mention that Patrick Stewart – the Patrick Stewart – was there? At first we weren’t sure, because we could only see the back of his head. But LBfR got suspicious when she glimpsed his profile. Whereupon did somebody light upon the idea of googling his wife, as we could see his companion’s face well enough. And sure enough it was him; it were they. So first we got all excited. Then we decided to mind our own business. Because New Yorkers respect other people’s privacy; and we definitely don’t get star struck. But between getting excited and minding our own business I obviously had to tweet about it.9

Fast forward to later in the evening when I decided that I’d just about had enough of this no-smoking-in-the-garden nonsense. And so I decided to go out front have a pipe on the sidewalk, like the social outcast I was being made felt to be. Believe it or not, I was quite literally the only person having a smoke. I was, in point of fact, the only person out there at all. Which was fine. A few moments of silence would do me well. Except, that’s exactly when Patrick Stewart and his wife decided to leave. And they walked right past me. Be cool, I bethought myself. The man moved to Brooklyn not to be bothered, so don’t bloody bother him!

But Fate had something else in mind. Because just as they stepped through the door, I exhaled a cloud of fragrant pipe tobacco smoke. His wife kept walking, but Patrick Stewart stopped, and he sniffed the air. He turned and looked at me. I froze. I mean, I wasn’t moving in the first place, so you couldn’t really tell that I had just now frozen. But I had. He looked at me.

“That smells wonderful,” he said in a voice that was usually quoting Shakespeare when it wasn’t busy commanding the starship godsdamned Enterprise. “Thanks,” I said confidently as I pulled the pipe from my lips and held it as coolly as James Dean ever held a cigarette; a move which I knew this arch-thespian would respect. Then he squinted his eyes and began to speak in the same dulcet tones that made even the omnipotent Q go weak in the knees.

“You know,” he said in that way that only Patrick fucking Stewart can say you know. “You know,” he said. “My grandfather used to smoke a pipe.” And he drew out the first syllable of ‘grandfather’ with Hamletion pondarence. “When I was a boy, in England, my grandfather used to sit me on his knee and tell me stories. And all the while, he’d smoke a pipe.” And he smile a smile so bright it was nothing short of an endorsement for solar power. “A pipe much as you are smoking now, I dare say.” I nodded. But I didn’t say anything. What words could be worthy of such a moment? So I took another puff of my pipe and graced him with a fragrant cloud of Proustian reminiscence. And as the scent of it reached his mighty Roman nose, he smiled once more. “I don’t have any grandchildren,” I nearly said.

But I didn’t say anything at all. I never know what to say when people say such things to me. And they do indeed say such things to me. More times than I can count, I’ve stood out front of a bar, smoking my pipe, only to have some girl come up to me and remark, “Oh, my grandfather smoked a pipe!” To which I normally respond, “Yes, but nobody wants to sleep with their grandfather.” At which point such girls have demonstrated a marked tendency to back slowly away from me.

Look, I’m not saying it’s a good response. But at least it’s something. Yet, clearly, this was not something I could say to SirPatStew. Instead, I smiled and nodded. Then, against all my better judgment, I spoke. “What a lovely story. And you tell it so well.” I could see that he was beginning to regret having ever spoken to me. I began to look about for a shovel. Had I found one, I would have dug myself a whole, climbed into it and died forthwith for shame. But there weren’t any shovels, and so I had to keep going. “I don’t mean to keep you,” I said politely. “And your wife looks more than ready to be on her way. So. Umm. Make it so!” Damn the shovels, this is America! Surely there must be a gun nearby with which to mercifully shoot myself.

But his wife was a real doll. Taking in equal measures his confusion and my desperate embarrassment, she linked her arm in his and led him mercifully away. For his part, he was thankful for the rescue. As for her, she nodded pleasantly at me, surely being used to this sort of thing. “Nice to meet you,” she nearly said. “Good luck with Blunt Talk,” I nearly called after them. And then he was gone. At warp speed, as it were.10

Now, I want you to go back six paragraphs and find the sentence that ends with “…fragrant pipe tobacco smoke.” Have you found it? Good. Here I must report that not a single thing after that sentence is true. It didn’t happen. None of it. But. OMG, you guys, how cool would it be if it did?? Here’s what really happened.

As I was out smoking my pipe, being entirely alone on that sidewalk, Patrick Stewart and his wife left the bar. They walked right past me. And they kept on walking. They walked a few doors down, presumably so as not to be hanging out outside the bar where weirdoes like me might bother them. There they paused and stood for a moment, in silence.

Then his wife spoke. “I think I hear [live] music. Want to go check it out?” And then I heard him. “Noo,” he said thoughtfully, though perhaps a bit fatigued, in that beautiful voice. “But you go on.” And she did. She went on. She popped back inside to check it out. And so for what was probably a whole actual minute, for every one of those immutable sixty seconds, Patrick Stewart and David Starr were the only two people on Douglas Street between 3rd and 4th in Brooklyn, New York. And there we stood, separated by a mere fifty or so feet.

And I puffed my pipe, desperately hoping that he would saunter over and tell me how nice it smelled and how when he was a boy in England his grandfather used to sit him on his knee and tell him stories, all the while smoking a pipe, much like mine. Of course he didn’t do any such thing. He stayed exactly where he was, minding his own business, not wishing to be bothered. And in his solitude, he was probably balancing the dual thoughts of wishing his wife would just be ready to go home because he was tired, but also loving the shit out of her for her joie de vivre. In short, he was being a human fucking being; a man, just like anybody else.

And yet, I noticed that there were only three of us out there now. There was me, Patrick Stewart, and Awkward Silence. So I had to think fast. “Hey, Mister Stewart! Good luck with Blunt Talk,” is what I absolutely did not say. And I was so proud of myself for all the other things I did not say besides. It was then that his wife reemerged from the bar, unsatisfied with the musical offerings. And so it was that they walked off into the warm, muggy, disgusting, humid, but quite literally benighted11 Brooklyn night.

Alone now on the sidewalk,12 I finished what was left of my pipe. And I was proud of myself. The man had come out for a nice night and nobody had bothered him. And when we were alone together on the sidewalk, I didn’t bother him either. And maybe that’s why he moved to Brooklyn. So he could be somewhere where people would respect his privacy. Because say what you will about New Yorkers, we definitely do not get star struck.

Right. Back to the party. It was a lovely time. I haven’t seen L & R since well before I left for Berlin and I was absolutely delighted to see them again. What’s more, I quite like L’s boyfriend. He works in theatre, does lighting. I used to do that. We both love bad puns and history and deadpan humor. So we get on great and always have some good laughs.

Then there’s R’s boyfriend. Also a lovely guy. And he too has a beard. Except I could have sworn his beard was much bigger the last time I saw him. But I didn’t want to say anything about it. You see, I was quite literally terrified. I was afraid that if I said, “Hey, wasn’t your beard much bigger last time?” R would cringe and say, “Dave…that was not this guy…that was the last guy…also, you ruin everything.” But it was the same guy, he had just had a trim. And what’s more, he bought me a beer.13

Another thing that made the night great was that A was down from Connecticut. A, along with L & R is somebody I’ve known for more than six years now. And more than the other two, there’s history between us. What I mean is, there are things which could have – and still could – complicate our present friendship. And yet, our friendship is entirely uncomplicated, and I can not express how much I love her for that. Anyway, she was there, and I was just so happy to see her and catch up with her.

I also want to say this about A. She is deceptively brilliant. I know that sounds like a backhanded compliment, but I don’t mean it so. I’ll try again. A has got a very colloquial way of speaking. It’s very down to earth and extraordinarily unpretentious. And it’s not that you don’t think she’s a bright kid when you talk to her. You very quickly realize that the lights are on. It’s just that you would never think, “Wow, this dame has a brain on her.”

Then the other day, she writes this email. It was part of a chain between me and her and L & R, and also K. And, my friends, what an email. It was beautifully written. It was insightful. And, not to put too fine a point on it, it was brilliant. And she always does this, A does. She always says or does something that makes you go, “Oh, right. A is fucking brilliant. How do I ever forget that?” And that is something I really admire about her. She is entirely confident. She has zero fucks to give, whether you think she’s smart or not. I wish I had that. I can’t seem to not tell people how I was reading Jules Verne, in French, because you should always read things in the original. Or how I did my Master’s in Ancient Greek. Or how Kafka is really great, but man, that is some difficult German, and did I mention I know some German? I can learn a lot from that girl, is what I’m trying to say.

I realize, as I’m trying to wrap this up, that I’ve said a bit about L and about A, but very little about R, even though she’s been a presence through this post. And as I’m coming to the end of this, I’m beginning to realize that this as much a tribute to my friends as anything else. So I beg your indulgence as I take the time to say something about her as well.

R is an interesting character. It would not be an exaggeration to say that she didn’t much like me when we first met. Indeed, she didn’t much like me for the first few years that we knew each other. But somewhere along the line, she “figured me out;” and those would be her words for it, I think. But she’s smart and funny, to say nothing of pretty, and she did “figure me out.” And now we really are friends.

Which is quite a thing, really. Because, for reasons that I won’t get into, it would have been very easy for her to walk away from me at one point and forget she ever met me. (The same is true for L, by the way). But she never did. And that speaks to the kind of person she is. And now I count her among my true friends; and her me, I think. And that is something of which I am always conscious, and for which I am always thankful.

And so here, finally, at long last, enfin, endlich, I must close. I can’t pretend that I’m happy to be back here and not still in Berlin. But I am very happy that I got to spend L’s birthday with her, that I got to see L…and R, and A.   I’m happy that I got to hang out in the same beer garden as Patrick Stewart and pretend to meet him when we were the only two people on the street. But most of all, I’m happy for the friends I have.   As I sit here unemployed, in a place I don’t particularly wish to be, I’m proud to say that I have people such as these to call my friends. Happy birthday, L.

  1. Having re-read these first two paragraphs, I can’t help but feel that there are a lot of commas – and a lot of words between those commas – that are just not terribly important. And so I’m considering color-coding the important clauses for ease of reading. German might consider trying this as well. []
  2. As opposed to the first two paragraphs, which were by way of Prologue. []
  3. Except for one. []
  4. I am going to call her L to protect her privacy. And also because I’m currently fighting my way through Kafka’s Das Schloß (The Castle), wherein the protagonist is known only as “K.” And since, as it seems to me, we are both dealing in the absurd, it seems like a good example to follow. []
  5. Peculiar because it was a non-smoking beer garden, despite being, as beer gardens tend to be, entirely out-of-doors. #ThanksBloomberg. []
  6. She was. #orwasshe []
  7. Or a sense of humor which was not faulty, if you’re inclined to take the blonde girl’s side. []
  8. Or as comfortable as I could be in that wretched humidity and deprived of the pleasures of tobacco. []
  9. For the record, the tweet read: “You guys, I am in the same garden as Patrick Stewart and I am being so cool about it. #nerdboner” []
  10. Really, David? []
  11. Sir Patrick Stewart, after all. []
  12. For presumably Awkward Silence had by now gone back inside. []
  13. I realize this doesn’t add much to the story. But it was a part of the night. And more importantly, I’m a big fan of R, so I wanted to make sure I said something nice about her boo. And what’s nicer than buying me a beer? []

Two of the Best Things

Two of the Best Things
(Part I of II)

When I was in Berlin, people would sometimes ask me what I missed about New York. To which I would usually respond, “Bridges and hockey.” Because New York has the best bridges. Everybody knows that. The Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg, 59th Street1, Triboro2, GW, Verrazano and so on. And it’s not just the bridges themselves, which are majestic and wonderful and powerful. It’s the ridiculous views you get when you stand on them. It’s the peace and quiet you get when you’re stumbling home over one at five in the morning.

One of my favorite sunrises ever was when I was coming home over the Williamsburg after a long night out in Brooklyn. I met these two fellows who were out doing some photography. I asked them if they had gotten up early just to shoot the sunrise from the bridge. They said they had. We chatted for a bit, making friends in that way you can only do at that time of day. Or night. Then we went our separate ways. “Good night,” I said. “Good morning,” they said. Beautiful.

So much for bridges.3 But hockey. Now that’s not really a New York City thing per se. I’ve never actually even played in the city. I mean, how do you trek your goalie gear anywhere without a car? And more to the point, where do you keep that stinky stuff in a tiny apartment? So I only ever played on the Island. But close enough. And when people asked me what I missed, well, I missed playing hockey.

I played tonight. What a beautiful game. First, just the sounds. Skates cutting the ice, stick on puck, puck on glass. And best of all, puck on pads. I say that because I am a goalie. And man, that position will do your head in.

–Interpolation: I started this post last Thursday, after that night’s game. But I only got this far. Partly because it was very late. And partly because I was too sober to get anything flowing, which was far the more powerful of the two reasons. When I was doing my Berlin Diary posts, I would typically go through a bottle of wine per post. Which was easy to do, not only because they took several hours from start to finish, but because you could just pop down to the Späti for a four-Euro bottle. Anyway, all to say I’m struggling to get this done on one-to-two beers. It may not be my best work.

Anyway, goaltending. It’ll do your head in. It’s a pretty lonely position. You’re not really afforded the luxury of making mistakes. Anybody else makes a mistake, and the game carries on. You fuck up and the puck’s in the back of your net. Or Lady Luck bailed you out. So there’s that pressure.

But there’s another pressure as well. In many ways, the quality of the game hinges on your play. What I mean is, if you suck and pucks are going past you left and right, you’ll notice that the guys begin to feel like the game isn’t very serious. And when they start to feel that way, they start to play that way. There’s a loss of intensity and a loss of effort. Conversely, if you’re standing on your head, you’ll see guys on the other team busting their asses to try and beat you any way they can. And you’ll see the guys on your own team giving everything they’ve got to support you.

So you always want to give the guys a good game. Perhaps even more-so under the circumstances in which I play. The circumstance being this: I play for free with a group of guys who pay to play. I play for free because they need a netminder. And so while I get on well with them, they’re not my ‘friends’ per se. I don’t hang out with them outside of hockey. At most, I’ll have a beer in the locker room after a game. But that’s really it. So my one function is to show up, stand between the pipes and stop the puck. If I can’t do that, I’m not much use to them.

If I’m lucky, I get to play once a week. I don’t get to practice in between. As a result, I tend to get better as the session (usually about three months long) goes on. The games are my practice. Which means I’m usually more of a head-case in the early weeks.

Playing goal requires a certain degree of mental discipline and even-keel-edness that I realistically probably don’t have in great abundance. I played my first game back from Berlin two weeks ago, after a three month hiatus, and I was a nervous wreck. I spent most of the game praying that the puck would stay in the other end and basically being terrified anytime it came near me. As you can guess, I didn’t play very well. And as my parents will tell you, I came home in a very sour mood.

Last week, however, I played quite well, for whatever reason. And it’s a totally different feeling. Instead of dreading the puck, I wanted it. And I didn’t just want it, I wanted it off the stick of the best player on the ice. I wanted the best shots and the most challenging plays. I felt like I could stop anything and I wanted to prove it. It’s godsdamned exhilarating. And whereas two weeks ago I was counting down the minutes until the game would be over, last week I left wondering why we couldn’t play a fourth period.

It’s hard to figure out why you can play well one night and shit the next, or vice-versa. Best I can tell, it comes down to two things. One is just dumb luck. Last week, very early in the game I made a nifty stop on a bang-bang play. That sort of thing ups your confidence in a hurry. You make a save like that and you realize, “Oh yeah, I fucking know how to play this game. Bring it on!” Whereas had I failed to make that stop, it’s very easy to start thinking, “Ugh, it’s gonna be one of those nights.”4

The other thing it comes down to, for me at least, is technique. As with any position in any sport, there is a science and an art to goaltending. On the science side, we’re talking about skating, positioning, how you hold your body, reading the play, situational awareness, and other such things. These things are more or less constant for any goaltender. By which I mean, we all need to know how to do them correctly and skillfully.

As for art, that is a question of style. And one of the things that is difficult for me is that my personal style is a bit old-fashioned and no longer particularly in vogue. In and of itself, that would be fine. What makes it difficult is that I can’t turn on the TV and watch others play as an aide to myself. These days, most goalies play what’s known as a “butterfly” style. This means that on almost all shots, they will drop to their knees and splay their legs to take away the low ice, where most shots are likely to come. Many goalies have great success with this style, and when you’re over six-feet tall, you still have plenty of body left to cover the upper part of the net.

I, however, am five-foot-six. When I butterfly, my legs aren’t long enough to take away a great deal of low ice, and I don’t have much upper body left to cover the high parts of the net. So I play a sort of standup-butterfly hybrid. Now, Martin Brodeur played this way, and he was one of the best ever. So there’s precedent for its success. But everywhere you look, you see butterfly goalies. And when that’s all you see, it’s an easy trap to fall into, to start playing that way too.

Well, two weeks ago, I was butterflying all over the place. And what happened? Low shots were sneaking past me into the corners and high shots were sailing over my shoulders. Last week, however, I was able to play my game, my style. And that’s what I need to do to be successful. And I was successful. I stood up for the high shots and I was catching them in the shoulder. I stayed on my feet for the low shots that were coming square to me and only went down when I had to.

When I’m playing, I somehow need to keep all this in my mind. And at the same time, it needs to be subconscious. Or unconscious. You don’t have time to think to yourself, “OK, this shot is high, so stay on your feet.” All you can do is react. But after the play, you need to be your own coach. You need to be aware of why you were able to make a save or why you failed to. You need to tell yourself what adjustments you need to make next time. But then you have to be able to push all that out of your mind when the play comes near you again and just trust your reflexes and your instincts and hope you’ve internalized your own lessons.

And then sometimes luck and technique converge. Some of my favorite saves come when I never even see the puck. For example, I know a guy has the puck up by the blue line. But I can’t see it, because there are a couple of bodies between us; maybe guys from my team or my opponents’. You see him wind up to take a slap shot, but you still don’t see the puck itself. Then it hits you in the leg or the arm and bounces safely to the corner. And you never saw it. Well, that’s luck to some extent. But it also means that your positioning was spot on. You did everything right based on your read of the play and you made the save. That’s not about reflexes or skill, that’s just being technically sound. It means your doing the little things right. And that is somehow very gratifying.

OK, so I got a bit into the weeds there. But I wanted to give some sort of accurate impression of what it’s like for me to be out there. In any case, playing goal can be nerve-wracking and mentally taxing. But when I play well, it’s just so much damned fun. And after last week’s game, I floated home on Cloud 9. I’m supposed to play again on Thursday, and I can’t fucking wait. But you’re only as good as the game your presently playing. So come Thursday, last week’s game is out the window and it starts all over again. And no matter how nerve-wracking that’s going to be, I know one thing for certain. Whenever I get back to Berlin, I am going to miss playing hockey.

  1. With all due respect to hizzonner, Mr. Koch. []
  2. ‘Triboro’ is such a uniquely New York name, and I’ll never call it by any other. []
  3. Not really. I mean, I could go on for a while about the bridges. []
  4. This is where the mental discipline and even-keel-edness comes in. The best goalies will be able to give up an early goal and then forget about it. It’s a lot harder than it sounds. At least for me. []