Thursday, September 30, 2010

I Finally Figured Out How to Do This

The following is a video of me singing that hopefully everyone can actually view. Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Hair Update

It's been a really long while since I posted one of these--since June in fact. To fill newer readers in, the Hair Update is a tradition that began two years ago. After shaving my head in October of 2006, I decided to grow my hair out very long, and since September of 2008 I've been sharing the progress with my blog followers.

Back in June, my hair was pretty long:

Even with a trim in between June and now, though, my hair today makes my hair at the beginning of the summer look practically short.

"Damn, BB," Younger Neighbor exclaimed as I took my hair tie out today and let the locks spill across my shoulders and chest. "Your hair is long as fuck!"

I'd have to say he's right:

I like it well enough, but now that it's gotten this long I'm not sure what to do with it. Should I let it keep growing? I already get enough attention for it as it is, and I'm not inclined to turn into a circus attraction with a waist-length ponytail.

On the other hand, I don't really have any really firm desire to cut it, at least not yet. The urge comes from time to time, buttressed by the knowledge that I actually look very nice with short hair, but when I reflect that it's taken nearly four years to grow my hair the appeal of the thought is tempered.

We'll have to see.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Captain Vanilla and the Great Adventure, Part II

After my last post, I thought it appropriate to put something on that was a bit more uplifting. Per earlier reader requests, I am posting Part II of my story, Captain Vanilla and the Great Adventure. I am also pleased to announce that I am collaborating with Cheryl de los Reyes Cruz, a blogger and talented illustrator whom many of my readers are likely already familiar with. Cheryl will be providing one illustration for each chapter of the story, but if any other budding artists out there would like to contribute as well I'd be happy to include additional images.

If you are new to the story, feel free to read Part I so you can become acquainted with what's going on.

I'd also like to note in advance that a character you are about to encounter, named Michael, is in no way meant to be a representation of me, despite our superficial resemblance. Even I am nowhere near that vain. I hope everyone likes Vanilla's ongoing saga and I look forward to feedback.

Vanilla screamed in shock when he opened his eyes and then spun around, disoriented by his impossible surroundings. When he'd fallen asleep, it was surely in his own bedroom, but now his bed and its soaked blankets rested on the deck of a wooden ship.

"Where am I!?!" he screamed.

Next to his own bed were three others lined up in a row, one blue, one purple, and one pink. Vanilla's was green.

He looked up through the rain to see the same boy from his dream, the one with the spiky black hair, rushing toward the ship's mast.

"Hey!" he yelled. "Hey!"

The boy turned to him, his face worried.

"Where are we?" Vanilla asked.

"Help!" the boy responded. "We have to get out from under this cloud!"

Their vessel had settled directly beneath a black storm cloud that was pelting them with heavy rain. It must have been low-lying, because it was closer to them than Vanilla had ever seen a cloud get to anything on the ground.

He walked to the ship's railing to get a better look and his head spun with vertigo; they were floating not upon the sea but in the air, so high up that there were other clouds beneath them and the ground wasn't visible.

Vanilla turned to address the boy once again, but he was at the mast pushing on one of the sails with all his might.

Vanilla ran over and began to push as well.

"Go to the other side!" the boy instructed. The rain was coming down so brutally now that Vanilla could barely make out his face. "And pull! As hard as you can!"

Vanilla obeyed, seizing the wooden cylinder to which the bottom of one of the sails was connected. As he applied his bodyweight to the task the sail turned, and Vanilla saw what the boy was trying to do.

The readjusted sail caught a strong gust of wind coming up from behind them, and propelled them straight up through the cloud to calmer skies.

"You can stop," the boy called over. "We did it. Thank you."

Vanilla was panting, but he managed to ask again, "Where are we?"

The boy looked him straight in the face. He was about Vanilla's height, with chalky white skin and rosy cheeks studded with brilliant blue eyes. He looked like he smiled a lot.

"We don't know," he answered.

"'We'"? Vanilla asked.

From behind another sail emerged a boy and a girl, both looking exhausted because, as Vanilla realized, they'd been working too.

"How many are there?" Vanilla asked.

"Just us three," the boy answered. "Well, four now."

"When did he get here?" the girl asked. She was pretty, with a round, tan face, bright green eyes and beautiful oak hair that shimmered down to past her shoulders.

"While we were turning out of that storm," the black-haired boy answered, gesturing over to where Vanilla's bed lay next to the three others.

"I'm James, by the way," the boy said. "What's your name?"

"I'm Vanilla," he replied. "I'm from Paris."

"Really?" James asked, his face breaking into a white-toothed grin. "Me, too! Where do you go to school?"

"The Paris School of Architecture," Vanilla recited. "Or I used to. I decided to drop out."

"I go to the University of Paris," James said. "I don't really like it. I wish I was brave enough to drop out, too. I'm only in my first year, though, and my father says it's unwise."

"We're the same age then," Vanilla smiled.

"Are you nineteen?" James asked.

Vanilla nodded.

"I'm twenty," the girl said, extending her hand. "My name's Stephanie."

"Are you from Paris, too?" Vanilla asked.

"No," she said. "I'm from England. I don't think we're speaking English, though, or any language at all that we know about. Neither of you have an accent to me."

"You don't have one to me, either," Vanilla said. "You sound just like us. And if you really listen, the words sound strange, like they're foreign. I understand you the way I understand French, and I speak like I would speak French, but it doesn't sound French."

"Doesn't it?" Stephanie asked. "It still sounds like English to me. I just figured it wasn't because James said he was from France, but neither one of us sounded odd to the other."

"I don't know," Vanilla said. "Maybe I'm imagining it."

"Well, I'm out of school too now," she said. "I was finishing up my second year studying history, but my mother died. I couldn't stay. I don't really know what I'll do now."

"I'm sorry about that," Vanilla said.

"I am, too," she said.

Vanilla turned to the second boy and began to ask who he was, but then his voice faltered. He hadn't actually looked at him before, being so absorbed in introducing himself to the other two and figuring out where they were.

The boy's beauty was extraordinary.

He was a few inches taller than Vanilla, with long, sinewy arms that ended in delicate fingers. His face, as fair as white rose petals, was clouded at the cheeks with a light pink that reached his small, glistening red lips, lips that looked as if they'd been dipped in liquid rubies.

His eyes were blue, but darker than James's, and he had long, smooth blonde hair that fell halfway down his back and framed his cheeks in a circle of gold. A ray of sunlight poked through the sail and caught the top of his head, literally making him shine.

"I'm Michael," he said, withdrawing a spidery hand from the pocket of his cargo shorts. Vanilla's gaze was drawn to the boy's bare legs, and he noted that even his feet were pretty.

He looked back up at Michael, who seemed afraid for just a fraction of a second. In a moment the look was gone, though, and Vanilla thought he'd made it up.

He took the boy's hand and tried not to tremble.

"I'm Vanilla," he answered.

"I'm from Florida," Michael said. "And I'm eighteen. I'm going to start college next year, in fact. This weekend is my graduation. Or was supposed to be. I don't know if I'm going."

"Yeah," Vanilla stammered. "Maybe not. But how did you get here?"

"We all got here the same way," James put in. "We went to bed like we always do, and when we woke up our beds were here. Stephanie and Michael were first, and then I came a little while later. You showed up just after the storm started."

"But how long were you here before me?" Vanilla asked. "I saw you in my dream--well, I guess it wasn't a dream, though."

"I saw you, too," James said. "But that was hours ago."

"Hours?" Vanilla asked. It had only felt like a second. "Do you have any idea where we are?"

"Not really," Stephanie said. "There was one clue, but it didn't make much sense."

"Anything is better than nothing," Vanilla said. "Show me."

Stephanie led the way down a set of stairs into the ship's interior. There was a dining room with a table big enough to seat twenty people, a kitchen off to the side stacked with huge piles of meat, a wine cellar, and, in the back, a sitting room complete with a fireplace.

"You should see downstairs," Stephanie said upon catching Vanilla's look of awe. "There are bedrooms with four-posters and even a shower. I didn't know that was possible on a ship like this."

She walked over to a cupboard set by the fireplace.

Sunlight poured in from the huge windows on either side, illuminating an endless sky that sparkled at high noon.

"Michael and I found it while we were looking through the ship," Stephanie explained as she rummaged in a drawer. "We got here a few hours before James, and after we saw all the food in the kitchen we thought someone must have been here, so we started searching."

She withdrew a piece of parchment from the drawer.

"Here it is."

She put it down on a table by the fireplace, and Vanilla bent over to look at it.

It was a treasure map, one of the simplest he'd ever seen, with a dotted black line winding in an arc around the edge to meet an X marked at the top. In the center of the map, next to the line, was a poem.

He read it aloud.

"'The greatest treasure ever made
"'Is on this distant island laid
"'And if that treasure you obtain
"'You'll have no cause for fear again

"'Not silver, diamonds, nor pure gold
"'Can equal what this island holds
"'But if you wish that thing to take
"'You must from yours a captain make.'"

"You can read that?” Stephanie asked in astonishment. “We haven't been able to make sense of it. We could tell there was writing, but it looked like hieroglyphics or something.”

Vanilla sent a puzzled look her way.

“I—I don’t know what to tell you,” he said. “It looks like regular old words to me.”

“Well, that helps,” Stephanie said, eyeing him with something just short of amazement. “But the map itself is still impossible.”

Vanilla looked down at the drawing, basically a line from one point to another.

"What are you talking about?" he asked.

"The map," James said. "Don't you see? It's a labyrinth. I don't see how we'd ever get through."

Vanilla studied the map again.

"Are we talking about the same thing?" he asked.

"Yes," James said. "What do you see?"

"Just a line," Vanilla said. "Almost straight. It's curved a little, but that's it."

All three of them looked at him in disbelief.

"Vanilla, that path is incredibly complicated," Stephanie said. "I can only work it out for a few inches before I get lost. I have no idea what you mean."

Vanilla blushed and walked to the window.

"I'm sorry," he said. "Sometimes I don't get things right. I'm a bit different that way. I hope you don't think I'm crazy."

"No," Stephanie said. "A lot of things are strange here. It makes sense that we would be, too."

Vanilla smiled and looked into the sky. It was a beautiful shade of green, one that the skies over France had never known. The clouds spread out beneath, beside, and above him were mostly white, but out of the corner of his eye he caught a pink one floating a hundred feet or so above their ship. It was fat and swollen, like it was about to release a huge amount of rain. It looked like a shopping bag packed full to the point of bursting. In fact, if he looked close enough, he thought he could see something emerging from the side.

"No way," he whispered. If he was wrong about this, he truly was insane.

"Vanilla, is something wrong?" James asked.

"We have to get to the deck!" he yelled. "Now!"

He ran past them, through the kitchen, then the dining room, and finally up the stairs, where he emerged onto the deck and found the cloud again. He climbed another set of stairs that took him to the bridge of the ship, where he grabbed the wheel and directed the ship toward the pink object in the sky.

"Vanilla, are you nuts!?"

It was James, who was on his tail.

"You're steering us straight into a storm cloud!"

"No, I'm not," Vanilla said. "It's not a storm cloud!"

"What are you talking about?" James asked, his hands pressed to his face. "Yes, it is! We're going to drown!"

"James, trust him," Stephanie said.

"What do you mean?" he asked her. "How can you say that? We're headed for disaster."

"Please," she said. "I have a feeling--just, please."

James fell silent and leaned back on the bridge, but he couldn't hide his worry. He was biting his nails so much that flakes should have been flying from his fingers. Stephanie's brow was furrowed, but she was forcing herself not to say anything. She hoped the strange boy with the orange hair was right.

As their ship approached to within several yards of the object, Vanilla saw that he'd been right. He laughed because he couldn't believe it.

In that moment, the great pink cloud opened and began its torrential rain. It wasn't water that poured down, though. It was gumdrops.

Stephanie's mouth opened in amazement and James nearly fell from his perch behind the wheel.

Before long, the four of them were dancing around the bridge laughing. Michael disappeared down the stairs in a flash of blonde hair, and returned a moment later with a wooden bucket in which he nabbed the flying treats.

"Watch me, watch me," Stephanie called to James, opening her mouth to try and catch a falling gumdrop. It hit her in the nose instead, and they both laughed until their sides hurt.

They stayed beneath the cloud until it had emptied itself, and then they went down to the main deck to collect all the candies that had landed there.

Stephanie stared out at the open sky with a great smile on her face.

"What is this amazing place?" she asked. "Where gumdrops rain from the sky? That treasure must be incredible, whatever it is."

"Do you want to get it?" Vanilla asked.

"I want to," she said. "But how would we? The map is impossible to read, and it says that we need a captain. Where would we even find one?"

"I think it should be Vanilla," Michael spoke up.

He'd been bending over to pry a mushed gumdrop from the deck, and his glorious hair shone in a blonde cascade that reached the floor. He stood up and tossed it back over his shoulder, letting it rest just above his waist.

"He could see things none of us could," he said. "Like the cloud, or the way he could hear the language."

"Plus, he's the only one who can read the map," James said. "It wouldn't make sense for anyone else to be captain."

"Me?" Vanilla said. "As your captain? I don't know if I could be. I've never been a pirate before, or even really been on a ship. I was on a sailboat one time with my dad when I was little, but I don't think that counts."

"But it has to be you," Michael said, his blue eyes suddenly pleading. He took Vanilla's hand in his own. "Don't you see it couldn't be anyone else?"

Vanilla's vision blurred a little, and he felt his head spin.

"Okay," he said, removing his palm from Michael's. "Okay, I will. But how will I do it?"

"We'll help you figure it out," James said. "We just need someone. We can't do anything without a leader."

"I say we take a vote," Stephanie said. "All in favor of Vanilla being captain, say aye."

"Aye!" three voices chorused back.

"Alright," Vanilla said, smiling. "I'm glad you have such confidence in--"

"Aye!" a fourth voice squeaked.

They all jumped when they heard it, for they'd been certain no one else was with them.

Looking down, Vanilla saw a small pink bunny about a foot tall standing beside Stephanie's right leg and holding his soft arm in a firm salute. He barely came up to the girl's knee.

"Lapin!" Vanilla said. "You're real!"

"Of course I am," Lapin answered. "I've been in here for years, but back then I couldn't talk. I was in bed with you when you came through, and that's what did it."

The others all had questioning looks on their faces, and Vanilla explained, "It's Lapin. He's my bunny. I got him when I was a baby, but then he was just a toy."

He looked away, embarrassed, but Michael said, "Damn! I should have slept with my bear last night!"

Vanilla looked at him and smiled.

"It's settled then," James said. "Vanilla is our captain. Now let's go inside and eat some dinner, and we'll figure out what to do next."

"Dinner?" Michael asked. "But who will cook?"

"I'm a fantastic cook!" James said. "Not to brag. But that's what I wanted to go to school for in the first place and my parents insisted I study business."

He turned on the setting sun and prepared to head in.

"One more thing," Stephanie said. "We have to give the ship a name. It doesn't have one."

"I think the captain should decide," Michael said.

They all looked at Vanilla.

He thought about it for a moment, and then spoke.

"We'll call it 'Gumdrop,'" he said. "Our ship will be the SS Gumdrop."

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

We Must Find the Strength

It was hard not to cry in front of my sister. Still, as angry and disgusted and genuinely sad as I was, I managed it. It wasn’t my father’s words that pulled at my emotions; I’ve seen and heard enough nonsense from that man during my life that his juvenile declarations cause me none but the most passing of anxieties.

What bothered me was the effect it had on my mother. For all her nagging, for all her rigid discipline and obsessive catalogue of often-pointless chores, she didn’t deserve that kind of pain.

“I can’t believe you’re doing this,” she gasped, her beautiful face contorted by sobs. Black drops of moisture flowed down from her eyes and left twin trails of charcoal on her cheeks. “After all these years.”

“You made me do this,” came my father’s reply. He was surveying the bedroom as coolly as if he were trying to determine what to watch on television that evening.

“No,” my mother gritted in reply. “This was your decision.”

My sister, meanwhile, was sitting hysterical between the couple who’d just been unilaterally split after seventeen years of marriage.

I really don’t think that my mother, even with all the frustration she’d been harboring and all the bitterness she was giving vent to, seriously expected my father to take her up on her suggestion that he leave.

She was calm when she came downstairs to get Pie, saying that my sister was needed for a talk they were having. It was only a few minutes later that a seven-year-old girl’s shriek of anguish and disbelief summoned Thomas and me from the first floor to see what had happened.

“It’s okay,” my father was saying as he stroked Pie’s back. “Mommy and Daddy both still love you. I’m going to be nearby, too, so I can visit all the time.”

My mother was sitting on the edge of the bed, holding her head in her hands, looking like a person in total shock. She’s a strong and often august person, a woman whose hard chilliness can sometimes make her seem completely emotionless, and for those reasons her rare show of distress was unnerving.

The last time I’d seen her so distraught was when her mother died six years ago.

I’m actually of the opinion, along with Beautiful Cousin, that divorce would be a good thing for Our Family. Both of my parents have faults that would test the patience of most reasonable people, but my father, with a decades-long addiction to prescription medication, a persistent tendency to drunkenness, a history of physical and verbal abuse toward his children, an innately selfish character, and an unstable personality marked by hubristic highs and suicidal lows, is undoubtedly the more trying of the two.

The current marital crisis has its roots in these long-term factors, which have been enhanced in recent months by my father’s business successes and his most elaborate affected identity yet.

Ever since I can remember, my father has assumed stereotypical personalities and reworked himself to fit their confines. When I was a small child, he was the slick salesman; when we moved to rural Beautiful Town, he was a country man; now, in Southern State, he’s decided to be a biker.

He and my mother purchased their motorcycles years ago for recreational riding, but in recent months he’s taken this persona to the limit, attiring himself in leather, indulging in absurd tattoos (include a Confederate flag emblazoned with the term “Infidel,” which he explains is a reference to Muslim savagery), spouting off racist and chauvinistic babble, and generally conducting himself like a perfect ass.

The hollowness of this particular charade is revealed in the wild discrepancy between our economic status and that of his new “friends;” they’re as often as not thunderstruck when they come here, yet he maddeningly continues to denigrate himself by imitating their behavior and pretending to be their social equal.

This new trend has coincided with the explosive success and expansion of his company to make him intolerable. My father’s patterns are predictable: when wanting for money, he is humble and either subordinate to or resentful of my mother; when buttressed by a plentiful income, he grows increasingly arrogant and cocksure.

My mother, shattered, spent last night bewailing her own weakness.

“I feel like a baby,” she blubbered on as Beautiful Cousin and I wiped her face, patted her back, and stroked her hair. “I can’t stop crying. It just hurts so bad.”

Then she doubled up and seized herself as if she were about to implode.

“Mom, it’s okay,” I comforted her. “Really it is. The day is going to come when you’ll see this as a blessing.”

“BB, you don’t understand,” she said. “I’ve been with him since I was nineteen years old. I don’t even know how to be with anyone else.”

“But you can do so much better than him,” Beautiful Cousin chimed in. “Marie, you’re beautiful, especially for your age.”

My mother nodded, acknowledgement without pride of the glaring fact that her striking appearance remains unblemished as she approaches forty. She is without exaggeration one of the most gorgeous women I’ve ever seen, but her ruthlessly straightforward nature makes her too practical for vanity.

All the same, she won’t deny the obvious; there’s a reason that men have marveled for years at my father’s good fortune.

“Plus, you have a great career,” I added. “And a great personality. You’ve achieved so much.”

She shook her head.

“Your father makes me feel like I have a terrible personality,” she lamented. “He says I’m no fun at all. I’m sorry, but I don’t want his biker friends hanging out at our house and sleeping in tents on our lawn. Am I wrong for that?”

“No,” I assured her. “Not at all. We don’t know those people.”

“Exactly,” my mother said. “And I don’t know what they would do to my little girl.”

My father behaved in an infuriatingly cavalier manner during all of this.

In much the same way that he used to laugh uproariously while his children sat in bed at seven o’clock, punished for imaginary crimes, he strutted about the kitchen calling cheerfully for one of our dogs while my mother attempted to regain her composure in the basement.

“Mom,” I counseled. “All of this has been going on for years. Do you really want to be with a man who treats you this way? Do you really want to have to continue to monitor his medication and deal with him humiliating you?”

That question opened a fresh wound; just Sunday evening, he informed the attendees of our Labor Day party that he was leaving my mother. She only learned of it when one kind couple came up to her and said that they were there if she needed anything.

“He made our business public,” she said, shaking her head. “I can’t believe he did that. You just don’t do that.”

He’s gotten worse in other ways, too; just yesterday he promised to “knock [me] the fuck out” if I didn’t speak to him in a more respectful manner.

“If you ever hit me again, I’ll have you taken out of here,” was my immediate retort. “So fuck you. Get up and punch me. It would make my day to have you arrested.”

They’re gone right now, off taking a drive so they can speak in private. When they return, we’re to have a family discussion. My earnest hope is that this discussion ends with my father’s departure, for now he seems to be doubling back on his vow to move out.

If that’s the case, it would mean that his announcement to my sister, and the resulting torment it caused her, was nothing more than a ploy to strike at my mother.

I just want him to leave.