Monthly Archives: August 2005

strange & norrell

jonathan strange and mr. norrell

i would like to take this opportunity to put forth a new term to describe a process related to the recent wave of overly large books in the science fiction / fantasy genre (yes, neal stephenson, i’m talking about you). i would define my new term as follows:

tome slog (v.t.): the act or process of wading through an excessively long book whose positive marketing and/or critical praise are seemingly decoupled from actual perceived narrative value (as measured by how many weeks it takes to get through the first several hundred pages of said tome, if this is even possible). the process usually involves an initial investment of time and energy, which is rewarded by a combination of many sound nights of sleep and progressively escalating levels of rage at editors who seem to be asleep at the keyboard. levels of impatience gradually increase until the slogger reaches the "point of no literary return," where a decision must be made — one either makes a leap of faith that precious hours spent with drooping eyelids will ultimately be rewarded, or one hurls the tome in the nearest dustbin with great force.

with susanna clarke’s first novel, jonathan strange & mr. norrell, i was involved in a tome slog of epic proportions (so to speak). i made it through the first 300 pages, with moderate recompense, but not enough fuel to get me through the remaining 500 pages. her recent hugo award steeled my pursuit of the novel’s end, and i must say i was rewarded quite handsomely.

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help is on the way

i got stuck in an elevator today.

it wasn’t a complete surprise. i think it was only yesterday that the elevator lurched violently as i passed the fifth floor on my way to our fabulous office penthouse on six (ahem). well, today, as ryan and i were making our way to lunch, the elevator lurched near the fifth floor again. the lurch was followed by the elevator stopping, the button for "L" going dark, and the sound of silence.

when it stopped, there was a moment of disbelief, followed by avid button pressing, followed rapidly by the sinking realization that yes, in fact, we were stuck. this was in turn followed by the realization that for some reason, neither of us had our mobile phones.

it just so happens that we stopped right near the fifth floor, and there were people waiting outside the elevator. after we stopped, we had an interesting muffled chat with the people outside the elevator:

them: "hey, what are you doing in there?"
us: "the elevator’s stuck."
them: "do you want us to get help?"
us: "um, yeah…that would be great."
them: "oh…ok…hang on."

i don’t know what i would have said had i been on the other side of that door, but i’m pretty sure it would have involved fewer rhetorical questions.

after 10 minutes of complete silence, we decided that their promises for getting help were somewhat exaggerated, so we decided to use the elevator phone. very exciting. i’ve always looked at these phones and wondered, "what happens when you make a call on one of those things?" let me tell you, it’s a once in a lifetime experience.

i pushed the button to make a call, and within about 15 seconds, a polite woman was on the line. another surreal conversation ensued:

her: "hello, can you tell me the address you’re calling from?"
me: "615 battery street"
her: "are you currently stuck in an elevator?"
me: "yes."
her: "are the doors closed all the way?"
me: "yes."
her: "did you try pushing any of the buttons for the other floors?"
me: "(long pause) um…yeah. yeah, we did that. first thing we did, in fact."
her: "how about hitting the Open Doors button?"
me: "yep, we hit that, too. nothing happened."
her: "what floor are you on?"
me: "i think we’re pretty close to the fifth floor."
her: "ok, just let me put you on hold for a second, and i’ll call a technician to come over and get you out, ok?"
me: " that sounds great."
her: "ok, just one second…"

we then heard a click on the line, followed by some pretty bland hold music. yeah, you know what kind of music i’m talking about: elevator music. after about 3 minutes of this, the music went away and the phone disconnected.

now, just to the right of the phone, there was a small, circular red indicator lamp. during the call, it was lit like rudolph’s nose, lighting the way to our freedom. when the phone went dead, it went out. just above this lamp, it said, "WHEN FLASHING, HELP IS ON WAY."

it never flashed.

in fact, nothing happened for about an hour, and then all of a sudden, the elevator started up and went smoothly to the lobby, and there we were, blinking like office moles who’ve been underground for too long. it was good to breathe fresh air after an hour in that elevator, good to see the sun, and even better to get lunch.

so, a few words of advice based on this experience:

  1. always carry your mobile phone, because you never know when you’re going to get stuck in an elevator. a clif bar in your pocket might not be a bad idea, either.
  2. if someone is stuck in an elevator and you’re outside, avoid asking overly rhetorical questions.
  3. if you work for an elevator emergency service, please change your hold music to something that’s a little less like elevator music so that people like me can’t make bad jokes.
  4. even if the red light isn’t flashing, it doesn’t mean that help isn’t on the way.

NOTE (08.24.05): I learned at work today that the fact that we got out as quickly as we did had nothing to do with our call for help. the elevator repairman who let us out had apparently stopped by on a whim, since we had been having sporadic elevator problems. so, in fact, help wasn’t on the way, and yet we got it anyway. i’m not sure whether i should be troubled or concerned by this revelation.

say ‘aaaah’

i went in for my less–than–annual physical today. it was about as good as it gets, as far as these things go, but i left feeling no more confident about my health.

my last visit to the doctor was underwhelming. i wasn’t feeling well, and finally elaine encouraged me to go for a visit. while not quite as difficult as moving the mountain to mohammed, it was pretty close. i don’t like going to the doctor. in any case, i went with my list of complaints, and in the space of 10 minutes, i had as many referrals, got a swift handshake, and was out the door for a blood test. this was after i waited in the lobby for 30 minutes because my doctor was late getting to work. my basic reaction: "um….so why did i come to see you again?"
things were better this time. i only waited 5 minutes in the lobby, after which i was escorted to the flesh–toned examination room. i stripped down to shorts and t-shirt, waited 15 minutes while reading Time magazine (an interview of Michael Bay by David Ansen – riveting), then had my physical.

the exam itself probably took about 10 minutes. open your mouth and say "aaaaah". breath deeply, breathe normally, breathe deeply. blood pressure check (125/70!!!). a quick peek in the ears. a few prods of the neck and stomach looking for weird protuberances. "anything else bothering you?" my request for a PSA test, followed by brief discussion, a quick lube and a finger (or two or three) up the bum, and then positive assurances that everything looked good (so to speak).

[as an aside, i should note that he actually asked if it was ok to do the lube–and–poke before he did it...i thought that was very kind on the one hand, and slightly odd on the other. i mean, isn't it his job to stick his fingers up people's bums? it would be like me asking a client, "so is it ok if i ask you about what you want to do with your Web site?" ]

and that was it.

how much can you really tell about someone with this type of exam? i’d guess not much. you’re gonna catch major physiological dysfunction, but other stuff is just gonna fall through the cracks. the human body is too complex to augur with such a simple exam.

the other thing that was on my mind through all this was the fundamental frailty of humans. a close friend of mine found this out a few days ago…his wife had a headache, started getting sick (vomiting and everything beyond), and went to the hospital. diagnosis: brain aneurysm. she had to have 4 hours of brain surgery, and is doing well, but in intensive care. she’s 40, in good health, active…doesn’t matter. she almost died, with little or no warning, and with no severe misbehavior on her part.

i’ve been thinking about her for days, hoping that it will all be ok. maybe it will, maybe it won’t. we think it’s up to us to decide, but only to a point. only to a point….

night life

Lifeblog posted image

the simple things seem to become more intense as life goes on. these moments feel like edward hopper without the sadness; bittersweet, without the bitter.

maybe it’s just a bunker mentality, an escape into the warm glow of home, with work and war and wilderness left outside. maybe it’s age. whatever it is, i know i’m lucky.

of course, this simplicity will all change, like everything does, but that will be good, too. every once in awhile, it’s just good to open the eyes, see the moment, savor it.