BY Mark

01/01 Direct Link

Have I said this before?

I love the internet, the information at my fingertips. Absolutely love Google.

I find that even as I marvel and delight, I worry that it might all go away. Such is the power of the terrorists over my psyche.

Someone from halfway around the world must surely find it odd and amusing (and empowering) that there is a middle class family man in the relative obscurity and insulation of Pittsburgh that is letting his optimism for the future, for life itself, to be undermined by the specter of a single (okay, multiple) act of terror.
01/02 Direct Link

My grandfather decided to give me some tools. I was pleased at first, but the actual choosing ritual transformed from an unpleasant session of me tenuously saying yes, to him firmly saying no, not that one, to me internally conflicted between my desire to own (certainly not my need for) a nice 16" bastard file or an antique drill with a wild assortment of bits or a big-ass "C" clamp. Yum. Poo. Sigh.

But I have a history of not demonstrating the proper amount of reverence for the things that have come into my possession.

I sense his odd subtleties.
01/03 Direct Link

Effortlessly, my worst qualities come to their minds.

I forgot to feed the horses while they were away.
I let the tractor fall into disrepair.
I lost the chain saw ("I have your other chain saw." "I know you do," he said, as if that were the one thing that he'd remember above everything else).

I lit into my grandmother when she mistreated my wife.
I dressed my grandparents down for judging Bob during his drug abuse scandal.
I express impatience with my grandfather's (lack of) computer skills.

I do the same to all of my loved ones.
01/04 Direct Link

We were visiting family. It hadn't occurred to me that I was near her neighborhood. After that, all I had to do was to bend my mind toward her and my world tasted different. Flavored with nostalgic spices. My saliva metallic with the delightful anxiety of imagining her proximity.

Afterward, I returned to the people who inhabit my days, my conflicts, my failures, my future.

To them I've only been to the coffee shop. They don't realize that I've been standing on the canyon rim of regret, even as the warm air currents of dreams and possibility carry new hope.
01/05 Direct Link

I blame the highway ("I hate that fucking Turnpike."). I've got plenty of company. I cite the weather (wet night, blowing snow, freezing roadways), the traffic (many tractor-trailers), and the other drivers (incredibly aggressive risk-takers, willing to risk the lives of all around them to move up one more spot).

But my deconstructionist ranting ("The bastards that design those construction zones should be required to drive them in these conditions!") is fired by emotions that rise from guilt.

I, too, used the passing lane. My own impatience contributed significantly to the danger. I was consistently above the posted safe speed.
01/06 Direct Link

I'm not in my happy place. I called a grown man a "pinhead" today (when "fathead" was almost certainly the better choice). It's atypical for me (in this phase of my life) to behave so.

I'm easily irked.
I'm finding the world irksome.

I'm annoyed.

Someone's sitting behind me, and damn it all, I just don't want a person back there just now. He'd better not violate my personal space, because I'm clearly in no mood.

I might snap out.
Bite your head off.
Flip my lid.

This afternoon's triple latte won't do anything for my impulse control.
01/07 Direct Link

I'm reveling in their foibles. I just have to be aware of when I'm enjoying it too much. I have been getting a pretty good kick out of it.

My grandparents' ways become less entertaining when I spend more time really working out the stream of logic that forms the superstructure of their pettiness, the foundation of their mean streak, the skeleton of their self-righteousness.

"We worked for everything we have."
"What did they ever give us?"
"Remember that time that he…."
"Their bathroom is a mess."
"He hasn't called for a week."
"They're just waiting for us to die."
01/08 Direct Link

I'm not fond of talking to cops, regardless of the circumstances, but I've come to a place in my life where I'm the guy the police are truly serving.

In years long gone, I feared the bastards. A deep convinction that they were megalomaniacal to a man combined with the fear associated with habits (read addictions) of smoking pot and driving under the influence of alcohol to produce in me a reasonable paranoia any time I saw a police cruiser.

Today they can see it in my eyes and in my manner that I'm their employer rather than their target.
01/09 Direct Link

I'm progressively less surprised by the wide variety of traits that coexist within the same individuals.

Take the Chicken Man.

This guy was the laziest bastard I have ever worked with, and that's saying a lot.

Here was a grown man, living with his mother in a small Pennsylvania town, socially awkward, pushing a broom in a lumber store, yet called to state fairs across the nation for his unparalleled expertise in judging chickens.

All kinds of chickens. Rhode Island Reds, Buttercups, Silver Penciled Wyandottes, Lakenvelders, Blue Andalusians, Silver Gray Dorkings.

And his knowledge of the Civil War was encyclopedic.
01/10 Direct Link

Every once in a while there's a chore hanging over my head that just refuses to be done.

I can get close to this chore. I can even work it through in my mind. Picture how I'm going to do it. What tools would I need? What calls must be made? What's standing in my way? What is it about the chore that is blocking me? Can I muster a sneak attack? Is it possible to just forget about it altogether? What are the consequences of procrastination? Who would I have to apologize to?

I'm not doing it right now.
01/11 Direct Link

They've always had plenty in their cabinets.

Boxes of Triscuits and bags of Cheetos were just the opening salvo in a wild assortment of snack foods.

The staples were stored in neat rows behind the current supply, as if they bought a sack of flour every time they went to the supermarket on the off chance that supplies at home were dwindling.

Candies and liquor and pop. Cookies and jelly and mayonnaise. It would never occur to me that they might be out of anything.

When the great mitigation took place, the moths were into everything.

We ate that stuff.
01/12 Direct Link

Okay, so now I know. When a light inexplicably starts glowing with unusual intensity, that means the circuit is overloaded and bad things are about to happen. Which they did. A sickening pop! and smoke started pouring out of my surge suppressor. I heard yelling from upstairs (muffled yelling, but I could make out something about lights, so I knew it was related), then the TV mimicked the surge suppressor and threw up its own (more spectacular) cloud of acrid smoke.

I wish that I could take pride in my clear thinking, my effective actions under pressure.

Maybe next time.
01/13 Direct Link

When the firemen came, the fear of loosing my house and my stuff took a back seat to the mortification I felt at having them see the mess I've let my workroom become.

At least we've learned to compartmentalize our clutter. The Potemkin village of better housekeeping stays intact as long as visitors don't go downstairs.

Oh, yeah, I forgot about the shed. The shed is the seamy underbelly of my home maintenance. The roof is falling off at the rear eave, and the leaks inside the shed have ruined numerous tools and even a few fine pieces of equipment.
01/14 Direct Link

I'm strict with my kids. It's rooted in a long tradition of strict child-rearing. But I am also demonstrative in my affection, which is where I attempt to break a portion of that legacy.

I just about came out of my socks with aggravation last night as I watched the father of my son's playmate exhibit what I considered a nearly criminal level of leniency with his son. What should have been a quiet and firm, "Let's go," turned into a whole-house effort to get this kid to put his shoes and coat on.

My son got an earful afterward.
01/15 Direct Link

Nike had this one ad that showed a guy doing this incredible ab workout on the parallel bars. It looked so sexy.

When I'm working out, I know how it looks to others. They think, "That looks sexy. And fun, even. I should be doing that. I'm going to start tomorrow."

They see the motions, but they don't feel the effort, nor the pain. They don't experience the internal voice that complains, "That's enough, already. Stop lifting that nasty old weight. You've done enough. It's not worth it. This would be a great time to catch up on your reading!"
01/16 Direct Link

It was a small electrical project. Replace a few outlets and a few circuit breakers. I picked up all of the supplies ahead of time (could I really believe that I wouldn't have to make another trip to the home center?), sketched out my planned work, consulted with friends expert in home electrical systems, and set to work with enthusiasm.

I had to pull a desk away from the wall and the drawer fell out, spilling the contents. I decided to move some shelving down three feet so that I could relocate the desk.

The job got away from me.
01/17 Direct Link

I forgot all about the memorial service, and when I remembered, I thought first of how inconvenient it was for me. Where is my sadness? It's not there. I'm drawing an emotional blank.

My electrical project is generating plenty of emotional juice. Frustration over the time the job is taking, fear about the immediate danger of messing around inside of the junction box, remorse for not managing my money in such a way that I could do the right thing and call in a professional, anxiety about the residual safety of the system even if everything seems to go right.
01/18 Direct Link

By the time you get to a certain age, you have learned to be especially grateful for every aspect of your good health. You take a look around, notice the relative poor health of others in your age group, and you feel both happy for your own good health and anxious about your inevitable decline. I have read articles about exercise and healthy lifestyles that say the ideal life profile shows a vital and healthy life followed by a rapid decline at the end, versus the slow and agonizing decline that afflicts so many who have led less healthy lifestyles.
01/19 Direct Link

I wanted to write about my fingers, but I got started on general health, and before I knew it, I had 103 words.

By most indicators, I appear young for my age. I feel young. I suffer few age-related maladies. Arthritis in my knees, but that's due to injuries suffered over twenty-five years ago. I sleep a maximum seven hours a night, never nap, go like hell all day, but I know that I don't have quite the same vigor that I used to, because when I think about taking the kids skiing, the mere thought makes me weary.

01/20 Direct Link

So about my fingers.

Now that we all know me as youthful despite my years, let me add that I work inside, no menial labor. Of course I do chores around the house, but nothing too demanding. My exercise workouts are supposed to make up for not employing physical effort during my work day, but these workouts are antiseptic and artificial by comparison, consisting of bicycle, weight machines or dumbbells, and most recently, jump rope.

I'm not working out in the harsh elements, but when I am outside, I'm sporting only the best in Gore-tex, Thermalite, nylon, and premium leather.
01/21 Direct Link

I'm trying to tell you about my fingers, but you see how it is. The background material required to make the case compelling is too extensive for the 100words protocol. In the past I've buried my urge to serialize, instead making the great sacrifice of words to the ether, casting the spare words aside, forever lost to whatever wasteland collects all the deleted text of the world. And such a world that must be. Mountains of phrases, seas of parenthetical remarks (I swim there), swollen rivers of metaphors, and grottoes gorging with forgotten memories.

"Empty Recycle Bin" reads the sign.
01/22 Direct Link

Like an anecdote gone awry, the narrator so far astray that he can't get back to his original subject lest it appear too inconsequential to have driven so much discourse, my story about my fingers must either die without ever being told or be revealed for the triviality that it is, revealed for its lack of weight, interest, drama, or even color.

We're approaching five hundred words on the subject (gong peals here), and we must ask what could possibly be said about fingers that could justify this sort of investment.

Go home.
I don't want to hear the groans.
01/23 Direct Link

So I look good and I feel good, but I'm eschewing the path of graceful aging. I'm clinging to the sapling on the cliff edge of middle age, looking desperately and desirously back, seeking toeholds to help me clamber back and once again feel the solid ground of youthfulness under my feet.

I'd return to climbing, surfing, and, most especially, chasing girls. I never quite got it the first time through. I never combined the mature mind with the young body. That's the winning combo. It's the Tao of Steve.

If only I could get this finger problem under control.
01/24 Direct Link

As soon as the heaters come on in the fall, and the air inside dries out, and my skin dries along with it. So dependent on the moisture in the air, it's mere days before my shins start itching, the skin on my arms starts flaking, and most insidiously of all, my fingertips crack.

Painful fissures form at the edges of my fingernails (think paper cut times ten), and they look like hideous fangs of scaly flesh, sometimes split wide to expose the tender pink dermis beneath.
The simplest fingertip tasks become excruciating.

Take this typing, just for an example.
01/25 Direct Link

Pretend that I'm a casual interlocutor. Pretend that I don't have this dysfunctional relationship with food.

It was the right thing to do, to visit the Grand Opening of my friend's ice cream store.

I ask myself in hindsight, would I feel the same if he were opening a tobacco store? Would I feel that social protocol required me to suck a weed to keep from hurting his feelings?

The real question is, did I have to eat a portion of ice cream bigger than my head?

That night, beyond my typical post-prandial remorse, I was literally sick. For hours.
01/26 Direct Link

Time Bastard vs. the Zen Master

TB: Make this quick.

ZM: No problem. There is only this moment.

TB: Yeah, but I got this other moment that I was hoping to be somewhere else.

ZM: In the end you may see that you needed not leave where you were to find what you were looking for.

TB: But I have this current itch that I need to scratch.

ZM: That is the best way to be in the moment. It is the future itch that you should ignore.

TB: I get so much more done than you do.

ZM: Ommm.
01/27 Direct Link

It kills me to see the exquisite innocence on the face of my sleeping boy.

His eyelids so smooth and relaxed, his breathing so calm.

There's nothing in his face that reflects the harsh way that I treated him at bedtime. I want to tell him how deeply I love him.

I try to recall how I remember my father when I was six years old. I know that he was tough on me, but my recollection of him is more as a background to my life, a supporting character. Maybe I'm not the leading man I thought I was.
01/28 Direct Link

It's been over a year since I started writing a hundred words per day.

I first saw the site in December 2002 after USA Today's Hot Sites profiled it. I knew that this was just the thing to jump-start my writing discipline. If I ever make it big in writing, I‘ll give credit to this forum for providing the vehicle that helped me write the miles.

My wife needed a business letter written yesterday, so she provided me with the basic information by phone. In minutes I had whipped the nebulous and scattered thoughts into a cohesive and compelling memo.
01/29 Direct Link

This year I greeted the cold weather with a smug preparedness.

I had the silk undies, the fleece gloves, the insulated boots, the wool scarf, the Gortex shell, the Polartec pullover, the SmartWool socks.
The whole shebang.

Bring on the cold, baby, bring on the wind, the black ice, and the stinging pellets of freezing rain. You can't touch this.

My trusty new car takes that all away from me, and the fragile façade of my personal sense of security tinkles and clinks around me like thin glass when my diesel fuel gels and leaves me stranded by the highway.
01/30 Direct Link

I'm moving on (not necessarily up) from this 100words.

This springboard, this soapbox, this taskmaster, this anonymous orgy.

I have read your writing, and so many of you are so good.

You are witty and sensitive and wise.

You are silly and misinformed and callow.

You are young and old, desperate and complacent.

You are at once groovy and tragically unhip.

You are whimsical yesterday and dark today.

You are courageous, brazen, and daring (yes, you over there, hiding in the corner).

You are made of the finer stuff of humankind.

I am proud to have been among your company.
01/31 Direct Link

In ways I am surprised that there aren't more contributors to 100words, but a part of me is pleased that the group is small (I love that little read-out of the number completed vs. the number started). It makes me feel more special when I imagine that there just aren't that many people who have that right combination of the discipline to write, the bravery to exhibit, and the generosity to share their words.

The 100words reference should sound pretty good in my interview with Terry Gross.

It's my plan to stay away, but I'm starting to get all weepy…