Armen Chakmakjian

Archive for July, 2009|Monthly archive page

Now I’ve entered the Digital Reading age…

In Kindle, Literature, Religion, Science Fiction, technology, web 2.0 on July 30, 2009 at 1:17 am

OK so up to this point I’ve blogged and tweeted, updated my Facebook feed and hooked all my various digital incarnations together so

that I can update them all at the same time…Digital ubiquity has been achieved.  I’ve published a book, so Digital publishing was achieved.

Tonight, as Darth Vader would say, “the circle is now complete”

My birthday present was a Kindle II from my family.   And of course the first thing I loaded was…an excerpt of my book, Urtaru, available on Amazon’s Kindle service.   Being the geek,  I tried a whole mess of things first…reading the users manual on the Kindle, using the rudimentary web browser to look at my blog, but I finally got around to seeing my book on a real Kindle.   I suppose the event was equivalent to that which a writer who gets a first copy of a paper published book has when they get that first copy.  The feel that tactile feedback of hanging on to that first copy of their work wasn’t the same, but I’m a geek.   I was just psyched to download the excerpt.  And it looked beautiful.

Up to this point I always saw my book on the MacBook screen rendered by a PDF reader.   Now I saw it on the medium that it was intended to be delivered on.  I come from an emotional people so, I admit, having my own kindle, with my own book overwhelmed me emotionally.  I was on the verge of tears.  

This was a significant effort on my part.  Its 350 pages of Sci-Fi Fantasy.  It took me 20 months to write and about another year to really clean up.   I want to thank the other writers on, several of my friends, and my elder son who all gave me honest feedback which I have used to get the book to the (at least) digital publishable state.

My review on the kindle itself?  Well there’s something almost Newton about it.  It’s a cool and a bit awkward. It doesn’t have a mouse or a stylus or a touchscreen.  The keyboard is a little weird but functional…

But the text is BEAUTIFUL.  Even reading websites that aren’t rendered specifically for the kindle, the text was AWESOME.

Of course this wasn’t the DX…but the size is manageable.  It fit in my hand.

As you can tell I’m very excited.  As I use it more I’ll provide more feedback but WOO HOO!

PS if you have an iPhone or a Kindle, consider at least downloading an excerpt of my book, you might be surprised.  I don’t consider myself a flunky, this was the real thing.

Congratulations Jim Rice…

In Sports on July 29, 2009 at 3:06 am

As I tweeted Sunday morning, I am really happy for Jim Rice.  There was a really good article in the Boston Globe this Sunday about Rice’s career in Boston.  However my personal recollections were slightly different.  I was a born Mets fan from SW Connecticut.   I was a Yankee hater as soon as the accursed former Oakland A’s Reggie Jackson joined the Yankees. Oakland had won the ’73 series against the Mets.  I was 9 years old.

Being a Yankee hater, and getting cable television around 1977, we suddenly were exposed to Red Sox baseball on Channel 38.  I started watching them and watched them again for most of the 1978 season.  I thought they were great.  Jim Rice was my favorite player.  The Mets really sucked around this time and watching their futile effort on WOR channel 9 and then flipping on WSBK and watching the Red Sox winning throughout the early 78 summer I had found a backup team that I could root for.  Then the 14 game lead disappeared and Bucky Dent hit that home run.  Throughout that diasterous late August, September and into October, I remember that Jim Rice was the only healthy player on the Red Sox.  Yaz was in a backbrace playing first base off and on with Boomer.  Hobson dove into the dugout and hurt his elbow.  Something was wrong with Fred Lynn, I can’t remember.  The Red Sox pitching staff was a mess and everybody was booing Don Zimmer.

Anyway, I noticed one thing about Jim Rice.  He always seemed to hit into double plays.  He really wasn’t fast up the line.  I was wondering whether my being a fan was misplaced.  Why was he always hitting into DP’s?

There was one thing about those days, the pre-steroid era, power hitters played baseball…meaning you tried to advance the runner by getting a hit.  In the subsequent era, juiced up players would swing for the fence in every situation, but back then (remember this was the era of Rod Carew and then end of Lou Brock’s career and just before Ricky Henderson’s started) swinging away was something that the manager called…which meant that Rice would walk up to the plate and try to advance the runner.  There’s an inherent risk in having a slower guy hit the ball hard with the infield playing double play depth.  The tag on Rice was that he hit a lot of home runs…with no one on base.  Inherently this comment shows some misunderstanding of the dominant form of the game at the time.  Only Reggie Jackson, with the short right field in Yankee stadium would always swing away.  And even when allowed to swing away Rice was hitting right handed in Fenway, meaning that a lot of line drive (like most of Jacksons) when he pulled the ball, hit the green monster and he’d get a double.

So anyway I continued to suffer through Mets seasons and kept hoping for the Red Sox.  Then came 1986.  I was in college that Summer and we’d get USA Today at the student union at RIT so we could get the Mets stats as they pulled 20 games ahead of everyone else and kept a sizeable lead through the second half of the season by playing only .500 ball.  The Red Sox had the best pitching staff and I was Co-op-ing for DEC in the Fall in Boston.  I was in my glory.  I went to the Jimmy Fund game and watched Gary Carter win the slugging contest in a harbinger of the fall classic.  I sat in the bleachers wearing a garbage bag over my shoulders because we ended up next to a busload of mets fans IN THE FENWAY BLEACHERS.  IT was scary.  This one guy kept taunting all the Red Sox fans and people were showering him with beers.

Anyway, that season, Jim Rice was on fire.  He was on his game.  Rice had 200 hits, batted .324, and had 110 RBIs for the season.  The young Mets pitching staff was going to get creamed in a 7 game series and they did.  Rice was everywhere.  I checked my facts here and on 27 AB he batted .333, had an OBP of .455  and a sp of .444  All that means that 1/3 of at bats he got a hit and half the time he was up he got on base.    The fact that he only got 6 runs during the series was because the middle of the sox lineup couldn’t move him along when he was on base.   Of course Rice himself was late in his career and wasn’t moving as fast as he could as can be seen in this picture of him trying for home plate … now this is a slow guy but here he is throwing his body into the game.

In the article in the Globe, the writer points out that Rice was really a workhorse and played fundamental baseball.  You played hurt, you advanced the runner and you’d hit line drives.  You played every day to keep up your game.  You did what needed to be done for the team which may have meant suppressing your own stats.

The next time you run into a person who is not particularly creative or innovative but comes to work every day and and does the fundamental things that need to be done, relentlessly, think about Jim Rice.   As Rice himself put it, “my numbers haven’t changed.”  What changed was the writers of the subsequent era, themselves tainted by the theatrics of juiced players, suddenly recognized their mistake about evaluating Jim Rice all these years by Canseco, Sosa, Giambi standards…they recognized as they looked back that in that day, people came to play the game without juice, swung away when it was the right time and always attempted to advance the runner before anything else.

Handwriting analysis…my personality…hmmmmm…..

In Random on July 18, 2009 at 12:52 am

I just did a handwriting analysis on a site called real simple. By writing “she sells seashells by the seashore” I was able to come up with the following about my personality:

Your writing slants to the right: You are open to the world around you and like to socialize with other people.

Size of Your Letters is average: You are well-adjusted and adaptable.

Your loops for “l” are open: You are spontaneous and relaxed and find it easy to express yourself.

Your loops for “e” are closed (tight): You tend to be skeptical and are unswayed by emotional arguments.

Your S’s are round (not pointy at top): You are a people-pleaser and seek compromise. You avoid confrontation.

Too many opposites in this…open yet skeptical, relaxed yet avoid confrontation, easy to express myself, but I avoid confrontation…

There’s a second part to the test which tells you how to improve your handwriting.  When I wrote “A quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”, I had almost perfect handwriting…according to the analysis criteria.  Phew, I was worried that my cursive penmanship might cause me trouble…

Process, McDonald’s, My minimum wage job in High School

In career, McDonalds on July 15, 2009 at 1:36 am

So over the last week my tuna mac & cheese casserole video got a massive number of hits.  This was due to a mention from a much more popular, eloquent (and better looking) blogger than myself, Cheryl Phillips, on her blog The Daily Blonde who, based on an interchange that started because of my Steak Armeen recipe from long ago that I reposted on Facebook that evening.  She mentioned that it sounded better than my tuna mac & cheese recipe.  (yes its a tangled web).

During that discussion Cheryl said that the Steak Armeen recipe sounded a lot better than than my tuna mac & cheese recipe.  This led to us both mentioning our past working at McDonalds in the early 80’s.  As you can see from comments to Cheryl’s blog post,  lots of people have memories of McD’s even older than mine (like the white shirt and tie days).  Of course like all blogging, there is a certain reflective if not auto-didactic element to it.  I’ve attached my portion of the conversation here since it dealt with all the processes at McDonalds in italics:

After the earthquake in Armenia in 1988, I was volunteering at Logan Airport in the TWA hangar to help load the planes with supplies. The National Guard was there to help us out and gave us “MRE”s (Meals Ready to Eat). Ooooooooo they were nnnnnnasty. Makes Tuna Mac-n-cheese feel like Chateau Briand 🙂  And that conjures up memories about my days at McDonalds around 1980-1982…Anybody out remember what a 6-3 Turn-Lay is? It has to do with the pace of regular ham/cheeseburgers and big macs 🙂

A 6-3 turn lay means 6 burgers, when you turned them, lay down the meat for 3 big macs. There were variations of course, 12-6,6-3, 6-6. The manager on the bin had to regulate grill production almost finger in the wind. it felt so scientific at the time.

Food waste was something special because if the manager got the pace wrong, he was also putting the tin markers on the batches of food that said which 10 minutes you had to sell or waste the burgers. bad manager if he was wasting food. Before I left there I was a “Swing Shift” manager…I got to wear a tie with m’s on it
Burgers cooked in 110 seconds. 20 seconds after laying to the sear, 40 seconds later turn, lay down the meat for the run on turn-lay, salt/pepper mixture for the flipped, dehydrated onions and 50 seconds from turn to remove onto the buns which had their own timing. Grill was at 350, buns toasted at 400 degrees, meaning that when you put the heel on the burgers to send them up to the bin, they cooked that last amount in the bun.
Back then the person on Fries also made Shakes in our store. That meant that if they weren’t good at it yet they always had 3 lines on their apron…brown, pink and white…because they’d pull the cup off the spindle too fast and they’d get nailed with shake spray (chocolate, strawberry and vanilla). 🙂

This is where my discussion ended with Cheryl, but I have a few more facts that I can remember:

In our store the apple and cherry pies were cooked by the bun guy since the 3rd set of fry vats were on the bun side of the grill area.   We’d always good 8 apple pies for 4 cherry pies (the same holder was also used for hash browns at breakfast).

I used to have to calibrate all the equipment in our store…mix of carb water to syrup (3/4 oz of syrup of any flavor to 4 oz of carbonated water).  The amount of shake syrup from the pump dispenser was 1 oz (since we had only one size of shake back then).  The temperature of the grills 350 for regular burgers and big macs.  375 for Quarter Pounders.  and there was a special tool for measuring the grill temperature at 12 different points on the grill. Filet 0 Fish were cooked in their own vat at 360 degrees 5 minutes, while fries at 330 for 4.5 mins.  Chicken Nuggets were introduced in our store in early 1981,  360 for them as I remember 4 minutes.   I’d inspect the flame distributor inside of the burner for the vats and use a coat hanger to get it out every couple of seeks since the flames would wear out the fins on the distributor and you wouldn’t have  even heating of the oil in the vat.

Cooking Filet o Fish was a side effect of working in the grill.  Until Lent…on Friday’s it was NUTS!

Chopped beefsteak sandwiches had their own special spatula.  it was almost 7 inches wide and square.

We used to flaunt process by pulling 3 regular burgers at a time from the grill on the regular spatula during rushes (when we had LOTS of customers) instead of the recommended 2.  the chopped beefsteak spatula could pull off 6 at a time of you were brave and your manager didn’t catch you violating the rules.

The videos…oh my god the perfect teenagers whose teeth twinkled as they held the spatula at a 45 degree angle to the grill (and sharpened it at that angle on the special apparatus).  how to shake the salt on the fries and load them into the paper bags so that all the fries ended up orthogonal to the opening.

QSCV…Quality, Service, Value and Cleanliness.  The motto.

Oh yes I also worked breakfast.  The holdup was always the english muffins since they toasted SO SLOW.  we had the rings for the egg mcmuffins and you had the special thin spatula so that you flipped over the piece of canadian bacon…shhh we always did the flipping of canadian bacon by hand as you could flip them faster two handed.  I still crack eggs 4 in hand two at a time before I scramble them because that’s how a flaunted process in favor of speed.

The hotcakes and sausage were actually great.  The mix we had for the hotcakes and the perfect dispenser made it so easy to make 7 inch wide pancakes, that all looked identical and we used the chopped beefsteak huge spatula to flip them.

On Saturday mornings I also help the full time managers doing inventory.  I’d count everything in the store, although they relented on the butter pats even though i could count them faster than anyone in sight (and more accurately) it just wasn’t worth it.

On days where we ran out of buns or meat or containers, I’d get the special privilege of going driving to another store and getting stock that we were lacking.

Warning, to the squeamish…skip this paragraph: Now the unfortunate side to all this mirth was that this was a dangerous job.  3 incidents in 2 years that sent me to the hospital.  Once I got oil spattered on my wrist from the fry vat.  Another time I fell hand first on the grill because someone had just mopped the floor and it was slippery as I was running the grill by myself.  Another time, I was screening the grill down and someone poked me in the side as a joke and my hand slipped and I got 350 oil all over my thumb.  When I got to the emergency room, they took a pair of scissors and cut off all the dead skin from my thumb.  I can’t handle horror movies, I get too into the willing suspension of disbelief, but I can handle an emergency doctor cutting the dead skin from my thumb while I watch.  The guy who drove to the hospital fainted when he saw what they were doing of course.  Coincident with this, my manager, who was born in South Carolina, called my very accented Armenian mother to tell her that:  “Missus Cha-ma-chin, We sent Armen to the hospital…he burned his hahd”  She of course heard “He burned his HEAD, OH MY GOD ARMEN BURNED HIS HEAD?  Carl repeated “NO NO NO Missus Cha-ma-chin…his hahd his HAHND”   She completely freaked of course.

There were other fun things, not so dangerous. I’d go up top (yes on top of the store) and change the filters on all the air conditioners.  On Tuesday’s we’d get our deliveries from the freezer truck.  You knew how to throw to a person who would barely catch but direct a 30lbs box of meat into a stack after rotating out the older stock,  If you had that job you noticed that not unlike winter cleaning the lot, that the grease from the grill was a perfect insulator.  you were never cold…and you wouldn’t wash up until after going outside.  In the summer it was the opposite…wash down before you go outside as you feel terrible.

Then there was the mornings on the weekends.  People lining up at 6:30 am for breakfast.  I had the keys to the store.  I’d go in at 6, load everything up, check if we were ready and I’d unlock the doors.   One morning, the guy who’d show up to clean the lot, Elliot, was standing out there with a hose and the brushes to clean the lot.  There was a car in the small lane parking lot to one side of the store (no drive through then…you essentially had parking lots on both sides of the store).  Anyway I saw Elliot stop and stare at a car.  Maria, who was working the register and just happened to be going out with him says, “Why did he stop?”  I looked over from the grill to that front lot and saw the rear passenger door open up on a late 70’s Ford sedan.  a head sticks out the side and the guy loses it all over the parking lot.  Elliot slumped his shoulders.  Maria laughed.  Elliot cleaned it up later and I asked him “what happened?”.   He told me that he was cleaning the outdoor tables on the side of the store and he heard someone yelling “Sam SAMM SAMMMM!!!”  and so he walked to the front lot.  that’s when he could see and hear the  guy in the back seat of the ford yelling “SAMMMMM…SAMMMM…”  His friends told him to open the door, which he did.  And he lost it all over the parking lot. In front of Elliot.  Amazingly, according to Elliot, he was able to continue to yell “SAMMMMM” throughout his regurgitation…

Both as a manager and a crew member I worked the registers.  I added very fast, and I always smiled so I was McDonalds perfect.  In our store, we didn’t have the newfangled registers with the picture of the burgers on the buttons.  We had the paper order forms and knew that 3 cheeseburgers were $1.83, 3 big macs were $2.73, a cheeseburger small soda and fries was $1.93 and if you ordered all of that you mentally broke up the order into those combinations to do the math.  Then you plugged result of the addition into the mechanical register and hit the drawer release.  I added faster that most of the guys there and probably 3/4 of the girls, so having me up front  on an infrequent basis was not a detriment to burger delivery…Some of the girls were extremely fast up front. Made most of the guys look like real idiots (sorry guys, it was the truth). I was always in awe at how fast they were.

On the other hand, only the taller girls could effectively work in the grill.  Most high school girls were 5-5’3″.   The grill was about 4 feet across and deep.  That meant that if you were on the shorter side (guy or girl), your effective reach across the grill limited your ability to move fast.  You really couldn’t reach the back of the grill.   And the in our store the toasters were on a single cart and the mac crown toaster platter was about eye height on me (I was about 5’8″ at the time.  That meant that for anyone short , the top of the toaster was above your head…and the handle to close it even higher.

I have to admit, it was quite an experience and had a great effect on me.  A lot of people have worked for McDonalds (or BK or W) over the years.  I’m sure if you combined them it was close to 10% of the current adult workforce in the US once worked at a fast food joint and has similar if not even more amazing stories than this.

Anyway I want to thank Cheryl again for the mention on her blog.

GM Chairman: He believes in “Strong Leadership”?

In Business & Finance, history on July 11, 2009 at 12:16 am

OK so I was listening to a GM press conference on CNBC this morning.  The CEO was updating the fact that there were going to be 4 products lines (Chevy, Buick, Caddy and GMC).  Awesome, sounds like the right mix.  Sounds like they can now focus.  He talked about the new products themselves going from 48 to 34.   More focus.  Excellent.  Really concentrating on the problem, the proposed solution, and who the key players were (dealerships, experimental marketing on EBAY, his head of PD for all GM products).  Specific examples.  Even got me fired up that maybe this was a turning point.  This is an example of a strong situational leader.

Then he turned over the mic to the Chairman.  This guy rambled on about touring the company and job losses and platitudes on how GM will return to its glory days.  Great.  But he made a statement that always gets me pissed off.  Whenever I hear someone say “I believe in Strong Leadership” I get turned inside out.

Firstly, I think everyone but anarachists believe in leadership, and most want strong leadership (unless they’re waiting for someone to crumble…then I supposed you’d want someone to be a weak leader).  We may differ on what “strong” means, but lets assume that most of us look to people in positions of leadership and we expect them to act accordingly.  I also expect the janitor to clean thoroughly and doctors to heal completely.

Secondly, the word “I” in his statement.  “I believe in strong leadership”  He didn’t qualify it except to imply that he himself was going to be a strong leader because he “accepted” the position because he knew GM was a great company and would be. He didn’t say that the cadre of leaders he picked are all the strongest leaders in the industry or whatever.  It seemed all about him…

I truly have no idea what the hell he was talking about.  I’m not passing judgment on GM’s past present or future.  I just think that statements like “I believe in strong leadership” are wasted statements.  I’ve never heard anyone get up in a leadership position and say “I believe in weak leadership”…

When people get up and say things like that, especially starting with an “I”, I liken them to a description that I read in a biography of Teddy Roosevelt about a Speaker of the House in the late 1800’s who described long winded speakers as “strenuously exuding wind, accompanied by speech”

Sorry for my rant…I’m happy GM is out of bankruptcy and leaner and meaner.

An ancient ritual…sort of…

In Random on July 8, 2009 at 4:30 am

So we’ve been picking grape leaves off the grapeless grape vine that my father gave me shoots of many years ago.   The leaves that come off of this vine, as opposed to your standard concord grape vine, are really really tender.  Great for making dolma and yalanchi.  Those are the hot and cold versions respectively of stuffed grape leaves

Anyway so I had all these leaves that we’ve picked for the last week or two.  The thing to do is to pick them when they are about hand sized, which assures tenderness.  If they get any bigger, they will be just too big and chewy.

Once you pick them, wash them off in cold water.  If you can’t get to the boiling part yet wrap them in a paper towel and then put them in a bag in the fridge till you are ready.

When you are ready to boil to store them for later use, the easiest thing to do is to grab them in bunches of 10 and put them in the boiling water for half a minute or so, then flip the whole bunch and put the bunch on a dish.

the stems are a good way of sorting through this in bunches of 10.  as you pull the bunches of leaves from the water rotate around the plate so that you can lift them up again by the bunch of stems.

Now once you have boiled the leaves (maybe the correct word is blanche) you get some clear plastic wrap and roll up the leaves into the wrap.  When I say roll, just roll it up.

Now just take the rolled up leaves and put them in a bag like this, date the bunch and freeze them.  When you are ready to use them just pull out the number of leaves you need (they’re rolled in bunches of 10, so counting is easy) and let them thaw in the fridge.  When preparing the dolma the thawed leaves are ready to use…just cut the stems.  I’m not going to give you a stuffing recipe, that’s an area which I do not broach in the home.  I’ll roll dolma as long as someone else makes the stuffing.

I couldn’t resist…here is what I’ve written of Book 2 so far…

In Literature, Science Fiction on July 8, 2009 at 2:17 am

I present the part of book 2 that I have written so far.  about 3000 words.   I have to get to 10000 words to put it up on Authonomy to start getting reviewed there.

Remember, book 1 is published on the Amazon Kindle and the Kindle for iPhone and available for purchase today..see the link over on the right…you can read more on my website…

Urtaru II: The Judge

A Science Fiction Novel

By Armen Chakmakjian


Dearest Adam, Crown Prince, my only and very dear son,

You are named Adam Willem.  I’ve presented to you before that that all oldest sons in our family that bear the Urtaru surname are named Adam first, and then given the name of a central figure in the father’s life as their middle name.   Your grandfather was named Pascal Adam Scintilla and he was the second son.  This was the one deviation in a long line of eponymous descendants of the great Adam Urtaru.  Your grandfather was originally named Adam Scintilla and took on the moniker “Pascal” when the Escisian monks referred to him in that manner during his youth in exile on Barabrum.

He and your grandmother named me Adam Philip-Augustus, after Philip Augustus, Emperor, known as the Righteous.   Although I never met Philip, his historical presence was palpable in our royal daily family life.  My father, the Prince Consort, revered Philip like a father, a replacement for the father he lost on Naerius.

Philip was an amazing man, as you know from your studies of the history of that time.   His ability to plan, counter-plan, predict and react to uncertainty was singular in our history.   His abilities to read a man were incredible (so I am told).  Your grandfather attempted all his life to live up to the legacy that Philip left him.   Philip’s abilities were singular, however, and although your grandfather may have emulated him, it was an inexact copy.

That being said, the Prince Consort, was a notable man in his own right.  He was utterly fearless for his own safety, but simultaneously had a protective streak for all those around him.  He had a way of gaining people’s trust immediately upon their first meeting.  Of course this was not a universal ability to gain trust.  There were legendary people to whom your grandfather was anathema.   From your studies of the history of that time, those people could be allied with him as well as his enemies.  To these few but important people, Pascal, Lord Urtaru, was inscrutable – an enigma – whose easy ways with people and whose ability to gain the immediate trust were in themselves a threat.   Two people who were of this ilk were of course Edward the Usurper, as well as your Uncle Owen’s namesake, Lt. Owen Tagget, E.B.

Edward II, from the historical material that I have been able to gather (and from the little that your grandfather was willing to share with me), was a completely unstable person, much like his own father.  He could be brilliant at military tasks, a great person to have at your side during a fight, but completely out of his element in any responsibility that had to deal with the subtlety of human behavior.   As you may also have read, Edward and your grandmother, Veronica, Empress, were married, but the marriage was annulled by Veronica in the ancient rite (by suing her family).

One other person about whom I must tell you about.  I consider him the most important person in my life, beside my parents and your mother (and you and your siblings of course).  This was the gray monk, Captain Willem Proctor, E.B., who we honored by giving you his name as your middle name.  Just as your Uncle Owen was named after the other gray monk, Owen, who saved your grandfather’s life, you received this name.

Willem was the mentor of both your father and me, and knew our similarities, differences, abilities and limitations.   He was my confidant and my teacher.  That is not to take away from your grandfather, who was a great man in his own right.  However, your grandfather was a flawed man, in my judgement.

Of course, historians will opine on whether we are the men of destiny or not.  Nevertheless, your grandfather was bigger than life given his beginnings.  I’m writing these memories of him now as my end is approaching because I want to you understand a time that is quite different than the environment you were raised in and what you may become.

Adam, I have entrusted in you the secret of my demise.  I could not explain to anyone, not even your mother the true extent of my difficulties.  If anyone had known, it would have put the whole empire in peril.   As the great Dolist father wrote in his lament:

The wicked oppress me and surround me

They have now followed me to my doorstep

They have set their eyes low to hide their intent

As a hunter seeing his prey, they lie in wait

Looking for the moment of rest or weakness

And they will pounce on me and drag me from my home

As you know, son, if the Barsifi King Maarumorti had known my secret, he would have set upon us a great set of difficulties.  The Albion King, Henry, while joined with us in the great Dolist league, and not a perfidious ally, can be considered somewhat unreliable.  His mother was an iron-willed woman who the empire could do business with.  I always felt that, as opposed to the Barsifi King who was a hardened foe waiting for an opportunity to pounce, King Henry was an ally looking for other opportunities should things go badly.

This relationship with the Albion was the special work of your grandfather and did for a time bring much stability to areas where our common interest was palpable.  To some extent, the relationship thrived only because of the Prince Consort, and not because of the others involved ever articulated their particular interests.

I’d like to recount the period from when I was about 10 years old when I joined my father on one of his missions…

Chapter 1

“Fight me Adam! Do not let up!  You must build up your strength! I will teach you later how to goad a warrior into the attack but you must first understand how they fight!” Pascal was yelling over the din in the training room.  Soldiers of all ages were training to fight hand to hand combat with swords and other simple weapons.

Adam Philip-Augustus Urtaru, Prince of Raslavon, heir to the throne was 10 years old.   He was a very smart child, appearing to be a miniature version of Pascal, Prince Consort.    The main physical distinction were the eyes.  Whereas Pascal’s eyes were hazel-gray, Apa’s (the familiar name, short for Adam Philip-Augustus) were hazel – almost green.  The physical appearance aside, temperamentally they were quite different.  Whereas Pascal was a jokester, playing with people’s words, Apa would respond plainly and earnestly to any conversation.

“Again, I can parry your every blow, don’t worry about it now.  When you are older I will worry when we do this.  Now you must fight!”

Adam swung his short sword with every ounce of his energy, he was trying to beat his father.  Off to the side, his 9 year old brother Owen watched intently.

“Apa, hit him hard.”

Adam stopped. “Can you do better?”

Owen got up.  Pascal smiled.  Owen was always ready for a test of strength, even in his diminutive stature.  Owen sized up Pascal who was at least a foot taller than him.

“I can try anyway!” and suddenly took a stroke at his father.  Pascal easily parried the blow but noted Owen’s strength. Built to fight.  Amazing.

Adam was now the age that Pascal had lost his own father.  Something clicked in Pascal on the date of his son’s 10th birthday.  Always reminiscing and brooding over his mother, he rarely thought about his father, except when told to explain his lineage.   Now his father’s memory loomed large in his passing thoughts. What would my father think?  What would my father do in this situation?

Much of this was lost on Adam, even though he was his father’s most ardent observer.   Pascal also ruminated over his son’s observant behavior because he did not remember watching his own father with such deep interest.   His father was an episodic figure in his life, almost like a book. With a book, you might read a bit, then put it down and take on other activities.  Pascal likened Adam’s reaction to him as a judge in a court rather than the reader of a book.

Owen thrust at this father again hard.  “Good move, Owen, but protect…always protect.”

“Baba you are playing with me.” Owen was getting frustrated and swinging his sword even harder.

“One day it will not be play, and you will have to hurt someone.”

“You are not getting any farther than I was.” Adam said triumphantly to taunt Owen.

“Well maybe you can lend a hand then?”

At that invitation, Adam jumped up and joined the fight against his father.  Pascal deftly parried blows from both of his children.  “Fight hard, both of you.  There will come a day where you will not be allowed to hold back!”

A crowd of training soldiers started to gather around watching the Prince Consort and the heirs fighting away.  Cheers went up at each blow the children struck that was parried.

Suddenly a blow from Owen came a bit too close to Pascal and his instinct took over.  Tangling Owen’s sword for a moment, Pascal kicked Apa aside and heaved Owen back.  Owen landed on his back and the shock gave way to crying.   Pascal was breathing heavily as the fight gave way to shock.  “Owen are you alright?”

A couple of soldiers went up to him and looked him over.

Adam looked at him from his seated position on the ground.  He had that judgmental stare on his face.  Pascal looked back at him and sighed.

“Baba, you shouldn’t have done that.”

Pascal walked over to Owen.  He checked him over and saw that he was more shocked than hurt.  “You’ll be fine.  You can’t cry your way out of a fight.”

“That’s not the point, Baba,” Adam said sternly from across the room.

“You will both need to learn.  Better now while you are safe.  Anyway, that is enough for today.”

Pascal, having been raised by the Escisian monks, did not really understand the role of a father in a pre-teenager’s education.  What he relied on was his experiences with Willem and the Escisians at the orphanage.  As this was his only frame of reference and knowing all the valuable skills that he was taught by the priest-warriors, he made a petition to the Escisian order’s central authority to have Willem assigned to the court of Empress Veronica as a teacher for the young Princes of the Empire.

The reply he received was curious:

The Escisian order is honored that the Royal family has chosen to employ one of our brothers in the education of the Princes.   It is unfortunate at this time that Captain Proctor is not available for this opportunity.   We will be sending someone in his place who is as qualified.

Pascal was taken aback by this. How do you turn down the Royal House?  Why not Willem? Pascal went to Veronica with this news.

“I can’t believe it.  They know that Willem was my tutor and is who I think is the best man for the job.  Why would they send someone else?” Pascal wondered out loud to her.

Veronica as always had feel for these situations.  “It is quite possible that Willem is busy with some other monkish duty.”

Pascal was irritated.  Over the years, his resolute patience had shown signs of breaking down.   It usually came in situations that were personal affronts rather than imperial affronts.  He could handle a whole empire sticking its thumb in his eye, but if an individual did, he’d take them to task.  “I think I will press my case with them.  Adam’s training requires the best teacher and that is Willem, I will not abide with any substitute.”

Chapter 2

“Adam, I will be going to visit the Albion on their home planet Alba.  You will accompany me,” Pascal said while running his hand through Adam’s hair with fatherly pride.

Adam looked at him in his judgmental way.  “Baba, what will I do there while you speak to the adults?”

“You will sit at my side and learn.  You have stared at me for ten years, now we will use your powers of observation as your classroom.  This is how the business of the galaxy is done, and you as heir-apparent must understand these things.”

“Of course.”  Adam replied, smiling slightly.  “But can Owen come?  I think he’d could learn too.  I’ll need his advice when I am Emperor.”

Pascal tipped his head slightly to one side. Amazing child…far beyond his age in understanding.

“Owen cannot come.  He is too young and your mother would not allow more than one heir to the throne on a trip should something occur.  This is the dilemma of our position.”

Adam understood, but he didn’t like it.  Owen was his best friend and confidant.  He knew he’d be lonely with only his father.  Pascal was always busy talking and negotiating.  To say that Adam felt neglected was a bit strong.  He knew that his father could be distracted by completing tasks.

“When will we be leaving, Baba?”

“Our departure will be in 2 weeks.  The trip will take 3 months and during that time you will be in training.  We have arranged for an Escisian monk to be with us, and I’m hoping that I can convince the order to provide Willem, my mentor, whom I trust implicitly.  He will teach you how to fight, to communicate and to pray.”

“Baba, why praying?  I already have had my religious training and I serve as an acolyte now.”

“The three topics go together.  You have learned the religious without understanding your physical self.  Knowing your limits and how to communicate correctly within the bounds of religion can make you a powerful figure.  Your namesake Philip Augustus, the Righteous, understood this.”

“You are still trying to convince me, but you haven’t told me why.”

He’s so intelligent.  I forget that my ability to win people over stops with him. Pascal grinned a little bit to one side.  “OK my small tadavor, I will tell you why.  Because in life you will be presented with situations where the choice between good and evil is not so easy to discern.  You’ll have to make a choice between supporting someone who you feel is right but you will also have responsibility.  You’ll have to fight someone or something that in any other case you might support.  And you’ll have to explain yourself to the Empire, and when you have to articulate that choice, I hope that you prayed beforehand looking for guidance.  We go nowhere without God and his righteous messenger Dol, our sacrifice.”

Adam pondered this for a second staring through his father.  “Tell me about a situation where you had to make a choice like that, Baba.”

Pascal hesitated.  His choices were not always so difficult.  The child had once again tripped him up.  He himself had not had to make that choice.  The closest choice he made that approached this was choosing to join his Barabreen comrades drilling beneath the Darjiki in the Battle of Micah.  He could have stayed above ground and fought with the monks.  Truly there was little gained in the overall battle by his joining them, except as emotional support to them.

“I have yet to have to make choose between equally distasteful options where praying would have made sense.  I predict thought that you as Emperor will have to make a choice like that.”

A week before the trip would begin, an Escisian transport arrived in Micah.  Pascal went out to greet the visitor at the spaceport.  Pascal was hoping that the Escisians would have relented but the final word had come that another monk would be assigned for the trip.  This brother was a portly fellow with a broad smile and a wisp of hair on his head.  Pascal immediately recognized him from the battle of Micah, Bre’  Sebastien.  He came off the transport, kissed the ground, said a prayer, and got up and greeted Pascal with “Tuto De Dola Nika Cor ig Des Domo!”  the motto of the Escisian order, “With the sign of Dol, conquer hearts and see God”.

Pascal responded with Eo-bun, roughly “So be it”.

The jolly monk immediately got to business.  “Your highness, the Escisian order would like to inform you that although I have been given the privilege of accompanying you on your journey and performing some initial training of the heir-apparent, I will be replaced on your arrival on Alba.”

“Really! By whom?” Pascal responded with a stern look.

The jolliness suddenly left Sebastien.  “The Escisian order is happy to inform you that Captain Proctor will be meeting you on Alba.”

Pascal was a taken aback by this.  “Why have they relented?”

“I do not have an answer to that question directly from our superiors, however I do know that Captain Proctor was either on a mission or on a sabbatical, both of which are held in secrecy in our order.”

Pascal’s demeanor changed abruptly.  “Well then Bre’, let me take you to the palace and introduce you to the royal family.  The Empress is

Book 2: starting to flesh it out a bit more

In Random on July 2, 2009 at 12:54 pm

So I start with a letter about Pascal and his time from Pascal’s son to his grandson. It recounts the characters from the first book and then explains the tricky relationship between Pascal, Prince Consort and Lord of Naerius and leaves off with a “let me recount the first mission I went on your with grandfather…”

From there on the 3rd person narration comes back.

The idea of the the son being the judge of Pascal (as well as the allegorical “judge” from a traditional interpretation of the bible for his whole empire) is the basis of the story. The judgement that needs to be rendered on Pascal comes down to what appears to be a sideshow to intergalactic politics. Pascal must deal make a choice: to collaborate with a group of Naerian trying to create a show of terror to highlight the plight of their people or to work to suppress them in the context of intergalactic peace (and his own interpretation of his destiny).

It’s a tough choice. He has a unrequited desire to get back to his home planet. He could use the people of his race as a means to an end…and whichever way he goes, his son Adam, heir to the throne is watching him and judging him…and will have to fix things in Pascal’s wake.

Anyway, that’s the idea.

OK enough…

In Random on July 1, 2009 at 3:20 am

So last week, I had an emotional moment.  Ed died, Farrah died, Michael died.  (Sorry Billy Mays, no visceral reaction for you).   I felt for a moment that the 1970s had died all at once.  I got all choked up, not because of them in particular, but because it conjured up all kinds of memories of those days.  I was a kid, and my childhood seemed to be dying.

Now I’m a bit disgusted.  There are real things going on in the world to people – good and bad – the pullout in Iraq, bombs in afghanistan, papparazzi following the promiscouos Berlousconi from party to party, North Korean Missiles, People dying in the streets of Teheran, coup in Honduras…all this beside Michael Jackson!  I don’t care what Joe thinks.  I really don’t care what Michael’s ex-wife thinks.  I really really don’t care what Tito thinks.  or Jermaine, or LaToya or Janet.  I really don’t care what Deepak CHOPRA thinks about Michael Jackson.  I really don’t care that his dermatologist was the father of his children…

Enough already.  I’ll know we’ve gone from the sublime to the ridiculous when we have William Shatner interviewed about Michael Jackson…