Friday, September 21, 2007

Novel Research

I'm at the end of a development cycle at work. Tonight they lock down all the work we've been doing so the quality assurance people can make sure it all works with the intention of releasing it to the public. This is when my job gets hairy and scary.

I enjoy my job, but have I ever been so scarce as I have been for the last three or four months?

Just to let you know, I am trying out a new concept. I started a blog where I pose questions for professional people to answer. Right now I am searching out policemen, especially policement from the Houston, Texas area, where my work-in-progress ( WIP for those in the know ) is based. It's funny, but the wording of some of my questions is so poor that I'm afraid anyone who does stop by won't believe I can actually pull off a novel length work. I'll just have to edit when I get the chance. I've already got one lead on a Houston policeman, and I've emailed him to stop by. We'll see. This is a bit over my comfort zone, to approach strangers asking for favors. I feel like a poser for one thing, like I'm actually a novelist. I would feel better with one piece of work under my belt. But building a house starts a shovelful of dirt in an empty field.

I'm also storing my links there. One such link came from Jaye over at Jaye's Blahg, which contains references to character naming resources. You can get lost in link-land once you get started. It's fascinating.

I have about ten posting ideas, but I want to spend the proper time with them. I hope to make a round of visits soon.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

More Bumps in the Road

This morning I took Emmett to preschool as promised in yesterdays post. As my wife got him dressed, he picked up where he left off yesterday. By the time I had him in his seat, he was full-on crying about not wanting to go.

Anyone who has gone through this with their three-year-old will understand how difficult this is. But, as per Tee's comment, I had a secret weapon.

"Do you want a lollypop?"


"Well, why don't you just hold it for me," I said as I handed it to him, his eyes following the motion like a cats to a ball at the end of a string. He managed to grab it from me without breaking his rythym.

"But I don't want to go to school!"

"What don't you like about school?"

"I don't get to see Kyle b-because he's n-not in my school anymore."

Kyle is still his friend, but since Kyle is a little older, he is in a classroom across the hall from Emmett. "But you see him on the playground, right?"

"Yes, but I don't want to go to school!"

"Do you need help opening that lollypop?"

He got quiet. "I can do it myself."

I heard the wrapper crinkle, so I adjusted the rearview mirror and saw him put the green lollypop in his mouth. Then he muttered almost under his breath. "Don't. Want. To-go. To-school." Little tears had stalled in mid-flight on each cheek.

We chatted for the rest of the trip. Talking about it seemed to calm him down. I think once he really analyzed it, school was about playtime and friends, two of his favorite things next to treats. But as we got closer, he reminded me that he didn't want to go.

"Let's go up together and we'll see what you think," I told him.

"And if I really hate it we can go home?"

I didn't want to lie. If I would have said yes, then technically it wouldn't have been a lie. If he made a big enough fuss, we would go home. If I said yes, then he would hold me to it. So I gave him the answer that most parents come to use far too often.

"We'll see."

Entering the classroom, I gave his teacher a look I cannot describe, but she understood my meaning. Code Red Alert.

She was very sweet, but Emmett went full-out, crying and begging to go home. At this point my resolve almost broke. When I took a step, he took twenty small ones in the same span, holding onto my leg and screaming.

The teacher was good though, this not being her first rodeo. She coaxed him towards the painting easel as I walked a small step behind. Then I leaned over and said in his ear, "I'm going downstairs for a minute, but I'll be right back."

He let me go.

Actually, that was a lie, one that I hope he forgives me for. I didn't go downstairs, and I didn't come right back. I hid on the other side of the door and looked through the crack, though I couldn't see him. He cried for a little while then stopped. Then started up again. I was on the verge when the teacher from across the hall saw what I was doing.

"It's hard, isn't it?" The look on her face was pure empathy.

"I feel like a traitor."

"Is that your boy with the orange shirt?"


"He's in good hands with Miss De Matteo. She's kneeling down and talking to him. He's very close to picking up a paint brush." She looked again. "Oh yeah, he's thinking about it."

On the way home, I stopped at a local country store and bought him a candy snake that he talks about so much. That's what he'll get when his momma picks him up today.

Monday, we do it all over again.

*** Update ***

When I picked him up at school, he was sitting in a circle on a mat with the teacher along with the other children. When he saw me, he hollered "Daddy," jumped up and into my arms.

"Did you have fun?"


I looked at the teacher who told me that it only took five minutes, and he had been happy ever since.

In the car, he told me how much fun he had, then chittered happily all the way home. We'll see how it goes on Monday now. But I think it will be much easier.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Bumpy Start

This morning my second grader got on the bus. He went to the back and waved, like he does every morning, behind the glass of the rear exit door until the bus rolled out of sight. And there was me at the end of my driveway as the morning commuters launched past. Did they question the sanity of the tall, spastic, goofy guy who waves at them with a stupid smile on his face?

My preschooler cried his way out of going to school this morning. Momma negotiated for about fifteen minutes in the driveway beside the car. I could hear them outside my home-office window. Tomorrow, it looks like it might be my turn to take him in. It's time for a little daddy-tough-love.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Only the Good Die Young

I expected the usual freak-show, something akin to the department of motor vehicles when I walked into the shabby lobby of the courthouse building, but the people were strangely personable. The waiting room was filled with my fellow prospective jurors, some sitting around a long meeting table, others on chairs that lined the four walls. Overhead was a drop-ceiling, and the walls were wood paneled. Thankfully I wore a tee under my long-sleeved dress shirt, and more importantly, that I had brought John Irving's Widow for a Year to keep me company. I would turn out to be a long morning.

When we had filled out some basic information and had settled into the routine of being alone in a crowd, a dapper gentleman presented himself as the one of two judges, and thanked us for being there. There were seven cases being considered, and our presence, he told us, was just the threat needed to force settlements out of court. He was probably no older than me, slightly graying hair that seemed to lay just right for him. His manner was gentle, but his station implied a fierceness of character that was at odds with his appearance.

We sat in that room from eight thirty to eleven before we were summoned to the courtroom. Court officers stopped by to give us periodic updates, imparting amusing anecdotes with the casual practiced ease of comedians. They had trapped us in a little white box, but at least we were made to feel appreciated.

I knew that my chances of getting picked were pretty good when the clerk had first handed me a little white card featuring a bold number one on it. I had filled out an information sheet, which I perfunctorily scanned checking no, no and no, until I read the part about swearing that everything I had written was true and nothing was knowingly omitted, punishable by blah-blah in prison and blah-blah Perjury blah-blah. So I fessed-up to my one arrest, how I stuffed a beer glass into the inside pocket of my jean jacket at a college bar, how I tried to run and ended up face-down as the bottom rung of a pyramid of steroid-enhanced bouncers. When I heard that the case involved a drunken driving charge, I was sure I was going home. The defense surely wouldn't have a problem with me, but the Commonwealth certainly should have. No such luck.

From my initial vantage point as I sat at the back of the courtroom, I couldn't help but be a tad envious of the lawyers. This always happens to me when I meet someone who has succeeded in life, whether he or she is a commercial real estate tycoon, a heart surgeon, or a basement tinkerer who stayed true to a childhood dream that lead to the special effects studios at Skywalker ranch. These lawyers were regal in their sharp suits and short tidy hair; they were Chad and Biff, Greeks from rival fraternities, presidents of their respective houses. The defense lawyer—what the hell, we'll call him Biff—had a Colgate smile that projected confidence and not a small bit of that necessary evil that my fellow jurists all recognized.

Not until they opened their mouths was the spell broken. The prosecutor, Chad, laced his fingers together and steepled his thumbs as he paced before the jury box. He explained in excruciating detail how alcohol impairs our judgment like a teacher might address a group of special-needs students. His delivery was stilted and altogether unimpressive. Maybe I've watched too many court dramas, but this was a real let down.

Biff was another story. He had every bit of the confidence he had projected, but as he opened his mouth at such a close distance, I could almost imagine the smell of his breath. My face, quite expressive if I'm not careful to guard it, must have compressed into a protective grimace. Two sentences into Biff's address, and I had him pegged as a scum-ball lawyer, and as much as I hated to admit it, he was already winning.

The first witness was the officer who brought the charges against the defendant. Standing at the raised podium, the officer was still shorter than me, and he had a nervous habit of twitching his head like a bird after every statement. He was obviously nervous. Aside from his shaved head, he hardly resembled any rendition of a prototypical cop. He looked more like the awkward kid at school that even the geeks picked on.

He pulled over the defendant at 1:30 in the morning and asked the accused if he had been drinking. Yes, three or four beers. Do you have any disabilities that would prevent you from passing a road-side sobriety test? Yes, I have bad knees. So the officer proceeded to have him walk a straight line. The defendant walked straight, turned around, walked back and stumbled when nearly complete. Why? Bad knee; it gives sometimes.

A full hour later, the accused is at the police station blowing .03 above the legal limit. Case closed? Not quite. The defense offered that studies have shown that alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream at different rates depending on the person. At 1:30 AM, who can say what the defendant's blood-alcohol-content was? The prosecution didn't even address this point. The jury concluded that the dexterity test was inconclusive, and that since it was on the Commonwealth to prove the defendant guilty, and since the Commonwealth did nothing to address the defense's assertion concerning BAC, we found for the defendant. To the last person, we all agreed that the defendant was lying about everything. Of course he stumbled because he was drunk, and of course his BAC was the same or worse at 1:30 than it was at 2:30. But we all agreed that reasonable doubt was presented and not refuted by the prosecution.

The judge took us into chambers afterwards to thank us, and we told him what happened. It turns out that the BAC reading is considered by law to be the same within three hours from the time of consumption of alcohol, and that the only question to the jury is whether or not the breath-test is admissible. Why didn't the prosecution tell us that? "He would have been stepping on my toes," the judge said. He looked thoughtful for a moment. "I suppose he could have asked the officer 'Are you aware of the law that states…', and of course the defense would have objected, but I would have allowed it." The judge had been impressed with the defense lawyer. This was the first time in the courts history that a lawyer had used that defense. "I'm going to tell the defendant that he should kiss his lawyers feet."

But he also told us that we brought up some real concerns that he will address with his superiors. His hands were tied too. There is a script that he reads from such that it prohibited him from telling us those aspects of law that would certainly have convicted the defendant. It would have saved us the better part of day in useless deliberation.

There was one woman on the jury who stood against all of us, saying that she had no doubt about the defendant's guilt. We countered that we didn't have any either. The issue was about reasonable doubt, and whether or not the prosecution had proven the defendant's guilt. She held us up for a morning and half an afternoon, and nobody blamed her. What we were doing was taking the system literally, using the facts presented and not inferring from personal opinion, which she clearly was. In the end, she signed her name to the verdict, but she was not happy.

As we were preparing to deliver the verdict, she called us all a bunch of liberals.

"Excuse me? Did you just call me a liberal?" I said.

"Yes I did."

"I'm not a liberal."

"Yes you are."

"I'm a liberal because I can make an objective decision setting aside the bias of my personal opinion?"

Her lips tightened. She wasn't convinced.

"I voted for George Bush," I continued. "What kind of self-respecting liberal would do that?"

That did the trick.