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Hepatic Test Drive

My brother's birthday is tomorrow on June 13. I can't wait for next year - it'd be great to come up with something suitable apropos for a Friday the 13th birthday, but by that time, he might be living far away.

So last night mom and I drove to Lexington to take him and his fiancee, whose birthday is today, out to dinner. This is known as procrastination, since what I really should be doing is getting ready for the trip to Nicaragua, but hey, one should remember what's really important in life.

We had dinner at Joe's Crab Shack in Lexington, which is a disappointment compared to the one in downtown Louisville. For one, Joe's in Lexington isn't on a river or other body of water, and watching the traffic on Nicholasville Road or whatever road that was lacked the ambiance of watching boats and barges on the Ohio River. For another, the service was abysmal for a slow Tuesday night; I mean, sheesh, if we didn't have to find the restaurant hostess to place our drink orders after being seated for 20 minutes, I could have been suitably tanked and not have noticed or cared that we had been seated for 30 minutes by the time the waitress took our food orders; nor would I have noticed or cared it took another 35 minutes for our entrees to arrive.

Let us not dwell on the negative aspects of dinner, but instead ponder the finer points of enjoyment. I ordered a Fish Bowl, Joe's trademark Bahama Mama served in a half gallon plastic fishbowl. My liver needed an alcohol metabolism test run while still on familiar soil - it wouldn't be prudent to wait until I was terra incognito in Nicaragua, only to discover my blackout limit had been exceeded by three shots of rum in a bar far, far away from the hotel as my head fell to the floor.

We spent the first part of dinner discussing my brother's and his fiancee's current wedding plans. Halfway through the Fish Bowl my brother sensed my degraded mental state and seized the opportunity to direct the conversation toward my own stellar success with women. Head reeling with alcohol, it was all downhill for me from that point on.

Somehow we ended up talking about the time I pissed myself in a girlfriend's car when we were visiting my mom for the weekend. Oh, yes... I really did just write what you thought you just read, but don't worry - any dignity and self-respect I once had were lost long ago. My best material is sequestered deep into a post - it's your reward for reading this far. You're probably dying to hear the rest of the story...

When I was 19 I had a kidney stone. I was dating Tiffany at the time, and one weekend after fall semester started, we went to visit my mom. Of everyone I've dated, Tiffany has had the closest relationship with my mother, so it's not surprising that she reminds me of my mother more than any other infamous girlfriend. Insert tactless Oedipal comments as you please - after telling the whole world I peed my pants at 19, how can this self-inflicted diatribe get any worse?

It took four months to pass that kidney stone. It was painful on only two occasions - once during the initial attack and again a few weeks later - and so long as it didn't obstruct the ureter, my urologist was content to let me pee in a strainer indefinitely. The one problem it did create, however, was a sudden and uncontrollable urge to urinate at the most inopportune times. The stone mimicked the sensation the bladder creates when full, so it always felt like I had to take a leak, and I couldn't tell if I really needed to or not until my bladder was so completely and painfully full that it could stretch no more. Then I had 10 minutes at most to find a restroom.

On that fateful Saturday, Tiffany and I were on a stretch of I-65 between Bowling Green and Elizabethtown with no exits for several miles when my bladder sounded the "this is not a drill" alarm. Oh, it was bad. The first kidney stone attack was the most intense pain I've ever had the misfortune of enduring, but the sensation of my bladder straining as it risked rupturing with a kidney stone lurking in a nearby ureter ranked a close second. With teeth clenched, and the passenger seat of Tiffany's Saturn reclined to relieve the pressure, I insisted in no uncertain terms, "You have to find someplace to pull over! Soon!"

Tiffany made a valiant effort, pushing her Saturn to the limit. Finally, finally, we had the next exit in sight, but when we got to the stop sign at the end, the road ran in either direction with no signs of civilization. This was a highway exit, and the town on the exit sign was actually several miles away. As my heart sank, the weight nearly broke my bladder's resolve. "Just go!" I cried out.

After Tiffany had barreled down the road for about a mile in search of a gas station or fast food restaurant, I told her to pull over "now, now now! Anywhere!" By the time she had stopped on the roadside, it was too late - my shorts were soaking through. You know, it was the funniest thing to watch, and we sat there in stunned silence, mesmerized as a pool of piss rose through my shorts and between my legs like a miniature flooding pond, complete with a park water fountain shooting up in the middle as the stream of urine passed unhampered through denim and a pair of underwear. A priceless moment forever frozen in time, I tell you. Mastercard would have seized the opportunity to make this into a commercial... Denim shorts: $18. '93 Saturn SL: $15,000. Soaking it all in urine: Priceless.

My shorts were soaked, but worse, her passenger seat was soaked. She patiently waited as I strained to take off the shorts, which resisted all efforts to remove them as I tried to avoid touching the wettest parts. Finally the shorts were off and hung outside the window as we sped home.

Tiffany never complained over the months that followed as we tried all manner of treatments to remove the smell, which was faintly present for years until she stored a not quite empty gasoline container in the backseat of her car for a week. Now, if you don't agree that's love, I know of no finer example.

To this day, I defend my actions by saying I was marking territory.

:: Bryan Travis :: 06/12/2002 @ 18:32 :: [link] ::
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Ignoring the Sun

Days like today make a person wonder if it isn't better to turn one's back on the hot, blistering sun and swear off diurnalism altogether, electing instead to spend your waking hours communing with the nocturnal creatures of the night, like cats, screech owls, ferrets, slugs and bats. The world of night is its own ecosystem, hiding from the sun that powers it, venturing out into the darkness to feed on sun-charged morsels left exposed and forgotten by day world's inhabitants.

Like the Dark Side of the Force, the nocturnal world is always present, but hidden from day's view, living in the shadows, under the rocks, inside the hollow tree trunks and beneath the forest's carpet of dead leaves and pine needles. The Dark Side was ubiquitous, yet undetected by the Light Side until it was too late. It operated out of view, its agents seemingly materializing out of the ether to carry out a mysterious agenda and dissolving back into nothingness... and sometimes, the Dark Side dropped a black cloak over a Jedi.

I'm mesmerized by metaphorical patterns, and I've noticed there aren't many others out there who look for them, much less aware they exist. It's my niche, truly something to call my own.

English is a fairly expansive language boasting over 1 million words; 750,000 of these are non-archaic, and roughly 80,000 of those are commonly used and considered well known. Of all the professions in our society, writers and journalists generally have the largest vocabularies, averaging 70,000 word lexicons. That being said, I consider myself an amateur writer, and in all fairness, probably have a 50,000 or 60,000 word vocabulary. I'm also ashamed to admit that I commonly resort to artificial augmentation of my vocabulary and cheat (although I haven't thus far in this post, except to check the meaning of lexicon and make sure it was a suitable synonym for "vocabulary" and not just a seven letter word for "dictionary"). Bear with me, this is going somewhere...

There's probably already a word or phrase in English for what I refer to as "metaphorical patterns," but I don't know it, and I'm also certain an appreciation for them isn't as rare as I'd sometimes like to think - any poet worth their salt has a strong grasp of the concept.

When two or more things - ideas, objects, systems or entities - resemble one another in form, function or purpose, and you can draw multiple connections between the resemblances, you have found a metaphorical pattern. It's like making an analogy, but an analogy only requires one connection and infers other connections must also exist; making metaphorical patterns requires exhaustively finding those other connections for the sake of finding them and offering evidence the nature of the universe is the creative and complex cumulation of numerous, simpler patterns. It's an artform and a science, get it?

The connections between diurnal/nocturnal creatures and the Light and Dark Sides of the Force create a metaphorical pattern. Lucas may or may not have had them in mind, but the connections are there. Let's introduce a third node to draw more connections: the superstring theory of quantum physics. This theory proposes the existence of small, hidden dimensions in addition to the three spatial dimensions and fourth dimension of time to smooth out irregularities between theories for energy, mass, fundamental forces and gravity. I think String Theory has 4 or 5 extra dimensions in addition to the 4 we readily perceive, and most of them are hard to visualize and must be mathematically represented. Oh, yeah - this is some mind-boggling shite we're getting into, to be sure.

In String Theory, every point of spacetime is visualized as a string or membrane... mathematically. Well, so much for a point having no dimensions, right? No, a point still has zero length, width or height; if this string represents the fifth dimension, then the fifth dimension wraps around every point in three dimensional space. Well, at least that's how I think it works... I'm limited to mental representations since I don't understand the math behind it.

The most interesting way I've heard it explained is at particleadventure.org: Imagine walking on a tightrope. To you, the tightrope is a one-dimensional line, because you can only go forward or backward on it. On a much smaller scale, however, say that of a flea, the tightrope is a three-dimensional cylinder. The flea can walk on the tightrope as if it were a plane folded around on itself, allowing it to walk on the tightrope sideways or even upside down, which is something that you, big and massive as you are, simply cannot do. And although particleadventure doesn't take it this far, I'm sure it's fair to say that on an even smaller scale than that of the flea, the tightrope is composed of fibers, allowing a bacterium to wander through the tightrope as if it were a three-dimensional entity, although to you walking on the tightrope, the experience is, for all intents and purposes, a linear trip.

As entire microcosms hide in the small scales of superstrings, so too does the nocturnal world hide behind the surfaces of the diurnal one, as does the Dark Side.

Fractals also exhibit this same sort of infinitely repeating, ever increasing detail as you analyze them on increasingly smaller scales. Well, I guess that's to be expected as that is the definition of a fractal. Visual aids rarely accompany my rants, but the Shodor Foundation's Fractal Microscope and a little PhotoShopping made it possible to create an animation of everyone's favorite fractal, the Mandelbrot Set.

The sequence starts with a 5 second pause showing the entire Mandelbrot Set, centers on an area in the tip, and zooms in for a 32X magnification of another image of the Mandelbrot Set at a smaller scale. Next, we center over a knot in one of the tendrils extending from the mini-Mandelbrot and zoom in to reveal another image of the Mandelbrot in the knot's center at a total magnification of over 65,000X:

As the animation zooms in to reveal ever-increasing detail, try to keep in mind the border of the entire Mandelbrot Set is one, continuous line forming a loop. The loop gets extremely narrow in places, and sometimes appears non-existent as it runs in the center of swirls and tendrils, but zoom in for a closer look and, sure enough, it becomes discernable, curving and swirling in ever greater, indivisible, infinite detail. Such is the beauty of fractals.

Where was I? Oh, yes... musing the wonders of nocturnalism. Last night I went to bed at midnight and woke up when the phone rang at 2:30am. Almost three hours later I was falling asleep again, wondering why the best phone conversations are the ones you have in the middle of the night. I just don't get it. So, after sleeping off and on until 2:30 in the afternoon and not taking my first sip of latte until 4:54pm, three minutes later than 4:51pm (thanks, Donnie) which interestingly is the number of degrees Fahrenheit at which paper catches fire, and feeling on top of the world and the most well-rested I have in months, I was left wondering why I'm always fighting my predilection to be a night owl... like I am right now by forcing myself to end this post and go to bed.

:: Bryan Travis :: 06/10/2002 @ 03:26 :: [link] ::
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Filling the Emptiness

Occasionally I have to hand it to beer. It's preceded some of the more thought-provoking discussions I've had, ranking up there with coffee beverages and babbling brooks. Perhaps the magic isn't in sipping drinks or the sound of water, maybe it's in what these things are trying to tell us: If you wish to enjoy me, my dear human, then you must slow down, let go of those distractions and relax. You have to take it slow, mo' fo', if you want me to work.

And somehow we got on the topic of...

Death.

Invoking the word in most contexts unambiguously conveys a sense of ultimate finality: The project is dead. Congressional opponents killed the proposal. Death and taxes.

Eventually, we all experience death's cold grasp. Each of us will stare it squarely in the face, some of us winning a time or two, but in the final showdown, we all lose. It's the final scene of the final act, the last dance before the curtain falls. Beyond that bridge, my friends, are no more roads.

Slowly say it out loud. Death. Listen carefully to the sound of your voice. Death. Hear how the last phoneme slides past your tongue and under your teeth? That's the sound of the lifeforce dissolving, the last breath, the incoming woosh of the big chill.

So yeah, death changes anything and everything. Irrevocably.

But this isn't how we talked about death this evening - this is how I describe it at 3 in the morning. What we talked about was perspective. No matter how good or bad you have it, somewhere in your mind is a voice saying, Life is less than satisfying and how I wish I had a better lot in it all. It preys on the emptiness in each of us, employing our imaginations to fabricate fillings for that unfillable hole. Most people lead lives of quiet desperation, said Eric Hoffer.

While our imaginations are busy weaving the fabric of Utopia, life continues, and at any moment, it can all change, or even end (for dramatic effect: *poof*), when all the while, there is the world, untapped and waiting.

:: Bryan Travis :: 06/07/2002 @ 03:40 :: [link] ::
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