The Crevice on Christmas

Written over two days, the following is a literary present to myself. I hope others enjoy it.

The Crevice on Christmas

by Sean D. Francis

The final days of the year happened to also be the coldest in the mountains of Montana.  The day after the solstice temperatures dropped so low new records were set.  Christmas approached and I had no family to speak of so I took the invitation of a dear friend of mine, Charles Vernon Dawes, the professor, to go with him and his family to his Uncle’s mountain home in Montana.  The idea of spending the holidays in the Rocky Mountains surrounded by deep white snow far away from the noise and crowds of the city excited me.

To say Charles’s uncle was eccentric would be putting a very polite spin on a man who had long ago lost touch with reality.  I surmised, after Charles warned me of his Uncle’s oddities, that part of the reason he invited me was to offer my own opinion on his Uncle’s condition.  Mind you, I’ve only dabbled in the science of psychology, my real area of expertise was and still remains language, linguistics, and symbology.  Charles, his wife Rita, their teenage son Justin, and I rented a Land Rover to carry us from the airport in Bozeman to the mountain home of Uncle Earl Dawes.  I marveled at the splendor of the mountains as Charles drove us into the mountains along some very narrow and treacherous looking roads.

Continue reading “The Crevice on Christmas”

A Mike Kruhl Story: Ask the Telephone

Mike Kruhl is my alter ego who was a golden age of science fiction writer. The stories… aren’t good, they are tongue-in-cheek, usually efforts to break out of a writing rut.  I hadn’t posted any fiction to the blog lately, so I dug this up, written in September 2007.

Ask the Telephone

“Bullpunk! The Cleveland Indians won 4 games to 2 against the Boston Braves,” Richard Dinkens said before scooping up a huge handful of peanuts from the bowl in front of him. Bits of his previous handful flew from his mouth when he spoke.

“Ask the telephone,” Chuck the bartender said, wiping up the spit and peanut shards from his bar with his ever present bar towel. Greg Matrius, the balding man on the other end of the argument, agreed with Chuck. “Yeah, why argue, we’ll just ask the telephone.” Continue reading “A Mike Kruhl Story: Ask the Telephone”

The Art of Worldly Wisdom: 13

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Very few people would claim Baltasar Gracian was simple.   Maxim 13 is a very complex tightly woven strategic sentiment.  This isn’t about philosophy per se, it is one of those sentiments that seems kind of Machiavellian or Sun-Tzu-ian.  In a different translation than the free one that I use for the purpose of this blog translates the first line in a completely different way, which I’m going to quote here for further elucidation. “Act on the intentions of others:their ulterior and superior motives.”  Compare that to the following:

xiii Act sometimes on Second Thoughts, sometimes on First Impulse.

Man’s life is a warfare against the malice of men. Sagacity fights with strategic changes of intention: it never does what it threatens, it aims only at escaping notice. It aims in the air with dexterity and strikes home in an unexpected direction, always seeking to conceal its game. It lets a purpose appear in order to attract the opponent’s attention, but then turns round and conquers by the unexpected. But a penetrating intelligence anticipates this by watchfulness and lurks in ambush. It always understands the opposite of what the opponent wishes it to understand, and recognises every feint of guile. It lets the first impulse pass by and waits for the second, or even the third. Sagacity now rises to higher flights on seeing its artifice foreseen, and tries to deceive by truth itself, changes its game in order to change its deceit, and cheats by not cheating, and founds deception on the greatest candour. But the opposing intelligence is on guard with increased watchfulness, and discovers the darkness concealed by the light and deciphers every move, the more subtle because more simple. In this way the guile of the Python combats the far darting rays of Apollo.

Life is a war against the malice of men. Consider that carefully. Life is… Not a part of life, but Life is a war – not a struggle, not a fight, or even a battle, but a full on war. And that malice, the cunning malice, doesn’t come at us straight in an obvious attack. It works angles, it comes at us laterally. That malice works against our intentions. This theme gets revisited many times by Gracian. It is important to him to hammer home the point that forces, the malice of others, are constantly working against us. To protect ourselves, we cannot act on first impulses, as those are the obvious impulses and where the malice of others will lay their traps. We must wait, reflect, and take action on the second impulse. And thus the name of this blog is revealed.

Through artful language, Gracian even tells us that once the malice of others sees we are wise to its trickery, it will come at us in a different way, using truth to hide its intentions. Yes, in this Maxim, I believe Gracian was channeling some pretty paranoid delusions, but not in an absolute crazy way. Instead I think he was really trying to make his point as absolute as possible. Whether we realize it or not, whether others realize it or not, our actions are opposed. They are opposed by others who may not even realize they are opposing them. The opposition can take the form of a naysayer who is quick to tell us why our chosen action won’t work, or by someone who is uncomfortable with any change that our action might bring. These people may work against us in subtle ways. They won’t debate the issues, they won’t express their opinions directly, instead they will salt the earth in which we planned to seed our ideas. They might remove necessary resources. If we want to have any semblance of success, we need to be aware and maintain a constant vigil for the malice of others.

Let’s make no mistake in thinking Gracian believes we are above this very same behavior, because he doesn’t. Are we not men? Do we not bleed if you prick us? No, we ourselves are capable of malice against others. Gracian has Maxims to deal with that as well, but that will be for another day.

The Art of Worldly Wisdom

The Art of Worldly Wisdom: 12

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It has been sometime since I visited the core purpose of this blog – the continued exploration of Baltasar Gracian’s The Art of Worldly Wisdom. As a person who strongly believes philosophy plays a vital role in understanding our world, I rely heavily on the concept of ‘the state of nature’. In many ways I look to this hypothetical state of being – this pre-social world, as an ideal. It is ideal, as it is a structure that is self sustaining but exists at the lowest possible common denominator. In Baltasar’s twelfth maxim we get a sense that he too appreciates the basic nature of being but clearly understands that if a person wants to achieve more than mere survival, then something more needs to be done.

xii Nature and Art: material and workmanship. There is no beauty unadorned and no excellence that would not become barbaric if it were not supported by artifice: this remedies the evil and improves the good. Nature scarcely ever gives us the very best; for that we must have recourse to art. Without this the best of natural dispositions is uncultured, and half is lacking to any excellence if training is absent. Every one has something unpolished without artificial training, and every kind of excellence needs some polish.

I know if I were sitting in a college classroom and my professor presented the idea that something created naturally is not as beautiful as it could be, I would have argued vehemently that by its very nature it is exactly the way it should be. Continue reading “The Art of Worldly Wisdom: 12”

Rhubarb Coffee Cake

I grew up in Montana with a big garden.  In one corner of the garden was a patch of rhubarb.  Honestly, if I wasn’t raised with it, I would have just considered it a big overgrown weed.  I would eat it raw, dipping it into sugar to counteract the bitter taste.  My mom would make rhubarb pie.  Not rhubarb-strawberry pie, but rhubarb pie.  I loved it.  She also make a rhubarb cake that was so moist and delicious but not overly sweet.  I’ve been trying to find the recipe that best captured what she made and haven’t been having a lot of luck.

I did however cobble together a very tasty coffee cake that at least is putting me on the right track.  The batter for this recipe turned out a lot better than I thought it would.  As I mention in the recipe, it is a thick batter, almost scone like in thickness, which had me a bit concerned as to whether it would be light enough to be ‘cakey’.  I was not disappointed.  I’m keeping this basic batter recipe in my back pocket as it obviously could be used with a variety of fruits.  A mixed berry coffee cake with this batter would be extra yummy.

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The Chicago Style Hot Dog Salad

While eating at one of Chicago’s many hot dog places with a friend who was enjoying a hot dog with the works, I had an idea for something different.  In Chicago a hot dog with everything on it is something special.  It is a unique masterpiece that has its origins in lore.  Vienna Beef provides a a wonderful graphic depiction of the canonical recipe for the Chicago Style Hot Dog as seen to the right here.

The Chicago Style hot dog consists of a natural casing hot dog, steamed poppy seed bun, a kosher pickle spear, diced onions, neon relish (more on this later), sport peppers, tomato slices, a dash of celery salt, and yellow mustard.  No ketchup and no fancy mustards for this hot dog, thank you very much.  Okay, about this Neon Green Relish (Vienna Chicago Style Relish 12oz) that is a ‘requirement’ for the Chicago Style Hot Dog: it doesn’t taste any different, looks dangerous, and costs more.  I opt out of using it.  I figure the recipe I’m proposing already freaks out the hot dog purists so I’m not to concerned over  altering one ingredient.

I don’t really care about the why of the Chicago style too much.  I assume it was just a way to make a single hot dog more filling.  No matter, when ordering this hot dog, people will sometimes say, “drag it through the garden” as in indicator of just how much extra stuff is on this normally simple treat.

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