Posts Tagged ‘layla’

Reality Sucks

on December 9, 2009 in Misc 1 Comment »

Damned Cars!

I totally resent reality.  It’s screwing up my plan.

Just a couple weeks ago I decided that I wasn’t going at my one year transformation-into-Layla aggressively enough.  I resolved to set aside a lot more time for French and Arabic.  I should practice much more at lock picking, too.  Going to the parkour gym on some Saturday afternoons was certainly called for, since I very much need to work on jumps, pull-ups, tic-tocs, you name it.  And of course I should head to REI to learn how to scale their indoor climbing wall.  And what would really be cool would be to plot out some kind of made-up mission where I could combine several of my new skills.  Both physically and mentally, I long for the challenge.  I need to know that I’m making measurable progress.

So what happens?

I’ll tell you what happens.  My car dies.  I gotta get a new used one I can barely afford and have no time to hunt for one.  The weather has turned frigid.  And some days my job can be so tiring I go home and slap-dunk myself flat out on the sofa.

Take the last twenty-four hours.  Yesterday we had a deadline at work, which meant I was busy from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. with nary a break.  (I went to the restroom twice.  That’s it.)  That doesn’t sound too bad, but the last couple hours were an adrenaline rush of top-speed production followed by a race to the local Fedex office.  I went home feeling like a zombie and did diddly-squat all evening.  This morning I woke up with a headache and eyes stinging from staring too much at a computer screen the day before.  The temperature was about 10 below zero, which made waiting at the bus stop loads of fun.  The good news is my toes and butt eventually warmed up.  (WHY my not-exactly-miniscule behind can get so cold, I’ve no idea.  I thought fat makes for natural insulation.)  Between the brutal cold and another (but easier) deadline, I’m not getting to my credit union today either to find out about getting a car loan.

Lara Croft never has these problems.  She’s a fabulously wealthy aristocrat who lives in a castle.  She has servants.  She bungee jumps before bed.

Yes, Layla is much more of a real-world woman.  Still, she could buy a new car cash down.  She goes home to a penthouse filled with expensive furniture and antiques, not stuff from Cost Plus marked down to half price.  And she doesn’t work in an office and she’s her own boss.

Oh, and I’ve decided that Layla has a cleaning woman come in once a week.  Because that’s I want.

Sadly, my track record for getting what I want ain’t so hot.

Swords and Cars

on December 1, 2009 in Misc 3 Comments »

Epee fencing is not for wusses.


Last week in fencing I got a painful bruise on my left butt exactly where that sharp bone sticks out (WHY do I keep hitting that sucker?), a sore left hand, a jacked left knee and a re-injured muscle at the base of my neck.  All because I was retreating too quickly from my oncoming opponent, which made me stumble and fall backwards onto said left buttock, which made me fling my left hand out to break my fall, which jammed my neck and knee.

But the good news is…

While falling backwards I hit my opponent right in his chest and got a point.  Yes, he still went on to win the match.  But I was determined to get him even though I was careening toward the floor and that impressed him.  It certainly impressed me.

Anyway, by the end of the evening I was looking forward to the next week’s matches when I would strive yet again to fence better and cleaner.  But that’s not gonna happen for a while.  The reason?

My car has died.

Yes, my poor old Toyota Tercel (a.k.a., the Nerdmobile) has developed a terminal illness in the form of a cracked engine head and a fuel injector problem, and if the mechanic had kept looking no doubt he would have found more doozies.  The result is I am now car-less – no big deal for the time being, given that I take the bus to work and live in the city where pretty much everything is within walking distance.

Except for fencing.

Hence it appears that — damn it all! — I’ll likely drop out of fencing until sometime in January because I don’t see myself lining up a good inexpensive used car before then.

You know, my first two cars were used while three and four were new.  So yes, this is regression, but given the economy and my Layla plan which is using up all my discretionary funds (I have become very indiscreet), I gotta go cheap on my next car.

Action heroes don’t have this problem.  In thriller books and movies they drive outrageously expensive supercool sportscars.  They whiz through adventures in vehicles of roaring, gleaming, wind racing speed that make grown men moan with desire and teenage boys have wet dreams. Layla, being more down to earth, has a Jeep Wrangler that has traveled many an exotic mile across Europe and North Africa as she pursues rare antiquities hidden in treacherous places, and that’s way cool too.

Me?  I gotta get a used compact or subcompact.

I swear that sometime soon I’m going to make my life and its accessories so beautifully exotic I’ll be an object of envy.


Yes I know — this is a shallow, immature, unworthy goal for me.

Like I care.

My First Lock Picking Set

on November 6, 2009 in Misc Comments Off on My First Lock Picking Set


Today I finally got my first lock picking set. I ordered it online over the weekend and it just now arrived courtesy of UPS. I should’ve bought it before now, but as usual everyday life (a sick cat, deadlines at my job, exhaustion from work, running errands, chores) got in the way. I now have the type of basic tools Chris recommended plus a cutaway lock which shows the pins moving as I pick them, the better to see the process. My plan is to get really good with basic locks and picks before moving on to combination locks and other tough challenges.

What I’d love is to be a natural at the art to the degree that Layla is, though God knows why. It’s not like I have a profession that calls for getting into old libraries and monasteries and archives, or past an inconvenient door or a locked cabinet housing rare ancient books and papers. (Damn, that would be fun!) Still, there’s something alluring, even deeply gratifying about developing a forbidden skill. The very idea that I could get past a barrier that’s designed to keep me out, should I so desire it, gives me the very sweet feeling of forbidden power.

No wonder crazy young guys love lock picking. It’s not just the skills and thrills but the resulting emotions that can be so addictive.

Pool with The Viper

on October 27, 2009 in Misc Comments Off on Pool with The Viper

Okay, so maybe pool/billiards isn’t Layla’s top skill and action heroes don’t rely on it to save their necks. But everyone knows that if James Bond or Lara Croft ever walks into a posh private billiards room in Monte Carlo he or she could pick up a cue and beat the pants off any opponent, even a world champ. And that’s because Bond and Croft are just plain cool.

Hence I consider it my action hero duty to learn billiards. Hence last night I had my first billiards class with Melissa “The Viper” Little.

She’s ranked twelfth internationally among women, just returned from playing a tournament in the Philippines, and talks about appearing on ESPN the way other women chat about shopping at the Gap. So you know she’s gotta be good. And with a nickname like The Viper I was expecting a tough, leather-clad biker chick who chews nails and swigs beer. Instead we five beginner students were greeted by a pleasant mom with sparklies on her t-shirt who was the model of patience and eager to share her love of the game.


The class, which was on the second floor of the Wynkoop (downtown restaurant, micro brewery, game place) was two hours, and as you might expect for a rank beginner like me there was only so much I could learn in that time. Yet simply getting down the correct stance, attitude, grip, strokes and follow-throughs started to make a real difference in my game. Yes, there’s still massive room for improvement, but at least I now appear to know what I’m doing at a pool table instead of rambling around it like a posturing twit.

At a hundred an hour I can’t afford The Viper’s private lessons. But the good news is she teaches two hour clinics for $35 one Saturday a month. For me that’s a great way to spend some winter afternoons. Beer and pool. I’ve got class.

Failure to Launch

on October 26, 2009 in Misc Comments Off on Failure to Launch

I was supposed to go paragliding today, but because the wind gods were feeling surly it was a no-go.


My virgin tandem paragliding experience was first scheduled for last Friday. But Thursday night my instructor Kay called and said that the weather wasn’t very promising, so let’s try Monday morning.

On Monday morning she called again and said, Too chilly; let’s try for this afternoon. And that’s why at 1:30 I drove out to the foothills west of Denver and Golden and parked near the designated open field. I met Kay, but no sooner had she shook my hand when she gave a scowl at the nearby windsock. It was drifting in the wrong direction, she declared. For about ten minutes we waited, examined the hills above us from which we would launch, and turned this way and that to feel the wind. Then she pulled out her cell phone and called the Wind Whisperer. I had no idea there was such a service. Anyway, the recording she heard made up her mind. “Winds are from the north,” she announced. And unless we wanted to slam into a mountain or land on the highway, cold north winds weren’t what we wanted.

So once again, my first paragliding experience had to be postponed. Now I’m really pissed that the weather in Colorado this year has been so crappy. First too much rain this last June, then two measly months of a shabby remaining summer, now a cold autumn that’s already turning into snow and an early winter.

I want warm thermals so that I can fly away, but right now it looks like they won’t blow around before late next week.

For a few days I was a kind of Robinson Crusoe on a small island off the coast of Panama.

It’s another personal adventure I’ve given to Layla in The Compass Master, but unlike my Bosnian one this story is staying in the manuscript.

I use the island for the flashback scene of Layla’s first encounter with Zach Sandoval, her future lover and co-hero in Compass. She had gone there to get away from a broken heart. I went because I was unemployed and sinking into a depression so black and despairing that only an extreme escape could save me. So with what money I could spare (and really I couldn’t spare a dime) I bought a ticket to Panama, stayed on one island on the Atlantic side, then in the mountains, and eventually ended up camping on the beach of an island on the Pacific coast.


The island is a few miles in circumference and has only a handful of inhabitants. Besides the monkeys and iguanas some Guaymi Indians and white people live in far-scattered places, and at one end, perched on a cliff, is a funky bar/café surrounded by a couple haciendas and hammocks rented out to the low-budget travelers who come by. Frank is the German ex-hippy who owns and runs the place, and maybe it has a name but everyone just calls it Frank’s place. It makes an appearance in my book too, as does Frank. I decided that it was a memorable place for Layla and Zach to meet.

My first night on the island I stayed in a small hacienda that looks out over the water and toward the mainland fishing village of Boca Chica. The next day a fisherman in a hand-made boat took me to the other end of the island and the isolated beach where I set up camp. My tent and campfire were above the waterline and at the edge of the jungle, which was peaceful during the day but at night roared to life as wild animals called endlessly to each other.

Every night obsidian darkness cloaked the world around me, and the only lights were the million stars and moon and a rare planetary display of Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Saturn. And every night I made my way through that darkness and onto the beach with its volcanic sand and gazed up at the sky. In one hand I carried my flashlight and in the other my machete. I slept with them both, too.

During the days I meditated, walked, climbed, swam, and let myself heal. Whenever I ran out of water I hiked the couple miles to Frank’s place; once I got lost in the dense jungle,


and another time I made it to a cove where I flagged down a fisherman to take me where I was going. Another time I stumbled onto Christina’s place. She’s a cool retired German nurse who lives in one of the island’s few houses and has a shack in a shaded cove. The shack has only three walls and is smaller than a walk-in closet, but that was all she needed to sell beer to the fishermen and cook me some great pollo y ariz. She also had an outdoor faucet where I washed the sand off my legs and filled up my water jugs. We talked about books and how Mark Twain is so great.

I wish that like Layla I’d met someone like Zach while I was on that island. But other than partying one night with dreadheads and a few other travelers and going to another island to body surf with them, I was very alone most of the time, and in hindsight this was good. I needed the soothing balm of solitude. By the time I left the island I had pretty much healed. And when I write about Layla at her beach campsite and changing her future to include Zach in it, she’s feeling a lot better too.

I Love My Plan

on September 7, 2009 in Misc Comments Off on I Love My Plan

Another good thing about the painfully tough parkour workout on Saturday – it made me forget about the really crappy day I had at work on Friday.  You know what I mean.  The kind of day when everything seems to be going okay and then the shit hits the fan just as you pause in front of it and you leave the office feeling miserable.

The next day when I left parkour I felt so different.  Though physically wiped out I was really quite happy.  I was smiling and humming as I drove home with my blistered hands barely able to grasp the steering wheel.  Then I remembered my crappy work day and the thought of it brought me thudding back down to earth.  That’s when I forced myself to concentrate on my Layla plan.  Within minutes my spirits were high again, and I realized that becoming like Layla is something I’ve desperately needed for a very long time.

The thing about my plan is this: I’m really, truly in charge of it.  Unlike some other aspects of my life, in my plan I call all the shots.  I created it therefore I can do what I damn well please with it.  Because of my plan, I am no longer putting off the kinds of things I’ve long wanted to do because right now I don’t have the money/ time/ whatever.  I want to take that skydiving lesson this month? I’ll do it, never mind the expense!  I want to be in the one-night billiards class with a national champion who calls herself The Viper (that is so cool!)  It’s on my calendar.  I want to sit out on the roof terrace and read my French and Arabic books to my heart’s content, and to hell with housework and errands?  Go for it. To quote Billie Holiday,  “Ain’t nobody’s business if I do”.

Within the structure of my plan, I am happy and free and in control.  Within my plan, I can be what I want and do what I want.  It is liberating.

Suffering for Art

on September 5, 2009 in Misc Comments Off on Suffering for Art


Here’s my pain tally from today’s parkour class:

Five blood red torn blisters on the palms of my hands.   Banged-up left and right shins.  Deep bruise on left buttock where I slammed my weight down on a bar right where that annoying sharp bone protrudes in said buttock.   Arms I still can’t lift over my head lest I yelp in agony.   Bruised elbow.   Throbbing biceps.   Shoulders that ache even while I sit here and type.   Extreme exhaustion of entire body.

All for the sake of my novel.

You know, most writers are smart enough not to emulate the lead characters in their books.   Writers of thrillers are especially adverse to risking the kind of bodily harm they so willingly inflict on their heroes.  That’s because good writers grasp the difference between reality and fiction.  Fiction can be deadly.   Fiction can mean the searing pain of irreversible injuries and personal financial ruin from too much costly adventuring.   Reality, on the other hand, means that the writer can be a dumpy, frumpy, out-of-shape wuss who’s afraid of the dark and wouldn’t know how to escape from a dangerous situation if his/her publisher’s advance depended on it.

Me?  I like to think of myself as smart.  People even tell me that the stuff I write is very intelligent.  So why am I trying to slowly kill myself for the sake of my novel?

Granted, I laid out the reasons for my one-year plan in the earliest entries of this blog.  But that was before the suffering.  That was before I had to endure my ninth and final parkour class, the one in which I learned how to hang from a high bar and move along it sideways and forward with only my hands, then with my hands and legs, and then jump through two bars while catching the higher bar and arching my body between them WITHOUT hitting my butt on the lower bar (I didn’t always succeed; see pain tally), and then run an obstacle course of bars to get over /under/ through without slamming my face into any of the metal.  At least my face survived intact.  And all of this, of course, was preceded by the usual burning workout.  (Good news!  I can do a handstand/ roll out with the instructor barely spotting me and telling me I’ve now got it.)  Then after the lessons with the bar work came a final killer workout involving jumps and weight lifting.  Matt (one of our two instructors that day) also took me and another student into the bathroom and helpfully showed us how to rip off the torn tags of skin over our blisters, warned us not to get those blisters in water because they will sting like hell (TOO LATE!), and gave us instructions on how to administer first aid to the now open sores before we go to bed at night.

Anyway, this ninth class in the fundamentals is the last one for me because I’m going to a wedding next Saturday and will miss the final and tenth one.  The instructor was disappointed I wouldn’t be there.  “It’s the class where we put together everything you’ve learned.”  That would mean the high jumps, jump offs, rolls, quadripedal runs, bar work, balancing, tic-tocs (bouncing high off the wall) and more.  You know, I really am disappointed too.  I want to see what I can do.  When I asked about the intermediate course, he emphasized that it would be really intermediate — i.e., above my present level of ability, therefore I shouldn’t take it.  Ouch.  But what I can do is come back for some open gym time.  That’ll be good.  That’ll mean practicing on the equipment and walls until I’ve really mastered the fundamentals of the sport.  And I can do this at my own pace and without pushing myself until I nearly collapse.

Two of the side benefits of these extreme parkour workouts:  First, I’m starting to feel more confident in my physical abilities.  Second, not only am I already in much better shape, and not only is my upper body much stronger, but my thighs are firmer and visibly thinner — this despite the fact that I was already slim and not trying to lose weight.  In fact, I can even wear a pair of cotton capris I almost threw out last year after accidentally putting them in the dryer with other clothes where of course they shrunk.  I pulled them out a couple weeks ago, tried them on, and not only do they fit, they hang loose on me.

Now for you guys out there, this doesn’t sound like much.  But you ladies will understand why this makes me very happy.

Layla’s Retirement

on September 1, 2009 in Misc 1 Comment »

When Layla grows old she’ll retire with her lover/husband to a boat on the Nile.


I made this decision because that’s what I want to do when I’m an old fart and finally have enough money to quit working.  At the rate my retirement funds are growing that’ll happen when I’m ninety-two.

The source of this inspiration came from a story in the New York Times I read a few weeks ago and haven’t been able to get out of my head.  It profiled two archeologists, now in their sixties, who for six months of the year live on a dahabiya or houseboat on the Nile while excavating the tombs of the sons of Ramses II in the Valley of the Kings; the other six months of the year they spend in Cairo, London, and Connecticut.

Damn, that sounds so good!

Of course Layla is a hell of a lot closer to achieving this dream than I’ll ever be.  After all, she has a bachelor’s in history and a master’s in early Christian literature with an emphasis on archeology.  I figure that when she’s in her fifties she’ll pursue a degree in Egyptology at her alma mater, the University of Chicago, which just happens to be the leading North American institution in that field.  (I really had no idea when I created Layla’s background that the U of C would remain relevant for her future plans.)  Then of course there are her connections to the antiquity departments of various institutions.  Finally, she has a powerful connection to a remarkable discovery in Egypt, as detailed in The Compass Master.  So Layla’s retirement is set.

As for me…

Some years ago I spent about ten days in Egypt, half of that time in Cairo and the other half by floating up the Nile with other tourists.  I’m also struggling to get down the basics of the Arabic language.  Logically, none of this amounts to a hill of beans when it comes to my dream retirement.

But maybe there’s hope for me.

Right now I’m reading The Road to Ubar by Nicholas Clapp.  He’s a documentary filmmaker who researched the legendary and vanished city of Ubar on the Arabic Penninsula, then organized a successful expedition to find it.  That makes him a member of the crowded ranks of amateur archeologists who’ve made great discoveries.  Hence for me The Road is one of those books that drive home the fact that amateur archeologists can also go into wild place and have a rip-roaring time locating lost antiquities.

I just might have a grand old age after all.

New York Trapeze

on August 21, 2009 in Misc Comments Off on New York Trapeze

A quickie explanation for this post:  I only just realized that I refer in an earlier post to trapeze, and in fact I wrote something about the subject back in July.  Trouble is, I wrote it in Word, left it on my hard drive in my computer, and forgot to switch it to this blog the next day.  Oops.

Here’s what I wrote.

July 19

The New York Times is running an article with photos of a trapeze school in Manhattan that’s open to the paying public.  The piece is well written and I empathize with the novices and especially the little kids who get scared up there on the platform.  I also admire the athletes who work the rig.  But after viewing the online photos part of my reaction was…


Let me explain.

Back in the late eighties/early nineties I flew trapeze for a few years.  (That’s something Layla has never done in my imagination, so as with fencing I’m one up on her.)  There was a rig in the YMCA here in Denver and a motley gang of us flew on it Wednesday and Friday nights; one or two members had even flown trapeze professionally.  And we referred to it as flying and called ourselves flyers.  Never, ever did we say that we trapezed or that our sport was trapezing, as the NY Times reports it.

The article also has a reference to Carrie Bradshaw on the trapeze in Sex and the City.  Well, I saw that episode and it bugged the hell out of me.  In an early scene Carrie is too afraid to jump off the platform.  Very understandable.  My first time up on a big rig in Indiana (as opposed to the smaller Denver one) I definitely got the heebie-jeebies.  But in the final scene Carrie goes back to the trapeze and jumps off and swings while in a voiceover she babbles about letting go and friends being safety nets and taking the leap or some such inspirational drivel.  My reaction?


For Christ’s sakes, she was wearing a harness!  She couldn’t have fallen if she wanted to!  Don’t preach to me about letting go and courage when you’ve got a fucking fail-safe back-up system right there around your waist!

And that’s what the photos in the NY Times also showed: amateur flyers wearing a harness, or, as the article explained, a thick leather belt with a safety line secured to it.  Now with little kids I can understand the precaution; if that were my child up there I’d be sticking him or her in a harness myself.  But the adults?  Please.  Except for visiting kids, on the very rare occasions any of us Denver Flyers used the harness was when we were attempting a dicey new trick, one that would bash us up if we screwed it up.  Otherwise we did REAL flying and all our tricks without any harness.  Whether we successfully executed a trick or missed connecting with the catcher, we still had a net to land in. So do the people on the New York rig. 

Trapeze isn’t rock climbing after all; in that sport and some others a harness can be essential.  Yes there are free climbers who work sans harness, sans ropes, and even sans any equipment, and while I highly respect their skills and freakish strength, I also think they’re batshit crazy.

Anyway, the moral of my story is:  When you’ve removed all the risks from a sport then you’re not really performing that sport.  You’re just faking it.

Layla would not approve.