Monday, July 16, 2007

"Yowie" Scrabbling for a Story - At Long Last Complete!

Please scroll to the bottom of this post for an explanation of how "Yowie" was created.


by dadlak

Chapter 1
Do, A Deer

He found what he was looking for behind the faded portrait of his long-dead grandmother. Elaine's fib hadn't fooled him at all. He opened the wall safe and carefully removed the antique guitar, fingering a fret and picking out the tune Maria taught the Von Trapp children in "The Sound of Music", "do, a deer, a female deer, re, a drop of golden sun."

He stopped to adjust the tuning. "This is so anal," Alvin (ne Brandon, his pre-witness protection program name) thought, "After all this time, the strings are sure to be a little out of tune. The old gent at the music store can fix that." He reached down to confirm the presence of the gat beneath his trouser leg, and headed toward the el stop for the long ride downtown.

Once on the train, the guitar suddenly began playing by itself, as though driven by an obia. Stunned as he listened to the violent and off key melody, Alvin's mind reeled to a long ago visit to Cote D'Ivoire, where he'd discussed od and other forces, both natural and supernatural, with a native sorcerer. "Mirza," the sorcerer had said, addressing him by his honorary, but nearly-forgotten Persian title, "music is a force beyond our understanding."

On the way to the old gent's, Alvin stopped to see his mother, known to all as Ma. "Why, son?" she lamented, "Oh, don't answer. I'll never understand your motives."

"But Ma," explained Alvin as he picked a perfect "do" on the guitar and started his favorite song under his breath in French, "ut un cerf . . ." He caught himself and continued, "This guitar and the animation cel I showed you will ignite a coup that will revolutionize the entertainment industry."

"That's about as likely as vav being added to the alphabet, or xi for that matter," protested Ma, "We live in an English-speaking country--double u, ex, wye and zee--remember? You and your languages."

"Si, I mean, ti, I mean, Ma," Alvin stuttered, as he found the note on the guitar. "A drink with jam and bread," he continued the verse quietly.

The rest of the way to the old gent's, Alvin fantasized about the many coups that would be triggered around the world, and in turn the many lays he would enjoy with eager female fans from Ecuador to England to his hometown of Elizabeth, NJ (perhaps even Elaine herself), once his entertainment revolution got moving.

Oh, the joy his amazing guitar and animated op art would bring to the world! His jaw jut out with pride, Alvin strode though the door of the old gent's mysterious music shop.

Alvin showed the old gent his guitar. "It seems like an aeon since I ate," Alvin remarked. "Wanna split a za with me?" he asked, slipping into long-lost college slang for reasons he couldn't fathom at the moment. Well, at least it was English.

"Aye, za and perhaps a bit mae," the old Scot answered as he examined the gilt overlay on the guitar frets, but soon his eye was distracted by another recent addition to the shop. "Can you believe that the tare weight of that piano is over 5,000 pounds? Look at the packing slip if ya don't believe me, laddie."

No matter how banal the subject, Alvin couldn't doubt the word of the old gent. The Scot's impact on his life as both Alvin and Brandon had been too profound. Neither witness protection nor international fame could separate Alvin from the old man's wisdom.

Pizza and brownie bites reduced to crusts and crumbs in a Domino's box, the old man resumed work on the guitar. "Ha!" he yelped with a hop in both his voice and feet. Yet again the guitar had started playing on its own, this time an eerie air that the Scot recognized from the day of his mother's funeral back home when it was sung by a local chap who was part crooner, but mostly crower.

"Like acid his voice was!" the old man cried. "Make it stop," he pleaded, both to his young friend and to whatever or whomever was controlling the guitar.

"Qi sera, sera," Alvin crooned both to the guitar and his Scots mentor, fading gently as he thought. He started again, "Que sera, sera." He paused. "Now how does that go? Qi or que?" he puzzled almost aloud.

"Use the force, lad" offered the old man, trying to be helpful, but falling back on a trite Obi-Wan Kenobeism, given that he didn't know either the song Alvin was trying to sing, or any Portuguese.

"Force!" Alvin gasped. "Qi is the life force in Chinese philosophy. Is this guitar Chinese? If it is, Angus, we need to harness its qi." He continued the song, "Whatever will qi...will be." Sometimes Alvin wished that both the guitar's qi and his id were a little more unconscious.

The guitar quieted--the crowing sound giving way to a nearly tuneless whirring. Alvin wished he had one of the experimental depside anti-inflammatory pills for the chronic pain in his right hand, pain that had caused him to give up playing and hock the guitar many years ago.

The Scot murmured, "Aye, that's better. Is nae Chinese. Reminds me of the sound me whip and peerie made when I played with them as a wee lad." He began to croon along.

"Eh, eh, Angus," interrupted Alvin with some care, "Remember why I'm here? Until you finish with the guitar, I can't show Ray de Duplaise to anyone." Alvin had arranged a meeting with Plexar to introduce them to his animated guitar character.

Angus went back to work, and Alvin watched an English football player nearly deke a Scots opponent out of his kilt on the telly Angus kept tuned to the Soccer Network. "Nice move," he remarked, though the scorer's physical dexterity paled when compared to a guitar that could play by itself all the music ever composed.

The referee gave the signal for a goal and the announcer screamed, somewhat redundantly, "Gooooooooooo-aaaaaaa-lllll!!!" The kick reminded Angus of the pistol, borrowed from Angus's collections of gats, still securely strapped to his leg. He hoped there'd be no need to use it.

Angus made his final adjustment. "This unit is Ray de . . Du . . . Plaise, laddie!" he proclaimed, eyes twinkling at the thought of an old Scotsman like himself remembering the faux French pun (and knowing the word "faux" for that matter).

Alvin's eyes twinkled back under the tod-like clump of his unibrow (a somewhat ridiculous part of his witness-protection disguise) as he thanked his mentor, secured both the guitar and the cel, and set out to Ray-de-ate the entertainment world.

End of Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Heigh, Ho, the Dariole

Though all the Frenchified talk left him craving, of all things, an obscure French custard called a dariole, Alvin headed doggedly to the train station to begin his journey to Los Angeles. A meeting with Plexar was almost more than he could imagine--like a prebuilt castle waiting to serve as a setting for his fairy tale.

First the craving and now the scent of darioles assaulted him. "Who mows their own lawn anymore?" he overheard a shirtless and overheated man question the woman standing next to him on the sidewalk, while both pointed at an overgrown front lawn about the size of a small bedroom.

Alvin squinted while thinking about why he was listening to this conversation. "Just a mo, you ox," the woman shot back, "You're not gonna fox me on this one."

"Some mot," thought Alvin, "She must have been reading Dr. Seuss before she came outside." He tried to refocus on the business at hand. How would he come by the specialized oxo compound needed to treat the toon wood guitar every day? And where was that scent of pastries coming from?

At this point he passed by a cafe where many a cud was being chewed by various lunchers. "Yikes," Alvin muttered as his stomach turned, "This city could use some table manners ed." His own id subconsciously tongued one of the delicious darioles he smelled.

The aroma led him to a neighboring bakery, a patisserie no less. Inside the bakery had an odd ambience, a mixture of a French village and an East Indian jungle, with a small al tree in a planter in the corner. The rim of the pot was decorated with icons that Alvin could not decipher. A metallic voice sounded from the guitar case, "Just a mo, Al. Let me take a look at it."

Alvin turned and the guitar case shifted subtlely toward one of the danglier icons. It had a starlike center and tubular projections in the shape of ziti, though Alvin might have voted for penne, if pressed. "It looks like a kachina figurine--quasi," the metallic voice speculated.

Unnerved by the suddenly cogent commentary of the heretofore notes-only guitar, Alvin whispered, "What are you, some kind of musical satyr?" When the guitar fell silent, Alvin shrugged, bought and consumed a dariole and boarded a boat on the adjacent klong, which unnerved him as well, given that they weren't within 10,000 miles of Thailand.

Game, jeu, trick, Alvin thought, What's going on? I half expect to see an inia jump out of that canal. What was it that Ma said about vav, or was it vaw? It just doesn't belong. Maybe I don't either.

"Nay, laddie," Angus's brogue popped into his head, "Follow the path to your dream, wherever it leads. Don't write Ray's obit too soon."

"Ta, Angus," Alvin mouthed in a slight brogue of his own, "And god speed, wherever may ye gae, to music or back to the ag world of old Scotland."

Just then Alvin noticed yet another oddity. The seats on the klong boat each had a small table, appointed with the finest French naperies. The monogram "en", spelled out, appeared on each napkin and place mat. "Even with Angus's encouragement, I can only take about half of this," he thought, "But Ray makes it worth it."

With this idea no more than formed in Alvin's head, the letter "ar" appeared on both the napkin and the place mat, as if marked in invisible ink to be activated by Alvin's thoughts. "Ar for Ray, I get that."

Steadied by this glimpse of reality, Alvin looked up to see a sign, "Union Station, 3 li". "Great, about a mile," Alvin said as he converted the Chinese unit of distance in his head, not thinking about why a road sign, or a canal sign for that matter, should be displaying Chinese units in an American city. "We'll be at the station and on a train to the airport before I can recite the Hebrew alphabet up to "fe." Within minutes the boat was ajee the landing. Alvin disembarked and headed toward the station.

End of Chapter 2

Chapter 3

In the Land of Dreams

Vapor rose from the locomotive as Alvin walked along trackside. "Ow!" he cried as he walked through a jet of steam. Ray, as Alvin now thought of his guitar, sounded a perfect re, as if to calm Alvin with a homonymous note from his favorite song. Condensate from the steam engine flowed through a ditch and across a weir on its way to a storm drain.

It was an old-fashioned scene to be sure, but Alvin was no fud and refused to be sucked in. He headed up the nearest staircase to a more modern platform with a train that could take him somewhere other than the 19th century. He and Ray would dow once they escaped this misshapen world and reached the "lights of L.A."

A fresh cup of French-roast coffee in hand, Alvin boarded the airport special with new vigor and took a seat. Still, he felt he might need ephedrin before this trip was over. B-flat mews greeted him from behind. "What is it, Ray?" Alvin whispered as inconspicuously as he could, given his rising exasperation with his suddenly chatty guitar.

To the tune of "So Long, Farewell", Ray sang back, "Just like a cat, you're craving pickled britt."

Not a bad match. Bri..itt, Alvin thought while staring up at the transit map. "Exit zed, the end of the line," he read aloud. He would not be eating any pickled britt, however, as a vug-like cavity in a lower molar seared with pain in the presence of any salty food.

"By the light. . . of the silvery moon," he heard in muffled tones from the guitar case, followed by, "My funny valentine." Alvin shrugged, mystified at what to do, but hoping to jostle Ray back to the "off" position, wherever that was.

It worked. "Mi, mi, mi . . . bye," Ray signed off, although perhaps with a little too much pride on the "mi", as though he were beginning to understand what this trip was all about. Alvin tied the guitar strap to his belt and stepped off the train.

The sour smell of qat being smoked greeted him on the platform. "Surely they could enact a law against that nasty stuff," he thought, to himself he was sure until he saw a small man dramatically extinguish some burning substance under his foot.

"Ta," Alvin thanked the stranger quietly. "Perhaps you could try some other ag product that doesn't smell so bad." The lucky mig Alvin carried in his pants pocket clicked against his guitar picks, reminding him of the task at hand, but his alveoli continued to react to the secondary smoke.

"How far to the ticket counter?" he asked a uniformed agent. "About one li if you don't take any side trips or turn back," came the enigmatic reply as the agent pulled out his own qat cigarette and began to light up.

Rather than create a rift with the agent, Alvin moved on. "Li, again?" he pondered, "Turn back? Maybe I should give that a thought."

"Aw, now what?" Alvin moaned as he considered the ashy aa strewn in his path, "Is there a volcano around here I don't know about?"

"Nope! Just a quick mo, bo," answered a cheery young man in a T-shirt and jeans. "I know you're in awe of all this -- the dariole, the al tree, the klong, the monogrammed naperies, the li, the steam engine, the qat, the aa, and now me--but it's just our way of welcoming you to the fantastic world of computer animation--where anything, no matter how improbable, can happen."

"We could make it seem like aa is coming of out all the ora of your body, or that a ria full of boats is right around the next corner," he continued. "Come along for the ride."

Literal, unreflected light shone in the young man's eyes. "Depsides and ephedrins together might not be enough for this trip," Alvin mused.

"Oh no, perhaps not, Alvin," the T-shirt spoke as it boarded his train of thoughts. The lava was one thing, but a guy with a T-shirt that could read his mind and talk to it? A spray of sweet-smelling gas interrupted that thought and Alvin slipped into a much needed sleep.

"Sweet dreams, bo," whispered the young man, "You'll learn the whole story, by and by." The dentil molding in the concourse looked like piano keys, but neither Alvin nor Ray de DuPlaise were awake to appreciate the resemblance.

Scup and other salt water fish swam in aquariums built into the concourse wall. Alvin dreamt about water rising in a series of jails holding himself, Ray, Ma, Angus, and Elaine. In the dream, a Greek-Vietnamese vendor pushed his cart along the sidewalk. "Xi Phu's Bahn bao Kabobs--Drachma or Xu accepted," the hand-painted sign read.

Even as dreams go this one was particularly surrealistic--the street vendor; both his mentor, Angus, and his one time jo, Elaine, in jail with him, or at least in jails next to his; and the "ar" monogram appearing and disappearing once again on his cell wall, just above a rising water line that threatened Ray's guitar case. And he'd had to sorn his way into the situation with a story about them all being homeless and preferring jail cells to living on the street. Alvin awoke reeling and tried to determine where he really was.

End of Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chim Chim Chiree

Angus's first clue was a grinning donkey--a computer-generated one, his subconscious had somehow worked out. Still, he'd never been leerier of a meeting, even with all the prospects that this one held. He felt like a zek in Soviet gulag, somehow imprisoned by both Ray's magic, his own dreams and a growing army of half-real figures.

A futuristic el whisked him to the Plexar headquarters. As the doors of the train whooshed open, another young man vaguely resembling Dick Van Dyke in a T-shirt and overalls appeared out of nowhere to greet him. "I'm just a writer here, but I "flue" in to show you to the meeting." At this point, the overall bib glowed coallike and a plume of smoke rose from the top of his head. "We are so glad to meet you."

The erstwhile chimney sweep led Alvin down a hall, past a vending machine displaying the sign "Now Accepting Vietnamese Hao". That sight or something woke Ray from his long slumber and sounded a perfect fa to begin the song "Hi Lili, Hi Lo" from the 1953 film, "Lili", an unconventional hit about a puppeteer starring Leslie Caron and Mel Ferrer, which Ray explained perfectly after playing the first verse and chorus. After meeting this chimney guy, Alvin had been half expecting "Chim Chim Chiree".

Not paying much attention to what Alvin thought was a remarkable performance, Mr. Chimney (the name of Alvin's sweep in the city) switched to a British accent to point out the presence of the loo on the left side of the hall. "Let's tarry here," he suggested, pointing to a dimly lit bar on the other side of the hall. "I'm dying for a gin and tonic."

Two gin and tonics later (on top of two Bahn bao Kabobs, albeit in a dream) left Alvin feeling fat and with the urgent need to visit the loo. He excused himself as Mr. Chimney wrapped up a story about a Plexar project on the military junta in Myanmar. "I can't see Ray in that," Alvin thought.

When he returned from the loo, Alvin decided to be proactive. "Um, Mr. Chimney, let's not make Ray look like a some kind of mome," although he wondered how he expected to revolutionize 21st century entertainment with such archaic language. He wished his former jo, Elaine (ne Claire, she too emerged from witness protection several years ago), were there to help. A linguist of prodigious breadth (linguistically, that is), Elaine would be invaluable translating both Alvin and Ray's eclectic idioms to modern parlance.

Mr. Chimney wasn't paying much attention. "So don't mind those fatsoes," he advised, motioning toward a couple of slightly overweight co-workers sitting across the bar, "That Myanmar thing was their idea. They could use a session or two of creative ed." He went on to explain that Plexar offered an extension school with a wide variety of courses.

"Now we're almost late. Let's jog on over to the conference center," Mr. Chimney suggested surprisingly, given his likely blood alcohol content. As they labored along the corridor, he offered some inside information. "You might find the senior development VP to be a bit of a hag. I'd be careful using a lot of foreign terms with her. She's something of a xenophobe."

Alvin understood that term. Ma shared that quality, though from her three-room apartment in the city, she had nowhere near the impact of a senior vice president. The thought of Ma seemed to jog Ray from his Lili-induced reverie. Fa and ti followed in quick succession as Ray picked out the ad jingle, " com", which somehow seemed appropriate, given that they were looking for work in a quite unnatural environment. Their path took on the appearance of a wadi, but after the klong and the aa, Alvin hardly noticed.

"Yo," a voice beckoned from an half-open door. "Come in as quick as you can."

"Ay," answered Alvin, quietly kicking himself for lapsing into faux-Scots, though the xenophobic VP was nowhere in sight.

"The FATE of HE who VIES for ENTERTAINMENT SUPREMACY is in our HANDS," the voice pronounced with Oz-like profundity.

Sensing that the conversation was moving too far too fast, Mr. Chimney broke in. "Let's handle some housekeeping first. The loos are at the back of the hall--a gauche for the gentlemen; a droit for the ladies," bringing a bit of Chevalier into what heretofore had been pure David Tomlinson. "I'll leave it to you to take care of the guitar's needs."

Alvin looked toward the rest rooms. At the side of each door were three glass cases. He moved closer to examine them, "Some kind of display of aas from different eruptions of Mauna Loa, it would seem," he thought. A strange sensation came over him, like aa inside his skin against his tibia. His mind went back to a conversation with Angus. A klong from Thailand; xu and hao from Vietnam--maybe qi was more regional than strictly Chinese.

Suddenly he had an inexplicable urge to repot a Chinese Evergreen. "Ex that," he judged, "no entertainment possibilities there, I mean really ex that." Re sounded from the guitar case. Alvin unfastened the strap and brought Ray out.

The Plexar team seemed to recognize the moment as six burly guys strode into the room in T-shirts spelling the company name--"pee", "ell", and the rest. "YOU ARE FATED TO TURN LOOSE OF THAT GUITAR," boomed the now disembodied voice. Alvin flinched at the thought of "turning loose" of Ray de DuPlaise.

"Aw, shut yer gob. That be nae guid ava!" lashed out Mr. "X" in a full Scots brogue.

"Good thing the veep's not here, or we'd be P-L-E-A-R for the time being," whispered Mr. Chimney to Alvin with a ginny puff.

A blinding op laser light display heralded the arrival of the senior veep. "Who in the name of Little Nemo going to understand a Scots pun?" Ava bellowed.

"That's Ava. Someone should throw a net over these loonies," remarked Mr. Chimney to Alvin. "Think anyone would notice if I ducked out for another gin and tonic?"

Ava continued in a calmer voice, "I think we've delved into Scots puns quite enough. Also, there is no more need for stories about military juntas. Got all that?"

Hearing and seeing Ava sent Alvin reeling back into a surrealistic state. Could she be. . . ? Ray strummed a perfect G7 chord and they focused again on their waking dream.

End of Chapter 4

Chapter 5

You Say You Want a Revolution?

All the blab had distracted Alvin momentarily from noticing Ava's amazing resemblance to his "own" Elaine. Her jawline in particular could be cut and pasted into the vodka ad Elaine appeared in just a year ago.

Ava continued her remarks, "That said, we'll continue to encourage revolutionary thought here at Plexar. So much so that the project to move from binary to denary programming of our features remains our top priority."

Hearing this statement, Alvin's felt the helium leak from his balloon of hopes, both professional and personal. What was Plexar doing working on leftover ideas from the 1960s? Would they be too lax about promoting Ray? Could Ray max his potential in this environment?

Mr. Chimney stumbled back into the room with a feint blue flame in his overalls and some wispy white smoke above his head. "Ex that denary program!" he called out in an unidentifiable, but clearly foreign accent.

"Aw, Chimney, what about that accent law?" Alvin whispered as he tugged on an overall strap, being careful not to pull his already off-balance friend onto the floor.

Sounding more like his ma than his sweet Elaine, Ava shot back, "That will be quite enough, Mr. Chimney!"

"May I play something to improve the mood in here?" offered Ray melodically, "You all know "All You Need is Love," right?"

WHOP! sounded unexpectedly in apparent response to what seemed like a reasonable question, as a stack of delivery pizza boxes thudded onto the meeting table. "OK, who ordered the "sauteed squid za, add broccoli"?" asked Mr. "P", reading the writing on the topmost box.

"Whoever whops any more zas in this room won't even be able to get a job with Hick Jr!" warned Ava, unaware of the lunch order placed by one of her subordinates.

Wow, Alvin thought, this is one of the mouthier groups I've ever met. I hope that creativity is truly the intent of all this talking and screaming.

"And who among you brainchildren bought a keir?" Ava continued berating her staff while consulting a cost report. "We're digital, you eejits! No need for a vat for fabric dyeing!"

At this point, no less an icon than Wordy of the Plexar megahit "Short Story" appeared on the meeting room's far wall. The sight inspired Ray to pluck a ti and begin the film's theme song, "Short Is Best", the tune of which sounded, some said suspiciously, like that of "Be Our Priest" from the Dinzey classic "Cutie and the Priest". Along the adjacent wall danced some of the beloved letters--"ell", "em", "en", "oh", "pee" from English; and "be", "edh" and "tet" from Hebrew--that had spelled out the lyrics to the theme song in the film's famous dream sequence.

Ray's playing and Plexar's visuals brought some harmony to the room, at least until two of the letter guys started demonstrating various judos they'd learned in the Plexar's fitness ed program. Right on time, the letters switched from English to Greek, now lambda, mu, nu, omega and pi. Then Ava howled at the still-judoing "R", "You nit! There's no judo in that dream!"

Alvin's rolled that insult around in his mind--nit--an egg of a parasitic insect--that's pretty rough. Elaine's, I mean Ava's, id must be pretty beaten up to go that far with her employees. Still, she looks great in that maxi and a lot of the old fiz is still there.

The Hebrew alphabet continued to cavort on the screen - pe, vau, edh - how wrong ma had been about the power of languages. Alvin cringed as an impressively proportioned delivery man in a Speedo tossed a parcel on the table.

Ava stared, but not out of admiration. "I remember you. You're the diver we hired as a body model for the pool scene in "A Bacteria's Life". This better be good," she added. "I already warned the rest of these paramecia about interrupting the meeting."

"Er," Alvin broke in quietly, "Can we get back to the song? Or how about "Do-Re-Mi? That's always fun." Upon hearing his name, Ray's ego kicked in. The song worked its simple magic once again, as Ava sidled next to Alvin, giving him hope that she could once again be his jo. With the mood lightening, the diver carefully opened the package, revealing a sego lily with a card that read simply, "To Elaine, Words Fail, Love, Alvin".

Alvin staggered as if he'd been hit by a felled sequoia. Was he a naif about the whole situation? His Adam's apple went "glug" in his throat. Would all the gains he and Ray had made be reversed in this strange world of imagination, mindreading, conflict and manipulation? With "Do-Re-Mi" continuing softly in the background, Alvin closed his eyes and thought hard about what to say next.

End of Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Daydream Believer

"Don't those petals remind you of the butterfly alae?" Alvin asked Ava, deflecting the subject from the message on the card to the beauty of the lavender flowers.

Recovering her businesslike demeanor, Ava responded, "I don't know. Let me ask one of my indexers to pull up a picture from our database for comparison." Ava, nee Elaine, nee Clara certainly taxed Alvin's emotional reserves. The Plexar meeting had him feeling like his head was in a vise, but relief arrived unexpectedly when a purda on the other side of the room parted to reveal an enchanting dancer, her sitar-playing accompanist, and a turbaned servant who solicitously served pizza to everyone in the room.

," Alvin heard Mr. Chimney offer in thanks. A greenish-yellow gem glowed from atop the dancer's headdress. Its reflection prompted the projectionist, wherever secreted, to finally shut down the alphabetic light show, which had been stuck on "pe" for quite some time. "Um," Chimney continued monosyllabically, "Could I get a pint of bitters to go with this za?"

"Vum! Bitters?" came the dislocated reply, as the New Hampshire-raised servant/aspiring actor slipped out of character. Recovering, he replied, "Regretfully, sahib, I must inform you that we don't have bitters. A glass of stout would perhaps ape sufficiently the taste you desire?"

"Er, I guess," grunted Chimney, again disappointed that Plexar management had never seen fit to stock a decent bar.

The hair on the nape of Alvin's neck stood on end at what he saw next. "Oh!" he exclaimed inwardly. A knob of bristly hair near his right wrist joined the salute as Ava walked over to the Indian dancer and thanked her for the performance with a more-than-friendly kiss. So she's bi too, he speculated.

Suddenly he felt a yen to be anywhere else, perhaps in Tokyo at a noh performance rather than here, trolling for fame and his old girlfriend. If he just could filter out what was real and right from all the distractions he would avoid a lot of grief and wo, as Angus might say. His bio would be shorter, but his life happier.

But how could he leave those bice colored eyes? Surely we can work this out. Sensing the need for some tranquil music, Ray strummed "Sitting By the Dock of the Bay." Alvin daydreamed about himself and Elaine, wed at last, the dragons of their past slain.

Shaking Alvin from his reverie, "Pow!" exploded from the monitors and speakers that made up the walls of the meeting room, as Piaget, foe of the Dragons of Ignorance, and hero of Plexar's television division, crept onto the screen--the most beloved Pre-School Action Tortoise (PSAT) of them all. "B.F." Skinner, "Maria" Montessori and "Friedrich" Froebel followed in close order behind their leader, "Jean".

Alvin took a moment to con the scene, but instead noticed that a zit had developed at the end of his nose. Apparently, lunch wasn't quite finished as the turbaned waiter came around again to offer breadsticks with a ghi dipping sauce. This time he was accompanied by a young ama, a precaution against food poisoning that had occurred during yesterday's lunch.

"Ah, miss," interjected Chimney, "Would you by chance have any laudanum?" as he attempted to emulate another literary hero, Sherlock Holmes.

Alvin turned toward Ray, "Help me here. This is weird enough without any hallucinogenic drugs being involved." Ray understood and jumped into the middle of their theme song, "Mi, a name I call myself; Fa, a long, long way to run!" Right then the tortoises disappeared and the letter "es" flashed on the screens. For what? Alvin wondered. "U" and "Q" followed just as quickly. Suq - souk, a north African marketplace, Alvin remembered from his travels there. But why here? Why now?

Ava moved back to the head of the table to explain, "I'm no Central American jefe, but I am boss of this division," she started authoritatively. The universal "cut" sign quieted the room. Motioning the ama to the table, Ava continued, "My young friend here is wise in both the ways of healing and the power of qi, both critical to our quest for entertainment domination. She has traveled many li to be with us today." Ava then withdrew a razor sharp ulu from her suit jacket pocket and drove it up to the hilt into the conference room table. Recognizing the sign, the Plexar staff hurriedly left the room, leaving Ava, the ama, Alvin and Ray for the final round of negotiation.

End of Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Without Xu

The display screens changed such that the room now resembled odea that Alvin had visited in Europe. From the center of the table rose an aquarium holding a live version of the queen clamworm from the Plexar hit, "Lost at Sea."

In her sternest all-business tone, Ava spoke first, "You may think you're going to be the ravisher in this relationship, but you're wrong. You've probably seen the negative crit on our last feature "Well Above Average", but everyone agreed that the music in that film was way above average."

Her words came faster and more breathlessly. "And, for all I know your guitar can do one of those triple lutzes I saw at the Olympics last year. But we're only willing to go so far for this deal and not one fermi further. I've read your vitae and it's nothing special. We've got at least two oboes and a French horn that play without being fingered."

Ava paused for breath. Alvin thought that either he or the ama might get a chance to speak, but Ava just reloaded and kept firing. "I know Plexar has jived around with you some lately, but that phase is over. We're driving a piton into the rock face right here. You can decide if you want to climb the mountain with us, or go back to base camp. It is your choice."

Despite Ava's imposing style, Alvin couldn't stop thinking about those beloved Hebrew letters from the dream sequence in "Short Story"--"pe", "edh", "vau". He could envision an entertainment where Ray and his musical notes would become even more popular. Ray played "re", which once again brought Alvin back to the land of the living.

"We don't plan to tow the line for anyone," he responded, not sure if the idiom was "toe" or "tow" (it seemed that either worked pretty well). "This will be a partnership not a dictatorship. They be but ane singin' fiddle, and Ray be him," he continued, wondering where that Scots brogue came from, and then thanking Angus silently for being there when needed.

"I don't know what criteria you're looking for, but we're running an entertainment business here, not conducting ecotours," shot back Ava.

"Ef you, lady" muttered Alvin testily so that only he and Ray could hear. At this point it was a good thing that Chimney poked his head into the room and pointed at his watch fob. "Please do remember, ma'am. We're due at the quai at five o'clock."

The ama stopped knitting a bootee and drew the attention of the others with just a glance. Her skin was smooth as that of an eft, and her doe eyes evoked empathy from even the most cynical. "Be nice, friends," she advised.

In this room, however, her soothing manner wasn't going to be enough. "Nice?" sneered Ava, "Oh, I don't think so."

"Pah!" interjected Mr. Chimney, still following the action from the cracked doorway.

"Away!" thundered Ava, furious with Chimney's kibitzing and confused whether the faux-Englishman was supporting her view or that of the ama.

"Egyptian mythology teaches that your ba, your eternal soul, will be tormented by the lack of kindness and cooperation you display here on earth," continued the ama with Buddha-like serenity.

"That's gey guid thinkin', lass!" Angus channeled through Alvin's lungs, larynx, tongue, lips and teeth. Momentarily detached from his own voice, Alvin returned his thoughts to "Short Story" and his favorite Hebrew letter, "pe"--for peace, he hoped, even though he wasn't sure because he'd never learned to write Hebrew. He imagined Ray playing "Dock of the Bay."

"Don't get lax, laddie,"Angus warned Alvin, who then spoke again on his own. "Can we continue this discussion under the al tree in your park?" he asked, thinking that an al might be a good omen for someone named Alvin. "Perhaps a more natural setting can lead us toward a solution."

At the al, Alvin began with what he thought was his least controversial demand. "I'd like 10% of any salary or rights fee to be paid in Vietnamese xu. I've been thinking a lot lately about how I can support the Vietnamese economy."

"Xu?" Ava questioned, clearly ignoring the ama's advice. "I have no xu on hand and the exchange rate will kill the deal. You'll rue the day you made that request! No more bizarre requests or you and your banjo will be wandering like a bedu in the desert."

Despite Ava's emphatic instruction, Chimney did not "go away". There he was in the shadow of the al, swinging his watch fob so there appeared to be many fobs. Alvin was mesmerized by the sight, as he retreated from Ava's barb like response to his minimal request. Her words stung like iodines cauterizing multiple wounds. Alvin forced himself to look away from the watch toward a knur on the al. Sensing that music might still rescue the moment, Alvin sounded "la" and began the old Nilsson tune, "Put the Lime in the Coconut."

The song mellowed Ava. She turned to the ama and asked her to bring everyone some flan for dessert. Spying Chimney, she was less serene, "Git, you git!" she hollered.

The wens on Alvin's forearms prickled at the harsh sound of Ava's voice. Yow, thought Alvin, this was going to be a long, hard process--hardly the stuff of a dream.

End of Chapter 7

Chapter 8


Knowing that Ray was indeed a prize possession, Alvin steeled his resolve. Just as he began to speak, however, the ama returned with flan, some leftover za, and two flagons of ale. A train sped by on the el track that ran above the park.

The interruption allowed Ava to get the next word. "It's just like a male for you to think you're going to put me out on some limb. Males have bruised me more than once on my way to this position, and it's not going to happen this time. You can quote me on that."

Alvin found himself caught up by Ava's adversarial tone. "Great, let me write that down in my book of quotes," he shot back. "Your taunts aren't going to bruise us either."

"Finally, a backbone!" Ava exclaimed. She leaped out of her chair and threw herself at Alvin, knocking them both to the ground, their limbs seemingly tied in knots while Ava decisively merged her lips with his, overtaking him with kisses.

Ray hit "ti" and played a merry jig, celebrating Ava's apparent change of heart. The ama grinned, "They'll be talking about this in ag ed tomorrow, for sure."

Jigs broke out across the park as the ama and several passersby joined in the celebration. After just a few seconds of dancing, however, the ama sat down. "I've had three flus in the last month. This is a little more than I can take."

Alvin untangled himself from Ava and helped them both to their feet, keeping an affectionate arm around her waist. Wow! He thought. Having won her heart, could he now appeal to her brain?

Once the ama stopped dancing, Ray switched back to "Do Re Mi" and was just up to "Fa, a long, long way to run" when the ama turned wistful, "I travelled a long, long way myself - many li to share in this moment," she sighed.

"Foh!" resounded a disgusted cry from a doorway that opened onto the park. "Ef all this lovey-dovey nonsense." Chimney had obviously found the rest of the ale. Ray scrambled to restore the mood, "Do, a deer, a female deer," he repeated, a little confused about how to react.

"Deer, dandelion or dog! I don't care! Shut that infernal banjo up!" roared Chimney.

"Ye be gey drunk, lad," Alvin offered soothingly in a faux Scots brogue that he thought might appeal to the faux Brit, "Sit ye a bit."

"Yah! I'll show ya, I will! Ava's mine, ya know!" fumed Chimney as he rushed toward Alvin.

"Hey, Chimney! That's enough, right there," called Ava, "You're fired! Chimney. . . fired. . .that's so good."

"Ho!" Alvin yelped as he realized how Chimney really felt about Ava. "Go and take him with you," he instructed the ama in a very authoritative tone.

A yag in the ama's simple necklace reflected in Ava's eyes, a sight of such beauty that it almost rended Alvin's soul on the spot. He'd seen gaudier jewelry. He even recalled both a yagi and a hoe that were exceptionally well designed and beautiful in their own way. But na so fair as an angel--the angel named Ava (nee Elaine, nee Claire) standing at his side. He hoped the ama would tell everyone in ag ed about what she'd seen.

"Blue Moon" wafted from the guitar strings as the sun set and the moon appeared in the night sky. Alvin envisioned the letters large across the screen of Ray's first feature film, Em..Oh..Oh..En...Moonbeams--the very same ones that now shone in Ava's eyes now that the ama and her jewelry were gone.

"Can we do that?" he whispered to Ava, not knowing whether or not she could read his thoughts. "Of course, darling," came the reply, "as surely as tav is the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet." Linguistics will keep us together, thought Alvin hopefully.

"Liar!" hissed a voice from behind the al.

"What's all the ado?" inquired Ava, more politely than Alvin had ever heard her, particularly given the epithet that Chimney had directed her way.

"Chimney's out of touch with his ka just now," explained the ama. "You enjoy your time together while I keep working with him."

Alvin pressed his advantage a little. "If not xu, how about lwei? Angola's economy needs help too."

"Er, lwei," Ava answered haltingly. "That's fine. Lwei are routine," she finished with a coo.

"Xi, xi, Miss American pie," improvised Ray in his best Don McLean impression. Alvin flinched, hoping that his own pectic compound deficiency (PCD) wasn't affecting Ray's memory. Maybe all the linguistics were having an effect on Ray too.

But by trusting Ray to play his music and Ava to lead the way through the surreal world of entertainment, Alvin felt the strands of their futures woven. Music, od, qi, obia, the force, or just plain love--whatever was driving them would keep doing so as long as they stayed together. For an instant, the cold steel of the gat against his leg chilled him like an oe, blowing in from the Faeroe Islands, but only for an instant as he took Ava's hand and Ray's strap to strike out once more in pursuit of their dream, and Ray improvised a new riff based on their favorite song, "Yowie, a ewe, a smallish ewe. Ray, a note of golden song. . ."

The End

Or to be continued??

How Yowie Came To Be: On of my favorite writing assignments in 10th grade English was to compose a two-page story using the week's 20 vocabulary words. Most of the stories were outrageous, at least to my tenth grade mind) and many ended with screaming or bloodshed (I'm not sure why, since I'm generally a conflict-avoider).

As part of my writing in here, I thought it would be fun to renew this practice, and also renew a game I played years ago in my online Scrabble group. There we'd compose a story in the comments section of the play page using the words being played on the board (each writer had to use the word or words played by the previous player). With three or four players participating, the story would go every which way. Most ended up sounding like fairy tiles, but I remember one particularly good one about an interview of an aging actress by a smarmy magazine writer.

I wrote this story by myself, and didn't let my opponents know what was going on, so as not to influence their choice of words. I didn't let the story influence my choice of plays; I made every play to try to win the game or at least maximize my losing score.

The title of the story was already been determined by my first play--YOWIE--made before I thought of this idea. It turned out that this word wasn't as flexible as I thought--I was using it as an all-purpose interjection of happiness while the Scrabble dictionary defines it as a small ewe. Yikes! The protocol was to use each word played on a turn (even the small ones) in a sentence (or no more than two sentences) that moves the story along. I tried to avoid unexplained transitions. As I wrote the story, I highlighted the words played in the Scrabble games, rather than keeping a separate list.

Thanks for reading! Please leave a comment.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Bulwer-Lytton Writing

Years ago I got interested in the Bulwar-Lytton Fiction Contest for bad writing. In 1830, Edward George Bulwer-Lytton wrote the immortal "It was a dark and stormy night" opening that Snoopy plagiarized repeatedly in his novel writing in Peanuts. Unfortunately, my best (or worst) effort got lost in one or another computer change or hard disk crash, so I'll need to start over. I'll have lots of time to work on this. The deadline for the 2007 contest was June 30, just two days ago.

Categories are:


Carried inexorably by that great steaming beast of hope and lured by the irresistible pull of a bargain, Lars and Ingrid trekked doggedly across the seemingly endless land, enduring countless, nearly unspeakable hardships (the unscheduled closure of the famous Wall Drug Store in South Dakota--not mentioned in any travel guide or website--being foremost, although for Ingrid their inability to enjoy a simple roadside picnic lunch in the relentness Kansas wind would run a close second), naively unaware of the ultimate and even more horrifying price they would pay at their destination--attending a sales presentation for a timeshare vacation property, only after which would they receive heavily discounted tickets to Disneyland, a promotion that in itself would in time reveal even more disappointing surprises.

Children's Literature

Just as Mickey's mouth launched a dewy louie, Minnie mouthed "Donald, duck!" (carefully avoiding consonants that would reveal her lisp), then hissed "Hooey!" as the projectile cleared her blue-hatted friend and headed, sparkling like evening fireworks, toward the crowd, even though it was only late afternoon on Main Street, U.S.A.

Detective Fiction

Fantasy Fiction

Historical Fiction

Purple Prose (bad similes)


Science Fiction

Vile Puns


The contest is sponsored by the Department of English and Comparative Literature at San Jose State University. Here's the winning entry from the 2006 contest, written by Jim Guigli of Sacramento, CA.

Detective Bart Lasiter was in his office studying the light from his one small window falling on his super burrito when the door swung open to reveal a woman whose body said you've had your last burrito for a while, whose face said angels did exist, and whose eyes said she could make you dig your own grave and lick the shovel clean.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Words of Love - My Wimbledon Diary - July 9 - Postscript

King Roger the Fifth Wins Record-Tying Fifth Straight Men's Singles Title at Wimbledon Championships

Centre Court fans salute Roger Federer's fifth straight Wimbledon men's singles championship, which tied Bjorn Borg's record. Federer beat a valiant Rafael Nadal 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 2-6, 6-2

July 9 - Postscript

I got around to watching the awards presentation and interviews on tape. Both players were very gracious. Nadal did beautifully considering he's such a young guy speaking in his second language. I hope when he wins they have a Spanish-language interviewer handy to allow him to speak to his countrymen in their native language.

Federer was elegant in his all-white suit and in his responses. I particularly liked his acknowledgment of the fans, who watched at Centre Court all week without the customary protection of a roof. He also mentioned winning now before Nadal took over and "won them all", and that Nadal was equally deserving of the win--a nice touch given Nadal's courageous performance in the final and his long two weeks to get there. Federer was a little lucky, as his 4th round opponent defaulted during the rainy season, and when he came back from two 15-40 deficits, though these were less luck than skill as he responded to the pressure with some of his best serves.

Four-and-a-half hours into their broadcast, NBC saluted their long-time tennis broadcaster, Bud Collins, let go after a 35-year career with the network covering Wimbledon with a short retrospective and a live interview with studio host Jimmy Roberts. Collins was jovial and gracious, but seemed a little downhearted at the end of an era. I'm sure NBC didn't want to draw attention to the changing of the guard, but it would have been nice for them to run the feature when their audience was a little bit larger. At least they did something.

I wish that Federer or someone had acknowledged the wonderful work of the Wimbledon grounds crews, who placed and removed countless tarps during the rainy two weeks of play. Federer was out of the picture for most of the rain and was thinking in big picture terms. I hope that someone in the adminstration at the All-England Lawn and Tennis Club lets these folks know how much their efforts were appreciated.

July 8 - Set 4 (on tape) Now you and I both know who won the match, but I'll still post my comments. Watching on tape helps a little--I can go back and count strokes and correct my record. I finally developed a shorthand scorekeeping system that I can read. I can use it again come U.S. Open time.

The almost sure thing of a five-set match turned out to be a sure thing.

Highlights of Nadal's 6-2 win in fourth set were:

Federer requesting that Hawkeye be "turned off" after it judged a close shot by Nadal as being in after linesman called out. Then Federer sarcastically asking "was that in too?" on a subsequent shot that was clearly past the baseline.

Nadal suffering knee tendinitis during 4-0 game won by Federer. Nadal received treatment (knee wrapped) during changeover. This "time out" appeared to allow Federer to collect his wits, which were too much focused on Hawkeye and not enough on Nadal.

Nadal's injury doesn't interrupt his 4th set momentum. He plays a great drop volley to hold serve and lead 5-1.

Only one break point for Federer against Nadal since second game of first set. Remarkable given Federer's strong return of serve and Nadal's relatively weak serve.

Federer nets a backhand to close fourth set for Nadal.

Passing Shots - McEnroe says that "fans like the Hawkeye". I'm in that group. Seems like it would be less susceptible to error than the human eye. Relative accuracies of both mechanisms could be tested using high speed cameras. I suspect this has been done. The announcers requirement to say "the Traveler's Hawkeye call was "in synch" (their slogan)" was been kind of annoying. I'd prefer that the announcers be able to use their own linguistic gifts that have to spout pre-written ad copy to describe live action.

I like the ING commercial were the townspeople work to get the cat out of the tree. In just a few seconds we go from a "911" call to a police official telling a reporter, "I can't tell you anymore" to a politician promising to build a platform (as part of his platform) to three helicopters with rescue harnesses. The cat comes out of the tree when a women on a bench opens a can of tuna fish. Just that fast, someone says "that's it folks" or words to that effect. I didn't enjoy the other ING commercial (with the father telling his daughter a story) nearly as much. I don't remember much about the other sponsors' commercials.

Set 5: Given that I knew the score would end up 6-2 Federer, I didn't see what I expected. This was Federer's first fifth set of any kind in more than a year, and his first at Wimbledon since 2001, when he burst onto the tennis scene with a win over Pete Sampras (Sampras's last match at Wimbledon, and killing his bid for five consecutive championships).

Federer won Game 1 with an ace, an advantage that would prove critical later. Nadal held Game 2 handily. Game 3 will be one that Nadal looks back at. He had two break points. Federer cleared one with a service winner. Nadal's forehand error created deuce. Nadal netted a backhand to give ad to Federer. Federer hit a forehand winner to hold serve for a 2-1 lead.

Nadal held Game 4 easily. At this point, you'd never guess that this would be the last game he would win. The win featured a nice half-volley winner and an overhead smash.

Game 5 was another heartbreaker for Nadal. He built a 15-40 lead on three Federer errors. Federer responded with two strong serves (one a second serve) that Nadal couldn't handle to get to deuce. Nadal's long backhand gave ad to Federer. Nadal's netted forehand after a 16 stroke rally allowed Federer to again hold serve after he was behind.

Game 6 turned the match. Nadal's net cord shot went out. Federer followed with a nice forehand winner for 0-30. At this point, the total points were tied at 152. Federer hit an even better forehand winner for 0-40 and three break points attempts. He only needed two--another forehand winner pushed the score to 4-2 Federer. The last rally had 14 shots, the second long rally won by Federer to close out a game.

Federer sensed the kill in Game 7 and pounded three aces and a service winner to win at love. Total ace count now 24 to 1, favor of Federer. At this point, Federer had won 12 of last 13 points since being down 15-40 in Game 4.

Game 8 was a gem to end the match. To his credit, Nadal conceded nothing--knowing that by holding serve and breaking one time he could be back in the match. After a backhand volley winner, he actually led 40-30 in the game, but Federer responded with a return winner off his forehand. The match at this point was about 3 and 3/4 hours long, so long that Nadal had actually grown a slight beard. Nadal took an ad lead when Federer hit a forehand out, a call that was validated by Hawkeye. Federer's backhand winner evened the match. A long forehand by Nadal gave Federer his first Championship Point (CP), but a long forehad by Federer put the score back to deuce. A forehand into the net gave Federer his second chance to win his fifth straight championship. He didn't miss this one, setting up and cashing an easy forehand overhead smash for the win. I think that the final game was the longest of the match (three deuces), but my records aren't that complete to be sure.

Federer got teary-eyed at what he'd accomplished. Nadal sat for awhile with his head hung down. It didn't appear that Nadal's gruelling playing schedule (play on eight consecutive days) or his minor knee injury made a difference (unless #1 caused #2, which caused some of the fifth set errors--clearly they didn't defeat Nadal's heart, which was fighting 'til the very last stroke.)

Federer's remarkable ability to reverse adversity--a bad fourth set loss; two 15-40 scores in a tied match--despite having very little adversity to deal with (except at the French Open) was the key story of the win. That and the remarkable discrepancy in aces - 24 to 1 in favor of Roger. Nadal's serve was good, but the aces gave Roger some easy points in a match where long rallies played to Nadal's strengths.

In the post-match segments it was nice to see NBC tennis broadcasting veteran Bud Collins do a brief interview with Federer. I heard that Collins had been somewhat unceremoniously dumped from the NBC broadcast team. I think that Collins even coined the phrase "Breakfast at Wimbledon". It would have been nice to see a short retrospective on Collins' work at Wimbledon before he is put out to pasture. (I'll go back to the tape and see if there's something there.)

Set 4: Nadal is up two breaks as I leave for church. A five-setter is almost a sure thing. Will pick this up on tape later this afternoon. Federer is frustrated with "hawkeye" after Nadal "out" ball is ruled in by 1 mm.

Set 3: I took a shower more or less between sets. Picked the action back up at 1-1.

Federer now leads 2 sets to 1, despite only breaking Nadal's serve one time. He dominated the third set tiebreaker, 7-3. Nadal has lost three serves in each tiebreaker.

Highlights - great game for Federer to tie at 5-5; backhand overhead and drop volley to win after Nadal rallied from 0-40 to deuce.

At 6-5 Nadal, with him up 15-30, Nadal nets an easy forehand. Federer follows with 15th ace.

Passing Shots - In talking about his close family, Robinson noted that Nadal "still lives on the island of Majorca." McEnroe perceptively asked, "why would he leave?"

Nadal has 8 wins over Federer against 4 losses. During same period, rest of world has 12 wins (278 losses).

Set 2: Nadal evens the match with a 6-4 win; last game highlighted by Nadal hitting a winner from seat of his pants. Nadal takes set on first opportunity at 15-40. Federer saved previous Nadal break chance at 2-3, 15-40 with three straight aces.

Game at 2-2 featured a 20-shot rally, won by Nadal.

Game at 3-3 saw Federer challenge an out call; ball was out by about 1 mm.

Passing Shots - Federer has played in nine Grand Slam finals in a row. Previous record was four.

Pierce Brosnan missed Bartoli's final--was at a wedding; sent flowers.

Federer is oldest of four Wimbledon semifinalists.

Nadal's fitness stands in contrast to other youngsters--Gasquet and Djokovic, who couldn't hold up to stress of long week of play.

Set 1: Federer has to win this one twice, as Nadal challenges an out call at 5-6 in the tiebreaker. Hawkeye shows that ball is good. Nadal wins replay, but Federer hits winning volley at 7-6 to take set.

Other highlights: Federer aces first point of match. Nadal loses 40-0 lead in second game; Federer breaks when Nadal hits volley into net.

At 3-1, Federer hits first drop shot for a winner. Federer saves break point with ace, but Nadal breaks on passing shot.

At 5-4, best rally of match--23 shots; Nadal hits corner; evens match at 5-5. McEnroe challenges Federer on tactics for hitting Nadal's second serve, which he seems as vulnerable.

Tiebreak--Federer took 6-3 lead, Nadal evened at 6-6; despite Federer win, Nadal playing like he expects to win the match.

Passing Shots - Nadal is natural righty; has improved serve by 20 mph in last two years; has "two strong hands" on two-handed backhand. Nadal's fastest serve in first set was faster than Federer's fastest.

Federer has own clothing design featuring emblems for each Wimbledon win--4 on shoes beginning to look crowded. Still, Nike swoosh is visible on both players' clothes.

The Tour de France starts in London this year??

The commentators noted that Federer makes so little noise on the court compared to Nadal and many other players. His feet seem to skim along the surface, and he doesn't grunt. I tried to think of something more clever than the "Silent Swiss" for a nickname, which to my knowledge, Federer doesn't have. "Swiss Guard"; "Swiss Bank Account", "Swiss Army (Tennis) Knife", "Swiss Cheese (would fit with baseball lingo, where "cheese" is slang for fastball; but not in tennis--there aren't many holes in Federer's game). I'll keep working on this and have something ready for the U.S. Open.

During the game at 5-4, I made the note that Ted and John need to move the discussion back to this match, after they waxed for awhile on the days of Borg, Connors and McEnroe. Of course, many fans are probably young enough that they don't even know who these guys were, to say nothing of them being giants of the tennis world.

McEnroe responded by criticizing Federer's tactics on return of second serve. Federer stays back when McEnroe thinks he should start closer and then move in behind his return. Federer does not change tactics, either now or later, but I still appreciate the detailed and cogent analysis from McEnroe, such a welcome relief from the bombastic and self-driven commentary of many sports analysts.
July 8, 7:45 a.m. Breakfast at Wimbledon is about to start. The result will be historic, whatever happens--a Federer win will give him a record-tying five Wimbledons in a row; a Nadal win will make him the first player since Bjorn Borg to win the French Open and Wimbledon in the same year. I'm a little puzzled by the Gillette commercial featuring Federer, Tiger Woods, and soccer star Thierry Henry--they "never think about yesterday", but their captioned intros in each case mention a past accomplishment (Player of Year in 2006 for Federer and Woods; Player of Year in 2003 for Henry). I'm guessing that American audiences would remember the first two without the intro; I'm not sure about Henry.

VENUS SHINES! Williams wins fourth Wimbledon Ladies' Singles Title in Eight Years.

Federer and Nadal rematch in Men's Final Tomorrow

Wimbledon 2007 Ladies Champion Venus Williams beams while holding her prize (plus about $1.4 million)

July 7 - Men's Semifinal #2 - The inevitable came sooner than expected as Novak Djokovic, his leg injury proving more than slight, retired in his match with Rafael Nadal, losing 3-6, 6-1, 4-1, ret. Nadal broke serve in both the first and fifth games of the set--in the last game, even an overhead winner by Djokovic appeared to cause him pain. Nadal's "pain in the neck" of a first set found relief quickly. He plays Roger Federer in Sunday's "Breakfast at Wimbledon" final. Now I can post that picture of Venus and her trophy.

Set Two - Nadal took control of the second set while I was writing comments about the first, breaking Djokovic in the second game and cruising to a 6-1 win. A rematch with Federer now looks much more likely. Djokovic is clearly playing against type to conserve energy (staying back and not chasing drop shots), while Nadal seems fresh and in control of his game (even hitting a desperation windmill volley that caused Djokovic to hit one more shot (it was good) to win the point--bad news when you're trying to conserve strength.) John McEnroe does a great job in identifying and explaining changes in the players' approaches to the game; don't credit me much for this commentary.

Set One - An upset stomach is brewing for Rafael Nadal (a reference to Andy Roddick's comment about how it felt "in the pit of his stomach" after losing to Gasquet), as he lost the first set to Novak Djokovic by 6-3. Djokovic, only bouncing the ball eight times before some serves, parlayed a second game service break into the set as Nadal hasn't yet gotten untracked. Maybe looking too far ahead, the commentators noted that Nadal holds an 8-4 lifetime lead over Federer, including two hard court wins. After beating Mikhail Youzhny after being two sets down, Nadal certainly won't give up, and may be aided by a slight leg injury that Djokovic seems to be nursing.

Men's Semifinal #1 - The first two matches of the day (at least in NBC's order) produced no upsets (other than the lower-seeded Venus Williams beating Marion Bartoli, as expected), as Roger Federer dispatched Richard Gasquet the Gallant in straight sets, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 to reach his fifth straight Wimbledon men's singles final. Gasquet stayed even through 10 games as his "A" game from last night carried over and Federer "warmed up". But at the critical moments that would decided the first set (and the match, it would seem), Federer responded and Gasquet retreated. Sets two and three played out the inevitable, particularly after Gasquet developed a problem in his left leg. Bjorn Borg, whose record of five straight championships Federer is chasing, watched the action from the champions' box until Federer got close to victory. The sight may be have been more than he could watch.

As usual, the commentary by John McEnroe and Mary Carillo was enlightening and enjoyable--they humanized Federer by talking about his "good son" behavior--taking his parents to dinner at the All-England Club, and even moreso, playing cards with his mother at the hotel in the evening. They also talked about how both players had overcome terrible tempers--Gasquet's being so bad that he once defaulted a Wimbledon qualifying match by throwing his racket and hitting the umpire with it. In 2007, both players showed complete control of their emotions (save a couple of frustrated "racket bounces" by Gasquet) and treated the fans to generally high quality tennis, though Gasquet, after a mere 16 hour break, wasn't able to reproduce the level that got him past Andy Roddick. Now it's on to Nadal, the young Spanish lion, and Djokovic, the even younger great Serbian bouncer (Carillo noted what a great doubles team he and Bartoli would make--she never bounces the ball before her serve; Djokovic's average is about 15 bounces.)

Ladies' Final - The presence of Pierce Brosnan in the stands again (in fact it was a tape of him from yesterday) wasn't nearly enough, as Venus Williams earned her fourth Wimbledon singles title with a 6-4, 6-1 win over France's Marion Bartoli. Only Martina Navratilova (9) and Billie Jean King (6) have won more Wimbledon ladies singles championships than Venus Williams.

Once again, all phases of Venus's game were in synch--a serve that peaked at 125 mph in the final game; unparalleled court coverage; and more and better strokes than the game, but overmatched Bartoli. She even mixed in an improbable backhand cross-court overhead for a winner.

In the first set, Bartoli dug a quick hole, losing the first three games, but recovered with a service break to tie the match at 4-4. From there, Williams won five straight games to take the first set and again pull ahead 3-0 in the second. She broke Bartoli again at 4-1 and fired cannonshot serves in the ultimate game to wrap up the win. The straight set win was Venus's fourth straight of that variety, as she last lost a set in the third round.

The match featured the unusual sight of both players receiving medical attention at the same time. Early in the second set, Bartoli developed a large blister on the instep of her right (?) foot. While her trainer treated and bandaged it, Venus's trainer was massaging the eventual champ's right upper thigh. She wrapped the thigh during the three minute treatment period, and then finished the job during a changeover. Venus limped noticeably while walking, but didn't seem to lose a millimeter of court coverage or spring.

Once again, Venus was grim-faced throughout, but joyful and gracious in victory. Marion tried to lift her own spirits, which never fell far, by joining the crowd in the wave while Venus's treatment was completed. Neither Margaret Thatcher ("The Iron Lady" former PM of Great Britain) nor five-time champ Bjorn Borg, sat stone-faced through the jollity.

NBC showed the match live, and to their credit announced when they were about to reveal the results of the men's semifinal matches, played earlier in the day. I left the room, so you may know more than I do about the outcome of these matches. I can't even go to for a picture of Venus for fear of seeing the men's results. Federer and Gasquet are playing now. Gasquet is hanging in well despite the long match with Roddick. He's already hit several beautiful backhand shots, which John McEnroe has called the best in the game. Federer and Gasquet played in the opening round last year; evidence of how far Gasquet has progressed in one year.

Rain Abates and Pleasant Breezes Blow Saturday for French at Wimbledon

Gasquet the Gallant reaches men's semifinals; Bartoli the Unexpected to face Venus Williams in Ladies' Final

July 6:
Odd happenings abounded at Wimbledon today, the oddest being a day without rain. Perhaps the change in the weather came from a breeze making its way over the channel from France.

On the men's side, it was strange to see Roger Federer (14-year old daughter's assessment--hot with possible eyebrow issue) in action after five days off, and stranger still to see him lose a set, this to Juan Carlos Ferrero. Still, Federer prevailed as expected in four sets to move to Saturday's semifinals.

Rafael Nadal's (daughter says definitely hot, but needs to lose some hair; my 75-year old mother is OK with the hair length) three set domination of Thomas Berdych wasn't odd per se, but it was different as Nadal had been stretched to five sets in his two previous matches. Nadal must have been a little disoriented by stepping on the court and playing a match all the way through.

Federer's opponent comes from the match between American Andy Roddick (hot, even with the scruffy beard) and Frenchman Richard (ree-chard') Gasquet (gas-kay') (not hot, even without the backward cap--I expect that millions of French women would disagree). Just two days after watching the 2007 Hot Dog Eating Contest from Coney Island, we saw another "reversal of fortune" as favored Roddick coughed up a two sets to none lead (with a break up in the third); losing to Gasquet 4-6, 4-6, 7-6, 7-6, 8-6. This was the first time that Gasquet had ever overcome a two set deficit. The quality of tennis in the last three sets was outstanding, especially by Gasquet, who played up to the expectations of a French public that put him on the cover of tennis magazine at age nine. Gasquet's backhand was particularly lethal, providing more than 30 of 94 winners in the match. To paraphrase the song from "Beauty and the Beast", No one stands like Gasquet, hits backhands like Gasquet; no one's game is as gallantly grand as Gasquet. With a scant 16 hours of rest, Gasquet the Gallant has to play a semifinal match with the four-time defending champion, Federer the Fearless.

Nadal's opponent will be #4 seed, Serbian Novak Djokovic (not hot, standup hair an issue), who beat Marcos Baghdatis (Eastern European swarthiness a definite issue) in five tough sets lasting five hours. This match and the Roddick-Gasquet match were played on Court 1; in less time, four matches were completed on Centre Court. Both players received trainer attention on the court during the grueling match. Based on the seedings and the difficulty of the quarterfinal matches, a Federer-Nadal repeat final (from 2006 Wimbledon and 2007 French Open) seems likely.

Two of the Centre Court matches were the ladies' semifinals. As expected, first was an upset, as #23 Venus Williams beat #6 Ana Ivanovic in straight sets, 6-2, 6-4. Ivanovic looked nervous in the first set, but competed well in the second against Williams, who was in nearly top form, ripping 120 mph serves and dashing all over the court, grim-faced until the winning point, when her beautiful smile beamed all over the crowd.

As expected, NOT, was #18 Marion Bartoli of France's three-set upset of #1 seed Justine Henin. Henin won the first set 6-1, but Bartoli (upon spying James Bond #5 Pierce Brosnan in the crowd) fought back to take the second set 7-5 and then dominate the deciding set 6-1. NBC's commentators were struggling to think of a more unexpected Wimbledon outcome in their experience. Venus will be highly favored in tomorrow's final, based both on her play in the tournament and her longstanding success at Wimbledon (now six finals in eight years).

NBC hasn't learned ESPN's trick of not revealing the outcomes of matches that will shown later on tape. During the long match between Roddick and Gasquet, which they covered live, we learned of both Bartoli and Williams' wins. They did do some live cutaways to the Bartoli-Henin match, but they showed the Venus-Ana match after posting the final pairings. I think that by holding the suspense, they'd hold more of their audience. Of course, after the first four games (all won by Venus) there wasn't much suspense about who would win this match.

July 5 a.m. - A lot of tennis was played early today before the seemingly inevitable rains came to Wimbledon. Rafael Nadal won his second 5-set match in two days, this one over Mikhail Youzhny of Russia. Youzhny won the first two sets, but suffered some kind of back problem in the third set. From that point, Nadal won the third thru fifth sets handily, losing only 5 games total. In an interview afterwards, Nadal said he had the match turned around before the injury. Nadal's next opponent is Czech Tomas Berdych, strong grass court player. When asked whether his body would be ready for another tough match so soon, Nadal said "we'll see". It's great to be 21, so I'm betting on Nadal to be ready. I haven't seen Berdych play, so I won't make a prediction. With his run of 5-set matches, Nadal is clearly not a sure thing.

I saw Berdych's girlfriend Nicole Vaidisova drop her match to Serbia Ana Ivanovic despite serving for the match at 5-3 in the third set. From that point her game fell apart under the pressure; she lost the set and the match 7-5 by dropping the next four games. Ivanovic faces Venus Williams in the other womens' semifinal (Henin and Bartoli play the other). Venus dispatched the Russian with the unspellable name (actually its Svetlana Kuznetsova) in straight sets.

Four-time defending champ Roger Federer and Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero were tied at 5-5 and deuce on Centre Court when the rains came. Federer had the early lead, but Ferrero fought back. No one gives Ferrero much chance against the uber-talented, experienced and well-rested champ, but that's why they play the matches.

I'm guessing that this ball is heading across the net after another well-struck shot by Venus Williams, who played brilliantly in dispatching formidable Russian opponent, Maria Sharapova, 6-1, 6-3.

Even More July 4: Andy Roddick carried the hopes of American men more than capably in a straight set win over Frenchman Paul-Henri Matthieu. Roddick was more consistent than his similarly big-hitting opponent in winning the first two sets, and then pulled off two excellent comebacks in the third set, from a 2-5 deficit in games, and from an 0-5 deficit in the tiebreaker. His next match is with another Frenchman, Richard Gasquet, who won an all-French battle with Jo-Wilfried Tonga. In a scheduling oddity, Gasquet's last three wins have all been over countrymen. He has yet to lose a set or play in a tiebreaker, so he should provide a stiff challenge for Roddick.

I have enjoyed the commentary from Wimbledon by both ESPN's and NBC's crews, but I have a bone to pick with their scheduling today. From 10 to 1 Central Time, NBC carried the Venus-Maria match more-or-less live (although they compressed the 2-hour rain delay into about 10 minutes), and then picked up the Serena-Justine match live from its beginning. At 1 p.m. NBC went away from their coverage to show soap operas, with Serena and Justine just finishing their second set. I expected ESPN2 to pick up the live coverage of this match, but instead they showed tape of Venus and Maria, following it with tape of Serena and Justine, picked up at the point where NBC's coverage stopped. Strange. I seems to me like they should have showed Serena and Justine live, then doubled back to Venus and Maria. I managed to see it all without knowing the result, but I expect that other viewers weren't so lucky. ESPN was smart enough not to run the scores in their sports news crawls across the bottom of the screen.

More July 4: Rain lost out by a narrow margin to tennis today. A two-hour delay was more-or-less swallowed by ESPN and NBC's coverage, but more on that later.

Following up on the earlier comment on Rafael Nadal's win, I heard that the match had eight different starts over four days. ESPN's Chris Fowler interviewed Nadal, who looks about 17 without his headband. Nadal wisely deflected all speculation about an eventual match with Roger Federer, or the number of matches he might have left to play, focusing instead on his next opponent, Mikhail Youzhny, who knocked him out at last year's U.S. Open. ESPN also noted that Federer would have five consecutive days off before his next match, now set for Thursday with Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero, who looked great in beating American James Blake, but like most other players, has a poor head-to-head record vs. Federer.

The game of the tournament was played in the match of the day between Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova. Venus cruised to a first set win as Maria had too many double faults and unforced errors. A nearly 2-hour rain delay interrupted the second set with the score tied at 1-1. Sharapova came out a new player and battled Williams through 13 deuces and about nine break points to hold serve. Rallies of 15 or more strokes were commonplace during the 32 points of the game, with Venus covering the court like a supernatural waterbug and Maria pounding away like 19th-century Russian artillery. After her first set serving woes, I don't think Maria double-faulted even once in this classic game. Down 1-2, Venus recovered quickly to win a short game; then the two played another long game with three deuces, again with service held by Maria. A love game win by Venus left the score tied at 3-3 and the commentators and I wondering how long Maria could hold up under this pattern. The answer was not long as Venus won the last three games rather handily (blasting serves clocked at 122 mph and 124 mph along the way) to take the set 6-3 and the match 6-1, 6-3. The result seemed like a big upset when you looked at the #23 vs #2 seeding, but less so when you consider that Venus has won or played in the finals at Wimbledon for five of the last seven years. Commentator Mary Carillo noted wisely that Venus should have been seeded closer to #3 than #23, based on her past record at the event. Venus advances to the quarterfinals semifinals where she'll play Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova. Beautiful Nicole Vaidisova, who eliminated defending champ Amelie Mauresmo plays fellow teenager Ana Ivanovic in the other quarterfinal.

The next big match of the day involved Venus' "little" sister Serena Williams and #1 seed, Belgium's Justin Henin. With an injured leg wrapped, even competing the #1 seed seemed like a daunting task, but Serena proved up to the challenge. In her favor was their head-to-head record, which included six wins for Serena, all of which occured on non-clay surfaces.

The match lacked the drama and shotmaking of the Venus-Maria match, but both players played well with Serena hanging in against Justine's obvious and merciless strategy to run her injured opponent all over the court. Henin capitalized on her only break chance to win the first set 6-4; Williams countered with an equally close 7-5 margin in the second set. The stage was set for high drama in the third set, but Justine ran out to a 5-1 lead and eventually prevailed 6-3 despite a late service break by Serena. Henin will face 18th seeded Natalie (actually Marion) Bartoli of France next.

The path seems clear to a Justine-Venus final, which should be a dandy. If Venus holds onto the form she used today to beat Sharapova, even the doughty Justine won't be able to beat her. We'll be rooting for Venus of course, but Justine should be favorite of the little guy. At 5' 5-1/2" and about 120 pounds, she looks physically overmatched against 6-footers like Venus and Maria, and against the hulking Serena.

A friend of mine told a fascinating sidebar story about Serena. She claims that her father, Richard Williams, a character of the first order, told a Today Show interviewer that he had "messed with" his wife's birth control pills so that the couple would have a second child. Things worked out childwise; I'm not so sure about the couple--they appear to be separated. That kind of move could cause friction in a marriage.

I'll take a break now to watch ESPN's coverage of the 2007 Hot Dog Eating Contest from Nathan's on Coney Island. This bizarre event may merit a post of its own.

July 4 Update: Rafael Nadal finally triumped this morning in his 3rd round match, a tough five-setter with Robin Soderling. Nadal was reportedly somewhat peeved about the lack of play on Sunday, which along with all the rain, stretched his third round match out from its initially scheduled Friday start to completion on Wednesday morning.

We should finally get to see Venus and Sharapova this afternoon. I remember watching the classic Borg-McEnroe final of 1980 (it was 1981) on July 4 of that year. Oftentimes the tournament ends by that date.

July 3: Here begins my post on the Wimbledon tennis championships. What a surprise--they're in a rain delay. Despite the shaky weather, Wimbledon has been 2007's fortuitously-timed sports event to help me through my latest surgical recovery (golf's U.S. Open and the College World Series doing the trick in 2005; NCAA March Madness earlier this year; and there's always major league baseball).

No doubt the most dramatic moment of the tournament came yesterday when Serena Williams cramped in her match with Slovakia's Hana Hantuchova. The favored Williams (7 vs 10 seed) won the first set handily, but Hana caught fire in the second to take a lead, from which Serena fought back to tie the set at 5-all. With Hana serving, Serena walked along the baseline to prepare to receive and felt a sharp pain in her left calf. She whacked her calf with her racket about three times and then screamed and fell to the ground crying, where she stayed for about the next 10 minutes as the umpire, and then her training staff attended. All this time, as they have all week, rainclouds loomed just beyond the grandstand. Serena, still in pain, and her team developed a plan to salvage the match, which they put into action a few minutes later when Serena could stand, her calf double-wrapped. Unable to move on her feet, she conceded a 6-5 second set deficit with a couple of desultory service returns, but then somehow summoned the will and power to hold her own serve to send the second set, which she had already more-or-less conceded, into a tiebreaker, requiring at least seven more points. With the tiebreaker score 4-2 in favor of Hana, the rains came, causing a near two-hour delay in the match. Serena "hustled" off the court to receive more treatment, no doubt hoping that play would be cancelled for the day and she could resume the match with Hana on Tuesday.

The rains didn't hold off quite long enough, and after about two hours, Serena and Hana were back on the court in the late London evening. Serena wore sweatpants over her double-wrapped calves. Hana continued in her skimpy tennis dress. Hana quickly took care of the tiebreaker, sending the match to the deciding third set. We worried about how Hana would approach the challenge. My thought was that as a competitor she'd take every advantage of Serena's wounded condition. Her comments after the match indicated that she had trouble doing that and was rather feeling sympathy for Serena's plight. Bad idea, at least for winning. With her father-coach yelling and gesticulating encouragement and sister Venus apparently praying, Serena ended up dominating the third set, winning 6-2, despite missing a couple of easy overhead smashes, one of which caused her to slam her racket down and break it. Serena advances to play #1 seed Justin Henin in the quarterfinals, in what will be the most anxiously awaiting match of the ladies' tournament and probably the whole event.

Venus's travels through the tournament so far have been less dramatic, though not easy. She got to her quarterfinal match with #2 seed Maria Sharapova (who looks great, by the way, tenniswise too) by overcoming a third set, 3-5 deficit to a Japanese player. We await the Williams-Sharapova match later today if the weather will cooperate.

Andy Roddick is carrying all the water for the American men after James Blake, a talented and engaging player, lost a match to Juan Ferrero of Spain. Ferrero won his next match as well and will face overwhelming favorite Roger Federer in the quarterfinals. Federer got a free pass to the quarters when his opponent Tommy Haas was injured and had to withdraw.

The most disappointing performance so far came from defending womens' champ Amelie Mauresmo of France, who lost a three-set match to young Nicole Vaidisova of the Czech Republic. Mauresmo seemed to sense the match slipping away in the third set, and did little to prevent it--failing to challenge a double fault serve call against her that was clearly in, then trying to short-circuit a rally with an ill-advised and ill-executed dropshot, launching a tennis ball into the upper deck of the stadium in frustration, and finally, losing the deciding game on her own serve with a couple of desultory shots into the net. I'm not sure what was going on there.