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Inspirational Reads

Shadows and Thistles: A Hundred Kings update

July 31, 2006

Even though I've been focusing most of my energies on The Boar War, it doesn't mean I haven't completely forgotten about that opus that I dedicated five years (on and off) of my life to (and I don't mean my grad school thesis...). It's mostly been reading, not a lot of writing. I have made a few adjustments, mostly in my handy, dandy notebook. I'll go over a few here (mostly spoiler free).

1) I need to tie House Giles and House Montgomery together more tightly. The best way to do this is actually HAVE the Giles boy in First Landing when the rebellion happens. Alexander saves his life during the course of the battle, and the bond is secured. This also means I need to amend the chapter in which we see Stephen preparing for his knighthood (by not only mentioning his ties to Alexander and House Montgomery, but also the vigil through which he sat and all that good knightly stuff). This will make Nathaniel's plea to Vincent more poignant. Also, must work in the line "I know what you know why you have to help them." Classic redirection.

2) I need to reintroduce the Stimleys, so that it makes more sense to have a viewpoint from Samantha Dipaloe/Stimley's point of view. As she becomes more involved in the story, especially with Charles, it will be easier to "make her fit" if she's introduced a little more fluidly instead of "here she is...let's see what she thinks of Dain Campbell. What's that? he's a bastard. keen!"

3) Lillian and Alexander can't have sex before the battle in the west. In fact, they're barely speaking when he leaves to go to Larswells, which makes him and Margaret fit together more easily (heh heh heh). In fact, the line "I've yet to share my bed with my wife..." really strikes me as dramatic. Maybe a bit too, but it fits in the situation.

4a) Emaline Andrada never leaves Beech Grove. Winter storms and all. This will help to foment the troubles she has back home in Jesportrock. Which will all pop up later, most likely in the middle to end of King of Thistles. Move the really good Park chapter over to KOT from King of Storms. That leaves troubles in Kallabria in book one, troubles in Jesportrock in two, and then the troubles in the Gallin Empire can start to play a roll in book three (mostly because I really like the chapter I wrote about Natalia Kesiel, and it still deserves to be a first chapter).

5) More description of Greyskye's battles with Bradford and the troubles that causes along the Jesport border. This will help to solidify the unrest among the Jesports that is to come. Maybe solidify and unrest shouldn't go together like that...

6) During the chapters involving King Wilhelms, show why he is unhappy with those he chooses as his enemies. Reveal a little more about the subtleness of his plans to eliminate those he worries about. Also, make sure the timeline is correct with Iressa's death. Make sure the "reveal" isn't campy and cliche. It must be more subtle than the ending to a Scooby-Doo episode. I freaking hate how other stories unfold their subplots like that. Ugh. Hacks.

7) Don't forget that the Stimleys need to show up again. Don't forget that the Cleavers sealed the border to the south, leaving only Rochester open for them.

8) Noble houses in River Bend: Malloy, Golding, Stedds, Dome, Monk, Bulla, Pangborn

Yeah, those are the actual notes I wrote to myself. My thought processes go off on wild tangents even when jotting notes down. As soon as I can, I'll get to working on these. Sooner rather than later, I should hope.

[Edit] 8/1/2006:
I thought of this while at work, and didn't get a chance to write it down (I do get busy from time to time, and now is one of those times). 4b) Book three will feature not only the troubles in Gallin, but also in Dimuria (since that is the earliest I can force Dain Campbell across the border) and then onward to Azurina (which will involve the decision of the Kanouses).

A little blurb

July 23, 2006

So, I looked over the chapter I posted previously. All of Jane's lines were supposed to be underlined. Her communication with the animals is supposed to be more like a psionic connection and not physical speech. I was hoping underlines/italics would provide that for me (in manuscript and book form, respectively). I'm sorry I didn't catch that oversight earlier.

Anyway, I'm tired, and you've (hopefully) got a lot to read. I did keep cranking on chapter nine and seven (the human chapter that is turning out to be a bitch to write!), so I feel proud of myself. Suddenly the words and the situations are just pouring from my fingertips. It's all those thoughts that bubbled up through my mind during the long car ride to and from Indiana.

Word Count: 36216
Page Count: 119

I also changed the name of the Boar Clan leader (again) and have named the Crow Clan leader, finally. "Shortmaul" is the name of the Boar Clan leader and Eboncap is the leader of the Crow Clan. Also, if you've read the prologue, I've thought of a couple of minor changes I want to make...mostly names of places and such.

I bought a sketch pad today. I have some ideas of other things to keep my entertained. I'll still write, I promise. but now there might be some pictures, too.


July 22, 2006

I'll try to keep this short, since the rest of the post is long. Ten pages worth. You don't need to read it all or any of it, if you wish. I thought maybe some of you would like it. The paragraphing might be a little off, but hopefully you can figure it out. Let me know if it's bothersome.

Without further ado, Chapter 6:


Redear retreated from the carnage below. The mixture of smoke and blood burned his nostrils. He paused a moment to look over his shoulder at the burning mass crouched alongside the lakefront. Screams of dying Men and animals alike continued to fill the night air, but not like there had been during the height of the battle. Pillars of smoke continued to billow. Most of the fires had burnt themselves out, but an eerie orange glow continued to push through the haze and the smoke left in the wake of the battle. Several of the clans were now abandoning the site. Jane had called it a village when the clans had first arrived; now it looked like a charnel pit, stained black by soot and blood.
He found the girl hidden just inside the edge of the forest. She sat huddled against a fallen tree, much as she had when he and Dappleback and first found her. Skulk sat beside her, resting his chin on her lap. She stroked the fox’s long fur around his head and shoulders. He swished his tail back and forth as she did so. When Redear approached, the little fox opened his eyes and looked up at the young buck. Sadness, much like the emotion that constantly welled within Jane’s eyes, greeted Redear. Skulk sighed deeply, stretching his body and curling it up more tightly against Jane. Closing his eyes once more, he turned his back toward Redear.
Jane stroked the little fox’s fur idly. Her sad eyes looked distantly, off into the blackness of the forest. Her hair was a mess, falling in tangles around her shoulders, the locks festooned with leaves and twigs. Her mouth was pressed into a small line, and her eyes were hooded, masking some of the sorrow and sadness Redear had become accustomed to seeing whenever he looked at the Man child.
“The clans will be leaving soon,” he announced, feeling as if he interrupted something very private. Neither the girl nor the fox acknowledged him. Skulk whipped his tail back and forth, almost menacingly.
“My father has ordered the herd to be gathered. They will be moving on to their next target after the sun rises. He thinks more Men will come to this…village…and see what has happened and they will want to take revenge on the clans. It would be best if we were far from here when the others arrive.”
Jane slowly turned her head toward Redear. Her eyes opened fully as she regarded the young deer. Tears leaked down her cheeks as she looked at him, and he could feel her gaze boring deep inside him. Nervously, he flicked his ears. She said nothing but turned away from him, closing her eyes and leaning her head back against the mossy side of the fallen tree. Skulk lashed his tail again.
“We will not be traveling with the herd,” Redear announced. At those words, both Jane and Skulk opened their eyes and looked at him. He flared his nostrils, picking up the scent of their surprise and wonder. Flicking his ears, he crouched and then laid down beside the two of them.
“My father wishes to push this madness,” Redear explained. “I saw him, briefly, after the fighting had subsided. He was whipped into a frenzy. His coat was slicked with blood, and none of it was his. He smelled of Man blood. His scent was filled with Men’s emotions, of fear and anger and surprise. The way he…cavorted…as if celebrating a grand thing…it made my heart sick. I left then, abandoning him as he bugled his triumph over the village. The wolves and the cats and the other members of the Elk clan bellowed and howled and roared their approval, as well. It was something I never wanted to experience again. This madness must stop. Already the clans are moving on, picking a new place to attack and kill. From what I heard, they will move to the east. I do now know where we will go, but it will not be with them. My herd is here, now: just you two.” He sighed and laid his head down, curling his front legs under him. He closed his eyes, feeling fatigue and exhaustion pulling him down into sleep.
“There are three of us,” he heard a familiar voice announce. Opening his eyes and raising his head, he saw Velvet standing over them. The young doe looked down at him, her head lowered in a sign of deference to Redear. At once, the young buck sprang to his feet, the fatigue he felt a moment ago gone, if for just a moment.
“How did you know where to find us?” he asked, excitement coloring the edges of his question.
“I saw you, after the fight, climbing the hill. I watched when you entered the forest and then when the other does and the fawns left their hiding place to rejoin the bucks of the herd, I lagged behind. Doubling back, I picked up your trail and followed it to here. I knew that when I saw you alone that you had not the heart for this madness and that you would leave the herd. I knew also that you would come to the Man child and attempt to take her from here. I decided that, once I saw you alone, I would join you, and we would make a new herd.” She looked around, at Jane and Skulk and Redear. “A new herd, such as we are.”
“If you followed me so easily,” Redear pushed forward, as if he had not heard Velvet, “then others could follow us.” He looked toward the edge of the forest.
“There were no others on the hill when I followed your trail,” Velvet said, echoing a bit of the fear that Redear expressed. She, too, turned and faced the edge of the forest. Unconsciously, both she and Redear flicked their tails from side to side.
“That won’t matter to the wolves and the cats,” Redear said. “They’ll be hungry after the battle. They’ll want meat to fill their bellies before moving to the next place.”
“Won’t they eat the flesh of the Men they killed?” Velvet asked. Fear began to creep into her voice and raise it in pitch.
“No, the wolves won’t eat the Men’s flesh. They’ll eat whatever animals the Men have…domesticated…but they won’t eat the corpses in the streets. Several of the members of the Wolf Clan were having trouble even tearing the Men down with their teeth and jaws. They complained of the taste and how it was poisoning them, turning them into ‘dogs’.”
Skulk huffed a protest but said nothing more. He stood up and stretched. Jane followed him, the girl coming over and laying a hand on Redear’s shoulder. He flinched from the touch, dancing to the side and turning to face her. Silently, she stared at him, the tears still standing on her cheeks, her eyes still red from crying, but the weight of her emotions and her gaze captured him and held him. He returned her stare, calming himself slowly. His tail stopped flicking back and forth and he stamped his foreleg once and then fell motionless. Fatigue washed over him again. Slowly, Jane reached out a hand to touch his shoulder, and this time Redear did not shy away from her touch. He snorted once and looked at Velvet.
“We need to leave,” he said, calmly. He looked at Jane. “Unless you want to stay and wait for the other Men to arrive at this village. They could take you someplace safer, away from here, away from the madness that my father has joined, away from the madness of the Boar Clan.”
“No,” she said calmly, patting Redear on the shoulder and stroking his coarse fur, “the fires will attract soldiers. They’ll come and see the massacre below us and they’ll fly into a rage. If the northerners come first, they’ll want to kill anything they can find. If the southerners come first, they’ll burn what remains of the city to the ground and search for survivors afterward. If they find me, they’ll take me as their own. They’ll force themselves on me. They’ll make me do things to them for pleasure and celebration and fun.” She shuddered. “I’ll be safer with you, even with the Wolf Clans hunting us, or the Lion or Leopard Clans.”
“Are you sure? You don’t want to be with your own kind?” Redear seemed confused.
“I know you don’t understand, Redear of the Red Deer Tribe of the Elk Clan,” she said, using his full name for the first time. Patting him softly again, she repeated, “Redear of Redear’s herd of the Red Deer Tribe of the Elk Clan.” Smiling at him, Redear suddenly felt embarrassed. He had never seen her smile before, and it took him aback for a moment.
Skulk slipped away into the underbrush. Redear paid him little mind while he struggled to find the words to say back to Jane. He opened his mouth several times only to close it again. Looking to Velvet for support or assistance, she only stared back at him, bowing her head as if to urge him on.
“Thank you, Jane,” he said, unable to put any of the emotions that clogged his mind into any better words. “Travel with me, and I will protect you, as if you were one of my herd. You are one of my herd.” He said the last more to remind himself than to reassure her.
“Someone comes,” Skulk said, emerging from the underbrush quickly. He bounded into the scene, looking up at Redear first but then turning to Jane. “Hide. You do not want to be seen.”
“None of us want to be seen,” Redear said. Velvet crouched down beside Jane as the girl ducked as quietly as she could behind the fallen tree. Skulk went to her side, panting as he wrapped his tail around his feet. Redear moved behind a handful of saplings, hoping that their broad, green leaves would hide him in the murk of the forest.
“Skulk,” he asked quietly. The little fox whirled and wordless yapped before turning back beside Jane. The girl climbed up onto her knees and peered over the edge of the moss-covered tree trunk. Skulk raised up on his hind legs, leaning his forepaws against the tree and staring out at the edge of the forest. Redear looked in the same direction but saw nothing but shadows leaping at the edge of the forest. Then suddenly he heard a handful of horses moving along the forest’s edge.
The Men moved slowly along the forest’s edge. The two in the front each held torches, and the flames flickered high as the Men held the fiery brands aloft. The final Man also carried a torch, but he did not hold the torch as high. He carried a crossbow, the bow pulled back with an arrow readied. Redear’s hackles rose as he saw the fiery light illume the edges of the deadly barbed arrowhead. He stood very still while he watched the horses creep past, especially keeping an eye on the last Man. The others carried long spears, but the two men in the middle also had bows strung but with no arrows set to the strings. Redear cared little for them, focusing more on the Man with the crossbow, knowing that one shot from that weapon would fell him. He would be dead before his body hit the forest floor.
“Get down,” Skulk whispered quietly to Jane, his voice pitched so that only she would be able to hear it. Redear’s ears rotated to pick up the noise involuntarily, and he watched as the girl slipped slowly more behind the fallen tree more fully. She looked rather like a person slipping beneath the surface of the water, and as she crouched to the ground fully, she crushed the dry leaves beneath her. Two of the Men stopped, the Man at the end raising his crossbow. Redear’s legs tensed, ready to burst from the scene, to flee or attack, whichever the situation needed. The other men stopped, as well, and they all turned their horses to stare into the shadowy gloom held beneath the forest canopy.
Skulk was quicker, though. He clawed his way onto the fallen tree and paraded up and down its length several times, swishing his tail as he did so. Finally, he came to the end and offered a couple of wordless barks and then bounded down onto the forest floor, crushing leaves and twigs as he landed. He then scurried around to the front of the fallen tree and pushed through the underbrush, disappearing into the shadows.
“Just a fox,” one of the Men said. Redear tilted his ears forward to listen to their words. “The horses probably scared ’im. Anyways, he’s gone now.”
“If there’s a fox, then there’s no one in the woods up here,” one of the other Men offered. “Looks like no survivors made it up the hill and into the safety of the forest.”
“Then why didn’t we see any bodies on the hill leading up here?” the Man with the crossbow said. He hefted the weapon, and Redear tensed again. “They can’t have all run into the lake. It’s dark on the water, and you can’t drown in the forest.”
“Maybe they fled down the lakeshore,” the first Man responded. “Either way, we won’t find anyone until morning comes. We should go down and get some rest and start sorting out the bodies from that town.” “And make sure none o’ them damned Nicorians come back tonight,” the Man with the crossbow said. The others seemed to ignore him, but he continued to stare into the forest as the others turned and began riding down the hill. He stared a while longer, holding the torch up higher to try and push the forest’s gloom further back from him. After a few long, tense moments, he gave up and turned to join his fellows. Redear made sure the light of the torch had disappeared below the edge of the hill before he finally stepped out from his hiding place.
“We need to leave tonight,” he announced as Velvet and Jane both unfolded themselves from behind the fallen timber. “Where is Skulk?” he asked, calling the question into the dark.
“Skulk is here!” the fox announced, leaping gracefully onto the trunk of the fallen tree. He swished his tail dramatically and held his head high. “After I fooled the Men, I came back quietly, wanting to hear what they had to say.” He laughed again, the mirth clearly reflected in his eyes.
“Well done, Skulk,” Velvet said, laughing at the little beast. Her laughter encouraged him, and he marched up and down the tree trunk again, holding his head high and sweeping his tail back and forth proudly.
“Yes, well done, Skulk,” Redear said. “Now, we need to make preparations for leaving.” He looked up at the sky, but the intertwined branches and leaves hid the majority of the sky from him. Somewhere, above the canopy, the moon crept silently across the sky. Without it, he could not tell how long it was until dawn. He wanted to be far from the destroyed village by the time the sun came over the eastern part of the world.
“Where will we go?” Velvet asked. “The Men are already here. And they’re armored and armed.” She turned to Jane. “Do you know where they are from?”
“They’re northerners,” the girl said. “They’re out looking for the southerners, which means there is an army nearby. At least one, maybe more.” She looked up at the edge of the forest. “They probably came down the lakeshore, so they are north of us.”
“That makes sense, since the clans moved to the east. Even if they came from the south, they would not have seen the clans as they departed,” Redear said.
“They came from the north,” Skulk added. “There were many of them gathered around the burning village. Some Men on horses rode the lakeshore south, and then those came up here to look along the forest’s edge.”
“Then we’ll strike south, staying near the forest’s edge,” Redear announced. “Jane can’t be seen, so we’ll move beneath the forest’s cover. We’ll move south until we can cut down to the water’s edge and follow it around to the south end of the lake and then come around and follow the western bank as we move back north.” The others watched him, listening to his words and nodding quietly. For a second, he was stricken dumb at the notion that they would follow him, would obey his commands like this.
“Hopefully as we move south, we won’t come across any…” his voice trailed off as he looked to Jane for help.
“Yes…Ni…Nicorians,” Redear echoed her. “When we get to the western side of the lake, we can follow the lake back north, or if we need to, we can strike over the meadows toward the mountains. Either way, we’ll be going north.” Redear paused again and looked at Jane.
“We’ll find a settlement or another village, where you can get warmer clothing,” Redear stated, “even if you have to steal it and we run.”
“Skulk is an excellent thief,” the little fox barked proudly. Again, he stood with his head high and his tail swishing back and forth.
“Whatever it takes,” Redear said again. “You’ll need something for your feet, as well. There might be snow on the northern marches already.”
“Snow!” Velvet and Skulk said at the same time. “Skulk hates snow!” the little fox added.
“It doesn’t matter,” Redear said. “We need to go there.”
“What is that far north?” Jane asked. “What do we need up there?”
“We need the only person who can stop this war,” Redear announced. “We need the Mother Goddess.”

One, Two, Three, Six and EIGHT

I don't have much to write. For, you see, I've been dedicating all of my post-Monk and Psych time to writing. I am going to finish this chapter tonight before I go to bed, I declared to myself. For the most part, aside from listening to a couple of Kevin Smith interviews, I've stayed on track. No butterflies to drag me away. Or flashing lights. Or whatever it is that distracts me.

And, I did just that. I finished chapter eight. I...sort of...restarted chapter seven...again. I did the "start with the back end and move on to the front later" method I had kicked around earlier. So far, I'm happy with it. So far, it's only 2 pages. However, it's more than what WAS there, so that's progress. And everyone likes progress. And I really like Luca Sunderman. I'm so glad I took a vested interest in the World Cup final (not only because it won me money) so that I could swipe that name "Luca".

However, it's nearing 1:00 in the morning, and Sleepy Karl is chewing at my consciousness. Damn him. So, I'll cut to the chase. Here's the updates:

Word count: 34962 (yes, it's way behind what I envisioned by this point)
Page count: 115

As for the treat I promised earlier in the week...the week's not over. It'll be here tomorrow night. I promise. I've just been busy trying to clean the house this past few days. And exhausted in the evenings, for whatever reason. Again, blame it on Sleepy Karl. Or the fact that it's too effing hot to breathe. Whichever.

Word-a-day for July 18th, 2006

July 18, 2006

I actually got this in my in-box this morning. I was amused. And then pissed when the better definitions were glaringly absent. So, I amended it.

WORD: skulk SKUHLK (verb) : To hide, or get out of the way, in a sneaking manner; to lie close, or to move in a furtive way 2) A group of foxes 3) A kickass character known as a young fox who helps Redear and Jane end the Boar War
SYNONYMS: * lurk * slink * lie low
WORD WISE: Skulk is from Middle English skulken, ultimately of Scandinavian origin. QUOTE: He was forced to creep and skulk into every place for fear of being taken and hanged. --Anthony Wood, Athenae Oxoniensus

There. That's a little better.


July 16, 2006

Sorry about the last post. I was playing around with the variables of font and size and all that. Whee. I know. But I'm OCD enough that that matters.

Well, to keep myself out of the basement and unchained from a word processor and a bucket (call of nature and all), I thought I'd provide a couple of things, like word counts and page counts and all that hoo-ha.

So, chapter eight is almost all done. Skulk is a trooper. He's still my favorite, as I said earlier, and he's really fun to write. I like it how sometimes he just goes off and refers to himself in the third person or stands around talking to himself. I would stay up to finish the chapter, but I've got to go grocery shopping in the morning and take the kids to a baseball game tomorrow night. So, Sleepy Karl you cheeky bastard, you win again!

Word Count: 33223
Page Count: 110

My main problem is, I don't like how chapter seven starts. I write two or three pages there, and then I delete them. That's the most frustrating. I know EXACTLY how I want to write the back end of the chapter, but I can't get there from anywhere. Maybe I should just write the butt end and go back and stare at the screen until something pulls at my fancy. I think that might be worth a shot tomorrow.

Also, I'm not planning on it (so don't think I'm abandoning anything) BUT, I do have a story that could be a follow up for "The Boar War" if it does well. I settled on a title, too: "A Crown of Feathers". It would still deal with Jane and Michael and Skulk (and I'm sure Redear would be involved, though I know what happens to him at the end of the Boar War, so he might not be available for duty...we'll leave it at that).

I have several beers I need to add to my list, as well. The trip to Indiana was a roaring success beer-wise. I found one brewed in Kentucky. It was called "Horse Piss Beer". A little tongue-in-cheek, probably...but also a little true. It was a typical American lager, nothing special. Plenty of adjuncts. Whee! But, did have some good stuff from the Nine G brewery in South Bend. Keep up the good work, fellaz. A better account when I get all that stuff sorted and filed away. I promise. I might be up to 350 or greater. 400 by year's end? Perhaps...

And, yes, I'll have more writing to report upon. And even a treat this week. I promise.

Where have you gone, Joe Dimaggio?

July 15, 2006

Okay, so I'm not the Yankee Clipper. However, I have been noticeably absent for a while. Except for my bragging about winning the office pool and my new fascination with the Italian Football team. Did I mention I won the office pool? Yeah, it was pretty sweet. I'm a winner.

So, I did mention that I was going to be gone on a "vacation" for a couple of weeks. It was more like a week and a half. I didn't actually get anything scribbled down on paper to come back and write in text form, but I did get a number of ideas resolved and fixed and everything. In fact, one of the major boons was that I settled on names for the eight dukes of the northern kingdom (which is currently named Melaris, but I'm not sure. It's supposed to have bees on its flag. I'm not sure yet, though.) Anyway, the dukes are: Barrabosh, Ciavola, Crockett, Houghton, Mendenhall, Sunderman, Wimmer and Worster. Those who know me well (or REALLY well, probably) will recognize from where these names originated (hint: Beloved). Ciavola and Sunderman are the main dukes that we will be dealing with from now on, but they're all important.

I've also had troubles getting the story going. It seems that a few days off killed my writing momentum. I'm just now getting settled back into a daily schedule as well as adjusting to this new diet I've put myself on. I have, however, finally started tip-typing on the keyboard. There's not much to report. I've been working mostly on chapters seven and eight (hence the need for the Dukes). I've decided I'm pretty happy with where Redear's character is going. He's slowly becoming more and more a "man". Jane remains...well...a scared little girl. Skulk still remains my favorite character. Also, I was so impressed with Luca Toni's effort in the World Cup final that I named a character "Luca". I like him a lot, too. Luca Sunderman, though Luca Toni seems nice enough, too (at least he kept his pants on during the post-World Cup victory celebration).

I don't have a word count, mostly because I'm lazy. It's around 33,000 and around 110 pages. I'll be more accurate later.

For now, I have to figure out what to do for dinner.

Bella Italia!!!

July 6, 2006

I watch and watch and watch college basketball for four months. I watch such games at ODU vs. VCU. I watch Championship Week and Pre-Championship week and Bracket Busters and everything else faithfully. More faithfully than I watch my favorite shows (though, I am pretty good about catching up with Mike Rowe's latest trip through disgustingness on Dirty Jobs), I might add. I consider myself to be somewhat of a knowledgable person about college basketball.

This year, in the office pool, I got no teams in the final four and finished in the bottom ten of the entire thing.

I'm marginally familiar with World Cup soccer (I do love to watch and root for the underdogs, just like in any sport). I know the strategies, the rules, the appeal of the sport. It's great. I love soccer (or football, just so I don't upset anyone). However, I'm far from an expert in the field (I do know which teams have actually won the cup...but not when all their championships were). I know a lot of the names (moreso for the American team) but, I wouldn't say that if Michael Owen walked up to me on the street and asked for a fag if I would know him. Until three days ago, I didn't even know that South Africa was hosting the next cup. I'm not a soccer fanatic, but it's fun and I do get emotionally invested in these games (though I refuse to feel shame for the American team's poor showing this time 'round. They still made it. Where was Canada's team? Or Belgium's? Huh? Right. In Canada and Belgium, that's where).

This, of course, means that I have won the office pool for the world cup. In fact, I've got such a commanding lead on the next guy that, even if my team (Italy) loses, I still win.

Now, normally, I root for the U.S. And after the U.S., I root for the British teams. I always pull for England (I pull for us over England, thankyouverymuch) and if Scotland and/or Ireland manage to make it in (a la 1994) then I pull for them. I also pull for Spain because they always seem to get shafted in some way. Come Sunday, though, I'll be pulling for good ole Italia. That's right. Those dark-skinned, dark-haired angels of beauty have raked me in somwhere around $200. I've declared a moratorium on Italian jokes, the words "whop" and "daygo". I'll even drink a glass of chianti (but hold the fava beans, please) if they so desire me to. For you see, I'm easy. Give me $200 and I'll root for your team (this includes you, Jim Hendry). And yes, I do realize I won the office pool because les francais upset Brasilia, thus knocking out most of the competition.

Maybe I should use that money to buy Bruce Arena a clue as to how to play defense against the Czechs...