Omir the Storyteller

Stories. Music. Politics. Technology. Baseball. Friends. Family. Potrzebie.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Going to the theatre


In a rare fit of stepping away from the keyboard, I'm going to two plays and a movie in the next two days. Tonight we're going to go see Miss Saigon at the Fifth Avenue, then tomorrow afternoon my wife and I have a date to go see a play called Beau Jest. I've seen it already but she was sick when we were supposed to go the first time, so I'm going again. And finally, tomorrow night we're going to go see Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

I suppose buying a wireless PDA so I can blog during the performances would sort of be missing the point, wouldn't it?

Thursday, April 28, 2005



The Mariners redeemed themselves tonight with a 4-1 victory over the Rangers. This puts them back at .500 (11-11). Ichiro hit a home run.

Notably, this was the first series win for them that wasn't the sweep in Kansas City. It also breaks the string of series with only one win each (broken up, again, with the sweep over the Royals).

Early Musical Memories


A post on the C&J Cafe mailing list spurred this memory

One of my earliest distinct memories is from about 1958 or 1959, of a black Bakelite record player my mother must have had when she got married. It was the kind that only played 45 RPM records; if you're young enough you may not remember them, but they were about 7" in diameter with a one-inch or so hole in the middle. They were also called "singles" because they only contained one song. (I recently discovered that Verbatim makes CDs that look like miniature 45 RPM records and bought a pack of 50 just to encourage them. But I digress.)

The record player lived on a shelf in a closet in my parents' bedroom. A small stack of singles sat next to it. Once in a while we'd get to play them. The records I remember from that stack fell into two categories. The first was records obviously bought for my sisters and me. Sleeping Beauty and Peter Pan and the like. The second set consisted of novelty records. Spike Jones sending up "I Went To Your Wedding." "The Love Bug Will Get You" by Harry Stewart, who recorded it in a terrible caricatured Japanese accent as "Harry Kari and his Seven Saki Sippers." (Stewart had greater fame with a different dialect, as Swede Yogi Yorgesson.) Homer and Jethro parodying Patti Page's "How Much Is That Hound Dog In The Window." I still remember the lyrics:

How much is that hound dawg in the winder?
The one with the sad achin' heart
For he looks so much like mah girl friend
I cain't hardly tell them apart.

From there it was just a short step to Allen Sherman, which of course led to Tom Lehrer and Weird Al and you know what that leads to. So along with Mad Magazine, you can blame my mother. And Spike Jones.



I was rather surprised to see this note from Eduardo Haskell in my mailbox this morning:

potrzebie! Potrzebie?? How the heck did you....? Sigh.

Here's my entry on your blog....

OMIR, how did you happen upon this term? I have to know. You see, one of my best friends ever on these internets called himself potrzebie. We all called him "Potz" for short. When I saw this label on this entry my heart skipped. Tony "Potz" "potrzebie" Granatowski died last year at age 50. I miss him still.

I wrote the "internets" eulogy for him in the link above when I learned in September of his death earlier last year. Even now, I can't hear his name, potrzebie, without tearing up.
Eduardo, I hope I can be forgiven for making you tear up, and that the tears are happy memory tears. As for the term "potrzebie," well, as often happens I'm going to take the long way around the barn to describe it.

Back in the late 1940s a young man named William Gaines, fresh out of the Army and without a lot of ambition, inherited his father's publishing company. Gaines senior owned a printing press that originally printed color funnies for the New York newspapers, but sat idle the rest of the week. He put the idle press to work during the week by collating some of those funnies into booklet form, thereby pioneering the comic book industry.

Bill Gaines started looking for other outlets for his comic books. Noting the popularity of horror movies, he started publishing comics with lurid titles like Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror (and even more lurid covers and artwork). Carnacki probably still has copies stashed under his bed. Gaines published several lines of titles, but the horror titles were his best-sellers. These comics caught on like mad, and made Gaines a lot of money.

It also made him a lot of notoriety. In particular a psychologist named Frederic Wertham published a book titled Seduction of the Innocent which portrayed these horror comic books as a primary cause of juvenile delinquency. Congressional hearings were held, censoring bodies were formed, and Gaines' comics began to be returned in bulk by distributors, even when he caved in to pressure to clean the comics up.

All except one.

Remember the "other lines?" One of those lines had only one title in it, but it was a dandy. Tales Calculated To Drive You Mad was a parody of other comic books, late-night talk shows, television, itself and anything else it could get its hands on. It survived the comics purge primarily by changing to a "slick" magazine that used a different set of distributors (and reached a different and wider audience), and which not incidentally meant it didn't have to answer to the Comics Code Authority. It continues to this day as Mad Magazine.

During its days as a comic book it was loaded with sight gags and puns, and panels were crammed with jokes. One recurring theme was the dropping of odd words into the text. For instance, a sign might proclaim "Veeblefetzer" for no apparent reason, or a list of items might include something like "tea cakes, coffee cakes, oat cakes, babycakes, urinal cakes and potrzebie." (I just made that up; you'd never find a word like "urinal" in Mad in those days.) The word stuck with me, and when I needed a word in my categorization scheme to mean "stuff that doesn't fit neatly into any other category, or is about the site, or doesn't make any sense, or whatever I feel like having it mean today," naturally I turned to "potrzebie" to fill that role. And now it comes full circle with the revelation that it reminds Eduardo of his friend. Rest in peace, Potz. If you were a friend of Eddie's you're a friend of mine.

I have to say that you can blame Mad, among many other contributing factors, for the mess that is Omir today. I loved the magazine when I was a kid in the sixties, and when I was a young adult out on my own and making a munificent $2.10 an hour washing dishes at a hospital in 1975, I spent far too much money tracking down used copies of paperback collections of articles from Mad at a quarter a pop. They met their demise about a decade later when my sons discovered them and literally read them to death. I was unhappy at the time, but looking back now I can see that was the only fitting and proper way for them to die.

And as a final odd comment to this already-lengthy entry, I always just assumed someone had made up the word and it didn't mean anything. But in researching the word I found that, yes, amazingly, it actually has several meanings in the real and semi-real worlds. According to Wikipedia, Mad writer Harvey Kurtzman discovered the word in the Polish section of the instructions accompanying a bottle of aspirin. In Polish it means "as needed" (as in "take this as needed") and is pronounced "po-CHEB-yeh," not "pot-ruh-ZEE-bee" as I'd always assumed. And in 1957, Donald Knuth (who would later become legitimately famous as the author of the series The Art of Computer Programming) created the Potrzebie system of measurement, based on the thickness of a particular issue of Mad. Who woulda thunk it?

Oh, have I got a story


Last night when I couldn't sleep I put up that post about the Mariners. Then, just as I'd shut off the monitor and was halfway up the stairs on my way to bed, I thought of a story, and had to stay awake even longer to flesh it out. But it's a good story. A very good story.

You're going to have to wait until Sunday to find out just how good. Here's a teaser, though: It takes place in the Land of the Idiot King.

Feast Or Famine


I tell you, it's not easy being a Mariner fan. Yesterday they thump the Rangers 7-4 despite giving up four solo home runs. Today Ryan Franklin gives up five runs in the first on the way to an 8-2 drubbing, and they don't even score until the ninth. It's bad enough that Franklin doesn't get any run support, but he doesn't seem to be helping his cause much.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

What's In A Name?


Flash back to 1997 or so. I forget exactly when it happened, though I could probably figure it out if I cared to. I had just discovered Slashdot, Rob Malda's Mecca for all things geeky. It was a great place. Still is. I don't hang out there much anymore, but that's because I'm doing other things. This blog, for instance.


Anyway there I was, a freshly minted Linux nerd working as a Microsoft contractor and wanting to get in on the action. Slashdot had two options for posting comments. You could post as "Anonymous Coward," lumping you in with all the other people who for whatever reason didn't want to post as a registered user, or you could register and get all the benefits of being a registered user. Like, um, the ability to have a signature. And a user number. Stuff like that. Whee.

So, I decided to create an account, but then I ended up with the same quandry I always end up in when I want to create an account. What account name should I choose? My first online account was the poetic, insightful and entirely descriptive "70635,302" on Compuserve back in the days when it was king of the ring, before AOL bought them out. Successively I had handles like Fearless Leader and Rockefeller, but I wanted something different for Slashdot.

The spy theme of "Fearless Leader" appealed to me, but for some reason I decided not to use it. At the time I thought it would be cool to have a name that suggested intrigue. Suspense. A man on the inside. Spy thrillers sometimes had characters with descriptions like "our man in Havana," so I thought maybe having a Slashdot spy on the inside of Microsoft would be funny. Thus was born Our Man In Redmond, user number 63094. (To put that into perspective, new users on Slashdot are currently up in the 800,000 range.)

When I started up at Daily Kos last year I decided to go with Our Man In Redmond as a handle, and at least one user made the connection between the two. Still, as I started getting more into telling stories as a framing device, I decided a new user name was in order. Omir sounds a bit mysterious, and "Omir the Storyteller" sounds like someone who might go from village to village, spreading stories as he goes. Maybe I'll write a story about that sometime.

I hasten to add that though there is an organization called the Organization of Mujihadeen of the Islamic Revolution, I have no connection with them and in fact didn't even know about them until I chose the name. Nor do I have any connection to Omir Santos, a catcher in the New York Yankees organization.

About The Hummingbird and the Elephant


The Hummingbird and the Elephant was the first story I ever did for Daily Kos. The original is now buried deep in the depths of the Daily Kos archives, but if you want to see it for some reason, you can go to the Diaries page and search for "The Hummingbird and the Elephant." It'll take a while to come up.

Earene over at KSER tells this story every few weeks at the end of Global Griot. She tells it that she's driving through Everett to get to the studio when suddenly she sees an elephant right there in the middle of town. She drives a big gray van which if you aren't really paying attention might sort of look like an elephant, so she figures she can get up close and be camouflaged . . . and on the story goes.

When I first posted this it was two weeks before the 2004 Presidential election. The point at that time was to encourage people to get out and work to get His Nibs out of office, not to sit back and gripe because things looked like they were going so badly or sit back and relax because things looked like they were going so well. Well, we all know how well that turned out . . . but still, the effort was worth it. Hopefully it will turn out to have been a good dry run for the 2006 and 2008 elections.

Note: This story has been edited slightly from the version published on Daily Kos.

The Hummingbird And The Elephant

Once upon a time on a beautiful summer day, Elephant was walking down the road, humming to himself, looking around at the trees and clouds and taking in the scent of the beautiful summer flowers. Suddenly he stopped short, because there, flat on her back in the middle of the road in front of him with her feet in the air, was his friend Hummingbird. He could see her tiny breast moving up and down, so he knew she was breathing, but for the life of him he couldn't figure out what she was doing, laying there in the middle of the road.

As he approached to get a closer look, Hummingbird opened her eyes and looked up at her friend. "Hello, Elephant," she said.

"Hello, Hummingbird," Elephant replied. "What'cha doing?"

"Oh," said Hummingbird. "I heard that the sky was going to fall, so I decided I'd better get down here and put my feet up in the air so I'll be ready to hold it up when it falls."

Elephant thought this over for a minute. Then he began to smile. The smile turned into a giggle, and the giggle turned into a laugh. A big, bellowing laugh as only Elephant can laugh. "Oh, Hummingbird," he said when he was done laughing, "You have to be the tiniest bird I know. And the sky is so big! It stretches from horizon to horizon in every direction. How in the world are you going to hold up the sky?"

Hummingbird looked up at her friend. "I didn't say I was going to do it all by myself," she said. "But I'm ready to do my part."

The Rats May Be Running The Lab


Did you ever feel like the universe was some sort of science experiment gone awry, and here we are left to sort it out as best we can?

No? Well, me either, really, but it makes a good hook for an experiment of a different kind.

Let me just start out by saying that I am terrible with diaries. Projects in general, actually, but I've never been able to keep a diary of any kind. And what is a blog but an extended diary? But of late I've been publishing stories over on Daily Kos and Booman Tribune every week, and decided to give blogging a try. I may give up next week. I may keep going for three or four years. Who knows? It's an experiment.

Welcome, then, to my online living room. Also my study, my dormitory, my cafeteria, my dance hall and bowling alley. Let's get started.