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What's My Motivation?

Posted 4 September 2005, 12.20 pm by Alexander

First off, let’s start with a warning. If you’re the type of person who sneers derisively when someone mentions art, or thinks calling yourself an artist is “pretentious”, you might want to turn the page, because I’m going to talk about the role of the musician and why it’s so important that the people we allow on our stages have at least a transitory grasp of how special they are.

Music transcends language, culture, geography and any of the other barricades humanity has erected between itself, making it perhaps the most powerful tool for communication we have. Music is an art form, nobody would argue that. So doesn’t that make musicians artists? I reckon so. Just as DuChamp’s urinal is – arguably - as artistically valid as Picasso’s Guernica, it makes no difference if you’re peddling three-chord punk nonsense, bewilderingly self-indulgent math-rock or oh-so-earnest singer songwriter mewling, you’re communicating with your audience and essentially creating art. This puts you in a very privileged position. You’re on stage in front of a mic, guitar in your hands, you open your mouth, raise your plectrum, then…?

This moment is the sum total of all the decisions you’ve made to get there. All the rehearsals, band meetings, drunken ramblings, trips to Top Man – this is the point at which you say to your audience “this is what I have to say, this is what I am and this is how I have chosen to use my art”. You’re making a million subconscious statements just by the way you walk on stage.

This is why music – and live music in particular – is so utterly fantastic. It’s this wall of decisions hitting you, the band image, amp settings, gauge of guitar string – none of this is really accidental, if you think about it. A band is nothing more than the sum of its parts, and one of the best things about seeing a band for the first time is waiting for that first note to be struck.

The back of my band’s T-Shirts read “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom”, which is a quote from Soren Kierkegaard, a 19th century Dutch philosopher. In a nutshell, this means we have so many choices, so much freedom to do or say or sing about whatever we like, that this in itself causes us stress. This could be why bandwagon-jumping is such an ingrained practice – by following in someone else’s footsteps you’re reducing the number of choices you have to make, but as artists we should revel in this anxiety.

We should use this wealth of options to its fullest extent because the only limits are those which we ascribe to ourselves. This charged battery of potential is something incredibly special, and if you’re in the singular position of standing in front of a roomful of people, at least some of whom are paying attention, you’d better not waste it.
If you’re making music, you’re an artist and don’t forget it. Have fun for christs sake, above all have fun, but treat your art with the gravitas it deserves and it will thank you for it.

Web Standards

Posted 29 August 2005, 7.26 pm by HockeyGod

Welcome to our website; unless of course you’re blind, dyslexic, using a screen reader, magnification software, text-based browser, webTV, cell phone, or PDA, running Linux, Unix, BEos, Solaris, OS2 or FreeBSD, or haven’t updated your browser in the last year or so. You’re not important to us.


Is that a message you’d proudly display on your company homepage? The truth is, if you’re not using web standards, this is what you’re saying to roughly 20% of internet users.

I know you’re probably asking “what are web standards?” Well, web standards are nothing more than recommendations put forth by the w3c in an attempt to standardize the web. Standards are “best practices” for coding to ensure usability by all modern web browsers, and guarantee forward compatibility.

Often times, converting to standards compliant code requires nothing more than using CSS instead of font tags, writing properly nested HTML, and not using any browser-specific code (like < blink > or .innerHTML).

And the good news is, the w3c offers a code validator at http://validator.w3.org

Still need a reason to write standards compliant code? Lets look at some statistics.

As of June 2005 , only 72% of internet users were browsing with a current version of Microsoft Internet Explorer.

Also as of June, there were 203,000,000 internet users in America. Is your IE only website is saying “I don’t want your business” to more than 54 million Americans?

Do you use IE only JavaScript or browser detection in your site, have a flash based intro page, use a popup for content, or font tags? Is your site done in FrontPage? Do you use inline frames?

If so, you’re not only refusing visitors but you’re wasting money too.

By using web standards, the typical FrontPage website can be reduced from 60k to 20k, thus only using 1/3 of your bandwidth.

Simply removing the depreciated font and center tags and switching to an external CSS file can reduce a 30k website down to 15 or 20k. Not only will this drastically increase your website’s speed, but it’ll also save you money on hosting and make your pages more attractive to search engines.

Using ECMAscript instead of the browser specific JavaScript or Jscript will not only assure your code will work in all future browsers, but it will stop you from paying developers to code IE and Netscape specific versions of your website.

What’s that, you haven’t heard of ECMAscript? Chances are your web developer hasn’t either. ECMAscript is the cross browser standard version of JavaScript; it’s been around since 1988.

You don’t see gas stations that only sell gas for Toyotas, so why do we design websites that only work in Internet Explorer?

Much of the problem stems from the fact that we tend to view the web as print. It’s not. Different users will see different things, let them; just make sure your site works in all browsers. I’ve seen a lot of pretty websites in IE that just don’t work at all in Firefox or Lynx.

Are aesthetics so important that they’re worth alienating 20% of your potential customers?

Ignore the Machine

Posted 26 August 2005, 6.46 am by Alexander

Ignore the machine. By which I mean, the “music business” – a phrase that should reflect the business of making music but instead just means the process of selling it. If you’ve been a musician for more than about a week you’ll have come to realize you’ve more chance of winning the lottery, or actually using a Dixon’s extended warranty, than getting that elusive record deal you always dreamt of.

So what’s wrong with chasing the dream? Nothing at all, but it’s my experience that in the process of chasing this dream you lose sight of why you started making music in the first place – what was once a fun thing to do now becomes a desperate quest to fit into whatever you perceive the record companies want.

You must understand that record companies do not respond to demand – they create it. They “discover” or just plain create the bands they want to sell (hello The Bravery), mould them to fit a demographic, throw a huge marketing budget at them and sit back to watch the general public lap it up. This is one of the reasons why we have so many “music as fashion accessory” bands (The Libertines for example) where the actual songs they’re singing are irrelevant – the record companies tell the magazines who’s hot, they tell you and you buy it. Rinse and repeat.

So what’s the solution? The solution is to IGNORE THE MACHINE. If you’re in a band, before you post that demo CD to Sony ask yourself – what can a record company offer you? Remember the only reason a record company will put you on tour, in magazines, on TV or in videos is to sell more records, for themselves. They’re not in the slightest bit interested in your ego, your art, what your songs mean to you or how hard it was to get there. Instead, why not burn CD-Rs for pence, have the sleeves printed yourselves, put them up for sale on your website, some of the countless online stores or independent record shops (Track Records in York is a good example) and take every penny of profit for yourselves. Organise gig swaps with bands from other towns – promote yourselves, be professional, leave your ego on the stage and you’ve got a lot more chance of not only being a success, but enjoying yourself in the process and retaining some dignity.

I’m convinced that if more bands did what they wanted, rather than what they think record companies want, the world would be a lot better off. If you’re a musician, if you write music that you believe in, you owe it to yourself and to your audience to be honest. If you’re trying to sound like the latest trend you’re already about a year too late, because the industry is way ahead of you. Enjoy the freedom of not having to answer to anyone – take risks, do what you fucking well like and if you fail, if you don’t sell a single CD, at least you did it your way.

AKP REQUIRE DRUMMER

Posted 18 August 2005, 11.45 am by Alexander

AKP are one of the longest-running, most established bands in York, UK. I formed the band originally in 1999. I'm sad to say current drummer Dan is moving on to pastures new (France to be precise) so we need a new drummer asap.

Anyone who's seen us knows that we currently use an electric kit, but an acoustic kit will be just fine. You must have:

* Skill
* Commitment
* Own gear and transport.

We rehearse in York regularly, we gig all over the northeast a lot. This is a great opportunity to join a well-established, innovative band that just basically kicks a lot of ass. Lots of scope to be inventive, and just rock out. We work very hard.

Dan is playing all the booked gigs with us, filming a video and completing work on the album up until about the end of October, by which time I'm hoping to have the new drummer trained up and gig-ready so we don't have any break between line-ups.

Any questions please get in touch with me (Alexander) at weareexit@yahoo.co.uk.

Official site: www.akp.org.uk
Myspace: http://www.myspace.com/akpcep

We Have A 'Bat' Situation - Part III

Posted 8 August 2005, 12.42 pm by VanGogh

Note: This is the third installment of a three part story. If you haven't already, you should really read Part I & Part II first.

I decided not to ask. Instead, I raised my broom and walked to the closet/hallway door, pulling it open. That is when I learned something new about the closet/hallway. It has no light. Indeed, the only light in that whole area is in the bathroom, and to get to the switch, you have to walk through the closet, and halfway into the bathroom.

I slammed the door closed again.

"Did you see it," asked Todd.

"Nope, didn't see it. Didn't see anything. Why in the hell isn't there a light in your closet?"

"Because the light from the bathroom is plenty."

I resisted the urge to test out my broom on his forehead. "We need a flashlight."

"Alright, be right back."

He dashed out of the room and down the stairs. I stood still, listening for bat noises and just generally missing the hell out of my bed. Todd appeared again. He had a flashlight, a large board, and a grin.

"What are you grinning about?"

"I'm not sure, but I think your sister called your mom."

"At fucking 2:00 AM? Is she insane?" I shook my head and walked to out to the head of the stairs. I shouted down, "Shannon, you DID NOT just call and wake up our parents at two in the morning!"

A whispery voice floated up, "Mom, he's yelling at me."

I dropped my head and walked back into the room. "Yeah, she called them. I'm sure Dad is thrilled. And she's talking to our Mom. Our Mom! This is the woman who climbed up on top of the washing machine screaming for dad when there was a mouse in the house. What brave strategy do you think she has to offer on winged messengers of death?"

Todd just grinned, "She's your sister."

"Yeah, but you married her."

He silently conceded the point, then turned back to the closet and said, "Well, I guess we need to go get this bat."

I raised a hopeful eyebrow. "We?"

He handed me the flashlight. "By 'we' I mean you. Go get him tiger!"

Hopes dashed, I flipped him the bird and walked back to the closet door. Broom in one hand, flashlight in the other, I reached for the door handle. Only then did I stop to wonder about the board he'd brought back. When I turned my head to ask him about it, I found him standing two steps behind me, crouched like a baseball batter, the board raised as if it were a bat. (Not the winged variety mind you.)

"What's that?"

"The keyboard tray off my desk."

Suddenly I had a mental image of me opening the closet door, the bat swooping out, and Todd taking his swing. I'd wake up in the Emergency Room asking, "Did we get him?"

I looked Todd in the eye and said, "I want to point something out to you. It is very important that you do not confuse the back of my head with the bat."

He nodded. "Good safety tip."

I wasn't entirely sure he was with me on that, never the less, I turned back around and opened the door again. Harkening back in my mind to every episode of 'Cops' that I have ever watched, I crouched low and attempted to clear the closet.

Only two steps in, I found myself in a dilemma. Due to the postage stamp size of the closet area, I could either have the flashlight up and look around, or the broom in front of me ready to strike, but not both at the same time. So, do I see it coming and take it like a man, or swing blindly?

Damn straight I swing blindly.

Then a third possibility presented itself and I seized upon it. I popped the flashlight into my mouth and clamped the handle between my teeth. Somewhere in the night, my dentist muttered in his sleep. Now I had both hands free to man the broom, and a light wherever I looked. I was handling this well.

That's when Todd slammed the closet door shut behind me, and I not only jumped and dropped the broom, but also managed to imprint my teeth into the flashlight handle.

I shouted out to him while I groped for the broom, "What in the FUCK are you doing?"

"Well, we don't want him getting out. Did you get him yet? What's taking so long?"

"I notice you get a lot braver when there's a door between you and Batzilla," I called out. Finally I found the damn broom, and readjusted the flashlight so it was illuminating something besides my left ear.

From the other side of the door I heard snickering. "What's taking so long. I mean it's just a bat."

"Care to come in here and show me how it's done?"

"No, no. Can't do it. If I get this bat for you, you'll never learn how to do it yourself."

He actually managed to sound like an authoritive father figure patiently explaining a simple lesson to a slow student. I just glared at the door.

Then I remembered the reason I was in this mini-prison, and looked around again. I was fairly sure that the bat wasn't in the closet. I based this conclusion on both my having not seen him, and the fact that nothing had swooped down and attempted to remove my eyeballs or spleen.

As I started forward towards the bathroom entrance, Todd's ever-helpful voice came floating through the door. "You know, it's more scared of you than you are of it. And bats don't TRY to hit you when they fly. That's a myth. They avoid you."

I called back, "Maybe on your side of the door that holds true, but over here on my side, the bat is out to get us and has no fear at all. In fact, I think it may know martial arts and be carrying a concealed firearm."

I could hear the stifled laughter. I made a mental note to kill him later.

I made my way to the doorway between the closet and the bathroom and looked around as best I could using the mouth-mounted flashlight. I would have turned on the bathroom light and just been done with it, but I had a strange aversion to being jumped by a bat whilst strolling halfway across a pitch-black bathroom.

The bat was still no where to be seen. Then I caught some sort of movement out of the corner of my eye. It might have just been the shadows jumping, but I could have swore I saw the shower curtain move. I leaned in and over, trying to see the other side of the curtain without actually stepping into the room. By this time, I was leaning so far forward that I looked like a guy walking in 100 mph winds.

I was inspecting the curtain for visitors when a voice spoke up inside my head. I knew this voice. It was the voice of my Father. It spoke in that same amused way that he always did when I did something overly idiotic and/or silly in front of him.

"Hey genius, look up."

So, ever so slowly, I craned around and looked directly above me. At the bat. The small, brown bat that was hanging upside down from the place where the wall and ceiling met, right above my head.

I smiled at the bat. The bat flipped me the bird. I slowly retracted my head and pulled back into the closet.

"Hey Todd, I found the bat."

"Did you get it?"

"Not exactly."

"Why not?"

"Well, he looks a bit pissed. I think he knows what I'm trying to do."

"What makes you say that?"

"He flipped me off."

"Ahh, well then. Yeah, he might know. But you can take him."

Thus encouraged, I leaned back in and looked old leather-wing in the eyes again. He opened his mouth and clicked at me. I don't think it was an invite for coffee. I raised my broom up and prepared to whap him a good one. And that's when the cruel hands of fate revealed another logistical problem. If I swatted the bat, he would fall. In my face.

I withdrew again. If I was going to do this, I'd have to line the broom up, then back out of the line of fire and swing blind. If I hit the bat a good one, he'd fall and I'd dispose of him. On the other hand, if I only delivered a glancing blow, or more likely, missed all together, then the bat would probably take to the air again and use my nose as a scratching post.

While silently contemplating this, I heard Todd shuffling outside the closet door. Another mental image flashed into my head. I'd miss the bat, he'd come swooping after me, and in my panic to flee I'd slam out the closet door and knock Todd out. Then HE'D be the one waking up in the Emergency Room asking, "Did we get him?"

I called out to Todd, "Ummm.. you might want to take a few steps back. If I swat and miss, I'll be exiting stage left in a hurry."

He laughed and moved back.

And so with nothing left to consider, I put my plan into motion. For the third time I leaned in and looked at the bat. He grabbed his crotch and spit at me. Still not in the best of moods obviously. I held the broom up, lined it up with Mr. Attitude, and ducked my head out of the way.

BAM! ......................thud.

I ducked my head back in and looked up. No bat. I looked down. No bat. Slightly confused, I swept the flashlight around the floor. No bat.

Then I looked at my foot. Bat. Dead bat. On my fucking foot. I restrained myself from kicking it into the next county. Instead, I shook it off, walked over and turned on the light.

From behind the door a concerned voice called out, "Did you get it?"

I had no words to answer, so instead I resorted to song. In a low, off-key voice I sang, "Weeeeee are the champ-ions...."

Todd opened up the door and walked in. Together, we looked down at the bat. In death it was small. Cute. Harmless. But we will always remember it for what it was during the last hours of its life: The most dangerous creature to ever wander the halls of our house.

And so the bat situation ended. We disposed of the bat and headed back to bed. Ahhh, to be back in bed. Glorious bed.

I didn't go back to sleep for hours.

The bat's final revenge: My insomnia was back.

SEO- 3 rules for success

Posted 6 August 2005, 6.50 pm by HockeyGod

If you have a website, you’ve no doubt heard of SEO. If you haven’t, you might want to read a few of my earlier articles before continuing with this one. If you’ve done any reading on the topic, you’ve probably noticed that people seem to constantly contradict each other. This is exactly why SEO is the favorite part of my job; it’s never boring!

If you’re looking for a how-to blueprint to get the top rank in Google or Yahoo you won’t find it here, or anywhere for that matter. There is no formula. There is no way to manipulate Google, if there were they’d be out of business.

Why does Google constantly change their algorithm? To prevent us from finding a formula for high rankings. Think about it. If there was an easy way to get top 5 rankings in Google, would you still need your Adwords account? Most of Google’s revenue comes from paid search, and you can bet they’re going to do everything in their power to keep paid search profitable. (and judging by my Google stock, it definitely is)

While there may not be a guaranteed formula, there are a few solid SEO rules that, if followed, will help your site out perform the competition.

Rule #1: Correlation is not causation. I can’t stress this enough. Just because two things are related, doesn’t mean that one caused the other.

Before I talk about correlation and causation however, let me say this plain and simple: Your site rankings will fluctuate, regardless of what changes you make. Why? The web is constantly evolving. New sites are being added, and old sites are being modified.

As an example of correlation and causation, let's compare the average global tempature to the number of active pirates on the high seas:



As you can see by the graph, the temperature has gone up as the number of pirates has decreased over the years. Does this mean that pirates somehow control the global temperature? Obvioulsy not; while there seems to be a strong correlation between pirates and temperature, there is absolutely no causation here..

Ok so where are you going with this? I wanted to make sure we’re on the same page, because now I’m about to deliver the shocker: PageRank isn’t as important as you think it is. While it’s true that higher ranking sites often have higher PageRanks, neither one is a direct cause of the other.

To help you better understand, let’s discuss how PageRank works. PageRank is based off of what we computer scientists call the wandering drunk algorithm, but I’ll try to use a more appropriate example.

Suppose you’re given a computer with a random website. From there you click 1 link at random. From there, you click another link at random, and so on. Do this for about a month straight, clicking a different link every 5 seconds.

Now count how many times you actually visited each site. If you found widgets.com 10 times and sprockets.com 4 times, widgets.com would have a higher PageRank than sprockets.com

This is the basic principle of PageRank. In fact, it’s what Google Co-Founder Larry Page did with his program. He pointed it at Stanford’s home page and let it go.

Now, the actual PageRank formula has changed significantly, but the basic underlying theory is still the same. What causes a higher PageRank? Links! Not just how many links, but the PageRank of the linking site is also taken into account.

The important concept to remember is this: PageRank does not determine your position in Google, links and content do.

This brings me to my 2nd rule: There are no bad links. I’m sure you’ve heard people talk about link farms, reciprocal links, and off topic links, and you may have even declined a reciprocal link request or two. Don’t. Many of you are probably cursing under your breath about link farms and getting banned from Google, but let’s look at it rationally.

Site owners have no control over who links them and where they’re linked. If I know this, Google knows this. If a link could hurt a site’s ranking, it would be very easy for me to sabotage all of my competitors by linking them from “bad sites”. The ranking system could be manipulated, and Google would lose.

Link building is important, and this is where your SEO company can help you develop a strategy.

This brings me to my 3rd and final rule. As this is a long article, you may want to pause here and visit the restroom or grab some more coffee before continuing(anything other than getting back to work right?).

If you only remember one thing from this article, remember this: your site visitors come first. No exceptions. Your pages should make sense to a reader.

Make your text flow, in fact I recommend hiring a professional copywriter to write it for you. You hire one for magazine and print ads, and they reach less people than your website.

While keyword-rich content is the meat and potatoes of SEO, it does NOT mean placing keywords in every possible place. People may find your site, but if it sounds like it was written by a 5th grader taking English as a second language, you can bet they won’t buy anything.

If an SEO company makes a suggestion that compromises a user experience, you should re-evaluate the company. Sure, there may be minor trade offs like using text instead of images for links, or stripping out flash content, but if an SEO technique breaks up the flow of a website, confuses a user, or makes the site visually unpleasant, it shouldn’t be implemented.

Remember, your site is designed for customers, not search engine spiders. Util the web is served up in XML format only and interpreted differently by each user, your site needs to be aesthetically pleasing, and more importantly it needs to flow.

And that’s it! Follow those 3 rules, and your site will be fine. You may not be top 5 in Google for all your desired terms, but you won’t do bad for those that are actually related to your website.

Is that all there is to it? No, there are many other factors like coding style, layout, keyword selection, linking campaigns, and content management that can all affect rankings, but most of them will follow as a result of my 3 rules.

If I had to give a 4th rule, I’d say don’t concentrate all your efforts on SEO. Search is just one way potential customers can find your site. Paid search, advertising on high traffic sites, direct mail, email, and print are all other effective methods that all too often get overlooked. Seriously, does it really make sense to spend 80% of your time on a medium that only 40% of your customers use to find you?




TO ALL TO WHOM THESE PRESENTS SHALL COME, GREETING!

Posted 10 July 2005, 5.27 pm by Villager

The BBC is an unwieldy beast, about which exists a great deal of misunderstanding. Much of this is owed to the formal mythology that the Corporation is independent and dedicated to the service of the entire public. A true Public Service Broadcaster. It would be wonderful indeed if these things were, or could be, true. No broadcaster however well intentioned can serve everyone; society has a myriad of frequently conflicting 'interests', and I believe there to be no-one qualified to understand or address them, however large the resources. Secondly, the Corporation's Charter makes it abundantly clear that the content of programming and the existence of the BBC itself is dependent on the assent of the government. That a publicly funded broadcaster should be so bound is probably unavoidable, but it does make a mockery of notions of independence.

The BBC itself defines its objectives as follows: "to inform, educate and entertain"; "to serve everyone and enrich people's lives" and "to be the most creative, trusted organisation in the world". The first of these to stick out is entertainment: that we are taxed to entertain each other in this age is nothing short of absurd. "To serve everyone and enrich people's lives" is so vague as to be meaningless. To inform and educate? Laudable, and worthy, if done properly. The interesting one is "to be the most creative, trusted organisation in the world". The BBC is popularly regarded as the most reliable and impartial global news service, and this certainly brings authority and influence. What is regrettable is that it is never asked if this is a good thing.

The only real value of a publicly funded body like the BBC is to tell unpalatable truths, especially those that are unpalatable to the government. The extent to which commercial services will shrink from this duty varies, from the appallingly placid and slavish news media that dominates the USA and much of Britain, to occasional cynics who genuinely seek to get beneath the façade that fronts most of political life. If a publicly funded broadcaster - the BBC - genuinely applied itself to this task, then the anomalous and unjustifiable licence fee would be well worth the money, however much one might baulk at the injustice of such a tax.

The problem, of course, is that it doesn't. If we take the Iraq war as an instructive example, the BBC's coverage was notable for focusing rather blandly on the official, choreographed sequence and version of events. Where fundamental critique was to be found, it was notably found elsewhere. The BBC reported general facts, the government "understanding" and little else. One journalist, Andrew Gilligan, who did have the audacity to question a highly questionable justification for the war - the Dodgy Dossier and the claim that Iraq could threaten British interests with chemical weapons within 45 minutes - was hounded out of a job with vicious alacrity. It speaks volumes that despite this placidity the BBC was still chastised by Donald Rumsfeld for 'not doing its job' in covering the war. More recently, the BBC gave blanket coverage to the sanitised, rockstars cum diplomats playing music for Africa, whilst virtually ignoring the largest protest ever to happen in Scotland. This might not have been a conscious decision to focus on the more frivolous of the two events at the great expense of the other, considerably more important, but the fact that this was the end result betrays the utter lack of anything resembling a critical, cynical approach towards the week's events. Entertainment won out over education. Ratings beat relevance. The BBC censored a serious, major protest in favour of a concert.

For well over £2 billion a year in public money the BBC provides nothing worthwhile that isn't provided elsewhere more efficiently, more critically and without the absurd drain on the public's expenses. The argument that we need to BBC to guard against American-style news media has been thoroughly undermined. We cannot rely on vast media organisations to inform and educate us, as their agenda cannot be adequately divorced from the government in the BBC's case, or corporate interests in the case of the commercial broadcasters. It is the small publishers and broadcasters, whose raison d'être is to fill the void neglected by the BBC and its ilk, to which we must turn for our information and for criticism. In an age where we demand answers to the most complex of problems, yet continue to be informed in the most simplistic of ways, we must ourselves seek to raise the bar. Not to rely on the established behemoths whose declared priorities are to entertain and be trusted. We need better. But until we put the effort into doing so then we deserve everything we get, and at present that's not very much that's of any use.

We Have A Bat Situation - Part II

Posted 2 July 2005, 3.18 am by VanGogh

Note: This is the second installment of a three part story. If you haven't already, you should really read Part Ifirst.

And so with all hopes of civilized conversation nixed, Todd and I headed back into the room. The 'Boeing Bat' was still in a holding pattern, and Shannon was still hidden under her covers with just her eyeballs exposed to the great revolving beast. Todd slid in behind me, and closed the door.

Soon the bat stopped swooping in front of us, and started swooping over us. Todd and I began a little impromptu dance number to compensate for this change in flight plan. Whenever the bat swooped over, he and I lowered ourselves almost all the way to the ground, and then popped back up when the bat cleared our airspace. We quickly started to look like the Oompa Loompas doing one of their puzzle songs from 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory'.

Apparently no more satisfied with our dancing than our conversational skills, Shannon offered us a little encouragement.

"Get that bat the FUCK out of here!"

I started forward, and then got to thinking about their bedroom. I remember when we were first considering buying this house. We took several tours of it, admiring features, assigning bedrooms and chatting about how we would change things if we bought it. You know, all that silly stuff you do when you still have money. And I distinctly remember touring the upstairs bedroom that Todd and Shannon eventually made their own. When we walked into it, we couldn't believe how big and spacious it was. Enormous really. A great room with lots of potential.

I reflected back on those early tours and wondered what the hell had happened. Sometime between our last tour of the house and tonight, someone had replaced that spacious bedroom with the broom closet we were currently crammed into. Or perhaps that was just my imagination. It might have had something to do with the great-winged messenger of death that was circling the room at the speed of sound. After all, nothing says cozy like flying vermin in your bedroom.

I looked at Todd for a little assistance. The look on his face said it all:

"Oh no you don't. I already passed the proverbial flying buck to you. Don't even try to make me a part of this shit."

So informed, I turned back around and bravely raised my broom. Then I looked at the broom. I don't know who is responsible for the broom buying decisions in our household, but I can tell you that it isn't me.

What I had in my hand was not a broom... It was a plastic stick with a few pieces of straw stuck to the end. When I think of brooms, I think of mighty pieces of earth-moving goodness that clean whole acres of floor in a single swipe. This thing looked like it wouldn't make it through the first round of a fight with a baby dust-bunny. I was supposed to use this thing to swat at that bat? This was the sort of broom that makes dustpans cry in the shame of association.

Never the less, I had a job to do. So again, I raised my slightly-less-than-mighty broom into the air. The bat gave it a quick look. I could read his thoughts.

"Ahhh," he said. "You've been good enough to bring me a toothpick. How kind."

Not the intimidating weapon of doom I was hoping for. While I began to form a stern lecture on proper broom buying in my mind, the bat decided that it was ready for a powder, and promptly swooped into the bedroom closet.

Shannon shouted out, "Close the closet door! Hurry!" I looked over at her on the off chance she was assigning this suicide task to Todd. Silly me.

I slowly approached the dark chasm of the open closet, quite sure that at any moment Batzilla was going to come swooping back out and start nesting up my nose. When I got close enough, I used the broom to close the closet door. As soon as it latched, Shannon was up like a shot. She just as quickly dropped back down and told me to bugger off, as she wasn't wearing any pants. Seems there's an epidemic of that in my family.

To understand what happened next, you need a bit of a geography lesson. When you climb the stairs to the second story of our house, you come out of a decent sized landing. There are two doors off of this landing, one to either side of the stairway entrance. If you go through the left one, you'll enter Shannon and Todd's bedroom, and the newly baptized home of Gigantour, Bat From Hell. At the far end of the bedroom, on the left wall, there is a door to their closet. This closet serves double duty, also acting as a very short hallway to the upstairs bathroom. In the bathroom, there are two doors. One is to the already discussed closet/hallway, and the other is to our spare bedroom. If you exit into the spare bedroom, you'll find another door on the far end of it. Walk through it, and you'll find yourself coming out of the other door on the stairway landing. Thus, it is possible to run around the upstairs, from room to room, in a circle.

So I, being a sly devil, headed back out onto the landing. I had a plan! A brilliant piece of military strategy the likes of which hadn't been seen since the days of Patton. I would launch a surprise attack from behind! I strode with long confident steps into the spare bedroom, and headed straight for the closed bathroom door. Todd followed, covering my back. My way, way back.

I stood only inches from the bathroom door, finding the best grip on my wannabe broom, and playing out the coming battle in my mind. I would brashly enter the bathroom, catching the bat by complete surprise. He would no doubt be hiding beside the entrance from the closet/hallway door, waiting to jump me when I came in. I would tower over him, wait for him to finish his pleas of mercy, and then serve him with final judgment. I flashed a confident grin at Todd, and burst through the door.

Or at least I would have, had it not been locked from the inside. What I managed to do was sort of flatten my nose. From behind me, Todd added another brilliant bit of commentary.

"You know, that door is locked from the inside."

I nodded and then thanked him for that key bit of information, tardy though it may be. So with my first brilliant plan dashed, I decided on Plan B, a frontal assault through the closet/hallway door. I didn't bother to give this plan a name, but if I did, I'm sure it would have been something like "Custard's Last Stand Revisited."

Todd and I walked back around into his bedroom. We opened the door just in time to be plowed over by Shannon, who was now fully clothed, and had no intention of staying in the same zip code as our winged guest.

After picking ourselves up off of the ground, Todd and I walked in and shut the door behind us. We walked over to the closet/hallway door and...

Well, and nothing. We just stood there. We didn't say anything. We didn't do anything. It was if our bodies had been conspiring behind our backs to quit working before we could get in any real trouble.

Todd looked at me. I looked at Todd. We both looked at the door. The door didn't look anywhere... but if it had had eyes, I'm sure it would have just looked back at us, blinking.

Suddenly Todd spoke. "You know what we need? Tennis rackets!"

I replied, "Yeah! Tennis rackets. That's what they used in the 'Big Chill' to go fight the bats. Tennis rackets. Do we have any?"

"No. My parents have three or four damn tennis rackets at their house, and they don't even play! What the hell???"

Our souls were matched in their indignation. How dare his parents hoard all the tennis rackets? It was downright un-American of them.

"Next time I'm home, I'm stealing at least two tennis rackets. And a can of Raid."

I looked at him skeptically. "I don't think Raid kills bats."

He shook his head. "Oh sure it does... If you throw the can right, you can kill all sorts of things."

I decided not to ask. Instead, I raised my broom and walked to the closet/hallway door, pulling it open.

To Be Concluded...

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Doggybag/baggy_dog is an artist living and working in Barga, Italy. Click here to read about this piece in his own words.


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80s candy bars were pretty good

only because i traded it for a candy bar in the 80's.

lol we all know you don't have a soul ghoti

my soul for some carbs...

But of course!

Yo ! Does this work ?

* Alexander wonders if this still works

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