The last time I was in New Hampshire was for a rock climbing trip to Cannon Cliff in the White Mountains. My partner and I had planned an ambitious climb up the steep center of the face, but after we were sung to sleep by the percussive waves of rock fall, we decided on something easier: the classic Fritz Weissner route which tops off on the Old Man in the Mountain. The Old Man has since given up the ghost and fallen apart, despite the effort of several engineering teams to bolt the thing together and carve sluices in the granite to drain rain and snow melt. It's one of those Man vs. Nature themes, in which you assume Nature wins, but at the last second Man sinks a three-pointer with one minute left in the game by craftily minting the New Hampshire State Quarter.
In the beginning of the tourI went down to New York for ComicCon, a wonderful, terrifying experience which crams every possible nerd reference you could ever have imagined and puts them in one place. I got my picture taken with Boba Fett, which I'm pretty sure Bill Faulkner could never have claimed. In addition to several Stormtroopers in full dress uniform, there was a bevy of beautiful women in the Princess Leia slave garment from Episode VI. The outfit was astonishing because the lower half seemed to be attached to the body by only the Force. I really, absolutely wanted to take a picture with one of them, but I felt like there was no way I would not be taken as a weird fetishist. I suppose I am. And yet, if you dress like slutty Princess Leia, you should be expecting someone with Spock ears who speaks fluent Elvish will ask for a photo op.
"Slutty Princess Leias" will be the name of my next band.
The best part of ComicCon, aside from the stand-up comedians' endless cornucopia of Star Trek yuks, was my book signing, because I was sitting between Lou Ferrigno (TV's Incredible Hulk), who looked rather tan and not at all green, and Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca). Mr. Mayhew has long hair and wears a fabulous hat. As I write this on my Ubuntu laptop (go Linux!), I'm appalled that the OpenOffice spell check does not recognize Chewbacca, a proper noun which is at least as important as Cthulhu. Someone in the open source community is not doing their job.
It occurred to me that I should goad Ferrigno and Mayhew into a fight, which would have answered an ancient nerd question, but they were too busy autographing people's light sabers to be bothered. I suspect that Ferrigno, even though he's not full of gamma-ray-induced rage, could have kicked the snot out of Mayhew.The day you realize that the Hulk could easily take Chewbacca is not a proud day. It is the day you become an adult.
On Friday the 13th I read in Salem, MA, and in the birthplace of Nathaniel Hawthorne, I felt compelled to make the following startling admission: I blew off reading The Scarlet Letter in high school. I was supposed to read it for eleventh grade English, but our teacher insisted that we start in with "The Custom-House," which is Hawthorne's 30-page loveletter to his own shitty job counting stuff (NB: this is my 17-year-old self's recollection of said text).
The good people of Salem did not drive me out with torches and pitchforks after my admission, but rather conceived a far worse punishment: the owner of the shop presented me with copies of The House of the Seven Gables AND The Scarlet Letter, thus upping the Hawthorne quotient of my home library by 200%. I should also disclose that Captain Freedom has seven fewer gables in it than the average Hawthorne novel.
In the spirit of "The Custom-House," I will give you an condensed account of my own experience counting stuff.
Back in 2003 I took a job as the database administrator for the State of the Salmon project, which is a scientific effort to paint a picture of the health, abundance, and biodiversity of wild Pacific salmon, the six species of which are found from Northern California all the way to the Korean peninsula. Data came to us in multiple forms, from highly organized geographic information systems to paper maps annotated in pencil, sent from Russian field biologists, which smelled faintly of cigarettes. To put it another way, we were counting fish.
My job was to organize the data, which was both spatial (maps) and tabular (tables), and came to us in English, Russian, and Japanese. The reason the project attempted to get a handle on these data was because wild salmon are considered an indicator species for the health of the North Pacific ecosystem at large, the canary in the coal mine, for both the terrestrial and marine environments.
Also, we counted the fish because fish don't have fingers.
Current Events: Tonight I'll be reading at the Red Door, a bar in Portsmouth, NH. They asked me if I could come up with some superhero-themed drinks in honor of the evening, and the first thing that came to mind was the "Green Lantern," which I imagined to be absinthe set on fire. Dangerous and highly illegal!
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G. Xavier Robillard writes for several humor sites, including McSweeney's Internet Tendency and Comedy Central. He lives in Boston. Captain Freedom is his first novel.
Books mentioned in this post
G. Xavier Robillard is the author of Captain Freedom: A Superhero's Quest for Truth, Justice, and the Celebrity He So Richly Deserves