Happy Birthday to me. I'm 27 today.

I haven't written anything in a long while. The words just stopped coming out a while ago. I had all that time during the summer last year to do whatever came to mind, and instead all I did was drive around aimlessly, play video baseball, and sleep in. I had always dreamed of not working, and taking the time to do something really epic. Now I know that all of this is posturing, and given a large enough chunk of time, I will do absolutely nothing.

In the last year, I've seen the xrays, and talked with the doctors, and it is very definitely arthritis in my hips. The pain that I had been hoping was merely in my head is actually in the place where the pain is, and there is no way I can deal with this. I've got extra bones floating around in my body for some strange and redundant reason, and now I'm scared of syndromes with unpronounceable names that I didn't even knew existed. I keep thinking about those xrays and how similar they are to pictures of planets back in the 60's, and it fills me with this inescapable dread because my body is millions and millions of miles away, and there's no way any of us are ever going to get there. I stretch and strain to get the muscles to wake up from their overstimulated slumber, but instead there is pain and ache and fear. I hope they make large advances in hip replacement surgery in the next decade or two.

It's been a strange year for my family. My poor father lost his job because large corporations have no soul. On the bright side of this, he'll live a few years longer. No amount of pay was worth the stress or the hours of that crap job. He's much better in his new position, working with his hands, and feeling as if he has done something by the time he hits his chair at night. My younger brother and his girlfriend are pregnant, which floods me with strange and uncomfortable feelings. My previous facade of child loathing is eroding under a flood of feelings I didn't think my brain was able to produce. I want to throw down the world around me and defend this little life with everything I have, and I know that this is a dangerous over-correction. I guess I need some more time for this to settle right in my head.

We will be in Chicago for the foreseeable future. My wife starts her doctorate studies in August at a school here in the city, and this will take many years to complete. I am okay with this situation, and the dissolution of the plans to move to Albany this fall. Overall, this is for the best. We both have good jobs, and a nice place to live at the moment.

I'm not in the same place that I thought I would be, but this is more than okay. I'm glad things are settled, even if they are a little scary. Here's for the best results this year, too.

It came to me yesterday, when I was hanging my clothes up to dry. I was just standing there in the backyard, fumbling with the clothespins and sweating in the triple-digit weather, when I noticed a couple of Nerf balls (or somesuch) up against the shed. This isn't an uncommon sight; the neighbors' kids are forever throwing baseballs and tennis balls and handballs over the wall. The kids have long ago stopped asking for them - I throw them over when I notice them, but I rarely go out back as it is, and my parents' attitude is that it belongs to them once it touches their property - so they tend to pile up. And yet this time, seeing them struck a chord, and I remembered someone I haven't thought of in a long time. She was The Girl Behind The Fence.

We lived on the east side of Mesa back then, in a neighborhood which, while not rife with crime and poverty, was still rather poor. Our house was a cheaply-built mobile home - the kind you'll see half of strapped to a Mack truck going 30 on the highway, with "oversized load" warnings on the back that the driver has clearly forgotten about himself. The company that made it was, oddly enough, the reason we moved to Arizona; Dad was an electrician, and they had offered him a job. When we got here, my folks discovered there had been a "misunderstanding" - no job after all. Whoops.

When I think about the old house, there are three main memories. I remember the "chicken tree", so named because the woman who lived on the corner raised a number of hens, and for some reason they all chose to stay up in this old tree that, as I recall, was nearly leafless. I remember all the various fruits my parents grew on our meager land - trees full of plums, oranges, apricots, apples and nectarines, a small plot of soil for strawberries; even a pomegranate tree (which rarely grew fruit, probably due to the climate). And I remember my father working on building a ramada, and falling at least ten feet flat on his back onto solid concrete, and simply getting up without having any serious injury.

What I don't remember - at least not often - is The Girl Behind The Fence.

I cannot, for instance, remember her name.

This isn't a story of jilted romance. In case I forgot to mention it, this was the mid-80s, and I was only four or five years old at the time. I don't need to explain that love was the furthest thing from my mind at that age.

What I may need to explain is that in this neighborhood, there were no walls. Even the poorest neighborhoods today seem to all have walls (or at least wooden fences) between lots, but all we had was chainlink. There was no more privacy in your backyard than in your front, and it was just as easy to talk to someone through the fence as face to face.

And that's how I met her, when her family moved in to the house south of mine - through the chainlink. Children become fast friends when they have noone else. She was new to the city, and I was as unpopular as I've always been, so friends we were. And we talked, and laughed, and played --

But always, always from behind the fence.

You may wonder how two children can play when they're separated by chainlink. Well, there's always make believe. And I remember playing a sort of volleyball with one of those super-bouncy balls you can get at Wal-mart or Target for a dollar and some change. And one time in particular, I remember that one of the chicken tree's hens got herself stuck between the two fences (one owned by my family, the other by my friend's, standing side-by-side with less than a foot of distance between them), and we chased it back and forth as it ran in terror, desperately trying to get out from between the fences (and away from my dog, who was running along with us).

But I do find it strange, and somewhat striking, that in all that time our friendship existed with that barrier. I'm not sure if it simply never occurred to us that we could go out front or that one of us could come to the other side, or if one of our parents for some reason forbade it (my own parents have always been stiflingly overprotective), or what. I don't recall ever seeing her at school - perhaps she went to a private school, or more likely, was home-schooled.

In fact, the only time I ever recall being within reach of her was at her birthday party. The only thing I remember about the whole affair is that her mother gave me a gumdrop, and I, not knowing what it was, swallowed it just as any other candy. (The discomfort caused by this incident left me in mortal fear of chewing any gum for years to come.)

I suppose I could come up with some grand metaphor about how this is all tied in with the crumbling of community, or the breakdown of society, or the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. But that would be making it something it isn't. This is just a story about a friend who I knew from afar, one of hundreds of people who've passed in and out of my life. We all have people like that in our past - half-remembered shadows lacking forms, lacking faces. Forgotten as they may be, those people had an effect on our lives; they are part of our history.

I can't remember the sound of her voice. I have only the barest recollection of what she looked like. I can't recall a single word she ever said to me. And yet, right at this moment, I would give much to know what became of The Girl Behind The Fence.

Steven Seagal is naked. And I am naked too.

I do not keep a diary, and I never have. Nonetheless, I can chart the course of my life by looking at the contents of my hard drive. I have owned a full-blown IBM PC for roughly seven years now, although I have replaced almost all of its components during this time; to such an extent that I do not really consider my PC to be an homogenous object, as one might consider a favourite car or pet to be an object. I have not given it a name or customised it with stickers, or anything like that, because it is a component of my life. I have even replaced both of the hard drives, albeit not at the same time, using Norton Ghost to preserve the data. This raises all kinds of questions about the nature and persistence of human consciousness; none of them are relevant in the case of my computer, because there is something fundamentally different about the state of data on my hard drives, and the information in my head. It is a shame that people are not built like computers, with hot-swappable components.

Nonetheless, amongst the six partitions of my two hard drives, amongst the 50gb worth of data which is periodically updated, archived and erased, there are backwaters and tidal pools. Directories and software for which I was briefly enthusiastic, and then lost touch. In early May of this year, the year of 2005, which is the year this is, I decided to learn about POV-Ray, the modelling and ray-tracing tool; you have to describe all the objects in your scene with text, like a Sinclair BASIC program, i.e. PLOT (10,50), CIRCLE (50), that kind of thing. CHESS BOARD (1), FLOATING BALLS (5), SYNTHESISED MUSIC (1), FRED HARRIS (1). LIGHTS (1), CAMERA (1), RENDER (1). I just didn't have the will to carry on, gave up. I'm not ashamed of this, in fact I am gratified that I saw sense. Down the path of POV-Ray lurks madness. The world of raytracing seems to have moved on from reflective spheres and/or quasi-spiritual images of badly-rendered human figures holding balls of light in their outstretched hands:

Number four, 'Victoria's World', is particularly good. It's better than the other number four. It was apparently inspired by a painting called 'Christina's World' by an American painter called Andrew Wyeth; I can't say I've heard of either.

My oldest partition, C:, has been carefully stripped of everything except the operating system, which is Windows 98. It used to be Windows 95. By a quirk of history, that partition is only 821mb big, because a long time ago the machine had a single hard drive of roughly that size. Consequently, I cannot easily upgrade my operating system, because I only have 104mb free. I could use Partition Magic, I suppose, but I just don't have the will. Don't have the will.

Ah, D:. You used to be the big man, you and G:, until E: came along. You were the big cheeses. F: was what I kept my musical samples on. I still do, to an extent; there are drum loops and electronic percussion pings which I have produced over a period of seven years, in several different tempos, mostly 90, 100 and 110bpm, because I like to make music that has a relentless walking beat. H: has my swap file. But D:. It is moribund now. There is a directory entitled 'Star Wars Presentation' which has a university project of the friend who used to own the PC. I bought it from him. May 1997. Fractint for Windows, v18.21, dated 1993. In fact this is still the latest version of Fractint for Windows; there is a DOS version, which is v20.00. "''Warning! Clicking on this text button will start a 1/2 megabyte filetransfer''", says the website, "''If you are having trouble downloading fractint from any site due to timeouts or for other reasons due to its large file size, Robin Bussell in the UK has a webpage where you can download fractint in small segments''". This is a lie; Robin's website has long gone. Darcey Bussell has a website, but she does not dance to the music of mathematics.

I sometimes toy with the idea of popping open Windows' 'find' tool and searching by date, but it doesn't work very well and in any case I have modified many of my file since I created them. There's no easy way to find the earliest file, because several have spurious dates; 01/01/81, for example. The most recent file is of course this one.


Inspired by this collection of words, I have written a short poem about Nethack, which I include beneath.

Ashley Pomeroy
I never got the hang
of that.

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