Brexitology continued

Well now we have a motion of no confidence that failed. Which is astonishing, because by all rights we should have had a resignation last night. But the Fixed Term Parliament Act, which David Cameron hairballed up in 2010, makes it easy enough for a failing PM to stave off replacement (something Cameron needed as a self-preservation safety net for his blue-yellow coalition after the 2010 elections). So in the last couple of months, Theresa May has been challenged within her party (survived), challenged with a vote of confidence (survived), and lost a Parliamentary vote by the largest margin in history, yet remained.

There are those who suggest that if anyone other than Jeremy Corbyn were in charge of Labour, it might be different. As it is, Corbyn is a mixed bag – a Bernie Bro’s idea of a PM who nevertheless has a Eurosceptic record and appears to be most engaged in the Brexit process inasmuch as it might overthrow the government and install Labour. And that in and of itself is the problem with Corbyn: right now, with 72 days to go, bending the curve on Brexit is far more crucial than overthrowing the Tories.

Insanely, the commentary seems to be that Parliament will not allow a no-deal Brexit – but right now that’s the default condition. That’s what’s going to happen on March 29 if nothing else happens, and there are plenty enough Tory Brexiteers who are just as happy to have that happen. A no-deal Brexit doesn’t require positive action. It is going to happen unless prevented. The choice of whether to have a no-deal Brexit was taken when May triggered Article 50.

And that’s a big problem, and points up a huge issue: Theresa May has mishandled this about as badly as anyone can imagine. To be fair, she wound up in this spot through no fault of her own. The Brexit referendum was David Cameron’s idea, a foolish attempt in 2015 to hold together a fragmenting party in coalition government against a movement made stronger by the failure of his own austerity policy in the fact of the credit crunch. UKIP and its sewer-dwelling fellow travelers in the BNP and its ilk pointed at an economy struggling under archaic economic thinking and told the British public “you’d be farting through silk if it weren’t for Johnny Foreigner” and Cameron was too weak a leader to fight back. So he threw out a referendum under the now-familiar delusion that “oh this could never win” and then when holy shit 52% voted in favor, Cameron bravely tucked his tail and fled and left somebody else to dig a pony out of two hundred tons of horse shit. So you can’t fault May for that; she was a Remain voter herself and then got handed this particular bag of ass.

But it’s been a disaster, largely because nobody knew what Brexit meant. There was no manifesto for what “Leave” meant. The hard-leave, no-customs-union, no-Norway, no-nothing-Rule-Brittania approach culled from the rich inner fantasy life of people who don’t realize Al Murray’s Pub Landlord is satirical has nothing resembling majority support. The 52% who voted for Brexit, assuming they haven’t had second thoughts, were promised that things would not meaningfully change for them and they’d have an extra three hundred million quid a week for the NHS. That’s plainly not going to happen. And the entire process has been half-assed along by what is functionally a minority party, only held in place by a supply & confidence agreement with the Northern Irish DUP – because May chose a snap election in 2017 that wiped out the Tory majority. And the deal she cut with the EU wound up catching the worst loss of any government bill in the history of Parliament.

And so we come back to the hard truth: there is no consensus to be had. Hard Brexit, soft Brexit, no Brexit – none commands 50% of the vote in Parliament, and the Tories cannot pass a deal and hold together as a party. There’s talk of a second referendum – but Corbyn doesn’t seem interested in doing that either, because he sees himself in 10 Downing and Britain out of the EU without his fingerprints on the murder weapon. He has every incentive to run out the clock and hope for the best, because his interest and the national interest are orthogonal.

At this point, if the majority wants to avoid a no-deal Brexit, there’s only one way to go: pull the plug. Back out of Article 50, sooner than later, and say that Brexit will not happen as a result of ticking-bomb hostage negotiation. But that’s unlikely to happen, and as long as the two wounded leaders insist on clinging to power, things can only get worse. 

Brexitology

Logically speaking, the thing that sticks out is that official Britain seems committed to leaving the European Union on March 29, deal or no deal, based solely on a 52% vote in a referendum that is not technically binding. So setting aside the question of whether that is remotely sane, let’s assume that this is going to happen no matter what. Let’s further accept that the EU deal that was voted down 2-1 tonight is in fact the best deal the UK can get, and the alternative is to leave with no deal. At this point, there’s nothing left to argue about. Britain is going to crash out of the EU on March 29.

So now what?

You can make a case for pulling the plug on Brexit based on the notion that this isn’t what people thought they were getting. That’s entirely plausible – you could make a good case that a hard no-deal Brexit with all its consequences is far too grave a circumstance to let go on the basis of a single 52% referendum vote. But the deal that’s presently on offer can almost certainly not be improved upon. It’s not that Theresa May screwed up – her performance has been manifestly disastrous, but that’s only marginally on her and mostly on the fact that there is no way to do this well. The Brexiteer fantasy of “everything we want and nothing we don’t” is not on offer, and the people fighting on those grounds are out of their mind. That said, there was nothing that said May had to trigger Article 50 before a deal was in place; the March 29 deadline didn’t have to be there and the looming cliff was chosen, not imposed.

And if Britain goes off that cliff, that’s it. There’s no going back. You can’t expect to rejoin the EU at some future date with the arrangements that existed previously. Best case scenario is a Norway-type arrangement where you have all the rules and none of the power to shape them. More likely is an obligation to come back with hat in hand and accept full membership, complete with the Euro replacing the pound and no rebates on the common agriculture protocol. But right now, you have to think that No Deal is going to win, simply because that’s on autopilot and requires nothing. It would take an affirmative vote to accomplish anything, and nobody can agree on an affirmative path – the deal is unacceptable, bailing out of Brexit altogether is unacceptable (?), so follow the rails until you run off ‘em.

I don’t think Cold War begins to cover it. This is a Cold Invasion, ongoing for years, of a type that wasn’t possible before the advent of the Internet and wasn’t conceivable when there were still societal standards around news, truth and the norms of the democratic process. We let the “choose your own reality” types undermine our existence until it only took a social media push to bring the whole edifice to its knees.

The tough bit is learning how to plow through the next day despite a constant fog of existential despair. And the day after that. And the day after that. And while you can do it, you end up having to circumscribe the world around you and narrow your focus and not think of other people or think of the future or think about the bigger issues. Which is what they wanted to begin with. So the question we keep coming back to – if you can’t come up with a path to victory, how do you at least stave off defeat without giving them what they want?

More Plinka

This post is brought to you by the beloved SE, as I prepare to go abroad for the better part of three weeks. It’s annoying how small and unworkable the keyboard is for long form text entry, although voice dictation is more forgiving than it was four years ago. In fact, dictation and the fact that Siri can take commands even in low power mode now make this a fully-fledged replacement for the old Moto X, especially with a fresh battery in it and LPM engaged.

There are some forcing factors that this device will impose on me. I’m leaving the Twitter apps behind, for obvious reasons. It’s not a Kindle substitute. I rather doubt there will be a lot to do on podcasts, although there will be a need to collect them for the long flights (I think we take off and land nine separate times). My hope is that the smaller phone and smaller battery will mean less time on the device – which we didn’t really test in Ireland because we always had driving and companions to eat into our screen time.

The one regret is that I know the camera on the SE is two generations behind what my work iPhone X can offer. And that’s too bad. My fervent hope is that by September 2020, Apple will have pulled their head out and made a one-handable Phone again, but based on the 2019 rumor mill, there’s not a lot to hope for. So…we’ll see what’s doing.

ETA: not for nothing, but it turns out the the combination of the SE and Veronica (my Mophie power case) actually still weighs 10 grams less than the iPhone X in its plain leather case. And is narrower and more ergonomic to hold than the X, and you can still hit the entire screen with one thumb. Learn, guys.

Plinka Plinka Hee Haw

So on a whim, I plugged in the serial number of my Series 0 Apple Watch to see what I could get for it in a trade. In pristine condition, apparently the value is…$25. And it’s not in pristine condition, which means they will happily take it in for recycling. This means that your $400 Apple Watch has a functional lifespan of about 3.5 years before it can’t run the apps and can’t handle the battery load any more, which might have changed in more recent models, but it’s about the equivalent of buying a second phone. Which ain’t hay, given that you probably have to pay a thousand bucks for an iPhone already. But…

Let’s think about this. Palm, so-called, is out here selling a tiny Android phone with an e-SIM that pairs to your existing device and is your going-out phone, or your limited-communication phone or whatever else you want from that second older phone that you keep for festivals or camping or travel or whatever. Well, wait, don’t they make an Apple Watch with an e-SIM that leverages LTE and works with your existing number?

Let’s think about this. The Apple Watch with LTE could be the functional equivalent of my so-called shutdown phone if it offered:

Music playback (check)
BBC/RTE audio streaming (unlikely)
Lyft (theoretically possible but I don’t think it’s there)
WhatsApp/Signal (jury’s out)
Phone calls? (sure)

Because in theory, that’s what I need. The ability to go to the pub, stream music, get a ride back and contact someone or be contacted in a pinch. The equivalent of taking a Kindle, an iPod shuffle and a MOTOFONE F3, which is what I used to do on the odd night out five or six years ago. That’s all broadly feasible…but the thing is, if you have a little discipline and can use the Downtime mode on the existing phone, you can limit it effectively to just those things and use it as a Kindle as well, and boom, you’re sorted.

Here’s the other thing: the Apple Watch is less than what we had speculated. I think people were hoping for the equivalent of a voice-activated iPhone on your wrist, but what it has actually become is a glorified Fitbit. If apps don’t work, if the extra functionality isn’t there, then all you’re usefully getting is fitness tracking and notifications. And as it is, with the decline in developers, the Charge 3 Special Edition is the ideal replacement for the Apple Watch at less than half the cost. Unless you REALLY need the ECG or Siri on your arm or just can’t live without being able to reply to notifications, the spiritual heirs of the body of Pebble have you covered. 

It is possible to visualize a scenario where some notional unlocked iPhone X(T) is my only phone, and the Apple Watch with LTE is the dedicated shutdown night/alternate device, driven by a more capable Siri. And I could revert to the old-ass Apple Watch Series 0 as the sleep tracker, which is a gargantuan PITA but doable. The only problem is, as long as I have my phone service through work, I will never have tethering or Watch LTE available to me. So right now the only percentage is to leave the watch in a drawer for future use and in the meantime, maybe look at a Fitbit Charge 3 as the new wearable. And use the SE as a travel and occasionally shutdown phone while I can. The SE is still viable in the medium term, especially since one-hand-ability and TouchID make it eminently more practical (especially abroad). The main advantages of the X over the SE are merely front camera quality, a faster processor, and a larger display and battery – one of which just depletes the other.

It’s not worth carrying two phones, is the thing. Have one or have the other, but going between both is a hassle and confusing. And since the iPhone X is currently the primary, it’s a pain in the ass to keep going back to the X every time you need some function that isn’t presently on the SE (not to mention the processor on the X is two generations faster with 50% more RAM available). My current thinking is that in all likelihood, it’ll be time for a new phone in September 2020, and this time I hope to finally have one device to do for everything assuming we haven’t all been forced to 7-inch slabs by then.

Gonna be awful hard not to spring for that Charge 3 Special Edition, though.

Early thoughts on 2019

* Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is tailor-made to be the new Fundraising Caricature Super Hate Object for the GOP, in the tradition of Ted Kennedy and Nancy Pelosi. Young, female, Latina, notionally “socialist” (again, I’m not sure if anyone really knows what that means in 2019), basically the perfect nightmare of any Fox News obsessive. The thing is, though, she gets modern media and how to swim in that particular stream. She also has a certain sense of reality around her, and when they mocked her complaint that she couldn’t afford an apartment in DC before her salary kicked in, a lot of young people heard “these assholes don’t give a shit about real people problems.”

* The other thing she has going for her is that she seems like a real sweet gal, a normal person in a town full of anything but. Your typical rising young politician was usually president of the frat, first woman president of the law review, the sort of hard-charging student government type who gives the impression they’ve been 40 years old since puberty. AOC is a pleasant lady whose sudden life in the crosshairs is a living breathing reminder to the youth of America, the women, the non-white: the Fox Boomers hate you for existing. Stop trying to reconcile with them and just turn them into !-ing meatloaf. The kids, plainly, are all right.

* I carried two phones through San Francisco this week in an attempt to sort out my loadout and wardrobe for the forthcoming road trip. It is SO much easier to work with an SE than an iPhone X…right up until you need the keyboard or the battery life. Granted, since I wasn’t doing anything with the X but playing back audio and occasionally looking at white Kindle text on a black AMOLED background, it wasn’t a fair fight, but given my use case in Patagonia I don’t know that the SE will make it through a full day without a battery top-up along the way. Might be time for the Hulkbuster case I had in Hawaii five years ago, if I can still find it.

* Speaking of phones, I have most of my closest regular texting contacts transitioned to Signal, which is basically the only cryptographically-acceptable cross-platform messaging solution. It means that I will almost certainly get rid of WhatsApp sooner than later, probably by March Madness if not sooner. Which means that in the grand scheme of things, all I have to do is export my data and get shut of Instagram…which is not nearly the toxic cesspool for me that it is for others, because I’m almost 47 and mainly follow people I know in person. But it’s owned by Facebook, and Facebook is going to start shitting it up to make up for the sagging fortunes of the blue site, and I don’t want to be around to be continually strip-mined by Fuckerberg and his band of useful idiots.

* Speaking even more of phones, looking at Apple’s situation, it’s hard to argue that they – and the West generally – got played for suckers these last twenty years. The promise of a billion new customers was too good to pass up, so the West signed China onto the WTO with assurances that business would lead to liberalization and that everyone would just go along with this. And then, after we spent two decades thinking this would all work out in the end, these companies find themselves tied in legal knots, aiding and abetting a totalitarian regime and their intellectual property being ripped off wholesale for profit. All so Silly Con Valley could have their widgets assembled for ten cents on the dollar. And now there’s not really a cost-effective alternative solution any longer, so we’re stuck until someone else can spin up modern manufacturing at scale in a different place – assuming, of course, that you have a physical product to sell. If not, you just have to wait and watch as Tencent and Alibaba do the same thing you can’t for those billion customers you assumed would be yours.

* Ten years ago, I got a Caltrain GoPass which I’ve had ever since. I can ride Caltrain for free, any distance, anytime, and that was really the beginning of my going up to San Francisco in any meaningful way (yes, there were Vandy game watch parties in 2008, but they usually entailed my long-suffering wife driving up and then tolerating fifteen verses of “Country Girl” on the way home). For about four years and change, it was a delight – and then, sometime in early 2013, I realized that the city was no longer for the likes of me, because it was becoming part of Silly Con Valley which was definitely not for the likes of me. After several years off, so to speak, I’ve spent the last couple going around unearthing the bits of NorCal that the tech sector hasn’t yet ruined beyond repair. Turns out a lot of them are at the far ends of the cable car or MUNI Metro lines, or tucked out of sight in San Jose, or nestled along the coast. It’s been fun, and reliving, to discover them again.

* It’s remarkable how much better I feel when dressing the part. I’ve spent three-quarters of my prolonged holiday break in the same combination of jeans, black t-shirt and AG work shirt that I embraced in 2018 and it just feels right, especially with the addition of merino wool socks (the Bombas socks are 80% merino, which is better than most). But yesterday, I caught a glimpse of my reflection on a cable car, leaned against the forward post in my tweed blazer and gray flat cap, and realized that I looked like I felt – which was to say, absolutely at one with my natural habitat.

* I would absolutely rather have a pint than a cocktail in 2019. The only time I go cocktail first anymore is in a tiki bar (or on the patio at the Royal Hawaiian). 20 ounces of Guinness is a perfect fit for pretty much any time, and when it’s not? the same 20 ounces of decaf black coffee, warm but not hot with a splash of stevia, will get the job done. Long pint, long evening, long book. This is how we’re gonna relax in 2019, and I need to get right on that.

In like a bear

Well, just when you thought maybe 2019 would be a better year, here comes Apple with the revised guidance that their earnings for fiscal Q1 will be well under their previous guidance. Which at last check has the stock down 10% after hours, at a time when it’s trading over a third below its 52-week high. I guess my new financial advisor got me out from AAPL just in time, well done new guy, but in the grand scheme of things this is not promising.

One Twitter wag followed up the statement with words to the effect of “that’s a long way of saying you overpriced the phones.” Which is dead on. The cheapest current iPhone is now $750, an all-time high, and all the mealy-mouthing around the evolving market won’t change the fact that were it not for work providing me an iPhone X that I only half tolerate, I would be rounding off my third year of being satisfied with my iPhone SE from May 2016. It has a new battery, and it does tolerable well under the circumstances, not being afflicted with nonsense like FaceID and still capable of doing everything I need a phone to do without forcing me to set my drink down.

But Apple’s also getting tagged bad by the trade war – and not just because of tariffs, but because they bet the house on China as a future market. And like so much of the wider world, they bet on a bad horse. The lure of 1.3 billion future customers was so blinding that they never considered that these customers live in a totalitarian state with a command economy, and that they might prefer – or be encouraged to prefer – home-grown solutions for everything. And when WeChat is basically the private ecosystem of China, it doesn’t much matter how you get to WeChat, which makes Apple a luxury bauble rather than a functional necessity. Bad bets all around.

And this is alarming, because I’ve made a career in Apple support. Every nickel I’ve earned since September 1997 was earned either at the craps table, the sports book or in service and support of Apple products, one way or another. And now the iPhone is their principle trade, and the iPhone has become the new Tesla: an overpriced version of something that can be bought cheaper with a less shiny surface that will get you where you’re going just as fast. My cousin is out roaming the world with a Moto G6 on GoogleFi, which he got for a hundred dollars. You can’t buy any iPhone for a hundred dollars. You can’t buy any iPhone for three hundred dollars. And because the iPhone was good value for money, now your three year old iPhone is just fine to use for another year.

Maybe this will cause the powers that be over at Apple Park to blink hard and rethink hard. Maybe the fine chiropractors at the health center will be able to extract Jony Ive’s head from up his ass before he turns into a Klein bottle. Maybe this will pave the way for a nice new India-built iPhone SE2, or maybe even an X-Minus. Maybe the company will figure out how to last long enough that I’m not suddenly left high and dry at age 58 with no job prospects and no way to retire for another ten years.

They’d better. This new MacBook Air is nice. I’d hate to have to go to something else.

Excelsior

It’s strange looking back over the last year, not just because it feels like it’s taken 19 months to get through 2018. Bruno Mars and Cardi B giving us an In Living Color homage? That was 2018. We had an Olympics this year. Black Panther only came out this year. The Han Solo movie was this year, in case you forgot. That ballistic missile alert in Hawaii that would have scared the shit out of me if I’d stopped more than a second to think about it before the all-clear? This year. The new Warby Parker glasses, the revelation that Ebbets Field was making Vandy gear now, the revelations about Cambridge Analytica, the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman-Douglas High School, all this year.

Too much, so often.  There’s 2018 in summary. It was made more complicated in this space by thinking I’d lost the server and the backups, and then trying to reassemble what I could, and in the course of that going down the rabbit hole of paper diaries and older blogs and basically recapitulating most of this century, starting in a era where a phone could place and receive calls and a blog was just an endlessly-extended page of plain HTML. It was a lot to wrap my head around, and a lot to process, and went along with a lot of other processing.

There were two big lessons for me in 2018:

1) It was anxiety all along. Always. The depression was co-morbid with the anxiety and not always caused by it, but the constant creeping anxiety – about getting it wrong, about not having the answer, about not knowing – has been the defining story of the last forty years for me, and figuring that out was like watching the world slide ninety degrees and suddenly realizing it was a schooner all along.

2) I’ve finally, genuinely, actually aged into where I wanted to be all along. Mid-40s (OK pushing late 40s), stable job at a place I’m not wedded to but can live with, happy enough with who I am, content to have a nice quiet pint and read a book and be left alone and not feel like I’ve missed out on something important and critical…yes, I’d love a do-over on the entire decade of the 1990s but you know what, it’s not happening. Put down the boards and the fencing and the cones and the warning tape and go around. And I can do that now, more than I ever could before. It’s okay if you can’t turn it into some overarching narrative, it’s over, it’s done. Get on with life. 

All the bits work. Put the flannel hat and the Fed horn-rims and the AG work shirt on me, along with the fading jeans and the footwear I don’t have to lace, and I feel right. I’m a guy of a certain age, who has led a genuinely interesting life, who has stories and history, and who is content to snuggle his sweetie on the couch in front of an HDTV video of a fire while the lights twinkle through December. 

If 2019 turns out to be the year in which I no longer have to prove anything…wouldn’t that be something.

Dear Santa

I have been a good boy this year. Well I have been a reasonable boy this year. Well let’s not get into it, mistakes were made, I didn’t make them, anyway…instead of giving you another laundry list of things I can’t have that aren’t available for purchase or manufacture, I would say thanks for the stuff I was brought this year, namely, to wit, viz.:

* My American Giant work shirt, which I had as a throw-in on the wish list and turned into my most-worn garment of 2018. And with it, my Ebbets Field Vanderbilt cap and my new glasses, which combined to make my new uniform, more or less.

* The new Mac mini, which made it possible to build our KVM-based lab and enable the dream of working completely remotely successfully, something I hope to put to the test in 2019.

* The unearthing of the old blogs and journals and notes and being able to reflect fifteen years to see how much of what I wanted in years gone by has actually come to pass, whether it’s Alden boots, Switzerland, the notional iPhone 6C-turned-SE, or a quiet pint in a quiet pub whether in San Jose or Galway.

* iOS 12, with the imagination-stirring of Siri Shortcuts and the voice activation in low-power mode and the continuing viability of the aforementioned iPhone SE, suitable to carry unlocked to London or Dublin or maybe even Patagonia.

* The bus, and the ability to get to work without the hassle and inconvenience of driving or dealing with an overloaded Caltrain at its busiest stops.

* The family I found for myself, pauca sed bona.

* A whole year without a single Coke Zero, just to get the system reset.

 

We’re out of milk and cookies but take anything you want off the liquor cabinet (not the Stag’s Leap or the Yellow Spot, I’m not that good a host).

Festivus

The Weekly Standard bit the dust this month. Because of their late Never-Trump-ism, this is being decried as some sort of defeat for principled conservatism, that something important and worthwhile is being lost and we’re all poorer for it. To which I would say: this opinion is only possible if you were literally born on November 9, 2016 and were not alive for one second of American politics in the preceding 25 years.

Because I wasn’t born yesterday, I’m well familiar with the Weekly Standard, a rag whose principle identity from its founding wasn’t Never-Trump, but Never-Clinton, an animosity in which name they tolerated all manner of excess, of conspiracy, of running off the road paved by the norms and traditional of American political culture. And then, when George W. Bush got into office in circumstances largely indistinguishable from Trump, they became the foremost cheerleaders of the neocon crusade, of marching from Afghanistan to Iraq to Iran and solving the world at the point of a gun with Toby Keith trumpeting overhead.

As with so much of the conservative establishment, the Standard ’s opposition is risible when set against two decades of crying in the wilderness to make ready the way of the Trump. Every wink-wink toward Ken Starr’s endless prosecution, every proclamation that “real men want to go to Tehran,” every pretense that the Tea Party was something other than an astroturfed whitewash of the existing GOP base – all of it ploughed the furrow for Trump. And then they want to pull the ripcord with the other Respectable Republicans and say “HOOCOODANODE” and pretend that all of this happened out of a clear blue sky and wasn’t the result of two decades of damage to the body politic.

So to hell with them. I know that it’s bad to celebrate anyone being out of work at the holidays, and that’s as may be, but this isn’t a bunch of ironworkers laid off by a heartless corporation or a bunch of migrant laborers disposed of when no longer needed. To paraphrase an original member of the masthead, this is a bunch of rich, white, privileged people who could not even bother to abide by the political norms and traditions of a freely constituted society of their own making which had provided them with everything a civilization can be expected to provide. It’s hard to weep for someone who celebrated their opiate addiction for twenty years only to burn themselves to death on Russian krokodil.

ghosts of Christmas past, part 12 of n

It was 1985. I was 13. It was a weird confluence of times and things – the first Christmas where I was too old for anything that could even be construed as a toy, the end of a year when my fandom had converted away entirely from Star Wars and GI Joe to comic books (mostly Marvel), the beginning of my obsession with reducing everything to categories and role-playing stats, the beating heart of my conviction that I could crack the whole world of junior high school society if I only elucidated the formula and patterns. (Which totally did not come to pass, thanks to 1986 and the first experience of adolescent depression, but also thanks to the fact that it doesn’t work like that At All.)

It was odd and interesting because for some reason, in 1985, my parents hosted a couple of Christmas parties in a way that I don’t ever remember happening before and never happened since. And because I was a tweener age, they basically offered me the money they would have paid the babysitter if I could hole up in my room and entertain myself. Needless to say, the prospect of a double bacon cheeseburger and fries from Jack’s AND a crisp $20 was too good to pass up, and I gladly looked after myself whilst poring over Fantastic Four vs X-Men #1. Which had, among other things, a scene that took place in a weird sort of NYC club that was a jazz lounge on the first floor and a comprehensive research library upstairs. Which was fascinating to me.

Because I was just starting to wrap my head around the concept of The City. I had seen Five Points South in Birmingham for the first time that autumn, walking into the old Lion & Unicorn comic and bookstore on Highland Avenue (in the years before it basically turned into a collectibles warehouse) and seeing places like Gorin’s Ice Cream by the fountain or Charlemagne Records. I was getting flickers of things from music videos, images of steam from manhole covers and roll-up steel doors over storefronts and people in long coats going through markets or coffee shops. I was discovering things like hot tea, or chocolate croissants. Artifacts of a wider and different world that wasn’t limned by the borders of a rural exurb or the triangle path between home, school and church. 

And that Christmas, for the first time, I put pen to paper to write something that wasn’t a school assignment. It was the worst sort of ghastly Mary Sue fanfic, of course, plugging myself into the Marvel universe the same way I had done with Star Wars on a dozen playgrounds for years, and it was more a pastiche of phrases and things I’d grabbed from television or movies or any passing thing rather than any sort of innate creativity, but it was a start. Once you can imagine yourself in another world, you can start to imagine a world of your own, and then you can start to imagine what it would take to get yourself into that world. It’s not too great a stretch to say that in the journey that put my boots on Broadway, or Constitution Avenue, or the Embarcadero or the Strand, the first steps were taken in the Christmas season of 1985.