07 October 2012

The Keeper of the Tale's Dark Brew

As you enter the building, the sound of clinking silverware and the murmur of conversation washes over you. It is not overpowering, but warm and inviting, comfortable. You hand your jacket to the young lady waiting there. She trades you a ticket with which to retrieve it later. Smiling you head for the main room.

The remodeled room glistens. It did not look battered or unattractive previously but the new tile floor shines. The subtle light colors of the painted walls compliment the dark gleaming marble counters. Drapery, paintings, decorations, these all work together to create an ascetic you find appealing.

“So, what do you think?” The Keeper of the Tale is at your elbow. You express how impressed you are with the look. “I had some help in that regard. I just did all the work to change it over. Turns out watching all those handyman shows over the years paid off.” He guides you to an open seat at a table. Food and drink is quickly supplied. The Keeper of the Tale sits across the table. You feel privileged to be at what must be the head table.

“Bit chilly today,” notes a man with an impressively manicured mustache. It is thick, bushy, but very neat.

“At least this time of year tells you it will be growing colder and colder,” explains a pleasant looking young woman with long blonde hair. “Septembrr, Octobrr, Novermbrr, Decembrr.” She adds a shiver and a grin to her deliberate mispronunciations. While you can find the amusement in her words, you still feel the need to point out that the months of January, February, March, and even April can be quite cold but do not fit the naming convention she pointed out. “By January it should be as cold as it's going to get. Hopefully.”

You are considering your response to this when the Keeper of the Tale speaks up. “We are entering the decay of the year. Once the harvest is in, the material left in the field rots. The sun's influence on the land fades as darkness spreads, literally and figuratively.”

The mustache man snorts. “Why, whatever do you mean?”

The Keeper looks oddly serious, almost crazy, very unlike his normal jovial self. “I hear many stories in my position. Some are light and cheerful, others are dark and grim. With a chill wind blowing and night falling, it is a dark Tale that comes to mind. Indeed, it is a very Dark Brew.”

My name is Richard Leslie. I have every reason to believe I will soon be dead.

While existence is still mine, I will strive to explain what has led me to this moment as a warning. Heed my words, learn from my example, and spare yourself my fate. I will die alone, perhaps unmourned but if I can save you, my death may not be in vain.

I am no longer in full controls of my limbs. I shudder and quake. Every sound, down to the quietest creak, demands my fullest attention. Is that death approaching? This time it is but the wind. Next time, the sound may not be so innocent.

Yet, I am neglecting to explain, to warn. You must forgive me. My concentration is not what it once was.

It all began at Jack's Java Joint. When I say that I have been a customer of Jack's since the time before he owned the shop, I am not trying to brag, nor display my credentials for belonging. I seek only to state a fact. I was there the day that Jack took over. I am there nearly every day. Out of this repetition, if nothing else, he and I have a familiarity with one another, if not friends as such. This repetition led to other familiarities. These people I feel more comfortable referring to as my friends.

As I recall, it was a natural, organic process. We regularly bumped into each other, so that our faces became familiar. Eventually words were exchanged. We would get stuck together at the same table and 'forced' to speak to one another. Soon we were sitting together intentionally, solving the world's problems over coffee.

There was no official membership listing. Individuals would join us occasionally. Others were regular before moving away. The core of the group became Tony and Maria, Gerry, Rachel, and myself.

Tony and Maria were a married couple. They bickered with real affection. When they grumbled at each other, they did not do so looking for others to select sides or to help prove one side was right over the other. It was how they communicated with each other.

Gerry was an executive in the bank down the street. Tall, thin, and awkward, he resembled a stork in many ways. He was always friendly and down to earth despite his position. Some become affected when granted authority but I never felt Gerry put on airs.

Rachel... I was always fond of Rachel. Perhaps you would have found her too round of face or body but I was charmed by the gleam of her eyes and the glow of her smile. Her laughter at one of my jokes always brought me great joy. She came across as very sweet.

At the time, it was a day like other other day. Since then, I have dissected that day, reviewed it, revised it in my head. Had I the knowledge then that I have now, I could have changed all this, stopped it from occurring! I did not. We did not. Our ignorance led us here. That said, not knowing what we didn't know, we wouldn't have done anything differently.

As I recall, Tony had completed his opinion of the infield fly rule when Jack leaned up against the wall near our table. “Hey, you guys wanna do me a favor?” While he scratched at his stubble, we all exchanged a glance. This was an oddly general request. When we inquired for further detail, he willingly provided it. “I gotta sample of a new brew. It comes from deep in the Amazon forest, real hard to get out of where it grows. Hard to get up here. It's a bit pricey. I need an opinion to see if it's worth getting regular.” Free coffee? Really, how could we not assist? We were grateful to be deemed special enough to receive this privilege. Jack nodded and went off to brew this special coffee.

When it arrived, it did not appear to be anything terribly special. It was dark looking and rich in smell. It was normal for me to gravitate towards a dark roast so this was acceptable from my point of view. After a clinking of glasses, we coordinated our efforts so that we tried the coffee all at once.

While I am sure Jack's skill at his job had something to do with the liquid in the cup before me, it was a beautiful cup of coffee. The flavor was rich and strong without being overpowering. It was also smooth, without a bitter aftertaste. There was a something more, a hint of another flavor I couldn't readily identify. The only greater joy I had than drinking the coffee was the look of joy on Rachel's face. Seeing her enjoyment brought me joy. Our response was unanimous; it was quality. Jack nodded, thanked us, and went back to work.

Quickly, the coffee became our primary topic of conversation. No matter where the conversation may have drifted, it always steered back to the rich Amazonian brew. Didn't it taste wonderful? Hadn't it been smooth? When, oh when, would we be able to get more?

Finally came the day when the brew of brews appeared on the order board, available for all. When Jack had indicated it was expensive, he had not erred. The price per cup was equal to what I would expect to pay for multiple cups of coffee. I was inflated by its availability but then quickly deflated by the price. My budget for such sundries was limited. While buying a cup of this tasty beverage would not likely bust my budget, would I be able to stop at just one? It was so very smooth and relaxing. Better to not chance it, I had decided, and stick with my regular. A special occasion would surely arise, allowing to justify this purchase.

Having made this decision, I was soon joined in line by Rachel. She reacted positively to the arrival of the special brew and asked if I would be getting a cup. When I didn't immediately react in the positive, her expression grew noticeably downcast. Somewhat bashfully she explained how much she looked forward to seeing my happy reaction to drinking that coffee again. She said I looked very cute.

I bought the Amazonian coffee. Thankfully so did she. This provided me with the bonus of seeing her gleeful expression as well. We took turns drinking so the other could watch us react. It was a very pleasant moment.

Despite the price, demand for the coffee was quite high, ensuring Jack would be keeping it in stock. This made sure I would be able to continue to purchase it. After a day or two, the price of a cup was no longer a concern to me. It did not become significantly less expensive nor did I immediately seek to rearrange my expenses to accommodate this change. It wasn't even that the coffee made it easier to speak with Rachel, although I'm sure that must have helped to some degree. Looking back, I simply stopped caring about the price of this coffee.

At the time this did not distress me in the least. My change in attitude felt completely natural. Now, I can only see that change as a sign that I missed. It was big, yet small, subtle, obscured by the pretty face across from me.

The signs would get bigger yet just as easily dismissed. One day, Tony and Maria did not show up. This was not so unusual; people get sick or busy all the time. While we met regularly, we sometimes missed each other as well. When they didn't show up again the next day, those of us remaining still did not panic. By the third day, we should have been concerned but we were not. We should have called them, checked in on them, visited, something! We did not. We did nothing. We drank coffee and talked about other things, just as if all was still normal.

Gerry began to drink more and more coffee. He had the money to do so and would occasionally share this ability with Rachel and myself. We spoke at length about little until long into the evening. After all that coffee, sleep was less necessary.

I should have been more productive. I felt more productive. I accomplished less and less without fully realizing it at the time. The tasks I took on were useless in the long term. My work suffered. I was present but less engaged. My boss spoke to me about the change in my performance but it did me little good. I was increasingly blind to my faults.

I barely noticed when Gerry disappeared from our group. His lack of presence meant there was more time for me to speak with Rachel. By now, we were more comfortable with one another; no longer just familiar faces across a communal table but friends of an increasingly close nature. It was just she and me and coffee. The sight of her warmed my heart. Her laugh tickled my ears. The touch of her hand thrilled me. I'm sure she gave me every sign she could but I was as blind to that as I was the effects the coffee was having upon me. Rachel was wiser and bolder than I. No doubt seeing my oblivious warmth, she took the initiative. She had me walk her home and invited me in. In a rare moment of understanding, I figured out this was a Good Thing and agreed.

Her apartment was comfortable but I was not immediately so within it. I sat on the couch at her invitation and grew nervous as she readied another beverage for us. Where were we in our relationship? What should I do? How forward ought I be? I fidgeted slightly as she brought us coffee. She then sat so close to me that she might as well may have been on my lap. My concerns fled me. She leaned into me. I leaned into her. The moment manifested and we kissed.

The initial exhilaration associated with an event long anticipated soon faded enough that I was at least somewhat aware of my surroundings when it occurred. While there is still a feeling that I must have imagined or misinterpreted what I saw, at the same time I know the truth. I know it was no hallucination of a hormone addled brain. In a flash, my understanding of reality changed for me. Oh how I loathe this reality!

Rachel shivered as if cold. This caused a pause in our activities so that I could inquire as to her well-being. I fully expected it to be but a momentary pause but the shivering continued, intensified.

Then on the wall, her shadow grew, stretching for the ceiling. I gaped at this manifestation, unable to account for it. I whirled my gaze about the room, searching for a reason to explain the evidence of my eyes but saw nothing out of place, no light source to cause this change. My shadow was unaffected. Suddenly, the shadow leaped from the wall, disintegrating as it did so. Once the shadow disappeared, so did Rachel's shivers, along with all other motion. She flopped down on the couch, dead.

They were all dead, those friends of mine I couldn't be bothered to check on. Tony, Maria, Gerry, all of them. The coffee beans were the cause of it. When confronted with the mayhem, Jack probed into their source. They were grown on a section of reclaimed Amazonian rain forest. The dispossessed natives had cursed the land as they were removed from it. No one had taken any notice, until now.

As I pen these words, I am increasingly cold. As I watch my shadow fill the wall opposite me, watch my darkness manifest before me, I know it is finally time to join my friends.

A wicked grin manifests itself on the Keeper's face as he finishes his Tale. “Anyone for an after dinner coffee?” Politely, we all decline.

02 September 2012

Is There No Escape from the Keeper of the Tale?

The sudden quality of the downpour is such that it catches you completely off guard. Certainly it has been overcast today so rain was not a surprise in that regard. After a few starter rain drops, the rain came down in buckets. Sheets and sheets of rain fall, obscuring your vision, making you happy that you are not driving, as that would be dangerous. On the other hand, in the car, you would likely yet be dry. You manage to dive into the covered doorway of a nearby building before becoming completely soaked. The rain sprays as it impacts upon the pavement, increasing your general wetness. In an effort to stay somewhat dry, you enter the building.

Inside, you begin to relax; not getting further wet will do that. As you grow more comfortable, you realize that your surroundings are familiar. While the hallway is in a state of being re-constructed, its basic structure is still visible. Carefully you walk on the work mats so that you will not drip on the floor as you walk down the hallway.

When you reach the main room, you find that it is also in a state of transition. Ladders and drip mats litter the area, transforming the view of what is also a familiar room to you. In the event that there was any doubt left within you, the Keeper of the Tale emerges from a back room carrying a can of paint. He whistles cheerfully, not immediately aware of your presence. As he sets the paint on a covered table, he suddenly starts and turns to face you. “Oh, hello. You haven't been waiting long I hope.” You reassure him that you just arrived. “Good, good. You, ah, look a bit on the wet side. Not soaked I hope.” While certainly wet, thankfully you are not soaked through. “Good. Still, if you like I could run your clothes through the dryer. Should only take a few minutes and you would feel more comfortable.”

This offer makes you hesitate. While you have no great worry that the Keeper of the Tale will do anything... inappropriate, the idea of being semi-clothed in his presence does not appeal to you. At all. The Keeper seems unaware of your concerns. Preparing a chair, he gestures towards a nearby door. “You'll find a robe in there. I'll get the fire going to warm you.” Still tentative, you investigate and find the situation is as described.

Soon, you are wrapped up in an overwhelming thick white robe that trails on the floor. You are curled up in the chair next to a roaring fire. You are much more comfortable.

You are made further comfortable when the Keeper brings a drink to you. This is nice. Outside is cold and wet but here you are warm and dry. As you were not in a particularly hurry, this temporary delay is not distressing. As delays go, this is one of the better ones you can recall.

The Keeper sits in a chair across from you. “Well, as you have a moment before your clothes are dry, I'll distract you with a Tale.”

Your opinion of this delay drops off rather abruptly.

The night was quiet and calm. Occasionally a gentle breeze appeared from off the lake, chilling Carmen. She took the opportunity to sit closer to Douglas on the bench. If he noticed this attempt to leech from his body heat, he did nothing to acknowledge it. His concentration was on the sky above them. The park was enough of an oasis from the light pollution of the City to provide a view of the stars above. “Believe you intelligent life up there?” he queried.

Carmen adjusted her position in order to better facilitate conversation. “I don't know that I believe in intelligent life down here.”

Douglas chuckled. “I suppose I left myself open for that humorous response. More seriously, do you believe in life living on other planets, intelligent or otherwise?”

“Sure,” Carmen answered. “Clearly it is intelligent as it has yet to contact us.”

Douglas sighed. “Yet another humorous reaction. While I do find them amusing, I am not convinced that they accurately represent your feelings on this subject.”

The chill from the lake returned, causing Carmen to draw into Douglas again for a moment. “I am not sure that I have many actual feelings on this subject. If there are people, or something like people, on other planets, does it affect what I do on a daily basis? Should I not eat ice cream because there is life on other planets? Or should I eat more ice cream?”

“I shouldn't eat more ice cream because it gives me a tummy ache,” interjected Douglas.

“I thought you wanted a non humorous conversation?” Carmen questioned.

Douglas nodded. “An excellent point. My apologies. Although I should point out that, while my comment may have a humorous note to it, the comment is also accurate.”

“Unfortunately I am well aware of that,” Carmen stated. Returning to the topic, she added “From a philosophical perspective, it might affect how we perceive the universe around us but I don't believe most people take this topic seriously. If little green men do live out there somewhere, I am happy for them. I hope they are well. I don't believe it is something I will ever have directly impact my life.”

As they watched, a bright light in the sky became brighter and brighter. It flared before disappearing. Once they blinked away the spots before their eyes, they saw it hovering before them.

It was a disk perhaps six or seven feet across and a couple feet tall at its thickest in the center. Subtle lights pulsed around the disk, flashing in a pattern that likely had a meaning to someone. As they watched, the top of the disk split open and two small creatures emerged. While neither was fully visible, they appeared to be less than a foot tall. Their arms were thin and spindly. Their bodies wide and round, covered with a dull gray cloth. Atop their spherical heads sat a square blue hat. Goggles covered squinty eyes. Their flesh did not appear to be like human flesh; their flesh had larger pores and a soft, almost spongy look to it.

Douglas grinned. “They are little silver men. Does that still count?”

Carmen's big brown eyes were wider than normal with surprise. “I'll say yes.”

The creatures in the disk chittered and beeped at Douglas and Carmen. “Mertleladop phash plash hossenschmeck.”

Carmen nodded. “Interesting. What did your friends say?”

“I'm not sure,” Douglas admitted. “It might be a dialect I'm unfamiliar with.” To the visitors, he asked “Do you know any English? I'm reasonably handy with English.”

The visitors looked at each other, growing what appeared to be excitable. One noted to the other. “Hamtep sansetjem panemblah.”

The other nodded as it responded. “Schmeckfleck pandlebross andlebrech mossposs.” This creature's hand disappeared into the disk to retrieve a metal gun. It looked heavy in the soft hand of the creature, bowing the arm working to lift it.

“Oh dear. I appear to have offended.” Before Douglas could speak further, a green ray emerged from the gun, bathing Douglas in its energy. He glowed briefly and then collapsed against the bench.

Carmen gasped. “Why would you do that?” Her hand shook as she reached out to Douglas. His body was quiet. Calm. His cheek was warm as she stroked it. “Douglas...”

She barely noticed the visitors near him. “Mertleladop. Mertleladop. Mertleladop. Mertlela...ings. Greetings. Greetings.”

“Greetings?” Carmen echoed.

“Success has been reached,” declared the one.

The other nodded. “Storing translation device.” The heavy metal device was returned to the interior of the disk.

Carmen remained upset. “You killed him for our language?!?”

The one appeared confused. “No termination has occurred. Shock from knowledge transfer has caused rest.”

As if to prove their point, Douglas began to stir. With this motion came a low groan. Slowly he sat back up, causing a smile to be born anew on Carmen's face. She leaned him up against her as he continued to recuperate. “Was it a bus or a truck that hit me?” He shook his head to clear it and then visibly regretted it.

“That's an interesting device you have there,” Carmen stated. “Should be careful with whom you point it towards.”

“Information accepted,” declared the one.

Douglas blinked. “Any particular reason you hit me with this ray? Or just to add some English to your lexicon?”

“Instructions are required. Understanding such critical to reaching destination,” stated the other.

“At least there's that,” Douglas muttered.

Carmen encouraged him to rest. “How can we help?”

“Do you know the way to San Jose?” asked the one.

Carmen considered this for a moment. She pointed behind herself. “That way. Southwest from here.”

“Coordinates received. Appreciation extended.” The one and the other disappeared back into the disk which sped off back into the sky.

Douglas sighed. “It was nice of them to stop by. They should stay longer next time.”

“Maybe next time they will zap me,” Carmen offered.

“Oh I hope not. It's very unpleasant.”

Douglas moved to sit up but Carmen stopped him, encouraging him to remain resting on his shoulder. “Take your time. You don't need to look tough in front of me.”

He put an arm around her to increase the comfort associated with this sitting position. In response, she nestled deeper into him. “Okay. I can still see the stars from him.”

They sat there and saw the stars.

The Keeper of the Tale grinned as he wrapped up his Tale. For a moment, you hope that this grin is due to the happy nature of the ending. Realistically, you know this is not likely to be the case. You are too familiar with the Keeper to believe this for long. “Of course, the moral of the story is: Asking for directions shouldn't be alien to you.”

After this statement, you find yourself unable to look directly at the Keeper. Absorbing his moral, you turn to the side, observing the windows. “Oh. It's stopped raining. Still, do you have time...” His speech ceases when he sees you have already risen from the chair. “Ah. Yes, well, places to go, people to see I'm sure. Your clothes are ready for you.”

Upon returning to the changing room, you find this to be so. Quickly, you dress.

As you depart, the Keeper waves. “Thanks for visiting. See you soon!”

While you wish him no ill will, you hope it will be some time until you next see the Keeper of the Tale.

10 August 2012

Listen Close to the Keeper of the Tale...

     The snow swirls heavily around you. It is thick and heavy and cold. You have been out in the cold and the wind for far too long already. Suddenly you realize where you are and that a moment's comfort can be gained. Quickly you duck into the doorway and close the door behind you. Loudly you try to stamp the majority of the snow from your footwear rather than track it further into the building. From the inside of the building the snow outside falls in a pretty exuberate way. It's easy to appreciate it now that you are slightly detached from it. There is a faint smell of coffee in the hallway. It is a warm happy smell, particularly welcome considering the cold you feel. You move in the direction of the smell, towards the big open room at the end of the hall.

     Once you reach the room you are unsurprised to see him there, the Keeper of the Tale. He sits on the couch in the corner of the room, sipping on a coffee. This time he sees you approach, no doubt having heard you stomp the snow from your feet. "Hallo," he says with a smile. "A bit horrid out today, isn't it? Would you care for a coffee? It's a bit strong, but it's fresh." You gratefully accept his offer and remove your jacket, dislodging snow from it as you do so. You make yourself comfortable on the couch. "Do you take anything in your coffee? Milk or sugar or something similar?" You request a splash of milk and some sugar. He brings you a small pot of sugar with the coffee mug. "I splashed the milk as requested. I hope it's to your satisfaction." You take a cautious sip. It is quite hot and strong. At least now you know how much sugar to add.

     As you stir your coffee he looks at you hopefully. "Would you care for a story with your coffee?" You can think of no good reason to resist but caution that you do have an appointment you are struggling to reach. Time is currently not short but you must still brave the weather and are unsure how long it will take you to reach your destination. He waves his hand confidently. "I have the very thing; another tale of our friends Douglas and Carmen. Just relax..."

     Douglas sighed loudly. "I weary of life. Tis nothing but a myriad of sad occurrences and is over far too quickly."
     Carmen gave his sad features a curious look. While she was well familiar with his ability to change moods on a whim this shift seemed unusual to her. It felt forced, unnatural even. A few moments ago, in the convenience store, he had been downright cheery and she could detect no logical reason for his change. "Nonsense," she replied.

     "What say you?"

     "Nonsense," she repeated.

     "Really? What argument do you have to refute me?"


     "Certainly. Rainbows aren't sad things. Therefore life cannot be solely sad things when rainbows exist."

     "Rainbows mean it's been raining. Rain is sad."

     "Ah, but the rainbow comes out when the rain is over. It's a happy thing. Besides, rain is a happy thing. It feeds the vegetation. It washes away the rubbish in the street. It leaves the land fresh and happy smelling." Douglas continued to sulk. Carmen looked at him with genuine concern. "Are you all right? Is your blood sugar low?"

     A low wicked chuckle erupted from a nearby park bench. There was no mirth in the sound. A bald man in a suit sat there looking thoughtful. "The young man finally sees the truth of this world. There is nothing worth doing, nothing worth attempting. Everything is worthless. Everything is failure. For instance, I have failed to affect you. Why should that be?"

     His wondering hit her like a slap to the face. "What have you done to him?" She could feel a pressure in her brain, an external force working to affect her.

     He stood up and focused on her. "I am the Philosopher. I ponder life. I can find nothing encouraging about it and I seek to share that truth with all."

     Carmen reeled under his assault of negativity. She chewed desperately on her lower lip, trying to focus past the emotion surrounding her. All see needed was a moment to catch her breath, a moment to fight back...

     Suddenly there it was like a beam of sunlight through the clouds. A moment without pain and suffering, a moment where her heart rose with joy. She smiled warmly. Her deep brown eyes opened and she directed her joy at the Philosopher.

     He staggered under the force of her counter attack. Somehow, just as he could broadcast his negative emotions, she could broadcast her positive emotions. He felt the need to strike back, to prove what he felt was true. It was difficult to do so. She looked so happy, so warm, with those gentle eyes and dusky skin and pretty hair...

     He shook it off. Her level of attractiveness meant nothing. He gestured demonstratively. "Life is pain. Pain is truth!"

    Carmen staggered. He was stronger than she anticipated. Perhaps she couldn't defeat him. Perhaps he was right? No, that couldn't be but what could she do?

     Then she remembered and a plan formed in her mind. She opened her bag while she was still coherent, grabbed the item and flung it at him. Instinctively he caught it. "What?!?"

     "You can have it." Carmen smiled warmly at him, well aware that he was distracted and therefore more vulnerable to her emotion. "We can get another. They're great!"

    Hesitantly he unwrapped it and bit deep into the flaky crust. Immediately the tension dropped from his body. He relaxed. He even smiled. "This... this is wonderful!"

     Carmen grinned triumphantly. "Of course its wonderful; it's a Frosttess Fruit Pie."

     He made a yummy noise after taking a second bite. "Apple pie filling! Life is wonderful."

     Douglas shook off the last of the negative influence from which he'd been suffering. "What happened?"

     "Nothing much. I just got to spread some happiness, that's all."

     "Is he eating my fruit pie? Life IS pain."

     "Don't worry, we can get you another." Douglas cheered.

     The Philosopher smiled at them. "I have a whole new outlook on life thanks to you and thanks to Frosttess Fruit Pies!"

     You are very happy about the fact that you've finished your coffee as it is well past time you were going. The Keeper smiles at you. "Of course, there is a moral to this story: Everybody likes pie!" Your head drops and you shake your head in disbelief. That's a moral?

     It's time to go and you get up to put on your jacket. The Keeper looks concerned. "Should there be another moral perhaps, one that I missed?" He starts to ponder this while you make a break for the door. The snow still falls heavily outside but, for some reason, it comes as a relief to be out in the snow as opposed to inside with the Keeper of the Tale.

23 January 2012

Fiction... or Future Fact?

I'm not big into conspiracy theories. I think humans often find patterns in the silliest things and build these things into Something Very Serious Indeed. Most of these are overly complex and crazy to be too real.

I do believe in motives and plots. I try to observe how people react to events. I know that people don't like change and most like control. I like the idea of control. I'm quite sure that part of the reason I write fiction is to have some control over something in life.

So maybe this is a theory and maybe it's just me wondering aloud. Maybe not.

At the end of 2011, the major music labels announced that they would be getting out of the CD business during 2012. From a business perspective, I can see the sense in this. No need to generate physical media (that's a financial risk, lower the overhead), just some servers and a bandwidth pipe for downloads. No need to wait until an artist has 10 or 12 solid songs ready; they can pop a song or two out whenever they are ready. Less 'unfinished' songs made to make an album release date. All good for the company, the artist, and the consumer.

Isn't it?

If there are no stores that the physical CD is in, then there's less choice. How many legal download sources are there for the 'big labels'? Half a dozen perhaps? No more fighting to get an album into Walmart or cutting an exclusive deal with Target, it's download it here or nowhere potentially.


No need to clearance the CD out because it's not taking up any physical space. No need to buy a CD, get bored with it, take it to a second hand shop, and let someone else try it for a discount price. It's on a server to legally download and nowhere else. There's no incentive to have a 'sale' or 'discount' price. If you didn't download it from this site or that site then you must have it illegally.

But that's okay. You don't care for much mainstream music anyway. Most of the bands you are interested in belong to smaller labels, ones that may still make CDs. For awhile anyway. Now that the larger labels aren't making them, demand for CD media has gone way down, making it more expensive. Now you can't buy as many songs and smaller bands that aren't on labels can't afford to make CDs anymore. More and more they put their music online to download.

Only the large labels don't want them alongside their 'good' music. They have to go to smaller sites with higher overhead and costs. Some bands would be willing to give their music away, they used to have links to download it legally from Megaupload and the like but those sites are gone now. The only real way to make money in the music industry is to work to get on a major label.

Because they have the control. Just like old times...

11 June 2011

A Baseball Story

Trying to look casual and failing, I glanced around me and followed my friend down to the seats in the 100 level of Miller Park. Generally speaking, you need tickets for seats in that area in order to access it; tickets we did not have. We shouldn't have been able to get near the stairwell without someone checking on us. In the bottom of the 14th inning, security relaxes a bit. Without bothering to check whether or not I was following him, my buddy sat in the last row of seats in the section nearest home plate, leaving the aisle seat open for me.

I dropped down next to him and observed the situation. From this perspective, Ryan Braun looked as big as life at the plate. Loudly, the baseball smacked into the catcher's glove, raising the count to three balls and no strikes. “Just walk him already,” I muttered. “Then Prince can hit a home run and we can all go home.”

What time was it in the bottom of the 14th inning on a Friday night? Or, at this point, Saturday morning? I had deliberately avoided observing the stadium clock for fear that knowing the time would make me feel tired. Now was not the time to alter that plan. My gaze remained focused on Braun as he watched Ball Four zip past him. We applauded as he took his base.

The Brewers and Rockies had been struggling back and forth throughout the game, keeping it interesting. While the Brewers couldn't get a commanding lead, they would tie the game promptly. The Rockies would score in the top of the inning, then the Brewers would lead off the bottom of the inning with a home run, that sort of thing. As a result, there wasn't much drama surrounding the concept of the Brewers tying the game, just if they could finally take the lead and win the game.

With one attention demanding crack, the baseball rocketed away from Prince Fielder's bat. Suddenly I was on my feet, watching as the ball bounced around the scarcely populated upper decks of Miller Parks. It was easily a fair ball and the home run that won the game for the Brewers.

For a moment, I just stood there, mouth agape. Surrounded by the cheering and the clapping and fireworks and celebrating, I was struck silent.  “Huh,” I finally muttered. “Whadya know?”

Then I joined in.