Monday, July 30, 2007


The journal entries from The Black Tea Letters have now been added to the archive, and additionally you can now search the posts on by topic using the "label" list on the right-hand side.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Vital Statistics

Name: John Henry Brand
Age: 238 days
Weight: Approximately 20 pounds
Height: Tall
Astrological Sign: Saggitarius

Current aspirations:
Trying to talk
Standing up on his own
Eating bits of solid food

Music with drums
Pretending the high chair table is a drum
Standing up

Being hungry
Being left alone
Sitting still

The Black Tea Letters

Some of my older readers will remember the time when was a self-written HTML page that was in blog format sort of before there was such a thing as blogs. I used to update it manually with the FTP to a hosted server and I would put the time and date and so forth on the posts. I was thinking today of possibly uploading all of the old entries from the diary that I kept there that I titled "The Black Tea Letters". There's some interesting old memories and thoughts about working in the medical field and dealing with living in a city and going to school and working at the same time. I'll be slowly adding the entries over the next few days. If I get ambitious, maybe I'll even enter the other journals and the old Torque DyingDays articles I wrote. This was the intro that I put on it:

At The Outset

Since my last stab at online journaling, I have kept three others in various places. One in a small notebook, one in an old palmtop Windows CE device that was most of 2002 and got erased when the backup battery failed. And finally I kept a diary in a diary program on my Palm IIIx, which I may or may not make available online depending on how I feel.

In any case, it's been almost three years since I last placed a journal online. I posted at for a while, and I did what I could for that site when I could. Paul Hughes is doing his own thing these days and I am doing mine. My webpage has been only sporadically updated for the last three years, but I would like to work on making this a priority, and I think a journal is just what it needs.

So I suppose a synopsis of the last two years is in order. When my last journal left off, I had just graduated St. Lawrence University and I was living, rather forlornly, with my parents. I had no job direction or prospects and I had given up on prosthetics as a career. I'm sure now that everyone must go through moments like this, but at the time it was most disconcerting. This translated predictably into a rather grim journal in May and June of 2001.

Happily, my life took a series of positive turns very shortly after. So here we go:

In late June 2001 I was working in a factory in Watertown, NY. I had the second shift, and the dubious honor of coming home late each night smelling of mechanical lubricants and pulling slivers of steel flash out of my hands. The previous job I had, making prosthetics, was also brutal to my hands. On the job injuries from prosthetics included repeated sanding and grinding of my knuckles and fingertips on the pin routers and drum sanders I used every day, and one particularly painful episode when two square feet of molten polypropelene foam wrapped around my ungloved hands and stuck like taffy.

Fortunately, it left only a few dark scar areas and didn't seem to cause much lasting nerve damage. I only mention it now because my hands figure ironically into the outcome of this little tale.

It was sometime in the fourth week of work at the factory that I got a call from one of my close friends from SLU who lived in St. Petersburg Florida. Hearing how unhappy I was, she invited me to move to Florida and try to get a job where she worked. Less than three weeks later, I was living in Florida, and I had gotten a low-level job with Xerox. It was not a long-term or ultimately satisfying place to be, but it was infinitely better than living in upstate, NY.

During this time, I had only limited internet access, so I moved my journaling activities to just a pen and notebook. I used my trusty green Schaffer fountain pen with which I had taken every note and written every test at SLU. I stopped this journal, sadly, later that season when I lost that wonderful old pen. This is something I regret to this day.

It was around mid July that I finally re-established my internet access through a pathetic dial-up connection. I had taken my leave of Dyingdays due to my lack of an internet connection, and I decided not to write any more Torque articles, because symbolically, that time in my life was over. I did, however, begin posting on the message board for Paul's resurrender network, and one person in particular caught my attention. A female member with the unusual username On My Back.

Conversations with this person went from open discussions to private instant messenger chats to phone-calls. Eventually, we decided that she should fly to Florida and we should meet. On August 3rd, 2001, I met Beth O'Malley at the St. Petersburg airport. It took all of about 12 hours to fall completely in love with her. Following the first thrilling and unlikely weekend, we parted tearfully as she returned to Chicago, and we swore we'd see each other soon. And we did. Every weekend almost, despite the distance and expense of air travel. Each reunion was more joyful than the last, each time together more romantic and exciting. Sometime in early September, a crew of crazy arabs decided to fly airliners into buildings on a boring morning the day after Beth had left to go home again.

I was sitting in a dull staff meeting that morning when I heard the rumors that "someone had blown up some planes". As I watched the breaking news footage on a conference-room monitor, the doughnut I was eating suddenly tasted like just so much dirt. Thankfully, Beth had made it safely back to Midway airport only hours before the attacks.

After the attacks, especially since so much shit surrounding those attacks took place near where I lived (the terrorists learned to fly planes at a nearby flight training facility and my local post office was shut down because the White House anthrax scare letters had been mailed from there.) In any case, it became impossible for weeks for Beth and I to see each other. I felt at once just as lonely as I had been in NY, talking to Beth online or on the phone, wishing I was somewhere or someone else. It was around this time that I decided to move to Chicago to be with her. The final trip that Beth made by plane to St. Petersburg, she had to make her way past several checkpoints and several dozen National Guard soldiers with assault rifles at the ready. I will never forget what that was like, and it was a crash of reality into my relatively isolated life.

Another packed car, another two-day road trip, another new and enormously unknown home. But this time I had a delightful companion to share it with. Predictably, if only to us, we took that ride right up until this very day. We are still together, and I loved her even more this morning as she lay sleepily in bed peeking out from under a heavy down blanket as I did on that day at the airport.

Of course, that still leaves a gap of about two years. What the hell happened to me in those two years? I had quite a time getting used to Chicago. I got a job working as a medical assistant in an orthopedic surgeon's clinic (a job which I have to this day). Several thousand stitches, staples, casts, and minor medical procedures later, I managed to help build a very nice life with Beth, that includes, among other things, a new Mustang to replace my old Cavalier wagon.

A country mouse like me fought and kicked against the urban norms before finally accepting them. I completed my first novel, The Prince and The Pitchman, and it was published in 2002 by Booksurge under the label Vole Books. My second novel, a sequel to the first, titled The Journey of the Tallish Ten, was completed in 2003, and is in the process of being published. I applied to Northwestern again for prosthetics, and was rebuffed a third time. With relatively little time to sulk about it, I discovered a new and unexpected interest: Massage Therapy. I applied and was accepted into the 15 month program at the Chicago School of Massage Therapy (I am writing this right now on a Dell Axim pocket PC in my Saturday morning anatomy class). Eleven and a half more months to go. Now we come to the irony of my hands, those much abused travelers of grinding mechanical work. Now I am going to make a living using my hands on other people to soothe, relax, and heal them. By the feedback I've gotten so far, massage therapy is quite natural to me, and I see a great deal of potential within myself to help others with this innate ability I've discovered.

But the most exciting development in the interim period has unquestionably been August 12th, 2003. Atop Castle Rock in Blue Mountain Lake, NY., under the Adirondack sky, I asked Beth to be my wife, and she accepted. Our wedding plans are progressing as we speak. We have hammered out many of the rough details and now we are working on the fun parts of picking out themes and colors and music. I am happy to be involved in the process though at times it is complicated and daunting work. I hope to make this process a part of this journal, along with my experiences in Chicago and with Massage Therapy.

In a very real sense, I have grown enormously as a person since 2001, and one of the most profound examples of this is that I like things now that I used to hate. Sure there's the obvious example of urban life, but the best examples are food. Mr. Used-to-eat-pizza-every-day-dipped-in-ranch-dressing now eats plenty of salads, lettuce, tomatoes, and (wonder of wonders), soup. I began eating soup for no apparent reason about a month ago. I hadn't had it in over ten years.

But overwhelmingly the most incredible example of this is my newfound love of tea. Iced tea at first, and now hot teas as well. Many of my friends and family have sat through one of my endless eye-rolling diatribes about how I never drink hot liquids because they make me queasy. Well, now I not only drink tea, I am somewhat addicted to it.

So, if there's a theme to this journal that could be predicted at the outset, it's the theme of acceptance and learning to like things I once hated. Hence, I'm titling it the Black Tea Letters.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Note to Stephen King:
That is how you end a seven-book, epic, genre-defining masterpiece.

Somehow, even though the book has been available for all of four days already, I managed to get to the end of it without anyone ruining the story for me, and I can say honestly, from the bottom of my literature-snob heart, that it was every inch as magical and fulfilling as the rest of the series. JK Rowling managed somehow to end the story on as strong a note as the one she began with, and that is something that is true of precious few things of any great or imaginative length.

Without spoilers, I can say happily that The Deathly Hallows made terrific use of the very best parts of Rowling's talent. The story was riddles within riddles, and plotlines and misdirection galore. Familiar faces of people with real problems and shifting alliances.

All preference of fantasy and wizard-lore aside, these books represent some of the very best storytelling I've ever come across. These novels have dozens of protagonists we know intimately, and an equal number of antagonists. Running jokes for young and old readers, and plotlines that are woven and crafted in a way that really doesn't come across as well in the movies as it does in the books. And I found to my most pleasant suprise that Rowling's mastery of the language has improved even further for the final book, and she used it to tremendous effect, calling back images of mythology and fantasy lore in a very legitamizing and authentic manner.

The Harry Potter books capture some of the very best emotions surrounding what it means to be young, what it means to go to school and create a sort of second family out of friends you encounter, and what it means to feel the gradual, delicious, and sometimes heart-wrenching awakening of your adult self. When I read these books it reminds me of nothing so much as St. Lawrence University, and my time there. Instead of the Gryffindor tower, I see the hallways of Sykes residence, and instead of the Great Hall, I see the old hothouse Dana Dining Hall, full of young men and women trying to acclimate to being without their immediate families.

For the first time since reading Stephen King's horrid "The Dark Tower", I feel hope that in the future people will read the Harry Potter books and know that not every story is cliche, and not everything needs to end with the beginning, and certainly not, as in the case of the Sopranos, with ten seconds of black screen.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Feeling Decidedly Mellow

Hence, the new playlist.
"Never make enemies of people who buy ink by the barrel."
-President Bill Clinton

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Further Tales of Chicago Parking Stupidity

Here we go again. A week after the fiasco with the Ferrari in the tow zone for half an hour, we have the same section of the street occupied by a large landscaping company truck for NEARLY TWO HOURS. Again, no parking enforcement, no tickets, and no towing. What a pile of bullshit. If I parked my Volvo there for five minutes I'd come out and it would be gone.


I know that being 28 years old I'm pretty much guaranteed to enjoy this movie, but even objectively it was great for me. One of the best suprises of the whole year for me. Minus the expected relatively thin plot, it was a terrific film. Given the whole general Michael Bay suckitude, this could have been several orders of magnitude worse than it was. My favorite parts:

6: Starscream jumping from plane to plane, midair, while changing back and forth into a plane himself.
5: Excellent excuse for a Camaro vs. Mustang car chase.
4: Terrific soundtrack including some of the best sound engineering and music I've heard in a film. Linkin Park!
3: Jazz saying "What's up, little bitches?" to Sam and Kayla (or whatever her name was).
2: Optimus Prime saying "My bad" offscreen after having stepped on the grass. Bonus points: It's the real O.Prime voice!
1: The scene where the Army AC-130 opens up on Scorponok. Has anyone seen anything that militarily impressive since... ever?

Friday, July 13, 2007

There is No God

Two douchebags in a Ferrari F430 parked outside of our office today blatantly in the NO PARKING TOW ZONE in front of our main window. They were blocking a fire hydrant for almost 30 minutes as they went in on their cellphones and had a leisurely lunch. They didn't even put on their hazards (if Ferrari's have them) Not a single police officer passed their illegally-parked, $309,000 car for a half an hour. Not one. Not a meter maid, not a parking enforcer, nothing. And this is the same street where I got two parking tickets in the same four-hour stretch one time. I thought for sure I'd see some devine retribution for all of the Nanny-State crap that the CPD have been pulling lately. Maybe, just MAYBE there'd be a time where I saw the CPD doing something warranted or worthy of the hassle that they are for the general Chicago populace.

Clearly the Chicago cops have better things to be doing at the moment, like enforcing idiotic speed limits on the outer drive.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Our Super Snazzy Trip To Evans Mills, 2007!

Hi there, John Brand here!

I've hijacked daddy's computer and I'm here to tell you we had just a heck of a good time in New York this past week.

Between Daddy's cellphone and his big camera, we had over 300 pictures to look at. Here's the best of them:

First we went to a great big place with cars that flew through the sky and smelled like feet inside. The trip was sorta long, but I made it okay because there was lots to look at. They were loud, but the clouds were awesome.

When we arrived somewhere they called "Hancock", Aunt Brooke came and picked us up for lunch. Aunt Brooke and Uncle Walter have cats! She drove us to a house in the woods that belonged to none other than my great-grandma Brand! Wow, was she excited to see us!

On the way we saw some people along the road that looked like they took a wrong turn at the year 1710. They looked like hearty folk, and they called us "English".

Then of course, Grandma and Grandpa Brand came, too, and brought their dog Raven, who I thought was really funny. Grandma and Grandpa were very excited to see me, and they gave me kisses from both sides at once. I didn't mind, though.

Daddy went for a ride on a little motorcycle with four wheels that made a big "broom" sound. He wore a funny helmet but got a really good picture of a pond in a field across the street from Great-Grandma Brand's house.

We all went out to breakfast the next morning and I got to sit next to Grandma Brand, and Mommy tried a huge pancake and egg breakfast called "The Challenge" that was originally designed to feed hungry soldiers. Man, was she hungry! Daddy helped her eat it all becase she didn't know it was a gigantic meal for two (or three).

Then we went swimming next door at a pool that belonged to Aunt Nancy and Uncle Larry. They were fun and their pool was awesome!

Now let me tell, you, I didn't know what was in store next, but it sure was a doozie!

The Brands threw us a great big party with food and beer and a swimming pool and basketball and ladderball... Gosh, just about everything you could want. Daddy had to stop after about four grilled sausages because he said his shorts woundn't fit anymore if he kept eating!

I met my cousins-

-and some other buddies that made the trip to visit Daddy.

Daddy was soooo happy to see his buddies, especially Karen and Dan who he hadn't seen since way before I was born, and his other good friends Paul, Sara, and DJ who he misses a lot when he doesn't get to see them for a long time. His friends were nice, and Karen and her husband had a little, little baby named Doug. Man was he cute!

We all took some good pictures together, with Grandma and Grandpa Brand, Great-Grandma Brand, and Great-Grandma Thompson. What a special bunch of people the Brands are, and I was sooo happy to meet them all!

Just when we thought we had tired all those Brands all the way out, we went back to Aunt Nancy and Uncle Larry's house and Whammo!-More party!

Finally, after all the food was gone and we had all swum and drunk and card-played outselves right out, after every book was read and every bottle warmed, we got ready to head back to good old Chicago.

I figured I'd take a little snooze on the way. Wake me up when we hit Evanston, Daddy.


Sorry I haven't updated in a while, I'm just sort of putting the world back together again after having been in NY for 5 days. We had a blast, and I went to my 10 year high school reunion, which was fun in a surreal sort of way. More coming soon, stay tuned.

I did get to see some of my friends this past week, and it has done my soul some good for sure. With regards to my average that I listed last month between my eleven closest friends, the average number of months since I've seen them last has dropped from 3.5 to 2.7 years, mostly on the strength of such holdouts as Crystal, Jeff Dorman, Frank Arquitt, and Dion Davis. What's a guy gotta do to get some face time with the really old friends? If you're reading this, come and hang out with me!