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ralph robert moore


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ralph robert moore

Copyright © 2004 by Ralph Robert Moore.

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Return to lately 2004.

we've always been sitting out here
january 5, 2004

I'm writing these lines on Saturday, January 3, 2004 in the late afternoon (4:30 C.S.T.).

Mary and I have just come in from having a beer in our garden. The weather was predicted to be eighty degrees, a new record, but in fact with the gentle breeze and gray clouds above the swaying treetops, it seemed closer to the high sixties.

Joe, Mary's dad, flew back to Milwaukee yesterday, Friday, after a wonderful two-week visit, and today, just us in the house, we reverted back to pajamas, our standard in-house wear, like two Hugh Hefners, so that the outfit I wore going out the back door, where after all we can be seen, somewhat, by cars going by on the two lane road behind our home, especially now, with the trees at the rear of the property thorny with leaflessness, was an old pair of beige gardening pants pulled over my pajama shorts, grass-stained, low-rise sneakers, no socks, my short-sleeved, blue and white hatched pajama top, over which I wore a jade linen dress jacket. My hair was long and unbrushed, like Mick Jagger in the Maysles Brothers' Gimme Shelter documentary, the scene where Jagger's reviewing, in his white bathrobe, for some reason, the murder by Hell's Angels of the black guy with a gun at Altamont.

Joe's visit went really well.

Whenever you have a houseguest, and you care about them, there's that before and after of the visit, the before consisting of all these errands you need to run to get things right for the visit, white tablecloths dry-cleaned, larder stocked, that stain on the stairway vigorously rubbed-out; as well as the after of pulling their bedsheets off, bundling them, pushing them down into the washing machine, throwing out all the tea biscuits they didn't eat.

Mary and I have boxes, wide accordion files, large photo albums, back shelves of closets, filled with mementoes from our life together, twenty-four years now, we met during the Christmas season, and of all the ten thousand different items we have, each a clue to our shared past, the most evocative such reminders of our day-to-day lives, to me, even more so, surprisingly, than photographs, are those "to do" lists that happened to be preserved.

A To Do list is really very little- a piece of paper with different tasks to be done written down-- but each item evokes the past like the sense of smell. Holding a tattered, yellowed list from ten or twenty years ago in my hands, smiling as I go down the list, is like reading the score to a great symphony.

Here's an excerpt from our To Do list as we prepared for our annual two-week visit from Joe.

Outdoor Lights
Bedroom Draperies
409 Stairs
Get Range Fixed
Joe's Bedding
Buy Outdoor Table
Decorate Car
Get Car Cleaned
Trim Lantana
Fix Glove Compartment
Print Brunch Cards
Dry Clean Tablecloth
Get Oil Changed
Paint Breakfast Nook Ledges
Caulk Kitchen Counters
Front Door Curtains
Kitchen Light
Bedroom Computer Wires

When I first started working on this Lately, I then proceeded, after the above list, to talk about each item on the list, in some detail, but the more I worked my way through the list, the more I thought, Well, that's kind of a clever idea, Nicholson Baker could turn the annotations of a To-Do list into a novel, much like The Mezzanine, but I don't know if it's really what I want to do. I suppose because it's just too automatic.

So I'll only include one such footnote, to give you an idea of how I was thinking at the time:

Bedroom Draperies

Those of you who read my Lately columns with any regularity know that Mary and I redid our master bedroom during the fall, and are by now probably sick to death of hearing about it, but let me just add that for the large bay window area at the rear of the bedroom we hung long, beautiful pearl and gold drapes down each side, and across the top of the area. The drapes are held in place by three carved cherubs with large holes in the sides of their heads for the drapes to pass through, mental floss style. The hardest part was getting the cherub heads attached to the bedroom wall. When you drill into a wall you never know what you're going to hit. I tried drilling the screws for one head, and ran into impenetrable metal that, the longer I pressed the drill against the wall, started to give off that burning metal smell, so I stopped. Why is there metal in our wall?

You might notice several of the items on the list are about getting repairs done, and in fact we were beset by the usual breakdowns. A few weeks before Joe arrived, the computer that controls our Kenmore Elite stove started displaying the code F2 instead of the time or oven temperature, and we soon discovered we could no longer bake or broil. I called Sears. We had to go through Sears' two-part repair system again: First a repairman comes out to see what part you need and orders it, then a different repair guy arrives a week or so later, to install the new part. Convenient for Sears, since their repair crew no longer has to keep an inventory of parts on their trucks, but inconvenient for Sears customers. When the first guy showed up, I mentioned the F2 code. He looked surprised, glancing down at his work order. "It says here it was an F4 code." "No, I said F2 when I called." "Well, okay…" The part itself cost four hundred and fifty dollars. I was going to take a hammer and torture the old part, to punish it for malfunctioning, but never got the time.

The first night during Joe's visit that the three of us sat down to watch a DVD, in this case Chicago, our Sony DVD player fucked-up, freezing images, skipping scenes. We went out the next morning and bought a new one, a Panasonic this time, took it home, hooked it up. Same problem. Mary tried cleaning the DVD with alcohol. It worked perfectly.

Joe unfortunately became ill during his visit, about half-way through the two weeks, nothing that required a visit to the doctor, but a bad cough, upset stomach, and physical listlessness that put him in bed most of the day after breakfast and before dinner and an evening DVD. We felt bad for him, but it didn't at all spoil his time here. We had a lot of great talks, around our breakfast nook table, out in our garden, up in Mary's room where Joe taught Mary masking techniques he had discovered using Adobe Photoshop.

We had USDA Prime rib roast for Christmas day, preceded by shrimp cocktail, and here we used 10 count shrimp, meaning shrimp that were large enough that only ten weighed a pound. As an experiment, instead of poaching them this year, which is usually how you cook shrimp for cocktail, simmering them in a watery brew of onion and celery, I microwaved them instead, one minute on high for each four shrimp, turning them over halfway through. They turned out magnificent, springy-fleshed and full of flavor. The three of us only ate one rib's worth of the roast during our elaborate, china-plated, candle-lit feast; Mary and I took one of the remaining fat ribs out of the freezer the morning of Joe's departure, and after we got back home from the airport, weary and hungry, carved the red and pinkness of it into slices, eating two plump, French-bread sandwiches, watching DVDs of SWAT and Jeepers Creepers 2.

Mary and me sitting out in our garden today, January 3, the visit behind us, both feeling a little sad Joe still wasn't just upstairs, the neighborhood quiet but for the birds and the breezes, both thinking ahead to what we needed to do in the near future, more doctor visits, me helping our neighbor, Jim, rebuild our shared privacy fence, I let the beer pleasantly seep into me, my long hair flopping around, causing me to squint my eyes sometimes when I talked to Mary, me also thinking of a new novelette I'm excited about writing, the problems, the paragraphs, I got a feeling, kind of a technicolor, hyperreal sense, looking at Mary's green eyes, her blonde hair, the amazing denim blue of the oversized jacket she had pulled on, with brass buttons down the front, and seeing far off, up at our brick home, through the screens of the partially-raised windows in our breakfast nooks our cats, with their stupid-looking faces peering out into the garden, at the birdseed, the birds, that we've always been sitting out here, in these two white plastic chairs, forever, and always will.

It was a good feeling.

SENTENCE is now entering its seventh year on-line.

When I visit different sites, I often wonder how popular they are, whether their audience is growing or shrinking, what pages on their site are most popular, etc. Most sites don't publish their statistics, and they certainly have a right not to, but I think site statistics are kind of interesting, like those circulation statements you see once a year in magazines that tell how many paid subscriptions they have, how many newsstand copies they sell, how many free copies of each issue they give away, how many copies are spoiled, and so on.

Each January, I've been publishing statistics about SENTENCE, for those of you who might be interested. If you find this annual survey boring I apologize, but I do it in the belief that regular SENTENCE visitors might like to know how the site is faring, and that other webmasters might find the information useful for purposes of comparison. The statistics quoted here are from Urchin Enterprise Version 3.4, the statistics software used by SENTENCE. Totals, unless indicated otherwise, refer to all SENTENCE pages combined.

In 2003, SENTENCE received a total of 585,134 hits, compared to 445,105 hits in 2002.

SENTENCE currently has 16,350 visitors a month, compared to 11,362 visitors a month in 2002. That works out to 527 visitors per day.

The site is visited each month by people from 153 nations (compared to 74 nations the year before). The top ten nations, in descending order, are The United States, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Singapore, Germany, United Arab Emigrates, Saudi Arabia, and Japan.

The ten most popular short stories on this site in 2003 were, in this order, starting with number one: Beaten Up By Girls, The Rape, Daddy's Glad Hands, Sex on Sheets, When You Surfaced, When The Big One Thaws, Zombie Betrayal, Cat Head, Red Boat, and Big Inches.

I started a Stroke Information page in 2003, to try to help people who have suffered a stroke, or who are the caregiver of someone who's suffered a stroke, by providing a "one-stop" page of comprehensive stroke information (it's located here. If you search on "stroke information" on Google, you receive 4,440,000 returns. My site didn't register in the top 500 at first, perhaps not even in the top one million, I didn't have the time to keep hitting NEXT, but a week ago it moved up to the 88th listing (I just checked it now, and it's moved up again, to the 54th listing). The folks at Google have been particularly kind to this site, usually including my pages near the top of their listings, for which I'm very much appreciative. "On line diary", for example, brings up SENTENCE as the second listing out of 3,550,000 results.

The search engine that most frequently directs searchers to SENTENCE is Google (25%, of the traffic SENTENCE receives is from Google, up from 18.8% in 2002), followed by Yahoo (9.8%), MSN (3.1%), and AOL (2.6%). 42% of the people who visit SENTENCE do so through no referral (in other words, they get to SENTENCE either by typing in the URL for this site, or, more likely, because they bookmarked SENTENCE and use that bookmark to revisit the site.)

The statistics software I use includes a list each month of the top "search strings" people use to find SENTENCE. A "search string" is the word or phrase that's typed into a search engine to locate a site. The ten most common search strings in 2003 which caused people to discover SENTENCE are:

Baked Ziti Recipes
Fire Ant Bites
Teriyaki Chicken Recipe
Ant Bites
Brain Test
Cat in Heat
Deja Blue Water
Red Ant Bites
Cat Kidney Failure

A lot of the e-mails I receive that aren't specifically related to my fiction are concerned with fire ant bites, beloved cats who have died, and people who have suffered strokes. I've received so much mail about ant bites, in fact, that I did something I've never done before: I went back and added a few paragraphs to my Lately on fire ant bites and the itch they cause, located here, to give clear instructions on how to get rid of the itch (my cure also works with poison ivy).

I started SENTENCE to showcase my writings. To make them available to readers around the world. Because before the Internet, although I was getting published in different periodicals and anthologies, the bulk of what I wrote was unpublished, unseen, unread. And much of that bulk included the best stuff I had done. This is going to sound incredibly arrogant, I'm sure, but it always stuns me when a story of mine is rejected by a magazine, because to me, what I've written is far superior to most of what I see in that magazine. I say this, at the risk of being thought arrogant, because I'm certain it's also true of a lot of other writers I admire, who are also having difficulty getting widely-published.

In many ways, the opportunity to self-publish on the Internet mitigates the frustration I think we all, as writers, feel towards the publishing establishment. At least with this bypass, we're able to get our stories out directly, to let readers themselves decide on the worth of our words. But I have to admit, being published in print, in a saddle-stitched magazine with a circulation of 300, is still a greater thrill to me, a vindication of my worth, than knowing, through my statistics software, that since its placement on SENTENCE, that same story, on-line, has been read by over 10,000 people. I still want something I can hold in my hands, its arms and legs flailing, its mouth wet.

This annual column also gives me the opportunity to sincerely thank all of you who visit SENTENCE on a regular basis. I've come to know some of you through e-mails, and even with those of you who visit silently, I've sensed your presence, and am so appreciative that you've found something of worth here to which you keep returning.

As I've said elsewhere, the real achievement of writing is not the writing. The real achievement of writing is someone else reading the writing.

Thanks to all of you, everywhere, for reading me. It means a lot.