Know well.

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Let’s see how we’re doing here. Shovel the front walk? Check. Peruse the local shops for root vegetables to give to the children? Check. Decorate the forge room with robots? Check. Yep, I haven’t done ANY of those things. (I keep checklists of things not done; a “to-don’t” list, if you will.)

I don’t think I have to tell you that Christmas is a very special time of year around the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill. No, this I think you know well. Not because we’re religious or Jesus freaks or anything like that. No, the specialness is more about quietude. This sleepy little corner of post-industrial upstate New York gets a little sleepier around the holidays, mostly because people take off to visit relatives, friends, etc., in far-flung corners of the globe, leaving the village almost entirely to ourselves. No beeping delivery trucks backing up to loading docks. No drunken neighbors threatening the kid next door. Peace on Earth, man.

Even Mitch Macaphee, our mad science advisor, has taken off for the week. It looked like he was packing for a conference, but he told me he was headed for some sort of family reunion in Aberdeen. That made me scratch my head. “Do you really need to pack the death ray pistol?” I asked cautiously. He just smiled. Sucks to be HIS second cousin this year. (Maybe any year.)

Hey, you look great, Marvin.This year, I took the bother to replace some of Marvin (my personal robot assistant)’s lights with Christmas bulbs. So yes, he blinks red, green, and gold now when he talks or performs some computational task. (Oh, yes …. he computes. He’s a regular Turing machine, our Marvin … well … a touring machine, at least.) In previous years, we would trim the mansized tuber, in lieu of a Christmas tree, but he’s not having that this year. He’s getting a little touchy as he gets older. Age 18 is a difficult time for sweet potatoes, I hear.

Oh, and don’t think we’ve forgotten you this year. We’re still working on our 2017 Holiday Extravaganza episode of our podcast, THIS IS BIG GREEN, which I don’t mind saying is not in the least bit extravagant. I’ve been doing mixes all week and we should be posting soon, so keep an eye on that empty spot under the tree. Just keep a close watch, then check Twitter or Facebook and see if we’ve posted yet.

Hey, if we don’t see you (and we won’t), happy Christmas and all the rest of it. Now … back to the checklist!

Write hand.

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I’m kind of busy right now, Marvin. Just tell them that I can’t talk. And in any case, I don’t want to go on a Caribbean Cruise, even if it IS free. Cheese and crackers. (Hey, that sounds kind of good right about now.)

Writing is a hungry business. Just ask Hemingway, the guy with the moveable feast. I’m a little sensitive about interruptions today, so I beg your pardon … Marvin (my personal robot assistant) keeps coming into my study (a.k.a. the old forge room in the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill) with nonsensical requests. Stuff like,  “You’ve got a phone call from Missouri” or “There’s a brush salesman at the door” or “Leave the building – it’s on fire”. Be honest – would you listen?

What am I working on so feverishly? Ah, nothing. Just the script to this year’s Ned Trek Christmas Special. Last year we did an “It’s A Wonderful Life” parody. The year before I believe it was “A Christmas Carol”. And of course we began this annual comedic atrocity with a take-off on “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”, though I think our first Ned Trek holiday extravaganza was the Santorum’s Christmas Planet episode, based loosely on the classic Star Trek “Return of the Archons” script. I mean, how do you top THAT? I am sorely tempted to cop out and do a clip show, but I happen to know that there are some new songs in the works (again), so that won’t wash.

Forget the stupid tree, Willard.Actually, we’re recording a handful of songs, including some older numbers we’ve never properly tracked before using modern technology. There are a couple of new ones in the works. I am trying to write around this eclectic mishmash of musical material. As you know, we are sticklers for continuity and comprehensibility. And quality. And irony. Massive irony. Heh heh.

It is hard to concentrate in a hammer mill, no matter what state it’s in. (This one happens to be in New York.) But even with all the distractions, the diversions, the cold November wind blowing through chinks in the mortar, I SHOULD be able to write this freaking script. Hell, it should write itself. Shouldn’t it? Of course, last year’s Christmas show came in February … of THIS year.

There goes the phone again. Tell them I don’t want a higher limit on my credit card!

Light work.

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Okay, ready? On three … one, two, THREE! Arrrgh. I meant, on the count of three LIFT the freaking thing, not wave your hands in the air. What the hell’s the matter with you? It’s like you just don’t care.

Yeah, I guess you could say we’re having a little moving party here at the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill, Big Green’s adopted home for the last two decades. (I think we technically have squatter’s rights, but what law is there in a place such as this?) No, we’re not vacating the premises – far from it. I just wanted to move my piano from one room to another. No particular reason. Maybe that’s why I can’t get any cooperation out of this crew. I KNEW I should have done one of those leadership retreats! Curses.

Sure, there are useful things we could all be doing, but who’s got the time for that? I mean, I’ve been putting off restringing our borrowed electric guitar for about two weeks now. That sucker isn’t going to string itself, right? Things just keep getting in the way. Like Marvin (my personal assistant) – he got in the way yesterday when he was vacuuming the hall. To get to the guitar, I would have had to maneuvered around him. And well … I just don’t feel like stringing the guitar, Put your back into it!that’s the point. You see? When all else fails, the truth will out!

While we’re not moving things around at random, we are actually working on a music project. As I mentioned last week, it’s kind of similar to our first album in that we’re reworking some of the songs Matt wrote as low-rent Christmas gifts in the 1980s and 90s. The biggest difference is that we’re recording it for the podcast … and we’re twenty years older than we were for 2000 Years To Christmas. So this may sound more crotchety … or not. But hey … it’s free, right? To us, you’re all kids, and on Sundays, kids eat free. In fact, in my book, kids always eat free. That’s how we roll.

So, let’s put the piano the fuck over there, and let’s get recording, damn it. Christmas is almost here, right?

Loopy mofo.

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You can’t really expand it, Mitch. If you did, it would be too damn big for the tube. Then there’s the drag coefficient … you know, that thing you were telling me about yesterday, what the fuck …. WHY CAN’T WE JUST WORK ON MUSIC?

Sheesh. Back again, here at the Cheney Hammer Mill, with our mad science advisor Mitch Macaphee working on yet another crackpot scheme to make us all RICH while carrying us place to place more efficiently and, I don’t know, churning out mounds and mounds of cole slaw. Last week it was the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module – that patented modular space station component that Mitch was obsessing over. Now he’s focused like a particle beam on Hyperloop technology, the brain child of entrepreneur/inventor Elon Musk, a man Mitch loathes, envies, and idolizes all at the same time. (He’s got mood issues, frankly.)

What is Hyperloop? Well … the best I can describe it is as follows. If you’re of a certain age (and I most certainly am) you may remember a time when the local multi-story department store (in Utica, it was the Boston store) had an advanced method for getting money and paperwork from one part of the store to another. They had these funky vacuum tubes running everywhere; the clerk would take your five dollar bill, put it into a little capsule, stick it into the tube and it would go ’round and ’round until it reached accounting or wherever, then come back filled with change. It’s kind of like that thing in the bank drive-through, except more primitive. Got it? Well, take that thing, make it bigger, and put people in it instead of money, and you’ve got Hyperloop.

Just like the Boston Store change thingy.Mitch’s brainstorm of the week, aside from self-marinating beets (still in development, so don’t get excited), involves Hyperloop conveyances and our hole to the center of the Earth. I think he’s all excited about this because we just spent weeks trying to figure out how to fashion an air-tight elevator or tram car that would suffice for navigating through the mantle and down to the chewy nougat core. Now he’s discovered that Hyperloop has done all that work for him! All he has to do is pirate it, stick it in the hole, and down we go at 700 miles per hour!

I don’t know about you, but I’m excited, though not half as much as Marvin (my personal robot assistant), who will likely be the test pilot. Oh yes, Marvin … I’m looking at you, man.

Bigelow 4-9-0.

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No, you can’t have it. I’m not going to say it again. NO. Keep it up and you’re going to bed without your sawdust ration. I said NO, damn it! Oh, god …. all right.

Well, there you have it, friends of Big Green. That’s how mad scientists get what they want – nag, nag, freaking nag. Mitch Macaphee can keep at it for longer than any four year old. Next thing you know I’ll be taking him to Water Safari. Such a child! And I ask you, what’s worse than a child with the power to reverse gravity? Nothing I can think of.

What was Mitch asking for? Glad you asked. I blame NPR, frankly. They did one of their glib as fuck little morning stories about something called the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (or BEAM), a kind of collapsible space station section that can be puffed out like a popcorn kernel when they have some use for it in orbit. Handy little thing, really, and Mitch can see linking two or three of them together and mounting some ion drive propulsion units on one side or the other. It’s complicated, of course, but it all comes down to the simple fact that he wants one, he wants one, HE WANTS ONE!

I said NO, damnit!Actually, in point of fact, he wants two or three. And well, they’re expensive, for chrissake. Mitch has no sense of cost. I can’t even talk him into buying some generic knock off BEAM from China; no, he wants the brand name version. It’s essentially a quality argument … I get it. But what the hell, man – you’re an inventor. Why don’t you invent some freaking money for once?

I guess Mitch is picturing a kind of wagon train to the stars. He’s probably given up on our plan to do another subterranean tour, or wagon train to the Earth’s core, if you will. Again, typical ADD scientist: first he’s all excited about the hole he burned through the mantle, then a few days later he doesn’t even want to look at the thing. Of course, he may have a point about the BEAM. Our last few interstellar tours have been, well … less than stellar, particularly with regard to the accommodations. Finally, someone came up with a space trailer with some leg room. Maybe we DO have to have one.

Okay, okay … I give up, Mitch. Let’s see if it’s listed on Amazon yet. (My guess is that it’s not available in stores.)

All in favor.

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Do we have a quorum? No? Where’s Matt, then? Oh, right …. watching the falcons. That’s fine. The mansized tuber can sit in for him for the time being. Okay, tubey … raise your right, uh … taproot.

Oh, hi. Caught me in the middle of a production meeting. We’re trying to work out who is going to be the first down the hole … I mean, the elevator to the center of the Earth. Since this is a question that affects all of us, it must be decided in council. That’s right – we are not tree dwellers here, my friends. We are civilized people, okay? And we are familiar with the principles of self governance. At least we know there are such principles. And if you don’t like them, well … we have other principles.

I’ve described Big Green as a creative collective more than once. That’s not far from wrong, though the creative part is a little sketchy. Nevertheless, we are very much a worker-run enterprise, operating out of an abandoned hammer mill, wearing recovered skins from the carcass of a failed industrial economy. Think of us as post-apocalyptic commie minstrels, sharing everything we scrounge together (including our lack of money). Routine matters, like opening windows or walking across the street, are passed by simple majority vote, but more weighty matters – like who is going to move that very heavy refrigerator across the room – require a consensus of four fifths plus one, with an extra vote on alternate Tuesdays.

All in favor, say aye.You might think such a flat structure would lead to some kind of anarchistic free-for-all or frequent proxy fights. Not a bit of it – we all get along swimmingly, particularly on occasions like last weekend when the skies opened up and we had 3 feet of water on the ground floor of the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill. Not that it’s trouble free. I can remember one management meeting when Mitch Macaphee, our mad science advisor, fashioned three or four robotic arms so that he could win every show of hands. He already has Marvin (my personal robot assistant) as a proxy. That’s when we went to voice votes.

The simple fact is, when you don’t have much to divide, it’s a lot easier to be equitable. Everybody gets an equal slice of nothing. And everyone gets a say on who will be the first to explore the Earth’s core. Fair is fair.

Yardstick.

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Yeah, it’s up there. How can I tell? I just look out the window, dude. I look out and I see exactly nothing. That’s how you know it’s Snowmageddon. Simple, right? Trouble is … I’m on the third floor.

Yeah, the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill (our squat house) was buried in snow this past Tuesday night, and Mitch is responsible. I know it seems like I blame everything on our mad science advisor, but that’s only because he’s behind everything that happens, at least in some measure. Like that full moon we had last week. Did you see it? It was kind of ghostly, like the clouds had wrapped around it, but you could still see the full disc. Mitch’s part in that? Not certain, but my guess is that he was working the cloud machine that night. (He should really be advising a 1970s arena rock band, but I digress.)

The sad thing is that his cloud invention could be a boon to mankind and animal kind alike … if he would only use it for good instead of evil. That’s a bit unfair, actually – Mitch is amoral, not immoral. Madness has no reason, but it can have a goal … and this week, I suspect the goal may have been snow and more snow. And as I believe I mentioned earlier, he has a cloud machine. Not good.

Hey ... I think it might have snowed.There is one other piece of incriminating evidence. The big nor’easter was named Stella, and that was the name of Mitch’s old girlfriend from back in the day. He doesn’t talk about her much, but Marvin (my personal robot assistant) has dished a bit of back story on Mitch’s wild years. Now I know that doesn’t sound like Marvin, but you would be surprised what’s stored in those creaky, tape-medium databases he holds inside that brass hide of his. (Before you ask, no, there are no audio recordings – just metadata of phone calls, that sort of thing.) Folks: never date a mad scientist. Seriously.

So, let me be the first to apologize about the storm. I’ll probably also be the last to apologize, since Mitch never apologizes for any of the catastrophes he causes. Crazy as fuck means not having to say you’re sorry.

Where’s my jetpack?

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Ridiculous. It’s the 21st Century and we’re still moving about like gorillas, feet peddling the ground in a manner similar to our shrew-like remote ancestors. Mitch: get working on that little problem, will you? There’s a good chap. What’s that? Ummmm … I believe that would be a physical impossibility. Got any other suggestions?

Like many of his frothy colleagues, our mad science advisor Mitch Macaphee doesn’t take direction real well. I’ve rambled on more than a few times in this blog about how sensitive he is, so I probably shouldn’t bait him with idle requests about revolutionizing human locomotion or swapping meiosis with mitosis. The man’s busy, god damn it! He cranks out inventions like brother Matt puts out songs. And when I say “like”, I don’t mean exactly like it. Mitch’s battles are fought in the laboratory, not the prize ring … I mean, not the wildlife sanctuary. But I digress.

I don’t know how my mind gets stuck on these issues. Maybe it’s living in this abandoned mill for the better part of twenty years. After a decade or two, you start rattling around like bird shot in an oil drum. Your mind gets going, then you trudge around the mill, singing dirges. Next thing you know, you’re contemplating your very footsteps. Then it hits you – This is the twenty first century? Where the fuck is my jetpack? John Robinson had one back in fictional 1997! This is real-ass 2017 and I’m still stomping around like an ape. How is that fair?

Finally!Sure, you might say I have a distorted view of the future; that I’m stuck in a 1966 notion of what 1987 should look like. Be that as it may, jet packs would be a real step up from our current modes of transportation. And not any more impractical than some of the suggestions I’ve heard bandied about lately, like ski-resort type gondolas carrying people between a post-industrial mill town and what’s breezily described as a “harbor” that’s really just a wide spot in the Barge Canal. And yes, I know that jet packs have their challenges – all back-mounted rocket boosters do. But where would be without challenges, right? Where?

You’re right. I’ve been bumping around this mill waaaaay too long.

What you hear.

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Man, it’s windy again today. That’s what I’m hearing, right? Oh, okay … Anti-Lincoln is just practicing his bass clarinet. Right. Sounds like wind. Lots of wind.

Hey, look …. I know living with other people can be annoying. But we try to be tolerant around the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill and let one another live up to his or her true self. And when they achieve that hard-won moment of self-realization, we all point fingers at them and laugh derisively. Particularly when they take up some wind instrument they have no hope of mastering. (Happens more often around here than you might suppose.) That’s what we call “positive reinforcement.”

I don’t want to give the impression that we of Big Green have something against innovation and initiative. Lord, no. The fact is, we rely on other people’s innovation and initiative to make up for our woeful lack of those qualities. We’ve made plenty of recordings that have random horn-like instruments honking in the background or someone plunking on a banjo in a lackluster way. Naturally, we don’t hire session musicians for this. (Very few of them are willing to work in ThereThere's a multitude in this place!exchange for discarded hammer handles from the last century.) So naturally we are left to forage for talent a little closer to home. And when I say “talent”, I’m using the word in a very generic, denatured sense. Bodies with working digits is what I mean.

Take Cowboy Scat: Songs in the Key of Rick. (Please.) Little known factoid: Many of the horn parts on that album were played by Marvin (my personal robot assistant) and Anti-Lincoln. We used trained monkeys for some tambourine parts. And when I say “trained”, I’m using the word in a very generic …. oh, never mind. Actually, I played the freaking tambourine. I just made it sound like I’m a trained monkey. Though frankly, most people playing the tambourine sound like trained monkeys. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The point being …. we may look like a band of three people, but there’s a virtual multitude involved in everything we do. (Now by “virtual”, I mean literally “in essence or effect, but not in fact”.)

Got all that? Good. Maybe you can explain it to me (and the virtual multitude).

Hold on.

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Electrodes to power, turbines to speed. Turn the key and …. nuts! Nothing again. Hey, Mitch – you’re a mad scientist. Make yourself useful. Get this freaking car to run, willya?

Oh, hi. Just working through the usual nonsense. Trying to get a car going. Working on a broken amp. Turning all the chairs in the house upside-down. (We do that to discourage visitors from staying too long.) There’s never a lack of useful things to do, and lucky for us we have a lot of help. Mitch Macaphee, for one, can be counted upon to invent some new way of dealing with minor annoyances, like invasive insects or gravity. Ooops, did I say gravity? I wasn’t supposed to mention that one. It’s going to be a surprise. A BIG surprise. HA-HA-HA-HAAAAAA!

Well, THAT took a dark turn. Anyway, aside from Mitch tinkering with … uh … continental drift, we have the able services of Marvin (my personal robot assistant) who can, among many other talents, life very heavy things. He picked up a whole desk set the other day … one of those three-pen jobs, all by himself! Tomorrow I’m going to have him replace the Kleenex in all of the dispensers distributed throughout the hammer mill. Yeoman work, to be sure. (I would do it myself, but I am not a Yeoman.)

Uh, Mitch ... Gravity again?I suppose you’re wondering where your podcast is. Well, I was getting to that. THIS IS BIG GREEN has been coming together slowly. We did the voices for the next episode of Ned Trek last week, then we’ll need to do some editing and dubbing, etc. We’re probably looking at another couple of weeks, during which time I will frantically try to dig up some not-too-uninteresting material from our archives. There will likely be a few more Wayback Wednesdays on tap, so stay tuned.

I am sure some of you have already said, “Y’know, if you didn’t waste so much freaking time doing useless shit, you’d have finished the podcast by now.” My response is a simple one: “Freaking” is not a word. It’s a cop-out, my friend. Say what you mean and mean what you say. That’s our motto ’round the mill. Call it a mill motto. Call it anything. I’m getting back to that dumb-ass car.