Saturday, January 20, 2018

Life, Death, and Pizza: An Argument for Cooperation
By Kevin S. Mahoney

          “Mister Wolfe says we never get to the why of anything.”  So intoned possibly the best narrator of detective fiction ever devised, Rex Stout’s Archie Goodwin.  I forget which novella he says that.  Having read them all, certain details blur.  But it has that blend of snarky omniscience that Wolfe maddeningly displays with regularity when he sees something in a murder case that no one else does, and calmly solves the case.

          That idea stuck in my head, is still there.  I don’t know if I believe it, which practically proves the point.  If I don’t know what I believe to be true, what certainty exists?  It’s possible that everyone just feels their way along, every moment of every day.  It’s not quite fate, but it’s not pure free will either.  And pretty chaos and flinty pragmatism are wound together, indistinguishable and therefore inseparable.

          Yet I believe in and practice altruism.  The form it takes varies.  I might hold a door.  I have given directions around my city to clueless tourists countless times.  Sometimes I write a check to a charity.  Usually the opportunity drops into my lap, and I throw up my hands and give the universe a nudge in what I perceive as its intended course, because it seemed like the thing to do at the time.  I don’t go looking for it.

          Robert Twigger, British author and veteran of the world’s most difficult martial arts course, learned during that year long trial that there were two types of people (both students and teachers) involved in it: the monk types who wanted to make the path of success clearer and easier for those who came after them, and the hard boys who figured the difficulty should be passed along, as it adds character.  I agree with that division just as strongly as I do with Mr. Wolfe, and I know I am one of the monks.  The world is difficult enough.  So if I see a situation developing that mirrors one that has gone sideways in my own life, I am compelled to put my hand on the tiller and keep the bow of the world above water.

          I was nearly excommunicated once.  For the non-Catholics out there (which statistically is almost everybody, which is fine) a moment of explanation: excommunication is the denial of salvation of a parishioner by direct intervention of the clergy.  The flip side of the Catholic concept of confession, if a person fucks up badly enough the priesthood can come to the decision that he or she isn’t fit for heaven.  Once thrown out of the Church, conduct in life past that point becomes immaterial.  Go directly to HELL, do not pass Go, do not collect any further communion wafers.

          To be fair, it was an accident.  And neither I nor the nun who proofread my blasphemous remarks were in our right minds.  But I said what I said and wrote what I wrote, so I take full responsibility.

          I wrote the eulogy for a young priest who had served my first college.  He died in the early hours of Christmas day, twenty odd years ago.  He had held a midnight mass at a nearby church, then fell asleep at the wheel driving home.  I got back from Christmas break to flyers that didn’t make sense no matter how many times I read them, and probably still wouldn’t if I had continued to be religious.  I found the nun who had run the campus ministry with him, and after she broke the horrible news, she asked me to be a part of his service.  I had been involved in Sunday mass almost two years at that point, reading and giving communion, and I couldn’t say no.  I have no real singing talent, and I don’t play an instrument.  She gave me the only other piece of the service that was available.

         At first look, this seems like two people making interlocked bad decisions.  But it wasn’t wholly unreasonable.  I had been an altar boy all through grade school and served in many weddings and funerals.  I knew the format of the eulogy, and I knew the man who had died, more than some strange imported priest, who would have doubtless delivered something far more generic.  And I sweated that speech.  I wanted everyone to know what made Father Mike different from all the stodgy, dour, senior citizen priests I had been raised by.  And in crafting the best send off for Father Mike I could, I overlooked the first runner-up rule of speechwriting: know your audience.

          Halfway through explaining how fun, and relatable, and warm, and cheering Father Mike was, I looked up from my notes to see two plus rows of incredibly insulted priests.  If any one of them had been armed with holy fire, or some other decorum preserving weapon, I would have been dead already.  Still at the lectern, I did the only thing I could think of; I blamed the nun for setting me up.  She and I laughed, and then I finished reading.  I don’t remember blushing through the remainder of the service, but I must have.  I’m not a monster.

          That extreme experience has stuck with me the entire second half of my life.  So when I found out that someone a bunch of my idols knew and loved had died prematurely, and quite a few of them were stressed and nervous about their roles in his send-off, I saw a tiller than needed steadying.  There were some complications.  I only know my idols digitally.  I didn’t know the man who died at all.  And his memorial was on the other side of the country, three time zones away.

          Courage takes strange forms when required.  The memorial was a ticketed event.  The schedule was made public on social media.  I knew where people would be, when they would be there, and having been in their shoes, I knew what kind of boost might help.  I bought enough pizza to feed all the performers and had it delivered backstage.  I told no one in advance.  It is still easier to ask forgiveness than permission, even in Seattle.

          I was happy to learn that the food got there and was well received.  I don’t think anyone would have blown it as badly as I almost did two decades ago.  It felt really good to know that I made a horrible high stress situation a little easier.  Life might be a mess, a flailing chain of events holding everyone hostage.  But that doesn’t prevent bravery, compassion, and the delivery of surprise gourmet pizza.  Be the slice you want to see in the world.

Special Notes:
  • This is the first post of 2018.  I ignored the blog last year, due to Trump angst.
  • This post was composed to TMBG's new album I Like Fun.  It's great, go buy it.
  • The Robert Twigger book is Angry White Pyjamas.  It too, is excellent.    


Friday, September 5, 2014

Scene from a Rerview Mirror, my effort at Wordplay Season 2, Episode Two

Scene from a Rearview Mirror

By Kevin S. Mahoney


          I didn’t have to stop for him.  My light was off.  I was just a few miles from the shop.  My fare sheet was full enough that I’d be taking a good haul home.  I’d looked the back seat over when I stopped for gas and coffee, and it was free of both puke and dropped cell phones.  The hand-off would have been seamless.

But there was enough light over him to see his shiner.  And there was half a sleeve caught in the edge of his suitcase.  His shocked face shone in the mercury vapor lamp, his stubble casting a shadow down his neck.  I couldn’t tell if he was in trouble or merely running from it before I passed him by.

The light turned red at the corner.  I stopped.  He started towards me.  He wasn’t running, but he wasn’t moving with any dignity either.  The single suitcase pulled him off center, but he squared his shoulders and was trying so hard.  The light changed.

I took my foot off the brake.  I was about to signal left and get out of there, when his hand found the latch on the passenger’s side rear door.  The door opened, but he didn’t pile in like the drunks normally do, he just ducked his head in and tried to find my eyes in the mirror.

“I have money,” he said.  “I just need a ride across town.”

His voice cracked on the word ride.  It wasn’t panic, not quite yet, but I could hear his breath whistling in his throat.  His adrenaline must be pumping pretty hard to make him sound so young.  I waved him into the backseat. 

He slid his suitcase over behind me and sat down.  I turned my signal off and pulled away from the intersection.  I was going to give him a minute to think.  Then, the back window exploded all over us.

          “What the hell is this?!” I said.  I was accelerating, straining to outdistance whoever had it in for him, my eyes switching to the rearview mirror, then back to the road ahead.  There was an intersection in the distance; I made for it, even though I couldn’t see anyone following the car.

          “She said it was mine.  She just dropped it on me over dinner when I noticed she wasn’t drinking.  When I told her I didn’t believe her, she hit me.  Right in the face.  After that, she came at me with the table lamp.  I got her to calm down.  I promised her we’d talk about it in the morning, like adults.  But I couldn’t sleep.  I couldn’t.  So when she finally started to snore, I got up as quietly as I could and packed what I could get to without making any noise.”

          I didn’t know what to believe.  I guess it didn’t matter.  We were going to an airport, a train station, or maybe a friend’s house.  But we were going to find an ATM first.  There was no way I was paying to replace that window myself.

  • This is my attempt at exposition as per the video here.  I think Miss Harper's videos are great fun, and while I don't usually do the challenges, I thought I might try this one.  The phrase I based the above on was, "I could have stopped at any time".
  • This piece was written using my Pandora Neil Young Station and Guatemalan coffee.
  • I used both the infodump (the passenger) and incluing (the driver) in this piece.
  • Once again, comments are welcome.  My email is and my twitter handle is @TheSagest.  Please forward all praise or gripes.



Friday, August 8, 2014


The Flying Snowman, Mordor, The No Prize, and Hulk’s Teeth
by Kevin S. Mahoney


            The much better writer than I, John Scalzi, invented a term for the thing in a fictional work that throws your disbelief out of kilter and takes your head out of a story.  He called it a Flying Snowman.  It’s a neat concept.  He has a great blog post about it here.  He also tweeted something about the Hulk’s teeth being a FS for him in Marvel Comics. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

One of the Missing: Curious Liquids Café

        I live in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts.  I have lived in this area, minus a short stint in upstate NY, my entire life.  I have seen a lot change in thirty plus years.  Most of the changes are grand.  Our museums got bigger and better.  We lost our ugly over street highway in favor of a tunnel system and more parks.  Even Fenway Park has made steps towards modernization.  Still, sometimes, I realize I miss some feature of the city that’s long been gone.  When that happens, and I remember to write it up, you’ll get a story about it under this heading.*

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Secrets of the World I've Seen

            There are a million nooks and crannies in the world.  There are caves and alleyways, cubbies and caverns, causeways and cairns.  People see the same sights every day, and become inured to them.  But some of us pay attention, some of the time.  And we learn things about where we live and what’s around.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Blizzard Friendly Post

The Lake of Dissolved Effigies

By Kevin S. Mahoney

            It was one of those things no one thought about, like the lint under the refrigerator, or who cut their barber’s hair.  Thousands were made, every year, in any location that would support the art form.  Generation schooled generation on the process, families united in cold purpose.  Every form was unique.  Each artifact was personalized, sculpted by its creators from their environment.  Each building block was unlike every other one, from the macroscopic to the microscopic level.  Molecules were connected, melding from the warmth of the people, changing according to their whims, each form distinct and temporary.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Merry Dishmas!!

       It’s been a stressful holiday season for me internet.  The shopping/wrapping/shipping cycle was finished about half an hour before the first Christmas Eve party.  In between all the usual time demands, my fiancée and I looked for a new apartment, my sister visited with her kids, both of my parents got the flu (not at the same time) and I forfeited a ton of sleep and time to myself.

          One of the odd consequences of that last thing?  The dishes piled up a couple of times in my sink last week.  This is really unusual for a few reasons.  One, my kitchen is super tiny, so other than coffee and cereal, I rarely cook or eat at home.  Second, I usually wash my dishes the minute I’m through with them.  It takes just a couple of minutes to wash one bowl, cup, and spoon and I like my kitchen a certain way.  But running to different stores, the post office, and a couple of apartment buildings in the same day, makes certain chores take a back seat.

          So twice this week I had twenty minutes of washing up to do, and while I was doing it, I realized I missed it.  I used to live in a giant Victorian house in Brighton with four other people, all on different schedules, all less likely to do dishes than me.  So to make morning coffee (or to just be able to find the space to clean the coffee pot) I routinely did thirty minutes of other people’s washing up every morning.  It bothered me only occasionally (finding a prized glass crushed under the melee of dishes that could have been stacked and stabilized with a moment’s thought will do that) but it was a great mental cleanser.  Every morning I would be up before everyone else, and spend half an hour mining order out of their chaos.  And every morning I would feel a small calm glow of accomplishment from it.  I hadn’t had that buzz or the quiet it stemmed from, in a long time, maybe close to a year.

          So I guess that tiny hidden bit of joy is something I’d like to relate and possibly pass on to you, oh three readers of this blog.  Now that the holiday season is finally waning, ask yourself what fun productive thing you haven’t done in a while.  The moment obligation doesn’t intrude, go do it.  Let me know if you find the same neglected joy I found.  Call that joy my gift to you.  Merry Dishmas, internet, and have a happier New Year.



·        As always, I welcome comments to this post or others on this blog.  You can comment here.  If you enjoy tweeting, I’m @TheSagest there, or if you’re old fashioned, you can mail me at
·        For those of you paying attention (all one of you): no I didn’t work on the book this month.  It’s not that I didn’t have any time at all, although it feels that way.  I’m just prioritizing family, future living conditions, and not collapsing over what is essentially a vanity project.  It’s probably the right thing to do.
·        This post was mulled over the last week, and it was quicker to compose than the others here so far.  I did use my Neil Young station on Pandora to make the writing easier.