Apr 30, 2007

Just A Thought--

When you go to Hodges' Gardens in Many, LA there's a sign where you pay your entry fee saying "Louisiana/Texas viewpoint! 14 miles view across Texas border!" You're parked on a very tall cliff, itself an unusual thing in Louisian, and you stare out across what looks like a long valley of trees until your eyes give out from the enormity of staring out across what is reported to be 14 miles of Texas.

But my question is this: how exactly do they KNOW that? Did someone stand there at the viewpoint while someone else walked out into Texas with a sign on a big stick, measuring the feet until they dissapeared from sight? Did someone standing on the Texas border just so happen to be holding up a big sheet of cardboard that had "Hello from the Texas border!" at the exact time a viewer in Louisiana was looking that way?

I'm just curious.

Apr 27, 2007

Poetry Friday Challenge: "Clouds"

Eh. I guess "poetry" is too sticky a wicket for me. All those rhymey words and stuff seem to evade me. So, how about a bit of fiction?


The peat fire behind it's brass grate burned with a soft light, filling the cottage's room with soft scents and dancing, moving shadows. The firelight danced across the brooding arches of the old Philco radio, teasing a golden light off the worn knobs and the convex curve of glass over it's dial. A rack of pipes hanging on the wall caught the light, making the finely grained wood bowls seem to move and sway. "As long as I can remember," he wrote, "I wanted to be able to walk among the clouds." The sussurus of the old Parker fountain pen stopped for a moment, and the man sat back in his old, brown leather chair. The creak of the chair's hidden mechanisms and the quiet pop and rustle of the fire were the only sounds in the little room as he took a few puffs on his pipe. The pale tendrils of smoke coiled and writhed around his head, joining the considerable cloud that already hung like a fog in the room, jostling and gyring around the heavy beams of the roof. A smoke ring joined the clouds, then another, and his head bent back to the journal laid open in front of him. The nib of his pen paused for a moment above the creamy paper, and resumed it's wanderings.

"As a child I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were solid things, and that if I could simply get up to them I would find that I could run, tumble across them without hurt, and leap from fluffy lump to cottony pile." The pen paused again, balanced just above the paper and a few more puffs made the embers in his bowl flare into brief life. The smoke crept up the still air to join the dance above his head, their stately movements broken and reformed as he pushed the old leather chair back from the desk and stood.

Capping the pen and lying it across the open page he turned from the desk, with it's comfortable clutter of papers and burned matches, flakes of tobacco and the glass dome over the nautilus shell. A battered green fedora lay on top of a stack of leather-bound books, and one hand reached out to lift it by it's crown. With a deft flip he perched it on his head and tugged on the wide brim to settle it into place. Walking across the room with an ease born of long familiarity he opened the wooden door and stepped out onto the flagstones, looking out at the open sward before him. Shoving his hands into the volumnious pockets of his jacket he found the tamp made of antler and a loose spill of wooden lucifers secreted there. Reassured, he set out down the path with an easy stride.

Past the huge nodding heads of roses and hydrangeas, around the blood-red spears of gladiolas he walked in no particular rush. He knew that if he wanted to he could find Holmes somewhere in the garden, perched cross-legged on a hummock of grass like a gangly crow all wreathed in smoke, puffing, deep in thought, on his black and oily clay. If he so desired he knew he might find the little grove where Milne and Tolkien stood, sharing stories and a pouch of some powerful blend whose recipe could be traced back to Longbottom. He knew that if he walked enough he would come across his mate working at transplanting bulbs or moving herbs, her red hair and pale skin protected from the evening sun by a big floppy straw hat.

This time however something else seemed to prey on his mind. Clenching the pipe's bit in his teeth, leaving white swirls of vanilla-scented Cavendish smoke to circle and eddy behind his head he set out across the grass, his jacket's hem rustling the tall green fronds like mice in hay. When the soft burble of the creek began to make it's way into his crowded thoughts he paused and looked up. The evening sky was lined with long tendrils of clouds, as though some sky-bound Zen gardner had raked them into perfectly straight lavender and peach furrows, zephyrs representing some eternal cosmic ideal that was just out of reach. He stood there for some minutes, lost in thought, the only movement the occasional puff of smoke from his pipe, wispy white tendrils reaching for a higher roof than the one in the cottage.

With a gentle shrug he let the dark silk jacket fall from his shoulders and, clenching his pipe firmly in his teeth, he bent his knees and leapt. The fedora tumbled down to lie on it's crown in the grass, it's satin lining reflecting the last light of the setting sun.

Apr 24, 2007

I Brought A Few Things Home

So I heard this morning that Johnny Cash sang a song years ago about a guy who was building his own Cadillac by stealing parts and bringing them home. And this morning on NPR I heard a story about a workman at a luxury yacht manufacturers who was stealing a 50' YACHT bit by bit, bringing it home in his lunchbox.

They didn't say where he hid the propellers. Or the 50" big screen.

So all this careful gnawing at the roots of the manufacturing world leads me to a confession--one which I'm quite proud of.

See, I built a bicycle one year when I worked for Toys Backward R Us. I was in charge of the storeroom for a while and one day while I was in charge back there some bright bulb at the Corporate Orifice in New Jersey decided that instead of RTVing (Return To Vendor) all these damaged bicycles we kept taking back, we would institute a system by which we REPAIRED all those bikes for resale. So, faced with the daunting task of repairing fifty Barbie bikes, I did what any red-blooded man would do: I started Frankensteining my own bicycle.

I started with a frame from a $69 value mountain bike that had caught my eye. It was a beautiful deep chrome green and bore the exotic name "Zanzibar." That was about as exotic as the bike got, as it was made entirely of thin steel, stamped tin and Mattel-leftovers. That's where I stepped in. I called the manufacturer and ordered a Zanzibar frame. When that arrived, I ordered a nice crank and pedal mechanism from a higher-end bike and installed it. A call a week spread over a few months, to a whole range of manufacturers scored me all aluminum rims, better tires, a gel saddle, and more quick-release mechanisms than a stripper's wardrobe.

And when it was all said and done, I had a Zanzibar that was so light it would float away in a strong breeze if I didn't tie it down, sported forty-seven forward and ten reverse gears, had brakes larger than those on a Boeing 737 and could seat ten comfortably. And to top it all off, it had a $10 price tag--I hadn't realised when I bought the frame that it wouldn't be in the inventory system, and if I sold it to myself as a Zanzibar that'd throw the counts off, and since I couldn't have THAT happen in my storeroom I marked it down to $10 and loaded it up one day. And yes, the boss caught me, congratulated me on my cleverness, and threatened to tear me a new arsehole if I ever did it again.

I had that bike long enough to let a friend borrow it when he went to New Orleans for a job, and he let it get stolen the first hour he was there.

I think there's probably a lesson there somewhere, but I'll be damned if I can figure it.

Sad Sick Little Joke

You like word games? You like sharpening your mind? Then you'll like playing with Cheetah Balls. Consider yourself invited!

Apr 20, 2007

Poetry Friday Challenge: "Slide."

I spent two hours in the garden this evening weeding and hoeing, digesting the import of the Poetry Friday word "slide." I couldn't even begin to fathom a poem using it, and since most of my poetry is prose doggrel I abandoned that line of thought pretty fast. The only thing I could really get my mitts on is a semi-autobiographical story about my childhood. Specifically my grade school playground, and the giant silver deathtrap that resided there.


Not just a descriptor, it was a command. "Slide!" Shouted by clumps and knots of sweaty six and seven year olds egging each other on to greater speed, greater daring. "Slide!" they shouted, and slide they did, one after the other, on through the recess hour.

Growing up was a strange thing for me. Not that it's particularly pleasant for anyone I would think, but my childhood was troubled. Pained. It was a breech in a world of normal births, a steel lock in a world of wooden doors. It's blotched here and there with memories tied to real physical things that have become permanent features of my mental landscape--for good or bad they're there, immovable, and oftimes they serve as navigation points for my life.

One of those immovable objects is The Slide. There were two of them out there on the vast expanse of black asphalt that was our Catholic school playground, but only one mattered. They were identical beasts--all dull silver steel ladders with sharp raised patterns to catch and hold tennis shoes, or slice skin off bare knees or shins with frightening ease, all steep slopes of sun-heated metal with narrow rolled edges, barely enough to keep a body in line with it's sudden stop at the asphalt bottom. They both had two places where the metal overlapped on the way down, rivets smoothed into near nonexistence on top, short sharp bolts hanging out on the bottom. One was The Girls and one was The Boys, and never the twain should meet.

Why we were segregated by sex to water fountains and parts of the playground and slides never made sense to me, not then, not now. The two stood not four feet apart--if you had a particularly daring and willing female parter the pair of you in a feat of perfect timing and exquisite danger could slide down hand-in-hand, each on their own down-ramp of sun-baked hell. The nuns, however, kept a sharp eye on us, so there was no fraternizing. This left me to the pack of wild-eyed near-animals that are six year old boys, all sweaty palms and fevered brows and loud barking voices.

I can't remember the first time I went down The Slide, but I know I must have at some point. Otherwise I'd still be standing there at the top, looking down at that red flower. Growing up in the country meant that I had never seen a slide quite that big, quite that industrial. The biggest slide I had ever played on was a tiny plastic thing that was barely longer than my legs, and allowed no more daring a speed than a slow, skin-grabbing, squeaking falter to the wading pool at the bottom. This thing, this brute, standing there baking in the summer sun, a testament to the metal-worker's art, it was huge. It loomed. And I had no choice but to go down it.

Chase was fine--running in circles, here and there, darting behind pecan trees or around the old maintenance building that at one time had been someone's shotgun house. Kickball was fine too, a simple act of kicking and running. The Slide held it's own, though, on the playground. Everyone slid. Everyone waited in line for it at some point during recess, even in the middle of sweltering summer heat, when the sun made wavering mirages all about it, hazing it into a dreamlike softness. And without knowing it, somehow one hot afternoon I ended up in the line to climb the ladder, shuffling forward, wishing I could block my ears to the constant din of screaming children's voices. Ready to slide.

Before I knew it my feet were moving slowly up those toothy treads, and my hands were sliding up the metal rails that were rusty but smooth--years of constant sweaty hands running up and down the steel had brushed and polished the rust into a sort of glassine patina that felt like water under my palms. I climbed forever, it seemed, the shouts of that noun-turned-explicative loud in my head, driving me up, ever up, until I found myself out of steps and staring down at a sheet of steel shimmering at my feet.

I was terrified, and my fear turned my legs to wood, my feet to chunks of lead. I had no idea how far it was down until I was looking at it, had no sense of how very far up I was. I knew I had to step up and OUT, over onto that long, simmering hot swath of dull steel but I couldn't make myself move. The shouts got louder and louder, turning into demands, into taunts. Kids were already piling up on the ladder behind me, and I knew if I did not get myself moving downward I would feel calloused, sweaty hands pushing me, face first if necessary, so that the procession could go on. And on. And on.

It was then that I heard the little girl scream. I followed her pointing finger from the top of her slide to the underside of my own slide, where a boy my size was just emerging. It was John, a friend of mine. He was a big kid, thick, and as country as peeing off the front porch. He spoke slowly, he always had a smile pasted on his broad face, and his thicket of black curls looked like the mane of a goat. As I glanced down at him I saw those black curls awash in crimson, and a peculiar folded-over quality to his scalp showed me the thin white lines and pink muscle tissue that lay just under his thatch of black curls, cradling his skull in warm pink meat.

The screaming went on and on, catching like wildfire in dry grass under that scorching summer sun. He had been playing chase and taken an evasive route under my slide, where his corn-fed height had put his scalp just in line with one of those sharp bolts lurking in the cool shade, the bolt hiding under that slope that had just sliced his skin open like a tooth tears the tender skin of a peach. Revealing the layered pink striations of muscle tissue. Letting the blood flow like someone upending a bottle of wine across a black and white tablecloth.

The children behind me were scrambling away from the scene while the nuns came hobbling and creaking toward him, calling in their old crow voices for someone to get the nurse, to call an ambulance, to stay calm, to get off the playground and back to your rooms.

I don't remember the long glide down, don't recall the heat that no doubt burned the skin on the backs of my calves, but I can still feel the soft impact of the worn soles of my tennis shoes on the sun-softened asphalt at the bottom of the slide.

Apr 19, 2007

Failure To Adapt To The Modern Lifestyle

My family and my first few jobs must have really taught me the wrong lessons to shape me to modern life.

My parents taught me that I was fully expected to do my fair share of the work around the house, and that if I did my chores willingly and when I was supposed to I'd get the allowance that was not a promise but a reward. I would never be given nor should I expect a reward for simply showing up.

My first jobs taught me that I would receive pay consumate with the job I did, and it would go up depending on how well I excelled at that job. It would not be a fortune, but it would be fair pay for the job I was performing, and if I wanted more I had to do more than simply wait for the next yearly pay raise. I had to work hard and earn a raise. It taught me that there is no free lunch, nor would I make some incredibly inflated wage for wearing a snappy suit and being able to talk a line of bull.

My parents taught me that if I spoke back to my elders or fought with my brother or pulled the wings off flies I'd be punished. Said punishment would be fit to my transgression, from a harsh tone up to a thin leather belt applied repeatedly to my bare arse with considerable speed and force. This taught me that rules are to be obeyed, and if I decided to break them I'd better be ready to accept the consequences of my actions.

My first jobs taught me that if I did my job wrong, shirked my responsibilities, badmouthed my supervisors or simply didn't do my job, I would be fired. I wouldn't be put on a "60 day evaluation track," no Herculean efforts would be made to "bring me back into alignment with the stated mission" of the business, and I would not be given a nicely padded severance package if, after months and months of administrative effort on my behalf I still continued to do poorly and gave the HR team no choice but to terminate my employment. Hell, for my first jobs I learned that if it came time to fire me I'd be lucky to be given any sort of warning other than "Here's your last check, don't come back."

My parents taught me that you didn't throw anything away that still had some use in it. Old food? No such thing. It was leftovers, and if it was spoiled it went to feed the dog or the ducks or the cows; failing all that it went in the compost pile.

My first jobs taught me that you used what you had at hand to get the job done, and you didn't whine about not having exactly what you needed because you weren't going to get it just for being a git.

That's why I don't fit in. That's why I find myself staying at a job for a year or so and then moving on. People have been reduced to being very replacable cogs in very large machines, and it sickens me. Processes and procedures are put in place to protect the company and it's money-making system, not to better serve anyone other than the highest echelons, and it makes me sick. The amount of usable goods that I threw into the dumpster EVERY DAY at Orrifice Depot made me so sick that it took me two years just to get accustomed to it. I never stopped feeling guilty for destroying usable chairs, pieces of furniture, ink cartrides and reams of paper just so we could tell our vendors that we were staying within our contractual obligations.

I miss the halcyon days that I witnessed my parents living--the days when you took a job and you stayed there, you devoted yourself to the job, and you retired there or you died at your desk or whatever. There was no question of leaping from job to job, and the management didn't put you on a action plan for screwing up, nor did they view you as the "all too necessary human component" of their business.

All I want to do is work for a living and feel some honour, some reward from it. All I have now is a handfull of empty promises, lackluster (read: gutless) upper administration and a burning desire to work for someone until I can retire with some share of dignity intact, said company or person being right up there with hen's teeth and honest politicians.

Apr 18, 2007

Rewarding Behaviour

You like me, you really really like me! Or at least you put up with me!

At least one of you, that is, believes I'm a thinking blogger and has awarded me as such, which honours me very deeply. I know my talent level seems to vary with my stress levels and how deep I am currently in over my head, but I'm glad that at least some of you find if not pearls then maybe marbles here in all the mud.

I'm going to list my own five top reads as award winners per the original award founder but I'm going to bask for a while and the top five is going to take me some real skull-grease, which right now I find myself sorel lacking in, so bear with me. *S*

And thank you again, Nancy Dancehall, for the honour.

Apr 15, 2007

On Being A Cheapskate, or Hidden Treasures

And no, Mel Gibson, I'm not a freaking Jew.

My parents were both upper lower class in a very big way. My father was a blue collar worker all his life, and my mother was a white collar civil servant. Both of them held thankless, low-paying jobs, but somehow they managed to build and pay for a spacious home, vehicles for themselves and for their two thankless boys, and have if not plentiful then nice things. And they both taught me a lot about how to make ends meet.

I learned that you don't throw away food, you freeze it, and if it's only a small amount then you bring it for lunch the next day. I learned that the term 'scrap wood' only applies to sawdust. I learned that tools are more valuable than gold, and you take care of them as such, and that a cared-for tool will never turn on it's wielder. And I learned that a spray can is never empty until you've used quite literally every feeble gasp it's got. And I learned that you should never be too proud to reuse things.

Case in point: this dog show business. Expensive as all get-out. And so when friends of ours were ready to throw out two very large wire portable kennels (they break down into a stack of flat metal grids) and that only one had any rust on it, we jumped at the chance. The nicer of the two was immediately cleaned, oiled, and pressed into service (along with an old pillow and some old blankets) as Belle's house kennel, where she spends her nights in safe comfort. The second, the one with the rust, was stored in the attic for later use. Which came sooner than I thought, since we've already encountered one show in which soft-side kennels (nylon popups, glorified square tents in essence) are not allowed, so this weekend found me dragging down that rusted old stack of metal bits and the Mrs. and I set to with wire brushes and paint.

See, a wire kennel in the XL size runs about $130 around here, and the biggest we can buy is slightly shorter on the inside than Belle is tall on the outside. The one we were given is tall enough that Belle can not only stand upright in, she can turn around comfortably, so it was a given that this was going to be a repair job. A few strong bends to put the crooked bits to rights again and a good going-over with the wire scratch brushes knocked all the rust off, and we set to with the Rustoleum primer and enamel paint.

A few hours later (and a number of full and half-empty cans of primer and black gloss sent to their empty and well-earned reward later,) we've got a like-new black wire break-down kennel that can be loaded in the back of the truck and carted off to shows without having to flinch in shame, plus we saved a benjamin. And where, exactly, you ask, is all this going? Well I'll tell you.

When my brother and I were kids, our fun was simple--running, bicycling, and slingshots that my father made for us out of stout branches and old inner-tubes. We didn't get an Atari 2600 until we were teenagers, and even then it was just as likely to go unused while we ran around outside like...well...boys. As kids at school we were not ashamed of nor alone in picking up pecans at recess for a fast and delicious snack, and we played things like Throw Rocks At Each Other, Four-Square (the school always provided those big red rubber bounce-balls and painted areas on the pavement,) Frisbee if someone had gotten one for a birthday present, and of course, marbles.

And that was the kicker--even marbles were expensive. You could always get a small bag of mixed marbles at TG&Y for a dollar or so, but it was always aggies, maybe one good shooter, and if you were superbly lucky, a cat's eye. If you wanted some steelies, you had to beat someone who had access to ball bearings, and if you wanted crystals you had to get the the rich kid to risk his, or you bought them separately. That is if you could find them anywhere, and when you did they were always steep. So we made do without, toting around old three-stripe sport socks filled with aggies and the occasional steelie, hoping for that stray dumb rich kid who was new. That is, until my father showed us a neat thing one hot summer day: spray cans.

Ever hear that rattling in a spray can when you shake it? Ever wonder what that was? My father knew. An empty spray can with a shaker inside was placed carefully on the ground, a long-handled flat-blade screwdriver was placed dead center on the tin and hit sharply with a hammer. Then he'd take the can and twist it open with one practiced wrench, and out would pour usually a tablespoon of liquid paint that was left over after the propellant was gone, and an enamel-coloured ball. Which, when wiped with a soft cloth and some cleaner revealed--a crystal marble.

And if you happened to go through a whole stack of old cans of primer and some leftover Krylon enamel black while restoring an old wire kennel for your show Borzoi, you get hidden beauty revealed to you, vis:

My wife had never seen a paint shaker ball; had no idea what they might actually BE, so you can imagine her concern when I laid out a whole series of empties on the ground and started attacking them with a long-handled screwdriver and hammer (both of which, interestingly enough, belonged to my father,) and then opened each carefully with a pair of tin snips and poured that tablespoon of paint and shaker out onto the ground.

I myself was surprised to see that they were all blue in tint; I remember there being almost nothing but clear crystals when I was a kid, with the very occasional ultra-rare pale green, but I guess things change. Imagine MY surprise and joy in finding something more than I expected--that palm-full of gorgeous blues, from very pale ice to darkest navy, and a lesson that my father taught me all unbeknownst to him, come back to haunt me.

Apr 13, 2007

Friday The Thirteenth Poetry Challenge Evil Blob Thing From Outer Space!

My first stab at Mona's Poetry Friday challenge, even tho I'm stabbing with prose and not rhyme nor reason. Hopefully I will, like a fine wine, turn into vinega...no wait...


Once upon a time,
Because all the best stories start that way
I found a pair of wings
in a bicycle shop
in Damascus.

I was going to buy them; I could
imagine all the wonderous things
I could do
all the heroic tasks
I could complete
with a set of wings all wax
and bronze wires
and satin feathers:
Kittens rescued from high branches.
No more falling on my arse.
Flying with my love across moonlight skies--Uncle Einar
given breath and life and vibrant heart-pounding love.

I left them there,
and walked home.

I knew I couldn't meet
their price
just yet.

Mona, I sincerely hope you get to feeling better. Be strong, and when you can't be strong, remember that there are people around you who love you a great deal who will be your strength when you have none.

Apr 12, 2007

Dirt Therapy

I've said it before, and so I shan't go into it in any great depth here, but there is something in me that yearns to have dirt under my fingernails, the sun on my shoulders. Some bit of me needs to stand in a row and watch green things stretch up to the sun under my attention.

Post-surgery I could not get out into my garden, nor could I ride Betty. (That'd be the bike, you mooks, not the Mrs., though it's true there, too.) The non-riding was bothering me, but the weather has been less than clement, so it wasn't as hard to deal with as not being in my garden. Betty is dirty with pollen and dust, but my garden was languishing under it's weight in weeds.

I knew things were still growing out there because I left them there growing Tuesday afternoon a week past. I knew weeds were growing, and fire ants (the unbeatable foe in this garden for some reason) were growing, and I wasn't there to keep an eye on things. I couldn't weed, couldn't hoe, and couldn't plant. I couldn't gently and steadily oversee the barely reined-in chaos that is a garden sitting out there in Nature. And honestly it was really honestly getting under my skin. My walking was still a queasy-making hobble, I was still bleeding with some regularity, and I was ready to weep because I could not get to my dirt therapy.

I'm starting to feel like Hera's hero, he who drew his power and strength from the earth. As long as his feet were on the ground he could draw pure strength from the earth, but once he lost contact with the dirt he was powerless. Well, I was feeling like Hercules had his hands in my ribs and my arse and was holding me clear of my garden, and damnit I was getting tired of it! Some people pay therapists for their mental balance, some people drink or snort themselves into insensibility. Me, I dig in the dirt, and I was away from it.

My reward finally came the day before yesterday, almost a week after the surgery. I was finally well enough to stand upright, walk a distance, and bend over with some ease, so the first thing I did after work? I weeded. Boy did I. I weeded like a madman for...well, all of fifteen minutes, then headed back inside because I was afraid I'd develop what the Bible euphemistically calls "an issue of blood." My sitz bath was calling, and I was heeding that call all up and down.

But like everything, my condition improved with time. Yesterday afternoon I was greeted with the words "I knew I'd find you out here," spoken as I leaned on my hoe, smiling at a row of steadily growing English peas; each and every one a pale green struggle for the fence just above their easy reach. And today improved further--another hour spent out in my brown and green heaven, and a fair bit of that time was spent behind my tiller, so I know I'm officially back in the saddle again. A double-height row appeared magically (well, okay, it appeared after an hour of tilling and raking and leveling,) all ready to receive some canteloupe seedlings. The wound is still there, I'm still sitting a little crooked once in a while, but when I take my shower the floor tiles under my feet turn brown for a moment as the water runs off me, and so mentally I am back where I need to be.


Apr 8, 2007

Here And Now

It's taken quite a few years, but after much ado, I've arrived...here. Precisely where I am right now. Which is to say--slightly sore, recovering nicely, marveling over prescription narcotics and spring sunshine and how industrial the health care profession has become.

I've written quite a few posts in the misty depths of my mind during this convalescence, watched 7 episodes of ST: Enterprise, two episodes of Midsomer Murders, read all of Gene Wolfe's "The Knight," which was an outstanding read, taken more sitz baths than I care to think about, popped Toradol and aspirin and crunched prescription narcotic painkillers like M&Ms, and well, to be quite frank, I've bemoaned my fate and railed at doctors and my own health (or lack thereof) and in general probably suffered more from cabin fever than anything else.

The high points?

  • The medical industry sucks. I was treated like just another cow in the abattoir, tho this one had new curtains and that new-building smell and a veritable army of nurses and support personnel who were all every bit as unemotional and uncaring as the new beige carpeting. I emerged with a throat raw from being intubated (meaning I had a large plastic tube shoved rudely and none too carefully into my windpipe) and a surgical wound that is nowhere near as bad as the secondary wounds that were left by the procedure itself. I've never suffered a more Pyrrhic effort in my life.

  • The only high point of the entire event? I had a male nurse named Maurice who, to my knowledge was no Gangster of Love, but who was called "Moe" by everyone around him. Unfortunately I never heard "Calling Doctor Howard, Doctor Fine, Doctor Howard" on the overhead, so I was a little let down by that.

  • Scott--I did in fact emit a rather feeble Woohoohoo! in the OR. I say "feeble" because I had already received iv drugs to 'calm me,' and the gas, which tasted dirty pinkish blue was already working it's magic on me, but I did get Moe to lift the vile device long enough for me to let out a mildish whoop, then all was dark. I'm afraid to think what the doc might have done had I NOT spake thus.

  • If you're ever given the option of gas versus iv, go with the gas. I felt a thousand times more awake in the recovery room. Heck, I even remember most of it.

  • I miss my garden. I miss pottering around out there. I miss checking on my crawfish.

  • The sun is out in force. I've seen clouds and rain, it even sleeted yesterday for a few frozen minutes, but today that fat old sun is riding high, spreading warmth and bright green everywhere it touches. I long so much to be out in it.

  • Smoking a cigar in a tub of hot water can be a lot tricker than it sounds, but when it works it's quite relaxing. Just make sure that a) the toilet is within easy ashing distance or b) no-one will notice the smouldering lump of grey on the bathroom rug.

  • I want to live in a tiny English village and be eccentric, because the crazies don't get axed.

Nancy, if you haven't noticed, I let fly with a few Papa stories on your blog, and thank you for the invite! ...I saved the joke for here:

Q: According to Hemingway, why did the chicken cross the road?
A: To die. Alone. In the rain.

Here's looking forward to a return to regular posting.

Apr 3, 2007

Hiding In The Simplitudes

I'm told I inherited my 'nerves' from both my mother AND my father. A double whammy of worry. My mother can worry about, quite literally, anything. My father worried himself into a stomach ulcer and a medical discharge from his Air Force Career. Me? I worry. I could take a lesson from Alfred E. Newmann.

In the course of 40 years I've tried a lot of different means to circumvent worry, and thus far not much has worked. My hindbrain, though, the primitive that lurks in his cave, huddling by the fire, HE fixes worry the old fashioned way. When the id is pouring seratonin into every pipeline, when the reptile brain part of me is screaming for a fight or a flight, the primitive and I go somewhere and perform simple tasks. We smoke a pipe, or we clean a pistol; we perform ritual. I get it from my father.

I remember very clearly and with immense fondness my father cleaning his shotgun. He'd sit in one of the big wooden chairs in the master bedroom, framed by the footboard of the massive, dark wood four-poster bed. His cleaning box would be lying on the floor, rods and brushes and brown glass bottles of pungent chemicals ranked in easy reach. There the Hoppes No. 9 Bore Cleaner, and there the mysterious, pungent lubricants and oils in their tins, but first and last was always oiling the steel; in the box of cleaning supplies there was always a scrap of rag that was dark grey with old oil. My father carefully cleaned every inch of metal with that rag, reach into every crease, carefully line each joint and join with it, until the metal shone with a soft, satin luster.

My favourite part, though, was the bore swab. It was a long, thick length of woven nylon string, once white but ivory yellowed with years of gun oil. There was a single, tight knot on one end to keep it from fraying apart and on the other end was knotted a sort of ragged butterfly shape of old, oiled cloth.

I can see him sitting there thirty years ago as plain as day; the shotgun balanced carefully upright, it's stock between his feet, the barrel held loosely in his big, work-rough hands. The breech would be locked open, and he would slowly feed the nylon string down the barrel. I'd be standing there watching the open breech with all the intensity of a hawk watching for a mouse's furtive movement, ready for my small job.

After what seemed an eternity the knot would appear in that narrow, dull silver slot and I'd look up into his eyes, and he'd nod. I'd reach down and grab the knot and tug gently, watching that oily butterfly dissapearing into the barrel, some sort of obscure reverse magic trick. I'd pull gently--softly cautioned 'not too fast, not too slow,' until the butterfly appeared in the breech and I was holding a yard or more of sweetly pungent oily ivory cord, which I'd hand to him and we'd repeat the process.

I don't get to clean rifles or shotguns nearly as much as he did--I haven't been hunting since I was learning how to, and the pistol range is a fair drive out, but like him I always have shoes to polish. The tools are simpler but the intent is the same--ritual, the same ritual I watched my father perform a thousand times.

The tools: the little metal can of Kiwi black with it's sideways lever to pop the top, the old scrap of green towel laid across my legs and the smaller, black-smeared swatch of towel for applying the polish. Careful attention to detail learned at my father's knee. Not too much polish, not too little, applied in small tight circles until the whole shoe is a dull black. Set that one aside and polish it's mirror image. Then, the little wooden-handled brush, about the length of my palm. Clutched carefully between thumb and curled little finger, middle fingers pulling it tight into my palm I make of my hand a buffing tool, able to quickly swipe the soft bristles just over the leather, warming it, brushing the polish until it is worked into a liquid shine.

When the task is done the tools are carefully gathered and put away where they belong, ready for next time. The primitive returns to his campfire, his mind occupied for a time with simple, consuming tasks, the brain taken offline for just a few minutes, allowing it to reset, regroup.

I'm profoundly glad for those tasks, those small rituals of living whose simplicity belie their importance. They are my saviors, my sanity and my grounding.

Apr 2, 2007

My Life As A Desktop Blotter

One of the little perks, if you want to call it that, of working in a medical office is the constant flow of little freebie items. Pens, coffee mugs, food and candy, calendars, sticky-note pads, most anything you can put a business name on and hand out to a prospect. One of the only really useful bits of marketing fluff to me is the desktop calendar. I worked for years and years at Orrifice Depot, and have directly or indirectly sold about a thousand years worth of desktop calendars, and in all that time I never realised exactly how handy those things can be.

I'm not really a list-maker or a note-taker at home, but in the office I'm bombarded on a daily basis by infobits that are of some small measure of importance. Just important enough that they need to be remembered for more than seven seconds. Where various important people in the office are or will be, geographically speaking. Phone and fax numbers for patients and contractors and doctor's offices. The names and composers of various tasty pieces of music that I want to go home and look up on ClassicCat. The names of people I've put on Permahold, both of us impatiently waiting for their party to free their line.

And as each day passes from 7am Too Early Arrival My Gawd What Am I Doing Here to 5pm Getting The Flock Outta Here To The Joys Of My Garden, I mark off each little number with a black Sharpie marker, ticking off my progress from office to grave.

The month starts out clean and crisp, each day sharply defined by it's little box, each number bright and clear, black on white. The promise of a new month, the blank canvas of a new category of time. As the month proceeds in fits and starts, I leave a whole life of sigils and runes and scribbles. Cryptic remarks; "Lake 11pm ride," "P. out," "25137 Wand." Phone numbers without names; strings of digits that lead to...someone who might or might not be important anymore. Big green "G"s to indicate to myself when I cut the grass here as a contractor. Reminders to myself that the boss will be in Phoenix this week, Jackson the next, and Des Moines for vacation. When the local Volkswagon Fancier's Club will be meeting, and where. Doctor's appointments, and when Quarterly Inventory arrives, lasts, and finally departs.

By the time the month is over my pristine white calendar, that virgin snow-covered land is war-torn and hard-used, filled from edge to edge with things that at one point I thought were important. The careful lines and borders and blocks are all corrupted, territorial boundaries overrun by marauding hoardes of fountain pen scribbles and ball-point stabbings. Three word treaties made and broken daily.

And when the last day comes each month, I carefully tear that page off of the pad and dig through it, an archaeologist in past time, meticulously sifting the detritus of empty days for those few pottery shards that still tell tales, or the glittering golden scarab that is priceless jewelry and not just a dead bug.

When I've finished gleaning all that I need to keep from the page I fold it and toss it in the shred bin, to be rendered into further nonsense by the steel cutters, and I carry my small handfull of treasures into the new month, carefully leaving each important morsel in an appropriate box.

If only my life were so easy. If only I could go from year to year, month to month, throwing out the useless, tearing pages out of my life, examinging them, discharging the old and the moribund and the no longer necessary, bringing forward only the vital pieces, each to be placed reverentially in it's new home for a time.

Apr 1, 2007

Linguistic Morphology

Caution: Bug Post.

We all have special memories involving bugs. Except perhaps Scott. Granted some of us have memories of insects causing a sort of St. Vitus' Dance reaction, but the rest of us have positive memories.


Down here, we have mosquito hawks. Or at least that's what I thought they were. Seems I was wrong. See, the morphology of that name and my anal-retentive desire for accuracy in all things set me off on a search for clarification. I don't remember what we called them as kids, but I learned to call them "mosquito hawks," thinking that I had learned that they eat mosquitoes because they herald Spring, and so do the flying hypodermics down hereabouts. Then I started thinking further back, into the dark reaches of my mind, down those scary dark hallways and behind the very oldest doors, and realised that the term "mosquito hawk" might be to everyone else what my Mom used to call dragonflies.

Which, if you're still with me, and wondering why I'm on about bugs, I find out now is much more accurate because the gangly, long-legged bumbling fly-away insect I called a mosquito hawk doesn't in fact eat mosquitoes at all, whereas we all know that dragonflies ne' mosquito hawks ne' devil's darning needles are the consumate (heh...a pun) mosquito eater and therefore one of my all-time favourite flying bugs, in the Top Five along with damselflies and cicadas.



What I have been (note the current past-tense) calling mosquito hawks is actually called, less stylishly, the Crane Fly; it is a nectar eater if it eats at all, and it's grubs are, like cicadas, apparently the only 'real' part of it's life, as the flying bit seems to exist for the sole reason of procreation, and the spawn carry the very cool name of "leatherjackets."

Anyway, they're a wonderful part of my summer memories, both long ago and current, because, like foretellers of the mosquitoes, they're everywhere right now. All over the damned place. Into everything. Every time I step outside I seem to be wading into a bouncy, ethereal ocean of legs and wings that serve no purpose.

Last night winter tried one last time to regain it's hold on the south and dumped a ton of rain on us, which didn't dampen the spirits of the crane flies but sure brought out the devil's darning needles. There's a sizeable puddle in the backyard that shows up when a lot of rain arrives and the ground is slow on the drinking, but this afternoon, in the midst of my depression (unable to cut the grass, you see) I looked out in the backyard, at that silvery blot in my too-tall grass, and saw dozens of the small, common blue dragonflies that we get every year, weaving an intricate dance around and about each other and the puddle. In the shade of the crepe myrtle they were simple black shapes, darting and swaying, but when they passed into the sunlight they seemed to explode in dazzling bursts of blue, like tiny electric sparks given brief sway over the air, only to be extinguished in the shade again.

Soon the bigger, golden darning needles will start appearing in the skies when I bushhog, thick golden rods on the wing, glittering and swooping, feeding on the clouds of bugs the tractor disturbs out of the summer grasses. Soon the massive green and blue behemoths will appear; languid, thin zeppelins given wings and free reign in the sky, silent memories of their giant ancestors.

No, I'm not sure where this is going. My mind is distracted, my nerves frayed. Surgery is Wednesday, a relatively minor malady of an intensely personal nature, but the very idea of being asleep, the little death that has nothing to do with sex, that scares me. The idea of a bored doctor working his trade on me does nothing to make me feel better. The dispassionate tool and it's wielder scare me.

Oh, here's the cool pictures and the info. *S*