Jul 31, 2008

Poetry Friday: Sweat

Face it, Mona, I can't use the 'nice' words for it. "Perspire." "Glow." *snort*

I'm from the Deep South, darlin'; we don't perspire down here, we sweat bullets. We sweat like pigs. We sweat like a five dollar port whore during Navy shore leave. Those lovely old images of pomaded plantation overseers in white linen suits and elegant moustaches? All smoke and mirrors designed by the tourism bureau to keep you from realising that heat prostration is the number two killer down here, second only to the "Hold my beer a second, I want to try something" death.

I don't know at what point in my life I went from the kid who could stay outside all day and never notice the heat to the adult who realises that if he hoes one more weed he's going to wake up in a nice cool hospital ward with a heat stroke, but I wish I'd noticed it. At least I could have mourned it a little bit, waved goodbye with a damp hankie or something. But no, it passed me so fast I was left standing there in the yard suddenly aware that my shirt was soaked and I really ought to be wearing a hat.

My weekends have always been laundry time, but summer makes those laundry days about one more load long. I'm an outside guy, even in the heat (well, okay, even in the early morning and late evening if I really gotta) and that means the certainty of sweating. I get up Saturday morning, put on a liberal dose of SPF 60, a white tee shirt and long shorts, plunk my straw hat (SPF 30) on my head and start up the lawn tractor. Four hours and one freshly-mown lawn later I'm inside and in the shower, and one pair of sopping wet clothes are in the hamper for later.

After lunch there's inevitably something that has to be done outside: sweeping the driveway, washing vehicles, mucking out the chickens, something. Max exposure is usually no greater than an hour, but at it's end I'm back in the shower and a second set of white tee/long shorts is in the hamper, dripping and probably smelling like chicken manure or McGuire's Miracle Wax.

If I'm being particularly smart I'll stay inside during the worst of early afternoon heat and only venture back out to do things like gardening or bush-hogging the field. Several hours later it's lather-rinse-repeat time. Back in the shower and one more set of sweaty clothes that have to be wrung out in the tub before being tossed in the hamper.

Sunday morning? If I'm lucky that means a balloon crewing opportunity, and a change of clothes when I get home around 10am. Last time out I had an afternoon flight in addition to the morning flight and did something I'd never done before--sweated a pair of jeans to the point that they looked like they'd been pulled from the dryer about half an hour too early. Was I upset? No.

There's something intrinsically rewarding about sweating. If I'm sweating, chances are good I'm working at something physical, something that requires very little brainpower but a lot of muscle, and when it's all done it's Something I've Accomplished. I may be red as a hooker's fingernails and hot as a two dollar pistol but by gum I've accomplished something, and the sweat soaking my hatband and making me look like a truly ugly entrant in a wet T-shirt contest is just fine by me.

Right now, though, I'm ready for a little Fall. I miss my leather jacket.

Jul 28, 2008

Diver Down

(And no, I'm not referring to the Van Halen album by the same name, nor the vaguely similar "OU812." No, I'm talking scuba here. Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. Frogmen (and frogwomen.)

(Caveat--photos are BIG. If you're on dial-up or low resolution montioring you might want to skip opening them and just open the Flickr link at the end, where these and more photos will be.)

Florida is the land of swimmers and beaches and scuba divers. Everyone in Florida is required to know how to swim by the age of three, snorkel by five and be a Dive Master rated scuba person by the age of twelve. My brother in law is no exception, even though he lives in Louisiana.

I didn't realise this year that a good portion of my trip to Florida would include my wife's brother and sister and his training to get his scuba certification, nor that we'd spend a lot of that time toting heavy (and often wet) equipment back and forth from my father-in-law's house to the dive shop, any number of bays or the very cool Vortex Spring, in Ponce de Leon, Florida. I kid you not. Named thus because said Spaniard thought for certain what he'd found was the Fountain of Youth.

It's damn close.

In a nutshell, it's a 65+ foot deep funnel that houses a very cold natural spring at the bottom. The spring forms a pool and a creek, and houses some of the most incredibly clear, incredibly cold water you've felt. Since there's a neat cave at the bottom and the water is perfectly clear all the time and there's no boat traffic (unlike the entire rest of the state of Florida) it's a perfect place for scuba diver trainees to go, and they do. In droves. This is why we were there with said brother-in-law and said trunkfull of mildly damp scuba equipment.

So, one hot morning found all of us sitting around with about a thousand other scuba wannabes, all of us hanging around waiting for their chance in the water with dive buddies and instructors and etc. Now picture this: the grounds around the pool are literally standing-room only with divers in various states of neoprene undress. Every type and style and colour of person, acres and acres of black neoprene, colourful flippers, aluminum air tanks...in short, millions of dollars worth of state-of-the-art personal underwater apparatus. Everywhere you looked someone was either zipping into their suit or hanging instruments off their buoyancy control vests or otherwise either preparing their ultra-modern equipment or taking it off. Three wharves, each divided in half - 'enter' and 'exit' to expedite the flow of divers - and they stay full of lines of people.

Me, I was mildly bored. Watching a diver is like watching paint dry--they're on the surface a few minutes, they make the "dive" gesture to their buddy, and they're gone in a swirl of bubbles. Hours pass, then they return soaking wet. Not a lot of spectator sport involved there, even when the water is so clear you can see them some fifteen feet deep.

Little did I know that was all to change.

Three or so hours had passed and we were waiting for our family member to get his second opportunity in the water. Out of the blue (and the heat) a brand new Ford truck comes trolling along the green grass, brushing neoprene people to each side. It pulls up to the center dock and several guys jump out and start bustling around in a rather business-like manner. Out comes a huge ice chest. A huge figure-8 loop of black hose. Six gleaming aluminum air tanks. Tool chests. And then the miraculous. Three canvas and rubber suits.

Right then it started getting positively medieval.

Next out of the truck came a somewhat tarnished brass diving helmet. A 1945 Mark V Model 1 diving helmet to be exact. The same thing the Navy used to use toward the end of WWII.

Then the sign came out--for $150 dollars you could wear this antique suit and go diving, and they already had one taker. A BIG boy, my size or larger. Three men started bustling around him in the same way that I can only imagine a knight's squires would have done. He stripped to a Speedo and slipped both legs into one of the canvas suits and immediately started sweating. That was the end of the easy part. The rest was a downright struggle.

They put dishwashing soap on his knuckles so he could force his hands through the rubber-capped wrists of the suit, which he had to do one at a time--no room in the suit to simply shrug it on like a sports coat. Once that was completed he sat on the lid of the ice chest (that had contained the boots, the weight belt and the three suits) and the squires really went to work. They had to literally do all his dressing for him, because it was impossible for him to reach. I watched the boots go on and get laced up, the squire using military-precise movements to secure the loose ends of the laces under leather straps designed for the purpose, his each action designed to prevent damage to this unrepairable antique.

Then a metal shoulder plate with a series of huge brass bolts and a high neck with threads at the top was settled onto his shoulders and the rubber impregnated neck of the suit was forced around and over those bolts. A high collar of the canvas material was pulled up against his neck, and over the rubber gasket of the suit went long strips of brass, washers of a sort. The squires were sweating in the noon heat but the knight was pouring water.

The biggest of the squires got out a brass wrench and started attaching nuts to the bolts, pressing the rubber and brass into a water-tight seam. The surreal nature of the scene was made even more apparent by the fact that there were literally hundreds of people clad in the very latest diving gear watching this man with a mix of envy and curiosity and a sort of dread in their eyes. Some sixty years ago THIS was state of the art protection, allowing a human to breathe and function under water. These modern divers were dressing and undressing themselves with a minimum of outside assistance while this promethean figure required three helpers.

The squires went on with their tasks. The massive bowl-like helmet was lowered onto the collar and screwed into place. A huge brass fitting attached to the thick air-hose was screwed on and a wrench was taken to it, to ensure a tight fit. The little round porthole window in the front of the helmet was left open to give the diver some much-needed air. I can't imagine how hot it must have been in there.

When it was all said and done the owner of this miraculous piece of engineering shouted into the radio: "Diver can you hear me?" A tinny voice responded from the huge radio box, and the owner shouted for more volume from the diver. Finally the right balance was struck, the diver was instructed on how to control the flow of air inside his helmet (finally mercifully turned on) and he stood up with help from two of the squires. He simply couldn't do it alone.

I know it's laughable but hearing those lead and brass boots tramping slowly along that wooden wharf made chills run up my spine. I'd watched this creature be born, and now it was moving with a slow, eerie grace, it's footsteps so heavy they literally made the entire wharf vibrate. Slowly he was lead into the cold water, bubbles erupting from the down-turned spout on the back of his helmet, and the water closed over him, the black airhose trailing out like an umbilical cord.

I don't think I've ever been so in awe of a thing. The sheer magnitude of what was going on struck me--a man was under the water there, walking around and breathing and talking to the people on the surface. He was peering at the aquatic world from out a tiny brass porthole that had to be bolted into place. His hands no doubt were chilled by the water they were immersed in, the canvas material little protection against the biting cold of this natural spring. But, he was alive underneath the water. No amount of cutting-edge plastic flippers and neoprene suits and polycarbonate goggles could bring the fact home to me quite like this strange figure cut out of 1945 and placed carefully in 2008.

The diver didn't stay down long. I'd walked up to the restroom for a minute and by the time I'd gotten back he was already out again and being unsuited, but I'd seen his birth, I'd no need to see his death. I think the experience would have been lessened if I'd watched this inhuman creature be shucked, skinned and peeled back to reveal some guy with his black Speedo and his wallet buying him a rare experience.

No, I'd had my vision, my moment. For just a few sweet short minutes I was there with him, breathing in metallic-smelling air, feeling the cold water press the canvas snug against my chest and limbs. For just a moment there I knew what a fragile barrier there was between myself and everything else, and that thought both chilled and reassured me.

The complete photo set can be seen at my Flickr collection page.

Jul 22, 2008

The Road

To Blogger Hell is paved with good intentions to post.

It's been a long, strange two weeks, kids. I've had every intention to get back here and write some more; the stories are floating around in my head like misshapen grey balloons, eager to get down my arms and out my fingers and hence to this glowing screen, but...always a but.

The Compaq is alive again--seems the heat, which hasn't been a problem in five years is suddenly enough to trigger a massive (and temporary) failure. When the machine cools down it works fine. So, happily awaiting a new hard drive for the StuccoBox (tm) (and thank you, Stucco!) and working on the old workhorse again. Limping along, as it were.

I'd linger here and tell you guys one of the stories that's been jostling for position but I've got to get rolling. We've a trip to Florida planned for the rest of the week and so the house is in "OMG we've got to pack" mode. Planning to make sure my brother lets my garden go to hell in a handbasket. Making sure my mother overfeeds my fish. Arranging places for the dogs to stay. Oil and filters change for the CX-7. Etc. I was supposed to be off work all this week but the look of terror in my coworker's eyes and their desperate pleas for mercy got me in yesterday and half of today. Bastards.

On the job front--no word yet from either CLECO or the heavy equipment company's HR folks, but the day is young. Rainy Day Rita's front end work just broke the $1000 mark and selling her is now a necessity unless I get one of those positions. Can I tell you I'm ready to get out of the medical industry?

I wanted to share this with you before I go for the week. Taken yesterday morning, about five minutes before a truly massive coal shipment (they average 150,000 tons I was told) passed.

Milepoint 209

I've never been so frightened for a stranger before.

Jul 18, 2008

Poetry Friday Challenge: Out

If I had time and privacy I'd write you guys a lovely haiku about the joy of returning to the Blogosphere but damnit I've been castrated.

So to speak.

My computers, you see, are OUT. Both of them. The workhorse Compaq, nearing it's 6th birthday was replaced by the Ferrari that is the new StuccoBox (tm). The StuccoBox, like it's thoroughbred brothers was (I believe) rather sensitive to the heat and suffered from amnesia--it lost a very important system file and won't boot up. Not to fear! The workhorse plugged right back in and took up the slack.

For a week.

Out of the blue and completely unexpectedly it went dead yesterday morning; black screen, Non-System Disk full-on death. Crapped straight out. Beats me what happened, the Compaq System Recovery Disk didn't do anything but get me to an A prompt (anyone remember their DOS Shell commands?) I'm guessing it decided it didn't want to make the StuccoBox feel bad by out working it so it pulled some sort of sympathetic death on itself.

So now I'm blogging through the morass of the white-box at work. Writing, as it were, through the bristles of Big Brother's moustache. Quite against the rules, naturally, and that's why this is so fast and dirty. Both boxes are in the shop, and by the charges they warned me up front about I can SEE why a building full of ubergeeks can afford to have a B-List supermodel sitting up front at the Receptionist's desk.

Gods I'm in the wrong business.

Speaking of: an inside little birdie told me that a local industrial machinery business suddenly lost it's Service Coordinator. Guess who is going at lunch to fill out an application? Cross what ya got for Uncle 'relephant, kids!

Irrelephant (and his PCs) out.

Jul 14, 2008

Cutting Glass

Updated 7/15!

I brought my pencil...gimme something to write on! Yeah, I keep thinking "cutting class" which brings David Lee Roth to mind.

Have you ever cut glass? I mean actually gone to the store and bought one of those little glass cutting tools and taken it to a sheet of plate glass? I highly recommend it.

I'm sure you've seen one or more movies where someone has some high-tech device involving suction cups and a diamond-point compass thing which they use to cut a perfect circle out of a window? You've heard that faint, eerie, high-pitched "squeeeeee" noise many times before, I'm sure. When the cut circle is completed our brave catburgler or footpad or 007 hero taps gently and the circle pops out like magic. You know the trick.

Did you know it actually does work that way? Kinda?

I have a 24 x 36 photograph that I ordered a year or more ago from a shot I took when I first bought my camera. It's of an old wooden trestle bridge over a creek, and I'd done it in B&W to play up the vertical lines of the piers against the trees behind it. I'd intended to frame the thing when I got the print, and one thing lead to another, you know how it goes. I had the frame, had the matte, just needed some glass to replace the old broken pane. Well, some months ago I found myself near the local glass company and stepped in and ordered myself a sheet of plate to fit. I brought the lot home, matted the photo, placed the frame face-down on the carpet to insert the glass and...voila, they'd cut it four inches too long. My full intention was to race off immediately to the hardware store and buy one of those little key-shaped tools, bring it back, get out the straight-edge and DIY.

Undaunted, I set the project aside, planning to go that evening to the hardware store. I missed going that day, and put it off. For three or four months. Maybe five.

I finally got tired of tripping over an empty frame and went to the hardware store. Bought the tool for a dollar or so. Brought the plate, a Sharpie marker, the tool, my safety glasses (thanx Norm!) and a steel straight-edge to the shop. Placed the lot on a flat surface, marked my cut, laid out the straight edge, and panicked.

What if it didn't work like I thought it did? What if I cut wrong? What if I pressed the tool too hard and the whole thing exploded under my hands? Was it worth losing feeling in my squeezing hand just for a framed print of a railroad bridge? "But enough of that," I told myself. "Get to it!" Screwing my courage to the sticking point I held the steel carpenter's square firmly, laid the tiny wheel against the glass and pressed gently, pulling backwards against the square.

It was...eerie. Utterly unlike cutting anything else, and I've cut a lot of things. Linoleum, rugs, paper, wood, cheese, all sorts of metals but none of those materials was like this. I could see the glass fracturing in almost microscopic slivers behind the cutting wheel, turning almost invisibly in it's aluminum housing. I could hear that eerie sound too, a weird mix of crinkle and squeal and crackle and some other things I couldn't identify. As my hand drew the tool along I could hear a definite cracking sound too, but no cracks were appearing. All that was visible was a long, very shallow score where the tool had passed.

With a bump the tool passed the end of the glass and dug into the wood of my worksurface. The Moment of Truth was upon me.

I'd seen it done before--put the cut over the edge of the table and snap it off. Thing is, I didn't know how much pressure it'd take. A lot? A little? Was it going to fall off or was I going to have to really get some weight on it? I took a deep breath, slipped on a leather work glove, gritted my teeth and started to press.

It went "pop" very quietly and suddenly I was holding a 24 x 4 inch piece of glass. The cut was perfectly fractured along that almost imperceptible line.

I went inside, slipped the glass into the frame, set in the matte, stuck the backer on, bend the clips back in place and hung the photo. The funny thing is that the print has been here so long I've sort of come to take it for granted, but the memory of that soft "pop," the ease of how it happened is still in my muscles, still in my mind. I felt like I'd been looking for the next step up on a long series of stairs but instead I'd found the landing and did that sort of goofy, arms-waving, off-balance dance.

Try it, if you get the chance. I doubt you'll forget the experience.

Post Scriptum--Jean brought it to my attention that I'd been remiss! So, here's a photo of the framed photo over my train-stuff collection.

I know it's hard to see but it's very difficult to get a good photo in a room small enough that the ceiling fan lights hang near the print in question. The print to the left is a reproduction of the front page of the London Herald reporting the first powered flight by the Wright Bros., and the right side one is a faux woodblock print of a steam-powered zeppelin.

I thought I had the photo itself uploaded here but I don't, and the original is on the computer that is currently down, but this is the same bridge, taken the same day, not yet converted to B&W.

Jul 13, 2008

The Loneliest Hour


I've been up at that hour for various reasons in the past, but never have I written about that empty, lonely, promising hour as eloquently, as beautifully as Rayne has.

You must go read now.

Jul 11, 2008

One Thousand Two Hundred Forty Five, or,

Q: What do you do with an elephant with three balls?
A: Walk him and pitch to the giraffe.

I can hear Stucco groaning two time zones away, but I figured Clown Car would enjoy the baseball reference.

I started this blog's second incarnation with an elephant joke, and so it seemed only fitting that I restart it (or give it it's third incarnation) with an elephant joke too. I took a break (and not even a very long one, to be honest) thinking that blogging was causing some of the distress in my life, some of the sturm und drang but I was wrong. Taking to heart the saying "cut off a finger to cure a hangnail" I dumped the blog thinking I was going to somehow miraculously fix what ails me, but naturally I was wrong there. I love to write, I love this outlet and during the past three or so weeks I've been gone I've found myself thinking about things I've seen or done in third person (narrator) POV, as though I were...wait for it...blogging.

Face it, it's too much a part of me to give it up now. So I spent the last week working with Mickelodeon and hacking on my own a little bit to develop the new layout you see here and will continue to see as I finish sticking on the wobbly bits and the part that goes "wongwongwongwong" when you touch it. Time, you see, is my enemy. The fire in which we all burn. I'd fully intended to have everything up and ready to go by today but failed to do so, one thing after another getting in my way but damnit I miss writing, so I'm here. Now.

It's been a strange past few weeks. Job searching, attending counseling (with it's attendant load of possible hope,) watching the crops grow and the birds fly, and thinking. Always thinking. It's a failing of mine, and trust me, don't start because once you do you're pretty much hooked.

Early one morning here recently I watched a USDA-type walking through waist-high cotton plants in one of the fields on the way to my office. He had on a pith helmet to keep the scorching summer sun off, and over his shoulder he carried an immense net on a very long handle to aid him in his capture of pest insects. All I could wonder about was why this middle-aged guy was out butterfly-catching so early in the morning.

I dreamed last night that I killed a man. Crushed his bones under my feet. It was night, and I was trainspotting the rails that suddenly ran just behind my house. He appeared from the side yard, jogging in a royal blue jogging suit. He jogged into my garage then back out, then circled around again, jogged in, and jogged out carrying a small object, another camera that I had left there inexplicably. I gave chase, he threw the camera at me which burst into black pieces on the stones of the old driveway. This enraged me further, and I managed to catch him in the spreading branches of the fig tree just outside my garage. As I dragged him from it's branches he turned INTO branches, into an amalgam of dry twigs in the shape of a man, tho he was still a man. I dragged this thing onto the driveway and began crushing it with my boots, stamping the knob that was a head, hearing it crack and splinter, then crushing the long branch that was it's body.

Having torn it in two a friend of mine and I carried it's parts to the tracks, my idea being that the train would destroy the evidence of my attack and perhaps make it appear as though he'd been run over by the freight. I dreamed then that the train appeared almost instantly, a huge black and white Norfolk Southern engine arriving in a wall of noise and a cloud of opaque smoke and diesel fumes. I stumbled backwards to frame it in my camera's viewfinder (it refused to 'see' the train and wouldn't focus) and I was chiding myself that I'd always failed to get a good focus on objects at night, even though in real life I've almost never photographed anything at night. As I fell back trying to get a photo, ANY photo of the passing train I began to be pelted by rocks from another man, another thief, friend to the man I'd just destroyed.

I woke up literally shaking my head in agony, trying to dislodge the dream.

I watched it rain yesterday, positively pour down. I watched the drops hitting the puddles in the parking lot and thought about taking a photo or two, but then I realised that it'd be the same as trying to take a photo of a cloud of insects or birds: to our eyes a moving group seems like so much more. It has a life and a vitality all it's own, and when you freeze the frame, when you photograph it, it loses that dynamic. It can be quantified and sorted, it can be picked apart. I knew the same would happen if I snapped a photo of raindrops hitting puddles--that beautiful dynamic would be gone, would be rendered sterile and lifeless. Instead of a profusion of dancing shapes it would become a simple interplay of colour and light, so that if you were determined to you could easily count all the drops.

We weren't meant to count the drops. We were never meant to count the dragonflies darkening the sky over our heads, nor to measure the sand. So me, I'm going to do like I've always done and sit back and enjoy the dynamics.

(You know, it's good to be back. I missed this place.)