Aug 31, 2008

Do All Good Lessons Hurt?

I'm starting to have serious concerns about my current lesson learning system. It seems that only the lessons that hurt me in some way really stay put from the moment of them being taught.

Case in point: this morning's Crew Flight day with SkyBird. See, our brave leader has a side-job wherein he does property damage inspections for insurance claims, and with the storm season upon us, SkyBird will be more or less grounded for the next month or two, at least into Fall. Being the thoughtful cuss he is, he decided that the last flight of the summer would go to his ground crew AND serve as an annual pilot instructor review for himself and a friend. This morning then we had a twofer setup with SkyBird and Bob flying _his_ balloon, Ski Lift. (There's actually a terrible pun hiding in there--Bob's last name, spelled as best I know how, is "Pulaski.")

We set up on a pipeline's clear cut area in the predawn, getting the bag holding the envelope and the gondola out of the trailer without trouble or event. I even got to show off my most current learning--standing at the 'narrow' end of the rectangle holding the burner's mounting frame and setting it on it's poles. Now, before I proceed, let me say this. In any profession there is a lexicon of special terms that have to be learned. It makes the process of DOING the profession easier since everyone is on the same page and it makes laypeople scratch their heads when you use funny words they don't understand. David is a retired military aviator, so everything we do uses a fair bit of military and civilian aviation patois. The ground isn't the ground, it's "the deck" as in "There's a strong easterly wind on the deck." During radio checks the proper response isn't "Yeah I can hear you" (at least not often) but "I read you five by five." It goes on.

My previous familiarity with military aviation gave me a little extra handhold on the terminology, but there are terms I'm not familiar with yet that David graciously bestows on me during our setups, like pearls cast before swine. Yesterday's aviation term occurred during the aforementioned pyrometer cable snaking. It was a little balled up and in danger of getting damaged, so David warned us to watch for "kinkles." Needless to say that stopped both Jim and myself in our tracks, as neither of us had heard that term used before. Apparently in pyrometer wire technical language a "kinkle" occurs midway between a wrinkle (not very dangerous) and a full kink (most undesirable.) So. My learning continues. Kinkles are to be avoided at all cost.

This morning gave me a lesson that I'll remember for a very long time. That is, if pain = excellent lesson retention holds true. It had never occurred to me that wind direction and the direction we lay the balloon out were inter-related. This morning proved to me that wind gusts, if there are any, and a few degree difference in setup direction can play a very decided role in easy balloon inflation. I guess this stands to reason--we're trying to blow up a balloon that holds 88,000 cubic feet of air and stands a number of stories tall--a strong wind can really wreck your day.

I was holding the crown line, unfortunately not by it's wicker handle but by the rope, there being a thick stand of trees behind me preventing me from backing up any more. As the burner began it's muted roar the envelope did it's fast stand-up and the rope began passing through my hands. I did my best to slow it's passage without burning my hands through the leather gloves, and then Nature stepped in with shock and surprise for me: an errant and rather strong gust.

The very soft, as of yet unfilled nylon envelope developed a huge dent in it's side like a sail catching wind (which is exactly what it was at that point) and began dragging me across the ground in exactly the same way I've seen Belle drag her toys behind her when she runs. Fast and dirty. All I could do was try my level best to plant my feet without being pulled over and watch as Jim gathered up handfuls of the material to keep it out of the ten foot torch from the burner. I yelled for Mrs. I to come help, and thank goodness she was there because at that point I hadn't a snowball's chance in Torment of keeping that envelope from going wherever the wind pushed it, and the other ground crew consisted of one man who was busy with Ski Lift's crown so he couldn't step in.

Vulgar Wizard, Jim, Richard AND Susie were trying to hold the gondola still and keep it from bashing into the trailer, Mrs. I and I were struggling with the crown line, and the wind wanted to play. We managed after a few violent minutes that seemed like an hour long to get her settled, and the outer edge of my right hand and my pinkie finger all promise to come up in some interesting bruise colours but it was worth it. It served as a very potent reminder of what can go wrong in just a moment.

So. The rest of the procedure went as planned, VW got to go up in Ski Lift with Bob and Ben (and Ben's video camera) while Richard and Susie went up with David in SkyBird. I figured patience would serve me, as they'd been crewing for a while without ever going up, and I was at least one paid flight up on them, so I got in the truck with Jim and Mrs. I and we chased.

Boy did we chase. That wind, you see, came back with a vengeance, and we had the long-way 'round to get back in line with the balloons. That's the other thing with being part of the chase crew--the balloon doesn't need to follow a road, and if there's no road for you to be on then you better find one. Thanks to an almost stalled condition over the Red River when they crossed we managed to catch up to SkyBird and passengers very fast in a beautiful flat open field with (blessing of blessings!) an unbarred gate. A fast recovery ensued, and my other painful lesson occurred.

Actually it occurred yesterday; today was my test.

You see, after the crown man hauls the envelope down and most of the air is out of the envelope there's still a lot of air in there, and the envelope is lying on the ground in sort of an oval shape that you can draw into a line by tugging on the straps, but there's still some air trapped in the folds. The next task is squeezing it (more aviation jargon for 'ya.) This is usually done by two or three people, but the lead person is the real doer. It's done just like it sounds--you stand beside the envelope, wrap your arms around it, draw it up to your waist or thereabouts and squeeze, working your way down the length of the balloon like you're trying to wring it out.

Which you are.

Now naturally there's a trick to it, and my teacher David The Tyrant decided to let the tyro (me) learn the hard way. We walked up to the envelope, he stepped into his customary first position and I stood behind him, my job being to keep the weight of the envelope off him. He got that damned "instruction forthcoming" grin under his precisely clipped military spec moustache and said, rather offhandedly, "Here, why don't YOU lead this time?"

Idiot me, I galloped up there with eyes wide and a "Can do!" attitude and made it all of ten feet. Maybe eight. It seemed like SkyBird was fighting me every inch of the way, and before just a few feet had passed I was being smothered face-first by folds of nylon that refused to lose their air. By ten feet I was heaving and panting and being blinded by sweat and hot swaths of blue nylon. That's when The Instructor stepped up and laughingly showed me that it's done BACKWARDS. You stand with your back to the mass of air, wrap your arms around and you fall backwards into the giant, springy mass of nylon and hot air, forcing it toward the top's open vent. It holds you up, you squeeze. It's almost fun.

Yeah, I learn, eventually. This morning put that learning to the test, and what do you know but it worked! Granted it was still hot sweaty work but it was a lot more efficient than having a face-full of hot blue nylon with all the resilience of, well, a bag of air and what seemed an instinctive need to be difficult. She squoze (another aviation term there) out nicely, we wrapped her in her velcro straps, packed her in her bag and loaded it all up.

Ski Lift ended up coming down in a rather posh neighborhood and we arrived in time to give John a hand with repacking. I even felt secure enough in my new-found knowledge to be lead man when it came time to squeeze, and yes, my teaching held firm. Hot, sweaty, but a damn sight easier, and I probably looked almost like I knew what I was doing. I even managed to recognise the perfect dark square in a silvery dew-covered front yard where the gondola had hit then bounced back up, and the longish, rough drag mark where it had wandered before finally coming to rest. But like all aviators everywhere have said-- "Any landing you can walk away from is a good landing."

I guess the same can be said for lessons.

Photos! Careful, full size is BIG.

SkyBird and Ski Lift chasing each other right after liftoff

Ski Lift, shot from the chase truck

Touch And Go - Going...
Yesterday's photo op. Clicking will bring you to Flickr and the rest of the shots.

And DEFINITELY go check out Vulgar Wizard's aerial shots, also on Flickr!

Aug 28, 2008

The Big Read

As swiped from Maggie's excellent new undertaking, The Brown Book Project.

The Big Read
“The Big Read reckons that the average adult has only read 6 of the top 100 books they’ve printed.”

1) Bold: I have read.
2) Underline: Books I love. (Changed to italics, I can't make underlines here, they look like links dontchakno--)
3) Reprint this list in your own blog so we can try and track down these people who’ve read 6 and force books upon them

1. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
4. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling
6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
7. Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne
8. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis

10. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
11. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
12. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
13. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
14. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
15. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
16. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
17. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens

18. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
19. Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
20. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
21. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
22. Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone, JK Rowling (or Sorcerer's Stone if you're in America)
23. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, JK Rowling
24. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, JK Rowling
25. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien

26. Tess Of The D'Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
27. Middlemarch, George Eliot
28. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving
29. The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck
30. Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

31. The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson
32. One Hundred Years Of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
33. The Pillars Of The Earth, Ken Follett
34. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
35. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
36. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
37. A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
38. Persuasion, Jane Austen
39. Dune, Frank Herbert
40. Emma, Jane Austen
41. Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery
42. Watership Down, Richard Adams
43. The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald

44. The Count Of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
45. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
46. Animal Farm, George Orwell
47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

48. Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
49. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
50. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher
51. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
52. Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck
53. The Stand, Stephen King

54. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
55. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
56. The BFG, Roald Dahl
57. Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome
58. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
59. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
60. Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
61. Noughts And Crosses, Malorie Blackman
62. Memoirs Of A Geisha, Arthur Golden
63. A Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
64. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough
65. Mort, Terry Pratchett
66. The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
67. The Magus, John Fowles
68. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
69. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett
70. Lord Of The Flies, William Golding

71. Perfume, Patrick Süskind
72. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell
73. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
74. Matilda, Roald Dahl
75. Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding
76. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
77. The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins
78. Ulysses, James Joyce
79. Bleak House, Charles Dickens
80. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson
81. The Twits, Roald Dahl
82. I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
83. Holes, Louis Sachar
84. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake
85. The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
86. Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson
87. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
88. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
89. Magician, Raymond E Feist
90. On The Road, Jack Kerouac
91. The Godfather, Mario Puzo
92. The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Jean M Auel
93. The Colour Of Magic, Terry Pratchett
94. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
95. Katherine, Anya Seton
96. Kane And Abel, Jeffrey Archer
97. Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez
98. Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson
99. The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot
100. Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie

Hmmmm. 40. Not too shabby, in a world where the 'average' adult has read six. But then again, of those 'average' adults something like 40% believe the Moon landing was faked on a sound stage by NASA and most believe that you can get pregnant from oral sex.

Aaah what a world I live in.

Aug 24, 2008

Everything I Ever Needed To Know About Life I Learned From Hot Air Ballooning

Well, maybe not everything but a few things. Which I shall share!

  1. The square metal frame that holds the burner up isn't really square.

  2. It IS a little bit rectangular and only fits onto the support poles one of two ways, and only one of those ways is the right way. The middle of its three eyelets always faces the side of the instrument cluster in the gondola, and the instrument cluster always goes into the trailer first so that the fill spigot of the propane bottles faces the door of the trailer thereby making it easy to fill the tanks when the trailer is backed up to the propane station.

    Lesson? If it doesn't fit easily in place then something's wrong. Don't force it, it'll work when you have all the bits in the right place.

  3. The "red line" isn't necessarily red.

  4. When inflating, make sure the red line and it's attendant twenty three (I think there's twenty three) cables are all clear and not tangled. Those twenty three lines each attach to the 'top' of the balloon, a big round sheet of nylon that covers the hole in the crown and lets the pilot dump hot air quickly by pulling the red line. When the envelope is fully inflated the pressure of the hot air wanting to rise holds the top firmly in place, and the red line lets the pilot pull it down. Tangled or knotted lines would make this difficult at best and dangerous overall.

    Lesson? Don't judge a line by it's colour, and don't underestimate it's importance in getting you safely to the ground.

  5. A city chase is a hell of a lot harder than a country chase.

  6. In the country there aren't a lot of roads to use, so following alongside the balloon isn't always made easier by roads that bend the wrong way, and you often end up driving down turn rows and people's long dirt driveways to recover the balloon and it's passengers. In a city there's lots more roads and you can stay a lot closer to the balloon but the landing spots are a lot harder to come by. When your pilot decides to land in a tiny apartment complex yard and not the huge park next to it you don't question his motives, you just calmly and carefully circle around and around the blocks until you manage to find the only way into the parking lot where he's landed.

    Lesson? Things look different from up there, and sometimes what you think is a good thing might not appear that way from a different vantage point.

  7. Don't kink the pyrometer cable.

  8. The pyrometer is just what it sounds like--a heat meter. It's got a sensor that sits up near the crown of the envelope to measure the inside air temp, and a long, thin line that runs all the way down to the throat of the balloon and into a little female connector. The readout sits in the gondola amongst the few instruments and has a very fragile and easily kinked cable with a male connector that has to be threaded up along one of the supports, slipped under two straps then threaded through a small nylon loop at the bottom of the skirt and thence through the air up to it's six-pin mate. All this can't be rushed because you're unspooling about ten feet of this fragile wire and if it breaks you might as well pack it all in. If you can't tell how hot the air and therefore the nylon envelope is during flight you might exceed it's operating temp and burst the whole works into flames*.

    Lesson? Don't kink your cable. Rushing doesn't help anyone, and might turn your envelope into a huge, short-lived torch.

  9. Don't leave the truck running.

  10. You may only be getting ten miles to the gallon driving along in little fits and starts but when it's idling in Park you're getting zero miles to the gallon. Also, don't stop on top of an overpass if the shoulder is wide enough for truck and trailer EVEN if it gives a marvelous vantage point because it makes the pilot and owner of said truck and trailer nervous.

    Lesson? Don't piss off the pilot, you're on his dime.

  11. Chasing is hard work.

  12. That's why even Jim with his decade plus of experience still makes mistakes and has to turn around sometime. I drove this last Saturday and did pretty well, with Gene keeping the balloon in view from the shotgun seat and operating the radio while I dodged traffic. I got underneath the balloon once, so that I was looking almost directly up and I could see into the hollow of the envelope while it rode by some hundreds of feet overhead. Not the usual way you look at a hot air balloon. VERY cool.

    Lesson? Keep your eyes open, because neat things abound and may pass so fast (overhead) that you'll only have one chance.

  13. After a landing the crown man hauls the envelope down longways when the top is pulled out.

  14. 88,000 cubic feet of hot air has a lot of lift and is hard to pull against even if you do weigh 230 pounds and have a nylon rope leading to the steel ring at the crown, but you pull for all your worth anyway. The trick is, when you're in a crowded area you also have to watch for tree branches. The envelope is only nylon and while each of those hundred or so panels can be easily replaced it's not cheap nor fast.

    Lesson? When you're working so hard you're afraid your guts are going to herniate all over the place you still need to make time to watch out for simple hazards. It's one thing to work hard, another to work hard and carefully.

  15. Drinking in the morning?

  16. After the Montgolfier brother's first manned hot air balloon was destroyed by ignorant farmers they decided to carry along champagne on each subsequent flight to share with and placate landowners when they came down out of the sky unexpectedly and landed in their fields. That ritual survives intact today, and there probably isn't a balloonist alive who doesn't pop a cork (or unscrew a cap) on a bottle of bubbly after each flight. It's ritual, and one doesn't go against ritual.

    Lesson? It's always five o'clock somewhere.

* Caveat: In the interest of not spreading TOO MUCH disinformation, the envelope won't actually burst into flames. You WILL, however, seriously weaken the material which can lead to a lot of other problems that you don't want happening to the thing that's holding you up in the air.

Also, many huge thanx to my favourite slacker Joan for this neat article!

Aug 22, 2008

Poetry Friday Challenge - College Daze

I’ve never been one to enjoy school all that much. I never got the knack of enjoying it, even into college.

I was too introverted throughout, and made the mistake of being a commuter and attending college one town over rather than moving away. There was, however, about three semesters there at the end where I really and truly enjoyed myself, and it’s just a coincidence that they were my last three semesters. There were many different classes I took those three semesters, one of which I hated and the rest…the rest set my soul afire. Art. Art history and painting classes and ceramics classes and art theory. The works.

Painting seemed tailor-made for me. We were required to learn almost the WHOLE process, you see. We weren’t grinding and mixing our own pigments but we were required that first semester to learn how to cut the wooden firring strips and quarter round and bits of plywood for the corners to make our own canvas stretchers, taught how to stretch the canvas and staple it on, and then how to gesso it and sand it and prepare it for pigment. I was in heaven. An art class that involved carpentry too? I spent that entire semester with an erection. I was working with wood, painting canvas with gesso, watching the whole thing come together, right up to and through completing the painting itself. Almost like building your own house, then moving into it.

There was a painter there, a young man about a year ahead of me, himself also a pursuer of a BA in Studio Art . He kept for himself a smallish studio downstairs, a tiny office that he’d emptied of furniture (except for one ragged, piebald, swayback couch) and swathed in drop cloths from floor to ceiling tiles. A bank of windows opened from waist to ceiling on one wall, and it was that light toward which his canvases turned like eratically-coloured flowers.

His were not the small canvases. When I, heady with paint fumes, built and stretched a 3’ x 4’ monstrosity he still had me beat, easily. Being a college student and on a budget but being a truly driven artist he was buying pup tent halves from the local military surplus store and stretching them on 2x4 frames whose height often threatened to burst them through the ceiling. Resting on the floor he’d wander around them barefooted, pouring Red Devil black paint from pint-sized cans in huge loops and puddles, a deeply unsubtle Jackson Pollock. After that dried they’d be leaned against the wall in dyptich or tryptich series and he’d assault them with brushes so big their handles looked like sawn off broom handles. Later in his schooling he used “oil bars,” oil pigment that had been formed like an oversized stick of butter, and he'd paint with them like massive rectangular crayons.

Me, I was more content to use brights and filberts in a more normal size, though I soon relaxed and found real pleasure in using a palette knife as a brush, spreading paint like mayonnaise, building crests and valleys, swirling pigment around for the sheer joy of seeing what each muscle twitch action would do to the thick, buttery stuff. I moved from a shy child so afraid to ‘waste’ paint that I could barely get enough pigment down to cover the white gesso to a painter who bought paints in six and ten ounce tubes, morbidly obese cousins of toothpaste tubes.

So there I was, free of thoughts of waste, inspired by the madman downstairs who locked himself in his studio and physically assaulted his canvases, and I was required, REQUIRED to be in my own shared studio at least two hours a day. I was forced to go and do a thing that filled my eyes with cold fire and made my heart feel like I was sitting in a straight chair that I had just tipped back too far and was about to fall. I was surrounded by other people of like mind, but when I stepped (barefoot) onto the torn and spattered comforter that served as my drop cloth and studio’s ‘walls’ I was in another world entirely.

Those days though, like any great ecstasy, had to pass lest I be burned in it’s fire. I graduated again, completing my psychology degree a semester earlier, and I stepped out into the real world where a Bachelor of Arts degree in Studio Art meant that I could flip burgers for minimum wage, and a BA in Psychology meant mostly the same, only it was mental ward patients I could flip, to change their bedpans.

As I got older the real world intruded more and more. I couldn’t make a living painting any more than I could make a living just walking around staring at the pretty sights, so the easel and canvases got pushed to the back of the room more and more, then into the Art Closet, and there they’ve sat for a very long, very sad time.

Once in a while the fire will come upon me with breath-taking ferocity and I drag my tools out. I lay out the paint-specked comforter on the floor, open the glass jar full of turpentine and fill the air with it’s sharp yellow stink, and carefully sort out the crinkled, dusty tubes of pigment. Palette on my left hand, store-bought canvas balanced on the easel I lay brush to paint and then to pristine white canvas, crisscrossed with a pencil cartoon and I remember, just for a little while, those eighteen heady months.

Aug 20, 2008

Hey You, College Boy!

Yeah, you with the book.

You like books, huh? Like reading? Well then, you need to go support Maggie in her new digs, ya bibliophile.

Aug 18, 2008

I Am But A Worm!

I've been gone from blogging so long (okay, so it's been a week give or take) that BlogSpot went and changed their dashboard layout on me. Cripes I need to catch up. I even missed Mona's rather easy Poetry Friday word, "weather." Can you ever forgive me, Mona?

Okay, so how about some reasons why I've been conspicuously absent.

Computers. I hates 'em. No, I don't hate them, I just hate messing with their guts about like I hate plumbing. The difference being, plumbing can usually only go one way, while computers can go haywire in a million different manners. Take networking. My daughter is of an age now that she's ready for computer access (in my parenting opinion that is.) I had an older Windows Me box that she'd been using offline, and I figured it'd be an easy operation to assemble a wireless network (I also dislike yards of Cat 5e cable around my house) and get her set up.


$140 worth of hardware and two hours on the phone with Moe, Larry and Curly, lead technicians at Linksys Assistance Hotline HQ in Punjab, India got me nothing but deeply irate and filled with an unreasoning need to slaughter a cow. Instead I pegged the Me box for .45 caliber target practice at a later date and did some mad rearranging of computers. For those of you who send or receive email from me, this is also why my emails have been erratic or missing. The StuccoBox (TM) you see is up and running but right now lacks email handling software, as well as all my music, all HIS music, all my photos and so forth, so it's in essence a new computer and therefor not to be trusted at any cost.

But, thanks to the magic of Windows XP I now have two computers, one secure wireless network (so don't try to cruise by and soak up some free broadband you punks,) and one 8th grader who can start to find out for herself just how much the Information Superhighway is really more like The Porn Parking Lot.

In other news, the weather managed to utterly prevent Skybird from flying this weekend through three different attempts, which gave me ulcers and an itching desire to go and strangle the local meteorologist. (There, you happy Mona? I used your word.) I did, however, get to share in a really fantastic Crew Breakfast with our pilot and some of my erstwhile fellow ground crew and I got some serious trainspotting and a heck of a lot of train photography in. I'm telling you, there are days when it seems like the tracks have never held anything but rust and dirt, and days when you can't swing a FRED* by it's hose without hitting an engine or three.

We also managed to get through my wife's grandfather's end of life and his funeral. Long story short he somehow (sheer spite, I think) managed to outlive his post-surgery life expectancy by about fifteen years, even after a triple bypass, raging untreated diabetes and being such a professional eater that he has a sandwich named for him at the local family-owned greasy spoon. (Said sandwich seemed to include mostly jalapeno peppers, seven kinds of meat and lots of mayonnaise.) He died peacefully and I got to see a whole new world--the rest of my wife's family.

See, you can't tell it by her (pale skin and blondish hair) that my wife is half Mexican. In all the time I've known her I've only see her dad, his brother and her grandfather (their father) so I didn't have a lot to go on. To wit, two short, swarthy, dark-haired men with a tendency to a pot belly, some grey in their hair and very white teeth, and a father who looked just like them only with all grey hair and a much more grown-up belly. Well, I got to see the rest of the Mexican side during the funeral.

Everywhere in the funeral home there were dark skins, beautiful white smiles and a distinct overall accent that kept making me think I was in a Sergio Leone movie. The service was lead by a fifteen year old Catholic priest who drove a Mini Cooper in British Racing Green, and there was a distinct lack of wailing and gnashing of teeth during the whole thing. The funeral procession was only five cars long--the funeral director, the hearse, the limousine for the pall bearers and immediate family, and two cars.

The limo, you see, had the pall bearers (myself included,) most of the immediate family and about thirty five other people in it. I had someone's mother on one hip, someone's kid brother on the other, and three smiling daughters wedged in across from me on the wet bar. There were five more people sitting up front with the chauffer, and I think one of the brothers rode on the roof holding on to the TV antennae because all the in-dash TV would pick up was "Hola Espana!" and Spanish language ESPN.

It was crazy. See, I'm mostly French, and my family taught me that when you've got grief you tear it up and wallow around in it. These folks never heard of all that. The first thing they thought about was smiling and laughter, companionship, and then some serious grilling of steaks and mighty beer drinking after the funeral. Oh, and let's not forget seeing how many people we can stuff into a limousine.

So you see, it's been a week. Hectic, and with scattered thundershowers and networking problems thrown in for good measure. The up side is that my grandfather-in-law was a collector of very nice clothes that he never wore and tools that he never used, so I inherited (among other things) about forty very nice polo shirts and more hand tools than I think I ever possibly deserved.**

Thank you, sir.

* a "Flashing Rear End Device," or if you're an ex railroader who is accustomed to cabooses and a guy in overalls swinging a red lantern, it's a "Fucking Rear End Device." This is a little steel flashing box that attaches to the last train car in a consist. It mounts to the knuckle on the last car and is powered by an air hose attached to the train's airbrakes system. It flashes red, thereby warning approaching trains that there is in fact something in front of them, and lets motorists know that the train is past them.

Like a train's headlights that shine two miles out wouldn't notice the back of a boxcar in front of them but WOULD notice a tiny flashing red light.

Also, like a motorist's headlights won't pick up that same giant steel presence, but will see that miniscule little red light.

(It also inexplicably weighs about fifty pounds.)

Yeah, I can't figure why they'd use one either, but hey, I'm not a trainman.

** I'm also hoping they think of me when it comes time to give the deep teal green Cadillac Sedan DeVille with the acres of cream-coloured leather away.

Aug 11, 2008

(Wish I Were) Steppin' Out

Many happy returns on your birthday, Joe Jackson! You still make my funk gland get all warm and wiggly feeling, and can make this MAWG* want to try and dance.

Bernie Mac died this weekend at a very young age. Cause of death was pneumonia. That ain't right. He was barely in his 50's.

Plus, I heard that Isaac Hayes died. I wonder if he ascended to the Mother Ship or the Immaculate Heart of The All-Seeing All-Knowing Flying Spaghetti Monster or whatever it is that Scientologists believe? Did he join the Radioactive Scientologist Choir Invisible? Did the clouds open and Saint L. Ron Hubbard come down in his glowing penis-ship and probe him?

Doubting minds want to know!

*Middle-Aged White Guy

Aug 8, 2008

Poetry Friday Challenge - Cut

Sometimes the razor bites you, sometimes you bite the razor.

Yah, sort of sets your teeth on edge, don't it. *G*

I've been meaning to blog about my own unique form of recycling. It's not so much recycling in the sense of 'using something and sending it back to be reused' as...stepping back a few decades to when things weren't disposable. Like razors.

Or in my case, shaving cream. I know, I'm already way off the cut, but hang in there, it's a shaving post. See, shaving cream comes in a pressurized can, most times. The can is empty, you throw it away or you recycle it, either way there's a disposable element. Me, I've changed that. I use a shaving brush, a mug and a cake of soap.

Not just any soap, mind you, but shaving soap. Made locally by a craftswoman out of goat's milk from her animals. She probably added in three or four drops of bay rum scented oil that she had to buy from heaven knows where, but it's all organic, local and best of all, none of it gets thrown away. Yes I still cut myself, but at least now it's in a good cause.

It was bought for me on a whim at a local Arts N Crafts festival two months ago, but you know, adding that little off-white mug with it's four dark blue stripes and the badger hair brush to my morning ritual makes me enjoy the whole process more. No more do I grab the can, squirt a dollop of eerie translucent green stuff into my fingers and gel it all over so it can froth up thirty times it's original size. No more do I empty an (expensive) can of it once a month and toss it in the trash, only to buy another (no recycling service around here.)

Now in the mornings I slow down a little. I step out of the shower and dry off, reach over to the shelf and take down my heavy ceramic mug and the brush with it's pale wooden handle. I lay the razor down on the counter, run the brush's bristles under very hot water and swirl it around and around the pad of pale yellow soap there in the mug. It took me a few weeks to figure out how best to produce the lather, how to hold the brush just so, how to let the leftover foam stay in the mug to help cement the cake in place, but now I'm comfortable with it. Up comes a fine white foam that fills half the mug, and this I swirl onto my waiting and stubbly cheeks, warm and smelling of some forgotten age.

Yes, before you say it, there is a sort of nostalgia present. I never saw either of my grandfather's shaving mugs and brushes, but I know they each had one. I don't feel like I'm communing with their long-departed ghosts when I shave, and I know that just because it's old fashioned it's not necessarily better. I just believe that all progress is not necessarily good, and it helps my battered soul smile a little to use a fountain pen when I write, to wear a fedora when I dress up nice, and to use a shaving mug when I have to scrape my cheeks. Why not enjoy a daily chore?

Don't get me wrong, I still use a razor with disposable blades. You won't find me trying to assemble one of those steel contraptions with the lethal 'safety' blades, nor will you probably ever read about me stropping six inches of straight razor on a leather belt before applying it to my delicate cheeks. No, I like my face right where it is, with as few self-inflicted cuts as possible. Mach 3 is plenty close for me, and as long as I have my cup and my brush I'm happy as a fellow with a new zoot suit.

Aug 4, 2008

"The Serpent Was Subtil" (Gen. 3:1)

I am such a sailboat. Pushed by the winds of chance, I go where the wind goes. Nature has a positive knack, however, for really ramping the wind up around me.

If you remember, the office I work at (the office I have referred to in past as "My Own Personal Slice Of Hell") is smack in the middle of a bean field. Soybeans, to be exact. About half a mile behind us is four rectangular man-made lakes, and those, combined with the hundreds of acres of beans means that our office tends to be the central meeting spot of many of Nature's creatures who live therein, including those that creep along the ground upon their bellies.

Last week Nature decided to send me a gust of wind, seeing as I've been lost in the doldrums so often these past few weeks. I was sitting at my desk doing my little data entry bit when I noticed our Clinical Manager get out of her car and start toward the front doors. She walked up close, did a classic silent film double-take, panicked and backstepped toward her car as fast as she could go. Naturally curious, and pretty sure what she'd seen (a paticularly large Rhinoceros beetle or something like that,) I opened the door slowly, not wanting to injure whatever was on the other side of the sweep and pushed a two foot garter snake away.

There was no question what he was--around two feet long, a beautiful deep green sinuous curve with pale green and yellow rallye racing stripes down his back, no thicker than a pencil at his widest point. He couldn't get much traction on the concrete walkway there in front of the office so I had a pretty easy time of catching him. I walked back to the door with him writhing around my hand, beaming smiles. My intention was to do as my father had always done with us--capture the creature and bring it to my brother and I to teach us--what was harmful and what was not, how a snake wasn't slimy or vile, and any number of other things.

Well, it didn't quite work like that.

My office manager and the clinical manager who had speed-walked into the office while I was playing herpetologist locked the door, eyes wide and in full Panic Mode. I guess it didn't help that I'd caught him rather far down his length and given him room to move, because around then he managed to twist around and bite me. Several times, actually.

This sent them over the top, but I could feel that his little mouth and tiny little teeth weren't even strong enough to break the soft skin of my upper hand, so I let him thrash and bite, hoping it'd make him feel better for all the ignoble treatment I was dishing out.

I realised there was no way I was going to do any teaching that morning so I laughed, carried him over to the edge of the bean field and let him go. Unsurprisingly, they wouldn't let me inside until I'd proved my hands were empty. They freaked out some more over the bites (so small they didn't even show red marks) and I told my office manager that I'd had worse bites from anole lizards, but that just freaked her out more, so I stopped.

The little guy had exuded some of his musk on me as part of his two-pronged attack, hoping I'd let him go since he was suddenly disgusting and since I was already withering under his wicked bite. I washed up in the bathroom sink, but, rather pleasantly, I kept catching little whiffs of the musk on my skin throughout the day, probably where his tail had wrapped around my forearm. It made me smile throughout the day, thinking of the manifold wonders of Nature, all the myriad forms Life manages to take, and the memories of the first time my father had carefully, lovingly held out a deep green, striped piece of Life for me to lay my curious fingers upon.

Aug 3, 2008

Elisabeth Anastasia Irrelephant

Is home. Back where she belongs. Her last flight was delayed an hour but the last one, the one that got her home was her fourth solo trip (two flying up alone, two back.) I'm a very proud papa.

I always await her arrival back in my life with some trepidation. "Post sumer-long hiatus in the PNW" trepidation, that is. Things change, things stay the same, and she's always managed to surprise me, in the way that kids always do.

Unchanged? The My Chemical Romance hoodie, zipped all the way up that flew out with her at the beginning of Summer. The bag of rocks from the coast. The two eagle feathers she found.

Expected? The tye-dye tee shirt underneath it. She was in Oregon, for cripe's sake, and her mother is an inverterate hippie. Also expected is the hemp necklace and the earrings full of feathers and demon-tails.

Changed? At the very bottom of her luggage; the carefully, nay, lovingly packed pair of 20 eyelet Doc Martin black leather boots.

*sigh* My daughter came back a baby Goth. She's a Baby Bat.