Dec 28, 2008

Sunday Afternoon

There's not a clever joke or a play on words that I can come up with today--Sunday is simply today, a Sunday afternoon that didn't quite work out like I wanted it to.

Christmas is past, New Years is just a few days away. It is that strange, in between place right now. That place we all know, where something major has passed, something major is just ahead of us all, but right now we're all hanging in a lull, the still water between two huge pounding waves in the ocean's tide.

I was supposed to be flying today. Well, not so much flying as crewing; setting up so that our pilot and two paying customers could go fly, and us be chasing alongside and sometimes below, watching carefully, laughing and joking, radioing back and forth to the distant specks suspended under the huge blue and orange nylon balloon. But, as some wise fellow one said, there's many a slip betwixt cup and lip. The weather that we thought was going to hold nice didn't, and slid instead into more of what we've had a lot of this season--rain. Last night a front passed through, dropping the temperature, I'm told, twenty degrees in five minutes.

I have to take the meteorologists word for it, as I was inside an auditorium at the time, a huge sports area two thirds full of people who, like me, wanted to enjoy the sounds of classical music as played on electric guitars by performers with hair left over from the 80's and baggy tuxedos. Oh, and of course watch a tremendous light show with pyrotechnic effects, smoke and laser lights.

The Xmas gift that Mrs. I and I bought each other were tickets to see the Trans-Siberian Orchestra on their Winter Tour 2008 yesterday afternoon with family friends. Christmas carols played at monstrous volume, matched with syncopated blasts of fire, showers of sparks, and beautiful rays of green and red and purple laser light.

(While we weren't allowed cameras inside and I don't have one small enough to sneak in hidden in my argyle sock I did have a phone camera, hence the quality.)

That was last night. This morning I was cleaning my office in a rather desultory manner. My sister in law had decided that she wanted me to take back the huge antique dining room table that I gave them months ago since they entertain and I don't. Well, she bought her own dining room set, this antique piece being too old, I guess, and I was forced to take it back. To do that I had to get rid of two pieces of unused exercise equipment that had migrated into the freshly-emptied formal dining room, and since I was there throwing things out I continued in that vein for a little while longer. So, there I was in the office cleaning in a sort of tired, not particularly enthusiastic way when I opened my humidor to put a cigar punch back in the storage drawer in top and I had to stop a moment and breathe.

When I was a young man our local mall had a Tinderbox store in it. Small, dressed all in dark wood and maroon velvet wallpaper it was a mecca for a young man who was looking for some simpler time, even if that 'simpler time' was mostly an illusion. It also smelled wonderful. It was full of rich dark smells of pipe tobacco and leather, cigars and cigarettes made of exotic tobaccos. Little was I to know when I took a job there late in 1984 that it was to be a key point in my life. At the time I just knew it was a good part time job, easy hours, and I could, whenever I wanted to, open the heavy glass jars and whiff deeply of those marvelous smells. When a customer came in and wanted a cigar I could walk with joyous trepidation to the huge glass door, steel myself, empty my lungs, heave the huge door open and breath deeply of leaves from foreign places.

When I opened my humidor this morning that same rich dark mysterious smell wafted out. I recently bought a sampler of cigars, five each of a few excellent brands, and fifty of my regular brand. The combined scent was more than ample for sending me back to that place, and it took hours before I could return to my little humidor, slide one of its cherry drawers open, select a puro and bring it to the back patio to stand in the cold and damp and enjoy it.

I set a nice fire ablaze in the fireplace today, hoping to drive off the chill and damp that is insistent on settling into my bones from outside. Yesterday evening it was 75 outside, and I had the air conditioner turned on to help sleep's arrival. Tonight the low is going to be "in the mid 20's." Welcome to Louisiana.

On quite afternoons like this sometimes I find myself sitting in the hen yard, watching the chickens go about their lives. They move about with a leisure that belies their constant wariness and their insatiable hunger. They scratch and look, move around their huge enclosure governed by a kind of feathery Brownian motion, coo quietly to themselves like old women who don't have anyone to listen to them but still feel the need to speak. It's a surprisingly relaxing way to spend time, sort of like watching brightly-coloured carp swimming in a pond, only more interactive. Koi rarely try to eat the buttons off your shirt, and they never hop onto your arm to perch, clenching your skin with long, surprisingly warm toes. It is a fine way to spend time, but not if it's raining outside, not if it's cold. Certainly not if it's both.

Part of me wants to hop in the car and drive right up the road to the always open consumer mecca that is Wall-To-Wall Mart, there to buy a glue stick and perhaps some oddments; a computer USB hub, perhaps some clearance holiday-coloured M&Ms. I've plans to start a cigar journal in a lovely little notebook that Vulgar Wizard bought for me some holiday past. I have an image of myself sitting in my big brown leather chair in the dark quiet of my office, hunched over, carefully gluing a cigar band to the top of a blank page then making careful notes in my tightly crawled handwriting. I can hear my fountain pen nib making soft scratching noises on the butter-coloured paper, and the quiet gurgle of the aquarium. Unfortunately, I can't quite get the energy up to brave the post-holiday crowds, even late on a Sunday afternoon. I remember all too well the first week post-Santa crowds, both as an employee and as a consumer, and I have no desire to repeat that misery. So.

I'd noticed that the blogosphere has been quiet, perhaps feeling that lull between waves that I'm feeling, that trembling stillness that belies the foaming crash that is soon to arrive, so I thought I'd sit and write you all a little bit, stir up a tiny ripple in the smooth water before the crash hits.

So how are things with you?

Dec 24, 2008

Why Can't We All Just Get Along This Christmas?

(photo courtesy of Mrs. I)

And maybe sleep together in a big pile on a comfy cushion in the sun?

Many happy returns of the season to one and all!
The Irrelephant Family

Dec 22, 2008

Zen's Got Nothing To Do With It

The multi-billion selling book notwithstanding.*

Yes, I brought her home, after much worrying and hand-wringing and very real concerns over the credit market, the possibility of her being sold out from under me (unlikely but not impossible) and the vagarities of weather, salesmen and machinery.

No, I've not got a photo of her yet because the weather has simply NOT cooperated. Tho I'm told that Vulgar Wizard got two of me racing across a railroad crossing in front of a train. Until she can post them its all hearsay. I also don't have a name for her yet, but I'm closer. Much closer.

Motorcycle riding. I've heard that for every thousand motorists in the United States only one of them will be a motorcycle rider. I can't understand that. In New Zealand it's something like one in every thirty five. But, I don't have to get it. Partly because I wasn't put on this earth to get it, and partly because I'm the one holding the handlebars in my chiliad, and I'm damned proud of it. For me riding is way beyond simple transportation. For that matter it's beyond most anything there is.

It also seems to be beyond words. I'm sitting here trying to figure how to describe it, how to put into words a feeling that only one in a thousand people seems to grasp, and I'm not doing a very good job of it, so I'll tell you about the day.

Saturday. Mrs. I was determined to have me at the dealership's door at 9am when they opened so she could get back in time to finish Xmas shopping and house cleaning. I popped in, clapped my eyes on the bike (I'd long since already decided it was going to be mine) and nodded. I'd seen the quote, faxed to me at work Friday. The salesmen there know me. They know my research was done, know my credit is strong, and know that I used to be one of them: ie, they know I'm not a man to be played around with. She's an '07 model--the '09 models are already appearing on sales floors, and they were about to have to pay taxes on it again. My quote ended up being four thousand below retail, and yes I'm pretty proud of that figure. :)

The credit process was much shorter than it used to be. I think that happened because there was only one creditor for us to return to--the people who had financed Black Betty, and who just the day before had been paid in full by the other guy's insurance company. I signed a few pieces of paper and they rolled my girl into the shop to service her. I spent a few minutes trying to educate the talking monkey behind the parts counter about helmets--he was trying to impress upon me the wisdom of ponying up $75 for an HJC or a Fulmer helmet. I had to show him his own parts catalog to impress upon HIM that I was going to be spending $600 on an Arai, having just survived having my skull broken open while wearing one of their wondrous helmets.

I think it finally sunk in when I told him I'd rather wear a child's plastic sand pail than trust my precious brains to a Fulmer helmet.

The hour passed quickly, and before long I heard her cough into life and saw a silver flash as the service manager road tested her briefly. Then I was shrugging back into my old (and now heavily scuffed) leathers and slipping my old helmet back on (having decided to order online.) The throttle was under one hand, the brake lever lay easy under two fingers of the other hand, and everything felt eerily similar yet different.

That's been the most striking thing about this new girl--the similarities that only serve to make the differences more apparent. Oh, I'm not talking about colour, I'm talking about a new flavor, a variation on an old theme. Betty was two years broken in. She had her peculiarities, her idiosyncrasies and the marks of my hands all over her, from worn-down floorboard sliders to the seat that fit my ass just so. This new girl, she was all fresh and clean, unchanged from the factory's cold production line. Stiff, smelling strongly of burning cosmoline and long-chain polymers, tires slick and nothing quite broken in. I eased her out onto Hwy 1, pointed her long chrome nose north and rolled on the throttle. So much chrome. All that silver. I felt like I was riding piggy-back on a Marvel Comics character.

Coming back home, an hour drive some 50 new-motor break-in miles or so, I began to remember all the things I'd forgotten about riding. I began to come alive again. I felt like a man who had lain abed for two months with some non-terminal but debilitating disease, something that kept my lungs filled with cotton and my eyes clouded with sickness. As the miles rolled away and I got out into the near-forgotten tree littered greenness of a winding state highway I breathed the cotton out and away. The rheumy sickness covering my eyes shredded and blew away, and I felt like that invalid who, realising he was suddenly healed, takes his first steps back out into the sunlit world. I could see the interstate just a hundred yards behind the treeline, but here and now I was alone, unwinding my own road at my own pace. Healing.

The cows grazing in their muddy pasture? On the trip down they were just spots of colour against the green. On the way back up they smelled rich and vibrant, all mud and manure and grass fresh-crushed between wide strong teeth. On the way down the road was dark and splotchy with morning fog, just a thing to be ignored. On the way back up it had a texture, a feeling of being ever so slightly unmoored, and had a scent of old oil and heat left over from the summer. On the way down the air was recycled and hepa filtered and sterile, while the radio filled our ears. On the way back up the air was rich and redolent and contained music and feeling and...everything. She brushed against me like a lover, pressed her hands under my jacket, riffled the keys in my pockets, sang in my ears and tugged at my jeans with long, cool fingers.

Arriving home was almost a letdown, but as much as I adored the ride I was done for. My body is still recovering from it's sickbed time and was sore and tired, ready for a break. I'd had my walk in the sun, and with it the promise of many more to come as my strength returns. I'm still a little clumsy, my old sureness of hand and eye and foot isn't quite there, but it will come back. Faster than I'd hoped, faster than I thought it might.

Zen? Not really. Zen is not-nothing. Motorcycle riding has a lot of living-in-the-now but it also has a lot of live to ride ride to live mentality, mixed with some fists-in-the-wind and a large portion of lone wolf and steel horse. It is therapy and meditation and mantra. It is striving for a goal and attaining it all at once. It is a blend of man with machine, making of the two something more than the sum of its parts.

It's good to be back.

* Also a pet peeve of mine--overuse of words like "Zen" and "Surreal" when the user has no real idea what the words actually MEAN, or that they're misusing them most abysmally and simply repeating them because there's a common image around that word.

Dec 17, 2008

Of Penguins And Strings And High Mass

My daughter's Xmas recital was the other night, and I have to mention two things. Oddly enough, both are about young boys, which is way outside my normal paradigm. Bear with me.

The choir (Weerelephant is in her third year, being an 8th grader (yikes!)) was excellent, as always. They've toured a little bit, won awards and accolades and the works. That's not surprising. I've heard these kids sing--they've an excellent teacher and a lot of talent, and the teacher knows how to draw that out. I love to hear them sing, but the trick to it is that you have to get through the precursor.

If you remember last year this time I blogged about attending Weerelephant's SECOND choral recital. I recall talking about the school's band which for a bunch of 6th-8th graders was really quite good. They had spirit, bounce, and were very up-tempo. The string orchestra was up next, six or seven dispirited looking young ladies and one beanpole little boy dwarfed by his bass viol. They sawed and ground their way through some Bizet so slowly that it made me want to weep, then butchered a few other classical string pieces. I wasn't hard on them because I know that strings take a huge amount of practice and dedication, and most of the kids didn't really look like they wanted to be there in the first place. Then the choir took the stage, so it was bearable.

This year I have to change my tune, so to speak.

The school band was as big as always (probably forty kids or so) but they had a new teacher this year--the former band leader retired after teaching there some seventy years, and it seems he took either a lot of enthusiasm for his craft with him or he slew all the good players. Squeaks and groans abounded, and the poor little boy playing the French Horn looked like he was inhaling the whole time. Couldn't figure it. They played some four or five songs, squinting and heaving and seeming like most of them just wanted to get back to their running and yelling and so forth.

After their sortie into mediocrity was completed the string orchestra got set up, and I steeled myself for screeching of bows across strings and a dropped instrument or two. I knew from last year that the strings had to be endured to reach the good stuff, sort of like having to work your way through broccoli and peas to get to the apple cobbler.

Not so this year.

For starters, the string orchestra had grown from it's original seven or so to a whopping twenty it seemed, if not more. Multiple everything; a handful of cellists, five violinists, a whole array of brightly polished violas and not one but two double bass. One young man caught my eye right off, though. The first chair violinist was an 8th grader, a classmate of my daughter. He was painfully thin, possessed of arms so long they seemed that no shirt sleeve could fully contain them. His hands were long and lithe; with his fingers spread to hold his violin at rest the poor little instrument looked like it was being held gently but irrevocably by a pair of nut-brown spiders. He handled his violin like he really wanted to BE on that stage, and when he raised his bow to the strings and started playing it was obvious that he did.

Talented? Breathtakingly so. He'd earned that first chair spot, and he planned on hanging on to it like Grim Death. He closed his eyes and he played with a smooth, relaxed, effortless grace that I thought only adult musicians could manage, and even then not always. What surprised me is that for a brief flash he reminded me of how I see Sherlock Holmes at times, when I've got the chance to read The Canon. Eyes closed, the violin tucked under his chin I had an instant vision of him in a Victorian dressing gown, sitting in the window seat of an upstairs flat in London, mesmerizing himself with the perfect mathematical precision of a Bach composition. I could see him as Holmes as clearly as anything, his brain filled with lightning, his hands touching each string with exacting strength, the bow a continuous wave over the bridge of his beloved instrument.

It helped that the rest of the performers seemed to draw something from him. Enthusiasm, some palpable desire to be there and the performance, for a grade school string ensemble was really downright enjoyable. So, head still spinning over the sudden strange reversal, I got ready for the choir.

They filed in, a few boys in white shirts and black cummerbunds standing out in the sea of black-gowned girls. They sang carols both old and new with that high, sweet sound that only a children's choir can manage. Then from their midst stepped one of the littlest penguins. He was a chubby little boy with fair hair and skin so pale that his cheeks shone like he'd put on blush. He stepped up to the single microphone set very low on it's stand, took a deep breath, and floored me.

He sang the Ave Maria. Solo. His only accompaniment was a flute recording but he could have been singing a capella for all I could have told you. His voice was high and sweet and utterly beautiful, filling the place with Latin words and phrases that echoed back across the years, hurling me backwards to incense-wreathed Christmas masses with my mother and brother. It stunned me, it really did. I couldn't imagine that such a voice could have come from such a small, round body, or that what looked for all the world like a rough-and-tumble little boy of some twelve or thirteen years stuffed into a rental tux sans jacket could be possessed of such a powerful voice, but there it was.

When the last notes had only started to die I was already on my feet, dropping my furled umbrella in my haste to applaud. I stood there clapping loudly and strongly, but I wasn't the first, nor was I the last. I'd never seen anyone get a standing ovation in a school performance of any sort but many of us in that crowded performance hall were on our feet, having been moved by a little cherub-cheeked boy.

Dec 14, 2008

Notes From A Weekend

Instead of trying to make a single long, coherent post I'm gonna just do a bits-n-nibbles post.

See-saw, Mardi Gras
. Got the xmas tree yesterday, two weeks later than usual for us, but saved a bunch on a tree that is still beautiful and fresh. This one is tall and narrow, and right now is wearing a dress of twinkling white lights. Ornaments to follow after supper. I've struggled this year, as usual, to get The Spirit. Hearing Johnathan Winters read/act A Christmas Carol didn't jump start it, nor has the national-feed radio station ("80's, 90's, the new millennium and now!") that started playing carols the Friday after Thanksgiving. Perhaps if it got COLD it might help. The past few years we've decorated the tree to a nice fire in the fireplace. It's 72 right now, so no fire tonite. I haven't even closed the windows yet.

Coop And A Smoke. Working outside helped stave off the black edges that threatened me this morning. Woke grumpy, but two hours spent turning scrap lumber into a nice, expanded chicken roost helped drive them off. Imagine a ladder four feet tall with five rungs almost eight feet long. Lie it on its side, tilt it just a little bit then attach it to the coop walls and you've suddenly got just over one square foot of roosting space for forty chickens. Which is what I'm sneaking up on. It was nice to get out there, cigar clamped in my teeth and make something out of wood. The chickens stood around and pretty much ignored the rasp of a hand saw and the burr of the drill while I sweated and assembled. I guess they were waiting for me to burst into a dozen pieces, spraying corn and grain all over for all the good little hens and roosters.

Scentsational. The cat managed to break a bottle of that super-concentrated room scent Saturday afternoon. Three tiny squirts in the a/c return makes a room smell pleasantly of blue spruce all day. Breaking a two ounce bottle of it makes your head pound like an entire grove of blue spruces fell on your skull and crushed out of you the will to live. Then you puke. So much for the tree in the den casting a gentle scent of Douglas Fir all over the house. Even IT reeks of blue spruce now.

Hail, hail, The Old Gang is defunct. Broken. The Fellowship is scattered, and the fate of all Middle Earth stands upon a...wait a bit...

I realised last night at a near-legendary Xmas party at a friend's parent's house that we've all gone our separate ways, cast to the four winds. One is living in Mississippi and has stopped communicating with the rest of us while she and her new husband return to a simpler kind of life (ie: they're too poor for electricity.) One is Born Again and no longer hangs out with us blasphemous pagan types with our drinking and our swearing and that using of our genitalia. One was stuck this year in Baton Rouge because her assistant (she's a professor) screwed up entering grades in the computer for her. The rest? Who knows? Seen, it seems, but once a year these days it takes almost nothing to sever the last ties. It was sad, but in a way not unexpected, like the passing of a relative who has lingered at Death's door for years, and like that death it also gave some sense of release.

Where's my freaking wheels? No bike yet. The check, as promised by The Good Neighbors at State Farm is still in the mail. So much for my triumphant bursting into the bike store, ordering salespersons about, demanding an even lower price and better financing and a set of floor mats to be thrown into the deal. But the bike I think I've settled on has sat there since late '06, so perhaps she'll wait another week for me. I've already picked out my new helmet. And about five new jackets. And lots of Yamaha accessories. Still no luck with naming her yet. Suggestions?

Tetsuooooooooooo! So why does everything that's going to explode in an anime always swell for just a moment?*

Speaking of cool motorcycles, Weerelephant and I sat down this afternoon and finally watched Akira together. I know, you have to be a little geeky to think this is a genuine Father-Daughter moment, but hey, we'd just spent four minutes in her room singing "When I'm 64" while she watched The Yellow Submarine. It was a cartoon-sharing moment this afternoon, drawn out really slow like it does when the Bad Guy gets shot and bits of cloth and skin and blood go flying out in slow motion. I figure she's been reading (age appropriate) manga comix for years now, and she's fourteen so it's time I introduced her to anime. Next month? Kung fu flicks. Month after that? Golden Age Sci-Fi.**

Okay, so it's time for supper, and there's the merest breath of cold in the night air. Maybe it's going to be cool tonite in spite of it all. Merry xmas, every one.

* For a full discussion of Anime Physics, follow this link Kanada.

** Speaking of--I've come to loathe Keanu Reeves, who thinks he can be Klaatu. What the eff are you people thinking? The Day The Earth Stood Still - The Ripoff Remake!, wherein modern producers and a holier-than-thou director and whole herds of CGI animators suck all the life out of a vibrant, meaningful movie, rightfully one of the jewels in the science fiction movie crown and rehash it into some blockbuster schlock that people will eat up like the pap it is and rave about it. Gods I hate remakes. What's next, Planet of the Apes?

Oh yeah. You arseholes.

Dec 11, 2008

Just Who The Hell Do You Think I Am?

I wanted to ask that today after our first obligatory weekly office meeting since Vulgar Wizard left the hallowed halls of VeryBig Home Health.

I'm not really sure how to begin this. Usually I just leap in and cut and paste until the gestalt is firming nicely and then I just slip the lot into the freezer that is the internet tubes until it sets, but I don't know, it doesn't seem right for this one.

I've been blogging for a couple of years now. I've not spilled my guts about every hangnail and successful masturbation technique here, nor have I put up a rood screen betwixt you and my carefully worshipful operations. I've always tried to do here as I do in real life with anyone that's not family or immediately close to me. That is to say, I give a little, and hold some back. Silly me, I always thought I was pretty see-through in real life, and even here to some extent. My motives are simple, my emotions appear on my face in 48 point Times New Roman bold. Or so I always thought.

I've been going through some changes here in the past months. You recall I saw a therapist for a while there, which helped. I still visit her once in a while (monthly, if not longer in between visits) and she makes small adjustments to the new course we set for myself. I'm trying to communicate more, even if it means I have to face some conflict consequences. I'm starting to say "Yes, I'm mad" if I am, and I'm starting to speak up for myself more. I can even see the outward changes that MY changes are causing, like ripples from the small stones thrown in the water. It's scary, and it's good. I'm growing, plain and simple. It took me a while to do so, but there you are.

So in today's meeting the subject of balance of tasks came up. Who does what in the office, at what time and with what frequency and so forth. The new director asked us both (myself and Sweaty Fat Rolls, my co-worker and supposed equal in the office) to give her an idea, so we did. Now, my boss (let's call her The Bomb, since it's a pun on Business Office Manager (BOM)) and she had already talked about this topic, so it wasn't new to either of them. Thankfully.

Now. Before I go much further, I have to say this: I've felt since SFR arrived in our office that I've done the lion's share of work. I know more, I've been there longer, I'm the person that everyone comes to when they have a problem. I've outlasted four others in that same position. I've seen the company's SOP change a dozen times, and I've watched the corporation grow from 130 agencies to almost 500. I also have a very powerful ownership mentality, so when something needs fixing, I fix it. This leaves me with ZERO free time and I usually stay behind on my tasks because I'm doing so damned many of them, even with putting in the better part of an hour of OT every single day.

SFR is the diametric opposite. She is the only person in that office who can do all her assigned tasks and still have time to take an hour lunch, drive to town every day (on the clock no less) to get lunch for everyone else AND spend a good chunk of her time telling everyone about everything going on in her life. And ignore the phone but use her cellular so often it makes the CEO of Cingular Wireless' 401(k) perk right up.

As a brief aside (I know, this post is nothing but one huge aside) I realised just recently that a big part of my problem with her was stupid, childish envy, plain and simple. I wanted to draw a wage for doing nothing too, just like her. I wanted to slack off and coast along and still be treated like the guy who busts his ass every day, AND be everyone's buddy. I came to my senses last week about that, and it helped a hundredfold. I'm not that sort of person. I've never BEEN that sort of person. That sort of person offends the teetotal SHITE out of me, so why would I emulate it?

That realisation changed my moods, my outlook and my day-to-day interaction with her enormously. Enough that The Bomb noted it to me in a pat on the back sort of way in the meeting.


So. After the discussion of tasks, the director looked at me and said "Can you take on X task also?" I almost fell out of my chair. I'm thankful that The Bomb looked at her and said something along the lines of "It'd be better if SFR continued to do that" because I really didn't know what to say. I was stunned that the Gal In Charge Of The Place didn't see how hard I was working. I mean, it's a small office, it's hard to miss. I. Don't. Stop.

I went back to my office sort of stunned, and sort of angry, and ready to talk to The Bomb in a calm, positive way, which I eventually did. What I heard shocked me.

She told me, quite honestly, that SFR worked fast on tasks that had to be taken care of immediately--organizing nurses and visits, scheduling, and getting and giving information about visit frequencies, and that gave her free time. Which, The Bomb said, she and the Clinical Manager and even the Director took advantage of, by giving her additional tasks. Then she said that I worked slowly. Not to imply criticism, but that I...well, there's no other way to say it. I work slowly. She worked fast and therefore 'earned' that slacker time, and me? I'm slow.

I was floored again.

I've always felt that I do everything fast. Too fast, often, which causes mistakes. It happened that way in the office a lot when VW was The Bomb, and she called me down enough that I finally learned to slow down and do my job right the first time. Something I've taught myself to do in real life. But...slow? In an almost negative fashion? Plodding? What gives?

I'm still in shock, I guess. Still trying to reconcile this version of myself with the version of myself that I hold in my head as "Me." Trying to understand it, trying to make this new paint stick to the old.

So I ask you a favor, my readers. All of you who feel like putting in your two cents worth, and even those of you who don't. Perhaps especially you. Tell me what you think I'm like. From what I've given you here, or from real life experience with me. What image do I present here? In my emails? The old radio show? On the phone or in person? Whatever source you have to draw from. No need for paragraphs or diatribes (unless you feel the need,) just something as simple as three or four adjectives, or an observation. Be free, be open. Don't hold back.

I'm really genuinely curious. Apparently I don't know myself as well as I thought I did.

Dec 9, 2008

The Gauntlet

(the metal hand thingie, not the movie by Clint Eastwoood) has been thrown down.

Okay, so it's been months since it was thrown, and it's gotten a bit rusty, but I've saved an email from Vulgar Wizard in my inbox for way long, certain that this was going to be a post worth writing.

The email said, simply:

Re: assignment for YOU.
Brainstorm 10 titles to your autobiography.

Well. Sounds like something really difficult, because instead of just tossing off ten things and meandering along I'm going to really put my brain (such as it is) into gear and see if I can't be if not creative then somewhat entertaining.

*carefully juggling six flaming torches, a chainsaw, two rabid weasels and a foul-mouthed Illinois governor who wants to sell me a seat in the Senate*

Ten Titles for The Official Irrelephant Autobiography

  1. Going Against The Grain: Stories From A Slipshod Carpenter

  2. I Don't WANT To Jump Off The Roof, That's Why

  3. Burn, Then See What That Does For You

  4. Excuse Me Monsignor, That's My Anus

  5. What Do You Mean 'You Can't See It'?

  6. Simple Gifts: A Life Spent Looking Around

  7. All Of This And Hot Chai, Too?

  8. So A Horse Walks Into A Bar...

  9. Shiny Side Up: A Life On Two Wheels

  10. What Do You Mean 'I Only Get One'?

Take It As Read

that I hate being sick. Hate it.

The stuffy head, the wracking cough and the sore throat are enough to pretty much stop me in my tracks, and I know my own ability to deal with feeling like this is pretty poor. Then, the medicines intended to treat the symptoms are almost as bad. NyQuil gives me nightmares, and most of the OTC remedies make me so tired I could sleep soundly under the wheels of a diesel truck and not know it until it drove off and my brains squirted out my ears.

Did I mention the medications? The patent cures? The snake oils?

This morning Mrs. I hands me a huge white capsule and says "Here, swallow. It smells and tastes like roach bait, but it's good for you."

If I'd not seen her cut the foil on the package I'd have run screaming for the hills.

Granted, if I don't get well soon I might just try some of that Black Flag Cough & Cold.

Dec 4, 2008

Offspring Au Lait

Coffee People. We all know someone who is a Coffee Person. Heck, half of you good and gentle people are probably Coffee People. This post is for you.

My parents were Coffee People. Community Coffee, the drink choice of the deep south. My mom still has a little battered aluminum drip coffeepot that has made countless thousands upon thousands of cups of coffee. My father and she would be up every morning before dawn, talking quietly, eating breakfast and drinking a cup each. No more, no less. My mother might take a second cup after a few hours, after my brother and I were up and rolling around but not always. A cup in the afternoon was never frowned upon by my mother, but never too close to bedtime.

To this day on Sunday afternoons all of my mother's siblings join together during what would be tea time had we not had that Boston Tea Party thing. They've been doing this since they each moved away from home for the first time. They sit around the kitchen table and curse and argue and fight and smile and talk and reform the bonds of kinship and love that any family has especial rights to. Always with coffee as the lubricant of choice.

My mother tried to turn my brother and I to the Dark (Roasted) Side when we were youngish, but it never seemed to take. Oh, we both flirted with the Coarse Ground Goddess, but she never sank her beans into either of us. I remember trying to love her, though. Getting up on weekend mornings and finding an unadorned white ceramic mug at my breakfast plate. Coffee with a strong dash of milk in, and two heaped spoons of sugar. You'd order it from a barrista as Cafe' au lait, though we never called it that. "Coffee milk" it was called if it had to be named, which it rarely was. I drank it on weekends on the front porch with my parents, watching the morning begin. Letting my old dog lick the last mocha-tan drops out of the bottom because he knew I always left him a little of the sugar slurry, too.

It never stuck, though. In college I flirted with The Caffeinated One briefly when I was finishing my art degree. The professor kept a pot on, and I was fiercely proud of the anole mug I'd made in Ceramics. Mottled tan brown like the coffee and cream I drank from it, with a handle made to look like a lizard's slim body, its triangulate head peeking over the rim into the brown sweet goodness. When I worked for the lumber yard I kept the Community "Coffee Service" guy happy--eight to twelve pots a day I brewed, every single day. Never drank it myself, just kept the water fresh and the grounds loosely shaken into the paper filters. At Orifice Depot I drank a cup occasionally but only because my manager expected me to make sure he had a fresh pot on at 6am when we arrived to unload the day's truck. He would drink, quite literally, a pot at home before coming to work and immediately another pot at work. He carried a spun aluminum cup that was probably meant to be a serving carafe, and he drank it as the Arabs do--black as night, and as hot as hell.

Mrs. I broke down a few weeks ago and bought a coffee maker for herself, being, I thought, the only drinker in the house. It's one of the nicer ones; white and modern, with a timer so that you can have fresh brewed waiting for you in the morning. Each day I wake at 5:45, brush my teeth, make water, slip into my huge maroon robe and let Belle out of her kennel and help Penny down off the bed. We all then wander blindly into the pitch dark living room so they can go outside and perform their morning ablutions. Pitch dark, that is, except for the eerie underwater blue-green bioluminescence of the 'maker's display panel, silently counting down the last thirty minutes to Coffee Time.

A few mornings ago I was sitting at the table about to begin eating my fresh scrambled eggs and toast along with a tall tumbler of swee'tea when my daughter walked into the kitchen, already dressed for school. She rummaged in the kitchen cabinet and came down holding my Rosie The Riveter mug, the one I brought home from the office months ago after the hot tea I'd been brewing in it started staining the white ceramic. She turned to the coffee pot and poured, then added a liberal dose of powdered creamer and sugar. I could tell by the way she hunched her shoulders over and kept her head down that she was embarrassed, hoping not to draw attention to behaviour that was out of the ordinary.

I smiled to myself as I watched her go about the stirring, her being extra careful not to ding the spoon on the insides of the mug too loudly. She brought her treasure to the table and slid into her accustomed chair across the round table from me. I smiled, said good morning and went about eating, watching her without her seeing me watch as she blew and sipped her way through her cup, around forkfuls of egg and toast.

My child is growing up. Some of her behaviour she takes from me--her quiet, fast way of talking. The way she matches bites of egg with bites of toast. The way she drinks iced tea now at supper. Some ways are entirely hers, though. Drinking cafe' au lait from her dad's mug, exploring the ways of adults. No doubt my mother led her onto that path, but that morning was the first time she displayed her new habit for her father, afraid I'd call her down, tell her she was too young for the Powers of Caffeine. Naturally I didn't, just smiled and let her start to make her own way.

I don't know if she'll be Coffee People or not. Perhaps one day she'll stand proudly at a Starbucks counter and order some extraordinary drink of hot water and exotic beans, order it with the glib ease of a native drinker. Perhaps she'll turn out like me and always live just on the outskirts of The Coffee Nation, be a social drinker only, a rare visitor to those dark and exotic shores. Either way is fine with me.

As long as I can keep her from smoking cigars we'll be fine.

Dec 1, 2008

Hounds Of The Not-So-Wild Hunt

So, there I was. Puppies to the left of me. Puppies to the right of me. Puppies full of energy and vitality and a deeply imbedded desire to get into as much trouble as they possibly could, as fast as they could.

Not just any puppies, mind you. Borzoi puppies. Eight weeks old and already a foot tall and a very solid twenty or so pounds each. I think there were at least eleven, perhaps more. They never stood still long enough to count. Teeth and tails and yips and solid bodies full of the promise of impressive musculature, elegantly shaped bodies and the fierce desire to nap whenever possible.

It's not my usual M.O. to go traveling during the Thanksgiving season, but this time I made an exception. I wanted to meet the pups and perhaps bring one or two home with us. So, a road trip to Weatherford, TX was arranged, Belle was tucked into the back seat of the CX-7 and we were off. Six hours later we were up to our knees in pups, meeting and greeting and watching out for the occasional nip. The plan to bring home a puppy with us Sunday was laid aside as the wiser heads assembled there decided that one more month of mom-to-puppy training would be an excellent thing, but we got to meet the pups we're going to bring home in about a month:

Ladies and gentleman, I give you Bathsheba*:


Learning To Pounce

Yes, this little hellion (along with another hellion of the same age from Rita's newest litter, Minnie we think, and sadly I don't have a good photo of her) will be moving in with Belle in about a month. One month to enjoy the peace and quiet. One short month in which the house won't be filled with yipping and barking and puppy growls and that frantic, uncordinated energy that puppies are so very good at spreading all around.

I also have to say that it was a weekend of learning. When I first noticed Jesse at our local AKC sponsored show (entranced by the easy, effortless way he seemed to float across the floor) and spoke to his owner I had no idea what I was setting in motion.

Jesse moving

Like Bilbo said, when you set foot out your door you'd better keep your wits about you because you've no idea where the road is going to take you. I certainly didn't know that innocuous "Hello! What kind of dog is that?" would lead me, years later, to a gathering of some serious Borzoi breeders in an office converted to a kennel annex, carefully examining each of a number of puppies for quality. I learned, and I learned, and I learned some more. I learned until my skull felt like it was developing stretch marks, so I slathered on some cocoa butter and learned some more.

Who knew? Who knew there was such a science to it, a strange combination of biology and physics and art? What makes a dog do what it does, what makes it hold it's tail a certain way, what makes one dog more physically sound than another? I'm still a little top-heavy, and my brain still makes sloshing noises when I turn my head too fast, but it was an altogether enjoyable weekend, no doubt about it. Being around teachers who are not only utterly enthusiastic about their subject but willing and eager to teach you is a gift beyond compare, and Mrs. I and I seem to have been taken into the pack in a big way. A simple "Hello" has developed into a whole range of political affiliation (no, not presidental) and quality assurance and above all a whole series of warm, nurturing relationships with an amazing breed of dog.

The Not So Wild Hunt

Here's Belle, moving through the gathered pack of hounds at Aria Kennels. Watching six Borzoi play and chase and run is a truly neat thing. Seeing them all clumped up like this gives you an idea of just how much space they take up, even though they never seem to BE big.

So now it falls to me to get the kennel fences up, the run laid out, and the chicken wire run along the ground to keep the little buggers from tunneling their way out. Still ahead is picking the 'safe room' for them to retreat to, a place to set their kennels. Dog houses. More food. More shows, and who knows, more fame and perhaps a tiny big of fortune. Honestly, who knows where THIS road is going to lead? *g*

The latest upload of both puppy AND adult photos can be seen at Flikr, and I promise there's a few in there that are worth your time, if nothing else for the sheer "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaw!" factor.

* Not her real name--you see, the naming of registered dogs with good show pedigrees isn't just one of your parlour games. There's a lot that goes into it, bits of which haven't been decided on yet so when she gets her "official" name I'll let you guys know, lest you think I've gone even more over the hill.