Sep 30, 2008

Death Of An Old Soldier

A strange thing happened today at the office.

Not that most every day doesn't bring something strange, but today something strange and somewhat extraordinary happened. I ran out of ink.

I use a fountain pen, if you recall. I try to use one exclusively, but I'm often forced to make corrections and notes on nurse's paperwork in red pen. I usually use a Bic Stik pen for these corrections, and in the past four years there I've gone through dozens of red Bic Stiks, each one from the time it's brand new out of the box to the time it's dried up and ends in the trash.

I'm still using the same fountain pen, though.

I bought my first 'real' fountain pen at Office Depot when I worked there years ago. I'd used fountain pens before, all through college actually but those were always cheap models, plastic throwaways, or were nicer pens handed down to me from my adopted syster who collected and discarded them with some regularity.

When I bought that fountain pen there it was the first time I'd ever actually bought a GOOD fountain pen. I think I spent about $30 on it, which was a fortune to me, especially for a pen, but I love fountain pens and as a salesman I wrote daily and often, so I thought it would be a good fit, and I was right. I also swore I'd never let a customer use it when I first clipped it in my shirt pocket. Most people simply don't know how to use a fountain pen anymore, and offering them one made them feel foolish, and that's not what a salesman wants to do to his client, so I never offered. Until one day when I had nothing handy and a customer needed a pen. I asked "Do you know how to use a fountain pen?" When they replied in the affirmative I offered them my black and gold Waterman Phileas. They wrote and promptly dropped it, nib-first, on the concrete floor.

Ruined.

My second Phileas fountain pen, this one blue and gold, was purchased along with it's matching ball point. Both rode in my shirt pocket, but only one was offered to customers.



When I bought that blue and gold fountain pen I also made a new step--instead of using the plastic cartridges of ink I splurged and spent four and a half dollars, or the price of two boxes of Bic Stiks on a squat glass bottle of Parker Quink. I figured I'd go ahead and use the cunning little twist-operated filling system, which entailed me taking the back of the pen off, holding it nib-first in the swirling darkness of the bottle's mouth and twisting the back of the piston's length, which creates suction and draws ink up into the reservoir.

After the first fill I put the heavy glass bottle back in it's black cardboard box, stuffed the receipt in so it couldn't be said that I stole it, and went on about my employment.

I left that job eventually and ended up at my current one, still using the same fountain pen, still carrying around the same bottle of Parker Quink, still filling the reservoir whenever it got low. I started to think that the little bottle that held maybe all of two fluid ounces would never empty.

Until today.



My bottle is finally so empty that I can no longer draw ink out of it. I filled my pen this morning, September 30th of 2008, and realised that today was the last fill I'd be able to make out of this bottle. Oh, there's perhaps half a reservoir full in there still, but the part of the nib that draws the ink in doesn't submerge anymore, so it's like sucking on a straw in the bottom of a glass, only without the annoying noise. It's finally time to buy a new bottle.

If you haven't already, look at the receipt. That's the original receipt that I stuck in the box when I bought the bottle brand new at Office Depot. It's dated September 18th. 2003.

I have used up and thrown away probably three dozen red Bic Stik pens in the last four years, but it's taken me five years almost to the day of writing sales drafts, signing invoices, signing cards, writing down phone numbers, making notes on my desk calendar (you can see I'm an incorrigible note-taker) and doing all the little things that require ink to use that bottle up. I've left behind me a many miles-long black ribbon of ink, all drawn from a little thick glass bottle that ran down an assembly line in a factory half a decade ago. I have to wonder if anyone thought, as the lines of bottles rolled their way down the assembly process that one of those bottles just might not be stuffed into the back of a drawer and forgotten but actually used, quite literally down to it's dregs?

I know I would have. :)

Sep 29, 2008

Guerilla Marketing

Working in an office in a small town leaves me wide open for strange things.

My office is located in a small, old, poor town. And where there's small, old, poor towns that have been passed by when the new interstate came in you'll find...greasy spoons. Specifically lots of home-cooking places where someone is cooking from their kitchen and serving on the front porch. You also see a lot of people who have nothing to do but walk around and try to sell each other things that nobody can afford even if they wanted it.

So, we being on the outskirts of this little town, we often get people who come in to bring us kitchen lunch menu flyers or homemade candy or kitchen-born popcorn balls, the sort of thing that can bring a little extra money that might make the difference between eating and not eating this week.

A few days ago a little old black woman pulled up in the parking lot with a wicker basket on her arm, and a collective shiver of terror ran through the office. Now, before I go on I'd be a pretty poor writer if I didn't show her to you. She's a little slip of a thing, probably in her mid 60's or a little older, and of that certain skin tone that could honestly be called black; her skin is the colour of very fine old walnut furniture, and I think she's had a lot of teeth pulled because her speech, already slurred by her accent is further slurred by a mouth all drawn in like a little prune. She always wears bright colours--yellows and oranges and such, so she's a study in lights and darks all by herself. She's got a little mop of silvery curls that always stick out from under a little cloth sunhat, and she always matches, all from head to toe. She's also more than a little deaf but either doesn't know it or has learned to read lips really well because she doesn't use any aide but as a result she's VERY loud. All the time, and naturally exuberant on top of the loud.

That basket contains peanut brittle and pecan brittle and candy of that type, made with peanut butter or corn syrup or white chocolate or milk chocolate, whatever she can get cheap, melt in copious amounts, mix pecans or peanuts in with and lay out to dry in roughly round shapes. These are then wrapped in Saran Wrap and put in her basket and off she goes, stopping...I guess at any and every business that won't kick her out.

When we first opened the office three years ago we were always bombarded by salesmen and saleswomen. Mostly medical supply people since we're a home health but not limited to medical folks. We'd get every sort and kind, from people selling religious items to schoolkids selling advertisements in their ballparks. VW and I got tired of that so we made a "No Soliciting' sign and when they walked in I'd just point to the sign and direct them back out again. Easy.

Well, I'd turned Lois (the heroine of this sordid tale) away once a year ago; I saw her get out carrying candy, and when she set foot in the door I simply and gently shooed her out. She tried again six months or so after that day, when VW left to work for the State and my new office manager was in. Lois came in and made a face at me, one of mild disgust and dawning realisation that she wasn't going to make a sale. She said something like "Oh, I remember you, you wouldn't let me in," but Laura happened to be coming out of her office at the time and Lois saw her opportunity.

My office manager never knew what hit her.

I can say this--I'm glad Lois doesn't teach classes to salesmen, because buying a car would become a study in bloodlust and unceasing terror. This little woman simply doesn't stop until she has her sale. Like The Terminator, she absolutely will not stop, ever, until you've bought some brittle. She's certain that you have money and you will spend it on her candy, period. She's as implacable as a round fired from a rifle and as determined as a pit bull with it's jaws locked, utterly incapable of letting up. Wheedling, cajoling, demanding...high pressure sales hasn't seen Lois yet, but Lois could kick it's tail off then turn around and sell the amputated bit back to it's beaten owner. What's worse is that she never stops talking. Even if she's already sold you something and is trying to target lock her next mark there's a steady stream of prattle flowing, nearly incomprehensibly from her mouth.

Old girl is tough, and a little bit crazy, which makes it worse.

She learned a long time ago that if she doesn't ask every single person in the building not once but three or four times then she's missing a sale, and she can flat filter some money out of a body. Well, my manager bought a piece of peanut brittle from her that day, and it was done, we were on her list as Prospective Buyers.

Now, once every two or three months she comes back, driving her little white minivan (no doubt paid for by peanut brittle,) carrying her wicker basket full of sugary candy and talking a mile a minute. She came in a few days ago, and my office manager went running to hide and so did our Clinical Manager, who has fallen under her claws before. One of the newer girls who didn't know Lois happened to come up front and was sold some peanut brittle. I knew that would not slake her thirst for cash, and a little miffed (laughingly) at being put on the spot by my cowardly coworkers I pointed them out to her. If I'd showed a Terrier a rat there would have been less enthusiasm shown than what Lois showed. She leaped to the attack, breezed by the "Authorized Personnel Only Beyond This Point" signs like they weren't there and hit every single nurse who had the bad luck to be in the building. She even got the marketers, professional saleswomen each one, and at two bucks a pop she probably came out of there with $50 in cash.

The funniest part had to be when Lois crossed paths with our newest Account Exec. Let's call her 'Jaws,' since she's our uber-shark saleswoman. She got hold of Lois and it was like watching one of those shows where two prehistoric creatures face off in a battle to the death. Jaws offered to buy something like ten or so candies to use as marketing tools and it became a comedy of opposites--a cash-only businesswoman trying to sell something to a professional saleswomen who requires receipts in triplicate for her expense reports. When Jaws told Lois she wanted to buy most of her basket of stock Lois' voice went up about three octaves and twenty decibels. Jaws was either utterly unaware of Lois' mastery of the high volume homeless-person babble or she was being very subtly cruel and started saying in an innocent little girl voice, "Why are you shouting at me? Please don't shout." I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, so I just broke off bits of my peanut brittle and watched.

By this time there were four or five of us hapless victims up front, and Lois is all but jittering like a coke fiend missing her hit and Jaws in her 4" pink lizard-skin high-heels and Dior business suit is trying to get Lois to accept a personal check for $30 for these homemade candies. The prattle is running fast and furious, mixing with Jaws' own salesgab, the five of us are blinking and gawping in wild wonder at this 5' tall slip of a matron with her Goodwill day-glow yellow blouse and slacks confronting this 98 pound whip of a salesshark, all the time wondering what exactly is being said by either of them. The bizarre face-off was broken when our third marketer had the misfortune to come in, so Jaws ended the game by handing over some bills and our third saleswoman got accosted for a few awestruck minutes.

I tell you, this little old lady could make you buy your own eyeteeth and thank her for the privilege.

The whole escapade probably took fifteen minutes but it seemed like forever. Every time I thought she was done she'd come circling back around the racetrack hallway of the office trying to sell us the last two pieces of peanut brittle she had, these lovely orange-gold disks with their little peanut lumps, cunningly wrapped in clear plastic. She didn't take no for an answer from me but I learned three attacks prior that the best thing to do is not refuse her to but to redirect her, so I kept passing her back to my gutless clinical manager. "Oh no, HE'S got the money, he bought mine" I kept saying, because I know that repetition makes it sink in with Lois and that my CM folds like a house of cards in a high wind at the slightest provocation. If anyone would buy her last two items and therefore end her reign of terror it would be him.

It was.

Realising she was empty she babbled her way back to her van and I was left with a half-piece of leftover brittle that someone gave me and sides aching from laughing so very hard, laughing in a way that I've not laughed in a very long time.

Sep 26, 2008

Poetry Friday: The Second Sense

Of five. Or six if you count paranormal sensitivity. Or seven if you could a sense of duty. Eight if you include a sense of impending doom. Nine if you wanna add in a sense of wonder. And what about that most important sense, the one I lack, a sense of style?

I wonder how many Poetry Fridays Mona actually wants to do? This could get iiiinteresting.

S'okay. Poetry Friday. Listening, ears, hearing, all the things that go with the aural senses. I'll tell you up front and quite frankly that I'm drawing something of a blank here. Usually I'll check Mona's Thursday warning post from my computer at work and I'll let it sit on the back burner and toss things into it as the day goes on. I'll stir and taste and take things out and put other things in, and usually by the end of the day I've got something fairly tasty.

Except this is the sense of hearing. *sigh*

Clowncar likes to point out that I've got a positive knack for seeing the surreal in life, and the small things, the little details. I have to say that being a man I am primarily visual--I look at things, use visual reference points for most everything, and the sight of a lovely pair of breasts will have me smiling all day, but I listen, too. A long time ago I heard someone trot out the old chestnut that we were born with two ears and one mouth and we should use them in that ratio. Mixed in with that is the old Oriental teachings surrounding the fact that to truly learn you have to listen, not just hear. Lots of little bits and pieces like that have found their way through my ears and found rich soil in my brain in which to root, and in the process I've learned how much you can learn by listening.

I like hearing the difference in the exhaust note between a Harley and a metric cruiser. Harleys have a strange, unsettled sound to them ("potatoe, potatoe," as they'd have you believe,) a sound that tells my ears they're about to stall at any moment even though they're revved up, while metrics have a smooth, even throbbing sound, much more pleasant.

I learned years ago how to 'critically listen' to a sound system, how a well-recorded piece of music on a good sound system will produce an auditory 'sound stage' in your mind's ear. I like putting on some Dire Straits or Steely Dan, sitting in the sweet spot in front of my speakers and being able to hear where each instrument 'is' in space, in it's own position, clear and surrounded, as it were, by air.

Now you're starting to see why I don't write about hearing. *s* Is hard to do!

I never notice how much noise there is in my house until the power goes off, like it did for days during Gustav. Suddenly there's no quiet hum of power in the lines, no fans cooling the computer, no sub-audible noises from the tv or the computer monitors. My mother in law said she loves coming to my house because it's so quiet. I find it hard to believe after hearing the wonderful quiet of having no electricity sizzling around.

I love listening to the sounds outside my house. There's an almost constant musical cacophany out there and all you have to do is listen. The jays make their loud, startling screeches, the ring-neck doves call in that sad soft drone of theirs, and the mockingbirds each spend their day running through their entire repertoire of calls and hoots and whistles for whatever reason mockingbirds do that. There's always the sharp bark of a squirrel chiding a mocking bird or jay who has gotten too close, and if you're quiet enough and listening for it you can often hear the far-away long-long-short-long blast of the train horns away across the bayou as they approach the crossings. If you're out late on a weekend night you can even hear the rednecks next door warming up for Redneck Dinner Theater, trying to shout each other down.

Inside there's always an animal somewhere, making a whole repertoire of sounds. The cats talk to each other and their humans in a wide range of vocalisations, each specific to each cat, and only if you listen close can you tell what they want. Penny, who sleeps between the pillows on the bed at night makes a barely audible whistling sound when she sleeps deeply; not quite a snore, not quite just breathing noises. It's the only way to tell she's getting "that Good Sleep." Belle rustles around in her kennel turning, resettling her eighty pound bulk with a quiet rattle and a soft sussurus of fur against the metal, then a soft groan like an old man coming to rest when she finds where she wants to be and curls back up.

I still miss my old trailer for it's metal roof. The walls were thin and metal and the roof was barely thicker than a coke can, but when it rained you knew it--how hard and how heavy, how long and how windy. There was a music to the rain on that roof that could lull me to sleep faster than any soporific drug. Then, when the rain stopped there was always the soft patter of water as it gathered on the sides of the house and dripped to the puddles below, a whole symphony of tiny plinks and plops.

I often say, offhandedly, that I'd go mad if I were to lose my vision, but in complete honesty, and I'm not asking you to take a rusty spoon to my orbs but if I had to lose one or t'other I almost think I'd rather lose vision than hearing. To be truly without the constant sounds of the world in my ears, not to mention the sound I carry with me everywhere--heart pumping, lungs inflating and deflating; to lose those and the million and one little sounds that make up the tapestry of Life would be a loss I'd not care to endure.

Sep 24, 2008

Unicorn Moment

Yeah, I'm gonna have to share this with you guys too, even tho it's a train post and even tho I'm gonna mirror it on the trainspotting blog. You see, as moments go, it was A Moment. As foaming goes, it was a Unicorn Moment.

Actually it was a lot of moments, more like a coupla hours worth of moments, but you know what I mean.

Okay, so last weekend we've got, miracle of miracles, a hot air balloon flight planned. David, our mentor and pilot and owner and all 'round swell guy wasn't nearly as far south on his job as he'd figured he'd be, and since he'd put in two weeks of 16 hour days doing insurance adjustment work in storm-ravaged areas, and since he had a paying customer...well, David was ready to fly.

So fly we did. Jim and I and VW and Cookie all went out and did the balloon thing, which now that Fall is coming closer is much nicer than it's been as far as sweating goes. We wrapped up the success of the flight with breakfast at Leah's Pie Shop in Lecompte, and since VW and I had planned on some trainspotting afterwards, she got out her flat black brain bucket with the chrome flames on it, hopped on the back of Black Betty and we headed to the local KCS yard in Latainer.

Now, I'll be honest--I was a little worried. Latainer Yard isn't the busiest yard you could imagine. Far from it. It's small and remote and not that heavily trafficked, so I was afraid we'd be let down. Well, I was wrong. Thankfully.

We got there and watched a huge pair of SD70MAC engines, very clean in their KCS grey and red liveries spend about an hour turning two very long consists into a whole yard-full of cars split hither and yon. Even got some VERY cool shots of them working.


Diagonals


We got to talk with a conductor who was out there busily tearing trains into pieces, and he told us that while he broke down these two and turned them into others there were two more due into the yard in the next hour or so. VW and I, being game, stuck around. I'm glad we did. When the pair of MACs were out of the way I'd glance down the southern rails, hoping to see lights. Well, I missed their arrival but when I saw a splash of red, black and yellow I nearly peed myself. Not just any old KCS engines but a pair of Retro Belle SD70ACe's had pulled in, resplendent in their 1940's Southern Belle paint.


Pair O'Belles


I managed to hold my pee long enough to hail the conductor, who told us that it was a recrew layover, and they'd be leaving again in about an hour, or as soon as he got the second consist broken into pieces and his big pair of MACs out of the way.

Well, being true foamers and since we'd each gotten 100+ shots of the grey MACs VW and I drove quickly back through sleets of lovebugs to LSUA to get some liquid refreshment, sit in the shade for a while and then head back at noon thirty for the real party: the exit and river crossing of the pair of Belles.

Like all things involving trains, there was waiting. Trains don't move on a moment's notice, and the pair of Belles and it's dead-heading third engine were no different. The crew arrived. They did paperwork. They were taxied out to the machines. They got onboard and did their checks. They did them again. Finally the crew bell rang and it pulled up.


Control House


There it sat while ice was brought on board, luggage was loaded, and the rest of the three-man crew boarded. Then they waited some more. VW waited impatiently, taking photos of the engine, the control house, the rails, flowers, love bugs, each other and our sweat. They ticked. They grumbled. They did all the cool things trains do except move.

But mercifully, finally, before I lost VW to wandering in the adjoining cotton field, our train moved forward.


Leaving Latainer


Pair


The main reason we stuck it out? I knew what was ahead. Not just several miles of fairly open track but a bridge. A huge bridge, a concrete and steel arrangement that crosses the Red River from Alexandria into Pineville and thence onto CP Mallin and the diamond that I talk about constantly, and on to Monroe and all points north. My Unicorn Photo was up there, just waiting to be set up.

When I first started foaming well over a year ago I knew of this bridge. This massive white concrete monster with it's miles long lead-up and steel trellis. I knew that if I could catch a train on top of it with the weather right it'd be a shot to be truly proud of. I tried several months ago with the KCS Business train, KCS 1 but was foiled by torrential rains. This time the sky was blue and clear, and nothing shy of a broken leg was going to stop me.

VW and I rode along, with her skillfully balancing herself on the pillion seat of my bike while I did my best to pace the rolling train, watch for traffic and keep the ride steady enough for her to snap photos. HER work can be seen here, including the pacing shots and the shots she took at the bridge setup.

We got about halfway to the bridge site and I broke off, knowing full well soon he'd be doing 60mph and we still had to get set up, so we hauled ass. I dropped VW off on the highway with a nice view of the bridge as it arched up behind some houses and across Hwy 1, and I rode on up under the pilings and ran up the levee embankment to set up.

I'd told VW that he ought to be along in about ten minutes. I was off by eight. We had closer to TWO minutes. I had time to gain the top of the levee before I heard his horns sounding as he started the climb up the grade. I changed lenses faster than I ever dreamed I was able and aimed. I had about ten seconds to get the camera aimed and ready, and before I knew it the Belles were on me.


Red River Bridge - Unicorn Photo


And directly in front of me, the engineer no doubt laughing as he hit two very short blasts on the horns for the crazy guy who had been stalking him for the last hour or so.


Red River Bridge - Unicorn Photo


And then he was past, rolling steady up toward the steel trellis and across the river and gone into Pineville toward Monroe.


Crossing The Red


I remember the rest of the ride back to LSUA and home as a sort of golden blur, the way I always feel after achieving a goal. I remember hoping beyond hope that I'd pivoted correctly at the waist, holding the camera straight. I was terrified I'd blurred the shots, had the f/stop wrong, overexposed them, something, anything.

I'm glad I was wrong then, too. Next Unicorn? Beats me, but I'm sure it'll present itself soon enough.

Sep 22, 2008

Happy Happy!

It's Elephant Appreciation Day! So what are you waiting for? Get to appreciating me!

While you're at it, go appreciate on Joan for cluing me in.

When you're done with that (and be sure to take your time, Joan don't need nobody rushing her appreciation) you can go and appreciate the finer points of classic boat restoration AND see one of my photos put to good use at The Good Old Boat Redwing. It never ceases to astound me when strangers see my photo work and ask to borrow a photo of mine.

Ain't the web a cool place?

Sep 21, 2008

Waking Up Is Hard To Do

Lucid dreaming. There's huge numbers of scientists pouring millions of dollars of their hard-earned grant money into sleep studies, scientists who devote themselves and their energies into putting us in charge of our dreams.

Eff 'em, I say.

I don't want to be in charge of my dreams. My mind all by itself does plenty enough damage without me mucking about in the natural order of things. A few nights ago I decided that I'd try to direct one of my dreams before going to bed. I told myself several times just before I drifted off, in a Firm, Authoritative Voice that were I to dream of trains that night (which I seem to do a lot of, strangely enough) that this time I'd go on board. By hook or by crook I was going to be a dream hobo.

Well, it worked. Sort of. In my dream I managed to climb on board a grain hopper, the sort of car that people who hobo say is The One to ride on. It just got weirder from there, and I won't get into it here, but suffice to say that my train ride only lasted a few minutes in dream time, and ended up with me at an air show that consisted of nothing but B-52 bombers and David Miller, Skybird's pilot, who mustered out of the Air Force as a major and a...wait for it...B-52 pilot.

So much for lucid dreaming.

I don't trust myself to do well in a dream, you see. My imagination is so freaking powerful all by it's lonesome that I shudder to think of the damage I would wreak on my already fragile psyche were I to start pushing buttons and pulling levers at random. I already have troubles enough with very imaginative, extra-vivid dreams that follow me into wakefulness. Those always make me behave in an erratic (and I'm told, comic) fashion for a few minutes, until Reality finally steps in and tosses a bucket of water in my face.

The most memorable one (before last night) found me jumping out of bed with the dead certainty that there was a rattlesnake somehow tangled in the sheets. I stood at the foot of the bed and demanded in a voice just short of a scream and peppered with profanity that Mrs. I get out of bed before she got bit. I was certain that she was about to be bitten and have to be taken to the ER because somehow a ten pound rattlesnake had forced the door lock, sneaked into bed with us and was now angrily trying to disentangle itself from the sheets by her feet, fangs filled with venom.

Last night, however, topped my All Time Biggest Lucid Dream Freakout List. It was, you see, The Perfect Dream Storm.

I know you've all had nights where an arm or hand gets in an odd position and falls asleep, gets so asleep from the blood flow being shunted off that it becomes numb. I'm sure a lot of you have even gotten a numb extremity to the point that it's no longer pins-and-needles, no longer just asleep but more in the "phantom limb" stage--you simply have nothing past the 'asleep' point of that limb. Well, my hand did that last night. Somehow I'd managed to get my wrist crimped into such a tight bend that it cut off the blood flow to my entire right hand, so that my all together very useful extremity was entirely absent. Zero feeling, zero muscle control.

My dream wasn't a dream, it was a single horrific image. There was a soccer ball-sized lump of flesh that contained a terrifying amount of razor-sharp claws and teeth in my bedroom. It couldn't see (lacking any external organs) but it could fly (with dream logic anything is possible) and if it touched you it could sort of home back in on you again and again, battering at you like an insect will go after a bare light bulb.

Well, it did so. It found me and started battering at my head, trying to latch on so it could rip my skin off my bones. I leaped up out of bed and ran into the middle of the bedroom batting at it, hoping to slap it far enough away that it couldn't find me anymore (again, dream logic.)

Now, remember what I said earlier about my right hand being completely phantom-limb asleep? I kept batting at my head (and connecting occasionally) so what my arms felt was two arms flailing around and one hand brushing the side of my head. The other arm didn't feel anything, and had no muscle control over my hand anyway, so it was flopping around. My head, however, kept feeling something hit it and my brain couldn't connect: no sensation came down my right arm from my sleeping hand to match up to the impact on my head so I immediately (again, dream logic reigning supreme) thought The Thing was battering at my head, trying to sink it's claws in.

I think I screamed twice. The family seems to think it was only once. Weerelephant in the bedroom across the hall and behind a closed door thought it was Belle screaming. Missus I was playing Pogo in the office at the end of the hall with her iPod earbuds in and thought the same thing. My own ears heard a scream born of pure terror. No filters in the way, no "what if I wake the neighbors?" concerns, just a pure animal howl (or two) of absolute and petrifying terror.

It took me another two minutes or so to make my brain work, another eternity of two minutes to stop looking at the top of the four-poster bed trying to find where The Thing had gotten off to, my eyes trying to winkle it out of it's hiding place. Between Mrs. I telling me to calm down and me repeatedly screaming "What the fuck?" and being unable to make any other coherent sentences my heart rate finally ran down to something approaching OEM limits and I started to think again. I finally realised what had happened. I went and got my big red robe and went to my daughter's bedroom and sat on the edge of her bed to hug and reassure her that her father had not, in fact, lost his tiny mind. I finally wound down enough to get back in bed and fall asleep, but I never got far enough asleep to start dreaming again. I think some part of my mind was still afraid The Thing would still be there, would return to mindlessly battering at my head.

By the cool light of morning I was able to laugh a (very) little at myself, and now that darkness has fallen again on a full and rewarding day I can smile a little bit at my foolishness. This sort of thing has only happened five or six times in the last 41 years so I know it won't be a recurring thing, and I know it won't be as perfect as this one the next time it happens, thank goodness. No perfect alignment of missing sensations so my mind can further ramp up the insane terror. I don't know that I could handle another shock like that.

My daughter, ever the healer, picked a bouquet of spider lilies out of the yard, both yellows and reds, and put them in my favourite vase--an old glass milk bottle. She put it on the window ledge closest to my side of the bed while I was out cutting the yard with the hopes that they kept the dreams away.

With a daughter like that how could they stand a chance?

Sep 17, 2008

The Wheel Turns

Fall is coming. Again.

The temps have dropped in the mornings into the high 50s, and it's like a taste of some unspeakably good food, something long-denied. Driving home yesterday the cool brushed my face, made my skin feel tight and strong. I passed a homeowner who was hard at work burning some of the fallen branches in his yard and the sharp smell of pecan wood smoke in the air tore my imagination loose from it's staid summer moorings and sent it, and me, reeling.

I was thinking about Fall and all that this time of year means. Fall has to be my favourite time of year. I'm not exactly one of Mr. Bradbury's October People but I'm close. I love the smells and the look of Fall; that slow turn toward winter, the spider lilies setting their blazing scarlet tendrils into the air, the piles of firewood being uncovered and readied, the squirrels fattening themselves in the pine trees. The smells of cotton ripening in the fields, the dry leaves crunching underfoot, and the slow settling of the world into bed.

I was thinking about being a kid, sitting at the kitchen table with my mom and dad and my brother, flipping pages in the Sears Big Book, shopping for flannel shirts. That was our Fall treat--new checkered flannel shirts, pre-teen lumberjacks. My father always looked for the sort with the quilted insides, but me, I was always eager to see what colours there were this year. Red was always the strong front-runner, naturally, but what sort of red to get? Red with lots of black or a little? Red with some green showing strong, or blue? Red that was almost a Scottish tartan or red that was just strong, vibrant RED?

After the agony of decision Mom would call and place the order, and soon a little card would show up in the mail: "Your package is ready." When the weekend would roll around we'd pile in the station wagon and head into town, drive to Sears and park around back, the dingy face of Sears that you didn't see unless you went looking for it. The face that was cluttered with discarded packing materials and half-assembled lawnmowers, the face with the delivery trucks backed in.

Into Package Pickup, which back then didn't involve a receipt with a bar code and a scanner. No, back then it was a big room behind a door, a big room filled with somber grey racks, numbered and lettered to make grids. Your card had a letter and a number, and you had to find your bin to locate your package. Half the fun was finding the right grid coordinate, tracking across the open shelves with eager eyes, looking at boxes and packages destined for other homes, wondering what might lie behind all that cardboard and plastic, looking excitedly at clear blister packs and plastic-wrapped machinery.

We'd recover our box, bring it to the checkout and pay for it, and into the car to tear into the packing like it was Christmas morning, only hosted by Jack and his lantern, black cats at his feet. The new material would come tumbling out, smelling sharp and fresh of dyes and new thread, the colours ecstatically bright. The cold vied with our excitement to colour our cheeks red.

As the Fall wore on into Winter those shirts would get worn almost constantly, through cold and colder, in the damp and the occasional snow. They'd be worn in cotton trailers and to cousin's houses, worn non-stop if we could have had our way. Worn every weekend until by the time Spring was rolling around, borne in on rabbit fur and dyed eggs and the changing of the flowers and the vestments in church our once-new shirts were faded and patched, much softer and often almost outgrown.

I don't recall where I bought my last flannel shirt. I don't outgrown them anymore, so I don't get to buy one every Fall, but then again the magic that used to accompany that time is almost faded, too; a soft red, the black now greyish and the material of that memory is now soft with broken threads and repeated handling. My flannel shirt is grey now, with a heavy black pattern, but it still comes out every Fall. It's taken out from it's place in the back of the closet, shaken out good to dislodge the little critters who might have made it home and worn as a light jacket over an oversized T-shirt, hanging unbuttoned over jeans. It follows me to hauling branches across the yard, keeps sawdust and metal shavings off my skin when I'm in the shop, and keeps the branches off me when I'm trying to push through the branches to get set up for a good train photo. It's an anchor back to a time when nothing much mattered but fun and the cold air and the crackle of a fire in the fireplace when the day was done.

It's softer now than when I first bought it, my old flannel shirt. It's far softer and faded, but still whole and useful. Much like my memories.

Sep 16, 2008

Shine On You Crazy Diamond

Richard Wright, one of the founding members of Pink Floyd died yesterday of cancer. He was 65 years old.

I'm so disheartened.

Sep 14, 2008

It's Raining AGAIN?

Wow. I am so freaking SICK of rain. I'm starting to grow mildew on the soles of my feet and the insides of my ears. I'm tired of branches falling in my yard. And I'm sick and tired of being stuck inside when there's a ton of things that need to be done OUTSIDE. I can stay inside all day when I'm at work--when it's the weekend I want to be OOOOOOOOOOOUT.

Never mind the fact that there's seven mosquitoes per cubic inch of air out there right now, and thank YOU, Gustav, for ripening and giving wet places to hatch all those billions of evil bastards. Especially those flying 10cc syringes the Tiger Mosquitoes.

Gods I hate you.

So anyway. Something to occupy my time between utter and complete madness and bedtime*, stolen from Joan who probably stole it from some hard-working, honest, upright Democrat. *wink*


A meme

1. My uncle once: moved thirty feet of US Interstate 101 using only the powers of his mind.

2. Never in my life: have I done anything that required more than four or five stitches to fix right up.

3. When I was five: it was a dark and stormy night?

4. High school was: a blender into which my hormones, religion, guilt, sex, more sex, a 1978 Dodge pickup that rarely ran properly, some studying, a lot of angst and depression and a lack of getting laid by the right woman were all tossed into and which was then run on "Puree" for four hellish years, and thank YOU very much Holy Saviour Menard Central High School.

5. I will never forget: the first girl who broke my heart. Violet Thompson. Second grade. Lying bitch!

6. Once I met: the guy who used to paint all the dotted lines on the highways. By hand. He had a heck of a steady hand that guy.

7. There’s this girl I know: she lives on the hill, she won't do it but her sister will.

8. Once, at a bar: No, Stucco will flay the skin off me if I do a bar joke here.

9. By noon, I’m usually: wishing that the Moon would crash into the planet, thereby erasing all human life like a giant Reset button just so my co-worker, Sweaty Fat Rolls would shut the eff up.

10. Last night: I dreamed I was playing footsie with someone.

11. If only I had: the operation, THEN I could open up with a hail of deadly bullets mixed with napalm from the biomorphic cannon in my chest and destroy those old people who drive really slow in the fast lane with their left blinker on. "Going on a world tour to the left, Grandpa? Get you some of THIS! BA-DOW!"

12. Next time I go to church: I'm gonna hold my fart in until I get outside. I swear.

13. What worries me most: is that irritating little voice I keep hearing in my head. Oh wait, they fired her Friday! WOOT!

14. When I turn my head left I see: stars because I seem to have turned it too far.

15. When I turn my head right I see: that the sun has finally come out, now that it's too late to start any sort of meaningful project today. Broke it right off in me, didja Ike?

16. You know I’m lying when: I begin to unconsciously manipulate my very naughty bit indeed.

17. What I miss most about the Eighties is: thinking it all really meant something.

18. If I were a character in Shakespeare I’d be: either Rosencrantz or Guildenstern; a secondary character who means well but is all the time confused, conflicted and being set up in the end to be hung by the neck from the gallows pole.

19. By this time next year: I hope to not be sitting in front of this computer wishing the sun had come out two days earlier.

20. A better name for me would be: Hey you!

21. I have a hard time understanding: this question.

22. If I ever go back to school: it'll be as a cadaver for giggling college-age girls to peer at.

23. You know I like you if: I talk to you.

24. If I ever won an award, the first person I would thank would be: myself, for busting my arse to earn it.

25. Take my advice: and don't listen to a thing I say, it's all stewmeat and puppets anyway.

26. My ideal breakfast is: fresh from a chicken's naughty bits.

27. A song I love but do not have is: that one that goes like that, you know, by that guy?

28. If you visit my hometown, I suggest you: pack up and head back north before the mosquitoes turn you into a bird-flu-riddled husk.

29. Why won’t people: just listen a little more?

30. If you spend a night at my house: you'd better not mind animal dander or mosquitoes.

31. I’d stop my wedding so: I could run after a streamliner train thinking there's a chance in hell I'll get a good photo of it.

32. The world could do without: lawyers.

33. I’d rather lick the belly of a cockroach than: spend another rainy day inside not trainspotting, doing lawn maintenance or a thousand and one other projects that are always lurking around.

34. My favorite blonde is: Belle.

35. Paper clips are more useful than: a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

36. If I do anything well it’s: stand around with my mouth open.

37. I can’t help but: think that gravity has it out for me.

38. I usually cry: in the presence of women out of sheer terror.

39. My advice to my child: is to toss the lot and make your own decisions about everything.

40. And by the way: I'm probably lying.


______________________
* Something other than taking pictures of the dogs.


Belle smelled something in the rug there. Oddly enough that's also where I lie when I do my back exercises. Perhaps she smells middle-age despair and lower back pain?



Penny, about as bored as I am. Granted this was about the fiftieth shot I'd taken of her. trying different flash settings.

Sep 12, 2008

Poetry Friday Challenge: Library

As voracious as I am a reader, I've never been a big library visitor.

Oh, don't get me wrong; when I was a kid in school the library was my second favourite place after the lunchroom. The librarians knew me by name from the first week because I was in there every free moment I got, hauling down nature encyclopedias and the "How And Why Wonder Books" of robotics and science and chemistry and nature. Then I discovered science fiction and the floodgates were opened.

I never learned to really and truly enjoy a library, though. My parents weren't leisure readers, and living as we did in the sticks the city library was a good half hour away downtown, in essence a whole other world. We were saved, though, by the presence of the occasional visit by the Bookmobile.

As long ago as that's been I can still see the Bookmobile in my mind's eye. A sort of large cargo truck, carpeted and fitted with cunningly designed wooden bookshelves, painted in a soft, unobtrusive blue and white, it's bus-doors let my mom and I and my brother, both of us barely more than toddlers, access to this little slice of wonderment. The soft scent of books mingled with the sweet stench of diesel exhaust, and I can still remember the thrill I always got when I looked out the back window. The "librarian's" desk took up the back of the bus, and she had the only window other than the windshield. The thought that she could sit back there at her desk and watch the road spool out behind her as they drove along intrigued me as a child.

As I got older and entered high school and college and the requirements of researching the library became, sadly enough, more of a place to work than a place of joy, and our own little library and it's branches locally simply don't turn my crank. Part of that is my need to own books, to return to them time and again, to savor passages or whole stories on my own time, on demand. So, I fill my house with paperbacks and hardbounds and photocopies of old Thurber stories stuffed into other books.

I won't ever forget that blue and white Bookmobile, though. That rolling wonderland that I got to step into every week, even if my mom had to hold my hand to steady me up to the first step.

Sep 9, 2008

Growing Old Is Hard To Do

Oh, I know parts of getting older is easy—it mostly involves avoiding dying and the rest takes care of itself, sort of like growing a Bromeilad only with less water. Parts of growing old, however, are damned difficult, not to mention expensive.

Looking back over my years of being a wage earner (and spender of same) I can see a distinct, nay, say instead “mountainous” climb in the cost of being me. When I was a kid of 18, my biggest expense was paying my $10 a month Sears card bill and saving like a fiend for an astronomically expensive pair of Sony 6x9 speakers for my car. The price tag? A staggering $100.

Now granted at the time the minimum wage was a whopping $3.35 an hour, so $100 was pretty extravagant, not to mention distant, but still and all, spending a C-note on anything other than a car was heady stuff.

Now? Now I have a cellular phone bill that’s higher than that a month, not to mention the credit cards. I buy vehicles with price tags that would have left that eighteen-year old me’s jaw hanging. With time and increased wages and just plain old being exposed to inflation and economic conditions we grow accustomed to having it broken off in us. Yesterday, though, it really stung.

I lost my glasses.

I don’t ordinarily lose things. My actual behaviour is a polar opposite from that—I’m a pack rat who knows where most all his pack-ratted things are, even years later. I’ve still got cellular phones the size of car batteries (and their attendant chargers) even though the companies that hosted them are long extinct. I keep things, you see, “just in case.” Glasses are no exception. I’ve got the last two pair of glasses I’ve owned, even though I’ve not been able to wear them for the past six years or so. When I barely wore them I couldn’t lose them if I tried. Now that I genuinely NEED them (see my post on Bifocals) I’ve lost them.

Completely and utterly.

I remember walking toward the back door with them. I remember cleaning them on my shirt-tail. The next thing I remember is realizing I needed them some twenty minutes later because outside was awfully blurred. I spent an hour walking around, squinting. I walked through the house, squinting. I walked the yard where I had cut, squinting. I walked all over, everywhere, eyes crunched down like a cartoon Oriental. I even got the refugee-in-laws to help (no squinting required,) to no avail. No spectacles, other than the one I was making of myself.

So, I gave in. My head already hurts from not having them, I can no longer just not wear glasses if I don’t want to, so I drove down to my optometrist’s office yesterday to order a new pair and, as I found out soon enough, to have it broken off in me. Deep.

My insurance, you see, doesn’t cover a second pair of glasses if it’s been less than one year. Now, I didn’t need another exam. I didn’t buy any sort of swank, unbreakable titanium and carbon fibre frames. Nothing with a brand name; no Izod or Tommy or Gucci. Plain as milk. The exact same frames as last time, actually, only with complete frames instead of the half-frames I’d gotten last time, so they were slightly cheaper. I got the scratch-resistance coating because I’m rough with glasses even when I’m trying to be careful. I also got the progressive lenses because I think seeing that little ‘extra’ lens there in the bottom might drive me over the edge. In other words, I got exactly what I got the last time.

The price tag, however, was markedly higher this time. I got hit to the tune of $400 +. After the paramedics had gotten my heartbeat stabilized and my breathing back to normal I stumbled back to the car (squinting) and sat there and wept. Four hundred dollars. Four. Hundred. For a damned pair of glasses with frames so thin you can barely see the metal. Four hundred dollars that I simply don’t have.

Why didn’t anyone ever warn me that getting old was going to be so damned EXPENSIVE?

Sep 7, 2008

Gustav, Poetry Friday, and Can I Catch A Break?

I've actually scratched a few things off my "Gotta Do" list but it's still nearly Critical Mass stage. No fair. I've got a dozen and three things to finish today, so naturally I'm sitting here writing. *g* I think I'd be doing otherwise but my mind is trying to jump on it's horse and ride off in all directions at once, so, in keeping with said mindset, how 'bout a scattershot post?


******************
Der StuccoBox (tm)

I managed to get the damaged hard drive from the StuccoBox (tm) back up and working! This involved a SATA data cable, and I just want to say right up front that there are two jobs for which large hands are a profound pain and hinderance. One is installing things in a computer, and the other is gynecology. I'm not sure under which heading "plugging in a tiny SATA cable into a motherboard in the depths of a computer" falls under, so I leave it to you to decide. The upside to this being that I now have access (again!) to the literally hundreds and hundreds of photos I'd saved there, regained access to the gobs of music Herr and Frau Stucco included therein, and I've now got a handy backup drive.

I also spent most of today struggling with moving the monstrously overheating beastie up to the top of my desk, which involved fishing wires up and through a credenza and hutch with a bent coathanger for a rig. Sweaty work, but we'll see if this new-found vista (heh, Windows pun) doesn't help this thing breathe better.

*******************

There's A Reason They Don't Call Them "HIMicanes.

Gustav was a bitch. We were, I think, on the eastern wall of the storm which was no longer a hurricane by the time it got this far inland but it still wrecked things good. We were without power for three very long days, and my in-laws didn't get power back for a week. They stayed with us which was interesting and not nearly as bad as I thought it'd be. Even got to bring my brother-in-law out to the Lagniappe Balloon Flight Saturday. Much fun was had by all.

I got some few photos, read TWO of the Dark Tower (S King) books (installments three and four,) and did a lot of sitting and sweating. It's interesting, a house with no electricity. Like camping only you get the tease of being in your own house that you can't use for anything but a tent. Lost lots of frozen and cooled foods, lost one smallish pine tree in the field, a few largish branches in the yard and a whole mountain of small ones but overall it was easy going. There were numerous houses with trees parked in their midst, and Mrs. I's boss' mother lost her mobile home when a tree fell LONGWAYS down it, tearing it quite literally in two.

I spent yesterday and today cleaning branches and debris, cutting grass and being devoured by fire ants, whose sole purpose in a flood is to pack up and scatter EVERYWHERE, so that no matter where you step you're in deep red shite. Oh, and my garden was FLATTENED, and what wasn't blown down by the wind was drowned by the excess rainfall. I guess this is the calling to till it all under and get ready for Fall.

For those of you who asked about the chickens, they send their love and best regards. They AND the coop survived totally intact; the only sign that there'd been a massive storm was the rainfall that had blown sideways under the roof and soaked their pine shavings bedding. Oh, and they've all been laying eggs with strange swirly patterns on them...

But, the yard is clean, I've got power and some food, and the in-laws are back in their own home. Five dogs and six cats plus any number of adult and teenage people in one house, no matter how big, is plenty too much. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.
















These were taken after the storm and before the roads got passable, which is a shame because I really wanted some shots of cars up to their roofs in floodwater, but alas, safety and the Five-0 stopped me.


*********************

Sod The Cane, Let's Get Out Of Here!


Did I mention the Lagniappe Balloon Flight? David got delayed a week in his insurance adjuster job because of the storm (ironic, eh Alannis?) so we got another flight in, an excellent one. We had along a pro photographer from down south and mom and son duo who spoke little if any Englais, which made the safety instructions rather problematic. The chase was interesting because everywhere we went the signs of extensive flooding were apparent--creeks suddenly become rivers, once green yards now lakes, trees no longer vertical. This one ended with a high-speed run down a semi-dry turn-row and a shaky but still quite serviceable landing in a full-grown field of sugarcane, which isn't nearly as fun as it sounds. The worst part of the day? Our accustomed breakfast at Leah's Pie Shop was cut off at the behest of a sibling in need of hurricane relief. Blast and confusticate!



[Photo by Mr. Joe Richard
Impressions: Photography By Joe Richard
(jojo8295 at centurytel dot net)]



********************

Okay kids, I really gotta get off my arse and get a few more things marked off my Gotta Do list before dark falls. I'll be catching up as I can over the next few days.

Sep 4, 2008

Louisiana After The Storm!*

Hi guys!

Long story to come, right now the short story. We survived intact at home, power was restored last night around 8:30 pm so I have A/C again, which means I can sleep again. Lost a refrigerator and two freezers worth of food, going to buy a generator soonest. The house is unscathed, the chicken coop even made it through without a scratch, tho plenty of water got in. No more Chicken Evacuations. I can't say the rest of the CenLa area survived as well--big chunks of the neighborhood and city are still flooded in places and missing power, fuel and ice (not to mention generators and common sense.)

I've even got a few interesting post-storm photos to share, but since my home cable and telephone services are still dead I'll have to beg your patience for just a little longer. Unfortunately everything at the office is working, including the internet AND the corporate intranet. Also unfortuantely the front doors here at my desk let in gallons of water Monday and the roof leaked badly in back so the whole place reeks of mildew.

Yay home health.

Did I mention it reeks up here?

_____________________
* With apologies to Max Ernst for maligning the title of one of his premier works.

Sep 1, 2008

The Great Chicken Evacuation of '08

Gustav, I hate you.

I spent a rained-on half hour this morning chasing wet chickens around the henyard so I could semi-carefully stuff them into a wire dog kennel. Why, do you ask? Because Mrs. I insisted that we turn the back patio into a Chicken Evacuation Shelter. Plywood over the screens, hay on the floor and an 8' long 1x1 screwed diagonally across one corner to serve as a perch for tonite. I even dragged one of the four-plex nest boxes out and set it up in the darkest corner for the broody hens to feel comfortable in.

Ever smell a wet hen? Ever have to clutch one to you to keep her from panicking and beating you to death with her wings? Ever have to try to explain to six chickens crammed into a small wire kennel why they're being fast-marched across the yard in the pouring rain?

Gah.

Jim, if you're out there and reading this, don't come north or you're gonna get some fowl play.


In other news, my estimation of everyone in the world being evil has been changed.

My truck isn't running right now. We went to the local lumberyard yesterday mid-afternoon to pick up four sheets of plywood and realised too late that the CX-7's hatch is just slightly too small to fit a 4' wide sheet in it, even diagonally.

Before I could get my cellular out to call my brother and tell him to bring his truck a complete stranger drove up and asked us if we needed help. Not loading, but help bringing the sheets home.

I had to stand there and swallow a few times before I answered in the thankful affirmative. He ran inside to get a plug with which to make a house-feed circuit for his new generator, and while we waited with shocked and bemused smiles on our faces ANOTHER guy walked by and asked if we needed help bringing our plywood home. I couldn't believe it, I honestly couldn't.

So. Gustav, you're forgive this time for the chicken wrangling because you also managed to show me that there are honestly a few people in this world who still really care to help strangers in need.

Lesson received.

(If you're curious, our Good Samaritan went home with a dozen freshly laid yard eggs and some gas money.)

Oh Crap.

Jim Cantore is currently broadcasting from Houma.

If you've ever watched a single ten-minute snippet of The Weather Channel you know who Jim Cantore is. He's a freaking storm magnet. Wherever Jim Cantore goes the storm follows, leaving a trail of complete and utter destruction. Jim Cantore leaves footprints, but they're invariably wiped away by hundred and fifty mile an hour winds, thirty feet of floodwater, lava flows or tornadoes riding piggyback on hurricanes.

Jim Cantore is currently in Houma, La. For those of you who don't know, there's really only two salient facts you need to know about Houma other than it's pronounced HO-muh.

  1. Houma is about fifty miles off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, just west of center of the state.
  2. I was born in Houma almost 41 years ago.


As I stated before, where goeth Cantore, there goeth the storm. Jim Cantore is the embodiment of city-wide eradication. He's everyone's favourite doomsayer, and it's his presence that brings doom. Lots of doom. Truckloads of doom. Oodles of doom.

Jim Cantore is about to get the city of my birth wiped off the face of the Earth.*

___________________
* I swear, Cantore, if you come any further north I'm going to go out, storm or no and hunt you down. I'm not about to lose my house (and my chickens) just so you can get a good action shot.