Monday, April 30, 2012

Yard Sale Recap

Well, it went a lot better than I thought, and I actually enjoyed myself more than I was expecting.

There could not have been two better days for a yard sale. (I’m gonna call it a yard sale, because, technically, all our junk was out on our lawn and driveway. The garage was where we hid the cash box.) Glorious brilliant blue skies with absolutely no hint of cloud anywhere. The crisp chill of the early mornings prevented me from breaking a sweat hauling all our boxes and big-ticket items into position. Then, the sun rose high in the sky and heated everything up, which helped draw out the bargain hunters. Also helped Little One’s lemonade sales, too. And towards the end of the day it cooled again, just in time for me to pack everything up that didn’t move.

And boy did we have traffic. Turns out we were the third house in a row on our block, and that was a big selling point for customers casing the town. I estimated that 200 people came by Saturday, and about 50-60 on Sunday. Our friends piggy-backed on our yard sale, and they managed to unload most of their stuff the first day. While we didn’t sell everything I’m happy; I guess we got rid of two-thirds to three-quarters of what we put out. For the first time in three years I can touch the back wall of my garage!

Money? Well, perhaps we were a bit optimistic aiming for $375 (half of what my neighbor said he made the year before). But we didn’t do too bad. First day we made $220, second day, $55, for a grand total of $275. Our friends made $205 and $14 for $219. And get this – Little One, manning her first lemonade and ice tea stand, brought in $38.75! That’s 155 servings she handed out. We’re super proud of her. What a great learning experience. Friday she spread the word among her school friends and even called their homes that night to follow up! Selling-wise, she started off shy, but by Sunday afternoon she was approaching browsers boldly asking if they’d like a glass of lemonade.

I learned that books and stuffed animals don’t move. Clothes and toys move a bit, as long as they’re in real good condition. Big items tend to go fast. Strollers, baby furniture, high chairs, glass tables, all go quickly. So do electronics and DVDs (though DVDs had a slow start). One guy just looked a box of DVDs of my friend’s and offered $50 for the whole bunch. Our only disappointment was a small but heavy computer workstation desk that’s been in residence in the garage for 5 years. One woman studied it for a half-hour, taking pics of it with her camera, thinking about getting it for her son in college. But it wasn’t to be. She said she’d come back, and we didn’t see her again.

Learned a lot about people, too. Some will nickel and dime you to death (Lady: “Would you take 50 cents for this hardcover book?” Me, thinking, “Really? Can’t hand me over a dollar for that brand new book I paid $10 for and read once?”) Some happily fork over the listed price without attempting to haggle. And half the time I can’t anticipate which category the person coming up to me will fall into. Then there were the “drive-bys”, especially on Sunday afternoon, who would slow down in front of your house as they drove by, quickly scan the remaining items on the yard, then forget you and floor it on out. Must’ve seen fifteen or twenty of them as the yard sale was ending.

Strangest moment: As I was beginning to bring items out Saturday morning, day one of the sale, 90 minutes before it officially started, some older dude pulls up and walks over to me: “Got any knives?” Uh, no. “Military knives?” Still no. “Military artifacts or antiques?” Sorry, no. Then, Sunday afternoon, as I’m packing the few couple of boxes to put in my wife’s car to give to charity, another older dude comes up and asks me the SAME EXACT QUESTIONS! Weird, this military knife subculture that must cruise yard sales internationally.

Had a normal looking middle-aged dad on the make for vintage toys. Also, a college kid looking like he was heading for Spring Break bought one of my friend’s wife’s scarves. And he was completely serious about it. Reminded me of the kid from 40 Year Old Virgin trying to buy those platform shoes, only less goofy.

Our friends, while we did help them make $219, were incredibly awesomely helpful to us this weekend. My buddy clipped our entire line of hedges, and man, this was rain-forest, need-a-machete thickness. And his wife, my wife’s good friend, brought us over pizza for Saturday lunch and cupcakes for an afternoon treat on Sunday.

Where was Patch in all this? My three-and-a-half year old had her ups and downs, but she charmed lots and lots of folks by insisting on wearing a bevy of Princess outfits as she bounced and ran about. We had a lot of children running through the front and back yards, all afternoon, and Patch stayed right in the mix with all of them. Sunday night my wife took the girls through a McDonald’s drive thru for vanilla ice cream cones – a favorite treat of theirs for some reason. Me, I soaked in a tub overflowing with Epsom salt, trying to get the knots out of my exhausted muscles.

It was a learning experience, we made some cash, we got rid of some junk, and we all had a good time, more or less. Probably won’t do it next year, due to the simple fact we won’t accumulate enough big-sell items, but I’m sure we’ll revisit the whole yard sale thing again at some future time.

The Princess

and the Entrepreneur

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Morning Dew

Which version do you prefer –


Or this?

I kinda like both, for different reasons …

PS – I’m whipped from the yard sale, and it’s only half-way done!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Garage Sale

Yikes! We’re doing a garage sale this weekend, part of a “town-wide garage sale” event. They’ll be sixty other sales going on. On my block it’ll just be us and my immediate neighbor. Judging by last year, there should be a lot of people in my town this weekend – a lot – all looking to score some bargain deals. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure, right?

Last year was a little warmer and sunnier, if I remember correctly, than this weekend is forecasted to be. But that’s not stopping my oldest daughter. She’s bent on getting a lemonade / ice tea stand going, and making a profit with it, even at 25 cents a cup. Tonight she’ll be on the phone to half-a-dozen friends, letting them know about the sale, to stop by with the parents, and to make sure they come by thirsty.

Other than the lemonade stand, we’re going to have about a hundred pre-toddler outfits of all shapes, sizes, colors, and whatnot. A pickup truck-load of toys still in decent condition. We have 35 DVDs (some still in their original packing!) and about 75 “popular” books (i.e., not the weird outta print stuff I read). Miscellaneous stuff, a big fan we never use, some furniture. Truth be told, we still need to go through the basement and the actual garage itself to see what we have to sell.

My neighbor made $750 last year. That sounds optimistic to me; if we make half that I guess I’ll consider it a success. But who knows? My wife’s got the sales gene, so I’m kinda interested in seeing her at work.

It’ll be a busy, action-packed, longgggggg weekend. The sale is from 9-4 both Saturday and Sunday, so all the errands and chores and duties and responsibilities we normally have will have to be shoved outside that time frame. The bills still need to be paid, the laundry still needs to be done, the dry cleaning still needs to be picked up, the groceries still need to be bought. I’m also an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion this Sunday, so my services will be demanded elsewhere from the garage sale for an hour that day.

On another note, I finished Jeff Shaara’s The Last Full Measure last night. Goose bumps, chills, etc. Don’t have a grip just yet on a review; I don’t believe I even reviewed Gods and Generals here, so maybe a twofer is in the near future. Anyway, bibliophiles can look forward to that soon. And now begins my perennial conundrum, What to read next? Not that I’ll be reading anything this weekend …

Well, if you know me, stop on by. If none of my junk is treasure to you, than perhaps you might like a cup of lemonade?

Thursday, April 26, 2012


The happiest fish in the world …

… are fishes the Little One creates!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Proof 101

So I’m kinda bored at work today – it’s slow, I’m caught up, and all my projects are in stand-by mode, awaiting action from others. I’m playing around on the scientific calculator on the PC when this pops into my head –

When you square a number and subtract one from the result, is it always the same as if you multiply one less than the original number with one more?

For example,

(30 x 30) – 1 = 899
29 x 31 = 899


(4733 x 4733) – 1 = 22,401,288
4732 x 4734 = 22,401,288

Is this true in all instances?

Intuitively I could see it was so, but how would you prove it?

Okay, math whizzes step aside. I’m coated with nearly two decades of rust in the math department. It’s hard to flex the math muscles; I’ve probably regressed to somewhere near early high school, depending on the type of high school you’re talking about.

But to quote a co-worker of mine, “I’m proud of myself!” I did it! I proved that the above holds true in all cases, and it only took me a couple of minutes.


It’s easy!

The first step is to translate everything into variables. So the two equations become

x^2 – 1 = y
(x – 1) (x + 1) = y

Set them equal to each other and you get

x^2 – 1 = (x – 1) (x + 1)

It’s now a simple algebraic equation. Expand, solve, and you find

x^2 – 1 = x^2 – x + x – 1
x^2 – 1 = x^2 – 1

So, yes, it’s true in ALL cases.

Like the Tin Man, I feel like suddenly I’m walking on the Yellow Brick Road, all squeaks and dings, but at least I’m moving!

Now, for homework –

Can the cube of a number less one ever be equal to three numbers around the original number, multiplied together?


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tale of a Toilet

About two weeks ago my toilet starting flushing all by itself. Not completely flushing, though. The bowl didn’t completely empty, and the toilet would run for about a minute instead of the usual three or so.

My first line of defense was to ignore it.

Then it happened again.

This prompted a greater awareness from me. Which means, I actually thought about it for a few minutes. Then I started noticing it self-flushing more and more. In fact, it seemed to flush itself every 20 to 30 minutes. Once I realized this frequency, then I became alarmed. If you figure a regular toilet flush uses about a gallon of water (I guess; I have no idea), then this malfunction was costing me a gallon an hour, twenty-four gallons a day.

Now, twenty-four-gallons-a-day may not seem like much to you, but it does to me. Again, off the top of my head, doesn’t it seem that twenty-four gallons would fill your bathtub? It’s like this toilet was costing me a bath a day, and based on my water bill and a five-minute investigation, a bath costs me about a dollar in water. So the self-flusher was costing me a dollar a day, or $7 total by the time I realized all this.

I could live with a dollar a day. I can’t live with $30 a month. $365 a year would kill me. That’s like three trips to the grocery store to feed my hungry hordes at home.

A few more days went by, and now I was $10 poorer, through no fault of my own (save the fact I didn’t do anything to fix the dang thing).

Then the wife noticed it.

Action was demanded.

I went into the bathroom, got down on my knees with a flashlight, and examined the thing. Between self-flushes you could hear a slight trickle. Not a steady flow, but a couple of tinkling drops every couple of seconds. Water was not leaking out of the bowl or the tank or around the floor (thankfully! – I once rented a house with a few buddies that had an actual hole in the floor of the upstairs bathroom, right next to the toilet). No choice now but to roll up my sleeves – and lift the porcelain lid off the tank.

In theory I know how a toilet works. In practice, I am two left arms with ten thumbs. Believe me, I know. About a year ago the downstairs toilet needed that level thingie replaced, so, feeling manly, I went to Home Depot, bought a toilet repair/replacement kit, and cracked open my tool box. I drained the tank, removed the old parts, put the new ones in, followed the directions to a T … and it just wouldn’t flush. I even removed everything and started over again. No luck. Wound up calling in a plumber and spending $250 to get everything working.

I vowed that would never happen again.

So it was with trepidation I glanced around the interior of the toilet tank. Ah! Intuitively, I knew what the problem was. The flapper, that circular rubber thing attached to the chain to the toilet handle, the thing that lets the water out of the tank to flush the bowl – that’s where the water was leaking. And after it drip-drip-dripped for nineteen minutes, enough water would have left the tank to make the tower thingie pour more water back in. That’s the reason for the self-flushing!

Proud, I realized I had to get my hands went. Literally. The old flapper looked about twenty-years old and appeared warped, noticeably so. My gut told me that replacing this rubber piece would solve the problem. I unhinged it from the base and the chain and dried it off. Time to go to Home Depot.

Well, not just yet. The old flapper rode shotgun with me in the Impala all afternoon. I found excuses not to go to Home Depot – too far, out of the way, need one of the girls to go with me, etc. All the while the toilet brooded quietly, unusable, in the upstairs bathroom, a coat hanger forbidding the tower thingie from filling the flapper-less tank.

Four more days went by. Total cost to date: $15.

By this time it was mid-week and I didn’t foresee the going-to-the-dentist-ness that is going-to-Home-Depot materialize until this weekend. The wife was definitely not happy with an inoperative toilet brooding strategically between all our bedrooms. Neither was I, so I put the old flapper back on and figured I’d revisit the battle scene this Saturday.

What do you think happened?

By Odin’s Beard the toilet works fine now! Just fine. No more self-flushing. No more wasting water. It flushes when you move the handle, and that’s it. Not a peep, not a drip, nothing when not in use.

Must be the magic I work with my hands, I guess. So, for now, we’ll keep everything just the way it was, and everything will continue working normally and perfectly forever and ever.

Monday, April 23, 2012


Got to work an hour early because I had to drive to one of the local hospitals at lunch time for a lung scan. It has been one year since my last. On a positive note, I no longer have that pinching pain when inhale deeply. I still have a “border” to how far I can inhale, but it doesn’t hurt to do it.

While there, they made me wait nearly ninety minutes before I went in. Great, ’cuz I’m on the clock. I inhaled radioactive gas for five minutes with a bib on. “You don’t want to go back to work with a hot shirt,” the tech told me, and I agreed wholeheartedly. Then I went into one of those big MRI-thingies for twenty minutes or so as it rotated and took pictures and scans and whatnot of my lung functions.

Then I went to a second MRI-thingie, only this time they injected me with radioactive dye. This was only for five minutes or so. Then I rushed back to work for another hour-and-a-half, then I left to meet the wife and little ones at a local eyeglass emporium. Yes, for the first time in six years, I have a new pair of eyeglasses. Well, I will in about a week’s time.

Next, I rushed home to get the girls showered and dried and into jammies while the wife made us all a late dinner. Now, I’ve rushed down here to write this, because I want to rush back up two floors to watch some tube with the Mrs. And if she’s sleeping, I’ll rush into the tub and rush towards the climax of The Last Full Measure.

Sense a pattern here?

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”
- Lao Tzu

Sunday, April 22, 2012


They had toured through the camps all morning, and Grant now turned down a smaller road, a sudden shift in direction, guided the procession along a brief cut through thin woods. He glanced at Lincoln, saw the President ducking under a low tree limb, and said, “Excuse me, sir. I thought you might enjoy visiting one of the units of the Eighteenth Corps. They equipped themselves quite well in the last fight, captured a good number of the enemy’s guns.”

Lincoln nodded happily, was clearly enjoying himself, said, “Whatever you say, Mr. Grant. Whatever you say.”

The trees now gave way to open ground, and they rode up a short rise, then beyond, rows of tents, and now Lincoln understood, saw for himself why Grant had brought him this way. Through the rows of tents, from around the small fires, men began to move out into the road, filling it, blocking the way, began now to cheer, loud and boisterous, hands reaching out toward Lincoln, his name echoing across the camp like church bells. He touched the hands, reached out as far as he could, and Grant knew, watching them, that Lincoln had already touched each of them, all of them. It was a camp of men who had volunteered as so many had volunteered, to pick up a gun and fight and die for their country.

But there was a difference. That these men would fight, and fight so well, was a surprise to many, and many still would not believe it. But Grant saw it in Lincoln’s face, there was no surprise at all, that Lincoln had believed from the beginning that war was color-blind. Grant let the horse drift to the side, let the troops move past him, a wave of blue uniforms, the sea of black faces pushing forward, the cries and the joy and the tears filling the air, flowing up and around the smiling face of the President.

- From The Last Full Measure, by Jeff Shaara, chapter 26, pages 311-312.

What an excellent read, in all sense of the word!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

11 Years!

The observation that life moves faster the older you get has now been verified and certified as true by Your Truly. Eleven years ago today I married my dearest darling. So much has happened, so fast, so quickly, a blur, really, that I either shake my head or pinch myself – often both – to remind myself that it all hasn’t been a crazy dream.

Like today, my wedding day fell on a Saturday. A lot cooler, a little more overcast. The action happened about thirty miles northwest of where I write this. We exchanged vows in one of those newer, circular churches (not our ideal), and had the reception at a historic, dark-wood inn in the dark woods (our ideal). Everyone was on best behavior and everyone had a great time. Especially me and the wife. We did our first dance to Sinatra’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” Her family, the majority flying in from south and central US, stayed in some of the rooms on the second floor. The next morning, we packed our bags, threw them into a rental SUV, drove to the airport, and flew out to spend a week in Napa Valley.

Good times.

Since then … life. Made some money, bought a house, had a daughter, lost a lot of money, had a second daughter, spent three weeks in the hospital, lost a job, got a job, lost a job, got a better job. Fortunately the wife has had a steady incline in her career path, a positive 10 degrees were I were to graph it somehow. And despite all the headaches and hassles, late at night, when everyone’s asleep except for me, I’m glad I have these four walls and my three wonderful, beautiful girls.

Tonight a friend is going to watch the little ones while me and the wife go out for a bite. Nothing too fancy as WE’RE GOING TO PARIS NEXT MONTH! But dinner out with my honey sans children will be a godsend for our relationship. Maybe a movie to follow, maybe not. Can’t remember the last time we did it, but the last time we did dinner-and-a-movie by ourselves was the end of June. (The movie was Super 8, so I think my wife threw me a bone there.)

Anyway, Happy Anniversary my dear! I love you, and I’m still both thankful and wonderfully puzzled you Said Yes.

Friday, April 20, 2012


Hey, got my blood work back from the lab and spoke with my doctor today. This is the first work-up I’ve had since I got out of the hospital three years ago. I’ve been worried a bit lately, and wanted to get all checked out before the Paris trip. Thanks to a grade-Z diet based on short-term emotional pleasure and a sedentary lifestyle which avoids most physical activity in favor of the cerebral, i.e., reading while lounging on the couch, floor, bed, or bathtub, I was worried about how my numbers would turn out. I was afraid that my doctor would get on the phone and yell, “How can you live with lard flowing through your veins!”

Well, it’s not all bad. There’s work to do, mind you, but it’s not as bad as I thought it would be.

The worst news – the triglycerides. Through the roof. A tidy 581 mg/dL, or nearly four times the maximum figure doctors – and living veins, hearts, and arteries – like to see. So I need to skip the rice, pasta, and chips (simple carbs) and up the veggies and lean protein, like fish and turkey. But this result was expected. Also, since my doctor’s appointment two weeks ago, I’ve been hitting the exercise bike, doing yoga, and throwing the weights around. All that’ll drop the triglyceride levels, too.

The good, unexpected news – my total cholesterol level. It’s 182, right smack in the zone for health, 125 to 200 mg/dL. That shocked me, and all I can say is, it must be something someway somehow due to omega-3s, which I take religiously (2 grams a day).

The expected challenges – getting my HDLs up. HDLs are the good cholesterol. Mine is sitting in the basement at 28, and that number needs to be at least 40 mg/dL to put a smile on my doctor’s face. Aerobic exercise – the exercise bike – plus losing weight, adding fiber, and eating more fish will help that.

The oddities – a deficiency in vitamin D and a slightly low blood platelet count. To rectify the vitamin D, she wants me to take 2,000 IU of a supplement for a month, then drop down to 1,000 a month. Platelets are the thingies in your bloodstream which help with clotting. A residual effect of the coumadin I was on for months and months and months? Dunno. She’s not too concerned at the moment, so we let that count slide.

So, more blood will be taken in three months time. See how good I can be between now and mid-July in terms of my diet, my exercise, and my relaxation techniques. I’m dying to know how better I can do! Well, you know what I really mean to say …

10,000, Again

I’m now about half-way through Jeff Shaara’s The Last Full Measure, reading till almost midnight last night. In bed, beginning to doze off, I suddenly realized: all those dates, the hundred or so names, the two dozen most important battles, the four-year-plus timeline – it all started to come together. I could envision this whole Civil War thing from a macro point of view and could zoom in to any year, month, event.

Or I might just have been dreaming.

Anyway, I got to thinking about the Rule of 10,000, originally blogged about by me here (though of course this is not my idea or discovery). I think it is a very powerful idea or discovery. The dozen or so solid chunks of subject knowledge I have, I often wonder where on this 10,000 hour continuum I sit.

Not counting The Last Full Measure, I just quickly and conservatively calculated I’m 88 hours in the Civil War off and on over the past six months. That includes eleven books and a couple of shows on the History, Discovery, and Military channels. I watched three DVDs of Ken Burns massive documentary (leaving about a dozen unwatched).

Let’s see … 88 divided by 10,000 is … zero-point-eight-eight percent of the way towards mastery! Wow. All this time and effort, and I don’t even have a one-percent handle on the subject. A dozen hours shy. Last Full Measure should take me another six hours, and the book after that another six, and then I’ll be a one-percenter.

Frustrating and exciting at the same time. Since I’m a hopper, I will never master the subject. Musically, guitar-wise, I’m probably at forty or fifty percent. Science fiction literature-wise, ditto. Physics, maybe a very rusty twenty-five percent. It kills me not to be proficient in a single thing, but, hey, that’s the goal I work towards. Before I leave this earth-bound existence, dammit, I will master something!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Waltz in Overdrive

The girls and I listened to this during dinner tonight. Hopefully, my faux conducting didn’t distract them or embarrass me to the point where they could not appreciate the masterpiece suffusing our dining room.

First thirty seconds is, hands down, the most dramatic in all of Classical Music (Wagner excepted, of course).

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Okay, so if you work for my company and the owners graciously lend you two grand to pay your bills, and you skip out three months later and find work elsewhere after paying back a little less than half, don’t call me up looking for your W2 – on the last day to get your taxes done, too, way to go champ – and then ask me, “Can you fax it to my office?”, because I’m going to google your fax number and find out your place of business and send that info up the chain to get the sheriff to enact that wage garnish court order so we can get back all of our money.

Got it?

Get a life, loser.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Reading Speeds

How fast I read a book – well, I guess, how fast anyone reads a book – is based on a couple of things. Number of pages is probably most basic and most obvious. Interest level, too. Part of “interest level” is anticipation, and that tends to play a huge role in my personal reading speed. In fact, The Last Full Measure, Jeff Shaara’s Civil War novelization focusing on the last year-and-a-half of that conflict, has a big anticipatory flavor for me. Primarily because of my admiration for U. S. Grant, which continues to grow as I read more and more in this genre.

Anyway, I was wondering to myself as I was doin’ spreadsheets ’n stuff in the cubicle, what was my fastest read and what was my slowest? Turns out those are tough questions, even for a bibliophile as myself.

I think my record is reading Asimov’s The Gods Themselves. I read the whole thing, in one sitting, in the bathtub one summer day in the mid-90s. Eight hours. Yes, I spent eight hours in the bathtub. You have to understand, though, that my apartment had no air conditioning, so that was like lounging in a pool for me. Plus, I like baths.

There was a stretch two summers ago where I read six novels in fifteen days. While none were of Biblical proportions, they all had at least 150 pages in their paperback incarnations. They were –

The Book of Skulls by Robert Silverberg
The High Crusade by Poul Anderson
Derai by E. C. Tubb
Hawkshaw by Ron Goulart (okay, this was like 120 pages)
Killerbowl by Gary K. Wolf
Time Out of Joint by Philip K. Dick

What about long reads? Meaning, slow reads? Well, speaking of Biblical proportions, the first and only time I read the Bible cover-to-cover took me two months exactly. And this is the Catholic Bible, which contains seven more books than yer average bible. I think that’s a good benchmark.

So … my first go with The Lord of the Rings took a whole summer, about three months. This was when I was eleven or twelve, so I don’t have definitive dates. My second reading of Tolkien’s masterpiece a little over a year ago took me five weeks. Similarly, each of George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire tomes took me six weeks or so. Richard Adams’ Shardik took an even six weeks, too.

A couple of books took me a little longer to read, somewhere in the order of four months, give or take a week or two. It’s not that I lost interest and stopped reading, no, I kept at it, chiseling away, piece by piece, to glimpse the elegant sculpture beneath. Or perhaps a better metaphor is eating an elephant, one bite at a time. Though I’d probably never revisit them, I’m not disappointed with the time invested.

Those books are –

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Imagica by Clive Barker

Happy reading!

Read fast, but read well, my friends!

Monday, April 16, 2012

My New Ringtone

But only for a particular incoming phone number ...

Hat tip: One of the guys at work.

Silver Sphere

Am I a coward for not wanting to climb into one of those silver spheres, get strapped in, and take a one-way ride down to the ocean floor? That’s what I kept thinking, and no one else even bothered to ask me that question. Or question me on my motives. Or even say, hey, man, you don’t have to do this, you know?

Sure, the Superintelligence assured us of things wonderful. All six or seven of us, scattered across the globe. Allow yourself to sit inside that smooth polished shiny metallic ball, a tight, cramped, claustrophobic three feet across, and be prepared for the mysteries of the universe! Had to be that small, they said, to defeat the incredible pressures not just five miles beneath the waves. Heck, those pressures are a feather’s glance compared to the wrenching tidal forces inside the galactic gateways.

I don’t want to do it! But I committed myself, I guess. A hopeless failure as a musician, a guy who kinda sorta knew Zappa way back when, a session man, a man with a long but entirely useless resume. How did this happen? How did I get caught up in this? How can I get out? Must a man be trapped eternally for the stupid choices he doesn’t even remember consciously making?

Word’s already coming back, and it’s not good. A Russian, he died on the trip down. Didn’t even get far, too, something about a crack in the sphere’s trimline. Oh, God, those things are supposed to be beyond that sort of thing. I mean, they were crafted by the Superintelligence! Well, designed by them. We built them, but we’re only human as the saying goes. Sadly, only human.

Or maybe that’s just the rumor. Humans are prone to all sorts of nonsense like that; rumors, I mean. There’s also word that someone else, another Russian if I’m not mistaken, he actually made the trip! Disappeared off the sea bed – poof! God knows where he’ll show up next, or when. He could be in Paradise right now. Or he could be in Hell. But odds are it’s Paradise, at least if you believe the literature of the Old Ones, the Folks from Across the Skies. Ai! I don’t know what I believe, except that I have to buckle in and drop.

Then there’s the danger of being stuck in the mud. But – you say, partly to cheer me up, that is, when anyone broaches the subject with me, which is never – but, you say, surely the technology accounts for that. Why else would they send you five miles down? Why not some launching pad at Cape Canaveral? Why not your backyard? Why why why why why. A thousand whys, except the one why that counts.

I don’t want to do it. But I have to. I am so scared but no one seems to even think it could be so.

- Weird dream bordering but not quite classified as a nightmare, I had just a half-hour ago. Woke up with all these thoughts racing in my head. But the most disturbing is – what is this a metaphor for?

Saturday, April 14, 2012


Tonight, at 11:40 pm, will be the exact 100th year anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.

Actually, it will be the exact moment the massive luxury liner collided sideways with the iceberg. It sunk some two hours and 40 minutes after. But you don’t need me to rehash any of the facts. Most of us, I think, are aware of them, thanks in no small part to the work of James Cameron.

We watched a special on the Titanic last night on NatGeo. Cameron pulled together a group of twenty or so experts and debated the final events of that terrible night, based in part of the photographic evidence from dives to wreckage sight. Cameron himself made 33 dives (!) to that graveyard at the bottom of the northern Atlantic. It was entertaining and informative, and his fascination and passion with the subject was onhand for all to see (and admire, I must admit). The special ended with revised animated footage of the Titanic’s fate over those couple of hours.

I can understand that fascination and passion, but unfortunately I can’t share it. Whenever I see an animated Titanic break up and twist and glide two-and-a-half miles to the ocean floor, all I think of are the hundreds of innocent men, women, and, yes, children, trapped and dying within it. Therefore, I can’t smile with glee watching the Titanic’s mysteries unfold to be solved.

I did read wikipedia’s article on the sinking, and found it morbidly interesting. It’s here, if you’re so inclined. What a terrible, terrible, and utterly avoidable tragedy. In fact, one of the better segments of the Cameron special was a roundtable discussion of what they’d do if they were Captain Smith post-iceberg-impact. Ideas such as “spend the two hours tearing the deck apart to make more rafts” to “put all the inflatable vests down into the flooding holds for additional bouyancy” to “evacuate to the iceberg” to “steer backwards towards that mysterious ship on the horizon” were floated and debated. Good stuff.

It was mentioned that passageways to the lower decks, where third-class passengers resided during the voyage, were barred and locked, for fear of a mad rush to the insufficient numbers of lifeboats. If true, how heart-renderingly, horrifyingly vile. If me and my family were traveling on that ship that night, that’s where we’d be. Statistically, there would be a 66% chance my children would have perished, a 54% chance my wife would have, and an 84% chance I would not have made it. Of all the ways one could go that night, none are easy and none are preferable to any other (except, perhaps, to have been killed instantly in a boiler explosion).

So, pause a moment before bed tonight, and offer up a small prayer for the 1,514 innocent lives that were lost on this night, a hundred years ago.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Heart of Darkness

Just read through Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness over two nights this week. For those who aren’t in the know, this is a longish short story or a shortish novel written in 1899 upon which Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now was famously based. Of course, Coppola updated it to the Vietnam War era. The action originally takes place in the African Congo at the close of the 19th century. Instead of assassinating renegade Colonel Kurtz, who’s gone native and insane, Conrad’s protagonist must find out for an ivory exporting company what’s happened to Mr. Kurtz, who’s gone native and insane.

I think. I read the story, but I am not quite sure what I read.

The same was true the first time I visited the novella, in the late 80s. It was an odd read back then, as if the prose was reading me. I was purely a passive passenger on this trip, and the words flew through me off the page. It was as if I was not consciously doing the reading; the work was, well, working its way through me, I a rat on a treadmill, and damned me if I wanted to slow down or try to comprehend what was unfolding in this imaginal realm.

Perhaps a re-read, now, nearly twenty-five years later, would allow me a mastery of the text, or at least a toe-hold upon it. Twenty-five years more mature, older, wiser, and if not wiser, certainly more experienced.

I was wrong. Same thing happened.

Now, this is not a unique occurrence for me. I get a similar effect reading H.P. Lovecraft. I’d love to read every single thing that author wrote, but whenever I crack open a Lovecraftian work, the same sensation of being read to instead of doing the reading overfills me. Now, Conrad is not Lovecraft (vice versa, rather, chronologically speaking), despite the fascination with both with, uh, darker things of the soul. But there is a similarity in the writing style between Heart of Darkness and any given Lovecraft work that I can’t quite pin down yet I know is there.

Is it the ponderousness of the prose? The characters who speak unlike real human beings speak? The run-on sentences and paragraphs that twist and turn back upon themselves, or else leap-frog over dead-ends in these literary labyrinths into completely different and unrelated channels? Is it the careful analysis of a page-sized chunk of exposition, once, twice, thrice, and the horrible realization that I had no clue what I just read, what messages the author was trying to place in my mind? Was it characters declaiming, “the horror! the horror!” and I, gentle reader that I fancy myself to be, having absolutely no knowledge of horror save my own experiential?

All this, and more.

Ergo, my verdict on Heart of Darkness: to pull out a trite 21st-century-ism – I. Don’t. Get. It.

I have an omnibus of Conrad’s work that feels good in my dry but not calloused hands. There are a couple of short stories plus a few essays that appeal to me, at least from their titles from the Table of Contents. To date I have read no other Joseph Conrad, so Heart of Darkness may be the exception and not the rule to his writing. So, open-minded voyager I am, I will give him another chance. There’s an essay on the Warrior-Soul I may crack, and there’s a famous story of his, The N-word of the Narcissus, which I think I’ll put on the list for a summer read.

So, though I won’t write off Conrad the writer, I give Heart of Darkness, this “great” work of literature, a C-minus. That is, if you’ll allow these few hundred words of hubris from me, a nobody.

(PS – when someone like T. S. Eliot includes fragments from this work in his epic poetry, it makes my skin crawl to type the above paragraph.)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Drama Queen

“When I eat a butterscotch candy, it’s like the Civil War in my mouth.”

- Little One, age 7

Not quite sure what it means, but it really made her mom and I laugh ...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


So the New York Times now puts the adjective presumed in front of the word assassin regarding Lee Harvey Oswald. Guess no one over there read Case Closed by Gerald Posner. I did, maybe the tenth or twelfth book on the subject for me, and it fundamentally changed the way I viewed the events of 11-22-63.

An even stronger nail in the conspiracy coffin would be Vincent Bugliosi’s mammoth study of the assassination, Reclaiming History. Might be I’ll read it this November if the mood particularly strikes me. If Bugliosi cut his teeth a decade earlier than he did (he rose to fame putting Manson behind bars), the Warren Commission report could’ve been managed by someone with scads and oodles more competancy.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Searchers by Alan LeMay


Finished Alan LeMay’s The Searchers last night. I liked it. But I must be frank: it was a brutal read. Grim, gritty, and dark, much, much more grimmer, grittier, and darker than the John Ford – John Wayne film. As a result, I never knew what was going to happen at any given point in the story, despite watching the flick numerous times. And I didn’t have a gut sense of how I’d rate it when I finished.

So, I give it a solid A, though it traversed B and C territory as often as Amos and Martin travelled the deserts, plains, and mountains of Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming.

Instead of playing the Good Paragraph / Bad Paragraph game, lemme just bullet point stuff I found interesting –

(1) Amos in the book is Ethan in the film, John Wayne’s gruff and grumbly character (was there any other type?) Though most of Amos’ dialogue seems directly written for Wayne, the literary character comes off more of a single-minded humorless lunkhead than the movie version. But – I kinda liked him, enough to spend 223 pages with him.

(2) Barely 25 pages in the author comes out and says Amos loved his brother’s wife! Well, he has Martin Pauley recognize it for us. This is only hinted at in the film, however broad or veiled one may want to interpret such hints. I just found it a bit shocking at its explicitness, being used to the Ford version.

(3) The book is much, much, much, much more violent than the film, obviously because of what was allowed to be released to the general moviegoing public in the mid-50s. A little too-vivid descriptions of scalpings and settler massacres, and I was kinda surprised at the violence inflicted upon horses and cattle, by both man and Mother Nature. The 19th century frontier was no place for the weak of heart, male or female.

(4) LeMay’s work is gloriously – and uncomfortably – anti-PC. Indians are not the glorified, peace-loving, wise spiritual guardians of the earth that every single college campus history professor would like to convince you. Even I – as immune to PC as anyone, I like to think – even I felt weird reading LeMay’s descriptions of the “savages” and their behaviors, to the point where I would look up over my shoulder in case the thought police were recording me through some tiny bug in the base of the lamp by my chair.

(5) God, I love yellowed old paperbacks. This one was so yellowed and so old I think either Ford or Wayne – possibly both – may have pawed through it nearly sixty years ago.

(6) The book ends a bit different than the movie. SPOILERS: In print, Amos dies at the end, armed and galloping down on a squaw he thinks is the long-lost Debbie. Well, it ain’t, and Pocahontas unloads a pistol into his chest, and old Amos goes down hard, rolls over, dead. No final words of wisdom, though his final dialogue with Martin (and snatches throughout the book) are poignant. Truthfully, that surprised me.

(7) What also surprised me was how surprising the book in general was. Yeah, the plots pretty simple, but the trail was longer and harder, with more dead-ends, and taking a much more devastating toll on the searcher than what you experience in the movie. Kinda opposite of what’s the norm, I think, when you examine book-film duality. Something to think further upon.

(8) I found the humor of the film sorely lacking in the book. Now, I knew I was in for a grim, gritty, etc, journey through the Old West. What I now realize is how much of a genius John Ford was. A lot of characters from the book were morphed and combined to form the movie roles. What he and his screenwriters did to the captain of the Texas Rangers was amazing. They took a stodgy, boring, one-dimensional military dude and transformed him into a gun-wielding, badge-wearing Reverend played by John Wayne buddy and John Ford veteran character actor Ward Bond. He almost deserves his own movie, but he’s better here, a comedic foil to the aforementioned heavy thematic material.

(9) Took longer than I imagined it would to read, but I enjoyed every minute reading it. I think it ran me about seven or eight hours over ten days, when I was expectin’ to take a week with it. But that’s okay, just an observation for what it’s worth.

(10) Would I read it again? Maybe, maybe not. If I was a man who fancied playing odds, I’d lay them as 3-2 against. But – who knows? We only surf this globe for seventy or eighty orbits, so time has to be spent very, very carefully.

How about some immortal dialogue? Very well! The Searchers by Alan LeMay is filled with more than its rightful share:


“What if I walk out that door?”

Charlie glanced past Aaron at Laurie Mathison before he answered. “Now, you ought to know the answer to that.”

Laurie said distinctly, “He means he’ll put a bullet in your back.”

Charlie MacCorry thought about that a moment. “If he’s particular about getting his bullets in front,” he said to her, “he can walk out backwards, can’t he?”


Then she came to him and presented her back to be unbuttoned.

All through this whole thing, Mart showed the dexterity and finesse of a hog in a sand boil, and even the tequila knew it. It was very young tequila at best, as its raw bite had attested, and it couldn’t help him much after a point. One moment he was afraid to touch her, and in the next, when he did take her in his arms, he almost broke her in two. The girl was first astonished, then angry; but finally her sense of humor returned, and she felt sorry for him. She turned patient, soothing and gentling him; and when at last he slept he was in such a state of relaxation that even his toe nails must have been limp.


A dawn as cheerless as a drunkard’s awakening was making a line of gray on the eastern horizon …


Mart brought Amos his six-gun, and his cartridge belt, and checked the loading. Amos lifted a shaking hand, and hid the gun under his blankets. Outside they heard the “Prepare to mount!”

“I got to get on up there.” Mart groped for Amos’ hand. He felt a tremor in its grip, but considerable strength.

“Get my share of ’em,” Amos whispered.

“You want scalps, Amos?”

“Yeah … No. Just stomp ’em – like I always done – ”

Monday, April 9, 2012

Yoga Boy

So this past Saturday I had a full physical – my first since 1999. Now, before you think I’m crazy or suicidal, just remember that since 2006 I’ve been probed, prodded, pricked, poked and pored over at least a dozen times to figure out what was wrong with my ticker. I’ve been checked out and scrutinized over for everything from the Big Casino to tropical parasites. And it’s all come up negative. With the exception of the pulmonary vein stenosis and the reduced functionality of my left lung, I’m fit as a fiddle.

Except I’m suffering extreme fatigue and depression, probably each feeding the other. Poor diet and lack of exercise contribute to both, and the depression and fatigue make me want to eat junk for quick pick-up and not work out. So I went to the doctor for both peace of mind and to get a little inspiration.

Well, my doctor gave me both in spades as they say. As far as exercise, she okayed me to do whatever I enjoy – in moderation, of course. That’d be the exercise bike, building up to 20 minutes a day. I told her I like to throw the weights around, too, but not to the point where I’m going to try to score steroids in the back alley behind the gym and get all shredded and veiny and hulkish. She okayed that, too. And she also guilted me by saying, “You don’t really need me to tell you how to eat?” “No,” I admitted, sheepishly. “I’ll eat more fruits and veggies and less processed foods.”

One thing that she is absolutely gung-ho over, to the point of blurbing all about it on her web page, is yoga. Yoga, she says, would give me increased body awareness and help reduce stress and fight fatigue. There are different types of yoga, and I must remember, she chided, that yoga is not a competitive sport.

I did give yoga a whirl when I first got out of the hospital three years ago. I kept at it for six weeks … until I made it a competitive sport, competing against myself. I tried to do more and do more longer, and take on more energetic and muscle-building forms of yoga. All when I should have kept it up for its relaxing qualities. As a result, I stopped doing it, and haven’t done it since. But, man, when I did do it I was soooooo limber and flexible. I’m like a ninety-year-old man now compared to how I used to be. And I noticed that the more loose and flexible I am, the better and healthier I just naturally feel.

So, I’m going to give the relaxation yoga DVD a whirl again tonight after the kids go down. Probably won’t see any serious changes for two weeks or so, though I could be wrong. If I do notice positive changes, I’ll let you all know. Maybe I’ll mark the calendar to review my work-out program on this public anonymous blog in a month’s time. I’m going to stick with it for now, because I have no choice. I’m grinding my teeth down to the roots in my sleep and the bags under my eyes will soon need their own zip codes, or at least those four-digit suffixes denoting their own PO boxes …

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Sunday Recap

An ageless old saying, played out yet again, ad infinitum on that eternal recurrence extra-galactic LP phonograph:

Patch and Little One take chocolate;
chocolate take chocolate;
chocolate take Patch and Little One.

Wash, rinse, repeat. Repeat again, and again, and again ...

Easter 2012, fin.

Happy Easter!

Something the world will never wrap its collective mind around – the fact that God became Man and conquered Death through the Resurrection. Lotta capitalized nouns, in that sentence, signifying very, very deep, fundamental Truth (yes, with a capital). Turning on the teevee or walking through the shops and stores – it’s not all about bunnies and candy. I believe – do you?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Tetanus Shot

When I was a kid, nothing scared me more than “getting a tetanus shot.” I’d see a rusty nail and I’d think – tetanus shot. I’d see a saw hanging on the wall in our basement – tetanus shot. Fish-hooks on my dad’s gear in the garage – tetanus shot. I was in near paranoia up until age ten or twelve or so of cutting myself on a piece of metal. You know, because that would necessitate “getting a tetanus shot.”

Now this is not without justification. When I was three or four we lived in a two-family house a few towns over. A group of older kids would always be hanging around. One time, playing hide and seek while I was bumbling about on my tricycle, a boy snuck over the edge of the balcony on the house and lowered himself down. Onto a pile of boards, and his foot went directly onto a rusty nail. Cloudy memories of him yelping in pain, hopping away, drops of blood on the cement sidewalk. It was around this time that I first heard the dreaded phrase, “tetanus shot.”

I probably got one when I was a wee young-un, but of course I don’t remember. I do know for certain that I’ve never had one as an adult. Never had cause to.

Today, however, I got a tetanus shot.

Don’t go thinking I suddenly started working with scrap metal or something. Nor have I turned my garage into a wood shop. No, I simply went for a routine physical, and as an afterthought, my doctor asked me, “When’s the last time you had a tetanus shot?”

Those of you who know me or who have read this blog, know that this is the Me 2.0. The fearless me. Fearless as regarding shots and the like, thanks to my ordeal with the ticker three years ago (my how time flies!). In the past four or five years I’ve must’ve had two hundred shots – blood work and pre-op self-administering lovenox, mostly – and have developed somewhat thick skin towards them, no pun intended.

So I casually said I didn’t remember. She recommended one, because of a recent local outbreak of adult whooping cough. Apparently the tetanus virus – or whatever – helps defeat that as well as diphtheria, though there are no local outbreaks of diphtheria.

I nodded and signed the paperwork. A few minutes later a nurse came in to give it to me. Right in the deltoid muscle of my right arm.

Outwardly I was placid, but inwardly I steeled myself for pain. The image of me holding Little One’s legs down as an inch of hypodermic steel went straight into her thigh popped into my mind. The nurse swabbed my shoulder liberally with icy antiseptic, and I sort of felt something –

And that was it. No pain, barely a scratch. Must be what an acupuncture needle feels like, was my first thought.

“You’ll probably be sore tomorrow morning,” the nurse said as she stuck a band-aid on my upper arm. “Might be stiff, might be limited mobility, but only for a little while.”

“Okay.” I kinda doubted her. I even doubted for a second that I received an injection.

That was four hours ago. I did have a metallic taste in my mouth for a while and my right shoulder is now a bit sore, like I did a couple extra reps of a little too heavy weight doing some lateral dumbbell raises. Oh well.

My whole point is, I guess, that things are never as bad as how we fear they’re going to be. Almost wished I had to get a tetanus shot at age eight. Would’ve saved me a couple of years of useless anxiety.

(And wait – isn’t all anxiety “useless”?)

Well, that was the highlight of my day. Yours?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Stationary Cross

It’s good to give props where props are deserved. In that spirit, I’d like to anonymously applaud my daughter’s public school on my anonymous blog.

Today all the little-uns had Good Friday off. As well they should. But I got all worked up, between the ears, thinking, “Too bad they’re not allowed to tell the little-uns why they have the day off!” I thought of a good blog post, filled with gotcha riffs, sarcastic put-downs, and humorous metaphors iced with a touch of self-righteousness. Then, I looked at the purple piece of paper that’s the April calendar we got from her school, magnetically adhering to our refrigerator door.

There’s a cross in the box that marks today’s date. April 6, Good Friday. A 3-D drawing of a wooden cross, stuck into a hill and casting a shadow. A cross, on public school stationary.

Kudos for them! And – pssst – let’s keep this between us, okay?

Later, I intend to ask my daughter if they were told yesterday that they’d have today off for Good Friday. (And yes, I know that Passover falls on today’s date too; if that had something to do with them all getting today off, well, still kudos to the school administration!)

And even though this blog is anonymous, we do let our feelings known (especially the wife’s) whenever we run into the principal or any of the teachers, all wonderful people who definitely hold the little-uns interests first and foremost in all that they do.


One of the many, many great scenes from one of my favorite SF flicks ...

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Tom Horn

On a whim I rented Tom Horn, a 1980 western flick starring Steve McQueen, from the local library Saturday past. I had absolutely no expectations going into it. And yet, I came away 90 minutes later somewhat disappointed.

Yeah, it’s authentically western. Mud, cattle, horses, guns, whiskey, hangin’s, and a school marm. No sweat – this cowboy movie takes place in nippy Montana, not the fire-pits of Texas or Mexico. But that’s okay. The movie is, admittedly, gorgeously shot, and an aficionado could get lost in it.

Were it not for the stupid script.

Now, I’m no expert on Tom Horn or Steve McQueen. Take this as one dude’s opinion based on strict popcorn value. But Tom just does so many stupid things – and fails to do some many head-smackin’ obvious things – that in the end I just couldn’t like him. He fails on a believability level because no one in his right mind would act the way he does. I was near close to pulling my hair out in frustration during the last half-hour, when good ole Tom could’ve saved his skin at least three or four times, and the only time he almost pulls it off he fails so gloriously that I’m positive I – cherubic bookworm that I am – could have pulled it off.

Anyway, if I was to synopsize the story in a sentence, it’d be: Old West relic gets a job fighting rustlers and gets double-crossed when he does his job a little too well. That’s about it, and that’s all it has to be to be a classic. Yet it fails. See preceding paragraph.

If you like your movies superficial, though, there’s much to admire. The aforementioned cinematography. The compact, bare-boned running time – 89 minutes – an underappreciated aspect of great movies. And the violence – shockingly graphic for a 30+ year-old flick, though the camera never dwells on gore. Appropriate, I think, for the subject matter, and therefore not gratuitous. Thus it earns its place in the “pro” paragraph of the review.

Now, here come the “cons”. Primarily, the character of Tom Horn. According to some brief background reading I did, he appears to be quite the unsavory character. Morally ambiguous, a mouthy braggart, brave and foolhardy all-in-one. McQueen (or the script, or both) plays him as a sage, introverted communer-with-nature, who gazes wistfully at the Montana mountainline from his jail cell. When you step back and look at this character big-picture-wise, it just doesn’t add up. Frustratingly so. As an actor (and nearing death from cancer, I understand), McQueen brings almost an innocent goofiness to the role that clashes with the brutal violence he’s prone to. Maybe some think it works; I don’t.

Another thing that was off-putting was the proliferation of character actors. Don’t know all their names, but I have seen them in tons of movies before. You could almost make a drinking game every time some Hollywood veteran pops up. Or else you could do a six degrees of Clint Eastwood, for similar effect.

Still, and I say this frequently, a bad X is better than a good Y. In this case, Tom Horn is better than most of the few westerns made after it, leaving out the obvious exceptions. So, there. It has that. Would I see it again? Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps a second viewing for alter my perception, but my gut is telling me to let this one rest for a long while.

Grade: C.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


A Recipe for Non-Bloggivity

Take a high-stress high-pressure work-week

Sprinkle liberal amounts of early-morning school-rush-hour drama

Add a pinch of financial and fiscal pressure

Stir in a giant bowl of insomnia

Bake longer than you think is provident in a well-heated oven of under-the-weather-ness

Let sit on the procrastination counter til too cold to consume



You have the perfect recipe for a post-less coupla days at the Hopper!

More of interest to follow later in the week, I promise! I have a lot of topics on my mind, but not enough time. And when I do find the time, I lack the energy. But back on the wagon again, tomorrow.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

April Fool Day

(This made me chuckle ... kinda hits the psychological mark re: our president, without being overtly and distractingly nasty)