Sunday, January 16th, 2022

The temp outside on this wintry January morning is just one degree (-17 C), which is relevant because it means I probably won’t be spending much time outside today. I went for a little ramble around Cherokee Marsh yesterday morning even though temps were in the teens, where the temps have been stuck for weeks now, and later that same morning and into the afternoon I spent about four hours in the garage working on rebuilding the bunk for the minivan. I dressed up in so many layers that I could stay warm, but only so long as I kept moving. Well, mostly warm. I have to accept the fact that there are no gloves on earth that will keep my hands warm when it’s that cold out.

I had been using the excuse that it was too cold out to avoid working on the bunk this winter but was inspired to action by my cousin Carrie and her husband Darren, who have recently gone into business renovating campers. They started doing this last summer but have kept working on their latest project even in sub-freezing temperatures. I figured I could give it a shot, too, and found that working in the garage isn’t so bad. I even try to kid myself that having to work so slowly and deliberately because I can’t take my gloves off is a benefit. But I believe I will not be taking advantage of that benefit today unless it warms up considerably.

Added later: Okay, so I went out to the garage to work on the camping thing a little more. I’ve been calling it a “camping thing” because I’m not sure what to call it. Among the people who refer to camping in a minivan as “van life,” my camping thing is usually referred to a “build” or a “build-out,” but that’s not terribly descriptive. I called it a “bunk” in the description above because it’s primarily something to sleep on, but if I can manage to finish it, it’ll be more than that; it’ll also have a table where I can set up a camp stove, overhead cabinets where I can stow my clothes, and wash basin where I can draw drinkable water. If you’re really interested, you can view the videos I get my inspiration from here: Bruce Parks Videos on YouTube

I don’t have the kind of woodworking skills Bruce has. Heck, I don’t even have the kind of persistence he has, but I do like cutting up lumber and seeing if I can knock together fun stuff like this. So that’s what I got up to in the garage for a couple hours. I didn’t mean to take so long. It was so cold that I mean to do just one thing, cut up some lumber to fit into place when it was warmer in the garage, but it didn’t take long to do that and I felt fine so I did one more thing, and that went so well that I did another thing, and about halfway through that thing I realized I couldn’t feel my fingertips any longer. That’s how I knew it was past time to go inside and get warm.

first degree | 9:16 am CST
Category: camping, daily drivel, travel
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Saturday, January 15th, 2022

I haven’t traveled by air since the start of the COVID pandemic so I was completely unprepared for what happened to us when we departed Madison to fly to our son’s wedding in Denver last week.

We got to the airport early enough that there weren’t any people waiting in line, which was fine by me. The less time spent standing in crowded lines, the better. They still had the entrance roped off with those tapes that make you walk back and forth, back and forth across the room, though. Whatever, I’ll take the small victories.

I already had my ID out along with my phone showing my boarding pass, so when the TSA agent asked for them I was able to quickly hand them over with no delay. After he examined them both, though, he said to me, “Remove your mask.” He wanted to compare my face to the photo on my ID, but I was so absolutely gobsmacked that anybody would ask me to remove my mask. I not only hesitated, I’m pretty sure my eyes also told him to go eff himself until he repeated, “Remove your mask,” this time with enough authority that I snapped out of my surprise and pulled my mask down. But it was a close thing. I came within seconds of spending the morning in TSA hell.

takeoff | 8:51 am CST
Category: daily drivel
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Friday, January 14th, 2022

I needed three eight-foot-long 2x4s yesterday. I can order them on-line from the local DIY store. Makes it super easy for me to jump in the car after I’m done with my day job, run down to the store and pick them up. Takes 20 minutes, 30 tops.

So I placed an order yesterday after lunch and got an email about 15 minutes later telling me my order was ready for pickup. After I clocked out of work, I jumped in the van, drove to the store and showed the email to the gate guard so I could drive back to the lumber shed.

“You know where you’re going?” she asked me after she used her tablet to scan the bar code on my email.

“I think so,” I said.

She glanced at her tablet. “Looks like Door 6,” she said.

Well, that wasn’t right. Door 6 was one of the roller doors out the back of the store. You go to Door 6 when you’re picking up something like a power tool or a kitchen appliance. The lumber is in a big shed behind the store. So bonus points to the guard for trying to help, but I ignored what she said and drove around the back to the shed.

I found the bay where the lumber I wanted should have been. It was empty. There were two signs showing the SKU for the lumber, so I was sure I was in the right place. I thought, Hmmm, maybe the guard said Door 6 because they were going to tell me when to come back, so I drove back to the store, parked outside Door 6, and called the phone number for in-store pickup.

The person who answered the phone asked for my order number, and after I told her she said, “That’s Aisle 19.” Aisle 19 is out in the lumber shed. “So my order is ready, and it’s in Aisle 19?” I asked, just to confirm. “That’s right,” she said.

When I’m sure something is true but then somebody else says it isn’t, I tend to doubt myself. This was one of those times. I drove back to the lumber shed even though I had just been looking at an empty bay where the lumber I wanted should have been. It still wasn’t there. I slowly drove down the aisle, checking every one of the bays. Found just the one empty bay with the SKU number for that particular kind of lumber.

Drove back to the gate to leave the yard.

“Find everything you needed?” the gate guard asked me.

“Nope,” I said. “I’m going into the store to find out what’s up.”

“No?” She suddenly became very concerned. “I’m very sorry.” I’m not even sure why she cared. She didn’t work for the store, she worked for one of those 3rd-party security agencies.

“No worries,” I said, “I’m sure they’ll be able to sort it out for me inside.”

She put her tablet away. “Well, I won’t scan your ticket to close it out, then,” she said.

“Thanks, I appreciate that.”

If you place an order for lumber in person, you have to visit a desk in the store that’s about as far from the front door as it’s possible to get. There are six or eight work stations at the counter but I didn’t find anybody at them when I got there, just one guy at a desk in the back banging away at his computer keyboard, pretending he didn’t see me pacing back and forth. I gave him about ninety seconds before I waved and said, “Hiya. Are you closed?”

“Hang on, I’ll get somebody for you,” he said, then muttered something into the mic pinned to his shirt. Another guy came out of nowhere about a minute later to ask me what I needed. (Tangential note: He was one of those people who wears their mask sort of dangling off their face. The mask was too big, or too worn, or just so badly made that it loosely hung off his face around his mouth and chin. I could see his mouth when he spoke, it was that loose. If I had thought I would be talking to him for more than two minutes, I would have just walked away.)

“I ordered this online,” I said, showing him the email on my phone, “and went to the shed to get it, but the bay where it’s kept is empty.”

He looked it up on his computer. “No, it’s not empty. I’ve got 400 of those.”

“Pretty sure it’s empty.”

“It was probably stacked up top,” he said. (It wasn’t. This time I was sure enough that I didn’t doubt myself.) “I’ll get somebody to restock it,” he added, before muttering into the mic pinned to his shirt.

Well, if he’s going to get somebody to restock it, I’ll give it another shot. I left the store, climbed into the van, and drove around to the gate to show my email to the gate guard.

“All cleared up?” she asked me.

I shrugged. “We’ll see.”

On my way back out to the shed, I spotted a forklift leaving Aisle 19 at high speed, so I felt some small ray of hope that maybe the lumber I needed would be there. But no. The bay was just as empty as it was before.

I parked the van and walked over to the next aisle to find the guy on the forklift. Wasn’t there, so I walked to the next aisle. Ah, there he is. He kept on stacking rolls of insulation as I walked toward him, pretending not to see me just like the guy inside the store. Must be a thing they learn during training. “Excuse me,” I called, when I was within hailing distance, “I’m looking for some 2x4s but the bay is empty, and when I told the guy inside he said somebody out here would refill it.”

He fixed his eyes on a spot somewhere about 400 yards behind me, just over my left shoulder. “Yeah, no, I looked for more but we don’t have any.”

“Really? Your guy on the inside said you had 400 of them.”

He shrugged, still not making eye contact. “Inventory’s wrong. There aren’t any. I looked.”

This guy obviously wasn’t going to help me. “Okay. Thanks.”

Back to the van. Back to the gate.

“Still not there,” I said to the guard, “so please don’t close my ticket.” She didn’t.

Back into the store, all the way to the desk in the back. There were three or four employees milling around this time, none of them the guys I saw before, so I snagged the first guy I saw.

“Hi, I ordered this online,” I said, showing him the email on my phone.

He cut me off: “Oh, you want to go to Door 6 to pick that up.”

“Hang on, let me finish my story,” I said. “I ordered this online, went out back to pick it up, found out the bay where they’re kept is empty. Spoke to a guy at this desk, who’s not here now, who said he would get it restocked, but a guy in the lumber shed told me he can’t restock it because the inventory’s wrong and there aren’t any more.”

“Oh, well, he should have cut some for you, then.”

“Okay, well, when should I come to pick it up?”

“You’ll have to pick it up from Door 6.”

“Okay. When?”

“I mean, do you need it today?”

“Whenever. Please just tell me when to come get it.”

“Tell you what, come with me and we’ll sort it out.”

I followed this guy to what turned out to be the rooms behind Door 6, where my guy told some mouth-breathing half-awake zombie what I needed. In response, the zombie shrugged and said he didn’t have my order. I think my guy expected zombie guy to do something to help, but zombie guy shuffled away without saying anything more.

My guy gave me a helpless look. “I don’t know what to do.”

“Well,” I said, “when you figure it out, would you please call me and tell me when I can pick up my order? That’s all I want.”

“Tell you what, wait here and I’ll get it. What did you need again?”

I showed him my phone with the email. He snapped a photo of it with his phone, then said, “Be right back.”

I waited outside Door 6 because my van was nice and warm, the radio played tunes that weren’t “SAVE BIG MONEY, YOU’LL SAVE BIG MONEY,” and because it wasn’t full of people wearing their masks over their mouths instead of their noses.

I’ve got to give my guy the credit he deserves: He went out to the lumber shed, picked out three straight pieces of 2×4 lumber and cut them to the length I wanted, then brought them to my van on a hand cart. All in about 15 minutes. He must have run all the way to the shed, too, because it’s not very close to the store.

stuck for sticks | 3:24 pm CST
Category: daily drivel
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Tuesday, January 4th, 2022

Please don’t say “We’re all going to get COVID eventually.” It doesn’t make make me feel better, it makes me feel worse. If we were all vaccinated against COVID, we wouldn’t have to accept that we’d all eventually get it, because we wouldn’t all get it. A widely-vaccinated population would protect us all against it, and I know that because we don’t all get tuberculosis even though there are still outbreaks of TB. It doesn’t rampage through the population because almost everybody gets vaccinated against it. So telling me that I have to resign myself to the fact that I’m going to get COVID eventually feels a lot like telling me I’m just going to have to accept that I’m going to get tuberculosis. I don’t. We collectively decided a long time ago to protect ourselves against TB, just like we collectively decided not to protect ourselves against COVID. Being asked to accept such a bold-faced failure of duty to society is, frankly, deeply depressing.

unacceptable | 1:46 pm CST
Category: Life & Death, this modern world, yet another rant | Tags:
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Monday, January 3rd, 2022

The other night, I told my youngest son the story of how I fell from the second story of an open stairway. I’m not sure he entirely believed me.

When I was born, my parents lived in a small apartment which was really the upper floor of a big frame house that had been divided up into flats and rented out. The only way to get into the upstairs apartment was by way of a wooden staircase that ran up the outside of the house, ending in a small landing outside the doorway into the apartment.

One night, after my parents returned from a trip out of town, my father took me in one hand and a suitcase in another and climbed the stairs to the upper floor. At the top, he set the suitcase to one side and let go of me to dig his keys out of his pocket and unlock the door.

I had been sleeping in the back seat of the car and was still very sleepy. Half-dozing, I leaned back against the suitcase, which tipped under the handrail and fell off the landing. I wasn’t any taller than the suitcase, so I fell off the landing right after it.

As luck would have it, my mother was immediately under the landing and saw me fall. She tried to catch me and almost did, grabbing me by the ankle. If she hadn’t, I would have fallen on the cement walkway below, but the tug she exerted on my leg changed the direction of my fall just enough that I landed in the dirt under the stairway. Even so, my father said she was so sure I was dead that she wouldn’t touch me. He put me back in the car and they took me to the hospital.

My head struck a glancing blow to the edge of the cement walkway, which raised a knot, but I was otherwise unharmed. I spent one or two nights in the hospital, closely watched, then went home.

“That doesn’t seem possible,” was all that Tim could think to say when I told him the story. Maybe not. But here I am.

John Valuk is dead, he fell on his head | 4:15 pm CST
Category: Dad, Life & Death, Mom, story time | Tags:
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Tuesday, November 23rd, 2021

For about an hour this morning, I thought we were going to be separated from a couple hundred dollars of our money to get the furnace fixed. It wasn’t running when the alarm woke me up this morning, but it should have been. I felt a little silly going down to the basement to see what was wrong, because what the hell do I know about furnaces? Unless it was doing something really dramatic like shooting sparks from all its openings, I was pretty sure I’d never be able to tell.

Not so. First thing I noticed was a pool of water on the top panel. Only one place it could’ve come from: the humidifier. Next thing I noticed was that the pipe which the humidifier drains into was out of alignment with the drain in the bottom of the humidifier. So the last time the furnace ran last night and the humidifier kicked in, water ran out of the drain, missed the pipe, trickled down the exhaust stack and all over the furnace.

The furnace is not watertight, because why would it be? When I popped the front panel off, I could see & feel water all inside it. I sopped up what I could, then cycled power on the furnace (it works on computers). The burners fired up but wouldn’t stay lit; don’t know why, but at least the blower ran for about five minutes. Fifteen minutes later I cycled power again, with about the same results. Fifteen minutes after that, same thing.

The last time I cycled power, the furnace had dried out enough from the previous power cycles that the burners lit up and stayed lit. And then the furnace ran steadily for about two hours because the house was damn cold.

chilled | 12:45 pm CST
Category: daily drivel
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Got my COVID booster yesterday, the Pfizer vaccine this time. My initial shot was Johnson & Johnson, which the pharmacist said they weren’t using for boosters. Fine with me. I was going to ask for an mRNA vaccine this time anyway, didn’t care which.

I didn’t have any reaction at all to the J&J, but just hours after getting the Pfizer booster my arm was getting sore, and by the time I went to bed it was stiff and I if I wanted to raise it over my head, I had to be careful about it. Before I went to bed I popped a couple ibuprofen just to make sure I got plenty of sleep.

My arm’s still pretty sore this morning and I’m not feeling 100% lucid, but feeling well enough to go to work (from home) so I’m not so worried any more than I’ll be laid up for a day or more.

When B got her initial shot, she was knocked out for days — couldn’t go to work, couldn’t eat, just curled up in bed and had to tough it out. She’s sore from the booster but went to work (also from home) this morning.

boosted | 8:34 am CST
Category: daily drivel
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Monday, November 15th, 2021

I spent most of the day trying to talk myself out of paying any attention at all to the caffeine headache that had been banging away at my brains since yesterday afternoon. Couldn’t quite do it, so after a light snack I hunted through the medicine cabinet for the bottle of migraine capsules I almost never touch and swallowed one, washing it down with a pint of water. Didn’t seem to have any effect until about four hours later when I realized my head wasn’t pounding any more.

I didn’t have a caffeine headache because I drank too much coffee this morning; I had a headache because I hadn’t drunk any coffee since Saturday morning, and the reason for that was, I had been drinking too much coffee before that. I had trained myself to drink two or three mugs of coffee every morning as a matter of routine and if I didn’t, I got headaches bad enough to remind me to drink more coffee, which really sucked. And so, I decided day before yesterday to stop.

I still had a cup of black tea this morning, so I was not completely caffeine-free, but my brains (or whatever it is inside me that has to have caffeine) were not happy at all with such a small, token amount and told me so in no uncertain terms. I had another cup of tea with my snack but by that time I was not even trying to kid myself that the hair of the dog might make me feel better, or I would not have gone looking for the painkillers.

I’m feeling better this evening (unless that’s the painkiller still doing its thing) and am even feeling good enough that I’m starting to hope to get a good night’s sleep tonight.

pounding | 8:34 pm CST
Category: daily drivel
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Sunday, November 14th, 2021

I’ve finally read “A Wrinkle In Time” by Madeleine L’Engle. I know, I know, what took me so long? It’s been on my ‘to be read’ list for years because practically everybody says it’s one of the greatest science fiction books ever, but I’m just now getting around to it mostly because the whole ‘wrinkle in time’ series has recently been released as a two-volume set. When My Darling B found out, she bought it because “A Wrinkle In Time” is one of her favorite books. It came last week, and I just finished the first book today.

It was okay. I’m not sure I’d put it up there with the greatest science fiction books ever written, but then I wouldn’t put “I, Robot” up there, either, and WAIT A MINUTE, LET ME FINISH I wouldn’t put “I, Robot” up there, either, even thought I loved that book when I first read it in high school so much that it made me want to be a writer of books exclusively about robots (I have since changed career paths but still think this would be a pretty neat way to spend my time).

An important thing about “I, Robot” and other books of it’s kind: they’re nearly unreadable now. Maybe not to you, but to me. I ran across a copy of “I, Robot” years back while browsing the shelves of a local book store, happily flipped it open to relive the wonder and joy of a favorite passage, and discovered, to my horror, that it was some of the hokiest prose I’d ever read.

I had the same problem when I picked up the “Foundation” series and tried to read it as an adult. Plowed through the first chapter with great effort, set it aside for a while to get used to the idea that it might not be all it was cut out to be, returned to it months or maybe even years later thinking that this time, armed with the knowledge that the prose was going to clunk against my inner reader’s ear, I could get through it, but no. Not an easy read. Still haven’t read more than the first chapter of “Foundation.”

“A Wrinkle In Time” was not at all a chore to read, not the way “Foundation” was, and if I’d read it when I was young I could easily see how I would re-read it with joy now as an adult, the way I wish I could re-read “I, Robot.” Coming to the book for the first time as an adult, especially after hearing everybody rave about it for years, possibly raised my expectations to unrealistically high levels. It was a good story, perfectly enjoyable. I just didn’t engage with it the way I might have if I’d read it for the first time decades ago. My loss.

a wrinkle in time | 5:01 pm CST
Category: daily drivel
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Saturday, November 13th, 2021

ROTFLMAO is my favorite initialism, as well as the only one I can think of right now that I can’t pronounce consistently. I don’t ever actually say any of them out loud, but whenever I read one in text my brain tries to imagine what it sounds like. And it doesn’t always make sense. FTFY, for instance, sounds like “fitty-fitty” in my head. But ROTFLMAO breaks my brain and I can’t even figure out why.

It can pronounce ROTFL just fine — that’s always been “ROT-full.” But when ROTFL gets upgraded to ROTFLMAO my brain trips on that last part and lands hard enough to scramble efforts toward consistent pronunciation.

It doesn’t help that one of my favorite nonsense songs is the one that goes “papa-ooo-maow-maow” over and over. “But Dave,” you ask, “how is that even close to ROTFLMAO?” To which I have to sheepishly admit that when I read ROTFUL in text, I sometimes hear my brain singing, “ROT-full-ooo-maow-maow.” This is the curse I live with.

The extended length of the initialism seems to trick my brain into throwing a lot more syllables in than should truly be necessary. It’s the only way I can think of to explain how I end up hearing gibberish like “ROW-uh-float-my-mallow.” (For some reason — I’m not sure I even want to know why — any or all of the word “marshmallow” seems to figure into the pronunciation at least 75% of the time.)

It shouldn’t be this difficult for my brain to wrap around. It’s just “ROT-full” with “mao” tacked on the end. It could easily be a straightforward “ROT-full-mow,” or a more playful “ROT-ful-meow” to appeal to the cat lover in me. But it’s not. It’s “ROT-fuller-ma-fallow” or “ROT-ah-flot-ah-MALL-mow-mow.”

rotflmao | 9:33 am CST
Category: daily drivel
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Wednesday, November 10th, 2021

We were reading in bed last night at about nine o’clock when we heard a series of thuds, very loud, the kind of sound that you feel in your chest as much as you hear it with your ears. The last thud was so especially loud that I got out of bed and went to the living room window to see if maybe one of our neighbors’ houses wasn’t exploded in pieces all over their lawn. But no, no exploded house, no smoke or fire, nothing unusual that I could see, so I went back to bed.

Not more than five minutes later, another series of heavy thuds. And a few minutes later, more very heavy thuds. This time, My Darling B got out of bed, looked out the window, even stepped out the front door to have a good look around. Came back to bed a few minutes later, having seen nothing out of the ordinary.

More thuds after that, but neither of us got up to check. I’ll keep a sharp eye open when I go for a walk this morning, but by this time I doubt I’ll see any Martian cylinders or smoking holes. We may never know what was thudding in our neighborhood last night. 

thud | 6:03 am CST
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Sunday, November 7th, 2021

Well here we are on the morning after another time change, which I’m not going to rant about because I’ve done that to death and how can there be any more to say about it that hasn’t already been said? Besides, I’m hardly feeling it this morning. This must be the time change that I don’t feel until it’s time to go to bed at night. Then I look at the clock and it turns out it’s nowhere near time to go to bed so I have to find a comic book to read or something to watch on YouTube for a while longer, fall asleep in the middle of it and wake up in the dark at four o’clock the next morning. Okay, well, I guess I needed to do a rant after all.

Barb actually benefited from the early wake-up. She had to test some new computer program and apparently they had to test it on the weekend, probably so they wouldn’t break the DMV on a weekday because that would be really bad. She has to do these weekend tests maybe seven or eight times a year, which kinda sucks but at least they let her flex some time on the week days, so she not only gets compensated for it, she also gets to drink coffee in her pajamas on Monday morning while her coworkers are re-applying their noses to the grindstone (yuck! What a gruesome image that is; why is that even an idiom?).

Because she would have to get up early Sunday morning, Barb warned us, as we sat down to our customary Saturday night at the gaming table, that we would not be able to drag this game into the wee hours, as we sometimes do. There wasn’t much chance of that, however, because last week and again this week we’ve played our game with advanced rules that make it so much more difficult to play that we were not merely defeated both times, it was a demoralizing defeat, a sound thrashing, a defeat that left us shaking our heads and muttering to ourselves. And our game was over in just three hours. It would normally go on for about six hours. We have played games that went for as long as eight hours. But it’s a fun eight hours and doesn’t feel like it’s dragging at all, not, at least, for Barb and me. For Tim, who usually has to wait ages for Barb and me to plan each of our moves, it might perhaps drag just a little. But last night, no dragging at all. We got hauled out to the woodshed and beaten. Still had a good time, though. We look forward to game night all week long.

wonky | 8:27 am CST
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Sunday, October 31st, 2021

As I crossed the lobby at work the other night, heading for the door, I noticed an older man leaning against the wall, hands up over his head like he was trying to keep from falling down. As I approached he turned around, still propped against the wall, and reached up to adjust his mask, which he had been wearing over his eyes and nose.

“Are you all right?” I asked, because honestly it looked like he was having an episode of some kind. I don’t like to butt into other people’s business, but I’d like to think that if I was having what looked like a stroke in a public place, somebody would stop and offer assistance.

He looked at me like I had asked him the most stupid question ever uttered. “Yeah, I’m fine,” he said, just to make sure I wouldn’t ask him any more dumb questions.

Just asking, fellah, just asking.

just asking | 6:00 am CST
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Saturday, October 30th, 2021

When Tim was over for dinner not too long ago, we got to talking about how awful high school phys ed classes were. One of the things about phys ed that we all agreed was especially irksome was the games they made us play, whether we wanted to or not. For a week or two we’d play football, then baseball for another week or two, then soccer the next week or two, and so on. It was never enough time to get good at it or even to learn all the rules, and it was never a good experience.

When I was in junior high school, I weighed maybe 125 pounds dripping wet and I couldn’t run 100 yards in twenty seconds to save my life. I had to regularly play football with boys who outweighed me by forty pounds. Some of them could bench press twice my body weight. Several kids routinely lined up opposite me just for the pleasure of flattening me at the snap.

Tim confirmed that phys ed hadn’t gotten any better since I’d been through it in high school. And then he told us how he dealt with it. One day, when they were picking sides for la crosse, he went up to the phys ed teacher and told him, “Look, I really don’t want to do this, so I’m going to go run laps or work out on weights, okay?”

The teacher laughed as though he thought Tim was kidding. When he saw that Tim was not, he said, “You have to.”

“Well I’m not going to,” Tim said, and started to go.

“Tell you what,” the teacher said, “if you write me an essay, say 500 words, about la crosse, I’ll let you off the hook.”

Tim laughed when he told us this part of the story because apparently the teacher thought 500 words was such a burdensome assignment that Tim would cave, join the rest of the kids to play la cross, and that would be the end of it. But of course Tim didn’t cave. He agreed, and the next day he turned in a twelve-page (typed) essay, easily 5,000 words, about the history of la crosse: its origins, how the gave evolved over time, the best players, every record ever set, and so on. After that, the teacher gave Tim a pass on phys ed whenever he asked for it.

The pride I feel at his ability to use the power of the pen to overcome an adversity is almost matched by the jealousy I feel because I would never have even dared to suggest something like that to my phys ed teacher, let alone been allowed to get away with doing it if I had.

la crosse | 2:16 pm CST
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I got a call from Richmond, Virginia, yesterday, and I wouldn’t have answered it because I don’t know anybody in Richmond, Virginia, but my smarty-pants phone used its galaxy-sized brain to identify the caller as JP Morgan Chase, the credit card company, and even though I didn’t want to hear a robocall for a pre-approved credit card, I knew the chances were about fifty-fifty that it could have been a call from the fraud unit telling me that somebody applied for a credit card in my name because that’s something that has happened to me recently, so I took the call.

It was the fraud unit. The investigator told me they received an application for a credit card in my name and she wanted to know if I had applied. I told her I had not and that I had recently been victimized in just this way. She said she figured that was the case when she saw the fraud alert from the credit bureau, then she said she was so sorry I was going through this, which was very nice of her to say and I told her I appreciated it, and then she not only let me know she had just declined the application, she even hit her keyboard extra hard so I could hear her declining it. Finally, she asked me to confirm my address and said she would mail a notice to me with something called a “fraud kit,” which is probably a pamphlet from the bureau of consumer protection. I do the same thing when I call people to tell them they’ve been victimized. She ended the call by saying, “take care, and stay safe out there,” and I said same to you, and I hope I’m as reassuring to all my customers as that woman was to me. Calling people to tell them they’ve been victimized is no fun at all but she handled it like a champ.

On the other end of the phone call spectrum, I got a call from Lifescape Community in Rockford, Illinois, and I didn’t answer it because I was busy at the moment it came it, but within minutes I checked the voicemail they left, which went something like this: “Hi, this is Hailey from Lifescape Meals on Wheels, I’m calling about Doris, I’m looking for Andy — we weren’t able to deliver today, there’s no answer at the door or on the phone. Could you please check on her? We just want to know if she’s okay.”

Well I wanted to make sure Doris was okay, too, so I called straightaway and told the operator who answered the phone, “Hi, I just got a call from your number, they said they couldn’t deliver Meals on Wheels because Doris wouldn’t answer the door or her phone, but I can’t check on her because you got the wrong number — I don’t know Doris.” And the operator said, “Meals on Wheels? Hold on, I’ll transfer you.” And I said okay, but it was already hold music.

Then another phone agent answered and I had to give her the whole spiel again, after which she said, “Oh, they transferred you to the wrong number, hold on –” and I was transferred before I could even say okay.

The next time the connection got picked up, it was a phone robot telling me to listen very closely because their menu had changed, and then it began to reel off a dozen options, none of which were related at all to Meals on Wheels or checking to see if a customer was bleeding out on the floor of her kitchen, and by the time I got to the end I was cross-eyed from frustration so I just ended the call. It took me less than three minutes to go from from, “Oh shit, Doris is in trouble!” to “You know what, I don’t even care about Doris any more.” This is why good customer service is so important.

cold call | 8:29 am CST
Category: daily drivel
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Sunday, October 24th, 2021

I hadn’t planned to see the new Dune movie because I thought it was only going to be shown in theaters, but then I got a targeted ad on social media and noticed it was streaming on HBO, which I thought had to be a mistake. Checked HBO. Not a mistake. “Well, I guess I’m watching Dune tonight,” I said to My Darling B. “I guess I am, too,” she replied.

She liked it. I didn’t not like it. I thought it was gorgeous. Every scene. Just gorgeous. But I thought it was more like a trailer for movie Dune than an actual movie. Characters, and the relationships between then, were undeveloped. Paul and Duncan and Gurney were best friends, for example, yet in this movie they barely spoke to one another. Vladimir Harkonnen is a towering evil presence throughout the book but makes what could only charitably be called cameo appearances in this movie. (What a waste of Stellan Skarsgard’s talents.) Whole story arcs were condensed into scant seconds of screen time. The betrayal of house Atriedes by Doctor Yueh, for example, was a pretty major sub-plot in the book, but in the movie nobody mentions it until Yueh pulls the trigger, and he’s on screen for maybe two minutes.

The whole movie was like that. It had grandeur, it had the feel of a movie with massive production values, but it felt like a fast-cut trailer for a four-part space opera that should have gone on for at least six more hours. I couldn’t help feeling disappointed.

Villeneuve’s Dune | 8:40 am CST
Category: daily drivel
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Saturday, October 23rd, 2021

When I woke up this morning, the first coherent thought I can remember was, “I want monkey bread.”

Monkey bread is one of the most delicious breakfast snacks you can have with coffee. It tastes like a cinnamon roll but it’s made of little globs of dough stuck together in a muffin shape so you can easily pull off yummy little bits of it and pop them into your mouth.

I discovered this wonderful treat while I was working just a few blocks from a bakery that makes what has to be the most delicious monkey bread in the city. Batch Bakehouse was then making and selling their wares in a tiny little store down by the Yahara River on Willy Street. After everyone in Madison discovered that their baking was fantastic, the shop moved a couple blocks up the street to a bigger location where it continues to produce especially delicious baked goods, and to enjoy a dedicated following.

So when I woke up this morning and decided I wanted monkey bread, I pulled on some clothes, climbed into the car and headed for Batch Bakehouse, because why wouldn’t I go out of my way for the best monkey bread to satisfy my craving?

I got there just before it opened, thinking I would be first in line, but I was so very wrong about that because there was already a line of a little more than a dozen people that stretched around the corner. The line moved pretty quickly after the doors opened, though, so I got my monkey bread and a few other treats for later in short order.

Then I stopped at Java Cat for a hot coffee on the way home, just to make the morning perfect.

monkey bread | 10:27 am CST
Category: daily drivel
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Friday, October 22nd, 2021

A Room Of One’s Own, one of the few independent bookstores still surviving in Madison, recently moved from the downtown area, where they couldn’t afford the rent any more, to a store front so far up the isthmus that it’s very nearly in our neighborhood. Well, it’s not really that close; it’s all the way around the north end of the lake, past the botanical gardens, but it’s closer and it’s a nice book store so we went to their reopening last week to show our support. The building it’s in was some kind of utilitarian place originally, a store house or maybe a garage, and it’s been remodeled several times over the years to hold the various shops that have taken up residence. For the book store they completely gutted the inside and refurbished it, and it looks very nice. They have almost as much room now as they did in their downtown shop, thank goodness. It would have been sad to see them diminish in size after the move. We order all our books there now; they have an online service and will hold the books for us until we pick them up. Better than giving our money to Bezos. The turnout was good on opening day; they allowed only thirty people in the store at a time but it was always maxed and there was a line of people waiting to get in the whole time we were there. Both B and I found lots of books to take home so we feel we did our part to make their opening as good as it could be.

a room of one’s own | 9:53 am CST
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Wednesday, October 20th, 2021

Our oldest son, Sean, was such a dedicated bookworm when he was a lad. When Sean’s nose was in a book, he was not very easily distracted from it. It’s not a stretch to say that you could drop a grand piano from a great height to crash land on the pavement right in front of him and the odds were pretty even he might not notice.

Or, to be a little less hyperbolic: Once Sean asked me for a ride, then very nearly got left standing on the curb when he failed to notice me shouting and waving at him, even though I was close enough to hit with the proverbial dead cat. (Is it still a proverb? I just realized I haven’t heard anyone say that in ages.)

We were living on an air force base in northern Japan at the time. The O-mobile was a Mitsubishi minivan, which is not as small as the work “mini” implies. It had room to seat six grown adults in spacious comfort and a four wheel drive gearbox that we put to use to climb mountain roads with some regularity. It was a vehicle that was not easily missed when it drove by, is what I’m getting at.

As soon as I pulled into the parking lot I saw there was a parking space at the end of the row, right across from the entrance where Sean was standing by the curb waiting. Score! I pulled in, parked, and looked across the road expectantly at Sean. He did not look up from the book he was reading.

I’m an easily-distracted person. When a moving object crosses my peripheral vision, I look up to see what it is. I’m fully aware this makes me look like a walking nervous tick but I can’t help myself. Whatever makes me do that, though, Sean is full of the antidote for it. The arrival of a big, dark, growling vehicle virtually within arm’s reach did not register at all on his radar.

Which I was used to so, after chuckling to myself, I leaned out the window and said his name, just loudly enough to be heard over the sound of the engine but not so loudly that I might startle him. He was that close. But, apparently, not close enough. I repeated his name, a bit louder this time. Still no response, so I shouted his name, thumping the side of the van with the flat of my hand to give it a little added oomph.

Still oblivious. Wow.

Running out of noise-making options, I laid on the horn, which jolted him out of his reverie so suddenly he almost jumped out of his shoes. Seemed just a trifle annoyed at having been beeped at, too. I explained to him that I’d tried just about everything else but I seem to recall he wasn’t mollified and I had to just let it go.

book meet nose | 8:39 pm CST
Category: damn kids!, My Glorious Air Force Career, O'Folks, Seanster, story time | Tags: ,
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Monday, October 18th, 2021

I took my bike up to the Sparta area yesterday morning to have a look at the bike trail that runs between Sparta and Elroy, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I actually started at Norwalk, about 11 miles down the road from Sparta, and biked to Wilton, another 6 miles down the trail, because I wanted to experience one of the tunnels.

It was a perfect day for a bike ride, sunny and clear, cool but not cold (until I got into the tunnel, which was like a walk-in fridge). I took my trail bike with the knobby tires (I bought a road bike with a lighter frame and street tires at a rummage sale a month or so ago) because I wasn’t sure how good the trail was. That was a good move. The trail is graded and paved with fine gravel and is so well-maintained that I think I could have ridden the road bike on the trail, but the knobby tires and heavier frame on the trail bike probably handled it better.

I said hi to lots of other bikers in the two hours I was riding; it appears to be a very popular trail, even this late in the year.

The Elroy-Sparta trail is one of four connected trails that run from Reedsburg, only an hour’s drive from here, to Trempeleau, which is just an hour or so from Eau Claire, something I didn’t know about until this morning. I’m not quite up to biking the whole 101 miles, but the little 7-mile jaunt I did yesterday was quite pleasant.

For Barb, this is a big gardening weekend. She got a big box of garlic bulbs in the mail last week, spent the day before yesterday breaking up the cloves, worked all of yesterday getting a garden bed ready to plant, and she’ll spend most of the day today shoving the cloves into the ground in careful little rows. “It’s amazing how therapeutic digging in the dirt can be,” she told me yesterday.

If you have Netflix, I recommend watching “The Good Place,” a hilarious show about four people who die and have to navigate the weirdness of the afterlife. Ted Danson is one of the stars but I don’t recognize anybody else. We started watching early last week and have been binge-watching half a dozen episodes each night. Top-notch writing and lots of fun to watch. 

wilton | 11:23 am CST
Category: daily drivel
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Monday, October 11th, 2021

I love everything about space exploration, and that’s why I don’t give a wet slap that William Shatner is “going to space,” which I put in quotes because no matter how Jeff Bezos tries to spin it, his rocket is no different from a very tall roller coaster ride. Oh, it’s an actual a rocket that technically flies higher than the Karman line, which is the arbitrary boundary line where the earth’s atmosphere ends and outer space begins, but it “goes to space” in a way that’s a lot like cruise ship tourists “going to Mexico” for a couple hours during a port call. The awkwardly named New Shepherd rocket (Al Shepherd, the first American in space, rode a rocket to almost twice the height of the Karman line) lobs a crew capsule into the very lowest level of what could be called space for a few minutes, riding a parabolic arc that gives the occupants a few minutes of weightlessness the same way that a roller coaster does when it climbs a ridiculously high ramp, then plummets from the top. Whoopee.

not rocket science | 6:27 am CST
Category: daily drivel
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Sunday, October 10th, 2021

You will be amazed to learn that, in the past week, nothing especially remarkable has happened to me. I have not been showered with beer in a freak bottle-breaking accident in a liquor store. No one has used my name & date of birth (that I know of) to finance the purchase of a Mercedes Benz at an auto dealership in Michigan. There has been no rain of frogs, the river has not crested its banks, the house is still standing and everyone in it is healthy & content. Our week ended on a quiet note.

Tim came over last night for a dinner of burgers on the grill. Not sure how many more weekends we have to do that, but I’m going to aim for at least a half-dozen more and hope for the best. Grilling burgers has gotten a lot easier now that I make them “smash burger” style, something I learned from hamburger aficianado George Motz. (Nobody you ever heard of; I’m name-dropping for no good reason.) On a screaming hot griddle, drop quarter-pound balls of ground beef, which you smash flat with a spatula. Takes the guesswork out of how flat they’re going to be because you just keep on smashing them until they’re done.

After dinner we passed the rest of the night playing our favorite board game, which still takes many hours to play even though B and I have gotten much better at it. (Tim is a dedicated gamer & usually works out his moves in about half the time we take, although last night he tried something so different that it slowed him down to our speed.) We shot the shit for a little while after the game, but not for too long because it was late & we were all feeling the need to go to bed. 

Today is gloomy and rainy and cool, so we’re hanging out inside reading, or just hanging out. Probably napping later. 

boring | 2:01 pm CST
Category: daily drivel
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Saturday, October 2nd, 2021

I went shopping for shoes this morning because I stopped at the liquor store yesterday to pick up some beer. Allow me to explain:

Steve’s Liquor store on University Avenue is just down the street from the office building where I work, so on Friday afternoons I often stop in to see if they’ve got any beers that I haven’t tried before. There are still quite a few microbreweries in our state and all the state surrounding us, thank goodness, so it’s always a pretty solid bet I can find new beers to try at Steve’s.

They had quite a few new beers they were selling singly, so I asked the guy behind the counter for a box I could put them in. He gave me a flat, for whatever reason, but whatever, I took it and picked out a half-dozen single pint cans, then wandered down the aisle to see what they were selling in six-packs.

Lo and behold, they had a couple six-packs of WootStout, a well-known seasonal beer that’s in very high demand and not easy to get hold of. Popping open the cooler, I reached up to the top shelf to grab a pack, and that’s when the cans which were standing loosely in the box I was balancing in the other hand like a platter began to wobble and fall down.

In the chaos of the moment I tried to split my attention, half on the hand caught in the six-pack on the top shelf of the cooler, half on the box of loose, tumbling cans. Funny thing about that is, in my advancing age I have lost the ability to split my attention for even a second. I know this, but muscle memory kicks in even when I don’t want it to. Unable to keep my attention on both the box of loose cans as well as the six-pack of bottles, my brain seized up and let all that beer succumb to gravity.

The cans survived the fall just fine, but every single one of the bottles shattered before they hit the floor, drenching me from the waist down in beer. Best guess is, they must have hit the next shelf down and exploded from the growing pressure of the agitated carbon dioxide in the beer. It made a terrific noise that brought people running from all over the store to see if I was all right. Even though I was soaked in beer I somehow escaped without a single scrape or cut from all that flying glass.

One of the employees brought me a towel so I could sop some of the beer off my trousers, but by the time I worked my way down to my shoes it was too late. They were soaked through. I might be able to get some of the beer out of them with some patient blotting but they’ll only be good for yard work or stomping down muddy trails. I won’t be wearing them to the office again any time soon.

And that’s how I ended up shopping for shoes this morning.

shopping for shoes | 3:41 pm CST
Category: daily drivel
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Saturday, September 25th, 2021

After a week and a half of sleeping in other people’s beds, I finally got to sleep in my own, so I slept in until eight o’clock this morning like the laziest of all the lazy things. Even after I woke up, I just laid there for a long, long time, enjoying the fluffy pillows and the clean, fresh sheets.

I wasn’t sleeping in other people’s beds because I’m promiscuous. I was sleeping in other people’s beds because My Darling B and I went on a road trip to Colorado last week. It’s a long, long drive and we’re both getting a bit long in the tooth, so we broke up the drive over three days, staying in hotels along the way. Then for six nights we enjoyed the hospitality of our eldest son and his bride-to-be, sleeping in their guest room. Finally, we made the long drive home, sleeping in hotels again. And that’s why it’s pretty great to be sleeping in our own bed once more.

sleeping in | 9:32 am CST
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Sunday, September 5th, 2021

I bought a bike. My Darling B wanted to stop at a yard sale on the way home from the market. It was at a house on the lake front, so she figured they had to be rich and instead of the usual piles of work-out junk, they would have lots of high-quality junk to sell. She wasn’t wrong about that. The guy had a Trek bike he was asking only seventy-five bucks for. It felt wrong for me to walk away from a bargain like that. I didn’t even haggle about the price, just handed over the cash and rode it home.

Then I spent the weekend riding it around town. I rode a loop around Lake Monona on Saturday, stopping at Machinery Row Bicycles to buy some accessories (it needed new handlebar grips, a kickstand, and a mirror). On Sunday I rode out to the arboretum and back. My butt didn’t like the second ride as much. Truth be told, it didn’t like the first ride, either. But my butt’s opinion doesn’t count as much as mine, and I had a great time.

new bike | 9:10 am CST
Category: daily drivel
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Story time: This is what I found when I went to work Friday morning:

locked out!

This is the doorway to the office I work in. There’s never been a locked door here until Friday morning, so this was something of a surprise. There’s a box for a card reader, but no card reader had been installed yet, so there was no way for me to unlock the door.

I went around to the office next to ours to see if I could get in that way. Same story: locked door, no card reader, no way to unlock it.

I tried three different ways to get in. I finally found an open door on the far end of the hallway, halfway to the other end of the building, and had to walk back to our office.

Ready for the kicker: Here’s that door into our office again:

surprise!

NO GLASS!

no glass | 8:38 am CST
Category: daily drivel
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Sunday, August 29th, 2021

It’s not that they said something cold-hearted, like, “It’s a cost-saving measure. If we cut free meals, we not only save the cost of purchasing the meals, we also save the cost of employing the people serving the meals, and we can use the cafeteria space for other activities.” That would have been merely cold-hearted.

It’s that they thought somehow it would be better to say evil shit like, “We don’t want to feed kids because they’ll come to expect it,” or “We don’t want to spoil kids by giving them something, like food, that they don’t deserve.”

addicted to meals | 8:30 am CST
Category: current events, damn kids!, random idiocy, this modern world, yet another rant
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Saturday, August 28th, 2021

I spent the night before my wedding anniversary completing audits of two DMV field offices with a coworker. Sitting shoulder to shoulder in a compact car, we drove three hours to Oconto, then an hour or so to Shawano, and then another hour and a half to Wausau. The next day, we drove a little over two hours back to Madison. We were both masked, and both vaccinated.

BUT:

At each location, we spent about two hours in a tiny, poorly-ventilated room auditing a succession of DMV employees who were all masked. The department, however, does not require employees to be vaccinated. And over the past two weeks, they had all been in close contact with hundreds, if not thousands, of members of the public, virtually none of which gave a good goddamn for the common courtesy of wearing masks.

If I don’t get COVID during this round of on-site audits, no one will be more surprised than I will.

close contact | 8:35 am CST
Category: business travel, work | Tags: ,
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Sunday, August 15th, 2021

All the men: (spit up blood, drop dead)
All the women: The men are all gone! Let’s fight!
—–
President’s aide: Madam President, power plants will start to shut down.
President: Wait, aren’t there some, y’know, skilled women who can run those?
—–
Woman: People are gonna have to pick a side.
Other Woman: Why?
Woman: So we can descend into barbarism and turn the world into a burning hellscape.
Other Woman: Wasn’t that the men’s thing, though? I mean, we don’t have to fill every niche they left, do we?
—–
Woman: You are reproductively interesting.
Last Man: Could you please rephrase that so it doesn’t sound like you’re going to keep me alive just to harvest my sperm?
Woman: I probably should have, yeah. Oopsie. (shoots him with tranquilizer dart)

all the single ladies | 4:23 pm CST
Category: entertainment, television
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Friday, August 6th, 2021

At work, we use a Microsoft Access database to keep track of the cases we investigate. It’s a simple database. It’s designed to give us a case number for each investigation, record the type of case, has a place for us to make notes. Very basic stuff.

In The Before Times, everybody would keep the database open on their desktop for convenience, but when we started working from home we discovered that Access doesn’t work well over the VPN we’re using. It’s very slow and when more than one person is in it, it gets very janky and sometimes makes records disappear, so we adopted a policy of only one person in the database at a time, and we would notify each other in a chat room when we were going in.

One of my coworkers has a set of fingers which almost always fumbles the phrase “going in” so it comes out “goin gin,” and whenever she does that, I feel it’s my obligation to find a gif of somebody hoisting a cocktail glass in salute, or mixing a cocktail, or drinking straight out of a gin bottle. Turns out there’s an infinite number of gifs out there on the subject of drinking liquor. I wonder why.

goin gin | 5:51 pm CST
Category: daily drivel
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Saturday, July 24th, 2021

Our cat’s on Prozac. Never ever in my life did I think I would have to medicate a cat with something like Prozac, but the vet said it might stop him from peeing everywhere and it did, so now he gets 5 mg of crushed Prozac in his wet food every afternoon. Whoda thunk?

We tried dozens of other ways to try to get him to stop peeing outside the box: pheromones, repellents, attractants, piddle pads, obstacles placed in the spots where he peed. Nothing worked. He kept peeing in corners, on doors, and worst of all in the kitchen sink. I think that was the game-changer. The only way we could stop him from doing that was to leave a half-inch of water in the sink. And if it ever slipped our minds to stop the drain and fill the sink after using it, he would get in there and pee almost the minute after we walked away. It was like he had a special sense just for detecting when the sink was empty.

So B finally took him to the vet, explained what was wrong and asked them to check him to see if he had a medical problem that might have made him want to pee outside the box. She also explained that if he didn’t have any medical issues and they couldn’t suggest something to stop him, then we were going to surrender him because we were done with mopping up cat pee every day.

They suggested Prozac but cautioned that it might take as long as six weeks to get results. We’d been trying other methods for a lot longer than six weeks, so we were willing to give this a try. If I recall correctly, he peed in a corner just once the day after his vet appointment, and he hasn’t peed anywhere but in the cat box since. At least, not that we know of, but he didn’t hide his habit before so it doesn’t seem likely that he’s hiding it now.

He’s a different cat now, a lot calmer and not quite as needy. But most importantly we didn’t have to surrender him to a shelter where he almost certainly would have been put down, because who’s going to adopt a cat with a reputation for peeing? So he gets to stay and we get to not mop up his pee and everybody’s a lot less stressed now, cats included.

prozac cat | 9:17 am CST
Category: Scooter | Tags:
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Wednesday, July 21st, 2021

I fixed the latch on the door to the garage, and now I keep walking into it.

More accurately, I fixed the latch on one of the doors to the garage. The inside door is a hollow-core door, the kind you would find in the doorway of any room in your house. It’s not insulated, so there’s a storm door, too. The latch on the storm door has not worked for years, allowing me to just push it out of my way as I walk through the door.

I was fixing lots of broken stuff last weekend, so while I was wielding all those tools and slapping on all that glue, I took apart all the bits that were keeping the latch on the door from working, fixed them, then put them back together. Latch works fine now.

Only problem with that is I have to re-train my muscle memory to stop and reach for the latch instead of giving the door a shove while I keep walking. Since I fixed the latch, I have yet to remember this. I must have walked into that door two dozen times already.

on latch | 4:00 pm CST
Category: Our Humble O'Bode
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Monday, June 21st, 2021

If today had gone according to plan, I would have awakened this morning in
a camp site near Minocqua after spending the day before paddling a kayak around the Rainbow Flowage. Alas, dear reader, it has not gone according to plan. After weeks of rainless days and relentless heat, the weather turned Saturday night and the rain poured down on Sunday, the very day I planned to depart for my up-north getaway. I reviewed the forecast every morning and every evening last week, hoping for a change, but this one time the weather service was spot-on with their prediction and the rain began to give everything a good soaking at the very hour they said it would.

I do not paddle in the rain. It’s not my idea of fun, so I put my plans on hold and instead spend the day cleaning out the garage: sweeping out the dirt and dust, tossing the garbage we’ve collected over the years, and putting in order the various tools and provisions we keep out there. I kept at it until about two in the afternoon when the rain went from an occasional drizzle to a steady soaking, then I went inside to shower off, and spent the rest of the afternoon watching videos and trying to solve a crossword. Very relaxing. Enjoyable, even. But not the plan.

The rain poured down all afternoon and most of the evening. It may have rained on and off all night. I felt … satisfied I made the right decision. Yeah, satisfied. That sounds like the right word. I didn’t feel good, exactly, because I would’ve rather been paddling and camping and out of the house, but if I’d gone, I’d have spent the afternoon and evening getting rained on, and that would not have made me feel good, either.

mice and men | 9:20 am CST
Category: daily drivel
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Saturday, June 19th, 2021

My feet are cracking really badly. I get deep cracks in the calluses that build up around the heels of both feet and on the very thick callus I get on the outside of my right big toe. The left big toe gets callused, too, but it’s not as thick and rarely cracks. Not yet.

This is not a new thing. My feet have cracked for ten, fifteen years, maybe twenty. Used to be, I had to deal with this only in the winter. I thought that was because I wore shoes more in the winter, which I believed made the calluses on my feet thicker. I believed thicker calluses plus dry winter air made the calluses brittle, therefore they cracked. Nobody told me that. I totally pulled that belief out of my butt.

It’s beginning to dawn on me that I know exactly squat about calluses and what makes them crack because I haven’t been wearing shoes much since Feb 2020. I was indoors pretty much all winter, usually wearing socks or slippers, and yet calluses thick as shoe leather continued to grow on my heels and toes instead of withering away to nothing if shoes had anything to do with making them. And my feet are still callused even though I’m padding around barefoot practically every day.

Also, I installed a whole-house humidifier last fall, and I rubbed my feet with coconut oil daily all winter long, and yet the calluses on my feet dried out and cracked deeply and painfully. They’re still cracking now, while the weather is humid and I’m slathering my feet in cocoa butter and bandaging the cracks after troweling them full of antibiotic unguent. It’s like they’re going to crack no matter how much I baby them. I’m starting to think I just have old, worn-out, shitty feet.

cracked | 8:02 am CST
Category: falling apart, random idiocy
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Monday, June 7th, 2021

Found this fossil of a word in a historical novel, published in 1951. Don’t remember ever reading or hearing it before.

billingsgate — vehemently expressed condemnation or disapproval; practiced fluency and variety of profane or obscene abuse; abuse, the most general term, usually implies the anger of the speaker and stresses the harshness of the language.

Origin: the fish merchants of Billingsgate in London were famous for their vulgar language.

billingsgate | 7:27 pm CST
Category: daily drivel
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Sunday, June 6th, 2021

I came home from a trip to the store to find my neighbor in my driveway talking with my wife who was sitting on the front stoop. By way of explanation, not that I needed one, he said something along the lines of, “I saw she was here by herself so I came over, I’m only chatting her up, nothing to worry about, she’s perfectly safe by herself even if you were to take your kayak out all day and, oh, don’t worry about the holes I drilled in it.” We all laughed like it was the funniest thing anyone had ever said.

I get it that he was just joking around, but what a strange way to do it. “I saw your wife was all alone so I came over here to seduce her and also I premeditated your murder to get you out of the way!”

sex and murder | 4:45 pm CST
Category: daily drivel
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Went to Java Cat yesterday morning to pick up some beans. The line for the drive-up was backed up to the road, so I pulled into the parking lot expecting to wait for the line to shorten up, but as I pulled in I noticed customers going in and out the front door, so I parked the car, grabbed a mask, and went in.

I was the only person wearing a mask, so I took mine off. Not going to lie: It made me anxious. First time since February 2020 I’ve been indoors with any number of maskless people I don’t know. Found a table at the front of the shop, away from everybody else, to wait for my order because it was just too stressful to sit amongst the rest of the customers.

maskless | 12:19 pm CST
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Tuesday, May 25th, 2021

Lots of actors made repeat appearances on Star Trek in different roles and I usually felt pretty smug about spotting them, but I somehow repeat-watched episodes like “Arena” and “A Taste of Armageddon” and never realized the guy who played Captain Christopher Pike was sitting front and center the whole time!

right there | 6:25 am CST
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Monday, April 19th, 2021

When I was just a wee lad and I did something I shouldn’t have done, my grandmother would scold me by saying something that sounded like, “Nix kommer rouse in the Dutchman’s house!”

Every once in a while I search the internet for this phrase. I looked again this morning, reminded of it by something I heard on the radio, and this is the first time I’ve found the whole phrase, quoted from a play titled “The persecuted Dutchman, or, The original John Schmidt : a farce in one act” (published in the mid to late 1800s) — Two of the characters in the play use the phrase, written as “nix cum a rouse in a Dutchman’s house,” which looks to me like the author was phonetically spelling out German or Dutch words he didn’t know how to spell.

A friend of a friend on Facebook said the first half of the phrase “would be likely “Nichts komme ‘raus” since “heraus” tends to be shortened. In English, “don’t come out”, but why you shouldn’t come out in a Dutchman’s house is up for grabs. I thought they were pretty relaxed about such things, and very liberal.”

I wondered ‘Why a Dutchman?’ as well. I’m not familiar enough with older stereotypes of the Dutch to hazard a guess, and my searches have turned up only contemporary stereotypes that don’t shed any light on the idiom.

The phrase “nix cum rous” appeared to be in such wide use from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s that it was used often to mean a great many different things, depending on context.

O. Henry knew the phrase “nix cum rous” and used it often: In a story titled, “Telemachus, Friend” (published in the volume “Heart of the West” in 1907) he wrote one character dragging another with this insult: “…do you think you could get it into that Hubbard squash you call your head that you are nix cum rous in this business?” The context here indicates the phrase means something like “persona non grata.”

And when he used it in a story titled “A Chaparral Prince” (published in the volume “Heart of the West” in 1907) he wrote one character dismissing another this way: “We will now pass you the time of day, as it is up to us to depart. Ausgespielt — nixcumrous, Dutchy.” Here, the context indicates the phrase means something like “see you later” or “so long.”

When he used it again in a story titled “A Poor Rule” (published in the volume “Options” in 1909) he wrote one character giving another this left-handed complement: “Now, you ain’t bad looking, of course but that’s nix-cum-rous.” Here, the context indicates the phrase means something along the lines of, “that’s neither here nor there.”

There’s a poem recorded in The Ringling Brothers Route Book, 1893, which uses the phrase “nix-cum-rouse” as if it was the name of a circus animal:

Cousin Jasper says ’at they
Has a circus every day,
In Baraboo.

Says they’ve got a nix-cum-rous
Larger than the Kirby House,
In Baraboo.

And a snake all wings and feet
Longer ’un Wisconsin street,
In Baraboo.

And a spotted Blastodon
Bigger ’un the Plankington,
In Baraboo.

There’s story in verse titled “Der Freischuetz” in “Dwight’s Journal of Music” dated June 20, 1857, with a line halfway through the story which notes: “I vish dat I had nix cum rous, / Und shtaid mineself in bed to house.” There are notes at the end of the story which include a translation (in Latin and English!) for “nix cum ‘rous — ne exeat — not come out. No go.”

There’s an entry in a soldier’s diary dated January 20, 1864: “Nix cum rous. I hobble around some, Found little Ben Cain in another tent, bad – so bad.” I’m not sure what he means; if he’s saying he stayed it, it doesn’t make a lot of sense because he says immediately after that he found Ben Cain in another tent, so me must have gone out.

why a Dutchman | 3:59 am CST
Category: daily drivel
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Sunday, March 14th, 2021

Woke up early, tossed and turned, heard the clock strike four, gave in to the reality that I wasn’t going back to sleep.

While I was getting dressed, noticed my phone said the time was a little after five o’clock, which made me feel a little better. I don’t know why I feel bad about getting less sleep. It’s just that it seems not right somehow. So I felt better when I thought I got an hour more.

But then after I made myself a hot cuppa and settle in to catch up on the news, I saw the clock on the wall was an hour behind the clock on my phone and realized daylight savings must have kicked in last night. There goes my extra hour of sleep and my good feeling about getting it.

extra hour | 9:33 am CST
Category: random idiocy | Tags:
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Friday, March 12th, 2021

My new favorite music video:

pumpkin spice bitch | 11:34 am CST
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Wednesday, March 10th, 2021

If I live to be 100 years old, I will never understand how anybody in the States was comfortable with spreading a disease that killed more than half a million Americans in less than a year, when all they had to do to prevent it was wear a mask and avoid crowding together.

NEVER EVER | 4:55 pm CST
Category: Life & Death, this modern world, yet another rant | Tags:
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Sunday, March 7th, 2021

A man walks into a bar …

I love watching stuff like this because it’s so gloriously cheeseball that it’s unintentionally funny! This is such a bizarre version of the wild west that it’s hilarious!

James Caan is supposed to be a total badass. I get that. I can tell because he narrows his eyes to slits while he stares down the guy he’s confronting. I’ve seen Clint Eastwood do this a million times. Also, Caan barely moves his lips while he talks really, really quietly for a long time about how the other guy did him wrong, apparently to bore the other guy into a false sense of security. (Clint didn’t talk much.) Caan’s really not the badass, though. In the real wild west, Charlie Hagan would’ve been the badass, and Caan would’ve been a dead guy who briefly thought he was so slick that he went by the nickname ‘Mississippi.’

There’s a conceit in western films that the bad guy believes wholeheartedly that nobody can get the drop on him, so he doesn’t realize he’s in trouble until it’s too late. But a feral human doesn’t wait, and Hagan is not only feral, he’s the kind of feral human who casually kills people if they cheat him playing cards. I’m pretty sure Hagan would have drilled Caan full of holes as soon as Caan took his eyes off Hagan. He might have let Caan dramatically take off his hat, just so both of Caan’s hands were occupied holding something besides a weapon, but I doubt it.

But let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that Hagan let Caan reel off a boring monologue about his buddy Johnny Diamond, and when Caan was finished, Hagan went for his gun, which was right there on his hip, while Caan had to reach for a knife that he kept sheathed at the back of his neck. I guess Caan put it there because that not only makes him look way more badass, but it’s also supposed to make us believe it’s hidden, even though enough of the handle would have to be sticking out in order for Caan to grab it quickly. (Not that I’m saying he grabbed it quickly.)

Now I’m no expert, but it seems to me that a guy who was familiar with the use of a pistol would not have gotten very far in life, especially a life in which he casually shot people for cheating at cards, if he couldn’t plug a guy who had to lift his arm up over his head to pull a hidden knife out of his shirt. I mean, how many times did Caan have to practice that move to do it at all without slitting his own throat, let alone do it faster than a man can draw a gun from a holster?

I guess you could make the argument that Hagan was a bad shot even though he hung around in wild west saloons, killing gamblers to collect the kitty, but frankly I think that’s an argument made in bad faith. Even if old Johnny Diamond was the first guy Hagan killed, which doesn’t seem likely, it’s hard to believe Hagan would have gone another two years playing cards in saloons without killing anybody else. And if he was a bad shot, it’s more than a little hard to believe he would’ve survived.

So worst-case scenario is, Hagan is not the fastest gun in the west but he’s probably no slouch; he’s killed at least one guy but probably more than one; he kills for shockingly casual reasons, such as believing that someone has cheated him at cards; and he hangs out in wild west saloons, the kind of places where he wouldn’t drop his guard or let a guy like Caan talk him to death. Hagan would have killed Caan the second he got the chance.

the wild west badass switcheroo | 8:21 am CST
Category: entertainment, movies | Tags: , , ,
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Saturday, February 27th, 2021

At work, we use a Microsoft Access database to keep track of the cases we investigate. It’s a simple database. It’s designed to give us a case number for each investigation, record the type of case, has a place for us to make notes. Very basic stuff.

In The Before Times, everybody would keep the database open on their desktop for convenience, but when we started working from home we discovered that Access doesn’t work well over the VPN we’re using. It’s very slow and when more than one person is in it, it gets very janky and sometimes makes records disappear, so we adopted a policy of only one person in the database at a time, and we would notify each other in a chat room when we were going in.

One of my coworkers has a set of fingers which almost always fumbles the phrase “going in” so it comes out “goin gin,” and whenever she does that, I feel it’s my obligation to find a gif of somebody hoisting a cocktail glass in salute, or mixing a cocktail, or drinking straight out of a gin bottle. Turns out there’s an infinite number of gifs out there on the subject of drinking liquor. I wonder why.

goin gin | 8:48 am CST
Category: booze, coworkers, food & drink, office work, work | Tags:
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Sunday, February 21st, 2021

When My Darling B is puttering around the house, she hums the first few bars of the 1972 top ten hit “Popcorn” instead of humming some made-up nonsense like “tum te tum tum” the way the rest of us do.

popcorn | 8:14 pm CST
Category: daily drivel
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Saturday, February 13th, 2021

35 years ago this month I went to San Antonio to start basic training in the Air Force.

One of the skills we had to master in basic was getting dressed, running downstairs and falling into formation in an impossibly short time, something like thirty seconds. At first we couldn’t do it because most of us couldn’t even tie our laces in thirty seconds, to say nothing of the rest of it. After a few days, maybe a week of practice, though, we could reliably get dressed in about ten seconds by learning tricks like speed-lacing our boots and leaving a set of fatigues, neatly folded, on the chairs by our lockers. We’d sleep in our socks and when reveille sounded, jump out of bed, pull on our pants, speed-lace our boots, and button our shirts on the way out the door.

We also knew our places in formation after only a few days. I was in the front row near the right corner, for instance, so I just went there instead of jumping in any old place. When everybody learned to do that, we didn’t have to go through the time-wasting “if you’re taller, tap” routine that sorted everyone so the formation was neatly arranged with the tallest people in the front.

One morning, though, everything was confusion. Most of us were outside with plenty of time to spare, but some people were late, leaving gaps in the formation that we automatically filled in until the missing people came straggling down the stairs. After they wormed their way into their usual spot we had to re-form. Thrown out of our routine, it took us a lot longer than thirty seconds to clean this mess up.

Word got around fast that the stragglers were late because the sleeves of their shirts had been knotted while they slept, but nobody seemed to know who did the deed. Our sergeant was furious. When we were all back upstairs he herded us into the day room and demanded that whoever knotted the shirt sleeves had better come clean or there would be hell to pay. Nobody ever fessed up to him, though, and I don’t recall that we got into any more trouble for it.

On the last night of basic training the sergeant returned our civilian clothes to us and left us alone for the night. With no supervision, we had the closest thing to a party we could’ve had without music or alcohol: we stayed up late into the night, goofing around and telling stories.

The guy assigned to the bed right next to mine was Rick Neptune. At one point, Rick and I were sitting on our beds, facing one another, and he said, “You remember that time somebody tied knots in the sleeves of some people’s sleeves?”

“Yeah?” I said.

He laughed. “That was me.”

He’d gotten away with one of the most memorable pranks of basic training, but he couldn’t leave without telling somebody. Thanks, Rick, for letting me into your confidence. I still get a chuckle out of that all these years later.

knots to you | 2:05 pm CST
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career, story time
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Tuesday, February 2nd, 2021

Scooter peed in the kitchen this morning. A lot. He sprayed the sides of the recycling bin and the bottles of vinegar, and he left a wide puddle of pee on the floor around the bin and bottles. I mopped up the pee, sprayed everything with formula twice. I cleaned all of the back one-third of the floor just to make sure I got it all.

Scooter pees | 6:25 am CST
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Thursday, January 21st, 2021

“Trump is not president and his ilk are not the executive branch.” — first thought to pop into my head after waking this morning.

It’s beginning to sink in that our country is not entirely governed by raving lunatics. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and the rest of those lickspittle Trumpophiles are still in, so our government is not entirely lunatic-free and perhaps never will be but I am inclined this morning to feel at least some small measure of hope.

And within hours of his inauguration, Biden signed a pile of executive orders undoing some of the most cruel orders enacted by Trump, and that lets me feel a little bit more hope.

I haven’t entirely unclenched myself yet because I’ve been clenching every muscle in my body so tightly for so long that it’s not something I can undo overnight, but I’m beginning to feel some relief. I’m beginning to breathe easier.

a small measure of hope | 6:29 am CST
Category: this modern world
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When day comes we ask ourselves,
where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry,
a sea we must wade
We’ve braved the belly of the beast
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace
And the norms and notions
of what just is
Isn’t always just-ice
And yet the dawn is ours
before we knew it
Somehow we do it
Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed
a nation that isn’t broken
but simply unfinished
We the successors of a country and a time
Where a skinny Black girl
descended from slaves and raised by a single mother
can dream of becoming president
only to find herself reciting for one
And yes we are far from polished
far from pristine
but that doesn’t mean we are
striving to form a union that is perfect
We are striving to forge a union with purpose
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and
conditions of man
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us
but what stands before us
We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,
we must first put our differences aside
We lay down our arms
so we can reach out our arms
to one another
We seek harm to none and harmony for all
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew
That even as we hurt, we hoped
That even as we tired, we tried
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious
Not because we will never again know defeat
but because we will never again sow division
Scripture tells us to envision
that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree
And no one shall make them afraid
If we’re to live up to our own time
Then victory won’t lie in the blade
But in all the bridges we’ve made
That is the promise to glade
The hill we climb
If only we dare
It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit,
it’s the past we step into
and how we repair it
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation
rather than share it
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy
And this effort very nearly succeeded
But while democracy can be periodically delayed
it can never be permanently defeated
In this truth
in this faith we trust
For while we have our eyes on the future
history has its eyes on us
This is the era of just redemption
We feared at its inception
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs
of such a terrifying hour
but within it we found the power
to author a new chapter
To offer hope and laughter to ourselves
So while once we asked,
how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?
Now we assert
How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was
but move to what shall be
A country that is bruised but whole,
benevolent but bold,
fierce and free
We will not be turned around
or interrupted by intimidation
because we know our inaction and inertia
will be the inheritance of the next generation
Our blunders become their burdens
But one thing is certain:
If we merge mercy with might,
and might with right,
then love becomes our legacy
and change our children’s birthright
So let us leave behind a country
better than the one we were left with
Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest,
we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one
We will rise from the gold-limbed hills of the west,
we will rise from the windswept northeast
where our forefathers first realized revolution
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states,
we will rise from the sunbaked south
We will rebuild, reconcile and recover
and every known nook of our nation and
every corner called our country,
our people diverse and beautiful will emerge,
battered and beautiful
When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it

— Amanda Gorman, “The Hill We Climb,” recited by the author at the inauguration of Joseph Biden and Kamala Harris, January 20, 2021

the hill we climb | 6:02 am CST
Category: Big Book of Quotations, current events, this modern world
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Monday, January 4th, 2021

I got a visit from the Weed Man today.

He wasn’t selling weed. That would have been something I’d have considered buying.

He was selling lawn care. In January. As in, the first week in January, while our yard was covered in a couple inches of snow, we got a knock on the door from somebody selling something that didn’t exist just then and wouldn’t for many months.

I let him introduce himself, told him I was doing just fine (he asked), and then cut straight to the chase: “Thanks, but we’re not buying. Thanks.” I had to get him off our porch before I laughed in his face.

He was really very nice about it; said thank you and have a nice day before trudging through the snow to the next house.

weed man | 4:35 pm CST
Category: Our Humble O'Bode, random idiocy, yard work | Tags: ,
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