For the past I-don’t-know-how-many-years, it seemed to me that my typing skills were steadily deteriorating, and I was sure it was a sign that I was slowly succumbing to old age or some dread neurological disease.
Then, about a month ago, I hauled one of my manual typewriters out of storage because the plumbing emergency that made it rain in our basement also soaked the IBM Selectric I normally use when I type up this drivel, so it was in the shop getting repaired. I’ve intended to take that Selectric in for a cleaning and a tune-up ever since I found it at Goodwill and bought it for three dollars, but have put it off year after year because I’m extremely good at putting things off. If I could get pregnant, I’m pretty sure I could put off giving birth until my fifth trimester. But when water came pouring down from a heating vent that was directly over the Selectric, I knew I had no choice but to take it in for service, and if I put it off, the insurance company wouldn’t reimburse me. So there was one tiny silver lining to an otherwise awful moment.
For the purposes of daily journaling, then, I grabbed a Smith-Corona manual that appears to have been made in the 60s or 70s that I found at a garage sale about ten years ago. It’s not a bad little typewriter, really, just a little noisy but very durable and easy to use. The action forces me to concentrate on punching every key so it prints evenly, and that’s how I discovered that I’m not a bad typist after all. I typed out several error-free pages, and on most pages I averaged two or three errors. Full disclosure: I still type out pages that are complete train wrecks, with lots of typeovers and exed-out words, but they’re the exception. When I type on a computer keyboard, however, or on the Selectric (which has the light touch of a computer keyboard with no feedback), it’s not unusual at all for me to muff at least every third or fourth word. The backspace key is without question the most-used key on every laptop in the house and at work.
Our raspberry patch is mostly accidental. Our neighbor had a huge raspberry patch that took up half of her yard. A year or two after we moved in, we noticed a few small canes sprouting in our yard. I guess they creep across the ground like that all by themselves.
So we encouraged them to grow along the garden fence at first, and then a bunch of them started to grow in the corner of the yard beside the garden, so we let them. That patch has grown to take over the corner of the yard and became more productive than the canes in the garden this year. I don’t know exactly how productive; we didn’t keep track, and even if we had, we still wouldn’t know because we ate a lot of berries while we picked.
We went out every day to pick, sometimes twice a day, eating almost ask of what we picked at first, but at their peak the patch was producing way more berries than we could eat in a day so we started freezing them in quart jars. But mostly we ate them –for snacks, for dessert, mixed up in fruit smoothies. My Darling B sprinkled them in her yogurt.
And now the season is over. There are a few berries to be had every day, but not a lot, so what’s in the freezer is what we’ve got. Too bad, because I was really enjoying them.
What was such a great big deal about The Revenant? I thought it was okay, but just okay. It really wasn’t that much different from any Clint Eastwood movie about the wild, wild west. Hard times. Mountain men. Betrayal. Death. Vengeance. Get me something with Lee Van Cleef and I’ll enjoy it a whole lot more.
I thought the bear attack looked great, but I honestly didn’t have the horrified visceral reaction that most people seemed to feel about that scene. Honestly, all I could think was, Wow, they made that look good. That looks really good. How did they do that without having an actual Grizzly bear maul Leonardo Cappucino? Because obviously they didn’t do that. And I knew it probably had something to do with cables and camera angles, but I knew that if I were to aspire to that level of technical photography, I would be dead of old age before I had it in the can. But I never once thought: Ouch. I’ll bet that hurt. Maybe I’m just a block of wood, as far as that’s concerned.
The basement is starting to look almost normal again. Someone from the clean-up team came by on Friday to haul away the last of the surprisingly small number of things that were completely ruined by the water. She even swept and mopped the floor, so if you don’t look up, it looks pretty good down there! If you do look up, though, the gaping holes where they cut out the sagging drywall look anything but normal. Another contractor is supposed to come through in about a week to replace the drywall that got cut out, patch up the holes they drilled to let the water out and the air in, and repaint the ceiling. Then I can get back in there and hang the lights.
I walked to the market yesterday to pick up some beer. About halfway there, I could see a woman in her yard doing a little light landscaping. She had a wheelbarrow full of wood chips that she was spreading along a row of big stones that bordered her yard. She had her back to me as I approached, or rather, she had her butt to me, because she was hunched over her work until I was about fifteen or twenty feet away. Then she stood up, dusted off her hands and started to dance a little jig. That’s when I could see the white cords coming from her ear buds. She dipped right, dipped left, then waggled her butt before turning to grab another big handful of wood chips from the wheelbarrow. When she caught sight of me out of the corner of her eye, she froze. I could almost see the thought bubbles floating over her head: “Has he been there long enough to see that little dance I did? He has, hasn’t he? Shit, what do I do now?” I had to laugh. Who wouldn’t have? And she laughed, too, and then went back to work, and I kept on walking.
We hired a house cleaner to come visit Our Humble O’Bode yesterday. This is a first for us. Before this, we cleaned house every two or three weeks, because we hate doing it, and because we wanted the weekends to do whatever we wanted, instead of spending hours on Saturday or Sunday cleaning. So B booked a visit with a service right here in Monona, and a house cleaner came by at nine.
With nothing to do for a couple of hours, we lounged like lords on the sofa while we finished our coffee, then got dressed and drove down the road to the local Kohl’s store to buy some new sheets for the bed. Wandering through the housewares section of the store reminded us that we should replace our tatty bath towels, so we picked out a few of those, too, as well as a new shower curtain. We were back home with the swag about an hour and a half later.
When we came through the door, the first thing I noticed was the sound of running water. It sounded a lot like the wash machine was filling up, and I wondered if the house cleaner was getting ready to wash cleaning rags, but as I stepped further into the house I could tell that the splash I heard wasn’t coming from the wash machine. It seemed to be coming from the other end of the house. Why was she filling the tub? I headed toward the bathroom, just to take a look, and then, when I was in the living room, I realized what was going on and stayed to run, as much as you can run through a room full of furniture.
The toilet was overflowing. It gets plugged easily and when it does, the water keeps running. When it did this a couple months ago, the water ran down into the vent cut into the floor, and from there into the basement. It was one hell of a mess to clean up then, and that time we shut off the water almost as soon as it overflowed. I had no idea how long water had been running into the vent this time, but when I got down the stairs to the basement, where I could see water running like a river pay the bar of the stairs, I could guess the toilet had probably been overflowing since we left about an hour earlier.
One of the previous owners had done a pretty good job of finishing part of the basement into a room. He framed a wall to divide a corner from the rest of the basement, then put in a drop ceiling, finishing it off with sheet rock. I’d added overhead florescent lights, book cases, a desk, and in the back half of the room I’d started to build the model train set of my dreams.
The water from the bathroom had run down onto the sheet rock ceiling, then spread across the length and breadth of the room. It came raining down through every hole I’d drilled in the ceiling to hang overhead lamps, or attach book shelves. Water ran from an overhead vent as if it were a spigot cranked wide open.
How do you even begin to clean up a mess like that? Well, if you have home owner’s insurance, which we had the foresight to get, then you don’t have to clean it up. You just call the hot line and your insurance company will send people to clean it up for you. Not only will they clean it up, they’ll also set up six industrial fans and two oven-sized dehumidifiers to dry everything out.
All credit for thinking of calling the insurance company goes to My Darling B, by the way. While I was slogging through the mess in the basement, wondering what to do and how to do it, she got in the phone to find out what the insurance would cover, and was soon advising me to cease and desist because the cavalry was on the way. An hour later, two young and very capable people were at our door to survey the situation, clean up the mess, and install the fans and dehumidifiers.
They even managed to save a lot of the books and record albums that got wet. And mercifully few of then got wet, as it turned out. I was sure they were all goners, but the damaged books were all in the one book shelf over the record album collection. The water missed all the other books, and there were lots of them. How lucky was that?
I have been awake since three-thirty this morning, and just for the record I am not better for it.
“What are we going to do about you?” My Darling B asked the N-cat, when she finally surrendered to not-sleeping and wandered into the kitchen, where I was preparing the morning pot o’ joe.
“Can we boil him and eat him, maybe?” I asked.
“That doesn’t sound very … appealing,” she responded.
And then, later on, she said something about how we couldn’t kill him because we’d burn in hell for doing something like that. “Will I be able to get any sleep there?” I asked.
“No, probably not. Hell, for you, is probably listening to a cat paw at the door and whine all night.” And with those words, it’s very likely that she defined what I’ll be doing for eternity after I shuffle off this mortal coil.
I see that A Room Of One’s Own is for sale. It’s one of the few remaining independent bookstores in Madison, and I hope it finds a buyer because I would hate for Madison to lose another bookstore. I would buy it myself, except that I would have to rename it Go Away, I’m Reading, which I realize isn’t very inviting but I gotta be me. I would sit in an overstuffed chair in the corner, always reading a book but always happy to take your payment for the book you wanted, and to hand you change from the dented gray metal box on the end table beside the chair, but if you asked me a question I would have to answer, “Hang on, I gotta finish this chapter.” Or, if I knew that finishing the chapter wasn’t going to be enough, “Go away, I’m reading.” So I have a pretty good feeling that I wouldn’t be in the bookstore business very long. Still, it’s a pleasant enough fantasy.
One of my internet friends sent me a link to a video of a steam engine. Not a locomotive, but a steam-driven water pump. And not just any water pump, but a pump that kept water flowing to a huge chunk of the city of London. The engine that drove the pumps was literally as tall as a three story building, and it still works. A small army of volunteers keeps it in working order and fires it up occasionally for the pleasure of visitors.
To get a steam engine that big going, the engineer uses a much smaller steam engine. Comically small, compared to the big engine. When I first laid eyes on it, I thought, “That’s not such an impressive engine.” And then I realized that the engine was behind it. The starter engine is barely half as tall as the engineer, and it rattles and shakes when he engages it with the flywheel, which is so large it barely appears to be moving at first, but it keeps chugging and the engineer keeps increasing the speed until all the cylinders on the big engine have been rotated through a couple cycles to warm them up and are ready to go on their own.
Even then, they’re just barely ready. When the engineer disengages the starter engine from the flywheel, his body language seems to indicate that he’s not sure the big engine will keep going. He windmills his arms so wildly that I thought he was going to fall over backwards.
And now it’s time for a quick roundup of how the cat’s training is coming along: It’s not. He let me sleep in on Wednesday morning, and by “sleep in” I mean that he didn’t wake me up several times in the wee hours of the morning, but instead let me sleep until my alarm started to bleep. Every other day this week, he pawed and scratched at the door, whining to be fed, or to be let in, or whatever the hell he’s whining about. Ignoring him has not made a bit of difference one way or another, in spite of the advice I’ve read on web sites devoted to training your cat, because cats cannot be trained. I was a fool to think they could be.
“Are you gonna kill him?” B asked me this morning.
“Can I?” I responded, testing the seriousness of that question.
“Of course not,” she answered, popping that bubble with finality.
“Then why did you offer it up as an option?”
“Because I thought you’d see how ridiculous it is.”
“Although I acknowledge that it’s wrong, I wouldn’t say it’s ridiculous.”
“Okay, wrong, then.”
I was never going to kill him, although I frankly admit I have fantasized about the kind of Rube Goldberg devices I could rig up outside our bedroom door to stop him from scratching it, and one of them has a grand piano suspended from a string.
We had ramen for dinner at the Robin Room, which is a cocktail bar on Johnson Street. Last night, though, they had two local chefs in their kitchen (they have a kitchen, even though they’re mostly about cocktails) whipping up bowls of some of the most delicious ramen I’ve ever eaten.
The were planning to start serving ramen at seven, so we got there at about quarter till and the place was already pretty busy. Still, we managed to snag a couple stools at the bar and only had to wait maybe five or ten minutes for the bartender to get around to taking our drinks orders.
While the bartender was making our drinks, we noticed that the beginnings of a line was starting to form at the back of the bar. I suggested to B that she go get in line so she could pick up her ramen right away, and then I would get in line to get mine.
It didn’t quite work out that way. Just five minutes or so after she got in line, I looked up from my phone to see that there were now at least two dozen people in a line stretching from the kitchen at the back of the bar all the way to the front door. Even if B came back with her ramen right away, I wouldn’t get my bowl for quite some time. In fact, most of the people at the end of the line never got any ramen; they sold out in less than an hour.
B, however, did not leave me high and dry. When she was finally able to place her order, she asked for two bowls of ramen, and I went to get mine as soon as she brought hers back to her stool.
It was some of the most fabulously delicious ramen I’ve ever eaten. The noodles were just right, the broth was rich and buttery, and the pork roll was nice and fatty. I went to bed fat and happy. It all turned out to be a little too rich for me, though. Two hours after turning out the light, I woke up with a bloated belly and the feeling that my heart was somewhere beneath my stomach, thudding away. My constitution has become such a delicate little thing in my old age. I was up most of the night trying to get it to settle down. I will never regret eating that ramen, though.
I had an instructor in college who despaired the state of the English language because of the way people misused the word “hopefully.” I understood his argument but I didn’t get where he was coming from because a) I was in the camp of people who felt that English was a language that had been evolving for hundreds of years and would continue to do so, mainly because b) there wasn’t a force on earth that could stop people from misusing “hopefully” or any other word, and besides, c) I grew up using “hopefully” the wrong way, i.e. “Hopefully, people will continue to use words in new and inventive ways.”
Now I’m old and fossilized, and a lot less tolerant of new and inventive adaptations. A single word or phrase will spin me up in a second. While driving home from work today, I heard an NPR correspondent say “hone in on,” a phrase that’s like a hot needle in my ear. Honestly, if you want to ruin my day, maybe even my whole week, all you have to do is say something like, “this really hones in on the the problem,” which probably doesn’t sound wrong to you if you’re under thirty. Everybody says it, and has been saying it for years. It’s practically normal. I should be used to it by now, but it makes me want to grind my teeth right down to the roots because it’s WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!
Or, here’s another phrase that clunks up against my head: “VIN number,” for the same stupid reason that “ATM machine” bothers certain English nerds. “ATM” stands for “automated teller machine,” so when you say “ATM machine,” what you’re literally saying is “automated teller machine machine.” In the same way, what you’re literally saying when you say “VIN number” is “vehicle identification number number.”
And it just so happens that I work for the DMV, and my desk is right next to a call center, so I get to hear the people who pick up the phones ask callers, “can I have the VIN number?” a couple dozen times a day. Right after that they usually say, “Vehicle Identification Number,” because the caller didn’t know what “VIN number” meant. Makes me want to jump up on my desk so everybody can see me over their cubicle walls and shout, “DO YOU SEE WHY THAT IS SO WRONG? DO YOU?” But they wouldn’t, and I’d only be hauled away in a straitjacket, so I stay firmly rooted in my seat, grinding my teeth.
Hopefully, people will stop doing this. They won’t, but I’m hopeful.