While putting away the various flotsam and jetsam scattered across the living room floor of Our Humble O’Bode the day after our return from a weekend at the Chain O’ Lakes, I moved an empty bag aside to find … cat puke. One of our little rascals felt the need to unload his or her morning meal, found a corner to barf in last weekend and left a prezzie for us. How lovely.
Remind me again why we keep pets? I’ve heard that they’re supposed to keep your blood pressure low and restore calm to your life, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with our cats. Some day I’ll find out, and I promise I’ll share it with you. I wouldn’t hold my breath, though, if I were you. It’ll probably be something really boring, like “They’re good for catching mice,” or some such. Just don’t expect too much, is all I’m saying.
cat prezzie |
6:52 am CDT
Category: daily drivel
| Tags: cats
I was sitting on the back porch of a cabin on the Chain O’ Lakes with My Darling B on Saturday afternoon, taking in the sunshine and enjoying the good company, when six or seven people came trooping past on their way to the boat dock. The last guy in the line, wearing the most beautiful Hawaiian-print swimming shorts either one of us had seen in a long time, was carrying one of those wooden whistles that goes whooo-whooo like a steam train. When he saw us, he raised it to his mouth and blew a couple quick blasts, but instead of “All Aboard!” he said something like, “Everyone in the water!” The lake was full of boats all afternoon and hundreds of people were taking advantage of the gorgeous weather to go swimming.
“Maybe a little later,” I hedged.
“Those are great swim trunks!” B added.
He chuckled at B and turned around to show off his shorts. “Got ’em at a thrift store,” he told us. “They’re kind of big, but, well, you gotta economize now that we got Obama. There’s seven hundred thousand people on the mall today protesting, even though the lamestream liberal media says it’s only ten thousand or so, and that they’re all racists. But I know who to believe!” Then he tooted on his horn again before continuing on his way, laughing as if he’d just delivered the best punchline ever.
After he was gone I turned to B, whose mouth hung open, still amazed. “Where did that come from?” she begged me to tell her.
“Can’t say, ‘Hey, nice shorts!’ to passing strangers any more, I guess.”
nice shorts |
6:53 am CDT
Category: current events, daily drivel, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, vacation, yet another rant
| Tags: Chain O' Lakes, politics
Back home again after spending a weekend at a cabin on the Chain O’ Lakes with Mom and the Texas O-Folk, Pete and Melissa and their family, who came up to spend a week splishing and splashing in the waters of the Chain. My Darling B had to return to Madison to work Monday and Tuesday so I came back with her. Call me needlessly sentimental, but I don’t like sleeping alone, or thinking that she’s got to face a day at the office without a sympathetic shoulder to lean on. Besides, who’d make coffee for her in the morning? No, it was essential that I went home with her.
The weekend had perfect weather, perfect company and even perfect food. Most days were warm but not too hot, with lots of sunshine. We went for long walks along the road and amazingly were never bothered by the hoards of mosquitoes that chased us indoors whenever we dared to venture outdoors in Monona. The Texas O-Folk were still recovering from their long drive but were still willing to wait up late for us when we were trying to find the cabin that first night, and the youngest O-Man introduced me to the card game Uno, or re-introduced me, I should say. I played it years ago but he gave me a thorough refresher, even explaining the difference between the new and old version of the cards in the deck. And sunshine … we had nothing but sunshine. What more do I need to say about that?
Back Home |
9:21 pm CDT
Category: daily drivel
Boo brought me breakfast in bed! What a good Boo!
It’s not at all unusual for Boo to jump up into our bed when the alarm goes bleep in the morning so she can lay claim to the warm spot I leave behind when I get up to make coffee for My Darling B. Sometimes she even cuddles up next to me as if maybe she likes me, but I think she might actually be trying to push me aside so she can curl up before the warmth fades away, even though she weighs less than a tenth of what I weigh.
So I didn’t think anything of it when she jumped up next to me as I sat on the edge of the bed this morning, rubbing my eyes to get the sleepers out. I even put a hand on her head to rub her ears a bit, and that’s about when she ducked and Puh! spat out a mouse, her special gift for me.
Oh, Boo! I never knew you loved me that much!
Prezzie from Boo |
9:21 pm CDT
Category: daily drivel
| Tags: Boo, cats
There’s a Volkswagen microbus parked along the curb on Midvale Avenue, the street we drive every morning when I take My Darling B to work. It’s got a fresh coat of toothpaste-green paint and For Sale a sign in the back window and each time I passed by I became even more powerfully convinced that it was a ‘69 model. Then, day before yesterday, the bus wasn’t there, and it was missing again yesterday morning. I figured the owner had finally found a buyer, but when I drove B to work this morning it was back.
I stopped to have a look after dropping her off, peeking in all the windows. The owner had done some work inside, putting new liners in the doors and overhead, and cutting some foam to fit across the rear platform, presumably so he could stretch out back there in a sleeping bag. Squatting next to the passenger-side tire, I found the plate fixed to the side of the bus by Westfalia: it was stamped with the date 1969.
My very first car was a ‘69 Volkswagen microbus. Nicknamed “Warbaby” by my friends because it was in pretty sad shape, I bought it for five hundred bucks from a guy who threw in a vintage copy of John Muir’s book, “How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A manual of Step by Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot.” When it came to auto mechanics, I was definately a “compleat” idiot; I added lots of grease to the pages of that book.
Here’s my favorite Volkswagen fix-it story: I stopped for gas near Kingman, Arizona, on a cross-country trip to California in my second Volkswagen, a lemon-yellow 69 bus named Maria. It’s been my experience that all old Volkswagens have names. The previous owner will usually tell you what it is when they’re sure you’re the one who will take good care of their baby.
I have no idea what Kingman, Arizona, is like. It may be a lovely place, but the gas station I stopped at was out on the interstate, surrounded by desert. I’d been driving across the desert for more than twenty-four hours without a break and still had a long haul across the Mojave Desert to look forward to, so after gassing up you can imagine how far my heart sank when I climbed into the bus, turned the ignition key and all I could get from the engine in response was a click.
I stared in disbelief at the dashboard dials, as if that would tell me anything, then did what everybody does after they turn the key to their car and the engine doesn’t turn over: I turned the key again. Why do we even do that? It’s like we’re thinking, Maybe it just wasn’t paying attention the first time. Now that it knows I’m back it’ll turn right over. But I got the same response the second time that I got the first time: Click.
I was too tired to panic, and I had lots of time on my hands, so I dug out my “Compleat Idiot” book out from under the back seat, I opened it to Chapter VII, Engine Stops or Won’t Start and began to flip through the pages, considering each possibility. The dashboard warning lights came on when I turned the key, so the battery was connected and the electrical system seemed to be short-free and in good working order. “Step 5. Check the Solenoid, Starter and Switch” seemed to hold some promise, so I read it a bit more carefully:
Slide under the right side of the car so your head is forward of the axle. Coming out of the engine will be a round thing that looks like an electric motor and the smaller round thing attached to it is the solenoid. At the end of the solenoid there’s a contact that connects the battery to the starter. Check all three connections on the solenoid and tighten them if they’re loose. Take a screwdriver and hold it across the two big connections. The motor should whirr into action but not turn over the engine. If it doesn’t, then your starter is shot.
I spent a lot of time on my back underneath this particular car, flashlight in one hand, screwdriver in the other. So much time that I kept a heavy denim coverall rolled up in a ball next to my tool chest under the back seat. I pulled on the coveralls and skootched under the back of the car with a screwdriver. No need for a flashlight, there was plenty of daylight left.
I easily found the starter. The Volkswagen is not a complicated machine. I’m pretty sure I could keep one running even now that so many of my brain cells have died that I have trouble remembering my age. After experimentally touching the bare metal shaft of a screwdriver across the contacts of the starter, it did indeed whirr into action. Breathing a great big sigh of relief, I scooted out from under the car to see what the book recommended I do to fix the problem:
If the starter whirrs satisfactorily, without untoward noises, then you can assume the starter motor is OK, so check the solenoid. Make sure the car’s out of gear and the key’s off. Connect your screwdriver across from the battery terminal to the small terminal and see what happens. If the engine gaily starts to turn over, then you have either a dirty solenoid or trouble with the ignition switch in the car. Take a small hammer and tap the solenoid with it wherever you can reach, except where the wire connections are.
Seriously? “Hit it with a hammer?” That’s how to fix this?
I had my doubts, but I was, as I said, going nowhere fast with plenty of time on my hands, so I wormed my way underneath the car once again to try it out. Touching the screwdriver to the connections did make the engine turn over. And, I have to add, causing a Volkswagen engine just inches from my face to jump to life while I was lying on my back underneath it is an experience that damned near made me shit my pants, even though I was expecting it.
Since the solenoid seemed to be the problem, I tapped it three or four times, front and back, with the round end of the ball peen hammer I kept in my tool box, just as the book suggested. Then I crawled out from under the car, climbed into the driver’s seat, took a deep breath, let it out again, and turned the key. Fired right up.
Huh. “Hit it with a hammer” works. How about that?
John Muir explains:
You have a dirty, rusty solenoid that doesn’t want to operate all the time. I had one in the old Bus and it’s a drag but when it didn’t want to work, I just rolled under the Bus with the screwdriver and hammer, made it work a few times and bounded it around a little. It’ll work for a long time before you need to do it again.
As it turned out, I had to crawl under the bus to hit the solenoid with a hammer again after pulling over to nap at a rest stop in Paso Robles, California. By the time I got to Pacific Grove, though, I learned that I could skip the step where I hit it and go straight to the part where I danced the screwdriver across the contacts. From there I figured out that, if all I had to do was give the solenoid an electrical jolt, I could connected a length of wire from the positive contact, run it to the engine compartment where I could easily get at it, and when the problem recurred I could just touch the end of the wire to an exposed bolt. Worked like a charm. I eventually replaced the solenoid, but in the meantime I didn’t have to crawl under the bus.
Every time I see a bus I want one again, in spite of all the work, and they do require a lot of tinkering and patience. The one for sale on Midvale gave me the itch to own one again, but I just don’t see it happening, given the way things are now. Also, we don’t have any place to park it. But it was nice to peek in the windows and remember again.
Veedub tale |
6:12 am CDT
Category: daily drivel, O'Folks, story time, The O-Mobile
| Tags: Maria, Warbaby
Special day: It was on this day, twenty-one years ago, that My Darling B answered, “I do,” after the preacher asked her if she wanted to be stuck with me for the rest of her natural life. Little did she know what she was getting into. Or maybe she did, after all. I certainly like to think she did. We’ve been around the world a couple times together, raised two fine sons to maturity before releasing them into the wild, and finally found a humble abode where we could settle down and quietly live together, she tending her garden, me … puttering, or whatever it is I do. It’s been a wonderful life, B. Happy anniversary.
She did |
6:10 am CDT
Category: daily drivel
| Tags: My Darling B
While I was doinking around on the internet yesterday I followed a link to someone’s blog where I found a list of the science fiction novels considered “masterworks” by the publishing house Orion Publishing Group. They consider these novels so important that they “deserve to be in print and kept there, rather than languishing as OP [out of print] titles,” so Orion has done the deserving thing and begun reprinting them.
And good on them … but bad on me. I haven’t read much science fiction lately but when I did, I devoured the stuff. Actually, I read virtually nothing but science fiction for the better part of a decade. I had a closet filled with science fiction paperbacks, and yet, to my great shame, I hardly put a dent in the list of novels considered masterworks by Orion.
For instance, I knew about Phillip K. Dick but, even this late in my life, I’ve read just one of his books, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? because, as any science fiction geek can tell you, it was the inspiration for the movie Blade Runner. Yet dozens, nay hundreds, perhaps even zillions of his books (how did that man find time to sleep?) are on this list. (Somebody at Orion really likes Phillip K. Dick.) (I almost wrote, “Somebody at Orion really likes Dick.” I’ve often wondered why everyone refers to him in print by his full name. Now I know.)
I have to confess, I didn’t like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I’ve read critical reviews that claim it’s a ground-breaking thought experiment that shakes the very foundations of what it means to be human, but stories about robots who act human have never managed to sway me from the very self-evident fact that they’re not human. They’re robots. Science fiction authors have dressed them up in skin, made them talk like people, gotten them to seduce other characters in the novel, but no matter how many times the author posed the question in every different way he could think of, it never left my mind that robots are just machines, and always will be. Now if somebody wrote a novel proving that humans were just robots, that would settle the whole thing for me.
But away from this distressing digression and back to the list: As I said, I scanned the titles considered “masterworks” by Orion and found myself wanting. How’s it possible that, in all the years of collecting science fiction novels, I haven’t read as many as half of all the books on this list? Worse than that, I haven’t heard of some of them! A Fall of Moondust is “the story of a lunar sightseeing cruiser which winds up trapped when a shift in the regolith sucks it into the Sea of Thirst.” That sounds like it would be right up my alley, yet I can’t say that I’ve ever seen it anywhere. And it was written by Arthur C. Clark! I loved Arthur C. Clark! How’d I miss that?
I’m not sure what I can do about this now. I suppose I can haunt the thrift stores or, when I’m desperate, visit Half-Price books, but I won’t be able to pick up any of the Orion reprints until they start showing up on the shelves of the aforementioned used-book stores because my cheapskate gene just won’t allow me to pay more than five bucks for a book, so I haven’t bought anything new since about 1990. What’s the retail price of a new paperback book these days? About twenty bucks, isn’t it? I’ve got books in my collection that sold for seventy-five cents when they were new. And back in my day we didn’t have hot water, either! Hey! Get off my lawn, you damn kids!
Book me |
6:15 am CDT
| Tags: books
Oy. The leaves have started to turn. Time to lament the passing of summer already.
Or not. I was talking with Timbo about this last night, and he and I agree: Summer’s too hot. I like summer up until about mid-July when the temps get high enough to fry my brains if I don’t wear a hat and all the bugs in the world descend on my yard with the intent to eat me alive whenever I go out there. Sometimes it’s so bad that, to do something as simple as mow the lawn, I have to dress up in long pants and a shirt with sleeves, take a shower in bug spray, and put on a straw hat with a comically wide brim so my ears won’t sizzle like bacon in the merciless summer sun. And that’s if I get to keep moving. If My Darling B needs help weeding the garden I also put a net over my head like the kind beekeepers wear. If I don’t, I just end up swatting myself in the face over and over again so much that the number of weeds I can pull is so close to nil it makes no difference.
I don’t like to sweat when I’m sitting still, either. I don’t mind popping a sweat when I’m working hard, but when I sit and read, or sit and eat, or just sit absolutely still, I want to remain dry. I don’t think that’s too unreasonable, do you? I don’t want to have to uncross and re-cross my legs to keep them from gluing each other together, I don’t like having my clothes stick to me no matter what I do, and it really bugs me when even the tiniest rivulet of sweat tickles its way down the back of my neck. I’m sitting still! None of that should be happening! The only time I should be dripping sweat is when I’m digging rocks as big as babies up from the garden, roofing a house, lifting dat barge or toting dat bale.
These are just a few reasons that, from mid-July until the end of August, all I want to do is stay inside the house with the airco on.
Autumn is a relief when it comes, as far as I’m concerned. I love the return of cool weather, and the idea that bugs are dying by the truckload is very satisfying. Where do they all go? You’d think we’d be knee-deep in bugs, but unless they’re under the leaves I don’t see them anywhere. We live in an older neighborhood with lots of mature trees, so great big swirling piles of leaves wander to and fro across all the yards. Even in our yard, one of the few on our street that doesn’t have any mature trees (thanks a lot, previous owners), I have to clean leaves out of the gutters and B rakes up huge piles that she composts and throws on her garden.
I expect the bugs are getting recycled in other ways, though, that the birds and bats are fattening up on them before the cold weather hits. The irony of bugs getting eaten instead of eating me is fairly satisfying, too. I can’t fatten up no matter what I do (I’m one of those guys) so this is the time of year when I dig my flannels out of storage, start wearing socks that go higher than my ankles and get out in the yard with a rake.
Only a few more weeks.
6:16 am CDT
Category: daily drivel
| Tags: seasons
When I picked her up from work, My Darling B noticed the back seats of the car were folded down. “What were you hauling home today?” she asked. She doesn’t miss a thing.
I made an early-morning visit to the local lumber yard to bring home some plywood to start Phase II of the great big bookcase project going on in our basement, my effort to unpack and organize our insanely huge collection of books. I also managed to navigate my way through the labyrinthine aisles of the warehouse hardware store to the exact spot where I could find a router bit big enough to chew a three-quarter inch divot out of said lumber. That leaves a clean-cut groove almost wide enough to stick your thumb in, the only drawback being that it makes the router about as easy to control as a drag racer. Makes about as much noise, too.
After marking the lumber and making sure everything was lined up the way I wanted it, I chucked the bit and fired up the router to try out my new toy. It barely touched the edge of the wood when BRAAPPP! It chewed a trench almost a half-inch long through good-quality pine. Broke off a nasty sliver from the edge, too. After I took a deep breath and a tighter grip on the router, I tried again. BRAAPPP! It made another half-inch trench that I didn’t see until it was all over. This was going to take a little getting used to. The machine-gun noise was making me a little jumpy, too.
Router bits tend wander across the face of the wood I’m working on if I don’t clamp a stout piece of finished wood in place to use as a guide, and oftentimes they will even if I do. It’ll happen in spite of the fact that I’m anticipating it and think I’ve mustered as tight a grip on the router’s handles as it’s possible for a human being to have. Moving slowly and deliberately, I’ll press the bit into the edge of the wood, concentrating on the router’s path as if willing it to proceed in a straight line, and whoops! There it goes in a crazy curlicue. A router is very headstrong, the adolescent of power tools.
A router with a three-quarter inch bit chucked in the collet, though, transforms a router from a headstrong adolescent into a skinheaded rebel with homicidal tendencies. I had to keep a deathgrip on the handles at all times, press the edge of the router face against the guide fence with all my weight, and move in the tiniest of increments. In response, the bit would grab a handful, so to speak, of pine and pull, and it wasn’t playing this game of tug-of-war to merely win, it wanted to drag me into the mud, jump on my back and roll me around to get me filthy dirty from head to toe. This was not a quiet day of relaxing wood working.
I finally finished up around two o’clock in the afternoon, leaving me just enough time to clean up my mess, shower, and fry a mess of bacon so we could have BLTs when we got back. Actually, they were BLATs: bacon, lettuce, avocado and tomatoes. Bliss!
Digging In |
6:25 am CDT
Category: daily drivel
| Tags: books, man cave, woodworking
Went to my first job interview since I started my adventures in unemployment. Aced it. They want me. I’m hired. I start tomorrow morning.
Kidding. It was an interview for a state job; the state doesn’t work that fast. But I wasn’t kidding about how well the interview went, at least from my point of view. I had a good time, and I mean that in an entirely unsarcastic way. They couldn’t have made it any more comfortable for me unless they’d met me at the door with a chilled glass of beer, seated me in a Barcalounger, taken off my shoes and rubbed my feet while we had a little chat about our pets.
But I almost didn’t make it to my first interview, can you believe it? When they contacted me to set up the interview they told me it would be at the state building on Washington Avenue. I’m well familiar with the state building on the corner of Washington and Webster. I even thought to myself how nice it would be to work on capital square. When I left the house, I figured travel time based on a trip to the square and even had all the best parking spots in mind, which is how I got there with plenty of time to spare.
Then, as I was walking up the street to the state building, I checked my notes – which I wrote myself! – to figure out which entrance to use, and that’s apparently the first time I realized that the address they gave me, 1400 East Washington, was not the building I was walking to. It wasn’t even within walking distance. I had the sinking feeling it might not be close enough to drive to in time to keep my appointment, and that’s why you would have seen me running down Webster to the parking ramp at twenty minutes till two if you’d been in downtown Madison yesterday afternoon.
My lucky star was still burning brightly, though. Traffic was light and all I had to do was go straight up Washington to find the right building, an ordinary-looking office complex just before the bridge over the Yahara river. I even managed to get there with twenty minutes to spare, not as early as I would have liked, but not as late as I was sure I was going to be.
And the rest went smooth as silk. They gave me a copy of the questions they were going to ask me so I could prepare before I went in to see them, and after introductions we all sat down and they read the questions off the sheet to me, word for word. I guess that’s to make sure everyone gets exactly the same interview so we can’t come back to sue the state for preferential treatment. Not that I’m complaining. It gave me a chance to organize my thoughts, make a few notes and sound like I knew what I was talking about, and that’s sort of important when it comes to impressing a potential employer.
One down, who knows how many more to go?
6:47 am CDT
Category: adventures in unemployment, daily drivel, work