Monday, October 30th, 2017

I put the storm windows on last weekend. It’s finally too late in the year to put it off any longer. Luckily, it’s not especially hard to do. Most of the windows of Our Humble O’Bode were updated many moons ago, except for the window in the dining room, the windows around the back door, and the big picture window in the front, which is flanked by a couple of double-hung sash windows. I replaced the old windows in the dining room and around the back door years ago, so the two storm windows hung over the sash windows flanking the picture window are the only ones left. They’re part of the picture window; I don’t believe they can be replaced without replacing the picture window, too, and I never had the moxie to believe I could replace such a large window, even if I asked for help, so the picture window and its accompanying sash windows remain the last original windows in the house.

The house has settled enough over the years that the sash window on the left doesn’t fit squarely in its frame any longer. There’s a big enough gap around the window that a pretty noticeable breeze can blow through it when the storm window is not in place. Our one recliner sits in front of it and when the wind is up, whoever is seated in that chair can count on the breeze to turn pages in their book if they’re not holding on to them.

When I put the storm windows on, I tape plenty of weatherstripping around the left window, which helps a bit, but the window is so out of true now that the only solution that’s going to keep the winter winds from seeping in is a total replacement of the whole window. I’m really not looking forward to that, partly because it’s going to cost a lot of money and partly because I’m not sure we’ll be able to afford another picture window. I really like that picture window and I’d really miss it if we had to replace it with something like a row of casement windows.

storm windows | 6:30 am CST
Category: ch-ch-changes, Our Humble O'Bode
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Sunday, July 28th, 2013

new smart phoneAs I mention earlier, we replaced our dumb phones with smart phones. We made up a lot of reasons that sounded good for doing this but the real reason we did it is that SMART PHONES ARE AWESOME!

The dumb phones we had were the pay-as-you-go type, which were fine for making phone calls. In fact, they were better than the land line we still have but will soon be getting rid of because the only phone calls we ever get on the land line are from telemarketers and political action committees. I’d put up with daily in-home harassment if the land line was amazingly cheap, like five bucks a year. Or, I’d be happy to continue to pay them whatever overinflated price they wanted for their very dependable service if they would guarantee that I would never receive another call from a telemarketer. I’m pretty sure that neither of those options are going to materialize in the near future, though, so we’re going to drop the land line.

We already stopped paying for the dumb phones. They were good, as I said, for making phone calls but obviously they don’t do any more than that and besides, we weren’t ever completely sure how much we were paying each month for our dumb phones. As it was somewhat inconvenient to find out too late that I couldn’t make a call because I’d forgotten to top off my account, I gave them my credit card number and said, “Here, take out ten bucks whenever I’m running a little low.” Like running a tab at the bar, I didn’t think about how much I was paying because I didn’t have to. My Darling B did the same thing. When we reviewed the costs of keeping a land line and topping up the dumb phones, though, it seemed a little silly to keep on paying that when, for a bit more, we could have SMART PHONES!

They were delivered last week Wednesday, if memory serves, and I use the word “delivered” very loosely here. The FedEx guy was supposed to drop them off after seven, which would have given us more than enough time to get home after our dinner at The Wise if he had, in fact, stuck to the plan. When we got home, though, there was a note from the FedEx guy on our door that said (paraphrasing): “I gots here at 3:30 – Where Was You?” We jumped back into the O-Mobile and burned rubber to get to the FedEx facility on the north side of town just ten minutes before they closed.

When we had dumb phones, My Darling B put a happy face sticker on hers because otherwise they looked exactly alike. Remembering this, when B ordered the smart phones she got a white phone for herself and a black phone for me. That girl’s always thinking. I don’t know how her brain doesn’t get musclebound from all the thinking she does. In case you care, she ordered the latest model, Samsung S4. All that means to me is that they’ll be obsolete in about six months, if they’re not already. That, and they’re not real. They’re science fiction, completely make-believe. Or, as Arthur C. Clarke, one of the greatest science fiction authors who ever lived, put it, they’re magic, as in “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Even Captain Kirk would have thought so. All he could do with his communicator was make phone calls. It was a dumb phone, really. He couldn’t use it to look at a map or search the ship’s computer. Spock would have killed for a smart phone. The one I’ve got beats his tricorder all to hell. It’s smaller but it’s got a bigger screen and I can tuck it in a pocket. It doesn’t hang from my neck on a leather strap. Way more handy than that boat anchor he had to carry around.

And it’s one hell of a lot smarter than Spock’s tricorder, too. Thirty seconds after I turned it on and told it my e-mail address, it knew way more about me than probably my own mother does. Our phones use the Android operating system so they’re connected to The Google, and The Google, as everybody knows, is more powerful than all the nimrod politicians in the world and probably more powerful than every branch of the military. Man, are those guys going to be surprised when they figure that out. If The Google lets them figure it out.

So probably because I have a gmail account and because I’ve been using The Google’s browser, Chrome, for a while now, my smart phone autoloaded everything The Google knew about me. My list of contacts – everyone I might call on the phone or send e-mail to – was imported from my various on-line e-mail accounts. My photo gallery – the folder of photographs in my camera-ready smartphone – was suddenly filled with all the photos I’d ever uploaded to the net. And so on and so on. This thing called “privacy” that you think you have? You can forget about it. The Google knows all about you. If you have never in your life sent an e-mail message, placed an order on-line, or used a cell phone, then I suppose it’s possible that you might have managed to evade The Google’s all-seeing gaze, but if you have ever experimentally dipped a toe into even the shallowest of social media, you are in for a shock when you activate your first smart phone.

And do you want to talk about distraction? A smart phone is literally all the distraction in the world gathered together in a package that you can hold in one hand. It has these things called “apps” that are hot buttons of one kind of distraction or another. All you have to do to be distracted is tap one. If and when the distraction of that app runs out, you can tap the next one. And you will tap the next one. You will keep on tapping the next one until you fall asleep sitting up, and when your head hits the table, waking you up, you will tap the next app to be distracted some more, because going to sleep is boring but a distraction is, well, distracting. You will not notice you’re tired. You would not notice conquering armies invading your city. Not that I’m suggesting smart phones could be part of an elaborate conspiracy to keep tabs on us while distracting us from the coming subjugation of an invading army. In fact, I’d like to go on record as saying that even if this were a thing, I for one welcome subjugation as long as I get to keep my apps. How bad could that be?

smartphone | 11:58 am CST
Category: ch-ch-changes, current events, daily drivel, damn kids!, Life & Death, Our Humble O'Bode
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Monday, November 12th, 2012

Wow I hate going to the hardware store twice. I don’t mind going once but that hardly ever happens. I almost always have to go twice. It’s like a physical law of the universe. When I’m working on something that I’ve never worked on before, I have to go get the parts to start working, then I have to go back to get the parts I didn’t know I needed the first time. When I’m working on something I’ve worked on before, I have to go get the stuff I need to start working, then I have to go back to get the stuff I forgot to get the first time, even when I make a list.

Then there was last weekend. All I needed were two slabs of plywood and a pair of already-built racks. I was throwing up some shelves in the basement and they were going to be the most basic shelves ever: Rip the plywood into two-by-four boards for shelves, fasten some cleats on the racks, screw it all together. I already had the screws, and I had lots of scrap wood to use as cleats. That’s it. Done. I was sure there couldn’t possibly be anything in a plan as simple as that to make me go back to the store for something I forgot, or didn’t know I needed. Sure of it. What a dope.

After picking up and putting away all the tools that were scattered across the top of the outfeed table that doubles as a work bench, I grabbed the first slab of plywood and, as I was maneuvering it into position to make the first cut, noticed that in one corner of the slab the plys had come apart, as if they hadn’t been glued together properly. The plan I had for building the shelves was simple, but I needed every square inch of that plywood to make it happen, and I couldn’t use plywood that was de-laminating. I would have to take it back for an exchange. There was no way around it. But first, I had to cuss a lot.

Once I got that out of my system and loaded the plywood into the car, I made a quick list of all the supplies I needed to make another batch of beer later this week. If I was going all the way back out to the far side of town, I might as well. Two quick stops, one at the grocery store and one at Brew & Grow, and I had everything I needed. Brewing beer never seems to require two trips to get more supplies.

Then back to the hardware store. There was just one guy working the returns counter, and the people he was helping at the front of the line were returning about a dozen boxes of ceramic floor tiles and all the cement and grouting they would have needed to lay that flooring. They seemed to be in the process of opening every single box of tiles so the guy behind the counter could scan the price tag of each and every tile. The rest of the seven or eight people in line ahead of me each had just one item to return. On the up side, my piece of plywood was large enough to lean on.

I got to lean on it for only fifteen minutes or so. Thought it was going to be a lot longer than that, but after ten minutes or so passed, the return-counter guy must’ve stopped scanning floor tiles long enough to call for help, because two other people joined him at the counter, cranked up a couple of cash registers and started waving people at the head of the line over to get their returns.

One of the first people that got waved over was a guy pushing a shopping cart with a boxed tool set and a little girl in the rumble seat. When the guy took the box out and set it on the counter, the little girl stood up in the seat to get a better look at what was going on over daddy’s shoulder. She got bored with that pretty quickly, though, so she turned around to see what else was going on, and she liked the view so much that she kept turning around. Then she did a little dance. Then she seemed to want to sit down again, but it was a feint; she jumped up and began to dance again. I could tell who the parents were in the line ahead of me: Their eyes were locked on the little girl and kept almost-stepping forward, wanting to grab her and sit her down so she wouldn’t fall out of that goddamned seat.

The lady at the cash register took one look at the piece of ply I had and said I could go get another piece and bring it back, requiring me to make the trek from the exchange counter in the front corner of the store to the opposite corner in the back of the store, then trek all the way back to the return counter to exchange it. Have I mentioned lately how much I hate the enormous size of the newly-remodeled hardware store?

Once my second trip to the store was over and done with, I could get down to the business of building those shelves. And it was every bit as simple as I had planned it: Rip the plywood into shelves, attach cleats to the racks, screw the shelves in place. Took about an hour and a half, although I took a break for lunch right about in the middle of the project. It would’ve been done before lunch if I hadn’t had to make that second trip.

two trips | 6:00 am CST
Category: ch-ch-changes, Our Humble O'Bode, shopping, work
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Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

The first rule of painting a room is: Cover the floor. Your superpower is not painting without drippage. You will drip. Even if you could be as careful as you think you are, nobody has the intensity to be that careful for the hours and hours it takes to paint a room. You are going to drip. A lot. Cover the floor.

And I know I said this before, but it bears repeating: There’s a reason that some paint costs ten bucks a gallon and some costs forty dollars a gallon. If you go for the cheap stuff, you’ll have to slap on four times as much paint. You don’t think you will. You think you can lay it on thick enough the first time that it will cover any color, even traffic orange, but you’re wrong. Put a crowbar in your wallet and buy the expensive stuff. You can’t go wrong with that, but you can go way wrong with the cheap stuff.

Our bathroom used to have bright blue walls but the paint faded and grew splotchy in places. We’ve been thinking about painting it, which means that My Darling B was thinking about it and I was going to do it. Well, about two weeks ago I finally got up the motivation to schlep my hinder down to the hardware store to buy a can of paint. That’s when I bought the cheap paint. I slapped on two coats of that crap as thick as I could lay it down but the blue paint underneath still proudly showed through, bright as a neon sign.

So last week I schlepped myself down to the hardware store again to buy a bucket of the most expensive interior paint they had in stock. Easier said than done. There was no one at the desk when I got there and, no matter how long I hung around looking impatient, there continued to be nobody at the desk. Eventually I headed down the aisle to the desk where they sold window blinds to ask the guy there if he thought he could find someone to help me out in the paint department. He put a call out over the PA. Five minutes passed. Another member of the “Customer Courtesy Team” wandered past and asked me if I was being helped. “Not yet,” I answered, with what I hoped was a patient smile on my face. Another page went out over the PA, and several more minutes passed.

Finally, a gal identified by her badge as Katie P dragged herself in behind the desk. “Help you,” she sort of asked. Her attitude was Surly Teenager but she appeared to be a nearly full-grown adult. I pushed the bucket of paint I had across the desk toward her and handed over the paint chip I’d picked out. She took the bucket and the chip from me without a word, mixed the paint and stuck it in the paint shaker, then went to help the next person. She literally never spoke to me after those first two words. And yes, she was wearing a blue “Customer Courtesy Team” vest.

Back at home I scrounged a pan and a paint roller out of the stack of supplies in the garage. There’s a reason we keep this stuff, although I could tell from the color of the residual paint in the pan that I hadn’t used it since about 1997 or 98 when I painted the interior of our bedroom in the last house we owned in Aurora, Colorado. I still miss that house.

The expensive paint didn’t cover the bright blue paint in one coat. By this time I was pretty sure that a bucket of black driveway sealer wouldn’t do that. But it looked a hell of a lot better than the cheap stuff, and after the second coat went on the walls were pretty enough for company again. I have an “after” photo but I can’t figure out how to get it off my camera, so you’ll just have to imagine our bathroom with walls painted beautifully in antique white.

I’ll tell you the story about the furshlugginer camera later.

paint rules | 6:24 am CST
Category: ch-ch-changes, Our Humble O'Bode, painting
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Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

I’ve been trying to paint the walls in our bathroom since Sunday.

It turns out there’s a pretty good reason some paint costs thirteen bucks a gallon and some of it costs over thirty bucks a gallon. I also learned that you should always buy the expensive stuff when you’re painting your bathroom, unless you’re painting the inside of an outhouse. The cheap stuff would be all right for that.

Anybody painting an outhouse? I’ve got about a gallon of paint you could have. No charge.

biffy | 6:16 am CST
Category: ch-ch-changes, daily drivel, Our Humble O'Bode, painting
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Sunday, July 1st, 2012

We slept like babies last night, probably because we’re not used to moving heavy appliances.

For months, we’ve been talking about getting a small, second-hand refrigerator to keep at the bottom of the stairs in the basement for beer, soda pop, fresh fruit and various other sundries that fill up the big fridge in the kitchen. Kept talking about it but never did much until yesterday morning when we decided, more or less on the spur of the moment, to make a detour on the way home from the farmer’s market to stop at an appliance store along the way where we looked at their refrigerators. They had a pretty good small fridge and a second-hand fridge that was really too big, but stopping there got us off our butts, out of the house and looking, so we drove to Sears to see what they had, then to Home Depot.

Sears, of course, has rows and rows of refrigerators, starting with those teeny-tiny fridges you can keep under your desk in your college dorm room, all the way up to a fridge that was literally big enough to stuff a dozen college students into. We’d have to wall off the back half of the dining room just to install it. The upside, though, would be that we would never ever again have a problem with room for food. More reasonably, though, they had a fridge that was just the right size, not too expensive and they had one in the back, ready for us to take it away. We said we’d talk about it and get right back to him.

Home Depot had mostly monster fridges of the kind we already have stuffed into our too-small kitchen. The few smaller fridges they had all looked like cheap foot lockers made in sweat shops. After just fifteen minutes of looking we headed back to Sears.

Sears has a delivery service but a strange way of scheduling deliveries: they call you up the night before and tell you when they can deliver the next day. If you can’t be there waiting for them, they call you again that night to tell you when they can be there the next day, and so on. This could theoretically go on forever. “Forget it, we’ll take it home ourselves,” I told the salesman, then had to figure out how we were going to get it home.

B noticed when we were at Home Depot, just down the road, that they had a utility truck they rented out for twenty bucks, if you could get it back to them in an hour and fifteen minutes. That’s an odd deadline, don’t you think? But we were pretty sure we could get home and back with the fridge in under that. Leaving our car behind, we flew over to Sears where two big guys loaded the fridge into the back of the truck, then flew down Stoughton Road to Monona, pulling into the driveway of Our Humble O’Bode just twenty minutes later. Working very slowly and carefully, My Darling B and I managed to ease the fridge down off the back of the truck onto the driveway. It took a few minutes to figure out how carry it, but once we did we moved it into the garage and left it while we flew back up to Home Depot to drop off the truck. Did it in less than an hour! Score!

On the way back, B suggested that we might want to wait until we could talk Tim into coming over to help us get it down the stairs to the basement, but I poo-pooed the very thought. “It’ll be a lot easier for us to carry after I take all the packing material off it,” I assured her. “We can do it.” And as it turned out, I wasn’t just bullshitting this time. Wrapped in all that styrofoam and plastic it was hard to get a grip on, but much easier to handle after I stripped it naked. Also, this time I made sure I was at the bottom end of the fridge where the compressor and all the heavy machinery was.

The only tricky moves we had to make were getting the fridge around the corner by the back steps, then getting it down the stairs to the basement. In both cases we just took it one step at a time. Slow and steady did the trick. By three o’clock it was plugged in and B was happily loading up baskets with bottles and bags to transfer to the basement fridge. We were both so well-chuffed with ourselves that we had to show it off to Tim as soon as he came over.

The fridge in the kitchen looks so empty now. But I’m sure that won’t last.

frigid | 9:02 am CST
Category: beer, booze, ch-ch-changes, daily drivel, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, Our Humble O'Bode, play, shopping, work
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Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

image of my new beer bench

The frame is finished, the formica countertop is tightly screwed down, and half the backboard is in place. It’s starting to look as if this is really going to happen.

I didn’t do much to the bench tonight, just enough to say I’m still working on it. I added railings between the legs of the frame so I could lay some shelves in under the countertop, a place where I could store gadgets and beer bottles. I also screwed the countertop down firmly in place so it wouldn’t slide off the frame at the most inopportune moment. And, finally, I cut a sheet of pegboard and screwed it to the back of the frame so I would have a place to hang the most-used gadgets in easy reach. I want to eventually cover the wall with pegboard, but first I want to install an outlet box in the back of the frame so I can plug stuff in if I need to.

And coming later this week: Plumb the drain so I can use the sink again! That means a trip to the store to get some pipe and joints, and stinking up the house with PVC glue. Fun! And I’ll grab a couple sheets of 3/4 inch plywood while I’m there to rip into one-and-one-half-inch strips. I want to build a frame under the sink to bring it up to a more user-friendly height, and a drop shelf on the far side where I can set all the doodads I’ll need when cleaning bottles, my favorite stage of the beer-making process. Not.

beer | 6:05 am CST
Category: ch-ch-changes, daily drivel, entertainment, hobby, homebrewing, Our Humble O'Bode, play
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Saturday, January 14th, 2012

I’ve spent the morning and part of the afternoon making a few improvements around the house, starting with the book cases in the extra room.

It used to be Tim’s room, but we’ve been using it as an office. That’s a highfalutin way of saying we put a desk in there that’s been buried under a heap of bills and catalogs for more than a year. There’s a twin bed in there, too, that’s usually buried under old clothes and blankets, except for the two times a year that Sean comes to visit. Other than that, the room doesn’t get much use.

And it was a lot of extra space that wasn’t getting much use. Meanwhile, in the basement, three big boxes of books sat waiting to be unpacked. So, early last summer, I bought a couple of book cases from one of those unfinished furniture store, brought them home and left them untouched in the spare room for a couple months. Can’t rush these things.

Last month, though, I finally took the shelves out of one of the book cases, slapped a coat of finish on them and on the book case, waited for the whole shebang to dry before I sanded it all down and slapped on a second coat. I was going to paint them because I’m not very good at staining wood. It always comes out way too dark for my liking and usually kind of splotchy. Paint never does. My Darling B encouraged me to try again, though, pointing out that I could always paint over it if I didn’t like it. She’s kinda smart.

And what the hell, it did turn out looking pretty good, thanks to a stain sealer I found. I didn’t have to rub the stain off with a rag, just paint it on with a brush and leave it to dry, then sand it and brush on a second coat. I chose the lightest shade they offered and it turned out looking great, nothing like any of the other projects I’ve tried to stain.

I finished the first book case just before Christmas, and I finished the second one last week, but I still had to screw it to the wall because it’s almost eight feet tall and I didn’t want an eight-foot-tall book case loaded down with a couple hundred pounds of books to tip over on anybody. It probably wouldn’t happen, but those sound so much like famous last words that I didn’t unpack any books until I sank some anchors in the wall this morning and screwed it firmly in place. That sucker’s not tipping over now unless the whole house tips over.

Finally, I unpacked the books, three big boxes of them, and hauled them upstairs one arm load at a time. I expected they would almost fill the whole book case, with a little room left over for a few of our other books, and I wasn’t too far off. I got all the boxes unpacked, and carried up a couple stacks of books that were standing around in the basement, but that took up all the room there was. To make more room, we’ll have to weed out the books that could be sold to Half-Price Books or given to the friends of the library, but that’s for another day.

Because I still had other improvements to make. While My Darling B was out of the house, on a trip to the grocery store, I shut off the power to the lights and replaced a light switch that was going on the fritz. It worked about nine times out of ten, but that tenth time was iffy. The lights would blink on for a moment before going dark again. The same thing might happen with the next flick of the switch, or the lights might come on and stay on. It probably wasn’t the safest thing in the house, electrically speaking. I bought a new switch last weekend and have been waiting for the opportunity to switch off the power and replace it. This morning, I got it.

While I was in wiring mode, I did a little rewiring in the basement. A switch at the bottom of the stairs was not being used for anything, so I ran a wire from it to the lights in the corner of the basement where the beer’s kept. It seemed like such a simple idea, but I had to run the wire through the narrow gap between the stairway and the furnace uptakes, a place where spiders weave their webs and much dust has settled over the years. I went sweaty and I came out looking like a breaded chicken breast.

But it was worth it. That’s the same corner where the wash machine drains into a sink, and where the circuit breaker panel is mounted to the wall, so we go back there a lot – to fetch beer, to shut off the electricity when replacing light switches, and when taking part in the latest plumbing emergency caused by too much wash machine lint going down the drain. The lights used to be turned on by a pull chain, necessitating a long walk through the dark to the corner, but now we can switch them on at the bottom of the steps and walk all the way in the light. Go into the Light! Cross over children! All are welcome in the light!

After I finished that, there was plenty of clean-up to do because everywhere I tried to step there were wire ends I snipped off, bits of plastic insulation I stripped and, of course, chunks of meat and clots of blood I butchered from my hands. I swept up the big stuff, then vacuumed up the rest and, while I had the vacuum going, I cleaned up all the cat hair on the stairs, which must be where they do the bulk of their shedding. After just two or three weeks there’s enough cat hair on the stairs to make a Snuggie.

And that was all I had the energy for. Also, I felt gross. I went straight to the bathroom, peeled off all my clothes and stepped into the shower, cranked the handle up to “live steam” and stood there for twenty minutes, letting it blast all the crud away. And after dressing, I had a little nap, because I sort of felt I’d earned it.

improve | 3:30 pm CST
Category: books, ch-ch-changes, daily drivel, entertainment, fun with electricity, Our Humble O'Bode, play
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Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

Hey! This is my last week of near-absolute freedom to do whatever I want before I start my new job on Monday! Yay, me! I think.

There are still all kinds of things to do around Our Humble O’Bode before the snow flies, but I don’t know how many of them will get done in these last five or six days because I’m feeling a very strong urge to relax and do nothing in anticipation of re-entering the work force, an urge I think I just might indulge at least a little bit.

I spent yesterday morning and a bit of the afternoon tidying up the basement work shop. It didn’t look like tidying up at first. It looked a whole lot more like I was gathering up all the lumber that was leaning against the three walls of the work shop and throwing it all on the floor in a big heap, not an improvement at all. I needed to make some room on the floor, though, so I could knock together a frame that I eventually tipped up and screwed to the back wall, then added arms to so I could pick the lumber up off the floor and stack it on our new lumber rack.

I used to have something like this before I knocked down a wall to make room for a bigger work shop, but as it was part of the wall that got knocked down, I haven’t had a storage rack for months and lumber’s been piling up all around the walls of the room. This sucked in a big way. Every time I turned around in there I knocked something over. Finally, yesterday, I scrounged up some scrap lumber, cut it to fit, cleared a spot on the floor and screwed it all together, and voila! Storage for most of the lumber that was previously clattering to the ground because of my elbows.

It took me a little more than an hour this morning to fax a copy of my military discharge to the Department of Administration. They love to collect documents like that, and now that I’m working for them they’re putting together a file on me. I supposed that should make me worry, but I’m getting old enough that my paranoia doesn’t kick in until the commandos in stealth helicopters land in my back yard. Jane from the DoA doesn’t even register on my paranoi-o-tron.

You’d think the public library would have a public fax, wouldn’t you? I would. You can do just about anything else there: answer your e-mail, write a novel, print a form, and you can even check out books yet. But they don’t have a fax machine. “You could go to Kinko’s on Monona Drive,” the librarian suggested.

I figured I’d need a cover sheet to send a fax, so I sat down at one of the terminals and composed a very simple one when I couldn’t find a free template on-line. The computer locked up, though, when I tried to print it, and the librarian couldn’t figure out why. She logged in to the terminal right next to it (because I was still logged in to the locked-up terminal and couldn’t be logged in on two machines) so I could try again. “Is there a word processor on this machine?” I asked her, after a quick glance at the vacant directories.

“Sure,” she said, then came up short as she poked around in the same empty directories I’d just been through.

I thanked her for her help, jumped in the car and headed for Kinko’s. Did you think there were still places like Kinko’s out there where you could get big print jobs done? I sure didn’t. I was positive that everybody printed everything on computers any more, but no. The Kinko’s on Monona Drive is a classic offset print shop, with three big, stinky lithograph printers visible in the back of the room and piles of print jobs stacked on the countertop. I thought for a moment I’d been sucked through a crack in time to my days working in the basement of the Iola Herald.

“Help you?” the guy behind the counter asked me.

“If you can send a fax for me, yes,” I answered.

“You think we can do that?”

I smiled at him. “You guys have printing presses. There’s probably a fax machine in here somewhere.”

There was, and he did. He even had a printed cover sheet for me. Three minutes later my fax was on its way and I was headed home again. Total elapsed time from the moment I left the house to go to the library: one hour. Wish I’d thought of Kinko’s in the first place.

Time out | 3:20 pm CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, ch-ch-changes, daily drivel, Our Humble O'Bode, work | Tags:
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Sunday, September 12th, 2010

image of me painting the house

I didn’t intend to spend all afternoon painting the house but somehow that’s what I ended up doing.

It started with the gable over the garage roof. I’ve let that go for quite a while, under pretense of various excuses too ridiculous to try to explain, but because it’s already the third week in September and I’m running out of excuses, I’ve suffered just a few panic attacks from thinking I might not get the painting done before the snow flies. I had another one this morning when I saw what a beautiful day it was today and tried to think of doing anything but yard work or home maintenance, but eventually caved in and started looking for a can of paint and a brush. It wouldn’t be so bad with the sunshine and the cool breeze. More importantly, My Darling B was home so that, in case I fell off the roof, she might come investigate the dull thud I made when I hit the recycling bin on the way to the ground.

I gathered up my tools and went to work. The first thing to do was make sure I could get up there and stay up there, something I wasn’t entirely confident of. I’d spent way too much time on the roof of my boyhood home, shooting at starlings and stacks of beer cans with an air rifle. Don’t ask why it’s important to be on the roof when you do that. I couldn’t give you an answer that made sense. It was thirty years ago, which not only affects my memory, it makes me a tad uncomfortable about walking around on rooftops now. However, once I made myself go up there, check out how steep it was and work out a way to keep the paint can from tipping over, I felt a little better about putting my mortal self at risk for the sake of making Our Humble O’Bode look prettier.

To keep the paint can from tipping over I scrounged up a slab of particle board and three pieces of scrap lumber to shove underneath it until I had achieved a relatively level platform. Before I went with shoving scraps of lumber under the board, I had planned to work out the angle of the roof, cut some wedges from scrap and screw together something a bit more stable, like somebody who knew what they were doing would use, but my jerry-rigged platform worked just as well and I didn’t have to fire up a power saw or try to hit a nail with a hammer.

The most difficult part of the gable to paint was the part that was furthest back, because I had to sit on the garage roof to do it. Even though the weather was rather mild, those black asphalt shingles were hot as an iron skillet. I burned a couple inches off my butt while I sat there, painting as fast as I could. After the back corner was done I was pretty glad to be able to stand on the edge of the eaves with my back end to the breeze to paint the rest.

It took all of a half-hour to paint the gable. I stood back, looking at my efforts and thinking, That was way too easy. Now what? Well, I had the paint and brush out, so I figured I might as well touch up a few spots I missed on the front of the house. I hadn’t been able to figure out a way to set up the ladder so I could paint the paneling over the windows, for instance, until today, so I did a quick clean up of those spots, set up the ladder, and got to work.

And while I was up there, I painted all the soffit I could reach, too. The soffit is the overhang between the eaves and the siding. I’d left it alone, thinking I would go back and paint it white, but it looked better painted the same color as the siding. One of my neighbors gave me the idea when he painted his house last month.

Pretty soon I was inching the ladder along, painting all the soffit on the front of the house, possibly the longest stretch of soffit, from the northwest corner of the house all the way around the southwest corner, back to meet the garage and across the front of the garage, too. I didn’t finish until four thirty, with just enough time left over to clean up and get dressed for dinner.

Three hours of standing on a ladder with my head cranked all the way back and my arms in the air left me absolutely pooped. I went to bed early, right behind My Darling B, who spent the day pulling weeds in her garden.

Up | 8:42 pm CST
Category: ch-ch-changes, daily drivel, Our Humble O'Bode, painting
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Monday, August 9th, 2010

Eleanor Roosevelt used to write a daily newspaper column called My Day. I’ve read the ones that were considered interesting enough to compile and print in a book (imaginatively titled My Day) and they’re about what you’d get if you went to any random blog, adjusting for the fact that Eleanor had a finger in just about every pie in Washington, D.C., let alone that she was the wife of FDR.

She didn’t let that prevent her from writing about utterly mundane things. If you can, imagine one of the Python boys seated at a doily-covered table (I’m thinking Graham Chapman would’ve made a great Eleanor Roosevelt) with a cup of tea in hand, squawking, “Someone sent me a most amusing present. When I came into my room this afternoon, I thought I was being visited by a zoo, for it was surrounded by four polar bears. On closer inspection, however, I found that the polar bears were guarding a goldfish bowl…” So, even though she was living in the White House, someone punked her room while she was out. Then, she blogged about it, because if you don’t blog about it, it didn’t happen. See? Some things never change.

That quote came from Eleanor’s January 7, 1936, column, in case you were thinking I made that up.

I’m no Eleanor Roosevelt, but I’m reminded of her column every day when My Darling B asks me, “So, what’re you going to do today?” Wow, you really want to know? I’m going to wash the dishes, then sweep the floor, then clean the cat box, then fold the laundry … eat your heart out, Eleanor!

For what it’s worth, then, here’s my day:

5:45 – Alarm goes off, get up to make coffee for My Darling B. Arguably the most rewarding thing I do all day. B gives me a kiss for it.

6:00 – Read comics while wolfing down a big bowl of granola generously doused in lactose-free milk.

6:20 – Sit on sofa to chat with B after she emerges from shower & pours herself a cuppa joe. Her side of the conversation always starts: “I don’t wanna go to work.” She always goes to work anyway, because she has a flawless work ethic.

6:45 – While B gets dressed for work, I clean out the cat boxes and fill cat feeders. A cat feeder is a great big bowl divided into five sections that rotates like a lazy susan. There’s a cover over the bowl so the cats can get to only one section at a time, and a motor turns the bowl according to a timer. The cat boxes are simple plastic pans that I have to rake the poop out of twice a day. We got the wrong motorized cat appliance.

7:00 – Drive B to work. I take the Beltline to Midvale Boulevard because it’s the fastest way to cross down. It’s also the most dangerous, hundreds of speeding cars jammed bumper-to-bumper as if it were a Nascar event. How we avoid mangled pileups & firey death every day is a mystery to me.

8:00 – Home again, home again, jiggidy-jog. Drink the rest of the coffee while reading the morning news.

8:45 – This being Monday, I applied for unemployment benefits. I can do this online in about two minutes, and thank goodness because getting through on the telephone is more agonizing than getting my teeth drilled. I think I could probably do it in less than one minute if a glitch in the system didn’t ask me to go through the login procedure twice.

8:47 – Update Facebook status & otherwise doink around on the interwebs.

9:00 – Unload the dishwasher, pile it with dirty dishes, start.

9:30 – Sort dirty clothes, throw a pile in the wash machine. Yes, I sort clothes even though I’m a guy. You can’t live with the same woman for twenty years and not sort the clothes.

9:45 – Apply for a job, something else you can do on-line in about two minutes, believe it or not. Hat tip to My Darling B for catching the vacancy announcement on the state job web site. Maybe I’ll be clerking in the Journalism department at the UW soon. Not holding my breath, though.

10:00 – Walk to the bank. This counts toward my physical conditioning for the day so I came back through Greenlawn Cemetery just to make a big circle.

11:00 – Pet the cat.

11:15 – (Yes, it took fifteen minutes to pet the cat. He’s a needy cat.) Off to the store to get nylon socks for the finches, by special request from My Darling B. No, finches aren’t into legware. These socks are bird feeders. Fill them with nyjer seed and finches come peck the seed out through the nylon mesh.

11:45 – Fix the bird feeder, fill up the thistle socks, sound the dinner bell. Go in and pout when the birds don’t come flocking to the sumptuous spread I put out for them.

12:45 – Start working on dressing up the windows I installed last weekend. The windows themselves look great, but the rough opening they’re hanging in is so rough it looks as though I used hand grenades to take out the old windows. I built a box frame around each one yesterday and I’m going to cut & fit molding around the insides today.

2:15 – Break time! Drink a quart of water while doinking around on the interwebs.

2:30 – Back to work on the other window. I’m losing hope that I’ll get a nap this afternoon.

3:45 – Knock off for the day and head for the showers to clean up before fetching My Darling B from work. The home improvement project still needs a little fine-tuning but it’ll do for now, and I really need to cool down and get unstinky before I drive across town.

5:30 – Home again, home again, jiggedy-jog. Sandwiches for dinner so B doesn’t have to spend lots of time in a hot kitchen on this hot day right before we head off to dance class.

6:30 – B catches a few winks before dance class while I doink around on the internet.

7:00 – Dance class. Swing dance tonight. It’s supposed to be a group class but only B and I show up so we get a private lesson. We learn a little technique, how to spin, do a little core work, then learn a new swing step, passing side-to-side, so we’ll have a few new moves when we go see Ladies Must Swing at the Terrace on Friday.

9:00 – Home again, home again … you know the rest. Time to relax. Wind down. Take it easy, Maybe read a couple chapters.

9:03 – Zzzzzzz …

Timeline | 8:40 pm CST
Category: adventures in unemployment, ch-ch-changes, daily drivel, My Darling B, O'Folks, Our Humble O'Bode, scrub-a-dub-dub, work
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Sunday, August 1st, 2010

image of Our Humble O’Bode

I’ve always had this far-away, make-believe kind of idea that I might be able to finish painting the house some day. Actually, in most of my “Thank God I’m Finished!” house-painting fantasies I slap the last coat of paint on just moments before I suffer a massive cardiac infarction, or some similar mortally final lightning bolt that shoots me off into the cosmic void, but thoughts like this usually occur to me only after I’ve spent hours frying to a crisp in the summer sun while scraping and painting, scraping and painting. In much happier fantasies I finish well before I die but long after I go bald and grow a beard down to my knees.

Looking at this photo of the garage I was trying to recall which half of the wall took longer to paint: Up at the peak the boards were shorter, but I had to stand on a shaky extension ladder twenty feet in the air where I could reach about three feet from side to side and top to bottom, forcing me to climb up and down the ladder a couple dozen times, slapping a little more paint on each time I repositioned it. It was a maddeningly slow process. When it’s all averaged out, however, I think it took just as long to paint the top half as it did to paint the bottom. Down at the bottom where I didn’t have to climb the extension ladder, I could paint pretty much constantly, but each freaking cedar panel is thirty feet long and takes half an hour to cover with a decent coat of paint. If that doesn’t sound as maddening as going up and down an extension ladder all afternoon, try to imagine painting for a half hour under a blazing sun, then stepping back to survey your work, only to discover that when you’ve painted a thirty-foot-long panel that’s just eight inches wide, you can’t see any progress at all. Talk about wanting to simply curl up and die.

This is just all to get the first coat on, by the way, to make the house look presentable to the world at large, instead of a patchwork of the previous coat of corpse green, shot through with streaks of white where we scraped the bubbled and cracked paint layers away, and finally the blocks of red-wine red where we’ve been doggedly remaking the house to look as nice as we’d like it to. In another time, maybe in a parallel universe, I’ll have to brush on another coat to make the red nice and even and cover all the places I missed. There are always a few. But for now it looks good from the street and maybe the neighbors will stop pointing and making comments to each other as they walk their dogs past our house.

Covered | 6:08 am CST
Category: ch-ch-changes, Our Humble O'Bode, painting
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Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

I passed a couple of quiet hours yesterday afternoon pursuing our never-ending attempt to repaint the house. You read that right: I said painting the house. We started the enterprise almost two years ago after inquiring of several professional painters how much they would charge us for them to paint our house instead of us, and blanched when they informed us we would have to fork over a sum in the neighborhood of eight grand.

Isn’t “blanched” a great word? All it means is that the color went out of our faces, but it sounds so much worse, even onomatopoeic, suggesting the splash made by projectile vomiting. And even better, when you say it the word contorts your face into the most disgusted expression. You don’t get that combination of color, sound and facial expression in just any word. It’s a nearly perfect word, really, and deserves a lot more use than it gets.

Two years later both My Darling B and I are now thinking that eight grand would probably have been well worth paying to have somebody else paint the house, first and foremost because it would’ve been done two years ago! Half a dozen guys would’ve shown up at our house, scraped, taped and painted for about a week, and then tah-daaahhhh! Painted house!

In painfully marked contrast, the only free time B and I get to grab a brush and slap on some paint is weekends and holidays during the summer, which is exactly the same free time that My Darling B uses to tend her garden and the same time I’m usually up to my elbows in plumbing emergencies and other fun projects. Ugly as it has made our house look for two years running, we’ve had to put off painting because it always ended up with a pretty low position on the priority totem pole of do-it-yourself home-improvements.

Two years of piled-up embarrassment and good old-fashioned guilt will go a long way to raise the priority of any project, though, so there I was, brush in one hand, paint can in the other, halfway up a ladder slapping a first coat of Cottage Red on the rear of Our Humble O’Bode. I was hoping to cover everything from the bedroom window over to the dining room window, but painting always takes longer than you think it will. I was lucky to get this far before I had to put all the tools away, seal up the paint and jump in the shower so I wouldn’t stink up the car during the drive to the other side of town to pick up My Darling B from work.

I thought I would be outside painting again today, even hoped to get as far as the back door, nearly all the way around to the garage, but instead I spent the morning cowering inside the house as rain came down as heavy and dark as fudge on an ice cream sundae. Ever heard rain described metaphorically as dessert before? Just couldn’t help myself, sorry.

Paint Guilt | 4:47 pm CST
Category: ch-ch-changes, Our Humble O'Bode, painting
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