One of my high school buddies was a farm kid from a good old-fashioned Wisconsin family farm. He asked me if I could help him bring in some hay, which means going out to the field on a flatbed trailer towed behind a hay baler, stacking the bales on the trailer as they come off the baler, then taking them back and stacking them in the barn for storage. It’s not hard work but if you forget to bring gloves, which I did once because I’m not a farm kid, the baling twine will cut into your hands until your hands are a blistered, bloody mess. Fortunately I had already learned that lesson the hard way so when I went to my friend’s farm to help out, I took a pair of thick leather gloves. We spent all afternoon in the summer sun stacking and re-stacking hay bales and when we were done, we went back to the house for a home-cooked meal of fresh food washed down with cold whole milk. And if you thought it couldn’t possibly get any more Wisconsin than that you’d be wrong. My buddy’s dad insisted on paying me for my work. He paid me me minimum wage, which at the time was something like two dollars and sixty-five cents an hour, so before we sat down to eat he precisely calculated how much I should get for doing four and a half hours’ work, then paid me the exact amount, rooting through a change purse to get the nickels and dimes he needed.
Category: story time
I stuck my knife in the toaster because the toasted bread didn’t pop up high enough to grab it with my fingers. Yes, I know better, but for a second I completely forgot how stupid it was to do that and went ahead and did it anyway.
My Darling B happened to be in the kitchen while I was being stupid. Not only that, she was looking directly at me and just as I stuck the end of the knife into the toaster slot she shouted my full name using her Mom Voice. I know she used her Mom Voice because I jerked the knife out of the toaster and simultaneously jumped about a foot away from it without having consciously made myself do it. It was as if an entirely different person had taken over my body and made it do something before I knew what was happening. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have stopped myself.
I believe that was the one and only time she used her Mom Voice on me. It was honestly kind of a terrifying experience so I think I’d be able to recall if she did it more than once, but maybe Moms have a more subtle version of the Mom Voice that makes you obey them without scaring you. Or maybe they can rewrite your memories. That actually seems plausible now that I think of it.
While we were in Dayton, we stayed at a bed and breakfast in the Oregon District. The bed and breakfast was in a restored mansion on a side street just off Fifth Street, the road through the district where the tourists could find bars and restaurants to visit. The suite we rented was not in the mansion but behind it in a street-level addition that was almost certainly built at least a hundred years after the mansion. It had a private entrance, a very cozy sitting room, a warm bedroom, and a kitchenette. It was perfect for us.
We arrived in Dayton on Wednesday evening and departed Saturday morning. After driving eight hours on Wednesday we were just a little bleary-eyed and foggy-headed, so a short walk around the district was about all we had the energy or the focus for. We stayed in Wednesday night, mostly reading to get our minds off the road, turned in late and slept well. And except for the garbage trucks that rampaged through the neighborhood at the crack of dawn on Thursday morning, our sleep wasn’t interrupted much by anything.
We slept in until almost nine on Thursday. When we finally did get up, My Darling B made coffee but I couldn’t bring myself to drink it. Not her fault. She did the best she could with the Mr. Coffee machine and the big plastic jug of Folger’s coffee. Luckily I knew where to find a coffee shop just two blocks from the inn, so after a brief walk I fetched back an Americano and a latte and we sipped those as we nibbled on our breakfast.
We had lunch at a Thai restaurant, conveniently located just across the street, before getting dressed to go to the service in the evening. After the service we went back to the inn, warmed up the rest of our lunch (the portions were enormous!) and had dinner in our suite. My Darling B picked up a bottle of wine earlier, which we opened for dinner and enjoyed through the evening. We went to bed after staying up late reading, and slept well, waking to the arrival of the garbage trucks once again.
I got out of bed at about eight on Friday, tiptoed out of the bedroom to dress myself in the sitting room, and let myself out as quietly as possible to seek freshly-brewed coffee. After collecting two large black coffee’s to-go, I returned to the suite to bestow hot beverages unto My Darling B, who had just roused herself from slumber. We had about an hour to sit and enjoy our coffee while nibbling on breakfast, then washed and dressed and went to the service at the cemetery. There was a luncheon after and then a few tasks to take care of, so we didn’t return to the suite until maybe five o’clock. We got sandwiches at a restaurant across the street before settling in for the night. B read while I watched The Shawshank Redemption. We turned in at maybe ten-thirty or eleven o’clock.
And did not get a wink of sleep. Well, maybe a wink. Maybe even a wink and a half. On Friday night there’s a dance club on Fifth Street in the Oregon District where they play music on a sound system so powerful they could shatter granite and melt steel, if they so chose to. On this particular Friday night, they chose only to keep us and the rest of the neighborhood awake until at least two-thirty in the morning. (My Darling B says three, and I don’t doubt her, but the last time I looked at the clock while the dance music was still going thumpa-thumpa it was two-thirty.) I didn’t sleep much after that because I spent every waking minute up until then thinking about how tired I was going to be driving back to Wisconsin the next day, so I wasn’t exactly in a frame of mind that would let me go to sleep when the music finally stopped.
Nevertheless, I stubbornly stayed in bed until about seven-thirty, which I was about the time I got the very appealing idea to go get some delicious coffee. Got there about fifteen minutes too soon; they didn’t open until eight. I made a big loop around several blocks of the district, arriving back at the coffee shop about five minutes before they opened, so I huddled in the doorway until they raised the blinds and unlocked the door. I guzzled down every drop of that twelve-ounce cup and, before we hit the road, went back for more. I won’t go so far as to say the caffeine boost made the drive survivable, but it certainly didn’t hurt.
build a fire
I suffered an especially painful case of dry-eye last night and when I told My Darling B about it, she said, “Maybe you need a humidifier in the bedroom.”
What I heard her say was, “Maybe you need to make a fire in the bedroom.”
When she says something that doesn’t make any sense at all, I stop and let the decoder in my brain work on the problem for a while until it comes up with a translation. It’s sort of like Wordle: most of the phonemes are there but I need time to look at the gray areas to imagine how they should be filled in.
But that doesn’t always work. When it doesn’t, I repeat what I thought I heard her say. In this case when I told her, “I heard you say: Maybe you need to make a fire in the bedroom,” she nearly bust a gut laughing. Then, when she could breathe again, she told me about the humidifier.
Random recollection: My mom told me she wanted to teach me and my brother some basic housekeeping skills: cooking, cleaning, that sort of thing. Dad wouldn’t allow it, apparently because it was women’s work.
Fast-forward a couple years: I was living on my own in an apartment in England. I had to call my mother to ask how to bake a potato. I did actually try to bake it myself before I called her. I don’t recall what I did wrong, but it was not at any time during my kitchen experiment what I would have considered edible, and back then I was okay with a lot of canned foods that I would not eat now except as a last resort following a global catastrophe.
I suppose eventually it would have occurred to me to visit the library to check out a cook book, but honestly I had no clue at all and could conceivably have starved during the lag between trying to learn through trial and error, and twigging to the idea that I should put my hands on at least a few examples of one of the most well-documented human activities of all time.
Maybe some day I’ll tell you how long it took me to warm to the idea that I should, from time to time, vacuum the floors of the rooms I lived in. Maybe. Maybe not.
I was assigned to RAF Digby in 1999 and worked there for two years with a couple dozen British people and maybe eight or nine Americans. I can’t tell you what I did there for the Air Force but I can tell you I drank a lot of tea on the job. That’s not a cliched stereotype; the British really do drink a lot of tea. We had tea first thing when we arrived, took a mid-morning break to drink tea, had another break in the afternoon when we drank tea, and I think we usually shoehorned at least one or two more cups in while we were working. Someone would come around with a tray to ask if you wanted any; all you had to do was give them your cup and your order, and ten minutes later they’d be back with a steaming hot cuppa.
When we took a proper break it was usually to stand around chatting while we sipped our tea. One of the blokes I worked with, Sean, did not sip his tea. He’d stand there, happily chatting away with his cup in his hand for the entire fifteen-minute break until, in the last ten seconds or so when other people downed the last drops of tea and began to make their way back to their work stations, he would say something like, “Well, suppose we’d better get back to it,” and suddenly upend his entire cup of now-tepid tea down his throat. That’s just how he liked it.
My Darling B’s Twitter account was hacked! She sat down on Tuesday afternoon to see what manner of madness befell the world and discovered that someone had logged into her account and posted a few hundred tweets extolling the greatness of a particular brand of cryptocurrency. After several failed attempts to log in, she finally correctly recalled her password and deactivated her account. Then she changed her password (it still mystifies me why the identity thief failed to do so), logged in again, and began deleting the offending tweets. There were so many that she finished deleting them only this very night. It’s the first time I’ve known anyone personally who had fallen victim to a hacker.
I bought a computer keyboard. I didn’t need a computer keyboard. I needed to make my computer keyboard quieter, so I went down a rabbit hole of YouTube videos about computer keyboards and I got the mistaken impression that I could make my keyboard quieter by swapping out the switches. Okay, this already doesn’t make any sense. Let me back up a little:
Computer keyboards are literally boards covered in electric pushbuttons. The keys are electric push-button switches with plastic caps. When you press down on the cap, you’re pushing the button on the switch. The switch doesn’t inherently make a lot of noise. In fact, it’s rather quiet. Some are manufactured to make a little click, but most make almost no noise at all. The board, however, is very noisy.
When you’re typing, you’re not gently pushing down on the switch. What you’re usually doing is hammering that switch with your finger in much the same way and for much the same reason that you hammer on the key of a real typewriter: you want to shove the key down as far as it goes so you feel it hit the bottom limit of its travel. Hammering the keys with your fingers makes a lot of noise if the board underneath isn’t muffled with foam. It’s like the difference between drumming your fingers on a bare tabletop versus drumming them on a placemat on a table. My keyboard is a bare tabletop. It doesn’t have any foam at all in it, and just to make things worse, the keys make a clicky sound.
After watching a few YouTube videos, I believed I could make my keyboard quieter by swapping out the clicky switches with some quiet switches and inserting a foam layer under the board. And that would work, if my keyboard were the type I could modify like that, but it isn’t. I ordered the switches and the foam before I took my keyboard apart to get a better look at it (and also to clean it because it was getting really nasty). If I had taken it apart before I bought anything, I would have learned that my keyboard isn’t the kind you can modify like that. The switches are soldered to the board, which is a more or less permanent condition, and the board isn’t mounted to the base in a way that would let me muffle it with foam or other sound-deadening materials. It’s a noisy keyboard and it’s always going to be a noisy keyboard.
My problem at this point was that I bought a whole bunch of switches and they were already on the way. (I also bought a new set of key caps. I didn’t need those, really, but I thought they looked a lot better than the ugly black caps on my keyboard, and they were not expensive, so in my cart they went.) By the time I learned that my keyboard would always be clicky-clacky it was too late to cancel my order. I could wait for my order to arrive and return it or I could also buy a board to put the keys on, and this time get a board that was built to be quiet. I went with Option B.
Moral of the story, I guess, is to stay away from rabbit holes.
I took a walk in the evening after finishing up work, which is worth mentioning only because the temperature was oh-hell-no degrees below freezing but I needed to get out of the house. Besides, I still have the parka the Air Force issued to me when I was stationed at Misawa, at the northern tip of the Japanese main island, not that the winters in Misawa are cold enough that anyone would need a parka designed to keep them warm during an arctic winter, but I was grateful for it nonetheless. After I dressed up in layer after layer of clothing, I zipped my parka all the way up so you would not have been able to see my face unless I looked directly at you, and even then all that would have been visible would be my nose and eyes. It’s one of those parkas with a hood like a snorkel with a white furry fringe around the opening. The furry fringe keeps the wind out and the snorkel traps a warm cushion of air against your face, which would be great unless, like me, you wear glasses. The snorkel doesn’t keep the air warm enough to keep my glasses from cooling off and thus fogging over. I had to fiddle with the zipper a bit until I got just enough ventilation to blow away my breath but not so much ventilation that it defeated the purpose of the furry snorkel. Hard enough to see out of that hood without foggy glasses.
I don’t know if this is the weirdest thing I’ve ever done, but many years ago while a medical doctor was trying to diagnose a little trouble I was having with my gastrointestinal tract, she asked me to keep a diary of what I ate and each time I pooped. She also wanted to know what kind of dump I had, i.e. was it firm, loose, runny, explosive, etc.
I did just what she told me. I got a pocket-sized spiral-bound notebook, kept it in the breast pocket of my BDU blouse, and each time I sat down to eat I got the notebook out and jotted down a list of each item I was about to consume. I had a very simple appetite and was a picky eater back then, so the list was usually short and easy to make. AND ALSO after each visit to the men’s room I would make a quick note of the visit and the ‘character’ of the expelled dookie. I did this for at least a couple weeks. I think it might have been a whole month.
On my next visit to the doctor I handed over the notebook, saying something like, “You wanted me to write down everything I ate and every time I pooped.” She acted puzzled as she flipped through the pages. “Wow, you really did it,” she said. It seemed to me this was the first time anyone had actually followed her directions. Weirdly, she hardly read the diary. She mostly just flipped through it, pausing to read two or maybe three pages before handing it back to me.