Wednesday, November 14, 2007


I went in to get my license plates renewed in late August. I had the inspection sticker in hand (after a brake job) my property tax statement, insurance card, all like I was supposed to.
According to the six page long ‘rejection notice’ Missouri had no record of my vehicle. Even though one year prior, I had registered and received license plates after moving from Maryland.
“We sent you a notice in August of 2006” (shortly after I received the plates, and only a couple of weeks after moving in to the new house) I recalled that time period, my mail was being jump-forwarded between three different addresses… we would go days without any mail at all, followed by a box-choking bundle. I did not recall ever seeing any such notice.
Admittedly, I made another mistake that compounded the problem in 2007. I paid off the truck. The lien holder, an angry, sullen mob, said they sent the ‘release' to … Maryland. I had the title release in my hands… delivered to my address in Missouri. I asked them to resend the title to me. They said 'okay.' “How long will it take?” I inquired. “About one to three weeks.” was the bland bureaucratic reply. I knew there would be no hurry; there was nothing in it for them. I waited two weeks. “I’m checking on the status of my title.” (a shuffling of keyboard keys followed) “We don’t have your title, we sent a release to you, and sent the title to Maryland six months ago when you paid it off.” The gruff lady pronounced. “Why Maryland?” I stupidly asked. “Because that was the address we have on file” (duh!) “Could you read me the address” I asked. Of course the only address they had at this point was in Missouri.
“Can you send me another one?” Yes, they can, it would take a week or two though.
Time passed, I was now rolling on expired tags, and not too concerned about it. The cops that occasionally fell in behind me seemed mostly unconcerned. “I’m calling about my title” They replied repeating the same as before, and then adding. “We can’t duplicate your title, never could, whoever told you that was…mistaken. You’ll need to contact Maryland.” I slammed the phone down… No I didn’t I was using my cell phone, I haven’t found a satisfactory equivalent to slamming the phone down.. sure it takes pictures, plays music and has a color screen, you'd think they’d include a button for ‘hang up with extreme prejudice’, but no. I tapped the soft red button.
I contacted Maryland, they gave me the web site to download the proper form. I filled it out, stuck it into an actual envelope, and sent it to Annapolis.. They don’t accept electronic forms… The process would take two to three weeks. I received a fresh duplicate title in about three, as promised.
I marched in to the DMV again, handed them all my papers, including the fresh title. “We’ll just send this off to Jefferson City.” Said the big lady behind the counter. “Once they process it we can renew your plates”
I asked the obvious question, and received the expected answer: “About two to three weeks.”
That brings us up to mid-November.
I received an okee-dokee call from the big lady. I took my papers, now dog-eared, stained and worn, into the DMV office near where I work. Lunchtime, the line was twelve people long, four bureaucrats manning the counter. Then three, then two, as they left for their own lunch, at the busiest part of the day. The line went from twelve to eleven. Twenty minutes later it was down to nine, but only because a couple of people in line gave up and left. After forty five minutes I too left, the eighth in line.
The next day, November 14, I drove by the DMV again to assess the line. Not too bad,
Oddly enough I was eighth in line again. I had already decided that I would keep doing this until the deed was done, every day, assess, stand in line, roll my eyes along with my fellow livestock.
“I think I finally have it all now.” I told the young lady (who had just returned from her lunch break) pretending she might actually remember me, ‘the guy who sighs loudly when frustrated.’ Of course not, there’s no motivation for these demonic gatekeepers to remember anyone.
“Yes, you are cleared in the system, but we have another problem”
I didn’t need to ask, I KNEW what the problem was, I had figured it out the day before. One of the requirements for renewal is an inspection ‘within sixty days of renewal’ That arbitrary date had passed two weeks prior. I knew this, but just didn’t care. I wanted to make a case, for the heck of it. At this point rejection no longer hurt me, it no longer frustrated me, I was EXPECTING it. I did want to make my point though.
“It was perfectly fine when I brought it in the first time, the ink was still wet when the DMV admitted that they had lost my paperwork”. The young lady did not flinch, she did not seem surprised. I had a stack of dated rejection papers that indicated that I had indeed done my due diligence and was likely a mere victim of the DMV and their incestuous obsession with paper documents and the U.S. Postal Service.
I saw something in her eye, something unusual and unexpected.. was that a hint of sympathy? It was fleeting, almost not there at all. I looked around at her co-workers, burnt-up, jaded, ambivalent. They would not have it in them anymore. This young lady did. Perhaps she’d had something nice happen recently, maybe her fiancĂ© had finally proposed, perhaps she’d just interviewed at a place where she wasn’t automatically despised by the customers….. I don’t know what it was, but she got up, took my crumpled inspection form to the sweaty, used up and enormous blob of a woman that I had assumed was her supervisor, someone that would not only survive this terrible occupation, but would actually thrive in it.
After the obligatory shoulder shrug and bureaucratic tsking and sighing, the large lady relented. She took the forms and disappeared behind a wall. Of course, she was only a supervisor, which in bureaucratic terms means she had no actual authority to DO anything other than say ‘no.’ There are other supervisors, several layers probably that had to be waded through before one could be found that could actually decide something in a grey area.
She came back around, there was no tell on her face or in her waddle. She’d been in this job way too long to give anything away.
Then it happened.

“It’ll be fine, this time, go ahead and process it.”
Jaws dropped around the entire room. The impossible had actually occurred. A renewal of faith, hope, and dare I say ‘joy’ filled the room. I turned to the crowd and accepted the awe, the silent worship and whispered accolades.
The young lady who had assisted me in the rebellion ripped a couple of stickers off the sheet, stapled them proudly to a form, and with a tiny lilt in her voice asked “Would you like this to be a one year renewal or two?”
“Are you saying that I can write this check (no plastic allowed) and not have to do this again for two whole years?”
“That is correct sir.”
“Can I get a ten year renewal?” She didn’t smile, but she did think about it. “No, I’m afraid not.”
“Then two it is, let’s do this thing.”

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Kathy's birthday.

My charming sister’s Birthday is in a few days. It’s not one of the biggies, just another odd, non-winning number in the mid-life lottery. This event occasionally causes me to take a few moments away from the very important things that I normally do to think about her for a bit.
My sister is older by over two years and I care for her a great deal. Not as much as I once did, but I certainly still like her, everyone does. EVERYONE likes my sister. (Though full disclosure requires I reveal that I only have the opinions of the living to go by.) She is, and always has been sweet, soft-spoken, and quick to giggle or applaud as appropriate, and generally reads good books. She is in fairly good health as I recall, and is married to a wonderful guy who apparently loves her a lot. She is also important and successful, in the halls of academia. She is the Registrar of a very tidy state university in southwestern Kentucky. Once again I say all these things based on the very limited information I have. Like they do with gymnastic scores in the Olympics, I threw out the best and worst things I’ve heard about her and am only commenting on the non-extreme middle-ground. For example I have heard some vicious things from her severely overworked and underpaid secretary, Susan, about Stalin-like despotism, wild and angry snack episodes, spitting, mass firings, and vengeful mutilation of plants, animals and humans. But like I said, I throw out the best and worst, assuming they are merely jealous rants, or girlish over-emotional reactions.
(I also heard from her secretary that my sister is sweet, respectful, professional, and doesn’t really sweat very offensively on the hottest of days. I threw that one out for the obvious reason that my sister probably commanded her to say those things. Susan is a nice lady, but prone to jitters and extreme, opossum-like timidity under pressure.)
My sister is my dad’s only daughter, and it always showed. I shy away from the word ‘princess’ but frankly, that’s exactly what I’m trying to say. I came to be aware of this gross unfairness early on as she got the better slices of cake, the cleaner dishes, and her birthday and Christmas presents were actually store-bought. I adjusted to this inequity though as soon as I had a daughter of my own. For some reason it made perfect sense after that. So I can forgive her for that much.
I know what you are asking at this point, it’s the same thing I’ve been asking myself all day: “But Dennis, how does your sister’s birthday affect YOU?”
I’m Glad we asked.
Kathy is my canary in the mine. As I said, she’s a couple of years older, and from what I’m told, we share some DNA, so like the canary I keep an eye on her to see what falls off or goes sour, what ailments, pains and diseases might arise. This is a very important role for her, one that I hope she does not take lightly. I suppose I could consider my older brother for the same role, but having spent time with him I’m pretty sure we don’t share a whole lot of common building material. Not that there’s anything wrong with Steve, but he’s about as much like me as the old VW’s are like the new ones. Sure, they may be from the same company, but they’re just not the same.
Kathy is also not aging as well as I am. I don’t know if this is a result of the male-female differences or the soft, care-free life and constant pampering she received as a child, but I can look at her and rate myself as ‘probably better by ten or twenty percent’ on any point. That takes a HUGE load off my mind, like comparing your dinner to a poorer family’s rather than the bank presidents’, you just feel better about yourself from the perspective of looking downward.
When she first started losing her youthful appearance, many, many years ago, it was another five to ten years before I deemed myself in that same declining state. Don’t take me wrong, one look at me and you KNOW , using that same ratio, that she can’t be too bad off appearance wise, but face it, we’re not in our twenties anymore, we’ve both got some sagging, and fading, and a bit of extra protection from the cold, but Kathy at one time, was HOT!
I recall when we were in high school and she would have her friend Debbie stay over. It was all I could do to not stare, or faint. I mean Debbie was SUPER-HOT! (probably isn’t now either, but I don’t know for sure) and together, well they caught the ‘attention’ of many, many, many, MANY young 'suitors'. This was the early seventies, tight bell-bottom jeans and bra-less halter tops. Kathy had a red one… It drove dad nuts, it just confused me. Nothing tawdry here, I’m just saying if she weren’t my sister (or if fewer people knew she was) I might even have gone slumming for a bit and hit on her myself.
“But Dennis, are you saying that you were ten to twenty percent hotter?”
I am, of course, much too modest to reply honestly.

Personal to Kathy: I haven’t bought you a card yet, but I did think about it at this morning as I passed the $1 store. If you don’t get one, it’s only because someone forgot to supply me with stamps.
Your adoring brother;

Monday, August 20, 2007

Lucky to have survived.

As injuries go, it’s not very much; Just a quarter inch long gash in the center of my forehead. I’ve been told by people that they would not have even noticed it had I not pointed it out, but these are co-workers, people that I am pretty sure don’t look at me long or hard. I would ask Angel, but if it is hideous, she’ll just lie to me and say otherwise, she’s sweet that way.
I’m pretty sure that it’s quite noticeable, as it is the first thing I see in the mirror.
No stitches required, it is only a gash, surrounded by a red area indicating that healing is underway. It didn’t bleed, I don’t think, I was actually afraid to look and too far from a mirror to check, and most of all too preoccupied with the task at hand to bother.
I’ve had injuries before, a playground swing ripped open my hand when I was eight or nine, I got five stitches for that and still have the scar. I shoved a pocket knife between a couple of fingers in my left hand a couple of years later, permanently damaging the nerve endings, which still occasionally tingle. And I burned my thigh on a motorcycle exhaust; it left a permanent mark, looks like a bruise.
And of course the car wreck back in 1999, when I flipped the SUV and suffered a severe beating from the air bag. Fractured my clavichord, or whatever that thing is between the ribs, oh yeah, sternum… I just looked it up… Anyway I fractured that and it put me down as much as anything else I’ve suffered. Other than that I guess I’ve been pretty lucky, except maybe the time I was shooting hoops (wait for shock to subside) and caught my right foot in a gopher hole, spraining my ankle… yeah that’s about it.
This gash in my forehead is not as bad as any of those… I think more than anything else it reflects my general state of slowing down. Motorcycles, basketball, careless and imprudent driving, knife-play, I really don’t do risky things like that any more. Medical bill – wise that’s not such a bad thing I’ve taken a lot of the risk out of my life.
But the troubling spot is this: no matter how careful you are, no matter how sedate, cautious and vigilant, there plenty of stupid accidents ready to pounce on even the most inactive.
I was at peace, my mind wandered about, here to there, playing with the images in my mind, feeling waves of heaviness come and go, warmth rising, and rising, somewhere between drowsy and full-ahead REM, I drifted. At some point in this euphoric state I sensed that the pillow needed to be flipped to the cool side. A quick twist and pull, a simple move practiced over time to perfection.

It jammed.
Somehow the pillow locked into place, my clutched fist slipped off the edge with full momentum towards my face, my thumbnail slammed into my forehead.
I was thankful, once again for the thickness of my skull. It hurt like mad though; this was a self induced sucker punch, and a mean one.
I considered that it might have cut open, it felt, gashed. But the cool side of the pillow seduced me, and I decided then and there to just let it bleed.
If there are those among you that likewise have experiences with ‘nap-related-injuries’ I would like to hear from you. Surely I am not alone, and surely there is a support group somewhere, or a telethon, or a celebrated sports figure with a book, or made for TV movie….

Healing nicely.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Mid August...

The air conditioner failed sometime Sunday afternoon. I don’t know exactly when, there was no bang, pop, screech, or puff of black smoke. Like the proverbial frog in a sauce pan, we just figured it out after a while. It simply was not cool in the house anymore. I checked the thermostat, It was set to maintain seventy two degrees, but the actual temperature read eighty four. It was seven o’clock on a Sunday evening, there would be no service call till Monday.
We did all the right things, checked the filter, removed panels, reset breakers, and fiddled endlessly with the overly-complicated thermostat.
We’ve never liked the thermostat, it has time zones. To set it you push mushy, multi-function, poorly - labeled buttons to establish desired temperature for each four hour period of a twenty four hour day. It takes forever. There is a button though that says ‘Hold’. It merely maintains the current setting until turned off. That is where it stays all year. We are using a two-hundred dollar sophisticated computational device as if it were a light dimmer. Too hot, up it a little, too cool, back down. The clock is many hours off and blinks angrily at us. We ignore it.
The thermostat has asserted and avenged itself; the outside compressor-big-noisy-fan thingy does not turn on, at all. The air blower works and responds to on/ off commands from the master controller, but the vented air is stale and exactly the same temperature as the damp, ambient air.
Sunday night sleep was sweaty and shallow. We employed our fans and hoped for a cool breeze that never came. Waking up many times during the night searching violently for a fresh cool corner of damp pillows, all blankets not only pushed aside, but tossed several feet from the bed as if they were the source of the stifling heat.
This heat wave was in it’s second week, most days reaching and teetering around one hundred, those days when it only made it to the mid-nineties seeming almost pleasant.
Monday morning, mouthwash, and toothpaste have warmed to a sickly unnatural state. The very walls of the efficient house now storing the warmth per their modern design. The steamy shower did not even fog the mirror. The only relief in sight; the drive to work. Angel would not be so lucky, the dogs don’t care for the heat, and this day would prove to be miserable for them. Angel called for service, of course they were backed up, busy, busy, busy, could we wait till Tuesday?
We have become soft, we recognized, our first house a Victorian monster in downtown Springfield had no air conditioning, at all, so poorly insulated and high-ceiling spacious that any attempt even to cool a single room would spin the electric meter off it’s expensive axis. At that time we had kids in the house, bitter, edgy, frustrated kids accustomed somehow to more comfort and luxury than they had actually ever experienced. I don’t recall struggling with the heat so much as I recall the kids complaining about it. It was what it was.
Monday, as Angel and the dogs suffered to stay less than miserable, I whiled away in my cubicle, concerned about their plight, but secretly soaking up and relishing every stale atom of air conditioned comfort.
I arrived home about six P.M, inside the house the temperature had risen to ninety four. Angel had purchased four more inexpensive box fans and scattered them at all angles through the great area, open to the living room, kitchen, dining room and foyer. This moved the air, as fans can only do, across the sweat to speed evaporation giving the sense, if not the reality of cooling. I bagged ice cubes and laid them in bowls in front of the fans. I hosed down the deck and sprinkled the front yard hoping that my meager understanding of thermodynamics and evaporation would make a difference. As the sun finally set, the temperature began to drop. Inside the house, by eleven, it had nose dived to eighty seven degrees. Outdoors the billions of insects that actually own and rule our acreage buzzed by and laughed at our plight, the inside of the modern insulated house was an easy five degrees warmer than the outside.
We were uncomfortable, but optimistic, celebrating each degree drop as it occurred with the attention and giddiness of kids watching an odometer zero out. A quick dip in the small tepid swimming pool and off to bed. Not much was said as mere chit-chat seemed to heat the air and add to the edginess. Our conversations are generally smart-alecky (from Angel’s side) and in this sultry state the quips seemed more barbed and personal than usual. So we each kept our tongues at bay, so as not to make a bad situation worse.
The watering and fanning seemed to work, sleep was not so difficult, or we were just too lethargic and drained to do anything else. The dogs awoke early though, even in the basement where it is always a bit cooler, and with their own set of fans, the comfort level was less than perfect. I left for work a bit early, once again the seventy three degree air whipping into my truck windows feeling much like the open doors in the frozen food section at a supermarket.
Now I sit in my cubicle, cool, comfortable, the service call scheduled for eight A.M. maybe. If not, if Angel must endure today’s expected one hundred and three high, I may not go home. I doubt she will stay there herself.
We have become weak and soft in our old age.

Follow-Up… 08/15. The service call took place at seven thirty and took a mere half hour. According to Angel “There was a rusty part that they said wasn’t really important anyhow, so they bypassed it.” By Tuesday evening the house was cool and the dogs and family were basking in the spoiled luxury of seventy one degree remanufactured air. Outside, a record was broken for the day: one hundred three degrees.

Friday, August 3, 2007

The witness.

About five miles from my home, on highway 21, the area’s best kept secret as it is fast and under-utilized all the way into the city, Is a small state park. Sandy Creek Covered Bridge. It indeed has a covered bridge, not necessarily an architectural masterpiece, originally built with only local labor and very modest funding. It has been restored several times.
Back in the early 1900’s this was on the main road north/south and provided covered, ice–free traverse over tiny Sandy Creek. When Highway 21 was built, this whole low section of creek crossing was bypassed, the thirty foot wide creek now crossed with barely a bridge, barely a notice.
Remnants of the original road remain, marked as ‘Dead End’ on the south side, the park itself lies on the north bank. To get to the park, you must exit off 21, take a right turn on to the old road and past the Goldman Fire Station. Except for a scattering of mobile homes, the fire station is pretty much all that’s left of Goldman, never more than small town, in fact a ‘Ghost Town’ according to Wikipedia. This old road follows the original bridge road, though once you enter the park there is a barrier blocking vehicular access. The barrier is/was a state-park style rough timber 10x10, about twenty feet log, heavily bolted to two incredibly sturdy rough 10x10 posts driven a mile or so into the ground. Mounted in the middle of the barrier is a standard size STOP sign. The actual parking lot, with no more than ten parking spots, is to the left of the barrier.
At the small, but tidy park you can walk up into the bridge and read the history of the construction and restorations. You can also read the graffiti with which local hoodlums have temporarily immortalized their existence, passions, and romances. You can also walk down to the creek, not much of a thing at this spot. Swimming is not banned, but is certainly warned against as there is no full-time Department of Natural Resources presence. The creek is quite alive with very small fish that the locals refer to as ‘bait’.
I walked around the park on a very hot early August afternoon on my way home from work. I was alone. No one else around at all. This was fine with me since I was only there for research. I needed to see if the rafters of the old bridge were exposed, yet secluded enough to suspend a corpse. (Don’t panic, the writer’s club I joined is sponsoring a ‘Mystery Short Story’ contest and I needed an exotic, but familiar location for a macabre crime scene.)
After checking the angles, the shadows, the architecture, and the exits, I stepped out of the bridge toward the parking lot. From this angle I could see straight out of the park and nearly a mile down the road past the fire station. What I saw, heard, this time was a bit unusual. A small, shiny, blue pickup truck was heading into the park at a significant speed. If I were to guess, I’d say forty five to fifty mph, though I cant be sure, but the engine was cranking out some noticeably high RPM’s. I didn’t have time to ponder the why’s and wherefores as to the intent of the high speed entry.
It got a little surreal here.
Surely he’s going to slow down, there’s nowhere to go. He can’t possibly make the hard turn into the parking lot at that rate, the truck’ll flip over… he’s not even slowing down.
Yes, he crashed through the barrier, splintering that big beam into three pieces, which flew to the left and right. That slowed him down considerably, though not completely. Doing some really fast and rough geometry, algebra, botany and physics, I sidestepped behind a stand of three mature oak trees. He might get through the barrier, but not even a loaded semi would have enough momentum to take out all of those old, hard trees.
He never actually stopped, though he did hesitate long enough for me to see that his windshield was not only shattered at the bottom, but caved in as well. There was no steam or smoke, or indication of an air bag deployment (I know this because the guy was still conscious… have you ever been hit by one of those things?) I did not notice much more, though I did find a side mirror and part of a grill a bit later.
He started to back up. It occurred to me that this man, alone in the battered truck, was not even going to get out to check the damage. He looked straight at me, for a few seconds. I could not make out specifics about him as I was looking through a spider web of broken glass from about fifty feet away, but I do know that he looked right at me since his expression changed a little as I started shaking my head and pointing to my holstered cell phone. He left anyhow.
As he turned around and drove away I had the lucidity to stare at his license plate and started repeating the number over and over to myself as he drove away, 348-NP5, 348-NP5, 348-NP5, 348-Nathan Paul 5, 348-Nathan Paul 5, over and over again till I got to my truck, to an an ink pen and a scrap of paper. I looked around, I was once again the only person at the park.
I 411’d the Sheriff’s office, reported the ‘non-emergency ’ (my choice since there were no injuries and the perp had already left the scene) to a deputy, who passed me over to a ‘dispatcher’. The dispatcher sitting in Hillsboro about three miles from where I was standing asked me the address for the park.
“The address for the park?” I was confused, and perhaps indignant. “It’s the state park, just north of Hillsboro, next to Goldman. “

The dispatcher was not satisfied. “What’s the nearest cross-street off 21 to the park?” He asked, as if I were a thousand unfamiliar miles away. I replied: “I don’t know the street names, I live here! It’s a state park, the only state park, with the only covered bridge in the county! Just tell the deputies that, surely they’ll figure it out!”
“Okay sir, I’ll try that, do you wish to be contacted?”
“No, that’s not necessary, You’ve got the guy’s license plate, he’s not going to be able to fix that damage very quickly, but I will stick around for a bit in case the officer arrives.”
“You don’t have to do that sir, but if you like, that will be fine.”
I had done my civic duty, reported all the important stuff to the proper authorities, left my contact information in case they needed to know more. But to just leave? I don’t think so! This was, without a doubt the most interesting thing that had happened to this cubicle dweller in a long time. I was the sole witness to an actual crime! I had the clarity of mind to gather and report accurate information! I needed closure! I needed an end to this wonderful story!

After an hour and a half of sweaty waiting, they never showed up. So I really never actually got a good ending …..

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Hampton is dead.

Some of you may recall that Hampton is a hamster. But not just any hamster, a rescued hamster. And I mean ‘rescued’ with a capital ‘R’.
In September of ’05 Angel, and some like-minded souls ventured down to southern Mississippi to gather up thirty or so unclaimed, unidentifiable dogs that had been pulled out of the Katrina floodwaters. While there, suffering the heat, humidity and a plague of freakish insect life, they were approached by a man carrying a small habit-trail.
He said that he was newly homeless, and would be going to stay with a relative, a relative who, because of allergies or similar ailment, would not be receptive to hosting a rodent. He was shopping at exactly the right store. Those that went down to the gulf are big hearted, and kind. They are not dog – purists. A helpless, needy animal is a helpless needy animal.
So they took him and made him part of the caravan, riding, unlike the dogs, in air conditioned comfort of the large R.V. There was some discussion as to what to do with him, but Angel laid claim and that was that. After all a hamster, fully and comfortably homed takes up less than a cubic foot of space, and we had thousands of those available in our home.
Not very personable, but not vicious either, he could only be described as laid-back and a dutiful slave to his own schedule. Nocturnal, he was seldom seen in daylight, but could be heard about midnight sucking on his water bottle or working out on his squeaky wheel.
At some point, while still in Maryland he escaped. We don’t know why, he seemed to be quite content in his thick glass universe, but he did escape. We worried that the dogs might find and dispose of him in nature’s way, but found no evidence of it. For two or three days we wondered, maybe he got outside, maybe he’s trapped behind something we hadn’t thought to move yet.
Watching TV we heard a scurry in the ceiling. Just a little, we had to mute the TV to finally convince ourselves that we did both actually hear something. We removed a tile from the grid, ladders, flashlights, all the required rescue gear was employed. He came rather willingly, tired, nervous, and a bit slimmer than we last saw him. He seemed quite happy to get back to his aquarium. He quickly settled into his normal routine.
A few months later we found out that we were about to move to St. Louis. The logistics were complex, I would drive ahead to start the new job and stay in a long-term hotel while Angel and Adam stayed back to settle our affairs. But that wasn’t the complicated part. No, the tough nut was how to get four dogs and a hamster a thousand miles to the west. I volunteered and did my part, I took Hampton with me. He had a travel carrier, vented , secure, and simple. He did not complain the entire two day trip. Settled into my single room at the extended-stay, he moved back into an aquarium, though not his roomy thirty gallon luxury suite, it was just too heavy, but rather, like me, into something a bit smaller (ten gallons) and easier to manage.
This worked quite well, for him. I was gone all day while he was sleeping, and at night he would entertain me with his exercise routine, squeaking, thumping, scratching.. it was very much like living in a one room flat with a rodent.
My room was ‘serviced’ every Monday, new sheets, towels, vacuuming, etc. One Monday however I returned to my room to discover that nothing at all had been serviced. Complaining to management was simple enough, the manager investigated then explained that the service staff saw “something moving around in that big glass box” and were too frightened to clean the room. We both laughed as I showed him the room, and the big glass box.. He laughed even harder when he saw the room’s ‘Do not Disturb’ card taped to the side of the aquarium…. He didn’t even charge me the ten dollar ‘pet charge’ claiming that if he did that he’d have to find a way to get money from the other resident rodents…..eww.
So we lived quietly and happily together, respectful of each other and pretty much uninvolved.
As time passed and the rest of the family finally settled in to our new house, Hampton returned to a distinguished spot in the dining room, back in his sparkling and enormous glass home, where he has been for over a year.
A couple of months ago, he started gaining weight, a lot of girth anyhow, very bottom heavy. His diet had not changed, nor had the amount he ate or drank. Assuming he was entering a hibernation cycle, we moved him into a warmer room for a few weeks, but nothing changed. His girth eventually became greater than his length. He slowed down, getting on with his routine , much, much less. This morning Angel found him, without sign of struggle or stress, merely having slipped quietly into the past tense. He has been laid to rest, buried in a small box stuffed full of his favorite bedding material in a quiet, shady place in our woods.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Why no new posts lately.....

Okay, I apologise. I have lapsed and not updated anyone about anything in over a month. I of course have my reasons…. None of which sound to me now to be anymore than petty excuses and laziness….. But there is one that I stand by:

About four weeks ago, I once again scanned the wide world of web looking for local classes on creative writing. I like to write and am comfortable saying that I am not awful at it. I do, however, believe that it is a bit coarse and unpolished. So from time to time I’ll scan for courses. This time I found none that seemed to be quite what I was looking for. I’m not looking for a degree, or anything like that, just some help cleaning up and feeling better about my sentences, punctuation, etc…. So instead I decided to look up Writing clubs. It turns out that there is a ‘guild’ in St. Louis, with several accomplished authors of various styles, but it sounded a bit snobbish and self-absorbed for me… Then I stumbled upon the Jefferson County Writers Association…… A smaller, less formal, collective of people that span a smaller, more manageable clutch of specializations, yet at the same time had an impressive list of actual published work.
I contacted the honcho, Dorry, and told her the following:
“I like to write. I have tried novels, but don’t seem to have the attention span or the creative goo that enables a novelist to make up an entire universe of people places and problems, much less a new or unusual plot. What I do write is basically articles, columns and non-fiction short stories. I have no delusions about quitting my day job and hostelling myself in Greewich Village, or begging for scraps as a Bohemian in Paris. I have a fair amount of spare time, the best technology money can by, and a flair for slapping words together in unusual and almost rhythmic ways. I would like to get something published, but pretty much just for the sake of taking a trivial hobby just a notch or two higher. Frankly, Dorry, I have no real goal other than just to grow it a little and see what happens.”
She responded immediately and invited me to join ($20/yr) or just stop by one of the two or three monthly meetings and get-togethers.
The one I went to was a critiquing group. It was a hoot. There were eight or nine of us, and I was immediately comfortable. I was the youngest, and the tallest person in the group. I was also the only guy. A couple of the ladies have a long list of articles and short stories published in many, many magazines… generally like “Home and Garden” and other country-living style publications, and many regional and hobby specific ones. That seemed a comfortable aspiration. One lady has written a memoir-type book of significant thickness. It has to do with the life story of a man that she met a few years back. She thought the story fascinating and told him he should write a book, he laughed it off since his ability to string the written word together had never been an interest. She offered ghost it, he accepted. A publisher read the advance and offered a contract. While waiting for the book to be completed the publisher handed the advance to some Hollywood types and they are now, before the thing is even published, creating a screen play.
This is cool enough, but the brutal world of publishing had to draw some blood from this lady just because they could… So they tied her to a contract that stipulates that she has one year to come up with another one…. Her problem, and her reason for hanging around the rest of us, is that she, like me, has no other story to tell…..
Anyway, the critiquing was simple and straight-forward. People brought in something they had written, or were writing, and passed out copies… we read through it, stopping to make observations, comments, and suggestions.. Paragraphs would move around, or be removed, sentences rewritten, or struck out entirely. Not harsh, these people have been ‘rejected’ hundreds of times, some might say they actually seem to enjoy it. So nothing was taken personally, and in fact there was no mandate that the changes, or suggestions had to be implemented. The senior among us, Verna, a bright eyed and sharp eighty five year old, brought in a ditty about a candy store in her Tacoma neighborhood, her childhood memories of it and the places and things around it, emphasizing the sweet smells, and friendly atmosphere. It was hardly ‘War and Peace’ but is exactly what you might find in a cozy magazine article for the area….
I took nothing to the meeting, and made it known that this, my first visit, was in fact to judge the group for worthiness before being judged by it.

I did indeed send in my $20. I will be going to more meetings. I like being around these people, it seems that their thinking, and fears, and goals, and humor is much more like mine than most of the people I deal with day to day… So now I am tasked with bringing something in to be critiqued by next Saturday. This has had a severe negative impact. Now, every time I sit and look at my keyboard It is as if I were being watched by my new friends… I have created for myself a writer’s block.
THAT’s why I haven’t written anything…. I swear!

So on to other things….

Monday, April 30, 2007

Fences, cops, a funeral and a wedding..

Susan, my precious and delicate sister’s secretary, has tasked me to submit posts to this effort a bit more often. As she is an understandably under-employed English major, with an inexplicable sense of humor (rare among the species)so I feel obligated to comply. As I went about my weekend of hard labor, I made sure to take stock and notice, to try to squeeze some interesting stuff out of whatever popped up. I was barely successful.

A truly beautiful weekend. Warm, and as of Sunday afternoon, almost too warm for the stuff Angel wanted to do…
Imagine if you will, five, fifty-foot rolls of welded wire fence, five feet tall, twenty or so heavy t-posts, and about five thousand square feet of uneven, rocky, rutted, un-cleared land, covered in tall oaks, small oaks, sickly, light starved cedars, various weeds and saplings, and several accumulated years of dry leaves, and about three tons of softball size rocks. This is to be the new alternate dog-pasture.
When we first moved in to the house, we had a professional firm install a chain link and wood picket fence around the back yard. This is the main run for the dogs. However there’s a lot of vicious traffic with the running, rolling, occasional digging, and the frequent charge-and-wrestle matches. This is very hard on any grade of grass. Bailey herself has worn a permanent perimeter path already. So we decided to establish a larger, less delicate area adjacent to the existing fence line for roughhousing.
Before the chain link guy did his stuff last year, Angel and I spent a couple of weekends clearing off enough ground for that small effort. What we needed to do this past weekend was expand it, about twenty five feet out, and running a two hundred foot length.
Angel had already pounded in most of the steel posts in order to measure, and as a guide for the clearing. A couple or three posts a day, then she started clearing out a little bit at a time. This weekend, with both of us available, we went full steam ahead with the goal of finishing it up.
The ground is very rough, strewn with large rocks, exposed roots, and hidden construction residue of various heavy materials; steel, concrete, etc. The Riding mower would never make it. Too many mature trees for a brush hog to corner, so all that left was a manual effort with an axe, clippers, rakes, and the occasional employment of the weed eater.
The saplings, and there were thousands, took a lot of time, dulling the clippers over the course. The raking though is what really took the toll. In some areas the leaf cover was over a foot thick, several years old, decomposing at the bottom, rotting and moldy about halfway down (currently suffering savage sinus issues). We had to break through all the way as best we could, since leaf cover is prime, luxury accommodation for ticks, chiggers, and about two hundred species of alien insect life I had not previously encountered……
It took the two days, both of us, and also proved out something I had suspected. Angel is in much better physical shape than I am… I live in a nice, cool, cubicle most of the time. She works the dogs outside for several hours a day, every day. I buckled in the heat… As I napped on Sunday, I could still hear the pounding of smaller, supporting T-posts in the back.
We did indeed finish, though Angel is sure to be out again today primping, checking and tightening the fence.

Saturday we worked hard, went out to the buffet for dinner, and stayed up late. At five-thirty Sunday morning a very rare thing occurred, someone knocked on our door. As it was very, very early on Sunday morning, I ignored it. But that bold gesture did nothing to thwart the rude attack. I tried to awaken Angel, but no-go. So I got up and stumbled forward… the sun was up a little, enough to see that there was a Sheriff’s cruiser in the driveway. There is a very long list of things that can quickly and completely sour up a beautiful spring Sunday morning.. having a sheriff’s deputy wailing away at your door at five thirty a.m. is definitely high on the list.
“Is this (insert street address) ?” she asked as I stared down at her feet trying to make out the brown plastic box. I had of course forgotten my glasses, and for some reason the box looked like a small animal carrier, which, in our household is not a rare thing, but it was too small for any of our massive dogs, and I didn’t think the deputy would be BRINGING us a small animal, especially at FIVE_$$%#@!!- THIRTY on a Sunday morning… and what is she saying? I hear her talking but I can’t stop trying to figure out what’s in the plastic box….”Yeah that’s right” I finally replied, though not really sure, as I’m now staring at her; checking to see if she really was a deputy, or maybe animal control, did one of our dogs tunnel out of the basement and kill someone? No not likely, wouldn’t explain the box, what is that? It looks familiar…..
“Sir, we had a bunch of kids knocking over mailboxes in the area, is this one yours?”
That explained it… as if coming out of a coma, things started making sense. It was my mailbox. Just the head, and it appeared to be in good shape, other than for being about five hundred feet away from the end of the driveway, where I had installed it.
“Uh, yeah, that’s mine….” Things cleared up as if pulled out of a deep fog… “…We caught them in the act, sir, would you like to fill out a claim report to prosecute? “

Don’t judge me yet…. There’s another story or two you need to know before you yell at me for being a weepy, timid sheep. I declined. Without explanation, I thanked her for her trouble and sent her on her way.
The mailbox wasn’t damaged. It was not just dumb luck though that it escaped harm. It was, in fact, by design. We’ve lived in the country before. We’ve had several mailboxes fall victim to local kids trying to wreak a little havoc on a dull, warm Saturday night. When we bought this place, one of the first items we installed was a sturdy, ‘break-away’ mailbox. If hit by a bat, hammer, or club, the head of the mailbox snaps out of its slots and tumbles away. Time to repair: about thirty seconds. Cost to repair? Zero dollars.
Sure the vandals deserve to be at least admonished, but remember, they’d been caught in the act. They had already smashed several, non-repairable mailboxes along the road… So it is very likely that others may pursue charges. The families of these misguided punks are now aware of their deed, and so they’re already dealing with that. Then there’s another thing….. for lack of a better word, I’ll call it Karma.
Without going in to unnecessary (embarrassing) detail, I’ll admit to having pushed the legal envelope when I was a teenager. I was caught, and the man that caught me contacted my parents, they came down on me hard. The shame, the humiliation, completely stifled any notions of a career, or even casual dalliances in crime. And because that man called my parents, instead of the police, I was able to quickly fix my life and go on without an ugly smudge in my record. One that could have kept me from certain positions I have held. So Sunday morning, at five-*%$#!! –thirty a.m. I cut some kids a little slack. What the other neighbors did, or will do? That’s up to them and their own philosophical baggage.

Angel talked to her mom again last week. Barbara is quite the peach. I’ve always liked her and Virgil, really good people. Angel’s dad is retired from building fine, upscale swimming pools, Barbara got to retire too since she kept the books for that business. They golf now even more than they once did.
Barbara has a wonderful, intelligent sense of humor; I know that simply because she says I make her laugh.
Angel was telling her about the ‘few words’ I had said for dad’s birthday party. Barbara asked if I’d be willing to write something for her.. like her obituary. Better than leaving the task for a stranger, I suppose.
Why, yes I take it as a serious request! Think about it… Rather than some marginal newspaper hack or dark, morbid, funeral director throwing cold, heartless factoids into a barely remembered tedious and formulaic recitation of a stranger’s life, why not get someone you really know, trust (?) and someone you can work with ahead of time?
I of course told Angel that I’d love to..
Now is a very good time to do this, Angel’s mom is in good health, and really not so very old, and still seems to have her mind about her (though with that side of the family it is not always so easy to tell).
I’ve started wondering if there might not be an ongoing gig here… I should start to think about how much to charge… by the word, or by the lie? Extra charge for NOT mentioning something?
I do birth announcements too…..

On a related note, sort of.. I am hustling, with tentative success, my garrulous female cube-neighbor for a spot as a male bridesmaid in her wedding, currently scheduled for August ’08…

Monday, April 23, 2007

This past weekend (April21) was Dad’s 80th birthday. I traveled to Cadiz / Cerulean Kentucky, to join my siblings, some cousins and dad’s friends to celebrate. The actual trip was rather uneventful, except maybe for the burning tractor in the large field near the river, and the gooey layers of day-glow green insect intestines that completely covered the front and windshield of my truck.
About 70 people came and went during the multi-hour, very well planned party at their church. Dad’s friends, former co-workers, and two of his favorite sons spoke very kind words, or completely made up or irrelevant ones. Jack, (My sister’s rarely seen husband) made an appearance with the new group of traditional/bluegrass musicians he currently fiddles with. They were absolutely perfect for the venue. They opened and grabbed our respect with a rendition of “Tennessee Waltz” that sent the entire audience sighing. I looked around at the growing happy crowd and soon came to a realization that is quite rare, I was one of the youngest people in the room… My father was all smiles on Saturday, and with good reason… people came from all corners to greet and celebrate a good, decent, gentle man.
Before the party at my parent’s home, my older brother Steve and I had a good chance to talk, something we only get to do once or twice a year… and my younger brother brought over some smoked pork he had labored long and perfectly over.. sweet, smoky, tender… the pork, not my brother, ….
Angel stayed behind as her daughter was traveling upstream from Springfield Mo. with her two babies and a new boyfriend in tow… They were still occupying space and eating my food when I left this morning, but should be gone by the time I get home. The babies are, of course, adorable, blah, blah, blah.. The older one, Alexis, about two and a half, a high energy little blonde, blue-eyed sprite fell asleep in my arms as we watched Spiderman (pause for cutesy ‘awww’s) ….. and the baby boy, Corbin… well he’s not much more than a leaky, grunting reptile at this point, still completely devoid of wit or personality… he may yet grow out of it… John, the new boyfriend hails from South Central Missouri, near Winona, for those of you with maps… and seems a quite decent fellow. He attended college for a couple of years, loved playing football, didn’t care for the academics, but now, after working for a year in a logging operation (South Central Mo. Is famous for oak trees and charcoal production) has decided that a degree might be a handy thing to have. He has been courted by the football coach at Evangel College in Springfield, and has been offered a full scholarship and three years of football eligibility. John’s about to accept, assuring all that he’ll put a bit more effort into the classroom than he did a couple of years ago.
As for Angel’s daughter Stephanie, I teased, berated and generally made fun of her, it’s what I do…. They were at the zoo on Sunday when I got home around 2pm, so I had a couple of hours rest before the babies got there and spun up to a very high pitch….
On the four and a half hour drive back from Cerulean Ky, to Hillsboro MO, I decided that since my house was probably full of babies and thus there was no real rush, I’d take a side trip off I-55 onto Highway 61 at St. Genevieve, Mo, about 50 mile SW of Hillsboro. Angel had looked around on the Wide World of Web and discovered that there was a lot of restoration and artsy-craftsy shops in the old river port. I sidled into the town for a quick drive-by and confirmed that indeed it does deserve a day trip soon. The river is very narrow here, and there is an operating auto-ferry in continuous motion. The town is all levee’d up and there is a historic yardstick on one main street showing the various significant flood events and levels. On the outskirts of the old town there is a modern factory complex that apparently is in business to manufacture noise and dust.. white, thin, powdery, perhaps limestone, dust that pours from every pore and orifice of the massive industrial buildings, pipes, and chimneys and rudely settles on everything for a downwind mile. I will investigate further.
Anyway, back to the party…. It was really, really nice… for a geriatric convention…. But that’s much better than being in even a very small gathering of folks in their teens and twenties. As the events dwindled down and the sugar-free cake was all chopped up, the coffee bitter, and the foam in the odd-looking punch had fallen flat, I decided to jack up my brother’s dour mood a bit. I did this by pointing to Judy, the 55 year old daughter of mom and dad’s life-long friends, and truly wholesome and wonderful farm stock, Clint and Pauline. Judy was sitting with her parents, and is a very nice person in her own right. She is long and happily married, has kids and grandkids of her own, and spends some daylight hours cleaning homes for people, including my parents’. I asked Steve, the elder brother, if he had seen her.. he replied that yes he had. So I followed up with an almost inaudible “She is so hot!” The look I got from Steve was quite priceless…. His first reaction though was odd, “ She’s you’re cousin!” I didn’t think so, but reminded him that even if true, we were currently sitting in a less than cosmopolitan region of Kentucky where such paltry things are usually of only the most trivial concern. His feigned disgust continued… even to the point of mentioning it to my father later in the day in an attempt to embarrass me, which was fine, since I’d already clued dad in on the gag. Dad played it like the pro he is, casting doubt on the ‘cousin’ aspect, reciting, as worst he could, the possible merge points in our weaving, colliding, and quite irregular family trees. (bravo dad !) It was all in good fun though… but if any of you really do have Judy’s phone number or email address…..

Of course I have to mention the dogs, no entry on this page would be complete without it. Mystery (the black pit bull) revealed another pleasant personality trait, he seems to love babies…. He hitched himself up to Alexis and appeared to love the ear-tugging and less than gentle petting.. (Don’t worry all activity was strictly monitored and closely supervised, we are professionals!) Blue, was allowed to check out the small, slick, sticky, smelly creatures for himself and immediately began to obsess over Lexy’s, slightly used diaper… following her around, nose-to-bottom. Hey! They’re just dogs!
For the most part the dogs were kept properly and securely segregated for the visit. They have the large basement and a very large fenced back yard, so it’s hardly cruel confinement…. We are always very cautious and have no unwarranted expectations of good behavior so it is always safety first… we are sure to let no harm come to any in our care.. after all a good dog is hard to find and well worth protecting from noisy, nasty little grandkids.

It’s about a month before we drive up to Maryland to watch yet another kid graduate from high school.. I doubt we accomplish much more of interest before then, other than putting out our garden again.. That freezy early April was quite the conversation starter over the weekend, what got ‘bit’ and what didn’t… Angel has purchased about 250’ of fencing and posts to create another ‘pasture’ for the dogs, so they don’t completely decimate the immediate back yard…

Well, greetings to all… and especially to a new reader I only recently found out about… I am afraid I do not know her actual name, but my sister, Kathy, the interim Registrar at Murray State University, simply said “ My secretary loves your stories.” I replied to my sister that in order to avoid being judged as pretentious and haughty in the future, she should not start any sentence with the words “My secretary…” Apparently 'her secretary' is an English major (virtually unemployable) so I value her opinion much more so than other, less literate and less accomplished readers….


Respectfully submitted for your enjoyment, but not your scorn, nor petty rebuffs. So if you have nothing nice or flattering to say, then just keep to your seats and whisper quietly amongst yourselves….…

Monday, March 12, 2007

Ahh, the weather! Dog updates! y2k or yNOT2k!

What a weekend! I’m still jacked up from two solid days of sunshine and pleasant temperatures… The growing throng of bullfrogs around the pond down the hill from the house sang loudly and non-stop, spanning several low, and near-harmonic octaves. The still-naked trees seemed to swell with anticipation around their budding points.
Of course I was outside most of it, we’ve decided to clear off another section to make way for a garden spot and expand the usable, (by that I mean mow-able) lawn. The house sits on five plus acres but only a few hundred square feet close to the front door had been maintained as yard by the previous owners. The rest is either heavily wooded or overgrown by weeds, saplings and the massive grapevines that are strangling the life out of everything they can reach. There’s no easy way to do all this… My 19hp, 43 inch mower, which we picked up right after we bought the place last year cannot beat down the bigger saplings, many with one to three inch trunks, and the crawly grapevine can tangle the blades requiring an hour or so of squirming in the dirt, yanking it or chiseling it free, bit by bit.
So we grab the clippers, and lob ‘em as low to the ground as we can….hundreds of them, some snaking back along the ground several feet under the heavy leaf cover. For the bigger ones, I get to fire up the chainsaw. Along with picking and choosing which are to live, which to die, I take out all of the cedars. Tall and full, scrawny, crooked, or cute, it doesn’t matter. Angel has decreed that all cedar trees must die; she backs that decree with an unyielding, yet unexplained obsessiveness which though we have discussed that as being completely irrational, and petty, I have found it simpler to comply than debate.
We tried to burn the rapidly growing piles, but recent rains have pretty much soaked them making them very slow burning and quite smoky. So we have decided to wait a couple of weeks and we’ll rent a chipper, we’ve got other piles and loose branches and such all over the lot, so we’ll spend some upcoming Saturday making cedar laced oak mulch.
Our dogs are swell, We still have to keep an eye on Blue though. He’s got a nasty habit of occasionally getting in over his head playing, then going a little too far, leading to whelps and yelping and lashing out, so when Mystery (still new to the pack) is out we have to watch out that Blue doesn’t overdo it with him. We also have at the house a little Doberman mix, named ‘Mini’ (like the car) ,a gorgeous and frail pointy little girl, spoiled rotten, but not in the good way. Socially confused and timid, she’s the opposite of aggressive, but also has no manners. She has the need to constantly touch or be touched and the other dogs, especially Blue can get rather annoyed by it. They’re not allowed out at the same time either… She’s fixable, still young and malleable, she just needs time and a firm hand, which is what Angel is perfectly suited for.
Angel took Mini to PetSmart on Sunday, rescue groups are invited to bring adoptable dogs on weekends. It was Mini’s first outing and she handled it very well. Unless you’re a fluffy flat faced puppy, it usually takes more than one weekend to get adopted, but it’s still a good way to meet and greet and once in a while you get lucky. Mini needs socialization, so it’s good place to be approached and fawned over by strangers.
I stayed home with the Bentley Pack, it’s what I do. Not a lot of work as they have a large fenced back yard, with an additional run along one side, and they have large crates in the basement, which they accept as their ‘rooms’ and actually have grown to enjoy the security and quiet they provide. So all I have to do is make sure that Blue and Mystery are not running free together, and Bailey and George can pretty much do as they please.
Mystery has adopted me. If you’ll recall He’s a full pit bull, black, thick , tight skinned and stout, very scary looking by contemporary knee-jerk standards. He was a ‘gift’ from Angel’s former co-volunteers at the kennel in Maryland, they even delivered him to us. He was named ‘Mystery’ because he showed up at the Humane Society one Monday morning, inside one of the outdoor runs. No indication of ownership, origin, age, creed, or religion, just abandoned, at about a year old, at the Humane Society. He was scared, and very needy, which if you are a pit bull can be easily mistaken for sinister and dangerous. Angel took him through a year of professional courses and evaluations. Nobody, wanted to adopt him. Yes he’s strong, you will not win tug-of-war with him if he digs in. He is for all of this, a trusting, affectionate and needy sweetheart. His mouse-like whip of a tail starts slapping the floor whenever I enter the room and starts hyper-drooling like a Pavlovian overachiever. If I drop to a crawl, he nearly wets himself in excitement, but instead nudges me and drops to his back for the complete narcotic bliss that is a belly rub. It paralyzes, hypnotizes him, he completely tunes out all else. When I stop, he pauses, snorts and pops back into reality to look around to see where it went… Angel loves this (mostly, I’ll explain shortly) and I , well I just need to be wanted so it’s a perfect fit. He is also a bit pee-shy around the other dogs, so a couple of times a day I’ll lash him to my arm with a long lead and take him out front to his favorite, long-suffering shrub. We’ll generally continue the walk at a brisk pace up to the mailbox and back which is a pretty good aerobic haul for short, out of shape, stocky types such as Mystery and myself.
Occasionally I get the evil in my eye and he picks up on it.. He’ll be laying on the floor chewing something to shreds, and I’ll just look at him… when he notices I’ll shift my eyes toward the direction of the bedroom… that’s all it takes, It can be done without alerting Angel, even though she may be in the same room… but not for long. All I have to do now is tiptoe toward the bedroom and Mystery is in the air. He gets to the bed before me, and he’s ready… I dive my head under a pillow and he near takes it apart trying to find me… till he goes comatose again from the belly rub.
Angel hates this game. She claims I’m teaching him bad things. Dogs apparently aren’t allowed on the bed. I cannot recall, nor find any evidence that this rule was ever discussed, or agreed upon, though she insists it is indeed a long standing policy. She also claims that I’m making Mystery think that it is ‘okay’ to leap at a high velocity on top of me on the bed. I respond “Get over it, you’re the professional dog trainer here! if I screw him up then just push yourself off the couch and train it back out of him!” Which she of course finds hilarious.
Anyway, she got home from PetSmart, I was scraping globs of excess NeatStuff brand expanding foam out of the gaps in the gazebo ceiling (we gots wasps). She asked about dog status. I answered that they were all inside napping, so she let Mini into the backyard, where she immediately Velcroed herself to Angel’s leg. Mini prefers to touch and be touched at all times. Angel reported that all went well, Mini behaved herself and did not maim or kill any children. (In the dog-rescue and rehab business that’s called ‘a good day’) Angel goes to these things for other reasons than adoptions, for one, it puts her 2000 Ford Escape SUV/rolling billboard in a prime location, and it’s a fine way to strike up discussions with potential clients as well as meeting and networking with rescue workers from around the area. She took it one step further this time. After she scraped Mini off her leg log enough to shove her squealing and flailing into her crate. (Mini doesn’t mind her crate, in fact she sleeps quite well in it, she squeals and flails getting out of it as well, it’s a transition-panic thing.) Angel sheepishly admitted to having another dog in the car. One of the PetSmart patrons had brought her handsome young Border Collie/Eskimo mix to the store for food/treats/toys/pee on the floor. She stopped to look at the adoptable poodle puppies, and struck up a conversation about her dog, Mickey.
“He’s bitten about thirty people” She said. Angel then pulled a small hammer out of her purse and ball-peened the lady right between the eyes, which dropped her like a flour sack. Angel then smashed each of the lady’s fingers and toes individually with a dirty, jagged rock that was lying nearby.
Of course that’s the embellished version, that’s really just what Angel wanted to do. What she actually did was to offer to take Mickey for a few days for ‘evaluation.’ The owner had claimed that their other dog, a German Sheppard/mountain lion mix (embellishment) may be part of the problem, and that yes, it probably isn’t so smart to let Mickey run around outside without leash or supervision…. Or ‘ I suppose we should have done something after the first couple of attacks.’
Mickey is about a year old, and though it’s too early to tell for sure, he may not be long for this world. If indeed he shows significant signs of erratic, dangerous behavior, regardless of whether it is inherent or learned, he will not be considered adoptable by any ethical rescue shelter, regardless of training. It is not likely at this point that the owner will take him back. Angel’s really the last possible detour on Mickey’s road to the big sleepy needle.
So for him, (Warning: Soapbox Ahead!) as with other dogs taken in for being too dangerous for adoption, there is the needle, or there is a long life of loud, lonely kennel spinning in a no-frills, ‘no-kill’ shelter. Kennel spinning is what animals do when they are confined for extremely long periods, (think months, not years) visit a zoo lately? Watch the big cats. They circle the cage, or pace back and forth, it becomes obsessive, and by some indications, permanent. At this point their diet has deteriorated, their senses have diminished or are just being ignored. They can become more erratic and aggressively possessive. Though probably treated well, fed, kept warm and watered, they are by any other humane measure, neglected. That really can’t be helped. “No kill” shelters by definition end up with the long-term outcasts, un-adoptable, unwanted, aging animals. The shelter can not make a dime from them if not adopted, but must maintain their medical care, food, etc. Obviously space is limited, and no one, I mean no one is getting wealthy in the no-kill rescue industry. Generally they are marginal, tin-cup operations, partially funded by local charities or private philanthropy, or in some case by municipalities. Workers at these shelters are generally wonderful people, answering a calling. They are always in over their heads. They always have at least two more dogs than places to put them. They also, to a person, get angry, frustrated, upset, when hearing of a dog owner letting their puppy run amok and then throwing them away after a few months.
Sorry about that.
Then there’s Rocko.
Oddly enough one day Angel was clicking through the Wide World of Web and landed on a massive site filled with rescued animals. ‘’. This is a wonderful site that is nation wide, free to most-ad/based so you can look for or offer a pet by type, size, age location… so is you want a basset-poodle-mastiff mix you may have to go for a drive, but it searches nation wide… (end of gratuitous ad) On this site she was looking up ‘Rhodesian Ridgebacks’. In memory of Max, our long suffering old dog that we put down back in January, (those of you that knew Max recall the Mohawk of fur on his back, Max was a Ridgeback/Sheppard mix) Angel picked up a big, glossy, full color ‘Rhodesian Ridgebacks Gone Wild’ calendar. Thumbing through it on page August is a picture that if we did not know better looked exactly like Blue. EXACTLY! Except Blue doesn’t have that ridge of fur on his back. But the face! That handsome and regal face was a dead-on match. Blue’s genealogy has always been a curiosity. We knew his mom, and all of his siblings. Blue sitting among his brothers and sisters, I think there were seven, would look like a evolution chart no two identical, each slightly off, and none, absolutely none resembling the mom.
So she’s looking at other ridgeback mixes to study characteristics and for cases of a ‘known’ parentage producing something like Blue’s motley litter. Not that we can do anything about Boo’s (Blue’s) lineage, he and all his siblings were fixed early in life, it’s an academic exercise that helps improve one’s breed identification skills. Anyway, That’s how she came across another dead-ringer, listed as a Boxer-Ridgeback mix named ‘Rocko’ currently a resident in a foster home in West Memphis Arkansas. Well one thing led to a dozen others and sure enough that dog’s gonna be heading up here in a few days as sort of an exchange-student thing, where he’ll be the ward of a local shelter here, and living with us as a foster. This simply means that the shelter will pick up medical bills, we do the rest. No one’s making a dime here, it all zeroes out pretty much, even if Rocko eventually gets adopted.
Then there’s the whole time-change thing… we in the IT-support industry did indeed hearken back to the end of the universe version 1.0 back in December 1999… oh those heady days of non-stop funding and obscene contract gouging! Sure there was an issue, but sheesh! This time was embarrassing. The deities that control time/space in this part of the galaxy decided that three more weeks of DST would be pleasant, though there is no actual evidence of request, complaint, or outcry from the masses… So they decide to stage an unnecessary disaster. Change the start and stop points for the silly thing. You’d think, and you be completely wrong, that we learned something from the Y2K self imposed emergency. NOOO! We hard coded the start/stop date for DST into the rigid and unforgiving firmware on the servers themselves. Firmware in IT-speak is software by and for hardware. It does leaky basement utility stuff like manage temperature, power levels, fan speeds, clocks, blinking lights and meaningless but impressive clicking and whirring noises. It does not rely on the disk drives, It is aware of them but it’s memory/code is all in a chip. It CAN be changed…….and in fact is frequently ‘patched’ to add ‘enhancements’ and ‘features’ (bug fixes). Anyway, we’ve been fighting this battle for a couple of months… Between the hundred or so software vendors and the dozens of hardware parts we had to evaluate what was going to happen, not just in March, but in April as well (will it change twice in spring and twice in autumn?) Well the answer is we ended up patching the devil out of everything for a couple of months, restarting systems in the dark and early’s whilst good people slept… And pretty much as with Y2K it all went quite well with a couple of small oversights, but the beer kept flowing. However when the jokes get tossed about, let it be known that the reason it turned out to be a near-non-event, is because we beat on it at all angles for two or three solid months! We made, we broke, we fixed!

I’ve picked Maryland for the NCAA’s Only because my real Alma Mater doesn’t have a men’s basketball team.

I made Hollandaise sauce from scratch for dinner last night (because it sounded like a neat thing to try) , served over fresh hot waffles, Canadian bacon and scrambled eggs, Awesome!

Adam is doing well in Maryland, still calling his mom once a week.
I hear that Andrew might have Joined the Army? Can someone confirm that for me?

Leslye is going through some rather heavy things now but is holding up, she calls and updates a couple of times a week.

As for everyone else on this mail list, well, they’ve all fallen of the side of the earth and steadfastly refuse to report back in a timely manner.

Love and/or acknowledgement to all.


Monday, February 12, 2007

Feb 14th

I don’t know how or if you celebrate this silly Valentine ’s Day thing… But Angel and I have come to a decision. Heck with it. We’ve decided to have a nice at-home dinner, steamed shrimp. Steamed shrimp is how we celebrate everything else, Birthdays, anniversary, tax refund day, pretty much any excuse we think of… A simple thing really, Get a couple of pounds of shrimp at a reliable, but not extravagant place, grocery, whatever.. Boil up a big pot of water drop the steamer basket in and let the magic happen. Of course, back at the point when you started the pot boiling you also tossed a couple of taters into the oven, conventional or microwave.. and of course you’ve piled up a pretty sizable salad, the point of which is merely to pretend that the big salad will fill you enough to not eat all the shrimp or the entire potato… This has never actually worked.
As the steaming part begins, you melt butter, for dipping the shrimp. Garlic and lemon are optional. You may substitute margarine for butter, though I don’t recommend it. Yes, it’s a bit fattier, but remember, the salad will keep you from having too much.
Classier people would discuss the wine choice at this point. Our wine tastes are pretty simple; we like chardonnay in a box. But that has nothing to do with this meal. We don’t drink wine at meals, we save it for a night cap, generally around 9pm, with a light snack since according to Angel, “ . . eating something with wine doesn’t count as eating.” She’s never explained the logic or reasoning and I haven’t asked since she’s pretty smart and she does not lie.
Anyway, to really punctuate the shrimp, which will be served on a tablecloth of the day’s newspaper to catch the drips and peels, we will have beer. I don’t know which kind yet, it depends on whatever they’re giving away to those of us who have opted to park inconveniently. Perhaps a light Bud Select, or hopefully Mule Kick Stout. Mmm.
I will point out again that though I work for a beer company, I do not drink a lot of beer. I think, in fact that I’ve only had two in the last three or four weeks. At the Super Bowl party where it was, once again, free. So if I have to buy beer, I generally don’t…. If we have beer in the house I’ll have one with dinner, and that’s it.. Sorry, I’m just not a guzzler. Angel’s the same way, though it’s quite possible that she may throw back a dozen or two during the day without me knowing it. I really don’t pay much attention to that sort of thing, and if it helps ease the pain and woe that she surely slogs through each day as my spouse, well so be it.
Anyway, we chatted, I stressed, about Valentine ’s Day… She’d already declared “No chocolate” Which is her way of declaring a lack of willpower. “You don’t want chocolate, you think flowers are silly because they’re already dying once they arrive, cards are a waste of money, Jewelry a bigger waste of money that you have nowhere to wear anyhow, what’s a hopeless romantic such as myself supposed to do?” I screamed.
“How about Shrimp?”

Okay, I know you are tsk’ing out there… about how a girl says “I don’t want a gift” and the dude doesn’t get her one , and then she gets all weepy, cause she really DID want something… Nah It’s not like that.. I don’t think… Nah, no way. We’ve been together nearly twenty years. If she wanted something she would have said so. She doesn’t lie.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Updates for the group

Max is gone. His bone tumors finally made him so immobile and miserable and any surgeries could only make him a little better for a little while at best. We took him in to the vet and held him as he relaxed and died, quite peacefully. He was around twelve or thirteen, he'd been with us for eleven years. "It's not a tragedy when an old man dies."
My employer has moved some of it's people, all 800 or so of us that once called the old downtown area our place of work, out to the burbs… a generic office complex of four buildings in . The offices are newly remodeled, and the smell of fresh cubicle glue still fills the air. Though I will miss the ambience of working downtown, a short walk from the stadium, arch, nice diners, etc. I do NOT miss the drive. This relocation knocks my commute down from an hour to about forty minutes. And the quality of the forty minutes is quite improved. I do not need to hi-velocity/kamikazee-merge onto or on any of the city's many interstates or thoroughfares. It's straight up a lightly populated, never jammed, stop-less 15 miles on a wide state highway, then left for a dozen blocks… sure, more lights, and the speed limit on drops to 40mph, but it's a calmer, less volatile drive. I am a much calmer soul now for this reason, as well as …… (drum roll) . . . .
I quit smoking on Dec 23, and as of this past weekend have even given up those awful, awful, nico-patches. My sense of smell and taste are returning…. Which has caused me to notice that I don't really like the taste of cold coffee as much as I thought I did, which of course, adds to the calming of Dennis….which has been anything but a smooth transition.
Yawner alert…

The last time I quit smoking, I went on the patch… that was eight or nine years ago, I don't recall the side effects. I was smoking near two packs a day at that time, and after two weeks on the full-speed 21mg patch, I started cutting them in half… (not recommended by the manufacturer) but the 11 mg patches cost the same as the 21mg, and being the righteous cheapskate that I am….. I only recall that it worked, got me over the hump… Not so much this time…. Maybe because I was starting from a lower intake of nicotine, by half, I tried the same strategy with only one significant difference…there are now generic versions of Nicoderm CQ. Cheaper by 20%.. I can't look away from that right? First day, slap on a full one… drive all day, celebrate with the family….. get up really, really, early…ears popping, blood rushing…feel the need to walk… a lot…. Second day, pretty much the same… over-caffeinated, edgy, irritable, but that's the price eh? After all the traveling is done, I have a few days off before new years'…. The patch really, really dug in… free time, chemical stimulation and of course historically, self inhibiting, low self esteem, had me pretty much curled up in the throes of full body, head-on, four alarm panic and anxiety spells. I started cutting those things in half around day four, stripping them off early in the evening by day five, and by the time I started back to work, was trimming them down to quarters, ripping them off early and still sleeping only three or four hours a night, still anxious, still shaking, still shuddering and contemplating things that one should not contemplate much… but since I knew, (hoped) that this was all a chemical/biological anomaly, I stayed the course. This past weekend I announced to Angel that I was going to finally go commando. Don't you giggle too….I meant I was going to go without patch…. No aid whatsoever after only a mere month… I tried this once before a couple of weekends ago, that didn't go very well.. cold sweat, fear and anger by noon on Monday…not a good day… This time it took. I have been off the patch since Saturday. I feel fine, in fact I feel pretty darn good. Sure I've picked up a noticeable few pounds, thanks to the metabolism shift and no less to the four full pounds of Candy Corn my family stuffed into a bird feeder and gave me as a gag gift……. But I can take care of that later since I am walking more (will park inconveniently for beer), eating a bit better, and of course have high ambitions for yard work once the region thaws… Adam is back in Maryland… Angel drove him out there a couple of weeks back…. We gave him some checks to cover expenses, a cell phone to call us.. and promptly cleaned out his room. He is doing quite well, is happy to be back among his friends to finish high school. He calls at least once a week at my insistence and is part of this mailing list as well. The puppies we fostered before the holidays, Chip, Ernie and their sister 'Squirrel' have all been adopted. We went to the rescue shelter this past weekend and picked up a young Dobie/lab mix named Minnie, a gorgeous, tall, pointy dog with anxieties. She's too spoiled,(by that I mean allowed to continue this behavior without correction) too timid. Absolutely panic-wets herself changing rooms, crates, or going in or out a door. This is fixable. Angel's done this before with a couple of dumpster dogs… And of course George is perfect for someone like Minnie. George (the silly white dog, the frog-toter) loves everyone and everything. He assumes and seldom changes his mind, that other people, dogs, reptiles, etc, are exactly the same way. With Minnie, he does not really see that she is afraid, so he nudges at her, pushes her, shares his toys with her, and basically won't leave her alone until she finally goes along. I know, I have tried just being outside with George. That will not do. Within a few minutes he will wear you down to the point that you will be playing fetch, endlessly, he will hover and nudge until you do. Around people this is amusing, around shy, anxious dogs, this is absolutely the fastest, safest, and most effective rehab process imaginable. George is as much an employee in Angel's training business as she is. Already after only a few George sessions, Minnie is playing a little and easing up on the doorway panic. A couple of months and she'll be adoptable, and quite the prize. While heading down to that shelter, we drove around the area North of Potosi, MO across the Washington county line and came across a state park, "Washington State Park" that we had never heard of… they boasted 'petroglyphs'. Which of course is one of those words that you think you know what it means, or should be easy to figure out, but finally decide to pull over and read the park's markers. I'll make it easy for you.. rock-carvings. Like really really old ones, a thousand years or so. The park sits astride Big River, which was named by local people known primarily for completely lacking perspective and imagination a couple hundred years ago. Anyway there's some high spots above the river that are covered with large flat boulders that the indigenous people found reason to carve characters into. Thunderbirds, owls, people, arrows, that sort of thing. There's a bunch of them and the parks department has built walkways and viewing alcoves around many of them… It was kind of cool… Then we drove around the park some more and discovered that the CCC had fixed up the place in the 30's and the cabins and shelters were well kept and quite nice. There are 11 cabins available for rental, ample camping sites varying from bare earth to wired & plumbed… a swimming pool, and several multi-mile hiking trails. It was cold on Sunday so we didn't stay so long. We'll go back, it's only about 30 mile from our humble doorstep. We've also been exploring and researching our own new neck of the woods… Jefferson County.. Part of America's lead belt, and for many decades home to a plate-glass company that built not only a factory, but an entire town, gated and fenced, called "Crystal City" named back in the mid 19th century for the high quality sand found along the Mississippi river and the source for the glass production. Since Crystal City was a high and fancy, respectable town, no drinking or carousing allowed, it wasn't long before another town sprang up along the fence, originally called 'Tanglefoot' so called for the effect the local rotgut had on the Crystal City residents returning home…. Tanglefoot didn't quite sound nice enough for proper incorporation so the elders popped open the book of Acts and came across the name of a priest, or someone, by the name of 'Festus'… and went with that instead. Those two towns still exist, side by side, though the glass factory closed up thirty or more years ago. Some of the houses are very cool indeed, simple, yet comfortable, along one street all sitting diagonal to the road for efficiency of space. The factory itself is gone, though a trip around the distinct town is rife with evidence that this was a planned and organized place. Festus, on the other hand looks like a bunch of houses, businesses, built in an unordered, perhaps drunken hurry with no real rhyme or reason. Hillsboro, our closest town, is the county seat. It was designed to be the county seat. There is no river, no railroad, never had a thriving business, farm or factory…the county fathers merely wanted a centrally located county seat even though all the other towns were along the rivers or the railroad, so they created a town in the middle of the county for that purpose alone. It has never exceeded expectations. FWIW this was cool:
It's a history of the county, written back in the 1880's…pretty neat….
Anyway… Sorry I haven't written lately.. but I've been drugged…. Happy super bowl everyone!