Thursday, December 31, 2009

An Awkward Reunion

Here's Bingo at the completion of his mission in Arizona, giving me the eye with who-knows-what intent in that brain of his, after who-knows-what mission he may have just completed. They say that a soldier's eyes are never the same after combat. Well, a puppy can stare right into your soul and rip out your tender parts, metaphorically speaking.

In the meantime, Willow has been vacationing at an estate in the South, visiting with the king and queen of Cuba and mixing with society and eating from porcelain bowls and planning an expansion of her empire, which now, back in our simple routine, must seem very plain.

What had become clear a few weeks ago, before the Arizona trip, was that Willow, a mature lady at this point (to put it kindly), had fallen in love with a much younger Bingo, especially when you consider that in dog years she is nearly 70 and he only about 4 (still legal in Florida), though we all turn our heads and pretend not to see when she kisses him in plain sight and when he responds with awkward and determined and somewhat obscene advances of his own.

But something has happened to them both. Here they are, unable to even look at each other, possibly afraid to rekindle a flame that would, if re-ignited, be impossible to put out.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Royal Flush

After we reached Arizona, we dropped Bingo off at his checkpoint and were told to wait in the lobby of this old slumpblock house that, on the outside, looked very near collapse, with brown clay bricks that had largely dissolved and washed out from the lattice-work of mortar, but on the inside the house had rich red carpets, antiques, shuttered windows and a large mahogony table that hosted a poker game in progress, with two chairs vacant.

Cheryl and I like a game of poker, so we didn't need much encouragement to sit down with these players that, we assumed, were like us--away from home on a mission for some secret purpose and playing the role of escort for some puppy, with nothing to do but wait while a drama played out elsewhere.

A Mississippi gambler sat stone-faced across the table, rarely speaking and playing a tight game--a hard man to read for sure. Cheryl sat to his left and was cruising on a streak of luck, so as a series of hearts flopped up, to match her two hearts in the hole, she pushed her hand with some confidence, but the gambler just grinned. On the river, Cheryl raised and the man re-raised. Since Cheryl had the 8, only the ace, queen and 9 would beat her--pretty good odds, and something about the man's attitude said he was bluffing. She raised again and the Mississipian did not hesitate (he's got the ace, I thought) with another re-raise. Cheryl called, and the man flipped over a royal flush like it was no big deal.

More later...

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Tight Spot for Bingo

Cheryl and I were all set for a quiet few days at home when we got the call. Our CIA-engineered puppy was needed in Arizona for an undisclosed assignment, ASAP. We got to the airport within an hour, but when we attempted to pass through the metal detector, our puppy's embedded electronics set off every alarm in the place, and in a flash Bingo and Cheryl were sequestered in a glass booth and surrounded by agents.

Normally the CIA has a security path cleared for us so that no questions are asked, but the wires got crossed somehow, and here was Bingo, a 7-month-old puppy with a bionic brain and a dynamic, downloadable intelligence that would allow him to teach a college physics course or fly a Cessna if necessary, sitting in a cubicle with unsuspecting airport security agents. Playing the role, Bingo jumped and licked and wagged his tail in a most silly manner.

'This is Bingo,' Cheryl repeated in a loud voice more than once, hoping that someone from Washington might be in earshot and would come in before the search went too far, while I stood helpless (and, I confess, a little amused) as the agents asked Cheryl to remove Bingo's blue service coat, which is a prototype protoplasmic cotton shield matrix that we keep in a special closet (the bat cave, we call it) along with his other special toys.

Just then I noticed a man, probably one of Bingo's handlers, in jeans on the other side of the booth and talking into a small device that was, I assumed, tuned into Bingo's neural net. Bingo then turned and looked me in the eyes with a twinkle, like light bouncing off a jewel, and somehow I knew what he wanted me to do. I knocked on the glass wall and the words 'If you're through with the dog, I'll take him now.' came out from my mouth. And the security guard, in an oddly similar tone of voice, said 'Yes, I'm through with him.' and then passed Bingo to me through the door even as the metal detectors continued to beep.

That was weird.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

P1 and P2 Get Along

Like most normal humans, I am a collection of conflicted personalities. Two of these characters play the piano, and mostly they exist only when playing the piano, and mostly they do not get along with each other.

The first of these personalities (P1, for short) was born when I was in high school. P1 learned to play piano by ear (and in a most undisciplined manner) and got me into a band, which suited me fine at the time. P2 was born a few years later when I started taking piano lessons in college. He practiced hard, with hours and hours of exercises to strengthen my fingers, and this made P1 a better player. But reading music was such a struggle for P2 that he never really learned to play. In secret, P2 would get P1 to memorize his classical pieces and P1 would play them in recitals. It never really worked out well.

In the 15 or so years that followed, P1 and I played music in bars and nightclubs until I finally ditched him (a long story) and left town to get a real life.

A few years ago I found a nice piano and decided to wake up P2 and start where we left off. This time he is going through my music books, page after page, from top to bottom, in slow motion, never stopping to actually learn a piece because doing so sends the music into my memory, and this prompts P1 to take over (something I can't really control). P1 is always there waiting, saying for God's sake just let me play it. But I want P2 to play, not from memory but while looking at the music at the page.

While going through a book of Vince Guaraldi music, P2 suggested that we record one of the songs, just to let him finally play something. After a few attempts it was clear what needed to be done. We got P1 off the couch, sobered him up with some coffee and let him have a go at it (even though he's old and out of practice), and he soon transported himself back to some smokey club where nobody would notice or care about the bad notes. It's nice when we can all get along. Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mystery Alarm, Part 4

So there I stood on the top rungs of the ladder, struggling for oxygen from the thin atmosphere at that altitude, with an iron poker in one hand and ready to send its point into the nagging alarm on the ceiling. Except the alarm blinked innocently as if to say don't look at me. I paused, tried to assess the situation again, and now it seemed clear that the sound was not coming from the smoke alarm above but rather from somewhere below.

Sometimes it's difficult to remain open minded. Once we've identified something that offends us, we are often reluctant to take a second look, to re-evaluate the situation, to extend the benefit of doubt once again. The health care bill appears to be drowning in the Senate, and I'm under a lot of pressure to resolve everything. Having my hernia surgery really messed with my routine, and now the entire country may suffer because I can't keep up. I thought, maybe just this once, the system could work like it should without me telling everyone what to do. Anyway, if you're looking for someone to blame (the Republicans, the Liberals, the blue-dog Democrats, Joe Lieberman, etc.), don't bother, it's all my fault. Sorry. I should have a solution ready soon.

The alarm is not coming from up here, I said to Cheryl and came back down the ladder. Using an advanced deductive process that I learned in physics class, I moved my head this way and that and noted when the alarm seemed louder. In no time, we discovered that the sound was coming from under a table next to the fireplace, a place where we store several board games. Apparently the Taboo game has an obnoxious and powerful buzzer, and ours had gone rouge, bleating for no good reason.

I was very close to destroying our smoke detector. Now on to health care.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Mystery Alarm, Part 3

A few days ago an alarm went off in the house and we quickly reached a point of desperation about what to do and how to turn it off. Our security system here is wired into the smoke detectors, at least some of them--I'm still not sure how it works.

Once I left some popcorn in the microwave too long. It sent a cloud of smoke into the kitchen and then tripped the loudest alarm I've ever heard. In no more than 2 minutes a huge fire truck pulled up out front and several men in yellow coats descended on the house, big axes in hand and with a righteous sense of purpose, ready to smash everything to bits.

Those firemen had a particular gleam in their eyes--I'd seen the look before. Years ago, out in the remote woods of Arkansas, we staged a big party for about 100 normally benign individuals who began drinking before noon and who, by 7 p.m., were starving because the pig (which was being roasted in a pit nearby) was still not ready, and who then began to morph from modern human beings into their prehistorical ancestors, wandering through the woods with a glassy-eyed determination to eat raw strips of flesh (pig or human, alive or dead). A crisis was averted when my friend (the cook) was able to cut away a chunk of meat (pig) that was reasonably done.

The firemen at my house were in a similar state (fire: bad) and were not in a mood to talk or to even examine the burnt and smoldering bag of popcorn that I held up, even though it did seem to explain the situation. We've got to go inside, sir, the captain said to me without slowing down, glassy-eyed, holding his ax like a Celtic warrior descending on the Viking stronghold at Annagassan. OK, then. We looked around the house, no problem, and the spell was lifted. We all had a nice talk outside afterward.

But this alarm in the living room was not loud at all and no fire trucks were coming. I climbed one more step on the ladder and noticed that the alarm did not seem louder even as I approached it.

More later...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Chandelier Project, Part 2

Our new chandelier weighed in at about 30 pounds. A man's man would just lift the chandelier with his left hand, climb the ladder, grab the chain with his right hand and join them together, and of course he would do this while also smoking a cigar and standing on one leg and kissing his own biceps. A girly man would need another plan.

Years ago I sought to become a man's man. I lifted weights at the gym and strapped myself into some monstrous mechanical devices with gears and pulleys and weights, all designed to torment and puff up muscles that just want to be left alone. After a few weeks my joints hurt so bad I could barely move, and my muscles looked as un-manly as before. I quit and have since learned to embrace my un-manliness (but not in a sissy sort of way--instead I do yoga, which is... never mind).

So, for this project, I hatched a girly plan to make a pulley system. I threaded a cord through a higher link of the chain and then attached it to the chandelier on the floor. Then Cheryl held onto the handle (that you see in the picture) and we hoisted the chandelier in place and kept it steady while I attached it to bottom link of the chain.

It worked like a charm. With the chandelier secure I finished up the wiring, spread out the arms, put in the bulbs and the project was done.

Our old light fixture had six bulbs but this one has 15 along with enough photon power to easily guide ships into Tampa bay. The lighting ceremony nearly knocked me down, though Cheryl (who is not manly at all) was unaffected. Here's Cheryl, posing in the supernova blast. Yesterday I got a dimmer switch, so I can now walk though the room without wearing a hat. Unfortunately I knocked some plaster loose next to the fixture so I need to fix that today.

Any future projects that involve ladders are under review.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Mystery Alarm, Part 2

But back to our problem with the mystery alarm. After poking the fire alarm with a long stick, to no effect, Cheryl and I regrouped for a strategy meeting and it became clear that only one option remained: I would need to climb the 12 ft. ladder to the top and risk breaking my neck (or fouling my pants).

As I mentioned, this was certainly not a typical fire alarm. We could just barely hear it from the TV room. How could this feeble bleating possibly wake us up in case of a fire? Had we pursued that question more fully, had we used the analytical capability of our human brains, it may have led us to a quicker and less embarrassing resolution.

Instead, I began climbing the ladder, and by ladder step #6 I might as well have been hanging from the bottom of a helicopter during a firefight in Vietnam, at night, with brightly lit tracer bullets flashing past my head. Such is the nature of my acrophobia. By step #7, the contents of my bowels threatened to become liquid and volatile.

Cheryl then suggested that I take the fireplace poker and see if I could poke the alarm. The wooden stick, in her mind, was a bit excessive, but the iron poker was OK. So I tried reaching up with the poker but it was still too far away. I'd need to take another step.

More later...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Chandelier Project

Our new chandelier just arrived in the mail. Cheryl has been griping about our puny and grotesque chandelier since we moved in, so Santa finally brought us this one, and coincidentally just in time for our chili-pepper theme party on Saturday (also see last year's party).

In the picture you can see that the arms are folded back to make it easier to hang. Right. Putting up a chandelier is a routine, minor-league project, except that it requires the climbing of a ladder, and my ladder is not quite tall enough to reach. OK, it is tall enough except that I am scared to stand that close to the top.

Of course, Bingo, despite his high IQ and high-tech circuitry, is no help at all. And Willow, in her typical project-manager style, is hiding in the laundry room until I figure out what to do. A new ladder--one big enough to get me comfortably to the chandelier--would be nearly $200. So my internal conflict (cowardice vs cheapness) could not be more intense. I've got to bite the bullet, but which one?

Time for a nap. More later...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Mystery Alarm, Part 1

To begin with, I'm hopelessly afraid of heights. Always have been. So I was faced with a real dilemma last night when an alarm went off in our living room, the one room with vaulted ceilings that are (adjusted for my irrational fears) about 300 or 400 ft in the center, which happens to be the location of a smoke detector, right in the corner at the top. The alarm was not an ear-shattering blast. Rather it was more like a gentle buzzing noise. Who knows, everything is old in this house--maybe this was the classic alarm sound back in the day?

I looked at it from several angles and decided there was no way I could reach the alarm. Then Cheryl suggested, as one might suggest using a spoon to a child, that I actually climb the ladder and give it a try. (Easy to say.) I'm not afraid of the dark, nor of bees, bears or bats, nor of monsters, vampires or demons, but walking up the steps of a ladder makes me want to wet my pants.

So, instead, I suggested that I could simply poke the alarm with a long stick until it sensed that I meant business and it shut up. I had just the stick in the garage. Of course, Cheryl did not think this such a great idea, but we couldn't just listen to the racket all night, and she finally had to admit that the stick was best.

After some gentle nudging, which had no effect whatsoever, I gave the annoying bleater a sharp poke with the stick, breaking the plastic cover (a little). And yet the bleating continued.

More later...

Friday, December 4, 2009

My Friend, the Hammer

Years ago, before I was married, I bought my first house and spent less than you might spend on a BMW today. I had just moved from Arkansas to Arizona in a U-Haul filled, sad as it was, with a meager collection of possessions that most thrift stores would reject, including some hand tools, some of which belonged to my grandfather.

My new house had a miserable back porch, a place that most chickens would find unacceptable to visit, much less roost, with moldy peeling wallboard, spattered in black in those places where more than a few rats, so depressed by their surroundings, took their own lives in desperation, apparently by banging their heads against the wall.

It occurred to me that I, a new home owner, should improve my situation. I still remember my first visit to the hardware store, trying out the mini sledgehammers until I found just the right one, then taking it home and smashing the back porch to pieces.

Since then my hammer never has let me down--my Luca Brazzi. Last year I noticed a crack in the handle just below the head. Did I go buy another one? No. I filled the crack with heated glue, wrapped the handle tight with nylon cord (the little patch of white) and then finished it with a layer of stretched tape. And like my newly repaired hernia, my hammer is now better than before.

Soon he and I will be visiting the guest bathroom. It will be glorious.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Garlic Breath

This shot from the back yard includes our mango tree on the left, the scarlet buds of our Turk's cap in the center, and our palm tree on the right, all bathed in the calm, cloudy light that precedes the storm predicted for this afternoon. I'm still sniffling and coughing, so nothing is getting done, and all projects are on hold.

The insipid and gluttonous Sri Lankan biobot weevils are still munching on the Turk's cap, but in much reduced numbers this year. Maybe they are beginning to fear me. Instead of threatening and yelling at these little bugs, now I just pick them up and blow on them with my usual garlic-thick breath. The word must be getting around--they run and hide when they see me coming. Sometimes a new strategy like this comes to you from outside the box, and you need to be ready for it.

I've been listening to C-Span today, watching the senators spin out some predictable arguments about health care. Yelling and threatening from inside the box, all of which is orchestrated posturing. A new strategy, and some garlic breath, may be the only hope.

From my perspective, universal healthcare is the best solution. People with money could buy supplimental insurance, the more money the better. What could be more American than that?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Wooden Ships

Cheryl and I remain under the influence of a nasty, deceptive cold. Just when I think I'm feeling better, it kicks my butt again.

This morning I found an old snapshot of memory. Crosby, Stills and Nash will be on HBO tonight, on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame show, and I was reminded of a night back in early 1970s. Fast Eddie and I were renting an old house out in the country. I had gone to bed and the stereo was still playing--Wooden Ships. This was back when a turntable needle pulled music from the grooves of a plastic disk.

I remember that the room was dark but I could still see the window frame and, at the lower left corner of the frame, there was a place on the wall, directly in front of my eyes, where the wallpaper was peeled back to reveal the netting underneath. At that moment a train approached, blowing its whistle from just across the street and temporarily drowning out Crosby, Stills and Nash. Something burned this moment--the sight and sound--so deeply into my memory that it could have happened last night.

My memory is not so good. Probably these snapshots will become faded and then eventually disappear from my mind. Maybe if I write down a few of them, it will help (if I can remember that I wrote them down).

I'll be watching the show tonight, hoping to hear Wooden Ships again.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Stupid Cold

I came down with a cold this week. So while Cheryl, who gave me this cold and who has now recovered, is out shopping today with the rest of the country, I'm at home struggling to write this. (It's either this or go back to bed.) Meanwhile Willow just wants to go to the park. She's got no patience with a whiner and complainer like me.

Now seems a good opportunity to describe, to actually write down, what I feel like when I have a cold. People really can't remember pain or sickness very well--I would do some research on this now but I feel like crap, and I don't really care if it's true.

At this moment I feel like a carpenter's vise is attached to my head just behind my eye sockets. The tension would be just right to join two pieces of clear pine but not quite enough for oak. It seems that in my sleep someone stuffed a sock up my nose and into my sinus cavity, a rough wool sock that scratches against my eyeballs when I blink. My ears are ringing. My fingers, hands and arms feel heavy with weights. And I am profoundly stupid, more so than usual, a sleepy, slow stupid.

We did have a nice Thanksgiving yesterday, so I'm not complaining.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Dogs: The Solution

It's 6:00 am, still dark, and the dogs and I have already had breakfast and coffee. Bingo is sleeping on the floor next to me in the office--unlike most of the dogs I've had, he likes to sleep on the bare floor instead of a rug, possibly to help keep his new embedded hardware cool.

Apparently his CIA modifications have gone well. Now that he has a direct, always-on link to the home office, I am completely out of the loop and can only guess at what new features he might be downloading. Such is the nature of things.

Probably my favorite dog of all time was Matt, a German Shepherd/Lab mix who lived about 15 years and was never neutered. I lived in rural Arkansas much of this time (back before I met Cheryl) and Matt could run free night and day. He had a long-term girlfriend--a wild dog (literally wild, she lived in the woods and hunted for food). She had Matt had a tempestuous relationship, as you might expect, on-again off-again, and sometimes Matt would disappear for days, only to return tired and hungry, then go off again. But then we moved to Arizona and settled down. I got married, but poor Matt never found his soul mate.

Until recently, I always felt a little sorry for city dogs, that they lived the proverbial dog's life. But now I realize, and am beginning to fear, that dogs may soon become the government's solution to the economy, health care and many other issues. Dogs work for food, never complain and never think they are sick. OK, then, but what about all these people?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Valve Stem, Part 3

Yesterday I screwed the newly refurbished valve stem into the shower wall. Works like a charm, thanks to my local neighborhood plumber (who was reluctant to even accept payment). No leaks. Who knew that an 80-year-old stem could still perform like a young faucet. Here's best wishes to me for when I'm that old.

Our puppy is in the CIA laboratories today for an experimental procedure. Sure, this means he will never have puppies of his own, but he will now be able to run faster than my Honda. What can you do?

Also, I just saw this picture in my hometown newspaper (Arkansas). Sometimes I get so isolated in my own world of lentil soup, yoga and NPR that I forget what a big and diverse country this is. I didn't realize, though, that young girls were going hunting--anywhere. But maybe this is nothing new?

It would be easy to criticize, but I'm sure this little girl has a loving dad who believes he is doing the right thing, and we all the right to live as we choose.

My stepfather grew up during the Depression in rural Arkansas, when hunting was an essential part of life. He was really a great guy, someone who accepted me for the nancy-boy that I am. So I try to be tolerant as well.

I just hope this little girl never gets mad at me.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Valve Stem, Part 2

Years ago in Arkansas, back when gas stations sold tires and did repairs, I frequented a full-service gas station that sold really inexpensive gas. The owner had a theory: the cheap gas would maintain his base of customers, and these loyal folks would then spend money on other things.

One day I saw the owner just staring into space. He told me that he was closing down the station--people only wanted the cheap gas. I didn't know what to say because I was one of those people.

The little plumbing shop I visited yesterday was a sad place. The carpet was dirty. The counter was piled high with old plumbing parts. The shelves were disorderly and confused. Old displays gave a hint of how the store had been a real retail store at one time, with dated ads tempting you to buy a new bathroom sink or some new faucets. But now it was just sad.

So here I was with my 80-year-old valve stem, asking for some individual, personal service as if I had been shopping with this plumber for years (instead of spending my money at Home Depot). What incentive did he have to help me?

More later...

Monday, November 16, 2009

Valve Stem, Part 1

Just down the street is an old plumbing supply store, one of those mom and pop places that survives despite Home Depot. On the phone the guy seemed confident that he would have a replacement for my leaky valve stem. Here it is, after its facelift, next to my elephant lamp.

When I showed up in person with the stem, the plumber guy knew immediately that he didn't have it in stock. In fact, no one will have it in stock--the stem is so old that no one makes it anymore. "And," he said with some regret, "this one is just worn out."

He estimated that the piece was 60 or 70 years old, so it is probably original to our 1924 house. I'm sure I had the most pitiful looking face you can imagine, just waiting for him to tell me that I would need all new plumbing for my shower. Of course, I'm planning to remodel the entire bathroom anyway, but he didn't know that.

"Wait just a second," he said and then disappeared into the back. I waited, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes. Literally. I could hear him doing something back there. Then he emerged with the piece, all disassembled and polished to its former brass glory, and he had a cylindrical piece of felt. With all the care and delicacy of a museum worker assembling some broken pieces of Etruscan statuary, he began to do a restore job on the valve stem, first applying some silicone to the stem.

More to come...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Plumbing Parts from the Past

One of the downsides of having an older house is that many replaceable items are no longer replaceable. On closer inspection of that dank space behind the shower, for example, you can see a collection of oddly shaped and rusty iron pieces, like this mysterious plunger-looking thing attached to the drain.

While we all have moved into the touch-screen 21st century, these old houses keep, hidden away, a virtual museum of mechanical gizmos, whazzits, widgits and wankers that ran civilization throughout the industrial age.

After some additional snooping around this weekend, I found the source of my leak: one of the shower stems. Normally these stems fail due to a worn-out washer, causing that familiar drip, drip that can keep you awake at night. But this leak was springing out from the valve stem itself--right out the handle (and then dripping behind the shower wall and eventually into the kitchen).

So I took the valve stem to Home Depot, making me an instant friend with the semi-retired plumber guy who now sells toilet seats and plungers for a living. "We don't carry anything that old," he said, almost with a tear in his eye, like I had just returned his lost black lab puppy. We talked about ghosts, civilization and plumbing for a while, and he told another customer to get lost. Very cool guy.

More to come...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Ghost in the Plumbing

Like all older houses, ours is inhabited by ghosts and other creatures who live in the stale, quiet darkness between the walls and under the floors. Mostly we cede this space to whatever or whoever will occupy it, but sometimes we need to take back control, briefly.

In particular, we have a ghost who lives in the walls of the guest bathroom. I've been taking showers there since my surgery, and I always get the feeling that someone is watching me--maybe some disapproving, elderly and cranky civil war nurse who thinks I could do a better job of showering. As if.

The bathroom is on the second floor, just above the kitchen, and we've recently had some water dripping from the kitchen ceiling. It was just a little drip and only after one of us took a shower. This all started after we discussed remodeling the bathroom. What a coincidence, right? Whoever lives up there doesn't want me messing around.

But yesterday the dripping didn't stop, so I took off the access panel behind the shower to take a look. There it was, a leak. I turned off the water, leaving us without that shower until I can fix the old iron pipes. That's OK, I'll get more privacy in the tub.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Winter closes in

As Hurricane Ida skirts by us, we are spared once again from any storm damage, but we were not without some bad news over the weekend. Some winds did blow over my big leather-leaf fern in the upper fish pond yesterday, but that's not the bad news I'm talking about.

Today we are overcast with thick clouds and a rusty, dim light that reminds me of my childhood winters back in Arkansas, except that the temperature here is over 80 and we have tropical birds picking through the sandy soil for bugs and the chance of snow is zilch. But in no way is this bad news or unpleasant to see. After a long summer of sweaty heat, this is the change we've been waiting for.

Nor am I upset that our little Kapok tree is taking its cue to begin dropping its leaves for the winter--this is in the natural order of things. If things go well, it will be a huge tree some day.

No, the bad news this weekend came in a letter from the CIA home office saying that it is time for our puppy Bingo to get fixed. We held out some hold that he might be spared, that he might be chosen to be a stud puppy whose only job would be--well, to be a stud dog three or four times a year--but no, he did not get chosen. Of course, he still has a bright future ahead. But winter closes in. Sigh.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pump vs Zen

Now that our new main water pump is in, the circulating pump (the one that circulates water through the fish ponds) is giving me fits again. For some reason it loses its prime suddenly, so even though the pump continues to run, it runs dry and the pond water stands still. I go start it back up and it seems fine for a while, then it runs dry again. Sometimes it runs OK for several hours. Maybe my brother Hector can shed some light on this mystery?

Willow and I just got back from a walk, and I'm sitting on the back porch now, notebook on my lap, working on this entry, enjoying the nice fall weather, and daring the water to quit running again.

Willow is OK off the leash (unlike our genius puppy), so she has lots of fun in the park nearby. With no project to supervise she is relaxing and becoming more dog-like. I, too, am enjoying the leisure time, waiting for my scar to heal, spending some quality time on the porch.

I usually only feel this way after returning from a vacation, those first few days when nothing can bother me, before I get back to the routine. It's nice to just relax on the back porch and listen to the...

Just now the pump made a high pitch, screeching sound. WTF?! Doesn't it know I'm in a dangerous mood?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

My Day

I am on severe restriction--no projects, etc.--well into November according to my surgeon, who is a pretty cool guy. I found out that he plays in a rock back with some other doctors, and they actually play at some clubs in St. Pete and Tampa, which is remarkable because not too many places have live music these days, at least not around here.

Back in my day (a phrase I may start using more often), live music was everywhere. Sure, the clubs had DJs on intermission, but the bands were the real draw, whether you played in a high-energy dance band for the upscale pretty people or you appealed, as in my case, to the more tattooed, excitable segment of society. Yes, things were definitely better in my day.

Sometimes I wonder how young people today can even get out of bed in the morning with such a pitifully meager prospect of fun and adventure. All good intentions, moderation and restraint. How very sad. Not in my day.

Today is still my day, but now my idea of excitement is watching a movie and having some popcorn with Cheryl or playing with the dogs or writing or just doing nothing. Lately I am doing more nothing.

Because I can't lift anything or take a chance walking our puppy on his leash (since he may rip out my internal organs along with my arm from its socket), the dogs and I are all having fun in the backyard, where they can chase each other and play. Little did he know that his much older girlfriend Willow is a world-class Frisbee player who can jump and grab things from the air and run circles around him. Take that, youth!

(Note to self: This post may reflect some frustration with my recovery from surgery and not actual curmudgeonness.)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Laughter and Pain

Cheryl was away yesterday on a school trip, leaving me to long day of movies and a nice walk with Willow--both of us long overdue for some real exercise and fresh air. She and I walked all the way around the block with no problem, though I imagine the neighbors wondered if I was drunk, putting one foot in front of the other in such a slow and careful manner. Willow, too, kept looking at me with a sort of amused contempt. Let's go, man, she seemed to say.

My scar and my overall sense of well-being are much improved, but I still am not able to laugh or cough without sending a ripping spasm of pain through my stomach. So naturally I decided to watch a movie last night that was certain to make me laugh. I made some popcorn, got comfortable and was doing fine until this scene forced me to pause the movie. It's just a matter of will power, I told myself and reached down into the calm center of my being, determined to control my emotions and watch the scene without laughing, only discover that I have no calm center. Tried again, pause, then again, pause, and finally had to turn off the movie and go to bed. I tried again this morning. Turned it off again.

Who knows what makes us laugh? I'm guessing that many people would find the scene to be juvenile, even offensive. It seems to makes fun of people with speech problems, but that's not why it is funny, I'm sure (except I don't know why it is funny).

Maybe it's funny because we like to laugh at pompous, clueless people. If so, shouldn't it be simple, then, to choose not to laugh. In fact, as hard as I try, I just cannot watch it, not at all, and if I try one more time I will bust a stitch. Maybe next week.

Friday, October 23, 2009

No, the Well's not Dry

It seems my fears of a dry well were wholly unfounded and exaggerated--the water contractor guy barely hide his contempt for my ignorance of all things well-related. I am so relieved to have the water running once again that I will not mention here what a sloppy and half-assed job he did, except that it goes to reinforce my opinion about contractors in general and my whole raison d'ĂȘtre in specific.

Oh yes, he did what he said he would do: replaced the burned-out pump and got the lines wired up correctly. But he left the place a mess when he easily could have tidied things up. What kind of a professional walks off with a tangled mass of wires when it takes only a minute or two to tie them up?

And when one of the valves was clearly stuck, he pretended not to notice, though I saw that crazy-squirrel look in his eyes--him not knowing if I knew it was stuck. "Is that valve stuck?" I asked the squirrel-man, who then dropped his nuts. "Duh. Yeah, I guess it is," he admitted. "I can fix it." Here I am, recovering from surgery, and I had to stand there and supervise this guy like he was 10 years old.

As god is my witness, I'll never call a contractor again. Probably never again.

It's nice to see the water running again. The koi were clearly pleased, swimming under the waterfalls like they had all just returned from a hike in the desert.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Has the Well Gone Dry?

Today the main water pump for the outside system would not come on, which means that the fish ponds, which are low on water now and a sad sight to see, can only be filled using the chlorinated house water, and this would upset the natural bacterial balance. So, for the second time in a month, I've called a contractor to come out and take a look at something I am pathetically unable to fix on my own. At least this time I have an excuse, since my stomach has a gash that a bowling ball could pass through--almost.

The pump is on a timer, one of those complex, multi-line computers with knobs and sliders and settings that I don't understand, which is OK because I ran over some of its wires with a lawn mower last year anyway, so now the thing is either on or off, sending water through the one line that I have manually opened, with a direct shot to the fish pond, except now the pump won't even come on. Worst case: the well has gone dry, in which case our little fishes are in trouble. The guy tomorrow will know the answer.

My mom used to say "play me some blues." She was a big fan of the blues and big band music, partly because she lived in Memphis for a few years. She told me that she and my dad would go dancing in the big ballroom at the Peabody Hotel. Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa. And I think she saw Billie Holiday there.

I'm sure she realized that I was a mediocre musician, at best, but she always encouraged me to play in clubs, even when it meant that I was not pursuing a real career or a normal life.

This is no particular song and is full of stupid mistakes, but I've done worse. I call it "Oh baby, has the well gone dry?"

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Trained Squirrel

The King and Queen of Cuba stopped by last night for a game of Parcheesi, Thai food, Cheryl's scones and some idle talk. I was having trouble sitting up but I really wanted to visit with the royal couple, so I took some pain medicine, reducing my Parcheesi threat to the level of a trained squirrel. (And also, I had never played before.) We did have a nice time.

Today is calm with Cheryl and Bingo back at school and me back in my office. I caught up with email and fixed some problems. Nap at 10:30, lunch at noon, probably back for another nap this afternoon. Someone, somewhere, has a better life, but I would have to be convinced.

I have a picture of my mom above my desk. She is smiling, holding a fishing pole with a tiny fish flapping in the air. She's wrapped up tight--this was taken at a cold lake in Minnesota. I notice her fingers are bent with arthritis, probably painful in the cold weather. But still smiling. She always smiled even after her bones started to break from osteoporosis and her headaches and so on. She liked to complain, for sure, but mostly she kept smiling and laughing.

Laughing is one thing I can't do right now. I have to fight it off because it sends a searing pain through my right side. Cheryl makes me laugh all the time--I didn't realize how much.

This morning I explained to Willow that I'm not ready to do any projects. I need a brief sabbatical, with pay. She wants to discuss it with her supervisors, but I think I'm in.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Showing my Scar?

Today I'll take my first bath since Thursday morning, before surgery. To be more accurate, I will take a shower because there's no way I could get into and then out of our bath tub. But first my bandage comes off and, we were told, the wound should get fresh air from this point on. I'm not crazy about taking off this thick, cushy shock-absorber, but at this point I just do what I'm told.

Cheryl has her hands full with Bingo and me, and she does it without complaining or fussing. I am really a lucky guy.

I've flirted with the idea of posting a picture of my scar, which I'm guessing will look like a pale and pimply Thanksgiving turkey, ready for the oven, with stuffing sewed up in the its gut. But why would anyone want to see a swollen, painful looking scar?

Yesterday CNN showed a film over and over. On a subway station, a baby stroller breaks free from a group of adults and rolls right over the edge and disappears just before a train comes by. The baby was not harmed--the train just pushed the stroller down the track for several yards, but none of this is on camera. The CNN viewer sees only the horror and imagines the worst.

Back in 1984 I was in a bad car wreck and during my recovery I spent hours watching a new channel called CNN, which at that time (to the best of my memory) covered real news. Today CNN has learned what every class clown learns in grade school--to get attention, you have to show your ass. Or maybe your scar.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


I had hoped to post a blog immediately after surgery so that I could record my feelings. As you know, they wheel you right from the operating table out to your car now so that you can get on with your life and not chew into the shareholder's profit margin. But to be fair, I preferred to come home instead of spending a night in the hospital. Also, to be fair, the people at the surgery center were professional, friendly and caring.

And even though I quit taking pain medicine yesterday (I HATE the feeling), my mind today is still muddy, and I can't seem to stay focused on anything. After surgery (I've had several) you get the feeling that time is suspended and that things may never be normal again. I can't imagine doing yoga or working on a project. I wonder if this is a self-preservation response--your body telling you to stay down, fool.

Everything went well, though, I am told. The surgeon told Cheryl I had a huge hernia but it's fixed and with a big mesh patch to keep it from happening again. No wonder this was a condition that kept you out of the army in the first and second world wars--back before the patch.

No driving, no lifting, no nothing until Oct. 27, which seems like a lifetime away. Already, today is better than yesterday. I pooped, in case you are keeping a diary. Maybe not a big deal for you, but for me...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

With Apologies to Beethoven

There is nothing sadder than an idiot making a recording and posting it to the Internet, especially when the recording is full of bad notes and immature playing. But the idea has been in my head for a while now. Call it vanity--I'm not sure what it is. I have some good excuses if you read on.

I played music for a living for about 12 years, most of the time in night clubs and bars but also for parties, wedding receptions, whatever would pay. At a time in life when most people are building their careers and families, I was staring at my keyboard or at a dance floor full of drunk people. And I really loved it.

Then I moved away, met Cheryl, got married, and yesterday was our 18th anniversary. So while I loved being a musician, I love my current life even more. Along the way Cheryl convinced me to buy a nice piano. I practice almost every day and I continue to learn things and improve. At some point, though, I know that my fingers or brain will start to give out. So, that's my excuse: better make some recordings before it is too late.

Also, tomorrow is my hernia surgery, so I will be unable to start the bathroom project for a while and I need some interim subjects here. Apparently I will not be allowed to live-blog from the operating room tomorrow (hospital rules), but I do plan to do a post while I am still pretty sedated, also for posterity's sake.

Beethoven wrote the Pathetique sonata when he was 28. He was a crazy, dark, passionate guy, and if he were alive today he would gut me like a fish for playing like this. I recorded the first movement 3 times and screwed up the chromatic run at the end each time. Oh, well.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Mother of all Projects

During those days of waiting for the new faucet to arrive in the mail, I was forced to take showers in the guest bathroom. Our claw foot tub is an old one, and it requires a faucet made only by monks living on a remote mountain top in Norway, which may explain the delay in shipping.

I never thought that anything would be preferable to taking a shower, but I love our little tub, especially now with its new finish and new faucet. Can you really scrub your feet when taking a shower? Can you cover yourself with bubbles? (Tell the truth.)

After a few days in the shower Cheryl and I came to the same conclusion: the next project should be guest bathroom. The tiles are discolored and chipped and cracked and broken on the walls and floor. The shower has a really sloppy repair job, the tiles bowed out and threatening to burst out from the wall. It's a wonder our guests have never complained about it.

This won't be an ordinary project. We'll start by gutting the room--everything, down to the toilet, sink and light fixtures. Then we'll rip out the existing tile and strip the walls down to the 2 x 4s. Start with a clean slate. Just the prep work will a big project of its own.

All this has to wait until after my surgery on Thursday. And even though it is minor surgery (I'll be home the same day), it's the sort of thing that helps change focus from small to big.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Hospital Depot

No big surprise. The surgeon I met with yesterday was dismissive about my idea to repair my own hernia. He did make one good point, though: unless I get a really really sharp knife, it's going to hurt and bleed, a lot. "The Internet," he then said with some derision, "has made an expert out of everyone."

I told him that in the future we will have a big store called Hospital Depot where you will go to do your own procedures, watch videos, rent surgical equipment. Brain surgery would be on aisle 1, broken bones on aisle 2, etc. Doctors will be roaming the floors in orange vests, asking if you need help, always with that far-away and sad look, eager to tell you about their former practice and the time when they had their own practice.

"The human body is complicated," he interrupted me with a fairly patronizing tone, "but please feel free to do this yourself. I will be curious to take a look after you are finished."

After more posturing and bargining, he finally agreed to a reasonable price and I gave him the OK to start work. He promises that the job will be finished in one day. But he can't actually guarantee the work. In fact, I might actually feel worse after the surgery.

Oh well, I was not keen on cutting myself open, anyway.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Surgery for Under $100

I don't want to sound preachy, but if you want to know what's wrong with health care in this country, just look in the mirror. Take hernia surgery, for example. Later today I'm seeing a surgeon (contractor) for an evaluation and estimate, but who knows what he will charge (have you seen the cars they drive?), and then who knows how much my insurance might pay (screw them, anyway).

Then it hit me--this is really my problem, right? Why not just do the surgery myself and save some money and provide a good example for my fellow human beings? Years ago you had to go to medical school to learn this stuff, but now everything is on YouTube (free), complete with diagrams and instructions. I figure the whole thing will cost about $100, depending on the anesthetic. I'll need:

Razor blade knife (I've already got one but what the heck)
Bandages (big)
Needle nose pliers (I've got 2, need 2 more)
Small staples for my staple gun
Sewing needle and thread (dissolving)
Dry wall joiner mesh
Utility sponge (in case I bleed a little)
Alcohol (disinfectant)
Alcohol (anesthetic)

Sure, I can't do it alone: I'll need Cheryl to hold onto the pliers and work the sponge. And even though this video makes it look easy, I've learned to always plan ahead for the unexpected.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A Contractor With a Soul

Something happened today to shake my beliefs to the core. Everyone has a moment like this--when an inconvenient truth spoils a lifetime of experience and a comfortable belief system, a moment that forces you to admit a profound error and character flaw, when you must finally say I was wrong.

Here's what happened: today my contractor showed up on time, finished ahead of schedule, did a good job, left the area as clean he found it (maybe cleaner), and did not exceed his estimate.

OK. Here goes: Sorry. I was wrong. Some contractors are well worth the money.

There, I said it. My life is changed forever.

And though I believe (if only to protect my own ego) that I possibly could have done a better job (given 3 or 4 weeks to work on it), he refinished this tub completely in just a few hours. Amazing.

He was prepared to work straight through and skip lunch but we convinced him to come downstairs and have a sandwich with us--a really nice guy. Of course, Willow fell in love with him. She's a sucker for anyone who works hard for reasonable wages and who will not question her authority. I'll never hear the end of it.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Picking my Battles Carefully

...and then I woke up. I'm just hoping it was all a dream.

In the meantime, my stained-glass project has taken a back burner to more pressing concerns. Over the weekend the faucet on our clawfoot bathtub finally rusted out--a screw mechanism split and the handle froze open, with cold water rushing into the tub. They don't sell these types of faucets at Home Depot or Lowes but I did find a nice one online, and you can install these in a few minutes.

The real issue is our old tub. It has been resurfaced before (poorly) and the new finish is peeling away here and there with rusty spots. Really ugly. So right now is a good time for me to fix it--so that we have a shiny tub to go with our shiny new faucet. Only right now I am waiting to get a hernia fixed, so I feel rotten all the time. I was tempted to say "get my hernia fixed," but it is not my hernia. Anything that keeps me from doing my projects is my enemy. I see a surgeon Tuesday and hope to soon have this all behind me.

For a day or two I was tempted to make this personal and refinish the bathtub if only to prove that my body can't slow me down. You have to draw a line in the sand, right? But refinishing a bathtub is not an easy or pleasant project (requires nasty chemicals, etc.). So I will be postponing my showdown to a later date and a future illness. I still can do it, right?

However, on Saturday (and I'm not sure I can write this without crying) a contractor will be coming to refinish the tub.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Training, Part 3

"No doubt you all have questions," the woman said to us. With this, our puppy Bingo began to pull on his leash, struggling to move closer and get a better look. "Easy, easy", we said to him.

"To start with," she continued with no hint of apology, "we obviously are not in Orlando." A young man approached her from the side and gently touched her shoulder to capture her attention and then whisper something into her ear.

For several weeks we had known that Bingo was not a normal dog. He was delivered to us by my old handler, and at the time I thought it was an elaborate gag--my friend showed up at our house with books and computers and high tech equipment and a thick instructions manual, all for this small puppy. Right. Except by the age of 3 (months) Bingo was studying mathematics, astronomy and computer science. He understood several languages and had a fondness for foreign movies. And I am pretty sure (though my old friend failed to mention it) that Bingo is equipped with more than a few non-biological features. Such as: he can take a video with his eyes and transmit it to the home server (though no one suspects yet that I know this).

But despite all his intelligence and gadgetry, Bingo is mostly a normal Lab puppy, a wiggling source of endless energy, overwhelmed by an passion for squeaky toys, ice cubes, old shoes, food and any opportunity to play and have fun. For example, when he came to a problem in his calculus book that he couldn't solve, he ripped out the page and ran around with it (until we said Drop-It). And good thing they brought him a slobber-proof laptop.

A few more people, some in uniforms, joined the whispered conversation at the front of the room while the puppies and their humans grew more restless. Cheryl was working up a serious snit fit, wondering now if she would be back in time for school. And from the look on one officer's face, I feared that I might never work on a project again...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Training, Part 2

Then, in the far corner of the shack, a kind of trap door opened up and a young man in a uniform emerged from the floor, indicating that we should join him. The bearded man seemed amused, and I noticed that the puppies all watched him closely--about 25 puppies waiting patiently even as the humans on that porch (including me) were more than a little distracted by that strong wind and rain that pelted our backs. Could this shack in the middle of nowhere actually have a basement?

With a simple hand signal, the bearded man made his intent known to the puppies. Immediately these wet and stinky little dogs began pulling their humans toward the trap door, and soon we all were underground, not in some old basement but in a shiny well-lit hallway, linoleum on the floor and industrial stainless steel fixtures on the wall and doors. The puppies knew which way to go, so we humans all followed their lead, past a door that said "Exam" and another that said "2A". I looked around but the bearded man was nowhere in sight.

OK, I thought to myself, no questions asked--I had agreed to go along, but this was becoming surreal. Here we were, somewhere (according to a whispered conversation between two humans just ahead of me) in the Yucatan peninsula, in an opening carved out of the jungle and yet underground in what appeared to be a modern hospital or university. We were met by two young soldiers handing out towels: one each for Cheryl and me and one for the puppy. This was a big classroom with chairs, tables, a blackboard and flat-panel screens on the wall.

Once we all got settled and almost dry, a woman walked into the room and up to the blackboard in front. She wore a dark suit and dark glasses, and once again the puppies became as transfixed and still as stone (except for a few of the young ones who could not resist wiggling the tips of their tails)...

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Training, Part 1

It must have been 2 or 3 in the morning, after a bumpy ride in the back of a small CIA-chartered cargo plane, after hours of pitch black and the roaring sound of overtaxed engines and the howling wind and rain, surrounded by 20 or 30 serious-minded and quiet puppies (well, except for one or two). At regular intervals the cabin door would open for few seconds and allow some light into the plane, revealing a bearded man wearing shorts and a flowery shirt, causing the puppies to sit up at quiet attention and wag their tails as he gave us all a look, all of us sitting on the empty and cold metal floor that had a puddle of water that shifted back and forth with the roll of the plane. Once again I asked myself why Cheryl and I agreed to go along with this.

We landed in what I guessed was somewhere in Central America, possibly the Yucatan, on a open grassy field with no lights except for a bare bulb hanging on the porch of a shack at the edge of the jungle. The wind and rain picked up as we raced across the field, humans with puppies on a leash, and I could only guess that the other humans were as clueless as me, each of us agreeing to come along and to ask no questions.

Obviously this was a training mission of some sort--the puppies seemed to know exactly what to do (except for one or two). In the middle of this open field the wind had nothing to stop it from rushing through the big shack, which had no doors or windows, just big openings on all sides. Up ahead, under a swaying light bulb, the bearded man was speaking, speaking to the puppies, I guess, because we humans certainly couldn't hear a thing over the wind.

Then one of the puppies moved to the front and turned around to face us...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Stained Glass Project--Conceptualization

Our downstairs bathroom is tiny but not without some charm. It has a little nook with a sink and the same tile that's in our kitchen. Its window looks onto the back yard, except the window is frosted and we never open it. Cheryl has developed has passionate hatred for the curtains (helping to move this up the to-do list), but at least they hide the ugly old rusty metal window frames.

Instead of replacing the window, we've decided to make a stained glass window and a nice wooden frame to just fit over the 2 x 4 feet opening. We're looking for a pattern with koi and frogs--or maybe I can draw something...

Stained glass, of course, is an ancient and beautiful art form. The early Christian churches (around the 4th century) used sliced alabaster rather than glass in windows. Muslims began to use colored glass in windows around the 8th century. But some of the finest examples can be found in gothic churches throughout Europe, masterpieces that still hang in air after 1,000 years.

I made a stained-glass lamp shade years ago, and even though it was hideously ugly, I have a good idea how the process is done, and for some reason I feel confident now that I can do it and make something cool. Like with life, attitude is important with glass--otherwise it will cut you quick.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Regulation and Fear

Years ago I was playing music in a nightclub when it was raided by the police to see if minors were being served. The club was frequented by bikers (sweet guys, really), so the police came in with overwhelming force--probably 25 of them. I remember that we stopped playing and watched as the police came in, one after another, until (after a period of stunned silence) everyone in the club starting laughing, everyone thinking the same thing: are we really that scary?

But what seems like excess from one perspective may seem prudent from another. Today, I feel like a lone policeman as I stare out into the yard and watch the vines and weeds make obscene gestures at me. And I don't like the idea of going out there alone.

While I've been busy inside, the forces of nature have been churning outside with energy from months of rain--crazy wild energy that has infected our plants with shameless intoxication and unrestrained growth, not unlike the feeding frenzy of financial greed that recently devoured our retirement accounts and pooped them out into stinking piles of feces, not that I am emotional about it.

The big bamboo, for example, is on a serious binge, with the new shoots climbing above the old canopy. Already this guy dominates the backyard, and he has the potential to become twice as big.

Even safely nearby, at the edge of the pond, I found vines choking my cute little volunteer bamboo. Where have you been, she asked me, unable to straighten up after I set her free.

It's clear that we need some major regulation, so Willow and I have scheduled a committee meeting to discuss it. A first draft should be ready no later than November.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Paneling--Completion and Inspection

After weeks of work, often without a clear direction or cohesive plan, I eventually look up and realize suddenly that nothing else needs to be done. I had such a moment earlier this week. I sealed up the door opening, painted the wall, did the final sanding and put a final coat of wax on the baseboards and crown moulding. Done.

Now it's time for the project manager to come in for an inspection--with all of her drama and ritual--to make me feel that my efforts were not a complete waste of time. This makes me pretty nervous.

With our puppy away for 3 days of advanced training in cyber security, Willow and I are back into our old routine, and she took her time in silently reviewing my work, not betraying any sense of approval or disgust, knowing that it really makes me nuts.

I could have drawn out the project and made my own shoe moulding for the baseboards, but just as you cannot eat squash casserole for more than 2 days in a row, I just cannot bear to do another thing in this room--not for a while.

Willow looked up and down, into every crack and and imperfection and blemish, taking notes but not saying a word, until I threatened (to myself) to throw all of my tools into the big stone smoker in the back yard, big a big fire to melt them into a hunk of worthless metal, and never, ever take on another project of any kind.

Finally she licked my face, wagged her tail and curled up for a nap. Sunshine burst through the window, and all my work, and my life, pulsed with a new sense of purpose and anticipation of projects to come. I'm the luckiest guy in the world. (Oh, yeah, and Cheryl said she liked it, too.)

Next in line--making a stained glass window for the bathroom downstairs.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Worst-case Planning

Instead of working on the paneling yesterday, I took our CIA-engineered puppy to an undisclosed location for his secret training, though it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see what's going on.

Maybe today I can paint the archway and finish off the project for good. The baseboards are all in, and Friday I squirted some adhesive caulk between the edge of the panels and the arched doorway so that hopefully it won't splinter to pieces when a suitcase or other missile strikes a glancing blow. Who knows what might happen?

Years ago, in a previous life, I lived alone with my dog Matt in a 100-year old house in Arkansas. My landlord was an eccentric millionaire who came to sit, dressed in overalls, in the old work shed out back, sentimental about his childhood home. He would straighten old bent nails and behave, generally, like someone who could not afford a pot to piss in.

Matt and I would go out to visit with him--at the time I was a musician with no other job. I remember he warned me never to put money in the stock market (this was about 25 years ago). I don't know, maybe he thought I was wealthy, too, since I had time to hang out with him.

Late one night the guys in the band and some aimless loser drunks from the club came over to my house. Matt was a good judge of character--he sniffed everyone more than once, no wagging tail, and looked at me with some pity as if to say Is this the best you can do?

Then a commotion erupted in kitchen. The guitar player had taken a hammer that I'd left on the counter and was banging it on the stove over and over, singing some idiotic song. Matt rushed into the kitchen with his teeth bared and the laughing stopped immediately. I took the hammer away and told everyone to leave--before Matt did something excessive.

The moral: always plan for the unexpected. I may need to put up a corner guard to protect the doorway opening. You never know what might happen.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Router Table

Finally I figured it out. I wanted to make some unusual baseboard trim--something with tiny curves and angles--out of knotty pine, but this is tricky because the knots are hard and brittle. My high-speed router can make the cuts, but it is just not possible to do it by hand.

So I broke down and bought a router table, one of those things that I've always sorta wanted but was able to resist thanks to my genetic frugality and years of practiced cheapness and skinflintery.

A router table holds the router upside down, with the pointy part sticking up through a hole in the table, allowing you to cut the angles and curves with some precision (rather than holding the router itself by hand and moving it over the wood). Yeah, I know, for centuries craftsmen made trim like this without power tools--another reminder that I am a simpering maggot, a sickly sucker fish in comparison to those guys.

I was so pleased with the results that I've been reminding Cheryl, again and again lately, what a special and talented person I am, using my store-bought power and precision to create something cool. Such is the nature of woodworking, of life, today.

The trim does add a nice touch. But I'm not done. Next I need to finish off the arched doorway so that the paneling blends into the curved wall. The project goes on and on.

Bingo, our CIA-engineered puppy-bot, was on hand to inspect my work and to practice his secret uplink protocol. Apparently he can automatically record a video and upload it to the agency servers just by staring. The days of me walking around in my underwear are over. Who knows what is out there by now...

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Pig with a Broom

I spent one summer in college working as a musician at a theme park in Arkansas, and I got to know a professional animal trainer. He was only about my age, but he was so good with animals that he had his own animal show, probably the most popular show at the park because it had a pig that could sweep sawdust from the floor with a broom, pick it up with a dust pan, and put it in a waste basket. After watching the show a few times I learned that few things will delight a tourist more than seeing a pig with a broom it its mouth.

I became the animal trainer's friend and often went to have lunch with him and his parents on a farm with probably a dozen dogs, many of whom were in the show. I was amazed at how he talked to them and how they listened. But, I asked him, what about the pig?

He claimed the pig was actually his younger brother, who after a normal childhood slowly transformed into his present form. Not only could this pig handle a broom, he told me, but he also played poker and drove a pickup truck. At the time I doubted the trainer's honesty, but recent experience with our puppy's super-human intelligence have caused me to reconsider the possibility of transmogrification. I have some theories about the puppy...

Sometimes in woodworking you also have to make do with what life gives to you. My baseboards, for example, started out in my mind with a certain shape, but circumstances are transforming them into something else altogether. I pictured the top trim pieces with some graceful curves and cuts, but I'm not having much luck and patience is running out and I don't want to drive down to Home Depot yet again in pursuit of router bits that may or may not work out, and did I mention about my patience running out.

I may well end up with a pig.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Crown Moulding Milestone Party

The crown moulding is up, and Willow was on hand for our milestone celebration. As much as I hate to admit it, I get all warm inside when she gives me a smile and a job well done. What a sucker I am.

The puppy is away for his first day at espionage school (for all I know) with Cheryl, starting classes in French and Urdu and whatever martial arts the little guy needs (I'm afraid to ask), leaving Willow and me alone and back in the routine we had known for years, back before the puppy came into our lives.

So today in the puppy-less silence of this house, Willow is sleeping by my chair. She follows me up and down the stairs, in and out of the guest room, into the kitchen for coffee, down to play the piano, everywhere.

Cheryl and I knew that the puppy would upset the balance of our lives, like a fourth person stepping onto a row boat of three. Things are getting steady now and comfortable, but I worry that I don't pay enough attention to Willow. And for her part, I know that Willow wanted to point out the flaws, one by one, of the crown moulding and to give me a hard time, but today she didn't.

Next I will do the baseboards and then finish the curved area around the door. Getting closer.