Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Upper and Lower Ponds

I put in the new pump today and the water is moving again. To celebrate, the upper pond koi got to bathe right in the waterfall while the lower pond guys could only look on from a distance. Most of the koi stay put, but a few of them have learned to move back and forth between ponds, navigating the treacherous and narrow waterway where the two ponds meet.

You might ask, why would these fish, after getting a taste of the upper pond--the big pond, ever visit the lower pond again? Well, like many of your friends from your home town, these lower-pond koi are happy in a small place where the water runs slower and deeper. Some feel safer in the lower pond, I'll bet. My favorite is a calico red and white, probably the biggest fish of all, and the queen of lower pond. Everyone follows the calico as she glides slowly along, though there's not far to go. The upper pond guys have the waterfall and the big pool above, another big pond and they have a covered passageway to travel between the two.

But the frogs favor the lower pond, and at night the place jumps like a night club in a dry county in Arkansas on payday (if you will forgive me for saying so). These jumpy guys have no morals at all--squawking all night with an amazing racket, fornicating (I'm just guessing), spewing their eggs all over the lily pads and sleeping all day.

The koi sniff around on the tops of the pads, so these eggs will be gone soon (another advantage of the lower pond), and I imagine the frogs could care less. They'll just spew out some more.

Bugs and other tasty stuff, everything really, flows from the upper pond to the lower pond, like a 24-hour buffet. The lower pond also puts on a show of blossoms from the lily pads.

Did I mention, though, that the upper pond has lotus blossoms and a bridge to hide under? And a cool waterfall?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Fixing a Leak (in my Brain)

The pump shaft seals I ordered did not come on Friday, so the pump will be down at least until Monday, a fact that ate away at me Friday afternoon, causing me to look out the window for the UPS truck no fewer than 20 times, brooding like some heart-sick teenager waiting for a date to arrive, practicing my lines for the driver (like what happened, did you like forget I even existed?).

But the truck did not come and as night came on, and without Cheryl here to forestall it, my broodiness gave way to something darker. At the same time a balancing thought was struggling to reach my consciousness, and not for the first time this week. In fact, it has occurred to me several times that it would be nice, now that the water level is down, to repair a leak in one of the pond walls. Only on Friday night I'm so busy being mad about the pump seals that nothing else matters. Probably by 10 pm, the revelation burst through to me. The pump seals were late for a reason. It was a sign: it was time to fix the leak, and I had all weekend to do it. A miracle.

So this morning I filled a plastic bag with dirt and made a little dam. Then I took the shop vac and dried out the area by the leak. Perfect. At first I tried to seal the cracks with silicon caulk, but it was too wet and besides what I really wanted to do (and in an obsessive sort of way) was mix up some concrete and put a skim coat on the entire section of wall. Nothing is more fun that slapping down some concrete. Roof tar or something similar would probably have been better (for you critical people out there who want to judge me) but I wanted to mix up some concrete, OK?

Sometimes the universe sends you a message, like mix up some concrete and fix the leak once and for all, you ignorant fool, when you have the chance.

Here's some star jasmine (Jasminum nitidum) growing in my side yard. It seems especially happy this spring. I also found a new patch of it growing along the sidewalk in front, in a place where I cleared back some weeds last winter.

Clear away the negative and something nice will (eventually) take its place.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Pump with no Seals

Cheryl is away this week at a conference (controlling whatever and whoever crosses her path) while Willow and I are feeling alone and sad.

An old friend of mine, Fast Eddie, sent me an email out of the blue yesterday, and we reminisced back and forth for a while. He was my first roommate in college--we rented an old house in the country. Nothing about that time seems real anymore, and it occurs to me that I could spin it in any possible way and not really lie. I could write two completely different autobiographies from that time, one happy and one sad (but both completely unnecessary). I'm guessing this is normal, and I will not cry girly tears over it.

Then yesterday my new water pump came in the mail, only it didn't have the pump shaft seals that it needed (oh, spank me for not knowing that I needed to order pump shaft seals), so the water just rushed out onto the motor when I finally got everything put back together. I had to call and order the seals (oh, you wanted the seals?), and now it will be 2 or 3 days of no circulation. The fish hate me for this, but I am growing impatient with their little attitudes. Fish is also food.

Last night I made some nice pasta with shrimp and Willow and I toured the neighborhood. And Cheryl will be back Sunday. So no more whining and no need to dwell on my previous life--I am happy with this one.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Proud Pump Retires

For about the past 10 years the water in our fish pond has been circulating for 24 hours a day (not counting a few power outages), all thanks to a little electric motor and a pump. But yesterday that impressive record of service came to an end.

I called my brother, who is an expert in pumps and, coincidentally, an undercover agent for the CIA (so I'll call him Hector in this entry). Hector attempted to explain the concepts of a water pump--how, by balancing the pressure on both sides of the pump, the movement of such great quantities of water (which is awfully heavy, by the way) can be done with such little effort (in this case, a 0.10 horsepower motor).

The motor is on the left in this picture, and the pump (with a darker color) is on the right and with a pipe coming out of its top side. Water goes into the hole on the right and is pushed up the pipe. The motor is still OK--it hums away and turns the pump--but the pump (also known as the wet end) just doesn't propel water anymore.

More than once I've wondered: what else can run for 10 years non-stop, day and night, and outside in the Florida weather? This pump is a relic, really, a throwback to a time when people worked their entire lives for single company, with a sense of balance and permanence, with an expectation of work and an ethic to provide it, at a time when job security was taken for granted in return for good job performance? Now we expect things to break after two of three years, and our careers often have the same event horizon. In any case, the pump provides a good example--we do best when the forces around us are in balance.

I've ordered a new pump from the same company (http://www.pondshop.com/). And I'll run the Emerson motor until it gives out. Hector reminded me that Emerson is the company that makes ceiling fans. Years ago, he and I lived in an old house with a working Emerson fan that had been in the house since about 1910, and I'll bet that fan is still running.

When the new pump arrives I'll attach it to the motor and hopefully all will be well. Then I'll take the old pump and set it on a rock in the shade where it can see the pond and have a nice retirement. Job well done, my friend.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Monsters of the Deep

If that the heavens do not their visible spirits
Send quickly down to tame these vile offences,
It will come,
Humanity must perforce prey on itself,
Like monsters of the deep.

An interesting drama is playing out in the press. Like the abortion issue, this one is so packed with emotion that the apologists for both sides remain far apart. One side argues that extreme measures are necessary in other to provide for security. The other side argues that extreme measures are immoral and (if that's not enough) ineffective.

One side, on the defensive at being considered immoral, counters that the other side is naive. Extreme measures are necessary, they say, and, by the way, not extreme. They demonstrate this by making jokes about the nature of waterboarding and other tactics. You can read the formerly-secret memos online and decide for yourself.

The other side wants to prosecute Bush and others as criminals, guilty of war crimes. Obama has indicated now that he does not intend to pursue legal action, though he has formally discontinued the torture policy. (I should answer the phone when he calls, but yesterday I cleaned the fish pond filter and made a huge mess.)

The argument for prosecution is compelling but academic considering the political reality: many people don't mind the idea of torture as long as people are being tortured, while of course no one supports the torture of a dog or cat. I understand the counter argument--that some people deserve it while animals never do--but I don't agree with it. Politically, it would be impossible to send Bush or Cheney to jail over this. (Sigh)

Ask me what I would do to protect my wife or even my dog, and I am afraid to think of it. We are hard-wired to defend ourselves and our loved ones. But there seems to be a consensus, from the people who know about these things, that once a person is captured the use of torture accomplishes nothing except to satify the hard-wired part of our brains, the same part that, in the not too distant past, compelled people to watch prisoners torn apart by horses or have their guts pulled out with a steel hook. Once a person is captured, we protect them from the mob (see Gunsmoke, every other episode) no matter what they have done.

On a lighter side, I may have to clean out my fish pond more thoroughly. The flow of water is getting interrupted somehow. At least this is something I can fix and make better.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Getting Dirty

In the poison'd entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone,
Days and nights has thirty-one;
Swelter'd venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i' the charmed pot!
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.

Our fish ponds circulate water though a biological filter, which is actually an old well filled with lava rocks. The water bubbles up through the lava and falls, nice and clean, over the edge. This works within the well due to a virtual orgy of bacteria, breaking down the swirling toxins and turning them into a brown, disgusting and (I'm hoping) harmless sludge, which mercifully doesn't smell at all like it looks.

Over time the sludge builds up in the well and needs to be removed. Of course, I could hire someone to do this, but then would I ever get the chance to get my hands covered in the stuff or have it splash over the edge into my sandals or have a branch splash it into my face or get it all over my shirt and and pants until I'm tempted to puke? No, this is just the job for me.

Meanwhile today some Republicans and associated nut jobs are having a national "tea party" to demonstrate their irrelevance and their aversion to paying taxes--playing out some farce while millions of people face real hardships. At least I spent the day in some honest manure.

Back to the pond: the water is pumped from the lower pond and into the bottom of the well (at the back of this picture), where it bubbles to the top through the cleaning lava rocks. Then it travels down a channel to the back of the big pond (you can't really see it to the left in this picture), then to a waterfall, and then to the lower and smaller pond. Along the way, the water picks up fish pee, frog pee, mosquito pee, (certainly not my pee, in case you are wondering), lizard pee, and who knows whose pee.

With the help of the biological filter, this pee, poop, sweat, tears, dirt and funky stuff is turned into a safe form of sludgy nitrogen that is digested by the pond plants, which are pretty happy I can tell you. So today I took the sludge and poured it on my peppers and the bamboo and my other favored plants in the yard, only to have it splash on me again and again.

Time for another shower...

Friday, April 10, 2009

The List

Yesterday Willow was on the job site to inspect my work. As usual she was cranky about the mess--I tend to leave tools all over the place while working.

It's really amazing how many tools you need to do a job like this. Let's see: a hammer, a drill, a measuring square, drill bits, carpenters glue, high-strength adhesive, a dremel tool (I had to cut the metal strips in one place), vice grips (to bend the metal), nails, a nail punch, sand paper, wood chisels, a jack plane (which I've blogged about before and is one of my favorites), masking tape, a glue gun, a razor blade cutter, measuring tape, a hacksaw, a flush-cut saw, not to mention the lumber and the table saw and miter saw (which I keep in the garage). Honestly, is there anything sadder than someone who enjoys reciting a list of meaningless items? Let's see, there's coconut shrimp, lemon shrimp, garlic shrimp, fried shrimp, boiled shrimp...

Because yesterday was a holiday for many non-pagans, and because I didn't get any messages on my brain phone, I actually finished all the trim and cleaned up the area. Probably tomorrow I'll put on a coat of finish (the blue tape will keep it off the window panes). And finally I'll paint the wall around the trim.

Everything went quickly this time. I knew from experience what to do and what not to do, how to cut the angles, etc. Still (and I was hoping to avoid this analogy), I will always remember (sigh) my first time.

In the meantime I've noticed that the notorious and cowardly Sri Lankan biobot weevils are missing from their usual hideouts in the back yard. Coincidentally, my friend Dave (the emperor) has suffered a flare-up of a mysterious illness, and I fear that it could be a case of retaliation, a cowardly attempt by those pathetic piss bugs to go after my friends. They will pay for this.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Window Project--In the Zone

Here it is Sunday, and I'm bewildered by the state of the window project. Yesterday morning I took my crow bar and hack saw to the old window to pull it out, knowing that any number of demons might be waiting to torment me, but in only a few minutes the window was out, leaving a nice, clean opening that was sound (no termites, ants or wood rot), sturdy and, coincidentally, just the right size for my new window.

I stood looking through the hole and into the back yard for quite some time, wondering if I had become delusional--was it possible that nothing else needed to be done? The last window I put in took over a week and I had to rebuild the entire wall. Do I have a guardian angel after all? Or is fate toying with me?

I think I'm done, I said cautiously to Cheryl, as a way of sharing my joy about the near perfect hole in the wall. I'm guessing that she mistook my meaning, considering the big hole in the wall. Here she is, in her natural habitat: reading on the back porch. I took this shot through the same hole in the wall. I know it's too dark, but isn't she cute?

With the hole prep work miraculously over, I prepared the new window by attaching the metal fasteners (about 1 hour). Then I called my friend Alan to help me put the window in place. He brought over his kids, aged 5 and 2, and they are really cute and good kids. At one point I went outside to check the alignment, and the boys locked the door so I couldn't get back in. Alan was holding the window in place and couldn't let go. The boys tried but couldn't get the door unlocked, so we all laughed for quite awhile. Later we all played frisbee with Willow, and then I, still amazed at my good fortune, took a nap.

This morning I wondered if it was a dream, but there is was, just like I left it. I sprayed expanding foam into the space around the window, and it's now very snug and comfortable. This wall has a concrete plaster, so I'll need to glue the trim in place. That's OK. Who's complaining? (Not me.)

And then today Cheryl and I went to Home Depot, but not the one we usually go to. She suggested a different store and, with wonders not ceasing, they had exactly the pine boards I wanted. (Is she also part of this scheme?) So I came home and took another nap. If I'm not thwarted in some way and I don't slow down, the project will be over before I know it.

Life is OK when things go your way, especially when doing things better done by professionals. More later.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Flan and Jean (the dog)

Yesterday I received (through a secret courier) a mysterious metallic package. Of course, I am always suspicious of such things, given my ongoing feud with the bio-terrorists in Sri Lanka (who, by the way, have recalled their biobots from our property, but more on that later). In this case, though, the package smelled so wonderful that I could not bother with the normal protocol, so I opened it right away.

Inside the shallow metal disk was the most beautiful sight you can imagine: a golden flan swimming in caramel sauce. But not just any flan. This regal custard has the consistency of cheese cake and the texture of... well, it would be indecent to continue.

Even though I knew it would spoil my appetite, I cut a wedge of this miracle and ate it immediately, careful to let my tears drop on the floor and not into the plate (lest the saltiness affect the chemistry). At once I knew that this flan could have been made by none other than the queen mother of Cuba herself. After dinner I had another piece. And even Cheryl, who is no friend of flan, said she liked it. To be fair, it is not better than the custard my mom used to make and that my Aunt Helen in Arizona makes, but it is mucho gusto.

And visiting with me today is Jean, our temporary guest service dog who is trained (as I mentioned before) to bite anyone who says something stupid.

Here she is, emerging from a long meeting with Willow (and I can imagine what vicious lies she heard). As you can tell, she is just waiting for me to open my mouth. I'm choosing my words carefully. Good dog.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

General Bullmoose and the Queen

Michele Obama shocked the world yesterday when she gave the queen a pat on the back. What a scandal! Well, it might interest you to know that the queen is not such a delicate flower. When I met her in the '70s she grabbed my butt 3 or 4 times before I could get away. (Or maybe that was her sister.)

Of course, Cheryl and I couldn't go on this trip (I'm afraid Barack is about to write us off). I'm getting ready to start the window project. And today Cheryl is bringing home a guide dog (we're just house sitting this one--we get a puppy soon). I'm also busy reading the 160-page guide dog manual. Sorry, we're much too busy for the queen this year.

Luckily I've washed my hands of this economic mess or I'd be in the middle of the G20 summit, which is not at all pretty. One possible outcome is an international regulatory board, a group that would apply financial rules equally in all countries. Fat chance on that. None of our legislators will go for it in any case. Barack really has his hands full (and not with the queen, if that's what you're thinking).

Which brings me to General Bullmoose. When I played music back in Arkansas I became acquainted with Al Capp's son, Colin Capp, who liked to hang out in the Little Rock night clubs. Al Capp, you may know, wrote the Li'l Abner comic strip, and General Bullmoose was one of the characters--a loud-mouthed, scheming, despicable tycoon who hated the common man and was fond of saying What's good for General Bullmoose is good for the USA.

Coincidentally, one summer break from college I played music at a theme park called Dogpatch, USA, a sort of redneck Disneyland that is centered around the characters of Li'l Abner. Apparently Colin Capp later married an actress at the park (she played Moonbeam McSwine). Small world.

Well, as you certainly know, the Bullmoose reference above is a play on words, based on something Eisenhower famously said in the '50s: What's good for General Motors is good for the USA. And now with the GM bailout, it appears that the saying is even more true and even more perplexing today, not that I understand any of this.

Which is why I'm glad to get started on the window. First, I'll pull off the existing trim and see what surprises await me inside the wall. More to come.

It wasn't Eisenhower who made the quote--it was Charles Wilson, who was the president of General Motors and Eisenhower's pick to be Secretary of Defense.

From Wikipedia:
Wilson's nomination sparked a major controversy during his confirmation hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee, specifically over his large stockholdings in General Motors. Reluctant to sell the stock, valued at more than $2.5 million, Wilson agreed to do so under committee pressure. During the hearings, when asked if as secretary of defense he could make a decision adverse to the interests of General Motors, Wilson answered affirmatively but added that he could not conceive of such a situation "because for years I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa." Later, this statement was often pared down to its essence, "What's good for General Motors is good for the country." Although finally approved by a Senate vote of 77 to 6, Wilson began his duties in the Pentagon with his standing somewhat diminished by the confirmation debate.