Thursday, July 30, 2009

Shocking Truth

Sometimes I like to do electrical work on live wiring, though I do not recommend it to sane persons. With some precautions it's not overly dangerous. For example, I try not to do any work while sitting in the bathtub or taking a shower or wearing rain-soaked tennis shoes. I try not to put wires in my mouth or ears. Just basic precautions.

Once, when we lived in Arizona, I went up on the roof to speak to the roofer. The electrical power came from the street to the roof above the back porch of our house, and the roofer guy was concerned that the wiring was causing a water leak. I still remember that day because I am excessively afraid of heights, and I can see us squatting together there on the edge of the roof. "You mean here?" I asked, reaching out toward the wires, but he caught my arm with a sudden fierceness and scolded me like a child. "That would kill you dead," he yelled at me. I'm not sure if I was just pointing or I actually would have touched the wires.

A few days ago, one of our friend's daughters came over to spend the night and do crochet with Cheryl. The paneling project is on hold, and you can see the electrical sockets, still painted blue, were hanging out from the wall, which is not safe for young visitors, so I spent the day putting in new sockets.

It would make my mother proud to know that I did try to save money and clean the paint off of these--using steel wool--which is also not something I would recommend. After a massive shock, I went down and turned off the electricity to the room. One or two bursts of electricity per year is probably sufficient for me at this point.

Saturday, July 25, 2009


Nothing is more fascinating than a puppy at play, especially when the puppy is a genetically engineered government prototype capable of understanding several languages and programmed with math and science skills that I can only imagine.

Of course, right now he is trapped in a body that has been on earth only for a few days, and it's understandable that physical tasks--like climbing up our stairs--can be a challenge, despite his obvious mental agility. Just for fun, I thought I'd give him a chance to try it on his own, though I stupidly neglected to remove the rug first, causing him to slip and slide and lose his footing and then cuss at me in what I believe was Hindi.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A New Puppy

The paneling project is on hold pending life returning to normal, which means the project may never be finished. On Tuesday we picked up Bingo, our new guide dog puppy. Cheryl and I will be discussing him on our new blog . Well, mostly it is her new blog, but I will occasionally contribute a post. Be aware that everything you read there is a front, a ruse, a dissembling to disguise his true identity and purpose, which I will expose here over time, but only to those of you who can continue to access this encrypted feed and only if I can continue to tell truth to power without consequence (because I have a very low consequence threshold). Just a cute puppy? Look a little closer at that stare.

As expected, Willow mistrusts the new puppy and is not exactly happy with us right now. She spent hours on the phone with her legal advisers today. It may get ugly.

Also, we just got back from a trip to New York to visit two of our northeast CIA contacts, one of whom is shown here in a Florida shirt that he wore to help make us feel more at home in the big Apple. We had fun, including dim sum with Queen Elizabeth and her cousin (strictly a social visit). But now we are back, the upside is now down, Willow has abandoned me and the paneling project, and we all languish under the mysterious spell of this new puppy. More later.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Butterfly Party

Yesterday we were visited by a swarm of black swallowtail butterflies, dancing and spinning and playing with each other, 10 or 12 of them all flying near the upper koi pond. We commonly see these guys, but they seem always to be on some practical and solitary business, commuting from or to home, wherever that is.

But yesterday they flipped and dived and partied with childish enthusiasm for at least an hour. I've read that these butterflies sometime swarm and appear intoxicated, possibly over the scent of some plant. They are especially fond of dill and fennel (which we have, but in a different part of the yard) and plants in the carrot family. But the party was centered over a patch of ginger and a variety of other plants, including the new beautyberry bush.

Or maybe they are angry and trying to send one of their unfortunate cousins into exile. Or, duh, maybe they have their own emotions and behavior that we will never understand. Look closely and you can see a party, and one party pooper.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A Tricky Cut

Today the project ran into its first challenge. The trick is to cut the pine boards so that they fit snugly against the angles and turns of the frame. If there is even the hint of a ragged edge or gap between paneling and window frame, I will be consumed with a full measure of self-loathing until the end of time.

I decide against power tools. To make this cut I will use a coping saw, a narrow sharp chisel and a jack plane. The boards are 3.5 inches wide, but the distance to the window frame, in the middle section of the board, is about 1.5 inch. At the top, where the window frame flares out, the width is less than half an inch. I could pull off the top piece of trim while fitting this piece, but that would be cheating, right?

I make two initial cuts into the pine with the coping saw, marking the very top and bottom of the part to be removed. Then I use the chisel to gently remove about 1.75 inches from the right side of the board, carefully, because pine is a soft wood that splits very easily. When this is done, I use the plane to smooth out an edge that matches the window frame. Next comes the tricky section at the top, and by this time I have about 30 minutes invested in the board. One wrong move and I will have to start over. I cut gently, gently away to create the curly part at the top, and now the board wiggles in my hand like a snake, threatening to snap apart. I give it a test in place but it doesn't quite fit. More delicate surgery with the chisel to smooth out the curves, test again, cut a little more, back and forth...

At times like these, when success or failure hangs by a thread, managers will quietly slip away to have coffee or take a nap and hide until the scary part is over, all the while pretending to be occupied with other, more important, matters. Here's Willow, pretending not to see the window frame. Instead, she stares into space and asks if I know where she left her Frisbee.

If, after the task is complete, things have gone well, managers call a meeting and pat themselves on the back. If things have not gone well, they become as innocent as children, amazed that such controversial and risky techniques would have been even considered. What were you thinking? they will ask.

Here's the final result. Not too bad. Unfortunately, in order to show the detail, we had to cut Willow out of the picture. I realize now that, with the prospect of a challenge, I approached this task with the wrong idea. Instead of fitting around the frame, I could have cut a notch into the frame and slipped the paneling into the notch. Well, I'll do this on the remaining 3 sides.

Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that a microscopic amount of wood filler was used, but only as a cosmetic.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Remembering A Wall

From what I recall, the pine wall in the living room of my childhood home engaged my attention for hours and hours. I can still see the amber streaks of varnish, the rough dark knots and the veins and flowing grain in the pine, a swirling study of natural geometry, thick and thin lines--something, I was told, that revealed the amount of rainfall each year, big notions about history and time and weather for such a small boy. The wall had a finish that was flat and smooth and shiny and not at all like most formerly living things.

Against the pine wall was a couch, which was my place to lounge on my stomach and watch TV and, during commercials, run my hand against the wall and explore the surface, smooth and a little sticky of varnish. I remember my mom and my dad (who died when I was eight), each in their own chair, and my brothers, though the memory is so flickering and faint now that I'm just not sure about details. It seems that I can see the wall more clearly than anything else.

I'm glad that Cheryl suggested this project and that she shares my fondness for wood (if not with the same level of enthusiasm). Some friends of ours have a charming house that is completely paneled, walls and ceilings, in pine. Very cool and comfortable, but not for everyone, I suppose.

And since we have pine furniture in the guest room, with its big picture windows overlooking the ponds in the back yard, the overall effect should be pretty nice. I've never paneled a ceiling before so this will be interesting. More on the details later...

And now something to remind myself not to get overly sentimental here (in the future). WTF, right?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Knotty Pine Project

Starting today or tomorrow I will begin paneling our guest room with some knotty pine boards that I bought years ago, back when we lived in our previous house. At the time, Cheryl was lusting for a new house, or rather for an new old house. She would scour the neighborhoods in search of the just the right thing: old, charming and Spanish. I suppose I should be thankful she was only looking for a house.

She found about 6 or 7 likely houses and took me, driving by at about 2 miles per hour, to them all, more than once, even though none of these houses were actually for sale (a fact that seemed not to matter). At each one Cheryl left her card in the mailbox, and on the card she explained to the homeowner that we intended to occupy the house some day soon, just so they could get used to the idea.

For weeks she drove by the houses after work, stalking and terrorizing the owners until I'm sure they were afraid to walk outside. In the meantime, while open to the idea of moving, I was a bit sceptical about trying to buy houses that weren't actually for sale. After some time and unsuccessful house stalking, Cheryl lost hope, too. We agreed that we should fix up our previous house--give it some charm and accept it as our home. So we bought the knotty pine boards and I proceeded to panel the living room.

About halfway through the paneling project, one of the terror-stricken home owners caved in and called us, offering to sell if we would just leave them alone. Luckily, it was the one house of Cheryl's harem that I really liked. During this process our real-estate person convinced me to take down the panelling (rather than finishing the job in our previous house) since most people would not like it. The principles of democracy become crystal clear when selling a house.

So now its time to pull the paneling out of the garage and put it to use in the guest room. This time everything seems right, with no regrets about a house that got away.

Willow, in the meantime, has been attending management seminars in Orlando, and she decided to kick off this new project with a bit a fun to demonstrate her humanity and good nature before taking charge of the project and subjecting me to who-knows-what new techniques of mind control and management domination. More to come.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

July 4

Anonymous sent me this picture of Neda Agha-Soltan's grave in Iran. She was 26 years old, a student of philosophy and music, killed by government goons for marching in the election protests a few weeks ago. Only her immediate family was permitted to attend her funeral.

As I sit here on Independence Day, drinking my coffee, planning ahead for a day of good food and idle fun with Cheryl and her folks, I'm reading about more forced confessions from Iran, including one from the former vice-president Mohammad Ali Abtahi, who has been a critic of current government policies. Many other people, professionals and intellectuals, have been arrested and tortured and forced to make tearful confessions.

In the New York Times today:
The [Iranian] government has made it a practice to publicize confessions from political prisoners held without charge or legal representation, often subjected to pressure tactics like sleep deprivation, solitary confinement and torture, according to human rights groups and former political prisoners. Human rights groups estimate that hundreds of people have been detained.

History plays this song over and over: a government, feeling threatened, makes dissent a crime and resorts to imprisonment and torture. Then, in months or years, the people rise up and replace the government.

It's important, on July 4, to keep this in mind. When the government here begins to engage in techniques like sleep deprivation and other torture, for whatever reason, it is time to take notice. When the government invades the privacy of citizens, it is time to take notice. When political demonstrators are silenced and arrested just because they are inconvenient to one political party or another, it is time to take notice. When religious nuts get elected, we need to keep an eye on them. When torture become a solution for anything, we need to examine it closely, make sure that existing laws are applied, and send the violators to jail, especially if the violators are (or were) government officials. Otherwise, history will repeat itself here.

It's time for another cup of coffee and to remind myself how lucky I am to live in a peaceful place, lucky and free to write to write down whatever comes to mind; grateful also, knowing that I have done little or nothing to actually deserve my good fortune. I am lucky and thankful for this moment in time.

I try to imagine how I would feel if my sister or daughter were buried in that lonely patch of gravel and dirt. I wonder if I would write these words if I thought I would be arrested. What, and miss the cookout today?