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?