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?