Sunday, January 31, 2010

Waiting for the Spring

We'll be going to Ireland in a few weeks, and there's really no time to start a new home project in the meantime. My vacation from do-it-myself continues, and that's OK.

Little by little, the plants in our yard are showing the effects of the recent freeze, some slowly giving in, like this branch of the leather-leaf fern in the upper pond (though the other branches seem OK). The candelabra cactus (I didn't have the heart to take a picture) that Cheryl and I bought in a little pot in Tucson and brought with us to Florida in a U-Haul and then planted in the yard, now over ten feet tall and now clearly suffering from the freeze, with several of its spiky arms shriveling up on the ends, is looking a bit lonely in the side yard. I gave it a pep talk today, straight face, like nothing was wrong.

In a few weeks, once the danger of a second frost is past, I'll trim back the bougainvillea and the Turks cap, both of which look dead, but I have hopes for the Spring.

Willow is decidedly uninterested in the yard and any projects thereof, so she has had a nice long break from the stress of project management, and it seems to agree with her. Here we are, with her being silly, playing Frisbee at the park near our house.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Bowling Alley (part 2)

As I mentioned, the bowling alley had transformed itself from an iconic 50s throwback to a full-out disco nightclub with flashing lights, and our CIA-engineered dog, Bingo, had just disappeared into the crowd to seek out his contact.

Even though I'm supposed to mind my own business and let him take care of the spy work, I just couldn't help looking around for him. Finally, there was my dog, sitting at the bar with a strange man in a hat. As I approached I saw the man pass a small metallic sphere into Bingo's mouth, handling it like a dog biscuit, except that light reflected off the object in many colors--or possibly light was coming from it--and Bingo swallowed it and ran away back toward our table. It just took a second. The disco lights and music abruptly went off, and we were back in the normal, old-timey bowling alley.

Life is full of moments like this, when we realize that we are only bit players, pawns in a bigger scheme, children in a room of adults, hacks surrounded by artists, amateurs in the shadow of pros, dopes in the midst of secret agents, and so on. I'm just a regular guy in a bowling alley. But a vivid imagination comes with an equal capacity for self-delusion. After all, why can't I also be a spy if I have the ability to imagine it?

So, instead of marching back to my table (like I knew I should do), I walked up to the bar and sat down next to the man in the hat. This time (by golly) I would find out what the heck is going on. Here is what he said:

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Undercover at the Disco Bowling Alley

Yesterday we received another assignment for Bingo, our CIA-engineered puppy who recently has been perfecting the so-called five Tibetan rituals as part of his training, at least that's what we think he's doing in his room--you never know with an adolescent.

In any case he's been very contemplative and all that. Very remote. I have suspicions about what's really happening with him (like he's talking with someone in his own head)... More later, when I get proof. Here he is on a walk.

Anyway, last night we were to rendezvous with the Cuban royal family in a bowling alley (makes sense--loud and busy) where Bingo would execute his assignment. Who know what he might do? Our job is to stay out of his way and play innocent in case things go awry.

I went bowling as a kid sometimes, so I knew what to expect. Thinking back to the lanes in my small home town, I remember the sounds (of course), the smells (stinky feet?), the bright lights (like an IHOP restaurant at night), and the old people in funny shirts who kept score on plastic sheets that were projected onto screens above. Good clean fun, except in my home town these were probably the wild people.

Last night started out pretty much like I remembered. I bowled two gutter balls in a row. But it was a fun party, and I almost forgot that we were waiting on a signal, some sign for Bingo to execute his assignment. He sat quietly by Cheryl, careful not to attract any attention, chanting something in Sanskrit, no doubt. Then it happened. At around 9:00 pm, the lights went dim and we were transported back to a place and time that I thought had disappeared 25 years ago. Lights were flashing, mirror balls spinning, and the sound system poured out a steady bump, bump, bump.


I looked around, and Bingo was gone.

If you zoom the video to full screen and look closely, you'll see Cheryl bowling. She's the last one to bowl, in the middle.

Friday, January 22, 2010

MyCorp Gets Into Politics

About 10 years ago I started a Florida corporation. I'm the president, CEO and the only employee. For the purpose of this post, I'll call the corporation MyCorp.

What exactly is MyCorp? I'm not sure--I started it, but I certainly don't own it. It lives at my address. It has a bank account and a credit card. It buys stuff, like computers and printers. It pays me a salary and keeps what is left over. Otherwise, it's not like a person at all: it doesn't eat, drink, laugh, cry, think, watch movies, play with the dogs or go for walks.

If it were doing better, financially, it might decide to hire more people, especially people who know about business and money. Then it could keep part of their salaries, too. Eventually it would move out and buy a big skyscraper downtown and put its name in big letters on the outside. By this point it will have fired me. Nothing personal. I've known all along that I'm not much of an asset.

Yesterday the Supreme Court decided that a corporation can no longer be limited in the amount of money it spends on political campaigns. So yesterday MyCorp and I had a talk about politics and life in general. Apparently it is still mad at me for not voting for Bush. Looks like my days are numbered.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

La Pavoni

With no projects to keep me busy, lately I'm examining the minutia of my life, not the least of which is making coffee, a habit that I picked up only after I married Cheryl. Back in the twilight years of bachelorhood, I lived pretty much like a monk, a boring monk in the Arizona desert, going to bed early, no drugs, no alcohol, no caffeine.

But then Cheryl introduced me to coffee and all the wickedness that goes with it.

Years ago, if you happened to be travelling in a caravan across the hot sands of Mesopotamia, chances are you would prepare your coffee by first crushing the beans to a powder and then boiling the powder with water in a steel pot over the camp fire, and then you would drink it, grounds and all (today this would be called Turkish coffee), squatting there in your robes while the desert wind blasts your face and your camel tries to spit on you and one of your wives tries to escape through a slit in the tent.

I don't like sediment or grounds or camel spit in my coffee, so instead I use my little Pavoni machine. Even though I grind the beans very fine, the coffee is created with the force of steam through a fine metal mesh, and very little sediment gets through. It's strong but not bitter.

On my agenda: get a new project.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Delayed Effects

This morning I walked out into the backyard and was surprised to see some delayed effects of our cold spell. One of our big ficus trees has suddenly dropped its leaves, filling one end of the pond. Is it dead? Only time will tell. The sister ficus tree, on the other side of the pond, still holds its leaves but they are all black. Why the difference?

Then on to the mango tree, which seemed perfectly fine yesterday, and now I can see a dramatic difference. The leaves are dying from the outside in, the green turning to copper.

For the past three days, the situation in Haiti is growing worse, so many desparate people in such a small place, no place to sleep, no water, no food, no hospitals.

I go back inside and do some research. Here's one place to start.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Day in the Life

Chances are, I will look back some day, sitting in that nursing home, eating a lunch of blended pea and carrot, and I will wonder where my life went. So here's an opportunity to capture at least one day for posterity, a log of my day from Monday:

5:45 am: The bathroom light wakes me up. Cheryl has just taken Willow and Bingo downstairs. I am disoriented
6:00 am: Downstairs, in the kitchen. Time to make the coffee, experimenting with my own blend of New Orleans and Peets coffee. Put some oatmeal on the stove. I like coffee and steel-cut oatmeal in the morning
6:45 am: I walk Cheryl to her car (checking for any demons or vampires that might be lurking) and kiss her goodbye. Bingo goes to school with her today, so it's just Willow and me, and Willow's hopes are dashed, once again, as I climb the stairs up to the office. She curls up on the rug behind me.
7:00 am: Read the emails from my clients. The sky is falling, again. I prop it back up.
8:00 am: Back downstairs for more coffee. Stop to play the piano. Bach. I suck at piano but don't care.
8:20 am: More emails. I prioritize my work. Look out the window.
9:30 am: I finish answering emails and then solve a problem that would stump most 5-year-olds.
10:45 am: Work on my blog. Downstairs to play the piano. Bach. I've been trying to play this piece, off and on, since Nixon was president.
11:00 am: Willow and I go out back to survey the damage from the recent frost. Looks grim.
11:30 am: Time for lunch. More toast! Today I'm making pita bread toast with hummus and wonder if anyone is luckier than me (seriously). Watch the Daily Show, recorded from last night. Laugh out loud.
12:30 pm: Back upstairs and read more email. Solve a problem that most hamsters could solve.
3:00 pm: Work on my blog. Go downstairs to play the piano but change my mind.
3:30 pm: Time to take a nap.
5:00 pm: Wake up from nap. Read my email.
5:30 pm: Go to yoga class. It's freezing cold in the room but we soon get warmed up. The woman next to me farts and I suppress a big laugh. I realize again that the past and future don't really exist, but I still think about the day and I anticipate the different things I might eat for dinner. Probably toast. I got Cheryl a toaster for her birthday (and other things).
7:00 pm: Back home to fix toast. Cheryl and I talk about our days (mostly her day) and then we decide to watch some Rumpole of the Bailey. Really good stuff from the 70s. I forget to make the popcorn.
9:30 pm: I get into a hot bathtub full of bubbles.
9:50 pm: I kiss Cheryl good night, then turn on a little reading light and continue with the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic book, volume 1. Great stuff.
10:10 pm: I put in my earplugs and fall asleep.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Winter of our Discontent

As is common in Florida, our house has a heat pump. Actually, we have two: one on the roof for the upstairs, and one for downstairs. The concept is pretty simple--air from our house is circulated through the heat pumps and back into the house. In the summer, it works like a refrigerator to pull the heat out of the air. In the winter, however, the process pulls heat from the outside and uses it to heat the air inside.

Most of the time this works fine. But as you might imagine, the colder it gets outside, the less efficient is the heat pump. After all, when it is 29 degrees outside, there is not much heat energy available for us inside, just in case, for example, we might like to take off our leather coats and relax.

To make things interesting, there's a sweet spot, at around 40 degrees, when the coils of the heat pump freeze over with a thick layer of ice and the air quits moving altogether. As logic would dictate, to thaw out the coils, I have to put the heat pump into cooling mode, which is what I just did, cooling off the house just as I was finally getting warm. Sigh.

The bright side is that we are warming up a little. The downside is that the past 3 days of cold have really punished some of our plants, a few of which, like our papaya tree in this picture, probably are gone for good. The monk's cap above also took a beating, and we were told that this plant has been in the yard continuously since 1924. I still see some green leaves on it so I'm hoping for the best.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Not Staying Warm

It's a simple fact of human history that we learned how to keep warm even before we sharpened a spear or wiped our butts. And yet, with the accumulated wisdom of countless millennia, from cultures developing independently in Europe, Asia and the Americas, pushing even to the extreme poles, of people who universally have learned to find some comfort in the midst of snow and freezing winds, with all of this, I am still not able to get my feet warm in this over-sized cracker box of a house in Florida, and we have more cold weather to come.

Yesterday we had a Deadwood marathon with a friend, all of us with several layers of clothes, thick sweaters, sitting under blankets, drinking hot tea and coffee and still unable to breath a relaxed breath, only to then go out for dinner, hoping for some relief and maybe a seat next to the open-pit grill, but no, the people in the restaurant were bundled up like refugees in a bleak post-Stalinist Moscow tenement, huddled over glasses of hot tea for warmth, looking around and bleating like confused sheep in a drafty slaughter house.

And speaking of Deadwood, in three seasons of the show there was not one snowfall, no hint of the truly cold winters in that part of the country (the Dakotas). Why? Because being cold is not dramatic or fun, which is one reason we moved to Florida anyway. And besides, I'm still coughing and fighting off a cold and I have this weird condition where my body heat escapes and I turn into a 3-year-old girl who has just dropped her ice cream cone on the ground and who cries until someone does something, only I'm still cold.

On Saturday, in the cold and rain, we took Bingo to his secret training camp in the woods. He thoroughly enjoyed himself.

So how is it that dogs are comfortable with no clothes on at all? What the heck is going on? Will someone please turn on the heat? (The whining will continue until this is resolved.)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Frisbee Fun

Long before becoming a management goon, Willow was an accomplished athlete with a silver medal in Frisbee free-style, beaten out in that controversial meet in Athens by a doped-up border collie who took all the gold (and who later was discovered in a Paris bordello, unconscious from what was called compulsive butt-sniffing).

Willow never recovered from that defeat. She turned away from sports, turning instead to the life of scheming corporate stoogery, just like me, though I was never very good at sports, and now I just stand and throw the Frisbee, and take orders.

Willow never turns down a quick game of catch, even when a deadline is near. No hurry this time--we haven't had a deadline or even a project for several months now. When I see her like this, tail wagging, head held high and with the Frisbee in her mouth, I see the happy little puppy of Olympic fame.

Video credits go to my nephew, who also took many great camera shots while he was here.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Sad Passing

A friend of ours passed away and will be buried today in Duluth. She was a very sweet person--someone with no pretensions and no bitterness about suffering with cancer for years, someone with a sparkling laugh and a bright voice wrapped in the most pleasant and natural Minnesota accent, a voice that invited you to eat and be happy. I think she would have enjoyed the picture below.

Last night we discovered that Willow and Bingo have apparently reconciled (that's Willow, the old lady, on the left). If I've ever seen a more blatant and shameful display of affection, I'm very sure I don't remember it, and I'm glad we didn't walk in on them any sooner than we did. Click on the picture to see it in more graphic detail (if you are that sort of person).