Friday, April 30, 2010

Back in the Saddle Again

My project manager called me into her office this morning and gave me the evil eye, you know, like she just now discovered that I haven't worked on a project since before my surgery, over six months ago. Never mind that she, too, hasn't done a thing since then. But management must have its drama, so the eye fixed on me to come up with an explanation.

Before I could respond, she arranged several photos on the desk, staring at me again in silence to let the awful truth sink in with its own weight. Yes, the guest bathroom needs a makeover, but...

Yes, the tiles are cracked. The toilet is inches from the wall. A old metal heater grill is on one side and it bangs back and forth if you happen to brush against it.

The floor tiles are cracked right through the center of the room. The shower tiles are hanging together only through force of habit. They're cracked, infused with putty and years of cosmetic repair, cracked again, fixed again, so sad that I can't bare even to show the pictures here.

I'm stalling now as Willow stares at me. I'm hoping to find some new excuse, some alternate plan, some way to avoid this total destruction of the original.

But she brings out more pictures. The old porcelain fixtures, cute in their day, are mostly all broken now, sad, tragic, because they are all original to the house.

And not just the tiles. The window frame shows water damage. (Whose duck is that, anyway? Not mine.) Some structural repair will be required, but only after the entire thing is gutted.

Gutted? I'm getting ill now and I turn around, but Willow is not going for it. OK, then! Tomorrow I'll visit Home Depot and get some books. Then I'll come up with a plan. And an estimate. How long will the whole thing take? she asks without skipping a beat. Don't even think about it.

I'm back in the saddle again.

Monday, April 26, 2010


Steven Hawking, the world-famous physicist, said something yesterday that I've believed for a long time: aliens exist, and we should not be in a hurry to contact them. I've never seen an alien, and neither has Hawking, but there are billions of galaxies and billions of star systems in each one and yet more planets in each of those. The odds are overwhelming.

I've heard people say how they would like to meet an alien, to go up on a spaceship and just hang out. But not me. I get nervous around strangers in general, even the perfectly nice ones who don't want to dissect me and eat my liver.

One argument is that only kind and good beings will be able to advance to the point of space travel, therefore we can trust the space travellers. Wishful thinking. So far, we like to keep our morality confined to our our species for the most part. Cows, pigs and chickens are being treated in criminal ways each day. And even within our species we often exploit the smallest differences in detail and use them in unkind and ungood ways, like with this new immigration bill in Arizona.

Yes, we should fear the extraterrestrial aliens, because we just can't predict if human nature is the exception or the rule in the universe.

And apparently great minds think alike:

Anyway, I've spent a whole day wondering about aliens and I'm no closer to getting started on the bathroom project. Maybe tomorrow...

Monday, April 19, 2010

Considering the Snake

It's spring and the frogs are back from their winter vacation and they've taken up residence in our koi ponds again, croaking and partying like drunk college students at the beach, and like every year they are spewing froggy eggs and sperm in all directions.

I was curious, seeing all the jumping and splashing going on, so I went outside, expecting them to hide like they've always done in the past, but this time they just ignored me, and they continued to ignore me even after I pulled out my iPhone to take a video.

In this scene, a young Turk is riding on the back of an older (and big-boned, to put it nicely) female, holding on with his sticky front flippers while fending off an even smaller and younger degenerate approaching from the rear, staring ahead with the blank gaze of an opium addict, exhausted no doubt. There must be 50 or 60 of them in the lower pond alone, all doing the same thing.

Viewer discretion is advised. I especially do not recommend this video to anyone who currently has a high opinion of frogs.

Then on my way back upstairs I looked out the front window and noticed a slender garden snake coiled gracefully around a jatropha in the front yard. Solitary, green, beautiful, shy. Not hurting anyone. Not embarrassing the animal kingdom with public displays of group sex. I opened the door and she vanished.

Monday, April 12, 2010


This weekend I severely pruned several of the freeze-damaged plants in the yard, including the triangle fig trees (Ficus triangularis), the mango tree, a big sea grape, the papaya tree and the Florida gardenia (aka Cape Jasmine) bush, shown to the right, with its little green buds poking out.

I am always reluctant to do any pruning, just like I hate cutting a dog's toenails--I never know how deep to cut.

The mango is already showing off, so I didn't mind cutting away the old branches. Like always, its new leaves are pale, then they turn a wine color, and then finally they turn green.

In contrast the triangle fig trees look bare, brittle and a bit helpless. The pruning was necessary to give it a strong start this year, or at least I hope this is the case, yet another area where I am susceptible to superstition of most any kind. If someone told me that this tree needed some milk and cookies, I would probably get it.

I tried to find out today why the word prune has two distinct meanings. Just a coincidence, it seems. I did find out that Prune is a girl's name in France (it's variant of Prunella). Enough said.

And then I noticed tucked under the bamboo a little clump of clover with blooms.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Crazy Squirrel Wire Biters

To follow up, the electrician came out for a second visit on Thursday, this time to run a new circuit to the washing machine, officially putting us in Code. Apparently my wiring from about 4 years ago was deficient (oh, really), but back to my story.

As I said, my theory was that a fruit rat had chewed through the wiring--why else would the outlet go dead (and with no breakers tripped)? Fortunately, my electrician had a more practical mind, and while he agreed with me in principle (the line was definitely compromised in some way), he was sure that very few animals have ever, in the history of the modern world, chewed through heavy gauge wire. A goat could do it. A crazed squirrel, perhaps. When he suggested that we knock a hole in the wall, in order to be sure, I could not have been happier. What would we see--maybe a big fat electrocuted squirrel?

Like all individuals who abandon reason and science, once I had fixed on an animal as the cause, I was devoutly attached to the theory, and in no time at all I was dedicated to the Church of Crazy Squirrel Wire Biters, waiting to be proven right on judgement day. (I know I originally thought it was a Rat, but that was just nuts. A squirrel, though...)

But the hole in the wall simply reveled the wire heading back toward the junction box--no break in the line. "It's between here and there," the electrician said, gesturing to a small area where (for some reason that I will never understand) we had not yet looked. And there it was on the wall hidden behind a small door, a GFI plug with a circuit breaker. Had I just taken the time to look, I would have saved $300.

Anyway, the wiring is now up to code, and I've learned a lesson: the whole Squirrel idea was pretty kooky.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Rat Theory

Last week the washing machine just quit working. No it wasn't broken--the electrical outlet just went dead. But the circuit breakers were all OK. This might all be mysterious except that I was the one who originally wired up the laundry room with 110 AC, and I probably should not mess with electricity.

The next question: why now? The outlet to the washing machine has been OK for about 4 years. Simple, right, the connections in the outlet must be loose. So I go into the garage only to discover that all of the outlets (except for one) are dead. I double-check the circuit breakers. All OK. There's a GFI outlet nearby, but it's OK (it's the one outlet that works).

At this point, I am no longer sure about anything. Does the earth really go around the sun? Am I just a collection of organic molecules? Why are naps fun to take? Do I know anything at all? Funny how easily our core beliefs can be challenged, even to the point that we are tempted to consult shamans, monks, priests, or in my case, an electrical contrator, even though I swore never to call one again. Oh please, great guru, tell me what to believe. I am so stupid that I can barely move.

But first I needed at least a theory. What am I, anyway, a superstitious old goof? So my best guess was that a rat had chewed through the wires. Or possibly... No, that's all I had--just the rat.

When the contractor showed today, he seemed perplexed as well, so I told him right away about the rat (in case he was about to say it first). If I'm right, he will think I'm pretty cool. But he looked pretty doubtful about the rat theory and, probably, about my general sanity. "No, that just about hardly ever happens," he said, which is a nice way of saying it.

More later...