Sunday, December 23, 2007

Caught off guard!

I wasn’t paying attention to the news – completely missed the announcement that the Fed was moving Christmas up 13 days this year.
That is the biggest single move since the nine day move of 1958, and the first substantial move in more than a decade. Most of them (like the 14 hour, 51 minute move of 1981) slip by almost unnoticed – and if you did take notice, well – it’s in the rearview mirror even before you have time to think about it.

Well - the joke’s on you, Mr. Federal Holiday Administration! Mr. Big Brother Government! My Christmas cards will -as usual- arrive late, if at all – and the Mall (Maw?) will still see no more or less of me than it usually does. I will not get all caught up in all your irrational Holiday Cheerxuberance®.
Chri$tmas will have to careen down the “Pine-Scented®”, “snow-covered" path without my meager assistance this year.

Sour grapes, you say? Sure – like I said, I got caught off guard.
Sucker-punched, if you will.
I’ll be back on the game next year, though. Just you wait.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Not Dropping Heavy Things.

I don’t feel as though I’ve got to justify my sailing hobby – or more accurately, my ‘learning-to-sail hobby’ – but if I did, this might suffice.
One of the additional benefits of learning how to control a boat is learning how to use rope. I’ve flailed at ropes for years, hoping that if I put enough loops and "knots" in them they would do a job of holding whatever needed to be held. So now, when circumstances might require you to park your horse, or you’ve got a captive, or some big pieces of scaffolding need to go from down here to way up there – it is a relief to know that no matter what else may go wrong, your knot will still hold. This knot is the bowline (pronounced “bo-lin”) and it is sometimes referred to as ‘the king of knots’.
Such was my desire to begin the mastery of rope that I taught myself to tie this knot one handed, with either hand and with my eyes closed.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

It better be loud . . .

Distortion? In music? Here’s my take on it:
It’s about an impulse that can’t be restrained – or contained.
An impulse that doesn’t give a shit about the inadequacy of your tiny speakers – it must be heard. The reproduction of distortion in a record is all about that. As loud as possible . . . isn’t loud enough – that’s what we’re saying. I’m listening to “Rosalita” right now – two speakers, one about eighteen inches away from each ear – left and right. Didn’t necessarily plan that – the laptop is on the workbench below the stereo. And the stereo is turned up.
And if you are telling the father of your girlfriend that this is his last chance
to get his daughter in a fine romance
because the record company
you know that you’re going to be needing that to be loud.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Why I blog.*

If you are lucky enough to own your home (check) and it is an ooold home (check) with old systems (check) and you are not rich (double check), you’ve probably had an occasion to be treated to a scene like the one above.

This is our water pump. Well, maybe it is our third or fourth water pump - not sure.
I was down in the cellar this morning to try to determine the cause of the loud noise that recently began accompanying the pumping of water.
My guess was that the vibration of the pump had caused it to shift on its platform and come into contact with related items that transmitted the vibrations to other related items until there was a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on.
Please excuse the techno-jargon.

As I looked at the shiny new fittings that connected the pump to the copper waterlines of the house, I realized that I’d been here at least twice in the last twelve months.
I’d come down to the cellar for something last winter (Christmas decorations?) and heard that familiar sssssss-ing sound before I saw the water running on the floor. I turned on the light in the back section of the cellar and saw the jet of water coming from the side of the PVC coupling that threads into the body of the pump. (see Fig. 12-J) – just kidding.
The ‘pump repair’ guys (summoned in a previous emergency, no doubt) had managed to force a 1 1/4” fitting into a 1” outlet. Only a pro would attempt to do this. Or a maniac. Granted, it was probably a Sunday evening or a Global Holiday – thereby making the proper fitting totally unavailable. It worked – for a while.
Skip past this next part if you are a poor old house owner – you already know it.
I drained the pressure tank and cut the fittings apart. There’s an hour. I took the coupling out to the hardware store to be sure I was getting the right part. There’s an hour. I cut new PVC pipe to replace what I’d cut out and I dry-fitted the new parts together a couple of times to make sure they’d line up with everything that hadn’t been cut out. There’s an hour. Is it too late for me to make a long story short? Basically, you’re looking at half a day for a non-professional plumber to replace the fittings that connect a pump to the rest of your water system. Oh – I’m a non-professional plumber with about 29 years of experience here at the classroom.

About six months before this I had gone through pretty much the same process because something about our water doesn’t get along with copper. Yeah - go figure. Our water eats little holes in the copper pipes, and then water gets out in places where you really don’t want it to.
To correct this problem, repeat the process outlined above, but this time you'll substitute copper pipe, flux, solder and a torch for the relative pleasures of PVC pipe and vision-inducing solvent glue.

Next week on "This Poor Old House": Let's re-wire!

* So that I've got someplace to share stuff like this - that's why. Thank you for letting me tell you that.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Future of Money

There was a piece on NPR this morning about the state of world currencies. It seems that the dollar is showing a few stress fractures. Its demise is not imminent, but the person interviewed speculated on a couple of scenarios that could tip things the wrong way for the greenback. I'm not the one to comment on that - but that doesn't mean that I can't make some things up.

If we need people to have more confidence in the dollar, how about a real redesign? Forget the threads and watermarks and the embedded chips. I think we should put pictures of cats and dogs on the bills. Our Lab Leo has a wonderful, noble face.(Go ahead and click on that photo - you won't be sorry) I could see it on the Five - and our frenetic new adoptee Georgia would make a good one dollar bill. I could go for that. We'd even forgo the royalties on the images.
(Ellen said Leo should be on the Hundred - I say no, I wouldn't get to see him often enough.)

While not exactly the same as inspiring confidence, you might also consider selling the rights to the bigger bills to large corporations. Microsoft on the thou'? Merck on the fifty? BP on the hundred. Start a bidding war - I'll be glad to collect royalties on that idea.

Last but not least - maybe personalized bills are a possibility. Let's make money fun again. Pictures of your grandchildren on your pocketful of shopping money? You can already print your own postage, this might be right around the corner. The decline of our empire might be inevitable - why not have a little fun? Just a thought.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Ron Paul? Ron Paul!

I donated money to the Democrats back in '00 and '04. Maybe I'm a person who loves the underdog - maybe that would explain why this guy appeals to me now.

Right now, all the Democratic hopefuls make me want to run away. They are like so many bad over-flavored cups of coffee.

Early in the year Ron Paul made a couple of appearances on TV - I'm not sure where. He seemed to make sense.

I want to feel inspired by someone (don't we all?) who is willing to take their principles to the big show - who is willing to go through all the thrashing and fighting to get to a place where they might be able to work at fixing this thing.

Obviously, there are a handful of people who are willing to go through the thrashing - but are we inspired by them? Or are we embarrassed by them?

This is the only candidate who I feel like sending money to, and the only one whose sign I wouldn't be embarrassed to have in front of my house.

Oh - and he isn't a lawyer.

Friday, October 12, 2007

. . . and what do we make of this?

(Hmmm . . . could there be a dark side to MQMurphy? Another bit from the early 90's)


Thank you, my sweet family,
for this birthday present you've
given me. Fifty feet of crisp new
rope, and a big yard to play in - I'll
race you to the fence.
This coil of manilla; I'll show you a
turban - or a crown. Shake it loose, let it
settle down
on my shoulders - a yoke -
this reminds me of a joke
that I'm just making up
about the boy who hoisted
the family Toyota into a tree
by throwing a rope over a limb
and tying it to the bumper.
"Stand back! - and witness
the strongest man in ten counties!",
he cried.
The slipknot slipped, tightened, he died -
but not before the car was a
good ten feet off the ground.

Yet again, an old thing

Here’s something from an old notebook. Actually, something on a scrap of paper that was in a notebook – and the last dated entry in this notebook is from April of 1994. Also, I'm not saying that I won't take this and try to make it into something else. It sets up a theme - there's a punch to be delivered at the end, perhaps. I haven't got the punch yet.

If I were to title it today, maybe it would be “Not Being There” or maybe "Getting Nowhere" – but it doesn’t have a title.

I struggle to keep my
anonymity a secret.
I deposit checks
after crossing out my name.

I disguise my handwriting,
Or make it completely illegible,
If necessary.

I eat my words;
I eat yours too.

I’ve modified my calculator
To display only zeros.

I stand in a corner like God’s
Forgotten Hobby.

I’ve considered moving
To a town that’s gone under.
Much the less in those empty storefronts
To tempt my consumer’s soul.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Family - two legged variety

My far-flung family reassembled at Cape May Point this past week. We hosted the Eighth Scavenger Hunt and hung out together - as much as possible, given work schedules. Spent an hour or so at the beach on Wednesday picking cheery babies out of the air and pretty stones out of the sand.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

You just might break . . .

. . . into a smile. I do whenever I see the video of Feist's song "1234". I read about her in a New York Times article back in April and saw the original video then - I decided that it was the most organic music video that I'd ever seen. Very sweet and innocent - I mean hey, when's the last time you saw a music video for a song with banjo and trumpet? No guns, no pyrotechnics, no moody sunsets - just a really great combination of song, choreography and filming. Congratulations and thanks to all involved. Here's a link to a short film of the making of that video.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Future

I've checked in a couple of times on the blog of George Hotz, the teenager who famously hacked the IPhone. Clicking on his profile led me to another of his blogs. I'm no expert, but it apparently documents his efforts to turn a toaster oven into a pizza-cooking plasma TV. Maybe with an optional Death Ray. Neat to hear his extra geeky descriptions of test equipment and the like - he's a teenager, after all. There's hope.
BTW, his IPhone Hack blog is here. Cool inside view of the story we all saw on the news.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The pack

The pack exhales and the pack inhales.
When I'm feeding the dogs I still sometimes look around for Stella.

Our new girl Georgia had a pretty dreadful time of it last month - the folks that left her when they moved away thoughtfully chained her to a fence. She was taken in by the Atlantic County Animal Cruelty Officer and transferred to the Pleasantville shelter. There were maggots in her ears, her nose was being eaten by flies and the chain had gotten totally wrapped up in her fur. She went to a foster home in Dorothy where a couple of good people - Marie and Bob - have fifteen dogs and four cats on a couple of acres. A few sad stories for some of those dogs, too.
Georgia was pretty timid when we got her home - she ran to a far corner of the yard and hid. We coaxed/dragged her to the house where she hid in a closet. She spent a good part of the next day under the back deck.

It has been a week now since she arrived. She is still really thin but clearly becoming less fearful. We're watching the pack rearrange itself. She'll be fine.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Charlie Brown of Sailing.

Beautiful breeze blowing today. Even more crisp now than it was a few hours ago when I sailed across that mooring line.

It was one of those bright pink mooring balls with three dingys tethered to it in front of me to starboard. I had just come onto a port tack and was making my way through the mooring field in the west end of Cape May harbor. I thought I would be able to get by upwind of the mooring ball, but it was going to be close. At the last minute I pushed the tiller a little and headed between the ball and the dingys.
As I scooted through there I was thinking ‘this is probably a mistake’.

I might have been better off if I’d just run down the mooring ball – at least there would have been a fifty-fifty chance that I’d have brushed by on the upwind side of it, instead of catching the mooring line and gaining myself a little train of three dingys.

The mooring held, I guess, and when I saw those three dingys following me I let the sheets go. I paused for a minute to assess the situation, then took off my shirt and shorts and went overboard to see how the line was caught.
What I had snagged is the line called the ‘pendant’. The mooring ball marks and suspends the chain that goes down to the anchor or weight that is more or less permanently set in the bottom. The pendant comes off the chain and is supported in turn by a small float so that it can be retrieved with a boat hook.
It was tight against the skeg in front of the rudder. I tried getting my feet on top of the line and pushing down but I couldn’t budge it. I thought it was jammed in a groove or something. I tried diving under to take a look at it but I couldn’t see well enough. I felt along the pendant to the bronze clip that secured the dingys. I figured that if I could unclip it I could pass the line back under my boat and then refasten it and be done. I climbed back in the boat and fastened a line to the lead dingy and tied it to a stern cleat.

I must have figured out that the mooring was what was holding me in place and that if I got loose from it, my boat and the three dingys would drift off away from the float. With this in mind I threw out my small anchor, but I failed to make sure that it was set.
As Lyle Lovett says, “ . . . I had made my second mistake.”

I went back overboard and managed to pull some slack in the line and get the dingys unclipped. With the mooring line no longer taut under the skeg my boat began to drift, pulling its un-set anchor.
I climbed back aboard and watched as the distance between me and the mooring grew to ten, twenty, thirty feet.
I had traded up in problems. Here’s where I should mention the unreliable motor.
It runs, and I’m confident that it’ll get me out of a jam, but it won’t idle or run at slow speeds. You’ve got to start it, jam it in gear and push the throttle up. No close maneuvering, no backing up.
I shackled my bigger anchor to the main anchor line and tossed it off the bow. At least I’d still be in the right neighborhood when I finally figured out how I was going to get those dingys back where they belonged.

I decided that I should get in the lead dingy and row back to the mooring, pulling the other two behind me. I would clip the little train of dingys to the pendant and swim back to my boat. Simple. I climbed down into the first dingy and put the oars in the oarlocks.
Ahh, the circus is in town. Maybe I’ve rowed a dingy sometime in my life. I don’t really remember if I have. I rode a motorcycle once – that I remember. So maybe I never have rowed a dingy before. You’d have gathered that from watching my performance.
I could barely make it the two feet that separated the dingy and the boat, let alone row upwind fifty feet back to the mooring. I was picturing myself and my little dingy village being blown across the harbor. After what seemed like endless flailing I secured the dingy to the stern cleat again and climbed back aboard.
Time for Plan C ®.

I started the motor and with the dingys in tow I made a big circle, aiming for a spot between two moored sloops upwind of the mooring ball. I planned to drop my anchor there and ease my boat back down on the mooring by paying out line. I used up the eighty-odd feet of braided anchor line and had to add a hundred feet of nylon three strand. This worked out pretty well, but when I was down to the mooring it was about twenty feet off the starboard side - out of reach. I started the motor again and powered over a little past the mooring ball and got the boat hook ready to snag it as I swung back on the wind. No success, but this looks promising. Motored back past the mooring for another try. Got a hold of the pendant this time and secured it to the pulpit on my boat.
When I took a good look at the lines on the dingys I was pleasantly surprised to find that I hadn’t lost the bronze snap hook from the lead dingy. The second dingy was clipped to it and it had just been pulled back underneath. I clipped it back into the pendant and slipped my temporary line off the bow of dingy number one. See ya later, fellas.

I pulled my boat back up the anchor line hand over hand, stowed the anchor and got on back to the slip to clean the mess up. Maybe - if I'm lucky - no one was watching.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Look at this dog.

Look at this dog. If you're wondering 'what kind of dog is that?', welcome to the club. Don't let me lead you here, but maybe you're thinking 'that is one complex pooch'. Or maybe you think she looks simple-minded. Let me tell you: there may have never been a more self-aware canine on earth.
Having had the pleasure and honor of knowing Stella for at least 14 years I would like to share with you my thoughts about what is going on in that picture. She is made up for a dog show. A local 'here-is-my-great-dog' show. No fabulous prizes. She is totally in on the joke. A tutu, a tiara, a feathered boa leash in hot pink. She totally gets it.
This is a dog who - I swear - understood irony. But the look on her face says "This is the real me!" (Please click on the photo for a better look.)

Stella had to leave us today. She was 16 or 18 or 15 years old. Ellen saved her from a shelter in 1993 - she surely would have been put down in a matter of weeks. Ellen felt like they saved each other.
Rage on, Stella.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Saint Michael?

Anyway, here I am – having failed to live up to the great task that I found before me. I’m not a saint.
The ones who can do that job – they’re the ones that it's worth crossing the street to shake their hands.
Why, they’re the ones for whom we melt colored glass and then cut it into shapes and make it
into a picture held together with little lead strips – then we put these glass pictures up in the big buildings that we’ve built
so we can get together
and try to
remember what it was we were supposed to be doing.

I saw sainthood and thought . . . how’s the health plan?
I saw sainthood and thought . . . is there a uniform?
I saw sainthood and thought . . . I bet I won’t be allowed to touch my dick.
I saw sainthood and thought . . . I wonder what’s playing down at TLA?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Something I believe, and a nice picture of a boat.

So. How is it again that we are God?

Because we get to decide how to make sense of our universe – our experience.
It all sweeps in – we gather it and swing it back out – ju-jitsu of some sort, redirecting or deflecting the waves.
For sure, we’re already selecting and rejecting input on a level that is far, far below ordinary consciousness.

And here's that nice picture I promised -

This is a lightly Photoshopped picture of our boat Ikey Boy, sitting in the slip at Harbor Lane Marina.

Monday, June 04, 2007

two old journal entries

Trying to throw away some stuff that was cluttering the kitchen.
I looked at a '92 wall calendar sent by the oil company - inside the front cover, under the flap where you dutifully tuck each page as the month passes, is a little grid with a dozen lines for entering the date and the amounts of your fuel deliveries.

Staring at it, I felt as though I might as well have been looking at a postcard from the Alps, or Polynesia; a picture of a life blessed with simplicity. A dream of a life so simple that you could hang this calendar in your laundry room, or near the back door, and whenever the oil truck came - maybe you'd have a pencil hanging on a string from the nail the calendar is hung on - you could write down the date, the amount, and the price.

I can do it from memory: the date is passed, the amount is never enough, and the price is always too high.


My mood got fixed
maybe it was by the two little girls
chalking hopscotch diagrams on
that sidewalk. Maybe it was the
sunlight and the white splashes
as the ocean hit the rocks.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut, 84 years on Earth

Sad I am, and happy too, for Mr. Kurt Vonnegut. He was our patron saint of Irony. It might well have been called Vonnegut. I have poured a glass of whiskey.
Writers – do they give shape to things we need words for, or make shapes for us to pour ourselves into? Is that the same thing? And yet again I am brought to wonder about what awaits us when our eyes close for the last time.
Godspeed, Kurt Vonnegut.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

If youd'a woke up, youd'a seen me sleepin' . . .

3/4/07 1:34 PM
So, I’m here on the couch. I share it with two dogs. We're on vacation. We are so self-centered, Ellen and I, that we think this is what the Booboo Heads love most – to have us with them. Maybe they do. Like kids running to the top of a dirt pile and yelling “Look, look, Daddy!” – they are validated by being observed, we like to think. They can lie around the house all day by themselves, but when we can be with them, watching them lie around the house, then lying around the house is a noble pursuit, not just a way to pass the time ‘till we get home. So - do we really know what dogs want? We like to think this is one thing.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Ego wins . . .

Ahhh . . . the more I think about it, that “Along the Road” entry in my blog is like B-minus high school writing. I should just stick to observing and skip the trying-to-make-a-political-point stuff. There I went, with my imitation Kurt Vonnegut irony and my faux-naïf cutesiness. Ego tempts me now to post my criticism on the blog, too.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Dog Hair

2/8/07 11:17:27 AM
Windy and cold today. Haven’t been out except to walk to the mailbox.
Been sitting here at the counter emailing back and forth with Ellen upstairs and Tim in Cherry Hill. Tim started this string of emails with a link to a NY Times article about earthen floors, and he suggested using dog hair instead of horse hair or straw as a filler/binder in the floors. One thing led to another and to a string of Haiku (as these things often do) –

Fortune awaits us -
Our Stella alone will floor
McMansions galore

Enterprise anew
Shining fur gleaming and black
With thanks to our pack

Mud-matted dog hair
Dirt to dirt and dusty feet
Fits. Starts. Full circle.

The 'fits-starts-full circle' reference was to Tim’s tongue-in-cheek name for the construction company he and friends made up while working on a camp cabin. He’d mentioned it in his first post about the earthen floors. All in all, a frigid morning well spent, I’d say.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Devoted reader

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, was speaking to the Association of Republican Governors. I’m not sure of the context of the remark, but I do remember him saying that the average number of readers of a blog is one – the person who writes it.
Nevertheless, we think of the blog as the window to whatever it is within us that we consider worth sharing with the world. Nnnnnnnnnnnnnn. Rrrrrrrrrrrr. Spppt.
My (MY!) spell checker has underlined those three things.
Some of the things that we put in our journals are not intended to be shared. For one thing, some of the entries are crude or childish or otherwise not publish-worthy.
There is still one entry that I’ve wanted to put on the blog. An edited version will surely suffer from a lack of context, but it still is a capsule – for me – of one lots-of-coffee morning sitting here at the kitchen counter. I am telling me – my devoted reader – who I am. It was July 25, 2004. I had been writing about an idea for a story, thinking that I’d send it to Josh for an opinion. Not sure if I did or not. Here is how it ended up:

This is a great day. Very relaxing. I find that I can’t do a damn thing about time slipping along under my feet here, or under my butt – here on the stool. I’ve spent a little time (a lot?) looking at and working on the “Lunchbox” here. What do I think? I think I’m an artist by temperament and training, and go fuck yourself. I make my living as a builder, but today I made Peach pancakes for my wife and myself. I made a lot of coffee and drank it. I made two cups of it for my wife, too. So, there! I made that damn barn out there. Go fuck yourself.
Quit Word.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Along the road.

Sunday, January 21, 2007
Yesterday as I was driving along Route 55 in south Jersey, I heard some numbers mentioned in a radio broadcast.
As I listened, I did some math.
If the 21,500 soldiers that George Bush is planning to send to Iraq were lined up alongside a highway they would make a line 12.21 miles long. At typical highway speed it would take a little over ten minutes to drive past them all. About as much time as it takes to hear Bob Dylan’s “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” or “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” by Traffic, just to give two examples from the Itunes library here on my laptop. Or Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major or the Violin Concerto No. 5, also in A Major.
They’d be there, the soldiers, as you sped by. You might think, "Wow, that's a lot of guys". Even if they weren’t dressed in uniforms you’d have a pretty good clue as to what they were.

If the 3,250 soldiers who have died in that conflict were lined up alongside a highway they’d make a line a little over 4.3 miles long. Some of you might point out an apparent mistake in the math that I’ve done. I’ll explain: I have given the soldiers yet-to-go 3 feet of space to stand in. The soldiers who have been killed are given 7 feet of space. I think we would all agree that the dead soldiers should not be made to stand.

I may not be a reliable narrator. I was able, through incredibly good luck, to avoid serving in the Armed Forces during the Vietnam War, the war of my youth. I was in college – an incredibly lucky thing in itself, regardless of the political situation – and I also had a high number in the lottery that was being used as a means of selecting young men to fight the war. Most of the guys I knew back then were worried about being called up. We'd talk about it around the kitchen table at my mother's house. Vietnam didn’t look like a good place to be. I was very lucky. I guess George W. Bush was lucky, too.
At times I feel what I have to guess is survivor’s guilt. I get very emotional when I see the pictures of the young and not-so-young men and women who have been killed in Iraq.
Having not served, I sit here in the comfort of my warm kitchen and type this meditation on what 21,500 and 3,250 mean.
12.21 miles, 4.3 miles. Along the road.