Thursday, March 30, 2006

I Love Having A Place To Rant

I've just been thinking-- isn't "loved ones" sort of a stupid phrase? What are the people who are not "loved ones"-- are they unloved? Isn't that sort of sad? Shouldn't we befriend the unloved ones, and help them?

And what is this "ones" business, anyway? What kind of "ones"? Aren't we just talking about people? Or can "loved ones" include animals, such as 9? Can it include inanimate objects? Boats? 517 is very fond of his collection of darelict Saabs. One is missing an engine, but he told me tonight that he loves that car. Is it a "loved one"?

Also (I'm on a roll, don't stop me) who the hell decide that "one" could be pluralized? That's crap.

I Should Get Extra Credit For This

This afternoon I finally got around to downloading the free credit report that we're all now allowed once a year from each of the three credit megaliths (which you request here.) The last time I had anything to do with my credit report was when I bought my house; at that time, it must've been okay, because the woman on the phone at the mortgage company cooed "Oh, Mr. Turboglacier! You have EXCELLENT credit! Oh, my!" I thought she was going to ask me out right over the phone.

Luckily, I didn't find any major financial issues on my report. But I did find two disturbing items. First, the slimeballs at Discover Card (with which I do no business) have accessed my credit report twelve times in the fourteen months. That's not cool.

Second, I apparently used to have a different first name and a different social security number. News to me.

Third, and most worrisome, I apparently used to work at the Naval Underwater Warfare Center. Now, I try to stay away from politics here on SorF, but those who know me can attest that the likelihood of my ever working at a "warfare center" is very, very low. I wonder what this is about. I strongly suspect that it happened about the same time, and probably through the same mechanism, as my involuntary, unrequested, and wholly unwanted membership in the Republican National Committee. Yes, I have an ID card. For a while I carried it in my wallet as a party gag, but then I thought, "What if I die in a car accident, and they find this in my wallet, and my obituary says I was a card-carrying member of the RNC?" So I took it out.

Anyway, back to the topic. I filled out several on-line forms protesting my false name, false SS number, and past underwater aggression. Then I learned that the Smallish State recently passed a law allowing consumers to freeze their credit reports, so no one can access them without permission. (Actually, I thought that's how it was supposed to work all the time, but apparently I am naive.) So, I wrote three letters to Equifax, Transunion, and Experian asking them to cut off Discover Financial and their bottom-feeding brethren from viewing my reports. Unfortunately, it cost $30 to do this. You can go
here to see if your crappy state lets you do the same.

Lastly, I went
here, where (for free!) you can tell the credit agencies to stop selling your name to all those companies that fill your mailbox with "pre-approved credit" offers. Hope it works.

Now I'm going over to The Annex for dinner, and to keep 517 company while 1 and 2 watch "Survivor: Minor Outlying Islands, The Smallish State"

Call For Questions

As I kick various future career options to the curb, SofE suggests I write a book. The title of the book would be "Am I Crazy, Or...?", subtitle "Everything You Always Wanted To Ask A Shrink".

It doesn't sound like a bad idea. But are there things that people want to ask a shrink? Can you help, dear reader(s)? If you can think of any such questions, post them here.

Of course, I can't guarantee I'll know the answers. And, more importantly, it may be that there are no answers. That is part of the reason I'm reconsidering this whole line of work. And going into, say, book writing instead. Wait... this is getting sort of circular...

But I await your queries. Just no questions about the inkblots, please. No one has any clue about the inkblots.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Freedom Of The Hills

Much of northern New England looks like this right now:

But, you don't have to spend your days down in the muck. You can head for the hills, climb high, and frolic in snow and ice. So I did today, for one last (?) reprise of winter hiking. I had a long list of things to do today, but the sun was shining, the sky was blue, and I couldn't resist the draw of the alpine zone. I'd already put my boots and crampons and ice axe down in the basement, so had to haul them all out again.

It was worth it. No longer compelled to get to the top of any particular mountain, I climbed up to the rocky col between Washington and Monroe, where there are two tiny tarns called Lakes of the Clouds. There's also a mountain club hut there (closed for winter) of the same name, but often called "Lakes of the Crowds" in the summer.

No crowds today, though. The snow had piled so deep next to the hut that I could walk up a snow-ramp onto the hut roof, where I sunbathed for a while.

I took a photo of a guy eating a sandwich.

I admired the ice nearby-- evidently the "lakes" had overflowed recently, forming great blue terraces of ice over the lip of the ravine. They reminded me of the travertine terraces at Yellowstone.

Then I set off on an aimless ramble around the above-treeline world, an exquisite treat feasible only in the winter, and only on the rarest of days. This sign is not an understatement (College Roommate will attest):

Half of the descent was a rapid butt glissade, a poor man's luge that is about the most fun you can have with your pants on. It gives you a weapons=grade wedgie, though.

Any mountaineer will tell you that the first rule of glissading is "take off your crampons first". I think the first rule should be: "No matter how exciting it gets, don't stick your tongue out between your teeth." Easy to lose a tongue that way.

Sort Of Cool

I note that SorF is, currently, the #3 Google hit for the phrase "I dread gym". That's sort of cool.

I'm going to add "gym dread specialist" to my notebook brainstorm page of "possible career directions". In the meantime-- hang in there, kids.

A Brief Taunt

Dear Florida,

Say, guess who has more hours of daylight than you for the next six months?

Much love,

The Smallish State

Monday, March 27, 2006

Seriously Unnecessary Vehicles

If you want to live in southern Florida, you're definitely going to need an SUV. This is evidenced by the fact that nearly every family in FAOB's neighborhood owns one (at least one).

Consider these facts:

-Most of FL is flat as a pancake. The very highest point is 345 feet up.
-Snow, ice, and unplowed driveways are unheard of.
-Every square foot is covered by one of six textures: Structures, landscaping, swamp, sinkhole, swimming pools, and pavement. The first five are never to be driven upon; the last is uniformly silky-smooth and pothole-free.

So I'm sure you can see that an SUV is a veritable necessity in these parts. How FAOB manages to survive here with his 1993 Honda Accord, I can't imagine.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Short People Got No Reason To Live

During this recent period of non-employment, I intended to give considerable thought to my future. But I’ve wound up thinking at least as much about my past.

According to actuarial tables, if I walk into a room full of men these days I'll be taller than 75% of them. If it’s mixed company, I’ll be taller than at least 85% of the room. But it wasn’t always like that. Shortness, in fact, was the overriding and overwhelming fact of my childhood. From ages 6 to 13 I attended Shady Grove School, where I was the shortest kid—boy or girl—in a class of about 60. In third grade, I got into a fist-fight with the second shortest boy, and he won. In fourth grade, a girl told me I was too short to be her boyfriend. In fifth grade, a 6’4” teacher punished me by dropping me into a tall trash can, and the top came up over my eyes. In sixth grade, when we had “sex ed”, we were asked to write anonymous questions about sex on slips of paper for the teacher to answer. I wrote, “When am I going to grow?” The teacher didn’t know. By eighth grade, some of the girls towered over me. The tallest girl, Jill, was very popular. I always thought of her as a giraffe—gentle, kind, beautiful, and oblivious to what was going on at ground level.

One corollary of being short—with the added benefit of wearing glasses—was that I sucked at most sports. Shady Grove mandated three sports for boys: soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter, lacrosse in the spring. No options. For me, sports equaled hell. I couldn’t run fast enough, throw or kick far enough, or catch well enough to be anything but a liability to my teams. And neither my classmates nor our gym instructors made much effort to hide their wish that I would just make myself scarce. So I did my best, which oftimes meant just staying away from the ball so a more-gifted teammate could have it. I can still remember the screaming abuse when I would try, and fail, to actually make a play.

I came to dread gym. My anxiety manifested as somatic symptoms—horrible after-school stomach cramps that left me bent over in agony. Constipation. Heart palpitations. Shortness of breath. I saw pediatricians about some of these things. I remember having to swallow mineral oil. I don’t think the real cause occurred to anyone.

There were some sports I liked and wasn’t half bad at—skiing, biking, tennis, sailing, paddling. But these weren’t on the Shady Grove roster, and by the time I left there, the damage was done: I had developed a profound aversion to any competitive sport. Competition had become synonymous with embarrassment and ridicule. I chose a high school that greatly de-emphasized sports, and fulfilled PE requirements there by a combination of recreational biking, recreational sailing, and a computer error in my favor. I picked a college without any regard to athletic opportunities, moved to Pennsylvania, and didn’t ski, sail, or paddle for four years. I again managed to scrape together some PE credit by biking with College Roommate and playing (with trepidation) one semester of intramural volleyball. I was a photographer for the college newspaper and tried to get pictures of sports events that captured their evil nature. I’ve never been on any sort of team since. I became a long-distance cyclist, a long-distance sailor, a backwoods skier, a solo hiker. I tell everyone I’m not a racer. I don’t compete.

What’s made me ruminate about all this lately was hanging out this week with Stay of Execution and her college sailing team. For two days I watched them pile in and out of their two-man dinghies like happy ducks, whizzing like dolphins around the bay, play-racing each other and practicing to for real races to come. I saw their joys (and frustrations) in working as a team, competing for the fun of it, and perfecting physical skills. I saw the delightful results of having a coach who encourages, pushes, teaches, reassures, critiques, and ultimately just cares about you. I envisioned the benefits these kids would reap, for the rest of their lives, from their involvement with this activity. And I rued that I had missed out on all this. I wished I could go back in time and do some things differently—pick a college with a sailing or ski team, for example, and try to wheedle my way on to it. Even if I was at the bottom of the lineup. Just so I could learn and overcome.

I don’t blame my grade school, or anyone else. I made the choices—in this aspect of life, I decided to take the path of avoidance over the path of risking further fear and shame. I’m just now getting over it, a little, and wondering if it’s too late. I looked into a sail-racing school.

A couple years ago, I went to a 20th reunion cookout for my Shady Grove class. Jill hosted it at her home, which had been her parents’ home, just down the street from the school. When I arrived, she answered the door, I found myself eye-to-eye with her, and experienced a sudden rush of confused, childhood emotions. “I’m so glad you’re not taller than me”, was all I could manage to say. By her half-sad smile I suddenly realized what had never occurred to me before: that being the tallest kid in the class may not have been such a picnic, either.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Young man, take a walk up the street-- It's a place there called the YMCA

Well, it’s beautiful weather down here—75 or so and sunny.

Here’s a spy satellite view of FAOB’s neighborhood.
Best I can tell, the whole development was a swamp not more than five or six years ago. It appears the industrious developers dredged part of the swamp and piled the dredgings onto the other part—producing a topography of about 50% land and 50% water. Not a single square inch of the land remains in anything resembling a natural state. Every micron has been landscaped—fairly beautifully, I must admit. There are two gates for accessing this world, which is entirely surrounded by either fence or water (“moat”, FAOB calls it).

Yesterday I walked around for over an hour, covering several miles. Here are some things I didn’t see:

Anywhere to buy a cup of coffee, a newspaper, a haircut, a hammer, or anything else.
Any churches, museums, schools, fire departments, or police stations.
Any posters or ads stuck to trees or lampposts,
Any cars with dents, rust, dirt, or bumper stickers. Not a single bumper sticker (except the barcode sticker that opens the gate.)
Anyone else on foot or on a bike.
A single scrap of litter.
Any houses painted white or any shade of blue, green, red, purple, pink, or gray.
Any other Caucasians.

Yes, you heard me—I was the only person-not-of-color around. Evidently, this subdivision was heavily marketed to well-to-do Central and South Americans (median household income of the municipality: $81,000). Sister-in-law tells me that she and Nephew have been snubbed at the playground because they do not speak Spanish. Nephew is attending bilingual daycare, though, so that will change soon.

Later in the day SIL, Nephew and I went to the elaborate recreation area owned by the subdivision, which includes three swimming pools, a large waterslide, and a minigolf course. If as children FAOB and I had had unlimited, free access to a large waterslide and minigolf, we would’ve thought we’d gone to kiddie heaven. For Nephew, this will just be routine.

Today, FAOB, Nephew and I went to the even more elaborate YMCA, which is just across the moat on the other side of the gate. It has a 42,000 square foot gym, eight basketball courts, eight roller-hockey rinks, eight tennis courts, eight baseball diamonds, and eight full soccer fields (see spy satellite photo). I’ve never seen anything like this. Not much like the crappy old Y in Major Metropolitan Area where little T.G. learned to swim 35 years ago.

I asked Sister-In-Law why no one is out paddling a kayak or canoe on the waterways. In the Smallish State, anyone with the great fortune to have a lawn ending on a navigable body of water would have boats in the yard, and, on a day like this, boats on the water. Perhaps it’s against the Association Rules here? “No”, she said, “paddling is allowed— but you have to remember, it’s winter for Floridians, so they’re not going to be out on the water.”

Strange, strange, strange.

SAT Fact

Elmo : toddlers
Opium : adults

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Other Side Of Florida

I flew over from Tampa to Fort Lauderdale this morning via Favorite And Only Brother’s new employer. I commend this airline for sticking to their “board by zone” policy—for the first time ever, I saw a gate attendant bust someone for attempting to board before his zone was called (busted two consecutive people, in fact.) The bustees were shocked, and muttered angrily to themselves. This reminds me that last night SofE and I saw a woman storm, ranting, out of a Walgreens after the manager there refused to give her a refund for a stick of under-arm deodorant she wished to return, sans receipt. That’s just an aside.

Anyway, arriving at FLL, I saw a sign for
Hooters Air, which I incorrectly assumed to be a joke. I bet you didn’t know about Hooters Air either, did you? That’s what SorF is here for—keeping all you people up-to-date on the latest important advances in transportation, commerce, and soft porn.

I got a ride-share van to FAOB’s new home. We had to stop at a security gate, where a guard checked to make sure I was “on the list”. He gave the driver a card with various rules and regulations on it. We drove into what looks sort of like a residential Disney World. “Usually security prints out the directions to the subdivision for you, you know?”, said the driver. I didn’t know. After a mile or so we came to the turn-off indicated in my brother’s instructions. The driver hesitated. “Usually there’s a sign on the corner for the development, you know?” I didn’t know. He allowed that it might have blown down in the hurricane.

This is one of the most peculiar “neighborhoods” I’ve ever seen, and FAOB’s crib is so different from the TurboPalace that it’s hard to believe we’re the same species, let alone related by direct bloodline. I’ll have to tell you more about it tomorrow. Right now, it’s getting a little noisy. I came out to write in the small backyard, which is not much larger than the TurboPalace’s but considerably more lush. Then all of a sudden there was a terrific racket and a man came crashing in with a huge power lawn-mower, followed by another man with a fertilizer-dispenser, followed by another man with a weed-whacker. Back at the Palace, we have just one psychiatrist to perform all these roles.

How To Open A Bottle Of Beer Without A Bottle Opener, Part II

Many excellent responses to yesterday's post on this topic-- thank you all. In fact, the method suggested by Will was the one I used last night. It works astoundingly well. Detailed description:

1) Find a solid (preferably metal) surface with a well defined edge. Last night I used the air conditioner.
2) Holding the bottle just a few degrees off of vertical, hook the edge of the cap over the edge of the surface.
3) With the palm of your other hand, deliver a sharp downwards blow to the top of the bottle.

That's it.

But I'm not satisfied yet. What I really want-- the Holy Grail of bottle cap removal-- is a method to remove caps using only my bare hands. Way I figure it, if you can do this you'll never have to pay for another beer again. In any bar, all you need to do is demonstrate the technique (on someone else's beer), then offer to continue demonstrating it so long as people keep buying you beer.

I am offering a reward of four cases of beer of your choice, shipped (if allowed by law) to your destination, for anyone who can advise me of such a technique. Feel free to post it here, or email me privately if you don't want the whole world to know.


1) Must use only the bare hands.
2) With practice, must be at least 80% reliable
3) May require special training (for strength or technique) but must not require inborn capabilities beyond those of the average 37 year old man. Not that I'm admitting to being "average".

P.S. Although I would consider this a second-rate entry, if no one come up with a "legitimate" technique I would consider awarding the prize to a phony, "sleight-of-hand technique". Such an entry, however, must be extremely stealthy, as I do not wish to risk a bar fight from being discovered as a "cheater".

Thursday, March 23, 2006

P.S. - I feel old

(overheard today from a college sailor old enough to have facial hair: "Man-- the 80's must've sucked.")

How To Open A Beer Bottle Without A Bottle Opener

Remember in the good old days, when you could fly on planes with your swiss army knife, so you'd always have a bottle opener with you on your travels? Well, in my role as Double Assistant Coach, I was just required to open a bottle of Carona for SofE without the benefit of such an implement.

I succeeded handily in opening the bottle using NO TOOLS AT ALL (nor teeth). The method I learned is astonishingly simple and effective. I wonder-- are there other such methods? I have a prize waiting for any reader who can suggest a reliable approach. Rules: no use of Google. No fire may be involved. Do not drink more than six beers in a two-hour period while researching your answer.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

All About Florida

After a string of crappy rental cars, including several “Cavaliers” (the name of which aptly describes the engineering behind them), I was delighted yesterday to wind up with a nice little Toyota Carolla. Not just any Carolla, either—one with mahogany-trimmed dash and doors. Who knew they made such a thing? Looks kind of silly, to tell you the truth.

Last night SofE and I went driving across to Tampa for dinner, looking for some area called “Y-Borg”, which she believed to be “Little Havana”. I had forgotten that SofE does not believe in navigating by maps, generally, and prefers to sort of sniff her way to a destination. So most of the drive consisted of cruising around distinctly non-Little-Havana looking neighborhoods, looking at business signs, and shouting out things like “ ‘F-U-R-N-I-T-U-R-E’! That’s a Spanish word! ‘POOLS, SPAS, AND SAUNAS’—that’s definitely Spanish!” etc.

Miraculously, though, we did finally stumble across a Cuban restaurant, in between a Wallgreens and a Circle K. The waiter/proprietor actually appeared likely to be Cuban. The black bean soup was delicious, but, unfortunately, they were fresh out of fresh coconut juice.

This morning I woke up on the wrong side of the street. Went to shave, discovered I had forgotten a razor, and resolved to go across the “street” to the big chain supermarket to buy one. Then I discovered that SofE had taken the pimped-out Carolla to the gym. Suddenly, I understood Florida. The supermarket is visible from the motel room door—but clearly, driving was the only safe way to get there. Walking involved crossing six lanes of traffic, with four additional turning lanes, and crossing several (probably coral-snake-infested) areas of swampy scrub. But, I also wanted soy milk, so I did it.

I won’t tell you the name of the big chain supermarket, but it’s an amusing amalgamation of the words “pubic”, “lice”, and "nix". Why anyone would name their big chain supermarket thus, I can’t imagine.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Snow Report

Sometimes, flying out of the Smallish State on a clear day, I think to myself "This view is worth twice what I paid for my ticket". And I marvel that I am witnessing a view which, a hundred years ago, could not be bought at any price. Today was such a day. I could see Mount Washington, all of Cape Cod, the Isles of Shoals, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, Buzzards Bay, Boston Harbor, and Walden Pond-- all at once. Not to mention the huge, glorious and shining sea, stretching off to the Azores (not visible).

Here in Florida with SofE and sailors. I have been given the high rank of Assistant Assistant Coach (or, as I prefer to call it, Double Assistant Coach) of the Smallish College Sailing Team. So far, that means that I open beer for SofE and the Assistant Coach.

Also, snow report for southern Florida: not much (see chart for details).

Monday, March 20, 2006

Shrink or FLAde... or Glade... or Dade...

Well, I’ve done it. I bought a plane ticket to a place so foreign, so strange, so entirely antithetical to my nature, that I can’t even come up with a decent pseudonym for it. I will just have to tell you where it is. I am having trouble spitting the word out. I am going to, I am going to—Florida.

Yes, there you have it. The land of flatness, of tepid waters, of sinkholes, Space Mountain, loopy roller coasters, Miami Vice, South Beach, multi-million-dollar beachfront high-rise condos, ‘gator wrastling, and—now—Favorite And Only Brother, Favorite And Only Sister-In-Law, and Favorite And Only Nephew. It is peculiar that the two brothers in my family have migrated thus along the east coast—one to within 100 miles of the northern edge of the country, the other to within 100 miles of the southern edge. Honest, we really do like each other.

But it worries me that FAON may grow to grade-school age without ever seeing snow. I was in Open All Night Outdoors Store the other day, saw a fantastic futuristic sled, and had the sudden urge to purchase it for FAON—only to remember that, even if you could sled on sand, you’d be hard pressed to find a big enough hill in Florida. But I’m going to see what life is like, and also to see what I can do to improve FAON’s table manners (see photo below) (Nota bene: the presence of this one image does NOT mean that Shrink or Fade is becoming a "baby blog".)

Also as part of the expedition I will be visiting a few days with blogger extraordinaire Stay of Execution, who is in Florida training her sailors. Sounds like she is having an intense time; I’ll have to try not to be in the way. I’m hoping to learn what makes sailboat racers tick—that is, why they prefer to go round and round in circles at high speed, instead of lighting out straight across an ocean at low speed (Turboglacier’s preferred sailing style.)

Stay tuned for more from the land of rust-free convertibles.

FAON, A.K.A. the
Flying Spaghetti Monster incarnate

Sunday, March 19, 2006

One Thing To Do Before I Die

Finish compiling my list of "Ten Things To Do Before I Die".

More Canadians

I sat down to write a post entitled "Ten Things To Do Before I Die", but got distracted. I googled a guitarist I admire to see if she is playing anywhere, and found her name in the newsletter of a coffeehouse in Major Metropolitan Area (but only as a donor, unfortunately.) Scanning the schedule, though, I noticed Garnet Rogers [Canadian], playing there this week! I became a fan of Garnet after I became a fan of his deceased brother Stan [also Canadian], who I learned about from Lead Dog when we used to live at the Dumpy Ranch House and sit around listening to folk music instead of vacuuming or doing the dishes. Alas, I won't be able to go to the concert.

Anyway I clicked on Garnet's website and was delighted to find there a long, rambling list of what he listens to in the car on his endless transcontinental drives. And what, among others, does Garnet enjoy? "Gordon Lightfoot-- the first 3 or 4 albums. Try driving across the Prairies on a frosty October morning listening to those early records and drinking tea from Tim Horton's; the complete Canadian experience."

I feel absolved. If Garnet Rogers has three or four Gordon Lightfoot albums in his car, then I am proud to have them in my iPod. Also, I feel that pretty soon I may be asked to leave The Imperialist Country, due to my inexplicable preference for Canadian musicians, as well as my endless complaining about the lack of snow here. If this comes to pass, I do hope my friends up north will take me in. I know how to say "maple syrup" in French, if that helps.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

The End Is Here

It's a few days yet to the vernal equinox, and the official temperature sign downtown still reads 19 degrees. But I'm calling it now: the winter that never really began is definitely over. This morning I saw the year's first cruising sailboat out on the harbor. At least five varieties of vegetation are sprouting in the gardens of the TurboPalace. There were pallets of air conditioners stacked up at Home Depot. And I saw a girl walking down the street tonight wearing a tank-top and sandals (very drunk, no doubt, but still.) So, one more day of "skiing" with 517 tomorrow, and then I'm letting it go. Goodbye, winter that never was. Bring on the summer.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Talkin' Voluntary Underemployment Blues

At one time, if you’d told me that it can be tough to be not working, I wouldn’t have believed you. But I tell you, it’s been sort of tough. Going to a job every day, even if it was one I didn’t entirely like and didn’t entirely believe in, gave me at least the semblance of being productively occupied. And, more importantly, kept my mind from wandering. You keep busy enough, you don’t have time to think about what you might rather be doing, or poor decisions that may have led you to doing what you are doing, or the long and poorly-marked road that might lead to doing something different. You don’t wake up at 8:30 am feeling like a chump, noticing that everyone else in the house has gone off to serve society while you don’t even have a reason to get dressed before dark.

I’m going back to Green Acres soon, until I can formulate at least a temporary plan. I’m wary, though—some bad shit has gone down there while I’ve been away. I’m starting to feel like I’m pushing my luck; four and a half years there without losing any teeth or getting my trachea crushed—as happened to a great young staff person there a couple weeks ago.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Conspiracy Theory

I lied. I actually put that hole in the ceiling on purpose. I was getting fearful, and I needed to know what was up there in that little space under the roof.

You may not want to know about this, but there is strong circumstantial evidence that a popular fiberglass insulation product and a popular artificial sweetener product are, in fact, the same chemical substance. Considering the further obvious links to cold-war era French police debacles, I trust you will come to the same disturbing conclusions I have. If these products are in your home, you are probably being watched.

Luckily, yesterday's ceiling investigation showed that my house has absolutely no sign of insulation, of any color. Disturbingly, however, I find that one of my housemates has purchased an enormous box of popular artificial sweetener product-- to the tune of 3.5 lbs. 1,500 servings. 1,500 seperate packets of infiltrative disturbance. Think I'm getting far-fetched? Think again: Webster's third definition of "packet" is: "a short fixed-length section of data that is transmitted as a unit in an electronic communications network."

And as if all that wasn't enough, just this morning I started to see certain panther-like features in 9. True, he is not the right color-- but that means nothing in this day of elaborate cosmetic surgeries. I will be watching him closely for evidence of suspicious behavior. You should do the same at your house.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Fixing a hole where the rain gets in...

One thing you may not know about me is that I am not a professional drywall contractor. Nonetheless, I spent most of the day repairing the hole in my bathroom ceiling, with added bonus sub-activity of finding a better way to secure the shower to the ceiling. I imagine a professional could have done all this in an hour, but if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s professionals. Plus, a surgeon friend recently succeeded in patching a hole in HIS bathroom, and I didn’t want anyone saying that surgeons are smarter than shrinks. So I had to do the job myself. (Note to surgeon: my hole was in the ceiling, so I get extra points.)

I learned a lot. For example, did you know that drywall comes in both ½” and 5/8” thicknesses, which are separated by only 1/8"? (it’s true—do the math.) I wasn’t sure which flavor my ceiling was made out of, so bought a small piece of each. Back home, my drywall turned out to be somewhere between ½” and 5/8”. If that’s possible. So I had to shim up the new piece with wafers of wood.

Then I had all kinds of problems with screwing. I have never had problems with screwing before. But this job required screwing on the ceiling, at impossible angles, and using a screwdriver much shorter that my usual everyday screwdriver. Also I seemed to have a bag of bad screws. One of them snapped in half in a very inconvenient way, causing great delay.

Here are photos of the middle and end of the day’s work. I wish I had taken a “before” shot—but just imagine the appearance if, during a moderate rainstorm, a cannonball had fallen through the ceiling. That’s about how it looked.

Monday, March 13, 2006

How To Be Completely Satisfied With What You Have, In Two Easy Steps

1) Make a list of absolutely everything you want.
2) Get everything on the list.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

New Reads

While I was away, a new magazine has appeared in the bathroom here at the Turbopalace. Next to the usual copies of "Good Old Boat" and the MountainGear catalog, there are now two copies of "Lucky: The Magazine of Shopping". I am not making this up: there is a magazine of shopping. I wonder which roommate is purchasing this...

Also, I should note that the subtitle is a bit misleading. The magazine is not about ALL shopping. For example, there is nothing in it about buying ice axes, or sailboat parts, or anything useful like that. It seems mostly to be about shoes.

Winter Peakbagging, Part The Last

Well. So that’s it for winter White Mountain 4000-footers, then. Owl’s Head climbed yesterday, an 11-hour jaunt using just about every piece of outdoor gear I have. The last major physical challenge, ascending a steep, ice-covered slide, was suitably spectacular. But the summit finale was a bit of a let-down, because the “top” of this mountain is pretty vague. In fact there has been a debate raging, among those who ragedly debate such things, as to where the actual summit of Owl’s Head is. The top of this unworthy little mountain is almost flat, with occasional spots that rise up ten or twelve feet higher than others. It’s deep in thick woods, so there’s no visual assessment possible, and now it’s also deep in snow. There has been a long-accepted summit spot, but a respected hiker recently reported a spot a few hundred yards further north that was a smidgen higher, and this has, in theory, become the “new” summit. But you’d never know, standing on either “summit”, that you were on one, the other, or neither. A signpost would be handy for this purpose, and people keep nailing them there—and they keep disappearing. Some signs are probably removed as trophies by people finishing their 4000-footers, but others, reportedly, are actively removed by the Forest Service—this because there is no official trail up the mountain, which is in a wilderness area (I saw, in fact, where previous trail blazes on trees had been scrupulously scraped off.)

Before the hike, in the parking lot, I met a fellow who said he’d just put a new sign up there a few weeks ago. I wanted to find it, to feel the certainty of final accomplishment. So, I located the “old” summit, which I’d visited in summer, and then spent an unpleasant hour thrashing northwards through the forest trying to find the “new” summit. I went to where the snowshoe tracks of multiple previous hikers ended—a high spot, but no sign. I followed individual footprints—no sign. I followed prints that may not even have been human—no sign. I found a view that was alleged to be just near the new summit. I criss-crossed the area, explored every highish spot I could find, went north, east, and west until the land sloped clearly downhill in each direction. No sign.

Hours later, in the dark, back at a trail junction, I ran into the same fellow again. He had taken a hike up a different mountain. He was eager to know if I’d found the sign. I told him the bad news. We discussed where I’d been. “Sounds like you were in the right place,” he said. “The sign’s probably gone. There’s one ranger who likes to take them away.” He reported there was also a pile of rocks there—but with the recent deep snow, that wouldn’t have been easily noticed, either.

I just did a little inventory. Since 1996, I’ve made 105 climbs to the summits of 4000-footers. Nine other times I’ve headed for a summit but turned back for one reason or another. This is all pretty black-and-white. Yesterday’s climb, intended to seal the books on my obsession, turns out to be the only one which has no clear-cut moment of completion. I was there—I know I was—or at least within a snowball’s throw of “there”. But the mountain gods, for reasons of their own, have decided to keep the endpoint ambiguous. The value of the task is not in the completion, they imply. The value is in the doing. He who seeks the end, it seems, will find only beginnings.

And what now? I have an invitation to sail in Grenada. I have an invitation to spend a week in Florida. I have an invitation to ski in Colorado. I have an invitation to mountains in Canada. I have an invitation to go back to work. I could go find a boat to put on my mooring. I’m open to suggestions.

TG's feet


Just some photos from the last few mountain treks:

Vat do you see in zees inky vater blot?

Fast-moving clouds en route to South Twin.

Looks creepy, but actually it's just a trail sign

Strange snow condition created a python lounging on a branch!

Carrigain, from North Twin

South Twin, from North Twin

South Twin summit

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

What I've Read

Night. For the first time in twenty years, without moving from where I picked it up just to read the first page.

Winter Peakbagging, Part XLVI and XLVII

The Twins, in a long and snowy trek.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Writing Bits V

"Before I met Jim McCudgeon, I’d always equated mud season with purgatory. I’d never quite been satisfied with the comparison, though. Calling mud season purgatory makes late winter hell, which seems uncalled for. It also makes mid-spring heaven, which may be true for spring peepers in the bog but leaves little room for improvement when July and August roll around.

Jim, on the other hand, had nearly succeeded in making a profession out of his conviction that mud season is nature’s version of childbirth pain. I’ve never seen a man (or, for that matter, a woman) who could face mud season with such pained, gritty resolve, nor one who would collapse with such exhausted euphoria when it finally ended.

Jim ran a farm, of sorts. He lived on the same road as me, a humped and bumped dirt track, but he was a half-mile further along and that half-mile made a hell of a difference. Jim got no visitors during mud season. Once, when a photographer from Life came through town saying he was working on a book called Mud Season Driveways of Northern New England, someone pointed him towards Jim’s place. The photoshoot lasted two days—the film only lasted one, but his car didn’t get winched out till the second."

Thoughts On A Story Not Yet Written

Who are the characters in this story? Why are they important, if at all? Who do they love, and how do they know? Who do they hate, and for long long will they do so? What do they know, and how much of it are they hiding? At what have they succeeded, and at what failed? And at what have they not even dared an attempt? What themes are to be explored in this story? Will they be explicit, or implied? On which themes will the story take sides, and on which remain noncomittal? What places will feature in this story, and who shall describe them?

Writing Bits IV

"One valuable skill Justin learned as a child was the ability to sense just how far an adult can be pushed before he will act on his threats."

Friday, March 03, 2006

What I'm Reading (pretend like you care)

- I finished Babbitt, thoroughly depressed and discouraged. Although this novel repeatedly had me laughing out loud, it offered little hope. The author spent the first half of the book satirizing the American middle-class lifestyle, the next quarter documenting his protagonist's fumbling attempts to escape from said lifestyle, and the closing chapters revealing the utter futility of attempting to do so.

- On my return from Tropical Paradise 2, I mentioned to (person) 2 my ennui resulting from Babbitt. She ran upstairs and returned with a second-hand copy of How To Want What You Have: Discovering the Magic and Grandeur of Ordinary Existence (by Timothy Miller, PhD). As it turns out, 1, 2, & 517 bought me this book months ago as a Christmas present, but we never got around to exchanging gifts. So, that's a little creepy-- that my friends anticipated this situation before it happened. Anyway, this book's premise is that being happy with what you have takes real effort, because human nature is to want more of everything (possessions, money, power, reputation). And by "human nature", the author means serious, genetically-coded primal drives. Like, I need nicer shoes because that will ultimately help propagate my genetic material. And he makes a pretty convincing argument, which is all the more depressing. I haven't quite yet gotten to the part where he tells the reader how to overcome these reptilian urges. But it's getting a little schlocky already, so I may not finish.

- Continuing a very slow and deliberate reading of Thoreau's Journal, I have so far read 552 of rougly 3700 pages (see upcoming post, "10 Things To Do Before I Die.) The going is slow because almost every page is a gold mine. I keep a sort of distillation notebook, where I write down passages that I may want to find again. Aside from the raw vigor and wisdom of his writing, it's also fascinating to come across bits that are rough drafts to passages in his later books.

Quotation of the day: "A government which deliberately enacts injustice- and persists in it!- will become the laughing-stock of the world." (1851)

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Writing Bits III

"I'm a sometimes writer. A writer of sentences. A novel will never spring from me, and even a short story seems too long on a subject. So I leave sentences about. They're good ones, though, and Alice sometimes puts them up on the fridge, under alphabet magnets. She's hopeful to string them into something meaningful, but so far they resemble a chain of fortune-cookie papers."

Winter Peakbagging, Part XLV

Yesterday, an 11-hour trek up the aptly-named Mt. Isolation. Other than a few (very few) trail markers, I saw no evidence of humanity all day. Despite the general dearth of snowstorms this winter, a great deal of snow is lurking in the mountains above 3,000 feet. I snowshoed through deep drifts, and cut around one as high as my chin. The route included a stretch of bushwhacking, which by chance took me through a spot as beautiful as any I’ve seen in these mountains: an enormous, sloping, open glade of birches, gorgeous against the snowy floor and deep azure sky. It had the feel of a vast orchard, as if someone in the ancient past had decided to farm birches in the most inaccessible possible spot. This place is on no trail, and in no guide-book, and has no landmarks to reach it. But I think I could find it again, and I’ll take you there if you want to go (bring skis—it looks perfect.)

Later another trail climbed a long ravine to a ridge, where the forest grew gnarled and the trail indistinct. I wandered and poked, frequently backtracking, sometimes circling, trying to find the way, aiming for a trail junction where I needed to make a turn. Beyond the junction, several blow-downs obliterated the trail again, forcing hands-and-knees tunneling to continue on. Each one led to a thought of turning back, dismissed with effort. A final scramble up a steep, deep pitch brought out the ledgy summit, fierce wind, and a spectacular view.

The last time I stood on Isolation I was with College Roommate, in August ’98, the day after we nearly came to grief on Mt. Washington. I reflected on the changes in life since then, and realized with pleasure that I was dressed head-to-snowshoes in our college colors (red and black). Need to give College Roommate a phone call.

Arrived back at the car at twilight, with blisters on both big toes. I’m out of commission for a few days until they heal.