Category Archives: Life, The Universe, And Everything

Autumn In Misery

Despite the rain, we managed to get out on the scoot this weekend and check out some of the fall foliage. It was pretty good timing, I think. The colors seem to have peaked just for my riding pleasure. Check out these two photos of the Red Sunset Maple trees here on the estate.

I took the first one on Friday and the second on Sunday. You can see how fast the color is fading. And this morning, a lot of those leaves are on the ground. I’m guessing they will be mostly bare by the end of the week. And then… winter. Sigh.

Re-Re-Re-Renewal

Whew. It’s been a while. I had to oil the hinges on the blast doors just to gain entrance to the bunker, and then clear away a lot of cobwebs on my way down to the command center. There was a layer of dust over everything, but after a quick wipe-down of the console and a little pounding on the chair cushions, I sat down and fired up the main control panel. The logs show I last accessed the system on July 31st, six weeks ago.

I’ve been busy. A lot of work and very little play. My job keeps me away from home a lot, and when I am home my basement rehab project has been taking up most of my spare time. Just not a lot of opportunity for blogging lately. It’s just as well, I guess. Most of my ideas for posts have been of the “our reality teevee preznit said something stupid” variety anyway. You can read about the stupid shit he says in any newspaper on a daily basis. (Just without my added snark.)

Even though I haven’t been posting, this place is still one of my prized possessions. So much so that I recently renewed my hosting contract for another four years. (It’s cheaper — only about a hundred bucks a year — if you go long term.) I’m pretty sure my accountant gritted her teeth, rolled her eyes, and gave a sigh when I did it, but I simply couldn’t help myself. I’ve long been addicted to the dream that one day I will commit to writing more frequently. It’s only been 11 years, it might still happen. The long term goal has always been to eventually write something of substance. Whether that is a dream or a fantasy, I just can’t let it go. This is where I practice for maybe someday.

 

More Minnesota

I set a new personal one-day distance record on my return trip from Minnesota. I rode my fancy, German motor scooter 640 miles in 10 hours, 20 minutes. And I was hurting afterwards. I don’t know how those Iron Butt Riders can regularly do 1,000 mile days. For the last hundred miles or so, I was periodically standing up like I was riding a dirt bike, just to ease the pain in my not-even-close-to-iron glutes.

It’s nice to be home, but I sure did enjoy the low temperatures and low humidity of the north. The locals there say the summers can almost make you forget the six months of snow on the ground in winter. Almost.

During the second week of my stay, I made a couple of day trips to an area north of Duluth known as the Iron Range, where I got to see what open-pit iron mining looks like. In short, it looks horrible. It is incredibly jarring to the senses to travel through vast areas of scenic natural beauty, seeing nothing but forest for mile upon mile, and then suddenly be confronted with a barren moonscape like this. 

It is difficult to describe the sheer size of this mining operation. The pictures just can’t do it justice. (It has been suggested that amateur bloggers/philosophers should learn how to use the panoramic feature on their phone camera if they want to go posting photos on the intertoobz, but I can’t be arsed.) Here is another shot, similar to the first, but you can see a tiny, yellow dump truck down in the pit, on the far left side.

To get an idea of the scale, the tires on that yellow dump truck are taller than the average man. In case I am not making myself clear, this is one whopping big hole in the ground. I left there wondering if it can be seen from space. It is big, and it is ugly. But it is pretty much the only source of good-paying jobs for the residents of several small towns in the area.

I also got to look at another pit like this, only the mine had been shut down back in the 1960s. Check it out.

I find it comforting that in fifty-some years — basically my own lifetime — Mother Nature can turn a man-made atrocity into something beautiful again.

The Great Green North

My duties with the Salt Handler’s Inspection Team have called me north to the salt mines of Duluth, Minnesota and vicinity. At this time of year, at this latitude, there are about 16 hours of daylight in the day. Perfect for exploring the surrounding countryside on a fancy, German motorcycle. If one were so inclined.

The problem lies in getting here. It’s a good, long ride from Misery to Minnesota, with a lengthy, flat stretch in the middle, known as Iowa. The following is a list of all the interesting things I saw on my ride across Iowa.

The license plates here say Minnesota has 10,000 lakes. I suspected that was an exaggeration, but a quick check of the intertoobz proved me wrong. Minnesota has 11,842 lakes of 10 acres or more. I bet I’ve seen a couple hundred of them on my rides, including one rather large one to the east that I rode along the shore of for almost a hundred miles. Here are a couple of photos I took when I stopped to pee. To the right:

And to the left:

It’s so pretty here during the summer that you can almost forget there is snow on the ground six months out of the year. Almost. When that snow melts, everything turns green and starts growing like crazy. Pretty soon the disc golf courses look like this:

Searching for a disc in thick, knee-high weeds and boulders on a damned cliffside, while fighting off hordes of mosquitos is not much fun. But the motorcycling sure is good.

Dispatch From Packerland

My work in the Salt Handlers Inspection Team has brought me 500 miles north to Green Bay, Wisconsin. And seemingly a few weeks back in time. Back home in Misery, Spring has sprung. Butch, the groundskeeper on the estate, has already been mustering working parties left and right. When I escaped had to leave, the pool was open and the garden was tilled and fenced and ready for planting. And my back was barking.

Here, it is still early Spring. Some of the trees are still almost bare, and many more have the pale yellow-green color of new leaves. I wanted to ride the scoot up here, but got spooked by weather forecasts calling for temps in the 50s and rain. And it looks like the forecasts were correct. This has been the view from my hotel room for most of my stay here.

Cold. Gray. Drizzle. I wouldn’t have wanted to get out and explore the beautiful country around here anyway. It’s mostly been too wet and/or muddy to play disc golf also. Luckily there is a refuge from the weather and the boredom within walking distance of my hotel.

Ned Kelly’s Pub is warm and dry and has 100 craft beers on tap. And free peanuts. It’s not as much fun as motorcycling along the bay would have been, but it sure beats running a shovel back home.

Life In Pitchers

The guy who originally finished the basement here on the estate was high on energy and execution, but low on money and experience. As a result, mistakes were made. He hopes to do better this time, despite being quite a bit older and slower and prone to back problems.

But before construction can begin, de-construction has to happen. Not the easy and fast destruction of demolition, but tedious and time-consuming disassembly, in order to keep the space livable while the project is under way and salvage raw materials to be re-used. (Because that shit costs money, man.)

So that’s what I’ve been doing in my spare time over the last few months. The worst part was removing the tile floor. Hours and hours of chiseling the tile up with a rotary hammer, loading the pieces into buckets and hauling them away, just to get to this point:

Which is a long, long way from finished. All the thinset you see in that photo that didn’t come up with the tile was stuck solidly to the concrete floor and had to be scraped/ground off. This is an extremely dusty process. If you ever decide to do a job like this, I highly recommend that you empty the space completely before you begin. Otherwise your furniture and all your stuff will look like this when you are done.

What looks like a white sheet covering my pool table started out as a clear piece of plastic. The dust was so fine, and so thoroughly filled the air, that even the furniture that was covered became filthy. Every square inch of every surface, and every single item in my basement had to be vacuumed and then wiped down with a cloth dampened with a solution of water and hydrogen peroxide. We are still wiping dust.

But the dust bowl days have given me an opportunity to rediscover some long-stored possessions. For instance, I found my bowling ball.

I haven’t had the old Black Diamond out since 1992. I didn’t open the bag, but I’m pretty sure there are some mid-’80s era bowling shoes in there, too. Today’s discovery is even older. The hockey skates I begged for, and eventually got, on Christmas in 1975.

Those were pretty good skates in their day, made in Canada by Daoust, with Phil Esposito’s signature on the back. But that was back when hockey skates were just stiff leather boots with blades riveted to the soles. It was also back when it got cold enough around here in winter for the canal by my neighborhood to freeze thick enough to play hockey on. Those days are long gone.

Back then ice skates didn’t have any insulation, so everybody bought their skates a couple of sizes too big in order to wear extra socks. My feet stopped growing before I ever outgrew these skates, which is why I’ve been toting them around for over 40 years. It gave me a little twinge of melancholy when I tossed them in the trash. My feet still fit the skates, but the rest of me knows too damned well not to put them on.

Al Buh Kwerk Wee

My work with the Salt Handlers Inspection Team has brought me to the high desert of New Mexico. The city of Albuquerque, where the air is thin, the chile peppers are mild and green, and the natives put them on everything.

This is big sky country. You can see for miles in any direction, but honestly there is not much to see except the Sandia Mountains to the east. Here is a photo I took this morning of the peaks shrouded in clouds.

It doesn’t look like much. The photo just can’t show the scale. That peak is six or eight miles away and a mile higher than the city. A total of 10,378 feet above sea level. A couple of days ago I rode the cable tram jogged up that same peak and had a look around. Here is another shot about halfway up.

Once again, there is no scale to my crappy phone photo. Those individual chunks of rock are as big as buildings, and that peak is still way up there. Here is a shot from the peak looking out over Albuquerque.

You can get a little sense of the altitude from this one. And you can see little pockets of snow on the mountainside. It was 70 degrees at the base when I started up, and mid-40s at the peak. But the really cool thing is when you turn around from this view and look down the other side of the mountain and see this.

One side is almost completely bare and the other side has 30 inches of snow just a few steps over the peak! Watching those skiers and snowboarders really made me want to give it a try, but I think my old body already has enough nagging injuries and aches and pains.

 

Erin go Bragh

Like most Americans I am worried about what might be awaiting us when the reality teevee administration takes over our government. Even the Republicans know it is going to be a train wreck, they just don’t care, as long as they get a tax cut and a chance to destroy the social safety net.

But some time around the new year I realized the absolute worst-case scenario might play out a few months from now if when the reality teevee preznit gets chased out of office for corruption. (Or quits in a fit of pique because someone said something mean about him on Twitter.) That would make Mike Pence preznit. Mike Pence the evangelical asshole. We could end up living in a country where atheism is illegal. (I know it sounds far-fetched, but nobody thought we would elect a narcissistic, reality teevee con man preznit a few months ago either.)

Anyway, I thought it might be prudent to start scouting around for a country to seek refugee status in if worse comes to worst. The first candidate I thought of is a certain Emerald Isle in the north Atlantic that I have always heard good things about. Last week I set out to see if it might be a good fit.

So as not to draw attention to myself, I parachuted into the ocean a few miles west of the island and swam ashore. This turned out to be a more difficult task than I first imagined, as I found my way blocked by the Cliffs of Moher. Here are a couple of photos I later took from the landward side.

As you can see, the cliffs are pretty much impassable without climbing gear, and since I had left mine in my other wet suit, I was forced to swim a few miles northward where I was finally able to make landfall. But the “land” I first set foot upon had a truly bizarre and eerie look. Check it.

I still don’t know what to think of that, but as I made my way inland the landscape transitioned to verdant peat bogs, with fat sheep and cattle tromping about in the mud. I continued eastward to the other side of the island, and took lodging in a city called Dublin. The hotel was very dated, but pretty well maintained, and not offensive to look upon.

I spent a few days sightseeing and getting a feel for the place, enjoying the moderate climate, eating massive chunks of fried cod and drinking a refreshing local beverage known as “Guinness.” All in all, I found it to be a very pleasant country. The natives are friendly, and they speak a language that sounds a great deal like English, if you listen very carefully. The biggest problem I ran into was the local currency — something called “your ohs” — doesn’t fit properly in an American wallet.

Warren

I haven’t posted since the election, but not because I am still in shock that we elected a reality teevee star preznit. I am still in shock, but that is not why I haven’t been posting. Nor is the fact that I have been busy fortifying the Abandon Mythology Command Bunker in preparation for the coming shit storm remodeling my basement. Or that I am battling my annual winter-long cough due to cold.

No, the reason I haven’t been posting is I have been feeling down. Way down. More than just low-light, winter solstice SAD. A couple of days before the election, one of my oldest friends committed suicide, and it really set my mind reeling. I haven’t slept well since. Many nights I wake for my 2 AM piss break and cannot return to sleep because my brain comes alive with memories.

I knew Warren since high school, so almost 40 years. For 15 of those years he was married to my sister. Back in the day, when we were brothers-in-law, Warren and I spent a lot of time together, both working and playing. But honestly, when you are young and strong, hard work with a good friend is almost more fun than play.

We would roof a house over a weekend for side money, or pull the motor of a car on a Friday night, knowing that motor had to be rebuilt and back in the car, running, by Monday morning, so someone could get to work and not get fired. We spent untold hours in his garage arguing the merits of Ford versus Chevy, irrespective of whose old shitter we were currently wrenching on.

Those times didn’t seem all that important or significant when they were happening. Just a couple of guys in their 20s figuring life out, sharing the struggle. But it is mostly those memories that come back to me now as I lie sleepless watching the night drain away on my bedside clock. It is only in hindsight that I recognize how foundational those memories are to the man I later became, to the man I am now.

Warren and I drifted apart after he and my sister split. We still saw each other a few times a year, but we weren’t close like we had been. I was busy raising a family and he was busy doing what many middle-aged men do when their marriage blows up, so our lives didn’t overlap that much. I saw him often enough to know he drank too much, gained too much weight, and wasn’t happy in his second marriage, which ultimately failed.

The other memory that comes to me in the night is my last conversation with Warren, about a week before he died. I don’t know if it is my survivor’s remorse or I genuinely missed an opportunity to keep my old friend around a while longer. I knew he was struggling with depression, and I know what a roller coaster ride that is. But I knew about Warren’s problems secondhand. He had not shared this information with me. As a result, I bumped up against the line between casual and serious conversation, hoping he would open up to me, but I did not cross that line. I can’t help wondering if a little more effort on my part right in that moment would have made a difference.

Proud atheist that I am, I believe everyone’s life belongs to them, and to them alone, so I respect the individual right to end one’s life. I reserve that right for myself, as we all do, since it is truly a right that cannot be taken from us. In Warren’s case, I would just like to have had the opportunity to present an argument.

Killing Time In The Upper Midwest

My travels with the Salt Handler’s Inspection Team have brought me to Grand Rapids, Michigan, home of Gerald R. Ford, the only person ever to be Vice-President and President of the United States without being elected to either office. That fact, and his pardoning of his predecessor, Richard Nixon, is about all I remember of preznit Ford. I was busy wrestling with puberty at the time. Forty years later, I mostly wrestle the black dog.

But that’s not what I came to talk about. When I’m on the road, I’m always looking for activities to pass the time not spent in the salt mines. Most anywhere I go, I can find a course to play a round of disc golf, but most of the courses around here have a problem. See if you can spot it.

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No, it’s not the goose shit everywhere. Well, that is a problem, just not the problem. The first two courses I played here were situated along the river, with numerous canals and lagoons like the one in the photo. It makes for a beautiful park, but a difficult disc golf course. After donating $30 worth of discs to the Michigan wetlands, I started seeking out another source of entertainment. I found this.

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It’s not something I ever would have done at home, but now I can cross going to a comic-con off my bucket list. It was… interesting. I saw witches and wizards and Wookies and Wolverines, Batman and Robin and Spiderman and Spiderwoman(?) and Wonder Woman, several Star Trek landing parties, Jedi Knights and Stormtroopers and Gamorrean Guards, and many, many creatures and characters I didn’t recognize. I would guess the top two costumes were Deadpool and Harley Quinn. (I was dressed as a late middle-aged white guy wielding a $4 kosher dog.)

I also spotted something that took me right back to when Gerald Ford was preznit and I was a latchkey kid watching our old black and white teevee after school.

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Dude. That’s the Mach 5. No sign of Spritle and Chim-Chim though.