Category Archives: Life, The Universe, And Everything

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.

About My New Job

Well, it’s a bit of a dog-who-caught-the-car tale. After 18 years in the salt mines, I was getting pretty burned out, so I started looking around for something different. Since there aren’t a lot of options available for … ahem… seasoned salt miners, I should probably consider myself lucky simply to have found a way out of the mine. Especially since the new job came with a nice raise.

But complaining is part of my nature. I was born this way.

So now I’m in the Salt Handlers Inspection Team. I travel around to salt mines throughout the central U.S. making sure all the salt miners, doing the tasks I once did, are doing so in compliance with policy and regulations. I’m still new at this, but I am beginning to get my feet under me.

Perhaps the first thing I learned is that a lot of the salt miners out there in the Amurkin heartland get a little too comfortable in their jobs after a while. And then they get a little loose in their work ethic. My job, as part of the team, is to vigilantly patrol the invisible line where loose meets lazy. We show up at a salt mine on relatively short notice, sporting laptops and cameras and notebooks and red pens, and we proceed to tell the miners every little thing they are doing wrong. And then we take all those things they are doing wrong and assemble them into a nice report, complete with charts and graphs and color photos. And then, we hold a meeting, and in the salt miners’ presence, read that report to their supervisor and a couple of levels of upper management.

Not coincidentally, the second thing I learned is that salt miners tend to get a little resentful when the team shows up and starts dishing out the humiliation. I still feel the occasional twinge of embarrassment for some of the salt miners, but it really is hard to empathize with lazy, fat fucks caught red-handed half-assing their job.

So now I travel a lot. The worst part of travel is… well… the travel. I particularly despise this part:

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Two hours in a plane seat leaves me aching, but only in my hips, back, neck and shoulders. Despite the grueling travel days, the new job is overall less physically demanding than the old one, so there are some good aspects. Did I mention the raise?

I’m never going to really like being away from the bunker as much as I am now, but I think my tolerance of it will improve with time. Though I would always prefer to spend my weekend in my wood shop, I’m enjoying playing new disc golf courses all the time. Here is a pretty good photo of a tight fairway taken one morning last month from a tee box in Fort Worth:

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My weekday evenings on the road should get significantly better when I have saved enough pennies to buy a good laptop so I can properly blog. I can publish a simple post via e-mail using my iPad, but doing it that way I can’t add photos, or blockquotes, or mark up the text with clever bolding and italics and color like I’ve been doing above. For now, I am having to settle for whiling away my work nights eating in restaurants and drinking in bars and watching teevee. It’s rough. But I got a raise.

Leap Day Ramble

Due to the fraction generated when calculating how many revolutions of the earth occur during one orbit around the sun, it is technically still February today. But it sure feels like Spring here in Misery. The temperatures have been up and down like a yo-yo, everywhere from the 30s to the 70s, playing havoc with my sinuses and fooling the trees into budding early. The birds are getting pretty active around here too, but I can’t help thinking Winter will pull another drive-by on us.

I’m currently giving my hands and shoulders a break from wet sanding the PotatoCaster neck. I should have it ready to buff out by the end of the day. Then I can attach it to the body and begin shaping a nut.

Tomorrow is what is known in the politicking game as “Super Tuesday.” Several states hold their primary elections on the same day, and all indications are that Ghostface Hillah and reality teevee guy will extend their leads. It looks like the Republican establishment has just about reached the final stage of their grief and begun accepting the Donald as their likely nominee. It should be fun, over the next few months, watching the pundits who — rightly — denounced him for the xenophobic, fascist, racist, misogynist, egotistical buffoon he is publicly talk themselves into supporting him.

But what other choice do they have? Ted Cruz is a god-bothering asshole that even his friends don’t like, and Marco Rubio is nothing more than a telegenic parrot. Granted, that is normally considered a good thing in Republican politicians, but anyone with a functioning brain can see, in a debate with Hillary, Marco is going to be exposed as a 2.5-watt appliance bulb in a Xenon world. We’re talking dim, son, dim. (/Foghorn Leghorn)

I don’t believe in karma, but sometimes you really do reap what you sow. The Republican establishment, with the aid of the right-wing noise machine, has spent the last 7 years proclaiming to their rabid base that Michelle’s husband was hell-bent on destroying Amurka, and now they seem genuinely befuddled as to why that base is pissed off at them for not doing anything about it. The right-wing base may be “poorly educated” but they are smart enough to realize the establishment doesn’t really believe the accusations they throw around to get elected. The scary thing is, the right-wing base does believe the bullshit. Every word of it.

So, keeping in mind that my political prediction skills are non-existent somewhat limited, here’s how I see this election going down. Hillz will carry about 45 states in giving reality teevee guy an epic beat-down, and on her coat-tails the Democrats will re-take control of the Senate. Then, upon taking office, she will nominate Michelle’s husband for the empty Supreme Court seat the Republicans refused to fill. All around the country, Republican heads will pop like teenager’s zits. It will be glorious to behold.

Youngs vs. Olds

Yesterday, during a round of disc golf in the rain, a friend and I had a discussion about the plight of young Americans. Actually, it started out more along the lines of two late-middle-aged guys bitching about how the kids these days don’t have any ambition, but I think we both had a little attack of empathy when the conversation drifted to how young people are turning out by the thousands to listen to, and vote for, Bernie Sanders.

I’m not sure about my friend, but I flashed back to the ’80s and how discouraging it was to be 20-something with a load of student loan debt and not much for prospects. At that age, I too would have supported someone who promised to stop letting the billionaires run the world. Hell, I like the idea now. It’s just that three decades of accumulated (earned) cynicism won’t let me even imagine the possibility that it could happen. I just hope they stay engaged in the political process when Bernie inevitably flames out.

I remember a few years ago, when my oldest daughter was busy dropping out of the U.S. Naval Academy, trying to talk her out of making the biggest mistake of her life by explaining to her the fiction of America as a class-less society, the myth that unlimited opportunity exists for all who want it and all it takes to move up in class is hard work. She was 17 and clueless. The only lesson learned was my own; the wisdom and life experience of one generation is largely meaningless to the next.

Our kids may be selfish and spoiled, but they are not blind. If they are paying attention at all, today’s youth cannot help but see that the baby-boomer generation climbed to unprecedented economic heights, and then pulled the ladders up after themselves. In the quest for corporate profits over all else, the boomer generation shipped millions and millions of manufacturing and entry-level jobs overseas, decimating the middle class and, more importantly, the path to that middle class.

What looks to us old folks as laziness and a conscious choice to live their lives at a lower socioeconomic level than their parents may not be a choice at all. Maybe it is just resignation and acceptance that they lost a rigged game. After all, what other options do they have? The America where someone could just grab a piece of land and carve out a living from it no longer exists. Even if it did, life would very much resemble that described by Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Also the cell phone coverage would be pretty iffy.

Global Climate Change? Hmph

It was 16 years ago today that we closed on the estate here in suburban Misery. It’s not an anniversary I normally take notice of. All those house payments have mostly just passed by in a blur. I happened to notice today because something happened which had never occurred before.

It has been raining buckets ever since Christmas night, so much rain that I-70 has been closed due to flooding. That hasn’t happened even during our typically rainy spring seasons, let alone in December. Another first, we’ve had so much rain that the groundskeeper, Butch, has had to re-drain our long-closed pool because the water level has risen up into the skimmers.

I can’t imagine how bad this weather event would be, how much snow and/or ice we would have if our temperatures were down where they normally are for this time of year. And it’s not over yet. I ventured out to the post office a bit ago and heard on the radio that we can expect as much as 3 more inches of rain today. My next wood shop project may need to be a boat. The End Times are upon us…

Into The Darkness

The winter solstice happens tonight at 10:48 PM (Misery time). At that precise moment in the Earth’s axial wobble, the northern hemisphere is tilted its farthest from the sun. It is the longest night of the year, so the good news is at least the days will begin to get longer as the wobble reverses direction. The bad news is this marks the beginning of winter.

It’s important to look on the “bright” side during this darkest part of the year. It’s officially winter, but at least the forecast for the first week or so in Misery looks pretty good. Highs in the 50s and lows mostly above freezing. Even though I have to work on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, it looks like I will be riding the scoot to and from.

The mild weather has me remembering my paternal grandmother. She was very superstitious, and always on the lookout for bad omens and signs to protect us kids from. She believed in things like carrying a buckeye for good luck, and never taking a photo with a dog, because either the person or the dog in the photo would die soon after. With her dark eyes and hair and skin, she had the look of the Cherokee that runs in our family, and a way of telling a story that made you believe in the magic. Or at least want to. When I was very young, I believed those things right along with her, simply because she told me they were true.

But by the time I reached my teens, with a head full of science and a smart mouth, I had no time for magic and mysticism. I made fun of her “old wives tales” and poked holes in her logic. She laughed right along with me (she had a great laugh), and pointed out that she had been married and divorced twice, and therefore she was an old wife. I was her first grandchild, and she spoiled me rotten, always exclaiming about how smart I was. She was uneducated, but intelligent. She understood the things I told her, but she never stopped believing in the magic. (And I have carried the same old buckeye in every truck I have owned for the last thirty-some years.)

One of Grandma’s old sayings was “Onion skins thin, mild winter coming in.” I don’t peel enough onions to be able to make a comparison, but I bet she would say the skins are looking thin this year. I wish she were around so I could tease her and ask if the rule applied in today’s global marketplace, where the onion she peeled likely came from somewhere like Peru or Chile, in the hemisphere where tomorrow is the first day of summer.

First Sortie

Yesterday morning, as part of a reconnaissance mission prior to this year’s War on Christmas (© Fox News Outrage Channel), I ventured off the estate, masquerading as a irritable, middle-aged white man. For my disguise I used clothes from my closet and, uh… my face. I wanted to get a genuine feel for the area, put my finger on the pulse of the town, so to speak. I went to the barber shop.

Long story short, as far as intelligence gathering goes, I pretty much came up empty. Some highlights:

One of the barbers is a big Donald Trump fan. He thinks the Donald is saying all the things people want to hear. I suppressed my gag reflex and nodded sagely. Customers and barbers alike concurred that we don’t need any more foreigners in Amurka, especially here in Misery.

One customer, a loquacious and jowly man, said he would like to see Ted Cruz come up in the polls, since he was really the only “true conservative” in the race. I hadn’t been expecting weapons-grade stupidity so early in the day. I had to slip into the bathroom and do some breathing exercises to keep from having an anxiety attack.

When I returned, the topic of conversation had turned to Hillary Clinton. Whiteface Hill. Hillz. The Hildebeast. There was unanimous agreement that she represents a grave danger to all that is decent and holy, and it doesn’t matter who the Republican nominee is, as long as they beat her. I held my breath and waited for my opportunity.

It came when jowly voiced his concern that “some people are more interested in electing the first female preznit than they are in the damage these liberals are doing to the country. They already elected the first black preznit, and look where that’s got us.”

I commiserated. “Exactly” I said. “But I don’t see how she’s not the next preznit. She’s going to collect every vote Obummer did, plus she’s going to grab a bunch of the female vote from whichever Republican wins the nomination. I don’t see how they can stop her.”

The barber shop actually went a little quiet, and several people kind of shifted in their seats and glanced around like they smelled a fart. I watched jowly’s eyes go a little dead as the logic of what I had said sank in. One of the barbers nodded his head and allowed as how that sounded about right, as much as he hated the thought of it.

After a minute or so, jowly came back with one of those made-up-on-the-spot statistics about how 62% of the country thinks Hillary is an outright liar, and maybe that will stop her, but everyone there could see his heart wasn’t in it. He didn’t say much after that, just paid for his crew cut and left.

I took his place in the chair. I don’t know if the barber was onto me or he just had the shakes from a hangover, but he nicked me twice shaving around my ears and neck.