Category Archives: Life, The Universe, And Everything

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.

Approaching Discontent

Well, it seems I am constantly being reminded that it is autumn here in Misery. The humidity packed up and left town — probably won’t be back until spring — leaving behind skies that are brilliant blue during the day, and so crystal clear at night you can see all the stars. The leaves have been turning for a week or more, and some have already fallen. Butch, the groundskeeper here on the estate, has closed the pool and largely abandoned the garden. All indications are that winter will arrive on schedule. Sigh.

Even my fancy motorcycle is getting in on the act. I don’t want to go into a lot of boring technical details, but those crafty German engineers have incorporated an ingenious device called a thermometer into the bike’s electronics. It measures the ambient air temperature and displays it right there on the digital dashboard. Now, you might think a guy riding down the highway at 70 MPH doesn’t really need the bike to tell him it’s cold outside, and believe me, you’d be right. But the nifty (and useful) bit is this: if the temperature goes below freezing, the bike displays a warning light in the form of a snowflake. It seems a bit early to me, but I saw that snowflake this morning for the first time this season.

It’s the time of year when, as Granny Clampett would say, my rheumatiz starts acting up. The ghosts of every injury I’ve ever suffered come back to haunt me with aches deep down in my joints, seemingly in my very bones. With each passing year, I understand better why so many people choose to retire in the south. I’d consider it myself if it wasn’t for all the old geezers down there.

My 16th Prime

A few weeks ago I mentioned that Pope Francis was coming to Amurka for his first ever U.S. visit on my birthday. I also expressed my desire to have a beer and a chat with him. I knew he would get my invitation because, even in the unlikely event that he doesn’t read my blog, everyone else does.

Well, the good news is… it’s my birthday. The bad news? Frannie is not going to have that sit-down with me. He called me last night to tell me in person. One of the countless reasons the Baptist church I grew up in frowns on the Catholics is their appreciation for getting one’s nose wet every now and then. And it turns out the shepherd is not different from his flock. As soon as I picked up the phone and heard “It’s a me, da Pope” I knew he was already plus-3 or so. It gave me a brief hope that free alcohol coupled with a chance to get away from all the religious adulation might be enough to persuade him to stop by the house.

But he just can’t make the time. He’s dead set on meeting all the people and giving all the speeches on his schedule. I told him he should blow off his address to our Republican-controlled Congress since they’ve already pegged him as a hippie liberal they can ignore anyway, but he still wants to have a go at them. That’s faith, right there. Hope and persistence in the face of reality.

Getting On With It

I’m still “de-sensitizing” my franken-fingers. It’s a long, slow process. The hand surgeon told me it may take a couple of years, but I am making progress. I am typing some of the letters in the words you are reading right now with my left middle finger, the worst damaged and most painful of the two. Sweat pops on my forehead, but I soldier on.

I’ve resumed 10 hour shifts at the salt mine. I can do probably 90% of my job, but only at about 60% speed, babying my fingers and taking frequent breaks, especially when I bang them into something. Returning to work also brought back my battle with the twin demons of insomnia and dysthymia. I didn’t realize how well I had been sleeping during my recuperation, until I wasn’t any more. Sigh.

Just More Finger Whine

My hand is getting better, little by little, every day. I’m still working to reduce the hypersensitivity, but that is a grueling, masochistic endeavor. Here are the tools of my self-torture.

IMG_0130

Doesn’t look so bad, does it? A bowl of uncooked rice, a bolt and some nuts. Not much to it, really. I just use my fingers to screw the nuts on and off the bolt. There is some pain, of course, but the predominant feeling is one of electric shock, as if there is a live current passing through the bolt. Eight nuts off, eight nuts back on, and I start to feel a little clammy and have to take a break. But that’s nothing compared to stirring my fingers around in that rice. Hoo boy, it might as well be a hornet’s nest.

Mornings are the best. When I wake up, my hand is stiff, but almost pain free. As the day goes on, every touch — whether accidental or intentional — adds progressively to my discomfort level until I fall asleep each night exhausted.

This morning I was feeling exceptionally frisky, so I decided to hop on the scoot and ride uptown for breakfast. It’s only a distance of about five miles to my local Panera Bread, but there are eleven stop lights in that stretch. Given my lifetime .150 batting average at catching lights on the green, that translated into quite a bit more clutching than I was ready for. I was pretty spent afterwards, but it sure felt good to be back in the saddle.

Yo Soy El Mas Macho

Yesterday, I visited the enhanced interrogation specialist hand surgeon again. He looked at my scab covered Franken-fingers for a few seconds and said they were doing well. Then he stood up and left the room, stating he needed to do some “housekeeping.” He came back momentarily with a little package of tools and proceeded to peel off all the remaining scabs! Anything that stuck up or gave him too much resistance, he just snipped off with a little pair of scissors. I just smiled and said “What else you got, Doc?” Here is a photo I took earlier today.

IMG_0123

Believe me when I say they feel every bit as raw and sore as they look. And oh so sensitive. The slightest touch sends chills down my spine; a bump weakens my knees. The good news is, the surgeon has agreed to let me return to work on light duty beginning tomorrow. I may actually be able to salvage a couple of vacation days for a motorcycle ride later this year.

But that’s not what I came to talk about. See that piece of wood my hand is resting on in the photo? That’s the guitar body I was working on when my router tried to eat that hand. Did you notice how smooth the edges are? That’s right, I finished that job. Granted, I had to have a little lie-down afterwards, and I fucked it up and will have to re-make the whole thing, but I got back on that horse. I’m optimistic that my new normal — however far away that still is — may not be too much different from my old normal. I would cross my fingers, but… you know.

Boss! The Pain!

I almost created a Franken-fingers blog category, but I am trying to remain optimistic, hoping there won’t be too many more of these posts in my future.

I mentioned in my previous post how much it hurt when the hand surgeon removed the bandages. Before my follow-up visit last Friday, my wife asked if I thought he would hurt me again, and I jokingly replied that since there were no bandages to remove this time, the only way he could hurt me like that would be if he started squeezing my fingers. Guess what he did? Yep. I had another pale, sweaty lie-down in the examining room. At least they gave me a lollipop.

Not only did he squeeze my fingers, he instructed me to do the same a few times a day. It turns out there is quite a bit of fluid coming from the damaged bone and meat under the skin grafts. To remove that fluid, one wraps gauze around the fingers and gives them a good squeeze. (One also turns gray and feels nauseous and faint from the pain.)

It’s slow going, but healing is happening. I have been working on bending the fingers a bit. The knuckles are very stiff and sore. Here’s a photo taken right after yesterday’s morning squeeze.

IMG_0108

I am making some progress, but my life is still mostly lying around with my hand elevated above my heart. I have been able to get out and get a little exercise, but I still can’t really do much of anything.

I must say, I am feeling a little jumpy about my next visit to the hand surgeon. I think he is planning to remove the stitches. That may require two lollipops.

A Tale Of Two Fingers

I spent most of the past week lying down with my left hand elevated above my heart. Most of that time went by in a blur of pain and narcotics. I barely remember anything from the trip to the surgery center on Monday, and the next two days weren’t much better. By Thursday, the pain had lessened enough I was able to stop taking the pain meds and return from the land of nod.

On Friday I went back to the hand surgeon for the unveiling. Check it.

IMG_0106

My wife had suggested I take a pain pill before going, but I was enjoying being clear-headed so much I just decided to tough it out. That was a mistake. I cannot adequately describe the agony I endured for the 5 or 10 minutes just prior to this photo being taken. The bandages were bloody and stuck, and as the surgeon removed them, I was absolutely levitating above my chair. It was so bad, the surgeon insisted I have a little lie-down before leaving.

As you can see, I lost a little length off the middle finger. The pale pinkish skin on top of both fingers came from my inner forearm. Here’s another photo I took today. From the palm side, there is not much to see.

IMG_0103

The other side is always going to be ugly, but it’s already looking better after getting a little air. The surgeon says I have to start touching things to de-sensitize the fingertips. That hurts just thinking about it.

See, What Had Happened Was…

I’ve been anxiously awaiting delivery of a new set of jointer/planer blades. I ruined my old ones on the office project when one of the drawers I built came out about 1/16 of an inch too wide. Running a few brad nails across a $50 set of blades was not cheaper than building a new drawer, but it was a lot faster. Sometimes I make mistakes. I blame Michelle’s husband.

I needed the new blades so I could cut a couple of pieces off the maple plank pictured in my last post and join those together to create a single piece wide enough to make my guitar body. By planing both parts perfectly flat on the edge where the grain is closest together, the joint becomes strong and virtually invisible.

The next step is to place my template on the wood — with that new seam running right down the middle — and use the bandsaw to remove most of the excess material. Like this:

IMG_0100

I mentioned above that Michelle’s husband sometimes causes me to make mistakes. One such mistake is visible here; I should have removed more of the excess material sticking out from the template, but, as evidenced by the burnt edges of the wood, my bandsaw blade is getting dull and was having a lot of trouble with that 2-inch thick hard maple.

Underneath that router table is mounted a Porter-Cable Model 7518 Variable Speed Router. It has a 3-1/4 horsepower motor, and, running at top speed for small diameter bits like this one, turns 21,000 RPM. That’s also a brand new high-carbon steel bit, so I knew a little extra 2-inch maple wouldn’t bog the router down, and it would be a lot faster than wrestling with the bandsaw.

In hindsight, I realize you should use a hand-held router for this task in case the bit digs into that excess wood and gets away from you. With the hand-held router, about the worst that can happen is getting the router yanked out of your hands. With the router table, there is a danger of the wood — with your hand on it — getting yanked into the bit. For the record, that really fucking hurts.

I will show you what it does to your glove first, and then the hand. If you don’t want to see it, don’t scroll down much farther. First, a good glove, ruined.

IMG_0099

See those nice clean horizontal cuts in the rubber at the tip of the middle finger? The flesh underneath that rubber did not fare nearly as well. The emergency room doctor used the cringe-worthy term, avulsed. According to the Free Dictionary, avulse means to pull off or tear away forcibly. That pretty well sums it up.

IMG_0102

That photo is actually considerably less gruesome than what I saw when I pulled that glove off. Fighting extreme pain and dizziness, I made it to my kitchen sink, bellowing for my wife the whole way. I rinsed the fingers, moved all the meat sorta into place, and wrapped a towel around them. I was right on the edge of passing out, but I realized my wife must be outside because she wasn’t responding to my manly bleating. I managed to open the slider and give one last yell before going down. My wife found me a pale, sweaty, bloody mess in the floor.

That was Thursday evening. The emergency room did a more professional rinse and wrap, and sent me home with a prescription and the phone number of a hand surgeon. I saw the hand surgeon Friday afternoon, and he has scheduled surgery for Monday. It’s going to be a long weekend of waiting to see how much of my fingers I get to keep. The hand surgeon seemed confident that I will keep my fingerprints, but the nail area is not going to be pretty