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The Jeeps and the Pushers

Saturday, 01 Aug 2020, 11:08 GMT-0600

1. A Jeep Out of Gas

When the light turned green, the geezer found himself behind a Jeep SUV that had run out of gas. A twenty-something driver was pushing and steering, trying to get his vehicle thru the intersection.

The geezer changed lanes and drove around and then pulled into the next driveway. He walked back to the intersection, where the twenty-something driver was pushing his Jeep slowly along the feeder road. The geezer offered to help push, but just then a woman in another Jeep pulled in front and offered user hers to push his.

“I have a blanket,” she said.

“That’s great, thanks a lot,” the twenty-something guy said. 

2. Pushing Jeep #1

The woman in Jeep #2 drove off so she could pull up behind Jeep #1. It was a long loop, and it was going to take her a while to come around again.

“I’m good,” the twenty-something guy said to the geezer, but then he started to push again.

So the geezer pushed, too, wearing his mask from the other side of Jeep #1. A thirty-something guy walked up and began pushing from the back. Jeep #1 started rolling quickly, and the three of them began running as they pushed.

The sun was bright. The heat of the day was beginning to rise. The geezer was wearing a black shirt and panting beneath his mask until he yanked it off (being safely distanced from either of the two maskless *-somethings). His breathing fell into a cadence. His thighs started burning. 

“Let’s push harder and maybe I can coast,” the twenty-something guy said.

“Harder!” the geezer thought to himself. There was no harder in him. This was as much as he could muster.

When they came to a driveway… the guy didn’t turn in!

“I’m just going to go down to the Shell station,” he said. 

3. Jeep #2 Arrives

Problem was, even though they had now pushed Jeep #1 a quarter mile, the gas station was another quarter mile away.

“What have I gotten myself into?” the geezer wondered. Thoughts of his unlocked car with its windows down began to swirl in his head.

Just then, the woman in Jeep #2 arrived. The geezer and thirty-something stepped away, and the woman slowly pulled up and began pushing Jeep #1. 

The thirty-something guy hopped in a car which his wife (?) had been driving slowly with emergency flashers blinking to protect the three of them. The geezer turned to walk back to his car, more than a quarter mile back down the feeder road. 

4. Yay-Boo Epilog

His car was still there when he got back.

But when he finally made it to the farmer’s market there were no more eggs. Boo! But there were still plenty of peaches. Yay!

 

Wrens are not Squirrels

Monday, 27 Jul 2020, 12:05 GMT-0600

A Carolina Wren sang from the upper branches of the Japanese Persimmon. The song was more warble-y than usual, and I went to the back door to listen and watch, slowly closing the patio door since the heat of the day had arrived.

Another Wren in the pond caught my attention. It was splashing in the fountain: rolling one way and then the other, shaking and puffing and then rolling again. Then it hopped up onto a standing stem of Horsetail: swiping/cleaning its beak, shaking and puffing, preening for two or three minutes. At which point the Wren hopped back into the water and did it all again — three more times.

The Wren then flew over to a puddle of sun on the back of a blue patio chair and puffed and shook and then flew over to a potted Texas Star Hibiscus. It landed on the rim and plopped into the soil in another puddle of sun: rolling one way and then the other, shaking and puffing and then rolling again. The potting dirt went flying. 

It then flew off, leaving a depression in the pot where all that rolling and shaking had just taken place.

And here I have always blamed the squirrels for this.

Wrensong and Rainfall

Sunday, 26 Jul 2020, 08:12 GMT-0600

“Matamoros is getting it,” Trudy said.

Like her mother, she loves watching weather radar. She held out her phone. A bright red band was smeared across the map. It came in from the Gulf and passed inland right over the spot where the map showed Matamoros to be.

“Corpus is getting it.”

There was another red band up there.

Still, we haven’t held out much hope for one of the arms of the storm passing by here. There was a tiny shower yesterday for 30 seconds or so, but nothing of consequence. Just enough to cool things down and maybe add half an inch to the rain barrels.

“50% chance of showers this morning,” they say on the radio, but we know better than to put much hope in that. And then…

“It’s raining,” said Trudy.

“It is? It is!”

You could hear it on the roof. You could see it when you gazed across the field behind the back fence. A Whitewinged Dove fluttered down from the branches of the Ash tree to sit on the birdbath, obviously in anticipation of rising water levels.

Outside the front door, a Wren hopped from branch to branch in the Texas Redbud tree. It shook with each flit until, perched on the topmost twig, its disheveled head silhouetted by the gray western sky, it sang out loudly. 

A few moments later, the sun came out, and the rainfall stopped.

Pond Plans

Saturday, 25 Jul 2020, 09:25 GMT-0600

All our tiny backyard pond plans have come together.

Essential Work

Friday, 24 Jul 2020, 17:34 GMT-0600

1. Ron

We worked in a big room filled with desks and tables. One wall was made out of glass and looked out onto a hallway.

This used to be the mainframe room, the 60s era computing technology that got the astronauts to the moon. Our computers were Sun workstations that sat on the tables. Each of us had one to work at, a luxury in those days. I sat in front of batman. Next to me was robin. And then gothamcity. The workstations for the other teams had different themes. Lots of computers, but the mainframes were long gone. Cold air still blew in thru vents in the floor—a relic of the need to keep the mainframes cool. On some days, we had to wear gloves to keep our fingers warm.

On the far wall, there were some partitions where a select few had real desks. But most of us sat at the tables where our clients would daily walk by to gaze at the software technology being built in that lab.

Ron was our system administrator. He installed the workstations. He named them. He gave us our login credentials. He set up our email. And when we had a computer problem, he would solve it. 

Ron was always available. He always had a smile on his face, unlike most of the system administrators most of us had worked with. He always found a solution to our problems.

2. Six-Figure Salaries

These were the early days of the dot-com boom. Software companies were spinning off and pulling talent from our team on a daily basis. To our disbelief, those who left for the dot-com world commanded six-figure salaries.

At the time, the expression six-figure salary was reserved for consultants that went out on their own and job-shopped their technical skills. The notion that you could get a six-figure salary just by jumping from one software job to another was inconceivable, which is why so many people were leaving.

One day, I bumped into our boss after Ron had solved some problem that I was struggling with. (I think it was an email problem that required Ron do a traceroute on in order to figure out why gothamcity had stopped delivering email.)

“How are things going?” he asked.

“Great,” I said. And I explained how Ron had just solved my email problem.

He nodded, not really understanding much about email.

“I have to tell you,” I added. “If anyone on our team deserves a six-figure salary, it’s Ron. We’d be lost without him.”

He looked at me blankly, nodded, and walked on.

3. Essential Personnel

You see, Ron was one of our truly essential personnel, even though we didn’t use that term them. But six-figures? Except for independent consultants, back then no one made that kind of money except consultants… or managers. And system administration was perceived as a blue collar job. What I learned that day as my boss silently nodded and walked on was that blue collar jobs were almost by definition not essential.

Ron left not long after that. A dot-com six-figure salary was calling.

I tell this story, because I bumped into this story on Naked Capitalism, today. It pokes at this pathology: why essential work pays poorly (think delivery drivers, grocery store workers, transportation workers, air conditioning technicians, meat packers, farmworkers, sanitation workers, …). 

Plus ça change

I Do

Friday, 24 Jul 2020, 14:39 GMT-0600

“I like your writing, except…”

“Except what?”

“Except that you write so much in the first person. It’s all me, me, me, I, I, I.”

“I’m telling stories.”

“Stories in which you seem to always have a cameo if not prominent role.”

“You’re right. I’m sorry. I do.”

Quite Meta and Very Meta

Friday, 24 Jul 2020, 13:13 GMT-0600

1. Tangential Background

Years ago, the University of Illinois had a 5-year joint liberal arts/engineering undergraduate program. I was curious. Eventually (some time during my freshman year), and in spite of the Engineering Dean’s pronouncement that “that program is meant for civil engineers who want to build bridges in South America,” I enrolled.

What degrees to choose? The engineering degree had been a known ever since my father introduced me to the word astronautics in a Scrabble game years before: Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering. What remained was to choose was the liberal arts degree.

In the event and for (poor) reasons that I won’t go into here, I chose Political Science.

2. Quite Meta

Without exception, the best class that I took in the Political Science department was International Relations. Dr. Weinstien was a marathon runner (something I could not conceive of back then). And he had very high expectations.

We were expected to pepper our comments during class with specific examples drawn from history, which intimidated me from the beginning. We were only allowed three punctuation errors (!) in our semester précis. (Yes: He called it a précis, although there was nothing abbreviated about it.) We did a very close reading of Hans Morgenthau’s Politics Among Nations.

Morgenthau’s notion of a bipolar international order was a dominant thread in late twentieth century. It provided a framework for studying foreign relations. And what we did that semester was analyze his framework (analyze his analysis).

Sorta meta, and undoubtedly (in retrospect) why I loved the class so much.

3. Very Meta

Summer 2020 is coming to an end, and I am in a sprint to finish at least one of the books I recently started.

“What are you reading?” Ben asked.

“I’m trying to finally read Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine. Only 200 pages left. I’m going to make it.”

“I thought you had read that several times!” he chuckled.

Sadly, this is the plight of many gems on that shelf. Boo! Happily, Nasim Taleb tells us that an anti-library such as this is the best. Yay!

Klein’s book is a masterpiece. It presents principles (and importantly, principals) to explain twentieth century foreign affairs (including the Cold War tensions that were the favorite of Morgenthau’s realists) in a way that explains equally well foreign affairs in our time. It’s the same people doing the same things time after time in place after place.

Klien’s is a framework that looks at things not just from a power/politics perspective but also from a power/economics one. Least among the appeals of her approach is the lie it puts to the notion of Political Science and Economics as distinct academic disciplines — a bifurcation that would be mended by return to Political Economy.

If I were a political science (or economics) professor today, I would have a class on international relations (or international economics) that used Klein as the text. Much as we used Morgenthau’s text those many years ago, we would read Klein very closely. And we would analyze her framework (analyze her analysis).

Very meta. (And undoubtedly why I like the book so much)

Pest Control

Monday, 13 Jul 2020, 11:08 GMT-0600

1.

He must have thought we were easy marks. After knocking at the door and stepping back, the salesman started pitching his pest control. 

“We’re not interested,” I said, turning to close the door.

“But,” he said, looking and pointing at the two wasp nests under the eaves.

“I know about them,” I said. “We’re happy to have them here.” 

Which was the truth. I mean, we’re good with snakes and lizards, right? And the wasps were here before them.

2.

I had been painting. Or maybe cleaning the garage. Sweeping or blowing dust with the leaf blower (a trick my brother taught me a couple years ago) or vacuuming. Or maybe I was trimming Oak tree branches (now that the temperatures are above 100).

I don’t remember precisely what was going on. But I was coming in for another glass of ice water.

“Ah! AAAH!” I screamed as I stepped inside.

I shook my head and swept my hands on my face. There were two wasps on my sweaty face stinging me. My glasses went flying.

3. 

In the end, there was one sting not two. The second wasp made it back outside. But I confess the first … did not. 

Later that day, another pest control salesman showed up. (What’s up with these guys, anyway? Do they not know that their services are not essential? Do they not care?) Trudy answered, wearing a mask. 

She stood outside the storm door where he gave his pitch also wearing a mask and standing a safe social distance away. They chatted jocularly. Jocular chatting with a salesman because he knocked on the door? This is the epitome of my fine spouse. She has an unbounded decency.

It was reminiscent of her mom meticulously reading every envelope of junk mail that arrived in her mailbox — because it was in her mailbox. I thought this to myself as the two of them talked and laughed making me inwardly roll my eyes.

“But he wanted to kill all the Wolf Spiders,” she later told me. “We’ll take care of them all,” he had told her. Not a convincing selling point for this household.

4.

That day it must have been early enough that the heat was not yet pissing off the wasps. As I had learned the day before, when it gets to be 101 degrees out, opening the storm door is provocation enough to bring them down on you. Yet on that day, Trudy was able to hang out with that salesman directly under the first and oldest wasp nest with no consequences.

But this morning. This morning, Trudy walked outside and counted the nests. There are five or so. Yesterday there were only three.

I think this is where we and they part company.

Tutoring and More

Monday, 13 Jul 2020, 08:29 GMT-0600

1. The End of Dreaming

Years ago, something happened in my brain. I stopped remembering my dreams. Stopped remembering so completely that I wake up every day with a blank slate, as if nothing happened all night. 

Sometimes there’s an echo of a dream. Once or twice, I have recognized where the dream took place — a dreamscape I used to frequent. But those are exceptions. Such echos have lingered at most a half-dozen times in the last twenty years. Otherwise, no dream evidence whatsoever. 

Except this morning.

2. A Dream

[ed: Keep in mind this is a dream and that nothing matches up with anything I know in real life, my grandfather’s Jeep being the exception.]

Andrew was a big kid, a star football player. I didn’t know him, but he came up to me at school at the beginning of lunch and asked for some math tutoring. I said ok.

The cafeteria was downstairs. It was busy. I told Andrew I’d meet him at a table. But things were so busy and the lines so long that by the time I got there, the cafeteria was empty, and Andrew and several other students who wanted tutoring were gone.

Someone on the stairs told me where they were. I put my lunch down and went to find them. They were upstairs milling in the hallway, and now they wanted to go out for ice cream. I said ok.

We met in the parking lot at my 1950s Willy’s Jeep. The kids piled into the back. There were more than a dozen of them. Andrew asked to drive. I gave him the keys and went around the back to jump in with the others.

Andrew began driving off before I was in. I ran and jumped and grabbed onto some kind of pole that was in the bed. The kids helped pull me up.

The ice cream shoppe was off the side of a narrow road in the mountains. The place was mobbed. I had given the kids my wallet to buy their ice cream. They were in line before me. When it was my turn to order, I could see the kids at a distant table. One of them came back with my wallet just as it was time for me to pay.

I handed the bills over to the cashier. She looked at the money hesitantly and then looked at her manager and whispered.

“Wait,” I said. “This doesn’t look right.”

The bills were too large and clearly counterfeit. I fumbled in my wallet and got some other bills to pay with. Same problem. So I gave her a credit card, but she said that it was ok, because she and the manager had figured out that Andrew had swapped my money for these fake bills, and that it wasn’t my fault. I didn’t have to pay.

I took my order and walked to the table. The kids were gone. They had finished eating and returned to the Jeep. I put my ice cream on the table and rushed out. There was a commotion at the front door. Someone rushed in and said that Andrew had hit somebody’s child. I ran outside.

The family was sitting in the grass. The girl sitting in her mother’s lap. She was shaken but seemed to be ok. The grandfather came up furiously asking who had hit his granddaughter. I said it was my Jeep and that the kids had driven off. I wanted to run to see if I could catch them before they were gone.

I took off my hat and handed it to the grandfather as a token that I would return. Realizing that my hat was not a convincing token, I took out my wallet so I could give him my driver’s license. My license was gone. Andrew had taken it. I gave the man my wallet and said I would come back.

Andrew was gone. The Jeep was gone. Except for one student, a girl who was in one of my classes, all the other students were also gone. It was getting late. The sun was going down. 

I walked back and passed a lawyer’s office. She was just opening for business. There were two men and a woman in line waiting to talk to her in her tiny office with glass windows that looked out on the green lawn where the ice cream shoppe crowd had been parked. She let the two guys in. I looked in the glass windows and watched them sit down. The woman behind them offered to let me get in line in front of her. I shook my head and left.

I began walking back to the family who’s daughter Andrew had hit.

And I woke up in a cold sweat. What a lousy way to return to dreaming after twenty+ years.

Vertigo

Monday, 06 Jul 2020, 20:24 GMT-0600

So the end of the massive disk herniation story is this: the back injection worked. Except… that’s not quite the end.

Although within days the pain had substantially receded, the fact is that I had been on my back for almost two weeks. And in the process, the crystals in my ear had migrated to a bad place. (You know about those crystals, right?) I had vertigo.

This wasn’t dizziness. It was full-fledged vertigo: violent spinning of the world around you. It makes you nauseous. It makes you want to… well… lie down in bed which I had had enough of.

This went on for more than a week. Looking at the floor would make me spin. Burying compost would make me spin. Turning my face into the shower stream. Brushing my teeth. Rolling over at night. Picking up a stick — for heaven’s sake, I could not even pick up a stick without the world spinning around.

So I went to the doctor for help. They gave me instructions for self treatment at home. Sit on the edge of the bed. Rotate your head 45 degrees this way. Lie down quickly. Count to 30. Sit up. Rotate the other direction. Lie down quickly. Count to 30. Repeat. Something like that. (Please forgive me for forgetting the exact details. I have the sheet around here somewhere.)

On the first day, Trudy helped with the counting. And after lying down the first time, I asked her to get a bucket, which in the event was unnecessary. On the second day, my eyes jittered back and forth in uncontrollably. On the third day, I was able to do the counting myself. And there were no more days after that.

The crystals are back where they belong. I graduated from physical therapy. And I can finally pick up sticks again. 

With that, we (finally) end the story.