Tuesday, August 28, 2007

They X-Rayed His Puppy, at Least

The other morning when we got to the doctor to have our son examined for a particularly bad case of bronchitis that he had developed following a cold, they gave him a shot of epinephren and called an ambulance, which took him to the hospital for the next three days.

Parents! Do yourselves a favor and read the following two links!

How to Recognize an Asthma Attack
Asthma Basics

He's doing fine now; in fact, dosed four times daily with steroids and albuterol, he's ramped up a little more than usual and helped me dig a shallow twenty-foot drainage ditch in the yard today. We have been serving up our self-castigation with a rich, blamery sauce. But some dark nights of the soul and the support of a lot of people (both with and without asthma, with and without kids) have talked us down from our guilt. And he forgave us as soon as we let him ride in an ambulance.

Now the baby has a fever. At least she waited.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Tarzan Not Be Ignored II

Last February, I wrote about the mighty battle in the sky visible to the Northeasern US, Amsterdam and France. And tonight the traditional foes -- lions and the moon -- tough it out over all of North America, but especially in those cities where my readers reside. Penumbralicious!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Cult-Like Programs I've Embraced, Part IV: Fine, Harry Potter, Okay? OKAY!?

Harry stood and dusted off his Quidditch robes. He peered at me through his cracked glasses.

"So, you're the one," he said. "You finished me."

"That's right, Potter," I sneered, my whitish-blond hair pulled back from my forehead. "All seven books."

"That's great," he muttered, and said something in Pig Latin. But without his wand, he was powerless.

"So..." I said.

"Well, yup," he answered, standing there in my kitchen, kind of looking around at the missing baseboards and such. "What'd you think of the end?" he asked. "The part where—"

"Enough!" I bellowed, dust and dead bugs shaking down from the light fixture we hadn't cleaned since early summer. "Don't give anything away, anyone could be reading this."

"Uhh...can I ask how old you are?"

"None of your damn business, half-blood," I snarled, my wand-hand itching. Harry sat down in one of the mismatched chairs. I saw his eyes wander to the television remote control.

"It won't help you, Potter," I told him, coolly, my unnaturally high voice piercing the relative quiet of the dishwasher's rumble. "You have to have the cable box on first, and besides, it's Thursday..."

The young wizard's eyes brightened, but he quickly supressed his excitement. I was instantly suspicious. "What?" I said loudly. "What is it?"

"Nothing," he said, one eye half-closed to better see through his glasses. The lightning-shaped scar on his forehead was turning red. "It's just that—"

"Well, Potter?" I could wait all night for his confession.

"I was just thinking now that you and your wife have finished those books and all...umm, I think Grey's Anatomy's on tonight."

I knew when I was beaten. My Muggle wife came down, they settled in front of the TV, and I went to the garage to find my old blanket and read The Hobbit.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Posturban Summer Uniform: Year Four

After four years, I've finally got it down! Take this & this:

Add this & this...

Then walk out of your house on Saturday morning and see your neighbor's sister's boyfriend walking out of their house wearing the same thing.


Saturday, August 18, 2007

The First Time I Ran

Two of the most important elements of my first attempt at running were fiber-based. One was the fabric of the outfit I was wearing. This was a thick "fleece" of the polar-tek variety, although not specifically Polar-Tek™. I think it had been purchased at Target, and was a generous gift from my in-laws. It had mildly sporty racing stripes on it, but it was hearty, and thick. Not like your basic fall hiking fleece, but more the type Joe Pesce would have worn in an early-90s film wherein he whacks people. It was a pullover, but with a half-zipper, presumably for temperature control and/or cubic-zirconium nameplate visibility. In any case, I chose it because it was the closest thing to a "sporty" garment I owned.

That hunter-green non-gym-standard garment would have been, of course, an Extra Large, if not the dreaded XXL. The date was roughly February 1, 2002. I had begun Weight Watchers two weeks earlier and knew that, in order to seriously lose weight, I'd have to begin exercising. Running seemed easiest.

The other important fibrous mass was my beard. Always of questionable quality and cut, it remained red after the rest of my hair had gone brownish, except that now, after a particularly harrowing year at work, it sported two vivid white patches, one on each side of my chin. But I kept it on like an old beloved pet or a stuffed animal—and nothing hides (and emphasizes) spare chins quite so well as a thick beard. I don't know whether you have a beard, but, well, beards are great on cold days, and they're terrible with sweat.

I trundled my ass out of bed early that twenty-degree morning, put on a truly humungous Carhartt coat over my Thick-n-Hearty Fleece™ and stalked down Austin Street to the New York Sports Club I had chosen for my triumphant debut. I believe I may have been "pumped" at the time, although I would only have recognized it then as a vague feeling of doom.

Is it really a memoir if you don't remember anything? I don't truly remember anything after entering the gym. I know I didn't use the locker room, because I lived up the street. I know I was in an upstairs room with open windows facing the street, staggering along on a treadmill with a gray dawn outside, feeling an icy slice of cold air on my throat, which was (by the second or third minute) emitting the sounds that Czech scientists recently reported hearing from the throats of Aral Sea sturgeon in their death throes. I know that I set the blasted machine for fifteen minutes, but it may have been twelve and I hope the truth is not in a database somewhere waiting to destroy my career. I leaned forward and pushed off, and ran for whatever time and at whatever slow pace I had entered.

Fleece is supposed to "wick" moisture. Wicking. Heh.

So I do remember not wanting to put my Carhartt back on, because I had sweated so profusely that the fleece clung to me like a paper-thin wifebeater, and the Carhartt was my "good" coat (that was the style in them days). I remember feeling the sweat freezing, slowly, in my beard as I shambled home up the street. I remember how hot my face was, after running for the first time, despite my frozen beard, the frigid air, and the freshening breeze that came up with the pale winter sun.

And this morning, almost six years later, I noticed again the heat in my clean-shaven face, finishing a short four-miler in my size-M shirt, feeling that same warmth, which I now know is the flush of victory.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Archaeologize at Home! Ask Me How!

We've got a glass farm going next to the house. Requires no sunlight or water—basically all you have to do is throw a bunch of broken glass on the ground and kick some dirt over it, then die, then in 80 years someone else buys the house and keeps noticing all this glass glinting through the soil in the patch of woods back behind the shed. Actually, it doesn't sound fun to start such a farm—because of the having to die part—but we, the beneficiaries of our predecessor's foresight, started the glass harvest this past weekend.

And what a trove of jagged crap we've discovered! A few minutes' work with a pick and a hoe yields not just glass, but an enchanting array of flaking and rusty bits of metal, a spoon, wire, a fragmented leather(n) child's shoe, pot handles, a ribeye bone, plus the fragments of bottles and crockery, some bearing decorations and some plain. Like us, the previous homesteaders enjoyed both the milk and the whiskey, plus other unknown sasparillas, lemon cokes, Efficacious Solutions, laudanum, & c. They apparently ate from plates. There are some of what appear to be horseless carriage parts -- at least, they're completely rust-bloated, larger and heavier than any normal household metal object we use today. Although I suppose they could be parts of dismantled stoves or other appliances.

I'm clinging to the thought that this was an appropriate site for the disposal of household waste in the early part of the 20th century. Before a couple of additions onto the house in the last twenty years or so, this spot was even more distant from the actual building, and I'm assuming—persuading myself, really—that it wasn't a filthy, lazy and vile habit to throw your crap in a disorganized heap in an unused part of your own property instead of carting it to a communal dump someplace. I'm telling myself that this stuff is old because I'd much prefer it to have happened when it seems it would have been more appropriate, and so far the lack of tupperware, Alberto V05 cans, 8-track cassettes or frilly velour tuxedos mixed into the junk supports my wishful thinking.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Cult-Like Programs I've Embraced, Part III: The Kerry-Edwards Campaign

November 6, 2004

The speaker was a 68-year old Army veteran who had served two years in the 1950s and was proud of it. He was a middle-class working man, a grandfather, a husband, a senior citizen. He was probably a churchgoer. I stood in his driveway in Bedford, Ohio, listening.

“He’s a punk,” he was saying. Almost beside himself, he was trapped between a desire to make clear his disgust for George Bush and a wish not to be brought to low language. “This guy? He’s a scumbag.” He looked uncomfortable having to speak this way. “The middle class is paying the taxes and fighting the war. A deserter. And he says John Kerry didn’t serve honorably? This guy’s a deserter, and deserters used to get shot.”

His grandson graduated from one of the top electrical engineering programs in the country; of twenty graduates, only two had gotten jobs. His grandchildren range in age from 24 down to 14. “If those kids want to go to Canada, I’ll drive ’em.”

We stood alongside a trim and modest suburban house on a clear, windy fall day, the day before the election. I was rapt. Label me (an East Coast editor for a British auction house) if you want, but I dare you to call this guy an “elitist,” or whatever it is they’re calling Kerry supporters now. Call him a bullshit-spotter. Call him a man of honor, someone with an understanding of hard work – not the kind you see other people do on television, but the kind you do yourself. He had my instant respect: sincerity, sensitivity, and above all, anger, came off him in waves. Call him what he is: a patriot.

I had come to Ohio on my own hook, getting up early one morning to drive from New York City’s far-northern suburbs to Cleveland. The ACT office there needed canvassers, and I had done some work in that line in 1991. That had been Thursday, October 28; my intention had been to return home on Sunday to catch my son’s first real Halloween. Instead, I was drawn in.

The intensity of the work was part of it, but the Cause overlaid the entire experience. No task was too mundane. Nothing was extraneous. Not once did I hear someone turn down a job. And in us all — New Yorkers, Californians, Ohioans, celebrity phone-bankers — there shone a joyous light, the knowledge of Doing Right so clear and so keen that it leapt from our eyes and our brows and our fingers as we sorted and packed and studied and clipped, and finally as we ushered the righteous walkers out the door and into the streets. When the training room was empty, we followed them out and brought the light forth ourselves.

The details of the work are important. When I walked in and reported for duty, as it were, someone took me aside and gave me a stack of forms to alphabetize. The beautiful thing, the architectural thing, about this job was its place in the scheme. I was sorting forms filled out by phone bankers who had spoken with potential volunteers and logged their contact information and availability. My forms held contact information for those volunteers who had been left messages and who would call back to obtain their confirmed assignment for the massive voter outreach effort that would happen over the weekend and through Tuesday. In the Cleveland area, about 2,000 canvassers and phone bankers were expected, with a target of reaching some 150,000 households. These forms had to be in order so that when the return-call hotline rang, Ken, the volunteer assigned to it, could find the caller swiftly and finalize their assignment.

Not long afterward, I was loaned out to the AFL-CIO, and thence to the NAACP, for a foray into the center of Cleveland to remedy attempts to suppress the black vote. Cloaked in a yellow “NAACP Voter Protection” jacket, I walked streets with alternating patches of well-kept yards, boarded-up windows and street-hardened dogs, knocking on doors and handing out Voters’ Bills of Rights. Everyone I spoke to planned to vote (the guy with three tattooed tears on one cheek sitting on the porch with the boarded up door seemed agreeable, at least), and they knew that forces were at work to take away their rights. That was evident in the thick metal gates through which we spoke. As darkness fell the blue flicker of TVs maintained its own twilight. Most everyone watched with the lights off there.

Every job was like that – its impact was incremental, but its necessity was evident. Over the course of the next days I performed dozens of discrete tasks, from data entry to raiding AAA for road maps to moving tables, ferrying messages and carrying food. At one point I was placed in charge of a team of volunteers creating canvass packets assembly-line style, highly reminiscent of my first post-college temp assignment. The meat and potatoes of my Ohio stint, however, was canvasser training.

Thirteen years earlier I had worked out of NYPIRG’s Albany office as a canvasser — at 22, I was among the older crew members. Filling in one day for the assistant canvas director, I cleaned the office and roused the troops with a briefing on Fear, which, combined with my generally successful neighborhood outings, landed me the assistant director job on through the summer and into the fall. Here in Ohio I was back again, trained by mid-20s SEIU organizers to motivate volunteers, to touch every sympathetic voter in a 10-mile radius. It felt powerful, and on Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday I would train and then go out myself, full of this astouding reservoir of belief.

The place I visited was not unlike Queens, but politicized, earnest, proud and American. I learned that the electoral map trumpeted by the media is a fiction. I fell in love with Ohio. On my map, the state is Red, but Ohio is no more Red than Orange County, New York is Blue. Blue and Red are just different names for Black and White, and to see the world that way is to deny not just the subtleties of your country, but to deny your spirit the richness of its full potential. Look no further than this Bedford man in his working-man’s driveway, speaking his mind with huge conviction and true emotion, forced — by a deeply-held knowledge of what is right — to denigrate the President. The pain of it was heartbreaking, and the yearning for a respectable presidency never felt so real to me.

Bush doesn’t matter, of course. Our efforts will one day be shown to have saved the world in some unlooked-for way. Perhaps we activated someone in some inner-city neighborhood; maybe someone’s child looked after one of us as we left her house and wondered why we walked; maybe my angry friend’s grandsons will refuse the offer of a ride to Canada and will instead lead a march on Washington. Maybe displaying hope was enough. Regardless, in the continuing struggle against injustice, poverty, corporate control of government, environmental destruction, and enforced religion, no effort is a waste, no task is unimportant, and no voice should be silent.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Heat? On.

Today Florida feels like Satan's rectal thermometer. How do I know? I know because I'm there. Here, that is. And even though it's only 7 degrees hotter here than at home (95 vs. 88), the...sun...is...burrowing through what's left of my skin like a...like a...sorry, I'm out of similies because of the above. Freaking hot.

Yesterday, I ran in the morning. Have I already said this? Perhaps I'm delerious. That might explain the palace of ice cream cones I can see hovering upside-down in the distance, drawing me forward, forward. Anyway, I ran in the morning, snakes and lizards darting across my path, heat-prostrated pit bulls ranging alongside behind fences, a petit, angry, blisteringly hot land crab threatening my feet, another version -- scuttling gray monster -- pulling itself into a burrow as I passed. Bloated alligator carcasses lined my route, dead of heatstroke all of them, dehydrated vultures plucking listlessly at their livers, the vultures thinking of January and cold-water lobster. All that was missing was Virgil to guide me the 4 miles.

Ice cream!

Friday, August 3, 2007

Another Day, Another F%cking Animal

I just grabbed bat #2 (or maybe it was #1, returned!) out of the fireplace, showed it off to an appreciative woman who lives with me, and tossed it out into the night. Between the bats and the snakes, I'm wondering if maybe Lord Voldemort, from the Harry Potter books*, hasn't taken up residence in our cellar.

*Hi! You must be from Google. I live upstate! (Also, Lindsay Lohan!)

UPDATE: No search hits for Harry Potter or Lindsay Lohan, but I did get someone looking for "man fcking animal," so I guess I'm on the right track! Go Internet!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Someone's Gotta Do It

You know the little plastic tubes in perfume bottles that carry the product up to the spritzer? I just found out that my cousin has a business in his garage that consists of two machines—that he designed and commissioned—that cut those tubes to the right length for non-standard sized bottles.

Quick, look around. What could you be providing to the world?