Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Truth Can Be Adjusted, But Why Bother?

For some reason I can't get over this. You all saw Michael Clayton, right? Terrific picture. A connected woman who watches DVDs with me was able to score that one before its official release date and we checked it out, knowing in advance about its BIG SECRET. Said secret being that parts were shot up in this area two years ago.

At the time it was embarrassing: George Clooney on the front page of the paper for a couple of days, area hausfraus quoted, gushing about getting styled so they'd look pretty while they dropped everything in order to stand outside and catch a glimpse of the chin-cleft and the hair.

But having seen it, I can't get it out of my head. Not just because it presented a rare opportunity for Clooney to unleash powerful emotions and present a less in-control character than he's often asked to, nor for the impeccable acting of the supporting cast (including the Oscar-winning Tilda Swinton, who was as understated and tense as a hidden bridge cable). No, it was mostly because OMG! where his car blows up? That's where I go running!

We're watching those couple of scenes of him driving through the country, both of us narrating, "Ah, he's on Clove...okay, turning onto Otterkill." "Wait, there are no horses there, the horses are on Woodcock Mountain Road." "That's artistic license." "Oh but look, there's the viaduct." "Cool."

I guess what I like, in addition to my connection to and insider knowledge about that specific area -- one of my favorite places anywhere -- is that the filmmakers (former resident Tony Gilroy, the screenwriter & director) created a character from that particular obscure town, then managed to get the thing shot in that town. The authenticity of which is apparent to a relatively small number of non-Hollywood people, so you wonder why. But then, our last house was a bi-level with precisely the same layout as the father's house in the film (down the block from my running buddy's house), and when you recognize that, you know so very much about those characters, understand something about their lives, dreams, pressures.

And when you see Clooney fleeing from his exploded car, running up the Jessup Trail onto Schunnemunck, you're like "Dude, remember when the Lad had to pee that time while we were hiking? That was right there! Watch out George, don't step in it!"


Friday, February 22, 2008

Living with Water

The sump pump has been going since last Wednesday, at first near-continuously, but the last couple of days just every three minutes or so. This despite overnight lows in the teens.

Because I talk so much about sump pumpery, I get a fair amount of search traffic looking for tips, products, news on the subject. I’m no expert, of course. But if you’ve come on a search for “sump pump keeps running continuously,” you might be ready to pause and think about what the sump pump means. I know you’re panicking. That periodic sound, the toilet flush signature, is nerve-wracking. But bear with me a moment. Because our reactions to the sump pump are perhaps more important than whatever’s happening downstairs.*

My son has asthma. He takes one medicine every day, two if he’s got any kind of respiratory illness like a cold or cough. Our bank account flirts with zero every month or so.

Point: the water in the cellar is like this undercurrent of fear, an ever-present reminder that the surface of life, the routine, the good health, the things working right of life, is fragile, and only surface. As the thin film of the atmosphere is to the rocky bulk of our planet…this tiny envelope is all that protects us from the savagery of cold space.

To stave off the flood, the asthma attack, or the poverty, we’ve got the sump pump, the medicines, jobs. And I find myself hating the sump pump, disliking the medicines, being irritated by the job. In other words, I despise the the very things for which I should be grateful.

Which is absolutely pointless, because these events or potentials — the flood, the asthma, the possibility of hardscrabble living — are the events that spell out a life. And the mitigators — the sump pump, the medicines, the jobs — are the tools we develop and choose to navigate through the events. They’re the oars and the raft we use to steer among the rocks, upon the water of time, which rushes forward and provides the exhilaration we came here for in the first place and my analogizer just overheated.

Not only is there no reason to dislike the life-preserving medicine, but — because the medicine fortunately exists and we can get it — there’s no reason to hate the asthma. Because if it wasn’t the water, or the asthma, or the vast dark bulk of being broke that lurks just beneath the bank account, it would be something else, wouldn’t it? Everyone worries about something. You’re famous and you worry that your next film will suck. Your interest rate just ballooned and you worry that you’re going to suffer foreclosure. You’re homecoming queen and you worry that you’re getting fat. You’re happy, healthy, and well-heeled, and you worry that it could all come crashing down because you’re a talentless fraud. And yeah, you were seen talking to some American soldiers the other day and you’re worried you’ll be killed.

I barely know where I’m going with this, except that if your sump pump is running continuously, as mine is, then GOOD FOR YOU; IT’S WORKING. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit zoeller.com to see about stopping the problem at its source, or remove allergens from your home and take action to improve air quality, or buckle down and put some money into a regular old no-interest-earning savings account, for just in case. But for now? It’s working. If you’re reading this, it’s working.

And of course, if you’re reading this and some aspect of it stopped working — you lost a loved one, your home was destroyed by fire, there’s a security guard standing next to you holding a file box — well, that’s it working, too. And you have my sympathy. Truly.

Last week, on Day Two of the continuously running pump, I called the fire department to confirm that they had pumps, checked our spare sump pump, made sure the generator was at the front of the garage — essentially did everything I could to make sure that the system and the backup system would function. And then I went to bed, and I actually slept.

A flooded cellar, lost furnace, lost electrical panel, all this would be bad. But it hasn’t happened.


(*Or go here if you’re desperate.)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I Am Blinding You With Science (or Tarzan Not Be Ignored III)

For the third time in my short blogging career, I'm happy to report that there will be a total lunar eclipse tonight STARTING IN LIKE TEN MINUTES and reaching totality at around 10:3010:00. See! See!

The next one's in 2010, and I promise to give you better notice.

UPDATE: If you squinted and jerked your head from side to side, it looked like this:


Sunday, February 17, 2008

I Have Been to the Mirrorworld

William Gibson's Pattern Recognition gave me "mirror world," the protagonist's private word for the alien normalcies of other cultures--misplaced steering wheels, different numbering schemes for elevator buttons, odd color choices for post boxes, weird keyboards. Like the world at the end of the Bradbury story "A Sound of Thunder," or Spock's beard.

Or the cities of Baltimore and Philadelphia. It's funny how things change when you enter a different state. New Jersey's jug-handle turning lanes. Philly's skyline. Maryland's center-median rest stops. On that side of an invisible line, you can buy liquor in the grocery store. On this side, no.

So even though you're in suburban Baltimore, where there is grass, and trees, and these are largely the same species (although with fewer spruces, perhaps), the rocks...look slightly funny. They're pale gray, and water smoothes them more than it does their northern cousins. Decorative elements on the highway overpasses are different, green-painted railings or curlicue ironwork, pale stones cut into flat, narrow rectangles. In the city, there are all these...open spaces between tall structures, actual room to view them, which makes them seem like individual THINGS. That's not like a city. That's not like THE city, anyway, which is what everything's judged by after growing up on Long Island. In Philadelphia it's the busy narrow streets, somehow a miniature of a city despite the perfectly respectable skyscrapers nearby.

My standards for what comprises a Mirrorworld are clearly lower than they were when I traveled this country in a car for six months or navigated rural Spain fairly well on my honeymoon, but that's what happens when you narrow your horizons by adding children and steady work. Even the familiar and obvious becomes strange when it's not precisely identical to what you experience every day.

This post brought to you by having run out of ideas and getting in very little sleep, but a lot of driving, the last several days.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

What Passes for Adventure

To Build a Fire. The Old Man and the Sea. The Bear. My Drive Home from Work Tuesday Night.

My humble addition to the canon of Man v. Nature stories was a harrowing three-hour drive in ice and snow. Ordinarily, this would be nothing to 21st-century Man in his Honda Fit, for the roads are plowed and the salt potent, even on the hills of this country.

But this storm, like the Perfect Storm, timed itself, well, perfectly. So that when I realized I needed to leave work in Westchester at 4:43 in order to ever get home, the snainy snow was falling earnestly, meaningfully, literarily, on the living and the dead alike, as it were, so anyway I got in the car.

Long story short (and short story a favorite of English teachers), the roads sucked. The Taconic was bad, Route 6 and the Bear Mountain Parkway worse. I stopped twice to clear clotted ice from my windshield wipers (and for M&Ms, because they now have a kind with peanut butter in them, yum). The traffic circle at the foot of the Goat Trail resembled Cocytus -- except that, working my way up from there, it only got worse.

But it wasn't until I had navigated those treacherous cliffs at a crawl, then descended again like an old man on a greased staircase, then crossed the bridge and another traffic circle and headed up into the taller hills, past the last motel, that it got truly ugly. On this stretch my wheels spun on the uphill slopes and, had I not come to a complete stop at the top of each rise in order to creep down the next slope in first and second gear, I could easily have careened downward out of control. Fishtailing and kept in line only by judicious use of the gas to keep the wheels grabbing, I was also contending with -- get this -- traffic, since a bunch of other idiots live up here too. And they of course drive SUVs and have a higher tolerance for the careening. There were a couple of points where clusters of cars had marooned on the side of the road, or in the road, and only those of us following ever-fainter wheel ruts could still find purchase. We passed them in a guilty line, unable to stop and lend a hand because what hand? Thus we kept going until overtaken by a plow. Even then, following the plow down the steepest hill amidst the ghosts of old crashes, locked into a sudden herd of minivans and four-wheel-drive vehicles, lanes completely invisible, everyone drifting a little off-kilter now and then, it was touch and go till we descended from the Highlands.

Later, I laid the flimsy nylon tarpaulin of Man upon the automobile against the ice that would form that night. Ice coated every twig. Water ran from my hat brim. Grainy fluzzard fell hissing, and as I stopped to listen there was music in it.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Progress

After last Thursday's Weight Watchers meeting, I brought home my weight charts going back to January 2002, when I started. I've been feeling a little less than motivated lately and thought a graphic representation of my downs and ups would be in order. Here they are, one hundred and ninety-fourish weigh-ins on a graph. Click to enlarge, if that's what you're into.



I've said it before and I'll say it again. Weight Watchers works.

(Dear Weight Watchers. Please pay me for loving you. Thanks.)

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Aches, the Pains, the Aches of Overuse

The cycle works thisaway: you run two races back to back in the fall, without reaaaalllly being in super-great running shape. This causes your knee to get a little sore. That gets worse as you keep running on it. You look it up: it's patellar tendonitis (tendinitis?), probably. You keep running on it, but maybe a little less.

Flash forward to February. You've been running a little less each week, trying to give it time to heal, but you don't want to stop running, because then? Fat. So you run 9 miles one Sunday. Take Advil. It's fine!

Run three miles the following Thursday and strain your calf.

But that sounds like underuse, you'll observe. But not really. It's really overuse of something that wasn't ready to be used quite so much.






















So from now on it's up early to write. Doctor's appointment soon. No running this weekend. Note to self: avoid cheese.

UPDATE: Self-diagnoses confirmed. Pictures here.


A Great Sadness: RIP, area child

I hate to type this, but if I don't write it out there ain't nothin' else. A seven-year-old boy from the area died of the flu this past Sunday. He apparently had a history of asthma.

I've never had even a taste of the pain his parents must be going through, but the fear wells up as I type, listening to my own asthmatic son coughing in his bed down the hall. We've taken every precaution and that's all the comfort I can muster.

RIP, young man. And may your parents be well.


Monday, February 4, 2008

You've Been Warned, Maybe

Up around where I live, and dotting the countryside for a long way around these parts, there are tall poles bearing giant sirens. These are to let us know when if the nuke plant about 20 miles from here goes plooey (although science tells me that it would be somewhat louder, more like kwa-THOOM). We’ll, uh, we’ll hear these sirens, the theory goes, and then we’ll know…when…to start panicking.

Not much of a plan, if you ask me.



We’re more or less upwind of the thing, so there are no guarantees that when the plant goes we’ll be in any real danger (apart from the zombies lurching northward from the site of the blast, thirsting for the untainted blood and radiation-free brains of the living). On the other hand, the Highlands have a tendency to suck air into the valley and hang on to it (specializing in bad air with tiny particles that trigger asthma).

Either way, those sirens are there on their poles, just to let you know that you’re within 20 miles of a clean, safe time bomb energy source. Every few days (it seems) they announce a test. “We’re going to test the sirens,” they say, “so everyone listen for something unfamiliar that sounds like a warning.” There are two sirens within a mile of my house. I’ve found that I tend to cock my head to the side, maybe cup an ear. So for a few days after each announcement my neighbors and I walk around cupped and cocked—sorry, is there something you want to share with the rest of the readers? good, let’s continue—shushing people, listening for a sound we’ve never heard before.

Do this long enough and it provides your nerves with a much-needed stretch. On the downwind side of the plant, the government hands out potassium iodine pills to residents. Apparently once you hear the siren, you can pop a few of these pills and your lymph nodes will take up the potassium iodine instead of the radioactive material drifting your way, thus sparing you from that particular form of cancer. On that side of the river after a warning, they walk around cupped and cocked and nervously rattling pill bottles. At the plant, inspectors find radioactive water in little puddles. Sometimes in the control rooms there are fires.

But a few days pass, and invariably there is not a peep. Not long after we don’t hear something there’ll be a small item on page nine of the paper that says “Sirens Fail Again.” That still doesn’t mean they for-sure didn’t go off. There’s some possibility that they sounded, but that the unfamiliar warning resembled a car door slamming, or someone’s dog barking, or crows bickering over a carcass.

Shh.



Sunday, February 3, 2008

Updates

Few things:
  • I saw an eagle standing on the ice out on Tomahawk Lake this morning.
  • My patellar tendo(i?)nitis is much more localized than it was, but returns after each long run.
  • We dropped in on friends and found three goats penned in their backyard. I was not upset that they hadn't told us about the goats; I was upset that they weren't reading Exurbitude, because if they had, they would have told us about the goats. (The goats were on loan to eat weeds.)
  • THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT, THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT, THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT
Actual prose to follow.