Goodies On My Porch

Everytime I see the UPS truck pull up in front of my house, I feel like bursting into song.

Everything Old Is New Again

And oh, what goodies the magical van of cornicopia delivered to my porch today! (Well, not to my porch per se since I was so excited I ran down my front steps to greet the bringer of gifts.) It was my new backpack!

You see, for the third year in a row my daughter, Catherine and I will spend a week in the High Unitas.

Lower Red Castle Lake–As Seen A Few Steps From My Tent Last Summer

This time we will be traveling with Rick, the Lovely Marianne’s brother. I decided (at my daughter’s urging) to retire the backpack that has served me well lo these many years (I think about 30!) And today my new shiney lighter, ergonomically optimized backpack arrived.

Compare And Be Amazed
Wow, That’s Pretty!

As you can see from the photos, my new pack (on the left, you can tell it’s new because I haven’t removed the tags yet) has all sorts of pockets and zippers and pouches where you can squirrel stuff away. Inside it has a removable hydration sleve (and yes, that really is the marketing language. Who comes up with this stuff anyway? A sleve, okay that’s something that slides over something else to enclose it. But what is a hydration and how do you fit a hydration inside a sleve?) that doubles as a daypack when its not busy sleving hydration. It even has a little “weather proof” pouch on the hip strap where you can keep your phone. (When I bought my (used) Vortex pack thirty years ago a cell phone would’ve filled the whole pack). And the shoulder and hip straps are a marvel of design. What you can’t see is that they are much more comfortable.

Out with the old and in with the new. I bid my old Vortex a fond and loving farewell. We had some good times, but it’s time to part ways and yes, it’s not me–it’s you.

Book Club Announcement

In our Book Club (named Thanatopsis as you will recall), I am responsible for assembling the book lists each six months and distributing them to the members. Generally, those emails are vanilla. But last year I decided to add a Christmas theme.

 T’was the night before Christmas and all through the land
Thanatopsi were resting, a book close to hand.
My wife with her kindle and I with my nook
Each was absorbed in an electronic book.
As she with her romance and I with sci fi
Closed our devices to catch some shut eye
A noise from the living room lanced us with fear,
The house was quite empty; it was only us here.
Retrieving in silence a trusty ball bat,
We crept down the hall and almost fell flat.
There in our living room close by the tree
A most curious being knelt on one knee.
Its limbs were too long, its torso not right
That thing isn’t human, came the thought with a fright.
Thin as a rail, it was dressed all in green.
Then it turned and presented an incredible mien.
On its face bloomed emotions one after the other
Fear followed joy which anger did smother.
Excitement, rage, sorrow, love and remorse
Flowed on its face in an unending course.
Spotting us, it stood and turned fully around.
Though trembling in fear, I refused to give ground.
While its terrible visage and height gave me pause,
I bravely commanded “Begone! You’re no Claus.”
“I hope not!” it proclaimed. “He’s a consummate fraud!”
“Those toys and trinkets he fashions and scatters abroad
Are all useless garbage that will rust and decay
While my gifts are permanent, a much better way
To enlightenment, pleasure and knowledge of self.
Gaze upon my magnificence for I’m The Book Elf.”
It exulted. Then its face stopped, became stern.
“What will you do the next six months to learn?”
Trembling, I handed it (copy attached)
Our next six month book list. “Oh, this is unmatched!”
It said, its face shifting quickly to joy.
“Thanatopsis, you say? Well, you’ve been a good boy.”
It waved at the tree and there were books of all kinds
 First editions, old manuscripts-incredible finds!
Mystery, Romance, True Crime, Science Fiction,
Non Fiction, Biography, one was even on diction.
Gratitude filling us, we knew not what to say.
We turned to give thanks, but it had vanished away.
Yet echoing gently, I heard its soft voice:
“Remember to read when you’re given the choice!”

Deferred Maintenance

When it comes to home maintenance, I have a philosophy: projects must fully mature before I will address them. Just now, for example, our bathroom sink’s drain is clogged. Not water-standing-permanently-in-the-sink clogged, merely water-backs-up-and-drains-slowly-so-that-it-takes-several-operations-of-the-faucet-to-get-rid-of-the-shaving-cream clogged. This condition is now approximately three weeks old. It’s maturity level is seven out of ten. I anticipate that within a week, at most two, it will fully mature and I will deal with the problem. To paraphrase the redoubtable Orson Welles, I will fix no problem before its time.

Home Maintenance Is Like A Fine Wine

This approach works tolerably well and over the years, the lovely Marianne and I have reached a mostly easy, occasionally strained, rapprochement on the subject. When she notices items and brings them to my attention, I conduct an initial evaluation, assign a maturity level and keep careful watch to pounce on the project when in the fullness of time it has reached the peak of readiness.

I don’t want to leave the wrong impression here. I’m no handyman. My home improvement skills top out at putting in a new faucet or light fixture. Anything beyond that is beyond me. I know people who finish basements and redo kitchens and bathrooms, but that ain’t yours truly. No, I stand firmly with Jerry Seinfeld.

The Only Thing Jerry and I Have in Common.

We have had an unusually wet spring. As the spring rains ramped up, it came to my attention that water was not pouring from our home’s gutters as it should. I dutifully logged the gutter cleaning project and started monitoring its maturity. Yesterday after a month and a half of our wet spring, I judged the gutter cleaning task mature. So I hauled out my ladder. When I reached our home’s east side by the chimney I discovered I had a little forest with its own eco-system.

Not my actual gutter, but a reasonable representation.

Judging from the different flora, whole species and a new civilization had evolved in my gutter. I even glimpsed miniature buldings deep in the jungle with smoke from tiny chimneys. I hesitated only a moment then overcame my reluctance and with ruthless efficiency removed the entire offending community. Harsh perhaps, but if you let that sort of thing go too long, you’ll find you’ve lost your home. I came away from the experience with the impression I needed to alter my definition of when a project has matured– something I’ll consider doing in the very near future.

Fun With Winshield Wipers

Several weeks ago in preparation for our trip to Yellowstone (which I’ll say more about soon) I purchased a new wiper blade for my driver’s side windshield wiper. The old one was coming apart and rain was predicted for our trip.

Broken Wiper Blade

A trivial task you say? Nothing is too simple that I can’t screw it up.

At Walmart I perused the options and went with a premium blade–guaranteed for two million wipes!–because, hey, nothing but the best for my 2012 Camry. The packaging touted its new blade material. So when I removed the blade from its packaging and saw that the wiper part was blue and felt hard, I thought cool, that’s the new advanced material. My windshield will be spotless.

But when after installing the blade I tested it with washer fluid, the results were disappointing. Instead of wiping the fluid away it just spread it around. Being somewhat slow on the uptake, I thought it probably just needed to be broken in. Heh.

Two weeks later in Yellowstone it started to rain. After a few minutes of smearing water over the windshield it became obvious the breaking in wasn’t happening. I stopped the car and examined the wiper. Thinking maybe I had installed it going the wrong way, I removed it and discovered it would only go on the way I had first put it on. In the process I noticed that the actual (blue advanced composite) blade seemed to be coming loose from the arm that held it. It stopped raining.

Twenty minutes later as we were parked, it started raining again, this time pretty hard. My wiper was useless; I didn’t think I could drive with the darned thing. My complaints were loud and bitter. The rain stopped once more. I drove off not a little worried that if it started to rain again we’d be in trouble. I couldn’t let the problem go and thought about the loose blade I had noticed. Stopping once more I decided I’d better make sure the blade was secure. When I lifted the wiper from the windshield and grabbed the blade this is what I found.

Blue Plastic Wiper Sheath

Surprise! The smart folks who manufactured the wiper had enclosed the actual blade in a hard plastic sheath that was not in fact an “advanced composite.” Chagrined is not a strong enough word to describe how I felt upon re-entering the car after my discovery. Humiliated may be better. The wiper of course worked perfectly once I actually, you know, installed the wiper. I was gratified, though, to be able to provide the lovely Marianne with hours of entertainment for the remainder of the trip as she pointed out each time a rain drop hit the windshield how well the wiper was working.

The moral of the story is…I don’t know. Don’t be stupid, I suppose.

Facebook Messages

In my last post I mentioned joining Facebook for marketing my book Crossing the Border which you really should purchase and read immediately (available at Amazon and other etc, etc. and, oh, look! he’s dropped the price!).

Since joining Facebook I have struggled to maintain a presence there. I receive countless emails (my settings are wrong or so I gather from friends who know), but I have to force myself to check in. BTW is all social media like that? I thought these things were designed to draw you into the Hotel California.

Anyway, I checked in this afternoon and saw a message from an acquaintance (in point of fact, the lovely Marianne’s old boyfriend who had plans to wed her and who authored a hysterical preview of their married lives together which my children when younger found stashed away in a corner of our house. They teased her without mercy and still bring it up on occasion).

As I said this acquaintance sent me a message in the form of a poem by Franklin Waldheim.

Help Wanted
by Franklin Waldheim

A LAW FIRM commanding
Position of standing                                                                                                                         Requires a general clerk —
A man who’s admitted                                                                                                                              To practice, and fitted
To handle diversified work;
Must know the proceedings
Relating to pleadings,
The ways of preparing a brief;
Must argue with unction                                                                                                                              For writs of injunction
As well as for legal relief.
Must form corporations
And hold consultations,
Assuming a dignified mien;
Should read each decision
And legal provision
Wherever the same may be seen.
Must analyze cases
And get at their basis,
Should never be idle or slow;
Must manifest learning
In all things concerning
The matters referred to below:
Attachments and trials,
Specific denials,
Demurrers, replies and complaints,
Disbursements, expenses And partial defenses,
Ejectments, replevins, distraints;
Estoppels, restrictions,
Constructive evictions,
Agreements implied and express,
Accountings, partitions,
Estates and commissions,
Encumbrances, fraud and duress.
Above are essentials,
The best of credentials
Required — and handsome physique;
Make prompt application,
Will pay compensation
Of seventeen dollars a week.

Amusing, I thought and since my mind had been on verse from this morning’s post, I composed a reply.

Of the matters you mention
(including contention)
I’m well versed and fit nicely your bill.
But such skills many and varied
Have traditionally carried
A price that will not give you a thrill
I will, therefore, agree
To perform for a fee
And focus my considerable power
On all your complaints
Without any restraints
For 300 dollars per hour

Verse

I recently joined Facebook mostly as a means of promoting my first novel Crossing the Border (available at Amazon in Kindle and Paperback and electronically at other fine book sellers). Immediately I started posting things I had written over the years on different occasions and I expressed excitement at having finally found a home of material that had been sitting forlorn and unloved in my filing cabinet. The lovely Marianne suggested that Facebook was probably not the place where I should grace the world with my unpublished genius. I forget the reasoning, but I considered it sound at the time. As I think about it, she might have said something like “maybe you shouldn’t inflict your doggerel on your friends.”

But now I have a blog! The perfect answer. Visitors will visit if my doggerel and other assorted musings entertains them; I won’t be foisting my stuff on anyone.

Herewith then the inaugural post of verse. I wrote this on the occasion of friend turning 40. At the celebration, I prefaced the reading by noting that the phrase “life begins at 40” was actually the first line of a poem, but that for reasons soon to be apparent the rest of the verse has been lost in the mists of time and only that lone first verse has remained in popular use.

Life begins at forty
A steady slow decline
And even though the day before
You think you feel just fine,
You will soon notice
The ravages of age.
Fading eyesight,
Creaking joints,
A sudden shortness of breath–
Because life begins at forty
The relentless march toward death.

Science Fiction v. Magic

A neighbor of mine recently asked me to review a manuscript of a mid grade science fiction novel with an eye toward the world building in the story. I’m not an expert by any means, but I have read a lot of science fiction over the course of my life and I’m always willing to offer my opinions regardless of how well or ill founded they may be. My wife saw part of what I wrote and thought it might make a good blog post. It was on the difference between magic and science fiction.

One of the things I included in my ramblings was a favorite aphorism coined by Arthur C. Clarke a famous science fiction author and scientist in his own right: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” So the difference between a fairy tale and science fiction is changing the label from “magic” to “science.”

In the fairy tale Cinderella’s fairy godmother sprinkles fairy dust on her dress that magically transforms it into a beautiful gown. In the science fiction the female scientist dispenses nano machines that gather atoms from the surrounding environment (including Cinderella’s dress) and build them into molecules then assemble the molecules according to a pattern encoded into the spin state of their electrons into a beautiful gown.

The scientific mumbo jumbo is meaningless but serves as a tag that lets the reader know the story she is reading is science fiction not a fairy tale with magic.