Monday, February 28, 2005

Blame Game

I don't know/don't care whether Michael Jackson molested anybody or anything. What I want to know is this: what kind of parent leaves his or her child, especially one who was recently treated for a life-threatening illness, alone overnight with an adult male, not to mention a man who has been previously accused of child molestation? It's the parents of this kid who should be on trial, not the disturbed celebrity. I have a theoretically effective suggestion to prevent horrible things from happening to your child: just use your damned head.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Come to Rest

Maybe I woke up last Sunday night because I was dreaming about the beach, or maybe it was because I had the feeling you get when you can already tell you’ve lost a game, and yet you know you have to finish playing anyway. Whatever it was, I was awake, so I listened to see if Dad was breathing. When I had fallen asleep, he was snorting and huffing erratically in the chair which he couldn’t work up the strength to rise from after the long trip home from the hospital, and if I raised my head a little I could see his face in the strip of blue light between door and jamb. Upon waking, I propped myself up enough to see that the oxygen hose was sliding up and down as his chest, where the hose rested, rose and fell. I was proud of him for sleeping so peacefully that I couldn’t hear.

His combination of illnesses requires the most tender balance of medications, and it takes just the slightest misguided overprescription of one to cause a ruckus. Since his three nights in the hospital and a reevaluation of his meds, he’s lost 30 pounds of fluid (30 pounds of fluid! can you imagine how oppressive to your system?!) and regained a lot of strength. He’s alert and comfortable and walking, which is all we could ask. For the first time in a long time I think there’s a possibility he may get a little more out of life for a while. I know that Parkinson’s and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and what appears to be congestive heart failure won’t just go away. But I also know now that he won’t just give up, and a big scare seems to have done him good. I send my heartfelt thanks to everyone who wished him well; it made all the difference.

And out of all this come many realizations, not the least of which is how easily and often my mother’s heroism and incredible strength shine through her rather ordinary human form. After single-handedly resuscitating Dad (fifteen years a P.E. teacher and you never forget basic first aid, apparently) and the long ordeal that followed, she never once let on that she was afraid or alone. And when I accompanied her home Saturday after they decided to keep him another night, she automatically went into Mom mode, bustling and busy, as always. I suggested that I was around to help her prepare for him to come home, and she said “no, come to rest. Rest up so you can get over that cold.” She kept saying that I’d be moral support for him, but I think just having me around, whether to converse with or care for, was support enough for her, too.

Tonight I suffered one of my occasional emotional spasms about death, my own in particular (oddly enough). I just adore life so much that I can’t bear to think how brief it is. I don’t think it was really connected to the episode with Dad; it was just driving the frosted Wyoming badlands tonight in moonlight so bright that my little truck actually cast a shadow. My Raider is oddly cube-shaped, which makes its shadows extra fun, but I digress. All it takes is a good song on the radio and thoughts of all the pleasant things I’m anticipating in life to plunge me into despair that it can’t all last forever.

Here is a silly story about a case of mistaken identities involving two guys in Kemmerer named Felix, and Eva, who is one Felix’s cousin. Eva called my friend John one evening last week to ask if he knew where Felix was. John assumed she meant the elderly Felix Gratisky, who was in the hospital in Jackson Hole with a broken arm and hip after a fall on some ice, and he told her so. She sounded terribly upset, so he offered to drive her up there the next day. Eva must have called the hospital because she called John back a little while later and, in a strange voice, carefully asked the question: “John, can I talk to Felix?” Then the light came on and poor John said “sure,” and handed the phone to Felix Abriani, who had been sitting in the chair next to him the whole time.

Tonight I was in such a strange mood that I half expected to find a UFO planted firmly in the middle of my lane on Highway 189, but instead I found a deer. I was going slow enough to safely swerve and honk and she bolted, and for once a deer bolted in the right direction: away from my much-abused bumper. Although, after what that bumper did to a Pontiac years ago at an intersection in National City, California, I should be worried for the deer.

This purposeful post is losing steam fast. I just wanted to say that Dad is fine and Mom is the greatest and I am so glad I can’t express it and so tired I can’t think straight.

Thursday, February 24, 2005


“Do you love me?”

“Beyond reason.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that if I were ever presented with a choice between you and happiness, I would choose you.”

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Who is John Galt?

I’ve been at the CliffsNotes Online again. I’m still on the A page, just finished tearing through Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, that constant classic which pits blind socialism agains blatant capitalism, and I fully understand neither despite reading a lot about them. It was so provoking I checked out the full version and tried that, too. And after so much seriousness, I think this would be a good time to drag out Winnie the Pooh or Little Women or any one of James Herriot’s unequaled series about his years as a veterinary in English farm country. This is a time for the small, tattered paperback of poetry whose front cover is missing to expose a page full of Grandma’s neat, loopy cursive, a jumbled log of dates and locations where the book saw active duty decades ago. I am apt to get dreadfully sentimental about the pretty verses on its browning pages and the ornate silhouettes to accompany each. She gave the well-worn book to me long after she quit teaching, when it was fifty-one years old and I was about fourteen, I think, too old for a book of childrens’ poetry by today’s standards... and yet it’s always been one of my favorite objects. There should be someone in every woman’s life who will always, always see her as a little girl.

It’s not surprising that I’m thinking of Grandma when there’s comfort needed, even though it’s not her that’s in a hospital bed tonight. It’s Dad, who abruptly quit breathing this morning after telling Mom she’d better go to town without him because he was “just so weak.” He’s alright now, hooked up to myriad monitors in the ICU. He has emphysema and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and who knows what-all-else, but it just doesn’t seem fair. He turned sixty-two the first of this month and that seems so young to me. But he lived hard while the living was good and it’s funny to hear him talk about other people who did like he wasn’t one of them. People he knew as young adults up in mountain towns and out on urban Arizona drag strips, whose organs are failing them one by one, and it’s no surprise to him because “so-and-so drank like a fish,” or “ol’ what’s-his-name smoked like a chimney.” We saw an ad on TV for Willie Nelson’s greatest hits and I remarked how much he’s aged (didn’t it always seem like he was a hundred years old, though?) and Dad said “well it’s no wonder. That son-of-a-gun, he and Waylon Jennings, they gave a concert down there in Phoenix and I worked the lights for the stage crew, and when they pulled away in their limo the ground was so thick with whiskey bottles and cigarette butts you couldn’t see the grass.” And maybe that’s the difference. Dad’s lucky enough to have seen the grass, and the desert sands, and mountains and pines and palms and lakes and snowy, jagged peaks from the seat of a snowmobile or the back of a mule or the soft-smelling leather of a convertible going a smooth ninety-eight up the tar in the sun. He’s owned more cars in his lifetime than most people ever dream about and had more than a few beers off the beaten path.

My big sister and I will go visit him tomorrow. We’ll take all six big chocolate lab puppies to take his mind off his troubles and believe me, nothing does it better.

I’m nursing a nasty cold and cursing my lack of productivity, for if Ayn Rand is right and productivity is a virtue, then I’m seriously lacking, and I dislike lacking virtue of any kind.

I have to say something just a little sentimental just now. I take heart in how often my phone has rung tonight. Though sick and grumpy and somewhat distressed, I am cheered that I am not alone. It's one of the nicest things about these trying days.

And I have a quick question. Is it going backwards if you have the title for your novel but not a plot? Because that's what I do. I wonder if there's a use for great title writers. Probably not.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

eBay Fix

I'm feeling the effects of extreme anticipation. My fab new Vaio left Brooklyn last Wednesday. I bought it on eBay, and even though this transaction went fine, it occurred to me after a few failed attempts at different pairs of $60 Tommy black leather clogs that invariably went for over $100 that there's something terribly, fundamentally wrong with eBay.

I've previously expressed concern about the impact eBay has on my health, because I'm a very competitive person and it really gets my goat when somebody else bids on something I want. I realize that's irrational and whiny, because they have just as much right to bid and win if they're willing to pay more than I am, but then I was considering the auction process and I realized that what is happening on eBay is not auctioning at all. It's much, much worse.

Yes, this is an original A crisis, but I'm sure I'm not the first person who's thought of it. The principle of an auction is that the item should go to the person who is willing to pay the most for the it, yes? However, the principle of eBay is to wait until the final moments so you don't drive the price up actually bidding against someone, then try to sneak in and outbid the other bidder at the last second. Folks, that's not an auction. The competing bidder doesn't get to say whether he was willing to pay more. So really, the seller is losing out on possible revenue. That sucks, especially since I occasionally sell my art on eBay and I want (logically) all the money I can get.

I wish they'd thought about the selling format before they set it up this way. I'm sure they did, but it seems like they were creating the system for a society full of honest, decent people. Oops. I say it might be better if an eBay auction wasn't final until a full twelve hours passed between bids. That way, bidders are allowed to bid the maximum they are willing to pay without the time running out and somebody else getting lucky enough to click and outbid them with just ten seconds left. If someone sneaks in and tries to bid eleven hours and fifty-nine minutes after another bid, the twelve hours starts over again and the original bidder gets another chance. I know, an auction could conceivably last forever that way as new bidders discovered the item. But there would eventually be a true maximum price for every item, and one person would eventually be willing to pay more than anybody else. I realize that as a concept this has major flaws, but I'm just saying. I just want justice.

I'm looking at this from the viewpoint of a seller, but I can see the other side, too. I'm a vintage tee-shirt junkie, and a sucker for anything with the word Wyoming on it, anything yellow, anything Olympus, and, obviously, I love shoes (unless they're used. Gross). I also love cheap thrills, and eBay's where it's at when it comes to paying pennies on the dollar for crap. I also love that somebody may be able to find a use for something I no longer need, and it doesn't wind up in a landfill. I'm no tree hugger, but I've seen landfills that made me want to die of shame for the way we as a society consume and waste, and I live in a state that's mostly gorgeous wilderness and I desperately want it to stay that way.

I'm not going to bombard eBay with nasty messages or start an irritating email petition or anything; don't worry. I don't really care that much. It's just interesting.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Talk is Cheap

But I don't care. I'll listen and I'll pay, every time. I'm not alone. She and her family can probably tell you just exactly how far off is that old cliche.

It helps that over two dozen people have told me, out of the blue, that I have the perfect voice to be a 900 hotline operator. They are invariably people who are on the phone with me, so apparently my appearance doesn't much lend itself to that idea. It doesn't lend itself to much of anything, now that I think of it. I am much more on the inside than I appear; aren't we all?

I did, I watched the Happy Days 30th Reunion Show, for just a little while. It's no surprise that Scott Baio has aged better than anyone else in the cast; he was always extraordinarily pretty. Of course, he was about 15 when everyone else was 30-ish, so maybe I should stop criticizing. I wish these reunion shows would be more honest, less scripted and more intimate. I'd love to hear what Henry Winkler and Ron Howard were really thinking. I'm glad they showed a clip of the episode where Fonzie sobs while praying for his best friend's life in a darkened hospital room. I know a lot of guys who might benefit from repeated viewing of that scene.

Didn't I say that after Christmas, things would slow down a little? Didn't I insist that I'd have the time to hash it out with my priorities? Isn't there a surgical procedure or electric shock treatment or hypnotherapy out there, isn't there something, anything that can help me deal with time? I just want to get to work at 6:55AM instead of 7:03AM every morning. I'd just like to get eight hours of sleep every night. I'm so, so tired of being rushed.

I have a lot of important things to say, but right now I don't have at my command the vocabulary to make myself clear, let alone astound you with my signature verbal artwork. I might have to forget about meaningful, impressive blog entries until after my Level I test the first week of May. Sudden prolonged studying, after almost six years on hiatus, is kicking my a**.

I've got the Happy Days theme stuck in my head, and I'm glad of it.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Be Very Afraid

I still haven’t gotten my hands on a copy of The Pop-up Book of Phobias. I’ll keep watching for it. I’m pretty sure two of my top three phobias aren’t in there: fear of stairs (or, more accurately, falling down them) and fear of spending money. I’m sure my numero uno phobia is in there: fear of death. Not inevitable death, anymore, really, but sudden or early or accidental death. I also have phobias about losing things (especially jewelry), getting a cavity, people who stare, losing a digit in rotating mechanical equipment, playing tennis (don’t ask), breathing cigarette smoke (and for good reason), and wearing white pants. Maybe those aren’t phobias. Maybe those are just sensible natural impulses, or good judgement calls. Except for tennis. That’s just me. I overcame my fear of playing golf last summer though, so maybe there’s hope.

The reason I got to analyzing phobias is I’ve just seen The Aviator, and poor, fantastic Howard Hughes had phobias that make mine look quaint. I really think Leonardo DiCaprio should get an Oscar for sinking into the flesh of that role the way it’s apparent he did. I do so admire an actor that can make himself utterly repulsive for just a flash, then be so beautifully, desperately vulnerable in the next instant. I’m no critic, mind you; I’ll watch absolutely anything (except Jackass: The Movie) and find some aspect of it to enjoy. But occasionally I’ll see somebody do something I’m pretty sure I couldn’t do (and I can do a lot, which is why I’m Marvelous with a capital M) and I want them to get an award for it. Also Cate Blanchett portrays such a delicious Katherine Hepburn that you either get annoyed when she leaves the screen because you wanted more (no doubt to try and figure her out; is it an act, or is she really that bizarre?) or else you're totally relieved that she's gone, which means it's probably the most accurate portrayal of that exhaustingly dynamic woman ever captured on film.

My only complaint with the film is that even though dates appear on the screen to indicate the passing of time, there’s no other testimony to create the sense that years have elapsed, except maybe the building progress on certain key aircraft. So either they didn’t age Leo very well, or they tried and it just can’t be done, which I can see being the case because that boy has a serious, serious baby face. Even added facial hair just makes him look more and more juvenile; it's unnerving.

Coming into town (heading West on I-80) there’s a billboard on the roadside depicting half a dozen actual members of the medical staff from our local hospital (‘Real Heroes,’ declares the sign), and they’re all wearing Wranglers, Ropers, Brushpoppers, massive oval metal belt buckles, and black 10-gallon Stetsons. It makes me smile and wonder if a surgeon would or should really risk his hands doing rough ranchwork. My brother-in-law earned four stitches while butchering beefs Saturday, when a quick gun/knife swap went awry. It was an extremely lucky, clean slice on his inner arm between tendons and major arteries, done with a knife necessarily razor sharp, and he's sure he felt the blade tap bone. He’s so tough (or stubborn) they just taped him up and he finished the afternoon's work. He even insisted on a shower before going to the emergency room. Yes, he's fine. But no aspect of agriculture, folks, is for sissies.

Friday, February 04, 2005

The Usual Suspects

Can I possibly be the only person on Earth who wishes that Honey Nut Cheerios came in a 50 lb. bag like dog chow? That’s how much I enjoy them.

I can wield an industrial mop like nobody’s business. It’s one of the abilities I am inexplicably proud of myself for cultivating; maybe I just like that I don’t think myself too good for such things. I haven’t picked one up in over three years, but today we had a tour at the Water Treatment Plant and I volunteered to sweep and mop the restrooms before the home-schooled kids and assorted moms arrived. For one, I was tired of studying, and for two, I don’t like getting soaked while spraying the stainless steel plate settlers, which was the alternative and which Travis volunteered to do. It’s 45° F in the main concrete bunker of the Plant, and that’s cold enough without damp jeans. It’s 64° F in the offices and control room and restrooms, and if you’re not moving around, even that gets chilly. I discovered something pleasant today, too: the boys keep a suprisingly tidy restroom. I’m happy about that. I won’t be afraid to volunteer for janitorial duty in the future, and the women of my family find immense solace in cleaning, so it’ll be good for me. (I was only eight when my uncle died, but I remember my mother cleaning our already spotless home furiously for two months straight.) Not that I need solace. Right now, for me, it’s more like therapy. The janitorial maintenance of happiness.

I have learned so much in two weeks, in fourteen cheerful, peaceful days that passed like greased lightning. I now understand the fascinating processes of coagulation, flocculation, stratification, and reaeration. Who knew that aluminum-based synthetic polymer has a positive charge that makes the negatively-charged sediment particles in raw water stick together in little globs that sink to the bottom of the concrete sedimentation basin, where they form a thick sludge and get sucked up by a track-run pipe vacuum and pumped to a lagoon down the hill to dry out and eventually be scooped into a dumptruck and taken to the landfill? That’s just craziness. I had forgotten the pH scale from Mr. Ashley’s ninth grade chemistry, anything I ever knew about electrical currents, and how to find the surface area and volume of various forms. Now I’m memorizing fractions of pi in decimals and formulas to calculate flow or convert Centigrade (Celsius) to Farenheit. With minimal information, I can even tell you how much copper sulphate you’d need to dose your reservoir with to prevent algae growth, because algal blooms produce too much oxygen during photosynthesis, and all the little organisms that eat algae when it dies use up all the water’s dissolved oxygen to metabolize it, and an anaerobic water supply is a bad thing. Oxygen depletion will kill fish and do other horrible things, like create hydrogen sulfide, which is what that rotten-egg smell is when you’re around stagnant water. Ok, you’re right: I’m using the blog to test my knowledge. I’ll need to know all this to pass my Level I Operator’s Certification test the first week of May, and there are three more levels to conquer after that. Besides, you can’t say this isn’t fascinating.

I’m basking in post-PMS serenity. I’m pleased with my life and its possibility and the way the people in it are treating me. The only dischordant note in the harmony is time, as usual. I have difficulty seeing the beauty in any example of time-lapse photography, because it’s so painfully unnatural, but the absolute most despicable variation is time-lapse photography of a functioning clock, like they do in the movies when they want to make the point that time is flowing, and they want to parade the fact in the tackiest way possible, so they show the hands of a clock flying around at the most abominable speeds. Witnessing that is like being on the Tilt-a-Whirl from Hell, the ghastly ride that never stops. I can’t stop time, and I generally don’t like things I can’t control. All I can do is hang on.

Ask me sometime about the Tilt-a-Whirl at the 1990 Turn of the Century Days celebration in Kemmerer, which my cousins and I rode on shortly after Sarah had consumed dinosaur-shaped Spaghettios, a fact I was unaware of before the ride but cleverly deduced afterwards. You can probably guess how I figured it out. It was seeing the tiny pale reptiles swimming on the chipped and scuffed blue-painted steel floor of the cabin that somehow imprinted the moment permanently in my brain. Just one of those things, you know? No wonder I'm having a hard time retaining formulas and scientific vocabulary that would injure even the most proficient larynx. My hard drive is full.

Thursday, February 03, 2005



Old Plant



Reservoir Levels

Dog Tracks

Hepatitis A & B

Tuesday, February 01, 2005


So what if I’ve had a chocolate cream pie milkshake for dinner two nights in a row? I sort of like the fact that I outweigh my male coworker. Who cares if I bought more socks to avoid having to do laundry? It’s my sock drawer, leave me alone. You don’t want to know what else is in there. I have cry-for-no-reason PMS this week, but I still love my new job.

My writing’s not up to par lately. Doesn’t flow. I sensed but ignored it, until a friend of mine felt “compelled to vocalize.” I should, in retaliation, post a whole bunch of my infamous fantasy art, which may or may not annoy him. Instead I’m going to tell you about the serious trauma I endured this morning, because it’s the sort of thing that’s so perfect to share. He can skip this part. He’s already heard it.

As I was going out to start my car at 6:30 this morning so it would run a little while (cuts down on ice-scraping time) before I had to go to work, I heard a funny crackling sound. The entrance to my basement apartment is on the side of the house, so I have full view of the west end of the front porch, see, and when I looked up there toward the sound, I saw someone peeing over the edge of the porch into the snow a few feet from my bedroom window. The person spotted me, said “shit!” and awkwardly turned and shuffled away (must be really hard to stop when you’ve got such a good stream going) and I think I may have taken the Lord’s name in vain, because I was so shocked I couldn’t think of all the colorful alternatives I’ve designated for use instead.

Now, my recent acquaintance with all things sanitary (there’s so much involved in water treatment. It’s unbelievable) has made me a lot more conscious of biological hazards and whatnot, and plus that’s just sick, so if I catch him at it again I’m going to call my friend Mitch the Patrol Lieutenant or any one of twenty-some other police officers who owe me a favor due to my previous fiscal involvement, or even John the Chief, who thinks I’m funny, and tell them to come over here and fine this freak for indecent exposure. Probably his girlfriend was in the biffy and didn’t want him in there, too, and I suppose he didn’t expect anybody else to be wandering about out there in the frozen dawn. I don’t care. That’s just foul. What would possess a guy to urinate off the porch when it’s about 4° out anyhow? We’ve all seen A Christmas Story, with the triple-dog-dare, and we’ve all seen the email about the girl who got her butt stuck to a frozen hubcap whilst peeing by the side of the road and her blind date had to pee her off because there was no alternative. What if… well, you know? Ugh. I just can’t get over it.

I love the color of pink the water turns when we test chlorine residuals at various sites of domestic water use. I love that I now understand stratification and reaeration and eutrophication, and you may not. I’d tell you all about it if you asked me to. I love for the radio to play Huey Lewis and the News early in the morning, or some Rod Stewart or even Celine Dion or whoever they want to play on Magic 99, no matter how much I they usually annoy me, because I’ve discovered I don’t hear very well until about 8:00 AM. Isn’t that bizarre? I suppose it’s some drainage issue. Maybe my brain is leaking. I guess this post is proof. I’ll get it together here soon, I promise.