Sunday, December 21, 2008

Up in Arms

Winter's here with a vengeance, so sudden; we had nearly 40 degree weather two weeks ago and now this, dry crackling powder four inches at a time, bitter nights, apocalyptic skies, ruthless winds. The Snow Pile across the street is back and so are the Loud, Annoying, Trespassing Kids that Play on the Snow Pile, but now they're down to two (as far as I can tell from the window -- they sound like ten) since Gina bought her grandmother's house and moved her boys downtown. Two, three, ten, doesn't matter. It will be War as usual.

I'm itching for combat, apparently, but the world just keeps provoking me. This morning, or what I thought was morning, I woke up to the grinding, clanking snarl of the truck plowing the church parking lot across the street. Wondering how much time I had left before the alarm went off, I hit the snooze button (which lights up the hands) and read 3:15 a.m. What? I checked the mantel clock on the bookcase next to the bed. 3:15 a.m. OH NO YOU ARE NOT. I should have called the cops, because we have a noise ordinance, but I wasn't thinking (I had only been asleep for three hours). I should have tossed on a hair net and my camel coat and the big North Face pac boots and gone running over in my nightgown screaming and waving a broom. That would have scared him off, maybe for good.

This is a residential area. Why doesn't anybody think? He probably has other lots in town to plow and wanted to get this one out of the way. Maybe he wanted to get it done before people started showing up for church (there was one vehicle there at 7:00 a.m. when I left for work four hours later). Why is the world out to get me? I just hate noise. I just want sleep. If I wear earplugs I won't hear my alarm, and they're uncomfortable anyway. I shouldn't have to do that.

I have no problem with the nice, quiet man upstairs (who has been just lovely, by the way, since he got back from four months working in Louisiana around Thanksgiving, just when Kathy was trying to rent his still-furnished apartment because she'd forgotten his name and number and hadn't seen his November rent check yet -- what, he's still living there? Could you run up and have him call me, please?) squeaking around directly above me. "I always feel like I should tip-toe," he said. "It's so creaky." I told him it was fine. (I run the water when I use the restroom if I think he's in bed, because I'm afraid he'll hear me.) Just knowing he's thinking about it completely defuses me. THINK, people.

I can't wait for the plow guy to show up at an ungodly hour again. CAN'T WAIT. A couple of weeks ago someone woke me up shoveling at 1:00 a.m., but I couldn't see where they were. They could have been at the church, or they could have been up the street. This part of town echoes. We're on a hillside, and the house is surrounded by tall brick buildings like the church and new two-story elementary school. I can't wait for the Snow Pile Kids to start shrieking at 11:00 at night again, or wake me up before 8:00 on a Saturday morning. I have a chicken carcass waiting in the fridge and a litter box that needs sifting. I feel like John Travolta's archangel in Michael (which is a great alternative Christmas movie and one of Dad's favorites): "BATTLE!"

More and more of what I write on my Facebook wall is in all caps. I have to get mean; I have got to get tough if I'm going to get through this winter. Or Christmas, even. Oh, the holidays. The gloves are off.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


I spent most of Wednesday morning in my coveralls at the bottom of the west sedimentation basin, looking for my favorite pair of brown plastic Jones New York sunglasses (the ones I bought at Ross for like $5.00 about five years ago), which flew off my head when I yanked my beanie off two winters ago. (Remember that? I blogged it. I was devastated and ashamed.) I watched them sink casually down the last plate settler into the blackness below and thought I'd never see them again.

Wednesday morning we were also cleaning with the huge wooden sludge rake and a fire hose that took all my body weight to manhandle. I was pretty sure that one of these tools would spell the end for my beloved shades if the rolling hydraulic Trac Vac system that runs along the bottom of the basin on a network of cables and pulleys hadn't already smashed them against the wall or drug them along and crushed them. There was also the question of what two years in cold, cold water laced with synthetic aluminum polymer would do to plastic.

The sedimentation basins are designed with three rows of plate settlers, which are actually giant racks of stainless steel plates, roughly four feet wide by eight feet long, set at about a 45 degree angle so that their rolled tops are just protruding from the surface of the water. Their purpose is to slow the horizontal flow of the water so the weighted sediment, treated with ionic chemicals in the previous step of the process, have time to settle out and sink to the bottom. The rolls have weirs on each side that further trap the silt in the water flowing over into four stainless steel troughs that lead to the filters.

The basins are 19 feet deep, so there's eleven feet of space under the racks of plates, which effectively block out all light and heat. As one climbs down the stainless steel ladder (which is gooey with polymer and slick with algae) into the darkness, one feels the chill and a sense of the unknown, of the unexplored and undisturbed. Like it might feel to walk on the Titanic if it were drained and left dripping and damp in a refrigerator. Then one steps into ten inches of reddish sludge the gelled consistency of chilled poultry fat, only more gritty.

I thought again, I'll never find them in this. But still, I slogged around for a while before I called for the hose, my breath making white puffs in the Maglight beam. Robbie joined me and we had to get down to business, hosing and pushing the muck with the rake (a 2x4 at the end of a long, heavy handle with right angles bolted on the ends to catch the sludge). The caked sludge kept blocking the drain, and it was almost impossible to measure our progress in the dark. I should have worn a rain suit like Robbie; I wound up soaking and covered in goo. But happy. Read on.

I was glad to be wearing a hardhat, because I kept walking into the pipes that bisect the basin at just about head level, staring at the floor, hoping. We were almost done, having bared the mottled concrete floor in places and reduced the sludge to an inch or two of milky, slushy water in others, when I decided to make one last lap around to look for my glasses, which I was convinced had snaked through the screen and down the drain somehow. We hadn't found them in the solid sixteen inches of sludge the Trac-Vac had trapped against the wall, even though we were careful when we hosed there and it was the place with the most pale light from above. Robbie was kind to humor me. They all were.

I took one more look in the pile of chunky debris we were ignoring behind the Trac-Vac hose, and as I turned away I saw in an inch of sloppy water something glinting in the dim, misty light streaming down between the plates. It was the glasses, and I whooped, making Robbie jump. I couldn't tell what kind of shape they were in even in the flashlight beam; they were covered with a greasy film but they were intact. I tucked them in my overall pockets and shouted to Jeff, "I found them!" I heard him squawk somewhere above but couldn't tell what he said.

We finished up and climbed out, shedding our filthy outer layers and mucky fireman boots on garbage bags on the catwalk. And then I pulled out the glasses. Chrome hinges: unrusted, swinging freely. Plastic lenses: filmy from polymer but once wiped clean found to be completely unscathed, a few tiny scratches out of the line of vision but I believe those were there the last time I wore them kayaking. The frame and arms: gently scuffed on the edges and nose piece but still glossy and perfectly presentable, and oddly, in a few places, pitted as if someone had
repeatedly stuck a needle into the cooling molten plastic in a sprinkled pattern of tiny, tiny dots. "JONES NEW YORK" is still boldly written in gold on the outside of one arm and in a dull gray-blue on the inside of the other, the paint completely undisturbed, no chips.

I was ecstatic. The boys were amused.

After the rest of our work was done, I swabbed them with alcohol-doused prep wipes from the first aid cabinet and bathed them in an all-purpose anti-bacterial foam cleaner that bubbled the greasy film away. I polished them up with a cotton rag and Jeff's eyeglass cleaner and I wore them home at noon, having forgotten my Victoria's Secret clear plastic shield sunglasses with the purple lenses (and why anyone would have paid the original price of $17 for such incredibly cheap quality I don't know, because I got them on sale for $6 and grumbled, but they don't block my peripheral vision and they don't interfere with my hat, so I wear them) when I left home.

And unlike most sunglasses I put on after a few months of disuse, I still love them. They still look great, timeless and classic. In fact, the rims are nearly identical to the Calvin Klein eyeglasses I picked out over a year after they took the plunge, and it's no wonder I've bought six pairs of sunglasses trying to replace them. So I no longer have to sigh over the sight of them in photographs where I was joyful and unsquinting, of which there are many in my digital archives.

And that is a rare happy ending.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Official 1,000th Post (Finally)

1,000 posts. I've been doing this for four and a half years, spilling my guts to strangers and family alike, fending off stalkers (and inviting one in), compiling a sort of verbal and visual record of my life. It's fun to go back and read, and at the beginning of each month I like to flip through the same month in previous years and see what I was up to, and how far I've come.

When I began this blog I was still doing the accounts at City Hall, which seems like an eternity ago. I was twenty-four. That was before Glen and Grandpa Bartley and Dad and Gram and Pete died. (I can't read through the posts from April and May of 2005 without being wrecked all over again, but it's getting easier, and I'm glad to have a record of it.) I hadn't seen the Statue of Liberty or a glacier yet, although plans for both New York City and Alaska were already in motion. Cordale and Kindra and Abbie and Britan were still children. Now Cordale is as tall as I am, Kindra's baby is due next month, Abbie's... well, it's a long story awaiting a satisfactory conclusion, and Britan's still a child, but not for long.

I didn't know when I began this blog that it would lead me to Brent. (How do you not see something like that coming?) I was still cleaning up the Oscar debacle. I intended never to buy a brand new car. I had no idea that in a few short months I'd climb the stairs in the water plant and know even before the interview began that I'd be working there. I only knew Jeff in passing and Bud scared me. Robbie didn't exist then and for almost three and a half years I had no idea what was missing at the plant. Now Bud's gone and Jeff's the boss and I won't be around much longer (which has nothing to do with Jeff, who's doing a positively stellar job). But there's a chance that next week I can retrieve my favorite sunglasses from the bottom of the sedimentation basin, which needs to be drained and cleaned. They've been down there for two years. Reunited!

In June of 2004 I weighed forty or fifty pounds more than I do now and my hair has been four different colors since then (oddly enough, it's back to the same natural dusty brown with grown-out highlights). I was almost $30,000 in debt between credit cards and student loans, and now I have no unwanted debt. Puck is so worth the car payment every month, and I'm already one-third done. I've driven him over 13,000 miles; by my estimation that's about 325 hours together, most of them alone, all of them fun. We've had our first accident together and our one-year anniversary is in three days. I can't even think about the clothing I've bought and discarded since then. I had to buy a whole new wardrobe twice. I've gone through several dozen pairs of shoes and I'm about to welcome home cellphone number three. I got this trusty, tiny Sony Vaio six months after I started blogging, but it feels like we've been together much longer, and he's been a soldier. His unnamed replacement will be along sometime in 2009.

It's hard to remember them all, but I've read at least 200 books since June of 2004, possibly half again that amount. I wouldn't say I always get through a book a week, but there are weeks when, ravenous, I get through three or four. I've watched far fewer movies and promptly forgotten 95% of them entirely, but they were entertaining while they lasted. Actually, I remember almost every frame of Amelie and I got ridiculously giddy watching The Amazing Quest of Ernest Bliss. And Cars, Ratatouille, and Wall-E were everything they should have been, too. I've seen a few live shows, but not as many as I would have seen if I had stayed in San Diego, what with Twinkie working the box office and all, and Kym being the star that she is.

I didn't know Tonetta had M.S. yet. She didn't either. There have been a few divorces. Mike Lake was still alive and was my favorite boss. We've lost a few family pets. Hope had the first baby of our crew, Faith Esperanza (and I may have been the first to lose a parent; I can't remember). Lenny and I didn't speak for a few years but fixed it and have managed to get along since even before he suggested this blog. That's right: this is all his fault. He even suggested the title, and because I didn't think a blog was something I'd stick with and maintain, I used it, and now I'm stuck with it and it's branching out. And I even kind of like it, because it reminds me of performance magicians, and who can't use a little more magic in their life?

So I've come a long way and I have a record of it, and it's incredible to me how big a difference something as mundane and ridiculous as a blog -- because there's no denying blogs can be real time-suckers -- can make in a life. Early on the blog was my private place to vent and ramble and pass the slow days at work. Then I remembered that I can actually write well when I want to, and I've done a little of that. I've shared a little artwork and some fun photos. I've argued with myself and justified things and come to conclusions. It's helped me mark milestones and keep things in mind, a living electric journal with people at the other end, helping distant family get to know me and keep track of me (or decide to disown me, but you keep sending cards). And since blogs are the kind of thing that are fun to network with, it helped me make important connections.

I neglect it something awful lately, but I'm hoping to rearrange my routine a little in the coming new year and include more blogging in it, because I miss it and I think I'm not the only one. I have stacks of note-sized pages torn out of the control room calendar, each scribbled with phrases and ideas or sketches and charts. They're waiting in a shoebox under the table and if I get through even a tenth of them we'll all be happy. Plus I might need this space in a new way soon (I might move, I might start a business, I might join the circus) and there's no reason it can't be everything I want it to be.

Because it always has been. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Spirograph Collective

Mom's been bringing over more of our childhood effects that have been stored for the better part of 15 years. In a trunk of Barbie dolls I found one toy I've been wondering about, the KPT Travel Spirograph, circa 1988, an ingenious little case made in Mexico of bright, extremely durable primary-colored plastic. All the parts and pieces are there, translucent blue plastic gearwheels and tiny pens, which is amazing considering how many trips the thing made to California and back. I remember lounging in the back of one of the station wagons twirling away with the ballpoint as the Nevada desert flew by outside. This one's fun to zoom in on.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

October and November

Train race near Morgan, UT

Autumn in my yard

Kemmerer's Homecoming 'K' burning on the hill

Great Aunt Nora's rolls, my practice batch (I repeated this performance to rave reviews in K.C.)

Pond in Kindra and Brandon's new backyard

Plaza lighting in Kansas City

Kansas City Live downtown (does this remind anyone else of the Fremont Street Experience in Vegas?)

Mayor's Christmas tree in Crown Center

Kansas City Star building

Sprint Center from Truman Road

Kansas side of K.C. from Quality Hill

South from Quality Hill

Downtown K.C. on a bleak holiday Friday

Friday, December 05, 2008

Post 999.75

It's been a bit insane since I got back from Kansas City Monday. Puck went in for surgery Wednesday and I've been driving Monte, who thought I was kidding at first, but once he realized I was serious it's been just like old times. I topped off his fluids and let him warm up a little longer than I do Puck, and we get along fine.

I drove by the body shop Thursday after work just to see what I could see and I shouldn't have; parked out between the office and the rear shop was Puck, and although his undamaged side was towards me I could clearly see that his bumper was gone. And while I knew that was part of the game plan, seeing him sitting there in that handicapped, amputated state sort of brought the reality of the accident home and the fact that some of his parts will no longer be original, even though he'll be as good as new.

I never doubt that Monte will get me where I need to go, even though he may do it without cup holders and heated seats and a speedometer (it works occasionally, but the needle exploded one chilly day so it's hard to read when it is functioning), and with way over 200,000 miles already flown under his wheels. I drove to Kemmerer today to meet Mom for lunch and do a little shopping, and when I got on the freeway I got the urge to weep with joy.

Monte, my '87 Dodge Raider, never was a very powerful vehicle, and after all these years it's something of a struggle to maintain 75 mph, which threatens to shake him apart. His hood flaps alarmingly since my National City head-on in 2000 (it's in no danger of flying open, I promise you) and the cabin roars with road noise and wind as the force of freeway air currents buffets his square angles. But driving Monte is still magic; something about his tipsy height and weighty sturdiness and the joyful bounce of his rusty leaf springs simply makes me happy.

This is the vehicle I drove when consequence was a distant blur, when I was fearless and unrestrained at the age of 17. Monte has ferried my favorite, most beloved people and carried me swiftly to them when they were far away. Over 130,000 miles of road we've rolled together, and that was after he'd passed his first 100,000 with my fifth grade band teacher. He's seen pretty much all there is to see of California, L.A. and San Francisco and the beaches and fields and deserts in between, and south from Tijuana into Baja, all the way to Ensanada where the tollways are patrolled by open truckloads of soldiers with guns.

Monte knows Wyoming, too, and he could probably drive I-15 between San Diego and Salt Lake like a work horse heading blindly from field to barn. He's been off I-80 near Bonneville, Utah to leave his mark in the powdery salt seen in commercials for sedans, his tread smudged like the tracks of a lunar Rover in the gray sand of the moon. He's been to Phoenix via I-10 in the dark, accompanied by Dad and Paul Simon's Graceland. (On that trip I saw Dad's mother, my grandmother Onita, for the last time and his aunt on his father's side, Lora Lee, for the last time, too.)

We have history, that hunk of metal and I, and although his future is uncertain, I'm enjoying this time with him. It's also reminding me of all the things about Puck that I already take for granted, the satellite radio and CD player and mp3 jack, the heated seats, the cruise control. These are luxuries, though, and I could survive without them, but I can't underscore enough how important two things about Puck are to me: keyless entry and automatic lights. When I opened Monte's door to gather my things and get out in the dark tonight, no lights came on, and I was momentarily confused and helpless. (Monte's interior light actually used to come on when the door was opened; it's one of several things that just doesn't work anymore, or maybe the switch is flipped.) Having the interior lights conveniently on when I get in the car and magically fade when I don't need them anymore is wonderful, and I love that the headlights greet me in the morning and at night stay on until I get safely into the house, almost like he's looking out for me. And I can't believe how much I love not having to insert and turn a key to get into my car. I also really love that extra pair of doors; Monte is the reason I will never have another two-door vehicle. There's really no point having that back seat without them.

So this time without Puck really isn't purgatory, but I'll be glad to see him and his sparkly new nose and cheek and anti-lock brakes. He's quickly become as dear to me as Monte for many different reasons, and I expect to have 12 years at least with him, too, and many more.

I just wish he came with a magical force field that deflected deer.