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Archive for March, 2010

It’s amazing how a face, or a name from the past can trigger memories long left abandoned. Such was the case for me a week or so ago. A cousin, a woman, who I hadn’t spoken to in years reconnected with me the other day, one of the benefits of Face Book; she and her family don’t live far from a farm house where I once lived as a child.  Like the Oracle sitting in the Temple at Delphi, fractured images and memories of my childhood on the farm slowly come forward. They aren’t haunting or suppressed events, just experiences that had been lost to time, pushed aside to make room for more pressing matters.

It was an old farm house showing its age with its gray asbestos siding, like many in the area, and it served as a layover point in my parents  exodus from the land of milk and cheese. It was the first house we lived in after loosing a similar home in a fire two months earlier. With a large sprawling front lawn, flowering Lilacs, and multiple out buildings, it provided an eight year old boy plenty of opportunity to explore, or in my Mothers words “to get in trouble”. I only remember a few things about the house itself,  since I spent most of the time outside, doing ‘nothin’; my  immediate verbal response to my Mother when she wanted to know what we were doing, or where we had been. I do remember the house as always being too cold. To counter the drafts that made their way through the wood frame construction; our Father would surround the foundation of the house with rectangular bales of straw. I don’t know if it really worked, but our cats loved it, giving them the perfect perch to peer in through the frosted windows of the house during the cold Wisconsin winters.

A collection of memories and tobacco.

One of the crops produced in the area at that time was tobacco, and one of my favorite buildings on the farm was the tobacco drying barn. With its high lofty interior and rack after rack of wooden rails where the tobacco leaves were hung; I would walk through the empty barn early in the summer purposely kicking up the dirt on the floor, exposing the hidden beams of sunlight that made  their  way through the cracks of the old wood planked walls. The smell in the barn was earthy, on the dirt floor under the drying rails, bits of brown leaves from last years harvest crunched under my feet.

Out behind the tobacco barn was the burn pile, the place where the household trash was piled and burned every other day. One of my chores was to burn the trash, at eight years old what could be better. Broken eggshells charred around the edges, rusted tin cans with bits of burnt paper still stuck to them marked the spot. The smell of blackened orange peels and coffee grounds permeated up from the  soil, it was pungent and musty after an evening rain. A set of rutted tracks made their way from the back doors of the drying barn, past the burn pile, and continued about a hundred yards or so, vanishing at the top of a small rise. Over that rise was forbidden territory, the place where ‘nothin’ was usually being committed.

At the edge of the farm was this limestone quarry, I don’t know how deep it was, at eight years old peering over the jagged edge of the open pit, it looked like the Grand Canyon. I remember laying on my belly, too afraid to stand near the edge, feeling secure as I kept close to the ground, I would spend hours watching the gravel trucks and workers down below. Back from the edge I could walk the rim of the open pit, kicking through loose bits of slate and limestone collecting fossils of ancient sea shells, hoping for something greater but never finding it.

I was never bored on the farm, with forts to build in the hay barn, and a tree house that had a screened in back porch, there was always something to do.

Thanks for letting me share the diversion offered by these memories in my hectic life, mostly thanks to Deb, for connecting after all these years. It was a pleasant trip back to a time when doing ‘nothin’, was so much fun.

Talk to you later.

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Like a 10 year old giggling with anticipation my daughter the Lovely Seven of Nine, someone who hasn’t seen 10 in over twelve years, called last night announcing they had declared tomorrow a snow day. I have to admit I was hoping for a solid performance from the weather G-ds as well. I woke this morning to about 10″ of snow at the house, the streets were not too bad, but I think the 10 year old in me took over when I set off to work. About 15 minutes from the house I was able to convince myself that it wasn’t worth it. So here I am making a mid-morning post.

Snow Day!

It’s ironic that when I’m not out making money, I always seem to find ways to spend it. I was thinking a little later today I might talk my wife into a quick round of What The Hell Is That? Not, What The Hell Are You Going To Do With That! It’s, What The Hell Is That, the one where we go to The ARC Thrift Store. Although….

About a week ago, in an attempted to stop that annoying 3:00 a.m. bedroom door scratch and potty call by Hazel the dog, I came up with a plan that would have made Wile E. Coyote proud, it was simple yet ingenious. I put up our old ACME Baby Gate (I told you he’d be proud), one of the few left overs from an earlier life. We have a simple floor plan to our house, in order to create an acoustical buffer zone I placed the security gate mid-way down the hall leading to the master bed room.

Today I’m walking with a temporary limp. Who knew that it could be that dark at 5:00 in the morning. Unwittingly I shuffled right into the lattice structure, of wood, plastic, and steel hardware. How I didn’t end up flat on my face is a wonder, the thermostat on the wall, the one I grabbed on to in a feeble attempt to catch myself, the one with the mercury bulb in it? Yeah that one, well it was old anyway.  Along with the thermostat, I seem to have removed a dime sized patch of skin from the bottom of my big toe, so for the next week or so, I will limp along, with visions of sock fuzz stuck to the bottom of my big toe.

What really galls me is that once I regained my balance and found the light switch, Hazel the dog lifts her head from her peaceful slumber on the couch and looks at me as if to say, “Hey Buddy, we’re trying to sleep here, do mind keeping it down? Stupid dog!

Talk to you later.

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The days of the week seem to rush by, unfortunately so do the weekends. The snow that hit us on Friday is rapidly disappearing, providing moisture for a very parched and thirsty Terra Firma. I expect that very soon the tulip and daffodil bulbs will be pushing new green shoots up through soil.

Today is Sunday and this Sunday my wife and I went out for breakfast, followed by a leisurely stroll through the ARC Thrift Store next door. Breakfast at the Country Buffet has changed over the years, with its reduced selections and a patronage with expanding waist lines, it should market it self as a place to binge with abandon. I find it tough to restrain myself from eating too much, the words All You Can Eat echo in my head, a throw back to some primitive function when we were hunter gathers. I need to be reprogrammed so it says All You Should Eat. Luckily the real breakfast temptations have been removed from the morning menu all time favorites like, pecan pie, tapioca and chocolate puddings, New York Style Cheesecake, all gone! Don’t get me wrong there’s still plenty to choose from, I’m just saying it just is hard to call it breakfast without eleven different desserts to choose from. Extracting myself from the booth before it was too late, we went to the ARC next door.

Entering an ARC Store is stepping from the real world into The Land of Chachkas, so we can play the game we call, What The Hell Is That. Seventies classic Rock and Roll is piped over the PA system, actually I like that. To our right, shelf after shelf of long forgotten mementos evidence of family vacations to The Grand Canyon,  Mount Rushmore, and Tombstone Arizona, when someone purchased an ashtray, that shot glass in the shape of a cowboy boot, or a  commemorative plate, in some inane effort to remember the event. If that’s what it took to remember the trip maybe it wasn’t all that memorable.

I remember when I was a kid my grandmother used to write letters to our family on the paper place-mats from famous places.

We saw this today, Oh by the way the weather's fine!

‘Hello Art, (she always called me that, from her it was ok) I’m traveling with your Aunt Charlotte,    today we saw stopped to see The Corn Palace on our way to see your Great Uncle Nick’. She would go on about how my father went there when he was a little boy and how the weather there was fine. (It’s some sort of family thing, my Dad still gives me a full weather report when ever we talk on the phone). The whole letter would be written around the perimeter of the place-mat so we could read about the interesting facts bulleted in the center of the illustration. The message would go on for several revolutions, ending with Wish you were here, Love all, Grandma Jo. Those letters written in the round, always brought a smile to my face, today it brings a bit more. I wish I still had some of those vacationing updates.

Moving from the Chachkas, we scavenge through boxes and boxes of kitchen wares; knives and spatulas, egg whisks and corn cob de-kernelers,  most are identifiable, but there are those that warrant further scrutiny. These become props in the game we  affectionately call the ‘What the Hell is That’ game. The object of the game is to find some item, preferably some thing used in the kitchen, that will stump the other participants in their effort to identify its purpose. It is cheap fun and we always get a giggle at some of the items. Todays winner, well… I don’t know “What the Hell It Was”

So while the weather has gotten warmer, it is still too cold to ride where I like to ride. I guess we’ll just have to continue to pick through the charitable cast offs from forgotten family vacations and unidentifiable kitchen gadgetry.

Talk to you later.

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Working Dreams.

I’ve been dreaming about work, a lot lately. Not the normal turn the wrench, tighten the bolt kind of stuff. It’s more like The Fantastic Voyage, the one with Raquel Welch; meets the PBS series Connections with James Burke. I’m analyzing a screw compressor from the inside, traveling  through its cavernous rotor housings, sliding down these huge helical geared rotors. Checking out the slide valve and piston assembly, as it drives back and forth along its polished track. It’s like I’m at some kind of weird amusement park ride, all of it with the clarity of  macro sized photography. Refrigerants are no longer gases or liquids, but are more like chemistry models with their atomic  structures labeled with C—H—F—and Cl on plastic ping pong balls; suspended in space, color coded for easy identification. My hand tools keep reappearing by my side, not in my personal hand bag, but in a 5 gallon plastic bucket without a bail. It’s all very weird and I have no idea what it means. Thank G-d I’m not a proctologist.

Hey! At least it wasn't a rectum.

Yesterday I spent some time at Alice (Remember Alice?) and Lenny’s home. Not very long though, with out my wife running interference for me, it’s entirely possible I could say the wrong thing. My son and I had been recruited to move a filing cabinet from the basement to the T.V. room located up stairs. Also on the agenda was the programming of the new remote control for the T.V. which usually becomes an exercise in patience and futility. I was there strictly for the muscle, my son was tech support guy; he gets to take the call tomorrow when they can’t figure out how to get The Golden Girls on channel 58.

On the way home I saw several of those advertising executives with their huge cardboard signs cut in the shape of  arrows, one was wearing this enormous red and white striped hat he had borrowed from Dr Seuss. This guy had his moves down, a left handed wrist spin, followed by a backhanded right wrist spin, the placard seemed to float in midair. He then would grab the top and lower edges of the sign and give it a horizontal triple axial, the sign would transform into a 3 dimensional cylinder. Timed properly he could stop the sign so it would display; AAA Bail Bonds its arrow pointing in the general direction of a strip mall, where I assumed said bonding establishment was located.

Across the street on the opposing corner two more human billboards displayed their wares. Not with as much flare as arrow guy, but certainly with more sophisticated costumes. In a shimmering teal gown that would have made heads turn at the Oscars; a young man wearing a headdress, torch in his right hand, was shilling for The Liberty Tax Agency, it reminded me that April 15th is rapidly approaching.

The award for ‘Don’t tell Mom what I’m doing for a living’; goes to the person wearing the black and white cow costume, complete with a four pack of udders. I can only imagine what kind of nightmarish dreams that poor guy must have every night.

Talk to you later.

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Fingers stiff, they appear puffy and swollen. This week I’ve worked with the tools more than the keyboard, kind of nice for a change. Well, except for the customer who thinks troubleshooting an intermittent problem is a predictable process, timing is everything.

Spring Forward!

Day light savings time, fall back, spring forward, the annual resetting of the clocks. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could reset our life. I’m not sure which I’d choose, fall back for a do over, or spring forward to a different life. What would an hour equate to in a life time? Three and a half days, if it was equal to three and half days, when would you choose to spring forward? Or would it be better to fall back? What butterfly effects would we set into motion if we could, and if we could…. would we, or better still should we? Must be something in the coffee, I feel a quantum moment approaching, unfortunately I missed that particular lecture in school. ( Fall back, I would definitely go with a fall back!)

As I shake off my mental fog, and come out of my winter hibernation, I’m beginning to feel the return of spring. Lately it has been nothing but work, teaching at night, sleep for five hours then repeat. This weekend I feel a change coming on, there isn’t any visual evidence, it’s more of a perception. The promise of palatable days ahead has me thinking of outdoor walks in the wetlands, birdwatching, and feeding ducks in the park.

Maybe it’s a subconscious recollection of the early days of my relationship with my wife. Our courtship had become more serious around this time of year. So after several months of frequent sleep overs, while retaining my own apartment, just in case; my wife, well future wife, had decided that our relationship had progressed to a point that I could safely move the remaining items from my apartment to hers. Sadly, the Grolsch Beer Bottle collection did not meet the stricter decorating covenants of her apartment. It was unceremoniously heaved into a green dumpster, along with a cast iron skillet which had developed a bacterial colony capable of living on a surface as barren as the moon,  seven heavy duty trash bags stuffed full of discarded Dominoes Pizza boxes, and a dozen or so empty beer bottles. I owned three pair of socks, four pair of pants, a leather jacket, one stereo, and an orange crate full of vinyl. My total possessions filled a Chiquita  Banana Box, and an orange crate. I was some catch!

We were in love, I never got her an engagement ring, it was a tandem bicycle with our names engraved on the cross bar, a little big to show off at the dinner parties, but it tied us together more than any ring could have. We spent our weekends riding through the Greenbelt, stopping for lunch and a beer, and when it was time, peddling up that big hill on our way home. I remember nearly losing control of the handle bars, laughing as I listened to her complain how we always had to ride up hill to get home. “Honey, that’s because we live at the top of a hill!” That first year before we got married was the poring of a foundation that has withstood the test of time.

Spring brings back memories of those days, I think maybe that’s better than any do over.

Talk to you later.

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I hear the same familiar scratch at the bedroom door, the dog with the overactive bladder has served notice. It is time to answer the call of the wild once again. Flitting from bush, to tree, to fence line in pursuit of some perfect scent, she finds what she’s in search of at the base of the crab apple tree. Standing at the door looking through the slightly parted drapery, the world outside  is gray, a light fog has settle in and it makes things look cold. I wait, leaning my forehead on the icy glass I exhale, my breath forms a cloud on the cold transparent surface transforming it to a translucent haze.

Why is it my foggy mornings never look like this?

Looking up from her special spot at the tree our little brown dog, wags her tail, I can only imagine what I must look like from her vantage point. The clouded glass obscures any detail of my face, the parted curtain revealing the body of a half naked 50 year old fat guy, thank G-d for six foot privacy fences.

Last night we went to Alice (Remember Alice?) and Lenny’s for dinner. It was a full house, as another couple about our age, and a close friend of Alice and Lenny’s were also invited. Lately conversations appear to be moving a little too fast for the hosts, with Alice searching for the  appropriate word, while we struggle to find the connection to the topic. Lenny asleep in his chair, comes out of his comatose slumber every ten minutes or so to ask us to repeat the conversation. Lively topics comparing male and female circumcision as a religious or cultural right, to genital mutilation, can make for very interesting dialog, but quickly loses its relevance when it needs to be repeated for the second time.

My unfinished writing project keeps nagging at me, The Great American Novel sits waiting for resolution, as I work harder at coming up with reasons to avoid it, than the words to finish it. I find myself looking back to the beginning disgusted with it’s quality, but afraid that if I change it, it will morph into something worse. Sooner or later I will need to pick it up and continue, but right now I’d rather write in this form, maybe even bore the “readership” with a short story now and again. I’m hoping that along the way, I might dislodge an idea that could develop into something greater.

Life is full of incompletes, waiting for that last chapter to tie it all together nice and neat.

Talk to you later.

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