Friday, July 29, 2011

In Praise of Tools

He said he wasn't very sociable and so he choose at this summer gathering of friends and strangers to tip his chair back against the wall, sit in the glow of a porch light, and -- with a steel brush -- rid the old sickle of its decades of rust.
"I haven't liked being unemployed all these months but I've sure gotten a new outlook on life," he said while he brushed.
Here are some of the things he told me he had learned since being laid off from a pretty high paying, prestigious job.
  • "If you stop watching television because you can no longer afford cable you stop realizing how many things you don't need but want anyway.  I've saved so much money simply by not watching television," he said.
  • "We have forgotten how to use basic tools."  And so he rescues old, discarded tools, re-learns their purpose and how to employ that purpose, and started a blog so others can re-learn the use and value of tools.
  • "The solution isn't to hire people to do our chores for us but to get down and dirty doing our own chores."
  • "Time is a luxury we squander.  Getting laid off helped me re-learn the value of time.  I seem to have plenty of it now and I try to never waste it."
  • "We throw away more good stuff than a lot of people in a lot of third world countries ever see in their life times.  It's time we started fixing and stopped replacing so quickly."
I left his part of the porch and the gathering itself awhile later.  He hadn't finished getting the rust off of the sickle.
"One day," he said as a farewell, "this will be a shiny and important tool again.  Maybe by then I will have learned its purpose.  In the meantime, I guess I'll just keep figuring out my own."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

No Need For Feet, Really

The building in which I work my day job is undergoing extensive remodeling.  It's pretty amazing to watch walls come down and rooms appear and doorways open up into areas never before imagined.  However, one of the most amazing sights was a man putting mud on drywall.  This is often, it seems, a really onerous task which involves moving ladders around and getting covered with the paste that covers up drywall seams.  I stopped in my tracks when I saw today's workman doing the drywall dirty work.  He was walking on specially made stilts.  No ladder needed.  And, in fact, not even two legs were needed.  As it works out he had two intact legs but what an amazing display of creative thinking and discarding the need for ladders or even two legs.  You go, guy!

Remodeling guy on stilts!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Yet Another Idea Whose Time Has Come

I was just reading one of the thousands of Home Invasion/Burglary police reports I've read over the years, and had another (in what is certainly an unprecedentedly consistent string) of my world changing ideas. Keep a black ski mask on your nightstand. If someone breaks into your home, throw it on and prowl around like you're a burglar, too. After a laugh and a hug, he'll leave, because you had first dibs.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Webber, Basset, and Australian White

The Weber Q Bar B Q behaved perfectly with the new and larger Propane tank.  The chicken, the was all perfect.  The evening had cooled off enough to make eating outside on the patio just about as good as it gets.  The cheap or rather inexpensive Australian white left over from a far more solemn occasion the week before had held up well enough to be called, well, good.  Even the lizard really fat and large and completely unexpected as it crawled out of the potted plant on the picnic patio table couldn't disturb the tranquility of the evening.  One of us made the chance remark that Andrew Lloyd Webber had destroyed the great American musical except that Jesus Christ Superstar had been really good so we just had to dig out the two-record album, vinyl of course, and listen to it to prove the point that nothing good ever came from the Webber machine after this musical.  So there we sat with our affordable Australian white listening to the last of the Webber good and gave not a thought to the Basset Hound left on his own in the house.
A little known fact about Basset Hounds.  They are frustrated interior decorators.  And so, at least in our home, the Basset has a go at decorating every chance he gets.
While on the patio Mary Magdalene bemoaned that she didn't know how to love him, Bradford etc. pulled his bed out of his crate and pulled it, the bed, to the front door.  It's beginning to come apart and so the bed left a trail of stuffing.  He then went into the den, took his sheet off of the futon and then pulled the futon into the middle of the room.  His final statement about the whole thing was to locate the vinyl album cover and deposit it at the patio door where we sat enjoying the white and bemoaning the demise of good musical theatre when all the time we should have been listening to Winton  Marsalis anyway.
Just another Saturday night with a Basset Hound and affordable white. Life is good especially with a Basset Hound.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Lessons Learned

I had another one of those, "Things Mike learned the hard way in the elevator at work and is now sharing so that you might avoid his pain and/or shame" (working title) moments this afternoon. This one is especially important for the fellas to remember, maybe not such a problem for the ladies... Always remember to speak clearly and enunciate the consonants when complimenting a woman's boots.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

I Survived Carmageddon and So Did Everyone Else

Of course, by this morning, I knew that Carmageddon was nothing to be feared. However, my starting point was so close to Laurel Canyon that no other route made sense and I figured that everyone had heard of Laurel Canyon as a way to get from the Valley to the City, so I left some extra time.

It's a good thing I did, because my plan was that if I got there early I'd go to Urth Caffe for one of their fabulous Caffe Lattes. I'd never been there on a Sunday morning before and I hadn't figured on the wait. Honestly, I waited longer on line for my coffee than it took me to drive Laurel Canyon. And they charge $3.50 for a small latte. But, it was worth every dime. Mmm.

But This Is Different Reviewed

The following will soon appear in the San Francisco Book Review and/or the Sacramento Book Review.  Don't forget that you can buy But This Is Different at and or on Kindle from Amazon.

But This Is Different
By Mary Walker Baron
Steel Cut Press, $14.95, 279 pages

No one wants to leave their home, especially when that home is a beautiful hidden island paradise where you have been living on for the last 40 years. But Mere, Star of the Sea, must force herself to leave, and go on an adventure of pain and love. But This is Different is an emotional troll with an unusual protagonist. Mere, an eighty-year-old woman, receives a letter written by Pilapan, the Mother Chief, asking Mere to come back to New York. Mere leaves and finds herself in the modern reality, the world of 1978. Mere has to cope with this new world while also balancing her feelings toward her lover. I cannot go into more detail on the plot, because I do not want to spoil this marvelous book.

The strongest feature of this book is the plot. The mystery and intrigue of Mere is addicting, as each clue is like getting a piece to a larger puzzle. The book is not only rich in plot, but it is also lavishly detailed and driven by high emotion. You care about the characters and you feel the pain they feel. The detail makes places feel real and the people in the book feel real. Each character has a spark of life that blooms into a profound pillar that carries Mere to her final destination. Even characters that have minuscule roles have a real depth to them.

I enjoyed the subtle pro-environment message of the book. Mere is spiritually connected to nature and even in the city, the plants and trees are her greatest supporters. The book also has an emotional and physical ending that satisfies. I would be surprised if  you do not have a tear in your eye by the end of the book.
But This is Different is a different kind of book, with a touching story that will hook you until the end.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

I Challenge Carmageddon

I need to meet with someone in Beverly Hills, and the only day of the week that both of us are available is Sunday. She can't make it on Sunday the 24th. I can't make it on Sunday the 31st. "What's wrong with Sunday the 17th?" I asked. "Well", she said, "it's that Carmageddon thing."

Carmageddon, as Mary Walker Baron mentioned in her post a few days ago, is the name that the local media have given to the weekend 10 mile closure of the 405 Freeway through the Sepulveda Pass. They are predicting gridlock, catastrophe and mad, mad drivers.

I live in Glendale. It would never occur to me to take the 405 to get to Beverly Hills. I will avoid canyon roads because the media have predicted that they will be heavily traveled. I can think of at least half a dozen other ways to get from Glendale to Beverly Hills without ever getting on a freeway. I will not elaborate further in this post, as there was that unfortunate incident a couple of years ago when I told about the secret parking street near Dodger Stadium, and our friend insisted that I ruined it forever, even though I never named the street. Of course now you could park your car in center-field at Dodger Stadium and no one would notice, but I digress.

I will drive to Beverly Hills on Sunday. And yes, I will allow some extra time in case someone else knows the same streets I do.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Christmas In July

I just gave the entire neighborhood an early Christmas present. I renamed my wifi network "Police Surveillance Van #02". That should keep everyone on their toes for a while.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Next Best Thing To Being There

A dear and valued member of our family died in New Jersey last week, and for a variety of reasons we were unable to fly from California to join the primary mourners in laying her to rest. The final event of the day was a memorial service held at the home of our cousins, and someone had a great idea. Since we couldn't be there, why not have us on Skype while the service took place?

The arrangements were made, and we sat at our computer waiting for the service to start. Everyone who was there put his or her face in front of the screen on the New Jersey side to say hello. The computer was placed in front of our cousin who was leading the service. We sang along. When it came time for the silent standing prayer, our cousin looked at the screen, frowned, and gestured for us to rise. This service was not a spectator sport; we were participants.

Technology is a double edged sword, but tonight we rode on its better edge. Skype enabled us to feel as if we were a part of something that we really wanted to be part of. It felt good.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Carmageddon? Really?

The current LaLa Land hysteria is the weekend closing of the San Diego Freeway (the famous 405).  This is being heralded as the single biggest event in the history of the Los Angeles Freeway.  The 405 will close and how will we function without it?!
People seem to have forgotten that we barely function with it.
Now, it seems that the only way to get anywhere in the Los Angeles area is via the 405.  That's right, New Jersey, THE 405!
Here's the thing.  And for this presenting of the thing, I refer you to this map.

Now, back to the thing.  Take a look.  There are a shit load of other north/south or south/north routes in the Los Angeles area.  Most of them aren't even on this map.  They are called streets and canyons and, yes, other freeways.
Sometimes we have to change directions to get where we want to go.  Sometimes we have to go east a ways to get south.  Sometimes we have to think for ourselves and figure things out.
Or, as is the current hysterically shouted suggestion, we can just stay home until the only way we know how to get from one place to another again presents itself to us.
Carmageddon my ass!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Around In Circles With Amazon

It's no secret that California is up the financial creek.  Jerry Brown is doing his best to fix things but he's getting little or no help from the other elected folks in Sacramento.  All of that is in the news every day.  Here's something that didn't make the California woes headlines.
Small businesses can generate a little bit of revenue by putting links to Amazon products on their websites.  Why, this little blog used to do the same thing.  It was part of a program called Amazon Associates.
Now, navigating the maze of Amazon is no simple matter.  There's the Amazon Associates program.  And then there's the Amazon Affiliates program.  There are a lot of other Amazon programs, too, but naming them right now would just confuse this already possibly pointless diatribe.
Meanwhile back to the Affiliates program.  Authors and publishers and just plain folk can sell books and stuff through the Affiliates program.  For example, my novel But This Is Different can be purchased, if the potential buyer can locate it in the Amazon listing maze, through my involvement in the Affiliates program.
This blog earned us a few bucks through my participation in the Associates program.
A couple of weeks ago I was thrilled to announce that But This Is Different was now available on Kindle through Amazon.
Somehow the Kindle sales got linked to the Associates program.
And then several days ago Governor Brown signed into law a little bill requiring that on line folk pay sales tax.  That wasn't good news for Amazon, apparently, so all relationships with California Associates were terminated.  Down the muddy Amazon drain went my book on Kindle.  I started sending the Amazon folk emails asking what I might do.  Each response gave a slightly different variation on the same tune:  We have discontinued the Associates program for California residents.  If you want to protest contact this person and if you want to move someplace else let us know.  I sent four emails asking for assistance with Kindle products and received three replies, variations on the same theme.  The fourth message remains unanswered.
I spent most of yesterday dropping bread crumbs as I wandered through the Amazon mazes and finally fixed the problem myself.
But This Is Different is once again available on Kindle.
And I still live in California.
Go figure.
Oh, yeah, and you can still make a sandwich out of bread crumbs.  The trick is gathering them all back up.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Speaking of Pets

Here in Southern California this holiday weekend is a pretty hot one.  As it works out, Basset Hounds are susceptible to heat stroke.  No good tossing a Basset Hound in the pool to cool off because they also tend to sink to the bottom of any body of water deep enough to cover their tails.
Not Bradford-Name Not Known
Besides, we don't have a body of water that deep so even with water wings that heat stroke avoidance tactic would be useless.  And even if we did have such a body of water we would never toss a Basset Hound into it on account of, you know, Basset bone density.
What we do have, however, is a Basset Hound and a hot holiday weekend.  Luckily the evenings and the mornings are cool so Bradford Bartholomew Bratwurst I is able to get his twice daily constitutional and hunker down on his futon for naps during the heat of the day.
Now if only his skin allergies would clear up.
That's the news from here in Bassetville.
We'll keep you posted.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A little place called Herpetophobia

A few weeks ago we lost our beloved old dog, Molly. Well, we didn't actually lose her, cancer stole her away from us. Our veterinarian finally administered a lethal injection that put an end to her suffering.

Since then, we've been trying to adjust to the space in our lives that Molly used to fill. My wife, Linda, and I are dog people. Most of the time we've been married, there have been furry, panting, licking canines of various breeds and sizes sharing our house with us. We'll probably get another dog, but it's still too soon.

Recently, we found what seemed like a good substitute -- or rather, a pair of them. Buffy and Muffy, we call them. Two desert spiny lizards took up residence on our back porch. And very handsome lizards they are, large and stocky and about 10 inches long from nose to tail, all bristling with gray and brown pointed scales to discourage predators.

Undoubtedly, the fact that Molly the Dog was no longer prowling around the back porch allowed them to stake out their claim.

As pets go, they were extremely low maintenance -- no trips to the groomer, no annual rabies shots, no need to supply food or water for them. As long as the flies keep coming, they were in lizard heaven.

Linda is extremely afraid of snakes of any kind, but Buffy and Muffy posed no threat. In fact, any time she came out on the porch, the lizards dashed out the dog door into the back yard, the same way they came in.

However, that dog door turned out to be a serious problem. What lets in lizards can also let in ... ARRGGGGHHH!!! Snakes.

Today we had a brief thunderstorm at our house, a welcome break from 110 degree temperatures and more than 90 days without rain. Linda and I sat out on the porch for a while, enjoying the rain. Then Linda went inside, which was lucky.

Because a few minutes later, a big bullsnake came slithering in through the dog door to pay a visit. I guess he just wanted to find a dry place out of the rain. But if he'd made his entrance just a bit sooner, while Linda was out there, it could have been catastrophic.

"This is 911, what is your emergency?"

"My wife is hanging from the ceiling of our back porch."

"What do you mean, hanging?"

"You know, by her fingernails and toenails. I need someone to get her down."

So, after chasing the snake back outside with a broom, I found something to block up the dog door. Snakes can't get in now, but probably lizards can't either.

Sorry, Muffy and Buffy. You were good friends while you lasted.