Circling the Drain

I’m screwed. Not literally. Well, sort of.

Many years ago, while waiting for an elevator, I looked down and noticed for the first time that while my feet were pointing due south, my head and shoulders were pointing about 16 degrees to the west. Okay, so at least I’m screwed clockwise. You know, like the same way water swirls down the toilet. I’m drawing no conclusions there. At least that’s in the northern hemisphere. I don’t know about the southern hemisphere, I’ve never been there, so YMMV. I choose to blame the earth and its unfortunate Coriolis force.

It took me a few years to discover that this twist is because my right leg is just a bit shorter than my left leg. So at some point in my dim(bulb) past I decided to stick an extra insert into my right boot only, in addition to my usual Dr. Scholl’s knockoffs, to kind of even things out a little. It almost seemed like a miracle when my nose lined up with my toes!

I felt unscrewed!

Fast forward to last week when I suffered a wet sock emergency every time I went out to feed the birds. (I want to claim our wild birds at dependents, which is literally true, they depend on me—and fear and revile me in equal measure—but my tax adviser advises against it.) I discovered a major crack in the sole of my right boot, so I got new boots. So I swapped my inserts from old boots to new. (This came only two weeks after a treasonous shoelace sabotaged me, which led to its immediate firing and replacement.)

And this led to a mortifying discovery.

For several years—I’d bought the old boots at least four or five years ago—I had apparently been wearing a single corrective insert in the left boot. The wrong side. Huh? I’d actually been worsening the situation. Screwing myself. Which, admittedly, in the long run, is pretty typical for me. Fortunately I’ve been retired for a few years and no longer walk six or seven miles a day on hard concrete. Maybe I would have noticed. But on the other hand, I probably should have—back in 2014 when I was getting paid to do that.

No wonder I was so sore and tired every day.

Here and Now!

As I promised the other day, I finally went to work on a Shameless Commerce Division page yesterday. All my efforts to do direct sales on my website were squashed– I’d have to do some upgrades, spend some money, and probably go to eCommerce school for a few semesters– but I did manage to get my inventory listed on Amazon. You can visit my Amazon site here (or on the Novels page of this website, where you can also  read about each of the books). If you would, kindly click on New for the opportunity to buy directly from Sudden Deathe Press LLC. Thank you.


Bats in the Attic

(Editorial note: the incidents exaggerated below happened almost 40 years ago. The author is more enlightened now about the value of bats and other alleged vermin (turkey vultures, Great Eagles,  possums, etc.) to the ecosystem. Squirrels, however, are on their own.)

A friend of mine, Susan, recently asked for advice on getting rid of bats in her attic. Believe it or not, I was too savvy to make any inappropriate remarks, which might have compromised our friendship. Instead I gave her my best advice, based on personal experience: Burn down the house. I probably would have advised her to get her husband and the cat out first, but she doesn’t have a cat, so why go to all that effort? Steve is alert enough to get out on his own, I assume, despite being a chemical engineer.

Many years ago we had a bat in our house, flitting silently through the downstairs while we were trying to watch TV. That didn’t last long– the TV watching, I mean. The bat was fine with whatever. The Wife threw a towel over her head and cowered in the corner. Even the cats dove for cover. Which left me exposed. Our first line of defense was to call the Wife’s Aunt Ruth, who was an experienced and fearless bat fighter. She only lived a few miles away, and probably wasn’t over the age of 85 or so at the time. She asked if we wanted her to come kill it for us. Of course we did! She laughed at us.

Our next thought was to burn down the house.

Eventually the bat flew upstairs. Donning battle gear and arming myself with a broom, I crawled up the stairs on my belly to engage the enemy. In my defense here, the ceiling over the stairs was very low. Understand this thing was as big as a turkey vulture and had the wingspan of a Great Eagle from Lord of the Rings. I think I had a hat on, but still. I finally found it under the bed in the spare bedroom, and beat it to death with the broom (some NSFW language was involved) until it was no bigger than my thumb. I think that qualifies as some kind of miracle in a Biblical sense.


Not the actual farmhouse

The Wife grew up in an old farmhouse, and many years ago her mother used No Pest Strips to kill… well, pests. These things were potent. They still sell them, but I imagine the lethality of them has been forcibly restricted over the years by the EPA, CDC, WHO and various other international do-gooder health agencies. In those good old days you could hang one of these in an attic and it would kill ‘most anything: bugs, hornets, wasps, mice, bats, probably unwelcome guests if you could get them up close to the ceiling in the spare bedroom, like maybe in an upper bunk. The Wife’s mother used them injudiciously, and she and her husband lived to ripe old ages.

Such is the price of progress. No Pest Strips are probably No Kill Strips by now, the same way that charcoal lighter fluid is about so safe it’s about as flammable as urine and it takes a blowtorch to keep it going. Fortunately, I have a blowtorch. And I don’t need to kill any bats. Right now, anyway.

Neither a Nerd nor a Technophobe Be

I am neither nerd nor technophobe. I used to enjoy tinkering with computers, like installing a “Hardcard,” which was an immense 40 Megabyte(!) hard drive on a PCI card, which plugged into the motherboard of an old PC that came stock from the factory with just two 5-¼” floppy drives. As a neophyte, that seemed a lot easier to me than attempting to install (read: plug in) a hard drive and hope it worked. It worked and I felt invincible. I wrote a novel on that computer.

Just today I “rooted” an old Barnes & Noble NookHD+ and turned it into a basic Android tablet. It worked! I followed a simple “30 minute” process that I found on the Internet. I also found that “30 minute” claim to be a bit ridiculous, but I fumbled through it without the usual roadblocks. Oh no, I had all new roadblocks, rather than getting to step 3 where the instructions say something like “from this dropdown menu, choose FORMAT,” only to find that FORMAT is not an option on my computer or in that particular menu.

This time step 3 was as simple as “Unzip the file to a temporary folder.” Hmmm. Apparently Windows 10 doesn’t come with unzip app. So I was sent back to the Internet to download, install, and figure out how to use a free unzip app. Step 4  was to install the newly unzipped file on a microSD card and make that card bootable. Back to the Internet to find, download, install, and figure out how to use a dedicated app to do those jobs.

“I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.” —Winston Churchill

After two or three hours yesterday, and another two or three hours today, I was booting the old Nook to Android 7, and installing the apps my wife will need to find, download and read some eBooks that she can’t find in hard copy in the library (which we can’t go to during this quarantine anyway). So far so good. I’ll stand by to assist with that process, since this is something I do all the time. I’m not a nerd yet—or anymore—but I’m still marginally capable.

But what irritates me most these days is this: when I think back to my youth, the ’50s and early ’60s, we had only black & white TVs with screens barely larger than a dinner plate. The screen was an electronic tube, and behind that tube were dozens of more tubes, all of which had to warm up for many long seconds before a fuzzy gray picture would appear on the screen. Eventually, years later, it would be a color picture. (An aside: I remember the first time I ever saw a color TV; it very memorable, in part because the primary color was purple; I was impressed, but not bowled over.) How far we have come since those days! How far have we come since those days? Not sure. I turn on a TV today and I have to wait many long seconds for it to boot up before it gives me a picture. No question, it’s a great picture. But it still feels a little like going back in time to a simpler day.



Practicing Safe Social Distancing

I realize it’s been months since I posted anything here. It’s not like I’ve been too busy. Too lazy, maybe. Yes, definitely.

But first, a word about Safe Social Distancing: I’m packing a tape measure and I’m not afraid to use it.

So rather than just sitting home, watching the endless Covid-19 coverage, with scenes of overworked medical personnel and crowded facilities; endangered seniors and compromised individuals; bickering politicians; and concerned epidemiologists and virologists pushing constant handwashing and strict social distancing, interspersed with upbeat, bouncy, innocent, and typically shrill TV ads imploring me to get on down to Menard’s and Best Buy and FELDMAN CHEVROLET!!! (among the shrillest of annoying ads, and a personal pain in my ears and the mostly-empty space between), to say nothing of the reports of irresponsible Covidiots who are generally-but-not-always young enough to think they know everything, and who also erroneously think they are invulnerable, bulletproof, immune, and don’t care who they might infect (“Let’s party like it’s 1917!”). And everybody hoarding toilet paper, of course.

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The Things You Find When You’re Looking for Something Else

I was searching for some costume accessories we’d squirreled away last year. This would be for a masquerade ball we were to attend recently. Don’t ask. Okay, it was a fundraiser event for an education association raising money for, well, education. Which is not to say I’m generous in that respect, but I do sometimes want to help out. Plus the meal was great and the musical entertainment was fabulous.

The stuff I found was not noteworthy, but along the way I found other things when the search took me to a dresser in the spare room. There were old cameras, including a rare Kodak 828 I picked up at least 50 years ago. (That box of film expired in 1982.) Also an even older Argus Argoflex dual lens camera that probably belonged to my parents, if not my grandparents. A couple other cameras, including a panoramic camera that still has film in it. Oops, I think I ruined the film making that discovery. (I think I sold my first camera, a Kodak Starbright, at a garage sale a few years ago.) The odd folding rule and string levels were my grandfather’s. I’m still using his whetstone for sharpening the kitchen knives. And speaking of sharpening knives, I’d been wondering where my old Boy Scout Camp King jack knife had gone.

The big find for me was the Lloyd’s tape recorder. This came to me on a Christmas day when I was… I have no idea how old I was. Possibly 10 or so. There were also four tapes sitting there in the drawer, and I got to wondering what might be on them. I do remember that when I got the tape recorder, I made my grandfather play Santa Clause and say “Merry Christmas from the North Pole” into the microphone. Beyond that? I had no idea.

Their was a lot of rust and corrosion in the battery compartment. Not good. This is a battery-only unit: one 9-volt for audio (I assumed) and two “UM-2” batteries to run the motor. I did a quick search on eBay and found an identical unit in non-working condition listed for $60. Um, no thanks. I also found that UM-2s are more commonly known as “C” cells.

Yesterday I retreated to the basement, turned up the lights, unscrewed all the little screws, and pulled the unit open. Hmm, it didn’t look as bad as I might have expected. I cleaned up the rust and corrosion with a knife, some contact cleaner, and a little emery cloth. I worked the mechanisms, lubed the platters and spun them around until they turned freely. I had found a a 9-volt battery, but had to put out a call for a couple C-cells. I popped the 9-volt in. I got sound out of the speaker! A crackling hiss, but sound is sound, right? Then! I found some C-cells in another drawer and plugged them in. The platter turned. I had forward– play– but no rewind. I can work with that.

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Yurrup called, we answered… FWIW

There is a clue to our sudden departure in this photo

Having loosely reviewed my previous post (below), I’m compelled to come back and–briefly–say that, yes, we returned to Europe again, for 12 days. How was your vacation? you ask. And I’m glad you asked. Now I have about 20 seconds to respond:

Although we didn’t bring back very many souvenirs, we did manage to snag a couple killer sinus infections before making it home by the skin of our teeth. Not to say we almost missed the boat–we almost missed getting off the boat! In which case we might still be there, trusting our lives to the benevolence of the Viking Cruise line and the Hungarian health care system.

Oops, my 20 seconds are up and you’ve already wandered off to get another cup of coffee.

“No, Aunt Em. This is a real, truly live place. And I remember that some of it wasn’t very nice. But most of it was beautiful. But just the same, all I kept saying to everybody was, ‘I want to go home.’ And they sent me home.” –Dorothy

Yurrup calls

Roughly 27 years, 5 months and a couple of weeks ago (but who’s counting?) we spent some time in London, Cambridge, Stratford-upon-Avon, Florence, Italy, and Paris… I think that’s in France. They seemed like good places to celebrate my 40th birthday. That happened in Florence, although upon reflection it just meant that age 40 hit me 5 hours earlier than it would have otherwise. But I haven’t noticed any ill effects. So far.

Now, all this time later, we’re planning yet another excursion overseas, which brings back a lot of old memories. Not so much of London, Florence, et. al., but of days and parents gone by.

My parents traveled extensively, especially in retirement, but without ever leaving the United States, and rarely by anything but car, van or trailer. There was enough for them to see right here, at least if you include Hawaii and Alaska, which they did. We’ve seen several states, from Cape Cod to San Francisco and Seattle, but we’ll save any more than that for when we’re too old, timid and confused to venture overseas again. Which will probably be sometime next month.

My dad caught the tail end of WWII, ya know the Big One, as Archie Bunker used to say. He was stationed in Italy, guarding the Allied end of a bridge while Soviet troops guarded the other end and artillery sailed overhead toward enemy holdouts. He and a buddy decided to take a Jeep and cross the bridge to shake hands with the commies, but thought better of it when the Russians declined to let down their guard and offer a big welcome. So Dad and his buddy spun a U-turn and headed back to safety, rather than risk getting shot– after the war was already over.

Beyond that neither of my folks never had any interest in travel beyond U.S. borders.

They picked us up at Detroit Metro when we came back from two weeks of fun and adventure in Europe. We climbed into the back of their car and they were polite enough to ask us how the trip was, and we enthusiastically started up with some amusing anecdotes of the wonders we’d seen and experienced– we did not travel with a tour group, we did it all out our own: two innocent kids sussing out the train schedules and finding our way to hidden hotels in unfamiliar lands where they didn’t speak our language, especially in England. To their credit, my folks let us ramble on for five minutes or so, before Mom said, “well, nothing new here, not much was going on,” then they proceeded to relate everything that didn’t happen in our absence for the rest of the hour-plus drive home. Europe and our experiences were obviously of no interest to them. *sigh*

Which brings me to the point of this tale, the advice given to us by a friend many years ago. She said when you come back from a fabulous vacation and someone– family or coworkers– ask how your vacation was, you have 20 seconds to tell them it was great… and you’re done. Shut up. Move on. They’re no longer listening. Good advice, which I will follow, as I pretty much always have. But that’s not to say I might not write about it here. If there’s anything to say about a couple days in Munich, a couple more in Salzburg, and eight days on the Danube from Passau to Budapest. Well, maybe something interesting will happen with customs or the TSA. It usually does. We’ll see.