Thursday, August 30, 2012

Pockets of Wonder

Last night's dream, the parts I remember, was strange and disturbing.  I awoke just after a woman's entire arm, up the the shoulder, had reached into the left pocket of my shorts.

Initially, she had reached into my pocket to find my car keys because I could not.  Both of my hands, beyond my wrists, were coated in what seemed like a thick beige glue.  The glue had covered my hands when I'd reached out to catch myself from tripping.  When I held out my hands to catch my fall, I felt my hands plunge, very gently and slowly, through the ground into a soft, gooey pocket; it felt like I was punching a balloon.

When I pulled my hands back, they were coated with the goo.  The woman, who is someone I know (but not very well), seemed to know I could not simply wash my hands off or use a towel on them; the goo was not so easily removed.  She suggested she could drive me to a convenience store to wash my hands.

I felt uneasy telling her my keys were in my pocket.  I had a sense she would react as if I were trying to seduce her by asking her to reach into my pocket.  But she readily agreed.

She reached in my pocket.  I was surprised that she could not reach the bottom of the garment.  She kept reaching and I got increasingly embarrassed.  And then she reached it, but recoiled and said something like "ewwwh!  There's shrimp in here!"  And sure enough when she pulled her hand out, she was clutching the remains of some shrimp.  I could smell it.

And then I woke up.  I wonder what she was going to do.  I just wonder.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Walking for Beer

Despite having missed a number of walking days in August, and thanks to going well over my 100-mile-minimum in July, I remain on target to reach 1000 miles of walking by year's end.  As of this morning, after walking 5.25 miles, I have recorded 606 miles of walking since March 6.  Of course I must now really pour it on to make it.  This month, I've only walked 78 miles and I seriously doubt I'll put in another 22 miles before the end of the month.  So, I will have missed the target for the month.  I cannot let that happen much between now and the end of the year if I expect to make the goal.

In other news, Hurricane Isaac has slammed into the Louisiana coast and is causing widespread flooding this morning.  The expectation is that it will continue to drench the state for the remainder of the day, at least.  What that will do to my plans to go to New Orleans next week remains to be seen.

Now, it's time to shower.  We're picking up a friend of mine at 11:00 am and heading out to the Flying Saucer on the Lake for lunch and a couple of beers.  He says this location is exceptional!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Listening to the Emerging Morning

For the second morning in a row, I awoke late, though this morning I was up before 5:30.  Yesterday, it was after 6:00 before I got out of bed.  This is odd for me, in that I'm normally up before 4:45.

Despite the late start to the day, I went for a fairly long walk, logging 6.35 miles in just over one hour 35 minutes.  That's not racing, but it's more than a plodding stroll, though the heat this morning was more than I had hoped for.  The weather widget on my computer claimed it was 77 degrees, but I am certain it was at least 80, if not warmer.  I much prefer walks when the temperature is under 70.

Sunday morning walks are my favorites because there is very little traffic along the streets on which I walk, very little road noise from nearby thoroughfares, and I see only a few people out and about.  It's calming to walk alone in the predawn darkness and the early morning light.  Even though I'm not simply out for a stroll, I feel more at peace when the world around me is quiet and doesn't require so much of my attention to avoid becoming a hit-and-run statistic.

While there is very little traffic, most of the cars I see seem to be operating urgently.  They speed by as if their drivers are consumed with FOCUS on the destination...time's-a-wasting and I gotta get to my church service!  Of course I doubt any of the people who drive by me at that hour are heading to church. Some of them, the ones inching along in comparison to the others that zip by, are delivering newspapers.  I hear the loud music coming from those cars long before I see them, as they surge forward between delivery points, their music devices blaring the drivers' current early-morning favorite tunes.  One newspaper delivery driver who careens through nearby neighborhoods in an old blue Dodge van, though I didn't see her this morning, likes to listen to very loud ranchera music.  I like that music, though I prefer it after I've had breakfast and coffee so I can process the sounds in my brain just a bit better.

Lately, as I head out the door, I've heard the cheeps and peeps of birds I do not recall hearing before.  I do not see them, but I can tell they are very near by, especially as I walk past trees and bushes with dense foliage.  The birds' chatter gets noticeably louder and more insistent as I get closer to the plants where they are hiding. I wish I could tell from their songs what they were.  That gives me an idea!  It would be great to have a smart phone app, like Shazam for my iPhone, that would identify bird songs.  When I hold my iPhone up in the direction of speakers playing a piece of music, Shazam usually is able to pinpoint the name of the song, the artist, and the album on which it is found.  I wonder if there's any reason the same mechanisms used in Shazam could not be used to identify bird songs?  If you see that app in the near future, know that there goes another of my ideas I could not/did not implement and, therefore, the fortune that goes along with it has gone to someone else.

How does one turn off his "idea generator?"  It only makes me glum when I find, months after I have conceived of idea I think has market potential, someone has taken the idea and put it in motion.  Think. Plan. Act.




Saturday, August 25, 2012

Freecycle.com

Several years ago, my late sister mentioned freecycle.com to me, praising it as a great service for people who have items to give away and for people who need items but don't have the money to buy them.  I signed up for freecycle.com a week or so ago, with the objective of having a resource to get rid of usable things directly to people who need them, versus going through an intermediary like the Salvation Army or Goodwill Industries.  Let me hasten to add that I think both of those latter services are very valuable, but there's something about freecycle.com that I find extremely appealing.

The way it works is this: if someone has an item to give away, they post the item. If someone needs something, they post what they need...or they look to see what's available.  No money changes hands.  There is no bartering.  It's purely GIVE and TAKE, with no exchange of money or promises.  It's a beautiful concept.

I guess it's the fact that the beneficiary of one's contributions are know to be "real" people.  It shouldn't matter; ultimately, it doesn't but it still feels good to know I may be helping someone directly and immediately.

Today was the first time I've posted an item to give away, a lawnmower that has a working engine but whose  front wheel assembly is broken.  Someone with more tools, more energy, and more motivation than I have should be able to put the mower back in service relatively quickly and inexpensively.  Relative to me; it would have taken weeks and multiple trips to the parts supply house, I'm sure.  Better for a more capable person to take on the task.

I have been impressed to see the kinds of things people are offering: refrigerators, air conditioners, furniture, bicycles, tools, canned food...it just goes on and on.  When I view the list of available items, the hard shell surrounding my faith in humanity begins to soften, if only just a tad.

I have had just one inquiry about my lawnmower.  That's OK. If the guy needs it and will pick it up, it's his.

Moment of Terror

This is a photo of our back patio. This is where, this morning, a very small rabbit startled me by darting out from the bushes just under the windows through which this photo was taken (about where the "dragon fly" is located) and across the patio to the bushes under the windows to the left of the photo.  I was kneeling on the right side of the patio, where you can see (just barely), the aloe vera plant about mid-way on the right side, under (on the image) the Adirondack chair on the right).  I heard nothing but, just as I turned to look toward the house, I saw something dart out from the plants behind me.  It scared the wits out of me for a second (known herein as the "moment of terror), then I realized it was a rabbit.  I went looking in the overgrown bed to the left, just above the table in the photo, where I saw the tiny creature huddled next to the foundation.  Just as I saw it, it moved to the right to take cover under the leaves of the plants. I just had to record my moment of terror for the record, complete with a photographic representation of what the evidence would look like if I had evidence.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Ancient Eyes

I walked again this morning, just a tad more than 4.6 miles.  I fumbled with my keys for what seemed like a full minute as I felt my way in the darkness for the knob and then the deadbolt to lock the door as I left.  It would make sense for me to turn on the porch light before I leave, but by the time I get back home an hour or more later, daylight has brightened the sky enough to make it easy to overlook the fact that the light is on.  So, I cope with darkness as I leave the house.  The street lights near my house provide sufficient light for me to see the sidewalk and street, once I'm far enough away from the house to leave the shadow of the big Arizona ash that is directly between the street light and my front door.

It's probably not that the mornings are darker now than they were a year ago.  It's probably that my night vision has worsened considerably.  Just a year ago I felt perfectly comfortable walking through my rather dark neighborhood in the pre-dawn darkness, but now I do not see well enough to notice and compensate for broken sidewalks, mud-covered walkways, and other obstacles I might find in my way on my neighborhood streets.  So, I leave the neighborhood, walking in the street to a north-south thoroughfare a couple of blocks away.  That street, which serves as an artery for commuters heading for freeways and retail centers, has many more and much brighter street lights than my neighborhood.  There is ample light to expose the pot holes and street debris that would be dangerous in complete darkness.

Fortunately, I only have to walk just under two miles in one direction or just under half a mile in the other to reach an entry point for a concrete hike and bike trail.  The lack of light on the trail, and there is virtually none along most of it, is not a problem because the trail is absolutely smooth.  Where the trail intersects with streets there is ample light.  At least for now.  I do not relish thinking about going for my morning walks with a red-tipped white cane.

I wonder whether my noticeably worse night vision is just normal deterioration or may be an early sign of cataracts or what have you.  I shall know reasonably soon, as I've decided to visit an ophthalmologist soon in an attempt to get some answers about the lousy vision in my left eye; the vision in that eye is abysmal and getting worse. Only by holding my glasses far, far from my head and looking through a tiny band in the center of the lens can I see clearly.  That's true for near and far vision; getting older (if that is indeed the culprit) is not as wonderful in some ways as in others.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Food Freak

I had planned on going to lunch with a friend yesterday, to a place called Flying Saucer.  Flying Saucer is a beer emporium, a place where beer is, almost literally, worshipped.  I join my friend periodically at the place near my house, where we meet and chat while he "logs three" beers.  This place encourages patrons to join a growing group of people who commit to drinking, I think, 200 different beers.  Once the objective is met, the successful drinker is immortalized on the ceiling of the place with a metal plate which bears his or her name.

Yesterday, though, we were to go to another location (I think there are about 15 locations, 7 in Texas and the remainder spread out among a few states north and east), this one on a nearby lake.  My friend tells me the lake location has a beautiful deck overlooking the lake and is a brighter, lighter place.  I like the one near me (but I really like it only before it gets late in the day, while it's still possible to find a seat and hear the words of the person next to you), but I want to try to the lake location.  My wife was to  join us this time so she, too, could see the lake location.  My wife is even more contrary than I when it comes to crowds and noise; I tolerate more than she, so she doesn't go as often as I do (which is not terribly often).

My friend had to cancel, though, because his wife's 19 year old cat, which is almost blind and gets around quite slowly, began having seizures.  The two of them had to rush the cat to the vet and, therefore, my friend could not make lunch.  We'll try it sometime next week.

Normally, we would have simply made lunch at home, but we've not gotten back into the pace of living at home since our trip to visit my sister on the west coast, so there was very little to eat that appealed to us.  So we opted to try a recently-opened spot nearby, a place called Hoffbrau.  Hoffbrau is (I think) based on the original which is located in Austin.  The decor of the place is rustic Central Texas, which is to say the walls are made of recycled ship-lap siding and the ceiling is decorated with old screen doors, the kind I remember from my childhood.  There is a lot of Austin stone and plenty of galvanized metal siding in use, as well.  The entry to the building is a replica of an old galvanized steel water tank.  Despite the schtick decor, it's actually an attractive place that just oozes casual good-old-boy sensibilities.

Both my wife and I have a tendency to try chicken fried steak whenever we think it might have the potential of being "the real thing," so we both ordered the lunch version of the dish.  It had a crispy coating, but neither the coating nor the meat was particularly tasty, nor was the obligatory gravy very flavorful; nothing noteworthy.  For me, good chicken fried steak requires 1) a very good piece of round steak (or better cut, if possible) that has been mechanically tenderized and 2) a very peppery coating (lots of black pepper in the flour in which the steak is dredged, after it has been dipped in a milk bath).  The gravy for the cooked steak, too, should be quite peppery and very smooth.  And for my taste, the finished product--steak with gravy on top--must be adorned with a LOT of slices of jalape├▒os.

While the CFS was not to my standards, the place is worth a return visit.  There are traditional grilled steaks on the menu and the prices are quite reasonable.  So, I expect to return some day in the not-too-distant future.

After having a large lunch, we weren't planning on having much for dinner.  We talked about options; the one that won out was a DiGiorno frozen pizza (light...I know).  I don't know why I like those pizzas so much, but I do.  I do not need to have another one for a long, long time, though.

Speaking  of food, tonight we're having something I whipped up this morning before breakfast: scallop ceviche.  A few weeks ago we were served scallop "ceviche" that was marvelous, but the scallops had been seared, so it was not really ceviche (it was extraordinarily good, though).  Ever since, I have been wanting to have a real, traditional ceviche made with scallops.  So, we decided to do it.  And this morning, after my 4 mile walk and before my wife awoke, I minced some serrano peppers, diced some red onion, chopped some cilantro, squeezed some lemons and limes, and opened a "store bought" container of orange juice to create the marinade for the scallops.  I took about a pound of frozen sea scallops from the freezer, thawed them in cool water, and cut them into small pieces, and put them in the marinade.  We'll see how good this ceviche is when we have dinner tonight.

What else did I do today of note?  Nothing of note, but I'll write it down anyway.  I walked 4 miles (just a shade under an hour), mowed and edged and trimmed the yard (2-1/2 hours), and applied teak oil to two teaik Adirondack chairs, a teak table, and a teak footrest (about 1-1/2 hour), and communicated with my friend of Flying Saucer fame about letting him borrow my old beater pickup tomorrow so he can move a couch he bought from a Craig's List ad.  There was more, but I don't really want to write a lot about my shower, my shave, or my lunch of canned sardines and accompaniments (besides, I already posted a photo of my lunch to Facebook).  Oh, I have played a LOT of rounds of Words with Friends and Scrabble over the course of the day.

Tonight?  Dunno.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Death of Creativity

These last two, and now three, days my right ankle has been sufficiently angry at me to prevent me from talking my usual morning walks.  Instead, I have tried to return to creative writing, posting little bits and pieces of stream-of-consciousness writing here.  As I read what I have written, the fog in my brain begins to lift and reveal the desolate landscape it has been attempting to hide.

I recall, now, the reason for drifting away from writing.  I am more of a creative walker than a creative writer.  Until my ankle decides to cooperate, though, I cannot do much of either.  So, instead, I'll use this long-ignored piece of literary real estate and the meager supply mental building materials to fashion at least a temporary shelter for my random thoughts.  If the words I write are like all of the others I have allowed to flow from my fingers to the screen in front of me, they will inadequately represent what's going on inside my brain, but that may be for the best, knowing what I know about that.

Yesterday, I visited an acquaintance who is developing into a friend.  He's a guy who was fired from his job as an association executive after putting up with as much of the bullshit his board sent his way as he possibly could. Finally, he stopped allowing himself to be brow-beat; as a consequence, he was fired.  It's a strange "firing," though, as they require him to go in one afternoon a week to keep the place afloat.  His contract was written in such a way as to permit his employer to require him to be at the association's disposal during the time he was collecting severance pay; his severance provision provides for one year's pay, so he is in the odd position of having to work for the people who fired him if he wants to collect severance.  Of course, he wants to collect severance.

The purpose of my visit was not to discuss his job, though.  It was to see his woodworking shop, which he has told me about.  He uses his garage as his shop, but his wife insists on parking her car in the garage at night, so he has to move his tools and equipment each day he works in his shop.  Cleverly, he has put wheels on every piece of equipment so it's easy to move them when required.  On one piece of equipment, a wood lathe, the wheels raised its height to the point that it was uncomfortable using it.  He built a wooden platform to stand on to use the lathe; it, too, is on wheels so he can move it easily.

I am in awe of his equipment and tools: lathe, drill press, drum sander, router (with an exceptional router table that allows him to move the router up and down from on top of the table, instead of underneath), and an incredible assortment of clamps, calipers, and specialty tools of all sorts.

His main woodworking hobby is making writing pens by turning wood and, to a lesser extent, acrylic blocks.  I had never used a lathe until yesterday when I went to visit.  After showing me around the shop, he offered to make a pen for me and I readily accepted the offer. From several pieces he offered, I selected a piece of raw wenge wood, a coarse textured, porous dark brown African wood.  We went through the entire process: cutting the wood into two pieces appropriate to the length of the top and bottom pieces of the pen, boring a hole in the center of each piece, gluing and inserting the metal tube into the pieces of wood, placing the wood into mandrels designed to fit into the wood lathe, turning and shaping the wood, sanding and polishing and waxing the turned pieces, and finally fitting the pieces of the pens together to create the final product.  It was fascinating.  If I had the space and the money to buy the equipment, I would do it today.  I really enjoyed using the lathe, learning about the use of progressively finer grits of sandpaper to smooth the turned wood tubes, and seeing and using the equipment to put the pens together.  I admire the guy for his focus; he assembled his exceptionally well-equipped shop over a long period of time, working to build a shop that would allow him to build damn-near anything made from wood.

I have neither the space nor the money to do that, but I do have the desire.  I may explore what I can do to get to at least the point of creating a smaller version of what he has created, something that will get me to an entry-level position of woodworking.

After that little adventure, I spent the remainder of the day doing odds and ends around the house.  That included removing the blackened skins from roasted Hatch chiles, removing the seeds from the peppers, and preparing a bunch of them for later use on green chile hamburgers.  I also chopped quite a number of peppers and attempted to make a Hatch version of chile con queso, using only the chiles, a can of chopped tomatoes, a block of Velveeta cheese and some cumin and garlic salt.  The outcome was a bit disappointing. The flavor was OK but the queso was, and remains, too soupy, certainly not worthy of the work I put into it.  I do like to experiment with such stuff, though, so all was not lost; I consider it a learning experience.

Let's see, what other useless crap can I write about?  Well, my one flirtation with real creativity yesterday came as I was writing a comment on a friend's Facebook page, responding to a post about the current insanity involving the insistence that religion has a place in politics. I wrote:
"I thought, years ago, we had developed as a country far beyond the point at which anyone seriously thought religion had any legitimate (I hate to use that word) place in government. Apparently, there were seeds of stupidity sprouting all over without me realizing it until I was choking on divine kudzu."

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bait--for later use

I used the chihuahua as bait.

In my neighborhood, where muscle-bound tattooed guys wearing wife-beaters strutted with their spike-collared pit bulls, walking my chihuahua was an open invitation for jeers and insults.  When Linda launched into a string of strident, screeching barks, the barrel-chested mass of canine flesh to which the vocal attack was directed would recoil in startle reflex.  I would then laugh at them, both owner and dog.  Usually, that would do the trick.  The dog's owner, embarrassed that his badge of bad-ass would respond in such an un-macho way to a wiry puff of energy, would say some variation of "You better get that piece of shit out of the way or Santana will eat it for breakfast!"  My response: "Looks to me like Santana is afraid of becoming Linda's breakfast!"

I'd defuse the guy's growing flood of testosterone-fueled rage: "Seriously, Linda is just stupid!  She doesn't know how close she comes to being breakfast when she pulls that shit!"

If nothing else, my deferential acknowledgement of the power of the guy and his dog saved us from becoming victims.  Usually, though, it allowed me to initiate a conversation with the goon.  More often than not, it opened the door to talk of fighting.  "How does your pit do with other pits?"  "See those scars on his ears," the guy would say.  "That's the worst he got.  The other dog that was supposed to be the meanest motherfucker around died right there.  Made $500 on that one."

Twice, I took the conversations to the place I wanted to take all of them.  I probably could have done it with all of them, but that would have inevitably led to my capture, so I opted to be selective.  Randomness, or at least the appearance of randomness, makes the job of catching the perpetrator much more difficult.

[walk through process of befriending the mark]

Later, after I sedated him, I chained the self-described king of dogfighting  to the stainless steel table in the basement.  With his mouth shut with several layers of duct tape and his head held perfectly still in the vice I had affixed to the table, I waited until he awoke.  Then, I calmly explained the procedure to him as I removed his scalp, first slicing through the skin just deep enough to allow me to get my fingers underneath, then pulling his scalp back slowly as he writhed and screamed almost silently.  Duct tape can't eliminate the sounds, but it keeps them to levels low enough that my upstairs neighbors can't hear them.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Snapshots--8/20/2012

At the very moment he realized the finite store of available cash was shrinking more quickly than the time available to spend it, he absorbed all the worries his father carried with him from the birth of his first child until his last breath.  Abject poverty had been, until then, an abstract concept that tugged at his heartstrings, triggering his idealistic sense of detached sorrow at the plight of others unknown to him.  But the concept became visceral at that instant.  In his brain, it collided with shock and fear and stark terror.. Those things and a deep sense of worry.  Not worry for himself, but worry for his friends and family who would become the targets of his uncomfortable pleas for help if his money ran out before his time.

Abstractions sometimes do not serve us well.  They allow us to think and behave in ways that will be impossible when concrete reality slams our heads against the arrogance of our wishes and dreams.  There's no time to call up logic and abstract thought when emotions and pain flood our brains with incendiary tides of burning biochemicals.  We react as the animals we are, not as the advanced beings we like to believe we have become. Our instincts, not our minds, control our reactions. The fight or flight response becomes real; it is no longer a theory against which tests can be conducted to determine the probability of the theory's validity...it is the embodiment of certainty.

Certainty was something about which the new woman in his life knew little.  Kneeblood was about to teach her, though.  He would teach her about the certainty, absent appropriate action, of his financial ruin and about the certainty that the security of banks, all banks, is deeply flawed.  He would teach her, too, that sociopaths do not have the same sense of morality that you and I have.  And that fact can be used to one's  benefit if handled delicately.

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It's possible, I suppose, that I am the very same Rickard Fultz who became wealthy and moderately famous through the success of his novels.  More likely, though, I adopted his name when I found myself unable to remember my own.  Maybe it wasn't that I couldn't remember; maybe it was that I could not bear to know what I knew about me, so I chose to be someone else.

Yes, you can choose to be someone else.  It's done all the time. Often, it's done unconsciously, but it is done with some regularity.

My first recollection about my identity as Rickard Fultz was during a morning walk.  Apparently, I routinely have been taking long walks for quite some time, the testament about which may be found in my very large, unattractive calves.  Only a seasoned  walker would have such calves.  Runners' calves would be more elongated.  Mine are knots of gnarled mesquite.

It happened when I was out for a walk.  I began speaking what would become a novel.  I was fully aware of what I was doing, but I was upset that I had no pen, no paper, and no other way of recording what seemed, at the moment, to be stunningly well-produced prose.  And then it hit me: I was carrying my iPhone.  I used my iPhone to measure and record my walks: the distance, pace, calories burned, etc.  I used an application called RunKeeper, which made good use of the device's built-in GPS to record movement.  Using complex algorthyms designed by a benevolent god, the device plots my  walks, calculates my pace and the speed of my walk, compares my walk to those I've taken earlier, and otherwise invades my privacy in ways humankind once only dreamed about.

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Only through careful review and painstaking appraisal is anyone likely to come even remotely close to understanding my motives, my emotions, and what drives the sometimes utterly unlikeable me.  The thing is, that careful review and painstaking appraisal would be time and energy wasted.  We must all come to the inescapable realization that we, neither collectively nor individually, have even the remotest amount of importance to the life of the star we call our sun.


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Graveyards are peaceful places, on the surface.  They are places of reflection and introspection.  There was a time when even the worst examples of humanity would treat graveyards the way they would treat chapels; with dignity and reverence and, indeed, fear.  Even today, though, in these times when it seems nothing is sacred, graveyards generally are peaceful.  Beneath their tranquility and solemnity, though, they are boiling cauldrons of emotion gone awry.  Don't send your children there.  They will never come back.