Friday, April 22, 2016

Inquiries From a Tired Mind

Asking questions is the only way you can get answers.

1. Is there any way we can have 2016 rescinded?

This has been a long, long year.  Some of it I have written about here and some of it I have not, and that's just how the blog rolls.  This week the general trend continued, as my friend Dr. Phil (the original, not Oprah’s friend) passed away.  Dr. Phil was one of the UCF, an online circle of friends who took me in a few years ago and made me welcome, and I will miss his comments and conversation.  Fair seas and following winds, my friend.

2. Do British people even own coats in light colors?

I watch a lot of Premier League soccer these days, since I enjoy it and it’s a sport where concussions and ligament damage are considered unusual rather than inevitable.  Whenever the camera pans up into the crowd I always look for coats in any color other than black or navy blue and so far I haven’t found any.  And yes, everyone’s wearing heavy coats even in April.  I spent a couple of weeks in England in July once and the temperature never saw the north side of 64F, which is precisely where I like it to stay but not conducive to going without a coat.

3. Who thought it was a good idea to invent a car that turns itself off every time you stop at a red light?

Having just gotten my car back from the body shop after last month’s fender bender, I decided that it would be a good idea to take it back in for some recall work.  Apparently the passenger-side airbag on these models is defective and needed to be replaced, and since this would be free and also theoretically stop the annoying buzz that the airbag cover makes at any speed over 25mph I figured it was a deal.  So I stopped in on Thursday to have that done, except that one of the bolts on the new unit snapped during installation and you can’t drive a car with a half-anchored airbag.  So they’re fronting me a rental car until Tuesday or so when they can get another airbag, which is fine.  Except that, as noted, every time I come to a complete stop in this car for more than 3 seconds, it turns off.  At first I thought this was a mechanical problem, but it seems to be a feature and I can't figure out how to turn it off.  It’s probably designed that way for fuel efficiency or something like that.  The designer probably won an award.  But it is the most aggravating design feature I’ve ever had on a car, and I used to drive a 1986 K-car.

4. Is there a company in America today whose advertisements are more irritating than Progressive Insurance?

Seriously, it’s time to retire that character.

5. Why is it that rental car companies give you two keys chained together on a single unopenable cable?

Am I supposed to be glad to have two keys even though I can only use one at a time and can’t give the other one to another driver such as, say, my wife?  Will I score more points if I lock both of them in the trunk at the same time rather than having a spare in a separate place?  Why not just give me one and keep the other one in the office for when you need it?  Or just throw the second one into the sea, for all the good it does?  Enquiring minds want to know.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Bird on a Wire

So the turkeys are out.

We’ve had poultry in our house pretty much nonstop since January, which is just another of those sentences I never in my life thought I’d say.  There was a brief period in March when we were poultry-free, and then the turkeys arrived.  They stayed in the living room until they grew up enough to start smelling like turkeys, and then we moved them into bigger bins and put them in the basement.

Yesterday was one of those glorious spring days that make you think you should spend it doing something relaxing and photogenic, as if you were in your own beer commercial drinking something that tastes far better than beer – pretty much anything, really, with the possible exception of those smoothies made from leaves and twigs – except that you know you’re just going to spend most of it chipping away at the mountain of outdoor projects that have been waiting for you ever since the temperature dropped below freezing in November.  Those projects are sorted by size and color, arranged by shape, and prioritized by how badly they will make your world smell if you don’t get to them before the others.

Getting the turkeys out of the house ranked pretty highly, when put in those terms.

Lauren and I spent most of the day over at the barn.  I’d gotten the outside turkey run fencing shored up earlier, so Lauren spent her time clear-cutting the brambly weeds that had sprouted up since last summer and then sweeping out the inside pens where the turkeys would be staying.  I got the big boards moved over one cow stall to the left so our six turkeys (compared with last year’s four at the start and two at the end) could have some room to roam, and then cleared out the second stall.

And then I spent more time than a reasonable human being should have to devote to the issue of chicken wire.

For those of you who have never had to put up chicken wire in any quantity, the thing you have to remember is that chicken wire comes in rolls.  They’re about four feet high, weigh far more than you’d think, and are as tightly wound as a North Carolina legislator at a Pride Festival.  They each contain enough chicken wire to cover Wales, and if you have two of them you can build a decent sized hut to live in.  You’d die of exposure and blood loss, of course, since chicken wire is mostly holes surrounded by bits of sharp metal, but affordable housing always has its drawbacks.  The key thing about these rolls for my purposes, however, is that they’re made of metal wire, which is a substance that has the rather annoying quality of retaining whatever shape you bend it into.  Such as a tightly wound roll.  This can be a problem when you are trying to fasten one end of a tubular piece of chicken wire onto a flat surface and the other end onto another flat surface some distance away.  The wire stubbornly insists on remaining – or snapping back to – tubular, and this is of no help to anybody.

My life would be so much easier if chicken wire came in sheets rather than rolls, which is yet another of those sentences I never in my life thought I’d say.  It is a continual source of amazement to me just how many of those sentences are poultry-related.

The trick to dealing with rolls of chicken wire is to staple it into the walls as you go, which at least anchors one end down.  Eventually you staple the other end to another portion of the wall.  And if you do it right, the end result will be a nice safe spot where the predators won’t eat your birds – a chicken-wire cocoon for your poultry.

Of course, stapling anything into a barn that is quite literally older than sliced bread is a dusty, flake-filled experience, one that leaves you covered with all sorts of debris and swimming in an atmosphere that is equal parts lead paint chips, aerosolized chicken poop, and a faint blue mist of obscenity.

But it’s done, or at least done enough to get the turkeys situated.  I’ve still got some further chicken wire work to go, but the birds are no longer in my basement.  I don’t think I’ll actually do any of that wire work anytime soon, as today my back and hands are reminding me precisely how old I am and why I am not a contractor, but there you have it.

Lauren and I took them over just before dinner last night and set them down in their new stalls, with their shiny chicken wire walls and their fresh pine shaving floors.  These are birds whose entire lives have been spent in Rubbermaid bins, so this was more room than they’ve ever experienced.

It freaked them out, really.

When I was in graduate school, two of my friends – a married couple with a small boy and a baby on the way – spent a year doing research in Germany, where their baby was born.  European apartments are generally small and on a graduate student stipend they’re even smaller, and when my friends came back to their house in Pittsburgh – a small house by American standards, but an empire compared to what they’d been used to for the previous year – it took them months to adjust.  “We all had to be in the same room,” one of them later told me.  “If somebody got up and went to another room, we’d all follow.  It took a long time to be comfortable having an entire room to yourself.”

That’s how the turkeys reacted.

The first thing they did was huddle up in a pile of feathers and beaks, occupying maybe 3% of their total allotted space.  They’d shuffle around as a group, like Keystone Kops re-enactors, exploring things.  Occasionally one – the droopy-eyed hen we named Popeye because that’s just how we roll – would get brave and hare off on her own, but the rest would quickly catch up.

Also, the toms started puffing up to try to claim the space as the dominant male, because guys.  This is adorable when they weigh maybe 4lb, but will bear watching as they expand to nearly ten times that weight over the summer.

Eventually they found their food and water – no small victory for turkeys – and we left them to their new home.

This morning we were over there fairly early (well, early for a Sunday) and opened up the little door to the outside and let them explore their enclosed run.  The process was much the same, right down to finding their outside water bucket (you have to give them water both inside and outside in case the door shuts on you while you’re not there to open it again), and eventually we left them to their devices.

It’s a good day for turkeys.

Most days are.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

You've Got Mail!

And so, as if on cue, here come the lawyers.

I was involved in that little fender-bender two weeks ago now, precisely to the day.  Two vehicles traveling a grand combined total of maybe 12 miles per hour collided, causing minor (if expensive) damage to my car and minor (though of unknown expense) damage to the other vehicle, and from all appearances exactly zero other consequences aside from making Tabitha late for school and confirming my general feeling that 2016 can bite my shiny metal ass.

On the plus side, I got my car back from the shop today.  It's lovely!  And cleaner than it has been in years, or at least it was until Lauren and I took it to the barn to feed the chickens not an hour later.  The shop even fixed the third brake light that I almost got ticketed for a month ago, and at no charge.  I am good to go.

On the down side, today I got my second solicitation from attorneys unknown to me, offering to sue whomever I wished to sue in order to profit from this adventure.  I’m sure there are more coming.  Seriously – this is the United States, the country that invented the frivolous lawsuit and turned it into an art form.  Our entire political system is now based on that model.  Of course there are more solicitations coming.

I’m sure they got my name and address by scouring accident reports, since there is one of those on file with the local police.  It’s public information.

I’m just impressed with the cold-blooded efficiency of it all, I guess.

I could take them up on their generous offer to file legal claims against anyone and everyone who might conceivably have their wallets tapped in connection with this, from the other driver to the manufacturers of both vehicles to the public school district for requiring me to be on the road at that particular moment to Big Tobacco because by now they’re probably used to being sued and would probably settle out of court for what to me would be a substantial amount but would be pocket change to them, just to make the whole thing go away.

But then I would be part of the problem.

I’m part of many problems already.  Adding to that seems gratuitous.

So the solicitations go into the recycling bin where they will eventually turn into something more beneficial to society, such as mulch, and I go on with my life hoping to do the same at some point.  Maybe not as mulch, though as a matter of last resort I suppose that wouldn’t be a bad legacy.  We’ll see.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Look up!

I now have a car with a sunroof.

It’s actually designed to have a sunroof, even.  It’s not as if I went down to my local firehouse and borrowed a Hurst tool and carved one myself – it’s an actual, intentionally placed sunroof.  Lauren thinks this is the coolest thing she’s run into today, and she may well be right considering that she spent half the day at middle school and much of the rest hanging around with me.  That’s not much competition, to be honest.

Of course, next week I will have to give the car back to the repair shop, and that is fine by me.  It’s only been twelve hours but I miss my own car.

I’ve been riding around Wisconsin with the remains of my left tail light hanging out, essentially useless, since last week’s fender-bender, waiting for some patrolman to pull me over for it.  But apparently they have better things to do, which is a good sign as far as I am concerned, and they let me slide.  That and the fact that it is apparently uncool to use turn signals in 21st-century America so nobody even noticed that mine was not working.  It's just sort of assumed these days.  Sometimes I use my turn signals just to make people wonder if I really mean it.  And then - surprise! - I actually turn.  They always look perplexed, like I've broken some kind of code.  I am a rebel.  Hear me roar. 

But today I finally turned the car in for repairs, because seriously not having a turn signal gets kind of old.

I'm going to have this car for a while.  Considering the fact that neither vehicle involved in last week’s accident was traveling more than 10 miles per hour – and both were quite possibly traveling significantly slower – it is astonishing to me how much repair work is needed.  “Oh, yeah,” the guy said.  “At least six days.  Maybe seven.”

They did give me the loaner car for the interval, which was nice of them.  It is the most stripped down Ford Taurus ever sold.  Manual locks!  Manual everything (except transmission)!  It’s like being back in the 90s!  I’m actually enjoying it, in an old-school sort of way.

Plus it has the sunroof, which I did not know about until Lauren figured it out on the way home from school.

The real problem with the car is that it rides about four inches above the asphalt.  This might have been cool at some point in my life but a) this is a Ford Taurus, which instantly negates any motion toward cool that might be made, b) I’m driving it, which only further negates any such motion, and c) I’m old and having to climb up out of a vehicle is no longer charming.  It should have a step ladder, is what I’m saying.  Or an ejector seat.

Maybe that's what the sunroof is for?

Tabitha and I are going to take it out driving sometime later this week, because it will be good for her to get practice on something other than our own cars – that driving test is coming up at some point, after all. 

I’ll be glad to get my little red car back, though.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

News and Updates

1. One of my favorite scenes in all of film comes from Lawrence of Arabia.  It’s early in the film, and it revolves around the idea of extinguishing a match with one's fingers.  Lawrence does this.  Then someone else tries it, and the following dialogue ensues:

“Oh!  It damn well hurts!”
“Of course it hurts.”
“What’s the trick, then?”
“The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.”

I find that this is a good bit of dialogue to keep in the forefront of my mind these days.

2. So far all of the turkeys have survived, despite one going through a bout of spraddle (where his legs splay out and he has to hump himself around by his wings, which is fatal if not corrected).  I am not entirely sure when it became normal for me to have live poultry in my house or know the definition of things like “spraddle,” but life takes you in strange directions.

3. Yesterday: 35F and snowing sideways.  Today: 73F and sunny.  Tomorrow: Plagues of locusts.  But temperate, so that has to count for something.

4. All of the high school and middle school orchestras in Our Little Town had a concert on Thursday, led by one of the guys who founded the Trans Siberian Orchestra.  It was all about the marriage of rock and symphonic music, so it was loud, energetic, and a great deal of fun even if we couldn’t see Tabitha playing her violin since she was stuck in the back somewhere.  She enjoyed it, too.  Of course it was too loud and I am too old, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t a good time anyway.

5. I spent part of yesterday cleaning out my office at home and uncovered a pile of tasks that needed to have been done sometime earlier.  I suppose I’ll get to them this week.

6. I wasn’t sure whether I would be of any use going back to work on Tuesday, but I decided that I’d take Tabitha to school and then figure it out once I got home since I’ve got an hour to make that call.  And then I got into a fender-bender at the end of my driveway.  Nobody was hurt and the damage to both vehicles was fairly minor, though it did answer the question of just how useful I’d be at work that day so I stayed home.  Now it’s mostly paperwork and getting my car into the shop for repairs.

7. The Wisconsin primary is this week, which means we have been the focus of a great deal of attention from those who wish to be president and their supporters.  It has been an unmitigated nuisance.  I will be glad not to have the various candidates underfoot so much and to have my phone marginally less encumbered by spam phone calls as their attention naturally shifts to the next primary state and they begin to bother other people instead of me.

8.  There is a large block of very good cheese sitting in my refrigerator, courtesy of good friends, and there is a lovely bottle of red wine in the hall closet.  At some point soon they should converge on my tongue.