Monday, August 22, 2016

Olympian Thoughts

1. I enjoy most of the events in the Olympics, but the track events are why I watch.  I especially like the sprints – the 100-meter, the 200-meter, the 4x100 and the 4x200.  And at this level the 400-meter is a sprint as well, though I always considered it a distance run when I had to do it.  I could watch those events all week long, both women’s events and men’s.  The field events are fun too, but the track is where the action is as far as I am concerned.

2. The men’s 100-meter is the King of Summer Olympic Sport.  These are the fastest human beings on the planet, at the peak of their strength, and it doesn’t get any better than that.  The women’s 100-meter comes close, though.  Then the 4x100s.

3. Usain Bolt is a machine.  Way back when, I was a sprinter on my high school track team – not a good sprinter, you understand, but enough of one to understand the mechanics of the sport and to know the difference between average sprinters, good sprinters, really good sprinters, and machines.  I sat watching Bolt’s three races with my jaw dropped.  It should not be as easy as he makes it look to finish a 200-meter race four strides ahead of his nearest competitor.  He should not be grinning at the cameras when he finishes the 100-meter.  He should not be able to pull away from the field as smoothly as he did in the 4x1.  It’s astonishing how fast that man is.  Someday the guys who came in last in each of the three races he ran in Rio – and the six others he’s run in two previous Olympics – will tell their grandchildren that they once watched Usain Bolt run away from them during a race.  I’ll tell mine I saw it live.  It was fun watching that kind of history being made.

5. Although to be honest, sometimes Bolt really annoys me.  He has such insane skill and talent, yet he hotdogs his way across the finish line.  Yes, he owns all the world and Olympic records now, but can you imagine how much lower those marks would be if he would just run flat out another five paces?  Run through the line, not to the line – that’s how it’s done.

5. If you are part of a group of people of which Ryan Lochte is described as the mastermind, you may want to reevaluate your life choices.

6. Actually, the women’s gymnastics floor routines come nearly up to the track events as far as my interest.  How do they bounce like that?  I just love the passes where they do these twisting flips in the air, hit the mat hard with their feet and bounce right up for another flip or whatever – especially if they can reverse direction.  It is just a joy to watch, I think.

7. It amazes me that there are people who work all year long to get into some of those sports.  They’re really good at them, and they can’t just pick them up with a couple of weeks to go.  But really?  People do synchronized diving when it’s not the Olympics?  Where?  Why?  I suppose there must be a market for it in non-Olympic years and I’m glad there is because otherwise I wouldn’t get to see it at the games, but that always comes as an odd thought.

8.  Seriously – Ryan Lochte, “mastermind.”

9. It’s nice that the US wins so many medals – and I find it especially awesome that the US women are now winning more than the US men – but I still find myself cheering for the athletes from places that never seem to win anything.  Estonia won a bronze in one of the rowing events.  A woman from Burundi won a silver medal in the 800-meter.  If that isn’t enough to make the day worthwhile you aren’t thinking right.

10. Switching over from the NBC broadcast coverage to the streaming app coverage made all the difference in the world.  There were far fewer commercials – sometimes they’d run out of commercials before they were supposed to cut back to the event they were covering and they’d put up a little graphic telling us to wait a bit for coverage to resume, which I found charming.  They showed the entire event and not just the Americans and select favorites, so you could actually get caught up in it.  There weren’t any of those cloying personal interest stories to wade through, nor any guest analysts wearying my ears with empty verbiage from the studio.  The events were shown a bit earlier – NBC Broadcast would delay things so they could edit them how they wanted – which meant I didn’t have to stay up until midnight to watch anything.  And they always seemed to farm out the actual announcing to random Australians, which lent an air of absurdist humor to the whole thing.  Next time we’ll just start with the app and save time.

11.  Masssssstermiiiiiiiiiind!  Oooooooooooooh!

12. The US women’s gymnastics team was justly celebrated for its achievements – and, really, watching Simone Biles reinvent the sport even as Aly Raisman was still improving the older version of it was a treat – but whatever became of the blonde one?  They never really seemed to show her doing anything.  I started to feel bad for her after a while.  I’m sure she did well – you don’t get to be part of that team without some freakishly high level of talent and a whole lot of hard work – but she was sort of the forgotten person in that group.

13.  With the possible exception of the entire hammer-throw event, there is nothing on this earth quite as absurd as the gazelle-like bounding that Olympic high jumpers use on their approach runs.  I’m sure it works, as those are not people who would do anything that didn’t.  But still.

14. For an Olympics that was supposed to collapse into a pile of mosquito-infested slapstick it turned out quite well, I’d say.  All the events happened when they were supposed to happen and where they were supposed to happen, and things went well.  I hope Rio in particular and Brazil in general got what they wanted out of them.  I wonder what will happen to all those venues in five years.  The precedents are not very encouraging, but I wish them well.

Friday, August 12, 2016

News and Updates

1. We took the turkeys to the processor today.  It was not quite as hard as last year, in that a) we had more turkeys than we did a year ago and b) we didn’t get quite as attached to each one as we did before, but it’s still a sad day.  They trust you, and you take them in to be butchered and tomorrow they’ll be in your freezer.  I get it, they’re livestock, that’s what happens with livestock.  But still.

2. I took the girls out east for a few days last week to visit with Grammy, who is getting along well these days.  We ate more than our fair share of cheesesteaks and real bagels (not the steamed toroidal muffins you get in the midwest), and went out for a lovely meal at the local brewpub one night.  We hung out with Grammy (Tabitha just floored her by pointing out that there was a Pokemon on her coffee table RIGHT THERE!) and got to see Uncle Keith and Aunt Lori and my friend Jenny.  We spent a lovely day down the shore with Rolane and Steve – a day that included both a boat ride for the girls and some quality beach time where the sky was overcast and cool and the water was walk-in warm.  Lauren was particularly enamoured of the baby clams, which could be had in profusion simply by plunging your hands into the sand and scooping them out.  She spent a happy time tossing them back into the sea.  And our flights were easy and on time.  It was a great but far too brief time.

3. One of the main things we wanted to do on this trip was to start Tabitha looking at colleges.  She’s a rising junior this year so it’s not like there’s any rush.  Mostly we wanted to have her get the feel of some categories – “large urban campus,” “small women’s college,” and so on – so she could narrow down the pile of college mail that is already beginning to accumulate.  Fortunately Philadelphia is home to a raft of colleges, so hitting three of them in the short period we were there wasn’t much of a problem.  I enjoyed taking her back to my alma mater, where we saw many things that weren’t there when I attended back in the Stone Age and a few that were.  After the tour was over we went up to look at the west end of campus – where my old dorm was, and which was somehow left off the tour – and had lunch at the pizza place across the street.  They’ve renovated, but the pizza is still good. 

4. It astonishes me that there are people who will seriously tell you they look forward to the damage that a Trump Administration would cause because then we could start over and build a better country out of the ashes.  It puzzles me when they get annoyed when I point out the consequences and fallacies of this argument.  Between such folks – who at least get that Trump is a disaster unfolding in real time – and the people who actually do support the proto-Fascist loose cannon who now represents the GOP, I fear for this nation, truly I do.

5. One of Tabitha’s friends also has her driver’s license now, which suggests all sorts of possibilities for the two of them.  As a parent, I’m not sure I want to think about that any further.

6. It has been a hot and humid summer, and I hate this weather.  You can always add clothing, but the reverse is not true – especially in a nation as morbidly squeamish about the human body as the United States.  As far as I am concerned, if the temperature never went above 70F (about 21C) I wouldn’t be sorry.  Oh well.  Only two more months until civilized weather.

7. One of the things that the girls enjoyed most about visiting Grammy was playing with her cats, Buddy and Charlie.  Charlie is a strange animal, but Buddy is a cat’s cat – a former stray who adopted my parents and essentially barged into their home and made it his.  He’s scruffy, cantankerous, surprisingly gentle with people, and an old, old soul.

8. I’m enjoying the Olympics, as I always do.  Yes everything around the Games is a cesspit of corruption and sleaze, and yes most of these so-called “sports” are things that nobody beyond the participants and their immediate families (excluding younger siblings, who don’t care no matter what) will bother with once the Olympics are over, but still – it’s a festival of Weird Activities that people spend inordinate amounts of time getting really, really good at and some of them are a lot of fun to watch.  I don’t get fencing beyond “hit them with the pointy end” and if someone ever knew the actual rules of rugby sevens that person has clearly drowned in lager by now, but it’s been fun to parse things out as they go.  I think I know what a “try” is, now.  You can keep the swimming as far as I am concerned, but the gymnastics has been interesting, the soccer has been generally well done (even if the American women have been eliminated, sadly enough) and I’m looking forward to the track events.  Also, field hockey – why the blue field?  So for a spectacle that was supposed to collapse in a mosquito-infested pile of slapstick, it’s been enjoyable.

9.  Why any nation would want to host the Olympics is another matter entirely.  There is no upside from that perspective, as far as I can see.

10.  I voted in the primaries here in Our Little Town.  My track record was about as good as usual.  Seriously, people could hire me out to support their opponents just to boost their own odds.

11.  I’m still working my way through the Game of Thrones series.  It’s well written and incredibly well researched – take out the obviously fantastic elements and it’s not a bad primer on medieval history – but it has a curiously static quality to it, as I burrow through the last published volume to date.  When the girls were little we would go to the Kids’ Museum, and they had a globe about a yard across that was filled with green and white liquids that didn’t mix.  You’d spin the globe and get these really cool fractal patterns, ever changing and twisting and just fascinating to watch.  But if you took half a step back, it never changed.  The liquids spun and merged and reformed but in a larger sense it was all more or less the same.  I’m four and a half books into the Game of Thrones series now – coming up on 5000 pages – and while an entire kaleidoscope of things have happened, if you take that half step back nothing has really changed.  Kingdoms rise and fall, characters enter and often die quite brutally (again, very well researched), and new characters and attempted kingdoms rise up to take their place and the globe spins on and the green and white liquids continue to mesmerize and it all blends together in a way the liquids themselves did not.  I’ll finish the series – and likely read the new ones when or if they come out – but part of me wonders if there will be any identifiable arc to the whole thing.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

One for the Road

My grandfather drove me out the state trooper barracks one bright sunny afternoon in the summer of 1982.

I was sixteen, my parents were both working, and it was time for me to take my driver’s test, so he volunteered for the job.  Brave man.  You have to go to the state police for that in Pennsylvania, though you can go to any barracks you want – there were several near enough to get to conveniently. We didn’t go to the closest one.  We chose the one out by the Granite Run Mall, because we thought it would be less crowded.  We were probably right.

Passing the Pennsylvania driver’s test is not one of the most difficult things I have ever done.  Honestly, barnyard animals could probably get a driver’s license in Pennsylvania if you could figure out a way for them to take the written test too.  There isn’t even an over-the-road portion of the exam, or at least there wasn’t back in the early Reagan years.  Instead they had a course in the back that you had to slog your way through.  It had a slalom portion where you weaved around some cones, a couple of stop signs that you had to obey, a 180-degree turn in the middle, and a three-point turn that our vast 1973 Pontiac took with surprising ease.

Sometimes they’d ask you weird questions, like how to turn on the brake lights, but mostly they seemed just as glad as the examinees to have it all over and done with and nobody hurt in the process.

When it was all over, my grandfather let me drive home – a trip of about 15 miles across some fairly big highways – and we made it safely.  I remember being vaguely surprised at both halves of that sentence.  I’ve been driving ever since.

Here in the midwest, you have to drive if you want to get anywhere.  Public transportation is something reserved for only a few places and generally not for long – the buses in Our Little Town stop running fairly early in the day, as I recall from the last time I tried to use one – and in sharp contrast to the dense cities of the east the midwest is far too spread out to do much constructive on foot other than get exercise.

So we drive.

And now we have another driver.

Tabitha passed her driver’s test today. 

We’ve been practicing since last fall, taking long drives up and down the state highways and short ones in and out of town, and on one memorable occasion driving backwards around the Home Campus parking lot for an hour and half to get the hang of how to steer in that direction.  It’s not intuitive, really.

And today it was me starring as my grandfather and the DMV standing in for the state troopers.  She drove over.  We filled out the paperwork and got ready to go.  The tester took her out on the open road a good ten minutes early – seriously, for all the bad reputations they have I have never had a bad experience with either the DMV or the IRS – and a quarter hour later they were back, signed approval in hand.

A new photo, a temporary paper license until the plastic one comes in the mail, and away we went.

The Pastafarian in front of us getting her photo done really did wear a steel colander on her head in the name of “sincerely held religious beliefs,” which struck me funny.  The DMV folks don’t care.  I’m not sure what the point of absurdist protest is if nobody notices, but then I’m not the one with the colander so clearly it isn’t any of my concern.  If you want to wear a kitchen implement on your head, I say go for it.

Congratulations, Tabitha.  A whole new world awaits.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Wrapping Up the Fair

Well, it’s done. 

The animals are back in their pens, barns, or wherever they were prior to this, with the exception of poor Momo.  Although turkeys are not known for their longevity after the Fair, so perhaps it all comes out in the wash in the end.  The projects have been removed from the walls and returned to their rightful owners.  We have Lauren’s photos, Tabitha’s art, and a pile of things that belong to other 4Hers who were unable to pick them up in the crush of load out.  We have had our first actual meal in days, in our own home, and nothing was onna stick.  It’s been a time.

But there are still a few stories left to tell, and rather than let them fade away in the grey fog of my mind I will write them down here to remember.

Friday Lauren and I got there early, as was our habit.  She took care of her animals and then we had breakfast and wandered around together until I had to leave for Tabitha’s concert.  Along the way we found the local credit union’s tent, where they had a photobooth.

Seriously, how could we resist?

That evening our friends Heidi and Travis came down and we showed them around a bit, though one of the things about living in a small town is that everywhere you turn you run into people you know so the tour got delayed a few times.  But that’s a nice problem to have, really.

The Fur & Feather Sale was Saturday morning. 

Everyone who exhibits in the Rabbits, Goats, and Poultry areas is entitled to sell one animal to the highest bidder.  The Dairy, Beef, Sheep, and Swine have their own sales.  The sale takes place in a big open square room with bleachers on three sides.  The crowd filters in over the course of the morning, registering as bidders and picking up the little booklet they give you with all the kids and what they’re selling.  Up front is the auctioneer’s booth, and a raised platform for the kids to walk across so you can see them.  There are also tables for the rabbits.

I found a nice seat where I could see everything and settled in to wait.

The rabbits came first.  They get carried in by the kids and placed on the tables and the bidding starts at $100 because it’s a fundraiser and it’s for the kids.  You place your bids and if you win you get to keep the animal and the 4Her gets the money.  Or you can donate it back (still paying your bid) and they auction it off again, this time to benefit the scholarship fund.  It’s a nice system, though when a single rabbit can fetch $1300 you know that there is nothing particularly responsive to supply and demand going on here.

Most animals go for between $100 and $300.

The rabbits paraded by, each bid heralded by the YAAA! Man. 

The YAAA! Man stands up front and scans the crowd for bids.  Sometimes the auctioneer sees them, but it’s a big crowd and it helps to have a second pair of eyes.  And since the YAAA! Man stands well over from the auctioneer he has to let the auctioneer know he has seen a bid somehow.


Then came the goats.  I bought one of those, though I donated it back for the scholarship fund because really, what am I going to do with a goat?  I’m glad the money is going to a good kid, though.  Pun fully intended.

Lauren was about halfway down the list for people selling turkeys.  She had a big poster with her, though it had a picture of last year’s Norman rather than this year’s Edmonton III.  We didn’t take as many photos of the turkeys this year, and there weren’t any good ones of Ed.  Most bronze tom turkeys look more or less the same, however, and Lauren did actually have much the same pose with Ed a few times that we could have taken pictures of, so there you have it.

She marched across the stage with her poster and eventually got $120 for her bird.  Not bad for a turkey.

I left the sale right after, since I had to get all the way across the Fair to man the creampuff booth for a couple of hours, though I will admit I stopped at the local radio station’s booth to check on this year’s book giveaway.  They always have good books for free – whoever does their selection really does a nice job.  This year the prize was a stack of Christopher Moore books for the taking, even if I already had that one - I left them for others and thanked the radio folks for their books.

I have all of Christopher Moor's books.  If you haven’t read his books, you should correct that immediately.  They're funny, and that is something sore needed in this modern world.

I also had to walk past the GOP tent, which was notably more subdued than in recent years.  The Wisconsin GOP has been quite brusque these last few years about its conversion of a once-thriving democracy into a single-party dictatorship, but this year for some reason they were fairly quiet.  The place was festooned with signs, of course – that’s why they rent the space, and the Democrat tent had about the same number of signs touting candidates as well.  But there was something off about them.

Every time I walked past the GOP tent I would play the same little mental game: “Count the Trump signs.”  The answer was always “one” – a forlorn little blue sign about 12” x 20” tacked to a larger sign advertising the party in general that had the festive air of "contractual obligations" about it.  I suppose there’s a message there.

Sunday morning Lauren and I got to park inside the Fairgrounds, for we were Staff, at least for the morning. 

There was a brief interlude of fog, which was kind of nice, and then it was on to the main event.  Or at least our main event.

The Drama group from May was scheduled to put on one last performance – actually two last performances, back to back – on the little stage over by the art projects.  I built a door frame out of PVC to replace the one we had borrowed from the campus theater that had been built out of depleted uranium and grief, Kim corralled the actors and got them ready, and our friend Jon agreed to help us set up – particularly with the canvases, though that turned out to be simpler than I thought it would be since the people who owned the backdrop didn’t want us to use screws so we just draped it over and called it a day.

A surprising number of the cast members from May returned for this show, even coming to a couple of pickup rehearsals earlier in July.  And we got a few volunteers to do some tech work and introduce the performances.  The kids put on quite a show.

Good for them!

Load out was that night.  If you’ve never experienced load out at the Fair, just imagine a small farming town being informed that everything in it needs to be moved over the hill in less time than an American football game – “everything” being a fairly flexible word that includes an assortment of animals ranging from horses and steers to ducks and rabbits, as well as half a dozen buildings full of artwork, sewing projects, vegetables, and rockets, some of those projects being a dozen feet long.  Give everyone pickup trucks and let them drive in among the crowd while people are walking around with cages full of birds.  And do this at the end of a very long week.

Honestly, it’s a wonder it goes as smoothly as it did.

But it does go smoothly for all that.  Kim and I even had time to visit the photobooth ourselves.

Once the starting bell sounded at 7pm sharp, Kim and Tabitha took care of the rabbit and the projects.  Lauren and I got the poultry.  We had them packed into the minivan and on the road in 45 minutes, and in their pens dusted for critters in less than two hours.  It was a good Fair, and now it is memories.

And to all a good night.