Tuesday, November 29, 2022

New Heat

We replaced the furnace last week. Well, other people replaced the furnace. We just told them to do that, and paid them for doing so. It counts.

We’ve been talking about this for the better part of a decade now. The old furnace came with the house in 1996, and from what the various service people have told us it was moved there when the house got moved to its current site in 1992 or so. The furnace itself was originally installed in 1986. It was a reliable and efficient furnace – a pulse furnace, which is a design with essentially no moving pieces to wear out – but they stopped making parts for it sometime during the Obama Administration and the last time the repair guy came out he told us that even the parts that they could jury-rig into place were getting scarce.

So it was time.

Kind of a shame, really, since it was working just fine. But it would do that until it stopped and when it stopped we’d need the new one in a hurry and it’s just best to do this on your schedule rather than the furnace’s schedule.

This is why we ended up replacing the AC unit at the same time. The guy who last serviced it, back in September, looked at it and said, carefully, “Yeah, that will probably start up in the spring.” It was also here when we moved in back in 1996, so it too owed us nothing.

Of course, getting a new furnace means clearing a path to the old one through the stuff in the basement, which is a problem. There’s a lot of stuff down there. My parents’ stuff. Kim’s dad’s stuff. Our various grandparents’ stuff. Stuff we had before we got married. Stuff we acquired afterward. Kid stuff. Project stuff. A wide assortment of tools that we have been threatening to organize since at least 2017. Stuff.

Fortunately the stuff is arranged in a fairly modular way and the furnace is not far from the stairs, so clearing a path was not all that intensive. But still. There was archeology.

Two guys showed up on Wednesday morning with a truck full of parts and equipment and set to work. I watched for a little while because it was interesting, but after a bit you could tell they just wanted to get on with things without the Homeowner staring at them so I retreated to my office to stare forlornly at my grading without actually doing any of it before switching gears and plinking around the web for a while. It was technically a holiday, after all, since none of the various campuses I work for held classes that day.

It was also a fairly warm day, so keeping the heat off for a morning caused no issues. I can’t imagine trying to do this in -20F weather. Yeah, our schedule, not the furnace’s.

Eventually they finished, cleared off all the old equipment, and headed off with a fairly large check in my handwriting because for some reason my winning smile was not payment enough. I have no idea why other than the fact that it has taken me three tries to type this without falling over sideways laughing.

The new furnace works pretty well – it’s quieter and more efficient than the old one, and it provides better heat to the far reaches of the house as well. I have no idea how the new thermostat works, but they did leave a manual that I swear I will read someday. Given that it is November we haven’t tried the AC yet, but with climate change barreling down it’s entirely possible that someday we will have to do that.

Here’s to warmth in the winter.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Thanksgiving Too

It’s odd how things become embedded in family lore.

Way back in the 1970s there was a commercial for Alka-Seltzer. I don’t even know if they make Alka-Seltzer anymore – they must, surely – but it’s been decades since I’ve seen a commercial for the stuff. If you’re not familiar with this product, it’s a tablet that dissolves into bubbles when placed in water and it is meant to soothe upset stomachs. This particular commercial was mostly a tableau of the remains of a vast holiday feast, the table groaning with food and the people strewn around it groaning from the consumption thereof. This goes on for about 25 seconds, and then from offstage you hear a cheerful woman’s voice shout “Bring out the second turkey!” right before they cut to the product pitch.

That became a tag line in my family. We were a group that loved our meals together. We still do.

We spent Thanksgiving Day up at my brother-in-law’s house, along with a hearty representation of Kim’s side of the family. We spent the morning preparing the things we were asked to bring – pizzelles, rolls, a cranberry-apple-current pie, a pumpkin roll – and then loaded up for the journey. Lauren was home for the break and she brought Maxim with her, so we had a pleasantly full minivan on the way up with the five of us.

There was a vast amount of food and family, and we had a grand time. There are a lot of younger kids on that side of the family so there was a proper swirl of activity. I spent most of my time in the dining room with Oliver, Lauren, Maxim, my niece Marin, and Bob (Amy’s dad), sharing stories and food, but others dropped in to visit and occasionally I did venture out into the rest of the house where everyone else was. I had a long conversation about animation with a guy named Dave whose exact relationship to me was never made clear but who was enjoyable to talk with, and I made my rounds to Grandma and Grandpa, Rory and Amy, and various other folks.

I tried to take some pictures but my utter inability to get an iPhone to take usable photographs is becoming something of a running joke (or mild running tragedy, take your pick) these days. Oh well. They always come out flat and grainy, and I suppose I just need to remember to bring my actual camera to these things.

So a good time was had, photographic failures notwithstanding.

But the problem with having Thanksgiving at someone else’s house is that someone else gets to keep the leftovers. Fortunately there is a solution to that.

Bring out the second turkey!

We decided to have Thanksgiving again on Saturday. Oliver invited some of his friends, and when much of Lauren’s old Squad came over on Wednesday night to hang out here after their Friendsgiving dinner at one of the local Mexican restaurants we invited them as well. Not everyone could make it, but in the end we had eleven for dinner – me and Kim, Oliver, Lauren, Maxim, John, Camrin, Jacob, Nolan, Chase, and Kyler – and that was a nice crowd.

We spent the day making all sorts of good food, and for the meal itself we dragged out the wedding china because when else are you going to use the stuff? Might as well put some mileage on it, we say. There was too much food to put on the table (a lovely problem to have) so we just set it out in the kitchen and people dished up there and went to sit down. It was a couple of hours of conversation and laughter and even though a few had to leave early most ended up migrating to the living room for an impromptu sing-along to Mamma Mia, which is about a fine a way to end a Thanksgiving holiday as you could ask for.

I’ve always liked Thanksgiving. It’s one of the few holidays devoted to being glad for what you have rather than asking for more. I am thankful for my family and friends and loved ones. I am thankful for the good people I shared meals with, who brightened my home and who allowed us into theirs. I am thankful for the food and the songs and the laughter. In a world that seems intent on darkening, there is light.

And that is enough.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Happy Anniversary to Us!

It’s been 27 years now.

Kim and I got married on a day very much like this one – sunny, fairly warm for late November in Wisconsin, and generally pleasant. Two days later we got sixteen inches of blowing snow that stranded much of my side of the family in the Milwaukee airport for 24 hours, but the day itself was nice and we got a pile of good stories (and one priceless video) out of the airport fiasco.

27 years is a long time – almost as long after the wedding as before it, actually. That milestone happens soon. We’ve raised two kids to adulthood. We’ve gone through any number of cats, rabbits, chickens, turkeys, and hamsters. Despite working objectively for the same place over this period, we’ve managed to switch employers several times in all the reorganizations. We bought a house and paid it off right before the pandemic hit, which was pretty good timing. We’ve traveled. We’ve sat at home and hung out together. It’s been a time.

I have led a pretty good life so far. It was good before Kim came into it. And it has been better ever since.

I’m not sure why she puts up with me but I’m happy she does.

This was last night at Kim's brother's house, where we had Thanksgiving. I'm missing my glasses and she has been decorated by our niece, but it's a nice picture and a memory of a good time. We've had a lot of those, and I'm glad.

Here's to another year, and to many more to come.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Lincoln at Gettysburg

The Battle of Gettysburg lasted for three days in the summer of 1863.

Confederate forces hoping for a military victory to convince European nations to intervene on the side of their slave-based usurper state collided with American forces in south-central Pennsylvania while looking for shoes, oddly enough. There were about 50,000 casualties in those three days – more than the combined British and colonial casualties for the entire American Revolution. Over seven thousand of those casualties were deaths.

On the one hand, the crushing defeat at Gettysburg shattered Confederate forces and turned the tide of the war definitively in favor of the United States. Never again would the armies of the treasonous South threaten to invade the North, and less than two years later the Civil War would be over.

On the other hand, when it was done there were over seven thousand bodies lying on the ground in the hot July sun, and in an age that did not have refrigerated rail cars they would have to be buried there rather than returned to their home towns and families. This was a task.

The military cemetery at Gettysburg was officially dedicated on November 19, 1863 – four months after the battle, and 159 years ago yesterday. Over twenty thousand people turned out to hear the main speaker: Harvard College President Edward Everett, the most renowned public speaker of his day.

Everett did not disappoint.

He spoke for over two hours, giving a blow-by-blow account of the Battle of Gettysburg, complete with classical allusions, florid condemnation of the treasonous South, and artfully phrased praise of the Northerners who had died on that field to preserve the United States for future generations. The crowd loved it.

When Everett sat down the next speaker – Abraham Lincoln – rose to address the crowd.

Lincoln had been invited almost as an afterthought (“He’s the president, guys, we gotta invite him…”) and appropriately he kept his remarks brief. The Gettysburg Address, as it came to be known, clocks in at a bit over two minutes if you read it slowly. It’s probably the only major presidential speech in American history that can be legibly inscribed on one side of a 3”-wide coin. The official photographer was so taken by surprise by the brevity of the speech that the only photograph we have of Lincoln giving the Gettysburg Address is him in the process of sitting down after he finished.

The Gettysburg Address was not well received. The Chicago Times, for example, called it “slipshod” and “puerile.” But Edward Everett knew better.

“I wish I had come as close to the heart of the matter in two hours as you did in two minutes,” he told Lincoln that day.

Because in those two minutes, Abraham Lincoln redefined what it meant to be an American.

“Four score and seven years ago,” he began, “our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Do the math.

Four score and seven – 87 if you’re not familiar with “scores” – subtracted from 1863 does not get you to 1787 when the Constitution was written. It gets you to 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was written.

There is a glaring contradiction between the Constitution – which at the time it was written and ratified recognized and protected slavery and left women largely outside of political society – and the Declaration of Independence, with its ringing statement that “all men are created equal.”

But in the early American republic this would not have been seen as a problem. The Declaration, after all, is not a legal document. It has no force of law. It cannot be introduced as evidence into a court of law. It was seen, by both the Founders who wrote and approved it and by most Americans well into the 19th century, simply as the way that the colonies had announced to the world that they had begun their Revolution against British rule and their reasons for doing so.

For most of the first century after independence, if you had asked someone “What does it mean to be an American?” – what is the fundamental nature of the United States – they would have pointed you to the Constitution. This is, of course, legally correct. The “United States” is defined by the Constitution. Without the Constitution there is no United States. It is our fundamental law. And the question of what did it mean to be an American – what was the Union all about – therefore came down to a legal question: “What is Constitutional?”

We are a nation defined by laws. Not by individual persons. By laws. Nobody is above the law, not even presidents, and we as a nation would do well to remember that in these parlous times in which we live.

Certainly this is the answer the Founders had intended.

But there are laws and there are laws, and in the 19th century you see the expansion and growth of the idea of Higher Law – the notion that there exists a set of ideals applicable to a nation, to a country and its government, that exists above mere regular law. And whether those ideals, those principles, come from God in the form of Divine Law, from Nature in the form of Natural Law, from humanity in the form of Ethics or Morality, or from some strange bastard combination of all of them, one thing was clear: those principles and ideals superseded mere regular law, even a law as important as the Constitution. All mere laws were just imperfect reflections of this Higher Law, as close as the people at the time could get to it.

And when you put it this way, you realize that the answer to the question of what the Union was – what it meant to be an American – was not to be found in mere law, not even a law as fundamental as the Constitution itself, but instead was to be found in the principles upon which this nation was founded, ideals which were only imperfectly reflected in the Constitution, which would need to be changed now and then to bring it more into line with those founding ideals.

The Founders put an Amendment process into the Constitution for a reason, after all. They understood that the interpretations and even the very text of the Constitution would need to change as Americans moved slowly forward in shaping their nation toward those Higher Law ideals.

Those ideals could be found in the Declaration of Independence.

This is something that the Moral Reform Movements of the 1820s, 30s, and 40s had been arguing for decades prior to the Civil War, but which Lincoln brings to the mainstream of American thought and makes central to American identity at Gettysburg. It is here, with Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, that the Declaration of Independence becomes a secular American catechism describing the principles that define Americans as a people.

What Lincoln is saying here is that if you really want to know what it means to be an American, don’t look to the Constitution. The Constitution, important as it is, is mere law, law that among other things recognized and protected slavery, and the meaning of the Union is not legal. Instead, look to the Declaration of Independence, at the higher principles and ideals upon which the United States was founded.

That’s what it means to be an American.

The Union is not a legal entity. It is a proposition, an ideal – the proposition that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These ideals are not based in blood or heritage, but instead are principles that anyone can take up and embody. Anyone can be an American, after all.

In 1787 the Revolutionary Generation could only get so close to those ideals. They had to worry about the practical realities of setting up a new nation and a new government, and the closest they could get to those ideals was the Constitution.

Now, Lincoln is saying, now in 1863, in the middle of the Civil War, now is the time to take that Constitution one step closer to the ideal of the Declaration of Independence, to extend the definition of “all men” to include black people as well as white people and ban slavery to create a new birth of freedom, making Americans equal in the eyes of the law by granting to those held in bondage the life and liberty that was their inalienable right according to the founding ideals of this nation.

THAT, said Lincoln, that is a nation worth fighting for. That’s what a nation conceived in liberty should be.

This is the unfinished business of American history.  "It is," Lincoln noted, "for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced."  This is the goal we as a nation must strive toward.

We as a nation have, over the last two and a half centuries, greatly widened the definition of “all men” – we have extended the recognition of the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to women, to the poor, to those who are not straight or white or some very specific definition of Christian – but we have a long way to go before the ideals of the Declaration of Independence can be seen as being fulfilled. There are people in this country who would limit those ideals only to very specific groups – usually groups exactly like themselves, since a failure of empathy is the defining feature of so much of the politics of the 21st century – and who are actively working to strip rights away from anyone who is not a straight, white man who worships in a very specific way. We have seen such efforts succeed even in this late year. This cannot stand if we as a nation wish to become Americans.

The ideals of a nation are by definition aspirational, things the nation should strive to live up to. We have come a long way. We have a long way to go.

But if we wish to live in a nation worth preserving, it is the only route we can take.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

On Twitter

I’ve never had a Twitter account, mostly because the site has always struck me as a cesspool.

Most of my online presence is here or on Facebook, because I am old.

The average age of Facebook users is something like fifty these days and getting older every day because people younger than that are dropping it like their grandmother’s china, though I still find it useful for doing what it was originally sold as doing which is keeping up with faraway friends and sharing funny pictures. I no longer engage in political arguments there, as all that I ever got out of that was older and there are only so many drooling idiots one cares to swat down in a single limited lifetime, but as an easy and effective way to stay in touch with people it’s not bad.

Most blogs dried up around 2011 and no new ones have been started since before Obama left office, so it’s only us old timers keeping the craft alive. Thanks for sticking with me.

I have an Instagram account to which I have never posted anything so there is no reason to follow me there. I use it to find funny memes, vintage photos (some of which end up in the slide shows for my history classes), Great British Bake Off contestants, Voces8, and whatever friends and family have an account and are willing to let me follow them. I got SnapChat to be able to talk to my children. I have a Pinterest account from 2014 that has exactly one post on it (a picture of Grumpy Cat with Peter Capaldi’s eyes photoshopped onto it) and a Tumblr account with none, neither of which I can access anymore because I don’t remember the passwords. Nor can I remember the password to the TikTok account I have.  Someday I may make a Reddit account, but today is not that day. Tomorrow does not look good either. There are any number of other sites and services out there these days, but they are all for people younger and more in tune with the culture than I am so I will let them pass.

But Twitter? No.

Twitter is where the Enlightenment dream of perfect communication leading to utopia went to die. It is where we discovered for a rock solid fact that you will never get Shakespeare no matter how many monkeys there are typing away. It is Exhibit A on why the aliens will not visit and why whatever version of God you happen to believe in will not save us.

And now it’s going away.

Elon Musk, a parasite on the hard work of others whose main function on this planet is to disprove categorically and forever the entire idea that wealthy people are somehow smarter than the rest of us, has managed to crash the entire thing in less than a month, burning $44 billion in the process and providing a shining example of the actual (as opposed to rhetorical) business skills of billionaires in real time. It’s been fascinating, in a grim sort of way. But according to several different analyses that I’ve read – from system administrators, politicians, engineers, and lawyers alike – the damage already done to that platform as it bleeds experienced and capable employees is going to be fatal even if it continues to function for a while. Much like those radiation victims that you read about from the early days of the Atomic Age whose internal organs were fried even if their outsides still looked healthy, Twitter is a dead thing walking and the inevitable will take place in due course.

On the one hand, this will not affect me directly. As noted, I don’t have a Twitter account, nor will I be signing up for a Mastodon account to replace that non-existent Twitter account. It’s a manmade disaster affecting an island I will never set foot upon.

On the other hand, it did serve a function. Much like Facebook, once you strip out the disinformation, the rabid hordes of assholes, and the sheer toxic wasteland of commentary that seems inevitable in such platforms, it did provide a useful forum for a lot of people. Government agencies used it to communicate quickly and widely. Artists got word out of their art. Historians used it to fact-check lying politicians in real time. Comedians (professional and amateur alike) provided laughter to a world in need of it – a lot of the funny memes on my Instagram feed are just screenshotted Twitter exchanges, after all. On and on. These will be hard to replace.

It will leave a hole when it goes, in other words.

It’s easy to sit back and enjoy the schadenfreude, to revel in the misfortune of a billionaire who has added nothing to the world and the demise of a platform that has caused such damage since 2016, but that’s not the whole story and I’m not really sure what will happen once it disappears. Much of value will be lost.

I have no solutions to this. Just these thoughts.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Thoughts on the Recent Election

You may have heard that there was an election here in the United States earlier this week.

I KNOW! You’d think it would have made the papers or something.

Anyway, I went and did my bit to oppose Fascism in America, since the great lesson of the 1940s is that once Fascism slithers its way into power it is not easily dislodged and frankly I’m getting very tired of the inroads that it is making in my country. I was voter number 964 in my little ward at 4:15pm, which is remarkably good turnout for a midterm election.

And now we wait.

In the meantime, a few thoughts on the election.

1. The much vaunted “Red Wave” that was supposed to drown the American republic in penny-ante right-wing Christian nationalism and Fascist authoritarianism seems to have been just so much hot air, which is perhaps the best a weary world could hope for. The results are historically bad for the GOP in a year when the conventional wisdom would have had them retaking Congress in a rout. They certainly shouted loudly and frequently enough about doing so, anyway. Right now, though, neither the House nor the Senate have been decided. The Democrats, in fact, are slightly favored to retain control of the Senate and may even have an outside chance of keeping the House. We’ll know by next week, I suppose, or at least by whenever Georgia holds its runoff. But the fact that this is even possible at this juncture points to a dismally poor showing by the Republican Party from which they will learn nothing and proceed to double down on their insanity for the next election. That’s been the pattern for over a decade, anyway.

2. None of this should have been this close, though. It’s shocking that the GOP has any supporters willing to be named publicly at this point, as that party consistently advocates policies that are calculatedly cruel, dangerously shortsighted, flatly unconstitutional, and contrary to laws, morals, democracy as a concept, and basic human decency. It does seem that this is a feature rather than a bug for a lot of people, though. Watch your back.

3. On that note, how happy should I be that four out of five Tennessee voters think slavery should be abolished? Wasn’t that supposed to have happened by now? Why isn’t this vote unanimous? Will they vote on sugarless gum next? Enquiring minds want to know.

4. Of course, Louisiana chose not to abolish slavery in their state at all, so perhaps I am being too harsh on Tennessee. Sometimes I think that William Tecumseh Sherman had the right idea.

5. In Haywood County NC they still elect their tax collector – the only county in that state that still does that. Apparently the incumbent was the most competent person they’ve had in that office in that county’s history, but he was defeated by a 21-year-old college student who ran as a prank but had the all-important “R” after his name because bah gawd they cain’t hayve a Demmycrat in Nohth Cahlina. So soon they will have no tax revenue and then no schools, animal shelters, prisons, police, or fire protection and then they can all just go Galt and leave the rest of us alone, I suppose.

6. Here in Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers won re-election handily, defeating the right-wing carpetbagger who promised to get rid of the public schools and jail doctors. I’ve met Evers – he’s the most intelligent person in any room he’s in, so this is a good result. A not so good result is that it seems that Ron Johnson – part-time insurrectionist, full-time corporate lobbyist, and Man Who Yells At School Children – somehow managed to be returned to the Senate in a move that will surely embarrass anyone with more than seven working brain cells. But as Nixon once said about one of his Supreme Court nominees, mediocre people need representation too.

7. John Fetterman handily won his race back in my home state of Pennsylvania, which gives me hope for the future. If you’re not familiar with Fetterman, he’s the former mayor of Braddock PA who did wonders trying to revitalize that dying Rust Belt town, the current Lt. Governor, and a man fearsome of both intellect and mien. He’s nine feet tall, looks like a cross between Shel Silverstein and an entire biker gang, and brings a sharp sense of progressive possibility and incisive analytical skills to an office that had been held by a GOP nonentity for years. So, win.

8. In Georgia, though, the current incumbent Senator – a minister, by the way – holds a distressingly slim lead over Herschel Walker, a former football player whose trail of shocking moral turpitude and incoherent ramblings did not prevent 88% of evangelical voters in that state from supporting him over the actual minister. So there will be a run-off soon. In other news, the number of Americans reporting “none” when it comes to religious belief has hit a 50-year high and evangelical Protestant Churches are seeing declining membership, particularly among younger people, for the first time since Ford was in office. You do the math.

9. Also, it seems that Americans strongly support the idea that women should be treated as more than just breeding stock, as the right of a woman to control her own body was enshrined in the constitutions of California, Vermont, and – perhaps most surprisingly – Michigan. This after Kansas – KANSAS – voters resoundingly rejected a forced-birth initiative this past summer. Whenever forced-birth supporters put the question to the American people they lose, which tells you that they won’t be doing that again. Expect minority rule authoritarianism from that quarter from now on.

10. Gas prices dropped 20 cents/gallon around here immediately following the election. It’s almost as if oil companies had hiked prices to damage the prospects of the party that wants to impose windfall profit taxes to counter their greed (lawsy, folks, even Fox News admitted that that majority of the price hikes in gas over the last year have been directly due to corporate rapaciousness) and boost the party that will bend over and take whatever they choose to do to them, and now they don’t have to do that anymore.

Interesting times.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

News and Updates

1. Why can’t us? Because the Astros, that’s why. The Phillies put up a good fight but Good beat Hot this time around. It is hard to lose to a team that should have been barred from the postseason to begin with, but that’s the way things work in professional sports these days. On the other hand the Phillies had a pretty great run and came within two games of stealing a championship from a better team, so I can’t say I’m all that upset by it.

2. Though it was perhaps a bit much that on the same day that the Phillies were eliminated the Philadelphia Union lost the Major League Soccer championship – and on penalty shots, which is a pretty stupid way to decide a championship all things considered. Even the NHL relegates that sort of nonsense to the regular season. So it was a hard weekend for Philadelphia sports fans, but we did have two teams playing for championships and that’s not bad at all.

3. I have already budgeted my $1.9 billion lottery winnings. Thank you for playing, but you can all go home now.

4. Actually I have no idea what I would do that that kind of money and I’m not even all that sure I want to find out. I don’t have enough materialism to spend more than a vanishingly small fraction of it on Stuff. I don’t have that many relatives to give it away to. I don’t have the monstrous ego required to buy a major social media site and fly it directly into the ground in a spectacular fireball of petulant incompetence. Maybe I should just be glad when my ticket inevitably turns out to be Not The Winner.

5. If you haven’t already voted, make sure you do on Tuesday. Fascism is on the march and all American patriots must oppose this as we have done for over 75 years, because if the world learned anything in the 1940s it is that if Fascism slithers into power it is not dislodged easily. And yes, I know what Fascism is and I have used that word both carefully and deliberately. If the Republican Party and its minions, lackeys, cronies, and enablers don’t want me to call them Fascists they should stop doing the things that Fascists do.

6. Is there any better song to spend a chilly November evening listening to than Monica Martin’s Go Easy Kid? Especially the version with James Blake on piano and backing vocals. No, no there is not.

7. Every once in a while I just call a halt to grading and lecture prep and exam writing and all the things ways that my various jobs invade my time away from campus and I just have an evening not doing anything productive at all, and every time I do this I think “Huh. This is how most people’s evenings go.” It is a strange thought. Sometimes I think I need to rethink some things, though at this point I suspect it is far too late for that.

8. Sometimes a single video can make an entire social media platform worthwhile.

9. It’s been more than a year since I started going back to work in person, after the worst of the pandemic had passed, and I still haven’t quite gotten the hang of packing my lunch the way I used to do. It’s always something last minute, never really anything that still sounds good to me by the time noon or so rolls around, and sometimes I don’t remember at all and I end up eating cheese crackers and drinking tea. Oh well.

10. The chicken flock is slowly dwindling, which is only to be expected given the lifespan of chickens. But for now they still give us eggs, so that’s a win.

Friday, November 4, 2022

Light the Lamps

One of the odd things about time passing is that you end up with a lot of … things. Things that once belonged to other places and other people and that’s where your memories still keep them, but those places and people aren’t there anymore and now those things are yours.

In my grandparents’ dining room there was a lamp.

It was a mid-century modern tension pole lamp that they probably bought new when they moved out of the city and into the suburbs in the early 1960s It’s about nine feet high if you don’t have it squashed between the floor and the ceiling – it can keep tension comfortably in a standard eight-foot-high room – and it’s mostly made of hollow brass tubing, though the middle section is painted to look like wood and the little fins that stick out are in fact actual wood. It has two avocado-green glass globes and there are brass diffusers that clip onto the light bulbs inside. You can turn on either or both of the bulbs.

You can see it here in the background of these photos, Christmas Eves from the 1970s.

In this one there are a bunch of us – I’m the kid in the bright red shirt on the left. I’m sandwiched between my cousins, and my brother is across from me. On my side of the table, closer to the camera, are my great-aunts, and on the other side are my parents and my dad’s mother. We’re just sitting down to the “spaghetti and clam sauce” part of the Seven Kinds of Fish dinner that was a permanent fixture of Christmas Eve when I was growing up. My grandfather would have put the leaves in the table for the big family gathering and then turned the table diagonally so it would still fit into the dining room, which left the far end right under the lamp.

In this one you can see it in the background behind my grandparents. It’s a different Christmas Eve, maybe a year or two off from the last picture, but the people haven’t changed. Dinner’s over now, and it’s gift time.

We sold the house when my grandparents passed away in 2000, and I was the only one who wanted the lamp so my dad took it apart – the pole separates into four pieces of vastly differing sizes – and packed it into a box for me. I brought it back to Wisconsin where it sat on a shelf in my basement for more than two decades.

During the COVID lockdowns back in 2020 Oliver and Lauren cleared off a corner of the basement and converted it into a Gamer Lair. They put down those interlocking foam tiles to make the floor look good and feel warmer in the winter and they painted the concrete walls a nice shade of blue. We moved a television down there and hooked it up to the PS4 that my mother had given us as a group present for Christmas, and we set up a futon across from it. It’s gotten a lot of use as a hangout space since then, which is nice.

A couple of months ago I dragged out the old pole lamp and set it up in a random spot in the basement to see if it still worked, and rather to my surprise it did. And then it just sort of stood there, awkwardly, until we figured out where it should go. Last week I set it up in the Gamer Lair but this time the lower lamp wouldn’t work and I am not really qualified to figure out why. A friend of mine on the maintenance staff at work said he’d take a look at it, though, and yesterday he said it was ready to go.

I took it home today and set it up in the Gamer Lair and it looks lovely there.

It is strange in a way to see this old lamp so far from my grandparents’ dining room where I remember it, but I like that it is still here, still part of the family story.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022


Yesterday was Lauren’s birthday.

We spent the evening with her and Maxim and some of their friends, playing trivia in the student union by the light of Monday Night Football on a screen the size of a Spanish galleon’s mainsail. It was a close game and we had a grand time, and in the end we went from third to first on the strength of the last question – a six-part (or seven-part if you count the musical clues that you had to decipher for the bonus point) question that required us to figure out which three movies starred William Shatner and which three starred William Hurt. Victory, victory, the sweet taste of victory.

We also sang happy birthday because it is legally required, though singing it the second time was just for us.
Some of us were in costume, as befit the fact that it was Halloween. Kim went as a witch. Lauren wore her go-go outfit with the kicking white boots that made her almost as tall as I am. Maxim and Isaac were characters from Breaking Bad, with costumes that required both of them to cut their hair – a real commitment to the role if you ask me. Daniel, Chase, Aleksia, and I were just there papering the house, though I did wear my Phillies cap to show support for my team even if the game got rained out.

We’re not a terribly gifty sort of family, but we do enjoy them when they come. For her birthday Lauren asked for a giant, um, stuffed thing when she and I were at Costco last week, and then this weekend she requested a homemade lasagna which I put together on Sunday and brought up with us yesterday. Food is love, after all. So are giant, um, stuffed things, I guess. It made everyone happy, and that’s the only thing that matters.

It is a lovely thing that she wanted us to come up and join her on her birthday, even as a college student. I will take that as a parenting win and enjoy the time I spend with her because she is a good person to spend time with, as are her crew.

This was a milestone birthday, as she leaves her teens and sets off into her 20s. It is strange to think I no longer have teenagers, that my youngest is now well into the world of adulthood. She’ll be fine, though.

Happy birthday, Lauren.

I’m proud of you.