The Good Earth and the Bad Seed

twofer

With every wilted planting, the words of Gene Shepherd come to mind. I could never be sure but I thought that I heard the sound of ‘Taps’ being played, gently.

Labor Day weekend is always kind of a benchmark for my gardening efforts. If there is still some green clinging to the stem this late in the game, then I have truly accomplished something. On the other hand…

This time the bell tolled for a veteran cinquefoil, and an Asiatic Lilly in its rookie season. May they be at peace. So far no word on which of my neighbors won the betting pool.

plant tabs

A couple years ago I started saving those little plastic information tabs that came in the pots, figuring – in a rare acknowledgment of my vast ignorance – they might actually help with the nurturing process. Unfortunately, the only real purpose they serve is to assist with IDing the corpse.

At this point I suppose an argument could be made that I’m nothing more than a serial killer, the Hannibal Lecter of horticulture. It seems a fairly apt assessment. Thankfully, no one from the Enquirer is going through my ‘yard waste’ bin or I would most certainly be up on charges. And thus far the hush money being paid to my trash hauler has ensured that the evidence will never see the light of day.

dead aspen

Oh, and I nearly forgot – my crowning achievement. The aspen tree next to the house. Its leaves will chatter happily outside my office window no more, as it appears I have sent it to that great forest in the sky.

I think I’m going to need a bigger yard waste bin.

 

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Totality and the Aftermath

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“…everything under the sun is in tune, but the sun is eclipsed by the moon.” Pink Floyd

The problem with living only a few hours from a total eclipse is that you feel obligated to go see the damned thing. The media trumpet the event like it will rival the parting of the Red Sea, never to return in our lifetimes (or at least for the next seven years), so for it all to be going down just 150 miles north puts a lot of undue pressure on a person.

The thing is, I’ve not been witness to many of humankind’s bigger moments. I was a zygote during Woodstock (okay, I was 12), and the one time I showed up for a shuttle launch it got scrubbed. I have no stories about shooting up backstage with the Rolling Stones or pulling Hemingway from the path of rampaging cattle on the streets of Pamplona. There was that time Richard Nixon came to give a speech at my high school in the days before Watergate. As a member of the band I sat in the stands behind the podium and carry with me many fond memories of the back of the president’s head. So #Eclipse2017 seemed like a perfect ‘bucketlist’ opportunity.

Still, while I’m probably more astronomically nerdish than most, there’s a lot to consider. How bad will traffic be? Can I find a place to park? Will I get my money back if it’s cloudy? What if I can’t hold my breath long enough in the porta-potties? Will I go blind because I waited so long I had to buy knockoff glasses from that guy on craigslist? Will the werewolves speak English?

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All is forgotten, though, once the moon eases fully across the face of the sun, and totality is upon us. An eerie darkness falls on the low hills of eastern Wyoming as a cheer goes up from the crowd of nearly one hundred-thousand gathered at the airport in Glendo – a tiny farm town (population 204 on a normal day) in the bullseye of the big event. The ridiculous cardboard viewing glasses are tossed aside and all bask in the wonder of the black orb overhead, ringed by the dancing strands of the solar corona. Stars are suddenly visible in the half-night. This is what we came for.

But it’s over in two and a half minutes. And as soon as the first rays of sunshine peek from behind the moon’s trailing edge, the rush for the exits is on. Actually, exit. There is only one. Gridlock is immediate and all-encompassing as the parking lot goes from zero to Thunderdome in a matter of seconds. Thousands of cars that had moments earlier been parked in neat double rows now jockey for position as they funnel down to a single line, to be then funneled onto to a single road that is the only outlet for two other massive fields similarly choked with vehicles as well as those spilling from the nearby state park viewing areas. A scenario that is being repeated across the state, with the ultimate goal of funneling nearly a million people onto the single freeway where southbound traffic is already stacked up as far as the eye can see.

We decide on the ‘play it cool’ approach and avoid the mayhem, having some lunch while what we assume will be the worst of it subsides. Our first tactical error, as “the worst of it” will actually continue, statewide, for most of the day.

After about an hour, we pack up and head into the fray, inching along with everyone else toward the main road that will take us back into town and out to the freeway entrance ramp maybe a mile away. But what’s this? When we finally get to the road, someone is standing in the intersection waving all the vehicles in the opposite direction – not south into town (which is, of course, at a standstill), but north to points unknown. Like sheep, we comply. Tactical error number two. After two-and-a-half hours we have gone 14 miles in the wrong direction and now face the unappealing choice of getting back on the freeway to inch our way 14 miles back to where we came (and then beyond) or take our chances in the wilds of eastern Wyoming.

We choose the wilds – tactical error number three.

It turns out paved roads are something of a novelty across the high prairie of the Equality State. And we are not the only ones who have smartphones and are desperate for an alternate route out of this post-eclipse hell.

There are 83 miles of absolutely nothing between the towns of Torrington and Cheyenne. And one road. Have you ever seen an 83 mile long conga line? Moving at 10 miles an hour? Nuff said.

So here are a few tips for those planning to catch the 2024 eclipse. Do some breathing exercises beforehand to condition yourself for the porta-potties, bring plenty of treats for the werewolves, and pray that flying cars finally arrive.

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Oh, and get a new cellphone, ’cause a Galaxy s3 just ain’t up to the task.

To Sin by Silence…

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Image credit: smithsonianmag.com

Perhaps it’s time to stop calling ours ‘the Greatest Country in the World.’ The phrase has always made me a little uneasy, and now more than ever it rings quite hollow. For the most part, America is a perfectly lovely place, the Land of Opportunity and all that. But we appear to be straining at the seams of late. And what’s showing through isn’t pretty.

“We are determined to take our country back.” So said former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke in the midst of the mayhem in Charlottesville this past weekend. Apparently, a fair number of white Christians feel the same way, that “their” country is not just slipping away, but has been outright snatched from them. What they don’t realize is, it was never really theirs to begin with. Granted, they’ve been driving the bus for the last 240 years thanks to their sheer numbers, but they’ve simply been keeping the seats warm. Hey, it’s been a good run, they’ve had their way for a long time, but change is coming whether they want it or not. A harsh reality with which they are struggling mightily.

There is another phrase often used to describe this country – the Great Melting Pot. I suppose if the hate-mongers had their way, we’d get rid of that one, too. Better send someone out to the Statue of Liberty while you’re at it and scrape that “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” nonsense from her base, or better yet, just dismantle her altogether. Time to hang a ‘Go home’ sign on the golden door. The experiment is over. Words like ‘inclusion’ and ‘diversity’ are no longer acceptable. Tribalism is the new black.

I’ve never been one to wrap myself too tightly in the flag and, quite frankly, I am leery of those who do. I guess you could call me a ‘globalist’ if you require a label. So that makes me an enemy of these sad, frightened and ever so angry ‘white warriors.’ Your anger is duly noted. Your hatred, though, is mystifying. Like every Anglo, African, Asian, Latino or Indian (and all those I missed) living here, my ancestors came from somewhere else. Yes, this is my country, but only so much as it is everyone else’s, too.

As for the pointy hoods, the shields, the Nazi salutes – if those are indicative of your ‘supremacy,’ I’ll pass, thanks. In truth, it would be comical if not for the fact that you all take yourselves so bloody seriously. And it leaves me to wonder once again, are we really the best thing that four-and-a-half billion years of evolution can come up with?

So save the platitudes about how great this country is – we just abdicated that title. Maybe we’ll get it back when we start to embrace the words of John Lennon rather than Adolph Hitler.

I’d Rather be Jousting

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Image credit: carolina.renfestinfo.com

Ah, summer is here. I know this not because the air conditioning is wreaking havoc with my electric bill or because my lawn is already charring around the edges, but rather due to the arrival of the season’s true harbinger. The Renaissance Festival has opened for business.

Time to renew old friendships with overly-expressive sorts dressed in peasant garb and brandishing swords and turkey drumsticks with equal abandon. Time to shell out twenty bucks a head to tromp around in the mud (at least you hope it’s mud) while these wanna-be actors – who last starred in their high school’s production of The Music Man – try to lure you into some medieval feat of strength by calling you things like “knave” and “wench” in a variety of mangled British accents that only Kevin Costner could love. But be sure and wait for the hottest, most humid day imaginable so the sweat will be dripping off both you and those whose job it is to transport you back to jolly old England in the age of non-existent sanitary facilities, not to mention that pesky Black Death. This way the experience will be enhanced when, by mid-afternoon, the scent of horse droppings, overwhelmed antiperspirant and festering mead will hang like an acrid pall over waft blithely throughout the proceedings.

A jester blocks your path, juggling bowling pins (as I recall, bowling was invented by the Visigoths, who brought it to England during the first Bronze Age, using the heads of their vanquished enemies as the ball) from behind a blindfold while admonishing anyone within earshot to clear a path lest they risk being struck by an errant toss. All are happy to comply. Close behind are the troubadours, strumming on lutes and singing songs that seem to bring them great joy (an assumption based on the fact that, though not a single word is discernible, they stop and laugh raucously after every few stanzas). An offer to join in on the merriment is dismissed with the wave of your half-eaten turkey leg.

(I’m neither an historian or dietician, but I find it astounding that humanity survived the period considering the only foodstuff available to the general populace appears to have been turkey drumsticks. In a related note, I’m equally surprised that turkeys survived, considering the extreme demand for their haunches.)

After a few hours of “authentically costumed” frivolity it’s time to find a bathroom. Thankfully, the organizers have not insisted on historical accuracy in this arena, but even so you nearly soil yourself before realizing that all the porta-johns have been cleverly disguised – in some cases as turrets, in others, trees, replete with arched doors through which you would expect the Keebler elf to walk. Of course the ‘tree’ you choose is occupied, and once you finally gain entry it looks as though the fair maiden who went before you used the last of the leaves. Such is the lot of those who stray too far from the castle.

Many attendees slip and slide through the muck with a look of bewildered disappointment on their faces as they come to realize that this is not so much Game of Thrones as it is Robin Hood: Men In Tights. Sadly, there will be no heads crushed like grapes or eviscerations by long blade, just irritatingly jovial fire-breathers, jugglers and jousters.

And, of course, an Artisan’s marketplace, where one can purchase an original 14th century WWE belt buckle, ye olde Chinese Finger Traps and walking staffs carved by King Henry the Eighth himself.

So once more, summer is awakened by the heralding trumpets of the Renaissance Festival. Like the swallows returning to Capistrano or the Lions falling short of the Super Bowl, this yearly ritual remains as timeless and steadfast as ever. Hurry in before they’re all out of turkey legs.

The Hounds of Silence

the queen

From the website vetstreet.com: “The Jack Russell Terrier is almost certainly not the breed for you.”

Cowards.

It used to be that Riley, our dog, felt the need to engage in battle with the various noise-making machines around the house – mainly the vacuum and lawn mower. She would dart about, lunging and barking at the offensive contraptions, doing whatever was necessary to defend her peeps and her domain. There was no use admonishing her. She’s a Jack Russell – it’s what she does. The doorbell was another trigger, sending her into histrionics whenever some unsuspecting rube was foolish enough to give it a poke. In a related note, we always scrambled for the remote to mute the TV if we happened to be watching House Hunters because, well, how was she to know that the doorbell sound effect at the beginning of the show wasn’t actually a serial killer on our porch looking to gain entry and make worms meat of us all.

However, in the last year or so, she has gone deaf as a post. At first we were concerned and more than a little saddened. But since she remains otherwise healthy and active (as active as a 15-year old pooch can be, anyway) and in no pain, we’ve decided that her silent world is not so bad. Indeed, it has proven a blessing in many ways, including a distinct lack of doorbell insanity. And prior to this, thunderstorms and fireworks were a source of grief for everyone, as she would go into a panting, zombie-like panic and either crawl under the bed to shred the lining of the box spring or cower in the laundry room, where she would try to claw her way into the dryer until long after the bangs and booms had faded away. Now, storms rumble through and the 4th of July passes without so much as a twitch. Still, every new development brings its own unique challenges.

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So I’m wondering if the folks at Black and Decker make cow-catchers for their lawn mowers.

Smile For the Camera

I recently took a picture of my driver’s license as part of an ill-fated attempt to register myself on airbnb. I wound up canceling the application, but the picture is a testament to my photogenically-challenged status. Granted, the zombies operating the camera at the DMV seem to have an innate ability to snap us at our worst, but in my case the fault isn’t entirely theirs.

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To their credit, they did perfectly capture my sunken-eyed ‘just coming off a three-day crack bender’ face. But while not all my mug shots are quite so striking, it’s a given that, as a subject, I am incapable of taking a good picture. Usually I’m just caught in mid-gesture, with a weird look on my face, like I’m about to say something.

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Even as a kid I was always squinting and grimacing uncomfortably in family photos.

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Some Native Americans held the belief that when you took their picture, you were taking a piece of their soul. I can relate. So I’ve always done my best to try and avoid cameras.

Then Newsweek Magazine came knocking. A few years ago the publication decided to print one of my articles. This was huge. Until that point my writing efforts had been met with little interest – a few columns printed in a local paper and hardly anything more. Now one of the biggest periodicals in the country (with claims of 19 million readers) was going to publish my stuff. Sweet! I did a little dance right there in front of the computer as I read the email.

After changing my underwear I called the editor, who told me they would be running my essay some time in the next four to five weeks, just as soon as they could schedule a photo shoot.

Pictures? Of me?

“We like to include a portrait of the author with the column,” she explained.

Damn. But there was no point in arguing. It was Newsweek, after all.

“And we need to think about props, too. Something that ties in with the piece.”

This was turning uglier by the minute. “The piece” dealt with my conflicted feelings over ethnic diversity, manifested through a new tattoo that called out my Scottish ancestry.

“Do you have a kilt, or maybe some bagpipes?”

“Afraid not,” I answered (while briefly imagining my face superimposed on Fat Bastard’s body). That was the point of the article – that I rarely even acknowledge my heritage, much less make a show of it. And then I caved. “I might be able to get my hands on a Scottish flag, though.” One was stored in a box somewhere, thanks to my late aunt. As the clan matriarch and repository of our amassed history, she was my complete opposite. The woman reveled in the thought that we had descended from proud Celtic stock, all bearing a striking resemblance to Mel Gibson, only taller. Despite being separated by an ocean and several centuries of haphazard cross-breeding, we were still noble moor dwellers and God help the half-wit who didn’t know better or the family member who strayed from the fold. Anyone foolhardy enough to hand her a green hat or four-leaf clover to wear on St. Patrick’s Day might very well draw back a bloody stump.

“That would work. I’m going to pass your name on to our photo editor, who will contact you shortly to set something up.”

Several more phone calls and emails ensue before I’m on my way to meet Fabrizio, the photographer who will be doing the shoot. It was his idea to hold it in a tattoo parlor as a way to further set the mood. He also reassures me that it shouldn’t take more than a few hours to capture what he’s looking for. Christ, it’s just the family badge on my upper arm – I could have snapped a picture of it with the camera on my phone and been done with it. I’m having second thoughts about all of this, especially that flag.

After some discreet inquiries, we are cleared to shoot a few photos around a “tat” in progress. It seems other people want to be in this picture more than I do. So the three of us (did I mention Fabrizio’s assistant?) squeeze into a tiny booth where a young woman is having something etched on her shoulder blade. In order to get everything in the shot, I’m instructed to stand uncomfortably close to her. Fabrizio is also telling me to shift my weight around, try some different emotional looks, do whatever comes “natural.” At that particular moment the most “natural” thing I can think of is to run screaming from the building.

“Let’s try a few with the flag, now.”

Double damn – I was hoping he’d forgotten about it.

Now, this isn’t one of those tiny flags stapled to a wooden stick, like the kind kids wave around at a Fourth of July parade. This is a thing of substance, the size of a beach towel – what soccer hooligans drape themselves in as they’re squaring off with police in the stands at the World Cup finals. And to clarify, it’s not the “official” Scottish flag, a white X (the cross of St. Andrew) on a blue background, but rather what’s known as the Lion Rampant, the banner of the royal monarchy. Bright yellow and red, it has much more visual impact, in a garish sort of way.

Before long I’m draped with it, the assistant throwing it around my neck and carefully arranging the folds of material across my chest. Bunched up the way it is, though, it simply looks like a gaily colored scarf, a really big one. The shot is a test of all my new-found modeling skills, as I try desperately to conjure up a facial expression that conveys something other than ‘Kill Me Now.’ But, of course, things could always be worse.

“What if you took your shirt off and then we go with the flag?”

There’s a momentary silence while everyone in the room considers that scenario.

19 million readers. And me needing a wax.

“I don’t see any reason to drag my nipples into this,” I parry.

Fabrizio accepts defeat with a terse sniff and moves on, having me try several nuanced versions of the classic bicep-flexing “muscleman” pose. I’m pretty sure the tattooist, who looks like he should be rearranging someone’s features with a crowbar on Sons of Anarchy, chuckled audibly at that point. Finally, mercifully, the artist in Fabrizio can sense the energy in the room evaporating, so we head to the lobby for another excruciating session of stilted posing in front of the “samples” rack, sans flag and extras. After two hours of torture, this was deemed the best of the bunch…

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courtesy Fabrizio Costantini

I don’t think Annie Leibovitz has anything to worry about. And yes, I’m still looking for my soul.

Much of this first appeared under the title “Why I’ll Never be America’s Next Top Model.”

While My Wallet Gently Weeps

money pit

Image credit: Universal Pictures

So I’ve been crunching the numbers and I think I’m finally getting a handle on why the budget for the home renovation project has come off the rails…

Bathroom lighting:  $175

Basement heating:  $400

Basement doors:  $150

Miscellaneous door knobs:  $120

Exterior lighting:  $165

Kitchen update:  $750

Laminate flooring /stair treads/pad:  $980

Interior doors:  $750

Garage firedoor:  $290

Front storm door:  $280

Closet doors:  $410

Trim/molding/transitions:  $550

Floor registers:  $45

Paint:  $375

Painting (labor, front room, stairs, landing):  $575

Toilets:  $430

Gas Fireplace:  $3800

Fireplace stone/adhesive:  $225

Patio Door:  $850

Master bath tile/adhesive/grout:  $140

Upstairs carpet:  $3000

Tools:  $295 (tile cutter, miter saw blade, finish nailer)

Tool rental:  $40

Gas (17 gozillion trips to Lowe’s and Home Depot):  $37,950