Tuesday, May 24, 2016

About art

Here are some thoughts I had on art in the spring of 1988 when, a sophomore, nineteen years old and disillusioned (bored?  procrastinating?) by further adventures in algorithm development in yet another programming language (Cobol, I think it was), I switched my major to Communications (read: Undeclared) and spent a semester chasing all manner of unimportant important things like music, poetry, drawing, social... social something (I got a well-deserved D- in the class).*

Here's what I wrote about drawing, verbatim**:

Open the sketch-book and pull out a sheet.
Cut off the fringe, and line it up neat.
Put up some tape to make it stay down.
While it sits blank, I sit with a frown.

Piles in the corner wait to be art,
I'm willing to try but unable to start.
Can I make this vision something real?
Can I fill the page, can I get the feel?

"The art of drawing, the art of art,
Is more than talent, it's more than heart.
Perspective and feeling, they're all in the game.
You must first tell your story, then sign you name."

Why be lazy?  Excitement is expected.
Stab the parchment; lines are injected.
The paper cringes and takes on new shapes.
In come new lines, new lines I erase.

I jump up dancing and spin all around
Caught in a groove now, I won't slow down!
It goes on for hours, fingers and chalk,
Creating and killing- escape is a walk.

It doesn't say "Stop!", it doesn't say "When!"
My hands just say, "Don't touch it again."
So I take a step back and look at my work,
Inside I see tales, my defiant hand quirks.

I haven't looked at this poem for at least a decade.  I could have recited it word for word all the way up to the last two lines, which surprise and please me. 

I remember the walk it was referring to.  I could show you the drawing that inspired the poem.  Over here, room 211 in Virginia W. Kettering hall, is where I drew it, 2:00 in the morning, re-runs of My Favorite Martian in the background, my suite-mates asleep.  Me, a month and eight hundred miles or so from meeting Cheryl, my wife.  Trying to figure things out.

Looking back with the experience of experience, I can see how much that semester affected my life and career skills.  I like to write, even if it's merely to get the right message across to a customer or to make some observations about life and professionalism, or simply having some fun with words.  There's pride and dignity in well-written communications.  I can see now that I had found what I was searching for but didn't trust it.  But no matter; tomorrow is another day with other things to ponder, tweak, fix, and solve.  And write.



* Four! Four parenthetical asides in one sentence! A new record!
** I'd have done some things with the punctuation.  Such as remove  a bunch of it.  Extraneous.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Word Power

In my Toadrolling youth, I attended a fine secondary school- all male, catholic, jacket and tie.*

One educational tradition applied to all students at all grade levels: Monday through Thursday, in our English classes, we would add another page - five words- from Mark Hart's Word Power.**  Friday was the quiz.  After some four years of this we young men were released to the world armed with amazing vocabularies.

Or so you would think. 

I remember my bubble bursting the moment I charged into the pointy end of the vocab section in my SAT tests.  "Alright!  Let's do this!"  Holy cow, there were words I couldn't even make an educated (for that's what I believed myself to be) guess at.  No romance language roots for me; my French was worth moins que rien.  It figures that I scored much better in the math side of the SAT's. 

There's a great scene in the romantic comedy Say Anything where John Cusack's innocent, simple-but-noble character, Lloyd Dobler (who wouldn't like Lloyd Dobler?) is talking with his romantic interest, the beautiful, over-achieving class valedictorian Diane Court in her bedroom.  As Lloyd flips through a dictionary found there, Diane admits, a bit shy and embarrassed, that she used to look up and mark any word she didn't know.  The camera cuts and zooms to page after page being flipped, a good 70% of the words therein marked in pencil.

Like Lloyd, we're kind of humbled and dumbstruck.  Sure, you should look things up that you don't know.  But nobody actually does that, do they? 

There are two sides to that:

First, having the discipline to pause what we're reading and make the effort to look something up.  The second is to be reading material written by authors knowledgeable of and willing to use the right word for the moment. Is what we're reading challenging enough to make us work for it?

Thankfully, the internet and technological devices, where most of do our reading anyway, reduce the effort of research to a simple click or a tap.  Not just for words, but for any phrase.  Someone mentions fully grown tea trees*** in the jungles of the Yunnan region of China, and moments later Google Earth is winging you there, to look at them from an eagle's and a terrestrial's point of view.  The mention of an historical event in a novel has you reading about it and putting two and four together from something else you learned at some other time.  Kindles will even show you what other readers highlighted. You have permission to write in your books.  If you can't bring yourself to do that, write on a post-it and stick that into the book.  But you should write in your books.  They don't belong to the library or the school.  They're paper.  They're not worth anything.  Write in them while the thought is fresh.

How do you learn?  You seek and apply effort.  A mentor will be there should you occasionally need them. 

* Slacks, jacket, belt and tie.  But they knew we were young males, and gave us artistic freedom to wear the ugliest, grungiest, wrong-sizedest things we could find in our parents closets or at a yard sale.  This was the 80s, and the flamboyantly styled 70s were a recent memory and embrassment.  Naturally, we loved velour and paisley.  Preferably velour paisley. 
** Get it here: http://amzn.com/B00KVRJ814 
*** Darjeeling tea.  David Warren.  Here's someone whose daily writings and musings help me recover Catholicism and faith in the world (for what it is: a place, a bunch of people, mistakes and good intentions and ignorance swirling about each other and colliding more often than truly necessary; not Heaven).  Highly recommended: http://www.davidwarrenonline.com/2015/07/18/darjeeling-tea/ 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Meanwhile, with the Thousand Dollar Car...

It occurs to me that perhaps I shouldn't call her the Thousand Dollar Car because of her fully depreciated street value, but rather because that's about what she costs me per year in parts and maintenance.

When we last saw her during the arrival of the Car of the Decade, she was resting safely in the garage awaiting some healing in my back and hips.  Once I was off my operating table, I could get her on it.  Autozone was nice enough to replace her dead battery under warranty, but I was pretty sure the alternator had murdered the battery in the first place.  Eighteen years, 255k miles, and no small amount of seeping engine fluids accumulated into her guts.  Not bad.  I've known Mazdas (all of them) whose alternators lasted five or six years.  Of course, that's pretty much the only damned thing that goes wrong with Mazdas.

I had young Toadroller (Tadpole-roller?) Henry help slide the battery into its planting station in the rear wheel well, which is no simple feat.  The battery weighs an easy thirty-five pounds and has to be slotted into place vertically.  The big challenge is that the cables themselves are short and stiff and you can't really get them out of the way.  With enough ceremonial cursing of German engineers and some clever use of screwdrivers as levers, we managed to get it in.  I polished up the inside of the cable clamps for a clean contact surface and tightened them down. 

It was time to test the bad-alternator theory.  You just start the car and let it run on the good battery, testing the voltage at the battery.  If it's in the 13+ volt range, good alternator.  Less than 12.5 volts, bad alternator.  Probably.  Don't over-analyze these things. 

Of course, with the car backed into the garage, I wasn't about to sit there testing things while inhaling exhaust fumes.  A twist of the key and she sort of stumbled into life.  Huh.  I pulled her into gear and nosed her haltingly into the driveway and swung around to the far side and down to the parking corner.  She stalled along the way.  She'd covered about twenty feet.  Huh.

I had Mrs. Toadroller come out to start her again while I watched my voltmeter from the trunk.  Except Mrs. T couldn't get Ms. TDC to start.  Nor could I.  Huh.  I wouldn't expect a bad alternator to overpower a good battery.  Crap.  I hoped it wasn't something deeper, because then it would be a significant diagnostic challenge.  Who wants to start working through wiring harnesses on a fancy German sedan?  Hand-wiring my own fuel-pump relay from toggle switches on my first car, an 83 GTI, was challenging enough,* I didn't want my masters thesis in ignition wiring.  No, it's not lost on me that I didn't learn my lesson with the first car.

Time to call it a night.  I unhooked the battery to prevent unwanted drainage and locked her up.  I needed to think.  And I sure as heck didn't want to have to push or pull a two ton beast halfway across a driveway to get it back into the garage in a service position.  Shit.

"You know," I said to Mrs. Toadroller on Monday, "that thing acted like it didn't have any gas.  Which is crazy because it has half a tank in it"**

"Mmm hmm..." came the non-committal reply.  She probably heard me and processed what I was saying, but then again, the same response would apply to most of my rambling, verbalized problem-solving.  Let's just assume she both heard, understood, and knew a lack of gas to be the cause of my problem, but chose to let me find that out on my own and feel proud and clever about it.  She is wise, that Mrs. Toadroller.

Twenty-four hours later found me in need of a mental break from work. 


"You know," I said to Mrs. Toadroller on Tuesday, "that thing was at a heck of an angle getting onto that flatbed.  And then again, getting back off.  That fuel pump hates it when that happens."

"Mmm hmm..."

So out to the beauty again*** carrying my five-gallon tanks and a funnel.  With this car, you have to prime the fuel pump by filling the downspout of the tank.  It takes more than a quart.  I erred on the side of too much and added an easy eight gallons to its presumed eleven or so at half tank.  If that wasn't enough to rule out the fuel pump, then nothing would be.

I hooked up the battery again and went round to the driver's side. Crankety, crank.  Crankety, crank. Crankety, crankety, crankety, crankety, stumble, crank, stumble, stumble, varrrroooooooooom!  And there she was, running again albeit with a solid battery light.  As a car with a good battery and a bad alternator should.  I fetched the voltmeter.  12.1 volts running, 12.6 sitting.  That alternator was not only dead, it was taking others down with it.  

I backed her up the driveway and parked in an out of the way spot from which I could coast into the garage if necessary.  I'll fish out the alternator at some point in the next few days.  Just a small matter of loosening the accessory belt snaking around the engine.  Which may or may not require taking the entire front end off the car.  Again.  There's a place around here that will refurbish an alternator, which would be an interesting experiment.  Otherwise they can be found for $139 to $289 at all the car places. 

All part of the price we pay for a thousand dollar car.  Annually.

* That's a story for another time.  Suffice it to say that leaky Rabbit windshields drain into the main fusebox/relay panel under the dashboard.  Oh, you can dry a wiper relay out using the GTI's heater fans while driving 65 mph north, through the rain, on Route 3 near Chelmsford, MA.  Thank goodness Rain-X works pretty well.

** Didn't I run out of gas just this past February a mere six miles from home?  I did, didn't I!

*** She's nineteen, and a really good looking dame, that 1997 Audi A8.  Seeing her parked there all week I had many opportunities to admire her curves and lines.  A dem-fine girl, sir, dem-fine.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Early Childhood Education

"This fall, Kyrie* will be attending the University of Southern Maine focusing on Early Childhood Education."

Of course she will. 

Young Kerry,** seventeen, has likely known teachers more and better than her own parents (and vice versa).  She's spent more waking hours getting ready for, traveling to, attending, and doing homework for school than everything else in her young life combined. 

Schools have very quietly and successfully replaced churches as the central focus of our local societies.  We're so distracted by our focus on having the "best schools," ensuring our special children are in the "advanced" groups,*** doing fund raising for the Spanish Club's cultural exposure trip to On the Border (the best they could do.  It's a shame, really), with our kids attending anti-bullying rallies, endeavoring to succeed at sports, and carting them to dance, music, and math-club, that we never have enough free time to stop and consider...

That darling Kyrie**** has never had a moment of her early childhood that wasn't developed, planned or measured against a trajectory toward college.  What has she lived?  Early Childhood Education.  What does she know?  Early Childhood Education.  What will she study in college?  When pressured by society (or Aunt Joanne) for an answer, the adherents to the faith of The Church of Early Childhood Education know what to do: deliver the correct answer, pronto; rote and without thinking.  According to her catechism, that correct and immediate answer is...

Early Childhood Education.

Annie's***** life is in front of her, but her path is set.  What is life but school?  What is school but life?  She will get her degree, cum laude (whatever that means.  I think it's Italian), and promptly enter indentured servitude to her federal loan programs for twenty years.  Along the way she'll get married, lease her cars, pay her bills, laugh a little too loudly at her sitcoms, vote for the collectivist candidate, and have her own little Sidneys and Emmas to continue the cycle. 

Unless, perchance, she makes a break for it between the queso dip and her enchiladas while she's On the Border.

Es una pena, de verdad.


* Or was it Katie? Christie? 
** Kimmy?
*** Or, that not being mathematically possible for all our special children, taking perverse pride in reciting the litany of acronymic diagnoses, syndromes, and prescriptions that prevent young Cassidy from excelling like she should, "I just know it," if only she weren't "developmentally challenged by the unfairness of it all."
**** Patty?
***** Carly?

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Car of the Decade

Over the last few years, as my beloved Audi A8 has had her fits and starts (stops?) and required more attention, I've taken to window-shopping for her eventual replacement, with many a vehicle passing through my curious inclination as the "Car of the Week."

Oh, I've ranged near and far, considering everything from a newer A8 to a Cadillac CTS Wagon, from an older TT Convertible (just for the sheer impractical fun of it) to a Mercedes R-wagon, from an A5 to a Toyota Venza.

You get the picture.  Weird and wonderful, that's what I like.

A recent business trip had me returning late of a rainy evening on my commute from Boston Logan International Airport, swimming north through the moat of New Hampshire which borders and protects these wooded lands of Maine, when what to my wandering eyes should appear but a new light flickering on my Christmas tree of a dashboard. 

Oh, Saint Nicholas, it's the battery!

Not good.  I've been through this before, when I ended up stranded six miles from home.  At that time, a tow to a local shop and a morning visit showed the car simply to have desired the night off, as she fired right up.  I drove her home and went on with life.  It was as if the previous night's little tiff had never happened.  We both agreed to bury the past and not bring it up again. 

Until last week.

Different conditions, same result.  Despite my shutting down all unnecessary systems like the radio, the heater, the fog lights, etc., she decided to give up half a mile from the exit I'd targeted for its convenient Marriott Residence Inn and a place to spend the night.  Two and a half hours later, I'd been towed that final mile and crawled into bed.  While waiting for the tow operator to get me, I had time and phone battery enough to go car shopping through the south Portland dealerships' respective web-sites. 

Years of Car of the Week dreaming (and a fair amount of saving) translated into decisive action as I phoned up one dealer who happened to have the most recent contenders in stock and at a reasonable price.  I asked if he could bring it on by my temporary abode for a test drive. Three hours and a bit of negotiation later, I'd checked out of the hotel, had the A8 on yet another flatbed, and pointed the long nose of my new Car of the Decade toward home.

Here she is, a 2011 Mercedes E350 4matic "Sport."  Palladium Silver with black leather, as a German car should be. 




I call her the Car of the Decade because, given my history with the A8, a decade is a reasonable assumption of ownership for me.  But who knows?  I had the A8's predecessors for about 2 years each.  One relationship ended due to mistrust; the other due to miscommunication in an intersection.

The A8?  She's in the driveway with a fresh battery in her, though in need of attention to either the battery cables or, more likely, the alternator.  The battery was officially dead-dead, but replaced by Autozone under warranty.  That hasn't solved all problems, giving me more projects to tackle once my back permits me to do some labor.  The Quintissential Quattro Thousand Dollar Car (QQ-TDC for short) will live to drive another day, and will likely continue to be my airport car most of the time, keeping the miles on the 'Merc reasonably low.  That and the eldest Toadrollerette has her driving permit.  What safer car than an over-engineered and entirely depreciated Audi for her to hone her driving skills in?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Campaign update: Decision 2016

What the fuck, America?

Is this group of trope-blathering, empty-headed, power-grabbing, mini-despot wannabes the best you'll let filter through your diverse and lengthy presidential vetting process?

Let's review:
  • Hilary, the front runner, should be rotting in jail awaiting trial.  And she never will.  Class privilege and all that.
  • Bernie is a self-proclaimed socialist.*  
  • Kasich is what a democrat should be. All for the people, all for compromise, all for working together.  He's certainly not a republican.
  • Which leads us on to Trump, the blow-hard populist bully.  America, being frustrated with what Obama has done to destroy the country doesn't mean we elect him again.  And that's all Trump is, an Obama in sheep's clothing who thinks he can throw his weigh around.
  • And bringing up second place, first loser, is Mr. Cruz.  At least he is a republican running for the republican nomination.  He was about 4th in my list of a strong field of conservative, free-market oriented, liberty-loving, no-nonsense leaders.  Now he'd be lucky to win the consolation match against Bernie.
  • Is Rubio still playing?  I turned off political media about three months ago and have felt the better for it.
Better luck next time, America.  You owe yourselves a pat on the back.  But watch out for the hands in your wallet.

*A socialist! Four years ago the eldest Toadroller mentioned a political discussion held in the back of a team bus headed back from a high school baseball away game.  One of the players had claimed to be a socialist.  I gasped.  As recent as then, it was anathema anti-American to be a socialist.  Now?  Trendy.  Fashion forward.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Spring

2015's February never broke 20 degrees.

2016's has been all over the map, but largely over 20.

The snow is gone.  The ice is smooth, cleared of snow by warm rains, but thin, leaving fishing huts marooned on the lakes, unlikely to be rescued.    It's mud-season to walk through the woods.

The courses are open for the year and we played golf today. Simple joy echoed through the leafless woods as men laughed, played, teased each other, and simply took advantage of a warm day as rare as a leap year.

Given this early chance, Mainers are ready to Spring.  And we take it.

It may snow again; the weather may turn cold.  But it's doubtful.  Snow-mobilers had only a few weekends.  The machines are parked in their sheds or on the lawn where they'll await another season.  Those who plow driveways had a poor year.  The snow-blower used only a gallon of gas.  The price of no. 2 fuel oil was at a decade's low, but the temperatures didn't even call for much of it.  If having wood in the spring is money in the bank, what is not using inexpensive oil?  A sign.  A sign.

What did Punxsutawney Phil do with a his shadow a few weeks back?  Ah, who cares?  We're not looking back.  March will gasp and sputter, lion to lamb, and suddenly there will be warm days, ants, and a lawn-mower to start.

If the years pass more quickly as we age, then the winters must me subjected to the same laws.  Goodbye winter.  We hardly knew you.  Which is fine for this year.  Do your best come December, for today we laugh.  It is Spring.  It is time to make merry!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Only one more Season

"Harvest is when I need you the most. Only one more season. This year we'll make enough on the harvest so I'll be able to hire some more hands."
 ―Owen Lars, to Luke Skywalker
Monday evening, as I pulled off of I93 onto the surface streets heading into the Marriott Cambridge-side in Boston, the somewhat embarrassingly loud hole in my exhaust decided to become a really embarrassingly loud hole in my exhaust.  
Oh, the echo of the A8's venerable V8 rumbled and ricocheted about the brick streets and buildings of Kendall Square, sounding at moments like a dilapidated old taxi and at others like a 17 year old's dream muscle car, drawing the bemused attention of pedestrians who sneered or laughed, depending on their personal demeanor.*  I grinned and bore it but was relieved to park her, silent at last, in a dark corner of the posh hotel's parking garage for the next few days.

When I had time to obsess about it, I weighed my numerous options, calculating obscene sets of linear equations factored across potential repair costs, expected life span time lines, cash on hand and savings rates, replacement cars, and when, exactly, I'd have to do something.  Was it time?  While I derive perverse pleasure from the dreaming and scheming that leads to the optimal solution, it's having to ultimately commit to a course of action at the cost of all the other great alternatives that leaves me stuck.  Analysis paralysis.  But in the end, you can only go one way.  Shit or get off the pot.

Temptations haunted me.  Go big and newer and expensive?  Go old and fun? Buy a one-year car and trade up after saving? 

And so this morning I took her down to A&J Motors, Manchester's own version of Click and Clack, to see if she would pass inspection and what the financial damage would be to quiet her down.  Anything in the realm of $500 could trigger the above thought processes into action.

"Only one more season. This year I'll save enough from driving and I'll be able to buy your replacement."
― Me, to the car

Ah, but as is usually the case, I need not have worried.  Click and Clack pointed to the brackets that connected the header pipes to the exhaust pipes.  The pipes were solid and rust free, but the brackets holding them had given out after 18 years of duty.  They found a pair of replacements after a brief parts store search, the only two in stock for miles around.  $37.79 each.  They must have been sitting on that dusty back shelf for years just waiting for me. 

An hour or so later they called me at home with a friendly "come pick her up, she's ready."  $130 total, including the inspection sticker.  She's not brand-new quiet, but good enough.  Which means one more year on the farm unless some strong-willed droids stop buy, getting me all mixed up with the Empire, causing me to follow old Obi-Wan on some damn fool idealistic crusade.

By then I might be able to get a replacement with a working hyper-drive:**



* Probably a good test of whether they're from Boston originally or from somewhere else where tolerance, understanding and a sense of humor are admired in the social order of things.  
** Car of the week:  2012 Audi TT RS with a turbo in-line 5 cylinder pumping 330 horsies at the brake and pulling 330 lb feet in this relatively light beast.  Why five? Because Audi makes 'em weird (and I like them) like that.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Winterlude

I borrowed the term "Winterlude" from a section of Neil Peart's "Ghost Rider," his personal journey of motorcycles and healing from the loss of both his daughter and wife in the same year.  Perhaps more on that some other day.

Suffice it to say Neil spent winters at his lake house in the woods somewhere outside Montreal and came to appreciate the cold and the snow.  Much as I have here in Maine.  Some winters are interminable and intolerable; others can offer bounty.

Saturday found me, not for the first time this year, in 20 degree weather, gliding on my cross country skis through soft snowshoe paths in the woods, climbing, exploring, descending, learning, balancing, and falling.  With technology come the benefits of GPS tracking, and I can even see where I've been and how long it took me to get there.  But the journey is the important part.  Does it really matter that I covered 4.96 miles at an average moving speed of 3.94 mph?  I knew I'd made progress by the way my legs responded joyfully to the request to climb the hill.  Progress!

Sunday was bitter cold, single digits and below zero over night.  What a difference a day makes.

Monday was back to the high teens and another exploration up and away across the hill.  Glorious! You could hear me shouting for joy as I completed sharp, fast turns on the narrow trails.  Turning on cross country skis is not at all like downhill.  It's a strange form of balance and technique, and like learning to ride a bicycle, the faster you go, the better you'll be.  I'm still learning.  I'm sure the felling trees (yes, they're doing some clearing this winter) could hear my whoops of joy.   For those who are curious: if you're in the woods, you can hear them too.

Tuesday I awoke to a fresh three inches of snow, but by 1:00 pm it was 50 degrees and it rained hard all afternoon.  In the evening I plugged in the pump and fought back the tide rising into the garage.  What a difference a day makes, indeed.


I've seen winter break and give up its stranglehold on Maine as late as the end of March, and more specifically during a walk on a March 30th, (the year I can't remember, maybe 2008) at 1:30 in the afternoon on a bright day and the temperature pushing a balmy 30 degrees.  One moment it was still the bright cold of winter, and the next it simply snapped and coiled away.  Gone.  This year, winter's hardly made an appearance, with just a handful of nights below zero, a couple of rainy thaws, and snow here and again.  Bummer of a year to own a snowmobile; kind of a let down if you're starting to get the vibe of cross country skiing.

But it will return next year.  And I'm pretty sure it's not done yet.  That said, the golf clubs need dusting and I've got some scoring to do come spring.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Expectations

So much of life's stress and strife comes from unmet expectations.

When one thing is expected and another happens; when a promise is assumed and not met, there's a jarring shift in your reality from a reasonable presumption to a clear and present disappointment. The bigger the event, the larger and longer the build up, the greater the risk (and anxiety) of a let down.

There are ways to deal with this.  Be more clear about the expectations.  Communicate them early and with specificity as to time, order, leading events, and pre-conditions.  Mark each step accomplished along the way with check-gates and go / no-go decisions and reviews with the other parties.

You can also learn to deal with disappointment.  Life has its ups and down.  Look up from the present situation toward the distant horizon and realize that things will work out in the long run.  Or simply handle it through emotions, be they depression or anger, those great common methods of dealing with the human condition.  Bottle them up or let them out.  Who is at fault?  Should we play the blame game?

Sometimes, though your expectations are just and reasonable, the other party simply lets you down by having wholly different and altogether valid goals of their own.  This happens more often than any of us would like.  That's life, but still, it's not fun to learn these lessons the hard way.

What I'm trying to say is I'm taking the kids to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens this afternoon, and you'd better not screw it up, J.J. Abrams.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Thousand Dollar Car

It's not unwise to replace your ignition coils* more often than once every 248,965 miles.

It is a joy to fix something.  She's back, as smooth and powerful and assured as ever.

It is serene to feel a machine operate properly after almost  year of stumbles and stutters.  It's good for one's obsessive-compulsive balance to adjust everything back to plumb.  The third string on a guitar is difficult to keep right, but it has to be in tune.   The same with an Audi.  I do believe Germans engineer the way they do because they suffer some national form of OCD.  "Surely," they say, "there's a more clever way to make this more precise?"

I'm inspired to replace a few gaskets around the engine to see if that stops the oil which accumulates in my drip pan before making its slow, sludge-hampered migration south to ultimately slip onto my driveway and the highways and byways and parking garages of commuter airports throughout northern New England.  I'm tired of my buring-oil odor-cloud catching up to me like Pigpen's dust cloud as I slow for a traffic light.  There are two cam-end covers that are $5 each and apparently an hour to fix, and the oil pan itself, also an afternoon job.  What are Christmas breaks for?

I'm now willing to pay the state's outrageous $350 annual registration fee and keep pushing the survival envelope until I have the cash I need to buy the replacement I want. I might even fix the power head-rests. 

Car of the week is currently a 2008-2010 A8L, although an S8 with the 500 hp Lamborghini-sourced V10 would be cool:



*or at least half of them.  I'm not dumb, I'm just cheap.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Is it dawn?

It's night-time again in America.

It is the deep of a long, dark, and moonless night. We the people are in bed, wandering in that anxious zone between sleeping and waking, shoulders tensed and covers pulled high against the cold, still, steady drizzle that seems to have had no beginning and will have no end. Strange dreams prod our restlessness, filling us with dread, a loss of control, and futility.

A night creature's howl drones in the distance, constant, a fog-enveloped reminder and enforcer of the worries of this wet, endless night.  A toss, a turn; it is tuned out.  We do our best to ignore it in our distressed slumber.

But then a retaliatory shriek rends the silent fog.  It is defensive, but strong, repelling the nocturnal attack and calling for aide.  Replies echo through the mossy woods from all directions.  At first one, then two, then five.  Clearly a battle has begun.  They are on the move, closing the circle, fighting as one.

The night creature's threatening howl changes; it wails once in empty defiant insistence, then again in confusion, then is drowned by the growing defenders. It wails again in harrowed, comprehending fear and seeks its own shelter.

In America, there is a change in the sky.  The rain stops.  The fog dissipates. Dawn's deep blue diffuses and spreads to replace the black of the dark night.

Is it dawn?

In our beds we awaken.  Our heads are clear.  The darkness and the howling were simply that, nothing more.  Our walls and our roofs, built to protect, have stood against the night and kept us safe.  The darkness threatened, but it could never really reach us.

And so we dress, head downstairs for coffee, unlock our doors, and step into the light of the rising sun for a deep breath of cool fall air tasting of leaves and frost and clarity.

We go to work as never before in our country's history.  May we, in four years, be able to recognize and repeat this prayer to liberty:


Thank you, Senator Cruz, for shocking the press by standing up to them.  Thank you for waking up our candidates and our country.

Thank you, Senator Rubio, for reminding us that Americans can fight, even fail sometimes, and can still succeed. 

Thank you, Dr. Ben Carson, for civilly challenging the intolerant scourge of political correctness  masquerading as sensitivity yet wielded as a hammer.

Thank you, Carly Fiorina, for calling for accountability in the public sector matching the scrutiny of the private, and for explaining what cony capitalism is and how big government fosters it.  May Hillary's nightmares come true.

Thank you, Donald Trump, for negotiating a merciful end to the false premises of this clown-show the media calls a debate.

Thank you, Governor Christie, for bringing issues of import to the table and explaining that ideas can be both good and different.

Thank you, Dr. Rand Paul, for seeking a government so small you can't see it, and for simply articulating that the one thing on which you shouldn't have price controls is money itself.

Thank you John Harwood, Carl Quintanilla, and Becky Quick, for being so rude that you've even offended people in New Jersey.  You've woken up the sleeping power that is America.

Huck, Jeb, John, your tee-time is in fifteen minutes.  Please report to the starter.I'm pretty sure we'll be able to get you a fourth.


Friday, October 9, 2015

Quarter 'Til

Quarter 'Til

When I was young our house was filled with clocks
Pendulums, banjos, grandfathers and mothers, the works
In that time we tracked our time
With ticks and tocks and a hammer-struck chimes
Top of the hour, half past too, quarter past, and quarter 'til
Ticked away by strike and rolling ring


But now we sit in front of screens
Flashing pop ups remind us of things
Our cell phones buzz, our tablets sing
Interrupted, snoozed; reminded, dismissed
Trains of thought have left the station
Forever derailed, our conentration

We need real clocks: ticks with tocks
We need mechanical works to guide our work
We're not calibrated for minute by minute
Though time is eternal, let's work within it
Give us simple markers of the times we've filled
...Like quarter past and quarter 'til

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Eighty One


Yesterday, 23 odd years into seriously pursuing golf as a hobby, and 2 years into seriously pursuing lessons on the swing from a knowledgeable teacher,* everything came together and I shot an 81.

81 is not a spectacular round of golf.  81 is just two strokes away from the generally accepted milestone of breaking 80, which generally makes an 81 heart-breaking.  81 means at least 9 over depending on the par for the course, and implies a healthy number of bogies, double-bogies, or worse.

81 is a spectacular round of golf when, for the previous decade, your scores have hovered around 93, dipped to the occasional 90 (not quite breaking 90 is similar torture to not quite breaking 80), and have ballooned above 100 more often than not.  Shooting a solid 12 strokes better than any round so far this year, and 15 strokes better than a week ago... well, that's a breakthrough.

Natanis Tomahawk Course, October 7, 2015

Golf is mentally exhausting.  Every** shot requires focus, faith, and execution.  Successes have to be instantly recalled for that focus; failures have to be quickly acknowledged and then forgotten.  Because now it's time for the next shot.

Golf hurts your feet.  It's not just walking 4-6 miles during a round, it's the role the feet and legs play as the foundation of the swing, from putt to chip to driver. You use your feet, be it 60 balls at the range or 18 holes on a course.

Golf is German-engineered.  Way too many factors and components, physical and mental, are involved in a swing.  When they are all tuned and firing correctly, a golf shot has an unbelievably smooth, schnik-schnik feeling.  When something is off, just a bit, that steering wheel vibrates in your hand as you go down the road.

Golf rewards.  It is a series of plateaus rising into the distance, with tough climbs and the occasional slide into a valley.  My 81, 15 strokes better than a week ago, is a reward.  It's confirmation that it can be done, and that the plateau has been reached.  You can't shoot 81 and fail to repeat that feat.  Golf knowledge accumulates.

There will be more 93s, but there will also be 84s, 80s, 77s, and, ultimately, a 72.

Par for the course.


* Rawn Torrington, T's golf in Manchester, Maine.  An hour lesson a week with serious range time afterward

** Every, every, every stroke is a massive mental-construction project.  Tap-ins can be missed.  Chips can be flubbed.  Don't rush for any reason.