7/13/16

5000 words. Gone.

OK, so I had Part II almost ready to go.  I was using Chrome when suddenly the post autosaved and everything was blank.  The back button did nothing.  A week's worth of writing up in smoke.  I will probably not remember most of what I wrote, but  now I get to start from scratch.  This program is bullshit. That is all.

6/23/16

A Forced March in the Woods, Part I

It's 11:55 pm on Friday, and I am officially turning over a new leaf.  I've just removed the Book of Faces and Twitter apps from my phone, and my plan is that I'm only going to check them once a day, and then eventually wean myself off of doing even that.  The way I figure it, infinity apps are the devil, and they sap your productivity and do nothing but waste your time.  So this is a grand experiment.  My goal is to spend less time dicking around reading various political rants and trying to interpret the meaning behind cryptically posted memes and quotes and more time on the important things in life, like television and finishing up the work-at-home portion of the curriculum required to graduate from Scary Clown School.

So what have I been up to?  I know nobody asked, but it's my blog so I'm going to tell you.  Ye Olde Photography, mostly.  I know I've mentioned my photography jones before, but I keep going backwards in time.  I started out with a Crown Graphic and a Bronica S2 from the mid-50's and 60's respectively, but lately I've been shooting film using big old wooden cameras like these, which date from the early 1900's:



For some reason, I'm drawn to alternative processes that were used before the final black and white process as we know it was ironed out. These techniques are from the mid 1800's -- basically from the advent of photography. One of my future goals is to learn how to do wet plate collodion, which is just about the coolest thing in the photographic universe.  It's a little dangerous and a little poisonous, but you know, so is life.

I've been doing Cyanotypes, Vandyke Browns, and regular old silver gelatin prints mostly.  You know, normal stuff that normal people do in modern times.  I still want to try Bromoil, which is a very neat medium that combines various printer's ink and bleached gelatin prints.  Here's a cool example by my friend Mark.

Why am I doing this?  Mostly because I got tired of shooting a thousand digital shots to get one good one just because I could (the 'spray and pray' method of photography), and then never doing anything with them.  I started to become disenchanted with all of the pictures I saw that were clearly stillframes from 4K slow-motion video, or HDR'd within an inch of their lives so the photo ended up looking like a shitty Thomas Kinkade painting, which is not to imply that there exists on this planet a non-shitty one.  I wanted to do something that was a little more artistic -- something that required skills I would have to learn and continue to hone over time.  I wanted to produce something that was one-of-a-kind -- something that could be completely wrecked at any point in the multi-step process if I didn't pay attention to what I was doing.*

Let me leave you with a couple of prints.  The first one is a cyanotype of an abandoned church in the Bahamas printed on some watercolor paper:


And this one is a regular old silver gelatin print of an abandoned truck that I just found in the woods.  It was taken with that 5x7 camera and lens in the picture above:


Well, I'm not really leaving you, per se, I'm just leaving that particular subject for now because I know I probably lost half my audience to boredom already.  If anyone is interested in seeing more of my photos, email me and I'll send you a link to my Flickr account.  No nudes. To clarify, by that I mean I don't have any to show you. Of me or anyone else. To clarify further, I don't care if you're naked when you email me, just don't tell me about it because that would be weird.  And also probably unsanitary.

For the three of you who are left, the real reason for this post (other than the fact that my wife is on a girl's weekend with her friends and I have the house to myself) is that I just finished watching "A Walk in the Woods." It's a movie based on a book by Bill Bryson, and I know it's a cliche to say this, but it really sucked compared to the book. Vast chunks of the book were left out - and from what I could tell, it was most of the funny chunks.  I think Robert Redford was a little bit mis-cast, and Nicke Nolte was a lot mis-cast.  Also, he sounded like he was gargling kangaroo nuts the entire time.  I did laugh once or twice, but mostly at the slapstick and mostly because I'm a cheap date.

At any rate, it reminded me that I still have to write about my own "Walk in the Woods" last fall -- a 27-ish mile loop around the West Canada lakes that I did with my friend Greg, who shall remain nameless. DAMMIT.  I did that wrong.  OK, so now you know his name, it's time for me to pimp him out.  He makes custom furniture, does antique restoration work, and best of all, makes custom electric guitars from scratch.  Go see his stuff right now. It's awesome.  I'll wait.

Nobody listens to me.  You didn't even go, did you?  Bastards, all of you.

Our trip began like so many things today do, via a dickpic sent over snapchat. No, no, I'm kidding.  I told you I'm old now, right?  I barely know what snapchat is, and besides, nobody wants to see that shit.  It really started with that most archaic of all technology - email. I got an email from Greg in July with a subject of "Bucket List Hike" and the details of a three day loop around a series of small lakes in the West Canada Lakes wilderness.  He said, "It's in the wilderness area behind that log cabin we stayed in many years ago. I used to spend hours poring over the topo maps. I've been intrigued by it for years."

I must have been drinking pretty heavily at the time, because in a fit of bad judgement,  I immediately shot him a response that said, "Let's do it. We're not getting any younger."  I don't think he expected that because it took him a while to respond. Either that, or it was past 8:30 pm and he was already in bed.  His initial reply indicated that he'd need to start doing daily hikes and buy some gear, and finally, after a few more back and forth messages in which we both partook of much hemming and a not insignificant amount of hawing, we agreed that we would start considering this as something that we were going to do.  Granted, it's not like through-hiking the AT, but even so, I think we were both sort of amazed that we had just decided that yes, we were going to hike approximately 30 miles into the woods without any good reason (like, for instance, a pressing need to run from the law.)

We then decided on a September time frame, discussed our various outstanding physical ailments, talked about the best ways to get in shape for this, and finally decided that there was no way we could get in shape for this, so we decided to do it in three nights and four days instead of two nights and three days. Doing it in three days would be almost ten miles per day, and that seemed a little ambitious, given the fact that we both work from home and take about a thousand steps a day circumnavigating a rough triangle that consists of  (1) where we work, (2) where we eat and (3) where we defecate.  Sometimes you can even cut that down by two thirds with a slice of cold pizza and an empty Snapple bottle. Add to that the fact that we'd be carrying packs that would weigh in the neighborhood of 40 pounds each, and the extra day seemed like a fantastic idea.  We told each other that it was so we'd have an extra day to "enjoy the hike," when we both knew it was really code for having an extra day to "not throw up our own testicles."

Once we decided where we were going, we wanted to get maps -- the problem with this location is that in order to map the entire loop, you'd need four different quadrangles.  Luckily, we found a place on line that prints custom topo maps for cheap and on waterproof paper no less. So I was able to order this on a single map:



And a few days later, this showed up in my mailbox:



It was a thing of beauty.  Waterproof, folded, and it had a matte finish so you could write on it.  Except for the unfortunate placement of the UTM grid that makes it look like we'd be passing Butthead Pond, it was perfect.


We had a map, a compass, a GPS, four days off, and a dream.  Due to circumstances beyond our control (wives) we weren't able to leave when we had planned, (wives) so the trip got pushed to October, which meant we had to worry about two things:  Hunting season and cold, wet weather.  It was touch and go for a while as to whether we'd even be able to do it (wives), but at the last minute things worked out and we headed off early one mid-October Sunday morning.  I told Greg not to wear his brown suede coat and white gloves, and luckily he took my advice.  The good thing about doing this during the week is that we'd pretty much be the only people in the woods.  The bad thing, of course, was *also* that we'd be the only people in the woods.

To that end, I purchased a SPOT! tracker, which is a GPS device that allows you to contact search and rescue if things go to shit and you are stuck 20 miles from the nearest road and have, for instance, a random bone poking out of your meat suit.  It also allowed our respective wives to know we were ok, and track our progress.  I'd read that the transmission can be hit or miss depending upon how open it is is to the sky, so I pretty much resigned myself to the fact that at some point during our trip, one of us would be perched at the top of a tree screaming obscenities and waving this thing at an invisible satellite while waiting for a little red light to turn green and still not knowing if we were about to get rescued or if the blinking green light just meant the batteries were still good.  It's safe to say the UI on these units is a little lacking.

Interestingly, for being in the middle of nowhere, when we got to the parking lot, it was so crowded there was barely any place to park.  We squeezed into the last spot and got out of the truck.  There had to be 20 cars there, and the people milling about the parking area ran the gamut from redneck hunter types to college students to moms and dads trying to pretend their lives haven't changed even though dad has a comatose one-year-old strapped to his back like a sixteen pound spiral ham that has the poops. We locked up the truck, strapped on our packs, and headed out.  Lucky for us, most of the people there were day hikers headed for the summit of Pillsbury mountain, so nobody was following us on the trail.  A few hundred yards in, a group of 20-year-olds passed us in the opposite direction, heading back to the parking lot. I assume they had done the hike counter-clockwise.  They barely looked winded, and were moving fast. They nodded to us as they went by, probably thinking about the all-night party they were going to be attending after they hit the gym and showered up because they don't need to do stupid olds stuff like sleep or rest.

We decided to do the hike clockwise, which meant that our first day goal was to hit Sampson lake before night fall. Pillsbury lake was too close, and Sampson lake was about eight miles out.  In between was Whitney Lake, but that one had a really long detour around the lake to get to the lean-to, and it would have added a couple of miles to our hike. Turns out our decision was a good one, because apparently they removed the lean-to about five years ago. Neither one of us had hiked more than five miles with a pack on in a couple of years, so making Sampson lake was a challenge for our first day.  We looked at it as sort of a test.  Greg's knee had been bothering him on and off, and he had no idea how he was going to do.  We figured we'd play it by ear -- If we made it to Sampson lake and his knee was still OK, we'd continue on.  If, on the other hand, it felt like a hot water bottle full of broken glass, we'd stay there for a day or two then head back the way we came.  In our favor, the map showed the entire hike to be pretty level, with just small uphills and downhills the entire way, so we had a good feeling that we could do it.

We were about three or four miles in, well past Pillsbury lake and  on our way to Whitney when we saw our first backpacker.  I am hesitant to use that term, because he wasn't actually wearing a backpack.  He was in rough shape.  His T-shirt was soaked through with sweat, and his pants were so crusty that they looked like he got them out of the dumpster after a homeless guy threw them out.  He was dragging a backpack in the dirt, holding it in his right hand by one shoulder strap.  In his left hand, also dragging in the dirt, was a black, heavy- duty Hefty bag.  He staggered up to us, and when he was about 15 feet away, he said, "Am I glad to see you guys! Can you help me out?"

Oh Christ, here we go, I thought.

Greg and I stopped at a comfortable distance from him, and waited for more information. Unfortunately, a comfortable distance wasn't something he was fond of. He was a close-talker, so he kept drifting into our personal space, and we kept edging back, not knowing what to expect.  Meeting deranged people on the trail isn't something we have experience with, having never hiked the AT.  We didn't immediately answer his question, because neither one of us was going to say a word before we knew what sort of random asshattery saying "Sure! We'd be glad to!" would entail.

My bet was on some scam involving money, but Greg, as I found out later, had envisioned him asking us to carry his shit back to the parking lot for him.  Luckily for both of us, neither of our theories proved true.  Instead, he asked, "Uhhh....can you tell me if there's a lake around here somewhere?"

At first I I thought he was kidding, but when he didn't laugh, I realized he was serious.  We were in the West Canada Lakes wilderness region -- emphasis on the word "Lakes." You couldn't spin around in a circle while taking a piss without hitting a fucking lake.

"Um, you should have just passed Whitney Lake," Greg said.

"No, I don't think that's the one I'm looking for," he replied.

"Pillsbury Lake?" I asked, hopefully. "That's the only other one on this trail in the direction you're headed."

He dropped his stuff in the dirt.  "Yeah, that could be it."  He paused for a second, then added, "Maybe."

"Just keep going straight, you can't miss it," I said, and rested one hand on the can of bear spray attached to a holster on my hip, keeping an eye on both him and his mysterious black garbage sack.

"I'm John...," he said suddenly, then stuck out his hand to shake mine.  A little side-note here:  When someone sticks out their hand like that, some kind of automatic corporate reflex kicks in, and I will automatically reach out in kind to shake it.  You could be a zombie, sticking out the severed hand of another zombie and I would probably still shake it.  I was halfway there by the time I realized that no, I actually did *not* want to shake his hand. Not in the least. But at that point, I was committed.  He said something else, but I missed it because I was concentrating on how I was going to surreptitiously wipe my hand.  What I thought he said was, "...also known as The World's Loneliest Clown."  I am a bit of a germaphobe when it comes to other people, and I have a vivid imagination.  I could easily picture him scratching his sweaty grundle with the fingers of that same hand right before he ran into us on the trail.  Then he gave Greg the same rigorous, yet damply limp handshake.  I could tell by the look on Greg's face that yes, that was exactly what he had said.  Hi, I'm John, also known as The World's Loneliest Clown.  Alrighty then.

Neither one of us knew how to respond to that statement.  So far, he hadn't been particularly clown-like.  Personally, I really didn't care what he wanted to call himself.  I just wanted to make sure that reason for his self-described loneliness wasn't because he had recently killed the people at the last lean-to he had passed and was now dragging a bag of severed feet back to the parking lot.

Before we could decide what the polite thing to say would be, he continued.  "Where are you guys from? Where are you going? Where are you camping tonight?" he asked. "I'm pretty beat," he told us, changing the subject without waiting for an answer. "I've  been out here for a while."

He swabbed his face with his soaked t-shirt. For someone who looked absolutely dead on his feet, he was pretty hyperactive.

"I do this a lot. Hike. Get out on the trail.  Helps keep me in shape." He jiggled his belly for emphasis.  "I don't have a car, so I'm hoping I can hitch a ride south to The City with someone," he added.  "That's how I got here.  Before this I was down in Georgia on the AT."

That made sense.  He'd fit right in on the AT.  We nodded at everything he said, not really adding a lot to the conversation.  While he made small talk at us, we just sort of milled around, making it pretty obvious that we wanted to be on our way without just rudely walking away mid-sentence.  We wished him luck, looked at our watches, anything to basically force the conversation into the direction of being over.  But it wasn't.  "Oh! Let me give you my card," he said, then started digging around in his pants for his wallet. He finally found it, and pulled out a couple of business cards and handed them to us. You know how you sometimes get wet dollar bills for change when you buy a drink at a beachside concession stand?  It doesn't surprise you if it happens, right?  The business card felt kind of like that, except it was probably closer to getting wet money for change in a Walmart at 2 am.  Also not exactly a surprise, but you know, deep in your heart, that's not saltwater you're feeling, and there's no way to convince yourself that it is.

"I LOVE giving out my card. I get a big kick out of it. You can check me out on YouTube.  Just search under The World's Loneliest Clown." He pointed to the card I was still holding out in front of me.  "Like it says on the card there," he added. I decided right then and there to call him TWLC.

In my head.

"Where'd you guys say you were from?" TWLC asked us again, his record finally skipping back to the original groove.  (Back in the day, we had these flat vinyl discs that we would spin with a machine, and a tiny sapphire on a post would ride around in a groove and make music, and sometimes if the disc got a scratch in it, the needle would make a popping sound and jump out of its groove and start a section of the song over, and...I'm obviously horrible at explaining things.  Vinyl is popular again in certain circles, so my suggestion is to find someone with cool hair who is wearing skinny jeans and thick-framed glasses and they'll explain it to you.)  We told him where we were from, and without being too specific, where we were going. Finally, I think he either ran out of things to talk about, or realized that he was keeping us from our hike, and he abruptly decided to get back on the trail.  He wished us luck, picked up his backpack and his bag of feet, and continued shuffling toward the parking lot, or presumably, if it could be found, Pillsbury Lake.

Greg and I hiked for a few minutes, glancing behind us every once in a while to make sure TWLC wasn't doubling back to add to his collection.  Finally, Greg broke the silence. "Well, that was pretty weird," he said.

"Yeah, what are the odds?" I replied.  "We're out here in the middle of nowhere and we run into The World's Loneliest Clown."

Greg said, "How do we know he's telling the truth?  Maybe he's not the world's loneliest.  Maybe he's only the 3rd or 4th loneliest. He could have been lying."

"That's true," I said. "We may never know.  Unless he's been vetted by a sanctioned authority on relative levels of loneliness, it's just one sweaty man's subjective opinion."

We continued on.  We didn't know it, but that was the last human being we'd see for the next three days.

"You realize that he'll be sleeping in the back of your pickup tonight, right?" I said.

"Yep." Greg replied.

We continued to hike.  A lot. Or it felt like a lot, anyway.  We hiked slowly, and complained frequently as old guys are wont to do.  Nobody says that anymore.  Are wont to do. I'm going to bring it back - like I did for Fetch. I complained at every uphill, and Greg complained at every downhill, because that's what put the most stress on his knee.  So it was pretty much non-stop complaining.  At least at first.  At certain points, it appeared as if the trail had been cut by a sadist. Once, we hiked up a big hill away from the lake to a lean-to, and then the trail immediately turned and went back down to the lake.  Completely unnecessary.  It could have been a straight path with an intersecting trail to the lean-to, but no.  We blamed it on some mythical 25 year old bastard of a trail designer who thought it would be funny to route the trail that way.  We could picture him.  He was one of those guys who was in great shape and had expensive ultra-light equipment and hiked in shorts, even in the winter.  He had a GoPro and slept in a fancy hammock.  His name was Chad. We hated Chad.

Eventually, though, we got into a rhythm, and started talking.  About the hike, about mortality, about woodworking and politics.  That last can be interesting because I lean libertarian and he leans more progressive, whatever that means these days.  Basically, we agree on some topics and not on others, but we never let it get in the way of a good friendship.  And I really enjoy the back and forth of it.  Most of the time, when people talk  politics with other people who have different views than they do, nobody changes their minds about anything and everyone ends up pissed off.  Welcome to America.  In my case at least, when talking with Greg, he's sometimes made me see things from a different perspective, and I've actually changed my mind about some issues as a result.  I mean, I'm not voting for Bernie or anything, but still.

We've known each other since he was stuck directly in front of me in our high school physics class -- he was an egghead so he was in my class even though he was a year younger than I was.  We bonded over music, homemade cassette tapes and his older brother's expensive stereo.  When his brother wasn't home, we'd sneak into his room and make cassette tapes of our records, so we didn't wear them out.  I still have some of the tapes we made.  We had and still have a similar sense of humor, which I think is part of what kept us in touch all these years.  Even when he was living in Boston and we'd only talk once in a while, it was always immediately as if no time at all had gone by.  So it was like that this time as well.  We still live about an hour and a half away from each other, so we don't get to hang as often as we'd like to, so this was a welcome trip.

Thus endeth Part I, which is way too long already, and not nearly funny enough.  But you guys shamed me into posting something, damn you.  So it's your own fault, really.

See you in few!  (Days? Months? Who can tell?)

*kind of like sex, except I'm alone in the dark in the basement, and you know what? Bad example.

10/23/15

I needed a new one anyway...

This has to be one of the stupidest things I've ever done.  When it happened, I looked at my wife and said, "We tell no one of this. Ever."  So of course, I've decided to tell all of you so you can laugh at what an idiot I am.

Last weekend my wife and I packed up the car and threw the canoe on top and headed out to one of our favorite Adirondack lakes.  The thing about this place is that you can never tell just how busy it will be.  Sometimes you get there and there might be 10 cars in the parking lot and other times you might be the only ones there.  The other thing that can happen is that you are completely alone on a Friday morning at 9am, but by the same time the next day the lake is crawling with people. Or not. It's a mystery.

On this particular occasion, when we got there it wasn't overly crowded but there were a fair amount of cars.  Worse, there was already another car parked in the launch area and they were unloading their stuff.  It was a husband and wife and their dog.  I noticed two things immediately -- they had an inordinate amount of shit, and they had an electric trolling motor.

We parked behind them, and started doing the same thing.  We grabbed the canoe and brought it down to the water and then came back up for the rest of the stuff.  We exchanged pleasantries with them, and it turned out that they were from out of state and it was their first time there.  He started asking me about the campsites on the lake.

"So, are there many sites around here?  Can you make any recommendations?" he asked.

I thought fast, and told him the location of all the sites, starting on the right and working my way counter-clockwise, and ending with, "The last one is around this bend, and it's not bad. It's a little loud and everyone has to pass by it to get to the other sites.  That's the one we are hoping to get, because my wife's shoulder is bugging her and we can't paddle far." His wife was very nice, but she had this really loud smoker's voice and a Boston-like accent. Lucky for us, as it turned out.

The thing about this lake is that that there aren't that many sites, and it can be hard to get a good spot, or indeed, any spot.  Sometimes it can seem like a race -- who can get there first and fastest.  I always have that sense of panic when the place is crowded.  I have no idea why, but I get very competitive.

I was hoping he'd take pity on me and shoot for one of the other sites, because I had been really talking them up.  I knew he had a trolling motor and could definitely outrun us.  We finished chatting, and I practically ran to the car and grabbed the paddles and the life vests, the bear canister and some of my camera gear, and loaded them in the canoe.  I made another quick trip for the backpacks.  We kept looking to see how far along they were with their unpacking, and we were desperate to beat them out on the water.  My wife climbed in the front of the canoe, I pushed us out, jumped in the back and we were off.  I was paddling my ass off, going full-tilt because I wanted..no, needed to beat those motorized bastards out onto the lake.   We were almost out of earshot, paddling like a well-oiled machine, when in the distance I heard a distinctly Bostonian voice say, "I think they fuggot their cah."

My wife heard it too, and we immediately looked at each other in horror.  We had forgotten our car.  It was still parked in the middle of the launch area, all the doors wide open.

There was a split second where I actually thought, "Fuck it. We'll get another one," because that's how ruthless the race for campsites can get, but then good sense prevailed.

"Holy shit," I said. "I can't believe we forgot the car.  I'm never, ever going to be able to call someone stupid again, as long as I live."

So we did the paddle of shame back to the launch area, and the couple were still loading up their stuff.   I jumped out of the canoe, mumbled something about, "Ooops, forgot the car. Ha Ha. First time for everything," closed the hatchback and the rear doors, jumped in and drove it up to the lot and parked it.  I ran back down to the canoe and we pushed off again.

The good news is that we got the spot we were after and we didn't run into the other couple for a day or so. When we finally did, it turned out that they got a late start because they had a hole in their canoe.  I had nothing to do with that, I swear.

Our good luck didn't last, however.  Shortly before 5 pm, we saw something moving toward us. At first we couldn't make it out, but we could certainly hear the idiots as they yelled back and forth to each other, even though they were barely a yard apart.  There were many f-bombs, and a spirited conversation about knives was in progress.  As it got closer to us, I couldn't believe what I saw.

Two large canoes, connected by 2x4s, with a pallet suspended between them, piled high with shit. Grills, coolers, stereo equipment, multiple 50 gallon garbage bags full of what I can only assume were clothes, full-sized lawn chairs, propane tanks, lanterns and more. You name it, and it was probably on this shitpile homemade catamaran.  There was an electric trolling motor fastened to the back of the pallet, and one guy was steering the whole barge with a stick while the other three drank.   I shook my head, and turned to my wife and said, "We'll be hearing from them later, guaranteed."  It ended up being worse than that.

As dusk approached, I boiled water to cook dinner, and as I was fiddling with the stove, I saw another kayak heading right for us.  I went down by the water to see what was up.  It was a young girl, probably 18 or 19, and she said, "I think I have the wrong campsite.  My friends said they'd be here."

"Yes, you have the wrong campsite." I replied. "They're not here.  Did they have some sort of  homemade shitpile catamaran by any chance?" I asked.

"Yes! That's them. Do you know where they went?"

"I think they're about 3 campsites down on the left," I said. "That thing was hilarious by the way."

She didn't say anything about my opinion of their boat, but thanked me and left.

A couple of hours later, another pair of kayaks show up holding two guys each.  By now it's full dark, and we have a fire going. They are shining their flashlights at us and we can hear them throwing f-bombs and talking about some girl they know and describing her as a "humper."  Class acts, obviously.  It turns out that nobody got the memo that their spot was already taken, and since there's no cell service at this lake, everyone looking for the party headed directly for our campsite until they realized that we weren't their fuckhead college friends and veered off.

This went on until about 1am.  People out on the lake with flashlights, yelling to each other and trying to find the party.  It wasn't that hard to find, since it sounded like a full on frat house in the middle of the wilderness. Obnoxious rap music, lights, screaming, laughing...until 4am at least.  I was a little on edge to tell you the truth because I don't like people on the lake in front of my campsite in the middle of the night.  Luckily, my wife had gone into the tent before me.  The last thing she said was, "I'm not sure I'm going to be able to go to sl--" and then the snoring started, so she missed the bulk of it.  I stayed up and tended the fire until there were no more people on the lake, mostly because I wanted to make sure there wasn't going to be any idiots doing stupid things, but also because my wife was snoring like a drunk biker and I really didn't want to get in the tent with her.  Eventually, everything quieted down and I crawled into the tent and fell asleep.

I'm thinking I might have to find another place to go, or we're going to have to just start camping exclusively during the week. It seems that word has gotten out that this place has no ranger presence and is easy to get to, so it's become a party destination on the weekends.  I'm not sure if we just have bad luck, or if it's like this all the time now, but it used to be deserted after labor day.   I think part of the problem is that they improved the road a few years ago and it's much smoother and easier to navigate than it used to be.  Back in the day it would take you an hour to go twelve miles because the roads were so rutted that even with an F-150 you'd have to go really slow if you wanted to keep your exhaust system.  Now it's so smooth you can do 25 mph in a smart car and not spill your latte.

Anyway, that's pretty much the stupidest thing I've done lately.  I won't say the stupidest thing I've ever done, because I'm hoping I have a lot more time to top it, but so far it's right up there.  

Here's a handful of pictures for you:

Milky Way before the moon came up.  The tree is lit by our fire.

Sunset the first night

My co-pilot

30 second exposure by moonlight



5/11/15

The one where my wife takes the full load.

I recently looked up our property on Google Earth, and realized something.  Our house was no longer visible from space.  Some may view this as a good thing, but I do not.  It meant that it was time to spend all kinds of money I didn't want to spend, doing something I didn't want to do.  I had to cut down trees, and free my house from this leafy oppression.  Well, not me personally. I was going to hire someone, since most of these trees were white pines over a hundred feet tall, with mean dispositions, and I only have a 14" chainsaw and a fear of barber chairs.  They intentionally and very spitefully get sap all over everything, drop pine cones the size of soda cans all over my driveway, and release clouds of yellow pollen for a month every year.  If they could walk, I'm pretty sure life as we know it would be over because white pines would kill you if they could.

When we first moved up here to the North country, we didn't want to cut down a single tree.  We had come from a development that had been built on an abandoned dairy farm, and up in these parts anyway, there are not a lot of trees in a pasture.  The developer had planted one or two spindly, sad looking specimens in everyone's front yards and called it a day.  As a result, we left way more trees standing than we should have when we built this house, and over the years they grew wider and taller until this past winter I realized that it never gets sunny here.  It was like living in a cave all winter since the sun never clears the tree line from the moment it comes up to the moment it sets.

At least now that it's officially Sprummer,* we manage to get some sun between 11am and two pm, but even that isn't enough to plant any sort of sun-loving flowers and expect them to grow straight.  Instead, they try to get to the sun and so they either lean out at a 45 degree angle (lilies, I'm talking to you) or they fall over, and grow horizontally, and when they're finally in the sun they take a right angle turn and point up again.  (Gladiolus, I apologize.) It makes for a very tilty-looking garden.

Long story short, I decided that I wanted 23 trees gone.  My wife, however, was not really down with that.  She has a personal connection to every single tree on our lot, and was not happy with me for wasting money on something like tree removal when that same money could be spent on other necessary upkeep, like Caribbean vacations and garden potting sheds.  I, on the other hand, didn't want to get crushed in my sleep by a bastard white pine with a death-wish.  In typical woman-logic, she was more than willing to let the trees fall on the house, collect the insurance, and then finally paint the bedroom the color she wanted to, and maybe add a walk-in closet and a dormer.  Apparently, a tree crashing through the top of the house could be a good thing.

In the end, I convinced her that it made sense to at least remove the three humongous white pines with long, heavy, dangerous branches that were overhanging our back deck, and a 70-foot tall, five-trunked maple tree that stored a swampy, evil-looking gallon of brown water in the rotting crotch where all the trunks met.  I also chose a stand of mixed hardwoods and pines out in front, along with an assortment of smaller damaged or dead trees that were nothing more than an all-you-can-eat woodpecker buffet. That, my friends, is a lot of wood.**  

In addition to creating a canopy over the driveway,  all of these trees in front were blocking the sun from reaching the garden on the side of the house, and I figured that taking them down would give us a little more light in the front yard and also prevent her flowers from just uprooting themselves in disgust and walking somewhere else where they would be more appreciated.

I called around and got some estimates, and ended up going with a company I had used in the past. They aren't climbers -- they have a crane and the way they take a tree down is something to behold.  They haul a guy holding a chainsaw up to the top of the tree with the crane and then when he's situated, he unhooks the crane cable from himself and ties it around the tree.  Then he climbs about half way down and makes a cut. Then the crane lifts a 50 foot section of a giant tree directly over your house and lays it down next to the chipper, where a couple other guys with chainsaws tear into it.  Then the crane goes back for another hunk.  It's a little nerve-wracking to watch.  While most of this tree went directly over the house so I couldn't see it, I did manage to catch this quick video through my office window:

video

In this fashion, they took all the trees I wanted gone in the space of about five hours, and left me with two straight 12-foot sections of oak and maple, which I will turn into chair parts or firewood, depending upon how much ambition I have between now and the time the wood dries too much to steam-bend.

At first, everything was going according to plan. Before they started, the owner/foreman asked me if I wanted any of the chips for the garden and I said no, take them all away.  As my wife was leaving the house because she had to be somewhere else while this was happening, she overheard this, and mentioned to him that I was wrong, and that she might, in fact, want some.  I went in the house because I was working from home that day and I needed to get some food before my lunch hour was over, leaving that bit of negotiation to her.  That way, she would determine where they'd leave the chips and I'd avoid responsibility.

Fast forward to about 2:45 pm.  I had been in a couple of back-to-back meetings, and so I hadn't had a chance to check on their progress.  When my 2 pm ended 15 minutes early, I decided to go outside and see how things were going.

I walked out my front door and the first thing I saw was a pile of wood chips the size of a school bus lining the side of my driveway.  And not a short bus either.  I'm talking a full-sized, take-the-football-team-to-an-away-game, diesel-powered, yellow-ass school bus.  In other words, a pile that was approximately 10 feet tall, 10 feet wide, and 40 feet long.  A few of the guys were standing in the driveway, waiting for the next section of tree to come swinging over the house, and I ran up to them.  "HOLY SHIT!" I said, followed closely by, "What the FUCK?"  There was arm waving involved.

One of them looked at me and said, "What? Oh, the chips? Your wife said she wanted those."

"Yeah, she wanted a yard or two, tops. Nothing like THAT," I said. "What the hell am I going to do with that giant pile?  It's completely ridiculous!"

"Well," he said, thoughtfully, looking at the pile. "We can't put them back in the truck. We don't have the equipment for that."

The owner must have seen me gesturing wildly or something, because he left his guy in the tree and shut off the crane and came over.

"What's up?" he asked.  "Isn't that where you wanted them?"

"The problem isn't where, it's how much," I said. "What the fuck am I going to do with that much mulch?"***

"Well, I asked your wife if she wanted the full load, and she said yes."

I didn't say anything, because that sentence was all sorts of wrong and I was still processing it.  He took my silence for stupidity, and continued.

That's a full load right there," he added, pointing to the pile like I was some sort of idiot.

"My wife has no concept of what a... covered dump truck can hold," I said, careful to avoid saying "My wife" and "full load" in the same sentence.  Plus, I didn't want to insult myself.  "This is wayyy too much. You need to make it go away or she's going to flip out.  She didn't want me to do this to begin with."

I was probably sounding like a big pussy, but I didn't care.  I wasn't the first guy in the world to think about the raft of shit he was in for if a mess didn't get cleaned up by the time his wife got home.

He echoed the other guy on his team and said, "Well, I can't pick it up again, I don't have a bucket loader."  He paused for a second, then said, "Do you want me to spread it out?"

In retrospect, I should have said no, but I had visions of that giant pile of wood chips being the first thing my wife saw when she pulled in the driveway, and I panicked.

"Yes," I said. "Christ, yes.  Spread it out. A lot. That'll make it better."

It did not, in fact, make it better.  Now the entire side of my yard looked like the bottom of a hamster cage.  Instead of being one manageable pile, the chips were now distributed in a foot-thick layer, spread over about 500 square feet. Walking on it was like being in a bouncy house that had been rinsed out with Pine-Sol because some over-heated kid had puked.

At that point, I admitted defeat and just told him to knock on the door when they were done and I'd write him a check.  I should have threatened to hold his money until he came back and cleaned up the chips, but in all fairness,  my wife did tell him exactly how much to leave behind.  So my homework this week is to find someone who can pick up these chips and move them next door to the empty lot.   A neighbor took about six loads with her John Deere bucket and it didn't even make a dent.

After I find someone to clear that out of there, the plan is to have that same person move a couple of boulders into the clearing and then make me a big-ass hole. (Note: Hyphens are important. I'm talking about a big hole in the ground, and besides, too late.)  I need this hole because...wait for it...we are going to go buy a blue spruce to put in the spot where they other five trees used to be. And yes, the irony, it burns.  But she always wanted a tree outside that she could decorate every year for Christmas, so there's that.

So all in all, it was not an experience I would recommend.  But it's over now.  Although I am thinking of welding up a giant hamster wheel and putting it on the side of the driveway like some kind of red-neck modern art installation.  Maybe I can charge admission if I can find a big-ass hamster.  (Again, note the hyphen.)



* I created this word because we don't have Spring here any more. It goes right from freezing one day to 80 degrees the next. 

** twss

*** He called it mulch.  He convinced my wife it was going to be mulch. FYI, this shit is nothing like mulch.  If you ever have trees taken down, and they offer to leave some for you, just say no. Trust me.)

2/21/15

Random Rants and Aerial Rectal Relief in 30 minutes or less.

This post? Completely random topics that I plan to write about as I think of them.  So to start, I'll have you all know that I'm a lottery winner.  I found a ten dollar bill in my jeans pocket when I put them on this morning, so on the way home from work I sprung for one of those ten dollar "$5000 a week for life" lottery tickets that only an insane person with more money than sense would ever buy.  But even though I knew my odds of winning were slightly worse than my odds of spending a night with a Victoria's Secret model who isn't printed on paper,  I walked into Stewarts and threw my wrinkled ten down on the counter like a boss.  

"Give me one of those," I said, pointing confidently to the ticket I wanted.  He tore one off like it was his job, because it is, and took my money.  I left the store, knowing in my heart that I would be retiring by the end of the day.  Then I drove home and stood at the kitchen counter with my coat on  and went to town on that lottery ticket with the ass end of a bottle opener.  

And I won.  

I took my coat off and danced around a little. OK, no, not really. I just looked at the cat and said, "Hey! I won!" and the cat said absolutely nothing back,  but I could tell he was thinking, "Who gives a shit human, just open the magic can."  I ignored him and brushed the scratch-off crumbs from the counter top (don't tell my wife).  I didn't win $5000 a week for life, but I did hit on five different numbers at ten bucks each, so tomorrow, I'll do the completely rational thing and buy five more tickets because that's the only thing that's gone my way this week, and I want to keep it going.  So wish me luck. 

So what else is new?  I have a brand new pet peeve that you should all know about.  It's people who use the word "Ask" as a noun.  Apparently it's all the rage in corporate America these days, and it's infecting every meeting I attend and it makes me want to scoop the offender's eyes out with a melon baller.  Everyone has "an ask" now instead of a requirement or a request or, god forbid, an actual need.  If I hear one more person say, "My ask of you is that...." I'm going to completely lose my shit.  Either that, or I'm going to go all in, and just start using it all the time. 

At dinner:  "My ask of you is that you pass me the salt."
In Home Depot:  "My ask of you is that you tell me where I can find 3/4" phillips head screws."
Calling my wife:  "My ask of you is that you pick up some Tums and a melon baller for my next meeting." 

It's a ridiculous thing and it needs to die.

Another pet peeve? It's not acceptable to use texting shorthand and zero punctuation in email or instant chat messages.  Or, when it comes down to it, in an actual text message.  Christ, I have an old iPhone 4s from 2011 and it practically types the entire message for me after I hit the first two letters. 

There's no reason I should get a message from someone at work that says, and I quote: "cud u approve ur idm form 4 me?"  Because if that happens, I will respond with, "Sure. As soon as you promise to stop talking to me like you're Prince," which I did. Unfortunately, I think the person I was having this conversation with was about 22 and didn't know who Prince was.  I'm sure she was like, "f u and ur hole wrds gray balls."

So I said this post will be completely random, and I meant it.  Is anyone else sick of hearing about Brian Williams?  If I see one more picture of his smarmy looking face turned into some stupid meme I'm going to be forced to cancel my Facebook account, if that's even possible. I'm pretty sure they won't let you cancel it.  About four years ago, I tried to delete my account and the most I could manage to do was suspend it.  I googled "how to delete your facebook account" and  that night someone slashed my tires and left a note on my windshield that said, 'we no what ur doing. ur next.' I'm pretty sure it was Zuckerberg, but I can't prove it.

Here's my take on Brian. You don't 'misremember' getting your helicopter shot down. What he did was basically the same as me passing a car on the side of the road that had been side-swiped by a tractor trailer an hour before, and was in the process of being winched onto a tow truck, then getting home and telling my wife that I had been in an accident.  So yeah, let it die and let the guy get back to hosting The Daily Show or whatever.  

Something else in the news recently -- the FAA has announced some new Drone laws that basically say that (for now) a person has to be within line of sight of any drone they're piloting, and they can't fly higher than 500 feet.  That sort of puts the brakes on Amazon's plan to deliver stuff by drone, which I personally think is the stupidest idea ever.  Drones are cool and all, but I don't want the damned things flying over my house to deliver a jumbo tube of Preparation H to my neighbor because his 'roids are kicking up and he wants it in 30 minutes or less and doesn't want to leave the house.  I mean, I can sympathize to a point -- 'roids are no joke.  But if it means I have to put up with drones flying all over the place, he can walk around with his rectum between his knees for all I care.  Not to mention that those things look dangerous. (Not the 'roids, the drones.)  I'd think it would be worse in a metro area. What if one of these package delivery drones collides with a pigeon or clips the edge of a skyscraper and spins down into a crowd?  Amazon better start making some profit soon because they're going to need it to pay off the lawsuits.  

The other flaw in this plan?  There's a lot of people up here in the north country where I live who wouldn't think twice about loading up some drone with a heaping helping of #2 birdshot. They might as well hang a sign from it that says "FREE STUFF!" It's like skeet shooting except with the payoff of a piƱata.  

Lastly, if you know me, you know I'm fashionally illiterate.  Yes, I just made up a word.  My ask is that you go with it in the spirit of a ranting blog post.  I know nothing about clothes, and I don't really own a suit.  I generally wear Chinese jeans from American Eagle, (the irony!) and some kind of pullover henley or a button-down flannel and call it a day. As long as my clothes are clean, I'm good with it.  I really need to spring for a nice suit soon, because summer is coming and odds are I'll be going to a wedding or a funeral, which are about the only two things I would wear a suit for, preposition be damned.  Although, I suppose if I lost my job for some reason, like choking out someone who had one too many asks, I might need one for an interview.  Either way, it's time to suit up.  What point am I driving at here?  Number one,  I'd like to know why Facebook thinks I am fashion-conscious, and number two, I'd like to know why it keeps putting up ads with links to clothes like this:



Can you guys see me sitting at work in the cube farm or going to a club or even going out of the house dressed like that?  No?  Me neither.  How about this one?


Or possibly this?


I am actually in the market for a new hoodie, but I think I'll pass on the ermine collar.


Who wears this shit?  I have no idea.  Well, I do have an idea, and I think it might be adolescent metrosexual Japanese guys.  Certainly not me.   I could understand if they were tossing up ads for Orvis or LL Bean or even Eddie Bauer, but no.  I get this sort of stuff.  It did get me wondering how some of it would look on me.  Luckily I had a picture of me, and a copy of Photoshop, so you tell me.  

Should I wear this to the next wedding I have to go to*?  



* or funeral.  Or lion taming gig. And no, that's not really me.  I'm much younger and better looking.

2/4/15

It's a Trap! Get an Axe.


Hello peoples of the Internet!  It's time for another edition of the old standby....

Fantastic Searches That Somehow Pointed People To My Site

This site doesn't get as much traffic as it used to, so some of these google search links are actually less fantastic and more obvious, but I liked them so I left them in.

wool nipple warmers - My advice is that this is a bad idea. Because if you actually DO find wool nipple warmers, they will be rough and scratchy, and you will soon be looking for silk nipple warmers and a big tube of Benadryl for Nipples. And let me ask a serious question here, since I don't have cold nipples. Is it possible for a nipple to be cold while everything else is hot? I mean, I've seen my share of pencil erasers, and it seems like it would be difficult to have such an isolated regional chilly spot without some sort of ice cube involvement. But maybe I'm wrong. As I've said, my nipples? Generally the perfect temperature all the time.

if u drink u are my enemy - That's a bit harsh, isn't it? I mean, I don't drink excessively, except for on the occasional weekend, and we've been friends for a long time, and you know what? Fuck it, I'm your enemy. Although, I have a request before you go. Would you consider upgrading to be my nemesis? I've always wanted one of those.

What should I have for lunch quiz - This is a tough one, but since you want a quiz, let me see if I can whip something up for you:

QUIZ: What should I have for lunch?

(1) A bowl of ground glass and fingernail clippings
(2) some sort of food
(3) A bucket of gravel and 8 ounces of Drano


If you check back with me in a week, I'll give you your grade. Hint: It's pass/fail.

15 minute quiz - You are clearly a man with some time to kill. But not a random amount of time. An exact amount of time. "Give me a quiz, Google. I don't care what it's about, as long as it takes me exactly 15 minutes. No more, no less." I'm sorry you wasted precious minutes on my site. I hope I didn't inadvertently force you to subsequently search for "10 minute quiz."

I am a professional builder but my testicles are hang low - This is a serious problem, but I think I can help. I've had many professional builders at the house doing one home improvement project or another, and there's one thing they all have in common -- the low testicles. I think it's one of those issues that is called "referred or reflective" in nature -- like when your back hurts but it's really caused by your knees being out of whack because the arches in your feet are messed up. You fix the arch problem, the knees straighten out and the back stops hurting. In your case, it's basically the same kind of thing. The testicles are hang low, because the underwear are hang low because the pants are hang low, and as a result, your ass crack are showing. If you pull up the underwear and the pants and tighten the belt, the testicles will rise with the rest of the wardrobe, and be held in place very nicely by the crotch of the pants, which now rests between your thighs instead of between your knees. Problem solved.

hard old nipples - I need more information to help you. For instance, I don't know if you're looking for hard old nipples, or if you have them. If you have them, and are looking for relief, I suggest you invest in some of this, and lay off the wool nipple warmers. Those things are just bad for business. If you're looking for them, I'm 99% sure you found them. The internet is a wonderful and terrible thing.

cock yourself, eyeball - I'm really not sure about this one. At first I thought you were looking for the porn version of Jib-Jab's "Elf Yourself" but then the eyeball part didn't really make sense. Other possibilities just went downhill from there, so I'm going to opt out on making any further comment.

bare butt spanking bill engvall - No judgement here -- by all accounts, Bill is a fine looking man. However, I'm still not sure how you ended up on my blog since I don't have much in the way of spanking pictures. Or Bill Engvall pictures. Well, until now, that is. I can't wait to see what sort of searches show up next time around. That said, I'm always willing to got the extra mile, so let me see if I can help*:





OK, that's enough search engine fun for one post. I have to go look at something else for a while so I don't have nightmares about Bill tonight. Have a good weekend and try not to cock yourself, eyeball.



 *You all owe me, because I had to visit www.spankingarmyboys.com to get the base picture for this horribly obvious photoshop.   Incidentally, don't type "Bare butt spanking" and *anything else* into Google with safe search turned off unless you want to see some shit.

1/24/15

Raptor it up, I'll take it.

Man, I almost forgot the password to this dump.

What have I been doing with my time, you ask? Well, I'll get to that.  So what's new with you? How've you been?  You look great!  Do people still read blogs?  Are blogs still a thing?  I'll have to Google it.

This past weekend my wife and I spent her birthday in a little Inn in Vermont.  We were hoping for some snow, and our plans included lots of relaxing and maybe a sleigh ride at a local farm.   We did lots of relaxing, but it was mostly forced because the weather sucked. Instead of snow we got icy rain that turned every available flat surface into a skating rink.  As a result, we spent a little more time than we planned in the giant antique store in Quechee, near the aptly named Quechee Gorge, which is always fun.  If you like antiques, and you live within a couple hours of Vermont, it's worth the trip. You can spend an entire day wandering around in this place.  

There are three warehouse-sized floors of almost everything under the sun, and if you look around you can find some really amazing and/or disturbing stuff.  Need a stuffed animal? You have several to choose from. And I'm talking about an actual animal that has been stuffed, not some shitty Elmo from China.  This one is my favorite, because of reasons:

Gratuitous Beaver Shot

How about a silver locket containing the braided hair of someone who died a hundred years ago? Sure, how many would you like?  A Bionic Woman lunch box and matching thermos?  Got you covered.  A bushel basket full of doll heads?  Um, yeah. A nightmare in the making.  And that was all within the first 100 feet of this place.  I spent a lot of time on the 3rd floor, which I call the 70's floor.  I had my choice of four different strobe lights, six lava lamps and dozens of black light posters, but I managed to restrain myself.  There were comic books all over the place.  My favorite was an old Spiderman Comic with the headline "SOMEONE DIES!" written in dripping blood letters - they didn't sugar-coat their marketing back then.   

I came very close to purchasing a portable record player with a bunch of 45's included, but after looking at the 45's, I realized that the previous owner was apparently a very serious Paul Anka fan, because about 70% of the records were by him.  I didn't even know he had that much of a career.  And really, there's only so much Paul Anka you can listen to before you want to break one of his 45's in half and drag the jagged shard across your throat to end the pain.   

Have you ever seen a bear trap in person?  Me neither, until this past weekend. And let me just say:  Holy shit.  That thing would quite literally take your leg off mid-shin.  I did like how the person selling the bear trap was also selling kid's toys and canning supplies.  This place has such a mishmash of random things, I think that's why I enjoy going there so much. It rotates stock between about 500 dealers, so there's always some new, weird stuff to gawk at.

Like this exorbitantly priced and completely horrific Santa Claus:


I tried to determine what made him worth a hundred dollars but I still don't know.  At first I thought maybe it was his come-hither sex-doll mouth, but then I figured out that it had to be because his massive head wound revealed the fact that he's made entirely out of Terminator: 


My other favorite item was this sign:



I saw this and immediately had only one question.  And that question was, "Who is responsible for dressing these slow deaf children?"

Their outfits are completely black, and consist of high socks, short pants, a jeweled belt, pointy shoes and some weird, nipple-like hat -- it's bad enough that they're already slow and deaf, and now they're going to get the shit kicked out of them by the other kids because they dress like ninja keebler elves.  It just doesn't seem fair.

We also did something else on the spur of the moment, since we had some extra time, and no, it's not what you're thinking.  We had way more extra time than that would have taken.  I'm not a machine.

We were driving down the road toward Quechee and saw a sign with a picture of an owl on it.  Then a hawk.  Shortly thereafter, we skidded to an icy stop in front of something called VINS - the Vermont Institute of Natural Science.  At any rate, they had raptors, and if there's one thing I'm a fan of, it's birds of prey.  It turns out they do rehab there, and they have a bunch of really cool birds in habitats.  If a bird can't be released into the wild because its injuries are too severe, it gets to live out its life here, getting free food and shelter.  It's a pretty good deal all around.  So we walked into the place and paid our $26 bucks for two tickets, and we went down to the enclosures to visit with the birds.

There was a ten-cent tour starting at 1pm, so we decided to take it.  I actually learned some stuff.  I learned how disgusting turkey vultures are, I learned how light bald eagles are (8 lbs) and I learned how fast a peregrine falcon can dive (230mph!)  I also learned it is cold as fuck in January in Vermont.  Here are some pictures so you can enjoy my experience. These were taken by my lovely wife:
This is my good side.

I'm invisible. Nothing to see here.


"..."

I still cannot look at that last picture without laughing.  It just can't happen.  I don't know why. One of my friends commented, "That owl looks like he's seen some Stuff." and that really sums it up.

After the tour, we went to the classroom, and learned some more stuff.  The instructor was a little pixie girl with short red hair, named Annie, who had the mannerisms of an animatronic Peter Pan at Disney World.  Even so, she was pretty good at what she did.  No sense of humor though.  She started with a talk about the difference between the types of talons that various raptors had and how they were suited to what and where they hunted.  She actually had a bunch of cut off bird legs that she was using for the demonstration.  She'd hand one to me since I was in the first row and say, "Take a look at that and then pass it around," which I dutifully did.  Of course, while she was doing this, she had a giant hawk perched on her forearm.  At one point the hawk was a little restless, and she said, "I'm not sure why he's acting up."  I said, "I'm thinking maybe it's all the...you know... severed hawk feet being passed around."  But she was having none of it.  She just said, "No, I think he's pretty used to seeing those by now."  After she flew him around the room a bit (which was very cool) she retired him and then brought in a great horned owl.  She spent a few minutes explaining the difference between a hawk wing and an owl wing, and how the fringe of feathers on the leading edge of the owl wing allowed it to fly almost silently.  Of course she had two "sample wings" which she handed to me and told me to pass around.  This bird was quite impressive, and he wouldn't shut up.  Then finally, he did shut up.  But not because he spied the severed owl wings and thought he might be next.  He shut up because he was busy doing something else.  Something that made him look like the owl version of Stevie Wonder.   Annie said, "Oh look!  This is going to be really special. You almost never get to see this. He's going to expel a pellet."

For those of you who don't know, an owl will eat a mouse or bird or lizard or whatever - bones and all - and it will digest what it can.  When it's done with the digestive process, since it can't digest bones and fur, and it apparently can't poop bones and fur out of its tiny bird butt, it will expel this leftover mass by gakking up a disgusting ball of hair and bones, which is what this owl did.  His head started bobbing, and his beak opened wide, and he made a sound like my cat when he has a hairball in his throat.  A second later, a grey, hairy pellet roughly the size and shape of a walnut hit the floor right in front of me and bounced once.  Annie bent over and picked it up.  "Don't pass that around,"  I said.  She didn't laugh, but that's cool.  She had a giant puking bird on her arm that could snatch both her eyes out of her head before she even started to feel the pain, and really, that's nothing to laugh about.

So yeah. That was an experience. I am pretty sure that's something I will (hopefully) only get to see once in my life.  I can now cross that off my disgusting nature bucket list, which, as of today, now includes this.

Speaking of things I've never seen before, the Inn we stayed at had the weirdest soap.  Have you ever seen anything like this before? I know I haven't.

My soap is such a slut.

So anyway, we had a great time, even though the weather sucked and I didn't get to take any pictures.  Oh right!  Back to what I've been doing with my free time.  I've acquired a few old cameras from the 50s and 60s and I've been shooting and developing film and making prints in a basement darkroom. (Really, since I have no windows down there, the whole thing is technically a darkroom, but it sounds more impressive to call it a "basement darkroom" instead of "Some shitty table I have stuff set up on temporarily")  It's been a blast so far.

I have an old large format Crown Graphic press camera and a couple of medium formats, a Mamiya RB67 and a Bronica S2.

I'm just getting into some alternative printing methods too, thanks to my buddy Mark, who is the one who got me into this in the first place.  I know I've pointed you to his Flickr page before, but his amazing work is here.

Here's a Van Dyke Brown I just finished the other night, sitting in the washing tray:



I'm having fun, and really, isn't that the point?  When work's not busy trying to find new and innovative ways to kill me, I have to find something to keep my mind off servers and ip addresses and Active Directory and Powershell, and this seems to fit the bill quite nicely.

I do miss this place though, so I'm going to make a new year resolution to not go six months between posts again. You three people who still read this blog are my witnesses.

Happy New Year everyone!


6/17/14

You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Well, hello there. Is this place still open?

I've been MIA lately, I know.   It seems the less I write, the less I feel like writing, so I have to do something about that, because I really do like writing.  So I have a story to tell you.  I spent $27,500 dollars about a month or so ago.  I would like to say I purchased a new car, or put an addition on my house or even spent it on hookers and blow, but no.  I spent it for a single night's accommodations in a drafty room in the city so a burly guy named Steve with a tattoo on his neck could offer me injectable drugs. Yes, I spent a 27K on a single night in the hospital.

And the kicker is, I did it of my own free will.  It's not like I woke up in the hospital and the last thing I remembered was the grill of an 18 wheeler coming through my living room wall.  In fact, I came so close to not even going to the emergency room that I'm still kicking myself in the ass for not playing the odds.

So let me tell you what happened, and you can decide if I'm an idiot or not.

About five years ago, I was watching TV and my eyes decided they couldn't take another minute of Sons of Anarchy, and they checked out.  My vision went all funky, and I had zero peripheral vision.   I thought I was having a stroke or something, so off to the ER we went.

By the time we got to the hospital, I was fine. They checked me out, gave me a CT Scan, had an eye guy look me over, and sent me home with a diagnosis of ocular migraine (migraine with aura, if you want to get all medical about it) and instructions to see an eye specialist for a follow up, just to make sure it wasn't anything with my eyeball nerves.  After that checked out fine too, I was given the all clear, and told it might be a one-time thing.

Well, it turned out that it wasn't a one-time thing.  It's continued to happen once every four or five months for the last couple of years.  So I'm pretty familiar with the regular symptoms.  Basically what happens is that I'll be minding my own business and suddenly I'll notice that it's difficult to read small type, because the center of my vision looks like it has sparkles in it.  Remember when you were a kid and you pressed your palms to your eyeballs until it looked like white static? And then it took your vision a few seconds to come back?  Like that.*  Eventually, with my particular brand of migraine, after about ten or fifteen minutes, the sparkly part starts expanding into a ring, and it gets wider and wider until it's at the edges of my vision.  Then it goes away and I have a slight headache for a few hours.  It helps to take a couple of aspirin as soon as it starts.

A couple of months ago, I was sitting in my office working on the computer and I felt a migraine coming on. It was getting hard to read the screen, so  I sighed, stood up, walked to the bathroom and downed a couple of aspirin and went out to the living room to wait it out. My wife was home that day,  and I told her I was having a migraine and I just took a couple of aspirin, but talking felt a little...strange.  Like I knew what I wanted to say, but it was really hard to get it out of my mouth.  You know that feeling when the exact word you want is on the tip of your tongue but you can't remember it? It was exactly nothing like that. I could remember the words, but it took me a few seconds to wrap my tongue around them.

So that was weird.  My wife was engrossed in a difficult and arcane knitting ritual, so she really wasn't paying much attention and just said, "Mmm hmm," and went back to tying complex knots in string with large needles.  I walked back to my office, and for absolutely no reason at all, I turned on my iphone and opened up the BBC and picked an article at random.  I don't even remember what it was, but I started reading it out loud.  The results were hilarious, and truthfully, a little alarming.  So for instance, my eyes read and understood this:

These two features of a perceiving system – sensitivity and bias – are always present and independent of each other.

But my mouth said this:

These two feet of a principal dragon – sensitivity and blenders – are aluminum car wax in presence of three otters.

I tried again, more slowly. I found that if I concentrated on each and every word, I could get through it, but if I tried to read at a normal rate, all sorts of random hell would break loose.  My mouth was saying real words, but together they made no sense.  This continued for about a minute or two.

I walked back into the living room and said, "I'm not 100% on this, but I'm thinking maybe I should have you bring me to the emergency room, because I just had this weird thing happen where I tried reading out loud, but my mouth wasn't saying what my brain was reading, if that makes any sense."

My wife looked at me strangely and for a second I thought I had been spouting gibberish, but then she said, "OK, let's go."  When she stood up to change out of her pajamas I waffled a bit, since I seemed completely fine, but then after a few minutes of discussion, we decided it was better to be safe than sorry since this was something I hadn't experienced before. (But to be fair, I had never tried to read out loud or talk to anyone while I was having a migraine before so it could have been completely normal.  I usually just crash on the couch for a half hour and try to rest.)

So off we went.  I'll fast-forward through the part where we went to our local hospital and they told me that they'd need to send me to a different, better hospital since they had no neurologists on staff, and that I'd have to go by ambulance for liability reasons, and I told them to go fuck themselves - we were driving, and they made me sign a piece of paper saying that I absolve them of any liability if I took a dirt nap on the highway between the two locations, and then they sent me on my way. That little cursory examination and push out the door, I found out later, was going to cost me close to two grand.

When we walked in to what I shall refer to from now on as the "real" hospital, I told them I was a transfer patient and handed them the papers we got from the fake hospital full of sick people I feel sorry for now because I'm putting their odds at 50/50.  Since the paper said, "Possible TIA" they were all over my ass thinking I had a mini-stroke.  They asked me a ton of questions about weakness and blurred vision, dizziness and slurred speech and whether or not I could smile and stick out my tongue and touch my finger to my nose with my eyes closed -- all of which I answered with a string of "No's" because it was all the same shit I ran through myself five minutes into the episode because I know all about TIAs.  They asked me if I had taken any medication, and then they immediately stuck me on a stretcher and brought me to get my head irradiated by a CT Scan.

I asked them if they could give me an MRI instead, because I'm generally opposed to the amount of radiation they use in a CT, and they said that no, the CT was better at making sure I didn't have any bleeds in my brain.  (I didn't feel like my brain was bleeding, but who am I to say?  How would I know? They could have said, "We'd like to make sure your spleen isn't smoking" and I would have believed that too.)  After that, they took me back to the ER and dumped me there, and I watched some TV and waited for the doctor to show up, wondering what the hell I had gotten myself into.

When the doctor came in, he was followed by about eight students (this is a teaching hospital/|med school) and they all crowded around me in this tiny room that was barely big enough for a bed and a chair.  He introduced himself as Dr. Mallory, and said he was the chief neurologist on staff.  He told me that the initial CT scan looked good, and we talked about what happened.  This was now about the third time I had told this particular story, so I was getting the short version down pat, but holy shit, this was like public speaking inside a crowded elevator.  I could feel myself getting nervous, and I stumbled over my words a little bit, like I usually do if I'm tricked into public speaking.

"Did you suffer any weakness?" He asked.  "Any dizziness?"

"No," I said. "No dizziness, no weakness, no mental confusion.  I even went into the bathroom and stuck my tongue out at the mirror.  I did the eyes-closed, nose-touch test, the smile test, walked on my heels, all that crap."

I had realized what I said, and amended it sheepishly. "Well, not that I think it's necessarily crap, I just meant that..you know...that it's..." and I stopped talking, since I knew I was just digging myself deeper.  He turned to the crowd of students and in a sad voice said,  "My life's work is crap,"  and all his students cracked up.  I liked this guy.

The next thing he did was point to his stethoscope and say, "What's this?"  I looked at him strangely for a second. "Don't they teach you guys that in med school on pretty much the first day?" I asked.  He laughed and explained that with aphasia, there is sometimes a lingering difficulty finding the right word for something. So instead of saying "Stethoscope" I might have answered "thing you listen to heartbeats with" or something similar.  So after he explained what he was doing, things went a little more smoothly.

"What's this?"
"A pen."
"This?"
"Your necktie."
"This?"
"Your fist."
"This?"
"Your finger."
"This?"
"Your cuticle."
He pointed at it again, and said, "What is it?"  I started to panic. He was clearly pointing at his cuticle.  It was like a game of charades and suddenly I felt like I was losing. Shit! Another name for cuticle. Think, man! 
"Your lunula?" I asked, hesitantly.
He looked at me questioningly.
"Scrabble," I said.
"Ah.  The more general term?"
"WAIT! I GOT IT! FINGERNAIL!"
"Correct!"
"YES!" I said, and pumped my fists. Then I went for the high-five but he left me hanging. I bet if his students hadn't been there, he totally would have gone for it.

Convinced that there were no after-effects, he said that he wanted to run some additional tests to completely rule out a mini-stroke. "You can either stay here for one night, and get them all over with, or you can schedule them over the course of three or four weeks and run around to appointments and wait for the results," he said.  "I recommend you stay. That way you can get it all done in one place, and we can observe you for 24 hours.  We'll bring you down for another CT Scan only this time we'll add contrast.  That will tell us if your vascularity is sound, and whether or not there are any blockages."

I agreed that sounded fine, although I wasn't crazy about another high dose of radiation.  (And I was sort of upset that he was questioning my vasculinity, but it turned out I just heard him wrong.)  Then I thought, Screw it, we're probably all dead from Fukushima anyway.  He said they were also going to do an ultrasound of my neck, an MRI of my head, and an echocardiogram, but probably not until the morning. I was going for the record.  The last time I had seen this many tests run on one person in a single day was on an episode of House.  I was just hoping it wasn't sarcoidosis.**

He said that after the second CT scan, they'd set me up with a room for the night, and he'd be back in the morning to check on things.  He turned and walked out, taking his gaggle of scrub-wearing goslings with him.

A few minutes later, after signing a bunch of papers I'll probably still regret someday, they made me sit down in a wheelchair so they could bring me down to imaging.

The second CT scan was uneventful, except for the injection of a radioactive isotope that rushes around in your bloodstream and lights up your blood vessels like a lantern.  I am not a fan of contrast.  I've had it a few times, and every time as they're injecting it, they say, "OK, this may make you feel like you have to pee," and every time it's a lie.  It doesn't really make you feel like you have to pee.  I think a better description would be, "OK, this may make you feel like your asshole is blushing furiously," but I supposed they'd get in trouble if they told you that.

After the second CT scan, they brought me to my new room.  

Unfortunately, the room they brought me to had a bed for people who can't get out of bed.  What that means is, in order to prevent blood clots and bedsores and other nasty things, the bed is constantly in motion.  It's blowing up and deflating at random points and random times, and laying on it makes you feel like someone gave you a nerve block from the neck down, then tied ropes to your arms and legs and turned you into an unwilling marionette.  Your arms and legs and back and ass are constantly in motion and while it's  moving it makes all the noises you'd expect.  Pump up! BRUP BRUP BRUP BRUP BRUP BRUP.  It's like someone put a bumper jack under my ass.  Then one leg. Then the other.    Deflate! PSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSTTTTTTTTT...and everything drops down four inches and I sink into what feels like a half-inflated bouncy house.  PUMP UP! BRUP BRUP BRUP BRUP BRUP BRUP.  Sweet Jesus, what the hell is that giant lump between my shoulder blades?  PSSSSSSSSSSSTTTTTTTT.   Back into the deflated bouncy house.  I was laying there marveling at this technological torture device, trying to figure out if there was a way to get it to pump the hell up and stay there,  and that's when I met Steve for the first time.

He walked into the room and the first thing I saw was the shaved head and the no-necked bulk of someone who was probably 6' 2" and weighed 275.  Then I noticed the chinstrap beard, the earring and the job-stopper, in that order.  If you don't know, a "job-stopper" is what they call tattoos on the hands, face or neck. Usually, a tattoo like that means that the person in question has determined at some point in his or her life that they're not cut out for polite society.   I know tattoos have become more mainstream, and I myself have a single tattoo that means a lot to me, but as a general rule, you don't tattoo a bleeding skull with a snake coming out of its eye socket onto your neck and then go on to apply to medical school.   When Steve had first walked in the door, I initially assumed that he was a Russian mobster who had just killed the cop stationed outside his door, donned a stolen scrub top and made a wrong turn trying to escape the hospital. But then he introduced himself.

"My name is Steve.  I'll be taking care of you tonight," he said menacingly.  I just nodded and said, "OK," and sat up on the edge of the bed and put both feet on the floor in case I had to make a break for it.   I wasn't sure if he was going to be "taking care of me" in the traditional "Russian mob" sense, or in the traditional "new fish in the cell-block" sense, but either way I didn't like the sound of it.  Then he stuck his giant, ham-like fist in my face, and I flinched a little before I realized he was trying to shake my hand. Before I realized it, I had mine out too.  Damn you, automatic social niceties! He could have killed me right then.  Instead, he just shook my hand and then turned and slowly wrote his name on the dry-erase board in big block letters, four inches high, like I was five years old. Or like he was.  It could have gone either way.  He turned back around and said, "So what can I do for you?"  I was going to ask him to spare my life, but instead I said, "Can you get me some food?  I haven't eaten since 8:30 this morning."  It was now a little after 5pm.

"No can do," he said.  "Dinner trays won't be coming out for another hour or so," but I'll make sure they hit you up when they do the rounds.  Anything else?"

"Yeah.  Can you make this freakin' bed stop doing whatever the hell it's doing?  Can't you just unplug it or get it inflated and leave it there or something? There's no way I'm gonna be able to sleep on this nightmare."

"No can do," he said again.  That was kind of his go-to phrase.  "Unfortunately, these beds are for people who can't get out of bed."

"So you torture them with this, huh?  I asked. "Can't you unplug it?"

"Sure," he said.  "I can unplug it, but you're just gonna sink down to the hard metal underneath."

"OK, thanks.  I'll probably sleep in the recliner," I said.

"You wouldn't be the first," he said, and left my room to kill again.

About 30 minutes later, a nurse came in with a needle.  I eyed her suspiciously.

"What's that for?" I asked.

"Oh, we give this to everyone," she said, nonchalantly. "It's a shot in the stomach to prevent blood clots in your legs."  That got my attention, and I sat up.  "What do you mean, everyone?  There's no way in hell you're jamming that into my stomach," I said, still unbelieving.  "That's just crazy," I added. "People let you do that?"   I stood up next to the bed just in case she decided to call in a couple of orderlies to hold me down.

She said, "Yeah, you look pretty active, you probably don't need it."

"Yeah, no," I said, and began doing some jumping jacks for emphasis. "Take that away."

She held out some pills.  "These too?" she asked.

"What are those?"

"These help you...you know.  Move you bowels."  I must have hesitated for a second or two, because she dumbed it down for me.  "They make you poop," she added helpfully.

"Did someone tell you I couldn't poop?" I asked, confused.  Was there someone spreading rumors about me in the hall?  "Hey, pssssst.  You didn't hear this from me.  That stringy lookin' guy in room 6c ?  Yeah.  Poor bastard can't poop."

"Yeah, you can keep those too," I said.  "I have no pooping problems currently."

"Besides," I added, "I haven't eaten anything since 8:30 this morning.  Trust me, I have nothing that needs pooping."

"So no, then?" she asked, still trying to push her poop pills on any willing takers.  She must have had a quota.

"No!" I said. "Jesus. I'm fine in that particular department, thanks."

A couple hours later, Steve came back.  "Dude, where's my food?" I asked, the second he came through the door.  "I gotta eat something so I can poop for the nice lady."

"Bad news, man," he said.  "They're not gonna let you eat or drink until you pass the swallow test, and we don't have anyone here who can give you one tonight."

I wasn't sure what a swallow test was.  Is it a written test?  No, oral would make more sense.  I wasn't sure what sort of specialist they needed to round up, or why.  I just wanted some food; I wasn't auditioning for a porno.

"I swallow all the time," I said.  "In fact, I just swallowed a few minutes ago.  I ate some stale crackers out of my wife's coat pocket and even drank some tap water without any problems."

"Sorry, but there's nothing I can do," Steve said, apologetically. "They won't give you food until you have the test."

At this point, I was pissed.  "If I don't get some food, I'm gonna walk out of here and go to Starbucks across the street and buy one of their shitty, overpriced sandwiches," I said. "I'm serious."

He just shrugged and said, "Well, if you happened to get some food somehow and happened to eat it while I wasn't watching, I'd probably never even know."

Steve was OK in my book, and now I was committed to a shitty sandwich. My wife went out and came back with a sandwich and a coffee, and it was the best sandwich I ever ate.

After my wife left,  I was killing some time screwing around with my phone and watching TV, and they came and got me again. "Time for your MRI," the new female nurse said. This was at about 10:30 at night, and the hospital was more akin to a morgue at that point.  She wheeled me through the dark, mostly barren hallways to a room in the basement. This is it, I thought. This is when I disappear.

"Where's Steve?" I asked, missing my co-conspirator in flagrant disregard of the secret hospital swallow rules.

"Oh, he works second shift," she said. "He's gone for the day."

"Lucky bastard," I said, as they wheeled me into the darkened room and told me to get up on the table.

This was a long MRI.  The longest I've ever had, since they were doing both my neck and my head.  I think I actually fell asleep for a while, which, if you've ever had an MRI, is actually pretty impressive since it makes incredibly loud noises while you're in the machine.   Picture someone holding your head down next to a blender that someone else is throwing rocks into and hitting the Pulse button every two seconds for 45 minutes, and you'll be pretty close.

After the MRI, they wheeled me back up to my room, and surprise!  It was full of people, and there was a party going on.  All on behalf of my new roommate, Walter.  I only know this because six of his relatives kept saying his name at the top of their lungs, because poor old Walter was almost deaf and they were trying to get him to respond.  They had drawn the curtain between the beds, so I only glimpsed him as I passed by, since the bulk of the opening to his half of the room had been blocked by his relatives.  The poor guy was a mess.  Over the course of about an hour, I pieced together that he had suffered a stroke a year ago, and was in the hospital now for an apparent fall and the obligatory busted hip. He couldn't talk, he couldn't feed himself, hell -- he could barely move, and all he could do was make these gargling, hissing sounds with his throat.  Just kill me at that point.  Put me out of my misery.

By this time it was almost midnight, and the nurses were kicking his family out.  As they were leaving, one of the guys there to visit him stopped for a second at my curtain and looked in at me. "If I were you," he said, "I'd try to go to sleep before he does, because he snores pretty good."  Then he left.

"Snores pretty good" was kind of an understatement.  His snoring sounded like someone was sucking up a bathtub full of jello with a shop vac.  And the worst part of it was that he'd snore loud enough to wake himself up, and then he'd have a coughing fit. A wet, juicy, coughing fit.  At one point I was pretty sure he actually died, but then he took in a great, gasping breath and it started over again.

And in addition to Old Walter's snoring and coughing, he kept rolling over on his IV which immediately caused an alarm to sound.  An alarm that was very similar to the sound a truck makes when it backs up, and almost as loud.  Did I mention that Old Walter was almost deaf?  Yeah, it didn't bother him in the slightest. He snored and snorted and gargled right through it.

I decided to get ready for bed anyway, so I got up and looked around for some bathroom-type stuff.  I hadn't planned on an overnight when we had left for the ER, so I had nothing with me at all.  On the shelf across from the bed I finally saw what I was looking for.  On one end of the shelf was a small container holding a comb, a tooth brush, and a tiny bottle of mouthwash.  On the other end of the shelf was a box of tissues and a small bottle of lotion.  It was like, "Hey, if the date doesn't work out, don't worry, we got you covered."

I brushed my teeth, went to bed and thought I'd at least try to get some sleep but didn't hold out much hope.  I was lying in a bed that was actively trying to dislodge me,  I was so hungry I was digesting my own stomach, and Walter kept alternating between rolling over on his IV and trying to cough up his own asshole.  I think someone should write down this sleep deprivation technique so the CIA spooks can use it at Gitmo.

Somehow -- probably out of sheer exhaustion -- I must have dozed off in spite of all this.  It wasn't meant to last, however.  At 3 A.M., I was rudely awakened by a giant, bald black dude shaking my arm and yelling at me, with his face about six inches from mine.  "MY NAME IS RANDOLPH AND I'M GOING TO TAKE YOUR BLOOD!"  Just like that, a single string of 100 decibel words, in a complete monotone.  You could tell he was used to taking blood from old deaf people.

"What? Why? You need more blood? They just took it," I said, groggily.

"MY NAME IS RANDOLPH AND I'M GOING TO TAKE YOUR BLOOD!" he repeated, which cleared things up completely.

"You don't have to yell, I'm not deaf."  He didn't say anything in response, but at least he didn't tell me his name and mission again. Instead, he just held my arm down, jabbed me with a needle, filled up a couple vials, then left.  I never saw him again.  In retrospect, I'm not even sure he worked for the hospital.  At that point, I was so tired, I didn't care what he did.  He could have cut my wrist open and drained it into a bucket and told me he was letting the evil spirits out, and I wouldn't have given a shit.  At least he didn't come in and say, "MY NAME IS RANDOLPH AND I'M HERE TO GIVE YOU A SWALLOW TEST!"  Thank god for small favors.

I woke up pretty early, after grabbing a couple hours of sleep in the reclining chair.  The bed had defeated me sometime shortly after my three A.M. rendezvous with Randy.  Around four A.M. I had just unplugged the fucking thing because I couldn't stand listening to it any longer. It deflated sadly one last time and I moved to the recliner and didn't look back.

By the time 9 A.M rolled around, I was really, really hungry. Luckily my wife showed up shortly after  with a couple of danishes and a cup of coffee.  I was still officially waiting for a swallow test, so they said the weren't going to give me any breakfast.  I ate the danishes and awaited the rest of my probing.

While we waited, they brought breakfast around. Even Old Walter got some breakfast, but we didn't think he liked it.  The curtain was drawn so we couldn't see what was going on but from what we could gather, they were trying to feed him, and he was having none of it.  It was then that it hit me.  I finally realized why Old Walter's grunting and groaning and hissing sounded so familiar.  Behind the curtain, there was a poor old guy whose health issues made me feel really bad for him and his family.  I wouldn't wish his poor health on my worst enemy.  But when you couldn't actually see him, what you pictured was this:


Old Walter was a Walker.  And he was strapped down and pissed.  I leaned over to my wife and said, "Walter sounds exactly like a walker," and from then on, we couldn't keep a straight face.

The nurse said, "Walter, honey, you have to eat your peaches.  Don't just move them around in your mouth. Swallow them!" and Walter would hiss and gargle and spit his food and I immediately leaned over to my wife and whispered, "You can't teach a zombie to eat peaches.  No way. Complete waste of time."

At one point, Walter got a little feisty and he bit down on his spoon and started hissing like a cat.

"Walter! Let go of the spoon!" one of the nurses said.

"He won't let go of it until you stop trying to feed him peaches," someone else said.

Watch your fingers, I thought. Don't get too close.

I'm going to burn in hell, I know.  But at that point, I wasn't sure what the hell was wrong with me, and I tend to alleviate stress with dark humor in a situation like that.

Shortly before 11 A.M. they came and got me and took me down for the ultrasound of my neck arteries.  That was relatively quick, and I was back in my room inside of an hour.  Old Walter's visitors were gone, and the nurses who had been trying to feed him peaches he didn't want were gone too, so other than the random beeping of Walter lying on his IV again, all was quiet.

We were waiting for the echo when the neurologist came in, and gave us the news.  "We didn't find anything," he said. "All your tests appeared normal, and at this point we think your original diagnosis was correct and you had a migraine.  Sometimes aphasia can happen with a migraine, but it's better to be sure it wasn't something more serious, since as far as you know, this never happened before.  I still want you to have the echocardiogram, but you can schedule that somewhere else and just send the results to your primary GP.  I do want you to take a baby aspirin a day, though, because people with migraines have a slightly elevated risk of strokes.  Just a preventative measure.  I'll put in the paperwork and get you discharged ASAP."

And with that, he shook my hand and was gone.  ASAP wasn't all that quick, and it took another three hours of ineptness before they finally cleared me for takeoff, but that was it.  I walked out of there a free man.  Sure, I had more than my share of radiation, and I knew that all those tests were going to cost me, but at least I knew my headache was just a headache.   I'm sure you've all seen the video of the CBS reporter Serene Branson -- but here's a good summary if you want to know more about this weirdness.

So it cost $27,543.00 to get a bottle of baby aspirin.  Worth it? Who knows.  My wife thinks yes. I'm still on the fence.

P.S. -  If I'm ever talking to you and I sheetrock candlewax, just know that I spandex orangutang.


*Kind of the same thing that happens if you stare at Nancy Pelosi for more than 30 seconds.  That may be total BS, but on the other hand, the vision thing might be the first symptom of turning to stone, so I haven't been willing to chance it.  Also kids, don't do that shit. It can't be good for your eyeballs.

** A good drinking game is to watch an episode of House and drink a fifth of scotch every time someone says "Sarcoidosis."  OK, maybe it's not a great drinking game, but you'll still get drunk.  Another version is to watch Bones and drink whenever someone says "phalanges," or if you really want to get drunk fast, watch Law & Order and drink every time someone says "unsub."