Sunday, February 28, 2010

Reflections on an Earthquake

My daughter posted some links on her blog about the Chilean earthquake. The first one I went to was the Washington Post's gallery of earthquake photos. Many of them are the usual: rubble, and people coping with their individual pieces of the event. A couple really struck me, however.

The first was of a tall apartment building completely fallen over on its side, broken in half but otherwise appearing intact. It told not only the story of the tremendous forces released in the quake, but the high level of construction of that building that it so well withstood them.

Another set of pictures hit closer to home: a bridge dropped with cars sitting on it. It took me back to August 1st, a couple years ago, the 35W bridge in Minneapolis. I'm one of the almosts. As in, I almost was on that bridge at the time.

I was, in fact, on that bridge earlier that day, and twice the day before. Not that I paid attention at the time, but it struck me later. I don't usually take that route when I can avoid it, since traffic around downtown Minneapolis is usually pretty congested. In fact, the evening of the bridge collapse, I had finished my day down in Burnsville, ready to head home, with two options for my route: 35E and 35W. If you don't know the area, I35 splits in Burnsville and reconnects just south of Forest Lake. Where I was, the two had just split and were about a quarter mile apart, equally easy to pick either one's northbound ramp, about equal distance to the reconnect. I picked 35E, deciding on the moment to head by my folk's apartment in Vadnais Heights and drop in for a short visit. Had I picked 35W, the timing would have been almost perfect for the collapse.

As it was, my daughter called me just before I hit Vadnais Heights demanding to know where I was and was I OK? This was the first I'd heard of the news, my radio enjoying one of its rare off moments. She filled me in and I assured her I was miles away. Moments after she hung up, my son Richard called. Same story. I waited a bit, thinking my youngest would call as well. I waited in vain. After arriving home that night, I teased him about not calling. His comment was that he was watching the TV coverage, and didn't see my vehicle, so assumed I was fine.

When they pulled the submerged cars from the river weeks later, I reminded him of his earlier assumption. He just gave me one of those looks that say, "Mom, you're OK, what's your deal?"

Radio and TV coverage was non-stop saturation for the next week after the bridge dropped, and it still comes up periodically for different reasons. Even our Governor was knocked temporarily off his "no taxes" pedestal during the immediate aftermath, although he quickly recanted. (Presidential ambitions have an awesome power!)

The bridge was just one lone event. Yet we were all heavily impacted. It's difficult to imagine the impact on a society of a so-much-larger event, like an earthquake, tsunami, systematic genocide, or whatever. Does one finally just go numb? Or is there something in the human mind that reduces any large horror to just our own little piece of it?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Puddle-Crunch Wonderful

Ahhh, Lent, when the world is puddle-crunch wonderful....

My apologies, of course, to e e cummings, and his poem about spring. Where I grew up, in north central Minnesota, Lent was a harbinger of spring, and somehow the ideas just kinda meshed.

I realize that for some Lent is a time of ritualized sacrifice, a lead-in to the crucifixion and the celebration of Easter, me-tooism at its Christian best. For some it's the hangover from Mardi Gras, that time to party hearty for tomorrow and for weeks after we celebrate death. For much of the world, by the time Lent arrives, it's already what we Minnesotans would celebrate as spring: mild weather, sunshine, the start of the growing season. Heck, by the time Easter rolls around, most of the country can even hold egg rolls or hunts outside in the grass!

We're lucky if by Easter we can see the dead brown remains of last season's grass in patches through the remaining snow. Nobody'd subject their kids to an egg hunt in that mess! Still, Easter holds the promise of spring arriving, and sometime during Lent every year it became manifest in a very particular way.

It's ideal maple syruping time, with days above freezing and nights below, when the sap flows at its heaviest. Of course, most of us didn't tap trees for sap. We did, however, walk outside. There the snow melted a bit during the days, and refroze into ice puddles at night. Sometime after the surface of those puddles froze, the lower parts remained liquid, slowly draining away. What remained were air bubbles, tempting white shapes under thin ice, ready for any kid who came along to stomp on and break: crunch! crunch! crunch! Those of us who really found this an entertaining diversion from the usual dreariness of winter got positively energetic about breaking every possible piece of ice along our paths. Crunch! Crunch! Crunch! If necessary, jumping was permissible to get those thicker pieces. If you were walking with another kid, etiquette demanded that you share, taking turns breaking the ice, or taking only one side of a particularly big puddle. STOMP! STOMP! CRUNCH! CRUNCH! CRUNCH!

Break every bit! Tomorrow there'll be more.

Now that I'm a geezer, I have to be very careful on ice. There have been too many falls, and each does more damage. But during Lent, when the world is puddle-crunch wonderful, and conditions for safety allow, you can still catch me going crunch! crunch! crunch!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

It's Not Panic Time Yet

Plans are just beginning to come together. I've been pushing on them - rather, for others to do them for a change - for some months now, ever since we decided where next summer's vacation is going to be.

I've had the "when" for quite a while now. We leave Sunday at the end of June, the day after the Antique and Collectibles auction, so that a couple of us can garner that last bit of pay to put towards the trip. And we'll be back just shy of two weeks later, in time for the next auction, since there won't be one the weekend of the 4th. Having the "when" enabled me to arrange for my brother to house-sit for those two weeks, meaning the dog, cat, and our father get cared for while we're gone. Heck, he might even get to pick cherries and blueberries from the yard - my brother, that is.

The "who" and the "how" are either decided or flexible, depending. "How" is traveling by RV, on it's longest trip since Paul and I bought it 2 1/2 years ago at - surprise! - the auction. So far it's been in Wisconsin up to Crex Meadows, up on the North Shore, and last summer got loaned out to Richard while he traveled the state with the carnival he worked for. "Who" is Paul, me, Steve, possibly my granddaughter Jordan, and possibly one of Steve's kids, either Maria or Orrin. And Sylvia's ashes, which won't be coming back with us. She also doesn't have to pay her share of the trip: go figure. The "who" also affects the "how" by mandating that a tent also be packed, since the RV hauls more than it sleeps. Which tent depends on the final head count and gender distribution. Geezers get the raised beds in the RV, youngsters get the ground.

But it's the exact details of the "where" that have been getting hung up, and I'm starting to fret that we'll lose some choice camping spots, such as in Rocky Mountain Nat'l Park, if we delay much longer. Another piece fell into place today, and that, I think, frees us up to finish the planning, finally. Or is it the final planning? Both? Anyway, Steve's brother Max and his family will be joining us for part of the trip, heading to meet us from their home in Salt Lake City. We thought they might be able to join us for the ceremonial scattering of the ashes at Sylvia's favorite site near Aspen, which we thought ought to be near the start of the trip, just to avoid any potential disasters from interfering. Instead, they'll meet us on the 4th in Wyoming, somewhere along the Greys River which rises out of Alpine.

That gives us the bones of the itinerary, making it possible finally to lock in camping sites and dates. We just have to find out what our choices are. I thought that was going to be a lot easier than it's turning out to be. For example, if you cross into Minnesota and hit a tourist rest stop, brochures, maps and pamphlets abound, with all sorts of information, free of charge. Every year there's one giving camping locations and amenities info for the whole state for that year. Going online for Alaska information yields the same type of information, with offers to mail stuff out for free. I figured Co and WY would be just as easy. Yeah-h-h-h-h, not so much. It seems it's much easier if you already know the exact information you are looking for instead of just a broad general category of information, like where campgrounds are located. You can't find out what all your options are until you've already ruled many of them out.

But it's only late February. It's not panic time yet.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mathematical Hypothesis

This came to me as I woke up this morning, even before the radio alarm went off, so I expect it has as much value as anything coming out of a dream.

Take any category of things to which a numerical value can be measured and/or assigned. We know that taken all together, the likely result of all those numbers will be a bell curve. Now, take any one individual thing in that category for which a mistake has been made, and you first get two different numbers for it. One is right, one wrong. Statistically, it looks like the odds are fifty-fifty that either number is the right one. However, my hypothesis says that the number which is closer to the mean for the whole category is more likely to be the right number.

I don't know how to go about proving or disproving it. That takes a whole different kind of dreamer.

* * * * *

A couple hours and a cup of coffee later, it occurs to me that this could simply be another version of Occam's Razor: That which is simplest is usually right. It may be better known by "when you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras". That could get me off on a whole other tangent about eurocentrism. What do you say to the person who actually lives in zebra country, where horses are more rare? Or wildebeasts? or waterbuffalo? or yaks? or here, a thousand years ago, when bison roamed?

Monday, February 22, 2010


The caller ID said it was Lynn on her cell. Since it was 4:33, and she leaves work - on a good day - at 4:00 sharp, I pretty much knew where on her route home she had to be: right where it happened last time. And the time being what it was, it wasn't about a work issue, or she would have called before she left. So instead of answering, "Hi, Lynn," or "Hey, Lynn, what's up?", I answered the phone with, "Did the deer come alive again?"

I'm lucky she didn't run right off the road, she was laughing so hard. "How did you know?"

Laughingly I explained my reasoning and she - still laughing - filled me in on the details. It wasn't the same deer. I knew it couldn't be, since as the days went on I'd heard how, as the snow warmed, the first deer tilted at a 45 degree angle, then lay flat again with an eagle perched on it having a good meal. This time the deer was 3 miles south of the first, and there was no fresh snowfall or plow for an excuse. She'd passed this deer lying frozen on the shoulder for about three days, and she knew to look for it. Thus she wasn't at all startled to see it standing up again in the snow, just like the last one.

Not so for the tailgater she'd had riding her bumper all the way up 87 from St. Croix Falls. As soon as the deer came into view, he slammed on his brakes. He never did make it back up to riding her bumper again.

"We've got a practical joker up here, and whoever it is, I love him!" Not only had she gotten a good laugh to share with me, but the deer rid her of a slightly different kind of dangerous pest.

This time she promises to take her camera along on her way in to work tomorrow, shoot the deer, and email me a copy. When/if she does, I'll post it here.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Never Boring

There is much to like about my Saturday job clerking at the auction house. It’s done sitting down, so there’s no wear and tear on my knees. It’s only 5 miles from home, so it’s a vacation from driving, and after 25 years of 70-80,000 miles a year, I can appreciate that even though I still like driving. Nepotism is a de facto company policy, making us all much like a single extended family. Many of us gather socially away from work. There’s always something to learn, something to buy, friendly people to greet, and sometimes the very demanding job of trying to keep up with the auctioneer when he’s on a push to finish. All those things keep it interesting. But when I say it’s never boring, I never thought that would mean a day quite like yesterday. Yesterday we lost two employees, for very different reasons.

The first one I heard about at the after-auction employees meeting. This is where we go over the good and the bad of the auction, give opinions, complaints, thanks and kudos as appropriate, all with an end to making the next auction smoother and more professional. While waiting for everyone to finish their post-auction cigarettes so we could begin, one of our members, whom I’ll call “M”, filled in Doug, our boss, of the actual circumstances behind one young fellow’s leaving. I’ll call him “T”. "T" had informed Doug just before the start of the auction that he had a new job waiting for him starting later the upcoming week. “M” had had trouble keeping a straight face during the announcement, and now told us why. What “T” actually had was an interview, after calling about an ad in the paper. Some local farmer needs somebody to drive a large farm vehicle to spread chemicals over the fields. “T” hasn’t quite figured out yet that he’s not exactly in a position to get the job since he doesn’t happen to have a driver’s license! I believe “M” used some phrase like “dumb as a sack of hammers.” Nobody who’s worked with “T” at the auction house disagreed with that assessment.

The second employee leaving wasn’t due to a resignation but to a firing, and this isn’t something Doug does lightly. He’ll put up with a lot from some of us, at least in part because he can’t afford to pay any of us well.

It started with a comment I very likely heard during the auction but took no note of at the time since it was not directed at me. I have to concentrate on my clerking job, so that all the right people pay the right amounts for the right items. I have to be perfect. It escalated to a point where I became directly involved, though quite against my inclination. The two people involved I’ll call “Madame” and “Missy”, names picked solely for their respective ages.

Madame, like many of us, started out as a customer and graduated to employee. For the last several weeks I had heard only complaints about her work from different people, including Doug. But I repeat, Doug hates to fire people. I had not much opinion on the issue, since I’m only there on Saturdays, unless I pop in during the week to see what’s upcoming in merchandise. I did however have opportunities to listen to Madame talk about a variety of things before and after auctions, and was becoming uncomfortable with the difference in our ethical standards on a particular issue. She frankly thought that everybody did _____ but simply lied about doing it, so why shouldn’t she do it also? Furthermore, since she was at least honest about doing it, she was actually more virtuous than everybody else. Personally, I haven’t done _____ since childhood, and would have trouble sleeping well if I did. My parents taught me well on that topic. I became wary of Madame.

Missy, the younger member of a family who works at the auction pretty much en masse, earns college money while still in high school. What I do observe tells me she is bright, works hard most of the time, and adheres to standards I can appreciate. While mature for her age, she is also still a kid. As you can probably tell, knowing nothing of the dispute ahead of time, I’m already prepared to take a side, though I’ll keep an open mind.

Madame presents the issue to Doug at the meeting as her having been disrespected during the auction, in front of the customers, by Missy. Madame’s concern, of course, is that this behavior makes Missy look bad. Customers have complained.

Missy asks what she said that was disrespectful and when?

Apparently, at one point Missy saw Madame holding an item up for the customers to view while bidding on it, thought it needed to be held higher, and told Madame so. No frills of politeness, no abusive language, just, “Hold it higher.” Missy defended her comment saying it needed to be said. People don’t buy what they can’t see.

At this point, I figured it was all over. Both made their points, both might have learned something. But Madame just wouldn't let it drop, as if she absolutely needed to win, to put Missy in her place. She kept pushing the issue.

Missy then asked which customers complained? Madame couldn’t remember any of their names. Since by far most of our customers are regular repeat customers, and often addressed by name by Doug during the auction, most of us learn many of their names. We greet them as they walk in by name. We know about their families, and they about ours. These would be the customers who would feel comfortable enough with staff that they might make a comment during the auction. Missy called her on it, saying if she couldn’t come up with any names, she must have been making that part up.

Madame, at this point, threw her cup of coffee at Missy.

Well, she tried, anyway. Between the two of them were the front counter, the desk, about ten feet of floor space... and me. I was sitting patiently waiting for the two of them to settle their issues like adults, and suddenly I’m all wet: hair, glasses, face, clothes. Missy brings me the paper towels I ask for, and after I try to dab everything dry, I continue with the desk, the notepad, the picture frame, the pen holder, whatever else has been nailed.

Meanwhile Missy’s mom goes straight out around the counter at gets in Madame’s face. The action is not limited to verbal exchanges at this point, but the two of them lock hands and are pushing back and forth as I take a second from mopping up to see what’s happening. Missy’s mom said later that Madame was trying to bend her thumbs in directions they weren’t meant to go in. In other words, it wasn't just defensive, stay-away-from-me mode, it was full attack, I-want-to-hurt-you. Mom squeezed back, and thinks she heard something crack in Madame’s hand.

All this takes maybe ten seconds, long enough for Doug to recover from the shock of it and put in his two cents’ worth. “Madame, you have to leave this building. Go. Get out of here now.” There was also the standard bit about her behavior was inappropriate, he couldn’t have unstable people working for him, and she was fired - all said to her back, either as or after she left. I didn't see exactly. I was still kinda busy. He did send two of the other employees after her to make sure she actually left. She had.

Now Missy’s dad comes out from the back room, loudly announcing he’s ready to punch Madame, even if he sees her on the street in the next weeks. It doesn’t matter if he has to go to jail for it! He threatens to call the police and have her charged with assault. Nobody assaults his family without him taking action! Nobody assaults his family’s friend without him taking action!

Oh gee, he means me. How sweet. Oh wait, no, not so sweet if he thinks he has to avenge me and it gets him in trouble! Don’t do it!

Do I need to say that the employee meeting was sidetracked from the auction for way more time than Madame deserves to have spent on her? “B” bemoaned he had no camcorder for the whole thing. Missy noted that all her siblings start to quickly back away from the action as Mom starts to raise her voice and head in Madame’s direction: they know that voice. Doug asked me if I want to make a comment? I note that he’s said she’s fired: that’s enough for me. I also note that a couple feet in another direction and the coffee would have gone all over the computer and cash register, with less than splendid results.

Eventually we get back to the meeting, get paid, and go our separate ways. Most of us will be back next Saturday, for the Antique and Collectors Auction.

I doubt it’ll be boring.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


Hey, anybody ever notice? The crazies who fly planes into IRS offices, or blow up federal buildings, or shoot at abortion doctors - all those wack jobs who need to destroy something and/or somebody, including sometimes themselves, in order to make a religious or political point - they're never liberals!

Tiger Woody

There he was standing in front of the world, apologizing for his bad behavior, begging our forgiveness. He joined the legions of athletes turned fallen role model, taking the blame, saying he’d done it all himself. Yep, just another star athlete saying it was all him, he’d never needed nor taken any of those performance enhancing drugs, like Viagra....

Just one camera and three news reporters were allowed, as if he were trying to keep the apology as private as the actions that resulted in his need to apologize.

But really, why do we care? I can understand his family being upset: they were the ones hurt by his actions. But it’s not as if he cheated on any of us. We didn’t admire him for his technique in the bedroom but on the golf course. Perhaps the condemnation comes from some bit of jealousy deep inside that bemoans the fact that we ourselves were never in a spot where we even could have transgressed as he did? Is that why we call it "getting lucky"?

Somehow his need for personal privacy offended us, the public, as if his skills and talent made him our personal property with the right to pry into every moment of his life, and being long denied those details, felt doubly justified in soaking up every sordid little revelation of his embarrassing sex life. We can’t see the hypocrisy in reviling him for the details that we insist we know, and then turning around and avidly following “Sex in the City” or “Housewives” or any of the similar trash offered on TV.

Hey, America, it’s just sex! Get over it already! Or maybe, just go get some.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Don't Get Mad, Get Creative

Speaking of bad forms to fill out, I got a dilly of a one last fall. Our company insisted on signing us all up for accident insurance, even though we’re independent contractors. Some things they can insist on, like wearing their uniforms. Some they can’t, like our working hours and days off. Apparently this they can. Of course, we each have to pay for our own. And fill out this stupid form.

Most of the questions were routine. Boring even. But there was a whole section that asked what kind of freight we hauled, in what percentages, and we had to be specific.

That’s an impossible question to answer. Today is not like yesterday is not like last month is not like last year. Different customers come and go, and what we carry for one is different from what we carry for another. Further, if I carry 3 packages for one customer one week, I may not do their business for another two months. Being on call means we take whatever is next up wherever we are when we finish the last run, as long as it fits in our vehicle, and, in my case, doesn’t involve too much walking. Other drivers might have weight limits or other restrictions, often on a temporary basis.

I did a little internal ranting and raving over the need to fill in the form and the sheer stupidity of it all. Then inspiration struck. I’d get even with them by giving them exactly what they said they wanted! So I set to work. Since using the back side for completeness was encouraged,
I did. First I categorized all the kinds of freight I could remember ever hauling. This produced categories like paperwork and documents, blank paper products, medical instruments, samples for testing: medical, samples for testing: non-medical, computers and electronics, computer data storage units (discs), miscellaneous machined parts, tools, organisms: living, organisms: no longer living, chemicals: hazardous, chemicals: non-hazardous. There were more, but I can’t now remember them all. One final category was “unknown.” There are times we have no idea what we’re actually hauling, just the size, shape, weight, and pick-up and drop points.

Then I assigned percentages to them, on a purely arbitrary basis, figured out to three decimal places! I actually sat with a calculator so the end result totaled 100%. In other words, bury them in bullshit. But I wasn't done yet.

Since I was still mad, and there was still room on the paper, I added footnotes. For example, under "organisms: living" I added the comment that it never, ever included persons (I got more colorful) who designed forms like this one. Several footnotes were merely notations that this category was not to be confused with such-and-such other category, or did not include those items listed elsewhere on this form. When pressed, I can speak perfect bureaucratese. I also added notations that at the time the form was filled out it was already obsolete, for reasons on how freight changes noted above here in the third paragraph.

I also discussed the difficulties in answering a question where they failed to specify how the percentage quantity of freight shipped was to be measured. Did they mean by the volume, or the weight, of that type of freight? The number of runs involving that freight? The relative distance each was hauled? The comparative time each remained in my vehicle? Since they had failed to specify, I had come to a formula on my own that took into consideration all those factors, weighing them against each other and against my irritation at the stupidity of the question.

It went on and on, until both sides of the paper were crammed full of bogus information, every bit of as much value as the question asked. By the time I finished, I was having fun, especially at the prospect of some idiot in some office somewhere being forced to read through the whole thing and glean some kind of information from it!

When I turned it in to a fellow in our office who was collecting these to pass on, I commented on my frustrations with the form, and my solution. Jim just glanced at the offending line in question, and commented, "Oh, I just always fill those in as "general - 100%."

Now he tells me.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Confessions of a Fed-Ex Virgin

I'm one of those people who, when told to do something brand new for the very first time, can imagine several different possibilities about the how. Put a form in front of me to fill out, and any ambiguous line can be filled out several ways. The classic is always " Sex ______". Well, "yes", of course. Or perhaps "occasionally". The very first time I saw that on a form, it would have been "no, I'm too young." But you actually meant gender. OK, now I get it. By the way, how do hermaphrodites fill those things out?

I hate instruction books. There are always assumptions being made about the level of background information of the reader that never seem to comply with mine. There are always conventions to these things for the experienced, and I'm seldom the one in the know. Take my camcorder. I've had it for several years, and it's a very good thing it functions in an automatic mode, because that's mainly how I use it. Yes. of course I can go into the menu (whoever dreamed that word up for that use?) and change shutter speed, for example, but it took me over a year and some very disappointing shots before I dealt with all the frustrations of learning how to do it.

Insurance companies come with lots of paperwork to fill out after a claim. Mine e-mailed several pages to me along with a Fed-Ex label. I've seen the trucks and the drop boxes, I've handled the boxes as many of my company's customers re-use them with new labels when they have us pick them up, and yet I've never used Fed-Ex myself. I'll use the USPS or UPS drop-off locations. I've even filled out airbills for our customers on occasion. Just never Fed-Ex.

It comes with questions.

First, I've never printed out a label on plain paper. Shouldn't there be a sticky-back peel-off something that I run through my printer for that page? I don't have one, have never seen one except for those pages of tiny cut-out address labels, dozens to a page instead of one filling a whole sheet. Where do I get one of those things and why should I have to pay for what I presume will be a whole packet, the rest to sit on a shelf gathering dust until eternity or the next house cleaning, whichever comes first?

So I call the name and phone number I'm given at the insurance company. "So, that Fed-Ex label. Is that thing pre-paid or something so I have to use it or can I just send the thing back priority mail?" Nope, it's pre-paid, I have to use it, and if I have questions I can go to a Fed-Ex store. But really, just call them and they'll come pick it up at your house.

I won't be at my house. I'll be out in my car, driving who-knows where at the time of pick-up. It's like those we'll-come-to-you windshield repair companies. It never works. The only one at my house will be a 95 1/2 year old man who's blind and will have even less of a clue what's going on than I do.

Time for the internet. I locate a Fed-Ex store finder and pick out one I'll be driving past at a convenient time, in the Office Max in Forest Lake. They have both the drop box and the service counter. At the appointed time I walk in, bundle of papers in hand, and ask if this really makes sense to them? Well, duh, of course it does, but she is too polite to be other than helpful. The bundle goes inside a cardboard envelope, the flap gets folded over where it sticks down after she peels the strip off, the label gets folded in half and placed information and barcode side out in the center-slit plastic pouch on front, no adhesive needed, and it goes in the box with a sliding barrel door. All done, bye, come again.

It was way too easy.

Naturally, there's a mistake made in filling out the forms. The insurance company calls, explains, resends forms to fill out and another Fed-Ex label. Hey, no problem, it'll be sent back first thing in the morning. I know how now. But this time I check for a more local drop-box-only location, find one, and swing by. Uh, no envelopes here. You gottta already have one to use this box. They're not even out of them, they never had a place to even store them. I'm just glad I'm now a pro at this, and know where to get the envelopes and how to use them. Imagine if this box had been my first attempt!

* * * *

Speaking of paperwork snafus, I'm not the only one who makes them. Last Saturday's mail had an envelope from the car dealership containing the dealership transfer title that they'd forgotten to have me sign as the buyer of the car. It had a pre-stamped envelope inside to mail the thing back in after signing, and a Post-It begging me to do it ASAP.

I had to chuckle, especially at the timing. Saturday morning when Steve picked me up for breakfast before taking me to the dealership to bring home the old car, I saw the mail truck down the block, heading my way. We left about a minute before it dropped off that envelope. I could have signed it and dropped it off in person on Saturday had we left a minute later. Instead, I mailed it Monday, Presidents' Day, a mail holiday. I expect they have it by now.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

On Being Heather

They’re turning up more and more often these days, this new crop of Heathers. They’ll be wearing their name tags at the check-out line at the store, or sitting behind their name plaque on the reception desk. That’s how I know who they are, and how many of them there are.

You see, I’m a Heather. But I go back to when I was THE Heather. No other one in school, or in the small towns I grew up in, or at any stores anywhere. I never in fact met another one until junior high, when friends of friends of the family invited my folks to their home in some unremembered part of the state for some unremembered event. Unremembered, that is, except for the fact that they had their own Heather.

The only thing I remember about her except for the name was that she was better at finding agates in the dirt than I was. It’s not that I wasn’t always looking, for one even the size of the head of a hat pin was a find, just as precious as finding a penny, which I also always looked for. Maybe their driveway was just a better spot to look for them. Anyway, after the event, we went our separate ways and never looked back.

But now I knew I wasn’t really the only one.

Mom told us that she had tried to find unique names for her children. My brother was part of the vanguard of the baby boom, following my dad’s return from WWII. She looked and looked and finally decided that “Stephen” was unique enough. Unfortunately for her, so did about a million other parents at the same time. When it was my turn, she picked out “Heather”. This time it worked.

I never thought it was a gift. All around me were Lindas and Judys and Susans and Nancys and Carols and Alices. Nobody had to figure out how to pronounce their names, or ask over and over how they were spelled. And being unique, way too many people found it hilarious to mispronounce it “Weather” or “Feather” or “Heather Featherbed”, which young boys found particularly gleeful. By far the worst was the singsong chant by the 13-year-old boy that I had fallen head-over-heels in love with at the tender age of 11, the first time I ever knew boys actually existed, really knew. Even more humiliating was everyone around taking it up in the mocking way kids do. “Heather-feather, giggle-wiggle, cha-cha-cha!” I don’t think that ever went away until the family moved down to St. Paul.

I still remember it.

In high school there was another Heather, and through the years there was a sprinkling of others, but we were rare. The name began to be more special, as the people around me grew up and became more polite. I had always known it meant a flower (weed, my brother insisted) on the Scottish moors. Our family recognized the Scottish ancestry more than the other mixed-in nationalities, and I came to feel I rightly “owned” my name. One year heather actually showed up in the local stores, and I brought a pot home and promptly killed it, though not deliberately. Another few years later I received a name bookmark as a gift, and it was defined in meaning as “joyful spirit”. Hmmm, cool. It was getting better and better.

Then Heather Locklear became famous, and suddenly it seemed that every third baby girl was named “Heather”. I experienced more than twice the weird event of minding my own business shopping in a store when suddenly I would hear a yell, “Heather! Quit that and get back here!” or, “Heather, put that down!”, or,”Heather, shame on you!” Each time, it would cause me to startle, look around, and wonder what on earth I had been doing this time.... Oh wait, they didn’t mean me. I wasn’t still that kid, and this wasn’t my mother, no matter how well they imitated THAT VOICE, the one that promised instant consequences in no uncertain terms, the one that saw and knew everything, the one that must be obeyed.


Not me, not this time.


It always had been of course, being the only one in my particular universe with my name. But finally, not now. I could pull myself back together, continue shopping, and feel sorry both for the little girl of long ago who seemed to always be in trouble, and for whichever little girl was in trouble now.

It’s taken some getting used to, wearing a common, ordinary name, finally. I get a bit of a kick out of folks who know only my name and make assumptions about my age and interests, though if they’re telemarketers, my amusement doesn’t delay one bit my hanging up on them. And when I see another Heather, I feel that momentary impulse to blurt out that I’m one too. I’m learning to hold back. It used to mean something. Nowadays, they just wouldn’t get it.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day

I popped over to my daughter's blog and found quite an interesting twist on Valentine's Day.

I've always loved the day, or the idea behind it. Romance is fun and wonderful. It's also rare as heck, and I'm very luck to be in a relationship with a romantic. Back in those dating years, Valentine's Day was always the day/week after the two of you just broke up. During those married years, the most romantic gift I remember from my hubby was a blender. It was so I could take "real" food and blend it up for the baby. Oh goody, more work. He actually had given me flowers once for something, but when the vase got tipped over into the TV where it had been sitting, he vowed never again. Now mind you, he never said a word for the two days the vase sat there before tipping about it being maybe a bad location. Once tipped, however, "I" broke his TV. It wasn't don't-put-flowers-there-again, it was I'm-never-buying-you-flowers-again. He didn't.

This year Steve and I celebrated early. We had breakfast at Eichten's, the lovely cozy restaurant at the bison and cheese place just at the edge of city limits. We sat at a little table for two placed right in front of the gas fireplace, a mighty cozy spot on a wintry day, and enjoyed the best omelettes we each could recall. We soaked up all the warmth we could, knowing the next stop was Monticello to pick up my dad's cold car and return it to my driveway. He drove in exchange for company, conversation, and my buying his gas.

I noticed on the trip over that his tires were shot, giving his car that front end side-to-side wobble that denotes a bulge. So the rest of the afternoon was spent getting him new tires at Walmart while we browsed the camera section next door at Target. I had been drooling over a tiny camcorder with a 60X optical zoom, but finally decided that it was too wobbly and blurry by the time it zoomed out that far. I'd love to have that capability with good glass on a regular camera, however. It's just not affordable.

We did luck out, however, in finding two electric shopping carts charged and ready to go when we arrived. That Target has been notorious for having only two carts, and often neither is available. Every time that happens I make a point of telling them that due to their lack of carts, I'm going over to Walmart to shop. They have half a dozen, charged and ready.

Anyway, back to today, the real holiday. I'm staying home relaxing, except for grocery shopping just long enough to restock staples and get some steaks for supper. I promised my dad a Valentine's Day steak.

Come to think of it, that means I get one too. Heck of a deal!

Fall Hoarfrost

Yesterday's hoarfrost may have been the most spectacular I've seen, from the viewpoint of just the ice crystals, but we had an early one last fall, when the colors were just starting to turn. I can't decide which type of shot I like better, but then, why choose?

Each shot comes from my front yard. These and the 60 or 70 rejects typically would have delayed my start to work by about 5 minutes: shoot first, sort later.

The viburnum, or highbush cranberies, cover the chain link fence from view as well as providing food and cover for a variety of birds. The euonymous, or burning bush, had just started to turn color, and within a week would be a solid vibrant hot pink. Of course by then there would be no hoarfrost. The seed pod is most likely from one of the peony bushes that line the driveway, just starting to open. A late blooming coneflower received just a kiss of frost as well.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

February Hoarfrost

The radio warned last night of heavy fog overnight, and sure enough, when I first woke at 4 AM there was a lovely thick fog highlighted by streetlights and silhouette shadows. At 6:30 AM there was the heaviest hoarfrost I've ever seen, with some ice crystals over an inch and a quarter long. Out I went, in PJs, sweatshirt, sneakers and camera, recording all I could stand before the cold chased me in. About an hour later out I went again, with sky clearing to blue and sun peeking through. By 10 AM a breeze had knocked it all to the ground.

Car Pictures

Now that Richard has shown me how to post pictures on this, I thought I'd take full advantage. This first set is pictures of the totaled car, although they don't show full damage, and the new car, while it's still in its red phase. The rubber nubs on the brand new tires show right next to the broken bumper, as do the results of Jack Frost's paintbrush on the hood of the new car. The patterns of frost look to be in 3D because they are.


There's something innately weird about driving the car out the driveway and down the street to meet the tow truck, don't you think? I do, of course, appreciate their desire not to take out the birch trees on either side of the driveway, necessitating that it be the car that moves, not the truck. Still, if you can drive the car....

* * * *

One of the odder jobs that has come my way since my dad moved in has been separating coffee filters. I used to heat a mug of water in the microwave, stir in blended instant coffee, add ice and drink. (I don't like hot hot coffee, just mild.) He, however, drinks coffee all day until 3 or 4, whenever it runs out. His Mr. Coffee came along in the move. I am now used to emptying the old filter of used grounds and setting up the next potful on a daily basis. I even drink that myself now, as long as the pot is sitting there. But the filters are packed so tight that occasionally I grab two together, or in my hurry to separate them, bend down a side so that during brewing the grounds spill into the pot along with the liquid.

Not good.

Thus, periodically I sit down with the stack of filters and carefully separate each from its partners, then restack them loosely to go back in to cupboard until use. It requires about 5 minutes of my undivided attention, and keeping at least one good fingernail. The result, once back in the cupboard, looks like one albino pineapple waiting to be eaten.

* * * *

I pulled into the dock area of a company in Eden Prairie yesterday for a unique experience. They keep a semi trailer permanently backed up to one of their dock doors. A lot of companies do. What makes this one different is that they scatter seeds under the trailer to feed squirrels as an incidental matter, but primarily do it to feed the local wild turkeys. Two of them were there feeding as I rolled in, a tom and a hen.

I eased up to the dock very slowly, hoping not to frighten the birds away. It turns out I needn't have bothered. These birds were not about to be frightened. Before I stopped, they headed over my way, and in the process entered the sunlight. I spent a full couple of minutes marveling at the variety of irridescent colors to be found in their otherwise drab plumage as they inspected my new red car carefully: orange, gold, green, and even pink at one angle. I got a close look at the bright blue heads, red wattles, and the black brush of (feathers?) dropping about 6" from the center of their breasts. When they started pecking at my new car (how dare they!) was when I remembered that the package I was there for was on fast service and I'd better risk scaring the birds away to go in and get it.

Driving away was a real challenge. Something about my front tire fascinated both birds, and they insisted on walking in front of it and pecking it while I left, trying to drive slowly enough so as to not injure either bird. The fellow on the dock had told me they started out with a flock of 8 visitors, and now were down to this pair. I could certainly see why. He'd also commented that most drivers were frightened of the birds, afraid that they were going to be attacked.

Stupid turkeys!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

My Broken Nose

All the stress of replacing my beloved car has left me yearning for 1: warmer places - not possible, move on, and 2: old times. So back to yesteryear. In a way, it's also a car story.

We lived in Peachtree City, Georgia from early 1978 to mid 1981. Paul had gotten transferred by virtue of a new job with NCR, or National Cash Register. Still, money was tight, especially after he moved out. One result was that vacations with three little kids were economy affairs, touring and camping in the 1975 Chevy van (3/4, not full). The back of the van was bare walls and floor. We had put in two bench seats to accommodate hauling around day care kids. One seat hugged the wall behind the driver, the other spread across the back end. That left floor space that just fit an adult in a sleeping bag next to the big side door. I think we put a piece of plywood in so the ribbed floor didn't make lying on it impossibly uncomfortable. Richard and Stephanie were small enough that each got one of the benches for a bed. "Junior" - we still called him that until we moved away from his father and there was only one Paul in the family - slept with me on the floor. All the stuff we packed went either back behind the rear bench or on the front seats. Curtains had been installed over the back windows and across the front for privacy, and a crank-up vent in the roof provided ventilation. All we had to do was park and move stuff internally and we were ready for the night.

One of the trips we took in that van was up into Tennessee, over into Kentucky, down through South Carolina and back home. We saw Ruby Falls, the Underground Sea, the Blue Ridge Highway, and a whole lot of scenery. One day we also stopped at a water slide park.

None of us had been to one before, and this looked like great fun. Even more importantly, affordable fun on a hot summer afternoon. Somewhere we got the idea of "training" down the slide, hooking onto each other end to end and going down in a single group. Others were and it looked like fun. We just made one mistake. I hooked up going down head-first.

Now this water slide didn't just ease you into the pool at the bottom. It ended about a foot above the water level. You kerplunked in - hard, dunked under, and then came up somewhere past the slide end. The plan was to leave room for the person behind you to land. It's great in theory, but not if one of the idiots in your train is pointed head-first. I was still coming down as Richard was coming up, and my nose hit the back of his head with an audible crack.

I left the pool so I wouldn't bleed too much in their water, made it back up the hill to the office/store area, and informed the girl selling tickets that I had just broken my nose. I figure she heard "lawsuit" because she started arguing with me that oh no, I couldn't have broken it and it certainly couldn't have happened on their water slide. Meanwhile I'm hurting and still have blood running down my face (hopefully at this point scaring all the potential customers away if that's how she wanted to be about it), and interrupt her to simply ask for some ice, paper towels and some aspirin. That she could handle. I spent my afternoon icing my nose while the kids kept sliding.

No more trains though.

Next morning I have two black eyes and a completely plugged nose, now slightly more crooked than before. A bit of gentle testing proved to me that the nose was also a wee bit more mobile than before, although with a wee grinding noise and more pain the time I tried it. I stopped trying it. What do you do when you break your nose camping? Keep on camping, of course. What's anybody going to do for it at that point? So we finished the trip as scheduled, and by the time we got home I thought it would be safe to try to clear out my nose so I could breathe through it again. For years thereafter I also teased Richard about having such a hard head that he broke my nose.

You'd think the story ends there, but a few years back I was surprised to find it had an aftermath.

I was having a conversation with Rich when he mentioned that his father had broken my nose. What? Where did that come from? I reminded him of the real story, and asked why he'd thought his father had done it. He reminded me of a time back in Georgia, with Richard watching from the living room, the two of us had been on the entryway stairs when one or perhaps both of us had turned suddenly, and my nose and his elbow had collided. Purely accidentally, and painfully for me. Of course I reacted with a loud "Ow", and Paul instantly responded as a normal person would, concerned for my wellbeing. But nothing was broken, and we quickly went back to whatever we had been doing.

Somehow Rich remembered it as a case of domestic abuse. I emphatically put his mind at rest on that score. With all his faults, and whatever else had been going on, Paul had never ever physically abused me.

That's why it took so long for me to leave him. But that's another story.

The water slide accident happened on my very first trip down. I've never taken another. I might like to do that someday. Maybe. But no training!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Hyundai #5

This morning I decided finally that I should start the process of replacing the car. It has been a week, now, and while there has been no urgency as far as still being able to work is concerned, it's still cold out and the Buick's heater still sucks. Besides, I've suspected I've smelled radiator fluid a couple of times these last couple days. So I don't trust it.

I went on line, and after working to refine my search parameters a few times so I could actually locate my top choice, used Hyundai Accent hatchbacks, I wound up at a site that actually let me search used cars by type and distance. Lo and behold, a Chevy dealership up in Monticello had a 2008 with just over 16,000 miles on it for under $9G.


Of course, it was red, and my company insists on white, but paint is cheap, right? If that one didn't work out, there were a couple out in Wisconsin, one yellow and one white, both more expensive.

But wait a minute, what was wrong with the red car that it would go at that price? First, I better check that it was still available. It was. I could come in for a test drive this afternoon. They needed to plow the lot, and they could pull it inside to melt the snow, etc., by then.

Then I called my credit union to see if I could afford to finance it. They're running a deal on auto financing right now: give them the info over the phone this morning and they'll call back sometime this afternoon and let me know if I qualify. Let's see, you have this other auto loan right now? Yep, that's the one the insurance will pay off. And your credit card balances are ____ and _____? Near enough. And your mortgage? What, none? She took more information with the promise to let me know. The call came back in less than an hour. Like juries, I figured that was either very good or very bad news. Luckily it was good, but they'd only finance it for 36 months, at a monthly rate over $50 below what I've been paying on the last car. Hey, no problem!

The next hurdle was heading up to Monticello to see if I could find a glitch in the 2008 car at the great price. (When I talked to the credit union they'd let slip the value of the car was more than $1300 over the asking price, and that even with my not being sure of some of the features of the car. Power windows? Sunroof? Who knew?) After checking under the hood, kicking the tires, and sitting in it to familiarize myself with the controls, out we went for a spin.

It was like my old car all new again only better. For one thing, this car has satellite radio built in. Once I check it out, if I want to sign up, I can listen to Stephanie Miller no matter how far out into Wisconsin I drive any morning. Right now, I can barely catch the AM station carrying her show from my driveway, never mind heading out further from the cities.

And I love the red color. I've had to drive white cars for 25 years now, and I'm sick sick sick of white! For a few days at least I get to drive a red car! For yes, I did sign, found an even better deal financing, and have a cute little red Hyundai - my 5th- sitting in my driveway tonight. In a few days I'll start finding out just how cheap a white paint job is.

No hurry.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Nosy Old Biddy

I'm still pissed at her effrontery, even while I understand what's behind it.

I freely admit, when I'm at work and in the company uniform, I'm not the most feminine in appearance. The hair is short and no longer colored to cover the white, jewelry is in short supply - though not absent - and I don't wear make-up. The shoes are always comfortable, meaning no heels, traction soles, and wide to fit my feet. This combination these days seems to only be found in the men's department. The button-down shirts and basic sweatshirts or jackets also come from the men's departments, since there are too few of us women working my job for the company to offer them in both genders. Oh yeah, the boobs aren't huge either. So I do make allowances for that first mistaken impression that here is yet another male, and try to deflect it with humor.

But on Friday this old biddy took it way too far. I had stopped off at the Holiday station store in Wayzata for a very necessary pit stop, since bathrooms are fewer and farther between these days for people working out of their cars, especially those of us who can't just christen a bush with our back turned. I was opening the restroom door when a commotion started behind me. I ignored it thinking it could have nothing to do with me.

I was misinformed. As I turned to close the door, this old biddy, 80 if she was a day, charged right in behind me, blocking the door and yelling at me, "Those are for WOMEN!" I realized that her yelling that at me earlier was the commotion I had ignored.

Now since both the restrooms had the green "Vacant" sign showing on the door, I clearly had my choice of which bathroom I needed. Were I a man, I certainly would have chosen the other door. It also occurred to me that perhaps she thought she needed to use the facilities more than I did at that moment, although she was wrong. And I was there first. I wasn't feeling like standing around holding a polite discussion with her, delicately informing her of the error of her assumptions or of her bahavior. And as always, mindful of the uniform and it's limiting influence on my choices, I wasn't about to thoroughly cuss her out. All of this was considered in about one full second.

Holding the door and standing my ground, I simply growled at her, "I am a woman, thank you very much!" in as icy tone as I could manage, and forced the door closed and latched it.

I do hope she was completely embarrassed. There were several other people standing around to enjoy the spectacle. But I suppose that someone who assumes the right to chase others out of restrooms carries the unshakable conviction of their own superiority.

As I left, she was paying the cashier by the door. Either she hadn't needed to use the restroom herself, or used the MEN's room. I resisted the impulse to tell her, "Hey, Old Biddy, your nose has grown so long that it's started interfering with your vision!"

It was that uniform thing again. Drat!

* * * *

Last week there was also a radio interview with someone putting out a new book on the theme of writing your memoirs in six words. Many people had sent submissions and the best made it into the book. Radio listeners were invited to call in with their own versions. While driving, not calling, I played along. I toyed with themes like "not rich, not famous, still trying" and "still not wealthy enough to retire", but finally settled on the theme that seems to sum up the last 24 years of my working life: "always hunting for the next restroom!"

Friday, February 5, 2010

Not Dinner Table Conversation

One thing about caring for an elderly parent: things that you were raised to know weren't fit for dinner table conversation are now by necessity the stuff of daily survival. Not yours. His. Not only must you discuss them regularly with your parent, you must become well enough schooled in them to impart that knowledge to a host of others who will need to know them as well.

Take catheters. For many years my father has needed to self-catheterize in order to void his bladder. He calls the catheters his "pissers". Mom dropped this information into a conversation in their living room like a bombshell a few years back, as casually as if she were discussing the price of melons. Now that I'm taking care of his needs, I need to keep him stocked with supplies and keep track of his successes and failures in emptying out his bladder.

The first is made easier now that Medicare pays for one-use catheters. No more "sterilizing" them between uses by soaking in vinegar. Just going to the medical supply place to pick up his allotted 5 boxes each month - provided, of course, that they have 5 in stock. He seldom uses that many in any given month, so there is some flexibility there. They come individually wrapped, meaning there has to be a scissors available next to them, one of a highly contrasting color to everything else so that he can find them, allowing for his poor vision. It took us months to convince him not to try to save his used catheters and reuse them in an attempt to save money. So there's a wastebasket to empty more frequently now as well. In addition, if he needs to pee in the middle of the night, he can't/shouldn't try to make it all the way to the bathroom and back, so there is a supply of catheters on his nightstand, in pre-cut wrappers, and a plastic wastebasket serving as a honeybucket. Every morning that has to be checked, and emptied, rinsed and replaced if necessary.

I learned real fast doing that not only how/whether his kidneys are functioning but whether he has another of his frequent infections, or UTIs in hospital-speak. How I tell is by noticing if the smell is enough to gag a maggot or whether it's just normal urine smell, and whether the "product" is watery or ropy.

Not exactly how I planned on spending my middle age years.

His kidneys have begun to falter, much like the rest of him. Wednesday evening he mentioned to me on his way to bed that he couldn't pee. He'd even tried 3 different catheters to see if a different one would produce different results. (No.) I asked him if he felt full or empty, and he said empty. I sent him off to bed with the reminder that it would be OK for him to use the wastebasket in his room in the middle of the night if that changed. He always apologizes when he has to do that. By noon Thursday he still hadn't needed to pee, and that's when it became time to quit work early and take him into the ER to test his kidney function and check on infections. (His regular doctor can't do that in his office. We checked.)

The kidneys of course, like every other time, kicked in again just after noon and he could pee again. But in the meantime he'd developed another UTI. So once again he has a Foley and a bag, along with a week's supply of antibiotics. His creatinine levels were moderatley elevated, but nowhere near high enough to think about dialysis. And for some unknown reason, this doctor wants the catheter removed in two days, not the two to three weeks most call for. We'll see how that goes. Won't self-cathing just promote another UTI quicker?

When he self-caths, periodically he'll say he wants a permenent Foley and a bag. When he has one of those, however, he can't wait to have it removed, after he's had a few days of exclaiming how much easier this is.

On the bright side, he asked to stay in the car for the trip to Target to get his prescription filled. He's been housebound for weeks, and enjoyed the scenery, little of it that he could see. I had been planning a weekend excursion using my Hyundai, taking him out for an hour or so, because he can get in and out of that reasonably comfortably and it has a good heater. Of course, now that's not possible. Luckily it was warm enough yesterday that his Buick managed to maintain a comfortable inside temperature for the ride - especially since it had been driven and warming up since about 8 AM. At Target I managed to park so he had a view of the entryway and the comings and goings of folks while I went in. Not exciting, but it beat the same old walls he'd been watching for months.

And yes, for inquiring minds, the Hyundai has been officially "totaled". If I ever get some time, I'll be going car-shopping.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Car Update

The claims adjuster will be out tomorrow. Either 7:30-9:30 AM as I requested, or 2:30 like my dad thought the recorded message said when they called the home phone despite my request to only call my cell and talk to me. Whatever. I'm not waiting around. Rich will be here to handle him/her whenever it is. I'll be working in the cold car, the one that still has lights and steering and no big gaping holes and blue and brown puddles underneath.

My friend Lynn called me on her way home from work: "I saw where you hit your deer!" She didn't see the deer, just the debris from the car. It seems it's a notorious deer crossing corridor. She knows personally of two other car-deer accidents within feet of the site.

She had her own tale, one we could feel free to laugh at because it didn't involve her truck, just her neighborhood. About 6 miles south of Grantsburg, WI, along Hwy. 87 near the Fish Lake Wildlife Refuge, sombody hit a deer that then laid on the shoulder of the road and froze. With the next snowfall, the plow came along with enough speed to kick up the carcass and toss it into the snow piled in the ditch - standing up! So there it stands, a bit battered and bent, but if you don't look close, looking ready to step out and attack another car.

Motorists beware.

Groundhog Day

Loved the movie.

The real thing always puzzled me, growing up in northern Minnesota. Six more weeks of winter was supposed to be a bad thing, when the groundhog saw its shadow. If winter really ended around St. Paddy's Day, that would have been fantastic! Instead it lingers here for at least another month. I have clear memories of a white-out snowstorm back in the early '80s on April 14th. The reason I know the date was that my taxes were unfinished and I took them to work with me, hoping to find the time there. Instead I sat in the freeway center median where my car stopped and hung up on snow banks after hitting a patch of ice where everybody in front of me was spinning out. I missed all of them, but got stuck. I had about an hour to finish my taxes before help came.

But like I said, I loved the movie. Only thing is, after yesterday, I want a do-over too!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Bambi 1, Hyundai 1

I think that's the proper way to report the score when they're both casualties.

It was dark, and after carefully navigating snowy roads all day, I'm driving home on now-dry pavement and Bambi jumps out of nowhere and attacks my car. Ironic, huh? I guess I'm lucky that the power steering didn't go out until about 4 blocks from home, when I turned off the highway into town. There was no traffic nearby, so an extra-slow turn didn't cause any more problems, and after that I crawled the rest of the way. I had to jockey the car back and forth to back it in to the driveway. I figure it'll have to be towed to a repair shop from there, after the insurance company has its say.

Naturally this is just after the tranny rebuild, front end alignment and four new tires. I'm really hoping it doesn't get totaled. The wrinkled side panel obstructs the passenger door from opening, the hood is crumpled, there are pieces of the bumper in the back of the car, the light assembly is a gaping black hole, and obviously some internal damage. It's an '07, but with 192,000+ miles. Those blue book boys don't realize that those puppies are good for 400,000 miles with minimal repairs.

The insurance people totaled out a high mileage Geo Metro on me with front end damage years back, but the price of repairs was equal to the insurance payout, so I got it fixed and put another couple hundred thou on it. Loved the 3-cylinder engine with the 48-50 MPG that baby got. Mostly I love Hyundais, but this was back when I was looking for even better economy. When those were discontinued, I went back to Hyundais.

My last car-deer incident was several years ago, and that time the score was Hyundai 2, Bambi 0. A headlight needed replacing and I had venison for the freezer. Back then I found out that one doesn't need to wait two hours for the highway patrol to come by and verify the roadkill if one plans butcher the deer one's self. That's only if you want to take it to a "real" butcher, and need proof you haven't been poaching. Of course, I found that out after waiting those two hours. This time I found out from the local sheriff's office that they no longer write up car-deer incidents. One less headache, anyway.

Tomorrow I find out what the insurance company says, and meanwhile get to drive the Buick with the heater problem. It's a bit warmer out now, so it might not be too bad. Wish me luck, and an early spring.

Now let's see if the adrenaline level is down enough I can get some sleep tonight.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Tattoo

Yes, I have a tattoo. And yes, you can see it, if the weather's warm enough for short sleeves. Or if you ask me. Politely.

I'm just old-fashioned enough that I wouldn't get it in one of those more personal places, for two reasons. First, they tend to hurt more. And second, if it's not something I'd want to show everyone, why would I want some stranger spending an hour or more working on that spot of skin?

My tattoo is placed and designed like a bracelet. I got it shortly after I was diagnosed with a nickel allergy, and leery about unidentified metals in contact with my skin. It was also after an incident with a pushy salesman in one of my favorite stores to buy southwestern art in, the Grey Wolf in Scottsdale. This was back when I occasionally had a budget for those sorts of things. I had been looking at pendants with opal and onyx inlays, and had in fact purchased two, when I paused to admire similar bracelets.

I knew better than to try them on. First, I wasn't all that serious about actually owning one of them. Second, they were in a rigid "C" form, and I figured they were a bit tiny for my wrists. I wear men's watchbands quite comfortably, but not women's. The salesman noticed me admiring the artistry of the bracelets and offered to let my try one on. When I declined, saying that my wrists were too large for them, he took one out of the case and jammed it on my wrist anyway. Apparently he thought I was an idiot and a sucker, both, and he had some right to do that.

I was outraged. Plus, tight as it was, my wrist immediately started swelling around it, thanks to my dermatographism. I knew it would only get worse, fast, and tried to pull the bracelet off. No go. I coolly held out my wrist to him, informing him that he needed to remove the bracelet because I couldn't. I further informed him that since he had placed it there against my wishes, if he couldn't remove it, I would consider it a gift, leaving without paying for it. It took him about a full minute, but he did finally remove it, leaving behind a very red and puffy, sore wrist.

I hope he learned something, but I haven't been back since to check.

Some months later, I woke up one morning having designed a tattoo bracelet in my dream, and with a need to have it done. I had never before even considered getting a tattoo. I grew up thinking that only sailors and "bad people" ever got them, they spread diseases from dirty needles, and that they were inevitably ugly. Recently however they had started appearing in bright colors on women's ankles, shoulders, and no doubt in less revealed places, but at any rate were becoming much more mainstream. After checking that there was no nickel in either the inks or needles, I decided to head out one Saturday morning and pursue getting one of my own.

There was a local shop in Lindstrom, but they didn't bother to answer their phone. The place in Forest Lake did, and were informative about hours, cost, and other details including where to find them in their strip mall. After arriving, one gentleman set me to perusing the designs they had ready, or stressed we could design something unique if that was wanted. I found parts of two different designs to piece together, so that's what we did, ending up with two tiny hummingbirds facing each other in flight, with impossibly long tail feathers draping down and curving around my wrist to make a bracelet of ink. The designs got joined on paper to my satisfaction, and sent through a copier that rendered it in a format that left an ink pattern on skin when applied there. That gave him the outline to start inking from. He sat me down in one of his special super-comfy chairs and did the outline in black.

My granddaughter, who is talking about getting her own tattoo, asked me if it hurts. So, somebody has a power-needle speed-jabbing into your skin, while they occasionally pause to wipe off the blood so they can still see the design, and you wonder if it hurts? Duh! Some places have more nerve endings at skin level than others, and those places hurt more. Avoid them if it seems to be a problem. For me, the inside of the wrist was more painful than the back. Luckily much less ink went there. (As an aside, the double-dose of antihistamine I took ahead of time prevented any skin reaction during the process.)

Then I made my first mistake. My plan had been to color the birds like broad-billed hummingbirds, which is mostly bright green with indigo blue fronts and red bills. I let myself get talked into doing the tails in lavender instead of the green I wanted. I know, dumb, huh?

It wasn't my only mistake, but the next one came from poor information. I was told to keep the skin supplied with a good skin lotion to prevent scabbing over. Scabbing pulls the ink out for some reason, and those spots have to be re-inked. I chose the best lotion in my arsenal, meaning one with oil in it. Oil prevents air from getting to the skin, and that keeps it from healing. Nobody mentioned avoiding oil until it was too late.

The last mistake wasn't mine. Had it been, I wouldn't still be annoyed by it all these years later. When I had the tattoo re-inked after it finally healed, having scabbed in a few places and needing touch-ups, the needle-guy decided to add a few extra lines all on his own initiative, completely messing up one wing. There is no going back and fixing it. There was no refund either. I just told people not to use him, to find a better artist. He moved his shop several months later, and I have no clue if he's still in the business.

One thing has changed since then. I'm much more aware of other people's ink: patterns, colors, and locations. Having my own, I'm much more likely to compliment theirs, assuming I actually like it. People seem more willing to talk about theirs if you have one too. It can go too far however: one guy thought it gave him implied permission to touch my tattoo and come on to me. Had I not been wearing a company uniform at the time, it could have gotten pretty rude. You know, rude like in swearing at him, or perhaps a well-placed slap. By the time I actually realized how offended I was, it was my turn at the counter to pick up a customer's order and leave. Next time, however, I'll be more prepared.

Over all it was a positive experience, though there are things I'd change. Would I do it again? Probably not. Once seems to be enough, at least for me. And the choice seems to be stop at one, or just keep going because there's always another design you might want and another spot to cover, another cool color or six....