Before Coffee: Manual Labor

May 30, 2016 § 1 Comment

I work in an air-Conditioned office, at a desk, five days a week. The worst thing I can say about my job is that the office gets too cold sometimes. Okay, most of the time.

This long weekend, however, I’ve been trying to get some things done in the yard. Weeding flower beds, planting flowers, replacing a rotting wooden bed wall with brick. And , of course, still trying to get the pool to a swim-ready state. 

(Someday, I’ll stop talking about the goddamn pool. That day won’t be today.)

It’s been hard on this old man, even with my long-suffering wife’s help. Every joint aches, every muscle in my arms, legs, and back hurts. We moved 600 pounds of brick from the garden store to her MINI, then to the tractor cart, then to its ultimate destination by the flower bed. In 82-degree humidity. 

Today, we’ll rip out the old logs and build the wall. It’ll been even hotter, and just as humid. 

Tracy said yesterday that she was looking forward to being back at work, so she can relax. She’s not wrong.

All I know is, people who do this kind of work for a living should be paid far more than those of us who sit at desks all day. 

Off to grunt and sweat.


Before Coffee: Memorial Day

May 29, 2016 § Leave a comment

Tomorrow is Memorial Day in the US, so this long weekend is full of remembrances of those who gave their lives in war. Most towns have some kind of celebration, usually in the form of a parade. Veterans and fire trucks and marching bands and such. Military pilots have a busy few days, doing flyovers of baseball games and special events. There may be fireworks displays, but most communities save those for July 4th.

In the publishing world, some journalist or blogger will inevitably push out a piece about the “true meaning” of the day, and how we’re all bad people for having pool parties and cookouts and fun in general, when we should be having somber reflections upon the dead and the Great Price of Freedom.

And yes, we should never forget the awful price of war; not just the dead, but the survivors of it. The men and women who come back scarred, be it physical disfigurements or mental wounds that will never fully heal. 

But we should also celebrate what they were sent to defend. Not just capital-F Freedom, but the things we can do because we’re free. Pool parties and cookouts and fun in general. 

From what I’ve gleaned in talking with veterans who’ve been deployed, what they’re thinking about in their quiet, lonely hours is home and family and friends; the good times they’ve had, the parties they’re missing, and the fun they’ll enjoy when they get home. Cold beer. Burgers hot off the grill. A cannonball into the deep end on a hot day.

Maybe that’s a little too Norman Rockwell for you. Maybe you believe that wars have been and will continue to be fought for no other reason then to help the rich get richer. Whether that’s true or not, it doesn’t change what the men and women thrown into the meat grinder dream about and long for when they’re away from home.

So yeah, remember those who died or were injured in the service of our country. But don’t let anyone make you feel bad for doing what they fought to come home to.

Before Coffee: Never Goes Smooth

May 25, 2016 § Leave a comment

There definitely was not enough cussing in yesterday’s post to convey the true frustration of owning a pool. We got the cover off last night (we being myself and my friend Aaron, to whom I owe at least several drinks), but then an $8 part broke and derailed the rest of the pool opening.

I’ll get the part today, but it’s supposed to storm for the next three days, so who knows when we’ll actually be able to begin the process of de-swamping the thing. (We being myself and Tracy, who has been a calming presence while I cussed and grumped and hated everything that is, was, or shall ever be. She’s a saint.)

It will remain a Pit of Despair for a few days, at least.

I also bought a $500 pool cleaning robot last night, because reasons. Actually, because I’m tired of cleaning the damn thing, and having a robot slave do it for me appeals to me right now. If the thing does a good job and lasts three years, I’ll consider it having paid for itself. Maybe I’ll release it from indenture to go roam the earth or protest for robot rights or join the secret robot army planning to annihilate us all.

Or I’ll use it until it dies, then send it to a landfill. That’s another way of annihilating us all, right? A slow death, choking on our own offal as the seas rise and the forests burn and the robots giggle in their eerie, autotuned voices.




Before Coffee: Flushing Money

May 24, 2016 § Leave a comment

The thermometer has finally climbed above 70, which could be a sign that summer has arrived but probably is just another ruse. I expect to be shivering in my sandals and bermuda shorts by the weekend.

Despite the fact that we’ll soon be blue and shivering, I’ve enlisted the aid of my friend Aaron to help me remove the cover from the giant money-sucking toilet in my backyard. Or, as my friends call it, the pool.

If you ever go mad enough to consider owning a pool, there are a few things you should know. First and foremost, you won’t use it nearly as much as you think you will. Maybe you’ll want to, but the weather and your social calendar will conspire against you; the days you’re available to swim it will rain, and you’ll have plans to do other things on the beautiful, hot, sunny days.

Second, you will spend a lot of time maintaining the pool you’re not swimming in. And until you learn a few tricks, you’ll spend a lot of money, too. And then you’ll spend more money to fix it when it breaks, or hire a company to come find a leak that’s causing you have to add 30 gallons of water to the pool every day, or any of the millions of other things that can and do go wrong with pools.

And on top of that money, you’ll spend extra money on water and electricity. Even without a leak, water evaporates; in a hot summer, you’ll be adding water every couple days. Because if you don’t, the level drops below the skimmer’s ability to pull water in through the filter, and that’s bad. Like, burn up your pump motor bad.

Speaking of pumps, pool pumps suck up electricity like a pig attacking its slop. We get a monthly report from the electric company that shows us how efficient our home is compared to the average home and the most efficient home in our neighborhood. Winter, Spring, and Fall, our house is the most efficient home in the neighborhood; in the summer, the earth weeps for the devastation we’re wreaking upon her with our excessive electrical needs. We become by far the most inefficient home in the neighborhood.

But on a hot day, floating in the pool with a frozen margarita the size of a horse’s head is about as close to pure bliss as I’ve known. If I get one day like that per summer, it makes all the work, money, and environmental harm worth it.


Before Coffee: Years

May 23, 2016 § Leave a comment

My dad turned 90 over the weekend. As in, nine decades. He was born in 1926, when cars were metal boxes with wheels and telephones still had cranks on the side. Tesla was a scientist and inventor, not an automobile brand.

My dad has seen a lot, in other words.

When Dad was born, there wasn’t a TV station; the first one would go on the air in 1928. As a kid, his main entertainment were radio shows. He was born after World War I and before World War II. He was drafted into the army during World War II, after flunking the physical when he tried to join the navy. (His unit was never deployed overseas, but it would have been the first one called up if we’d had to invade Japan. So he thinks the Bomb was a pretty good thing.)

He got married in 1951, had three kids, and thought he was done with that. I came along as a surprise for his 39th birthday, and my younger brother came along 17 months later.

For the first third of Dad’s life, blacks and whites were segregated.

I could probably spend all day listing out the things Dad’s seen in his life. The first man on the moon; heck, the first man in space. The invention of the internet and the World Wide Web. Cordless phones. Cell phones. Smart phones.

So yeah, the world has changed a lot since my dad was born, and it’s changing faster every day. (But only in some respects; in others, it seems like we’re moving backwards.) I imagine if I’m lucky/cursed enough to live to 90, I’ll be grumping at technology the way my dad curses and grouches about his cell phone and computer.

Here’s the man himself, surrounded by his family. Eleven people in this photo were produced by him and my mom. One more (my nephew Brandon) couldn’t make it.

dad at 90


Before Coffee: Walls

May 20, 2016 § Leave a comment

Everyone wants to build a wall these days. He Who Shall Not Be Named wants to build a wall between the US and Mexico. Israel built a wall. There’s a wall between Saudia Arabia and Yemen. China wants to build an undersea “Great Wall” to keep out enemy submarines. We live in a world of walls.

The best commentary on walls came from Robert Frost in his poem, “Mending Wall.”

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbours.”
The thing about walls is that there’s always two sides: one that keeps people out, and another that keeps people in.

Before Coffee: Three-Demon Day

May 19, 2016 § Leave a comment

They say you shouldn’t eat lunch at your desk, because an angel dives into Hell every time you do, and she grabs a hunk of your soul in her claws as she screams past. Or something.

I guess Lucifer’s going to gain three new demons today; I ate breakfast at work, and I’m planning to eat lunch and dinner at my desk, too. Oops.

Normally, I only eat lunch at my desk. On Thursdays, a group of us play D&D after work, so it’s just easier to eat dinner there on those days, too. Today’s three-demon day happened because of a failure in proper prior planning, resulting in my grabbing two packets of instant oatmeal as I rushed out the door.

(Lunch will be a veggie burger on potato bread, with plastic cheese. Dinner, the leftover half of a quesadilla made with fake chicken that is actually flavored chunks of fungus—but it tastes better than it sounds.)

Whenever I see the opening scene of Blade Runner, slowly zooming in on the massive ziggurat that is the Tyrell Corporation’s HQ, I think that’s where we’re heading as a society. Soon, we’ll all be working, living, playing, and shopping inside a corporate-owned biosphere. We’ll all be eating all our meals at work, because we’ll never leave it. And we’ll never want to.

Where Blade Runner hints at it, Paolo Bacigalupi maps it out. Just pick up his brilliant novel, The Water Knife, in which he describes arcologies where the wealthy work and live and play, and all the detritus of their activities is recycled. Outside, the world dries up and dies, but inside, it’s paradise.

Be nice to your coworkers; soon, you’ll be living with them.

And pity the angels.

demon sky


Where Am I?

You are currently viewing the archives for May, 2016 at Kicking the Pants.