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Month: April 2017

The Running

I couldn’t sleep last night, so I decided to watch the running of the dinosaurs.

I’m unclear on whether big lizards are nocturnal or not, but I do know that if you don’t run them, they’ll drive you nuts; they’re like Dalmatians or greyhounds, you’ve got to exercise them regularly.  Nighttime is the only time that folks can let them out into the streets to get a good run without causing traffic problems.

Anyway, they raced past my hotel at about 3am, flocks of muzzled Velociraptors weaving in and around the groups of triceratops and T-Rexes. My tenth-floor room allowed for quite a view. It was neat to see how the posts that hold the traffic signals swivel and swing out of the way to avoid being damaged by the large creatures.

I do think it’s a little draconian to use Democrats for bait, but I have to admit it was a little funny to watch the park rangers using cattle prods to get the politicians running so the dinosaurs would see the movement and start the race. But hey…it probably wasn’t fair back in 2012 to offer up Newt Gingrich and seven conservative pundits to Ah-Puch, the Mayan god of death in an effort to delay the Mayan apocalypse. Politics, man. Politics.

Anyway, the whole parade was over in about twenty minutes, and then the street sprayers and cleaners came through to deal with the blood and offal left behind. By 4am, the streets here in Arlington were nearly spotless. The whole thing was a marvel of efficiency and planning.

Over breakfast, I overheard that tonight the board of United Airlines will be the bait. I think I’m going to stay up to see that. I don’t think I’m the only one.

The Tahitian Room of the Davies’ Basement

You had to pass through nearly every major room in the house to get to it. Through the foyer, past the living room, into the kitchen and down the stairs to the basement. On the far side of the cellar, just past the laundry and around the corner of the furnace was a door. This door led to the Tahitian room of the Davies’ basement.

I’m not sure of the origin of the space; whether it was part of the original construction of the house, or was added by Jason’s parents. What I do know is a Great Number of Important Events took place there as it evolved over the years.

The room itself was about 10×10. I recall two of the walls as wood paneled, the third covered with inset bookcases, and the fourth was a glorious full-size picture of a tropical beach. Blues skies. Golden sand. Lush palm trees and crystalline water. It was as if you were looking through a window to a magical place.

At first, I believe it was an office. After a while, it was empty and provided a place for us to crash if we had to stay the night. During college, Jason moved his room down there. (That period in the evolution of the chamber will not be covered here, and you should be ashamed of yourself for asking.)

Another magical item within the room was a black sphere with a bunch of little white strips of plastic contained therein. Each white strip has a different word scribed upon it in black. We were never sure of the actual function of the orb, but I remember some amusing conversations starting from drawing words at random from it.

There was a brief period when this room was also the arena for a game called You No Set. The rules were pretty simple: you threw something at your opponent, seats at the far side of the room. If they failed to either block or catch the item (items would range from throw pillows to the three-foot-long plastic tubes used in golf bags to keep the clubs from getting tangled), everyone would bellow “OHHHH YOU NO SET!” at them.

What can I say? It was a simpler time.

The Tahitian Room was our Room of Requirement, the place where we would get together and be silly or talk. It was far enough from the rest of the family for some privacy, but still close enough to raid the fridge or the bar. Another significant place where we grew up, working out the goofiness teenagers produce by the metric ton.

The last thing of note about the room: it is possible it was haunted. Or something. This is the place where we found out that when our good friend and host would get too drunk, he would begin to ask about his seven friends. To this day, I am not sure we know who these seven friends were. We thought that he might be referring to the many pillows on his bed, but this was never substantiated.

When Jason’s parents moved, there was mourning for the room. The Tahitian room still figures in the lore that binds us to one another. Tales are told, if not often, then at least with fondness.

“I’m sailing away set an open course for the virgin sea
I’ve got to be free free to face the life that’s ahead of me
On board I’m the captain
So climb aboard
We’ll search for tomorrow on every shore
And I’ll try, oh Lord I’ll try, to carry on.”

Come Sail Away, Styx

On the road: Arlington VA

9:20am Brady’s Leap Rest Station, OH 

This place is empty on a Sunday morning. It’s got the nicest Starbucks I’ve ever seen. The gas station has been torn down, looks like they’re doing a renovation on it. I’d hate to be the guy who needed to fill up only to find out that the station was torn down.

Caffeine acquired. Back to the road. On my drive, I’m listening to The Jugger by Richard Stark. Ever since Patrick McLean turned me on the Stark, Parker has been one of my favorites. Still, it’s been a while. This drive gives me an opportunity to refresh my memory.
11:14am Oakmont Service Plaza, PA

Drive is pretty enjoyable. Driving through PA is usually a dream, scenic and pretty tranquil. At least until Breezewood, which I always marvel at. So many gas stations and restaurants where the I-70 takes a jog through town. It’s like a roadside attraction gone wild.
There’s a section of the turnpike where either some major storms have decimated the woods, or someone is clearcutting. If it’s logging, I can’t imagine why they left all the trees where they’d obviously fallen.
The Jugger is a lot of fun. The reader is good, but it a little distracting when he uses a Sean Connery impression to voice the police captain in the story.

Time to for a walk to stretch my legs, then its back to the road.

 

2:23p Burger King, MD

Stop off for a restroom break and lunch. Neither was worth it. People are animals.

Parker doesn’t have to put up with this crap.

 

6:40 PM, Arlington VA

Checked in a couple of hours ago to the Hampton Inn bt Reagan National Airport. I’m always stunned at the population and building density when I come to this area.

Part of my drive took me along the George Washington Parkway, which was gorgeous. So many trees in bloom. Also got a good look at Washington DC from across the Potomac. I have to admit, seeing the Washington monument and the Jefferson memories from across the water took my breath away.

I took a good walk this evening, finding my way to where my class will be help starting tomorrow, then finished a circuit around the block. Blue skies, full sun, 75 degrees…things I haven’t seen in a while.

Now dinner is at the door and I’m going to settle in for the night with a couple of beers and some Saag Paneer. Have a good night, y’all.

The Great Hunt of 1818

By the time the winter of 1818 rolled around, the local farmers had had enough of this bullshit.

The farmers worked the land and raised livestock in the four townships surrounding Hinckley. Those four townships were good land for that sort of work. Hinckley was not. Full of hills and cliffs, rivers and lakes, Hinckley made for poor farming. It was mostly uninhabited by people. The problem was…everything else lived there. Wildlife. Preditors. Wolves, in particular.

So, at dawn on December 24 of 1818, 600 men, boys, and hunting dogs lined up on the perimeter of the township, armed with guns, clubs, pitchforks, flails, rifles and whatever else they could use as a weapon. On the signal, that began advancing through the 25 square-mile wilderness, driving every manner of wild beast into the center of Hinckley township.

In the words of Bill Coggswell,  one of the hunters:

“I soon came in contact with plenty of wolves and bears, and shot several of them, when I saw near the center a monstrous bear — I think the largest I ever saw of that species. We wounded him twice, so that he dropped each time, when he retreated toward the south line, and I followed in hot pursuit.”

The hunters forced the creatures into a marked half-mile clearing and shot them all.  The final count was that the hunters had killed 21 bears, 17 wolves, 300 deer and huge numbers of turkeys, foxes and raccoons.

What did they do next?  It was Christmas Eve. They threw a big party in the clearing. Giant fires were lit, meat was roasted, whiskey was consumed. The party went on into the night, and the next day people for miles around came into the township to witness the bounty of the hunt. The spoils were divded evenly amongst the participants…no one went hungry that winter.

When they were through, the remaining parts of the animals that no one claimed were piled in the center of the clearing and left all winter. In spring, when the carcasses thawed, scavenger buzzrds decended on the clearing in large numbers, having their own feast.

Most have forgotten the hunt, but not all. Each year around March 15th, the buzzards return to that clearing, which is now part of the Cleveland Metroparks. People still come from miles around to see them, and parties, or at least pancake breakfasts, are still thrown.  Wolves and bears are a thing of the past in Hinckley Township.

The werewolves, however…that’s another story for another time.

(Top image: Illustration depicting the “Great Hinckley Hunt,” from Henry Howe’s “Historical Collection of Ohio,” 1907. Via Ohio Memory.)

Little Boxes

  1. Boxed in
  2. Thinking outside the box
  3. Boom box
  4. Beat box
  5. Box score
  6. Idiot box
  7. Brain box
  8. Penalty Box
  9. Box up
  10. Knocked out of the box
  11. Suggestion box
  12. Box office
  13. Open a Pandora’s Box
  14. Squawk Box
  15. Ballot box
  16. Boxed on the table
  17. Fuse box
  18. Go home in a box
  19. Black box
  20. Tick all the right boxes
  21. Little pink boxes for you and me
  22. Boxed in a corner
  23. Box seat
  24. Buy the box
  25. Box and Cox
  26. Goggle-Box

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

“Little Boxes”, Malvina Reynolds

Books

I learned to read when I was three years old.

My mother tells a story about this. She got a call from the pre-school teacher one morning. “You son is pretending to read to the class,” the teacher said,

“Is he pretending, or…” Mom said.

There was a pause. “No…he’s actually reading to them.” She sounded surprised.

I don’t remember this.  My earliest memory is sitting next to my mother on our brown couch with sunlight behind us, reading a copy of the Little Golden Books version of Winnie-The-Pooh.

People talk about their formative experiences, and I consider this the most formative of all. For literally as long as I can remember, I have loved to spend my time with a nose in a book. Family lore tells of how intense my concentration was as a kid, that I would get so absorbed in a book that my mother would have to shake me to get my attention.

The happiest memory of my childhood was after I got my library card. I would go to the library over the summer and check out five to twelve books at a time. Then I’d go home and lay in the hammock on the screened in porch, reading one book after another without taking a break.

This was pure bliss.

My parents owned a small mobile home at Atwood Lake which served as a summer getaway. After I got over complaining about having to go (Lawn mowing. There was always lawn mowing to be done.) I would climb the big tree in the front yard, nestled in the sturdy branches; I would lose myself in a book.

Books shaped my career. My first job was as a page at the local library. In high school, I worked for Waldenbooks and B. Dalton over different summers. After college I worked at Booksellers, then Borders, and eventually Bookstacks Unlimited, which was my gateway to programming. Ten years later, I wrote the code for Podiobooks.com.

While I never stopped reading, the further I got into my career, the harder it was to lose myself in the words. Too many pressures. While I believe that escapism through text is a good thing, I start to read in a bizarre mechanical fashion, devouring books but rarely retaining them. This was particularly true during periods of high stress. I didn’t have the mental awareness to realized what I was doing, retreating from everything for some quiet, but feeling so guilty about taking the time that I would drive myself to finish quickly. For a bibliophile, this is a sort of hell.

Recently, I spent a little time in therapy because I found I was having difficulty feeling joy or pleasure. Despite all the goodness that had come my way (good job, good kids, good new marriage), I couldn’t feel that joyful sense you get in your chest when surrounded by the people you love. I took some time, and with the help of my therapist, stumbled on Carl Jung’s story. When he was having similar issues, he looked back to his childhood to see what he loved to do. In his case, this was building little castles out of stones. He decided to do this very thing as an adult, creating a connection between the frustrated, overspent adult and boundless joy of his childhood self.

For me, this took me back to books. Time set aside to read and enjoy free of guilt or external concerns. It’s become a practice now. It’s something I schedule, that I look forward to and that I am loathed to give up. Most importantly, it forces me to slow down and disconnect so that I can truly recharge.

After about a month of this, I felt myself start to feel joy and gratitude again. It was like a reservoir filling inside me. Books helped me remove a space inside and fill it with light.

These days, I am never without a book or my Kindle. I have a catch-and-release policy with most physical books, donating them after I read them, and I make good use of my public library. I connect with the words and stories as often as I can.

Books have shaped my life. I would not be who I am today without them.