Friday, July 30, 2010

two scraps of paper

Back in May, when I went to upstate New York with my father to visit our church's former pastor, we pulled over at one of those roadside rest stops and got ourselves some fast food. Dad went over to the counter for Nathan's hot dogs, but upon seeing their limited menu and over-expensive dogs, I made a face and lumbered over to the Burger King counter. The girl behind the counter proved unable to do math in her head. This was the first time I had seen innumeracy up close-- and at a cash register, no less.

First, the girl rang up the transaction incorrectly. The meal was $14.10, and I had given her a 20-dollar bill, plus a dime, but she rang it up as if I had given her a fifty. I had intended to make life easier for her by allowing her to give me back an even six dollars in change. Instead, the addition of the dime freaked her out, apparently compounding the stress of her initial twenty/fifty mistake.

Unable to figure out what to do, the girl left the register and retreated to some secluded spot in the back. I caught a glimpse of her, pen in hand, trying to work out the math while I waited... and waited. Eventually, she came back, showing me her chicken scrawl and asking me whether this was right-- i.e., that she owed me six dollars. I nodded, simultaneously astounded and annoyed, and she gave me the proper change.

The total time I waited after my food had arrived on a tray? At least five minutes. I still shake my head in wonder when I think that this girl was supposed to be a cashier.

Note to the innumerate: don't handle money if you can't do the arithmetic. You're better off having a friend or proxy help you.

See the receipt below, which I kept for sentimental reasons:

The second scrap of paper was something I found only a few minutes ago. In digging through my mother's personal effects, I found this little note, which she must have written years ago, and which speaks volumes about her assessment of my father's intelligence and common sense:

The above rings especially true these days. I won't say more, except to note how much I miss Mom.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010


I had a dream that I was engaged in some sort of martial arts flirtation with the Food Network's Claire Robinson-- she of "Five Ingredient Fix." We were sparring playfully, and joking as we sparred. Very strange.


Friday, July 23, 2010

testing new feature

Are there "sharing" links at the bottom of this post?



Tuesday, July 20, 2010

moon talk

Today, July 20, marks the 41st anniversary of the moon landing. While I don't normally bother linking to InstaPundit, I'll offer a link this once to an entry that links, in its turn, to a video piece by Bill Whittle on the past, present, and future of the American space program. Very inspiring stuff.

NB: I didn't link directly to Whittle's piece because it's a PJTV video, and might not be visible to non-subscribers.


home again, then off again

I picked Dad up from the airport at 11PM last night. His flight arrived at 10:25PM, but taxied to some sort of holding area because (Dad thinks) it didn't have a gate assigned to it when it landed. That, or the assigned gate was still occupied by a previous flight. Dad found this strange: Delta now has a profusion of gates to itself, ever since it took over Dad's old employer, Northwest Airlines. Whatever had gone wrong, Dad was forced to waste time doing nothing until the plane could slide into a gate. For my part, I spent my time circling the airport over and over. Out of boredom, I set my trip odometer and discovered that the loop I was traveling was 1.3 miles long. I did that loop about ten times. I had wanted to park in the cell phone waiting area (a parking space for people who are waiting for a call from arriving passengers ready for pickup), but the area was chock-full. I guess there were a lot of late-arriving flights.

In any case, Dad's now home, but he's not planning to settle in: instead, he's leaving for the on-the-road part of his odyssey today. I bought him a new GPS navigation system, a Garmin nüvi 265WT, and the friction mount for the device is arriving from Amazon this morning or afternoon. Dad had prepped the travel gear for this stage of his journey even before he had left for the Philippines, so he has little to do but pack it all in the van and peel off. His road trip will be taking him to South Carolina, Wisconsin, Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, and upstate New York before he heads back down to northern Virginia. Quite a ride.


farewell, Brianna

On "The Next Food Network Star," we're down to all the likable candidates, so from here on in, it's going to hurt as another person gets cut each week. Yesterday was Brianna's turn, and she proved to be a very good sport about it. I think she made it as far as she did mainly because of her amazing (and consistent) cooking prowess; alas, her on-camera persona never jelled into anything appealing, which was a shame, because she ended up proving that she was actually quite good at working with others. Her teamwork with Serena made her the co-winner of a major challenge last week, and her teamwork with Herb a couple weeks back was also noteworthy. I liked Brianna, despite her personal flaws, because she was, at heart, an honest person. Unlike Dzintra, who was too insecure to work with others and too stubborn to face reality objectively, Brianna has, I suspect, actually gained a lot from this experience. At the very least, she's had the chance to advertise her cooking skills.

Herb, meanwhile, is beginning to prove a bit too emotionally fragile for the wild ride he's on. I can relate: one reason why I can't envision myself working in the food industry is that I know I don't handle intense, constant pressure well. I give Herb a lot of credit for having entered the competition at all, but as has been made manifest over several seasons of this show, star quality is more than mere looks and cooking skills: an impervious ego and the ability to think fast under pressure are also crucial to success. Herb has cooked some fantastic meals, but when he has failed, his failures have reflected an inability to innovate and/or to improvise. While I hope Herb continues to advance, I have a sinking feeling that his time is now very short. He was, once again, in the bottom three this week.

Big, goofy Tom proved a fairly solid performer, but there's a growing disconnect between his ever-improving on-camera skills and his consistently disappointing food. As Tom himself noted, he often has a lot of great culinary ideas, but he flubs the execution. Serena was, for her part, somewhere in the middle of the pack this time around, but Aarti ended up among the bottom three when she went bizarrely low-rent-- and sloppy-- with her choice of meal to make (transforming deviled eggs into "devilish" eggs). Like Serena, Aria was also safe this week; she deserved credit for taking a risk in her reinterpretation of Pig in a Blanket (she used batter-fried shrimp),

The big surprise was Brad, who finally came into his own, serving up not only a superb meal (an amped-up chicken cordon bleu) but also a lively and authoritative presentation to the judges and the camera. Brad seemed right at home in the posh estate of Frank Sinatra, but I had to wonder whether it wasn't the ambiance that helped him out a bit. Brad has insisted, week after week, that he sees himself as a "pro chef" with much to teach the world, but his performance history on the show has been anything but consistent. If Brad is capable of cooking at a high level only when he finds himself in a high-rent situation, then I think he's doomed. Bobby Flay obliquely referred to this problem in his critique of Brad, and I'm glad the critique was made. At the same time, I agree with the judges that Brad can be a likable fellow when he wants to be, so I'm glad that he finally had a chance to shine and to boost his own confidence level a bit.

I'll finish with something of a meta-comment: because the contestants of "The Next Food Network Star" are, for the most part, fresh-faced tyros, new to the world of TV, it sometimes seems unfair that they have to go through such a trial by fire before they can have a show of their own. I sometimes find myself wondering whether it might not be better for the contestants to win the chance to host shows in which they share the spotlight with each other. Many contestants form bonds of friendship during the competition, and most of them seem more relaxed-- more themselves-- when they're allowed to showcase some playful repartee. Herb is a case in point: he's an extravert who seems a bit lost when his only interlocutor is the camera's unblinking eye, but he comes alive-- and has his wits about him-- when he has the chance to work with others, or even to talk with a contest judge. Herb by himself seems to be a recipe for disaster; Herb with a cooking partner would make for great viewing. Wouldn't it make more sense for these freshmen performers to start their television careers as teams, gaining individual shows only when they've become truly comfortable in front of the camera? They can't all be Guy Fieri, who seems to have been born with enough personality for three people.

So it's curtains for Brianna this week. At this point, I can't predict who'll be leaving us next week, but if I were to guess, I'd say it's going to be either poor Herb or Serena. Aria and Aarti will find themselves again; Tom's on-camera skills will continue to improve (even if his food doesn't); Brad will, at least in theory, be riding high from this week's victory. We'll see.


Monday, July 19, 2010

coming back today... maybe

My father tells me he's currently stuck in Minneapolis, waiting for a 6PM flight out. He was originally supposed to arrive in DC between 10 and 11AM today, but somewhere along the line, a large flight was cancelled and all those passengers were booked onto other flights, including the one which Dad had hoped to board. That never bodes well for people flying on "standby space available" status: standby flyers are always the lowest priority when it comes to boarding.

I told Dad that he doesn't have to catch a flight to National Airport; he can fly to BWI or Dulles, and I'll have no problem picking him up at either place. Dad replied (all this through text messaging) that the best-looking flight out is the 6PM flight, so he's on that waiting list. It's a gamble for him to wait that long, spending all day not searching for other alternatives, but when you're a "non-rev" (i.e., non-revenue) customer, you're always gambling, even if you do scramble around to look for other flights.

Here's hoping that Dad's airline savvy (he's a retired Northwest Airlines employee, after all) has given him the instincts to pick the flight that's most likely to have seats. If he doesn't make it out of Minneapolis tonight, he'll have to stay overnight in the city and try again tomorrow. Flying standby, as a non-rev customer, has its hidden costs; unforeseen hotel stays are among them.


"chipolte," "taziki," "marscapone," "basalmic"

Open letter to Guy Fieri:

I love your various shows, man, but please learn to pronounce the names of your ingredients correctly.

Chipotle (chi-pot-le), not chipolte.

Tzatziki (tza-tzi-ki), not taziki.

Mascarpone (mas-car-po-ne), not Mars Capone (marscapone).

Balsamic (bal-sa-mic), not basalmic.

I know a lot of people who mispronounce words because of a sort of visual-verbal dyslexia. You might be one of them. It's just a matter of taking care to read the words correctly, and to hear them pronounced both slowly and correctly. You'll improve with practice.




Sunday, July 18, 2010

Friday, July 16, 2010

on the rarity (?) of laundromats in Korea

Reader and friend Hahna has asked me to comment on the presence or absence of laundromats in South Korea:

oh, totally random but mil said shes never heard of nor has she seen any laundromats in korea. [i took her to one the other day to do our blankets and linens] they must be awfully rare. i googled this and they do seem to be very rare. could you talk about what the laundry situation is like in korea? i simply cannot imagine living in a world without laundromats.

From what I saw, after living in Seoul for eight years, laundromats abound in the city. As is true in France and Switzerland, they go by different names (laverie, lavanderie, blanchisserie, etc.): you'll see signs saying saetak or bballae. And speaking only for Seoul, I'd note that most laundromats are tucked away from the main drag. Sookmyung's neighborhoods have their share of places that wash, repair, and dry-clean clothing, and I suspect the same goes for any campus neighborhood in Seoul. Because laundromats in Seoul aren't immediately visible, your mother-in-law probably never sees them. Trust me, though: they do exist.

The stereotype of the Asian laundromat in America is a topic worthy of its own post, but for now, I'll just leave you with this hilarious vintage YouTube clip.

And if that's not enough, here's Dog Attacks Shark.


not the best PR for Korean shamanism

From the Moscow Times:

4-Year-Old Boy Dies During Exorcism
15 July 2010
The Moscow Times

A 4-year-old boy sickened with pneumonia died in the Primorye region after being made to participate in an exorcism by a Korean shaman, news reports said Wednesday.

The parents of the child asked shaman So Dyavor, 59, and her husband, Kim Sende, 62, to perform a ritual to exorcise “evil spirits” that they believed were plaguing him, the local news web site reported.

The child stopped breathing during the ritual in the local village of Sergeyevka on Saturday.

No traces of violence were found on the boy's body, and forensic pathologists on Wednesday had not established what killed him.

It remains possible that the boy's pneumonia was the cause of his death, a police spokesman told RIA-Novosti.

The tabloid Tvoi Den identified the boy as Dmitry Kazachuk and said he arrived in Sergeyevka with a delegation of relatives that included his mother, aunt, uncle and grandmother.

The family intended to request help for the grandmother, who has diabetes, but So Dyavor told them that the entire family was jinxed and the boy had put a curse on them, the report said.

Nobody was present in the room when the shaman performed the exorcism on the boy, it said, without commenting on the role of So Dyavor's husband in the incident.

The local branch of the Investigative Committee has opened a criminal case into suspected negligent homicide, which is punishable with up to three years in prison, but has not charged anyone, Interfax said.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

early return?

My father has texted me (presumably from Hawaii) that he may be returning home early, which I suppose means he might be starting his mammoth road trip early. So as I continue my various home projects, I'm now on standby for a call or text message with some new flight information. We'll see what happens.


the Great De-furring

I've spent a good part of today getting rid of traces of my brother Sean's chihuahua, Maqz. Maqz is a great dog, but he also leaves fur on just about every surface: the upper and lower floors, the couches, the beds, the rugs, etc. I had been planning to de-fur the house for a while, and today was finally my day to do the dirty deed. I broke out my new Swiffer, kept our small shop vac at the ready, and went to work. The upstairs is now about as furless as I can make it; the downstairs, however, still needs a full and thorough vacuuming, but that won't happen for a while: I'm still de-boxing and re-shelving books, a process that requires substantial floor space.

After all my efforts, I seem to have collected enough fur to create a second dog. I'll refrain from fashioning a Maqz 2.0, though, in favor of just tossing the giant hairball out with the garbage.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

bye, smartass

On the 90-minute special broadcast of "The Next Food Network Star," it was Paul's turn to get nixed. Although he and Herb had a loud and affable rapport during the meal truck contest, Paul's sassing of Bobby Flay didn't earn him any goodwill from the judges. As before, Paul was questioned about having switched-- yet again-- his style and approach, and when Flay tried to pin him down as to what he (Paul) intended to cook for the masses, Paul answered, both testily and evasively, "Food, Bobby." Brad, who has cooked inconsistently since receiving high praise from Wolfgang Puck in the first episode, was devastated by the announcement of Paul's departure: he and Paul had apparently become great friends over the course of five weeks.

It was during a previous episode that Guy Fieri spoke up in defense of Paul's style: "I like his humor," Fieri said. I can see how Paul would appeal to a certain subset of the Food Network's viewership, but he'd be off-putting to women. Paul probably belongs back on stage, doing improv and stand-up. His prickliness toward Bobby Flay also indicated that he was resisting every teaching moment that had been offered to him.

We learned that the judges have been disappointed at Aria's lack of progress, but continue to be wowed by Aarti's performance, even when she fails at a challenge. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the episode was the sisterly rapport that arose between heretofore arch enemies Serena and Brianna, both of whom have certain diva-ish tendencies.

Almost as startling a revelation was big, goofy, slovenly Tom: he rocked during his camera challenge (even though the judges didn't like his product) and proved to be a great partner alongside Aarti during the meal truck challenge. Although I still believe that Aarti, Aria, and Herb occupy the top three spots, there's a chance that Tom might bump either Herb or Aria off the top three. I find it hilarious that, every time Tom is shown on camera, the caption below his image reads "Tom: Unemployed Chef."

This episode also provided a glimpse of what might have been wrong with Herb in the previous episode: he was missing his family. Herb does need to keep control of his emotions; this isn't the time to pull a Dzintra.

In all, it was a good episode. Paul deserved to be cut; he was bumbling down the same path as poor Doreen Fang, who also had trouble articulating a specific culinary point of view. The "CPOV" mantra has persisted through every season of "The Next Food Network Star," and has prompted me to reflect on my own CPOV. It's discomfiting to admit that I don't have one-- yet. But I'm working on it.


Monday, July 12, 2010

moving on to Hawaii

Dad called to say that he's had a blast in the Philippines, and now it's time for him to move on to Hawaii. I hope to hear the tale of his adventures once he's back from all that sun and fun.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

done with Phase 2a; moving on to Phase 2b

The bookshelves took me longer to build than I anticipated, but that's because of my sloth-like pace, not because I had any trouble figuring out how to assemble them. Ten new bookshelves... and I have a sneaking suspicion I'll need to buy even more.

What I'm calling "Phase 2a" was the bookshelf assembly. Phase 2b involves putting all the books-- mine, Dad's, and my brothers'-- on the shelves. Phase 2c, which won't happen for another day or so, will involve inspecting the shelved books and organizing them. As much as I'd like to get them organized before slapping them on the shelves, my brain won't allow me to: I need to see the books on full display in order to understand how they need to be rearranged.

Once all that is done, I'll move on to the all-important Phase 3 of this home project: organizing and shelving all the utility room items that are currently on the floor. Paint cans, power tools, toolkits, camping equipment, etc.: you name it, and it needs to be stuck on a shelf. Here, too, Phase 3 will need to be divided into stages: Phase 3a will be the shelving, and Phase 3b will be the rearranging/reorganizing. There might be a Phase 3c, too, because I've noticed quite a few items that look as though they belong up in the attic. We're not done with our attic-stuffing, not by a long shot.

Beyond all that, we've still got to clean out the dining room, organize Dad's computer room, and organize his bedroom. Dad will be doing most of that himself: we still have to deal with a ton of Mom's clothing, and will probably want to box up her jewelry in a tasteful manner. Dad wants to do this part of the project without anyone else's help.

Lots to occupy me for the next little while.


Friday, July 09, 2010

End of line.

I saw "Tron" for the very first time this past Tuesday, in the early morning hours before I drove my father to the airport. Quite a revelation. More on this later.


Thursday, July 08, 2010

contra Plantinga's Free Will Defense

I'm still planning to write extensively on this topic, but I'm rather busy with home-related projects and the ongoing struggle to send off job applications. In the meantime, I've found some interesting critiques of what is variously called the Free Will Defense, the free-will defense, or the Freewill [sic] Defense.

1. Niclas Berggren,

By far the most interesting of the entries I found, this piece, which is more of a blog post than an online article or research paper, contains arguments both by the author and by various thinkers who have dealt with the Free Will Defense. Of particular note: the author quotes JL Mackie, who confirms a thought of my own regarding Plantinga's retreat to the idea that natural evil is caused by malign supernatural beings. Mackie writes:

Formally, no doubt, this is possible; but it is another of what Cleanthes called arbitrary suppositions. While we have a direct acquaintance with some wrong human choices-- our own-- and our everyday understanding extends to the recognition of the like choices of other human beings, we have no such knowledge of the activities of angels, fallen or otherwise: these are at best part of the religious hypothesis which is still in dispute, and cannot be relied upon to give it any positive support. (italics added)

My thoughts exactly.

2. Philosophy of Religion: The Free Will Defence

An article that contains both an explanation and various critiques of the defense.

3. Ex-Apologist: A Quick Point About Plantinga's Free Will Defense

A philosophically meaty challenge to the defense.

4. Horia George Plugaru,

An amusing counterattack that questions why God would create us so that we spend a third of our lives not exercising free will... by making us susceptible to sleep.

5. Free Will Defense

An encyclopedia entry that covers the defense in its various forms (not just Plantinga's) and presents some critiques.

6. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: The Free Will Defense

Part of a larger article about the nature of divine providence.


Phase 2

With the downstairs family room effectively cleared out, it's now time to move on to Phase 2 of the ongoing mission: Set Up Kevin's Library and Clear Out the Laundry Room. As you might have guessed, I've got a ton of books, and most of them have been in apple box storage for years while I've been away in Korea (some books are still in Korea! thanks, Joe). Those books, along with a pile of Dad's and my brothers' old books, all need to be taken out and shelved. For that, I need actual bookshelves. We've got a few bookshelves already in the laundry room, but I need more-- way more. Most of the shelving in the laundry room needs to stay right where it is: once the books are taken out of there, I'll be using those shelves for stacking paint cans, turpentine, tools, camping equipment, and other miscellaneous doodads.

Many of my books will end up shelved in my room, but a goodly number will grace the walls of the basement family room. Maybe it's a guy thing, but I've heard that, when you're out of ideas, books make for fine decor. Unfortunately, most of the books I have are textbooks of some sort or another-- paperbacks, not beautiful leather-bound editions.

I imagine that this new phase of the project will take at least a week to complete. Not only must the books come out, but they must also be organized (something I never did in Korea, where I had only a small fraction of my library). The end result ought to be a laundry room with more breathing space. One day at a time, though: today, the focus is on purchasing the bookshelves and putting them together.


Wednesday, July 07, 2010

don't confuse tack and tact

From an article about the 50th anniversary of the birth control pill:

I recently read with amused interest the piece from another San Diego News Network writer entitled, “Reflections on the 50th Anniversary of the Birth Control Pill.” As expected, it took the tact that the Pill “helped women take control of their lives”. I think the article failed to report a few essential facts about the Pill. (italics added)

Improper usage! To be clear: tact has to do with manners; the exercise of tact involves diplomatic or sensitive speech and action, especially in potentially awkward situations. To take a [different] tack means to try a different approach; "tack" is a sailing term.

So don't confuse "tack" and "tact." Take care in how you express yourself. Avoid being a disciple of School B.

UPDATE: If you scroll to the bottom of the linked article, you'll see that Commenter #3 has noted the same problem.


Tuesday, July 06, 2010

...and he's off to the Philippines

My dad's on a big adventure. Retired and on his own, he's off to the Philippines to visit an old family friend. Dad has never been to the Philippines before; his friend lives on Bohol Island. What this means for Dad, a former airline employee who's paying all of $50 to get to Manila (the hidden cost? he's flying standby), is that he'll have to take a local flight from Manila to Cebu, then take a fast ferry called a SuperCat from Cebu's Pier 4 to Tagbilaran Port on Bohol. That's where Dad's friend will meet up with him.

Getting to Cebu shouldn't be a problem, but my main worry has been getting Dad from Mactan-Cebu International Airport to the SuperCat terminal. It's going to require either a shuttle bus ride or a taxi ride; here's hoping Dad has the street smarts to make the seven miles to Pier 4 without being ripped off. Dad's a relentlessly trusting soul, which can work to his disadvantage in some situations. But according to my buddy Tom, who visits the Philippines regularly, there shouldn't be a problem: Dad merely has to ask a clerk at the airport information desk what to do. Once Dad's on the SuperCat, the only other worry is the weather: it's monsoon season right now, and according to, it's going to be stormy the entire time that Dad'll be there. Why he picked this time of year to hit the islands, I'll never know. Oy gevalt.

On his way back from the Philippines, Dad will be stopping over in Hawaii, where there's no monsoon to speak of. He'll be spending perhaps two weeks there before heading home. But Dad doesn't intend to stay home: a day or two after his return to Virginia, he'll be off again, this time by car, to drive around the mainland US and visit more friends. All of this, including the flights, is open-ended; Dad doesn't know exactly when he'll be done traveling, but suspects he'll be finished by the first week of August. He's been wanting to thank a long list of people personally for all the help and support they gave our family during Mom's illness; this is, I think, his way of staying connected to Mom's large circle of friends and acquaintances.

Safe travels, Dad.


an industrious, sweaty Fourth (and Fifth)

Much of my Fourth was spent cooking, and as it turned out, I cooked for only one brother. David was able to stay from about 2PM to 6:30PM, after which he had to leave to go work in DC. Sean had a gig, which is typical for him: as a professional musician, he can expect to be working on those festive days when most of us are off.

So I cooked a huge meal in the knowledge that most of it would be eaten the next day. I brined my chicken breasts and pork ribs, made hamburgers, took out hot dogs, and whipped up cole slaw, corn salad, and a berry mousse-- the latter to top off a brownie. I prepped some baked beans, and when David came over, he helped me cook the burgers, the dogs, and the chicken. We cooked indoors; it was too damn hot to be out. As a result, the kitchen got pretty smoky, but the fire alarms didn't go off. Dinner turned out great; David made noises of approval. Dad had made rum cake for us to eat; we scarfed that down for dessert. (I baked the aforementioned brownie, but not in time for David to eat it that night.)

During the night that straddled July 3 and 4, I slept very little. I had been packing up more items in our basement in an attempt to get the space as cleared out as possible, and although the effort tired me out, I ended up unable to sleep very much. Part of the problem, though, was the dog: Sean's chihuahua Maqz has been with us for quite some time, and at 7AM on the Fourth, he began barking outside my bedroom door. I had been asleep for only about 90 minutes, and the dog's barking galvanized me into action: I thought that Dad might have been having a heart attack or something, because as a general rule, the dog never barked outside my bedroom. I charged upstairs... only to discover that Dad had already left for Bristow, Virginia, to attend an all-day, all-night affair. His bed was empty, and the second rum cake-- the one he had said he would be taking to the party-- was nowhere to be found. God knows why the dog had started barking outside my bedroom. Maybe he was saying, "No rest for the weary!"

I was unable to get back to sleep, even though I flopped back into bed and lay there, dazed, until 8AM. So I got up and began the long brining process for the immense rack of pork short ribs that Dad had bought a while back. As with the Thanksgiving turkey last year, I dragged out our big blue bucket, dunked the pork in the brine, and stuck the whole thing into one of our downstairs fridges. The rest of the prep took a few hours. David came over, helped with the cooking, ate some grub, and was on his way. As celebrations go, this one was pretty quiet.

Once David left, I had thought that I would fade away and go back to bed: after all, I had been running on only 90 minutes' sleep. I ended up taking a short, early-evening nap on one of the downstairs couches (the dog nestled alongside me), then got up and spent the next fourteen hours in a herculean push to clear out the rest of the downstairs. I worked slowly but steadily, culling and discarding items, stopping once in a while to look at old photos and cards and letters, or to admire some of the ancient knick-knacks we had inherited from my great aunt Gertrude and her brother, my great uncle Trav. Piles rose and fell and rose again around me as I went through boxes and bags-- wrapping, packing, arranging, rearranging, boxing, and re-boxing. Countless sheets of bubble wrap and strips of packing tape gave their lives for the cause. Most of the old cardboard apple boxes had grown weak with age; the items in those boxes had to be placed in the new plastic storage containers that Dad and I had bought at Home Depot. I ran the containers upstairs every now and then, stacking them in our living room so that they could be placed in the attic at some point. I stopped and vacuumed the floor, picking up all sorts of accumulated debris. Over time, the amount of navigable floor space in our basement/family room increased, while the stacks of plastic boxes in the living room grew correspondingly larger.

And then, around 8AM on July 5th, I blearily looked around me and saw that the basement was, for the first time since before Mom's brain cancer appeared, almost totally clear. Except for a small pile of unsorted possessions in one far corner, the basement was now a proper family room again. Tottering, barely to walk a straight line, I headed for the shower. I wanted desperately to get to sleep, but knew that I was a sweaty, stinking mess. Ablutions were necessary. When sleep finally came, around 9AM, I ended up oversleeping: my brother David had wanted to go out to a park around 3PM, but I didn't wake up until 4PM. Dad, meanwhile, had gotten back from his overnight stay in Bristow at around 1PM; my brother Sean popped by for a brief visit, and David arrived around 2 or 3PM. I missed all of this: Sean's visit, David's arrival, and Dad's arrival. Sean left before I had a chance to see him, but David and Dad were around when I got up. Dad marveled aloud at the now-cavernous family room. It truly was-- and is-- a sight to see.

I got right to work on the pork, which David and I hadn't eaten on the Fourth. Alas, it had been brining since 9AM the previous day, which meant it had gone more than 24 hours in the brine. The instructions I followed recommended eight hours only, so I worried that the pork had pulled a Mrs. Lot and turned into a pillar of salt. As it turned out, my fears were groundless: I slathered on my homemade barbecue sauce, slammed the ribs in the oven, and with David's help (again), cooked the meat to tasty perfection. And unlike on the Fourth, when things were mighty quiet, Dad, David, and I all sat down together in our dining room and had ourselves a hearty meal. Too bad Sean couldn't be there; he apparently told Dad that he'd be back for his dog the following day.

David hung around late, so I asked him to help me put all the stacked containers up in the attic. It was a sweatbox in there-- a very humid 94 degrees, according to the thermometer that I had left inside. (We're going to be buying an A/C to regulate the attic's temperature and humidity. Despite the new layer of insulation and flooring, conditions are still too inclement for some of the more delicate items we're storing up there.) David intrepidly sat inside the attic while I handed box after box up to him, then I climbed into the attic with David, and the two of us arranged the boxes as best we could. The variety of box contents has become quite diverse, making it difficult to organize the newest boxes coherently, so right now the strategy is to keep the arrangement neat while maintaining "random accessibility," i.e., the ability to see all items at a glance, without having to dig around to find out what they are. The storage boxes I had bought are made of transparent plastic, which has proved to be a great help: there's no need to waste time making labels when you can see what's inside the box. David left close to 11PM; I was grateful for his help. Over the past two days, he's been cooking burgers and ribs and chicken, setting the table, helping with the dishwashing-- all despite being more tired than I am.

I'm taking Dad to the airport at 4:30 this morning. He's off to the Philippines to see an old friend for a few days, then he'll be back home for a day or two, after which he'll start his grand odyssey: a road trip to a variety of cities across the US to visit more old friends. This is something that Dad has been wanting to do for a while, and I'm glad. In a Mom-less world, we need meaningful activities to fill the time. Nothing will ever replace the void where Mom used to be, but this doesn't mean we should give in to our sadness and just sit around, waiting to die. Life needs to be lived. Psychotherapist M. Scott Peck sagely noted that the fundamental problem for human beings is laziness: an unwillingness to expand our horizons, to strive for excellence, to evolve into better people. Giving in to our sadness can be an insidious form of spiritual laziness: letting the desolation wash through us is one thing, but holding on to it and allowing it to rule us is quite another. Dad's doing what he can to look to the horizon. I think that's great. While he's out of the house, I'll do what I can to continue to make the place livable. Clearing out the downstairs was only the beginning.


Sunday, July 04, 2010

Happy Fourth!

Lest my foreign readers get the wrong idea: the image isn't a celebration of gun ownership. (I've never owned or fired a gun, unless you count BB guns.) The focus is on freedom as a universal value: even right-thinking aliens cherish it and are willing to defend it!

(This also marks the seventh blogiversary for BigHominid's Hairy Chasms! Slay the fatted calf! And the fatted thigh!)


withholding judgment on Gore

At the moment, I see little reason to turn my focus away from the creeping disaster in the Gulf of Mexico (read this WSJ article for an exploration of why efforts seem to be going so slowly), but the brewing Al Gore sex scandal may soon become a sordid distraction. For my part, I think Gore is innocent until proven guilty: the female accuser refused to cooperate with police in the initial investigation, and it's now been revealed that she has had a history of accusing men of unwanted sexual advances.

We don't want to commit the genetic fallacy, though, and thereby dismiss the possibility that she's telling the truth in this case. A form of the philosopher's principle of interpretive charity applies here: both sides need to make themselves clear before any conclusions can be drawn. For their part, the Gores appear to have closed ranks while simultaneously claiming that they welcome a reopening of the original 2006 investigation. My feeling, then, is that until a devastating piece of evidence surfaces (e.g., the supposed "genetic evidence" proves to be a positive match for Al Gore's DNA), this scandal is really a non-scandal. In the meantime, we should stay focused on the Gulf, and on other, major, national and global concerns.

Trivia: the word "prurient" comes from the Latin root meaning "itch."


Saturday, July 03, 2010

a quiet, fraternal Fourth

My father's been invited to fête the Fourth with a friend, so he won't be here on Sunday. My buddy Mike has announced that he'll be out with his family at his in-laws' place, so that pretty much leaves me and my two brothers to do our own thing here at the homestead. To that end, my brother David wants to spend time at a local park, and I want to do some home grilling, so we'll be dividing our day up between the two activities. On the menu:

Pork short ribs
Bone-in chicken breasticles
Gigantic salmon fillet
Hot dogs
Cole slaw
Macaroni and cheese

I'm still working on what dessert will be. Probably chocolate-covered brownies with a raspberry mousse.

UPDATE, 7:01PM: David now tells me that he's going to have to work on the evening of the 4th (along with his 9-to-5 job, he's also a bartender). Joy. Well, if it's just going to be me and my brother Sean... who knows? I might do all the grilling, anyway, then have a pile of leftovers to last us the week.


Thursday, July 01, 2010

stung in the line of duty

The pain that radiated up my right thumb wasn't immediately familiar to me. I was mowing the front lawn at 11:30 this morning when the pain began to flare, and my first wild, irrational thought was that the lawn mower had developed a weird short circuit, and the electric current was running up the metal handlebar and into my thumb. But within a second after that thought arose, I realized that I had just been stung by some sort of insect, or had been bitten by a particularly irascible spider. It couldn't have been a honeybee; I'd have seen and heard it flying away. The pain translated itself into a simultaneous sting-and-ache, and I realized that the offending creature had most likely been a wasp of some sort. A glance at my thumb seemed to confirm this: honeybees leave their stingers embedded in their victims' skin, whereas my thumb revealed nothing.

It hurt like hell-- worse than what I remember of my previous stings, all of which happened years and years ago. And who the hell gets stung on the thumb? More than anything, I was pissed off. I stopped mowing as my thumb began to throb, and went inside. In the kitchen, I made myself a glass of ice water, and rammed my thumb into it to deaden the nerves. That worked, and I stood behind the kitchen counter, cursing the insect and muttering bitterly about the odds of being stung on the goddamn thumb. I pulled my thumb out periodically to see whether there was any swelling; strangely enough, there wasn't any. After a couple minutes, I went back outside, thumb still alive with that weird combination of generalized throbbing and localized pins and needles... and got stung again-- this time on the bicep.

Luckily, I was able both to see the culprit and to understand why I had been stung: a gang of hornets had decided to establish their secret base inside one of the bushes lining the side of our front yard. The cloud of dust and debris kicked up by the mower had infiltrated their hideout, so they had come out-- not exactly en masse, but in little squadrons of twos and threes-- to attack the giant in the dark tee shirt. In retrospect, I think the dark tee was a bad idea: many stinging insects are actually attracted to strong color contrasts (such as when you wear a dark tee on a bright, sunny day), and are thus more likely to target them when they're in a fighting mood.

Hours have passed, and my thumb still hurts. I was stung plenty of times as a kid; one of my best childhood friends and I used to patrol our neighborhood, looking for wasp nests to destroy, so we were both routinely nailed. But today's two stings seem somehow worse than the stings of old, which leads me to believe that I've never been stung by hornets before. I'm also assuming that I've correctly identified the beasties in question; there's a chance that I haven't.

The good news is that, aside from the annoying pain, nothing further seems to have happened. There's been no visible swelling (my thumbs remain symmetrical), and I've ruled out the possibility that the insects were possessed of a strong neurotoxin (my heart would have registered that frightening turn of events within a minute or two). It hurts, somewhat, to grip things with my right hand, but the pain seems finally to be subsiding. By tomorrow, I hope, my right thumb will be its usual contented self. My bicep, meanwhile, seems almost perfectly fine; I think I managed to slap the hornet away before it got too far along in its attack.

Epilogue: while still pissed off and in a vengeful mood after my second stinging, I stomped back into the house and retrieved a large can of Raid bug killer, then applied the spray liberally to the bush whenever the wind picked up. A few hornets flew at me while I did this, but no more of them stung me. Whether I actually killed any bugs is anyone's guess, but my assault made me feel better. I did notice, during my siege, that the bottom of the bush was laced with honeysuckle-- a powerful attractant for all nectar-seeking insects. I might have to do something about that.