Sunday, July 30, 2017

Thank you, Jesus

I went to a pig picking out west of Yanceyville yesterday, and was guided in my way there by the ever faithful Sergei and Larry, appearing in the guise of Google Maps. They took me down many a country road that I ne'er had seen. I was intrigued by many things, but first and foremost by the "thank you Jesus" signs that I saw in many yards. They were so uniform, I assumed that they must have been distributed in a top-down fashion, and that it couldn't have come from just one church. I assumed as well that, if WalMart or some other retailer was selling them, there would be more than one variety.  And since there was punctuation absent, to wit, a comma that should have been there, I assumed that it must have come from somewhere within the Trump organization. It seemed like Bannon's work, most likely.

But when I got home later and had sufficient bandwidth, I put the question to Sergei and Larry directly, and they informed me that it was in fact a bottom up effort, founded by a kid from nearby Asheboro who has founded a movement to put these in many yards.


So I guess my suspicions were unfounded.

However, given that they appeared to be perched in the yards of many presumed Trump voters, I still don't get it. It would be good to have more discussions with rural Christians to understand how they square Trump with the savior.  I just don't get it.

Today, at RiteAid, I took my blood pressure from the little machine there. When I was done, it said something to me and I was like: "what?"  I thought it had said "Praise God." Then I reflected, and decided it must have said "Great job." I guess I am a little jumpy on the question of Christian theocracy these days. But who could blame me?

Clearly, this week's events show that the Mooch, if no one else, walks in the footsteps of Jesus.

Discussing rugs

I have been encouraging Mary to make a decision about a rug for the rec room for some time. Just now she called me in there to help her look at some options, and there were many variables to consider, culled from design web sites she had looked at and imagined scenarios of guests in the home that happen infrequently.  Also perceived budgetary constraints, she thinking that she needs to spend little money because many months ago I suggested that we should have a budget for the overall project of redoing the rec room.  In my mind, having a budget doesn't mean doing everything as cheaply as possible, it just means having some sort of framework in place for the overall spend. I like spreadsheets.

She makes me crazy with some of this shit, and I don't necessarily articulate my craziness well. I think the root issue is that I have my own loopy cogitations I am continually trying to sort through, so that being dragged into her overthinking just adds insult to my own already bad enough injury.

Also, she wants everything to be perfect because she's afraid she'll be locked in forever, whereas I want to have it good enough so we can move forward and achieve the ultimate aim -- having it look good enough so we can host more.

All in all, it's just marriage, as complex an evolutionary process as one is likely to find.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Levanter

I read through this 1972 Eric Ambler novel between volumes 3 and 4 of Ferrante. A palate-cleanser, as it were.

At first it seemed sort of slow to get going, kind of quaint in the degree of technical detail into which it delved around various matters concerning the manufacture of this or that (the Levanter in the title is an industrial exec with an engineering background), and in the scale of evil contemplated by the neerdowells he runs into and must foil, as of course he must.

But Ambler was one of Hitchcock's core writers, and not for nothing. From improbable material, by 2017 standards, he was able to weave an impressive set of conflicts and plot. Relative to the hyperactive and explosive plots we are used to from novels and movies today, it is slow, but worthy reading. This is one of his best.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Quick fix

I have been kvetching about the interior of our old Volvo off and on for about two years now, judging by the blog (I see entries from November 2015 mentioning it). A couple of times I have been on the point of plowing money into it, then held back for this or that reason.

Just yesterday, Natalie went and got her "after 9s" license, meaning she is now just as adult a driver as I am, in the eyes of the law. To celebrate, she went out to a movie and then hung out with her friend's Dora and Susanna.  So she merits a car, according to the law of the suburbs.

The other evening I was looking at places where the header (interior fabric) of the Volvo was hanging down by the front and rear windshields, and I thought:  I wonder if a stapler could help with that?  So I went inside and got a stapler, and I'll be damned if it didn't do a good job addressing the basic problem.

The main thing that had been bothering me in the interior had been the fabric hanging down from the sunroof, which just looked crappy and filled me with a little shame. I thought:  "There's no way the stapler will work here." But I tried it anyway and, though it doesn't look good if you look right at it, it does hold the fabric up.

Which just goes to show you that people, me in particular, should not overthink and overfeel things.

And, with the money I saved, I was able to make a small contribution to the website tracking Susanna's dad's battle against leukemia, or, rather, informing the community around him. Not that I actively thought about it that way, but that's what I did.

Moving on now.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Reality check

Headed to lunch today, was right on time, which means I wasn't 5 minutes early, which in business circles is optimal. So I was rushing, and I was thinking the place I needed to pull in was 100 yards down the way, when in fact it was right there. I could have just gone further down and pulled in to the other end of the parking lot, but I didn't.  I had accelerated needlessly, and I veered into the parking lot and slammed on the brakes.

The people at the Subaru dealership had recommended that I go ahead and get new brakes, while the people at AutoLogic said I had another 7500 miles before I did. At that moment, it felt like the people at the dealership were right.

The moral to the story, if you hadn't gotten there, was that I should have left earlier. I have, in fact, been taking silly risks to carve 15-30 seconds off of things, like being one lane to the right of where I need to be 300 yards down the road, making it necessary to beat the car to my left off the line. This is not a hard thing to do if I focus on the light and utilize the newfound advantages of my stick shift. But it is still stupid. Bad for gas mileage, bad for the car, and it makes me focus on beating somebody off the line, which is an idiotic waste of attention.

Note to self. Leave earlier.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Back from the hills

Our flight got in at around midnight last night, so I am in the wierd time warp of West-East jet lag during daylight savings. If feels like it's about 10:30 to me now, but it is past noon.  Hopefully by the time evening rolls around, I will be better synched up.

There are times when I wonder whether I would be better off with a more thematically-focused blog, and am a little envious of peers who do have more unified online presence, Anne Applebaum, say. They can freely promote themselves under their own name and build a "brand", not even as it were, for realsies. But they lack the freedom to go offroad and just wing it, which I have preserved. Sort of.

My friend Steve, a rather practical fellow, once said that he always read the Economist from the front: upon receiving it, he would read the four to five leader articles in one sitting. The Grouse, ever the contrarian, decided it made sense to read it from the back, always beginning with the weekly obituary, because this is the best way to keep things in their ultimate perspective and consider the long view of what is a life well-lived. Last week (I am two weeks behind) featured a consideration of the life of Heathcote Williams, a British poet of whom I had never heard.

In a poem called "Autogeddon," Williams referred to car travel as the "TV of travel." After almost two weeks and maybe 700 miles in the car over the last couple of weeks, I hear that. We blew in air-conditioned comfort (often not needed, given that the temp outside was 65ish much of the way) through a lot of landscape, some of it glossy, much of it less so. But I'm not gonna sit around and flagellate myself. We saw a lot of America that few people see. Flying over is even worse. Riding a bike is better from the perspective of engaging with one's surroundings, but few are those who have the time to do long bike rides, particularly when accompanied by 79- and 13-year olds. That ain't happening.

We saw some places well off the beaten path. The day before yesterday we drove from Mendocino to Sacramento to fly out, and our trip took us on Rte 20 along the northern shore of Clear Lake, California, through towns with aspirational Euro-monikers like "Lucerne" and "Nice." Clear Lake is, to be clear, a big lake, and it's pretty, but fancy it ain't. Rte 20 hugs the northern shore, skirting through communities of small houses, mobile homes, and modest eateries and hotels. Rooms at the Lake Marina Inn in Clearlake Oaks, with spectacular views across the lake at what we would consider mountains back east, can be had for $69 a night.  On the internet they look clean.

It's reminiscent of the Finger Lakes in upstate New York, and a reminder that there is much beauty and comfort to be had for the American middle class, if it can just figure out how to keep a job that will let it schedule vacation time. And stave off obesity and opioid dependency and death by 300 million firearms. No mean feat.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

In the hills

We have now made our way down the Pacific Coast from central Oregon to Little River, CA, right near Mendocino. Between the two we have gone through some of the most starkly beautiful, and at the same time intensely isolated, places in the lower 48. Many's the time I'd gaze through the windshield and think:  "man, it would be cool to live out in these hills, away from the pushes and pulls of civilization, yatta yatta yatta".

Thing is, I am apparently not alone in this thought.  Thing is, it would appear that these wilds up here attract all kinds of eccentrics. There were lots of dirty, bearded hitchhikers (an objective description, mind you), and other wild-eyed types walking on the sides of roadways off in the middle of nowhere. Lots of hardscrabble mobile home communities.

Up near Eugene, CA, we stayed in a Hampton Inn out near the highway (a mistake, by the way, the old town was cure and there were some groovy looking inns that were probably cheaper. I just didn't have the energy to research cool lodgings for every night). Between our hotel and the breakfast place we hit, maybe 150 yards away, we passed 4 homeless people. And another guy sitting alone in a pickup truck with a covered back with a bunch of crumpled up Bud tall boys thrown back there.

I think it not implausible to guess that many come up hear for the promise of an independent, living off the land lifestyle, and end up having economic difficulties. Mary thinks I am overgeneralizing, but I think I have some experience at the intersection of substance abuse and mental illness.

In Garberville, CA, in the heart of Humboldt County -- an area much-mythologized in my younger days -- we had lunch at a little deli. Sitting there waiting for our sandwiches, we saw every stereotype of a pothead ever dreamed up by Hollywood central casting. Getting gas after lunch, I remarked to my mom what I joy of a sight I must have been when I came home from college back in the day, and she had a good laugh. Moving on.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

On the coast, with a novel

We are here at Waldport, Oregon, in a beach house that looks like it is right out of the Brady Bunch, looking out at the ocean in the distance, down the bluff.  It is a perfect beach house, Mary did miraculously well to find it.

I am making my way to the end of the third volume of Ferrante's neapolitan novels. Although I have resisted the temptation to try to learn about the author, out of respect for her desired anonymity, I am understanding the urge to look into it. In so many ways, these books are the perfect bookend to Knausgaard. He of the north, she of the south. He purportedly autobiographical and true to life, narrator and author entirely fused as one, but so often stretching credulity, in the sense that it seems impossible that one could remember so much detail, so we often find ourselves asking: could that really be true?

Ferrante, on the other hand, is the opposite.  It is all supposed to be fiction, but it seems so real that the question that constantly pops into my head is: "could this be anything but autobiographical?" And yet I feel as if it is only right to let the question hand in the air, and just keep going.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Theme music

As Graham and I have made our way through the various serieses within the Star Trek universe, or whatever you want to call it. One thing that has remained consistent is how enjoyable it is to whistle the theme music, particularly because Graham doesn't like it at all when I do it. Or even when I sing along. Recently, he has taken to climbing on top of me and trying to hold my mouth shut and otherwise squash my head in a mostly vain attempt to stop me from joining in the theme to Deep Space 9. So much so that I have learned to prophylactically remove my glasses and put them on the little end table/bookshelf, lest they fall victim to Graham's aggressions.

Natalie, by way of contrast, very much enjoys singing along to theme music with me, a tradition which we kicked off back when we were watching Parks and Rec together, and which has continued on as we make our way through Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Let me just say that season 3 of Kimmy has them reaching fairly hard with the old plot generation algorithms, though the last one (episode 11) was nothing short of genius, primarily due to a tremendous guest performance by Rachel Dratch plus Tina Fey too.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Moving things out

No martial arts for Graham today.  There has been a lot of crap piling up around our rec room and mud room for months. I often look at it and think "why doesn't Mary get this shit out of here?" The fact is, by so doing, I am really ignoring the hard facts of sedimented gender roles in our household: it is 99% a male function to carry things out of the house. It just is. Trash, compost, stuff headed to the thrift store, even bags when we head out on family trips. It is mostly the job of me and, to the extent I can draw him into it, Graham.

Mary does much of the carrying things in, specifically groceries, and to a lesser extent mail.

If I let this bother me, and am just letting myself get foolishly sucked into a mental and psychic battle that does me no good at all.

So my Subaru is now jam-packed with stuff and I just need to figure out which lucky thrift store will be the winner. Mary saw a nice little informal jacket for me at the Goodwill on Weaverdairy just the other day. Why she didn't snap it up, I can't tell you. I must coach her to trust her instincts more.