Sunday, September 05, 2010

Enquiring Minds Want to Know

I would like to propose a small gedankenexperiment...

Suppose a gentleman were to return home from work unexpectedly one day to find his wife in the arms of another woman. No, not the arms, exactly. Let us say the wife is presenting to her lover in the ventro-dorsal position. The Other Woman is preparing to to employ a somewhat intimidatingly large strapon dildo, and is about to get down to brass tacks, but no penetration has yet taken place.

Let us further postulate that the Other Woman's affect -- tattoos, perhaps, or a beer gut, or a patch-laden leather vest unremoved from her person -- suggest that she may have some involvement with motorcycle culture. Or, hell -- let's say the strapon is embossed with the logo of the Harley-Davidson corporation.

Then let us further hypothesize that the gentleman, perhaps understandably enraged at the sight, pulls from a hidden shoulder-holster a revolver, which he points at the interloper's head as he demands that she desist from this activity or she will find herself headless.

Can it be said, then, that the man has threatened to waste vagina-mountin' mama?

These and other, similar thoughts occupy the mind these days....

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Who Do You Call?

Saw this on the Clara Barton this morning. Luckily we were stopped at a light, and I was able to get a shot:

They really do exist.

Their website touts their expertise at "Structural Damage Caused by Vehicles" and "Structural Damage Caused by Fallen Trees," and the conclusion I must reluctantly draw is that those things are way more vulnerable than I thought.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Enlivening Life with Song

Daily, I drive through the lovely little hamlet of Paeonian Springs, Va.

Rarely does this brief visit fail to set off in the Jingo cranium the little ditty that I once penned as a sort of Town Anthem. It's a waltz-time thing, goes something like this:

Paeonian Springs,
Paeonian Springs,
You can poop where you want, but...
Paeonian Springs!

You're welcome, Paeonian Springs! You're cute!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Why Facebook Holds Little Fascination

At first, it was kind of cool to be put back into contact with people I hadn't thought about for thirty years.

The problem is, of course, that times change, circumstances change, and people that you're arbitrarily thrown together with in high school -- people the sixteen-year-old you thought you knew -- they change too.

If I say you're a friend on Facebook, it's because I consider you a friend. Or at least a nodding acquaintance, right? Somebody I've shared some experiences with. A friend, you would think, would be the sort of person who'd be at least somewhat open to input from me.

So when a high-school acquaintance -- not really a friend; we didn't really move in the same circles -- forwarded me a truly loathsome bit of racist cant, expecting me to giggle and forward it on to all my right-thinking friends -- this after I asked him last year please not to forward any more 9-12/Glenn Beck/Birther sludge to me, so I thought he understood my stance on these matters -- I gave him some friendly input, in the form of an email repeating my request not to send me such things. (That, at least, was the gist of what I said. There may have been some slightly intemperate language, but this sort of thing, well, pisses me off real bad.)

(I'm not linking to the disgusting thing that angered me, but google "Larmondo 'Flair' Allen" if you're curious.)

His response to me this morning was (and this is a verbatim copy-and-paste, the entire body of the email) "your [sic] a sad little man."

At my riposte begging to be taken off his distro list, he replied "If you feel that calling me a racist helps you sleep at night, you go on ahead. The world will keep on turning without either one of us..."

No, dude, it's not really got much to do with me sleeping at night, or the globe's continued rotation. It's more that what you sent me was real fuckin' racist, and if you can't see that, well, if the shoe fits...

So that's why I don't haunt Facebook very much. People can really suck at the whole humanity thing.

(If you haven't recently sent me any vile racist sludge, then we're still cool on Facebook. Simple as that.)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Rogers & Hart: What Were They Smoking?

All right, let's see, here.... She gets too hungry for dinner at eight. Check. She likes the theater, and never comes late, good for her. She'd never bother with people she'd hate. Well, who would?

What the hell about any of the foregoing means that the lady is a tramp?

Doesn't like crap games with barons or earls. Disciplined of her, I'll grant -- and, frankly, some of the worst cheaters at dice I know of are of the noble caste. Won't go to Harlem in ermine and pearls -- so she might be either cheap or a racist or perhaps just careful. Won't dish the dirt with the rest of the girls. Not a gossip -- admirable, I suppose.

OK, she possesses these traits, some good, some less so; I still fail utterly to understand why their display draws one to the conclusion that the lady is a tramp.

She likes the free, fresh wind in her hair -- who doesn't? Life without care -- nice work if you can get it, I suppose. She's broke, but it's oke -- I don't know what the hell this even means. Hates California; it's cold and it's damp -- well, the bits north of San Luis Obispo or so can be accused of this, but it seems an awfully broad brush to paint our most populous state with.

Is it possible that we're working with some meaning of the word "tramp" that I'm unaware of? Mr. Webster gives us two possible definitions that might apply -- the lady is either a homeless person or she's a slut. Or a homeless slut, I suppose. A homeless slut whose admiration of the theater is matched only by her laudable punctuality. Might explain the avoidance of Harlem in ermine and pearls -- most vagrant strumpets of my acquaintance lack these fripperies in their wardrobes.

Could "she" be a tramp steamer? Seagoing vessels are often referred to using the female gender.... A tramp steamer that likes the free, fresh wind in her hair? That dislikes northern California's capricious weather? That refrains from tittle-tattle with others of her sex? That shuns gambling with European nobility?

I'm going with that. I've never known an itinerant cargo-vessel that was late to a play.

She weighs her anchor in old Frisco Bay
Picks up some rebar in far Mandalay

She runs on diesel -- the old-fashioned way
That's why the lady is a tramp


She likes the fresh sea breeze in her masts

Steam-whistle blasts

'Neath her keel

Is an eel
At night she displays a nautical lamp
That's why the lady is a tramp


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

California, 2010 (2 -- Home Again)

An Tableau Illustrating Something of the British National Character

(Scene: in line at the ticket booth for the Powell-Mason Line Cable Trolley in San Francisco)

British Man #1, two places ahead of us, at the window: But this is disgraceful!

British Man #2, directly behind us in line and unacquainted with BM#1: Oh, God, no....

BM#1: Why the bloody hell can't I pay with a credit card?

BM#2: Oh, nooooo... Don't.... Please, please don't....

BM#1: You know, we know how to do these things at home! We'd work it out so anybody could pay with a credit card! We're more civilized that way!

BM#2: Oh dear God, how embarrassing...

BM#1 [contemptuously shoveling bills through the window]: Right, here's your bloody cash....

BM#2: OhGodOhGodOhGod....

Me [to BM#2]: It's OK -- I've seen my own countrymen do far worse away from home...

BM#2: Yes, but we're supposed to be better!


I realize that my last post, written in Los Angeles on our last day there, was a bit venomous, but the place angered me. Outside of (perhaps) Manhattan, I've never seen a place that draws such a blindingly clear line between those who Have and those who Do Not. On our first day in Calabasas, we went for a little exploratory drive. I observed that the surrounding hilltops had some lovely houses on them, houses that must have had a lovely commanding view of the valley. I proposed we meander into those neighborhoods to see what the view was like.

Not so fast, there, stranger. Gates. Guards. Lines of tradesmens' and gardeners' trucks awaiting the blessing of some pampered hausfrau to gain access. I worked hard so that me and mine could live on this hilltop, chum, and if you think I'm going to allow just any old riffraff to come and gawk at my stuff, you've got another think coming....

I did not gain favor with Betty by revisiting with her the plot of Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death."


Things were not helped when, later in the day, an officious biddy on a public thoroughfare informed me that smoking had been prohibited throughout the town of Calabasas, and that she was going to inform on me to the nearest gendarme if I did not immediately desist from polluting her airspace.

She was easily thirty yards away from me as she performed her righteous civic duty.


Oh, and those little microscopic dogs in handbags?

Need I say more?


If you are able (as I was not) to suppress thoughts of the world-historical nastiness that was the professional life of William Randolph Hearst, I suppose Hearst Castle at San Simeon would be an interesting place. As it was, I could not allay the memory of an old Zippy the Pinhead cartoon that takes place at San Simeon: Looking at these impossibly, grotesquely opulent surroundings, Zippy observes, "Nice grandeur!"

That's more or less the phrase that kept going through my head too.

On the other hand, it might have been sort of fun to play tennis up there with Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford.


The Pacific Coast Highway did a lot to clear the venom of LA from my brain. That's one mighty pretty stretch of road. I'd like to do it on a motorbike sometime, south to north.

Without brakes.


San Francisco, conversely, plainly did not give a rat's vagina if I lit up three simultaneous Luckies on the corner of Lombard and Van Ness. I can personally attest to the veracity of this assertion; each morning before breakfast, I walked to that well-trafficked corner, tore open a fresh pack, and stuffed three into my gob and lit them all. Not a rat's vagina was to be seen.


I can now confidently say, without fear of cavil, that I have a profound desire never to see Haight-Ashbury again.

Enough on that.


I trusted the waiter and went with the osso buco at Firenze by Night.

Best decision I ever made.


In an otherwise flawless execution of trip-planning (the lion's share of which is directly attributable to Wonder Woman's tireless research), I made only one silly mistake; to wit, in booking the return flight, I found a reasonably priced Virgin America flight that departed SFO at 10:05 and arrived at Dulles at 6:10. Perfect!

There was only one thing wrong with that booking. I neglected to pay attention to one little detail -- the AMs and PMs that follow the posted times. Yes, I had put us on a redeye flight arriving at 6:10 in the morning.

Oh, go ahead and laugh. It will be as water off a duck's back compared to the bollocking I received from young Betty, who had to endure the flight.


I suppose I will recover from the jet-lag at some point soon. Some recommend aspirin, others epsom salts. Me, I'm thinking a few jolts of Boone's Farm chased with some crushed glass.

Monday, August 02, 2010

California, 2010 (1)

See that? These Californians have a place for everything! A whole box full of 'em!

I had once -- like, a week ago -- idealistically thought that I'd be able to sit down in some comfortable space and record each day of this trip as it happened. However, events have intervened, and the admixture of the warm (and spectacularly free of humidity) California sun and a frosty beverage at about 5PM have introduced a certain lassitude that I can't but ascribe to the local culture.

Some highlights from the last few days:

Disneyland seriously needs to go fuck itself. Betty was disillusioned by her experience, but this was the reaction of an eighteen-year-old being confronted by the expectations of her own ten-year-old self. The rides were inferior to those available at your local Six Flags, where the lines are shorter and the thrills far better. The rest of it was relentless merch-flogging. Fuck you, Walt Disney. Betty sees through you.

At Disneyland, the Animatronic Abraham Lincoln, in summarizing the Civil War, managed to avoid the following subjects:
  • What the war was about
  • Who won the goddamned war; and
  • Anything having to do with the aftermath of the war, including Jim Crow laws, lynchings, or Bombingham.
But boy howdy did we all leave the theater with a good feeling about America!

The experience of belonging to a studio audience for the taping of a dreadful sitcom is quite remarkable. They need you to be upbeat, so they are quite relentless in their enforcement of (what Frank Zappa called) "compulsory entertainment." The tame comedian who runs the show leaves one wishing that assault laws weren't quite so strict around here. One leaves the studio feeling quite raped, actually.

According to the papers I signed, I'm not allowed to tell the exact name, or even the production company we were allowed to see, but let's see if my expert Internet-Search-avoidance skills obtain: The show we were forbidden from mentioning was Schmelissa-and-Schmoey, on the Schmay-Bee-Smee Schmaly Schmetwork... Does that work to disguise my origins...?

At any rate, the show seriously SCHMUCKS.

On the other hand, the Warner Brothers Studio Tour was really worth the candle. At one point we drove up to a sound-stage (Maybe #24??) that listed the movies that had been shot on its environs; they included The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, and The Music Man. There's American History, and then there's Cultural Touchpoints Along the Way to American History; and Warner Brothers has badly mixed the two.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

What's In a Name?

I'm assuming they include the author of the query in the list of people "in the USA."

If not, I really, really want to meet this person.

It amuses me quite a bit that if you're looking for a name for your newborn, you'd have to reject a list of 856,728 more popular names. But as "fist" names go, it's a beaut.

Click here to check your own name

I also tried it with my so-called "real" name: There are two people in the USA who bedeck themselves with its polysyllabic magnificence. Again assuming I'm one of the two, I wonder if they know that my father, who shares our name, doesn't live in the USA anymore.

Monday, June 28, 2010

No, Not That Kind of Wasp

Some three summers ago, I was out working on the motorbike on a sultry evening. Done with my tasks and whistling tunelessly, I gathered up my tools and prepared to head inside.

Something stung me on the calf. A yellowjacket must have alighted on the hem of my shorts, and was irritated and acted out in the only way it knew how.

A yellowjacket sting is really no big deal, painwise, and I shrugged it off and went on with my evening.

Some five minutes later, I noticed I was coming out in hives on my upper chest.

Hmmmm, I thought. That's unusual....

Took a Benadryl. The hives went away.

I mentioned this to my doctor on a routine visit, and she told me sternly that I must now consider myself allergic to wasp stings. I must carry an Epi-pen with me at all times, and should another yellowjacket take it into its head to attack me, I must hit myself with it and call 911. Immediately. Without delay.

Some months after that, I took a course of therapy: micro-doses of wasp venin, increasing in size until I redeveloped my resistance. Trouble was, life doesn't always cooperate, and I necessarily had to miss the last three doses out of about twelve. So no allergist ever shook me by the hand and congratulated me for being allergy-free.

This was the state of affairs last night. I have been living in a sort of limbo, not knowing whether the therapy completely blew the allergy out of me. And I still have the Epi-pen and I renew the prescription every year.

Last night, the proposition was tested.

Once again walking out of the garage -- doinnnng! Yellowjacket sting on the bare ankle. Well. I guess we're going to find out about that therapy, aren't we.

A few minutes later, here come the hives.

And I panic.

"911, what is your emergency?"


(The Epi-pen has a tendency, I now find, to goose the adrenaline levels astronomically. In fact, that's what it is meant to do.)

Wonder Woman, meanwhile, was doing a little eye-rolling. Real easy for you to be nonchalant about this, sweetie, but if my throat swells shut in the next five minutes, you're the one who's gonna have to find something to use to intubate me. I'm thinking you should go cut a length of garden hose....

She did press a couple of Benadryls on me. Funny thing: As I listened to the siren approaching from far, far away, I could feel the pills soothing my hives. I also began to realize that my throat wasn't constricting, my breathing was normal (if a trifle adrenalated), and about the worst thing I was experiencing was minor discomfort on the stung ankle.

I met the ambulance at the driveway, feeling more than a bit sheepish. I told them I was the guy who'd called, that the therapy I'd taken had indeed had its intended effect, and that I was sorry to have disturbed their Sunday ease. They very kindly told me I had done exactly the right thing, no sense in taking any chances with something potentially so deadly, took me into the vehicle and checked my vital signs. Everything was well within parameters.

I still have one remaining Epi-pen. I'm thinking of ways it could be abused....

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

All the Sweet Green Icing Flowing Down

So, Landon Donovan wins the Algeria game for the U.S., sending us into the World Cup™ knockout rounds as Group C winners...

I've met him, you know. Oh, yes, we go way back, Landon and me.

Some eight or nine years ago, for Freddie's birthday we took a party of ten-year-old boys to RFK Stadium to take in a DC United game. Like most non-major-league teams, United was very solicitous toward groups of boys who visited their stadium to learn about the game, and the birthday-party package (reasonably priced!) included field privileges before the match, in the spaces behind the goals.

These areas were, of course, roped off from the field where the players were warming up. Not being a ten-year-old boy myself, I was watching the warmups with rather more interest than that I expended on the Thunder-Stick fencing matches going on behind me. Donovan, then a mere up-and-coming youngster a year or two out of college, kicked an errant ball that came to a stop near me. I picked it up and tossed it to him as he jogged my way.

"Thanks," he said.

So, like I say, we go way back, me and Landon.

But that is not the memory of that game that I treasure the most. This is that memory:

About half-time, it came on to rain buckets. Everyone scurried up to the covered part of the stadium to wait out the torrent. As the responsible parents we are, we split the duties: Wonder Woman herded the birthday guests out of the rain, and I remained behind to pick up whatever birthday-party paraphernalia that would not survive a soaking. Carrying armloads of sweatshirts, caps, wrapped presents and the like, I glanced over and saw the remnants of the blue-frosted cake, slowly dissolving into a wet, sugary blob of goo. An idea formed in my mind.

I deposited my armloads of stuff safely in dry territory, and then went back. I lifted the platter that held the blue gooey mess, brandished it on high, looked around and made sure I had at least a small audience, and yelled up to Wonder Woman in the next section up: "Honey! Someone left the cake out in the rain!"

And she didn't even skip a beat: "I don't know if I can take it, 'cause it took so long to bake it, and I'll never have that recipe again!"

I believe I've observed this before, but it bears repeating: I married that woman for a reason.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Oh, the Pain of Listening to You

Well, there's another cherished illusion down the crapper....

We drove this Friday from our usual Northern Virginia haunts to Greensboro, in the Piedmont of North Carolina. Betty will be starting at Greensboro College in the fall, and Freshman Orientation called her down to choose courses, meet other frosh, and what have you.

The trip is drop-dead gorgeous. Down Interstate 81: Winchester, New Market, Harrisonburg, Staunton, and on down to Roanoke, the gentle rolling hills of the Shenandoah Valley giving way to the high, wild Appalachians as you approach the North Carolina and Tennessee state lines. We broke off 81 at Roanoke to follow 220 south to the Piedmont country.

The three-finger banjo style made famous by Earl Scruggs originated in the Piedmont. Charlie Poole came from there, as did an huge litany of enormously influential musicians. It was from a North Carolina mountain resort in August 1927 that an already consumptive Jimmie Rodgers, desperate to break into the music industry before he died, showed up at Ralph Peer's Bristol Sessions and cut "The Soldier's Sweetheart" and "Sleep, Baby, Sleep"; at the same session the Carter Family, from Maces Springs not far away, cut "Single Girl, Married Girl" and pretty much kicked off the entire country-music recording industry.

So this music permeates this countryside. We are smack-dab in the cradle of country music, the music of the people, and the people of the music, and it permeates all in the same way that jazz permeates New Orleans and the waltz does Vienna. The twang of the banjo and the wail of the fiddle is a constant whisper in the wind, and the people who live here proudly claim ownership and uphold the old traditions....

Right? I mean, right?

We stopped for gas in Boones Mill, south of Roanoke. Completely randomly chose a gas station that also had a Bojangles chicken joint attached to it. A desultory Friday evening crowd ate their chicken in the sultry air -- and there, as if placed there by God for the delectation of Suburban Goober Jingo, was an amateur country band! Playing real, authentic country music!

They were ancient. The rhythm guitarist had to have been 85 if he was a day, sunken cheeks telling of lousy Appalachian dentistry. He played in the unusual Lester Flatt picking style: thumb on the downstroke, index finger on the upstroke. The lead guitar-flogger was a bit younger, but not by much. The bassist was probably the baby of the band at 60 or so. The female lead singer, perhaps 70, had hard, angular facial features that sprang straight from a Walker Percy Evans [thanks, Kim! Reminder to self: look shit up!!!] Depression photograph.

They swung into "The Pain of Loving You," an old Dolly Parton/Porter Waggoner number that Parton brought to the Trio project with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt:

Oh, the pain of loving you
Oh, the misery I go through
Never knowing what to do
Oh, the pain of loving you

As I stood in rapturous anticipation of the countrylicious authenticity of it all, something slightly appalling began to make itself clear...




In the first verse, the rhythm guitar looked over at the bass with a look of concern: Why are you playing a C right now? Both lost the count so badly that it became impossible for the listener to tell where the one was in the measure. The singer floundered, trying to complete a phrase at the spot she thought the measure was going to end, and wound up biting off the whole phrase.

Train wreck.

Parton, Harris and Ronstadt's singing in the chorus of their version is a master class in three-part harmony singing -- gorgeous interior movement, dissonance resolving to assonance: church harmony meeting the tight close harmony of Thirties and Forties jazz.

Let it just be said that the harmony singing on display here was really quite... Not good.

This stuff ain't exactly "The Be-Bop Tango," if you know what I mean. They call it "folk music" because it's so simple that "folk" can play it in their parlors. All you need is to be able to count to four while playing simple changes. Sing a third above the melody. Not rocket-science music.

I dropped a buck into the collection bucket anyway. At least they were trying.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

I'm-a Tell You About That Wonder Woman

That up there is an Eastern Phoebe. According to the online "Field Guide to the Birds of North America,"
  • The Eastern Phoebe was the first bird to be banded in North America. In 1804, John James Audubon used a silver thread attached to its leg to note when the bird would return each year.
  • Of the three Phoebe species, the Eastern Phoebe’s call most closely resembles its name.
  • Unlike most songbirds who must hear other birds to hone their vocalizations, an Eastern Phoebe raised in isolation will still sing a perfect song.
  • A group of flycatchers has many collective nouns, including an "outfield," "swatting," "zapper," and "zipper" of flycatchers.
Well we have neither zapper nor zipper of phoebes nesting atop our wind-chime on the back porch, but we do have one lone specimen. She (or perhaps a daughter) returns every year to that same spot, hatches two broods between April and July, and then scarpers off for parts unknown. She's been doing this since 2005. We've come to be rather good friends, us and that phoebe. Each year, her little ones leave a pretty impressive pile of birdshit on the floor of the porch, but we deal. Accommodations, you understand. Doesn't seem to be hurting the wood floor.

You may also remember another member of our extended family, the rat snake who inhabited our potting shed a couple of springs ago. We didn't object to his taking up residence, as the mouse population dove into near-zero numbers.

Among their other qualities, rat snakes are known as excellent climbers. Which is why the other evening as I sat reading on the porch-swing, I wasn't all that surprised to see one of that snake's younger relatives, perhaps four or five feet long, making his way up the screen door, making straight for the nestlings. Another few minutes and he'd be making a meal of them.

I called Wonder Woman out, intending to show her the Great Circle of Life or the Food Chain or something.

She wasn't interested in any science. She went straight up to the serpent, snagged it by the throat in fine herpetological fashion, pulled it off the screen door. The thing writhed and wrapped itself around her forearm. She turned its snaky face so she was looking it squarely, eye-to-eye. Then she said in a low growl, millennia of maternal instinct speaking through her, "Not! These! Babies!"

Then she stalked off across the lawn, the snake still wrapped around her wrist and forearm, and cast the accursed thing into a hedge of creeper twenty yards away. "Find someplace else to live!" she shouted after it.

It hasn't been back, of course. How would it dare, after having been chastened that thoroughly?

The chicks, by the way, were fledged the next day. And Mother Phoebe has started in on her second brood.

Live-Blogging USA vs. England

1:00: USA! USA! USA!

Just went out to the 7-11 for a few little something-somethings. Walked up to the checkout clerk with my Slurpee, felt in the back pocket of my shorts -- and realized my wallet wasn't there.

Cursing my idiocy -- the Drive of Shame would be a half-hour, there and back -- I went and pitched the Slurpee into the trash. Then I happened to glance at my left hand -- and there was my wallet.

It's possible the heat is getting to me.

2:57: USA! USA! USA!

On the first day of the last World Cup, I had an operation to try to save my natural hip.

(Oh. Well, so much for that, then. England scores at 3:44. En-ger-land! En-ger-land! Engerland!)

At any rate, I was bedridden for the entirety of the tournament. Watched pretty much every game, in a Vicodin haze. Bummer!

It's not like USA hasn't had its chances... Oh god, that shot to Tim Howard's chest sure looked like it smarted a bit...

39:50: USA! USA! USA! (And where did En-ger-land get that goalie? Looked like a ten-year-old Little Leaguer letting a routine base hit turn into a triple...)

This Landon Donovan: I like the cut of his jib. I saw him play years ago when he was with DC United...

51:38: Player of the Game so far: Tim Howard. Fantastic save.

Confession time: I'm actually watching this about 10 minutes behind on TiVo... (giggle)

85:59: I further confess that that bees'-nest buzzing sound of the horns in the stands is going to irritate me before this tournament is over...

94:00: Fun game. Catch you later!

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Radiant, Confident, Deliriously Happy

Well, well....

It's come to this.

When Betty reached the age of two or so, not being much of a talker, she invented a sign language. "Rain," I remember, was an outstretched hand waving up and down. For "Barney," she hugged herself -- "I love you, you love me," etc.

Other things began to bother us a little bit. When she did start to speak, she didn't quite get certain consonants, so instead of "Da-da" I was "Ga-ga." When she started to feed herself, she'd approach her face with a spoonful of food -- and then invert it 180 degrees before it got to her mouth. When she learned to form letters, she was as likely as not to write perfectly backwards. She had no strong preference in handedness, and was as likely to bat or throw rightie as leftie.

Wonder Woman was more frantic than I was, I think. She began reading book after book about learning disabilities, and concluded that Betty definitely had one. We had her assessed, and the conclusion was something called Visual Processing Deficit -- to this day I don't really know what that means, only that the left and right parts of her brain weren't talking quite right to each other. It was explained to us that her brain was working so hard to locate her in time and space that there was little processing power left over for such niceties as mathematics and music.

The public school system failed her badly. I mean, criminally. It became blindingly apparent that she was being passed from one grade to another without any concern for her disability. Yes, she had an IEP, a program that was supposed to compensate for her disability, but it became clear that the program was a joke, a sop to legal requirements -- doing her no good at all while allowing the school system to claim they were helping her.

And goddammit, we knew -- how could we not know? -- that our daughter was bright, brave, beautiful, and a joy to know. It was just that the information wasn't getting in in the conventional way. We were at our wits' end.

The public school she was attending had a "Gifted and Talented" program, a not-so-subtle way of two-tracking kids and giving parents yet one more thing to be competitive about. I recall vividly my rage at a school awards ceremony where this idiot teacher raved on and on about the G&T kids under his care were going to be the Leaders of Tomorrow -- the clear implication being, of course, that if you weren't part of the G&T program, your eternal fate as a Dumb Loser Kid was pretty much sealed. Jesus, what an asshole.

Wonder Woman knew about a place called The Lab School of Washington, an institution in western DC that specialized in LD kids. I was skeptical at first, thinking it was just another way to separate frantic parents from their money. It was 75 miles from our home. It was quite expensive.

But I read about Sally Smith, the school's founder whom we were fortunate enough to meet before her death in 2007. Go ahead, go read about her. The woman was a hero and a saint -- and that's not praise you're likely to hear from me very often.

So we applied. And we were accepted for Betty's sophomore year. I'll never forget the look of rapturous joy on her face when the "Fat Envelope" came in the mail -- maybe, just maybe, this might be something to rescue her self-esteem, which by the ninth grade was in a death-spiral.

Oh, dear God, was it a slog. I can't tell you what 300 miles a day commuting did to Wonder Woman, who bore it mightily. And let's not even ponder what that kind of mileage can take out of a seventeen-year-old. The expense was nearly ruinous, coming as it did during the Great Collapse of 2008, when I was laid off and working only sporadically. But we bore it. Yes, we bore it.

Because we wanted to see that photo up there. Look at her -- radiant, confident, deliriously happy. She blossomed there at the Lab School. Just blossomed. Just a few weeks ago she had the part of Emily -- the female lead -- in the school's production of "Our Town." She brought down the house -- not a dry eye in the joint, I tell you -- certainly least of all Dear Old Dad, who was huffing and puffing and piping his eye from about the first minute on.

She'll be attending Greensboro College in the fall.

We made it!

Betty (whose real name is Emily), your mom and dad are the proudest, happiest parents in the world, and we know how strong you have had to be to get to this moment. My baby, my sign-language-inventing, backwards-writing baby, you are the best!

Wa-hey! Technology!

(On a side note, I hope you believe me when I say that you can consider this my return to blogging. A circumstance that made me feel shitty has now passed, and I feel up to sharing my life with you once again.)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Goddamned Hobos

They're everywhere!

The floor of a parking garage across the street from where I found the first Hobo Signs:

It's a veritable Tutankhamen's Tomb of Hobo Sign, a Lascaux, a Bayeaux Tapestry of Hobo Culture... And surveyors and electrical engineers -- you ain't telling me this isn't as incomprehensible as Linear B. Find something mundane in this stuff!


From the annals of the World's Shittiest Jobs...

Freddie and I saw this poor bastard this morning as we made our morning rounds. Corner of Route 15 and Edwards Ferry Road in Leesburg. At the moment of the snap, the car's outside thermometer read 17 degrees, and snow was bucketing down.

Not something you'd subject yourself to unless you really had to.

(In case you have trouble reading the photo, the guy's dressed up as the Statue of Liberty, holding a sign that reads, "Liberty Tax" -- a promotional shill for a nearby tax-prep shop.)

(Post title explanation.)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Je Te Plumerai

Here's my advice: If you're going to throw out your back on a Saturday afternoon, do it while engaged in some really butch activity like sawing up a downed tree for firewood. At any rate, don't do it the way I did -- preparing to saw up a downed tree for firewood. Swear to Christ: Got my chainsaw out of the back of the truck, walked it over to the apron of the garage to prep the saw -- chain oil, gas, chain tension adjustment -- put it down on the concrete, and blip went something in the Jingo sacroiliac.

Now I'm walking -- when I walk at all -- all hunched over like a ninety-year-old. It hurts even just to exist, let alone try to lead a normal life.

At least today there's good football to sit and suffer in front of.

In completely unrelated news, it has come to my attention that a childhood earworm song is, when more closely examined, deeply, deeply weird. I have hummed, whistled, and endured the torments of the damned to the melody of the voyageur signature tune "Alouette" since approximately the age of three. Only now, in my 49th year on this planet, have I actually bothered to look up the meaning of the French lyric. I think I'd always assumed that "Alouette" was a woman's name. I couldn't have been more wrong:

Alouette, gentille Alouette
Alouette, je te plumerai

Je te plumerai la tête
Je te plumerai la tête
Et la tête - et la tête
Alouette - Alouette

An "alouette" is a skylark, a bird. Once considered a game-bird, if Wikipedia is to be trusted. That is, something that is eaten after being shot.

"Plumerai": first person future tense of "plumer" -- to pluck. "Je te plumerai la tête," then, may be rendered something akin to "I will pluck the feathers out of your head."

The song then goes on to describe other actions the singer intends to perform on the "gentille" skylark: "I will pluck the feathers out of your beak [huh?], I will pluck the feathers out of your neck, your back," and so on.

I know, I know, autres temps, autres moeurs, I get it, but Jeee-zis! You've got a bird that you've just caught, you're gonna make dinner out of it, and you sit down before you slaughter the thing and describe to it, in direct address and in gory detail, the order in which you are going to dismember its plumage.

And we teach this song to our kids!

Sorry if I just earwormed you. But the story must be told!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Folk Art 205: The Art of the Hobo

Those of you who have read this blog for some time may remember that I'm a little bit obsessed with strange markings that appear for no apparent reason on concrete surfaces, often in parking garages. What strange impulse led people to make these marks? It can't be that they wished to preserve their names and thoughts forevermore; if they'd wanted to do that, they'd have used a fountain pen, or possibly a Sharpie. No, what ties these mysterious graffiti together is that they are invariably executed in pencil.

A new working gig has brought me banishment to a whole new smoking venue -- a loading dock in Clarendon. But rather than stand around in the cold gawking, I have made excellent use of my time outside: I have documented the local concrete markings, with the thought in mind of subjecting them to rigorous scholarly analysis.

One would-be scribe left behind a strange combination of Arabic and Roman digits: 230.V:

Is this some form of code? Does it refer to a time? A geographic location? Perhaps it's a clue to a hidden treasure: On compass point 230, walk V steps and dig! You never know!

A lesser scholar might conclude that these markings are meaningless. Nothing could be farther from the truth! My expert eye and vast knowledge of folk art tell me that these are hobo signs left over from the Great Depression. (The fact that the garage was built in the 1990s only strengthens my argument. Because I say so, and I'm the Dad.)

If my hypothesis that these markings are indeed hobo signs is valid, then there remains only the matter of interpretation. The glyph reproduced below represents, I believe, the hobo's contempt for the building itself in which the garage is located:

A lofty mountain with some small boxlike dwellings perched precariously at the summit. Was there ever a more piquant critique of bourgeois life than this, from a happy denizen of the road and the wide-open spaces? I think not, sir! I think not!

Squinting my eyes and cocking my head to the side, I realize it may not be a mountain after all, but an extremely primitive attempt at perspective -- a road heading to (or away from?) a distant town where all the buildings lie flat on the ground and are only about an inch tall. My conclusion still stands, though: The hobo didn't care much for civilization.

The hobo, as a race, was never among life's mathematicians. It is easy to imagine the frustration experienced by No-Count Louie the Louche while trying to perform subtraction of fractions by sheer force of will until Decimal Doc the Subtraction King came along and showed him how to convert one-fourth into 0.25:

Hobo legends and lore speak of three hobo brothers, Larry, Moe, and Geoffrey the Jimson-Jiggler. The brothers each had three magical hairs that stuck straight out of their heads that gave them the powers of second sight (Beatin'-Avoidin', or just "B" in hobo parlance), prestidigitation ("Rube-Diddling," or "R"), and the ability to change the weather ("Nature-Fuckin'," or "N"). One day, Geoffrey the Jimson-Jiggler clean forgot which hair was which, and Larry and Moe, ridiculing him, labeled them for him with duct tape and cardboard, which drove Geoffrey to madness. He prestidigitated a tornado that destroyed the city of Kankakee, Illinois. No one in Kankakee remembers this because they were hypnotized by an apologetic Larry and Moe.

This is where we get the expression "get out of my hair."

Below, we are greatly privileged to see a folk-art illustration of this legend, now lost in the mists of the Great Depression:

No one knows this today, but the hobos of the Great Depression were a dab hand at computer user-interface design. Granted, they did not themselves possess computers, but then again, nobody else did, either, so who's to say otherwise, eh?

Below we see a primitive but effective mockup of a three-tabbed Search module. This design would be deprecated today (modern usability testing being the cruel mistress that she is), but -- pretty good for 1934, right?

Hell, I've done worse mockups myself. With a computer.

So that's our art-history lesson for today, kids. Tune in next week for an exploration of the folk-art left on the door of the third stall on the left at the Union Station men's room.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Great Twitterature

They got something hysterically funny going on at Sadly, No!

Great Twitterature Down the Ages

You gotta read the comments. By the time I get to this:

Lincoln’s Log: 87 yr ago the bid doodz started country, vry sad for guyz who died here but we shd kp goin

I'm LOLing...

This, also.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010


I follow Harry Shearer's radio show occasionally -- it's in my podcast queue, at any rate, and I'll listen to it if everything else is used up.

I was a little impatient with his seemingly endless negative harping on last summer's switchover from analog to digital TV transmissions. I am impatient no more. On this subject, the man was speaking the absolute truth. Over-the-air digital TV blows moribund ursine cock.

We supplemented our satellite television with a tiny little 13-inch TV in the kitchen. It was nice to have around while cooking and cleaning up. Having the news, or "The Simpsons" or "Seinfeld" on in the background while we were doing trivial tasks was a nice little treat, and I could follow football progress while checking something in the oven.

That, of course, went bye-bye last June, when the Big Switch happened. One day, just -- boom! Yer teevee don't work no more. We got used to not having it, of course, but deep down inside, we kinda missed it.

So this Christmas, our treat for ourselves was the smallest flat-screen I could find. Naively, I thought it would come equipped with an antenna for receiving digital signal. It sorta said it right there on the box -- "digital-signal ready," or some such. I was not so silly as to believe we would get hi-def signal -- I do know the difference.

So I opened it up, set it up in its spot, plugged it in, turned it on, and... Bupkis. "Searching for channels," it chirped onscreen. "Nope, not finding any! Wouldn't you just like to put your fist through my screen? [Y/N]."

Sighing about how nothing's ever easy anymore, I Googled up some info I perhaps should have known before buying the thing. We're 40 miles or so from most transmitters, and "digital-ready" televisions don't come with antennas -- the manufacturers assume most everybody's got cable or satellite reception. I would have to buy an antenna.


Popped into, ordered up a spiffy black plastic jobbie that sits flat under the set. Not much footprint, nice and sleek-looking, got great reviews from users, and looked like just the thing. Boom. Ordered. Done.

It arrived Monday. Whimpering quietly, I tore open the box, set it up according to the instructions, turned on the set, scanned for channels: "1 channel found... 4 channels found... 6 channels found..." Brilliant! I've solved it!

Not so fast, Chuck-o.

Channel 4 comes in for a couple of seconds -- pixellation all over the place, audio and video out of sync, and then: "Signal was lost." Channel 5 doesn't come in at all. Same for Channels 7 and 9. No PBS. A religious channel does come in, and I contemplate doing the dishes with a pious droner in the background. I likewise contemplate chucking the whole damned thing into the recycle pile.

But I'm nothing if not persistent when faced with a technical challenge. I reconfigure the antenna, removing the amplifier. Worse. I turn it various directions, rescanning for channels each time. Some improvement, but the core broadcast channels either break up immediately or are so badly pixellated that they're unwatchable.

I've got two options now: Get a bigger, outdoor antenna, post it on the roof, and run a cable through the wall into the kitchen. That stands absolutely zero chance of happening when we've got a satellite dish up there receiving perfectly good signal.

My other option is to chuck the whole thing.

Guess which one's going to happen.

Thanks, FCC!