The PVP Diaries #76

What do you do with a plague? Cut a hole in its head, reach inside, and rip its guts out.


This time I knew it was 5:30 in the morning, and I got up anyway. Sometimes I can just feel the fight for sleep coming on, and the best option is to remove myself from the battlefield. I prepped the coffee last night, and there’s pumpkin bread left from the weekend, so I’m in a good place. Let’s do this in chronological order:

I must have been Saturday when the kids made these chocolate haunted houses. It’s a kit from Trader Joe’s. Note the fact that they’re chocolate, not gingerbread. I suppose TJ’s has such respect for the traditions of the nondenominational, nondescript, nameless, vague, celebratory season that revolves arbitrarily and with no grounds for any particular reverence around the inexplicably specific date of December 25th, that it reserves gingerbread for that particularly non-particular time of year. Halloween gets chocolate. Because there won’t be enough of that.

The Boy made his frenetic attempt, and was pleased. He decided that it’s sloppiness does not, in point of fact, represent poor workmanship. Rather, it is purposeful, as the house looks more haunteder that way. Who would argue?

The Girl worked slowly and deliberately, and of course came away with a much more polished product. I thought I had a picture of it, but alas (is that redundant? Is the “but” too much, alongside the “alas?”). The Boy thought hers was a little too nice to be scary, but that was just jealousy playing at insouciance, and it is a stance that fails to account for the horrors that stalk perfection like a dormant cancer.


Did someone say plague? We’ve been having weird data corrections. Two days ago, some 16,000 tests were removed from the “total tested” category. Yesterday, over 22,000 were added. I think that those numbers warrant a slightly less generous term than “data correction,” but you know me – always looking for someone to punish. An empty gallows is a waste of tax revenue, I always say.

18 Hospitalizations? Imma call that another data correction, considering there are 60 in the past 14 days. That’s fewer than 5 per day (and conspicuously absent any data about COVID patients being released from the hospital, but pay no attention, and all that).

Deaths remain very low and are getting lower – 3.1% of total positives today. I remember a steady 7 or 8% for a long time. Hospitalizations are also very low, so it looks as if (he said, wondering if his readers noted the skepticism) the prevalence of COVID is as real as ever here in King County, but the severity is on the decline. We seem to be inching closer to that “living with the virus” situation that was on everyone’s lips for a while. It won’t be good enough. Nothing will, until we’ve had time to prevaricate about and refuse to accept extant vaccines, virtue signal about our trust in either pharmaceutical companies or the government (depending on your party affiliation), and hold society hostage for a ransom of tweets.


The pumpkin carving was a success. We were able to decorate nicely and put together enough shelter to keep the stuttering drizzle off of everyone. I had a crock pot of spiced cider staying warm that went more or less undiscovered for most of the afternoon. I was feeling a little down about it – you know that feeling when you do something that you’re just sure is the perfect thing, but no one else seems to be catching on? That was me, until a neighbor kid ladled herself a cup and proclaimed it decent, and I anticipated the rush of drinkers and compliments. It never really materialized. A few cups were had, not much was said in the way of praise, and I had to chalk it up as a generally underwhelming effort.

There was to be a contest of sorts, but the judging never really got underway, and of course with the varying ages and skill levels, prudence would not have allowed anything like winners and losers. The Girl had done well by making several certificates for things like Cutest Pumpkin, Scariest, Weirdest, etc. Nobody seemed too put out by the fact that awards were not issued – except The Girl of course, who was not shy about saying that she felt like her certificate making efforts had gone wasted and unappreciated.

Talk to the guy who made the cider.

I took pictures with a real camera throughout. Our neighbors have 3 kids ranging from 2-ish years old to 6 or 7, and I remembered how much more photogenic they are than the 9 and 12 of my own children. I spent almost all of my pictures on them, then had to go through that old fashioned process of transferring them from a memory card to my computer so that I could touch them up and send them.

The Italian and I sat at different tables, chatting with the carvers while we did the slimy work of separating seeds from guts. Later I patted them dry with paper towels, then dried them further by putting them in the convection oven at about 225 degrees for 10 minutes or so. Then it was a quick toss in butter, Worcestershire, garlic, and salt, and a good long roast to wake them up. I turned the convection back on in the last 10 minutes for a little extra crispness. They’re delicious. I’ve bagged them up so I can give them to the neighbors, who will enjoy eating the labors of their fruits.

-Haunt your houses, Comrade Citizen!-

In the Key of Tears

“The tall clock / kept on demolishing young root, old rock.

– Nabokov, Pale Fire


Piano practice was going well yesterday. I had left The Boy downstairs for his independent study time, for which he was reading Old Yeller. They’ve been working that book over for the past few weeks, writing character sketches and setting descriptions and summaries, chapter by chapter. He was starting on chapter 10 today.

For my part, I was trying to play a D major scale on both hands simultaneously, with as few mishaps as possible. There’s a lot of confusion in the brain of a 45-year-old man trying to learn the piano. Too many pathways are a little overworn in the mind, and playing the piano can feel kind of like trying to pedal two separate bikes at the same time. The scales are tricky enough, and that’s a case of both hands making (almost) the same moves. Synchrony. That’s the easy part. It’s the songs – chords changing up on one hand while notes are rolling along with the other, rests sneaking in there, all the movements. I have nothing in my experience to which I can reach for any guidance, or even the tiniest bit of comfort, when I get all confounded and confused by something as simple as “He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” My toolbox is empty.

In the middle of trying to clap out the timing of a triplet, with the metronome set at a rather cold-syrupy 63, there was a knock at the door. Our piano is a cheap electric Casio, bought when The Girl started taking lessons as a 6 or 7 year old. She lasted a few years and occasionally really impressed us, but she hated it and we eventually allowed her to quit. There was a solid year of the hoping she would change her mind, with us always uttering the ever-trite platitude that “you’ll thank us later,” before we finally closed the (fully figurative) lid on that keyboard and set her free from her daily torture. Eventually The Boy said he’d give it a shot, but his incompatibility with the ivories was evident from the very beginning, and he is not the sort of boy to spend a few years working through the struggles in the hopes of eventually having some success. We did not push him for long. I took over his lessons earlier this year, as COVID-19 was just wrapping up its own opening movement, and have been making slow progress ever since.

The piano sits in the corner of our bedroom now, as far away as possible from anyone’s sensitive ears. It’s no shrieking violin (I did that in grade school, Lord Hammersea), but listening to “Happy Birthday,” replete with mistakes and re-starts, for 20 minutes straight will chew the last nerve of the saintliest temperaments. Never mind me banging a single key in apoplectic arrhythmia as I try to find the subtle shift in timing between a triplet and an eighth note. And that’s right where I was when the knock came, relieving me of my own incompetence for a moment.

“Come on in.” It was The Boy. I hadn’t turned all the way around, so I was just kind of waiting to hear him haltingly communicate whatever special favor he was there to ask for, being far too early to have ended his independent study time. He was probably going to ask for some ice cream, claiming reparations for inhumane levels of boredom and a general misapplication of his talents. I was prepared to acquiesce take a firm stance. But I turned the rest of the way around to meet the challenge full-on, and in a matter of seconds I melted faster than a pint of salted caramel in a sauna.

He was holding back tears with so much resolve that they were flowing upwards, and I could see sobs like an angry mob behind his ribs, stretching the hinges and swelling the hasps of his restraint.

“Bud, what is it? My God, what is it?”

“You know how we…” caught breath. “how we had to…” caught breath. “had to read…” caught breath again, and now me, just beginning to put it all together. “read chapter 10 of…” I wasn’t going to make him finish.

“Chapter 10’s when it happens, isn’t it?”

His breath evened out a little bit, and he was able to say , “uh huh. He saved Travis, but the hogs got him!” And now’s when he came all the way in to be held. My shirt got a little wet from his tears. I reached one arm back to turn off the metronome, and the improbable rhythm of a triplet gave entirely away to the long hum of silent consolation.

There’s a lot of confusion in the brain of a nine-year-old boy when he’s trying to process grief. At his age, there hasn’t been enough traffic on the pathways of his mind to make them easy to find. They blend in with the rest of the emotional landscape and he wanders and staggers through this claustrophobic expanse looking for any reason he can find, any encouragement, to just go straight on for a while. Sometimes the best thing he can hope for is to simply collapse from all the effort of trying. He’s so new to this that the only place he can possibly wake up is a little farther along, and rested.

We talked for a while. He’s good about talking. I never was, and from the beginning of family life I swore I’d do everything I could to not instill my kids with my reluctance. The Boy obliges. The Girl slightly less so, but I simply need to know how and when to be quiet enough to let her get started. And then to pay close attention to her because she might not give you much, even though she never leaves out what’s important to her.  The boy wonders out loud, and probes, and questions, and he asked me a very sensible one: “Why do we have to read something like that?”

I said, “I don’t know if it’s really about reading it. Haven’t you been working on a book project since you started? Every time you read a little bit, every time something happens, you have to write about it. And now you have to write about this part.”

“I don’t see why that’s good.”

“Well I think your teacher is very smart, because she’s teaching you how important it can be to talk about or write about your sadness. Gives you a way to understand it, out in the world, instead of just inside you where you’re the only one who gets to say anything about it. That’s why you came here just now to tell me – part of you knew that already.”

“Did you write about Lucy when she died?” Now, Lucy was 15 years old and in the end was so wracked by infirmities that she could barely stand up. We took her to the vet to be euthanized, quietly, in a clean room, probably a few months past the time that really would have been considered humane. So her dying didn’t have a whole lot in common with Old Yeller’s, but I wasn’t going to bother him with that. Yank too hard on the tiller of an emotion, and the ship might just sink.

“I sure did.”

“Can I read it sometime?”

“Of course you can.”

He went back down to do some more schoolwork, and I turned back to the piano so that I could look at the sheet music and wonder for my own part just why in the hell anyone would make me read something like that. But after a minute I stopped and printed out Lucy’s eulogy, then took it downstairs and set it next to The Boy, where he had moved on to something for Math class. I think Old Yeller was done for the day. He said, “is that it, the Lucy thing?” I nodded. He said “I can’t read it now, but maybe later.”


You can read it now if you like. Or later, as you see fit. Or never. It got quite a lot of attention when I wrote it, and it’ll be right here if you’re ever interested.

The PVP Diaries #75

Virtuous yard signs. The thing is, being welcoming is the rule. If you go trick-or-treating at a thousand houses you may find half a dozen that treat you poorly. The rest are happy to have you. But when you put out those signs proclaiming how welcome everyone is, you create the impression that kindness is the exception. You paint a lie, and that’s why we have so many people running around thinking that the US is such an unwelcoming and intolerant place – because people started making signs to say that “in this house is rare generosity, you are unlikely to find it elsewhere.” Talk about creating your own market. I’m sure there’s a business term for just that sort of thing – ginning up an imaginary condition for people to believe in, then offering them the only solution to it, and in limited supply.

Whatever. Enough.


I have to take a placement exam for the online Arabic class I’ll be joining. It makes me nervous. Arabic is still intimidating, even after two years of classes and a few weeks in Morocco. And it’s been more than a year since I’ve used it, really. I’ll have to write, read, and speak. Chances are good that I’ll be rusty enough to land in a low-level course, but I don’t mind. I have time. I will say with all awareness of the seeming vanity or frivolity of it that the idea of fluency in Arabic is singularly energizing to me. Holding that odd key to another world – I want it. Even at my peak, Moroccan third week, it was still frightening and stressful and enervating, the pressure of being called upon to speak in or write in or translate from Arabic. I want it to be easy. Check back in a few years.

My morning commute in Rabat, June/July 2019

That brings back some good memories. It takes me too long to read and translate any of that. But man, I had better get out of that section of my photos before I get stuck deep in a rabbit hole, eating dates and drinking mint tea until my family sends out a search party. It’s gotten late here.

I wrote a couple of Morocco poems. Like this one. Here’s an earlier version. I think I like it better. The second half is better:

Show me to the old medina
before the sun can warm the stones.
The darkness scrubs the city bright
Where the hamsas guard the homes
 
Walk me through the old Medina
before the torpid cats arise.
Half their world is always dark
because they steal each other’s eyes.
 
Hide me in the old Medina
among the rugs and clay tagines
but don’t forget to call my name
when it’s time to pour the tea.
 
Lose me in the old Medina
and seal up all the gates!
I’ll learn the names of all the cats
and give you half my dates!

It’s hard to get a feel for the public vibe on trick-or-treating here in West Seattle. There have been a couple of discussions about it in the comments on articles at the West Seattle blog, and it seems like a pretty even mix of “we’re taking the kids out there and enjoying the night,” and “don’t be irresponsible, stay home.” I note a (possibly meaningful) difference. It’s not 100% black and white, of course, but the two camps seem to be I’m/we’re going out, and you stay home. There are plenty of people saying I’m/we’re staying home, too, but the point is in that difference between the individual actors and the public proscribers. The argument is, of course, that the individual actors are endangering the public, so the proscription is necessary, but frankly I think that ship has sailed, for the most part, even in the minds of the frightened. There are still mumblings out there (seriously!) about killing grandmas, but I’m seeing gradual shifts in social behavior. A sense of slightly lightened tension, more people ignoring the one-way signs at the the grocery store, more people widening their social circles, that sort of thing. And hey, the parking lot at Lincoln Park is open, ahead of schedule. It’ll be packed this weekend.

We’re hosting the not-so-dead-end street for pumpkin carving on Sunday. I’ll brew up some apple cider and keep it warm on the deck. No doubt The Italian will make some pumpkin bread, The Girl Child will make some sugar cookies, neighbors will bring things, and we’ll fling gourd guts around for a while. Later, I’ll roast the seeds, and we’ll dig into some pot roast that I’m making from all that beef we panic-stocked over the summer. We nicknamed the cow from which it was carved Hector, for reasons I don’t remember. I think it was The Girl’s idea. Nobody objected.

-It’s been a year of tricks, go get your treats, Comrade Citizen!-

Apheresis

The easy part is the digging –
snowsilver spade slicing steamsoil.
 
Dirt hardly parts – but sighs!
Eucharine breath, epicene oil.
The lissome lisp of shovel slipped
into winesoftened silt.
 
The easy part is the digging –
straight-grained shaft stung
by stone, bonequiver knock
on bone and out the crown
emptied unto Heaven
with every chuck and throw.
 
The easy part is the digging –
brute-sunk shovel in soil.
Psalm-sung singing of sinew.
 
Instrument to sentiment.
Lie-less rhythm without end.
Monument to sediment.
Lie-less rhythm without end

Beautiful Place, Everyone Hates It

In a world that suddenly lost all its racism, the racists would simply have lost a tool for sounding like morons, and would indeed likely find a great deal more success than ever, suddenly lacking the worldview that had previously been so staunchly resisted by mainstream society. It would be a net gain for them. But not for the activists. Not for the journalists and the professors and the sign wavers and the marchers. Not for the authors and poets and painters, not for the actors and filmmakers. For them, the end of racism would be the end of nearly everything. The end of racism would turn their world upside down and dump them out the bottom, naked, poor, and ashamed. Their jobs would vanish, their paychecks would dry up, their book deals would be meaningless, their degrees, doctorates, PhD’s, all of it would be gone.

So of course they’re complicit in keeping it alive. They’re causing as many train wrecks as they can so that they’ll never have to wake up without someone to save. But meanwhile, man, the bodies are really piling up.

Those paragraphs are clipped from a long, rambling missive I have been putting together since my 4th of July weekend in Idaho. It was about definitions (again)(always). I kept adding to it and sculpting it and deleting things and shuffling paragraphs around. Eventually I decided it was just so much more of the same pissing and moaning, so I just looked at it and said “no.”


I’m at a car dealership. My car apparently had a couple of safety recalls that needed to be addressed. Remember the way Anton Yelchin died? I have a Jeep like his with the same odd transmission that somehow resulted in him getting out of his car while it was still in gear, or in neutral, so it rolled down a hill and crushed him against a pillar, I think at the end of his driveway. It really is a bit of an interesting situation with the gear lever, in that doesn’t lock positively in place to indicate that you’ve put it in drive. Or in park, as was the obvious issue for our young Pavel Chekov. You just bump it forward or backwards and it returns itself to the starting position. My car before that was a manual transmission, so it really took me some getting used to. But cars now are doing all kinds of odd things with their transmissions. The Italian’s car, for instance, is some kind of a throwback to the old three-on-the-tree:

Three on a tree" learning to drive a stick shift! | Learning to drive,  Shift pattern, Transmission

Her car has a right-hand shift lever on the steering column, but the similarities end there. It’s a matter of pushing a button on the end for park, tap the lever upwards with a finger for ‘go,’ downwards for ‘go back.’ It’s simple, but the biggest problem is the lack of uniformity. Every car runs different now. When I get back into my car, I have to remember that the shifting happens at the center console, and that I have to engage/disengage the parking brake myself. The Italian’s German car puts the brake on as soon as you put it in park. Takes the brake off once you hit ‘go.’

This of course opens a can of particularly slimy worms concerning technological advancements in automobiles, and whether we’re collectively worse at driving because of it. I do know that when I think of all the safety measures – beeps and warnings that light up in the side mirrors when a car is in your blindspot, cars that actually brake for you in whatever the car deems is an emergency, cars that literally drive for stretches without you at all. – when I think of these things I recall Mike Rowe’s talk about how an excess of emphasis on safety often results in more accidents. Risk compensation.

But prudence and compliance are not the same thing, and we should look with deep suspicion upon self-proclaimed experts and professionals who tell us that safety is first, or worse, that ‘our safety is their responsibility.’ Those people are either selling something or running for office.

Mike Rowe, Safety Third

I haven’t heard much from Mr. Rowe lately, but maybe he’s just all worn out from the world proving him right at every turn. Also I think he does a lot of his work via Facebook, and I’m not there anymore. I’m not much of anywhere anymore.

Anyway, cars: The one real issue I’ve had with both of our cars stems from the fact that you don’t put a key in the ignition anymore. The obvious other end of that situation is that you don’t have to remove a key when you are finished driving. Removing the key was always the way you knew – without having to think about it – that the damn car was all the way off and you could get out. Whether you put it in park – or in 1st for manual transmissions – before you turned it off was up to you. But now the key never leaves the pocket, and there have been a couple of times that I left the car running for a while. Once was at a kid’s soccer practice – over an hour of hanging out at an indoor arena while my car was running outside in the parking lot. Not the best situation.

Slightly better, though, than the time I left our daughter (it was our first baby! I wasn’t used to it yet!) in the infant seat in the car for a good 20 minutes while I was in the grocery store. She was under a year old. I remembered just as the cashier was ringing me up. I can’t imagine the look on my face.

That wasn’t the key’s fault.

Anyway, I’m still at the dealership, and it’s just reached the limit of the time they said it would take “at the longest.” I expect these things to go worse than expected, so I expect to not be leaving soon. But I did just experience the one thing that can unsettle the most patient temperament: Someone who came into the waiting room 30 minutes after I did has just been told her car is ready. It doesn’t matter how different her services probably were, that one stings a little. My patience wanes. But at least my beard is sweating under a face mask in a warm room that smells like incense and car air fresheners.


One more paragraph from that other essay:

If an alien stumbled upon Earth, having no prior knowledge of us, and spent a month or two observing the USA, the cognitive dissonance would leave it utterly confused. It would write in its journal: “Nation incapable of distinguishing between victory and defeat. Loudest voices have total control, insist they are oppressed. Progress towards future rendered nearly impossible by obsession with past. Beautiful place, everyone hates it.”

Maybe I’ll keep working on it and post at some point after all.

-Is it in gear, Comrade Citizen?-

The PVP Diaries #74

Algorithms and machine learning and all, so the fact that this happened is probably because I searched from my own computer. You might get different results. Anyway, I googled “the snapdragons smelled buttery delilo,” and the second result was something I had written in 2011:

“I think I am just reading things to find the beautiful words. I don’t really know how much the story means to me, in the end. I do know that this is why I need fiction – non fiction doesn’t say beautiful things. Or maybe it does. But if that’s not fiction, then nothing is. I don’t know what snapdragon is, don’t know what it looks like. What it smells like. I don’t need to anymore, thanks to Don Delillo:

It was the rooftop summer, drinks or dinner, a wedged garden with a wrought iron table that’s spored along its curved legs with oxide blight, and maybe those are old French roses climbing the chimney pot, a color called maiden’s blush, or a long terrace with a slate surface and birch trees in copper tubs and the laughter of a dozen people sounding small and precious in the night, floating over the cold soup toward skylights and domes and water tanks, or a hurry-up lunch, an old friend, beach chairs and takeout Chinese and how the snapdragons smell buttery in the sun.

When you can start with the simple rooftop summer, something that just says “this is where we sat when” and end up at “the snapdragons smell buttery in the sun” without a missed anything between, you’ve built more than a dozen carpenters could in a month. You’ve built another forever.”


All of that because a poem that I read at Naive Haircuts reminded me of that passage in Underworld by Don Delillo. If you have any interest in poetry at all, or maybe especially if you have none, follow the link and read his poems. The images are so crisp and the music is so clear that I could read those poems out loud and actually like the sound of my own voice.


I haven’t been right about much during this plague – note what I said in the very first plague diary:

For the record, my early prediction for the Societal Freeze brought about by the Perfect Vison [sic] Plague is that here in the United States it will be over much sooner than we think. We will have overreacted in effective ways, and we will look back on this whole thing as a job well done.

Me, 3/16/2020

I mean there’s wrong, and then there’s “the polls say Hillary is going to win in a landslide” wrong. But my initial plague prediction blows right past that and sets a whole new bar for prognosticative failure.

Why do I bring this up now? Because, as I guessed just a couple of posts ago, soccer has already backpedaled. I called this one correctly, for a change. The King County numbers have steadily been climbing, and now we’ve moved from a moderate to a high risk county. Practices will be little to no contact again, and though the soccer club didn’t come out and say it, this can only mean that the league games scheduled for this weekend are canceled.

But how’s the bridge coming along, you ask?

Photo credit: West Seattle Blog

Those are some kind of maintenance platforms on the underside. They’re not doing much, aside from whatever it takes to make sure the bridge doesn’t collapse, even with nothing on it. Note the prison-esque concrete misery of its Soviet style design. It was built in 1984, so it is very much a Cold War construction in the spirit of surviving Mutually Assured Destruction. Unfortunately, it couldn’t even survive traffic. I remember 1984. I was 9 years old and terrified of nuclear war. Screw you, The Day After. The Foucault-like observation tower on left of the picture is the watchtower for the lower bridge, officially the Spokane Street Swing Bridge. But I know I’ve been over all this before.

City council member Lisa Herbold was kind and brave enough to send out a survey asking the very in depth and technical question of whether we, the people, would prefer to repair the bridge, or to replace it. There’s so many ways to mock that move that I don’t know where to start. If you like, you can throw in your vote here. My vote is for replacement. I think it’s high time – and an absolutely perfect opportunity – to be ambitious. This thing’s gonna cost a fortune no matter what, so let’s be bold and creative and build something beautiful. Pull a full Singapore and find someone who will design and build a bridge that will have the whole world talking. As a rule I avoid negative generalizations about America and Americans, mostly because it is the stock and trade of the least intellectually creative people out there – Americans are fat, Americans are selfish, Americans are lazy and won’t walk anywhere, etc. Nobody hates Americans like Americans, because self-loathing is peak virtue signaling. It’s such a clever dodge. You can’t be criticized very effectively if nobody hates you as much as you hate yourself.

Jesus, I digress. Here’s a negative generalization about America/Americans: Our urban construction is based almost exclusively on the principle of Easy, Fast, and Cheap Inexpensive. Our cities are not visually, aesthetically pleasing. It is uninspiring to look at them, and uninspiring to walk in them. There is nothing to wake the spirit. Nothing to be proud of. Maybe someone could run around select streets in San Fransisco or Chicago or New York and take some iPhone photos, then hit them with a good instagram filter and say “look how beautiful,” but overall they’re real downers. They look best at night, without exception, because all you can see is the lights. But now Seattle has a chance to etch out a small fissure between itself and its deep pseudo-solcialist branding by doing something grand and moving with this bridge, instead of just taxing us with another dull, gray way to slow people down.


A note in closing: I received about a week’s worth of traffic here yesterday, and there is no ready evidence of any particular reason. No incoming links, pingbacks, no particular post with excess views, nothing. Just a lot of hits to the home page. So if you are a someone out there who directed viewers my way yesterday, I say thank you. Thank you very much.

-Build it better, Comrade Citizen!-

The PVP Diaries #73

Wait wait WAIT. 5:30? In the morning? I thought it was 6:30. I’m not feeling very “out of bed at 5:30” today, so I must have been reading the clock wrong. I’ll have to go back upstairs and check. Between the rain and the tinnitus I was probably just going to lay there awake for a while, anyway, so it really doesn’t matter. Gives me more time alone with my coffee. Coffee and….Roger Waters? Polarizing fellow, I know. But I’ve like most of his stuff, even post-Floyd. I do remember listening to an album he made sometime maybe 10 years ago. It was lousy. But let’s drift back to The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking. Classic Pink Floyd-ish album that tells a story. A panicked flight from civilization, sex (slightly unhealthy?), failed Thoreau-ian escapism, alcoholism, psychotic collapse, eventual comfort. Maybe:

[Waitress:] "You wanna cup of coffee?"
[Customers:] "Heh, Turn that *****ing juke box down
You want to turn down that juke box....loud in here"
[Waitress:] "I'm sorry, would you like a cup of coffee?
Ok, you take cream and sugar? Sure."
In truck stops and hamburger joints
In Cadillac limousines
In the company of has-beens
And bent-backs
And sleeping forms on pavement steps
In libraries and railway stations
In books and banks
In the pages of history
In suicidal cavalry attacks
I recognise...
Myself in every stranger's eyes

And in wheelchairs by monuments
Under tube trains and commuter accidents
In council care and county courts
At Easter fairs and sea-side resorts
In drawing rooms and city morgues
In award winning photographs
Of life rafts on the China seas
In transit camps, under arc lamps
On unloading ramps
In faces blurred by rubber stamps
I recognise...
Myself in every stranger's eyes

And now, from where I stand
Upon this hill
I plundered from the pool
I look around
I search the skies
I shade my eyes
So nearly blind
And I see signs of half remembered days
I hear bells that chime in strange familiar ways
I recognise...
The hope you kindle in your eyes

It's oh so easy now
As we lie here in the dark
Nothing interferes, it's obvious
How to beat the tears
That threaten to snuff out
The spark of our love

We had a downed tree on the road just outside our not-so-dead-end street yesterday. It had been pretty blustery the night before. I headed out Monday morning to do the homework kit distribution at The Boy’s school, and ran into this. It’s bigger than it looks. I do think I probably could have wrangled it out of the way, but that’s a pretty soft probably. There was a brief internal dialogue about the gritty self-reliance that could clear the mess right away and do the neighbors a service, right now, vs. driving off in the other direction and calling the government to come clean it up, eventually. I chose the latter, and still feel dirty. My strongest rationalization was that even though the area still had power, I didn’t have time to be sure that there weren’t any power lines involved in the mess. Besides, it’s just as fast (for me) to turn around and go the other way. Depending on the destination, the direction in which we leave the house is often just a matter of how we feel at the time. The victory was secured by The State on this day.

It’s pretty perfectly laid across the road, though. Conspicuously so. For just a short, quick-pulsed second I had that ambush feeling.

The neighbor dads and I are looking to go in together on one good-sized, gas powered chainsaw for us to use in case a tree comes down sometime that hems us into our not-so-dead-end street (or worse, God forbid). Waiting for Seattle DOT to come out on their schedule won’t be feeling like a very good idea at that point.


It’s funny, I just found the COVID-19 Glossary on the King County site. You know how I love me some definitions. Check this one out:

Obviously this kind of thing is about as moving as a coma by now. “Often overestimates the actual…” Translation: “Does not represent reality.” Err on the side of panic, I guess. CYA. I understand. I guess I recognize myself in every stranger’s attempt to go blameless.

“…and can make a disease seem more deadly than it is.” You don’t mean to say…it couldn’t really be possible that…I mean, no. Right?

Also, I was thinking yesterday, has there been a single announcement from the CDC along the lines of “Hey! Good news!” or has literally everything they’ve learned been worse than what they already knew? I don’t think SCIENCE is any different than we poor, common people when it comes to a bias towards the negative. Especially in groups. Company loves misery.


Wind advisory today, gusts up to 50mph. We might be looking for that chainsaw sooner than we thought.

On Purpose

When I was building the plague patio, I remember using the plate compactor. I loved it. I love things that are built for a specific purpose – especially if it’s a kind of odd, very specialized purpose – and does it really well. I mean, that plate compactor is good for maybe two things: compacting solid surfaces, and weighing down bodies at the bottom of a lake. To fire that thing up, look at the chaos in front of me, then look back at the order and beauty that it left behind, was a truly gratifying, steadying experience.

I read a short book once about the healthiest, longest-living communities in the world. There were a handful scattered around, from a town somewhere in California, to an Italian island, a city I think in Japan, maybe China. In other words, all over the world, thoroughly separate from one another, yet full of healthy people who lived long lives. I think the author called them Blue Zones. (Yes). In his research, the writer found that all of the zones shared a small number, maybe 5, of common characteristics. Diets varied because of differing climates/agricultures, but I think there were common food threads along the lines of maybe low salt content, little to no processed foods, etc. One of the things that stuck out for me, the thing I always think of first when I remember that book, was that they all believed in having a purpose. Something to get you up and going in the morning that feels important. Something to gratify and steady you.

In that regard I think I envy the activists and the protesters. It cannot be said that they don’t wake up with a purpose every day. They are probably gratified and steadied by it, to a great extent. Especially because they are in no danger of waking up and feeling like they aren’t needed. No danger of feeling purposeless. Except things are blurry there, because a protester may wake up saying “My purpose is to create justice,” but what that really means in practical terms is “my purpose is to find injustice.” Their purpose dies without it. What happens when your purpose depends on horror? You make sure you don’t run out of it.

So beware, I guess, the dedicated problem solvers. They’ll do more than anyone else to make sure there are problems to solve.


I don’t know what my purpose is. Home and family, broadly speaking. Specifically, things like this:

I could certainly scrounge up a before picture, but won’t. It originally matched the other cabinets – maple, smooth, flat, no depth or character – so we got weird and wanted to start changing things. Initially we thought we’d paint all of the cabinets, but that’s a pain in the neck and we’re stopping with the island. It matches the wainscoting I just did in the entry with the shaker/craftsman style. This is the 4th different look I’ve given this island in 3 years. The butcher block has been there through 3 of them, and isn’t going anywhere. Unless we move. If that happens (when, eventually), we’re going to replace it with something cheap, and take it with us wherever we go. That walnut top is the sort of thing that lives are built around.

My next purpose is the floor. I’m replacing all of that, too. I guess we’re not moving for a long time.

Other purposes? I’ve been taking piano lessons for several months now. I like it, but I didn’t practice at all last week. The teacher is going to be disappointed in me tonight.

Arabic – I found a reputable place through which I can take online courses, and have applied. They’re past due on responding to me, so I have to follow up there.


Anyway, Hitler had a purpose. Dahmer had a purpose. Looters have a purpose. Don’t mistake purpose for virtue, I guess. It’s one thing to wake up with something that motivates you, it’s quite another thing to be able to go to bed knowing you’ve left behind something beautiful.

This Autumn Friday

The flame in our gas fireplace doesn’t get very high. For a couple of years it also took a long time to light. We’d flip the switch and wait, and step back a little bit, and watch with that jack-in-the-box tension building until it suddenly blasted on with a force that rattled the glass. It was a situation that hinted not very subtly at eventual disaster, and I did the usual thing: Searched the internet for quick fixes to my problem, and found none. Then I searched around for local gas fireplace services, found a few but balked at the probable price tag, combined with the (at the time) possibility that they wouldn’t even come into our house anyway. I eventually figured out what the problem was and what needed to be fixed (that internet again. If you don’t have one yet…), ordered a couple of parts that arrived in 2 days, installed them and got our fire turning on in a way that can probably be best described with a clever British turn of phrase that begins with “right as” and invokes biscuits, the Queen’s ankles, or something seaworthy. Or a combination of the three. “Right as eating biscuits off the Queen’s ankles in a cuddy boat.” Something. Like. That.

So now we don’t have to run out of the house when we turn the fire on and wait for it to ignite, but the flame isn’t any bigger. I assume that with more flame there would be more heat, but it rarely gets anything like cold here in Seattle, so It isn’t a real concern. As it is, the low flame makes for a really nice morning mood. Any hotter and I wouldn’t want the blanket. Any brighter and I wouldn’t be quite so relaxed. As much as I would love a real fire, part of what I love about the dark winter mornings is the quiet and solitude. If I had to rattle irons and logs, and wrestle with a flue catch, and kick up a burning wood smell in the house, it would probably just wake everyone up.

Robert Hayden knew about waking up with fire:

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?


I wrote a paper about that poem a few years ago. Organized it into three sections, each one focused on one word in the title. It was one of those papers that was more fun than work.

The PVP Diaries #72

There are frogs croaking with an Amazonian thickness in the section of the Green River that runs alongside The Boy’s soccer practice. It’s a huge facility down in Tukwila where the Sounders sometimes practice. Tonight it is neither the frogs nor the Sounders that have my attention. Rather it is is the fact that for the first time since returning to practice (that must have been July, maybe June), they are going to be able to compete. Practice has returned to a full-contact situation, so they won’t be relegated to their little orange cone cages in the corners of the field. They’ll be all over the place, knocking into each other, tugging on shirts, lowering shoulders, and maybe even throwing the occasional elbow. Until now, soccer practice has been a sad little exercise in wishing it didn’t suck. A test of patience and the ability of a nine year-old boy to think of the long term in order to tolerate a lousy short term.

It didn’t work. He hated it. He complained every day that he had practice. Begged us to let him quit so much that we almost gave in. But in the absence of an alternative, we weren’t going to tale away his only real physical outlet. His pent up energy would be the end of us all. But yesterday he heard that practices would be full-on again, with no social distancing, and his attitude changed. A little. It wasn’t very perceptible, because he’s guarded and would be giving away far too much of himself if he were to come out and say that he was happy to go play soccer. He continued to insist that soccer is lame, but gave himself away a little by saying that he was just looking forward to trying out his new soccer shoes (my God, their feet grow fast). He’s only nine, but he already acts as stupid as the rest of us. My work is done.

Fast forward! It’s tomorrow now. Today, Thursday. The phone just buzzed and showed me that The Girl has an actual soccer game on the schedule now. October 17th. I am an eternal optimist, but also a realist, and I think that 10 days is more than enough time for everything to be rolled back, and I won’t be at all surprised if the game gets canceled before they get to play. Wouldn’t make much sense for them to cancel it afterwards.

I said it here before, I doubt this will be the last time. I know that people “aren’t ready” for close contact. That for a lot of people this is all happening too fast. But I remember that none of those people had any trouble trusting the government (and the science and data it cited) when the government was shutting us down. It’s the same government, the same science, and the same data that are opening us back up, so it doesn’t make any sense to choose (and it is a choice) not to trust them now. And this isn’t exactly fast. We’re still in a world of social distancing markers on the floors, one-way grocery store aisles, special shopping hours for vulnerable populations, mostly – and very often fully – remote schooling in most areas, mask requirements just about everywhere indoors, pro sports with no fans, closed parking lots at parks, and sad, sheepish anticipation for every little peep that comes out of the governor’s office. We’re not walking the plank here. We’re dipping a toe or two.

And if I’m being honest, I do fully expect to see it rolled back. There will be an increase in positive cases soon, unless the governor thinks he can be re-elected without it. So we’ll cancel our soccer games, tape off the playgrounds, close the libraries, and increase capacity at bars, with expanded hours. For you know, coping. I might finally get actually annoyed when there’s a vaccine, fully vetted and approved by SCIENCE and issued by TEH GUVERMINT, and the people who have based every step of their COVID lives on government-relayed declarations from scientists are suddenly all “you’re just gonna believe it’s safe because they said so?”

People are friggin’ weird.

One more development to report now that it’s the future. It happened last night as I was saying goodnight to The Boy. We had just finished our highly classified bedtime ritual when he looked at me and said, “I can’t wait for practice on Saturday. I really like soccer now.” He’s a better man than I. It would have taken me months to change my tune.

-Get back in the game, Comrade Citizen!-