Not in the clamor of the crowded street, not in the shouts and plaudits of the throng, but in ourselves, are triumph and defeat.--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
REDIRECT ALERT! (Scroll down past this mess if you're trying to read an archived post. Thanks. No, really, thanks.)
Due to my inability to control my temper and complacently accept continued silliness with not-quite-as-reliable-as-it-ought-to-be Blogger/Blogspot, your beloved Possumblog will now waddle across the Information Dirt Road and park its prehensile tail at http://possumblog.mu.nu.
This site will remain in place as a backup in case Munuvia gets hit by a bus or something, but I don't think they have as much trouble with this as some places do. ::cough::blogspot::cough:: So click here and adjust your links. I apologize for the inconvenience, but it's one of those things.
Monday, December 29, 2003
Well, now, that's all for today...
We television celebrities have to have our down time, you know. I also have to go get Catherine and take us both for our dental checkups, so further exciting details of Christmas Holiday Past will have to wait until tomorrow.
See you then.
Jackson Still in Pain From 'Manhandling'
And if anyone knows about manhandling...
I'm gonna be on the tee vee!
Just got off the phone with a reporter (sadly, not the ebullient, blue-eyed Nikki Preede, who still owes me a lunch and a FOX6 coffee mug, by the way) but a nice young lady from ABC 33/40 who is doing a story on neighborhood revitalization. I found out I was supposed to do the interview approximately five seconds before she called me on the telephone, so I had to put her on hold while my boss filled me in on what it is I'm supposed to be talking about.
One of our neighborhoods here in town is working with the kids over at the Auburn University Center for Architecture and Urban Studies (website seems to be busted at the moment) to do an analysis of their area, and I'm supposed to talk about how their work integrates with the City's design, planning and regulatory processes.
I think it's supposed to air on tonight's news, so all of you in Central Alabama be sure to tune in and see if you can catch a glimpse of my rugged, Tom Selleck-like face and hear my rich, baritone voice. In case you see someone who looks like a potato and sounds like someone hopped up on radiator moonshine, please rest assured he is an imposter.
UPDATE--10:31 p.m. CST. Well now, that was disappointing. No story at all. Either there was more work to be done on it and it'll air later, or I was PUNK'D! I think I will now go to sleep and weep hot, shamed tears into my pillow.
I gave up in frustration at trying to find Reba something wearable this year--she’s lost a lot of weight, so I don’t know what size to get her in clothes--so we just went to Parisian and let her shop away. She likes shopping as much as any other gift anyway, so it was like getting two presents. And she could try it on and make sure it fit.
Making matters even more difficult is that with her hiatal hernia, she has been very strict with herself about not eating chocolate and other sorts of reflux-inducing foodstuffs. There’s just something wrong when you can’t have chocolate for Christmas.
I did manage to get her a couple of books, and some interesting little stocking stuffers--a miniature bonsai tree (no, that’s not redundant--this thing comes in a box about the size of a pager) and a companion miniature Zen rock garden--they both promise hours of soothing relaxation, you know. The younger two kids got her some more books, and the two older girls got her some jewelry, which she was quite pleased with.
I, on the other hand, racked up famously--books included Horatio's Drive. It’s the companion book to the Ken Burns PBS special about Horatio Nelson Jackson, who in 1903 (along with his mechanic and a dog) became the first person to drive across the United States. It makes a breezy bit of half-day reading, and has a nice selection of letters and photographs and period newspaper accounts. I took it with me when I got tires and read it in the waiting room. I thought that was rather appropriate.
The next one I read, last night before I went to bed, was The Civil War on Roanoke Island North Carolina. Now, I like any book about the Civil War, and picture books especially, but this one was a bit of a disappointment. The idea of comparing present-day photos with photographic and illustrated images from the past is a pretty interesting idea, but the book does a terrible job of it. You would think that it would be relatively simple to look at an old engraving of a place, then go and take a photograph from the exact same angle, but apparently that’s too much to ask. One of the most egregious examples was an aerial view of the island that was across the fold from an image of an old map, with various batteries and landmarks marked on each. The only problem was that the photograph was taken from the north, pointing south, and of course the map had north to the top. I think the problem stems from attempting to use stock photos rather than taking proper ones, but whatever the case, it’s annoying.
Also annoying was the use of modern-day sketches of various lighthouses in the area produced by a woman whose drawing talents rival those of an arthritic monkey. I’m sorry, but my kids do better work.
One more annoyance was the use of letters written by a soldier who was in the area, reproduced photographically, as well as in text adjacent. The problem was that the text reproductions were set in a face intended to look like old handwriting, which NEGATES THE NEED TO SET IT IN TEXT. If you can’t read the original, reproducing it in an equally unreadable typeface is just dumb. Just set it in italics! Anyway, I still like it because it was a gift and I like looking at old photos and maps.
Two other books I haven’t gotten to read yet are Secret Empire--Eisenhower, the CIA, and the Hidden Story of America's Space Espionage, which, like all spy stories, promises to be a real corker, and one written by a retired Samford University professor, All Because of Polly. Sounds like a sweet book, and Reba got the fellow to sign it for me.
The kids? Oh, they got more stuff than they’ll ever know what to do with--the big hits include, for Catherine, her very own GameBoySP so she’ll quit having to scream and beg to play someone else’s; for Jonathan, a variety of Hot Wheels/Matchbox accessories, including Ice Mountain (actually the way most people in Alabama learn to drive in snow!) and a remote control Viper which I have decided is mine; Rebecca got a Fib Finder--I’m not quite sure why she wanted this so bad, other than to try to catch Ashley when she’s lying; and Ashley (who has reached the sad age of thinking that Santa Claus is not real) got mostly clothes.
Oh, and everyone got batteries.
Okay--what all’s been agoing on…
Well, let’s see--I have been assimilated by the Borg Collective. It was only a matter of time, you know. But I was over there at one of their big cubes last week buying some last minute Christmas presents, and there beside the checkout line was a plastic string full of Wal-Mart Connect CDs.
700 free hours, then $9.95 a month afterwards. You know, I’ve been paying over 20 bucks a month to BellSouth for dialup access, and that’s just ridiculous. Especially considering how crappy their e-mail service is. Oh, what the heck. Might as well try it.
So I did.
Not too bad--my BellSouth account has a 56k connection, and the Sam’s Choice version hooks up at a ripping (relatively speaking) 115k or so, which is pretty nice. The browser is some sort of proprietary Wallyworld version with great big squishy buttons to click (but no smiley faces, oddly enough), but it lacks some of the oomph of IE--no setting your own homepage, no View Source, and the windows have a completely unpredictable sequence of opening and sizing. The search engine is Google powered, though. There’s some sort of Instant Messaging (which I never use) and probably some other junk in there that everyone wants, but you know, it’s still not bad. It’s good enough for the little bit of time that I get to use the Internet at home, so I think I’ll keep it.
Making our Yuletide complete, I bought tires there Saturday (see perturbed comments below on the post from the 23rd--assuming HaloScan is working right) which were Christmas gifts from my father-in-law, and my mom gave us all Wal-Mart gift cards.
My next big plan is to sell the house and have us all just move in and live there.
Where am I?!
Oh, yeah. Now I remember.
GOOD MORNING, all! Long holiday, there--full to the brim with all sorts of boringly mundane minutiae which I will be replaying herein in the coming hours. It'll be just like watching someone else's home movies!! YIPPEE!!
BUT FIRST, there is the matter of the Monday staff meeting to attend to, so off to that and then you'll get to hear all kinds of silly stuff about Christmas at the asylum.
Tuesday, December 23, 2003
Ganging Agley a Little Too Aft
Funny how that happens.
Anyway, this morning's activities were relatively simple--1) Go down to the county jail building to get my pistol license renewed, 2) Go pick up Ashley from her grandparents' house, 3) Take kids to McDonalds to pick up the newest piece of plastic (Happy Meal toy, not food), 4) Go home.
The clock went off at the usual time, but I was bound and determined to go back to sleep this morning, so after rousting Miss Reba I was back in slumberland. Some time later, a little girl--soft as a box of hammers--sleepily scrambled under the electric blanket. Seems she had doused herself during the night, so Mom washed her down with a warm cloth and put her in with me so she could finish sleeping. I just hoped that was all she was going to finish doing.
Reba gave me some sugar before she left and I dozed back off, only getting punched in the throat once, and only once getting an elbow gently placed into my eye. (Catherine is usually much more active.) Finally got up about 8 and started getting everyone roused up to get going. Answered some e-mail and played with the blog comments for a second, dunked Cat in the bathtub to finish cleaning up, confirmed our schedule with Ashley's grandmother, and started getting everyone dressed. Tiny Terror was a sight to behold--red Joliclub (I have no idea) Cheer Squad shirt, blue sweat pants, and rainbow-striped toe socks. I would say she did this herself, but occasionally I will dress her that way simply for comic effect. I like seeing the disapproving glances of the prissy sorts as they think to themselves that they would never let one of THEIR children out of the house looking like that. (Since Middle Girl and Boy both dressed themselves, they didn't suffer such indignities.)
Dressed, everyone saddled up, and time to go--BUT FIRST, had to go to the Food World at the foot of the hill to get some money and shampoo and deodorant and hopefully some tire goo, if they had it.
I've been rolling on a set of front tires that are held together with the barest of carbon black molecules and a large amount of prayers. Back before we got the Honda, this was Reba's van and her lack of concern about such things is a wonder to behold. She never checked anything, and one day I absentmindedly looked at the (very nearly new) tires and saw that the outer shoulders of both the front tires had ground away to a broad band of slickness. AAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGHHHHH!! (This is what I said in my head. Such an outburst in an audible manner would have created a flood of tears from someone who admittedly has only the barest of understanding about things frictional.) Anyway, the front end was aligned and I vowed to get as much more mileage out of these ruined rubber rings as I could before having to change them. I've been seeing wire now for a good while, and the driver's side tire only holds air for a day or two before needing to be reflated. Obviously, this is dangerous, especially in light of the fact that I occasionally carry kids around, but dear old father-in-law has stepped in to purchase some new skins, so it was just a matter of when we could meet to get the transaction done. I figured some time this week while I'm off.
Anyway, I figured I would get a can of spray-in tire goo to hold me until later on in the week, so after I got my Sure Unscented and the bottle of L'Oreal Kid's Fruit Blast Kewl Radical FasDRY Blasted Fun SunPoo, I found my can of ick, and then decided I had better get the piranhas something to eat so they wouldn't attack me. Three little milk bottles and a fried pie apiece (yes, I know that wasn't the healthiest foods in the store, but they don't really like tofu doughnuts.)
Time to check out, and for once, the Uma Thurman Girl actually smiled. She works the morning shift, and I see her every so often when I stop in to buy my morning repast of dried meat snacks and sugar-free carbonated beverages. She really does look like the dark-haired Uma of Pulp Fiction--tall, rail thin, generously-proportioned nose and lips, straight across bangs, lots of eye makeup. But she always a sort of weary ennui about her--I imagine it’s a combination of things, caused in part by having to fight off the hounds all the time, and then having to work as the early morning cashier at a Food World when you look like Uma Thurman. Anyway, she hardly ever says anything, but today having the kids with me seemed to break the ice a bit--I actually caught her smiling at least twice in the short time it took to run the register tape!
Off then, shoved the kids in the Plymouth and proceeded to empty the can of highly combustible junk into my tire, finished that, threw the can in the handy trash bag by the cart return corral, and drove back around the long way to the Citgo with the free air. Hopped out, finished filling up the driver's side, topped off the one on the passenger side, and it was off to the jail! Whee!
I went up Chalkville Road and made sure to get out my permit and stick it under the clip on the sun visor so I could be sure and get it. Made the turn onto the interstate without having to stop and headed on down the ramp and…gee, that tire sure was running rough. Went on a little bit further, and then the whole van started vibrating like I was driving over cobblestones--"Kids, I think we've got a flat."
It was the tire over on the PASSENGER side. Flatter'n a flitter. I always joke with myself that it's only flat on the bottom, and I never fail to make myself giggle. Even today. (I have a low comedy threshold for such things, I think.)
The kids started trying to work up the requisite fear and anguish--"ARE WE GOING TO GET KILLED!?"
"No, kids. I just have to change the tire."
"WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO CHANGE IT TO!?"
"The SPARE tire. Just hush and sit still and hush and be quiet."
Closed the door and opened the hood to get the jack out and just then a big pickup truck with a conversion package and custom stripes pulled over in front of me and started backing up. It stopped and out jumped a short, burly, awfully friendly lass with a tightly curled mullet, wearing jeans and a plaid shirt. "You need some hep!? Ah got a cell phone, or if you need some hep, I can hep you!"
"No ma'am--I just got a flat. I got a spare, so I reckon I will be okay. But you sure are nice for stopping!"
"No problem a'tall--but if you wan' me t'stay, I kin!"
What a sweet girl--"Thanks, but I think I got her covered." She hopped back on board her pickup and took off.
Found a hunk of tree to chock the wheel, broke loose the lug nuts, winched down the spare tire, praying that it had some air in it, came back around and started working the jack. Such a contraption--a screw-type pantograph jack, with a swivel handle that doubles as the lug wrench. There is just enough available leverage to scour only half the hide off your palms, one half-turn at a time. Any longer and it would have been too simple. I was vigorously rotating the handle when another kind fellow stopped by and offered a cell phone or his hydraulic jack. You know, I figured the days of people stopping to help someone along the roadside were over. It sure is nice to know it's not. I thanked him and told him I really appreciated that he stopped, but I just about had it changed.
Off he went and off came the flat. You know, another good thing is that they don't make cars like they used to. Back not too long ago, a tire with a gaping hole on the shoulder would have been a recipe for a spectacular loss of control incident. As it was, there was very little drama--just pull over and stop.
Jack a few more jacks to get the hub a bit higher, slip on the spare, tighten the lug nuts, drop the jack back down, further aggravating the dime-sized hunk of raw meat the trip up had caused, roll the old tire back around to the back. "I thought it was flat, Daddy. It doesn't LOOK flat!" "It's just flat on the bottom, kids." "Oh."
Winched it back up, stowed the jack and handle, and we were off. Maybe thirty minutes tops, but then I had to stop and get some new air for it. By the time I got back around to the station, (still in Trussville, by the way) it was only fifteen minutes before I was supposed to pick up Oldest. Well, we'll stop at the jail on the way back.
Got across town with no further emergency, picked up Oldest and headed back toward home. She said she was tired, and that her stomach hurt. She then went into clinical detail about her lower intestinal problems, and allowed further that it was That Time of the Month. And she had no pads. ::sigh:: "Could you not get one from Grandmama? Did you not have a spare in your purse?" She started to answer in the negative on both, then, behold, she had one in her purse. Whaddya know. "Well, would you like to stop and change?" (After all, her expedient had been a wad of toilet paper.) "Oh, I guess."
You know, I think were it my lower nether region, I would be begging to stop.
Anyway, we had to make a detour from the old back road we were on and get back out to Highway 78. Stopped at the Crown station, door locked, told her to go get the key, it didn't work except in the men's room door, told her to go back and tell them it didn't fit, she came back with the same key and said they had told her it fit both doors, try it one more time to verify that the women's room would not open, then told her just to use the guy's, which I inspected beforehand to make sure it wasn't covered in the normal service station men's room filth. Surprisingly clean!
NOW, thus completed with her hygienic pit stop, it was once more time to try to get something else accomplished. Oh, and it had started to rain.
Got to the jail (a.k.a The Melvin Bailey Jefferson County Criminal Justice Center, a.k.a. Eric Robert Rudolph's current address). It actually houses both the county jail as well as the Jefferson County criminal courts, and for some reason, the application office for pistol permits.
"Daddy? I have to pee."
"Okay, let's go inside first." Luckily, we had found a place to park on the street, which made the whole ordeal of getting four children out of a van in the middle of a downpour with only two umbrellas somewhat less onerous. Got them all out and safely across the street and in the door and…and…oh crap. Why in the world did I not just leave my permit in my wallet instead of taking it out and placing it under the clip on the sunvisor WHERE IT STILL WAS?
Because I am an idiot.
Rounded them all back up and back out to the sidewalk and had them stand under a big lightning ro--I mean, tree--while I scooted back across the (middle of the) street in the rain--a fine example, indeed. Leave the kids under a tree in a rainstorm while I jaywalk. Oh well.
Got my permit and ran back across the street, got back inside with everyone, paid my tab, finally got them to correct my weight (I haven't weighed 215 since, well, you don't need to know) and then it was time to go pee.
The restroom is over in the jail side of the building, so we went down the ramp and 'round the corner…"Is this the JAIL, Daddy?" Yep, sure is. "Is this the JAIL, Daddy!?" YES. "Is this where BAD people go?" Yes. "Is it a jail!?" ::sigh:: No, it's where they bottle Coca-Cola. "REALLY?" ::sigh::
Thus relieved of his pressure, Boy was refreshed and it was time to get back toward home.
BUT FIRST, a stop for a Christmas present. Ashley's little beau wants a book--I went out last night looking for this thing at Books-A-Million in Trussville AND at the Barnes and Noble at the Summit. Neither place had what he wanted, so I got a couple of others that would do the trick. BUT, not wishing to contribute to a disappointment at Christmas, I figured we would stop by the BAM at Eastwood Mall and just by chance maybe find it.
Eureka! They had it, a book with a 12-foot-long fold out timeline chart of architectural styles over the ages. Nifty. Got it and headed off toward home, with the final stop at the Clown Place for new plastic junk toys and wonderful foodstuffs.
It sure has been an eventful day. Ain't over, either--we have Bible study tonight instead of tomorrow, so there'll be more getting out and driving around in the rain with a carload of fussy children.
We're going in the Honda this time, though.
Monday, December 22, 2003
Oh, I know...
I said I was taking a week off, but the most extraordinary thing just happened--believe it or not, I am now the proud owner of a silver, 1965 Corvette Sting Ray small-block roadster with red interior!!
A miracle, indeed! It came with this note:
TerryWell, I just gotta say what a wonderful, unexpected surprise it is to receive such a gift, even if the maroons down at the Post Office nearly destroyed the derned thing when they ran the Priority Mail envelope through their dumb ol' machines.
I made Little Boy run out to the mailbox just now (what good's having kids unless you can send them on mindless errands for you) and he came back with a stack of stuff and a mangled envelope swathed in clear tape.
I opened it up, and there in all its shining glory was a brand new Johnny Lightning 1:64 scale 'Vette. (None the worse for wear, thank goodness--I'd hate to have to go down there and get all postal on 'em.)
Anyway, thanks very much to my good buddy Nate McCord out there in The Promised Land for the great Christmas wish come true! I will drive my new car all over the top of many tables and possibly head out across-floor.
While I'm here, might as well go ahead and fill you in on some more stuff--Reba's at work this week, so I am home with the three younger kiddies. Oldest is spending today and tomorrow at her other grandparents house, so it's only 3/4 of the madhouse it could be.
Had to get up early this morning to maintain peaceful marital relations with my bedmate. For some reason, she really has a thing against me staying in the bed if she's awake. "You are going to be sure and get me up in the morning, aren't you?" She knows to be all coy and sweet when she says it, so I'll maintain the quiet complacency of a puddle of butter. "Yes, sure will." AARRGGHHHH! How DOES she do that!? Clock went off and I flopped over onto her and breathed on her and told her it was 6 o'clock. She eventually got up, and then proceeded to go get all the kids up so I would be forced to wake up and tend to them after she left. She's very crafty.
She went on to work, and out of equal parts duty and terror, I got up and got moving. The kids were all stacked up in Cat and Bec's room, tearing apart the boxes of stuff they came home with yesterday from Ashley's grandparents. They always give them too much--but that's a story for another time. Anyway, tons of wire ties and bits of cardboard flinders everywhere.
I grunted and went and put on some jeans and scared myself by looking in the mirror to get the old heart pumping. I came back through and told them to throw away all the bits of ephemera and plastic sprue and after that, it's been a blur of having to put batteries in this, and fix this, and make this work right, and why's it doing this, and such like. I had such high hopes of cleaning at least one room today.
Oh well, they'll only be young once, and the house will be a wreck forever.
In other news, Oldest got her first kiss.
And for some odd reason, I don't have the thoughts I thought I would think. I always figured I would fuss and fume and such, but as I mentioned last week, the kid--tall, all Adam's apple and bone--is just too nice to want to really hurt too badly. The teenagers from church went to see White Christmas at the Alabama Theatre Saturday night, and at first he thought he was going to have to be out of town. To her undying credit, Oldest decided to go on anyway because she likes the movie. Good girl. I told her I was proud that she decided to go on by herself--no use thinking she had to have some boy (no matter how nice) to make it fun. And then, plans changed and he got to go, so they were both just beside themselves.
They had a good time, and according to the debriefing administered by my G2, Mrs. Oglesby, he managed to overcome her defenses just as they were turning into the driveway at the church building.
You know, you gotta figure that was probably a pretty special something or other--a night at the Alabama, a wonderful old movie, and furtive smooches in a crowded fifteen passenger Dodge van.
As I said, it's hard to fault the boy. Other than he wants to be an architect.
Time to go referee a fight downstairs, so I'll sign off again for a while. Once more, many, many thanks to all of you who left such warm comments below for the second anniversary of this silly mess. It really does mean a lot to me.
Friday, December 19, 2003
The Terrible Twos
Well, it's finally gotten easy enough, so I herewith launch out into the fetid, overcrowded harbor of blogginess, courtesy of some computerized thingamabobber. You know, when they tapped out the old "what hath God wrought" line on the telegraph, I'm sure they figured this is where it would lead. Serves 'em right.Thus at 11:29:35 on the morning of December 20, 2001 did Possumblog come into being.
A lot's happened in the intervening one hundred four weeks, and I just figured out that I've managed to type up about 1.3 million words, some of which even made sense.
Over the past 24 months, this silly hobby has allowed me to vent and spew and chatter aimlessly, all the while getting to correspond with hundreds of the most interesting sorts of people from all over the world, and two absolute jerks. I started this exercise partially as a way to gain some emotional catharsis from the events of September 11 of that same year. I'd been playing on the Internet for couple of years, hanging out at various message board sites and leaving the odd comment (some more odd than others) here and there. It was interesting in its own way, but there sure seemed to be a high concentration of idiots with the brains of a gerbil hanging around. Too much stupid, even for me. What I knew of weblogs at the time was limited, but I was no more impressed--they seemed awfully heavy with poetically maudlin teen angst. I did find several humor sites to enjoy, including the quirky Institute of Official Cheer, by some guy up in Minnesota. We wrote back and forth a good bit--I was one of the ones who got him to join the Straight Dope Message Board (which broke down almost as soon as he signed up).
And then, September.
It jarred something loose, I suppose. All the raw feelings, the sense of imbalance, the dark thoughts--they needed to be said.
For right or wrong, there is a stoicism I impose upon myself in the face of hard times--a jaw to the wind, hands on hips, 'don't worry kids--Dad'll fix it' sort of construct. It's dumb posturing, I suppose, but there are enough things to worry about in the world, and I think my wife and kids deserve something solid and dependable they can count on when they have their rough patches. But those thoughts were still there, and didn't need to sit around--they make mischief, you know.
So, I wrote.
There might not be anyone at work to unburden on; I might not feel comfortable even if there were. I might not want to stand face-to-face with someone and admit my limits. But I could sure put words down on paper. Think about them. Rearrange them. Get them to say what I felt. I wrote, and it felt good. Some of those things are still out there, some still stuck on my hard drive. But it felt good.
And then, one day that Minnesota guy had some links to some of those silly weblog sites--but these were nothing like I had read before. Tight, concise, reasoned, informed--better written than 95% of what passes for popular journalism today. I was hooked. Couldn't get enough of them.
Finally, it looked like there might be a way to not only write for my own consumption, but also maybe even see if there was anyone else out there who might enjoy it. A dangerous proposition, to be sure, but one that was undertaken with much vim and vitality, and occasionally the use of a dictionary.
I wrote, and continue to do so, with the idea that although I may not have a person physically in the room with me, there's at least an imaginary one sitting right over there in the chair by the door, and that person wants to hear what I have to say. I respect him enough to not feel I have to explain every little obscure reference, but if he misses one, I'll back up a bit. I figure he's smarter and better read than me, so I try to make sure I have my facts right. I know some of the stuff bores him, so he'll get up and leave--but the cool thing is, there will come along someone else! Then I blabber until he's bored.
I write about the stuff I want to write about, and for better or worse, Possumblog has steadfastly resisted easy categorization. Part of that is intentional--once someone thinks he has you pegged, the tendency is to forget about you. You're as likely to find a post on Bucephalus as you are on barbecue; on etiquette as you are on flatulence. I try to make sure the subject and verb agree in number, that the spelling is right, the adjectives and adverbs are modifying the right things, and participles are strapped in as tight as Michael Jackson's baby dangling over a balcony. [Most of the time--and sometimes it takes a couple of more swipes throught the edit tool after it's been posted. If something looks weird, wait a while and reload and maybe it'll be corrected. If not, send me a note and let me fix it.] The style, what there is of it, is conversational--I can get all thoughty and eloquent when the situation calls for it, but most of the time it just give me a headache. I don't mind making fun of myself, or anyone else that deserves it. I appreciate every single time someone mentions me or links to me, but I don't go begging for folks to read my scintillating thoughts on maritime salvage law or The Lord of the Rings. For having done this for so long (relatively speaking) and for being somewhat widely read (relatively speaking), I have a pretty paltry total number of visitors. That's okay by me. Again, I'm not trying to make money off of this or be the first name that pops into your head when you want to know about something--so, whether I get one hundred or one thousand hits in a day, I'm no better or worse off. If you come, I'm glad you're here--hang out, send me an e-mail or leave a comment, and come again.
I've thought on more than one occasion that once I got to some particular point--certain date, certain number of posts, whatever--that I would stop writing this. Sometimes it does get in the way, and sometimes it feels forced, and sometimes I can't say what I want, and sometimes I just don't want to do it. Last month, I vowed that if I got to my two-year anniversary that I would just pack up the shop and call it quits. Don't quite know why, just felt that way. Today, I think I could make a go of it all the way in to the second week of January!
Anyway, so--as Possumblog hits its Terrible Twos, I want to thank all of you who have come by and hope that you found something that made you think, or laugh, or grit your teeth, or cry, or best of all, something that made you decide to come back again. Have a seat over there, grab you a glass of sweet tea, and let's see what all else comes around.
OF COURSE, having said all that, I must now tell you that ALL of next week I will be at home for Christmas vacation, meaning that there won't be any new stupidness here until the 29th (Check the archives for old stupidness.) I will be keeping up with e-mail and comments, though, so if you get an itch, drop me a note.
Until I see you again, I wish you all good tidings and a merry Christmas.
Let no Pleasure tempt thee, no Profit allure thee, no Ambition corrupt thee, no Example sway thee, no Persuasion move thee, to do any thing which thou knowest to be Evil; So shalt thou always live jollily: for a good Conscience is a continual Christmass.--Benjamin Franklin
$36,866.36 per foot.
That's how much it takes to build a new condo that's 217 feet higher than everyone else gets to build.
The developer managed to work out a nice deal with Orange Beach for some land transfers and improvements and offered to build a fire station, all of which worked out to be worth $8,000,000, according to his lawyer.
[...] [Council member Brett] Holk argued that coaxing a rezoning with such offers was unfair.All you gotta say is that when a developer is happy, someone got screwed.
Always remember, guys--it's always better to ask for forgiveness than permission.
Field expedient armor and other protective devices have been around for a long time--soldiers are going to do what they can to see that they have protection. They know that Army time runs a bit slower than bullet time--BUT, they also know all about the bureaucracy. The problem is that someone let the idea slip out before they got to where they were going, and now the REMF guys have to get involved, if for no other reason than to cover their neatly pressed backsides. It may sound dumb, but it is the way it is, and once all that mess gets started, there's no going back.
The article does say that the troops will get to take their steel with them to Iraq, but may not be able to install it when they get there. Don't despair guys--you don't have to install THAT sheetmetal. Why, there's probably tons of OTHER steel plate all over the place where you're going...not saying anything--just making an observation.
(I mean, aside from trying to figure out what's wrong with Blogger the past few days.)
What I was wondering was, where have all the railroad bulls gone?
This thought occurred to me last night as I was waiting on a slow-moving freight to clear the crossing down at the foot of the hill from my house. I have noticed for some time now the explosion of graffiti on rolling stock--not just a simple tag or two--but huge, elaborate murals that obviously took a lot of time and effort to produce. Folks have been marking on cars for as long as they've been around, but it seems in the last 10 or 15 years it has gotten all out of hand. Even the model railroad crowd is in on the trend, and several companies even have graffiti decals to make their tiny boxcars and gondolas more authentic looking.
Maybe I'm more sensitive to this since Birmingham has such a long rail history, but I know that at one time railroad police were greatly feared for their foul temper, as well as the fact that they were pretty much a law to themselves. A dim view was taken of such shenanigans--I did a lot of stupid stuff when I was young, but I sure enough knew better not to get caught anywhere near a rail yard, much less with a box full of spray paint cans.
I looked at the CSX website and couldn't find anything about such activities; Norfolk-Southern was a bit better, with one article about trespassing and a link to their police department, and a short history of railroad police. Maybe they figure the less said about it the better.
Anyway, the train finally stopped dead on the track, so I had to turn around and go around the long way.
From the Awfully Obvious Conclusion File: U.S. Says Catching Bin Laden Difficult, and then there's this one--Jackson's Attorney Vows to Fight Charges
Thanks for the updates, AP!
Aliens driving illegally cause traffic problems
Danged bunch of idiots with them flying saucers just a-whizzin' in and out of traffic!
Thursday, December 18, 2003
Bias keeps Internet from global expansion
By ANICK JESDANUNOh give me a break. All this proves is that the one site he went to wasn't very good. Maybe it's not a case of bias so much as it is of simply not knowing how to do a search. Take for example, a Google Image Search. Type in India, and you get 418,000 results. Sure, some are flags and maps and stuff, but think about the poor Swiss, who have to make do with only 154,000 results. Why, it's RAGING ANTI-HELVETIANISM!! Even po' ol' Alabama only gets 165,000. If Mr. Dewan had tried, he could have found hundreds of India faces, and India hands, and even entire India people.
Surely there are barriers to learning to use the technology, and non-English language sites aren't as well-represented as English sites, but it's senseless to make that case with this example. (It's also senseless to believe if there's a buck to be made that someone won't jump in with an Urdu-bay auction site or HOT! LIVE! girls who want to chat with YOU! in Sanskrit.)
I'm going to lunch now and you can't stop me!!
Everyone at Sneaky Pete's says hey. Small crowd today, although Bicycle Riding Man came in. I don't think I've ever seen him stop in anywhere to eat before. I'm just glad he had on his winter clothing. Nine months out of the year, he usually has on some kind of tank top, and tiny little shorts covering his massive legs.
He also has a rather large assortment of beads and necklaces and knit caps and baubles and trinkets on his body, neck, and tied into his hair.
And festooning his bike.
Thankfully, he's not loud like Screaming Guy, but he rides like a man possessed and usually up on the sidewalk instead of on the street, and in the summer he gets all sweaty and slick and he comes whizzing by and you really hope he doesn't get funky sweat all over you. Winter is better--his sweaty parts are all covered up. And the beads and jewelry are more appropriate to the holiday season.
Anyway, he got a hotdog.
The ladies behind the counter where cutting up with each other and picking on one in particular--the tall lady with the square jaw and high cheekbones and hair pulled straight back into a long braid--who feigned deep emotional hurt from their taunts. They're all a fun bunch, and everyone who comes in is "hon" or "sugar".
I told her not to listen to all that mess, and she pouted and half-yelled over her shoulder that they were just all a jealous bunch of old hens. They got a big kick out of that. We swapped Merry Christmases and money and I got my load of artery-clogging foodstuffs and now, it's time to get some work done this afternoon!
Speaking of what folks do for a living...
Dave Helton on the PR trade. And tractors.
Chrysler Cancels 'Lingerie Bowl' Sponsorship
DETROIT (Reuters) - DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler division, bowing to critics, said on Wednesday it was abandoning plans to sponsor a Super Bowl Sunday televised football game featuring underwear-clad models.Well, good. You know, I really, REALLY like girls. I will admit to occasionally lingering a bit too long at the lingerie section in the Sears catalog. But this whole thing is just dumb, and since Dodge first announced their sponsorship, I never could see how it would ever help sell more trucks.
Maybe I don't understand the buying habits of the whole Girls Gone Wild/Jackass-lovin' demographic--but I really don't think they're the ones who are keeping the Dodge Truck division afloat with their purchases.
Trucks are profitable for automakers, and they aren't cheap. The folks with the scratch to lay down on a new SRT-10 or Durango probably aren't going to be watching a bunch of dimwitted chicks in underwear pretend to play football, nor is such a spectacle going to make Mom decide she really needs to rush down to the White Hat Boys' place to plunk down some dough for a Hemi.
UPDATE: And lest you think this crap was foisted on Dodge by a grotty old coot with Hefnereque fantasies, here's an excerpt from an AdAge article from yesterday:
[...] A spokesman said Mr. Murphy approved the deal presented to him by the marketing communications director on Dodge, Julie Roehm, who oversees advertising. (Her role expands Jan. 1 with the same title to Jeep and Chrysler brands.)For the record, Ms. Roehm--product is what sells.
Malaysian children receive heart valves from Alabama
Suddenly Develop Passion for Football, Grits
Scrushy asks limits on travel be looser
VAL WALTONMartha Stewart?! Martha, although I think she's guilty of insider trading, is accused of nothing as serious as our old Dallas County Line lead singer. And Waksal, though a rogue and a cheat, at least has the sense to admit when he got caught red-handed, and his crimes haven't involved defrauding the public for years, as our buddy has been accused of doing. Anyway, here's the real money quote:
In a letter to prosecutors, lawyer Abbe David Lowell said Scrushy has taken no steps to flee since he learned he was the subject of a grand jury probe and saw 14 former HealthSouth officials, some of whom have implicated him, plead guilty to offenses related to the fraud at HealthSouth.Oh please. He ain't Madonna, folks--with his current fashionable affectation of slicked back hair, all he would have to do is regrow his cheesy little mustache, he could be serving salsa and chips at any place in town and not be recognized.
SACS details reasons for Auburn's probation
By KYLE WINGFIELD::coughBobbyLowdercough::
and that the university had not sufficiently prevented a minority of trustees from micromanaging the school. [...]::coughBobbyLowdercough::
Walker said in a statement Wednesday evening that he and the administration are studying the letter.It might be worth remembering that he also said a few weeks ago he only wanted to talk a little about football with some guy up in Kentucky.
What's wrong with my stupid machine?
I noticed, as well as that Aardvark feller, that some of the punctuation in my posts from the past couple of days has been replaced with stupid symbols instead of the desired marks. I changed a couple of posts by hand yesterday, and thought maybe it was just some gremlin in the ether between MSWord and Blogger and Blog*Spot and my IE browser.
I apologize to anyone else who's having problems reading the stuff below (I mean, aside from the normal problems with having to read run-on sentences and stuff). If I have to, I'll just compose this garbage on Notepad.
UPDATE: Sure enough, it's still happening--just had to go through and change the above stuff to make it correct. The ghost of Ned Ludd must be lurking about.
Wednesday, December 17, 2003
Stuff to Look At
Go Google on "architecture" and you get 24,300,000 results. That's probably a bit much to wade through in the next five minutes or so. By adding "possumblog" to the search string narrows things down considerably to about 96 results, but that's still probably a little too much to look at. Further adding the word "poophead" to the string unfortunately leads to a zero result, which I find very difficult to believe, as well as not the least bit useful for our discussions, so I will endeavor to give you the abbreviated version of Interesting Architecty Stuff to Look At.
I love books of any sort, and just about any book you pick up on architecture will be jam-packed with lovely photos and piquant ripostes and all sorts of letters and numbers. Click on Books above and it'll take you to the American Institute of Architects' store webpage, which is probably as good as any other place to start looking. (Not necessarily to buy, though--you will usually do better at Amazon or B&N or Books-A-Million)
Over the years, the ones I have consistently come back to and reread are things such as the reprint of the 1932 Graphic Standards--nifty book from back in the day when draftsmen were men and smoked like coal-burning four-stack destroyers. Beware the reviews you see on the Amazon site--quite a few dimbulbs bought this and complained that it didn't have any current information in it. Hey, go play in traffic, Sparky.
I have a rapidly oxidizing paperback 3rd edition on my desk right here beside me of The Penguin Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture . Lots of arcane, as well as darned useful information. You never know when you might need to distinguish between an aedicule and an adytum. Or what a zoophorus is, for that matter.
Another one I thumb through on occasion is Ye Olde Banister Fletcher, densely packed with stuffy turgidity and pictures--a must-have!
Of course, NOBODY'S library would be complete without the always exciting Hollander Manual. If you are intent on becoming an architect, it pays to know what sorts of junkyard parts will fit your falling apart piece of tin that's the only thing you can afford to buy because your cheap, idiotic boss won't pay you what he pays his cleaning lady at his condo in Orange Beach because intern architects are a dime a dozen and it's hard to find good cleaning ladies and... uh. Sorry. Never mind.
For all you theory buffs, I think it's hard to go wrong with Louis Sullivan's Kindergarten Chats or his The Autobiography of an Idea. He was the originator of the phrase "form ever follows function," and he was Frank Lloyd Wright's mentor and boss. Sullivan had a profound influence on Wright, and by extension, the whole of American architecture. A brilliant man, who died a penniless drunk in a rundown Chicago hotel, April 14, 1924.
Before Sullivan's ideas about organic architecture, there was John Ruskin, who wrote both Seven Lamps of Architecture and The Stones of Venice, which still give me goosebumps whenever I read a few passages. Good stuff.
I have stacks and stacks of other books, too--you can never have too many books, even if you'll never read them all.
We're all a bunch of big kids. Some of us do seem to have a sort of pyromanic/electrophilic side to us, so I would recommend not getting anything containing petroleum distillates or that has any loose or easily accessible wires. Clicking on the word "Toys" above will take you to the biggest list of architectural toy links I have ever seen with either of my two eyeballs. Some of them are antiques, some of them are still being made--just click through on stuff and see what you find.
If you're an insufferable yuppie who is hell-bent on forcing your child into a life of servitude, get 'im a set of Froebel Blocks, just like Frankie Wright's crazy Welsh mama got for him.
For the more pedestrian sorts of us, it's hard to beat Lego. (Except for their recent foray into making stupid sets of stuff that are intended to be built into the thing pictured on the box.) Just plain Legos are best. Don't leave them in the floor or you'll puncture your foot.
A more grown-up toy is the fabulous Rotring 600 Trio. It's three, THREE writing tools in one--a red ballpoint, a blue ballpoint, and a .7mm mechanical pencil. Way, way cool. Made of satin nickel plated brass so it weighs 54 pounds. Be the envy of EVERYONE when they ask to borrow a pen and you slap this chunk into their palm. Can also be used as a self-defense tool and won't get taken away from you at the security station like a pair of stupid nail clippers. I've had mine for probably ten years. It needs a cap for the eraser socket.
Another great toy is the Calculated Industries Construction Master IV Foot Inch Calculator. You will never again need to remember how to add decimal inches again! (Let's see-- .08, .17, .25, .33, .42, .50, .58, .67, .75, .83, .92, and 1.0. And that's just 1 thru 12 inches with no fractions.) Use it to figure rafter solutions, stairs, area, volume, and convert back and forth between real units and made up metric units. One of the handiest tools you'll ever find. (You can also use it to figure out how much cubic inches an engine has when all you know is its size in cubic centimeter or liters.)
Now, all of you know I never seriously beg for money or anything on here--I may joke, but I have remained scrupulous over the past months in not operating this site for profit of any sort. Having said that, I would now like to make an exception and beg you to send me the one toy I have always wanted. Tuxedo black, 327, 4-speed--I won't ask for anything else this year, I promise. I realize it's not strictly an architectural toy, but I promise I will use it to look at buildings.
Nobody making enough fun of you? Well, bucko, slap on some of these, and one of these, and a pair of these, and maybe this, and then snuggle down inside one of these, and you'll be stylin' like all the famous architects!
Now then, that should be enough stuff to look at today. I'm about to go out and see if anyone has left me my present yet.
Dr. Smith also mentioned in passing that he wondered what the world looks like to an architect. I have no idea what anyone else sees, but I know I have a real hard time soaking up the ambiance or atmosphere or design intent or Great Ideas in a building, because I always start looking at the way it was put together. Part of this is what I was talking about yesterday about the subjectivity inherent in interpreting the particular artistic expression of a composition. I can look at something and come up with equal numbers of explanations of why it is The Greatest Thing Since the Wheel or Why This Is Just a Pile of Crap. I figure I can let the pointy-headed academic sorts fight about that--they're good at it and enjoy it much more than walking around a muddy jobsite.
What I look for is how well things are thought out, and how well they are made. If afterthoughts and brain-fade are evident as you walk through a building, if it's obvious that the designer never figured on having to allow for THAT mechanical louver be located right THERE, it the ceiling grid is off-kilter, if the drywall looks like it was finished with a rake, if there's a large water-filled Rubbermaid garbage can sitting under the roof leak in the glorious atrium--well, I notice it. Those things say that someone, somewhere, wasn't thinking.
If there's one thing that separates art from sitting on the john, it's the idea of deliberate, contemplative, reflective, thoughtful input into what you're doing. (Obviously, this also means that sitting on the john can be quite artistic.) There are a lot of architects out there who make wonderful sculptural assemblages of fascinating bits of junk to look at from the outside, or that have bits and pieces of wonderful space inside, but in the end I will always find them failures if there's a fire alarm pull station right over there by accident, or if that door over there bangs into the other one, or if you can hear the elevator pump squealing.
Next--some stuff to look at!
Not really. But at least it didn't last as long as the meeting two weeks ago.
Anyway, stuff to get done this a.m., then more silly garbage this p.m.
Tuesday, December 16, 2003
The rudest shock of my education was how little it prepared me for the real world. Actually making a living requires actually doing things, and in the normal sense, that means going to work for an architect and drawing for all you're worth. (The abnormal sense is dropping out and living in a small cabin in the woods.)
And not pretty sketches, either. Actual construction drawings, done as fast as possible, and as free of errors as possible, and as clear as possible. Which was not one of the things they taught down on the Plains. I had a little bit of mechanical drafting experience from UAB, and quite a lot of doing presentation drawings, but construction drafting is its OWN art and science, and bears little relationship to scholastic exercises. This was at the time when computer drafting was still in its infancy, so I had even less experience with that.
Thankfully, I found a job with a medium sized firm here in town--big enough to get some meaty projects, but small enough so that I quickly got some experience other than making coffee and sorting the mail. (I got to do that, too.) After foundering for a few weeks as I picked up the necessary minimum knowledge required to do construction drawings, I was thrown into the middle of the lake and told to swim--big post office over in Atlanta that had been languishing on another guy's desk, and in a fit of pique, the boss fussed and fumed and told me to get it done. Which I did. For a while there, it had the distinction of having the tallest Keystone wall in the Northern Hemisphere. Good experience all the way around, from having to learn to deal with the U.S. gummint and the local revenooers, to how to coordinate the engineers, how to move lackadaisical contractors, and how to draw right.
As one of the oldest firms in town, our basement held a treasure trove of old drawings from the mid- to late '20s, all the way up to the present. These were done mostly by draftsmen, but that is intended as no slight. Each sheet was a work of art in itself, and each man had his own little tweak or twitch that identified his hand. I learned more about setting your ideas to paper in looking over those old drawings than in the entire time I was in school. And I got to where I was a pretty darned fine draftsman--just about the time that computers began replacing old, nearsighted guys hunched over a drafting table.
I still do pretty well, though--like ol' John Henry, I can still work faster than those steam hammers. At least on some things. And the drawings still look awfully pretty.
Anyway, I stayed on and learned a lot, and got to do a lot of things that I would never have otherwise since I had a degree in construction, too. Field observations (architects NEVER inspect anything) and site grading plans and such like helped break up the day and got me out of the office a little. The office wasn't so bad, though--we had a good group of young guys, all smart and fiery and full of venom and fun. Good guys who knew their beans, and who could sit and spout academic fooferall AND browbeat a contractor without missing a beat. Fun times.
And then it got very, VERY bad. I've talked about the stupid, ill-thought-out changes that overtook the place before, and they doesn't bear repeating again, other than to say that just because someone seems to be honest on the surface, doesnâ€™t mean they really are.
But in my time there, I still learned a lot, which I have codified into my RULES OF ARCHITECTURE. I know they're pretty good, because I sent them to James Lileks back before he got a million e-mails a day, and he liked them enough to write back and tell me so. For the rest of you, here they are:
1. If it don't line up, it ain't architecture.
2. Anyone can dress up like a clown, but it ain't funny except at the circus.
3. The fact that the human eye can discern 32,000,000 colors does not mean that there is a requirement to use them all on one project.
4. You only get one "f*** you!" to a client in your lifetime. Use it wisely.
5. Put on a hard hat and carry a clipboard, and you can go anywhere in the world.
6. Never wear your good shoes to a construction site.
7. You are paid to draw, not erase.
8. Why is it that there is never time to do it right, but always time to do it over?
9. "We can fix it by addendum," or "figure it out in the field" never work.
10. Wait about 2,000 years before you tell me how great a building is.
So, there you go--the sum total of my knowledge, free for you to clip out and save on your refrigerator!
That's about all for today, folks--and tomorrow is going to be one those fun regulatory excess days here at the place I went to after I left The Bad Place. (The fact that being a government bureaucrat is preferable to staying in my previous employ should let you in on just HOW bad The Bad Place is.) Anyway, tomorrow morning will be only lightly seasoned with blogginess--but stick around until later and I'll throw some more of this stuff out.
Yes, that’s right
Maybe it was all the freelance electroshock therapy I gave myself, but I never really had the idea of being an architect, despite all the time spent building with my building blocks, and despite the fact that when I wasn’t trying to figure out electrons, I also was a pretty darned talented artist. I suppose I just figured that engineering was more cool or something, but no matter, after graduation, I enrolled at UAB with the intent of becoming a mechanical engineer.
That intent lasted exactly as long as it took to reach calculus.
My high school (and everything further down the line, for that matter) always had a very weak math program, and although I did fine in things like geometry, the algebraic side suffered a lot of abuse. It became obvious that my struggles with higher math were NOT going to stand me in good stead, and I certainly didn’t have the motivation to actually try harder to figure it all out. So, I started trying to figure something else out. My sister mentioned in passing the idea of architecture, which seemed to be a pretty good alternative. No thermodynamics, you know.
So, I did my research and managed to get accepted (provisionally, due to my poor showing in math) at Auburn. Where, after TWO MORE failed calculus courses, I finally managed to pass one with a B! (Can’t remember his name—he was a little smart-mouthed Yankee teaching assistant, but doggone it, he managed to explain it all enough for me to finally pass it!)
And then there was Summer Option. Since I got a late start, I decided to try to make up a year’s worth of work in one quarter. It was called Summer Option, and it was a vast weedpatch of slackers and morons and brilliant kids and confused sorts like me. The work was grinding, with all the first year’s worth of learning about color and composition and history and theory and presentation and proportion and hubris, all compacted down into a three month space. Lots of long nights, lots of befuddlement. In the end, more than half the ones who started left. The leftover half itself wound up with maybe a quarter of its original complement by the time we graduated.
And to make it even more worse, three weeks before the end of the quarter I had gone back to the trailer after a particularly long evening, then was woken up by the stupid telephone before I had even gotten close to getting enough sleep. It was my sister, telling me that my dad had died.
Two and a half hours later, I was home. I stayed for two weeks, then went back down and finished my classes. I can’t remember what I made, a B or a C, but I was glad to get it.
90% of architecture school is mental toughness. The coursework in most colleges is heavily geared toward the subjective side. It takes a while, but slowly you learn that architecture is a sort of language, and it doesn’t always translate to or from English. Those horrible moments of standing in front of a jury, your heart and soul and countless long nights poured into a project, and you say the one wrong thing, the one thing that sounded so good in your mind, but came out so wrong, and your whole project goes down the crapper because of your inapt, stupid remark. Later, you do start to realize that your project was actually not that bad; you could have just explained it better. And you realize that the people criticizing you weren’t really interested in whether or not you could be successful in the real world, but were only playing an advanced game of gotcha. You begin to realize that no matter what they say, your ideas DO matter, and you come back, and you do it all again. Finally, you get to the point where you can tap dance pretty good, and manage to justify about anything from an artistic point of view.
Thankfully, somewhere in the back of my mind, I also realized that you have to be able to put food on the table—the idea of being a starving artist had no appeal. And being a child of parents who grew up during the Depression, I also felt it wouldn’t hurt to have something to fall back on, so I added on a dual-degree track in Building Science. This is the place where guys went who wanted to be contractors, and although heavy on the flannel and blue jeans, it was refreshingly free of artifice and college-boy philosophizing. And I actually learned about putting a building together—soils and formwork and concrete and estimating and all sorts of fun things—all of which turned out to be of great benefit after I got a job.
So, anyway, in the five years I was at Auburn, I managed to get two degrees, with a minor in Business, and enough hours between UAB and Auburn to have a minor in history, too, and even got to spend a whole quarter studying in Europe (Ahh, the spring of ’86—bombing Libya, attendant loathing of Americans, Chernobyl, rock bottom dollar, poisoned wine—those were the days, my friend). You can learn a lot about stuff if you try hard enough.
How you get to be one
Now then, having dispensed with the most valuable advice I can give, I will give you my own history.
[insert dreamy music and sniff some glue so that everything’s all swirly like you’re imagining stuff]
A small boy is happily playing in the floor of a small frame house on the outskirts of a large Southern city, with a pile of Lego blocks and a Tinker Toy set and a Lincoln Log set all around him. He builds and stacks and watches TV and wonders where the pictures come from. Obviously, out of those white plastic things on the walls with the slots. Those have lectricity, and the lectricity makes pitchers and lectricity is dangerous so you don’t poke your fingers in there or it’ll bite. Build, play, make truck sounds. You know, it wouldn’t be like poking your finger in there, if you use something else. Hmm. Look around, and spy a stray bobby pin on the floor by the couch, conveniently close to another one of those things with the holes. This is dangerous so the boy holds the bobby pin ever so gently as it is inserted into the slot.
Fast forward one or two years. Another set of building blocks has been received as a gift, as well as a big Erector Set and a goodly-sized bundle of Hot Wheels track. The boy, now somewhat bigger and more wise to the ways of the world, intently works on a towering tower with assorted sturdy blocks of buildings and a whirling motor lifting and spinning as fast as its little D-cells will spin it. Cars zoom around below, and the television provides a soothing background noise of cartoon mayhem. Hmm. Batteries are electric. The house has electricity. But it’s dangerous. The small blue battery case and motor spins a bit slower as the charge goes down. The switch is turned off, and the case is deftly opened with a small, yellow-handled screwdriver. Hmm. Wires go from the battery to the motor. The motor is taken out, the wires are gently held in the boy’s hands as he carefully places the ends into the slots in the wall.
Yet more years swing past, and the boy is now a youth, happily engaged in taking apart old clocks and radios and belt sanders and exploring the level of combustibility of things like gasoline and hair spray. He remembers with a smile the times of his early life as he built and tinkered with his toy blocks, and those episodes with electricity. “Silly little kid,” he thinks to himself. In his hands at the moment is a screwdriver and a telephone—actually, the telephone—for this is still in the days when a house had one phone, and it was large, and black, and heavy and had a rotary dial. All fascinating things to the curious mind, and even more so after all the pieces are arrayed across the kitchen table. Confident in his ability to restore the device before the arrival of his mother and father home from work, the lad absent-mindedly examines the intricate machinery of the telephone, the clicking, whirling, bell-ringingness of it. It uses low voltage power, not high voltage like the wall outlets. He examines the screwdrive—long, thin, with a sturdy wooden handle. An insulator. Nothing should happen if that were poked in a wall socket, because the handle is insulated. Hmm. The young man gingerly approaches an empty wall outlet, gently holding the screwdriver in front of him.
The young man enters adolescence, comforted in the knowledge of how the world’s machinery operates. He loses interest in blocks and clocks, and becomes more interested in REAL machines—cars, and REAL danger—girls. He reads all the books about both, becoming as conversant with points and condensers as he is with the glories of Debra Jo Fondren. We see him now in the garage, rebuilding an old muscle car with his dad. The coil is in place, and he is just about to connect the center wire to the distributor, but just before he does, for some reason he motions for his father to bump the ignition switch, forgetting that he is holding the wire. His father does his bidding, and the near-miraculous properties of copper windings work their alchemy in converting a mere 12 volts of direct current electricity into 30,000 volts.
Throughout school, the young man does well, and with all his experience and love of constructing and building and making things work, he decides that upon his matriculation, he will become…
Next Up—What is it?
The dictionary has been pretty consistent in its definitions over the years—generally, architecture is defined as the art and/or science of building, and an architect is supposedly someone who has the skills or specialized knowledge required to construct or design a building.
The sprag in the wheel is the art-science part of the definition—art is much more subjective, science much more objective, and when you start trying to cobble them all together you run into all sorts of philosophical arguments and slapfights and gunplay. One man’s architecture is another man’s flaming paper bag of dog droppings. Success in the field is often a matter of who can do a better tap dance and say the right thing. It’s a powerful feeling—the ability to bluff your way into your client’s mind not with your work but with your description of it—emperor’s new clothes and all.
And I admit I’ve done it myself. I was doing a job of renovating the administrative offices of small college, and the top fellow wanted some way to separate his waiting area from the assistant admin guy who dealt with students and commoners. There wasn’t enough room to swing a dead cat in there, and full-height walls would have further compressed the space so that it would have looked like a Saddam-grade hidey hole. My solution was simply to break up the two required waiting areas (his and his underling’s) with a low wall and a couple of secretary’s desks.
Absolutely NOTHING of any artistic merit.
However, the description I placed on the drawing had the area outside his office labeled as “Executive Waiting Area” and the other as “Student Waiting Area”. We reviewed the drawings and he came across his area—“Ahh. Executive Waiting Area. That’s EXACTLY what I wanted!” Same size as the other guy’s, separated by the thinnest of air and bricabrac, yet he convinced himself of the value of the design based entirely on his perceived needs and station in life. (And another shining example of the use the word “Executive.”)
It suited his needs, it satisfied his wants, it fulfilled the program, it was within budget, it was simple and all that other stuff, but not really architecture.
For the most part, I think of real architecture as the small gestures within the bigger composition that may only be seen by a few folks, but when they do, they stop for a moment and wonder, or they have that “Hmm, clever,” thought, or they look around for the wires and mirrors trying to figure out how you did that. The idea of even the smallest part having been paid just a little bit of attention, of seeing the architect’s hand in even the most mundane places, it what separates the act of mere brick-stacking from art. Thoughtful intent throughout—the small spark that separates “man, y’know, life really sucks” from “To be, or not to be”—is the same thing that can make an inanimate pile of junk become a living thing. It’s a rare thing, though, and why so much of what passes for architecture today relies on voluminous explanations and rationalizations and jargon and frippery and incantations.
In the end, greatness is self-explanatory, and self-evident.
The architect thing
I can’t quite understand the interest in the subject, but as I have promised Jim Smith over at Unfreezing, I will now undertake to talk about what I went to school to learn to do (besides ordering pizza), namely, architecture.
This is a complex sort of topic, I think primarily because everyone thinks they know what an architect does. I know this, because whenever I tell someone I’m an architect, they always say, “OOOooooo!” If you really knew, your reaction would be much closer to, “That’s nice. I think I hear someone calling me—I really must go now.” Obviously, that’s not a bad thing, and I think a lot of it is the result of the somewhat skewed image architects have in peoples’ minds, based, of course, on what they see on television.
Ask the average group of folks to name an architect, and after they name the first one that pops to mind, you can usually count on everyone to remember groovy Mike Brady, then Elyse Keaton if they a bit younger, or Wilbur Post if they are a bit older. (There are some others out there of the buildy-type as well, but they’re a bit more obscure.)
That’s not necessarily bad, but it just points out how little folks know about the profession, even though you experience its products every time you go into your office, or your doctor’s office, or your place of worship, or maybe even your house. Add to that the fact that the building profession is a big wide field, and some of it is insanely specialized, and that some of the highest profile practitioners of the artistic side are complete jackasses, and that it comes with its very own pedantic institutionalized orthodoxy, and you find that you have a big honking mess to try to explain.
Sometimes it’s just easier to let everyone say “oooo” than it is to explain it all.
But easy don’t write a blog, my friend, so let’s wade through this swamp together. While I cobble together the next installment (in which I will attempt to define what architecture is while diving into a tiny pool of water from a 100 foot high tower), it might be helpful for you to read what inspired me to follow this calling.
You got trouble,
Trouble with a capital "T"
And that rhymes with "P"
And that stands for...not what you might think.
Why, yes, there is a doctor in the house!
Congratulations all around!
Okay, I have a confession to make.
Some will mock me, some will be revulsed, some will simply shake their heads and think to themselves, "Well, it just figures, doesn't it."
I like fruitcake.
There. I said it. The stuff of comedy for generations, a food which has come to be reviled and ridiculed along with those who give them as gifts, the embarrassing fruitcake.
But I like them.
Now, this is not a request for all of you to pack up your old fruitcakes (or new ones, for that matter) and slap an address label on them and ship them to me. I just wanted to come clean.
Monday, December 15, 2003
And finally, Why I Will Never Darken the Doorway of the Leeds Ruby Tuesday Ever Again, Unless I Am Quite Dead and am Dropped There By Accident, In Which Case I Will Momentarily Come Back to Life so as to Drag My Moldering Corpse Some Other Place
Now, to refresh all of our memories, we usually eat at Ruby Tuesday in Leeds at least two or three times a month. It’s convenient, since it’s right on the way to and from church, and the food’s not really that bad, and until recently, they had a pretty decent wait staff, including Jennifer, The Perfect Waitress, whose has a cheerfully welcoming perkiness that has covered myriad food snafus, and who is sweetly attractive in a way that is alluring, yet not the least bit aggressive, and thus not at all threatening to Miss Reba, which means that I have permission to say she’s cute without fear of waking up in a pool of my own blood.
Anyway, it has the benefit of comfortable familiarity and occasional cosmopolitan interest, such as when there are car races in town (either at Talladega or at Barber). So, over the past six or so years, we have eaten there a lot.
OF LATE, however, Jennifer The Perfect Waitress has moved on up to kitchen management, and the entire sweet-tea-and-chicken-finger-fetching crew has completely turned over. New people, and not very good people, who are almost as rude and surly toward each other as they are to the customers. Our last few times have not been all that great, and then, there was last night.
Last evening, yet ANOTHER completely new crew, possibly several of whom might have actually worked in a restaurant before. There were only about seven tables working, and about eight waiters, yet it seemed like everyone was just in a huge tizzy about all the WORK they were having to do. All sorts of mumbled complaints and snotty remarks to each other does not a fine dining experience make. We had no silverware, our order took FOREVER to come out, and when it did, EVERY SINGLE THING WAS WRONG.
Now, I’m not one of those people who screams and hollers and throws a fit and starts begging for free food. I figure if the management is serious about keeping customers, they know what it takes to make things right, and they do it and ask if it will be sufficient, without having to bargain.
Apparently, no one like me works there anymore.
So, a sad good-bye to Jennifer, and good riddance to Ruby Tuesday in Leeds.
Okay, yes, it's my fault.
But I only know about three potty jokes, and I'm saving them for use here.
On with Saturday!
The party went off pretty well, although a grand total of about ten kids of the target age showed up—the other twenty or so folks were parental units or older kids. Well, whatever—it was fun anyway, and there was a special visit by everyone’s jolly fat guy, Santa. Played by our youth minister. Dressed in my Santa suit. He wanted to play Santa, and I suppose it never quite occurred to him that there are at least a few guys in our congregation who weigh more than 120 pounds. Like, oh, maybeeeee…the guy who owns the suit. But that’s okay—he wanted to do it, and by gum, anyone who wants to be Santa oughta be able to do it.
Pack up, clean up, take out the trash and back to the house for more clothes washing and kid cleaning, and then to nice warm bed.
And what seemed like only five minutes later, time to get up again. Ungh. I clicked off the alarm and turned around on the bed to doze and listen to Today’s Homeowner with Danny Lipford and B. Smith with Style. I do this early every Sunday morning before dragging my lazy carcass out of bed and taking my shower. It’s almost like I’m up and awake and getting ready, but not quite. And yes, I know it’s an odd combination of programming—but I like catching up on all the latest food and fashion and home improvements info. And both are on the local NBC station, so I can just leave it there and eventually the Today show comes on.
I fumbled for the remote and laid back down and for some reason, Danny Lipford had Tom Brokaw on. Huh? Wait a minute—Tom’s sonorous voice said something about a rumor and a press conference and a hole and WHOA Nellie—we got that illegitimate son of a catamitic donkey!
I was wide awake for sure now, and sat up in amazement at what had transpired. What a fitting way to find the old butcher—cowering in a hole looking like a cross between Ted Kaczynski and a dung beetle. Lion of Baghdad, indeed. As I said this morning, I hope he is bestowed with all the things he so richly deserves.
The first interview, aside from the usual assortment of talking heads, was good old Joe Lieberman. Bless his heart, he managed to prove that being a Democrat doesn’t mean you can’t be glad this sad sack of crap has been humbled and deserves whatever fate befalls him. Which I suppose is not the way to get elected nowadays if you’re a Democrat, but by golly, I bet he can look himself in the eye every morning.
I finally had to get up and get ready—sometime later in the morning, the “what if” and “yes, but” crowd had finally been reached for comment. Predictably, they exhibited the sort of timorous hand-wringing that would greatly please the glorious former head of the Ba’ath party. And to think, some of the folks reached for comment actually want me to vote for them! I laugh at them, and hit them with my shoe, and curse their mustaches. Tony Blair came on to chat for a bit from #10—bless him, too, for being a stand-up guy in the face of withering criticism throughout this long ordeal. He’s a good guy.
On to church, then back home for lunch and to pick up the cookies I had forgotten to bring with us, and then back for Bible Bowl where the previous day’s preparation must have done something good, as one of our senior teams and our junior team both won the event. The only thing that spoiled it was three boys sitting in front of me, who decided it was a good idea to start grabbing all the visitor cards from the pew, wad them up, and start throwing them at people. You know, at one time it was perfectly acceptable for adults to chastise someone else’s kid for misbehaving.
Rightly or wrongly, there is still at least one person alive who doesn’t have a problem with that, so the second time one of the little brats threw something, I stood up and placed my hand on his shoulder and my mouth right by his ear—he started to whisper, “I didn’t throw anythin---“
“Do you make a habit of doing that whenever you go anyplace?”
“Then you really shouldn’t be doing it NOW, should you?”
“And I’m not going to see you do it anymore, am I?”
“Good.” I patted him on the shoulder and sat back down. Later on, I noticed that he and his little compatriots had gotten at the front of the food line and loaded their plates down with as much food as the styrofoam plates would hold. Later still, they came by with about half of their piles of food eaten and blithely dropped the plates the garbage can. ::sigh:: Can’t really blame them, they’re just kids, after all. Their parents, on the other hand…
Clean up, take out the trash, and after all our visitors were gone, it was time for MORE tests. I had no idea what this was all about, but it didn’t matter. I sat there at the table and read my newspaper and read Cat the comics and drew several rilly kewl Bionicles for Jonathan and a squirrel for Catherine. They seemed pleased. Finally time for evening worship, which prompted yet another excursion by Oldest to go sit with her putative beau, and then it was time to hit the road toward home, with a brief stopover to get some supper from our usual place, Ruby Tuesday in Leeds.
MORE TO COME!!
Yes, it seems one of the young men at church has taken a shine to Oldest.
Oh, it’s not like there haven’t been other rumblings of her nascent feminine power—there’s the kid who rides the bus, there’s the kid who plays the sax in the band, there’s whispered talk of this one or that one who might want to talk to her—so it’s not a total surprise. And she is going to turn out to be quite a stunning looking young lady—the thought of which, as well as the act of actually setting it down in word form, just managed to make a couple hundred more hairs on my head turn snow white with an audible pinging sound.
I’ve had my “touch my daughter and you’ll never draw another easy breath for the rest of your life” speech pretty well memorized for a while; the exact spot in the den marked where I intend to lovingly wipe down the Bushmaster and seethe about “the one that got away” as her nervous caller shifts nervously on a tiny, uncomfortable chair; the exact moment when I, as her chauffeur to some movie or other event, will lean over and release one of my weapons of pants destruction and forbid them to roll down the windows while cackling loudly…you know, the stuff all dads do to simultaneously embarrass their own children while striking fear and terror into the hearts of the children of others.
But this, THIS I did not anticipate—she actually managed to allow herself to be smitten by a nice young man who doesn’t have a shaggy mop of Leif Garrett hair, whose pants actually come all the way up to his natural waist, who says “Yes, sir” and “no, sir”, whose brain works overtime, and who is just a doggone decent kid.
Ashley has never felt like part of the teenaged group at church—part of what she sees as their cliquishness is a result of her own insecurity about being around anyone who might make fun of her, as well as some honest-to-goodness cliquishness, compounded further by her occasional inability to take the high road herself and not return petty invective for petty invective—but this young man even managed to coax her into sitting with them yesterday.
I don’t know if he would ever find this little corner of the blogworld, but if he ever does, I’ll just say be the good, kind, kid you know to be.
Or I’ll crush your trachea.
We interrupt this recitation of my weekend to bring you this graphic reminder of why men's soccer will never be popular in the United States.
Let there be Saturday!
Rolled out of bed again early, but not as early as I had originally dreaded. Originally, we were all going to have to get up and go up to the church building so that Ashley and Rebecca and Mom could study their Bible Bowl questions in advance of the big competitive shindig Sunday afternoon. This would then lead into the gift box assembly time, scheduled for noon, which would then subsequently run into the time allotted for the Christmas party planned for the little kids. Quite the day, eh? Thank goodness someone named Mrs. Oglesby suggested that maybe she should just go up to the building with the older two kids, then I could take the younger two on their promised shopping trip to buy gifts for Mommy. When it got time to go to the building, I could then swap them out for Oldest, and take her to buy stuff since she didn’t want to be caught DEAD at a little kid’s party.
I at first demurred, then started whacking myself with my internal brainhammer—“But, I guess it would be good for one of us to stay here and get some laundry done…” We had a huge pile, and if it didn’t get done Saturday, it would have to get done Saturday NIGHT, with the attendant lack of sleep later on in the night from having to fold it and put away. And, if I got the laundry done, I might actually have time to do some shopping, which would be a good thing. So, that being settled, we had a quick breakfast of instant paste (your choice of cinnamon and spice oatmeal or cheese grits) and then she was off.
I set to work sorting and loading. And baking more cookies. The other 3-pound tub was beckoning, and we needed something to take with us to church on Sunday for snacks, so back out with the metal trinkets and into the oven with more little therapeutic dough balls. Also had to make room for more dirty dishes, requiring the unloading of the dishwasher then reloading it. Let’s review—washing machine, dryer, dishwasher, and oven. We were probably using half the power in Trussville.
Finished up the cookies with only about an hour and a half to spare before time to leave. Which meant that something was going to get left undone, and it looked like it was going to be shopping. (It will get done, though. I promise.) In the mean time, I got Cat and Jonathan to get themselves ready and grabbed up the stack of Christmas cards and the box to be mailed to my brother- and sister-in-law and niece and off we went on our long journey across the county—first stop, the post office at the foot of the hill.
What a line.
Of course, length is a relative concept in this case—there were probably only about ten people in front of us, but it sure LOOKED like a long line. It snaked past the two empty clerk stations, past the countdown clock from a past promotion (it has now been stripped of its original cardboard graphics so that it’s just a big black plastic LED clock on a tattered cardboard backer), past the rack of packing material, turning back at the somewhat bedraggled nylon barrier posts, on past the form-filling-out table, out the service lobby door into the box lobby.
I stood the box up on the floor and tried to keep Boy and Tiny Girl from being too rambunctious, which they managed to do pretty well. We discussed the slots for the letters, and what “metered” meant—“Well, you see kids, the postal service is in the process of going metric, and so all the metric-sized envelopes go in that slot.” (I didn’t really tell them that. But it is a pretty good lie.) We talked about Santa Claus, and snow, and New Jersey, and boxes, all the while as they tightly clutched their respective stacks of envelopes. We would move up, I would slide the box, they would chatter, and we would wait.
We finally got to the head of the line, and Catherine started asking about something—I can’t even remember what it was now, other than the fact that she was being deliberately intransigent. “No. Because we have to go get Mom. No. No, you can’t. NO, Catherine. Because I said so, that’s wh…” “Sir? SIR?”
Grr. I was one of THOSE people—the line-holder-uppers. I had gotten so wrapped up in philosophizing with a tiny someone that I had not noticed that it was my turn.
On up the counter, plopped the big box up there, paid for some insurance, and asked for a hundred Christmas stamps. “We only have four books of 20 left.” Wow—they must be made by the same folks making the flu vaccine. I got what she had and then another 20 “Love” stamps. I know it’s irrational, but I just can’t stand those Love stamps. In fairness, I suppose “odium” stamps wouldn’t sell very well at all.
Thus unencumbered both of money and our package, we went out to the lobby to start sticking stamps. I gave them both a stack of letters and some for myself, and we set to work. Not a SINGLE stamp out of place, folks! A minor miracle, considering how fidgety and whiney I can get. The dropbox in the lobby was full to the brim, so back into the van and off to the curbside box, and then it was time to go get some lunch for everyone. (As I suspected, no time for shopping.)
We stopped by our favorite purveyor of Scottish delicacies, then went on up to the building where the kids had already made good headway in packing boxes.
Stopped for a lunch break and then it was time to finish up the box packing. While they did that, I ran stuff off for my class, which would make it the first time all quarter I’ve actually been prepared ahead of time. Boxing gave way to decorating for the party, which was going to be pretty small, seeing as how we don’t have a huge gob of small kids to begin with, and made smaller still by the fact that it had begun to sleet, and even more smallerer still by the fact that two different sets of kids suddenly had other things to do and would not be attending.
Fair enough, but you would think that the ones who were complaining about not having anything to do would try extra hard to show up. But whadda I know?
It got time to kick off the festivities—I had sat down at one of the tables and started stringing clear and red plastic beads onto a pipe cleaner to make candy canes, much to the amazement of all. There were other activities, too, variations on the pipe cleaner/bead meme, but it was time for me to abscond with Oldest so as not to emburden her with having to be around CHILDREN! Finally found her sitting in a rocking chair in the nursery talking to one of the few other older kids who had shown up, all of whom had been tasked with playing games with the little kids.
”Do you still want to go on and get Christmas presents for Mom?”
Suddenly, having to endure being around little kids wasn’t so bad.
Suddenly, going SHOPPING didn’t seem to be so important.
Suddenly, one of the boys in the ninth grade is talking to you...
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