Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

No big blog today.

Big party tonight, and all my readers will probably just be there.

Anyway, please leave a comment here, where I was busy with my blog-time this morning.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Overheard From Downstairs This Morning

Mommy: "Uh oh!"

Child: "Oh."

Mommy: "Why did you do that?"

Child: "Hat."

Mommy: "It's not a hat. It's a bowl for your food."


Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas: A Report from the Front

The best film to come out in the past ten years, The Incredibles, has a line toward the end where the bratty kid says "I love my family!" It's a sweet and funny moment with which many of us can identify. When you finally mature out of your sour teenage years and grow up and have a family of your own, that moment may come when you take a look around the Christmas table and are finally seeing everyone eye-to-eye, seeing everyone for who they are. And for all the crinks and nuances, somehow you stayed together and the day finally came where everyone was laughing and everyone was enjoying each other. It's worth the wait.

My "I love my family" moment came this year after Christmas dinner when we performed our traditional singing of the "Twelve Days of Christmas," a tradition that started in 2003. Back then, it was the first Christmas with my new wife in tow, and the first Christmas spent in Vegas with my sister's family. She had just moved there and was feeling somewhat lonely, so was glad to have us all around the table. She really does up the place for the holidays, and had purchased twelve hand-painted wine glasses, each with an illustration of one of the verses from the annoying and endless song. After a few glasses of wine, someone suggested that we actually go around the table and sing the thing, and that you had to sing the verse of the glass you were holding. There was some reticent discussion about it, and then someone hastily launched everyone into a rollicking rendition of it: On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me... The children stood there, mouths agape at their silly parents, and that may have been the reason why we all just kept singing. It occurred to me at the time that this is the way the song was meant to be sung -with everyone fumbling over a different verse, late to the rhythm and in a different pitch- and the only way it could be enjoyed. Even my Dad, who I'd never heard sing a word of any song in my entire life, joined in. We were all laughing and yelling and cheering... It would be the last time most of us would spend with my Dad before he died a month later. None of us will ever forget it.

So we've sung it every year since. This year we only had ten people, so we were short a few verses. We did a go-round and the kids happily picked up the slack and it was fun, as usual. A bit later, a distant family member called in to wish everyone well and we all got to talking -so you can see where this is going. My brother-in-law gets on the horn and begins drunk-dialing everyone in the family. He set up an 800 number conference call and the phones were set to 'Speaker' and placed on the table, next to the roast beast. People started calling in: "What verse am I?" You're number ten! "Which verse is that?" Look, it's your responsibility to figure it out, OKAY GO! --"On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to meeeee..."

It was hilarious. There would be a pause between verses, a bit of distant static from the other side of the country, and then "6 LORDS A-LEAPING" followed by fall-down laughter on our side because everyone knows it's "6 geese a-laying" (referring to the 6 days of creation). We worked our way through the whole song, everyone finally getting it right the twelfth go-round (it helps when you have the glass in hand, which is the pleasure received only by those physically in attendance). We're pretty sure some family members called in late to the song, heard the ruckus being raised, and either sat there in silent awe, or hung up immediately. It was awesome. You had to be there.

So that was the 5th singing of the song. There's almost always a newcomer to the feast, and when this particular holiday element rolls around there's always some pushing away from the table and some shaking of the head -but once the old wagon starts rolling down the hill there's no stopping it, and it's a joy to watch and a joy to sing (like a banshee.)

The rest of Christmas was ho-hum gift unwrapping. Mrs. Ditchman spoke with a friend who had so many presents for her little two-year old to unwrap, that they were forced to sustain the gifts over a few days, everyone suffering from unwrapping fatigue. There is no such ailment in my family, as we go full-bore marathon style. I have 5 brothers and sisters, 6 nephews and nieces, and that's just the immediate family. If you count the in-laws, the roll call goes into the 30s and 40s (no one has ever really counted.) There were 10 of us at this Christmas. If everyone brought each other only one gift, it's about a hundred gifts to unwrap, but everyone gives several gifts. And then there's Santa. It takes all day. We break for lunch.

I know many people who are annoyed and dismayed by all the gifting and I can't understand it. There's so many gifts going around that no one in my family is ever bothered if so-and-so didn't get them something, or so-and-so got you something you didn't like. There are all different income levels and no expectations. And there's a lot of This doesn't fit, don't you know my size by now? And, Would you wear that in public -I can see right through it! And, Look, Grandma wrapped the gift without putting the thing in the box! Again! We all laugh about it, have a good time, and thank each other. The good gifts are the ones we make for one another; pictures in frames, home movies, drawings from the kids. They're wonderful and cherished all year. It really is about the giving.

But I suppose the best gift we all get in my family is the happy, mutual tolerance we share. We accept each other now. There was a time when there was a lot of irritable holiday bickering and so forth, but perhaps we have grown out of it. I guess as you grow older and begin to see your own faults, you realize you're lucky to have anyone accept you at all. So in the Spirit of Christmas, you show up, you give what you can, and you let it all go.

Monday, December 24, 2007

This may be my favorite Christmas album, not that I have a lot of favorite Christmas albums, mind you, I'm referring to the cover. I mean, come on Ray, where does he think he's going?

I can just picture the record company talking Ray into it: "No, man, no -you look great! Okay, hold this. Good! Smile, Ray!" And the look on his face is priceless. It's like he's saying, "Hey, uh, what am I holding again? Fellas? Hello?" You can just hear the entourage snickering in the background, out there in the forest. It's like the cover of a comedy album. The thought of a blind guy in a blue tux behind the reins of a big-ass, one-horse sleigh dashing through the snow across the countryside makes me laugh all day long. And you gotta love how they cropped that horse.

Don't get me wrong, it has some stellar tracks on it. Ray's cover of "Winter Wonderland" and "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" are plainly the best versions of those songs anywhere. His organ playing is catchy, spirited, head-wagging stuff. And when Ray sings it, it's "He'll say: 'are you married?', we'll say: 'no, man!' but you can do the job when you're in town, brother." Also, he sings "Baby, It's Cold Outside" in that I'm-begging-you-stay-here-and-have-sex-with-me-all-night-long sort of way that only Ray can do. And if there's anything Christmas needs, it's more sex!

But other tracks are lacking, unless you like the sounds of Ray Charles singing like he's been putting back fully-leaded eggnogs all season. There's a song entitled "Christmas Time" where he's either blasted drunk, or bound to a legal contract, or both. It's a laugh the first time, unlistenable every time thereafter.

It saddens me, but if you go looking for this CD you may find it in somewhat less-inspired repackaging, looking like this:

Oh well. I guess someone clued him in. Also, it doesn't have exactly the same songs. Stupid music industry.

My other Christmas fav is B.B. King's "A Christmas Celebration of Hope", not pictured. Don't let the lackluster album title and boring cover mislead you. It's just plain great B.B. at his best. No one sings "Back Door Santa" like B.B. Then again, no one sings "Back Door Santa". Sample lyric: Well, they call me 'Back Door Santa' I make my rounds about the break of day. I make all the ladies happy, while the men are out at play. I ain't like old St. Nick, he don't come but once a year... And so forth. Like Ray, B.B. knows that if there's anything Christmas needs, it's more sex! Hilarious.

Both are worth the price of admission. The Ray Charles album I bought at a record store twenty years ago solely on the merit of its cover art, and today it's the only record I have left. I used to have hundreds, but they all left me somewhere along the line, sadly. Not sure why I kept this one, probably because it ended up in my box of Christmas decorations. Strangely, when I got married it was the only Christmas decoration I owned. I still pull it out at Christmas and put it on the shelf. Gets a smile out of me every time.

As if Hawaii wasn't Christmasy enough, we'll be spending Christmas day in Vegas (baby) making the seasonal sister-visit trifecta complete. It's always a pleasure to be out there with my family, as this sis really knows how to put on a rollicking good party and is a terrifically gracious host. You don't know holiday living until you've joined in with my family singing "The Twelve Days of Christmas"! There are hand-painted wine glasses to help you through the song (the wine helps, too). And driving across the desert is a treat, and we'll time the drive with Michael Medved's lecture on Christmas. Just like his lecture on Thanksgiving, this one is every bit as interesting and informative.

I suppose one of these days the Ditchman family will swell in numbers and Santa will be summoned to Oceanside, but for now we spend Christmas Eve away from home. The kid doesn't know the difference just yet, but she'll have Christmas altogether mastered sometime in the next 48 hours.

I love Christmas. I love nearly everything about it. At church a few weeks ago the pastor said something like, "I'm sick and tired of hearing people say 'the meaning of Christmas is getting lost'. If you think it's getting lost than do something about it." He's right. Stop complaining.

Well, it's never been lost on my account. What's difficult about Christmas is the part where you grow up. The perspective on the holiday takes on such a radical change through to maturity, that it's a challenge to keep the meaning all in focus. It will never be like it was when we were kids, but the magic is still there, however it looks from this side of life. And it was always about the same things: Gifts. Giving. Children. It started when those three wise men brought gifts to that child in the barn, who Himself was a gift to us all.

In many ways it's a story only a child could tell. Case in Point.. Talk about Christmas miracles. What a story.

And what a Story.

And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

Matthew 18:3 (New International Version)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Mrs. Ditchman and I were doing a few holiday chores around the house this afternoon, listening to Christmas music on the AppleTV, when a song came on...

"Uh Oh," I heard from the other room.

I was thinking the same thing: Uh oh. Something's amiss in our AppleTV Christmas music playlist.

Then I listened to the lyrics.

What was me failing to pay attention all those times I heard it on the radio, was suddenly a nice little Christmas miracle. (They always come from the wiliest of places.)

The jingle bell in the background is a nice touch. It should have been the giveaway.

And, lest I be misunderstood, believe me: anytime the Christ story ends up on a pop culture hit list, it's a miracle.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Cards are away!

Well, more or less. Nearly a hundred and fifty of them. We send them out to our clients from the last year with a nifty photo of an aluminum cover. It takes a little extra time, but that's the way we do business around here. We really are grateful for your business!

Even sent one to the president. Our apologies for the dark pic. Mrs. Ditchman picked them up yesterday and noted to the Costco guy how dark they were. I understand he just shrugged that he'd seen that before. OH, swell. Said it couldn't be fixed on the E-mailed files. Couldn't be fixed! ALL THE TECHNOLOGY IN THE WORLD! You mean to tell me that I can collect an image digitally, alter it to my liking on my computer, send it into space and around the world and back down to Costco, where it merges with a Christmasy layout and a large machine prints out 150 of them an hour later, but it can't be fixed! Oh well. Serves me right. The same thing happened last year.

So you go through all the trouble of picking out the best photo of your family, and the Christmas card comes out looking like you're all decked out in blackface in a mining tunnel with a foggy lens and no flash. Dammit. I guess you can't expect much at thirty cents a piece (including envelope.)

It's Friday. Christmas is Tuesday. Raises the hair on your hindquarters, doesn't it? Should make for a fun weekend at the mall, which I will try to avoid. I may end up down there anyway. When I was a kid I kind of liked going to the mall when it was super-busy. It's like watching the rain coming down during the worst storm of the year. Quite a sight, really, but you don't exactly want to go out in it. Actually, now that I think about it, I kinda liked going out in that when I was a kid, too. Things change.

There will be a full moon on Christmas Eve -another reason not to go out shopping. Is there any significance to these things? Something in my head always tries to make a connection. A full moon on Halloween, Christmas landing on a Sunday -is it any more better? Of course it is. If something goes bad, there's your excuse. Remember the year the tree caught fire? Oh yeah, that was the full moon Christmas. And when Great Uncle Dain barfed up his eggnog because you made him laugh by singing "don we now our gay apparel" in the elf voice? Yeah. Full Moon Christmas Eve. Unforgettable.

But the thought of looking up at the sky as a four year old, having run to the window because you heard a distant "Ho ho ho" and a "Now Dasher! Now Dancer! Now Prancer and Vixen! On, Comet! On, Cupid! On Dunder and Blixem!" and swearing that you just saw eight tiny reindeer silhouetted against the full moon... it could happen! Anyway, it's a nice thought. People who don't celebrate Christmas are just being mean to kids.

And yes, I do mean Dunder and Blixem. Check this out if you don't believe me. A reindeer named "Vixen" I cannot account for, though I'd like to see what she looked like. Evidently it gets lonely out on the Norwegian Tundra.

So have an excellent weekend. Try to enjoy it! Me, I like wrapping and unwrapping presents, lighting a fire, cooking a hot meal, and swilling cider under tree. Sure, it's Southern California -all the better! We finally got our rain for the year, and today there's not a cloud in the sky. Also, family is immensely more tolerable now that I'm an adult. Though it could be the alcohol.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas cards go out today! (Finally.) Costco has the best deal on Christmas photo-cards, if you didn't notice, and we're gonna pick them up this morning and mail them out tonight, hoping with all our might that they reach their destinations before Christmas Eve, lest we suffer outright mortal shame. If you don't get yours, give it a week. If you still don't get yours, E-mail me your proper address, for crying out loud -I wasted a stamp!

BTW, this year's prize for First Christmas Card Received goes to the Harringtons of Oceanside, CA! Excellent work! They were expecting a child around Thanksgiving, and had the foresight to recognize that there would be no time in December for this foolishness.

I've always had mixed feelings about Christmas cards. There were the years I sent EVERYONE a card and then there were the years I sent NO ONE a card, followed by the years where I received none. Then there were the years I sent out "Happy Holidays" and "Seasons Greetings" cards, not wanting to offend anyone who didn't subscribe to any particular faith-based federally-recognized holiday. I can count the Hanukkah cards I've received on one hand, and I don't think they were sent to me from Jewish people.

For a few years, I sent out Christmas E-mails. Boy, that was lame. My sister really chided me for it, as she had nothing to hang on The Wall.

Now that I'm older, (and though not exactly wiser I am less stupdi) I really enjoy getting the cards. Most people I know have a Wall, or at least a Door or a Mantle or a Someplace to put all the cards they receive. I have one, too, and I love it. I especially enjoy seeing all the families and their kids and pets and seeing how much they've grown. Everyone picks a photo that they think is their family looking its best, or at least typifies their family sensibility. Last year, our Christmas card was a pic of us in our Halloween costumes, looking our best.

Checking out our own wall, I've noticed that there are a number of pics without the parents -just kids. We considered sending one with just the Little Ditchman looking super-cute, but when we received so many sans the other folks we love hearing from, we decided against it. I'm not sure why people choose to leave themselves out of the picture. It may be that they just couldn't find a good photo of everyone, or that their family is so big it's impossible to flip the shutter when everyone is smiling at the same time. "Ah, 2005! Yes, I remember that year! It was the one where we were all diagnosed with clinical depression because of that awful neck rash -medical costs forcing us to wear dated fashions... Little Billy looked great though!"

I've also noticed that fewer cards are going the politically-correct "Happy Holidays" route, and that there are more "Merry Christmas"s this year. Political Correctness seems to be losing the battle recently, having overplayed its hand. I've never really understood it. Are there people who are actually offended upon receiving a holiday salutation from someone of a different faith? If you wish someone a happy Your-Religious-Holiday-Here, are you not wishing them well? If a Buddhist wished me a "Happy Buddha Day" I would love it!

"Buddha Day" or "Visakah Puja" is traditionally Buddha's birthday. The holiday celebrates the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha on the same day, the first full moon day in May (except in a leap year when it is celebrated in June).

I would say "Merry Christmas" to this Buddhist, and I'm sure he would love it.

Then again, the Jehovah's Witnesses came by my house yesterday offering me a copy of The Watchtower. I turned them down and unwittingly wished them a "Merry Christmas!" They didn't exactly break out into "O Come All Ye Faithful".

If you're not a Christian and yet you celebrate Christmas and send out Christmas cards that say "Happy Holidays", that's cool. But since when is it poor form to express your own faith on your own religious holiday? I'm referring to Barbara Walters, of course, who got all in a lather about the president again.

Anyway, in our family we love getting the pictures, whoever is in them, whatever they're celebrating. It's nice to see that you're not the only one enduring time's wear, and it's good to see those with whom you've lost touch. I save them all in a nice red velvet Christmas box and pack it away with the Christmas stuff. I put it on the table and flip through the box once a year. I guess it's not so foolish after all.

The cards I chuck.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Well, we're back, but you know how it is. We're not really back until a round of household chores are done, a good hard day of work is completed, the pets recall your contributions to their existence and the memories of vacation altogether go dim. Back into the swing of things. Back to the routine. Hey, why am I a week behind schedule? And hey, what happened to all the money in my bank account?

Then you're back, and the year-end scramble continues. It was nice to come home to a house draped with Christmas lights and a Christmas tree, though I don't remember decorating the thing. The Little Ditchman woke up the next morning and was surprised and impressed to suddenly be in such a familiar place. We were all happy to be back. When you have a nice home as we do here in Oceanside, a journey to an exotic locale loses its allure. All the pining for ESCAPE! that I had in my youth is gone now, thank the Lord. It's been replaced by Contentment, and it's good to be home.

That's not to say that I don't long for some good old Rest and Relaxation, ho no! That's different. My sister, whose house we stayed at in Hawaii, was somewhat disappointed that we had little interest in leaving the cabana and venturing out to see the island. She didn't seem to grasp that we really just wanted to sit for a week, maybe stroll on the beach, have a few beers. We've seen enough of Oahu to know the place, but we've also seen enough action in suburban Oceanside to want to leave it all behind for a few. But, we're back now. Back in the middle of the Christmas season, back in the middle of a tough year-end workload, back in the middle of getting the accounting in order and beginning the tax filing. Mrs. Ditchman has been honorably dedicated to it all, and for her I am grateful.

It was a typical Ditchman family vacation. There was a lot of wind and rain, flight delays, everyone getting sick, the airline lost some luggage, then the viruses were exchanged and everyone got sick again. We saw a few neat things, however. The Pipeline Masters surfing competition was going on and we caught a day of that -pretty entertaining. Ran the Honolulu Marathon in the driving rain, which was a hoot, though I ran solo for the first time, missing my running buddies. Caught a local small-town Hawaiian Christmas Parade, which was unforgettable. All of these stories I could expound upon with some well-placed adjectives, verbs, and punctuation, making all the TMST readers out there swoon breathlessly and click over to www.hawaiianairlines.com to check ticket prices. And nothing was more enjoyable than watching the Little Ditchman play with her cousin, who is a few months her senior. That was worth the price of admission, the price paid in the lavatory, the amount spent on Zicam... And we did get one good day at the beach without any wind and rain.

On the last day, we put all the toys in the rental and journeyed to the leeward side of the island to famous Waikiki beach, where we pitched a towel on a patch of sand between Japanese tourists and sat. Shoulda done this all week, I thought to myself. It wasn't for a lack of trying. My sis lives a block from the beach on the windward side of the island and, well, it's winter if you hadn't noticed. It may be the tropics, but those clouds blow across the ocean for a thousand miles collecting fresh water to dump on the first land they hit. Hawaii isn't green cause it's warm and dry, folks.

But the Little Ditchman was smart. She sidled up to the ocean with her bucket and shovel, plopped right down, and did this for an hour:

She's the smartest one in the family.

And that's the way I'll remember the vacation. (You don't take pictures of the painful moments in life.) Sure, she'd been irritable to the point of exhaustion in the days previous -you would be too, if you were standing there in the rain with green snot running down your nose, diarrhea in your shorts, and you threw up on yourself in the minivan. Life comes at you waves. For every crest, there is a trough, and the deeper that trough, the higher that crest. God help those with no storms in life, as they know not the real joys of clear weather. There's more to life than waiting for the storm to pass, too, for when it finally does, you've got to pick up your bucket and shovel, walk down to the water, and get back to living.

Friday, December 14, 2007

I've got a little bit of time this Aloha Friday, so I thought I'd post some more about the 2007 Honolulu Marathon...

Earlier, I'd mentioned that the marathon was not nearly as organized as the reunion area of the 2006 Marine Corp Marathon. If you were there, you remember the strangling, stifling, claustrophobic feeling of 20,000 tired, sweaty runners and their families funneling over a small bridge in Arlington. It was awful, and we missed the entire post-race festival as a result.

Today in the Honolulu Advertiser was this story. Now, I'm not sure how to explain this to race planners, but runners' times are very important. This cannot be overstated. The NBA may as well play without scoreboards.

But the truth is most of the twenty-four thousand or so of us out there are just running to finish. We all have watches, we all know it takes 10 or 15 minutes to even reach the start line after the gun goes off, so we just laugh it off. Unfortunately, the timing fiasco wasn't what bothered me about the race.

First I'll say I was prepared for the rain, it is Hawaii after all. I was ready for the sweltering conditions, which Galloway says adds about twenty minutes to your time, on average. I was even prepared for my own unpreparedness! I knew that I wasn't particularly ready for this one, having only gone fifteen miles as my furthest training run, but I'd been pretty active altogether for the past few months, and so I thought I'd take it easy on this race and integrate the Galloway walking breaks, which I'd never tried before.

I'd run five minutes and then walk one minute, the idea being that you don't wear yourself out early on, and still have something to run with in the second half. Let me tell you: it works! Though I doubt I will adopt the Galloway method as a whole (I like to run) I believe I will utilize it in future training runs. His theory is sound, though it sounds crazy at first. Walk more, run faster and further. If you don't buy it, try it. (I'm not going to be able to convince you.) His swell book is here. It's worth every penny.

Galloway won the first Honolulu Marathon years ago, incidentally. There were, like, 500 runners and 200 finishers. Today the marathon has swelled to one of the top five biggest in the world. The reason for this is all the Japanese folks that make an event out of it. Honolulu is a big vacation destination for the Japanese, and it turns out that there are very few marathons in Japan that are open to everyone (you must have a qualifying time). All these multitudes running together is one of the things that makes a marathon fun, so I was looking forward to it, and I knew there were going to be a lot of Japanese running in it, but... WOW. Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day was just a few days previous. 50 years ago you would never have imagined such an event in Hawaii, of all places.

But unfortunately, the event organizers cut corners by catering the race to the Japanese culture and seemingly have little experience with how marathons are run stateside. The Honolulu Marathon's biggest sponsor is Japan Airlines (JAL) and JAL puts together group packages for their patrons. At the finish line, for example, is a big JAL tent with masseuses and hot meals and plentiful first aid -it looks wonderful! Of course, they wouldn't let me in. Either I was too white and too tall, or I didn't have the JAL tour-group wristband. JAL actually had party tents along the course, too (okay, "running stations") which we homely folk were also not allowed into. It was a demoralizing sight, really, to see all of these exclusive tents. At the finish festival there were numerous groups like JAL that were happy to help their own, but all I got was a couple of dry, sugarless cookies and a Red Delicious apple. I hate Red Delicious. Too mushy.

This is exacerbated by the fact that when you crossed the finish line, you were handed (handed!) a cheap shell lei, not unlike the kind you get at the airport, or Hilo Hattie's if you spend over 3 bucks. No medal. I almost cried. Then you're immediately greeted by the "Volunteer Lunch Tent" with their plates of kalua pork and rice and a side of fresh soup, but you are hereby directed across a parking lot and through a large muddy field to the "Runner's Tent" to get your paltry ration.

Then (if you can find it) you stumble to a tent on the far side of the festival, past all the private parties, where they hand you your T-shirt. Only finishers get T-shirts in this race, which I find amusing (the shirts all say "Honolulu Marathon Finisher" on the front.) At the convention (which was also relatively threadbare given the size of the event) they hand you a near-empty bag, and then another bag, and then more bags. I guess the Japanese like bags. I must say I was relieved to finally get an actual medal, however, at the T-shirt tent. It was an unattractive key fob in a plastic baggie that I immediately unwrapped and tied to my shell lei -as walking around post-marathon without a medal around your neck is really depressing. It was a bummer not to get the friendly "Congratulations!" from a volunteer, like I'm used to. And there's no hanging out on the beach and jumping in the Pacific for a cool dip -the finish "festival" is cut off from the ocean by the last mile of the course, which is fenced in.

That last mile was a tough one, too, as you see the FINISH banner hovering there in the distance, straight ahead of you. It's a tough course. There's the humidity and the rain that's expected of the tropics, but the start time is also at 5AM, which means we woke up at 2:30 or so to get down there. It's not so bad if you're from the mainland, really, because of the time change, but still! Anyway, the reason for this is to avoid the heat, and this is appreciated, but more than half of the runners expect to finish beyond the five hour mark, which would land them square in the middle of the afternoon at their most tired. There is no no cut-off time for this race. You run past A LOT of people.

As well, the race goes up and over Diamond Head about six miles into it (quite a hill) and then up and over it again at mile 25! SUCK! Miles ten through 22, more or less, are on the same road running right next to each other, so it's just a long straightway out and back, watching everyone coming at you. Some people don't mind this, but I find it irritating in a long run, just going straight forever and then making a U-turn. (Oh well, it's an island. I guess I can't expect much.) Sure you run along Waikiki beach for the first few miles in the beginning, but remember: it's pitch dark and you can't see a thing. You may as well be running past a thousand naked supermodels beneath the Eiffel Tower, it don't matter.

So it's not the best course. When I finished, I felt like I just crashed somebody else's party all excited-like, and then found that I didn't know anyone there. Hordes were still crossing the finish line three hours later when I was down on the strip at a restaurant having a beer. (No, there was no beer garden, and no, I did not get a free cocktail when I showed them my finishers shirt.)

All that being said, I am, of course, stoked that I ran it. Every marathon is great, and doing one in Hawaii was a terrific novelty. I will never forget standing in line for a Port-a-John at 4AM when the rain started coming down in sheets under those 10 million candlepower lights rigged up on the cranes. I was glad I'd plopped down 25 bucks for a hat at the Nike booth the day before.

And yes, there were not nearly enough Port-a-Johns at the start line. We all waited in line for over a half an hour, and I felt bad for the long line behind me, as we had only a few minutes to spare before gun time.

I will also remember the fireworks -which were pretty cool. We were standing there, a head taller than everyone as far as the eye could see, and there were a few BANGs and POPs, and you look up and see the lights exploding in the sky, betwixt downpours. Sleepy vacationers ventured out onto their Waikiki verandas high above the crowds to watch, and then we began to amble forward. There was no national anthem. Announcements came over loudspeakers in Japanese. They were followed by announcements in English, equally unintelligible.

I will also never forget running down the boulevard as the rain POURED down on us, shuffling through the puddles. The recently placed Christmas lights of the city reflected some life in the otherwise empty streets, and all the many thousands of us ran silently forward, the sound of a million synchronized foot-splashes ahead and behind. You could see the rain falling from great heights, and there were few spectators at such an early hour, and we ran silently forward. The lack of speaking may have been a cultural thing, or we may all have been miserable beyond words, but it was 75 degrees and we were in Hawaii and we were 3 miles into a marathon. It generally makes one quiet down.

Something I will never forget: there was one quick-deliver Japanese restaurant full of employees, out on the sidewalk of the storefront. They appeared to have taken a break from the early cooking of the day's sustenance for the needy masses of tourists, and they were out on the street in the rain, banging pots with ladles and spoons. They were laughing and cheering us on. I remember thinking of those moments of levity from my own days working at restaurants, and here I was, years later, in a very different place. It took my mind off the daunting pain for a moment, and it was awesome.

There weren't very many spectators, actually, which was really a disappointment. The early hour combined with the rain, and who knows what else, just didn't lend itself to it. I've run other races where the streets were lined with folks happily cheering you on all 26.2 miles, but this was not one of them. It was unfortunate, but oh well. You can't expect it. That's not what you run for.

This was my ninth marathon. It's amazing how different they all are, and yet all equally unforgettable. One of the big reasons I keep doing it is because it's new and different every time, and yet I still hit the finish line with that feeling of having reached an unimaginable height, having accomplished what few attempt. It's the only sport in the world where you are competing with the professionals in the exact same event! It's the equivalent of playing an NBA game with Michael Jordan, or golfing in a tournament with Tiger Woods. You may not be as good as them in the competition, but the fact that you were willing to try at all... it's like Tiger saying, "Come on in!" as he hands you a club, or Magic just tossing you the ball.

I passed the lead runner about halfway through the marathon, actually. Okay, so he was going the other direction, but still! He is The Best in the sport, and I was only an hour behind him. At least I tried. I finished a marathon before 9:30AM last Sunday morning. Half the people I know were still in their jammies.

That's something.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Yes, that's us at the finish line! There's plenty to say about it, but I'm on vacation.

Picture me on the beach with my mac laptop, doing a little leisure writing in the hammock, reflecting on the events of the previous few days, pausing only to tip the boy with the towel over his arm, tray of Mai Tais in hand. The scent of my hand-made plumeria lei wafts upward, inspiring me with each word I type. This is some of the best work I've ever done! And the children playing in the warm ocean waves crashing gently on the beach, my wife with her eyes closed, smiling to herself during a nap on the grass...

I ask you to picture it this way, as the reality is somewhat less glamorous. We all have runny noses and lidocaine patches on our legs. The rain hasn't stopped for more than a few minutes, pouring down and drowning out the hacking cough that erupts out of the Little Ditchman at random intervals. Some of us are fighting the urge to vomit, but there's enough diarrhea to go around as a distraction. Haven't had a wink of sleep in a week, it seems. The blisters on our feet from the waterlogged running shoes are pretty nasty, but the pain from them is overshadowed by the pain from the muscles and joints. You runners know the feeling.

There's more to say, of course, but I'd like to heal first, and it's a little tricky using a PC for the blog for the first time (it's my brother-in-law's.)

Still, we are pretty proud of ourselves, and it was another terrific accomplishment. My time was 4:21, which is what I ran last time I ran a marathon in the driving rain. Of note: the Honolulu Marathon as a whole wasn't nearly as well organized as the reunion area of the 2006 Marine Corp Marathon, but at least they had English subtitles and translators for the hundred or so Americans who ran the race. I was the tallest one there! Japanese heads in front of and behind me as far as the eye could see...

Saturday, December 8, 2007

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100TH POST! Unfortunately, it will only be celebrated with Gatorade, as pre-marathon hydration is necessary in this humid climate. Gun time is at 5AM! If all goes well, beer will be served at 9:15. See you at the finish line, that is, if I do not succumb to the stomach flu first.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Forecast for Hawaii is RAIN for the next week. And stomach flu. Bookend it with a six-hour plane flight and the trifecta is in play.

It's past midnight on Thursday morning as I write this. I'm tired. I ache. The city of Oceanside is coming down on us because the BIG job we have to fit in before Christmas is a commercial gig and not residential. If you don't know about these things, trust me, bureaucracy hyperventilates at the commercial level. Unanticipated last minute headaches abound, though I will get a certain amount of pleasure ordering lengths of aluminum from the beach in Kailua.

That's the pain of having your own business. It follows you wherever you go, and I do mean IT FOLLOWS YOU. There's no going home at the end of the day and forgetting about it until tomorrow (and as well you should.) And then when you run the operation alongside your wife... well, let's just say there's always something to discuss over dinner.

"How was your day, honey?" takes on an all new meaning, too, as I'm sure you can imagine. I have to submit a report. She has her job, too. Sure, I grab a beer out of the fridge and slink away some nights, but I slink right back and we discuss work on the couch in our pajamas while we watch, you know, whatever is on that will take our minds off work.

So here we are with a planned vacation, but no amount of planning seems to allow for it. We signed contracts yesterday and were all set to place the last order of the year and hang out in Hawaii while they processed it, but no. The city needs to review this one. Engineering needs to be reworked. The Manager wants a corbel cut on the rafters, the Board wants scallops. So be it. And Mrs. Ditchman took the bulk of it on herself today, too, God bless her.

And there's Christmas. The Little Ditchman seems to be getting in the swing of the holiday as she knows the important words; "kissmasstwee", "ornornament", "lites", and "snowman". We were hellbent on not missing Christmas this year, so on the way tonight to measure out the job and draw up some new plans, we stopped at Lowe's and picked out a tree. The kid pointed at the first one she saw and she loved it. We loved it, too, and into the truck it went. I might add that I ditched a few responsibilities today so that I could hang the lights. A week from now I'll wonder what I was thinking, but for now, it was worth it.

It'll be nice to come home to. I'll have to report back from the tropics on how they celebrate it all out there. Not that we have snowmen here either, but at least the temps can drop below 70. And then there's Christmas in Vegas for us, with the family -strange as it sounds. I suppose one of these years we'll just have to be home for the day, so Santa can drop down our chimney good and proper. The kids will appreciate it.

So I bid you a fond farewell and aloha. Stay tuned, as I will be sure to mobile-blog a few pics when I get bounced out of this latitude. We return on the 17th. Attention burglars: our housesitter is an expert marksman and has the keys to the shotgun locker. I'm paying her to clean the rifles, so be aware that she will always have a weapon on her lap.

Tomorrow: flags go out. Pearl Harbor Day. Our grandparent's 9/11.

P.S. This is the 99th post on TMST! I hope it has all been significant enough for you these past few months. The hundredth post will be me on the beach in the tropics. I deserve it!

(Uhh, don't I?)

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

It's amazing how your attitude about snot changes when you have a child. What used to be sooo disgusting has just become another thing. One orifice just starts looking like another, and what does it matter? They all need to be wiped down anyway, and you're the guy to do it.

3:45AM: cries of Daddy! Daddy! from the other room. Glancing at the clock I felt it was safe, all the little demons back in their respective household spider holes, and I fumbled into the Little Ditchman's room to try and do... what? What am I gonna do? Stroke her back, comfort her, offer her some water, pray she goes back to sleep -and soundly. She did.

Welcome to parenting. There's no way out. It occurred to me last night, in the middle of the night, that I had no idea what I was doing. If the child had not fallen asleep, I would have just waited until my wife slogged in to hand me my ass. I did the job well enough, however, and headed back to bed. The last thought that floated through my head before the train to Sleepytown arrived was that this child would die if it wasn't for Mommy. I'm just not capable. The survival rate in my fish tank isn't even 70 percent.

House is still the best written show on television, despite the fact that last night's episode (rerun) broke the glass ceiling of total barfing shots in a one-hour television drama. Rerun! Striking writers be damned! I have no sympathy for these people (sorry). It's clear that everyone in Hollywood is overpaid (just look at the sum product) and furthermore, there are plenty of struggling writers out there who would do the job for less (me).

Last night's rerun of House, by the way, almost lost the title of "Best Written Show on Television". The trophy fell off the mantle when the patient was going under the drill for an obviously unnecessary brain surgery, and one of the diagnosticians was at her house, investigating her basement. When he found that fumigation pesticide was coming through a drain pipe from the neighbor's, why, she didn't need brain surgery after all! He picked up his cel phone and called the surgeon in the OR, stopping the drill just as it was being sunk into the patient's skull -in the nick of time!


It wouldn't have been so bad if they hadn't had all these set-up shots of the doctors shaving her head and powering up the drill,cue the moody music and cross-cut with the diagnostician at the patient's house, putting on a gas mask and discovering her dead cat. Anyway, Hugh Laurie saved the show, as he always does. The guy is terrific, though I'm having a hard time taking him seriously since I noticed him as Jasper, the greasy henchman in the remake of 101 Dalmations (1996).

Hilarious. And talk about writers deserving more money! This is evidence that there is both untapped talent in the universe, and horrible overpaid writers. For every remake and sequel in Hollywood, there is a hack cashing a hundred-thousand dollar check. Still, they strike! I think we should have a viewers strike, but then that would be called a protest, and it would smack of politically incorrectitude. I'll protest bad work all the same. You pay these people to entertain you. If they were working on your house and did a bad job, you'd complain.

Well, today is a day off of work so I can bust my ass around the house! Packing for a trip is an exhausting endeavor for the Ditchman family, and it always provokes ire. It doesn't help that everyone is feeling under the weather in one way or another. I was informed last night, when I got home from work, that my sister's family in Hawaii is experiencing a household epidemic of the stomach flu, causing my brother-in-law to stay home from work for the first time ever.

It almost moved me to tears.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

"Well, this day is going to be a long one."

That's the thought that went through my head at about 3AM this morning when I was shaken awake by some odd noise in the house. Well, I thought I heard a noise, but my wife didn't stir -so I must've been imagining it. Still, when you hear a noise at three AM, you know it must be the devil in your house. 3AM, that's the Devil's Hour, you know -12 hours after Christ was crucified. Also statistically when most nighttime deaths occur. And Princess Diana was in that terrible accident right around 3AM, right? See the connection? So I hear something in the middle of the night, and I check the clock. If it's around 3, clearly demons are scrambling around downstairs, using their guise and wiles to sabotage the house for the rest of the day, and I just lay there in bed helplessly.

Then the Little Ditchman wakes with a hacking cough and holy fever and my wife responds to it immediately. I roll over to see if she hears it at all and she's already gone, Power Mom that she is. Mom spent the night with daughter -who cried and wheezed through the dark hours. (Actually, I think it was Mrs. Ditchman who did a lot of the crying.)

When I finally awoke with the crink in my neck, mom handed off the child and went forthwith to her workout (how does she do it?) while I got ready for the long, long day.

Hopefully the little angel's cough and snot will slip away before the six hour plane flight on Thursday, and hopefully it won't slide dormant into my own immune system, only to manifest the day of the marathon.

Anyway, I've got to move. Hanukkah begins at sundown. If you have those messianic Jews in your family like I do, (yes, we honor Hannukah and Christmas) you may appreciate this Christmas album. I particularly like "Oy to the World", which will be the soundtrack to the video I make some day of my wife's Jewish kin at Christmastime, and our family's tradition of having me over to decorate Great Aunt's holiday tree for her.

Monday, December 3, 2007

If you think it's cold where you are...

It's a fascinating article. Attention, oh Writer of Fascinating Article: you had me at "walrus dicks". It's kind of long, and kind of depressing, but if you ever wondered what life is like out on the far, desolate reaches of America, it's explained here. I envision a similar article with its subject being Suburbia. "The average person in Suburbia knows how to use every part of the suburbs in order to survive." And so forth. It'd make for more fascinating stuff, but I'm too busy for all that.

On the other hand, only four short days to tropical paradise! (Okay, my sister's guest room in Hawaii.) The housesitter has been prepped to handle the menagerie we have here on Eastview Court. The livestock should be fine without us for a few. It's been real busy around here, what with trying to make the bills and wrap up the business for the year. I've got one job this week, small one, and a large job after Hawaii and before Christmas, so it doesn't look like it's going to let up any time soon. After the marathon I will sit on the beach and forget the phone somewhere, have a beer. Then again, the weather forecast shows rain in Hawaii all week, so I may be drinking that beer on the veranda, picking at the blisters on my toes. As long as it stays above 80, fine.

Christmas seems to have been nudged by the wayside, here. Just no time to get the lights up, and what are we decorating the tree for? The housesitter? As much as she would appreciate it, I'm not sure I can pass muster. Yesterday I had a few hours to myself and just decided to scan old photographs into the computer as part of the Great Archiving Project. Mrs. Ditchman caught me, "What are you doing that for?!" I had no good answer. Obviously, there were more important things to be done. When I get overwhelmed, I just start a new project. (How's that pond coming?!)

The picture above is one of the recent inductees into the family record. Scrawled in pencil on the back it reads: "Dick out in the road". I have no idea when the picture was taken, who "Dick" is, or where that road is, but the snapshot must have been important enough to have been kept for 75 years. From surrounding photos I gathered that Dick was a mailman and that he had a dog named "Suzie" and that that year the snow bank was higher than the cars. I assume this is Iowa, land of my forebears. Evidently, there is a road there and one year Dick, that crazy bastard, got out in it. Looks cold there, too, but not Alaska cold. My family was smart enough to get out of the winterlands and move to California, and since one of my sisters moved to Las Vegas and another moved to Hawaii, it seems the family is still in the midst of migrating to warmer climates. Another generation and we'll be in Polynesia, which would be fine with my wife. It dips below 70 here in Oceanside, and she hugs her elbows, shivers and exhales, and goes looking for fuzzy socks.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Men typically do not remember anniversaries. There are myriad reasons for this, many of them analyzed, scrutinized, researched and dissected by scientists the world over, but I'll give you one: it's because the wedding day is all about the bride. It's true, it's her day. No matter how much sweat and toil he contributes to the big event, the groom is an ornament and the bride is the whole beautiful holiday tree that the family gathers around, celebrates, and adores. It's no wonder men forget their anniversaries, the wedding day makes a woman more of a woman, but it makes a man more like a woman, too. You dress him up, give him a manicure, and try not to laugh and point, while he tries to forget.

If there is any day that belongs to a man, it is the Day of Engagement. Women love to tell the story, (it's suddenly all about them again) they swoon and their eyes flutter and other women drape themselves on the hearing of it. There's a certain amount of melting and so forth, but I assure you, this is the man's day. If it weren't, it would be celebrated and marked on the calendar, but alas, few people remember the date of their engagement.

Unless it's on a Valentine's Day. Or their birthday.

Anyway, the reason it's the man's day is because this is the day he makes The Commitment. Women don't seem to understand the gravity of it, but commitment is the most difficult thing in the universe for a man to do. You may as well ask him to fill his shorts with poisonous beetles or dogsled nude across the Arctic, either of which he is more likely to agree to. For a man to commit, he has to decide to let a long conditioned and nurtured portion of his life just plain drop away. It's a miracle, really, why a man would decide to commit himself to one woman. I won't go into it. Mostly because I don't have the answers, and I can't account for miracles.

Yes, the day of engagement is a big day, and for me it was more moving than the wedding day itself. Not to detract from the awesome beauty of the ceremony -by no means! (I know she'll be reading this.) I'd had the ring in my possession for over a month, and I could have turned around and got my large sum of money back at any time. I could have stuck with that old sweet, careless life, and not embarrassed myself asking for the old man's permission (which he nervously granted, thank God) -but I didn't. Many women promise one thing, but a woman promises something more, and like the sirens and Odysseus, men are lulled and cajoled, however unwittingly.

A good man recognizes all of this, of course, and takes advantage of it as best he is able. I dragged Mrs. Ditchman all the way out to the Grand Canyon under the guise of we're going camping! It was snowing when we got there, (never go camping with a Hawkins) but they just happened to have reservations for two in my name at the old restaurant on the rim. I pulled out the ring after dinner, and she was stunned -never saw it coming- and began to cry. I overheard some folks at a table nearby whisper, "He's proposing!" and they took our picture.

That was just seconds after the big moment. See the glossy eyes? Those are real tears! Also note the sparkly on her finger. (The disinterested looker-on behind her I cannot explain. He's either jealous, or about to propose himself, which would explain the sickly gaze.)

Turns out we weren't camping in the snow (duh) as I had gentlemanly secured the finest suite in the historic lodge, and we retired to the room with a bottle of wine and our cel phones to tell it on the family. But before we did, we walked outside (the attention we were receiving in the restaurant was overpowering) and stood there in the dark, in the falling snow, at the rim of the Grand Canyon. I remember it perfectly. Here we were at the view of all views, the most massive and unforgettable vista on the continent, and you couldn't see a thing. I spied a few lights down the cliff, in the canyon, and pointed them out. It looked like a couple of hikers in the dark, with flashlights, heading either out of, or into, the canyon, and it was a foreboding sight, for you had to use your imagination to see the landscape around them.

I told Mrs. Ditchman, "See those two lights? That's us, a few months from now. A couple of people heading out into the great unknown, with little more than a few flashlights, and just each other to warm the path and light the way. They don't really know what's out there, because they can't see it, but they know it's great. They believe it wholeheartedly. Otherwise, they wouldn't be doing it. They believe it. And they have faith." And then I was married to her. I was committed forever right then and there. No ceremony would change it, catalyze it, or contain it. The wedding would be a terrific formality and an unforgettable party, but at that moment on the rim of the Grand Canyon... that was it.

That was five years ago today.

The sun is up on our Grand Canyon now and it is a wonderful sight. My life has soared to unimaginable heights and I have one person to thank. If I had only known it would be like this, I wouldn't have fought it as long as I did, but that's the way men are. I know a lot of men who can't commit to a favorite beer, much less a girl, so if a guy asks a girl to marry him, he deserves some respect and attention. And encouragement.

Mrs. Ditchman is an amazing woman. She impresses me day in and day out, and has been a source of inspiration since the day we were wed. I've never known someone so steadfast in her work, so dedicated to the point of obsession, and so tolerant of me -and for these things I am eternally grateful. She's made me a better man, moreso she's made a man out of me. As well, a man doesn't really respect a woman until he sees her raising his children, for this is what a woman was born to do and a man, well, he just tries, flapping about. When the children come, a man is so grateful for his wife that he is moved to tears of sacrifice previously unknown, which from then on go misunderstood, but are hopefully, eventually accepted.

Every morning this lady gets up and does the hard thing. When needs arise she meets them, and when the child is unbearably cute, she bears it and keeps discipline. She tries to stay upbeat as best she is able, tries to stay alert as long as is possible, and serves unendingly, unselfishly, with love and cheer, and lately with courage and strength -and for all this I am indebted, and in love.

Sure, I did the hard thing for a man, and I committed myself to all this, but it's clear she committed herself to so much more, and she deserves a husband who works at least a little bit harder, and loves her at least a little bit more.

Smart as I am for doing it, I'm a very lucky man.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

I'd always wondered if I had an Evil Twin and, if I ever met him, if I'd be forced to destroy him. The day came a year or two ago when one of my customers handed me a brochure with an advertisement in it. "Is this you?" he asked, and I looked down to see an ad for aluminum patio covers, built to last by Hawkins Construction. Seeing as I had never placed an advertisement anywhere, not once in my life, it came as quite a shock. There it was: my name, my product, a different license number (older than mine) and in Palm Springs. My customer had a second home out there and found the ad, surprised that I would be doing business so far away. Well, it surprised me, too.

That night I became worried and looked up this so-called "Hawkins Construction" on the Internet. It was all true. This other me was out there, and evidently had been doing what I was doing for longer, and more successfully, than I was. I couldn't decide whether I should call him and try to smooth things over between us, change my business name, or just flee the state. A closer look at contractor's law showed that there was nothing illegal about having the same business name and, being in a different county, probably posed no commercial problems. The other Hawkins Construction seemed to be a small business, like mine, and not some power-playing arm of some Eastern Syndicate, so I was at ease. Still, it bends your game a little to be looking over your shoulder, thinking, "Man, I hope I don't end up competing with this guy."

It was only a few weeks later that I was out at the manufacturing plant in Romoland, California -which lands squarely between Palm Springs and Oceanside on a map. Some slow days, if I call in to check if the order's ready, Ken behind the counter will roll out my job ahead of time and have it waiting there at pick-up for me. I had a large job this day, so I was a little concerned about it, and when I pulled into the parking lot I noticed it sitting there immediately. I breathed a sigh of relief and approached the cart of aluminum, all 5 feet high and 25 feet long of it, and gladly noticed the name on order: "Hawkins Construction". But then something struck me. I checked through my own records, looked over the contract... Yes, it was true. Dammit, it was the wrong color.

Going over the paperwork with Ken, he laughed and said "Not yours" and then explained that the job belonged to the other Hawkins Construction. "He's here?" I stammered, and I half expected to look across the yard and see a gleaming white truck with a large lumber rack and a team of overalled "Hawkins Construction" builders hopping to work, quickly and carefully loading each piece of aluminum, taking their orders from a confident, muscular fellow with a chiseled jaw, a tidy clipboard in one hand and a Blackberry on his belt, and a full head of hair.

Instead, I saw a guy about my height walking toward me, hand outstretched. "Terry," he said. "So you're the other Hawkins?" I smiled nervously and he laughed it off almost immediately. This Terry Hawkins was far from intimidating. He wore wire rimmed glasses, had straight hair that blew in the wind every time he turned his head, and a huge grin that stretched across his face and leapt off him, inspiring you to do the same. (John Denver comes to mind.) Terry knew everyone in the place. If you were having a conversation in the lot, it would be less than a minute before someone would pass "Hey Terry!" and he would stop mid-sentence to greet and cheerfully sass them. We chatted a bit that first day. His company was small. His wife sold the jobs and he built them. He had one daughter. He had a trailer near the beach in Oceanside that he went to once a month to surf and read. Let me tell you, it's an odd feeling to meet your twin, and then discover that you were the evil one.

Over the past year we got to know each other a bit, meeting up at the plant from time to time, and it was kind of encouraging to co-exist with this "other" company. He would often show up with a bad shoulder or in crutches, leg in a cast, asking for help loading the truck. He was a motorcycle fan, and spent winter weekends out in the desert, racing around with his teenage daughter. The last time I saw him, he leaned his crutches against my trailer and mentioned his wife, who he said was in the hospital with terminal brain cancer. I didn't know what to say. "I'm sorry... That must be tough... I'm sure you'll have the strength to get through this." But he was as cheerful as ever. "We get her up. I drag her to Oceanside to sit at the trailer with me and she reads magazines. I took the board out last week and didn't catch a single wave, but it was great to be out in the water!"

So imagine my surprise when I heard yesterday that he was killed in a motorcycle accident.

Ken told me. He saw my the Hawkins Construction name on the order and asked if I had heard about Terry. I thought he was going to mention something about Terry's wife, but no. Ken said that his brother had come in to close the account, and that it was just too bad. Such a nice guy... Always in good spirits... There was concern about Terry's daughter, and so forth.

He was just an acquaintance, but we shared the namesake. I admired his positive attitude about it all and thought that that was good for the Hawkins name. I figured we'd end up working together on something sooner or later, either he'd have a customer out in my area or I'd have a lead in his. He did always threaten to move to Oceanside altogether, reminding me how lucky I was. I was going to give him a 'Hawkins Construction' t-shirt next time I saw him. I'd been carrying it in the truck, and thought it would make a nice (and funny) Christmas gift.

And now he's gone, I guess. The world turns ever onward, and, awkwardly, nothing much has changed for me, as a result of these loose attachments. Losing an acquaintance is like losing your mailman. "Oh hey, what happened to that other guy? He was nice. He knew my name." But for another Hawkins out there, the world has altered course dramatically, and I can't help but worry about her, this stranger with the namesake. And then there's the disturbing thought that you could be watching death approach someone near you, and then be blindsided by it yourself. It could fill you with fear if you let it, unless you take heart, find hope, and hold on for dear life.

"But now, this is what the Lord says: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze... Do not be afraid, for I am with you."

Isaiah 43

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

This Moment Of Suburban Living Brought To You By TMST

I've got a bunch of things to do today, but first I'm going to watch from the second story office window as the trash guy passes. I always look to see if they are dismayed at the amount of crap I leave for them, and this week I have an inordinate amount of it -my old bathroom flooring for one. In the past they've left me a Red Card, as if in violation of some technical sports foul. No doubt it escalates to something much worse if I persist. The Red Cards, it seems, are dolled out somewhat indiscriminately, based solely on the mood of the garbage man. As a contractor, I've always got old wood, tiles, bricks, piles of hardened cement and chunks of steel and let me tell you, Garbage Man no likey. There is a space on the Red Card that reads "Construction Debris" and you can see the indignation in the slash where they check the box. Usually, if I keep the trash cans under 50 pounds, the guys will haul it off. And it needs to be in the barrels, too, or it just gets left. Of course, my old flooring is rolled up and just sticking out of the barrel a good three feet, so it concerns me. Sometimes they Red Card me, sometimes they don't. Either way, you've got to be gracious about it. Of all the people in the neighborhood you don't want to alienate, the Garbage Man tops the list.

I appreciate the Old School garbage man that we have. You fill your trash cans and they manhandle them into the truck. A lot of people have the big rolling bin that gets hoisted up over the truck by the giant claw like out of some space opera. Sure, these bins are handy for the trash man, who can operate the whole system from the driver's seat, but those things barely fit through the gate on the side of the house, and then you find that if you have a party that week, you can't fit all their garbage in it and you get Red Carded because the lid wasn't shut all the way. Some people on my street have multiple rolling bins, and it appears that the garbage man tolerates everything with his truck, so I guess he's not old school after all.

And we have three garbage guys, too, another one for yard trimmings and one for recycling. All three come on the same day. This is a far cry from my youth where a couple of guys would heft and rattle those old, dented metal cans into a truck. I remember the day as a kid when the first blue plastic recycling bin came to the house, and there was some consternation over it throughout the community. What do we recycle again? This plastic, but not that plastic? And then there were three bins: plastic, paper, aluminum. But not magazines. And there were a lot of people who were washing out the tin cans before they put them in the box. Anyway, it was madness until someone realized it was too much trouble altogether, and so now it goes into one bin and is separated by The Great Machine.

It sounds unbelievable, but it exists. I know, I've seen it. There is, in fact, A Great Machine that separates all the recycled stuff. It all ends up in compressed 6'x6' blocks and is then loaded onto a truck and hauled off to who-knows-where. I work in the aluminum business, so I recycle my trimmings all the time. I do it for the money, of course, and it helps keep the Reef Aquarium running in the living room. Also, since I'm down there, I just bring my own recycling -bottles, plastic, cans. I keep three trash cans on the side of my house and I just fill them up every month. It's beer money! It cracks me up that I get beer money from my old beer bottles. The recycling plant is right near Costco, where they sell good cheap beer, so it's all very convenient. If you are putting your recycling out on the curb, you're just giving your beer money to the garbage man, but hey, he deserves it.

Yes, excellent, he hauled it all off! I watched the look on his face and it was the get-it-done look of someone trying to get through Hump Day. God help those folks whose garbage man comes on a Friday. I just picture untouched trash and Red Cards all the way down the block.

I heard an interview with a medical scientist on the radio a while back and the question was put to him, who has done more for world health in the twentieth century than anyone else? Answer? The Garbage Man. I, for one, believe it.

God bless the Garbage Man.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

"It's deja vu all over again!" -quote heard on the news this morning.

I'm not sure if they were being redundant, or if it really was deja vu all over again, which is funny. Were they trying to be funny? Now that's reporting! When I try to keep up with everything they say that baffles or annoys, it literally drives me crazy. (Just kidding about the "literally".)

I love the whole double-meaning thing. Especially the whole unintended double-meaning thing. Writers are always looking for metaphors -which pretentious writers always call "Meaning". I just see it as an economical way in which one can tell multiple stories by saying things once. Meaning is for philosophers, and they can read my blog if they want to. Also, metaphors allow for good humor. To me, a good metaphor is one that tells a story on the surface, but a real good joke is laying there in wait, open to interpretation.

Not that there are any in this blog, per se.

But Lileks was pretty funny this morning. See how he adeptly overwrites to tell the story of his troubles with the living room blinds! It's hilarious. Now, if he had only made an adroit reference to the word "blind" and how the manufacturers of the blinds themselves were blind to the truth about the faulty blinds... why, it would have elevated the blog to sheer literature! I'm like the guy who told Melville that his boring book about the nuances of eighteenth century whaling expeditions might be more appealing if he mentioned God and made an allusion that the whale might actually be God. If I were writing Lileks' blog, there would be an accompanying subplot about my diminished vision as a result of my age, and then it would dovetail into a sentimental ending about just letting the sunlight stream through the windows and not needing blinds at all. But I'm getting older and wiser, and I know that that just leads to a faded sofa. And so my upstairs toilet removal story would have been equally entertaining if only I was a better writer. Then again, perhaps it's not my ability with my craft at all, but just my lack of experience. And my lack of vocabulary. That's it, buy a dictionary! And all the toilets come out! And new blinds for the house!

If only it were so simple. Why do I make it so difficult for myself?

See if you can spot the spry "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" reference in Lileks' blog. He does this all the time. I think it is lost on a lot of people who don't even know they're staring wildly hilarious late 20th century humor dead in the face. It's funny, when you think about it.

Anyway, I'm going to go out and run 20 hard miles this morning!

Nah, I think I'll run 5 easy. Also, I think I'll write 20 fascinating paragraphs on metaphors and their use in humor, all the while intelligently interweaving personal anecdotes, cultural references, and topical issues.

On second thought, I think I'll write 5 benign ones. (Just too busy.)

Last night, (except for some touch-up paint) I finally finished the magnum opus of fixing the toilet, after a few days of overwriting -adding tile, baseboards- and Mrs Ditchman just wandered upstairs and announced: "I fixed the blinds!" Oh yeah, they're broken at my house, too. She added, "It was easy. It's one of those things that's just so easy and you never get around to just doing it."

Deja vu all over again.

I ran a fast 6 miles with hills. It's who I am. I aspire to low heights and manage them skillfully. Arrived home to find all the blinds wide open.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Good morning!

Brace yourself: CHRISTMAS IS COMING. But not so fast there, mister. I had every intention of getting the Christmas lights up this past weekend, as every good American Christian should on the weekend after Thanksgiving -but it was not to be. Sure, the weather was beautiful and I had bought some new hooks for the project, but...

It wasn't just me, either. I noticed some neighbors peering into the broken windows of the foreclosure next door and went over to see what was up, and the conversation shifted to "When do the lights go up?" Seems some men declare "Not Until December 1st", which I can understand. And then they stay up through New Year's Eve. And then they come down. Sounds reasonable enough. More neighbors happened by, and then we found ourselves all standing there on the dead lawn of the foreclosure, in agreement that we would wait until next week. Or whenever we found the time.

So, one of my neighbors is out there raising the Christmas this morning. He wins.

I had plenty to do this past weekend. I've got work, and then side work, and then home work, and then personal projects that need to be finished by Christmas, and then there's the annual Year In Review film festival, so I've got my hands full. So what did I do with my weekend? Tiled the guest bathroom, of course!

This falls right into the I'm-too-busy-so-I-think-I'll-build-a-pond category, a serious character flaw of mine, but I set out to fix the toilet with the Elmo toothbrush jammed in it, and you know how one thing turns into another... Anyway, you do not know the joys and wonders of life until you have full-bodied removed a toilet and rolled it upside down in the hallway, shaking out the nastiness until the little Elmo toothbrush comes out, I assure you. (I had half a mind to force the Little Ditchman to use the toothbrush as punishment!) At this point, my wife mentioned something about the mildew and urine smell in the vinyl flooring near the tub, so I pulled it back to reveal even more Piedmont blechh. Well, that was it then. Went out and got some cheap tile, thinset, and grout (note: not pre-mixed). Of course it meant replacing all of the baseboards and painting the doorframe, and now there is talk of a new countertop and window, to finish the room altogether. Also, the light/fan switch needs to be re-wired. So it goes.

But now it's Monday, which means that two weeks from now I will be sitting on a beach in Hawaii, massaging the soreness out of my legs post-marathon. (Oh yeah, I should train for that!) Our house-sitter will be happy to know that the guest bath toilet has been repaired and sterilized. The house works. No promises yet on the Christmas lights.

P.S. Matt notes today that the deciding portion of the electorate is in the middle on the political spectrum. He says the next president will be Romney, and that the vice-president will be Huckabee. I disagree. It does not follow that a wholly conservative candidate will select a wholly conservative (or someone who is perceived that way) vice president. Romney will pick someone more to the middle. Odd as it sounds, we may actually see a Romney/Giuliani ticket, or a Giuliani/Romney ticket, if it's true what some say, that it's the only thing that would beat a Clinton/Obama ticket, (which we may also see.) So, yes, it is lining up to be quite an interesting race.

P.P.S. I have recently learned that Huckabee is not as conservative as I had thought. He is pro-life, but fairly centrist on everything else. He's actually been called the "Pro-Life Giuliani", so a vice-presidential nomination by Romney is a bit more likely than I thought, though (at this point) Giuliani is still be a better political choice for Romney.

P.P.P.S. Watched the GOP YouTube debates on Wednesday night. Huckabee's still in it. Romney's pulling ahead. But hey, anything could happen.

P.P.P.P.S. Matt said that a Romney/Giuliani ticket is a no-go because it only covers the northeast and doesn't pull in voters from the rest of the country. Hadn't thought of that -maybe he's right about Huckabee after all. But then Matt mentioned a Romney/Schwarzenegger ticket... Yeah, right. That distant scribbling sound you hear is the constitution being amended.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A Saturday post! Well, it was "Black Friday" yesterday, a sobriquet that inspires all sorts of wildly disparate images in the head, none of which actually reflects the true Black Friday, unless you count, of course, that this blog remained dark.

I'm not sure why I didn't get around to posting yesterday. I'll blame it on a bad case of Thanksgiving hangover, but to be entirely honest, I had the headache long before the holiday was even put in the oven. The Little Ditchman was sick this week, and I sterilized my hands obsessively after every diaper change and handholding, but somewhere in there the bug made it into my head and manifested itself as a week-long headache. The headache has just pounded away repeatedly for a week! It's the most disciplined part of me. If I could be as dedicated to something as this virus in my head is, the cancer pills I invented by week's end would also serve to quash world hunger. It does seem to come and go, however, with increasing and lessening fervor, so my mood can change from moment to moment which, now that I think about it, isn't really any different from any other time of the year. So it goes.

The holiday was a hoot, as it always is at my sister's. Most of the family showed, as well as some friends, and there was a roasted turkey and a fried turkey and it was swell. When it was pulled ceremoniously from the fryer, the turkey looked like a piece of char scraped from deep within the chimney of a third world blast furnace, but upon carving tasted surprisingly moist and yet nicely seasoned. There were about twenty of us, which meant multiple pies as well. Mrs. Ditchman prepared a cheesecake which looked as if it had been delivered to the house after finishing its magazine cover photo shoot. It tasted equally pretentious with its sugary orange glass-like glaze. (I love cheesecake. It's one of the few cakes I love, and is the reason she made it. Lately, I have been criticized for my lack of desire to eat cake, and I cannot explain it. I've no interest in cake. I think I'm just disappointed in the taste of it, after seeing all that beautiful rosy frosting. Anyway, I'm not sure what it is, but in my family there are two birthdays in every month of the year -and that doesn't count my friends- so there's a lot of damn cake... But I do like carrot cake, with its simple off-white, unassuming frosting, and a vegetable among the ingredients. Silly me.)

The family holiday the past few years has culminated in a tradition of The Great Ornament Exchange. Everyone in the family is required to bring a wrapped christmas tree ornament to ensure their participation in the event, and all can be counted on to show up and engage as the frenzy that ensues is just about the most entertaining thing that happens between now and Christmas morning.

It works like this: All ornaments are wrapped. Who brought what is not revealed until after the gift is opened, and even then it will depend on how much derision is garnered at the unveiling. Numbers are drawn from a hat. Whoever has "1" (which is the worst number to get) picks the first gift, opens it, and displays it for all to see. "2" goes next, of course, but is allowed to steal any previously opened gift in lieu of selecting an unopened one. If a gift is stolen, that person gets to either steal or choose a new one, and this continues until the stealing ceases and the game resumes. A gift can only be stolen three times, at which point it is "off the market" and out of the game. Whoever has the last number, say "20", really is the luckiest, as they get large pickings from which to kype. Incidentally, I've always argued that "1" should get to go again at the very end, with the option to steal and call the game, but this idea is always met with a certain amount of gameplay quarrel for some reason, so I usually let it go. (It's Christmas, after all.)

The whole event really starts moving about halfway through, after the first ten or so gifts are opened. Participants are often not satisfied with the ornament they have, for whatever reason, (for example: one of this year's ornaments had my name on it!) and so they line up in some fantastical bazaar, draping their ornaments down their arms, trying to get the trinkets to twinkle enticingly as the buyer walks the line, deciding whether to choose or to steal. The holiday spirit really swings into action when people began chanting STEAL STEAL STEAL and the gift picker gets that arrogant swagger in a moment of power when they realize they can control the look of your tree at home by either choosing to steal (or not) the ornament you have. Ho ho ho!

What always seems to happen is that the individual families get into power junkets, working together to pinch the goods they want. "You steal that and then I'll steal it from you and then it will have been stolen three times and it'll be off the market but still in the family!" is often heard. The kids usually gang up on (or with) the adults, and the adults usually submit. Shiny, battery powered blinking electronic ornaments are always a big hit, as has (in the past) any Star Wars-themed tree hanger. Since the Little Ditchman was new to the tradition, there were a certain amount of Elmo and Pooh ornaments, but there was no lack of bauble-negotiating all the same. A real buzzkill for the game is when someone brings a handmade ornament, as then there is the awkwardness of not being able to diplomatically pawn it off so you can steal something better. The last handmade ornament was entered into play years ago, and since then the "$5 maximum ornament price" rule was dropped from play, and interest in the event has grown to pre-handmade heights. Recently, some of the ornaments have been pretty shwanky, Pottery Barn European trinkets and the like, and for a brief moment I was in possession of a stunning silver reindeer with diamonds in the antlers -it was magnificent- but I walked away from the game Citizen Kane-like with a little wooden sled that had my name on it. I was forced to steal it so that the Little Ditchman could go home happily with a dangling Elmo on a snowboard. My wife stole Pooh. I guess our days of winning the biggies are over, now that we have a needy child. Such is the sacrifice parents make for their chillun on Christmas.

So there you have it. The celebration of Black Friday Eve. An event in which all the elements of tradition, decoration, and family, coalesce with the brutality of cutthroat holiday commerce. I tried to video some of it, but it was like tossing a camera into a tornado.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Yes, it's Turkey Day! Tryptophan-tastic! I swear to all calendar lords, this is the longest day of the year. Mostly because Mrs. Ditchman gets me up pre-dawn to run our annual 5K Turkey Trot which, loathe as I am to admit it, is one of the highlights of the year. It really starts the holiday off on a high note, fends off the guilt of the day's added calories, and gives you conversational bragging rights amongst the family. Of course, we've been doing it for years, so now it's expected of us. Unfortunately, this fact altogether diminishes any anticipated rewards, however deserved.

And then we take to the highway to meet up with the clan. It's about a hundred miles, but worth it ever since Michael Medved started doing his annual Thanksgiving lecture which we thoroughly enjoy. (We time the drive for this.) The family, all 600 of us, (or whatever it is) has a gay old time eating and drinking, playing vids. We cook multiple turkeys. The last few years it's been a nicely baked one and a nicely fried one, which my brother-in-law cooks in a vat of peanut oil out back in the sandbox. They're both tasty. I always do the prayer, for reasons that no one addresses but everyone is aware of, and I have slowly grown to resent it, though not entirely. My Thanksgiving prayer gets less and less profound every year, and I regret it. I need to work on this about myself, because I have only grown to enjoy the holiday and find myself increasingly grateful for the Lord's blessings year after year. I should just shut up and hold the post.

In my spare time (joking, I have none) I've been working on my family genealogy. This time of year I'm always pulling the photos together for archiving and year-end display, and it gets me thinking about my ancestors and who were they and why am I here and can I blame them for all this sh!t -and I get a little sucked in to Ancestry.com. It's worth getting a trial membership for a month and building your family line, as their resources are becoming ever more vast and the new program practically does all the work for you. Your family tree can also be open to others online, and you may find that it can be connected to other members who have already been working out their trees. It happened to me. I began to put a few names in, noticed that my aunt on my mother's side had an account, linked mine to hers, and suddenly I had 15,000 people on the tree! It blew my mind a little. She's pretty into it as a hobby (obsession, really) and has flown across the country taking pictures of gravestones and meeting long lost distant relatives. She even had my uncle submit his DNA to be analyzed and found that he is a direct descendant of someone who actually fought in the American Revolution! (On our side, I might add.) This qualifies me to be a "Son of the American Revolution", which entitles me to little more than bragging rights. The holidays can be depressing. I'll take all the bragging rights I can get.

My father's side is another story, as it always is, and as I've mentioned here before. Little is known about his ancestors, except that they all came from England. England is known for its vast repository of birth and marriage records, as age-old monarchies are known to have, but I haven't figured out how to gain access to it, as an American. Still, I've been able to find a few things. My grandfather came to America with his mother and father when he was only 3. I found a copy of the ship's manifest in the Dept. of Records at the Ellis Island website, of all places. My great-grandfather is right there at the top of the page. It lists his occupation as a "blacksmith" and says he had $50 in his pocket. He was 31.

I can't imagine it. Picking up my child and my wife and boarding a ship one sunny morning, leaving everything for another country. Here's a picture of the St. Louis, the ship they left Southampton, England on:

(Must've been a foggy morning.)

Perhaps I can't imagine it because I can't imagine a country so great that it would compel me to leave everything behind to go live there. This was in an age before cars, before television, before all the Great Wars. The only thing they had going for them was word-of-mouth, scattered news reports, maybe one or two pictures of the statue of liberty, and sheer hope. The manifest states they were going to meet "Walter Hawkins" who lived in Brooklyn. I've never heard of him. I imagine he wrote his brother a few letters that read something like: "This place is good and safe. There is work here. Come on ahead. Bring your family." And so went the Hawkins to America.

It's what made this country great. Because when you think about it, everyone who ever moved here took a big risk. We are, most of us Americans, descended from ballsy men of courage. These men had little more than a wing and a prayer. They had their family. They had the guts to say, "We're going somewhere else. And when we get there, if we find that it is not a better place, we will make it so."

And so they did. No other country can claim this.

And for that, I am grateful.