Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Okay, enough about the wildfires. Though many are still burning, there's only so much I can report on it. And it's Halloween, so distractions are in order.

But this is not the Halloween I intended. Yesterday it happened. A 4 second lapse of concentration added a full day of work and hundreds of miles to the odometer on the truck, and so today will be spent rectifying the error. It happens every now and then: a bad cut. I make thousands of cuts, day in, day out, so sooner or later it all catches up with me. Unfortunately it's all aluminum -shaped, formed, and (mostly) pre-cut at the factory. I can't just pull out another piece of wood, so I have to drive hundreds of miles out to BFAfghanistan to get a replacement part. It doesn't help that the job site is in BFChulaVista, in the opposite direction. Turns out there were a few other parts missing, so whatever. Went with the original manufacturer this time, too. Doesn't seem to matter. Blame the witches.

Let's just hope that a 4 second lapse of concentration some day won't relieve me of my left thumb. (At least not before I get disability insurance.)

This is all unfortunate, too, as I was really looking forward to carving pumpkins and seeing the Little Ditchman running around all day in her award-winning costume display. I'll make it in time for tonight's little party, assuming the demons on my shoulder don't leap off and confound the flow of my work day. Everyone's invited over tonight! This means you! Especially if you are MALE, as this will be another hen fest of dynamic proportions. My costume was going to be The Last Man In The World, but on second thought...

Anyway, Happy Halloween. This is a great American holiday. Dress like an idiot and they give you candy. How can you beat that?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Just last night, the fires closest to my house were 100 percent contained, but people are still discussing The Fires. It's slowing down somewhat, like the plitta-plitta of sprinkling rain after a nasty thunderstorm, but you still see it mentioned at the back-end of the news. I pulled off the freeway on my way to work yesterday and thought I'd drive through a neighborhood where one of my old customers lives. I'd heard the street was hit pretty hard and thought maybe I could offer some help or just see what I could see.

Incredible. On TV you see the flames on a house or on a hillside, firefighters running every which way, water streaming through the air, helicopters overhead -but it's like witnessing a murder through a cardboard toilet paper tube. In real life, it floors you. This is a neighborhood. It's not ranch homes built up against some brush-filled tinder box in a gully. This is suburban sprawl, and the fires took it.

The neighborhood had police tape at every entrance and a sign that read sternly STREET CLOSED - RESIDENTS ONLY - BY ORDER OF THE POLICE DEPARTMENT and cops were patrolling up and down, looking for looters, gougers and lookyloos I presume. I even saw a large tan hummer with helmeted National guard in it. I drove in anyway, and later felt guilty about it.

It made me feel sick to drive through. At first, I thought I had made a wrong turn, as I was just driving down a street with houses on both sides of me, and then I came around a turn and BLAM no house there -BLAM -BLAM no house there or there. And then BLAMBLAMBLAMBLAMBLAM -all just wiped off their slabs, only ashes left behind. It was shocking.

In the picture above is the one house on that street that survived. This street was like any street in the suburbs, your street. It was house after house after house. They weren't wealthy mansions, they weren't new homes, and they weren't out in the countryside or near the beach. They were a mile or two from the freeway off-ramp. There's a church on the corner and a grocery store near that. The one home standing in the picture, that's my customer's home. The house to the right of them burned to the ground.

The house to the left of them burned to the ground. The trees behind them caught fire. The fire was unapologetically indiscriminate. There is no sanity in it. All they lost was their fence.

Most of the fences caught fire and burned. I could wax on this metaphor all day long. You're driving around and you don't notice it at first, something seems amiss, then you see half of one and you realize no fences. It was just the thing between us that caught fire and then was gone, as everyone pulled together to kill the animal that came to destroy their homes.

Seeing these people milling through what was left of their everything was a violation, and they looked vulnerable. That "vulnerability" defines the neighborhood for the time being, but there was hope to be seen. On street-corner after street-corner there were hand-painted signs that read "Thank You San Diego!" and "We love you!" and "God Bless the SDFD!" -it was a stirring sight, but a burned out car in a driveway with no house behind it is an entirely demoralizing sight, and there was one after another. Some cars lost it in the street, and you had to drive around them. I saw more than a couple families sitting on their concrete foundations, just doing normal stuff -chatting, reading. One family had set up a burned table and brought a few patio chairs. They sat there in the middle of it all, having lunch. For a second, I thought, What are these people doing? And then it occurred to me: they have nowhere else to go.

That's when I felt like throwing up.

I couldn't help but think about the old wood patio cover that I had torn down from this house. It's possible that it saved the place, though no one can say for sure. We replaced it with a shiny white aluminum one. It's still standing.

I never considered the seriousness of the "fireproof" concept before. We mention it all the time when we're selling the things. A wood patio cover up against your home is beautiful, useful, and convenient, until the day the fire comes through, and then it's as good as a stack of firewood on your patio -fuel, leaning against the house. Like this guy:

He was lucky.

Perhaps the business I'm in really is a good service. Perhaps. Perhaps there will be more business in the coming spring. I think of all the contractors that will come streaming into this town in the coming months, and it makes me sick again. It's not fair. Little in this life is fair, and there's only one thing you can do about it: be fair.

There's no room for survivor's guilt, but there's plenty of room for fairness.

Monday, October 29, 2007


It's that time of year again.

When you have your own business, there's always a "slow period" and a "fast period". This isn't the fast period. Mrs. Ditchman delineated on the office dry-erase board all the jobs we have left on the calendar for 2007, and the sight of it begets a certain amount of consternation when you consider, among other things, the costs of the impending Christmas gifts. It's also that time of year when I take a look around the abode and notice all of the unfinished projects started last spring. This impels me to the kitchen chalkboard, where I likewise delineate them accordingly. Let's see, there's the custom office filing cabinets, the kitchen closet shelves, the office shelves, the sound system shelves/cabinet, the front landscaping and whole-property sprinkler repair/replacement, back fence, minor painting touch-up and hinge replacement, and then there's the various ancillary undone tasks: old photo scanning, annual videos to edit, boat-seat repair, etc.

So what did I choose to do with my weekend? Build a pond! Yes, and who doesn't want a nice pond in their backyard, eh? People of Oceanside: Behold! I give you The Eastview Court Water Feature:

Okay, so it's not the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Notice Inspector Ditchman standing there, writing me up for not pulling permits. I've always wanted a pond, and since there's no power way out there behind the house, I figured a simple depression in the yard filled with standing water would suffice for a few water lilies. And lest you think this is to become an algae prone mosquito spawning ground, I'll advise at this juncture that it is my intent to have enough plant life to create a bio-cycle as well as certain indigenous mosquito-eating fish. Anyway, it's all part of my vast plan to have a nice backyard that I can sit and look at. Something to take my mind off the aluminum-poisoning that is eating away at my brain.

Saturday was filled with parties that happened, parties that didn't happen, parties that almost happened, and parties that almost didn't happen. It was the day of the OAW (Oceanside Ale Works) Oktoberfest, and since we were invited to a neighborhood birthday party, I decided I would have to let this one slip on by until next year. Imagine my excitement when we walked down to the neighbor's and found it empty with a note on the door! Imagine my dismay when the note explained that the party had been moved to a local McDonald's. Imagine my greater dismay when we arrived at McDonald's and found that all of the neighborhood dads were at the Oktoberfest. Oh well. So it was me at the henfest, pecking away at a Quarter Pounder With Cheese, which I hadn't had in a decade. When the burger grease dripped down my arm to my elbow, I recalled why. The other moms were surprised to learn that the Little Ditchman had never been to McDonald's. "No, mam. And neither have we been here in years." This raised eyebrows. "We don't eat a lot of fast food. Actually, we don't ever eat fast food. But I'll have In-and-Out every couple of weeks or so." There was one response: "You cook for every meal?"

I guess we're old-fashioned traditionalists that way. I might add that the culinary acumen necessary to make a bagel and cream cheese, macaroni, and PB&J is extensive.

Then it was on to the Halloween costume party at the WeeStart. And, no, WeeStart is not the potty-training educational centre you might imagine it is. Rather, it is the pre-pre-school that Mrs. Ditchman takes the little one to a few times a week. I've been once or twice, and it is an impressive operation. There are colorful climbing toys everywhere (surrounded by all the necessary padding) and music going and bubbles blowing and friendly faces. The girl who runs it has a terrific amount of energy and enthusiasm and we were glad to hear that her house did not burn down in the recent Fallbrook fire. My favorite thing about WeeStart? Everything in the place is rearranged on a daily basis. The one and two year-olds and my ADD appreciate it.

The costume party brought out about fifty folks, or so, including several dads who mostly stood idly by in the lobby, talking on their cel phones. There were a few cute costumes, too, as you cannot resist a two-year old in an elephant costume or a superman costume. My Little Ditchman won First Place, (actually it was the only place) in the costume contest and wearing a costume she chose all by herself -thereby ensuring her place as a future youth camp director. Prize: a free month of WeeStart! Between the cost of the costume, the party itself, and other Halloween amenities, it was a wash. Oh, whatever was she dressed as, that garnered such accolades? Well, you'll just have to come over on Halloween if you want to find out! (Or just read the Mundane Details. Sooner or later, all will be revealed over there, I'm sure. I don't want to steal the thunder of the Details.)

And we had some rain this weekend! It was just a bit, but it was enough humidity to assist the firemen. Most of the fires are on their way to containment, but it was reported that the Devil's Winds were going to return sometime this week, unfortunately. The rain seemed a seriously answered prayer, as we haven't had rain around here in, I don't know -months, years, and it was odd to see it arrive just a few days after some of the biggest fires in the county's history. I spent all Saturday morning hosing down the house. Most of the smoke has blown off our hill here in Oceanside, but it still reeks like a motel ashtray. I suggest we keep the prayers moving, as no one wants to see it happen all over again. Last Friday I had a few deliveries and basically ended up touring the vast southland, seeing all the locales of recent charring acclaim. It was brutal in some areas, amazingly close in others. It was similar to standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon: You can't take a picture of it. You just stand there and shake your head.

But remember: It's gonna be a great week! (Better than last!)

Friday, October 26, 2007


The sky was a more normal shade of pale this morning. Out the window it looked breatheable, and the sore throat seems better, too (I can swallow without wincing.) I heard more sirens in the distance again, but that might be just your ordinary, everyday emergency, and not newsworthy unless it happens to you or me.

I've spent a lot of time on this map, though it is slow to update. Zoom in and float around and it gives you a good idea of the proximity of the fires, the devastation, and the evacuation areas. (We live near the corner of Oceanside Blvd. and Melrose, if you're interested.) There's not an evacuation area anywhere near us now, thankfully, and the fire I mentioned yesterday was in the Arrowood area, which still doesn't list. So now we can move on to our regular lives, already in progress.

It's Halloweentime! (Remember?) So that means candy and costumes and parties all weekend. Today is the full moon and last night I noticed it looked blood-red, like it had been lifted straight out of Revelation 6:12. How spirited! Incidentally, the other day the sun looked black like sackcloth made of goat hair, but I felt it was inappropriate to make the allusion at the time.

Probably unconnected (though don't rule it out) the new Mac Operating System is released today! And we all know what that means: Yes, I am finally going to go out and get a new Mac! Yahoo! All right, settle down everyone, settle down... I know how excited you are for me. I think I may still be a few dollars short in my savings account but I'll figure it out with the credit cards (don't tell the Mrs.) I'm still not blown away by the new iMacs, but I'm going to consult with a few folks in the know, and then try and get the most for my money. Thank you for your support and encouragement in this transition. Sometimes these things can be difficult. If you see my wife, please pat her on the back and remind her of the commitment she made when we got married.

In other news, plane travel through Iowa is going to suck from now on, though it may make you smirk, and with all this talk of fire safety, I'm still not getting a parrot.

Tune in next week to learn such topical and interesting issues as: What The Little Ditchman Is Going To Be For Halloween! What It's Like To Build An Aluminum Patio Cover Outside In The Smog! What Beer I'm Currently Drinking!

If you are a new lurker to the site, post a comment or drop me an Email and say "sh!t howdy." Make yourself known. Welcome to the elite club of TMST readership, the most curious, clever, and culturally astute people on the World Wide Web!

Have an excellent weekend. If you're bored, go help someone hose down the ash in their yard. Take a look around the house and remind yourself that you don't need 99 percent of that crap. Sell it in the next yard sale. Make gifts for your friends and family for Christmas, and don't use so much wrapping paper. Remember the immortal words of Henry David Thoreau:

"Our life is frittered away by detail... Simplify, simplify, simplify! Simplicity of life and elevation of purpose... As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness."

I leave you with the Governor of California, in what I consider the shining moment of his term. (I love how he just hands the reporter her butt. I only wish the president would do this more.)

Wait... Yoga classes?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

SOCAL FIRES 2007! - Day 4

From Space. That part there that is heaviest white, that's where I live. The smoke's been pretty bad.

The Intermittentnet has been down -which is unfortunate because I noticed my readership more than doubled yesterday. (Thanks for checking in!) So, sorry about the delays, but we've been on fire down here...

Well, we haven't actually been on fire, thank goodness. But, it seems things are going better. The president arrived today and everyone's talking about rebuilding, which is just swell. Senator and novelist Barbara Boxer got the jump on spreading the good feelings, as she was out yesterday promising we would rebuild. They cut away from live footage of firefighters to go to her. I kinda wish she had just gone out and stood behind those sweaty, dirty firemen who haven't slept in 48 hours and just stood there with her fist in the air chanting, "WE WILL REBUILD!" Uh, yes, we will. Excuse me politicians, can we put out the fires first? The Rice Fire (the one closest to my house) still threatens 1500 homes and is only 10 percent contained. As well, the Witch fire is only 10 percent contained and threatens another 5000 residences. Among others.

Jeebus. Over 750 square miles have burned in SoCal so far. Death toll is at seven, with seven more people dying after they were evacuated, mostly elderly. About one thousand, five hundred homes have been destroyed. Take a moment and count the homes on your street and you'll get an idea of how many that is. One third of the state's avocado crop has been decimated, so expect guacamole prices to go through the roof. And some of the fires are thought to have been arson, which makes me want to bring back Burning-At-The-Stake as a viable form of capital punishment. Let them light their own, too.

There is a general feeling of "It's over" on the news, as the newscasters end their non-stop 3 day streak and begin showing commercials, soap operas, and reality shows (which, now that I think of it, isn't that what we were watching?) But it's clearly not over. It's not over for the people who still can't get back into their neighborhoods and it's not over for the 1700 firefighters busting their humps out there in the dirt, smoke, and heat -God be with them. For some of these fires it's been estimated that the heroes will have them contained and put out by November 4th, over a week from now. So, no, it's not over and no, you can't really rebuild yet.

Yesterday my little family got sick of being cooped up and went out to see what we could see. Seemed most of Oceanside was back to normal, except for all the ash falling from the sky and that burnt red sun up there. We couldn't see any fires in the distance, due to all the smoke, but we came up one local boulevard and found the police turning every car away. We turned, and then took a quick right into a neighborhood just a few miles from our house, and suddenly found ourselves in the midst of some of the things we'd seen on TV...

Everyone was outside standing in the street looking off to the horizon. The helicopters were especially close, with very large bags of water dangling from them, and moving to and fro. A man was hosing down his roof, and a few elderly were being helped into minivans. We saw people loading stuff into trucks...

In the near distance was a fire that wasn't on any map. It seemed an event of spontaneous combustion, and yet one people were prepared for. It was immediately being discussed on the radio, and it looked to me like a lot of firefighters just dropped what they were doing to go over and put out this small one, which was so near a heavily populated area. Helicopters just appeared, disappeared, and reappeared as they dumped water on the blaze. I'd heard that they were dunking their bags into local swimming pools to collect water, and I thought that ought to be quite a sight. Eventually the local blaze was put out, and I guess all the officials went back to fighting the main fires, but it still isn't listed on any maps. It didn't have a name and it came out of nowhere, but it made us all jump a bit. I mean, this was a nicely manicured neighborhood with lots of new homes close together -we even had an appointment with someone over there next week. Anyway, it was a place you'd never expect a catastrophe, and well, here it was a few blocks away.

The weather has been a lot better for fighting fires. The Santa Anas have died down, and the cool air over the ocean is returning inland. I'm still sick with this nasty sore throat, and the smoke doesn't help it in the least. It's an odd thing to be sick through a citywide crisis. There's a fog that surrounds you when you're sick -you lose touch with necessary parts of the routine, you can't sleep, it's hard to be in a good mood... Add that to a major week long historic news event and it feels like you're running in reverse on a carousel, lights blinking, calliope music thumping, and you're looking for a horse.

I woke up this morning to sirens in the distance, which is the first time it's actually happened all week. It scared me for a moment, but everything was fine. I'm not sure what it was, but I looked out the window and noticed that the wind had died down and the sky had turned from the charred brown of burning fires to the morose gray of smoldering ones and my heart was a little less heavy. We can't really imagine what it would be like to lose everything in a fire, but one San Diegan on TV was standing on the concrete slab of his burned out house, and looking around he noted, "You just move forward, clutter-free."

Imagine the worst thing that ever happened to you. Now re-imagine it as a Liberation.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

WILDFIRES 2007! - Day 3

There was no orange glow on the horizon last night. I would say that that is a breath of fresh air, but the statement would conflict with its own literal sense, in that there hasn't been one in a few days. Puffs of ash swirl about your feet when you walk down the sidewalk, open the car door, and so forth. The red eye at the center of the solar system winked shut last night, and across the sky another red eye opened: the moon. (Wish I could get a picture of it.)

And I can't tell if this scratchy throat of mine is from the smoke or the virus, but that's life in SoCal for now. (I'm not looking forward to working in it.)

The ash-laden sky cast an erie pall throughout the house all afternoon, as if the neighborhood was wearing an old pair of Ray-Bans, or something. Everything was just a brownish-yellow -jaundiced- and you didn't notice it until a white page came up on the computer screen or TV and you'd think, whoa! I forgot about white, for a moment!

We stayed inside most of the day. There was a sad exchange when the Little Ditchman wanted to go outside. "Owtsite! Owtsite! Owtsite!" and it just breaks your heart that you can't explain why you have to say 'No' -one of those parenting moments where you realize how God must feel. And then she started begging determinedly for the beach or the pool, which garnered the same negatory response, to her chagrin. Not one to give up easily, she left the room and came back with her bathing suit, which she then donned, if only to spite us. Sorry kid. You're cute, though. (Another one of those Godly thoughts.)

My daughter notwithstanding, I've really been impressed with how the county/city has been handling this crisis with the fires. Sorry to bring up a Katrina comparison again, but Southern California evacuated a half a million people in less than 48 hours! 640 square miles have burned, over 1300 homes are gone -and only one death! The National Guard has been mobilized, nearly 2000 firefighters are busting it out, and the stadium downtown not only had more volunteers than it needed, officials were turning away donations of supplies this afternoon. Why, the refugees themselves -people who had just lost everything they owned- were reported to be donating blood! Again, only 48 hours have passed. Don't wait up looking for the comparison in the evening news. Unless, of course, you want to blame the fires on global warming, at which point the ball is squarely back in Bush's court.

Speaking of the evening news, for all those people who just lost everything and then were asked by a TV reporter "How do you feel?" It's payback time:

The guy who follows him I'm not so sure about, but I don't want to be too hard on Larry Himmel. That's the most honest bit of TV reporting I've seen in years. You really feel for him. When you hear the trembling in his voice and the pauses between the words of him naming what once was, you can sense his trying to maintain self-control with all the memories whirling through his head. When he points at his hose in the driveway, there's a moment where you can tell he's thinking, "Wow. They used my hose. They saved my hose. All I have left is this hose." In an interview later, he mentioned that the previous day he had been covering folks who had lost their homes, and then went home himself that night moved by it all, sharing with his wife and teenage son how difficult it must've been for these folks to lose everything. Little did he know, tomorrow's story was him.

Sooner or later tomorrow's story is all of us, to beg profundity, but it is somehow. What goes around, comes around. And these fires, though they'll be out there fighting them for the next week or so, will be back next year or the year after. Just like the hurricanes and tornadoes and earthquakes. God just shakes his head. Some of them learn, some of them don't. To beg profundity.

Best not to dwell on it. I prefer, instead, to dwell on this:

(Note mismatched two-piece, an odd third piece in hand.)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

FIRE WATCH 2007! - Day 2

View from our neighborhood last night:

And this morning:

The phone rang at around 5AM this morning. I bolted upright from the couch, where I'd slept with the TV on all night. I immediately smelled smoke. The phone rang again. This is it, I thought.

It was my wife's family. They were outta here. No Cautionary Evacuation Notice or anything for them, they just couldn't take the smoke anymore. My mother-in-law was actually in an Evac area, but it wasn't particularly threatened. Same for my aunt-in-law. Oceanside's still safe. We called off our appointments for the day (I'm sick anyway) and decided to get some things in order around the house, clean up a bit.

"I knew you wouldn't leave," my sister-in-law said.

"But we haven't been asked to leave yet!"

"And you're just not the type to panic like we are." Well, yes, this is true. But I went outside this morning to scope the horizon and there was nothing particularly encouraging about the sight: smoke as far as you could see in every direction, and the sun a distant red eye that you could look at directly without having to squint.

The neighborhood was covered with ash, which is disheartening when you consider what it once was: Fallbrook.

Fallbrook is the town of 30,000 to the northeast of us and it has been evacuated entirely. Hundreds of homes are gone. Some people failed to heed the Cautionary Evac notice and were stuck there, spending the night at the fire station. This is the "Rice Fire" and is the one that would threaten Oceanside if the winds whip up today and really get it going. So far, it looks like it's pretty calm out there. We'll wait and see.

We've got all of the windows closed and the air purifier on and the fan blowing the house air through the hypo-allergenic filter, so it's not too bad in here -as long as we don't open the front door. I'm not scared yet, and I think everything is going to be fine. The National Guard is out there and air support for the firefighters is being brought in today, so if the weather cooperates all will be under control. Last I heard, they were making the Rice Fire in Fallbrook a priority, so that's good for us, bad for everyone else.

Some news agencies are reporting that over a half a million people have fled burning areas in Southern California, though I think that is slightly exaggerated. They make it sound as if hoardes of humankind are on foot, running for the border with their belongings on their backs, their babies in slings, and the fire licking at their heels, but my friends the Keeners, who live in the immediate path of the oddly named "Witch Fire", just went to some friends' who lived in Hillcrest, on the other side of town. The Lindens, by the way, offered their house to us if we needed to evacuate, but they are now in the path of the "Harris Fire" -so we all have our own fire (how nice!) We couldn't get down there, anyway, as the freeways are closed.

Thankfully, with all this madness being reported, there's been only one death and less than fifty injuries (most of those the firefighters, God bless 'em.) This is no Katrina, ladies and gentlemen. San Diego knows how to handle it, they've seen fires before and already there are reports that everything is going smoother than previous emergencies. And I have to hand it to the city officials who I watched on some of the press conferences (which they are doing every few hours). These guys are being straight up and honest about everything, with quotes like, "There is no good news just yet" which I find curiously refreshing. I don't want fake blather about "time to grieve" and so forth, I want facts. And we seem to be getting them. Somehow, I don't think the president will be blamed for this one. Also, San Diego is the republican stronghold of California, so go figure.

But we're here, we're safe, and we're keeping an eye on things. It happens every year down here, folks. Why, I even predicted it in this blog last month! (see: here.) Unfortunately, some years are worse than others.

Monday, October 22, 2007

FIRESTORM 2007! - Day 1

It all caught up with me last night. I got sick, some bedridden misery befell me, and in my medicated fog before I drifted off, I caught the alien sounds of the emergency broadcast tones -and then this morning awoke to find the world on fire.

This was the view on the way to work:

and then:

and then:

We had another weekend of selling our wares at the Home Show at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. It was met with little success, as this is the time of year that sales of Alumawood slow to the pace of L.A. traffic. Evidently, patio covers won't fit into the stockings as snugly as an iPod.

Mrs. Ditchman came home a bit early from the show on Sunday, claiming that the smoke was driving everyone away. What smoke? I wondered. We guessed there was a fire, so I put off taking down the booth until this morning -sometimes it's easier that way.

And then, after a difficult night suffering from the wheezy-scratchy bug, I awoke to the news. Ramona was being evacuated. Ramona is a town to the east of here, maybe 30 miles or so, of about 25,000 people. All of Ramona was being evacuated? That wasn't all. Fire was blowing to the west and moving through Rancho Bernardo, a large San Diego suburb, and directly west of that, the Del Mar Fairgrounds -which had just announced it had been designated a Primary Evacuation Center.

Well, I guess I better get down there and tear down the booth, then.

It was like driving into the gaping maw of the apocalypse. The sky turned a dismal brown, ash fell from it, the sun was blotted out. The traffic was pretty bad, but people seemed to be driving slow out of extra caution. I stopped to get gas and cars were lined up at the pumps. Children were told to stay in the vehicles, their mothers held towels over their faces. It was exciting!

Which is awful of me, I know. This always happens. There's an earthquake or a terrorist attack or a bad storm and a thrilling bit of adrenaline shoots through you, if only for a moment, and then there's some guilt about it, as you see all those who suffer from the events of the day. I imagine the thrill disappears completely when it's your house that's in danger, your family who suffers -adrenaline of a different kind and amount altogether.

So then I started to move. I arrived at the Fairgrounds and a guy was standing at the gate. Just standing there. No uniform, no badge, no air of authority. It was obvious he had been yanked from bed and told to man the evacuation center! I pulled up. "Uh, are you stopping people here?"

"Well. Yeah."

"I'm supposed to be tearing down for yesterday's Home Show."

"Okay, go for it," he said.

I think this is what happens in times of crisis: authority is handed out to those who are focused, those on task, or at least, those who are standing nearby. There's only so many people not panicking, so put them to work! I drove on in, no I.D., no badge, no questions.

When I got in to the hall where our stuff was, I immediately started striking it, moving quickly as I knew this space would soon be something else. It seemed everyone there was moving a bit faster -and quieter, too. No one shared a word. Outside, the palm trees were blowing over, tents from the show were flapping in the wind, branches were falling from the sky, and there was the unmistakable smell of burning suburbia.

It's a smell you grow up with, living in SoCal. Every city here is lined with brush, where the sprinklers end, and every few years when there's no rain at all and the Spirit of Santa Ana blows through, it catches fire. You smell it from miles off, to varying degrees depending on the prevailing winds, and if it gets really bad, ash falls from the sky like a cancerous winter -it resembles snow, but it's dry, hot, and clogs the lungs. It doesn't snow in Southern California.

We got everything down and headed out, past a hundred cars and trucks bringing in local livestock. Within hours, all 1800 horse corrals would be full and that evening the place would house thousands of refugees.

We made it home, where there was blue sky directly above our house. You could see smoke blowing to the south and north of us, and by the end of the day it seemed Oceanside was the only town in San Diego County without at least a Cautionary Evacuation notice. They had shut down many of the freeways and evacuated nearly a quarter of a million people. Some of them people we knew.

Local news has been covering it all day. This evening I went out to see if the closest fire to us was visible from our neighborhood. It was.

The fire in Fallbrook, named "The Rice Fire", was ablaze about ten miles northeast of us. You could see it from just down our street. At sunset, cars were lined up and many people in the neighborhood came out to watch, silently wondering if it would come our way. "You never know with the Santa Anas," one guy said, "They blow this way, then that, then stop to catch their breath." It's true, I've seen it. And I know that smoldering ash can blow a mile or two and start a new fire within minutes.

The television showed what we've seen before: homes burning to the ground indiscriminately. Three houses would burn down and then the next one on the street would be untouched, and then the next one would be burned down, and then the next three would be untouched. The fire doesn't care.

There was a new term added to the popular lexicon, the "Reverse 911". Evidently, instead of calling the authorities and reporting that you have an emergency on your hands, they now call you and tell you that you have an emergency on your hands. We put some thought into what we'd need to pack, left the news on, and waited for the call.

This is a night I'll never forget -for a lot of reasons- but largely it was the reminding of Family, and how all this burning around us can burn and burn and steal everything material away from you in an instant, but it changes nothing.

That is, as long as you evacuate your family when you're told to.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Well, in the immortal words of my sixth grade woodshop teacher, shootdang!

It's been a week. I was so determined at the outset to not complain this week, after last week's demoralizing interlude, but alas, look at me. Normally I post my blog on the evening before the actual posted date, but here I am posting Friday's blog just moments before Friday ends altogether. Aieee. That's all I really have to say about that.

Today I got my a$$ handed to me, too. When Mrs. Ditchman came home I admitted it forthwith, and gave her full license to mock me, just before I nearly burst into tears. This mommy business is hard!

She handles the sales and marketing end of the family construction enterprise, and we would be nowhere without her, and this weekend being a Home Show weekend, I AM THE MOMMY -which I've actually been looking forward to all week, as I have been missing the shorter one of the tribe. But I was still sore and tired from the week, and when the cutie pie awoke at 5:30 this morning. I may have jumped the gun on my weekend duties. It didn't help that I attempted to regrout the kitchen counters today.

Let me say that it's a simple task, though mildly time-consuming. You just scrape out all the old grout and then apply new grout. Simple. But there's the moving of all of the stuff, the vacuuming of all the grout lines, and then the dry time and the wiping down -it takes a while. Throw a toddler into the mix and it's a mind-bender. And she hates vacuums.

There's nothing about toddlers in the California State Licensing Board exams, which is unfortunate, but then again there is also nothing about using pre-mixed grout. I will never use it again. Let this be a lesson for us all. I was in the Lowes, I saw it there on the shelf, it looked like a good idea... No. Regular grout has worked for thousands of years and, Lord knows, the grout lines in Ancient Greece are still good -no need to go with that pre-mixed gluey stuff, as it just ain't the same. So I did a sub-standard job on my own home. Serves me right after this week.

It's a funny thing being a General Contractor. You are professionally a jack of all trades and a master of none. They'll test you on how much paint will cover a 1700 square foot home, but they won't bother with the necessary thickness of the roller nap, and that's the kind of thing that makes all the difference in the world, if you do it for a living. Anyway, I guess we should all be grateful because it's really a matter of the State making sure the houses don't fall down -they couldn't care less what they look like.

Speaking of "anyway" and "couldn't care less", this fine young man has something to say about it. I happen to agree with him, though I admit I use the word "anyways" from time to time. I suppose I should be embarrassed. The truth is, I like the word "anyways" because it’s really more like a phrase, and as well it has a spoken, child-like connotation to it that I appreciate. I know it's wrong, and I use it all the same (I use both “anyway” and “anyways” actually, depending on the context.) When I write, I hear someone telling me the story in my head. It's not a particularly literary style, but I'm not in college anymore and I gave up trying to get published years ago. I mean, sheez, I'm almost forty -I don't care anymore! If my kids read this years from now and get a laugh, well, that's really all the audience I'm interested in impressing -and that's the first lesson of writing: KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE (oh, brother.) I doubt I'll ever get points for grammar again. But you just know that I'll be on the kids like lice on summer camp when they dangle their participles and end their sentences with prepositions. And beginning a sentence with a conjunction is another matter entirely. Or, I should say, 'an entirely different matter'. Whatever.

And here's to the One Word Sentence! Why even bother with subject/predicate when one word says it all? As for "could care less"... this one always cracked me up. I know it's supposed to be "couldn't care less" but I remember having a long, drawn-out discussion about it years ago, back in the days when I lived at Dantean Point. I argued that it should be "could care less" as in I could care less, but I choose not to, and that rather sarcastically. I thought it brought a sincerely excellent depth and character to the phrase, but it was debated that I was reaching, if not over-thinking it entirely, and that the concept would be lost on most everyone. This, of course, made me like the phrase even more, and so from then on it was, "Well, I could care less, but... I choose not to." Anyways, no one ever gets it to this day.

What really gets me is the improper use of the word "literally". I hear newscasters use it all the time . They'll say, "I literally lost my head over that one!" and there I am on the couch, waiting for their head to spin off and fly away like a top, arms feeling about the neck-stump... As for "irregardless"... well, we always just laughed that one off. Also, from now on, it's spelled X-mes.

My wife and I are having an ongoing discussion about phonetic spellings of the Little Ditchman's vocabulary. For example, she says it's spelled "awwwshum" when I say it's spelled "aysiemm", and so forth. There's no right answer. It's just what feels right. The truth is, after a day like today, a week like this week, I could care less.

But I choose not to.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

What a!

Still not sure what that means. Sadly, she doesn't use the phrase anymore, and even gives you a funny look when you say it. Nor does she say "ami" as we've moved on to the more phonetically correct "airplane" now. And she actually combines words and expresses them with fervor. As her mommy noted yesterday, "It's like she has a mind of her own!" Were it that we could all be so lucky.

I got it all together yesterday, incidentally, I know you were concerned. Not my best work, but a job -uh- done. Maybe I'm falling off my game. You do something a million times and you become an expert at it. A million and one times and you become arrogant about it. And a million and two times the work comes out as average, because you went for speed. If you do something any more than that, you start to get existential about it. Why am I doing this? Who really cares anyway? Wasn't I meant to do something else? Does God exist? Who invented liquid soap and why? You feel miserable. Hurt, sunburned, and poor, and it could be a stunningly beautiful day and you wouldn't even notice.

And then you get in the car to go home and there's an urgent voicemail message...

And there's Meaning after all!

So we're back to normal. (Just have to figure how much of a rebate I owe these people for sub-standard work.)

Sorry for the late entry today. I woke up tired and sore this morning. Why did I bother to get up at all, you ask? BECAUSE OUR DEMON CHILD IS KEEPING LINDEN HOURS, THAT'S WHY! We don't understand it. She gets up before the sun and demands AppleTV. Denied, I say. But she cries and stammers on, "I will not be ignored!" So the day begins, whether you like it or not. Still no AppleTV. Just crying.

I got up. Fine. I had a lot to do anyway. Got to get next week's mess ordered and settled, and then set up for this weekend's Home Show at the Del Mar Fairgrounds! Wish you all could attend, but I know how busy we all are. Besides, you go to these shows and you see all the awesome trimmings and accoutrements you want for your home and then you realize how much it'll cost and how little you have and you just go home depressed. I know how it is. (The show's free, though.)

And complimentary samples of aluminum to the first 100 folks who stop by the booth! Why, if you know your metallurgic history as I do, a hundred years ago it was more precious than gold, platinum, and silver!

See you there!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The HUGE job in Chula Vista has become a HUGE pain in the arse, which is funny because I don't recall checking the PIA box on the original estimate and adding the appropriate PIA surcharge. Oh well. Do you want to hear about it? No? Then click here and off with you, then!

The pieces don't fit. That's all. They just don't fit. I've built hundreds of these things and yesterday, the pieces didn't fit. They're still down there on the job site right now, not fitting. I could call the manufacturer, but what good would that do, really? Would he send me some pieces that do fit? Not likely. He'll say that, yes, it's an after-market part and they don't go together well, but most installers figure out a way to make it work. Which is a challenge to me, and a challenge to my ability. Well I challenge you, then! How about making pieces that DO fit?! But they're too busy selling these things to go to all that trouble. So it's on me.

The funny thing is, they claimed that their after-market pieces were better than the other guy's. This fact, and the fact that they deliver everything was why I went with them to begin with. If you'll recall from last week, they ended up delivering the wrong goods. It all finally came on Monday, thank you very much, but now I... oh, screw.

I noticed at the end of last week that I had complained a lot that week. I thought I better tone down the complaining next week, lest I become The Angry Blogger, which is not particularly fun to read. Or, maybe it is fun to read, but you wouldn't want to hang out with that miserable wretch. Anyway, it is clear that I am experiencing all of the symptoms of Hypersensitivity Disorder, which may not be from the aluminum at all. Actually, I think I've had it all my life, and so do many people I know. Funny, it never occurred to me that "Bad Attitude" and "Loser" and "Wuss" might be treatable diseases. I'll have to ask Dr. Weaver about that.

I've been doing a bit of work on my genealogy. I ordered the death certificates of my dad's parents, whom I know nothing about, and one of them arrived yesterday -the certificate, not my dead ancestors (thank GOD!) Incidentally, Ancestry.com charged me $40 before I realized I could get the same thing direct from the state for $15, dammit. Anyway, there wasn't much information on it that I didn't already know (except that my great grandfather's middle initial was "F", imagine my surprise) but when I was driving off to work yesterday I noticed the mailman driving up the street. That's odd, I thought to myself, he usually doesn't come until the end of the day. As I passed him he looked directly at me and pointed at me with both hands, which was mildly shocking. I pulled over. He got out of his truck and I got out of mine ready for a rumble, but he bounded toward me with the energy of summering gazelle. "Mr. Hawkins!" he shouted with morning glee (rare to see), and handed me my grandfather's death certificate. And he was off. It was a spooky exchange because I had never seen nor met this postman in my life. I figure he must have recognized my truck, which sits in my driveway viewable by all who pass, but my mailbox is down the street in one of those rickety postal collectives that is supposed to make the guy's job easier. I don't have time to ponder the order of things in the universe, so for now I'll just be satisfied that the mail even gets to me, and live with the knowledge that The Postman Knows All. He's getting a Christmas card this year for sure.

I asked my wife about it. She said simply, "He knows everyone."

Happy Halloween.

So it's back to the aluminum assembly problem of the day. It vexes me, but at least they won't blow up in my face. The United States Army is much more adept at creative problem solving than the family construction business. Of course, their very lives depend on it. See here: OUR TROOPS NEED SILLY STRING!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

So we did get an afternoon boat trip out of last weekend. Mark that off of Things To Do before the end of the year is up. I'd be out in it again right now if I had the time. Hopefully next year all my free days will be out playing in it instead of working in it. Or working at all, for that matter.

It was fun. We only went out for a few hours and just trolled around the harbor, but it seemed to work okay. There's still a few funny noises. Perhaps they'll just go away on their own. I got it up to a good speed a couple times without the BLAM! broken pushrod I'm used to. I think it still needs to break in the new parts, so I'm going to try and fire it up at least once a week to remind it that it's alive. We should all be fired up for at least once a week, now that I think of it.

When we first launched and had it running for a few minutes, we untied the lines and pushed away from the dock and guess what: STEERING WAS OUT. So there we are drifting off, me trying to maintain composure so as not to panic the passengers and surrounding boats. Turns out the steering wheel hadn't been rotated in a year, so it was stiff as a log. I eased a few rotations out of it to help lube the cables, and soon enough, everything seemed to work okay. (That was a close one.) And then there was the minor problem of not being able to get into gear. Seems when I put it all back together I didn't get the shifting linkage adjusted properly. That's an easy fix, though one I can only do out on the water, so there's the next trip out right there.

And then there was Uncle D in his full leg cast, determined to not get it wet by wearing a trash bag around Oceanside. As if the old bucket of bolts didn't get enough raised eyebrows already. He was sitting on the long seat when it collapsed beneath him while we were motoring around. Seems I'll have to fix that, too. And the trailer lights. And some of the gauges. And so forth.

But it was fun -it was a nice day and the Little Ditchman got used to her life vest after a few minutes and seemed to enjoy it. Mrs. Ditchman was immensely tolerant of the whole event until an opened container of yogurt spilled over everything. One of the things about kids that I just can't seem to get used to is all the unfinished food. It's everywhere. Half-eaten bananas on the counter, old pancakes wrapped in foil, half a cup of yogurt here and pieces of hot dog rolling over there. And then there's the perpetual sippy-cup of half-drunk milk: is this bad? how long has this been out? MAN it bugs me. Just toss it all and take the loss, I say.

It happens into adulthood, you know. You'll have six people over and you'll all be standing there holding a beer and there will be one half-finished bottle of beer sitting right there in the middle. WHO'S?! Shrugs all around. I hate waste, but wasted beer I abhor. An offense punishable by No More Beer. I'll need a sign at the next get-together: ATTENTION PARTY-GOERS: MIND YOUR BEER. I don't expect it to work at all. Friends like mine see a sign like that and they immediately empty half of a fresh beer into a houseplant and then leave it on the counter. Sheez, you guys...

Lileks has been posting about his new carafe-less coffee maker and how it continues to not work. I have taken great interests in these posts, as I have had my eye on the carafe-less coffee maker ever since I first saw it earlier this year. We have no need for a new coffee maker at our house, of course, and my wife frowns upon the idea of throwing money at a new one, since we threw money at a new one last year when the old one worked just fine. Last year's excuse was that the new one was stainless steel and that it matched the other appliances for that "design magazine" look we're going for in our house. I kicked in that we needed two pots anyway for when all the guests sleep over once a year, which seemed to win her over. Now the excuse is that it's One Less Thing to wash, which I was certain would work on her, but hard financial times have cemented her position. Now Lileks reports that the carafe-less coffee maker is unreliable, which works against my position. The Extended Service Contract is certainly in order for this purchase, but then it'll cost more. We'll see. It seems Lileks has broken coffee makers all the time, now that I think about it. He must drink a lot more joe than I do. They last forever for me, (unfortunately.)

Back to the grind (so to speak.) HUGE job in Chula Vista, which is a HUGE drive. All additional profits are spent on gas on this one. Coming home yesterday, I just pulled over and walked around CostCo for twenty minutes because I got sick of driving. They were out of stock on the carafe-less coffee maker.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The weekend was met with a moderate amount of welcome success.

Friday, October 12, 2007


Sorry about that. Seems this week has been one that has defied all attempts at scheduling. I'd plan out my day and walk out the door and the compass would start spinning, hands on clocks turn the opposite direction, and mirrors reflect someone else. I guess I should never have agreed to that last bottle of wine at the doctor's house, after all the guests had left.

It was a good party, by the way, if only because it wasn't an officially planned event and just a gathering of neighbors and friends. And it was good because I got to discuss Firefly with a few other folks that appreciated the show as I did. (Whew! Glad it wasn't just me!)

But that was Sunday, and everything just sort of spun off in a southeasterly direction from there. By the way, today is the actual day that Columbus discovered whatever it was that he discovered. And I finally did finish the job in the Outer Rim Territory (Rainbow) but not without a lot of confusing cuts, hacking down a few trees, and a bit of extra caulking. And I did get the Mongo cover down, though not without a certain amount of pain via the Linden Sledge Method of extracting plywood and asphalt ceilings. And I even got to use the Kienitz Memorial Gloves at the landfill in Chula Vista, which was a fine synthesis of nostalgia all told. "Chula Vista", incidentally, is translated into English as "Pleasant View" and the goodly amount of Chula Vista I saw this week overlooked a reeking landfill with Tijuana in the distance, so go figure. And most of the new cover was delivered yesterday, which put a bit of a crink in things. One would expect to get the entire delivery as scheduled, but hey now, it was just that kind of week. We'll have to start again on Monday. I made it to Friday afternoon and just threw in the towel. I couldn't keep up anymore. And now my car is making the flying saucer sound. Just great.

My gimpy brother is downstairs right now, entertaining the 18-month-old. They're sitting on the couch watching home movies ("the bud-dees") on AppleTV. The uncle has a cast on his right leg that stretches from his knee to his toes, so his current profession is sitting around. I guess he got sick of sitting around wherever he was the last few weeks, so now he's sitting around here in suburban Oceanside, having me make him dinner and fetch beers. Hilarious. It should be noted that he broke his leg when he was drunk. Got up from bed in the middle of the night to use the terlet and Whoa! slipped and broke his leg! Don't worry, though, he said it didn't really start to hurt until the buzz wore off. You have to hear him tell the story, however. It's right up there with the time he got shot in the butt by a B.B. gun in a driveby, and the time a pigeon flew into his car while he was driving (feathers everywhere!) What a character. We try to limit the time he spends around the Little Ditchman.

Speaking of, there are some super cute pumpkin patch photos of her over at The Mundane Details. What a sweetie. If you look closely at the pic of the kid on the pony, in the background you will see another attentive father putting his daughter up on a hearty steed, all the while talking on his cel phone. Ah, the joys of Family Day! It was a fun day for us, even though I got stung by a bee on the left elbow. An innocuous event, except that I was standing there with a few friends of Mrs. Ditchman's that I had just met. She had stepped away for a moment, and there I am flailing about, losing all composure, cussing up a minor tornado. "Yes, uh, your husband seems real nice..." An hour later they watched me buy a 103 pound pumpkin. (It's amazing I have any friends at all.) I'm still not sure what to do with the 103 pound pumpkin. But there's always this. Anyway, the kid likes it. By the way, Lileks was good today (10/12/07), waxing about the trials of raising a daughter -some things I look forward to, and to some degree already experience.

Hopefully this weekend won't amount to much, so I can collect myself for next week's madness. So, as they say in California, "Have a good one!" whatever that is.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


All blogging has been suspended until everyone stops being sick around here. Wiping your runny nose is bad for the hair. The dried snot makes it impossible to comb. And we might be able to get over these colds if a certain eighteen month-old would stop waking the house up at five AM so we could get some sleep. The cat climbing in and out of bed all night, the cat fights outside, and the neighbor's car alarms going off at midnight don't help either. Until we get some peace and quiet around here, all blogging has been suspended.

All blogging has been suspended until this week's job is finished. I've got a hundred-mile commute and a huge plywood and asphalt roof to tear down and haul-off and The Family Construction Co. is low on employees so don't ask me how my day was without first scanning to see how dirty I am when I walk through the door. And the Chula Vista Building Dept. is a pain in the backside and there's a Home Show next week, so the weight of the weekly work bears down.

All blogging has been suspended until I get something done around here. I've got people calling me about the DVDs and videos I was supposed to finish and mail off months ago and my little 800mhz computer can't handle the workload. I'd get a new computer, but I'm waiting for Apple to announce the new operating system so I can save myself a few hundred bucks. Until Apple gets it together and the iPods stop catching people's pants on fire, all blogging has been suspended.

All blogging has been suspended until I get these chores done, too. I'd like to finish some of the office shelves and filing cabinets and some painting and some landscaping and the fence in the back yard, so cut me some slack while I try to catch up on the end-of-year tasks before the family comes over for the holidays and criticizes it all. Also, it doesn't help the house mood when Mrs. Ditchman is picking up raisins and Cheerios all day long while the little Ditchman is walking behind her dumping out the box, so until we all cheer up, all blogging has been suspended.

All blogging has been suspended until after the next marathon.

All blogging has been suspended until both family cars function properly.

All blogging has been suspended until we make back the four hundred dollars we spent at CostCo yesterday.

All blogging has been suspended until the enemy's destruction is assured, or at least a treaty is signed in the Great War with the Ants.

All blogging has been suspended until the guests leave. We have some here now. They drink all our beer and wine while I BBQ and then they take up all my face time, and my face is in the keyboard at the end of the day. One of the guests has a broken leg, and so must be waited on hand and foot. This is annoying. Give me the broken leg, why don't you? I'll beg off this misery.

And the fixed boat languishes in the driveway with an old tarp over it while summer recedes into the memory of what was 2007, and it just keeps getting colder and colder. Until I get one fine day trip out of it, all blogging has been suspended.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Well, everything was just off yesterday, you know? I mean, as if I didn't drink enough at Dr. Weaver's house the night before and go to work in the sun the next day. And then I was looking in the mirror and noticed a whole set of freckles growing on my bald forehead. That's new, you think to yourself right before it flashes through your head like the underside of a blimp ***C*A*N*C*E*R***. We get older and older... And then the kid just keeps waking up screaming in the middle of the night. I mean, Jeebus, what now? Or what was it before? That was never explained. And Mrs. Ditchman and I failed at communicating all day. It was like we both spoke different languages, or rather, we had bad interpreters. I would say something, she would hear something else. She would say something, I would be getting off the bus on a different planet. It seems to bother one of us more than the other. So I guess it's not half bad. Or it's only half as bad as it could be. Or something. Anyway, I think you know what I'm talking about. That is, if you're married.

She found it in herself to kiss me goodnight, however. (That goes a long ways, my friends.)

Even House lost a patient tonight. I guess the bad days hit everybody. (By the way, I sure hope they fix this whole 'There's no afterlife' thing that they established tonight. It really bummed me out. Especially when the dog died.)

And then the Little Ditchman was just being outright defiant today. I asked her to pick up her Legos and she just went and got an Elmo book and wanted me to read it to her! The nerve! So I asked her again, politely, but no! She pretended she didn't even hear me! I got down on the floor and showed her -explained in pantomime- clean up your Legos, please! Like this: and I would pick one up and put it in the bucket. She left the room. Left the room! Man, you'd think at eighteen months they'd have a little more respect.

I should add that when she did pick up a Lego and throw it in the bucket, she would miss. And then I would say, "Missed." and she found that to be the funniest farking think in the world and proceed to "miss" every single Lego. Aaaaaargh!

And there are no more Fireflys to watch. Yes, I finished the series. What a colossal bummer that is. No Season 2, no resolution of plot possibilities, no more development of established characters... That's it. Cancelled after one season. Morans. (At least I still have the feature to watch, though! Yahoo!)

And then someone sent me this:

Answer: Yes. (As explained last week.)

The nerve of advertisers nowadays.

But it should be noted, this didn't happen to me. And there was a shiny moment: I fired up the boat. It still works.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

And in Canada, It's Thanksgiving

It was Columbus Day yesterday! Well, I had to work, and I bet you did too. I refused to put my flag out. I mean, maybe it would be different if we lived in the United States of Columbia, but we don't. Did you know that Columbus never actually set foot on any land that would eventually become America? It's true. So why do we celebrate Columbus Day? Beats me. I guess we just need a day off in October. "Celebrate" may be too strong a word, anyway. I mean, unless you work for the government, you probably didn't have the day off. And all those guvmint employees who were sitting at home today can thank Franklin Roosevelt. He started it.

Or unless you live in Nevada, where it is not a legal holiday. Or South Dakota, where it is celebrated as "Native American Day" though it is unclear why they would pick this date, as so many native Americans blame Columbus for, well, genocide (even though there are more Native Americans living today than ever before.) In Hawaii it's called "Discoverer's Day" and instead, they honor Captain James Cook, who put Hawaii on the map (literally). The fact that the Hawaiians didn't call it "Cook Day" is unfortunate for all sorts of untold humorous, culinary allusions. Incidentally, there is a movement afoot in Hawaii to follow suit with South Dakota and call the day "Indigenous Peoples Day" but it is at odds with another advocacy group who wants to have "Indigenous Peoples Week". Either way, I'm still not putting my flag up. Everyone knows the Vikings were here first.

Did you see that movie of Columbus that came out in 1992 to celebrate the 500th anniversary, 1492: Conquest of Paradise? I didn't. But I remember thinking at the time how funny it was that a historical drama about an Italian who works for the Spanish and Portuguese trying to find a way to China and India but instead made his way to Cuba and Mexico was played by a Frenchman in an American movie directed by an Englishman.

Columbus died thinking he had still set foot on some islands off the coast of Asia, even though no one he met there spoke Japanese. He had made four voyages to the New World, and during the fourth voyage the ship ran aground and he was stranded in Jamaica for a year. Nobody came to his aid, so he intimidated the natives into giving him and his crew provisions by successfully predicting a lunar eclipse. This is impressive because Columbus originally had underestimated the distance to China because he was reading his maps as using Italian miles, when in fact they were written using the much longer Arabic miles. Who knew?

Another thing: a big reason why the Europeans wanted a westward route to China and India? The Muslims. They had blocked trade routes when Constantinople fell to them in 1453, and the Ottomans had conquered Egypt thus blocking the Red Sea. I guess some things never change.

Columbus went crazy before he died, claiming to hear divine voices, wearing a Franciscan habit, and calling for a new crusade to take back Jerusalem. He thought that his discovery of the New World was part of God's plan in the Final Judgment and Armageddon, which it seems a lot of people still believe. Following Columbus' death, all the flesh was removed from his body in a ritual that Europeans of status often desired called "excarnation", and it's nasty, but it's supposed to preserve the bones. Anyway, his remains were removed from his original grave in Spain, and then moved back and forth across the Atlantic like four or five times. Everybody eventually lost track of them, as he ended up with a few grave sites in different countries, but last year they dug up the grave in the Dominican Republic and did some DNA tests and guess what? Some of the bones were his! And what is to be gained from all this? It's HISTORY, man! What's wrong with you?!

I'm still not putting my flag up. A few years later, another explorer named Amerigo Vespucci made it as far as the Amazon and wrote in his journals that this was not China and then a mapmaker, a German named Martin Waldseemüller, called the new continent "America" utilizing the feminine and latin forms of the explorer's name, as all the other continents were feminine forms. Evidently, this upset EVERYBODY, because Amerigo didn't discover anything, so Waldseemüller took America off the map and called it simply "Terra Incognita" ("Unknown Land") but it was too late. The maps had already gone to press and the name stuck. Only one copy of the original wall map that reads "America" survives, and it was purchased by the Library of Congress off of eBay in 2001. (Just kidding.) Alternate versions of these maps were originally intended to be cut up and glued on a wood ball, and only four of these globes are in existence -one of which resides in America at the University of Minnesota.

Minnesota, by the way, has an on-again off-again relationship with Columbus Day due to its many Native Americans and Viking descendants.

Monday, October 8, 2007

I'm not sure why we did it, really. You just get carried away at these things. I mean, they're EVERYWHERE! Oversized, seasonal squash as far as the eye can see. We were looking for maybe a forty pounder, but there weren't any. Bystanders were impressed that I was able to heft it into the wheelbarrow. Standing in line at the scale you wonder just why it is that you're doing this, but then you think, well, I've never got one that big before. So it's a first. And picking one is like picking out a Christmas tree, no two are the same, but, wait a minute, yes, they're all the same. In the end you just go with the one you're standing near when you've run out of reasons why not. It wasn't the biggest one, by the way, others were sold in the 200s, I believe. And we were nowhere near this one. So what did we do with it? Just dumped it front of the house for all in the neighborhood to gawk at. Believe me, next year's will be smaller.

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Week That Was

In keeping with the vehicle-slash-engine theme this week, here's a few more thoughts, both enginely and vehicularly...

There's this bad news. Seems we're losing the Space Race, or at least this heat. Huge bummer. I've always said that if there's anything the U.S. Government should be spending money on, it's spaceships. For now, let's send out a memo to the world: THAT'S OUR FLAG UP THERE, PEOPLE!

If we lose the space race, at least we're pulling ahead in the driverless vehicle race. I'm surprised the robots aren't just building themselves by now. Maybe they are. Maybe they're up there on the moon waiting for us. And what an odd headline. The AP makes it sound like the scientists have lost control completely.

Speaking of spaceships, I watched another episode of Firefly tonight, to raise the spirits. I'm kinda sad to see it go as I've only got one episode left and then the feature. It's real good TV. Lileks is a fan, if you didn't know. You can check out his reviews of this piece of good TV here and here buried in some old bleats of his. He's the one that really made me decide to buy the DVDs, so I have him to thank. I'm glad I'm not the only uber-nerd out there.

But tomorrow will be a long day in a distant land where there is no bathroom, no food, no radio transmission, and no people for miles. I'm working in "Rainbow" which is not at all unlike one of the outer planets in Firefly. Who knows, maybe it'll rain and I'll be forced to put it all off to next week, but this is Southern California. My kid doesn't know what rain is. She's never seen it. I tried to explain it to her today, but I just seemed a blathering fable-teller, full of big words, myths, and half-truths. A feeble, luckless fool who lost his way in life only to be found by her sweet smile.

I'm just another guy who, one gray day, turned aluminum into gold.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The House Always Wins

Let's scrutinize the bill:
(I've cropped out the boring stuff to make it easier on us all.)

At 11:55 AM on Tuesday we were quoted $116.95. That was for the oil change and engine diagnostic, which itself cost like $85. Forget for the moment that I can go down to Pep Boys and buy the Diagnostic Computer for $85 and hook it up myself and tell you what's wrong with the vehicle, but I know that you're going to fix it anyway, whatever it is, and you will not charge me for $85 for the half a minute it takes you to roll the little machine over and plug it in to the car. And these are not the droids you're looking for. (It never works for me, but it's worth a shot.)

At 1:42 PM they called us back and quoted a new estimate of $403.95. This is the new total cost that now includes removing the valve cover and peering at the valves to see what was wrong (as previously mentioned.) Fine. I'll suck it up. They said they'd call at the end of the day to let us know the real total of fixing the problem. Needless to say, they didn't.

The next morning, at precisely 8:23AM, I wondered aloud to Mrs. Ditchman if the "service" department were going to call us or just give up on us entirely. The phone rang at 8:24. Suspicious as it was, it was nowhere near the suspicion I had when they told me the new total: $671.45. I had braced myself for a bill over a thousand, and they must have sensed this because then they began to list a few other things that could be done while they were in there: Radiator Drain/Flush ($55), Throttle Housing Flush ($189.00), Brake Fluid Reservoir/Brake Line Flush ($200), new set of belts ($150). I decided to go with getting the new belts and the radiator flush because, well, the car's old, man! I just contented myself that we were getting the "15% Mature Toyota Discount" and the brakes are going to need to be replaced sometime soon, anyway, and this whole "Throttle Housing Flush" scam is really starting to bug me. Every time I take my truck in they tell me I need a "Throttle Housing Flush." They claim it's the quality of the gas we get nowadays, and if you clean out your throttle housing you will see an increase in performance and fuel economy. Guess what? I've had it done several times and to no noticeable effect. And it's not something you can just lift the hood to see if they've done -or to see if your housing is actually dirty- so it reeks of SCAM every time I hear it. When I decline they just make that "tsk"ing sound and shake their heads as if to say, You know, your #1 cylinder was misfiring and it was all because of this dirty throttle housing of yours. Yes, and it's very unfortunate that the gas they sell us nowadays is much dirtier than the stuff they used to sell us, back in the old days. Why, when I was a kid, gasoline was less than a dollar a gallon and it was so clean my parents used to gargle it for mouthwash! Can I get the Middle-Finger Discount with that?

Anyways, $671.45 was in the neighborhood of what I was expecting and it included a new set of eight Valve Adjusting Shims (whatever those are) and I was very careful not to show my hand, as I always complain about the cost at the dealer. Somehow, the conversation ended with, "We'll call you in two or three hours when it's ready for pick-up."

At 12:32 PM, 4 hours later, we called them. New total: $1,122.45. (Cough, cough, choke, eyebrows raise, sphincter cinches up) "What?"

"It needs a new radiator. Do you want a factory replacement or an after-market cheapy?"

There was never any talk about a new radiator. It didn't have a leak when we brought it in. A new factory radiator was like $1300, so guess what? We went with the cheapy. They had to send the car out to "Ronnie's Radiator" -which is probably where we should have began with all this- and who knows when it would come back. By this time, the family was yelling at each other, the kid (napless, having been dragged around in her car seat all afternoon) was crying, and everybody's schedule for the day was shot and the mother-in-law arrived with her good advice about credit lines and new car purchases, and well, I think the family all just gave up on each other.

We coughed up the cash, er, credit card. The service department took it upon themselves to replace the thermostat, water inlet gasket, and radiator cap sub-assembly for an extra $40. This had never been discussed, but I assume it was necessary for the never-discussed leaky radiator replacement. In the end, we got the car out of there before they found anything else wrong with it and before the credit limit was blown altogether. Mrs. Ditchman made it to the counter to pay the bill, but she noticed something amiss. "Yes, um, what about my 15% Mature Toyota Discount?"

"Oh, do you have a coupon?"

It still makes that flying saucer sound. Must be the brakes going out. Or my head is spinning off.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Had to take the 4Runner in.

She's a good car, she is, but she just hasn't been right lately. No power. Blinking 'Check Engine' light. I can tell it's my wife coming up the street just by the flying saucer sounds the vehicle makes. And the paint's peeling back and little plastic pieces are raining off it, littering up the neighborhood. But it is nearly ten years old, and it's been from Mexico to Canada and back again. And one time it had a bear in it.

As is our fashion, we took it to the Toyota Dealer to get it fixed. I'm not sure why we do this. Something about the term "dealer" just doesn't sit right, you know? (The House always wins/Guy in the alley selling kids crack, etc.) It doesn't sound particularly trustworthy. But then something inside of you says, Toyota makes the things, they should know how to fix them good and proper! But at 230,000 miles, do honest-to-goodness Toyota parts really matter anymore? We should've just taken it to the cheapest and quickest guy on the closest streetcorner. But then, those guys don't give the car a wash when they're done with it, and you're usually pulling strange tools and rags out of the engine compartment when you get home and look under the hood to see if you can figure out what you just dropped another thousand on.

Also, when you take it to the dealer you get to walk across the lot and see all the nice new Toyotas that you know immediately that you can't afford, and then Mr. Allsmiles comes out, puts one hand gently on your shoulder, and convinces you that, no, hey, sure you can handle the payments! Your credit is marvelous! What a beautiful child!

We didn't buy a new car. Yet. The service department never called us back at the end of the day, actually. Oh sure, we got the first call where they let you know that they changed the oil and ran the diagnostic check ($130 so far) and then said that they need to pull the valve cover and check the valves because the computer showed that it's misfiring on the #1 cylinder and they'll have to replace the valve cover gasket when they do that (another $250) and then they'll be able to really get to the bottom of things and find the problem and we'll get back to you by the end of the day with the bottom line (could be untold thousands).

And they never called. I picture them standing around the car in their monogramed Toyota button-ups, smoking Winstons and putting back jelly doughnuts, trading diagnostic dilemmas a la House. But the dark, paranoid, conspiracy nut inside of me is convinced the salesman who approached us was texting the service department while he was walking us around a new Sequoia: HLD OFF. ALMST GOT BIG $ALE. EZ MARK.

What burns me is that I've been staring at eight valves on the Chevy 454 in the back of my boat all summer and I could pull a valve cover off and change the gasket with one hand tied behind my back and a live chicken in my mouth and they're gonna charge me two-hundred-and-fifty dollars for this?! Tell you what, stand over there and have another bear claw, I'll pull the cover off and you lean in and let me know what you see and I'll make sure the boss pats you on the back for it. By the way the old gasket's fine, it's made of rubber, not paper, and it'll last forever.

But I don't. The family car's gotta be fixed and I don't have time to waste. That Sequoia was looking awfully nice, though. Nice and big. Could pull the boat as good as any Tundra all the way to the Great Lakes. But that's just what the Ditchman family needs right now, a second car payment. Well, maybe next year.

Or maybe next week, if this 4Runner is on its way to the great Pick-A-Part yard in the sky. Guess we'll find out later.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

It Was A Zoo.

Since I spent the better part of our first autumnal weekend working on the landscaping (boat), Monday was declared FAMILY DAY by Mrs. Ditchman, and one could tell by the twitchy look in her eye that it was a concept not to be debated nor voted upon. So we went to the zoo!

The midget who lives with us has a special affinity for animals and when we explained the concept of "zoo" to her she just started to glow, which was neat. She has a goodly number of animal books from which she can name all the animals and do all the sounds they make. I find it especially entertaining, as I take Mrs. Ditchman's animal sounds lesson one step further and make up sounds for creatures like The Musk Ox, The Golden Eagle, The American Beaver, and so forth. Imagine my delight when we were in the grocery store recently and the kid pointed up at an inflatable dolphin and squealed at full volume: "EEEEEEEEEEEE! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!" Awesome.

So yesterday was Founder's Day at the San Diego Zoo, or something, which meant that it was free admission. Bells go off in our heads when we hear the words "free admission" and there is a certain Pavlovian response that motivates us to take full advantage. Unfortunately, this Pavlovian response was clearly echoed in nearly half of Southern California yesterday. We got within a couple miles of the zoo and it was bumper to bumper traffic, and upon reaching the parking lot, we found it was also LOT FULL day at the zoo. I was ready to quit right there and go to Ikea or something, but when your little angel is chanting "ZOO ZOO ZOO ZOO" from the back seat, well, there's just no turning back.

It was a zoo, all right. Evidently it was also "Spanish-Speaking Day" at the zoo, as it seemed that most of the population of Baja California had made their way across the border for Founder's Day. I had large designs to shoot an over-the-top cutesy video of the kid saying the animal names and sounds while we were at the zoo, pointing out all of God's creatures. Unfortunately, upon sight of all of God's other creatures, I just lost the ambition. Seriously, there were heads and strollers as far as the eye could see. And people were LOUD everywhere we went. At one cage, a very large man in a Superman shirt was YELLING FULL VOLUME at the animals trying to get them to move. "PUT ON A SHOW! COME ON!" And he accompanied that with an ear-piercing, full-fingered whistle that caused everyone within a fifty-foot radius to shake (except the animals.) I suppose he thought he was being funny, but that would be giving him the benefit of the doubt, which he no doubt did not deserve.

Which leads me to another gripe about the zoo: was this, like, "Animal Maintenance Day"? It seemed that over half the cages were empty, if not desolate. Were they out being washed? A sign in front listed some of the animals that couldn't be viewed yesterday and among them was "Giraffes." Seriously, now. Where are they gonna take the giraffes where you can't at least see their heads?

And if they weren't missing from the cages, they were sleeping -which is like watching an Andy Warhol film. I noted that all the animals looked distinctly depressed, which garnered a nice eye-roll from the wife. "How can you tell?" she asked. I just said that I watched Discovery and Animal Planet all the time, "Those animals don't look depressed." (Except when they get eaten, of course.)

The kid liked it all anyway, I think, and when she first saw the orangutan she just lit up and repeated "Nana-tan, Nana-tan" for an hour and that was worth the price of admission. She also liked the hippo -or maybe it was the rhino- she kept saying "eye-no eye-no eye-no", but after a while the eighteen-month-old just wanted to swing on the railing and stare at other kids and stuff. I personally thought the highlight of the day was the Swamp Monkeys, which I'd never heard of before. It was the highlight because, well, just the idea of "swamp monkeys" sounded amusing to me.

Also it was hot, and it cost $3.99 for a coke, but I expected that misery. That's the thing about "misery" altogether: if you can see it coming, you can brace yourself appropriately, which is what made the busiest day of the year at the zoo so difficult to begin with. The day was finished off with a sufficient amount of beer to wipe the slate clean, at Gordon Biersch with the people over at The Dawg Run, and then a bit of time with my wife and the pooftas at Dancing With The Stars, and the day ended wonderfully, without having to blog as the internet was down. (It's been happening quite often lately, and it's really cutting into my routine.)

Upon reflection, the day would have been Near Perfect if I had only read this site ahead of time, which states clearly in the final paragraph:

Avoid visiting during Founder's Day celebrations in October. True, admission fees are waived for kids, but the typical zoo crowd of 20,000 can easily swell past 50,000, making for a most unpleasant visit.
No exaggeration there.