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.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Well, apologies to my faithful daily readers. Some of us bloggers don't get the whole week off, and instead have to cram a week's worth of work into a few short days. It ain't no fun, but I got so much done yesterday I thought it might bode well for me in the future to pull it off from time to time. Of course, this will take years off my life. Join that to my new Mac purchase, which adds years to my life, and it's a wash. (You just can't win.) Pine as we may for us all to be replaced by robots, it looks like it's not going to be anytime soon.

This week's customer was satisfied. He was late to the schedule, so we shoehorned him into the reduced Thanksgiving week, much to my chagrin (but welcomed by the bank). I think he and I were both surprised when I showed up late Monday with the materials for his new patio cover. He had one to tear down, and I told him I'd have it out of there within the hour -and it was. And just me, too, as I transferred the contents of the trailer to the driveway, and then filled the trailer with his current patio cover. He stood and watched the whole thing.

It was an old-school aluminum cover -real nasty one, too. Covered with bird crap, bird's nests, dead birds. Had a bunch of golf balls, tennis balls, a few old bathing suits and broken bottles on top of it. I even found a gun. A gun! It was a .22 rifle, in a soft gun case. As I pulled it down, he cocked his head and said "What's that?" and I said, "Look's like a gun." I handed it to him and he opened the case. You could tell it had been up there for some time, as the barrel was rusty. "Damn grankids, tryin' to put one over on me..."

Told him I'd be there the next morning, but didn't show up until the afternoon. Again he was disappointed, and again we were both surprised when I'd constructed the whole new cover, yes by myself, by the day's end. Finished in the dark, but got it up nonetheless. Fast, too! You'd think he was standing there with a rifle while I worked!



It was a long, hard day and when I got home, the wife reminded me of the bills we have to pay. This is a cruel thing to do to a man after he gets in from work and it will only make his mood worsen, but don't worry, I didn't take it out on the goat.

Still, I'm happy that I got it all in the schedule. And a 24 hour turnaround, at that! It was a surprise job, and I wanted it off my mind. It's good that it came along, too, as this season is a tough one on residential contractors. No one has the fortitude to remodel their house during the holidays. "Thank you for sidestepping the construction debris in the driveway, dinner is delivered! And if y'all need to use the bathroom, there's the neighbor's house for the girls and the Port-a-John for the boys. And there's plenty of extra sweaters in the garage with the furniture, as this 2 mil plastic sheeting just don't have the insulating qualities of true stucco and drywall. Oh, it'll be real nice. Easter will be wonderful. Or the 4th. That is to say, if the tile guy ever comes back from Florida. Merry Christmas!"

I don't know why I put a country accent on that last monologue. Something about aluminum patio covers and finding an old rifle hidden in a roof just brought it out of me, I guess.

Monday, November 19, 2007

It's been foggy here in Oceanside of late. The mists roll in after dark and linger through the following morning. I enjoy the change and welcome the mystery of it, but the Little Ditchman awoke a few mornings ago and upon seeing the view from her crib of the backyard draped thick with clouds, she let out a good shriek. It was all explained to her, of course, but again she just looks at you like you're telling stories. When she got sick the other day, we cranked up the humidifier in her room and the fog filled the house, so what goes around, comes around, though it's difficult to tell direction in the haze.

The fog seems to rob the ordinariness out of the neighborhood, and I've been known to go outside and take a look around late at night before bed. When the mists descend things look different, like when you put a ladder in a room and your head in a corner of the ceiling -you turn and barely recognize the place, but it's been so foggy so often lately, the novelty has worn off on me. It gets late and I just want to sleep, so imagine my dismay when we awoke to a thunderous crash at 3:30 this morning.

I had just used the toilet (not the broken one) and fumbled and bumped my way back to bed, happily noting the time on the clock and doing the math in my head -ah, I get about 4 whole hours more of sleep! As I drifted off, I heard a noise that I figured was just a hypnic jerk, as I am prone to, but when the wife was startled enough to get out of bed and do a perimeter survey of the property, I figured something was up. Of course, I just laid there in bed and waited for things to either get worse or go away. Soon enough, I saw colored lights flashing through the mists behind the house and knew at once that a flying saucer had crashed into the hill out back behind the fence.

It happened "Out back behind my underneath!" to use an inspired phrase coined yesterday after church and at the brewery (the only place where such phrases could be coined). I noticed porch lights blinking on, and figured I better don all masculine qualities (and slippers) and have a look around, greet the aliens with guarded friendliness.

Something had happened down the hill on the main road behind my house. Through the trees and fog I could make out a few police cars and appropriate emergency vehicles, silently doing their business in the middle of the night. There were some cars pointed different directions, and it wasn't until I heard the morbid clatter of a gurney being rolled across the boulevard that I really woke up. I hopped the fence in my pajamas and slippers, and moved along the crest of the hill to get a better view. Two pickup trucks were aimed in one direction on the wrong side of the divider. Another car, aimed in the proper direction, had slammed into them, head on. I heard what sounded distinctly like a person kicking an aluminum can and then saw a fireman with a bucket, throwing sand or sawdust on a pool of fluid in the street.

A few people were standing in the middle of it, and no one was saying anything. There is a quality to fog that mutes the white noise of everyday life, but allows certain sounds to be lifted above it, and out of that I very clearly heard a police officer say, "You were really lucky," and then to someone else, "You were really lucky, as well."

So it was a traffic accident, in the middle of the night. Some folks going the wrong way in the fog. I couldn't say if it was a drunk driver or a street race or what, but it was a night terror for someone.

The paramedics and police were considerate enough to leave their sirens off in the middle of the night in our sleepy neighborhood. Not so, the tow-truck drivers, who arrived within the hour to take their time in reverse, beeping wildly, to haul off the wreckage. This morning there's nothing left to see, just cars passing in the morning fog, people wiping the sleep out of their eyes on a Monday before a busy holiday, Thanksgiving. The traveler's holiday.

Friday, November 16, 2007

No big blog today. Just not feeling it. Sorry.

But here's some news:

Regarding yesterday's desire for robots: These are not the robots we're looking for. Attention scientists: Please focus...

In a previous post, I mentioned off the cuff that our ideology was better than theirs. Here's a sampling.

Then again, I guess we punish the innocent, too. "It's not the whiskey's fault, dude!"

And I do revere our American culture, but I readily admit it can be taken to an extreme.

Next week: the Santa Ana winds return! And just in time for the holidays!

Have a fine weekend.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

I swear, scientists are just making sh!t up, nowadays. (I hope it didn't have black skin.)


Two words describe my mood perfectly: "Please" and "leave". As the better half of the family left for their morning workout, I commented that if and when this family ever adds to its numbers, the straw poles that are holding this tent up are going to buckle, and everything is going to come crashing down. (Shoulda used stronger poles, I guess.)

It's just that I take a look around at the piles of unfinishedness around here, with the sullen cries of an empty bank account in the distance, and I think I guess I can't do it all after all. Makes one want to wrap their head in earbuds and their face around a video game, which some men do, I guess. Typical morning: Child enters office looking for attention. Child sees father at keyboard. Child begins randomly pulling papers out of filing boxes. Child gets father's attention, acknowledges it by screaming. Mother screams not to scream. Mother gives child banana. Child drops banana. One of us steps in it. Child looks for attention. Rinse. Repeat.

If I could ever get around to finishing these filing cabinets, there would be no papers strewn about, but it seems that there is a pile of something in every room, and you'd get to it if only the phone would stop ringing and everyone would stop screaming and Please. Leave. It wouldn't solve the banana problem. Robots would. Handy janitorial robots that spend their idle time disciplining your child. When are we gonna have Robots? (This might work -if only it could negotiate the stairs, lift smeared banana out from between the floorboards, and administrate a Time-out.)

(Note: The child handed me the sheet of paper that had the fire ratings on Aluminum -I'd been looking for that!)

So you let out a good Wilhelm Scream and trudge ever onward. I don't think it would be so bad if I'd had a decent amount of sleep in the past four nights. Last night I passed out on the couch after dinner and was Dead Out when my daughter trudged downstairs with her mom in tow. "Icky!" was stated, and I was summoned to fix the rank demons of the pipes. Seems someone clogged up the toilet when they last... well, you know. "Wasn't me," I declared, then realizing it was me, in fact, though twelve hours prior. I was handed the plunger and went to work, still trying to rouse out of the somnambulant fog. It was a perfectly horrid event, one of powerful odium, and when I was reminded that the Little Ditchman had flushed her little Elmo toothbrush down there, I relented. The toilet is now off-limits. We have two others to use. Put it on the list. Poor, poor Elmo.

Then spent the rest of last night in the room of my crying child, begging -nay pleading, for her to quit so I could get some. Not sure what it was this time. More teeth, maybe? CheeseandFries how many teeth is this kid gonna have? She greets you in the morning like nothing ever happened: "Hi buddy!" (New word.)

But that's life. I take some solace when I hear other kids screaming from inside their homes down the street. I used to feel neighborly sympathy for those parents. Now I just, kind of, smirk.

I almost threw my mug of coffee on the screen this morning when the news was covering "Taking Your Child To Work." Out the door, Mrs. Ditchman asked if I was going to do my fifteen mile run today. You kidding? (How does she do it?)

24 days to vacation.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I'd never seen this one before, and yes, I believe it pretty much nails it. (Culled it from Lileks this morning, whose fine post today should stand as a model for every serious blogger.)

The only thing that kinda bothers me about it is the halo over the iPod in the beginning, (did I miss a joke, here?) Do I consider myself superior for using Mac? No. These are computers like all others are computers. You may not have heard, but Mac has a blue screen of death, too, and yes, sometimes I can't find my files, etc. But I do appreciate the packaging. Don't mind, even, paying more for it, really. Whenever I see a box of Windows product, I think my brain is going to brim with petty responsibilities. Seriously, I don't care what third party endorsements you got, just work, dammit. My new computer arrived at the door last week and it almost made me laugh: a black box with a picture of a computer on one side of it, and reading "MacPro" on the other. I'm surprised the wording on the box didn't just read "COMPUTER". Ha! (Last Friday's post has a pic.)

In this, the week of my new computer, I am now happy to report that the sleek machine beside my desk is whirring along with nary a hiccup. (Actually, there's not much whirr at all. It is nearly silent, save for when the DVD drive kicks in, at which point it whirrs like the engine room on a Russian submarine.) I ordered it with the minimum amount of RAM possible, and was dismayed to find that it couldn't just hack it -so I went out to pick up a couple more gigs at Fry's, local discount electronics store extraordinaire. Apple charges a premium on all their add-ons, so if you want an additional hard drive or RAM chip, you can spend an extra few hundred bucks on the exact same product by having Apple put it in for you. Amazing. So do I think Apple is the greatest company in the world? No. Pizza Port is.

It's a crazy world when you'll pay extra for better marketing, but you'll pay less to do it yourself. (Oh, I think I may have revealed too much about myself, there.) Such is capitalism.

So the computer works terrifically. I even got an OH WOW moment out of my wife, as she asked for an address and I said, "Watch how quickly it comes up when I click on it-" and BAM there it was! This is noteworthy only in the context of how she asked me for an address last week, and we bided the time chatting while it loaded up. Anyway, it was worth the price of admission right there. My vacation time just doubled.

It happened again, too, as I was getting ready to go to bed. After asking the 'puter to do a few all-night tasks, I decided to set the screensaver, and it was an OH WOW moment like no other as a picture of the Little Ditchman came on the screen and we slowly zoomed out to show it in a mosaic of ten, a hundred, a thousand other pictures of the Little Ditchman whose colors blend in such a way as to become another photo of the Little Ditchman. (You've seen this sort of thing before.) And then it happens again! Fantastic. And that's just the screensaver! It's stuff like that that makes Mac cool and geeks drool.

Incidentally, we had some friends over the other day and reclined after dinner -marveling over the AppleTV screensaver. Again.

So it's great! Now, I've got to clean up the office and get to work. Where do I start? And how do I start on a beautiful summer day like this? Weather: 72 and Sun. All week. In November. Best month of the year in California.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Home Invasion
11-12-2007 4:02 AM
(San Diego, CA) -- Authorities are searching for three men who robbed a Bonsall home carrying AK-47 assault rifles. The Sheriff's Department says the trio kicked open the back door of the residence on Calle Joya just off Camino del Rey about 4 a.m. yesterday. They tied up the resident and demanded cash. The men got away with 300-dollars. No one was hurt.

Well, I'm glad to hear no one got hurt. AK-47 assault rifles? This happened just a few miles from my house!

Can't get around to posting anything of significance today, I'm transferring about a Terabyte of video files to the new Mac...

Instead, I encourage you to go to this website and marvel at the concept, take a look around. This is a new arm of Pizza Port, who has started a line of premium beers by way of taking over the old Stone Brewery in San Marcos. (If you're looking to get me a Christmas gift, the "Devotion Ale" is my favorite. Best beer I've had in years.) The old Pizza Port Brewery, which was next door to the Pizza Port Carlsbad, is now the Pizza Port Bottle Shop, where you will find a selection of only the best beers from around the world. And the new Stone Brewing Company and their "World Bistro and Gardens" is simply awesome.

I always did think Pizza Port did it right.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Future is Now!

Life can be so cruel. Intel's new computer chips -better, smaller, faster- ship today. Which means we can expect the MacPro2 or the MacSuperPro or the MacTasticSpeedemon or some such permutation by the end of the week. That's what happens in this arena. The next big thing is always just around the corner. Sooner or later you've just got to settle, so I gathered myself and found a shady spot.

But it's great! Can you just feel the power? The completely untethered speed at which this page loaded up when you clicked to it? No? Hmmm... must be a problem somewhere. I'll have to look into it. It's possible that my new Mac was just completely demoralized by the news of the new chips, and just decided to run at a half step slower pace. It's like any race. A close second and a distant second is still only a silver -why work so hard for it?.

Buying a new computer is like buying a new set of tools. They're nice and shiny and they sit there in your garage until you've got something to do with them. You never really go out and buy the tools, you just agonize when you're trying to fix something and you realize you could use some new tools. That's why I saved up the money for it -so that it wouldn't be so painful to the bank account when the purchase was finally made. Cash is king! I'm trying not to use credit cards, if only to avoid the tsk-tsking of Mrs. Ditchman. I'm not entirely dumb, though, I got the Apple Family Discount and then I used the Visa for the points and paid it off. If I focus on the good deal I got, it takes my mind off the new MacPro that will probably be released tomorrow. I'll deal. As long as the new release isn't faster and cheaper than the one I got, I'll deal. We'll see.

Truth is, I didn't get the fastest computer out there anyway. Couldn't afford it. The rate I was saving up money wasn't as fast as the rate at which they improve these things, which is good for civilization I guess. I always said that the next computer I got was going to be the fastest, best thing out there, so as to prolong the lifespan of the thing, but you know when it comes down to it, Necessity trumps all the Good Intentions, which is what makes life so confusing. Ah well, it all works better than it did.

So I spent a good portion of the weekend just floating 1s and 0s from Mac to Mac, with some problems. Everything on the old 'puter is a few operating systems old, so it was like a teenager trying to communicate with a geriatric. With Alzheimer's. We're still trying to find some common ground, but I was able to post this, so there's hope.

Thanksgiving is coming! Can't you hear it? It sounds like clinking glasses and yelling children and it looks all cluttered with the mismatched chairs, but it's awesome. I suppose it's supposed to look like the Pottery Barn catalog, but there's a reason why those photos are completely devoid of people.

Friday, November 9, 2007


At 10:14 PM on Wednesday, November 7th, the package data was transmitted to FedEx. At 5:18 PM yesterday the package itself was picked up in Anaheim -this is just about when I quit building for the day and rushed home to wait for it to arrive, but it was not to be. For at 5:46 it arrived at the FedEx location where it sat for eight hours. It was probably on the loading dock, with the FedEx employees sitting on the box, flipping cards and smoking cigarettes. At about 1:01 AM this morning those guys finally got up off their lazy backsides and left Anaheim and were last reported in transit at 1:13AM in the City of Industry. I got up at 5:30 this morning in eager anticipation -I wanted to greet the delivery guy at the door, invite him in, offer him some coffee...

As the coffee gurgled through the percolator, I noticed something strangely afoot outside. In the dim morning twilight I saw a few hundred mature crows amassed on the rooftops of all the neighbor's houses. Autumnal scarecrow decorations nearby having no effect. This Hitchcockian omen cannot bode well for such a Friday, one originally filled with enthused hope and eager anticipation...

It's 8:00 now. The crows have moved on, but still no computer. Do you think everything is okay? I mean, it's only about an hour and half drive from the City of Industry. There might have been traffic. But wait, no, it was pretty early... -you don't think... no... NO! I'm sure they're fine. The truck's not on fire and the Mac hasn't rolled into a ditch somewhere around Camp Pendleton, right? I need to clear my mind. Maybe I should go for a run. I'll make sure my wife isn't leaving the house while I'm out.

UPDATE - 9:30AM:

Still not here. Got back from my neighborhood 5k circuit a full minute faster than my current PR when I heard that Mrs. Ditchman was heading out to Jazzercise. Mac still in transit. Prayers requested for the FedEx driver. Won't shower until Mrs. Ditchman returns. Will pass time standing idly in the yard, raking the same pile of leaves over and over.

UPDATE - 11:03AM:

Drank all the coffee. Moved on to Coca-Cola. Shaking in raw anticipation. Showered with the bathroom door open so I could hear the delivery guy. Panicked when I was sitting on the toilet and heard a rumble coming from down the street. Ran out front in my boxer shorts and toilet paper, only to be greeted by a diminutive school bus full of down syndrome kids.

UPDATE - 12:24PM:

Googling "flocking crows" to pass the time -working with the old dinosaur so my first experience with the new one will feel like saddling up and riding lightning! Another rumble from down the street and my heart skips a beat -I know a diesel engine when I hear one! CURSES! It's the UPS guy dropping off something for my neighbor. Why didn't Apple go with UPS? What's the deal? Sending angry Email to steve.jobs@apple.com.

UPDATE - 1:11PM:

The FedEx guy is here! What's this? That package is much too small to be a Mac... wait a minute... he's going to the neighbor's! Again with the neighbor and his god-forsaken wine clubs and Ginzu knives! Okay, delivery guy's going back in the truck, now. No -No! He's firing up the van and pulling away from the curb! DUDE! HOLD IT!

I see him look up at me in the office as he drives by, and I can tell by the whites of his eyes that's he's scanning for addresses... yes, he's pulling around and slowing... stopping... he's fumbling around in back now... struggling with something...



Late for work.

Check the Tracking Status of Sean's new Mac here for full story immersion!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Holy Great Wall of Aluminum!

Actually, I think I've done a few that are bigger -50, 60 feet long, but those were pieces spliced together. This one has double rafters suspended from double headers, and I felt that splicing anything would compromise the integrity of the structure. So I had them deliver it from the plant, and today will be an interesting one as I hold up a 38 foot piece of aluminum with one hand and screw it up (in) with the other. Yes, picture me building it, just me, by myself. The projection on this cover is only 9 feet so it shouldn't be too difficult to -hey, where did all my readers go?

That's one of the funny things about blogs, they seem to take on the structure of your own life as you find yourself emphasizing the most significant things of your days: work, family, current obsessions, and then it fritters away into desultory political opinions. It's boring enough for me to live out, so I can't imagine someone being interested enough to read about it -though I would love to hear about Dr. Weaver's heaviest patient, or Escrow Officer Linden's largest file, for example. Anyway, I guess that's the challenge of creative writing, so enough! (And thanks for reading!)

Speaking of boring... still no new computer. Still staring at empty screen. Though they did send an Email this morning claiming it had shipped! Hopefully someone will be here at the office to receive it, while I'm out flailing beneath 38 feet of aluminum.

Speaking of work... Got a call the other day from a neighbor of the customer whose house I posted pictures of last week (the one that didn't burn down.) Seems the neighbor still has their house standing and their wood patio cover and they want it torn down and replaced with aluminum (the cover, not the house.) We will give them an estimate with a competitive price and put them on the schedule. That's business. Keep it coming, Lord.

What else? Well, this broke my heart a little bit, especially the ending. Still, I can't help but wonder if this kind of stuff impedes the performance of our troops in the field. Don't get me wrong, never in a million years would I ban or disallow this sort of thing, it just seems a sort of unhelpful distraction in a combat operation. Of course, the guys we're fighting love their children too, I'm sure, but they don't get a teleconference. Then again, I've seen the images of mothers raising their hands in holy celebration when their children strapped with bombs blow themselves up in a crowded marketplace. It's on Al-Jazeera, so I guess it could be considered a cultural equivalent. I like to think that the video teleconference of the soldier's kid's birth actually boosts the soldier's morale, and not just his, but everyone's. It's what they're fighting for, after all. I saw a bumper sticker the other day: THE U.S. MARINE CORP: DEDICATED TO LIFE, LIBERTY, AND THE PURSUIT OF THOSE WHO THREATEN IT. Sounds about right. Anyway, fighting wars has changed quite a bit since WWII, the least of which is that it isn't so much nation vs. nation anymore, but more ideology vs. ideology. (Ours is better, by the way.)

Speaking of the troops... The AP reports that troop deaths are at a record high in Iraq. I find it interesting that a few days before that, the AP reported that Iraqi deaths are at a record low. I guess they had to add the second (non)story to keep the record straight, lest you begin to think we were actually winning the war and that conditions in Iraq were steadily improving. Also, you have to read to the end of the first article (after "Meanwhile,") to learn about the recent mass graves that were found. MASS GRAVES! MASS GRAVES! MASS GRAVES OF DEAD MUTILATED BODIES! How many times do I have to say it to get a headline? The Associated Press. Just who are they "associated" with anyway?

So that's my two cents. Sorry, I know you didn't ask for it, but it is Thursday, which can be a tough haul with the weekend just peeking over the distant horizon. I promise you, when the new Mac arrives, I'll be in a much better mood. I'll blog all about it!

...hey, where's everybody going?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Whoops, missed a few days there. I suppose one can expect that, in this The Period of Great Transition in the Ditchman family abode, as I work to move everything over to (your attention please) THE NEW MAC! (applause)

Okay, so it hasn't really been delivered yet.

Spent an extended weekend up in Silicon Valley, staying with some friends and visiting with some extended family after an extended drive. Seems nearly everyone up there works for either Apple or Microsoft, so there was much ado about my new Mac purchase. Seated around the table at the Los Gatos Brewery, half the folks pulled out their iPhones and cued up the Apple website to see what kind of Friends & Family discount I could get, which was awesome. By the end of the weekend, decisions were made, the money spent, and buyer's remorse would kick in -reminding Mrs. Ditchman that there's an actual mortgage to pay for, so here I am back down south, rushing off to deliver the longest single piece of aluminum in American metallurgic history.

I would have mentioned the trip on the blog, but I don't see any reason to alert the OBG (Oceanside Burglars Guild) to our absence, especially while the time is wrong on the alarm system. (It's all caught up now, burglars do not have to arrive an hour early.) Minutes after we arrived home yesterday, there was a knock on the door and LO AND BEHOLD! the Fedex guy was standing there with my new monitor! My heart soared immediately, and then I watched as the delivery man got in his truck and drove away. It was like having a pizza box delivery, pizza to follow. So I sit here, hungry as ever, staring at a blank screen on my desk, next to my crooked and miniscule old screen with the glaring red pixel that will never disappear. It's like looking at a broken digital watch while waiting for a movie to start at the Cinerama. And a thousand other pedestrian metaphors, too, while-u-wait... For example: I know there's a metaphor in here somewhere, I just can't find it.

But it was a nice weekend. Got to see my cousins and their new kids, and a few friends and theirs. The Little Ditchman had the time of her life and it was a joy to watch, as this holiday season unfolds. There are parties and engagements galore for the next few months, so it will be a challenge to blog about. You can only say "Went to ***'s house -had a great time with ***" so many times and in so many different ways. Add that to the fifty jobs I have to do before the end of the year and the calendar runs out of space fairly quick.

Still, life is good. And when the MacPro arrives, life will be digitized and disseminated to the nether environs of the Ditchman Matrix forthwith -accessible by Internet. It will be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ditchman World, alongside the Eastview Water Feature and the piece of aluminum to be delivered moments from now. Why, one can almost hear the rolling up of the cargo bay doors of the Spruce Goose as they load it up at the plant.

P.S. Missed the news over the weekend, but it looks like there's hope for the world after all: "One can be a friend of America, and yet win elections in France."

Friday, November 2, 2007

Friday! No costumes, no candy, no jack-o-lanterns, just the slow, cool haul of November. I like this month, mostly because when you go to flip the calendar you take a look at the days ahead and there's always a couple of days off two-thirds of the way through, a breather before the parade of lights and plastic that is December. I always feel optimistic about November, "I can make it through this month, easy!" It's December that's a killer. Cold and dark, with that Uber-Holiday way down at the end, and you only get a single day off for it. How come not two? Or at least three, for Christmas? And this year, it lands on a Tuesday! Oy.


(Still cracks me up.) But Thanksgiving is nice -no buying gifts, no obligations, just get together and eat. Seems to me we should have Thanksgiving after Christmas, so everyone on the receiving end would have something to be thankful for. For that matter, all these holidays need some re-structuring: Christmas should always be on a Sunday. Like Easter. And speaking of Easter, let's just call it on the first Sunday in April and be done with it, dig? 4th of July, Labor Day, and Memorial Day stay -they work good where they are, though it'd be helpful to have the 4th on a Saturday every year because even though the fireworks always start at dark, you're still stuck in traffic on the way home worrying about work the next day. Veterans Day is always lost in the shuffle and it makes me sad. Can we replace Labor Day with Veterans Day -as Labor Day is a communist holiday anyway- and then hold Election Day on Veterans Day, because that's what they died for! Dennis Prager says we should abolish Presidents Day. I say we abolish Fat Tuesday until Ash Wednesday gets due recognition. St. Patrick's day stays, though it should be on a Friday, but no Oktoberfest? It's never on the calendar. We all know how I feel about Columbus Day, and don't even get me started on Administrative Professionals Day, Grandparents Day, All Canadian & British Holidays, and Earth Day -which is, duh, every day, don't we already have Arbor Day?

And then there's the issue of Daylight Savings Time. Lord, can we just leave the clock alone like the sane people in Arizona and Hawaii do? And, look. the date to change the clocks is wrong on my printed calendar here! Okay, DST is a complex issue -so complex, in fact, that more energy is wasted dealing with it than is saved instituting it. Half the clocks in my house changed themselves a couple of weeks ago, and I'm just waiting until this weekend for it all to catch up. Among the problem timepieces was Mrs. Ditchman's PC, incidentally. I think the thing was built in 1985, so it figures. (This old Mac is okay, for now.) The time changed automatically a few weeks ago on the house alarm system, too, so all burglars are kindly asked to rob the house an hour earlier so that we can get the Time of Crime correct on the police report.

But we'll survive the "long, dark tunnel of winter". The dark tunnel actually lets up on the first day of winter, when the days start getting longer -also confusing. So we just deal. When you lean back in your desk chair to think about it, there's an awful lot in life that you have no control over and you j u s t l e t g o .

Like Boxing Day. What I want is an American Calendar -Is this too much to ask? I want Ronald Reagan's and Teddy Roosevelt's birthdays on it. And Henry Ford's and Thomas Edison's. And I want to know when all the states were admitted into the union. I want all the federally recognized holidays and all the military remembrance days and I don't mind the Jewish holidays but I've no need for Victoria Day or Mexico's Independence Day or St. Jean Baptiste Day (Quebec), those country's can have their own calendars. And from now on September 11th should be in bold print.

There's a lot of people out there who get all in a lather about the Mayan Calendar being so superior, even though it did nothing to save their race. And then people are mad about the days of the months being off, and the mixture of Roman gods and Norse gods and emperors and Jesus birth year -well, you can have all that, I just want a list of American Days. Don't clutter up the squares with foreign stuff that doesn't pertain to me because I need the space to write: "Sparklett's Delivery" and "Street Cleaner" and "Aquarium Water Change" and "Dinner at your Mom's".

By the way, the Mayan Calendar expires December 21st, 2012, which some say is when the aliens return to whisk us all away to the interstellar zoo, seeing as we're obviously just fermenting here in a big galactic lab. Don't forget to set your clocks back for that one, or you'll miss the ship! (That is, unless we already have, which explains where the Mayans went in the first place.)

And get your hoe ready!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Well, it was much agreed: it was the best Halloween ever! Mrs. Ditchman and I smiled and nodded after the last guest left and the kid finally went to sleep, not without a serious amount of coaxing off the sugar rush and prior Halloween stimulation -spookulation, I'm tempted to say. It was the best Halloween ever mostly because I didn't make it through the work day, and went on home to carve pumpkins. Standing there at the manufacturer yesterday, I watched the clock tick on endlessly as they cut my few little pieces, only to bring them out the wrong length. Yes, monsieur, there is a difference between seven feet and eight feet. There is also a difference between Desert Sand and Mojave Tan, isn't it obvious? Well, sure I can just spray-paint it. I could spray-paint your car and your house, too, but it wouldn't be the same, now would it? By the time I got out of there, it was just too late to haul out to the other end of the earth, install it, and then return before the ghouls came out, so I just went on home. Yessir, such is the benefit of being the boss of me. Mrs. Ditchman just laughed knowingly when I walked in the door -almost made me turn around and keep working, but I'm smarter than that, of course. It's a holiday!

My holiday tasks were as follows: carve pumpkins, set up tiki torches, barbecue the teriyaki drumsticks, roast pumpkin seeds, put on wry-but-mildly-amusing costume, drink pumpkin beer. I'm happy to report that I was 6 for 6 yesterday! Even finished a couple more pumpkin ales in the bonus round!

And Mrs. Ditchman looked hot! (And she looked hot before the pumpkin ales, I assure you.)

And I believe it was the first holiday that the Little Ditchman could live through and appreciate. We weren't sure she would take to the trick-or-treating, but after the first house, she was leading the way. There was something that sounded like "trickortreat" when she would arrive at the door, and then there was always a "dank yoo" and the eager collection of candy bars, which was curious in that she doesn't really understand what candy bars are. Her best buddy, Zac, and his parents joined us -Zac was a dinosaur- and the two nineteen-month-olds were impeccably cute. At one point one of us said, "Bye guys!" and the Little Ditchman picked up on it, so after every house it was "Bye guyz!" -which was awesome. The kids walked until we had to carry them back, and that was trick-or-treating on Eastview Court.

The whole neighborhood came out for it, and kids from surrounding neighborhoods apparated on our street, too. Our cul-de-sac was fairly spirited, so it seemed a safe venue, I guess. Mrs. Ditchman and I were wondering if our neighbors were going to be cool enough to wear costumes and we were enthused by the sight that some of them had. One of the men folk, the beer aficionado of the block, was dressed in his best lederhosen as a Bavarian beer swiller, but I suspect that it wasn't a costume at all. He was walking his two little princesses around and when he turned to go, I noticed a half-finished bottle of suds in the water coozy on his pack. "Part of the costume!" God bless him.

The holidays take on all new meaning when you have a family. It's like a satisfying sequel to the Great Movie of Life -in this go-round, all the old characters are back for more, there's a few new ones, and they do all the same great stuff only with more gusto (and more wisdom) than ever before. In the immortal words of (the ghost of) Tiny Tim, "God bless us, everyone!"

So today, it's back to finishing out the previous day's mess. Today I order the longest single piece of aluminum I've ever ordered. (38 grand aluma-feet. Don't worry, I will have it delivered.) It's been a week of constant movement but going nowhere, like paddling upriver. Hopefully this Thursday will bode well for us, and less water will be flowing over the dam. It's November now, and this year is begging for a close. There's something about odd years not being particularly good or memorable. I'm not sure why that is -my wife was born in an odd year, we were married in an odd year, we bought our home in an odd year, and this year hasn't been entirely loathesome... Perhaps it just lies in stark contrast to the benevolent wonder that is the Even Year. Well, one is coming, folks! Fortify the smile muscles and brace yourself: 2008 is on its way!