Friday, February 29, 2008

Someone out there has a sense of humor and time on their hands.

Well, it's February 29th, which is something of a non-day by regular calendar standards. We move these numbers around the months all the time, but the days always stay the same. It's just Sunday through Saturday, over and over forever. Wouldn't it be great if we had one extra day of the week instead? Once a year we could have Bernsday or a Ferzday or something. I say we do it after the first Tuesday in March. We have a Lermday. And then we just go back to Wednesday. Banks could close or stay open, I don't care. You wouldn't have to go to work. No one would! It's Lermday! The calendar wouldn't miss it! I'd put my flag out!

But we'd all be a day older. That's the space-time continuum for you. It might be worth discussing if everyone was into LOST as I am. It's the only show I care about, since they started airing House on alternate Tuesdays and sometimes Fridays, with episodes from whatever season is handiest. I tried to explain the space-time continuum to my wife, who was either uninterested, unimpressed or both. It's also possible that I didn't know what I was talking about, as the Wikipedia entry on it explains it rather differently. Check it out, if you're bored. Of interest in the article is that Edgar Allan Poe was the first guy to conjure up the topic, which I found curious. Also, there's that fact that atomic clocks slow down on the space shuttle. I'd heard this years ago and found it amazing then as I do now, though I admit that I have no idea what it means.

Nor does anyone else, I wager, that is, outside of Poe. Edgar Allan Poe was quite a character, and an unearthly one altogether. He was found delirious in the streets of Baltimore wearing someone else's clothes and crying out stranger's names right before he mysteriously gave up the ghost. This is basically what happened to a few of the characters in LOST last night. Expect Poe to show up mid-season as one of the original "Others".

I was reading about Edgar Allan Poe recently when I heard that the mystery of the "Poe Toaster" had finally been revealed. It was such a disappointment of a revelation, right up there with the deathbed confessions of that faked Loch Ness pic and the bogus Bigfoot footage. Ah, well. If you missed those stories, they're here, here, and here. And don't even get me started on crop circles, the shroud of Turin, and Piltdown man. It's all too depressing.

I saw Edgar Allan Poe's original dorm room, of all things, when I was visiting the University of Virginia once. They had a sheet of plexiglass in the doorway and you could peer in at the 50 year-old display. I remember there was a taxidermic raven on the antique desk and I thought, such cheese. There was a button you could push for an aged audio recording that recounted Poe's time spent at UV. I remember that it claimed he had "pulled a few boners" during his time in college, which really got a fall-down hearty laugh out of me at the time. Actually, it still makes me chuckle.

I'd always thought a "boner" was a tall-tale, but the dicktionary (sic) says it means a "stupid mistake or blunder", among other things. (I should have known this, since I've been pulling boners all week!) I actually remember my grandfather using the term, which got raised eyebrows out of me and my brother at the time. A little Googling unearths this sweet find from comic book lore...

Now that's just the funniest thing I've seen all month. Oh, what I wouldn't give to read about the "Other Famous All-Time Boners"! (Square #1) Pretty sure that these comics are the genuine article. I take solace in the clear fact that history itself is far more entertaining than any hoax.

Have an excellent weekend. Don't get forced into any boners!

So! They laugh at my boner, will they?! I'll show them! I'll show them how many boners the Joker can make!


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Still feeling fairly puffy today. (And too puffy to post a blog yesterday, evidently.) When I say I feel puffy, I actually mean PUFFY. I wake up feeling as if someone rolled an air compressor to the side of my bed overnight, and then jammed the hose into my mouth and turned the valve FULL ON. You can see it in my face in the morning. The inflated bags under my eyes, the swollen flesh around my cheekbones, and the general all-around subcutaneous padding as If I'd got up in the morning and pulled my skin on over my pajamas. Another side effect is the dry mouth from the hose.

I'm still sick I guess. Illnesses are just a side effect of life, when you think about it -which is kind of a funny thought. Children are a side effect of marriage, which is a side effect of life. Deafness in the part of the Dad is a side effect of the persistent wailing child in the background, which is a side effect of marriage, which is a... you get the idea. Everything is a side effect of something else, I guess. There's a label on the soul: THIS LIFE COULD RESULT IN YOU GETTING SICK AND EVENTUALLY DYING.

I suppose I could be more upbeat about it. But happiness is really only a side effect of itself, and not of circumstance, which is what can make it so hard. Anything that ordinarily I would list as making me happy (gardening, water skiing, beer, etc.) has a downside effect as well (filth, muscle pain, boat repair, expense, headache, etc.) I do believe that you can just choose to be happy, fake it even, and sooner or later find that you actually are happy. It's one of life's anomalies, I guess. Easier for some more than others.

Especially given how puffy you may feel at present. Dennis Prager says we have a moral obligation to be happy, which reminds me of the old Monty Python line, "You are hereby sentenced to be hanged by the neck... until you cheer up!" Yes, he says, A MORAL OBLIGATION! which makes one feel responsible to grin and bear it for the sake of all humanity. Prager says that being happy makes other people happy, and being in a bad mood repels other people just as much as, if not more than, bad breath, body odor, or food in your teeth. I pretty much agree with him.

Of course, people call in all the time with, "Oh, woe is me. I have two kids in jail, my wife is an alcoholic, I lost my job because I'm in chronic pain from a back injury and I'm dehydrated from the diarrhea I get from taking the meds," and Dennis just tells them to find a way to be happy anyway. "You don't have a choice!" he says. And, "You're gonna have to fake it for a while." It's kind of funny, really.

I've always struggled with it, I admit. I have one of those expressionless moonfaces most of the time, with a downturned smile to boot. All my life: "What's wrong?" Me: "Nothing." But often there is, so I've been trying. Especially with the Little Ditchman around. God help her if she ends up like me, dreading the days of work ahead, whining about being puffy -even though she's the one who gave me the cold to begin with.

And with such nice weather!


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I woke up this morning feeling so puffy. And I mean "puffy" and not "Puffy" in reference to last night's airing of the much ballyhooed miniseries of A Raisin in the Sun starring Sean Combs. I guess he's going legit, if only because he's not "Puffy" anymore. (Or "Puff Daddy" or "P. Diddy" or whatever.) I don't see what was wrong with his fine, strong name to begin with. Me, today I'm puffy.

I was sitting here trying to work out the daily conundrum when I paused and told Mrs. Ditchman, "I feel puffy," to which she responded, "You look puffy," which was not encouraging. She said I often look puffy when I'm sick, and I don't think she meant gold chains and thumpthumpthump, yo.

I had to read A Raisin in the Sun back in college and I don't really remember a thing about it except that it was one of those "important" plays about black people, starring black people, produced by black people, and so forth. (Sorry, black people.) I do remember one of my creative writing class discussions in which the word "puffy" was discussed, however. Someone had used "puffy" to describe clouds, as in, "puffy clouds". It was an ordinary phrase, some argued, and that it was over-used. "There are so many ways to describe clouds! and everybody uses 'puffy'!" So I try never to use "puffy" to describe clouds. I think I've mentioned it here before. Anyway, it made such an impression on me that I obsess over the word "puffy" to this day. A Raisin in the Sun, I have no idea about anymore.

Which just goes to show... something. Either my creative writing teacher was really good and my dramatic literature teacher was really lame, or there's just plain something broke in my mind. Probably both, either of which could explain why I never finished that last year of the university.

I thought I knew everything back then, and I've been trying to deflate my puffiness ever since. Anyway, gotta go! There is work. It's a beautiful day! Blue skies! Sunshine! And wispy, white, uh, you know... clouds!


Monday, February 25, 2008

And I didn't think I was going to make it through last week! But I did, albeit barely. I admit it was partially the fault of my own inflated ego that I ended the week draining my sinuses onto enough rolls of toilet paper to... to... wipe clean an elephant in an Ex-lax factory? Oh, I don't know... I just felt that I'd had enough colds in the past six months that I couldn't possibly catch another. And certainly not one teensy, weensy, wittle cold from the toddler in my house. But no. I felt as if I'd been broadsided by a whole school bus full of green-snotted kindergartners on their way to a research study at the CDC.

Came out of nowhere, it did. These things usually come at night where I wake up feeling sniffly and by morning am all scratchy and stuffed, but this one came midday. I had a little sneeze and blew my nose and figured, well, that was the extent of it -it's good to be an adult and not catch these things like the kiddies do every other week! And then WHAM! By the time the sun went down I was rummaging through the medicine cabinets, begging for mercy, pining for a hit of Zicam.

And now I'm not so sure I can make it through this week. Things were a bit put off from the rain of late, which giveth me twice as much work in the coming days -but at least good spring weather is forecast. 72 and sun! (Okay, 68.) There are vexing problems this week that I just don't have the answers to, however. I assume the answers are out there, like cold fusion, life on other planets, bigfoot -but these are answers I have to find! Which is a bummer. It'd be easier if I wasn't sick, but it could be worse. It could always be worse. Sometimes it is worse.

Dove into the NyQuil last night, which I am loathe to do. I'm not sure why exactly I am loathe to do this, but I always try and hold out as long as I can before I start hitting the heavy meds. I figure it's healthier in the long run, and that I might heal faster, though I have nothing to substantiate these notions. It doesn't matter, for I usually end up taking plenty anyway as the misery is so, well, miserable. I was smart enough to buy the NyQuil at Costco about six months ago. "Flu season's coming," I said. "Better stock up!" My wife pushed the cart right on past but I insisted, "No. Seriously." Flu season did come. She was pushing the cart forward because the NyQuil sold at Costco comes in the super-multi-jumbo-case. I swear, it may as well come in a liter bottle with a shot glass on top stacked up on pallets next to the Captain Morgan, if they're going to do it like that at all.

Anyway, it worked a little, but the stuff doesn't have the kick to it like it used to since they took the pseudoephedrine out of it. Anyone notice this besides me? They replaced it with something called "phenylephrine" which some studies say is as good for a cold as cat food and dandelion petals. I guess you can still get "NyQuil D", which is the old stuff, but not at Costco. Stores keep it behind the counter with the rest of the Sudafed so that the kids aren't buying it for the meth labs in their stepdad's darkroom. Dumb kids. What? NyQuil D not strong enough for you?

So I stocked up at Costco way back when because I hate going to the store when I'm sick to buy medicine. It's the fluorescent lights. (They clog up my sinuses when I'm not sick, for crying out loud -which is why I have a career outdoors.) I'm finally at the age where I have accepted the fact that I'm going to get sick again. When you're young, you never think about getting sick, (which I guess is part of the reason why you'd do meth) but at some point, sooner or later, you get sick and you can't remember what it was like to be healthy. That's when you think, man, if I ever get healthy, I don't ever want to be sick again. I know, I know, it sounds deppressing but... we're all gonna get sick again, dammit. And it'll suck.


Friday, February 22, 2008

"Bad seed is a robbery of the worst kind: for your pocket-book not only suffers by it, but your preparations are lost and a season passes away unimproved." -George Washington

I planted some bad seed in my garden about a month ago. I shouldn't have, I know, because Washington is right. It is backbreaking labor to till the soil, turn and amend it, and then to pray fervently for rain and lastly -here is the worst part- wait. You wait. It is a full pleasure to finally see the tiny shoots peering from the ground. You have done some, God himself has done the rest, but with bad seed, all is wasted and you wait forever.

Washington knew this as a farmer, and he would know that after that first month of waiting for the germination, things really start to move. After the initial shoot, there is the first set of two leaves, and then four, and then one day you will turn your back and the plant will burst forth with life. It is the same with the fruit: first one, then two, then ten, then a hundred, and the work turns suddenly to preserving the goods, as you have more than you can eat.

Washington: "Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth."

He believed wholeheartedly in the young constitution and dedicated his life to preserving it. And so much did he envision the success of the young country, that he was once quoted as boldly saying: "Some day, following the example of the United States of America, there will be a United States of Europe."

When I think about George Washington, the first thing that comes into my head is a question my dad asked me when I was in about the 5th grade: "Do you know what George Washington did for a living?" I did know. He was a surveyor. I remember my dad being particularly impressed that I knew this, but it was just by chance that it had been mentioned in class that day. George Washington came alive for me when I had heard it. My father was a surveyor, too.

It takes a certain kind of person to be one, actually. You have to have a love for the outdoors, an exacting mind with respect for numbers, a keen sense of direction, and also: good penmanship. I remember my dad in his boots, with his theodolite on his shoulder, making his way across a field, noting every tree and boulder. And then my dad in his office, with his maps and his calculators, his rulers and his insufferable attention to detail. My dad would show me the maps of various subdivisions and they looked like nonsense to me, just plain bad Spirograph, but he explained it as legal mathematics. I picture Washington somewhat similarly.

Washington gained a reputation as a surveyor who was fair, honest, and dependable. This was no small feat. Imagine mapping out rough country with no roads, no vehicles, with wealthy landowners breathing down your neck, not to mention Indians. It would be easy to cut corners on say, some hillside thicket. Evidently he didn't. To be a surveyor was akin to being a judge in those times, when property was everything, and the lines that divided them akin to lines on a check register. Landowners relied on them. Unreliable ones would be run out of town.

Washington became a wealthy landowner himself, eventually, and had many slaves as was the manner of the day. This kept Liberty on his mind, I figure. At the time of his death there were over 300 slaves at Mount Vernon. Slavery was a touchy subject and so he never brought it up publicly, but in his personal letters he wrote: "I can only say that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of slavery." He wished to sell them all, but was legally bound to keep them as many came from the dowry of his wife. These intermingled with his own through the years, and as a result there were many slave families that Washington refused to break up. Washington would be the only prominent Founding Father to free his own slaves, which he had demanded in his will to be done upon his death.

And he was a warrior.

His knowledge of the land from his surveying was of great benefit to battle strategy, as was the discipline gained from his profession. "Discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak, and esteem to all," he wrote. He fought in two wars, and was witness to the blood of the thousands of men that poured on the soil that would become America. Considering that, at the time, it was little more than a dream that they were fighting for, he must have been a man of immense faith.

There is argument and debate as to whether Washington was a Christian, but I suspect this is a fact that resides only between the man and God himself, as it does for all of us. He was baptized into the Church of England and even served on the lay council of the local church at one point in his life. There is no doubt religion was an important part of the man, as he claimed:

"It is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible."


"Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."

But one thing is curious. He was known to have regularly received the sacrament before the revolution, but in his church attendance after the war it was noted by some that he would leave the service before Communion was offered. It was common in the day that, prior to communion, believers would be admonished to take stock of their spiritual lives and asked not to participate in the ceremony unless they found themselves in the Will of God. I imagine many Christians can identify with the moment in church when the sacrament comes around and you just feel unworthy. I've been there, and I suppose that for Washington, after years of nothing less than brutal bloodshed, the forgiveness of the Lord would be a challenge. Later in life, Washington would cease attending church on Communion Sundays altogether.

It follows that he believed man to be a flawed creature, an utterly biblical notion.

"Mankind, when left to themselves, are unfit for their own government."

He was not one to pass judgement on religion. When hiring workmen for Mount Vernon, he wrote to his agent, "If they be good workmen, they may be from Asia, Africa, or Europe; they may be Mohammedans, Jews, or Christians of any sect, or they may be Atheists." And in 1790, he wrote a response to a letter from a synagogue that he was more concerned about them being good citizens than what manner of faith they had. The Jewish community had finally found a place in the world where they were both welcomed and free from intense prejudice. The Jewish nation has been an ally in democracy ever since.

There are all manner of stories and exploits, quotes and myths, regarding this man who happened to never sign the Declaration of Independence, but was the only president ever elected unanimously by the electoral college. Only one state is named after any American: Washington, and there is, of course, the nation's capital. He was called the "Father of Our Country" more than twenty years before his death. He is considered by many scholars to be our best president, and to have our best president as our first president, is Providence indeed.

After American independence was bravely fought and won, King George III asked an American, “What will George Washington do now?” He was told: “I expect he will go back to his farm.” The King replied: “If he does that, he will be the greatest man on earth.”

To the astonishment of all, this is what Washington did.

It's not too difficult to imagine, really. I had the good fortune to visit Mt. Vernon, and I can attest that it is a beautiful and serene place. Upon his death, Washington refused to lie in state beneath the cold capitol dome, where a crypt was built for him. Had he done this, the capitol of our nation would have become a mausoleum, and Washington something akin to a pharaoh -a dead god-king worshipped in his immortal pyramid. Instead, the man wished to be buried at home on his farm. Identifying himself in his will, he wrote merely: "George Washington, of Mount Vernon, a citizen of the United States." The United States; a place that didn't exist for most of his life, but exists today thanks to him. And to see the capitol dome today, one thinks not of any king nor conqueror, of president nor political party, but of the greatness of the United States of America itself.

Though he was revered and though he was noble, though he was bigger than life -tall, strong, with a full head of hair (contrary to myth he never wore a wig) he was able to stand down after the presidency with his dignity utterly intact, setting a precedent of extraordinary character. Even Napoleon recognized it on his deathbed when he moaned, "They wanted me to be another Washington," but powerful conqueror that he was, ambition was his foil. This was Washington's greatest achievement: to shed his ambition entirely.

Congressman Henry Lee, in his famous eulogy of the president, wrote:

"First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in humble and enduring scenes of private life. Pious, just, humane, temperate, and sincere; uniform, dignified, and commanding; his example was as edifying to all around him as were the effects of that example lasting… Correct throughout, vice shuddered in his presence and virtue always felt his fostering hand. The purity of his private character gave effulgence to his public virtues… Such was the man for whom our nation mourns."

February 22, 1732: George Washington's birthday.

Many hard-working men tilled the New World.
George Washington was the good seed.
God did the rest.

Status of flag: Out.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Lunar eclipse! The clouds parted just in time for it, and you could see it straight out the window above my foyer, from the stairs. Sorry if you missed it: the next one won't be until December 20, 2010. I'll be forty.

That's the star Regulus, of the constellation Leo, on top, (can't you tell by its bluish hue?) and then Saturn itself in the lower left. Sorry you can't make out the rings. My Cannon PowerShot A85 only has so much power, evidently. I took a number of not-so-powerful shots on a little tripod out on the grass. This one was a 14 second exposure, which is a little too long for a good space photo, as the movement of the heavenly bodies themselves create a blur. A better lens and I might have captured an excellent shot of the Sea of Tranquility bathed in the orangish shadow of the earth, but alas. If I start another hobby right now, say, Astronomical Photography, Mrs. Ditchman will kill me. (She won't settle on the casual eye-roll that I can usually get away with.)

I am sure you're wondering, from whence does he gather such wisdom? Why, from the Starry Night widget on my computer screen, of course! It's a cool little thing. Free for the Mac (and even the iPhone!), but not sure about the PC. (One may have to shell out some cash for it.) Anyway, you just type in your zip code and which way you're facing and voila, all the stars in the sky are named. It's neat! The widget actually figures your time of day and shows you a picture of the exact sky you're currently looking at, only with labels. It's just the kind of thing the Internet was designed for. It even has a scrolling news bar at the bottom of the widget that reads out all current space-related news, which no decent, self-respecting star-worshipper can live without.

And yes, we shot it out of the sky. No, not the moon, the hydrazine-filled school bus that was in a descending orbit. Excellent work, men! I'm glad they did it, if only because we have the technology, but also because I just fertilized my lawn and the last thing I need is hydrazine overspray mucking it up. I had all manner of things to say about it, but as usual I was beat to the punch by Lileks, Overlord of the Blogosphere, who was piquant enough to be linked from here, two days in a row. Well done, Lileks. Serves me right for posting in the morning. Clearly, I'd never make it in the news reporting industries. (But he didn't get a picture of the eclipse!)

If you're interested in the more spectacular Total Solar Eclipse, there's one coming on August 1st this year. Go ahead and book your flight to Mongolia now.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

It's raining out. Is it going to stop? Or is it going to get worse? Is it raining at the job site? These are questions that really press me right now. If I decide to forgo showing up at the job site this morning, it is almost certain to clear up -right about in the middle of whatever project I take on in the office. On the other hand, if I do go to the job site, it is certain to begin a real full-fledged, unremitting downpour like we had last week, but it will only ensue after I unpack the tools. It's a game I play with myself, really. I'd much rather just sit here at my desk with my feet up and drink coffee, checking weather reports. And my Seattle friends would laugh, "That's not rain! That's a life-affirming drizzle!"

And rain is scheduled for every other day this week, which just messes with my mind -for whatever I start today, I won't be able to finish tomorrow, or vice-versa. And then there's the city officials I have to contend with. You see, I've got a job this week where I have to dig a few holes, and then the inspector has to come out twenty-four hours later and confirm that they are, in fact, proper holes. And then I have to get the holes filled with concrete. Also, the inspector will not come every other Friday. Today is Wednesday. Rain is scheduled for today, Friday, Sunday... see my problem?

Ah well, it's Southern California. Really the best place in the world to live, even if your property is worth $10,000 less than last month.

I usually avoid mentioning politics. I bring it up and all manner of typable blathering emits from the keyboard, and why take that risk when YouTube is only a -click- away? But this Obamamania is really striking. I mean, yes, wow, his speeches are good. They're inspiring! Change! But where is the there? It's astonishing, really, that he's able to sustain the hype for so long without getting into any specifics, but that's what good politicians do, I guess. Voting records show him to be among the furthest left politicians in the Senate, and interestingly, McCain has one of the most conservative voting records, and yet so many republicans are decrying him as "liberal!" Acchh, politicians... Anyway, I only brought it up because I thought Lileks was pretty funny on it today. (Half way down the page.)

Change? Yes, of course. That's what an election is, change.

"Politicians are like diapers. They both need changing regularly and for the same reason."

FYI it's still raining (drizzling) out. But I guess I'm not the only one who can't get things done today as a result of bad weather.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Yesterday was "Presidents Day", or "Presidents' Day", or even "President's Day" if you celebrate only George Washington's Birthday, which is Friday. Anyway, I looked all this up and have concluded what I originally suspected -this is a dumb day. 50 years ago every schoolkid in America could tell you when George Washington's birthday is, and Lincoln's too, but today we're all hard-pressed as to which president the day is all about, which is why it's a dumb day. I believe we should commemorate George Washington's birthday, and Lincoln's as well, but to glom them all together onto the third Monday of a month serves only to diminish the rich history of our nation, and from one generation to the next, we forget. This will only end badly.

And, yes, I admit it only all occurred to me as I was checking the mail. There was no mail. It was Presidents Day. I didn't put my flag out.

But I will put it out on Friday and I did put it out last Tuesday. I imagine my neighbors peer out their windows and think, There goes that Ditchman guy again. What country does he live in, anyway? And the customer that I have right now, when he heard I was planning on working Presidents Day, gave me some lip about it. He's a vet, so he's entitled. I shut up. I didn't mention I'd celebrated Lincoln's birthday last week on the actual day by writing an essay on the man, the American hero, and then posted it in a public forum. Best not to argue with the vets. They've been through enough, I gather. God bless 'em.

Finally watched Serenity, and there was much rejoicing. I would've viewed it sooner, but wanted to savor it at full volume, and had to wait for the moment to present itself. I'm glad I did! I'm also glad I'd seen the Firefly series first, as the film really pulled it all together in the end. I didn't think it was possible, really, but good storytellers know what they're doing, and generally should be trusted.

At first, I was hoping for a bit more production value, but knowing the story of Firefly -failed television series that somehow made it to the big screen- I was thankful to get anything at all. I noticed straight away that there were a lot more shadows in the film than I'm used to in the series, but such is the technique indulged when budget limitations abound. Still, it was a generously sweet flick and I have little more than this high praise to offer: A very satisfying movie.

Not for everyone, however. If you don't like snappy dialogue, overwritten archetypes, and crossover genre, you probably won't go for it. But hey, if you like guns and spaceships, one-liners, and good guys vs. bad guys stuff, and some easy-on-the-eyes ladies -you might just go for it. Also: no nudity, and no bad words. See Hollywood? It is possible! Now get back to work and figure it out. The strike is over. It cost the local L.A. economy over 3 billion dollars, I heard. Shall I persist in denigrating the whiny, overpaid scribblers of Tinseltown? I think not. As I mentioned, Firefly was canceled in its prime, so that's what talent will get you. Studio heads and producers can be blamed as well.

The blog will descend into a lawless source of diminishing returns, if I continue down that path. I'm trying to stay upbeat here. Positively! But currently the house is a hollow place, with my peoples out of town and only my lonely self echoing down the hall. Might as well get to work, this grey day. There's nothing for me here.


Monday, February 18, 2008

I've got another few days of this getting up early and going to work stuff. It's for the birds, man! Or, well, it would be for the birds if I worked in a seed factory. I don't, but it's still for the birds. (When you have your own business, you set your own hours but you end up working holidays. Go figure. I'm not the boss of me! Oh wait... yes, I am.)


The Weekend. Didn't get nearly as much accomplished as originally intended, as usual, though the weather was a picture of perfection -which often has something to do with it. Went out and ran around the field near my house, and climbed all the boulders. Yes, there are boulders in the vicinity of my house and I climb them from time to time. It's gratifying in the way that only local suburban boulder-climbing can be. I hope that they are never replaced by a housing development. Later, I was able to beg off church and drag Mrs. Ditchman out back to work in the garden, and she's been complaining about her sore back all morning. Welcome to my world, sweetheart.

Valentine's Day. It was swell, though all semblance of romance ever enjoyed previously is now burgled by small children (one, in particular.) Valentine's Day was the first time I said "I love you" to my significant other, and we have enjoyed King crab, Cabernet, and chocolate-covered strawberries ever since, although she would tell the story and it would sound somewhat different: how she was planning on breaking up with me and I only told her "I love you" out of desperation. In any case, it worked. Now we have a business and a house and a child and a Life together, and Valentine's day is hardly savored -unless you count snuggling on the couch and trying to stay awake for an episode of LOST.

LOST. It's getting better. We're finally figuring how Ben is getting his retribution for being beat up in every episode. And another one of the Oceanic 6 is revealed, as if we hadn't figured it out on our own. I'm glad they finally worked in the Ghostbusters references, as it fits like a glove with all the Star Wars references. I'm waiting for Doc Brown and Marty McFly to pop out of the space-time coptinuum, and in this show, it is entirely possible. The 80s Sci-fi trifecta is now in play.

AppleTV System Update. The long-awaited system update arrived on AppleTV with a hearty yawn. It's the same screensaver (how could they possibly improve on it?) but an all new interface. I can now purchase tunes and rent HD movies and TV shows from the luxury of my faded red couch at home. To test it out, I picked up the new Jack Johnson album and an episode of Little Einsteins -much to the soaring, squealing delight of the Little Ditchman. AppleTV seems to be a little quicker on the click now, which is nice, but all my own music, photos, and movies seem to have been relegated to the bottom of the list and the thing feels more like a Tower Records in my living room -which I do not desire and did not request. And still, the pop geniuses over at Mac have not made a category for Home Movies on the system, which is what I use it for. I have to click into the "TV Shows" folder to watch my own family, which depresses me. Hard as I try, I do not wish the Ditchmans to fall on the same viewing list as the Simpsons or those ugly Married With Children folk, et al. Get it together, Steve! Get a life! Where do your assistants show you your home movies? (In your actual, full-sized, THX-endowed Home Theater, I imagine.)

Sleep Through The Static, the new Jack Johnson album. Meh. Not good, not bad. Sounds like Jack Johnson. Like that sound and you'll like this album. It's obvious the waves were good the day he recorded it, but the studio was already rented and paid for so he had to go. We'll try not to sleep through it, Jack. I'll give it a chance to grow on me like I try to do with everything, everyone.

Pirates Treasure, the Little Einsteins episode I purchased. Artist: Paul Gaugin. Composer: Georges Bizet. Location visited: The Pacific Ocean. A good one! We've had the little read-along book of Pirates Treasure for some time, so when the Little Ditchman saw the episode, she was pleasantly surprised at how familiar everything was. We put her in bed last night and she wanted the book. I said "Pirates Treasure?" and she replied, "Arrrrgh." No, I am not kidding. She's not even two and already talking like a pirate. Raised eyebrows all around. Where's my bottle of grog?

Yo ho ho and off to work!


Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Saturday Morning post! Well, big deal. Evidently, I missed a few days there, which I don't believe has happened since I was in Hawaii running a marathon in the rain (that is, last month's marathon in the rain.) It's too bad, too, as I had all manner of sense and nonsense to report...

I like to ease into my mornings, lest I tire myself out too soon before the day is out. I get up, have some coffee with the family, catch some Zoboomafoo or Curious George, maybe a little Sunrise Earth, and then I'll get a run in, post to the blog while the other Ditchmans are at Jazzercise, get a little office work done, and head out after the traffic starts moving again. That's my typical routine, which makes me happy. It's a great life. Especially the part where I come home and have a beer and tickle the kid.

This week we had a good customer, ex-military, who demanded I show up early. All these ex-military types, getting up and getting to work before dawn, I can't argue with them -so the routine was out the window for a while. Not that I'm blaming the military, mind you, (if they sleep, the enemy arrives at night!) there were other, extenuating circumstances.

I had to cut some concrete and pour a few footings, and though we are the Ditchmans, I'm trying to put my ditch-digging behind me, so I hired Jose. Jose is my neighbor and our daughters are just about best friends. He's an American, if you're curious, and specializes in all things hard: concrete, rock, stone, pavement, etc. Jose gets started early; a crack-of-dawn type, who leans out the door at 4:30AM to check for rain. He's a good man, too. They all brought me up to their level. I would bring them down to my level, and they would appreciate it and perhaps get more joy out of life, but they would be dragged kicking and screaming, and who wants to hear that at five AM? Besides, this week's early morning noise was scheduled to be the concrete cutter. If you hear that screeching chalkboard sound rattling you out of bed and shattering your fillings, blame Jose. I wanted to start later.

And then it rained, which screws up everything, of course. And it was a cold, hard unexpected rain that felt like the gods had taken a sack of pennies out of the icebox and were pelting you with them for sport. Trees were being felled and glass was breaking all around us in this sudden storm. Jose and his men labored merrily through it all. I fumbled high and out of the way on another part of the project. I won't bore you with it, but it involved magnets.

No one knew the storm was coming! All the forecasters: "Surprise storm!" which just goes to confirm that they do all their meteorological research out at the track with a band of chimps. I'd been checking the weather all week, and there was nothing on the map. And then it slams the southland and there's snow and sleet everywhere. It's beautiful, now, and I see snow-capped peaks from my office window. It feels as if we live at the foot of the Sierras, which is nice, and I'll spend some of today outside with the Little Ditchman, digging some ditches of our own in the backyard, hoping for a sunset the likes of which we had the other day after the storm. All the realm of digital photography swoons:

And at night: croaking frogs!

My apologies to all those people with whom I have favors to address. Ever had one of those days where you get home for work and check yourself in the mirror and see the sleep still in your eyes? Happened to me the other day. (Why didn't anyone tell me?) I believe there's been only one day so far this year that was unencumbered by work or some sort of unmissable social event. I suppose we've been toiling overtime to make up for the calamities at the end of the year last. Anyway, I'll get right on it, and then Mrs. Ditchman will head off to work and hand me the little one who bleats, "Color with Daddy! Color with Daddy!" Life is swell. This year: no more favors. I just can't handle the pressure and I've got too much coloring to do.

(The view from our suburbs.)


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The most photographed man in America when this, the last photograph of Lincoln, was taken April 10th, 1865.

Four days later he would be shot in the back of the head at point blank range, with his wife sitting beside him, while they were laughing. The murderer chose the funniest line in the play, hoping the laughter would muffle the sound of the gunshot. You can imagine the scene, with the First Lady screaming in horror, Major Henry Rathbone grappling with the attacker before being knifed, and the audience finishing the laughter, looking up toward the commotion. The round slug lodged six inches inside the president's brain. His wife held him as he bled and slipped into a coma, dying nine hours later, across the street.

This is my favorite photo of Lincoln, with that satisfied smile that replaces the dour look in so many of the other photos of him. He had reason to smile: the Civil War had been ended and won, but he also had reason to be dour. It was a brutal war, with 3 percent of the population of the country dying as a result. In the South, it killed one in five males. To be a leader in wartime presents challenges few men face and could handle courageously, but a war such as this is unimaginable in this day and age.

Abraham Lincoln is known for freeing the slaves, of course, but his principle intent was to hold the country together. He was quoted as saying:

"I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be 'the Union as it was.' My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that."

He would do both. After he signed the Emancipation Proclamation to free the slaves, he said:

"I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper."

And in a letter to a friend wrote:

"If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong."

America today is often known for its history of slavery, but it is America that fought and died to free slaves. America led the world in ending slavery, where no country would. I expect Lincoln knew this, and he knew that if the Union could not be saved, there would be little hope of ever ending slavery, among other things, which is why he put saving the country ahead of ending slavery. It would be repeated over the next 150 years, that America would shed its blood for what is noble and right, and in this case, at the dangerous cost of risking the whole Union. Lincoln was a man who had his principles lined up in order of importance.

He kept the country together in its darkest hour, and getting people to work together was one of the things Lincoln did best. He was famous for hiring his opponents on in cabinet positions, so they could argue it out in his company and be forced to cooperate -instead of taking potshots from afar. I believe he had a secret to this success, and it was grace. His last official act as president was signing a pardon for a man who had thrice been convicted of espionage for the Confederates and was sentenced to die. That was Lincoln's intent for the South: forgiveness. Once, when a general asked Lincoln how the defeated Confederates should be treated, Lincoln replied, "Let 'em up easy." He signed the pardon, and it made him late for the play.

Lincoln and the First Lady went in to the booth at the theater and, though the play was paused to announce the president's arrival, the crowd cheered and applauded. They sat next to Major Henry Rathbone and his fiance, Clara Harris, who were the only people to accept the Lincoln's invitation. As the play went on, Mrs. Lincoln snuggled up to her husband and they held hands. She whispered, "What will Miss Harris think of my hanging on to you so?" The president replied, "She won't think anything about it." Those were his last words.

It's surprising to see Lincoln smiling at all in that photo. On the day of his assassination, Lincoln had told his wife that they must be more cheerful, as "between the war and the loss of our darling Willie, we have both been very miserable."

In February, 1862, two of the four Lincoln boys became ill with typhoid fever, possibly from drinking polluted water in the White House. While Tad recovered, Willie gradually declined, and died a few weeks later at age 11. His death devastated his parents. Lincoln was especially fond of Willie, who he felt had a mind like his own. Those who knew the boy considered him intelligent, generous, and kind-hearted. He also had a mischievous streak, which Lincoln was known to have encouraged. During Lincoln's train ride to Washington in February of 1861, Willie would ask visitors, "Do you want to see Old Abe?" and point to someone else.

After Willie's death, Mary Lincoln could not bring herself to attend his funeral, remained bedridden for three weeks, and would not emerge in public for months afterwards. Lincoln, who had stayed at Willie's side through his illness, shut himself in his bedroom in the White House after his son's funeral to weep. He often had dreams of spending time with his son and he never fully recovered from the loss. He was so distraught over Willie dying, that he had Willie's coffin exhumed twice so he could look at and hold him again.

Lincoln was no stranger to loss and heartache. Willie had been born about ten months after his brother Eddie died on February 1, 1850 at the age of 3.

And Lincoln knew failure. Back in 1832, at the start of his career, Abraham Lincoln lost his job and was defeated for the Illinois state legislature. The following year, his business failed. When he was finally elected to the state legislature, his first sweetheart died and he had a nervous breakdown. He was then defeated for the position of House Speaker and then ran for Congress, but lost again. He was elected the second time he ran, but then lost the renomination. He ran for U.S. Senate after that, but lost, and then even lost a second time when he ran for Senate again four years later.

He is considered by many historians to be our greatest president. He was born on this day, 199 years ago. I put the flag out.

"I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me."


Monday, February 11, 2008

Goodbye friends! Seems it's been people and parties in and out around the house this past week. Fine with me! People over is always a good excuse to drink the better wine and blow off worrying about things for a time. Then they leave and we go back to work with a heavy "where was I?" Life's no good and hardly worth living if the work isn't balanced out with family and friends and all the other fine things. Then, as if we needed more partying around here (we do, of course) we spent the remainder of the weekend at a two-year-old's birthday party at a local park. Good weather for it.

The highlight was HULLABALOO, a local kids' band that has all the moms a-buzzing. It's a couple of guys on guitar and rhythm and they just show up and play music. Nothing to it! But I've been listening to their first album N O N S T O P for the past few months and the Little Ditchman just digs it. The album's called "Twenty Songs Every Kid Should Know" and it is, well, 20 songs every kid should know. Begins with Yankee Doodle and moves all the way through She'll Be Comin' 'Round the Mountain and closes with Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. When my wife first played it I shuddered, Lord, we're going to be listening to this until our taste in music turns to gruel and we can't hear ourselves think but after a few listens I realized how wrong I was. The thing is, the guys' musical ability is a folksy, humble, get-out-of-the-way-so-the-music-can-get-through style that mixes a bit of country and folk rock that really sounds good. There's a reason why all these songs have been around for a hundred and fifty years, and Hullabaloo is likely to lend Americana to another generation. These are catchy, simple melodies that tell the story of our country in a homespun, Main Street sort of way, and when they're sung properly by someone who knows how to play an instrument (as opposed to an overstuffed, felt dinosaur plunking a chordless synthesizer) they're good. I heard my daughter singing When the Saints Go Marching In and it brought a tear to my eye. (It's a classic spiritual!) So Hullabaloo knows how to do it and get this: you can understand every word they're singing.

Their website is here, if you're interested, and they're also on iTunes. They have a few of their own tunes, too. One of them is called "Blah, blah, blah" which tells the story of what it's like to be a kid, where the kids hear the parents talking and laughing in the living room and all they hear is, well, blah blah blah. In the end of the song the kid goes and tells his dog, who only hears -yes, right- blah blah blah. They nail it with that one. It's catchy. Give the guys .99 cents and get it off iTunes. Support your local artists.

Not everyone likes it. One review on iTunes reads:

"r u serious? by hoested tonight -what was this guy thinking when he made this album...or what drug was he on. i'll give it a negative 2 stars. i think babies and children would be pissed if there parents made them listen to this guy" (sic)

Now there's a guy who's never heard of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band! I was in the French Quarter years ago and stood outside the Preservation Hall one night. It was real music. Music that sung to eternity, with Heaven itself smiling and nodding, and the angels tapping their feet.
Tap along. (I suggest track 10.)

You're dumb and wrong if you don't think music is a significant part of American culture and one of our greatest contributions to the world. There's a lot of good stuff out there, but let's keep the old good stuff alive, lest we forget how to make it entirely.

Thanks Hullabaloo.


Friday, February 8, 2008

It is Friday, heralded by Thursday, and scheduled for today as it's been duly noted on the calendar for some time now. Knew it was coming, I remember it from seven days ago, but I just lost track of the order of days, I guess. Something about my muscles and joints being in an arthritic fog all week. Time moves ever onward. Just try and stop it.

See this?

Yesterday was spent tearing it off the world and sending it to rot at the bottom of the landfill. It weighed 2180 pounds. I just backed up the trailer and loaded her in. Sometimes the world is made prettier through simple removal of ugliness. You don't have to be a beautician. You could be a Waste Transfer Specialist.

So that's where I was yesterday. The day before that was spent meeting a few new customers and signing contracts. These two were interesting, friendly folks: in their sixties, third marriage, with an eye for gardening and colorful walls. They were both pleased, more or less, to meet me. In this business, it's important to have both the husband and wife present at these things. The salesman sells the wife on the remodel, and she loves you for it. Then she tells her husband and sells him on it, through various coital exchanges and whatnot, I imagine. Then the contractor shows up and informs everyone on how it's going to be, with the bottom line and so forth. This is usually met with a certain amount of unwelcome consternation and a bowl of back-and-forth. In Ditchman Family Construction we're beginning to insist that both the husband and the wife be present at the meetings, lest we drag out the job in committee to the End of Days. The wife is usually swayed and convinced fairly easily -she knows what she wants- but it's the husband who has veto power, so any ideas he has must be met with patience, interest, and optimism, before being discarded entirely. At one point, he pulled out his watch and said, "I've got to get back to work. Look honey, whatever makes you happy. You sign it." I've seen it a thousand times.

Anyway, he had a nice watch. It was an old Elgin pocketwatch and I commented on it. Suddenly, he wasn't late for work anymore. He told me all about the thing, and the history of Elgin, America's contribution to timepieces, the superiority of their accuracy compared to the Swiss, etc. The wife rolled her eyes. I asked him how much he knew about old pocketwatches and he stopped and looked at me with a face that said plainly, I'm an expert. I believed him. When I told him that I had an old Elgin that I had inherited from my grandfather and that it still worked, he began to interrogate me on the subject as if there was nothing left of interest in the world. I hemmed and hawed, not knowing the whole story on it. Soon, he exhausted my limited knowledge on my own timepiece and, mildly exasperated, mentioned that I should bring it by. "Wind it once a day and check the time. You may be surprised." He was off.

Later, after the contract was signed, the wife was showing me the recent bathroom remodel and we passed through a room in the house that had literally hundreds of pocket watches on shelves, dressers, the desk. It was an impressive display and I stopped to look. She said, "Oh yeah, that's the price I pay, but I know every husband has his thing. It makes him happy." And she gave me the familiar look that I see on my own wife's face when I'm messing with the aquarium or typing this blog. She added, "And I have my own things... Check out this bathtub!"

On the way out I paused to look again, and noticed something interesting: they were all ticking. I pictured the husband getting up from bed every morning and walking over to his collection and diligently, carefully, winding each beloved little antique. The daily regimen. A patient, relaxing fixation that could not be neglected. I pictured his wife getting up and walking past him, running the water in the bath, and not noticing the gentle, rhythmic tiktiktiktiktiktik of a thousand timepieces. The passing of time itself, and the sweet-tempered sounds of aged, tolerant spouses, making each other happy.


Wednesday, February 6, 2008


I left the flag out this morning in honor of Ronald Reagan's birthday, He would have been 97 today. I've been reading a bit about him lately and found it inspiring, and I wanted to write something here but haven't the time to go into all the interesting (and funny) anecdotes and quotes there are -they fill whole books! Reagan lived quite a life, and quite a full one at that. Whatever you think of him or his policies, it is impossible to deny the images you get in your head when you think of the man: his optimistic smile, the flag. No one denies that he easily embodied the American spirit. (Can't you just see that glowing smile in your head?)

His first job was as a lifeguard at age fifteen. He would notch a log near the lifeguard stand for every life he saved, and he boasted 77 notches. If there was a notch for every life saved as a result of his undeniable contribution to ending the Cold War, it would be in the millions. If you consider for a moment that many people felt that the Cold War would end only in nuclear annihilation, well, that's one big notch for the Human Race.

If you're my age, Reagan was the man you grew up with on the TV, the man your parents talked about. Back then I knew nothing about him, having paid little attention to the world beyond me. After his presidency, he spoke to a packed house at USC. I was a student at the time and had a campus job working for Media Services. I set up the man's microphone, and was instructed to give him the best one, which we kept in a leather case in a special cabinet. I left before the Gipper took the podium and spoke, and have regretted it ever since.

He had a successful career in Hollywood, as everyone knows, and though he was belittled for it in politics, I believe it was exactly that career experience that prepared him for the presidency. His ability to tell a good story and explain a concept clearly and succinctly came out of his work as an actor, and earned him the nickname "The Great Communicator".

Who knows why someone leaves a lucrative career to enter public service. Evidently, it ruined his first marriage to actress Jane Wyman. They were married in the same little chapel as my own parents, had a child, suffered the loss of their second at birth, and then adopted one. After arguments over Reagan's political ambitions, he and Jane divorced -making him the only president with an ex-wife.

He went on to be the governor of California for eight years and was among the last of the American politicians that saw World War 2 and the Cold War firsthand, (which, in my mind, is the most profound argument in favor of electing McCain) and he was just the man to put it all behind us. A former democrat, he would be branded a "flip-flopper" in today's political climate, but it was he who famously claimed, "I didn't leave the Democratic Party. The party left me."

In 1964, before he became governor and while he was campaigning for Goldwater, there was The Speech, as it is often referred to. It's the speech that launched his political career, and the words defined him. Read the speech. If you have any questions as to what Reagan would be doing in Iraq or in the war on the Jihadists, here's a quote:

There can be no real peace while one American is dying someplace in the world for the rest of us. We are at war with the most dangerous enemy that has ever faced mankind in his long climb from the swamp to the stars, and it has been said if we lose that war, and in so doing lose this way of freedom of ours, history will record with the greatest astonishment that those who had the most to lose did the least to prevent its happening. Well, I think it's time we ask ourselves if we still know the freedoms that were intended for us by the Founding Fathers...

We cannot buy our security, our freedom from the threat of the bomb by committing an immorality so great as saying to a billion human beings now in slavery behind the Iron Curtain, "Give up your dreams of freedom because to save our own skin, we are willing to make a deal with your slave-masters." Alexander Hamilton said, "A nation which can prefer disgrace to danger is prepared for a master, and deserves one!" Let's set the record straight. There is no argument over the choice between peace and war, but there is only one guaranteed way you can have peace -and you can have it in the next second: surrender!

Admittedly there is a risk in any course we follow other than this, but every lesson in history tells us that the greater risk lies in appeasement, and this is the specter our well-meaning liberal friends refuse to face... that their policy of accommodation is appeasement, and it gives no choice between peace and war, only between fight or surrender. If we continue to accommodate, continue to back and retreat, eventually we have to face the final demand -the Ultimatum...

You and I know and do not believe that life is so dear and peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery. If nothing is worth dying for, when did this begin? Just in the face of this enemy? Or should Moses have told the children of Israel to live in slavery under the pharaohs? Should Christ have refused the cross? Should the patriots of Concord Bridge have thrown down their guns and refused to fire the shot heard round the world? The martyrs of history were not fools, and our honored dead who gave their lives to stop the advance of the Nazis didn't die in vain! Where then, is the road to peace? Well, it's a simple answer after all.

You and I have the courage to say to our enemies, "There is a price we will not pay." There is a point beyond which they must not advance! This is the meaning in the phrase of Barry Goldwater's "peace through strength!" Winston Churchill said that "the destiny of man is not measured by material computation. When great forces are on the move in the world, we learn we are spirits -not animals." And he said, "there is something going on in time and space, and beyond time and space, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty." You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Well, I put out the flag this morning and went to the polling place to cast my ballot. I like going to the polling place. I've never exactly understood the "absentee ballot", unless you're in the Antarctic or the Marianas Trench or on the International Space Station or something like that. I mean, if you vote absentee, you miss out on the whole Voting Experience!

And what if something should happen between the day you mailed off your ballot and election day? What if your man died? Or said something extraordinarily stupid and revealing? Or what if you got whacked on the forehead and came to your senses? You'd never get another chance. At least not until next year.

By that logic I should just wait until the end of the day, right before the polls close, and rush in and cast the infernal thing, but no, I don't have the time, of course.

My wife and I vote together and make it a point to ceremoniously bring the kid along. We used to walk across the street and vote in my neighbor's garage, which was always entertaining, but this year he shut down the shop for some reason and we had to motivate to a local elementary school. Walking in to the auditorium we noticed that there were several precinct tables and we stopped, waiting for direction. The volunteers just looked up at us, and there was an immediate subtle confusion. We all had that "who are you and what are you doing here" look, and I felt an instinct to seize control of the situation, but I held back. I figured -let them do their jobs- but I had to find my way to the right table. I asked around a bit, and then let Mrs. Ditchman take over. I think they actually asked us, "Are you here to vote?" to which you want to reply with some intentional boat-rocking "Why, no! I am a representative from the United Nations and am here to certify procedures!" (in a South African accent) but they're all old and you take pity. The woman looking up our names was mostly deaf. The man next to her didn't have enough wheels turning to push a shopping cart. I signed the form. I was handed a democratic ballot. I am not a democrat. They didn't ask for identification.

It all worked out okay, though. I'd wondered for a moment why no touch screens, but hey: no brains, no touch screens. I got my cheerful "I Voted!" sticker, which is really the best part of the process, and I took an extra one and stuck it on the Little Ditchman, who can recite all the presidential nominees in the cutest way. Then I went back and voted for my guy ten more times. (Just kidding.)

But I swear I could have! Which is very disturbing. We live in a society where they check your I.D. if you get on an airplane or buy a beer, but hey, anyone can vote. And by "anyone" I mean it doesn't matter how dumb you are or what language you speak, which saddens me, somehow.

I won't bore you with who I chose or what propositions I was for and against, but I do think you should get out and vote. People died so you could vote, you know. But if you can't be bothered to read the measures and understand the issues, to learn about the candidates and check their qualifications, then don't vote. Please leave it to the people who actually care about this country.


Monday, February 4, 2008

A week ago I checked out the extended forecast to see what kind of weather we'd be having for the 2008 Surf City Marathon. The graphic was a line of ten little suns with a rain cloud square in the middle: yesterday. I dismissed it. Since when are the weathermen right about a single day of rain, six days off? Since they heard I was planning on running a marathon, evidently.

It rained. Rain and rain. And wind. And it wasn't one of those pleasant tropical downpours like we had at the Honolulu marathon two months ago. Oh no. Those rains you can stand in your shirts and shorts, ambient temps at around 75, and laugh about it. This cruel rain, after dragging across the northern Pacific for thousands of miles, was a cold, windblown joust between the shoulder blades in the dead of winter. Temps were in the high 40s, which is stated with an optimistic tone -not taking into account the seashore windchill and the fact that you are soaked to the bone.

I spent a good portion of the race leaning sideways into the wind under a trashbag, and then, upon turning around, took the body-blow to the other side. Then, again. There was a lot of Rinse and Repeat in this one, but then there seems to be a lot of that lately. Unfortunately, dial settings were for COLD.

My back and shoulders have never had such a good workout from a run. I ran with my elbows jammed into my ribs, tensing up with every chilly windblast. It rained for most of it, let up around mile 18, and then poured down again upon finishing, but it was the wind that was the real mood-killer. It's hard to run in the wind. It throws off your gait, causing you to lean this way or that, messing with your muscles after a few hours of running. I saw more than one person fall, and if you did you were doomed to save yourself, as everyone alongside was suffering too much to help you stand. At one point, I looked up to see a pigeon about ten feet in the air, flapping wildly into the wind. It was just hovering there, aimed perpendicular to me, and I ran right under it. I will not soon forget that, the image of which defined the event and acts as a pointed metaphor. (Stupid pigeons!)

It was the 1st Annual Surf City Marathon, though they've been holding it for 11 years or so under the name "Pacific Shoreline Marathon". We can thank the Huntington Beach Chamber of Commerce marketing department for that, I suppose. The web site evokes all the luxuries of a SoCal paradise, with its picturesque beaches, Baywatch lifeguards and bikinis, and endless summer sunsets, but -surprise- we have winter here, too, folks. (You'll notice they didn't rush to get the photos posted on the web page.)

Overall, it was a well-run event with a great Expo, a couple of surf guitar bands, and an all-you-can-drink beer garden ("please limit yourself to two beverages" as we stood there in the rain, huddled under an umbrella.) The shirts are nicely designed and lack the ugly sponsor logos that typically graffiti the standard race-day garb, but it's really about the Half-Marathon, which attracts something like 10,000 runners. The 1700 full-marathoners are shuffled off to the side, with an out-and-back, out-and-back, out-and-back course that drives you to tears and encourages cheating. I had a surprisingly good time for me (4:05:15) which is a PR for rain-drenched marathons -my third (and a new category, as far as I'm concerned.) Am I glad I did it? Yes. Will I run this one again? No. I'm not a fan of the course. Though it goes along the beach and through a nice park, the sideways wind blowing off the ocean in winter is fairly common and never fun. I know because I lived (and ran) in Huntington Beach in 2002/03. I did the Pacific Shoreline Half in '02. It was windy and miserable that year as well. The doctor running alongside me had bloody nipples.

But hey, yesterday's race makes ten marathons in ten years! I'm very proud of myself. Here's to the next ten, and the ten after that, and the ten after that. I will live to be a hundred. And still running.

P.S. Even though she's been staving off further injury, Mrs. Ditchman ran the Half Marathon just for fits and giggles. What a woman.


Friday, February 1, 2008

My review of LOST from last night?


Of all the season premieres of LOST, this one was the least season-premieriest. It amounted to all the old structural devices seen in previous episodes, plus a full hour of recapping to boot. This Recap Syndrome. Unfortunately for all dedicated viewers, LOST seems to have invented the art. What was advertised as a "two-hour season premiere" was actually one hour of recap and one hour of show, so you had time to do the dishes after dinner. And it's not just the writer's strike to blame, because they were doing this all along -so oh well. A friend called yesterday afternoon and jokingly asked what he should bring to the LOST party. "Low expectations," I quipped.

Anyway, they killed off somebody, but then they came back to life, and then people were seeing ghosts and not dying even though they had knives in their backs -the typical convenient plot devices that all LOST fans are used to. Did they get off the island? Not when there's three seasons left they don't. Will they ever get off the island? Evidently some do. Just who exactly, may, (or may not) be revealed in 3 years or so.


Why do I bother? I'm not even sure anymore. Routine, I guess. My six-year-old niece was over and I explained to her that the show had to be watched, that there were no other options, that I'd waited months and months for this. "What's it about?" She asked. I gave her the short version: "All these people survived a plane crash on this tropical island and they're trying to get home." She promptly went to sleep on the couch.

So, it's Friday. Very little was accomplished this week. I had such high hopes for the thing, too. Perhaps I need to alter my list of daily goals. "Raise daughter" is now at the top of the list. (How horrid! It was down at 8 or 9, before!) I used to think I was busy before I had a kid. I was wrong. I was never busy. I also used to think I worried a lot, but I'd never even began to worry until Mrs. Ditchman got pregnant. And I used to think I would be the best Dad ever, without any clue as to how hard the job would be. I used to think I knew what sacrifice was. I didn't.

I also used to think I was at least moderately happy and fulfilled in life.

Wasn't anywhere near it.