Wednesday, April 30, 2008

When I was at USC, I hated it. So I took a year off and got a job working at Disney Studios. It was pretty awesome, because I was at USC film school surrounded by a thousand full-of-themselves film geeks, (I admit being one of them) and a month later I was working with real professionals at a real movie studio on a real movie in real Hollywood. I was the first "production assistant" hired on to Disney's Beauty and the Beast. There were only 17 people on the whole crew. When the film finished production, the crew numbered well into the hundreds.

Don't believe me? Check it out near the bottom (way down there) of the credits under "Production Assistant". Hilarious. I always wonder what happened to those other folks on the list. No doubt they're all making millions now. I knew most of them at one time. I recognize their names in the credits of all the other animated films nowadays and I just laugh. What a bunch of dorks!

Most of the people I worked with were the most creative and artistic people I have ever met, and the whole experience was a profound and enlightening one for me. I was all of 20 years old. The youngest employee on the lot, I believe. I remember when the artists sent me out to get beer and cigars one day. I couldn't. I was 20! (They sent someone else.)

Anyway, my job was a lame one. Photocopy this, run that over there, hang up storyboards... things like that. But I was in story meetings with Hollywood giants like Jeffrey Katzenberg and Roy Disney! I was learning more than anyone at USC film school and making a pretty good salary to boot! With full benefits and free Disneyland tickets! And the film became a sensation. It eventually made hundreds of millions of dollars and was nominated for Best Picture. I went to the premiere. (I wore a tie!)

One day at work, a package came in from New York. It was a simple cassette tape. The famed musical-duo Howard Ashman and Alan Menken had just finished the first set of songs for the film. This was in the days before iTunes and the Internet and modern devices like that. I had to put the cassette in the stereo in my office and make fifty copies for the directors, producers, and animators. I was humming along after the second tape. It was February of 1990. I was the first kid in the world to have every song from Beauty and the Beast memorized.

I mention this now because eighteen years later my two-year-old daughter stood up in bed this morning and yelled down the hall: "I want to go to Disneyland!" Mrs. Ditchman rolled over and whispered in my ear, "She wants to go to Disneyland. You're going to have a full day."

Now the little one is listening to Disney music on a CD. She's singing "Be Our Guest" from Beauty and the Beast and guess what? I still know the lyrics.


In the original cut of the film the song was sung to Beauty's father, Maurice. They later changed the story so that the song was sung to Belle. (It made more sense, story-wise.) As a result, the song lyrics changed.

But I still sing it to Maurice. I'm probably the only one in the world.


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Last week:

I'd been walking past these buds for weeks now just waiting. WAITING! And now, finally, The Blooms! Years ago, after we moved onto this street, I got a few lilies at the Home Depot and had them around the house for Easter. Then they died and I couldn't bare to toss them into the garbage, so I just stuck them in the ground out front. Now, every year about this time, The Blooms!

I consider it something of a minor miracle, given that the soil under the Ditchman compound is an insoluble mixture of cement, clay, gravel, quikcrete, hardened lava, moon rock, naturally occurring metals... Who knows why some things grow in the stuff and others don't. I keep at it, though, with the petulant tenacity that humans are prone to. Our Father, who art in Heaven, shakes his head. When are they just gonna let it go? I'm still waiting on some of those seeds to pop up in the garden boxes. That was months ago.

Mrs. Ditchman is on the clock this week. Man, is she ever. One Home Show is tough enough, but two back to back and you get moments like this:

Mommy: Bye, bye. Okay, give Mommy a kiss.
Baby: And a hug.
Mommy: And a hug, too!
Baby: And a high five.
Mommy: And a high five. Okay, I have to go to work.
Baby: I don't like work.

That's funny, she doesn't say things like that when I go to work. Oh well. It'll swing around the other way by the end of the week. Why, just this morning Mrs. Ditchman went in to help her out of bed and the kid said: No. I want Daddy.

How nice, but Daddy was sleeping.

Not that it mattered. I'm not even sure where to start today. I've got a few hours to myself and a hundred unanswered emails, so there goes the morning. The heat wave we experienced these past few days has left a dry, burnt sheen on the Ditchman landscape, and I suppose I should tend to that before it combusts. I like these mid-April heat waves, though! Better than the June gloom that often comes early and leaves mid-July. We slept with all the windows open the other night and awoke yesterday with fresh air in the house, birds chirping outside. It was like we were camping!

We like to camp on the lake in the middle of summer when it's nice and scorching, with the water temp around 82 degrees. Air temp is in the 90s when the sun hits the horizon, and you are out of your tent to see the orange glow on the cliffs, and their reflection in the vast, still water. Yesterday I awoke to someone firing up a lawn mower with a WHIRRRRRR in the suburban distance, and in my dreamland I heard it as that first bass boat making its way across the glassy lake, heading for fertile fishing grounds at first light.


Friday, April 25, 2008

Okay, I've got 25 minutes to type this. I just put Little Einsteins on downstairs and I can hear the Little Ditchman singing along merrily. It's Home Show Weekend! You know what that means: roles are reversed. Mommy comes home cranky, Daddy changes diapers, and the kid gets pizza and TV all weekend! (Just kidding.) Oh wait, there's the phone...

It was Mommy. Never fails. We all parade downstairs, goodbyes all around -kisses, hugs, high-fives. Do you have everything? Yes. What did she eat for breakfast? Not much. If so-and-so calls, say this. If she wants this you should do this. Okay? Okay. Mwuh. Mwuh.

One minute later: the phone rings. I was thinking maybe we should... and so forth.

There goes my 25 minutes. And then it's about five minutes per task before the Little Ditchman realizes she's not getting the adult's full attention, so she comes and pulls on you. I always get these wild dreams in my head about what I am going to accomplish on Home Show Weekend. The wild dreams are always just that, but the pulling on you is worth all the treasures of ancient Egypt. (Like in the "Golden Pyramids" episode of Little Einsteins! Did you catch that one?!)

The president is sending us all checks next week! Woo hoo! We'll see if mine comes or not, what with all those outstanding debts to the Dept. of Education. "Outstanding" as in, Look at those amounts! Outstanding! Speaking of sharks, there was a shark attack in Solana Beach this morning. Killed a guy, which is rare in these parts (actually, it's fairly rare everywhere.) Mrs. Ditchman is heading to Solana Beach right now. I told her not to go in the water.

Were you able to stay awake to see LOST last night? I missed the first five minutes and, wouldn't you know it? They opened with a shot of Kate in some state of undress on the beach. (My wife told me about it.) Another character was killed off, which I find hilarious. It's hilarious because the writers have full rule over this show. Years ago when Friends and Seinfeld were all the rage and the actors were getting something like a million dollars an episode, writers started getting shoved into the back room. So, to save bucks, the networks started making shows with non-stars in them, like LOST, and when the writers made stars out of these folks, they of course demanded more money. But the writers are also the producers, and they'd created a show where anyone could eat it at any time. So much for contracts!

I suppose it doesn't work anymore, given that it's been revealed who makes it to the end, more or less. Look forward to those guys demanding millions in the final season!

And I say give it to them. It's a good show and makes a ton of money. Let's see... what else? I just bought myself an extra 25 minutes with another LE episode. I've got so many errands to go out on, and we've got to square these things around snacks and naps, lest we fail to maximize the good moods and duration of naptime.

Can't think of anything. Too occupied with other things to do. See you at the Home Show!


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Did everyone watch the Discovery Channel promo I posted yesterday? I just love it! YouTube doesn't have the magnificent power that HD does, but it's still fun, especially if you recognize all the characters from all the Discovery shows. Cracks me up. I can't stop watching it. And "the world is just awesome" has got to be the best slogan in a long while.

For that matter, did everyone watch the opening scene from Blue Velvet that I posted last week? I just love that, too! Remember what I was saying about life being awful one moment and then awfully funny the next? I think David Lynch captured it perfectly when that guy has a heart attack while watering his lawn, and then the dog leaps up on him to get a drink of water. Hilarious. Hard to see in the YouTube clip, but those last few shots are of insects, bugs, vermin writhing just below the surface of the perfectly manicured lawn. Figuratively speaking, that's the whole movie right there...

Anyway, TV is pulling itself back together. There's a new episode of LOST tonight and a new episode of House next week. And then Deadliest Catch is back on -this time in full HD! Deadliest Catch is pretty highly rated, and it's reflected in this new season as they obviously are putting a lot more money into it. Seems they even have a camera boat alongside the fishermen now, so we get full shots of the boats. Before it was just a boat trip as told from the point-of-view of being on the boat. There wasn't much scope to it. No worthwhile establishing shots. But now it's looking pretty good. I think they got some high-paid editors on there, too, because the promos for the show are pretty sweet and the intro is slick -best intro for a show out there. Hey, I like a good intro. They're often better than the whole show.

LOST has moved to ten tonight. Why? Because there's going to be more sex and more shots of Kate on the beach in her underwear? Maybe, (ohpleaseohpleaseohplease) but it's probably because ABC knows you're going to be sitting around for an extra hour since you're hooked on the show, so here's a perfect opportunity for them to shove more boob-toob (literally) gruel down your throat. Ackh! Wake me when it starts! (Or, as my friend Mitch put it: "10:00pm? Who can drink that late?")

TV. Oy. I have seen more episodes of Little Einsteins than I want to lately. We only let the Little Ditchman get 45 minutes or so of TV a day (that's two episodes) and this morning she was up at 6:15 asking for it. Partway into the show she had that open-mouthed, drooling comatose TV look on her face and when I asked her a question, she didn't respond. I waved my hand in front of her face and she just slowly leaned over to look around it. Great. That's enough TV for a while.

It's a tough call, really, when you've got a million things to do. You can get some of them done if the kid is sedated on the couch with Higglytown Heroes or something, but you can't bear the thought of her innocent little brain cells being shredded one after another, so you turn the set off and the screaming and wailing begins. I swear it's like confiscating and flushing the needles of a heroin addict. (Yikes!) So what's the answer? I don't know. Give up entirely and have more kids, I guess.

Truth is we'd all be better off if we stopped whatever it was we were doing and went and played outside with the kids. I always feel better afterwards, really. It's hard to do, somehow, but what's so hard about it? You're playing! And you think work is so important. NEWS FLASH: the kids don't think so. How else do you expect to stay young? The creams don't work.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Clicked on Lileks.com this morning only to find that the domain had expired. Expired! You'd think a blogger who gets a bazillion hits a day, the original blogger, who spends so much time photoshopping those snazzy home pages every Sunday, you'd think he, of all people, would remember to renew his domain name. Ah, well. I clicked over to Buzz.mn where he posts all day (does the guy have a life?) to see what was up. Looks like he was at the dentist this morning. See? Don't step away from the Internet, it may pull ahead without you, leaving you at the yellow light.

It's funny because I had just awoken from a dream and James Lileks, of all people, was in it. He had moved onto my street and lived a few houses down and was blogging all about it. My neighborhood suddenly became a thousand times more interesting by virtue of an entirely different blog, and I had suddenly become a minor character in the story of my own life. I responded by blogging furiously about the neighbor who won't shut up.

So how was your Earth Day?


I celebrated by burning up 20 gallons of unleaded petrol all over San Diego county. At $4 a gallon, that's quite a party! Also, I took out my trash, dutifully separating the recyclables and yard trimmings. I drank a beer and the bottle will go back to being refilled, or reprocessed, or ground down into brown glass dust for some other brown glass item that will be filled with something else I will consume and excrete and flush into the mighty Pacific Ocean. Saw a bumper sticker while making the rounds at work:

I don't mean to sound too callous and insensitive. But, yes, I am a bit sarcastic about it. Latest research shows the Antarctic getting colder, so global warming enthusiasts are focusing on the other pole. And gas prices are skyrocketing because EVERYONE'S USING THE GAS! I know, it sounds silly, but remember all those people in India and China and Bangladesh riding bicycles? It's 2008. Now they're all driving cars.

So, oh well. Myself, I'm still a big proponent of bringing back DDT, which would save millions of lives worldwide if we encouraged third-world countries to use it responsibly instead of threatening to take away their foreign aid dollars if they use it at all. And turn our food into fuel? Aren't there starving people all around the world? Earth Day, indeed. It's such a bummer when Earth Day falls on a Tuesday. It gets so much more press when it falls on a news-free Saturday.


The world is just awesome!


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

OKAY, my plate is full! Which is funny, because I thought it was full last week, and the week before that. But, no, now it's really full. Food running off the table full. The Ditchman Family has begun turning down invitations and is begging off prior commitments. There's just no more open space on the calendar to write them in.

Does anyone really use those calendars on their computer? I've got a great one but I just can't find the time to look at it. I've got a hundred other calendars around the house, but when it comes to the one on the computer, I remonstrate: No, please! Not one more thing to click! "But you could put all your calendars in one place." No, that would never work for me. Here at Casa Ditchman we've got the family birthday and anniversary calendar in the kitchen, the water delivery calendar on the fridge, the work schedule dry-erase calendar in the office, the two workout calendars to keep track of our exercise... Mrs. Ditchman has her appointment book. (Mine's in my head, which drives the boss crazy.) And then there's all of last year's calendars -and the year before- which we can't bring ourselves to throw away because they are like detailed journals of past doctor appointments and friends' parties we never want to forget. And still the days fly by, no slower, no faster.

I picture myself in extreme old age, napping in a room piled high with calendars. My own personal history in towering stacks, blocking the sunlight coming through the window. I suppose when I can't see the shadow of the blinds moving across the floor, that's when I'll cash in the ticket to the next life. Lord, I beseech thee: no calendars in Heaven.

No clocks, either. Drives people crazy that I don't wear a watch. I used to love watches when I was a kid. I remember the first digital watches to come out in the seventies. When they became affordable, I got a black Star Wars one with a red LED -it had a button you would push for the time to blink on. A few years after that I got one of the first calculator watches, which impressed all who met me (at age 10). Then, a couple years after that, I had a watch that told the temperature! Wow, that was sweet. I remember slyly cheating on a test in my eighth grade science class. The question was a math problem where I had to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius. I just casually looked at my watch! If only the rest of school were so easy.

Today, no watch. I don't like things hanging off me. I only wear clothes for warmth and I don't much like wearing shoes. I can't stand jewelry -though I have been caught wearing my puka shells on vacation (Hawaiian legend has it that the shells insure a peaceful and safe voyage on a long journey for sailors and their crews) and I've come to appreciate the thin band of platinum on my finger, because it reminds me of my beautiful wife, our terrific wedding, and the lifelong commitment I made that day. When I go for a run I start the stopwatch and just leave it somewhere. The thing slows me down.

It all slows me down, really, this constant looking to the time passing. I guess there are times when you want to move fast and times when you need some slowness, but I just want to be in the moment, whatever speed is called for, and yet not miss a beat of life. When I ran the Honolulu marathon I wore a timepiece for a new interval strategy of walking and running and walking and running -and it drove me crazy, this constant looking at the watch, this constant change of speed! I know that you tend to look at the watch less, the more you use it (I guess you just get the feel for it and find a rhythm) but I'm just trying to enjoy life, here. On a clock there is always something moving on display. And then there's the times that you just want to stop, at least once in a while. Or how about once a day?

But everything moves, when you think about it. Whether it's your beating heart, the wind in the yard, or my faithful housewife, or the spinning electrons in every atom or the heavenly bodies through space. Even in erosion and decay, nothing ever stops. The Catholic church argued against this for a while, but it was Galileo who remained unmoved in the debate. "It still moves," were his last words, if I recall.

I've heard it said that the slowest moving thing the human eye can detect is the sun moving across the sky. We've all seen the cool evening crawl: sitting on a beach at sunset and staring directly at the orange sun as that distant heavenly ornament, just this side of still, sank below the horizon. Can you think of anything you've seen that moves slower? Would you want to? Have you ever felt more at peace watching anything move faster?


Monday, April 21, 2008

California Avocados! Hand-picked by movie stars! Did I get enough of 'em? No, I actually didn't even sample a smidgen of the green, bolus-pitted fruit. Why not? Let's just say that I couldn't bring myself to reckon with the avocado ice cream and avocado cupcakes.

Well, Mrs. Ditchman is the smartest of the Ditchmans. (I believe I come in third, unless you count the cat.) The Avocado Festival came in full force, and my wife duly prepared for it by making a hearty dinner in the slow cooker. When we arrived home last night with brains turned to mush (nay, guacamole), we opened the front door to the warm, spiced, welcoming scent of homemade chili. Yes, chili is one of those Fair foods, but we were glad to come home to it all the same.

In the interest of hastening the family's bedtime, we put the two-year-old in the shower and couldn't get her out. She likes it! And who wouldn't? After a day hawking wares at an Avocado Festival, you really need a good strong shower to spray off the carnival grime that sticks to your psyche like bacon grease in an oven vent. (I had it in mind to pressure spray myself with the LANDA 2300!) How'd we do at the festival? Mmmm, not too bad I suppose. You never know with these things. They bring hope, though, that there is work to be done out there and people willing to pay you for it.

The family in the booth next to us was selling beach chairs. Nice, folding beach chairs that had an aluminum frame, ripstop fabric, and a little sunshade that popped out overhead when you sat in them. They folded into a backpack! All colors! How much? Low, low, price of $59.95! Not kidding: they sold a few hundred of them. You do the math.

The rest of the weekend was spent fielding all manner of email and phone calls from fine folks interested in helping out our friends, the Lindens. You may have been following the story over at the Dawg Run, which has been a touching series of late. Family Ditchman is heading up an operation to rally the troops and lend some order to the chaos of emotions that's been evident from the blog. The wave of interest in helping some friends, (and in many cases, strangers) is truly inspiring. Our blogspot is here, if you'd like to take a look, lend some assistance, or are just curious.

Studies show that people who help others tend to be happier. I, for one, believe it. Helping others takes your mind off your own needs for a while, gets smiles out of everyone, and just all around feels good. There's been an enthusiastic response to Annabelle's Circle, and this set of givers strikes me as a happy set of people, people who are pleasure to be around -which is no surprise given the Linden family's own friendly countenance. The enthusiasm is cheerful and lends hope, but there have been some real donations of time and money that are jaw-dropping in their selflessness. It is all inordinately profound, and yet perfectly normal and not unexpected. Most people like to help! It's a wonder and a joy and a blessed miracle of life to be in the company of such folk. I look forward to my donation of back pain -predicted soreness from the ditch-digging and hauling. (I also look forward to everyone else's!) It'll surely be a Memorial Day in 2008.


Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday! And a beautiful Friday it is. I've got enough to keep me busy that if I don't consciously point out the springtime beauty, I would miss it altogether. Sometimes you have to point out the obvious, lest your soul become calloused to the simple pleasures.

My current customer is in to model trains. His backyard is landscaped around a rather extensive miniature rail line, complete with an electrified little township and running water. The little train was making its rounds the other day while I was meeting with him. "The train's running!" I exclaimed as it chugged by. "It's always running," he replied. "It's always running?" I asked. "Well, it's always running when I'm here," he said.

That's a good policy. It's best not to let our obsessions run off without us.

Funny thing is, this is the second customer of mine who had an obsession with model trains. The other customer was a wealthy German immigrant who was active in political circles. He's had fancy parties in his yard with Governor Schwarzenegger, among others, and he likes to fire up the train during the soirees. I picture Arnold looking over the trains, fingering a big cigar and pining for his youth in Austria. My customer pointed out a broken bridge in a far-off corner of the elaborate layout. "I tell my Republican friends," I felt a joke coming, "that that's the 'Bridge to Nowhere'!" He laughed heartily.

I also imagine Governor Schwarzenegger fingering that same cigar as he scrutinized the aluminum patio cover. "You're telling me this is aluminum? Who made this? Where can I get one? I want one in every mansion! I'll pay whatever it costs! Get that construction company on the horn! Give them a government contract! Aluminum is just the thing to fulfill the renewable resource slot in my comprehensive environmental agenda!"

Well, he still hasn't called, so it's back to the Avocado Festival for me. That's right: this time Sunday I'll be knee-deep in guacamole! See you there!


Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Local News doesn't get much more local than this. Just on the right side of the frame, that's Mrs. Ditchman's car in front of our house!

So the news vans showed up and I just walked right up and asked, "What are you covering?" Seems there was a break-in down the street over the weekend. Ho-hum news, you hear it every night -but this was my street and my neighborhood, so I took notice. They said they were going LIVE at seven, which is when we were sitting at the table having dinner. We left the TV on and when we heard the guy announce it, Mrs. Ditchman and I bolted from the table for the TV (leaving the little one fairly confused.)

What I love about the news piece is all the story going on in the background that you can barely see. Just off frame to the right is my house, with my family sitting around the dinner table. We had just finished blessing the meal and were enjoying some pasta. In the background, my neighbor across the street is arriving home from work, his car approaching slowly as he turns into his driveway. You can almost see him leaning over his steering wheel asking to himself, "What on earth is happening here?" And then, at the end of the piece, I left the TV to go to the window to see it happening LIVE, and noticed a few of the local teenagers walking past my house -they wanted to be on camera. "Here come the local teenagers," I said, and then I went back to the family room, looked at the TV, and -yes- there they were, strutting past. It happens here, it comes out there. Technology!

(The girls, by the way, went across the street to another neighbor and knocked on the door. They had nothing to exchange. They just needed a reason to cross the street. It worked! They were on TV! And then they turned and went home. Hilarious.)

Anyway, the story gets a little interesting when you pay slightly closer attention, and you have to cross-reference it with Channel 8's version in order to get the whole thing. It was last Friday night, around midnight. A single mom was away for the evening, leaving her teenage girls at home when someone broke into the garage. The girls were "hysterical" according to reports, and the cops came and got him. This is about six houses down from our place, which is a suburban American cul-de-sac of the most benign and ordinary kind. Turns out the guy was an old boyfriend of the woman, and also used to be a neighbor. He's in his forties, and is an Orange County firefighter (the minor fact that evidently merited the coverage.) He still lives in Oceanside (though Channel 10 reports it as "Vista", which is fine with me) and has a few kids of his own. Evidently he got drunk and wandered over to this old girlfriend's house and broke into the garage.

Now, don't we all know people like this? Desperate people who just can't get on with life, are still living in the past? They get drunk one night and call up old flames like they'd just spoke with them last Tuesday, and are shocked to discover that the other person has a family and a life now and has moved on to normalcy in the biggest way. There are some incidental facts. The father of the girls is interviewed and he knows the guy, but he's divorced the woman and also doesn't live on our street anymore. The woman saw the guy six months ago in a Lowe's parking lot. What happened there? Could it be that she had an affair with this crazy firefighter ten years ago, somewhere in the midst of her divorce? She kept the house, she has five kids, today is single, and then this drunken wretch (who has "moved on" with a family of his own, obviously to a much lesser degree of success) shows up looking for action... The Dad of the girls really seems to have it out for this guy, doesn't he? And then the Dad of the drunk shows up and says he's a good, church-going, public servant! It's almost impossible to write about in a few short paragraphs, but it sounds like the same old soap opera we hear all the time, on TV and in our own lives.

And it's all on my street. Now, I'm not sure anyone outside of the families on my street are interested, but the news crews could have told the story in a much more compelling way. The facts are rarely interesting by themselves, and just "reporting" them seems to me a missed opportunity. I mean, this is the drama of LIFE! People are affected! But, oh well. Local news. They really should just hop it up with some well-placed adjectives, juxtapositional editing, and theatrical timing -for the benefit of everyone who lives elsewhere.

People think I make up this stuff, romanticizing the suburbs so I'll have something to type about, but no, it's all right there. It's in your neighborhood, too. If you just open your eyes a bit and look around, squint this way and question that, suddenly you're in some pulp novel. There's no need to fictionalize it. You do have to be careful, however. Every life is a story, but every story needs conflict -and there's the rub. Life without conflict? I suppose that would be safe, but also boring. And it would never make it to prime time.

Life is short enough, and all the while it is funny, scary, sad, beautiful, horrible, delicious, disgusting, and unfair in both its blessings and its pitfalls. Do you remember that brilliant opening scene in Blue Velvet? That's what I'm talking about. The movie kinda falls apart from there, in my opinion, but I suppose that was David Lynch's whole point. A storyteller will choose what to tell and what not to tell, and if your point is that "it all falls apart in the end", well, that's your prerogative. Personally, I don't see it that way. The human story is one of triumph or defeat of the spirit, and the spirit can always triumph, regardless what slings and arrows of outrageous fortune we may suffer. There is always a happy ending within reach. Sometimes it's quite a reach. That's where the story gets interesting.

And then in that final sleep of death, that "undiscovered country" as Shakespeare called it, "What dreams may come?" For without hope in the afterlife, the spirit will never triumph.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

There is normalcy in America. It's over here in the suburbs with the Middle Class! Yes, I went to church on Sunday, and not because I was even remotely bitter. Quite the contrary -I went because I was grateful! And content. And humbled. And in need of a little peace and forgiveness. And guess what? I got it. The government's never been very successful in those areas, unfortunately. But they do give us Tax Day! I'm sure President Obama will give us a bigger, better Tax Day. I'll still be in church most Sundays, sitting off to the side with my wife, weeping softly at the beauty of a hymn.

Where was I yesterday? Oh, at home. How come I didn't post nothing? Not sure. 3 or 4 weeks ago the schedule got a day off, so my work-away-from-home days suddenly became Wednesday through Friday instead of Tuesday through Thursday. This really mixes sand in with the pancakes, let me tell you -my whole weekly routine got all out of whack! Add to that the fact that Mrs. Ditchman has sat out of her Jazzercise classes lately and, well, I can't get anything done at my desk.

That's not to say I'm home all day Mondays and Fridays and such. The build days are scheduled for the middle of the week, with the appointments, meetings, and orders going on at the beginning of the week. This leaves Friday as a day to catch up on missed meetings, or if a job takes longer. It's a good system for me, and I've been able to fit my regular life in among it all and I get free days here and there, but shift it all a single day and my head starts to spin. It may soon spin at dervish levels, too, as this coming weekend is a Home Show weekend, and then next weekend another -two weekends in a row! Luckily for me, the next few jobs are small and simple ones so I'll be able to manage. Unluckily for the Ditchman Family bank accounts, the next few jobs are small and simple ones so it's going to be a challenge to manage.

See how it goes in a family business? Then the child gets sick, or the sitter's not available, or the car breaks down, or family visits from out of town. That's life. I'm not complaining, mind you, I'm just thinking aloud so I can figure out some way to enjoy it!

But yesterday I was at home. Got up two hours before I normally got up. Hung with the family and went on a few appointments together. Took out the trash. Changed out a few sprinkler heads. Didn't write. Didn't run. I remember being busy all day, but what did I do?

I scanned a few things that were on my desk and filed them away. I hung some new data on the family tree. I assembled the SPRING SPECIAL GIVEAWAY in my backyard. (Want one!) I updated the website and posted to the mistress of TMST, the Alumablog. I cleaned up the mess I made beneath the old olive tree. And then there's the matter of the sprinklers. The old Rainbird Maxi-Paw AG-5s just weren't cutting it for me, so I swapped them out with some Orbit Watermaster Voyager 2 Gear Driven Pop-ups. Sure, I miss the old chaka-chaka-chaka sound of a morning in the suburbs with a few Rainbirds out back, but the cool, even swisshhhhh of the Voyager 2 is an elegant sight to behold. Even added an extra one for that dead, brown patch. (That dead, brown patch that is most of the center of the yard.) I'll let you know how green it gets. (Anybody need a few old Maxi-Paws?)

What else? Nothing. Hung out with the kid, who can lash out verbally with the best of us now. I think she found my old Strunk and White somewhere and digested it in the car seat one afternoon while Mommy was doing errands. Seriously! Somewhere last week she decided to start using subject/predicate sentences with distinct direct objects. She got her pronouns down, her articles, her contractions and her gerunds. Now it's a perfectly enunciated and articulate "I don't like rice. I don't like it." and not the MWAAHHH I'm used to. And instead of the AAIIIIIAAH I've become so accustomed to hearing, it's now "Help me with this, Daddy. I need help with it." Days are passing. People are changing. I almost fell asleep on the couch during Dancing with the Ex-Stars, but Mrs. Ditchman saw to it that I properly got in bed, like normal folk on an normal day.

Which is all I ask for.


Monday, April 14, 2008

I actually fell asleep during John Adams last night -and that should not be a testament to the boring drama of Adams' life, but rather a testament to the exhaustion brought about from the overwhelming drama of my own weekend! I won't exhaust you with the details. You'll need the energy to get through your own week.

The Ditchman Family did, however, acquire a new pressure washer! It's a LANDA PC-2300! Bottom-of-the-line! Yes, but it's a bottom of the line professional series tool, which brings one to that age-old self-defining question, Do you choose the top-of-the-line Volkswagon or the bottom-of-the-line BMW? It's a conversation starter. Anyway, it's a fine piece of machinery -purchased from a pawn shop- and part of a new marketing strategy for Ditchman Family Construction. I'll let you know how it all works out.

There is no denying the virtues of owning your own pressure sprayer. I filled it with gas yesterday and fired the thing up, wheeling it around the property looking for things to pressure spray. Tried it on the fence, on the driveway, on the house. Pressure sprayed the engine compartments of the trucks. Pressure sprayed the oil stain in my street. Pressure sprayed the neighbor's cats. It works something awesome! After pressure spraying everything, I bonsai-d the old olive tree in the backyard. The family Ditchman stayed outside until dark blowing bubbles. It was a hundred degrees. See why I'm so tired?

Gotta go. I have a morning appointment in a place called Allied Gardens. We've done a few gigs there and keep going back. Allied Gardens! Visions of flowering peace through a league of democracies! John Adams would be so proud.


Friday, April 11, 2008

It's been a week of blogging of no great depth. Entries of rain-puddle shallowness with wit as damp. I am no Lileks, and I'll have to live with it. I never really claimed to be, actually, but read The Bleat this week alongside the TMST and the disparity between gifted talent and ho-hum, callow suburban scribbling is glaring. It's back to shucking aluminum for you, boy! Thanks for stopping by for half-baked creative writing anyway, friends!

Lileks was in San Diego this week, of all places. I must've missed him. Recording with Mike Nelson for MST 3000, of which I've long been a fan -though I haven't seen it for years. Nowadays it's called Rifftrax, and it's funny enough. Anyway, if there's anyone qualified to pull off an episode of MST 3000, it's Lileks. I've tried it a few times to varying degrees of failure and it's harder than it looks. (A script would help.) You find yourself fumbling around a lot, talking over everybody, and making vague references no one gets -like a dinner party. Watched the Desperate Housewives with my wife last night, but only out of desperation. There was a tornado (on the show) so I stopped flipping channels and watched. Anyway, if a show could benefit from an MST audio track, it's Desperate Housewives. I'd watch that every week!

It would be a great idea for a network, to just release alternate versions of their programs on those off-channels. I imagine whole departments at the studios dedicated to mocking the rest of the company. Now there's job satisfaction.

Got the tome from the tax preparer yesterday, and boy is she appreciated! Considering that the summation of my labors at tax time is asking "where do I sign?", I am very grateful. In the line that asks for the occupation of the spouse, our tax preparer always puts "DOMESTIC GODDESS" -which cracks me up every year. You'd think Mrs. Ditchman would have been promoted by now, but I suspect she has already attained ultimate job satisfaction. Besides, where do you go from there? On to destroying all the other gods, I guess. I always wonder if this little joke makes the IRS folks chuckle, but I doubt it. Everyone knows IRS employees to be cheerless, hardened Dementors of the sorriest kind. I'm sure they see the silly typed line entry and shake their fists in the air, bellowing into the hall, SURLY CITIZENS OF AMERICA! HOW DARE THEY MOCK US!

My phone number has been wrong on our IRS forms for a few years now, so if they tried to call and request we desist in the joking around, it falls on the wrong ears. A few other things are off in the forms, but no one has ever seemed to mind. The checks are always cashed, of course, and it makes me wonder if there are government employees sitting in a warehouse just opening envelopes and looking for the checks, like rich kids in college tossing the well-wishes from the parents. If there's no check, I imagine the bundle gets tossed to a different pile attended to by angry, disapproving gnomes steeped in hostility. These vile creatures are the ones that come after you, breathing heavily in dark alleys, looking for blood. And receipts.

So that's behind us. They say the guvmint will send us a refund check! Doubt it. These things are usually cross-referenced through the Dept. of Education which employs a whole different menagerie of loathsome creatures, expatriates of Weta. They have it out for me over there, and I'm sure my name is on the Big Board. (Again, I should never have spent all that time at USC. All I gained from it was that oblique Kubrick reference.)

It was a full week! Looking back, I notice that I got in a Kubrick reference, a Lord of the Rings reference, a Star Wars reference, and a Kafka reference -to round it out. Please comment if you caught them all. There may even have been a few unconscious references in there. I'd appreciate it if they were pointed out as well. It's good to know your audience and yourself, as I am sure Lileks is aware. Some days I just quote myself. (Then again, that's just about every day.)

The weekend will arrive if I can make it through this day. Barely made it through yesterday, actually, but I did. We always do, one way or the other. Keep your head up, and as they say around here in local SoCal-speak "Have a good one!"

Never sure what they mean, there. Have a good what, exactly? Time?


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Thursday. Thursday! O brother, where hath the week gone? Time zips along, with the proverbial pages of the calendar flipping in the wind like in those old Hollywood movies. I am contented to keep at it, stay busy. A little at a time goes a long way. To the end, no less.

Working locally, in Vista, this week, which is nice. A friendly couple with a daughter somewhere in her twenties. I was out front unloading the trailer with the boss, when she rolled up in her Jetta, hopped out, and walked past us. "Hi, Dad," she said and went inside.

It immediately occurred to me that the day will come, verily I say to thee THE DAY WILL COME, when the Little Ditchman comes and goes as she pleases. Shows up and disappears, shows up again. My wife and I will sit at home wondering, what happened here? For now, our little girl is trapped, and perfectly happy to be so, having no idea of the familial fetters within which she be wrapped! I reminded myself to enjoy every moment of her growing up, before she grows out of me.

Almost found myself weeping for days not yet lost! How silly. It's like the man who says, "I am sad, for the weekend is over, and it is now Monday. Another weekend is coming, but, alas, it is only two days long, and then will be gone anew."

Dumbass. It's Thursday. Enjoy it! A month from now we'll be working in the hundred degree heat again and you'll be complaining about that!

Such a good life. All I ask is enough money to pay the bills and time enough to be with the family. Success is at hand! And my track coach in high school said I would amount to nothing. (My guidance counselor was right, however. I should never have wasted those years at USC.)


Wednesday, April 9, 2008

I've got so many tasks before me. Oy. At least I got the 'puter up and running again. All the fonts are in order and I don't have to skip every other email and web page because it's in Portuguese. In the end it was probably a good thing it went down and had to be blown out and lubed. There is noticeable improvement in the machine's speed and efficiency. Now, if I could only say the same for myself.

Called the credit card company today and demanded a lower rate. They gave it to me! One phone call. Took all of 2 minutes. I'm a dope for not doing it months ago. Every dollar saved is a beer later.

Had a nice quiet birthday for Mrs. Ditchman at home. I could tell by the look on her face that she wished I had not got her any gifts, given our current financial circumstances, but I assured her that these were things I was going to purchase sooner or later anyway -I just wrapped them! (Not counting the Air Supply Greatest Hits album.)

And if I hadn't got anything for her? Well, I'd never hear the end of it. I quote Admiral Ackbar: It's a trap!

My wife's birthday marks the end of PHASE 1 of this grand year. No more rapid succession of events firing off at will. The first few months of the year are always spent running and ducking, but come mid-April, it's a more manageable front. I'll now fall in forthwith and tackle the old projects, start some new ones, fulfill ancient obligations, and maintain the current mayhem. This is when the resolutions of the new year really stand up to be heard, and it's worth having a listen. The calendar has stretched out a bit, and we can finally look to the future. Analysis: the future looks pretty full. That's a good thing. Wallowing in inactivity makes us old without having anything to show for it.

The Little Ditchman woke up singing this morning. Just laid in bed singing Itsy Bitsy Spider and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Would that we were all so content. We might be, if we just woke up and started singing.


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Still in something of a funk, but I got a run in this morning and am sweating it out. Need to! Today's Mrs. Ditchman's birthday! Not sure how old she is -ask her yourself in an embarrassing email or comment on her blog.

Still cleaning up the mess I made of my computer. Even the best computers can't do everything. Metaphor of the day: sports cars are nice and fast, but you can't drive them at 250 mph down city streets. You'll crash. So I've learned my lesson. At least, that's what I've been telling myself as I back up my apps and reformat my system drive. (Dammit.)

Be back later. Or tomorrow. Or something.


Monday, April 7, 2008

Man, the merry-go-round really broke down today. After a night of uneasy dreams, the wheels fell off the computer and despair set in, finally. I'd been keeping it at bay for days but you can only hold out for so long. Even ran a 5K yesterday. Finished in 22:14, which isn't bad (considering I haven't run much since the Katrina Marathon in Huntington Beach) but wasn't good enough to finish in the top 250 for the cheap medal (only 30 some-odd heads away!) The Little Ditchman got in her first race. She got a medal, and it was much-deserved.

More on it all tomorrow. Perhaps it was eating the artichokes in the yard that set my mind awhirl. I refuse to be Gregor Samsa. I will eat right. Sleep well, friends.


Friday, April 4, 2008

I actually went for a run this morning. 3 miles. I didn't have to walk. This is significant because after that last race in the driving wind and rain I got sick and busy. I ran a few more times after that and then just... stopped.

That was two months ago. Usually when I quit for a time, it takes a few runs for my lungs and heart to get back in the swing of things, but today I was fine. I didn't go fast or anything fancy, just my regular around the neighborhood jaunt up and down the hills for about 3.1 miles. It felt fantastic. Of course, there was that one part about a mile and half into it where I started to cry and had a lump in my throat and felt like falling off the sidewalk, but otherwise I was okay.

In my whole life, I don't think I have ever hurt this much for a friend. I know why. It's because I have a daughter now, and I know how much I love her. I was discussing this with another friend of mine once. This friend has a daughter, too, and is not known for his sensitive, emotional side. He said -and I remember it clearly- "You'd take a bullet for her" and I replied, "In an instant." And I would, too. There wouldn't even be any mulling over the concept. It would be an impulse, my love for my daughter is so great. I would take a bullet for her. I don't even have to consider it.

One of the ways men love is through acts of self-sacrifice -as opposed to affection and attention, for example. I think this is what makes men kinda go all flippy when their wives are pregnant. You just feel so helpless. And if there's anything men hate, it's not having the solution to the problem. They would rather be wrong than helpless, and given the choice they'd take neither. Deny the one and fake the other! But, hell, I'd take "wrong" any day of the week. (And Mrs. Ditchman doesn't hesitate to remind me when I'm wrong. Then the only real solution is to get back to work.)

So I think about Matt and Holly and Annabelle and I think about my own daughter and my heart deflates. You just want to do something and I don't know what. Pray again? Be grateful? Love my own family more? Work harder? How can we go on? The confusion of it all clouds the intellect, so you go for a run. Your breathing finds that rhythm, the pavement slides by beneath your feet. You feel healthy and you feel the breeze in your hair and the natural tap of gravity reverberating up your spine. You lift your head to see where you are, and you find yourself just crying about it all again.


Thursday, April 3, 2008

The light rain never came, as much as I was looking forward to it. That's usually the way these things pan out, weather-wise. I seem to remember a month ago the rains what came that no one expected. Hold on whichever way the wind blows, should be the going advice of local weathermen. That's good advice all around.

Annabelle and her family seem to be putting up the good fight. "If you find yourself going through hell, keep going!" is a fine Churchillian mantra, if only for the comic relief. I have been praying for them. I'm someone who regularly prays for "God's will to be done," figuring He knows best, has a profound plan, and I should get out of the way and not muck it up. Praying this way has changed my perspective on life over the years, and it has given me peace and patience amidst these earthly confines. But lately I've found myself praying for a miracle. I'm not someone who needs miracles to have faith, mind you, actually I feel quite the opposite -it's the faith that brings the miracles about. But anyway, if the Lindens are looking for a miracle, however it may manifest itself, I believe they have surrounded themselves with the right people. All the comments and web links are impressive with their love, support, charity, affection, faith and confidence. Let it be a lesson to all of us, that we are careful with whom we surround ourselves in this short life, as some day we may need them beyond our imagining.

A diversion. No doubt having a child with a disability would be a challenge for the parents. This, too, would be a challenge. Yes, my child has a real problem: he's a know-it-all! I thought this was hilarious, especially the last line. It also cracks me up that the paleobiology staff at the Smithsonian has been "long rankled" -because there's nothing more unnerving than a long-rankled paleobiology department! I mean, it's amazing that they've been able to accomplish anything over there, being so rankled all this time! Hopefully the country will survive, having been miseducated for 27 years about the proper use of the word "Precambrian".

I needed a real diversion last night, so I watched a few more episodes of John Adams. IT'S AWESOME! No, really. HBO was having a special on their service, something like ten bucks a month for three months, so Mrs. Ditchman choked up the cash to make her husband happy. It worked! I must be a huge nerd. When George Washington took the oath of office at the end of Episode 4, I actually got misty-eyed. I have never considered myself much of a history buff, until recently, but I have been a film buff. This one is good. SEE IT. Every American should.

We have made it over the hump day, and this year is more than 25 percent over, can you believe it? I gotta go. The car is on the lawn again.


Wednesday, April 2, 2008

They say a light rain is coming tonight, with no danger of flash flooding or mudslides in the county. Fine by me, I say. Seems to me every man, woman, weed, and waterbug appreciates a nice light rain in Southern California. Or should.

I banged myself up pretty good yesterday. Banged up the current job, too. I assured the customer I would fix it. "Yes. You will," they said. I'm always tempted to say things like, "Oh, it comes like that! Happens in shipping sometimes!" But no. That's not the kind of business I was put on this planet to run. The customer didn't notice the blood dripping off my hand. When they left, I went out to the truck to get a bandage. I'll go back today and give it my best shot. Such is life.

The Little Ditchman awoke screaming in the middle of the night. Again. She settles down fairly quick when you go in to console her. I went in some time later, it was the middle of the night, and found her just laying there half awake. The two-year-old couldn't get back to sleep. Happens to me sometimes, and I'm all of thirty-eight. Made me sad to see a kid with insomnia, for who knows what horrors keep her up. No doubt the Little Einsteins had crashed Rocket in Egypt and were unable to escape Nile Crocodile. Or picture Elmo with teeth, laughing maniacally in that high-pitched voice of his, mercilessly flushing Dorothy down the maw of a gargantuan toilet.

I looked down at her in the dark to see how open her eyes were and she saw that it was me and just stared back. I whispered, "Sweet dreams" and she whispered it back, "sweet dreams" and rolled over and laid there, staring sideways. It's the kind of thing that would otherwise make you worry, but it's two AM and you're tired and sore.

Today there is more screaming. It's not about anything in particular, I-don't-want-to-eat-this or I-don't-want-to-wear-that. She has been prone to outbursts lately, so I guess the terrible twos are really here. It was like watching a storm coming. It rains down and you think, "Is that it?" and then it rains harder and the winds come and you go, "Oh. That's it." And then the lightning and thunder hit and branches crack and fall out of trees. In the suburbs, water rises over the curb and takes down empty trash cans. Now, there's no mistaking it. Stay inside.

I suppose there's a certain amount of self-realization that comes at two that makes everything so unbearable. The kid thinks, The Big Folks are in charge but I have some influence over the situation. I'm going to scream until I get my way! But a good parent doesn't give in to the screaming. The lesson taught is that screaming to get what you want is a futile tactic.

Mommy had her head in her hands at the top of the stairs last night and I had to find it in me to take over, which was the hardest part of yesterday, in light of everything. God gets His way and you know that no amount of screaming will get you yours. But sometimes you just want to cry all the same.

A nice light cry.


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

I had been planning the greatest April Fool's joke of all blogdom for today, but now I'm just not feeling it. "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry" you know, which is a terrific quote. It's terrific in that we can all immediately identify with it. It's terrific in that man's pride is suddenly diminished to that of mice. And it's terrific in that it executes perfectly the word "awry" which goes so unused nowadays. The word was used perfectly once, finally, by Steinbeck, and then the English language retired it. Hung the jersey up in the library rafters and there it's draped: AWRY, for all of us to stand beneath, mouths agape. Also, it seems to happen "often", doesn't it?

Things have gone awry for some of the Ditchman's best friends, which is why I'm in no mood for April Fool's jokes. I'm not really in the mood for anything, actually. I don't have it in me to go to work. I don't have it in me to write this. I just feel heartsick, with a pronounced sapping of essence. But I did want to mention my friends here, who are like family, and ask you to pray for them -who must feel a thousand times more than what I do right now.

God has chosen to breathe life into another creature, which is hardly insignificant. He does it in ways we can only barely understand, and he does this on purpose. Then, in His vast and infinite wisdom, chooses who to trust with the care of His child. I know that there are a very few people in the world I would trust with my own daughter. The Lindens come to mind. I don't say that lightly. No one is responsible enough, especially when my child is suffering.

God is confident in his creation, confident in us, that we will take good care to lead his children back to Him. Somehow the least of these end up leading us, which is all part of God's wisdom, I guess. Or, I imagine. I mean, I hope.

May the joy and love of God be evident and abundant, in every circumstance and in every moment, during our own short lives. May it replace our wondering of His intent, and may we be filled with faith in it all the same.

Link is here.