Friday, January 30, 2009

Here's the first paragraph:

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago - never mind how long precisely - having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.

I just love that opening from Moby Dick. I know those feelings, and believe that most men do. I had the excerpt posted up above the other day, and re-reading it reminded me how I've never actually read the whole thing. I have it saved for retirement, when I have the patient time to savor and fully digest every literary morsel, instead of glossing over it, tossing it aside, and claiming it as conquered like I would if I read it today -forgetting the page previous as I read on, and discarding any lasting memory of it as I closed the cover.

I know Moby Dick to be the only great work of American literature that will stand the test of time and last as only Shakespeare does (though some suggest that Huckleberry Finn comes pretty close.) The thing wasn't covered in any of my lit classes in college because the professors claimed it demanded 4 units all its own, as Shakespeare, Chaucer, and the Bible do. I also heard of the ongoing argument that the book falls flat with its seemingly endless descriptions of the minutiae of whaling, where some claimed that those passages are precisely what makes the book a great one. The thought of passing my time inhaling long-winded descriptions of sophisticated 19th century sailing techniques turned me off to ever reading it. I saw the movie in high school. I got the point. The white whale is God. Whatever.

When I lived at Dantean Point, Carey and I had a goldfish in a bowl. I forget the goldfish's name, but he was a reader. He read Moby Dick most of the time he was there, with the book propped up behind the bowl. (It took him a while to read it, as we would often forget to turn the page for him.) We read a lot, then, and Carey picked up the book a couple times and commented to me how great it was. "The white whale is God," I would mutter, which is like saying The Origin of the Species is about apes. Anyway, I picked up the book one day and decided to read the first and last pages, just for the helluvit, and I never forgot them.

Here's the end (spoiler alert):

It so chanced, that after the Parsee's disappearance, I was he whom the Fates ordained to take the place of Ahab's bowsman, when that bowsman assumed the vacant post; the same, who, when on the last day the three men were tossed from out the rocking boat, was dropped astern. So. floating on the margin of the ensuing scene, and in full sight of it, when the half-spent suction of the sunk ship reached me, I was then, but slowly, drawn towards the closing vortex. When I reached it, it had subsided to a creamy pool. Round and round, then, and ever contracting towards the button-like black bubble at the axis of that slowly wheeling circle, like another ixion I did revolve. till gaining that vital centre, the black bubble upward burst; and now, liberated by reason of its cunning spring, and owing to its great buoyancy, rising with great force, the coffin like-buoy shot lengthwise from the sea, fell over, and floated by my side. Buoyed up by that coffin, for almost one whole day and night, I floated on a soft and dirge-like main. The unharming sharks, they glided by as if with padlocks on their mouths; the savage sea-hawks sailed with sheathed beaks. On the second day, a sail drew near, nearer, and picked me up at last. It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan.

The ship sinks, and Ahab goes down with the white whale. Ishmael is saved afloat by the coffin that his friend Queequeg was building for himself. Round and round he floats in that vortex... What's the book about again? Man, I could analyze those two paragraphs all night, but there's not enough beer.

So, one day I'll get around to reading it. If my kids are forced to read it in high school, I'll read it with them. It's an important book, however long and hard. Sometimes you've gotta stick with something if you want to get the full benefit, which is what I remind myself as I scan old photographs into the computer or turn the soil in my garden boxes. I suspect Melville himself knew this, and thought long and hard about it when he famously deserted the whaling ship Acushnet in the Marquesas in July of 1842, and lived with cannibals for a month. Ten years later Moby Dick would be published. It would be considered a failure and Melville would die forty years after that, almost completely forgotten.

Many editions of the book were printed without that last page, incidentally, when the publisher botched it big time. That couldn't have helped.

I think I remember reading that Melville said we should, or do, all have some undying passion that we live to the end of our days for, as Ahab did, and it's something that one should both nurture and guard against. One might say that Moby Dick itself was Melville's Moby Dick, and that we all have a big Moby Dick that we might want to be wary of. Heh. But, like I said, not enough beer.

Have a fine weekend! (Don't rush it!)


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Banged out the job in "The Coffin" yesterday in record time so that Mrs. Ditchman could hand me the children and get to her appointments today. Not sure what I would have done if I didn't finish. Strap one kid on the tool belt and tether the other to the ladder and go at it today, I guess. That's a family business.

We've had several customers who've chosen to go with our company precisely because we are a family business, and we appreciate their support! Lots of folks do this, I imagine, in an effort to keep corporate America at bay and enrich the livelihood of the real folk. Unfortunately most people don't get that they run the risk of the family business contractor showing up late because of a sick kid, leaving early to get to the sitter on time, or charging a bit more because they have to provide their own health insurance. In many ways the government is less friendly to small business than it is to big corporations, I believe, but it doesn't bother me -they have more employees, with families of their own, to tend to. And I can't afford all those fancy Washington lobbiests!

So we juggle. And juggle. And juggle again. Spin the plates today, add a few beanbags tomorrow. I used to be able to get a few things done around here when we just had the one little Ditchman. Now, I'm full. More than full. I know people who have "Family Day", but in our house just about every day is "Family Day" -which is thoroughly awesome.

Except for the part where Mrs. Ditchman rushes off to work in the car with both car seats. And we're all out of diapers. And worse: no wipes.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

It's back to El Cajon today. I did a Google Spanish-to-English translation to see if El Cajon actually meant "the canyon". It doesn't. It means "the coffin". Suddenly, I'm not that inclined to rush off to work today.

The City of El Cajon web page has a historical write-up on the place that reads as dry and hollow as the general landscape of the city. I learned nothing. But it does claim that El Cajon actually means "The Big Box Valley" yet of course we all know how public relations work, and we all know which big box they're referring to. Also, horseracing on Main Street was outlawed in 1912, so I won't be doing that on my lunch break.

The Wikipedia entry on El Cajon has the translation as "The Drawer", so it could be anything. Also, Greg Louganis is from El Cajon. Fascinating. It's fascinating, because in the sidebar it lists total water area for the city as 0 square miles. Greg started with nothing!

So, it's off to El Cajon for the day, and then the long sweet ride home to Oceanside, birthplace of Barbara Mandrell. Oceanside, California: no translation necessary.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I'm done with the border crossings! Glad to have that job beyond the Orange Curtain behind me. Driving the 405 was grinding down the bits of my soul I have tenderly nourished and regrown over the past 5 years, and I was beginning to feel less self-actualized and more like my old self, which I generally evade. Today I drive to El Cajon, and it's about the same distance in exactly the opposite direction, but I'm not so disturbed by it, despite the fact that I have to go by way of Murietta first, which is like going to Tijuana by way of Las Vegas. Oh well.

But I did get to go to my favorite LFS (live fish store), Tong's Tropical, which happened to be just around the corner from that last job. I didn't buy anything, though I could have spent $500 in 5 minutes -like Imelda Marcos in a shoe outlet. The place has more than doubled in size since I started going there in 2003, and I swear there is no place like it on all the west coast. I generally don't shop at Tong's, unless there's something I just can't find anywhere else, because the place is so far away and everything is overpriced... but it's a wonder to visit.

There are fish tanks, hundreds of them, arranged in a floor to ceiling labyrinth, and they are every size, shape and color, with many uniquely crafted and labeled for a specific animal or purpose like "shark" or "seahorse" or "jellyfish" or "clownfish breeder". The entire place is loudly abuzz with fans and lights and an array of plumbing that rivals hydroelectric dams and aircraft carriers. With all that water and electricity in one place, when you look up to find yourself at the back of the hall you wonder if you're going to make it to the exit without electrocuting yourself. It's an assault on the senses to go in there, with all its exotic curiosities, but the customers keep coming; hobbyists and professionals, children and old people, lots of restaurant owners, and more than a few bespectacled Asian men in expensive suits, muttering calculations to themselves as they pore over every display.

The coral sales tanks are more stunning than any displays I've seen in any of the major California aquariums, and it's unexpected in this non-descript mini-mall in the heart of Orange County. My only guess is that it's just too expensive for the museums to run all those metal halide lights and high-volume water pumps. I tried to take a few pictures, but those lights emphasize the blue spectrum (it penetrates water better and reaches the animals at a greater depth) and my camera wasn't set up for it. Trust me: when you get up close to the glass, you are blown away by the animated iridescent rainbow of other-wordly life before you.

How does the place stay in business with those utility and insurance bills? Not sure, but I think it has something to do with the fact that they've mastered the art of aquaculturing stoney corals. I know of nowhere else where they can get these things to grow so fast, so naturally. Tong's lab assistants break off a tiny branch the size of your fingernail, epoxy it to a little ceramic stand, stick it in a tank under super-bright lights and clean, turbulent seawater, and months later there's a branch of coral for $40. They grow them by the hundreds.

(I had my eye on that green doggie in the window, there, but resisted.)

Some Internet forums are very critical of Tong's Tropical, claiming the store has an inordinate amount of die-off and a high rate of incurable marine diseases and parasites. Perhaps they're right, but perhaps Tong's failure rate is so high because his success rate is so high. Perhaps Tong is a risk-taker, tireless in his pursuits. Perhaps his critics are jealous.

Tong himself is a tall, slightly chubby Asian kid who stands out front by the truck sucking down Rock Stars and smoking cigarettes in the shade. (It's pretty hot and humid in the store.) He needs a haircut. I don't really know Tong, but a lot of customers come in and pretend to. He seems like a rough, bookish, know-it-all who refuses to work for the Establishment, when he could be making big bucks out in the civilian market -which he does. I envision him using unorthdox procedures to procure rare specimens, and angrily answering late-night calls from museum "specialists" in a tight spot with their bleached acroporas and confounding phosphate levels. He's like the House of tropical fish, I suspect, and one day a backwater aquarium with low attendance and diminished public funding will hire Tong in a dimly lit bar somewhere, sending him on a low profile to isolated waters in the South Pacific to illegally acquire an endangered species using the recently banned turkey-baster-and-cyanide method that has the hobbiests up in arms. "I'm promoting awareness," he tells himself, like all zookeepers tell themselves, while the animals they love live out sad lives of confinement, misery, and affliction in their cages.

Some scientists claim that the coral reefs are rapidly becoming extinct, and that people like Tong are a threat to their survival, but others say Tong is a rogue of invertebrate husbandry. An unsung genius of aquaculture. A hero. A saviour.

Me, I just wish he was cheaper.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Back to the Great Archival Project! The supercomputer is online again, so I've gotten it together and waded into the morasse of stuff that needs to be digitized before file formats change and the home computer is abandoned altogether for the GDrive, wave of the future. I've been burning discs of 2008, (as I've been burned before by corrupt hard drives) and have gone back to scanning old pics. Currently, I'm diving into the old wedding day pics, which were all shot on ACTUAL KODAK FILM! (Yes, we are that old.) So it's a chore sliding those negatives into the machine, but kinda nice to see the things on the computer. I can get one roll of film digitized and photoshopped a day -and I have about thirty rolls. The goal is to get it all done and booted up to the AppleTV by March 29th and surprise Mrs. Ditchman, so I've got two months. I think I can do it. Don't tell her.

I also have a bit of video. I will never forget standing there at the reception, taking direction from the Best Man, when out of nowhere a video camera came flying through the air and landing with a crunch on the grass, right there in front of everyone. "That's Dain, our videographer for the weekend," was announced. How the camera leapt out of his hands at just that moment has never been answered, but it was a good laugh. (Dain is my little brother.) Anyway, he got it all on video -everyone laughing, upside down, POV of the lawn. Dain went on to happily sample all the wine on my wedding day. I think he was at the bar when my bride came down the aisle, as he seemed to have missed that shot. He had a fantastic time!

There were a couple guests who had video rolling, actually, so I was able to track down one of them for the footage. While I was scanning negatives the other day I noticed my mother-in-law with an old video camera that appears in a couple pics. I never got that footage! So I play the intrepid documentarian now, tracking down the "lost wedding footage" from 2003. Please Email me your leads, or whatever old pics you may have of the fabled day.

There are also a lot of prints, which takes TIME -and, man, does it ever. Over the years, a lot of people have sent us scattered remnants and I've been collecting the mess in a box. The wedding was kind of a funny, shoot-from-the-hip-in-the-middle-of-the-forest-a-few-hundred-miles-from-home sort of party, and we bolted for Hawaii immediately following and then did the big move-in together right after that. The wedding was all planned and executed in our short 4 month engagement during the Christmas holiday, and as a result, planning for the archiving of all this stuff never became much of a priority. It all sits in a couple boxes at the foot of our marital bed, and it has sat there for nearly six years -various photos, mementos, guest book, receipts from the day, invitations, Big Sur matchbooks, etc. We don't really even have a "wedding album", which is kind of odd to consider. But we do have two kids to show for it, so all the mess is justified. Anyway, I'm sick of these boxes sitting at the foot of the bed.

And we both had a lot of wine that day! I know because half a bottle was spilled down the bride's pricey, worn-once gown. (We recently picked up the dress from the Restorer. They seemed to have miraculously repaired it, though erasing the stain did make me a tad nostalgic.) I could blame the wine instead of my age, but it's getting harder to remember it all, so getting these pics and video together has become important, before it's gone forever.

By the way, can anyone tell what kind of wine this is? I was able to enlarge another shot of it. It's a '96 Napa Valley Cab with the letters "...refethen" in the name. Just thought I'd ask. Funny... I remember it not being nearly as good as the Monticelli Bros.

P.S. Found it.

(In the case that the Ditchman kids will want our story's details.)


Friday, January 23, 2009

It's Home Show weekend! Here's the link, in case you're wondering what all the hullabaloo is about. I set up our wares yesterday in such spectacular fashion, that all comers will surely find the stuff utterly irresistible! That is, if there are any comers. As well, there are only half has many exhibitors, in what is usually the best show of the year, so I guess it's a sign of the times. Also noticed that there are significantly fewer patio cover companies, for whatever reason. "Only the strong survive!" exclaimed Mrs. Ditchman. (Yay, capitalism.) Man, if we're 'the strong' then this country is in real trouble. The real question is, will the customers show? We'll see.

"This, too, shall pass," goes the age-old saying that makes the happy sad, and the sad happy. You don't hear that saying much in this country, and I imagine in the destitute Third World it would be every third billboard. It's a profound thought, and one best pondered in the garden, where one can see it actualized month after month, season after season. I pulled nearly everything out of the garden boxes last weekend, and it was a sad affair that went arm-in-arm with anticipatory hope. Last year's Tomatoes of Wonder are gone and now I'll turn the soil again, rotate in a new vegetable, and see what happens. It's Man's work, with God's help. Always exciting, always a chore, always in question, and never a bore.

This year I think I will educate myself a bit more on soil qualities. (Okay, I admit it can be a bore sometimes.) I used some new amendments last season to great affect, and it's high time I figured out why it happened that way. I was in Home Depot yesterday and the vendor from the veggie supplier was actually there stocking the racks. I stopped to gaze in awe at the vast potential and I think he saw the lusty gardener's glimmer in my eye and so he approached me. "Have any questions?" he asked politely. I just shook my head. Questions? Man, where do I start? "No thanks," I said. "Just checking it all out." I was planning on going with seeds this year, to save money.

So we've got a little rain here, just a mild-mannered shower that prompts the local authority to send out the We're-Still-In-A-Drought press releases. I'd like to see more rain, of course, but only when I'm not working. It's starting to warm a little, and the ground knows it. My asparagus is popping through and there are buds on the maple out back. And my daily morning exploration unveiled this:

A perfect little blue hyacinth. Planted those bulbs years ago and roundly forgot about them -as is the nature of bulb planting. Seems something is rousing down there, beneath the surface. It's a bright spot of color in the otherwise brownish yard. A tiny thing of beauty with a scent detectable at six paces, and one that sends your shovel ever forward, at that. But by the time those surrounding boxes are filled with flower and frenzy, this little hyacinth will be gone, brown and wilted, having fed its bulb for a time and then shrunk back into its floral hibernation until who-knows-when.

Have a great weekend. It's not as long as last week's and filled with work for some, but guess what? This too shall pass.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Woe to the Obama administration Mac users! Cracks me up that they're all on Gmail right now. (And hey presidential team: if you're using the 23" screen and have a power surge and then the screen won't come back on, switch the power adaptor up to the one for the 30" model. Just trying to help.)

I was snickering at how the president messed up the oath the other day. I thought it funny, given all the build-up about how "articulate" he is. Turns out Chief Justice Roberts screwed it up, too. The biggest guys in the room were performing a transfer of power, and here it was like strangers meeting on the sidewalk and trying to pass on the same side. So they did a presidential do-over back at the office, which is hilarious. I mean, who knew that the official oath, which is written out in the constitution, had to be administered word-for-word? See folks? Our leaders are not gods, but mere men with that same capacity for dopiness that we all carry. I, for one, find the whole scene oddly reassuring. (And don't worry, Obama: you're in league with those other great presidents, Calvin Coolidge and Chester Arthur, who had to do the same thing.)

So after that Great Day for America (shame on me, I forgot to put my flag out) we can get back to the hard work of criticizing the government. First up: the closing of Guantanamo Bay. Well, hooray for that. Seriously, there are some excellent arguments for shutting down the place, and I could be convinced, I suspect. But that's not what bothers me. This is. Now, President Obama, it's getting personal. This is the ultimate NIMBY. Take 245 of the most vicious death-loving mass-murderers on the planet, move them from the deserted island they're on (which is more than they deserve) and house them ten miles from my house?! Not the hope and change I was hoping for. Taking them back to the battlefield and giving them a minute to run for it before the soldiers start firing wasn't an option, I guess. Personally, I'd rather have the home-grown nuclear waste problem in my backyard, but no one is asking me. Oh well, what're you going to do? Vote Republican?

In other news, Lost had a rousing season premiere last night! It looks like they're finally getting around to answering more questions than they ask (like, when is Sawyer going to put a shirt on?) making the show eminently more watchable. It was the best part of yesterday.

Actually, no. The best part of yesterday was when I got home and the Little Ditchman screamed "DADDY!" when she heard me come in. Nothing beats that! Makes one feel supremely loved, adored, feared, respected, etc. Like Obama on the Capitol steps.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Age of Obama commencing in 5... 4... 3... 2...

Well, yesterday was a great day for America, and I mean that in all sincerity. I can't imagine standing there on the capitol steps and looking out at a crowd of a million people, all of them waiting to hear what I had to say. And then, when you consider the millions around the world watching on television... it's amazing. I mean, you better get it right. You're the president. You are America now.

I had a million things to say about the address and found it all utterly fascinating, but I am so swamped with things this week that I have no time to expound upon it. I will say that I thought Rick Warren's prayer was excellent, where I didn't expect it to be. I wonder what all the findamentalist Muslims and Jew-hating Arabs and secular Europeans thought of all that Jesustalk. What must they think of this country, the most powerful country in the world, and the God it worships? And for Warren to close with the Lord's Prayer was unique, thoughtful, brazen, and profound. I loved it.

I listened to that great triumverate of right-wing talk radio hosts all day yesterday; Dennis Prager, Michael Medved and Hugh Hewitt. Prager was the most critical, surprisingly, calling the speech "uninspiring". Medved was in the middle, calling it "platitudinous". He said that the speech itself was in no way a great one, but that it was delivered greatly. And Hewitt said that it was a great day for America and that all Americans should be proud. The three had a lot of truly interesting comments and guests. A good day for conservative talk radio, if you're into that sort of thing.

Me, I thought the speech was "pretty good". There were some fine statements, shrewdly inserted on Obama's part, that appealed to the conservative in me:

We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you... To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.


What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Unfortunately, I don't believe the death-loving barbarians living in the caves of Afghanistan have any intention of "unclenching" their fists, or are ever capable of it. And neither do I believe politicians ever really "end" any programs, which is like stopping boulders after you push them down a hill. But anyway, it was nice to hear!

Then there were some ughh moments. Prager pointed out the nonsense of this statement:

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

Sounds good, right? I guess. Until you analyze the words and consider the philosophical construct. Has security ever "emanated" from the justness of a cause? Never in history. How many people with their just causes have been mass murdered over the years? Has security ever emanated from the force of one's example? Uh, no. A strong example of something good is just another thing on the list of things a tyrant desires to destroy. Has security ever emanated from the tempering qualities of humility and restraint? Look, Prager noted, if you put a sign on your front door that says that your house is secured by your "humility" and "restraint", you'll be the first on the block to get robbed. Anyway, empty sentences like that, with their mindless lyricism, only impress college professors and those not paying attention.

And then there was all the talk of a "new era of responsibility", which I am totally for, but in the same breath it's the government who "helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified," so I guess I don't have to be that responsible after all. I mean, why should I have to bother to find my own work to support my family, take care of my own health, and save for my dignified retirement? Let the government do it!

That being said, the message overall was a strong one of hope, and that is very good. Our nation should be that shining light of hope in the world. And people love the man, Obama, who looked altogether proud, in command, and strong up there on the steps -just a stone's throw from where slaves were bound, chained and sold a few hundred years ago. And, though not a descendent of American slaves, he is black and that means something. Man has the capacity to change. If in sixty years our mostly white country can go from segregation to voting a black into the White House (which was partially built with slave labor), then we may very well see a reformed Islam or a democratic China in our lifetime. That is a hopeful thought! (But I won't hold my breath. China edited all that stuff about "communism" and the "wrong side of history" out of the speech transcript on their Internet yesterday.)

Anyway, it was moving. America is the best place on the planet. Dictators around the world get older and older every day, but our leaders stay fresh and young forever. We rotate them out like smart bakers do their donuts.

Yesterday was a great day for America, indeed. And today is a great day in America, as every day in America is, despite the circumstances. Americans are not conquerors, but liberators. And good Americans see the world from the vantage point of liberty, and through the prism of our blessings, so that there is always hope. We hold these and other truths to be self-evident, where only a solemn few other countries do.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hey, it's a brand new day!

And in so many ways! Obama is ushering in "a new era of responsibility" and finally we can all work harder with the blessing of the president -as so many of us have been going rogue for the past decade or so.

The Ditchman Family Supercomputer is back up and running, thanks to the kind folks at the Mac Store who just gave up on solving my plight through the proper channels and did the whole thing "off the books". It's a funny story, actually, but one too technical to relay with any lasting, spellbinding interest. In the end, their computers wouldn't let them fix my computer, because some technical glitch in my system demanded a power adaptor from an entirely different model. All were flummoxed, and then the manager exhaled and just handed me the brick from the counter machine. "Here," he said. "Call it even." I asked him what I should do if this one ever malfunctioned, and he just gave me his card. "See me."

Excellent! So I'm back online with a backlog of dumb stuff piled on my desk, and the heavy weight of 2009's goals on my shoulders. I won't burden you with the specifics, as I am off to parts beyond the Orange Curtain today. (Normally, I'd be worried about the border crossings on Inaugural Day when power is transferring to the opposing party, but I'm exiting a liberal county to enter the conservative one, and then coming back through a different gate into a conservative district, so I should be okay.) I'll catch the inaugural address in the car, try to make it home for Bunco night, and then I'll worry about tomorrow's rain -which promises to really mess up the busy schedule packed into the next ten days. It's Home Show weekend! Our first with two kids, one of which refuses to take the bottle. (He's in for some hungry hurt this weekend.)

Seriously: President Obama, can't we do something about this weather?


Didn't make it out of the house! Watched the speech! Remarkable! Pretty good! But I must admit, I did find it amusing that he flubbed the oath, when he inarticulately stepped on the Chief Justice. (He came through, though.)

Also, love those nice long coats! (And note the peaceful transfer of internet domain. Only in America!)


Monday, January 19, 2009

All free time usurped by life/work.


Friday, January 16, 2009

Wow! And I thought I was having a bad day! Seriously now, the day doesn't really start getting bad until the pilot comes over the public address and announces calmly, "Brace for impact because we're going down." He's been hailed as a "hero" for bringing the plane down safely on the Hudson. He avoided the skyscrapers and bridges and boats, all with flaming engines, and then got everyone out into the 36 degree waters of the river (wind chill of -10) and ran up and down the aisle twice to make sure everyone was out (he was the last one.) Amazing.

It's also been called a "miracle" that everyone survived and no one was seriously hurt. In the midst of the crisis, one woman actually texted her husband: MY PLANE IS CRASHING, and a few rows over a mom and dad held their terrified three-year-old girl and nine-month-old boy. The stories are truly incredible, but I ask you: hero or miracle? Some of both? The media bandy these heady words around all the time.

Was it a miracle that the plane hit a flock of migrating geese? Was the pilot acting heroic in performing the duties for which he's trained his whole life? Are these fair questions? I don't believe in luck. I believe in a set of given circumstances where God asks you to perform. Perform well, and it affects the next set of circumstances. Perform poorly, and, well, it affects the next set of circumstances. The real question persists: Why me, Lord? I don't know why you. I barely know why me. I figure when we die, we can ask Him, and I believe then we'll be in for a steady stream of humbling surprises.

So does the Lord intercede with miracles? Sure He does, but it's still part of the set of given circumstances, and something will be required of you as a result. I've seen people act poorly in the face of miracles, and I've seen them act heroically at the events, too. And do people act heroically? Sure, sometimes the Lord asks us to take extraordinary measures at a heavy cost, but in this world the "heroes" are rarely significant, and the "significant" are rarely heroic. Google "top ten admired people" and J. Lo comes up. And I'll bet if you ask Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III, the pilot of US Airways 1549, about his heroics, he'll say something like, I was just doing my job. Every pilot in the same situation would have done the same thing. Firefighters and Policemen and Soldiers say it all the time.

Just doing his job. Well, God bless him! I'm saying, the hard part of life is just figuring out what your job is, and then acting with integrity. It's harder than it looks, because it's in our nature to pity ourselves for our misfortune, shaking our fists at the Heavens and screaming that it's all unfair! and then claiming you deserve some just reward for suffering it all. Everyone identifies with that, but rise above your nature in this world and you will probably never be congratulated for it.

President Bush gave his farewell address last night. I happen to think the man "did his job" by making some tough calls during his presidency, and at the heavy cost of popular opinion (which, in this day and age, is positively heroic!) If I am ever proved right by this supposition, it will be long after the man is buried in the ground. Some say it was a miracle that we were never attacked in the seven years after 9/11. I say he gets credit for it. We'll see. In his last press conference, President Bush was asked if he felt that he was a "victim" of the circumstances that befell him during his administration. He balked, actually recoiled, at the suggestion, and then said, for the sake of the morons who just don't get it, "No."

I, for one, will miss him. I realize I'm in the minority. Obama takes the seat of power with a world of popular opinion behind him, and I happen to think principled decisions are even harder under those circumstances. I didn't vote for Obama, but I'm not one of these conservative republicans who gets on the public address and screams, Brace for impact because we're going down! On the contrary, I pray he succeeds at his job, and does it well. It's a miracle if any of us ever do.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Computer still down. Also, old computer is now downstairs, which is what I've intended for some time. It's odd to have this thing downstairs, as now all those things that haunt my head when I sit at my desk are merging with everything that rings in my head when I'm downstairs. Things like, you know, Disney Playhouse theme tunes, crying babies, the water running in the sink. Lord help me if I ever get a laptop and the whole world is let in. Must compartmentalize. The trick is not looking perpetually distracted.

Though Mrs. Ditchman tried to rouse me at one point, I slept on the the couch last night, immobile. I was determined to see the end of Lost, which was last season's finale. I didn't make it. I got up twenty minutes before the final shot and had a bar of chocolate to keep me awake. It didn't work, and I woke at 2AM with the rank, brown flavor of unabsorbed chocolate in my mouth. I didn't brush, and just pulled a throw pillow over me and went back to sleep. Then I had a dream that I arrived to run a marathon at 6AM but the race was going to begin at 6PM, in the dark. Also, they had changed the course so that it went up a mountainside on a dirt path. I was really bummed, as I had to sit there at the cold start line for twelve hours and fret about it.

The upstairs is just so far away now, and my time off in December has left me soft, so that this week's work has given me soreness from neck to ankle. And evidently there's more work to be done, as I was reminded at 7:00 this morning when the Ditchman Family came downstairs to have life. How I could be so busy and behind schedule so early in the year with no money coming in is beyond me. Maybe the paychecks are upstairs? I wouldn't know, as I only go there to shower, but I'm pretty sure that's where the bills are piled up, too.

But the weather is still great, so we've got something to brag about. And the neighbor finally got his foundation poured (yesterday, at the crack of dawn, of course) for the mansionization of his property that got held up last month by the City and the weather and the holidays and whatever. His contractor seems raring to go, as the lumber arrived first thing this morning. I'm not sure they knew where to put it all. And the street cleaner came by and ticketed everyone, including the contractor, bright and early. (Not me though. I had the car up on the lawn, and I was asleep on the couch, in yesterday's clothes, with the lights still on, and surrounded by empty, crumpled beer cans -white trash that I am.) (Okay, just kidding about the beer cans.)

So that's life in these suburbs. Off to work, like everyone. The problem with spending the night on the couch is that it's like a nap in the middle of the longest work day ever.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Scrubs is on a different network now. Does anyone care? Does it matter at all? I just think it's interesting that the show was dumped and then picked up by an entirely different channel. "We'll take your failing show and make it the hit it deserves to be!" Sounds like a plot line from one of the episodes themselves.

All the power to them, it's a good show. Funny. It won me over last week, once and for all, where previously I was just a passing fan. Anyway, did you catch the one where they fired off the flare gun at the end? This goofball show found itself being funny, sweet, and slightly profound all at once -which is quite an accomplishment. I won't go into it. If you saw it, you know what I'm talking about.

Funny, sweet, and slightly profound -that holy triumvirate that is the inner workings of sentimentality- no content life can do without. In college, sentimentality was always referred to as "sickly", as in, "sickly sentimental". If it lacked "intellect" and didn't wander outside the bounds of "traditional mores", then it was considered undeveloped, unsophisticated, and nearly worthless. But people continue to watch Casablanca and It's A Wonderful Life, and college professors have a whole host of psych analogies to explain this. How about, they're just "funny, sweet, and slightly profound"? Like life on a good day?

Happened in my house last night. Seriously exhausted from work, it was all I had to get those damn dirty ape dishes clean after dinner. Mrs. Ditchman was upstairs bathing Little Ditchman, briskly managing the task with the two-month-old Little Digger in her arms. I had things on my mind: clean up the kitchen, take out the trash, set the coffee maker... dumb tasks. And then there was yelling from upstairs. "Hey! Come here! Hurry! Look at this!" directed at me. I didn't want to drag myself up all those stairs to see something. Too tired. I mean, come on. Did it anyway.

The bathtub was empty. The little two-year-old was standing there naked and dripping wet, doing a silly dance in the tub. Mommy was holding the baby, who was watching her intently. Mommy looked at me, smiling, and my first reaction was something selfish, like, you called me all the way up here for this? And then she said, "Look at him," referring to the baby. I still didn't get it. "No, watch this. Okay, do the dance!" and the Little Ditchman went for it, twitching, stomping, and giggling. It was silly. The Little Digger thought it was funny. He laughed. And that was just it: he laughed for the first time. A little yuk-yuk-chortle at his goofball sister prancing naked around the tub. My wife called me up to see it. We were all there, just laughing, and an otherwise humdrum day was immortalized on the spot.

Anyway, I hope he laughs like that the rest of his long, funny, sweet, and slightly profound life. I hope we all do. Given a choice over anything else, I'll take it. It's all any of us really want or ever need, and there's nothing sickly about it.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Some city in Minnesota today has a predicted high of minus 7. Yesterday in Oceanside the high was 88. I can't imagine waking up this morning someplace where it's 94 degrees colder. 94 degrees! Mrs. Ditchman asked what it was those people did all winter, a perfectly valid question. I imagine they all have Internet jobs in warm basements, but it's possible they can't bear the thought of working outside in the heat, building aluminum patio covers. Then again, now that I think about it, maybe nobody lives in these places at all, and their high and low temps are reported on the news for lack of any other interesting info. Seriously, what's going on in the world today? Nothing. Senate confirmation hearings? I'd rather read weather reports from around the world. (Honey! It's drizzling in Bilbao!)

Speaking of torturous Senate confirmation hearings, Jack Bauer is back! I missed the "hearing" part, though, as I had completely forgotten that 24 had even started up again, and just stumbled upon the season premiere while channel surfing the other night. And then, last night during the 2nd part of the premiere, which was really the third and fourth episode in the second straight night (networks and their deranged broadcasting logic), I dozed off and awoke to find Jack torturing his old buddy, Tony Almeida. Quick look at the clock and I had only been asleep for ten minutes! This show moves pretty fast. You gotta stay ever-alert, lest the plot thicken, harden, shatter and coagulate into something else entirely, all while you're in the bathroom. ("There's not enough time!") Seriously though, five minutes later, post-torture, Jack and Tony were buddies again, risking life and limb for one another.

Mrs. Ditchman and I have a romantic connection with 24, as it's been around since before we were married. There's a subtle bonding thing we have associated with it, taking us back to those carefree days of woo and courting. She went into labor with the Little Ditchman during an episode of 24, as a matter of fact, so, yes, the show can get that intense.

How is 24 this season? Not too shabby, I guess, assuming I didn't miss something unresolvably awful. No suburbs have been nuked yet, but there are planes in the sky, filled with hapless American passengers, that are being controlled by some bad guys with geeked-out laptops. It has something vaguely to do with saving the children in Africa, but thankfully, that plot point has been ditched. And torture! Plenty of torture! Everybody's doing it now and it seems to be working! I mean, seriously, Janine Garofalo's performance has me with my hand on the remote. Get her on one of those planes!

24, Mondays on Fox at 9:00PM (8PM Central).


Monday, January 12, 2009

What a difference a weekend can make! Or, rather, what a difference cleared sinuses and an ambient temperature increase of twenty degrees can make! Sunday was a day of near perfect weather. Everyone with half a brain was out in it, and driving down the road it made you smile just to see other folks smiling about it. Winter is over! And, man, two weeks of nighttime sub-50 temps is excruciating in these parts. Seriously. All the suburbs are just finishing up their extolling of a collective, weeks-long, whine.

And I'm feeling better, though not entirely, yet still enough to say so. Mrs. Ditchman has now what I had this time last week, and I suppose I'll have this time next week whatever it is that the person I meet tomorrow has. Let me tell you: there is an economic downturn, but it is nothing in the face of lasting illness. I have been sick since August, with a 48-hour respite every ten days, and I can't focus on World Issues anymore (though, it's probably best that way.) Anyway, let the record show that I had a flu shot, took antibiotics, religiously take a daily multivitamin, never eat fast food, and get regular exercise -and still I'm sick like a CDC lab primate. So I give up. How do I account for the general affliction? Well, it's from the children, obviously. Time-Outs for everyone!

Mrs. Ditchman will tell you that I don't take these things well, either. Pathetic, I know. She is currently congested to the gills and still gets up on Beijing time to nurse the younglings -and that without medication! I admire her. But it's not her fortitude with the sickness I admire, it's that she finds it in herself to put up with my own wimped-out suffering. (God bless her.)

So back to work this week. It's in God's hands and my attitude -what else is there? (I mean, what else is there that has any real bearing on our daily fate?)


Friday, January 9, 2009

Seriously folks, there are a bajillion templates out there. It was something that disappointed me about Blogger, their dearth of creative and enticing templates, but then I remembered this thing called "Google" where you can find just about anything! If you're interested, www.btemplates.com has the best selection -they're free and they work, which is all I ask. I didn't even get through all of them, but was impressed at how many were dedicated to things like the beach, the holidays, the chocolate candies, the unflappable depression of all of life, and World of Warcraft. They all have impressive names, too, like "Darkness Inside" and "Chaotic Soul" and "True Contemplation". Tempting, every single one of them. I could have a different template for every mood on every day of the year. (Also tempting! But don't worry, I won't. I'll settle on one this weekend.)

Memo to Apple Inc.: You're doing it wrong. Apple disappoints! Just to remind, my screen went kaput when we had a power surge and the code of the flashing diode has been interpreted to mean "bad power brick". This is one of those infernal proprietary things, which I can only get through Apple, of course. (Fry's didn't sell it.) So I took the thing down to the Mac Store and there weren't any replacement power bricks hanging on the shelf, as expected. Someone asked me if I needed help. Yes, I said, I need a new power brick for my monitor. Employee made a face like she was passing a lemon through a bruised sphincter. Then she said, We don't sell those. You'll have to see a Genius. Do you have an appointment? No, I said, I didn't think I needed a genius. I just need a new power adaptor. Can I order one? Employee passed another lemon, this time sideways. That's something the Geniuses will do for you. Our first available appointment is Sunday. How does that sound?

Well, it sounds like Apple store management is run by Morons. Seriously, Apple, I can go to any store in the world, say, Autozone, and order any part to any car made in any country in the last thirty years right there at the counter, but go to Apple and you have to make an appointment with someone four days out to place an order for a simple item, which is probably just sitting on the shelf in the back room. She suggested that I try the Internet, which is like saying replacement parts for the space shuttle are on the space station. I mean, how am I gonna get there? (Okay, so I didn't mention that I had another computer.) Then she suggested that I try calling Apple Support, but I don't have Apple Support, it's too expensive, so she said try calling them anyway. Wonderful! Bummer! Wonderful!

It reminds me of something Dennis Prager said. He came on the show one morning, all worked up in a lather, and ranted, "New York City is not the greatest city in the world! I'm sorry! I don't care what everyone says! A city in which no cab will drive you to the airport is not a great city! And neither is Los Angeles! No trains go to the airport! The nearest train station to the airport is fifty miles away!" Well, he's right. And a computer store run by self-proclaimed "geniuses" where you cannot purchase or order a simple product made by the same company without having to jump over flaming razor blades and then waiting weeks on end -without a computer- is not a great computer store.

I called Apple Support, by the way. They were not supportive. The nice man said that it was a $78 part (!) but since the screen was outside of the warranty (by 2 months) he was going to have to charge me an additional $49 to place the order. They suggested that I take it into an Apple Store. Not happy in the Land of WTF. Today's Apple Support: as useful as damp toilet paper, as fun as cleaning the catbox. Not like yesterday's Apple Support, which was all smiles and thank-you's and cheery dreams of coming technologies.

Anyway, the weekend is in sight, and if I can just make it through this day, I'll be all right. I'm late for work, but I admit it, I'm stalling. I don't want to go. It's cold out there. My illness has moved to my chest. Everything is gray. Mrs Ditchman put it perfectly, "Okay, we had Christmas. I am now ready for summer." True that. Life in Southern California. We're spoiled here. A few gray days and we're left without hope, all the horrors of life made manifest.

Still, it's Friday!


Thursday, January 8, 2009

Still working on the new template.

And this broken computer thing is getting old, I know. Macs! Still I'd rather be broken down with a Mac than broken down with a PC. To me, it's like the equivalent of either having a flat tire in Hawaii, or a flat tire in the Gobi Desert. (Former preferred.)

I've endured mild depression this week, perhaps you can tell. I suppose it's all the grand plans I made for my new year, and then only living to see them T-bone me with frustration. The weather couldn't be nicer, but I've got a set of work-related problems that are just dragging me along. Then this bum computer. Then the pinhole leak in the house piping that caused some of the ceiling to come crumbling down in the garage. Then the sickness. Then this whole two-kids thing, which is more than twice as hard. (Seriously, Whack-A-Mole is best left at the carnival.) Anyway, it's Mrs. Ditchman who's been bearing the brunt of that flank, and we've got to keep her happy! so what'd I do? I made the coffee this morning to help out. We'll press on -and get those X-Mess boxes back up in the attic already! (Don't worry. I'll pull through.)

Stayed up late last night to get away from it all and actually watched a movie, for crying out loud! I catch maybe three whole movies a year, because I can't handle the two-hour commitment anymore, but last night I watched Frequency with Dennis Quaid (2000) and had forgotten what a fine flick it is. It's sort of a B-grade mystery flick with a sci-fi bent to it -perhaps you've seen it. The script really moves at a good pace, and though I think it's stronger in the first half than in the second, I still found it compelling -if only for the love-of-family theme that drives the action forward (seriously, you never see that.) I saw it when it came out and it's still every bit as good. Not enough movies like this anymore. Anyway, I'll take a hundred of these first-rate B-movies over Iron Man any day of the week, and they could make a hundred of them with that Iron Man budget, which was my whole point in mentioning it. So why don't they? I wonder forever.

Dainism quote of the week: "Life is too short to sit in one place all the time, and live life repeatedly."

Maybe that's my problem. I've just been living life repeatedly.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Computer broke again. Yes, yes, I know, but this time I don't know who to blame. Mrs. Ditchman had no pity on me, as it was she who gave me ample forewarning. We got the letter in the mail from San Diego Gas and Electric a week or two ago. Evidently, they were going to shut off power for a time, on this day, at this certain hour, and they apologized for the inconvenience (and no restaurant gift certificates were enclosed, the bastards.) Mrs. Ditchman reminded me about it yesterday morning at 8:55 when I was responding to a few emails (if you didn't get yours this is why) and she mentioned that it was going to happen at 9:00. I knew this, but figured it meant "some time after 9:00" (have utility appointments ever been on time for you?) So the power shut down at 9 sharp and the screen went dark and the whole house made that low-pitched winding-down noise like you heard when Obi-Wan turned off the tractor beam and that was the end of it. I got up to take a shower.

Note to self: tankless water heater uses electricity, so, no shower. Anyway, when I got home from work the computer never came back on, so I'm back on old reliable. And yes, before you say anything, I did have it all plugged into surge protectors. What can I say? Surge protector fail. At least the new router works.

Did a little research and it looks to be the power supply to the monitor, which other folks out in Macland have been having trouble with. I plug it all in and the computer boots up, but the screen just signals a weak S-O-S from a tiny blinking light in the housing. Pathetic. And I failed to renew the service warranty. More patheticism.

Mrs. Ditchman, when I told her about it, delivered no sympathy and gave me a curt I-told-you-so, which no husband enjoys.

Still sick, tough day, nothing seems to be going right, but with a template like this, how could I be anything but pert?


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

No, no, no. This won't do at all...

I wanted to start off the year with a fresh look, but by all appearances, seem to be having a bit of trouble. Truth is, we're all sick again round here. Yes, yes, I know. Head is stuffed. Face is flushed. Everything is blurry. Blotchy. It's hard to go for a new look when I feel like I look terrible.

And a busy week of aluma-nonsense. Also, stuff is piled high on the desk, Christmas crates need to return to the attic, things like that. So I'll be in and out. New Years are always a bit bumpy for me in the beginning, anyway.

I was going to spin off on the thought that "resolutions" are somewhat unrealistic for people, and better suited for nations in committee. I was going to suggest that goals were more in order, as a goal is more tangible, more attainable -a destination with a certainty of arrival. Yes, yes, I was going to write some on all this, but then the alternate universe Sean beat me to it. Good on him. (He's right, by the way.)

The good news is we're starting off the new year with a brand new router, so that problem's been routed altogether.

No excuses now!


Thursday, January 1, 2009

Going for a new look.

Still working on it.