Thursday, April 30, 2009

Picked up a new mouse yesterday on my way home from work. The last one succumbed to gravity at the home show, and she is broken. Evidently, the demands of gravity have yet to be met by wireless devices. Perhaps Apple is working on it.

Switched back to the "wired" mouse, too, since the wireless mouse technology isn't there yet, IMO. Everyone persists, probably because of the **neat!** factor, but I plug this new one in with its old, perfected anti-gravity WIRE technology and the cursor flies across the screen with nary a hiccup. The whole computer seems faster! And there's no more accidentally clicking on the 'weather report' link when I meant 'bank account' (though the forecast is the same: May gray.)

I have exactly 33,073 photos in my iPhoto library, (doesn't everyone?) which is one of the reasons I coughed up the cash for the iLife version upgrade recently, too. iPhoto is the best photo-organizing software around, IMHO, and the new iPhoto program has a couple features that will file away all of your pics based on who is in them and where they were taken (**neat!**).

The "Places" function hooks your photo up to a Google map and puts a virtual pin on exactly the spot where you captured the moment. Of course, your camera must be equipped with a GPS locator mechanism. (Isn't everyone's?) So it seems that all my pictures were taken in that placeless ether, that non-geographical empty locale caught between dimensions -except for a few pics I have from the Harrington's fancy Nikon. (I have the exact coordinates, longitude and latitude, of where our kids were playing with the trash cans on a street corner during the Carlsbad 5K.) So, I have to get a new camera, otherwise years from now I'm going to be perusing my old photos from our vacation to Washington DC and have no idea where that fantastic place was. I'm not going to worry about it just yet, considering that 32,099 of my photos were taken at my home address, the earthly coordinates of which I know by heart.

The "Faces" function is more amusing, in that super-bowl-commercials-are-more-amusing way (they're still just commercials.) The computer initially spends a couple hours (I have a lot of pictures) going through all your photos and then asking you "Who is this?" as it paints a little square around their face. So you tell it, like you're introducing the Mac to all your friends and family, even though it's been coming to the party for years. Then the Mac gives you a page of a hundred pics of people it thinks this looks like. It's very amusing, as it takes a while for the computer to "learn" what we're talking about, here. For example: Is this "Dad"? [Shows picture of hula hoop on ground.] Answer: no. Is this "Dad"? [Shows picture of your brother.] Answer: no, but good guess! He does kind of look like him! And so forth. For a time, it's fun and addicting like that children's matching game where you flip over the cards, but now let me remind you: I have exactly 33,073 photos in my iPhoto library, so this game will never, ever end. It gets smarter the more you get into it, actually, and begins to learn the names of the people at the party, but you still have to confirm-or-deny for seemingly all eternity. Again: this tool will be invaluable when my Alzheimer's sets in.

I really bought the iLife upgrade because the new iWeb has a file transfer protocol that the previous version inexplicably lacked. I was using some third party software AND IT WAS UNHINGING ME! (I'm sure you find that utterly fascinating.) Anyway, I am disappointed in iWeb. The new ftp works fine but no flash slideshows. How dumb is that? (Also: no iDVD update in the pack. DUMB, Apple, just LAZY DUMB.)

But the new wired mouse works great! And cheaper than wireless! That old computer downstairs just could never get it together and play in tune on the Bluetooth bandwagon. The seven-year-old beast is pre-Bluetooth. I don't know why I even bothered trying.

All this to say that you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but sometimes the old tricks professionally executed are more impressive.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

[The Ace of Spades is often known as "The Death Card".]

Is Toy Story 2 not the most existential children's film in all cinematic history? The first Toy Story was, too, but this one gets into some of the complex subtance of it. Perhaps I was just in a mood to notice it yesterday, while watching it with the Little Ditchman. She found it "a little bit scary" and I can't blame her. It's exactly what existential tracts do to people: scare them.

No seriously, this one is a real renter. It's brilliant. Probably one of the greatest sequels of all time, up there in the Godfather, Part 2 category of sequels, which seems altogether unlikely on the surface of it. In a curt eighty-five minutes, every philosophical question of existence, meaning, identity, life, death, and utility is covered, and it's funny all along. I've seen it several times and I think it's one of Pixar's best (I never give credit to Disney for Pixar's work) and, seriously now, the movie covers some heavy themes. (Among them: the unique nature of the soul, the temptations of ego, and the losses associated with children growing up. (Woody: "You're right, Prospector. I can't stop Andy from growing up... but I wouldn't miss it for the world.")

I'm not going into it. Haven't the time today. In the end, the movie is funny and entertaining, which is the point all along, and a cursory Google search of "Toy Story 2" and "existentialism" doesn't bring up any good college theses on the digitally animated wonder. I guess those scholars don't get out much. It's too bad. Philosophers have long lacked a sense of humor, which puts them squarely on the road to being wrong about everything.

Wheezy: What's the point of prolonging the inevitable? We're all just one stitch away from here... [points to yard sale] ...to there.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sore today. Tired today. Sorry today. Are there not days where you just want to commit seppuku? Out of shame for all your serious offenses? In a final stab (sorry) at retaining some honor? I do have a nice set of knives. It would be easier than actually paying off all those old student loans.

Going to USC ranks up there, high on the list of The Big Mistakes Of My Life. (I hear all my Bruin friends nodding their heads.) Why didn't anyone talk me out of it? You could have just shown me a mock-up of the bill, twenty years hence! Anyway, I finally got myself into a "program" where I'm going to work through my problems. (The guy at the Dept. of Education actually said he was "proud" of me for taking initiative. I told him I was glad I could make him proud, and he laughed. The only way to make a bill collector laugh is in the context of paying off one of the bills. Then, they'll laugh at anything.)

Just one of the thousand things I'd like to get behind me in this life, before I die. Have no sympathy for me. Tis all my own burden, and my own doing. Some nights I lay awake in bed, staring at some dark corner, awash in all the mistakes I've made over the years, all the embarrassments. Most of them no one remembers but me, and yet I can't seem to let them go. And any good thing I've done in this life is all but discarded and forgotten in their midst, overshadowed and obscured by my misdeeds. What a lonesome burden. What sorry ghosts.

Why Mrs. Ditchman ever agreed to marry and suffer through the rehabilitation of this sad louse hitchhiking on the road to perdition, I'll never understand -but always be eternally grateful for. Oh well, you get up and go build aluminum patio covers anyway, thankful for the opportunity! Hey, it's better than working with rock-lifting robots. ("The machine suddenly woke up and grabbed the man by the head.") I wish this week was over already. What? It's only Tuesday? GOOD GOD, MAN, HIDE THE KNIVES!


Monday, April 27, 2009

The weekend is in the bag! Woe to the man whose Monday feels like a Friday, feels like another Monday! I've got, like, ten patio covers to build this weak [sic] and all of them behind schedule. It didn't help that no one really got much sleep last night.

Another Home Show, another set of work -or at least one hopes. I wondered for half a second yesterday how many Home Shows we have done since we started the family business, and then I immediately decided not to count. Too depressing. And I was angry about it yesterday as I drove down there to the Del Mar Fairgrounds. I was thinking: I'm sick of these Home Shows. I'm sick of building these stupid patio covers. I'm sick of these kids screaming at me all day long. I'm sick of not having any time to myself to do all the things that are really important to me like playing video games and drinking beer. And I'm sick of Sunset Magazine telling me where the 50 Best Campsites in the West are because, guess what? I already KNOW where the fifty best campsites in the west are and that's not my problem -and that's when I remembered how much more miserable I was before all of this, back when I was single and just sitting around all day playing video games and drinking beer. And then presto! my attitude just changed -it suddenly burst like an ugly little bubble! Pop! A conscious perspective change, and then I felt better. On the way home, the Little Ditchman threw up all over herself. A couple times.

When I got the call for help I immediately thought SWINE FLU! No, seriously: crowded public area near the Mexican border... lots of handshaking... twenty miles from the Hot Zone... within the time frame of incubation... Then my own psychosomatic reaction: pain in the lower back, a rush of blood to the head, itchy throat, cough, cough... Mrs. Ditchman recited what the kid had for lunch, since she was mopping up the barf, and Granny said aloud that "maybe it was a bad pickle." So all night it was the Little Ditchman following me around all accusatory: "Daddy, did you give me a bad pickle?" Me, I didn't think pickles went bad -what with all that salt and vinegar! Aren't they still eating the pickles that the slaves packed for Thomas Jefferson? Aww, hell's bells, I don't know. Bad Dad strikes again.

Anyway, we're all fine now, which is more than I can say for those in the local Hot Zone. Swine Flu! Sounds terrible. Sounds like something you'd get if you were bedding down with pigs in the Tijuana River. Not like "Avian Flu" which sounds practically angelic by contrast, though I know it happens to be more deadly. One thing for sure, flu is not something this family needs this week. We're all stocked up here.

Gotta go. My mouse just broke.


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Butterfly Garden, 1 month ago:

Butterfly Garden, this morning:

Wow! What growth! What beauty! What fertile country! A veritable butterfly and hummingbird airport! Okay, so here's a different angle:

See? There are actually things coming out of the earth. And there are many smaller buds, sprouts, and shoots, as well:

What are they? I haven't really a clue. It was this package, a gift from Holly, and then some Costco dahlia tubers from Lynne. The dahlias have poked through the ground and look very promising. The other seeds are a lavish combination of milkweed, lupines, snapdragons, verbena, cosmos, coreopsis, yarrow, and a hundred others, some with bold, brow-raising names like "sneezeweed" and "scablosa", but I guess that's what the butterflies like. The front of the pack declares "Bring Home the Butterflies" without punctuation and insinuating that the beauteous creatures of nature abandoned your estate last season when you failed to nourish them with a sufficient verdure.

I have some doubts about the whole endeavor, actually. My unreliable soil has produced conflicting results regardless of the ammendments. It doesn't help that Aaron, my pest control guy, comes every other month to spray for ants. (Something tells me the caterpillars will not appreciate this.) But the flowers should be nice all the same. Progress update in another month! Try not to expect a lush, stunning, vibrant display that will make your Internet browser swoon (but you never know!)

Today, during naptime, I shall aerate the compost heap with my new pitchfork spade and do some sprinkler repair. Water rationing began yesterday in San Diego County, and if the authorities see my sprinklers shooting into the street like they do for a half hour every morning, I'll get cited, though I'd prefer they begin by fixing those water spouts on the freeways -you know the ones? In the iceplant? Gushing into the slow lane every third mile?

And is topping off the aged, lime-caked City Hall fountains really necessary?


Friday, April 24, 2009

It's been a month, so a butterfly garden progress report is in order. But the morning is cloudy, so no picture. Perhaps tomorrow, in that ever-elusive, rarely spotted Saturday Post! Check back then, if you're interested.

There are some things growing out there, though it was a random little bag of "Butterfly Garden" seeds that included about a hundred different species of plants. Everything coming out of the ground right now looks suspiciously like non-indigenous weed, so we'll just have to wait and see. I did plant a few Dahlia tubers, however, and they seem to be doing well. How nice!

It's another Home Show weekend, second week in a row, as we try and make up for the lost time and little work that happened (or failed to) over the winter. People ask me how work has been and when I say "Busy!" they are cheered by the thought of national economic recovery. "Great!" they say, not knowing that we're a few months behind on everything. And so? Well, that's life.

If I can get some runs in, and some writing in, and try and help out with the family and the chores some, then life is great. I've noticed that if I fall off and fail to do any one of those, life's balance is off, and I get unhappy. Keep moving! Balance!

Speaking of falling off, I actually relinquished my dignity to gravity just the other day. Eons of evolution to enable man to stand upright and walk on his hind legs and me, I fall down. I'm sure it looked hilarious from the neighbor's living room. (Charlie Chaplin made a decent living off of falling down, you know.) In my defense, it was two and half hours into a run on a hot afternoon, at about mile 17. Seriously, when I get that far into it, I'll trip over an imaginary painted line on perfectly level pavement.

Clumsy as I seem, I'm actually pretty light on my feet and never fall. But I was going downhill at a decent pace and caught my right toe on something and went down like a sack of hams. I was wearing some dopey polyester running garb, which happens to be as slick as it comes, and I landed on my back on someone's lawn and went sliding for six or seven feet like a greased-up hockey goalie. The sky spun around, but I hopped back up, shook it off, and kept running. It was just the adrenaline I needed. Balance! Keep moving!

All this to say it was a good thing to while away a few hours yesterday reading and writing about Shakespeare, which I love. If I don't get a little reading and writing done every day or so, well, I go down.

As it is with spending time with the family and working on the house and building aluminum patio covers. I've got a great life. I've just got to manage it all, and keep it moving forward toward that hopeful, unknown frontier.

See you at the Home Show this weekend! We missed you at the last one, unless you are Mr. Guthrie, who is the only person we saw in the teeming hoards at the Avocado Fest whom we knew. We built a cover for Mr. Guthrie years ago and it was the biggest job we'd ever had. He spent a small fortune on that shade, but recently sold the house, and told us that he thought it helped sell the thing -which we were glad to hear. We showed him the picture of his old place in the portfolio and then, with a smile, Mrs. Ditchman asked him the inevitable question: "Do you need one for your new house?"

She'll be saying that all weekend, God bless her.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Did you know that Shakespeare helped write the Bible? It's true! He even signed the thing. Biblical scholars and fundamentalist Christians go into a hissy fit if you mention it, but his name is right there in Psalm 46. It's in the King James Version, of course. King James, a writer himself, was a big fan of Shakespeare. Knew him. And when he hired the wisest writers of their time to pen the definitive English translation of the Word of God, of course he had Bill proofread everyone's work. Got the best poet in the kingdom to smooth out the Psalms. Why wouldn't he?

The King James version was published in 1611, and heavily revised in the nine months preceding. Shakespeare would have been 46 years old, writing in his prime, and finishing up The Tempest -one of his final and greatest works. Check out Psalm 46. Count 46 words into it and you get the word "shake". Now count 46 words backward from the end and guess what word you get? "Spear." See? He signed it!

He probably did it because he was peeved that "William Shakespeare" was not listed among the team of 46 scholars and translators -all of whom were priests of the Church of England- who were commissioned for the translation. Every writer craves immortality, and this would have been the single most revered piece of English in his time. But I mean, come on, Bill! How would it look for His Royal Highness to hire a celebrity playwright to translate THE HOLY BIBLE? It would have been like hiring Steven Spielberg to rework the Declaration of Independence!

Also, Shakespeare happened to be Catholic, which was against the law in England at the time.

You don't have to believe it, (many don't) but it makes sense. Shakespeare had an unearthly, massive vocabulary of nearly 22,000 words -the most for any writer, ever, and by far. Amazing, considering that his parents were illiterate, that he never received more than an eighth-grade education, and that the average vocabulary of Elizabethan England was less than 500 words. Even by today's standards, the most celebrated authors do not exceed an average of 7500 words.

And Shakespeare knew the Bible. (Odd, considering that there were few English translations of it at the time, all of which were prohibited by the Vatican.) His works are littered with biblical references, and his themes echo divine wisdom repeatedly, which in my mind contribute to his lasting affect. He is, after all, the greatest writer since God Himself wrote the Bible's original draft (in Hebrew.)

And Shakespeare delighted in puns and puzzles, which color all his plays. It would be just like him to plant an Easter Egg in the Bible, of all things. The King James Version was meant to be translated as anonymously as possible, and for good reason, as you can well imagine. So: what an audacious bastard! I mean, who would dare? Cracks me up. (But he only got away with it because he didn't change anything. He was audacious, but he wasn't stupid.)

Many scholars today agree that the King James stands as the most powerful of all the translations, with its strange, lyrical qualities. And why wouldn't it, with Shakespeare at the helm? As it goes, many other scholars feel that Shakespeare never even existed at all, that his writing is just too good to be believed, and since there is so precious little evidence of his life besides. Whatever. We have the plays. We have the Bible. I, for one, thank God for them both.

Today is considered Shakespeare's birthday, April 23rd. Interestingly, it's also the day he died. I'm sure Will would have loved that perfect symmetry wrapping up and closing his own character arc. It's not clear how he died. Some say it was kidney failure, some say he was murdered, and some say it was after a long night of heavy drinking with his buddies. (I prefer the latter.) He'd written his will just a few weeks before, so perhaps he knew it was coming. On his tomb it reads mysteriously:

Good friend for Jesus' sake forbear,
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be ye man yet spares these stones,
And cursed be he yet moves my bones.

As a result, no one has ever dug up the grave to see if he's really in there. (One crazy American lady tried with a pick axe late one night, but she got busted before she got anywhere with it.) I like to think he is buried there, however immortal. His good friend and professional rival, Ben Jonson, said at his funeral: "He was not of an age, but for all time."

And so he is. 400 years later I read Macbeth in high school and was forced to memorize "The Dagger Soliloquy". I can still recall a good portion of it. And I remember in college when I first read and watched A Midsummer Night's Dream and actually, finally, got it! It was like a brilliant revelation, and, in many ways, I think it changed me. Later, lost in my twenties and at a dark, low, period, I read and re-read the famous "To Be or Not to Be" soliloquy, and was somehow buoyed to realize that I was not the first to tread the cold despairs of life. And when finally I wisely and happily wed Mrs. Ditchman, we had my friend Carey read Sonnet 116 at the ceremony, which I happen to think is damn near perfect. It turns out all of Shakespeare's comedies end with a marriage. (Oh, the irony!) When I retire, after finishing Moby Dick I will read and learn King Lear, on whom Captain Ahab is based. Lear is a play for an old man, and some say can only be understood by such.

So it's Shakespeare, whom everyone agrees was divinely inspired. His greatness is unassailable and "as long as human beings persist in being human beings and live in this world, he's going to have something to tell us," one professor put it. And, yes, so many of us cower and shake at the mere mention of the name SHAKESPEARE and it's a pain in the arse to read, I know, since it's written in that foreign tongue, the King's English, but I don't think those plays could be written today -modern English just isn't good enough. If you think you could never handle reading Shakespeare, at least learn the themes. Shakespeare knew what made men tick, as only God, the very clockmaker Himself, did. But you should try. Everyone should try. If you read nothing else in life, read some Bible and read some Shakespeare. If you don't get it, that's okay, just keep reading. You will eventually stumble upon something that moves you immensely.

(For a terrific, accessible, and engaging lecture on the bard, check this out. It used to be a podcast, but was in such demand that they pulled it and published it on CD for thirty measly bucks. I'd be happy to email you a copy of the old podcast, if you're interested.)

And, for good measure, you can count the words yourself. It reads like something straight out of the The Tempest:

Psalm 46 (King James Version)

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;

Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.

There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High.

God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early.

The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted.

The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Come, behold the works of the LORD, what desolations he hath made in the earth.

He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire.

Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.

The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

[Incidentally, the King James Version of the Bible is still protected under perpetual copyright law by the English Crown. I won't get busted for reprinting here, though, because Crown copyright law doesn't apply outside of the British Commonwealth.]


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Hey! Someone in scheduling jammed an appointment right in the middle of my personal blog moment/meditation time!

This will all have to wait.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

There's a section on my Blogger Dashboard that reads "Manage Blog" but evidently no matter how hard I click the thing won't write itself. It's just as well. The Internet does everything else. We shan't use it to top off our journals.

I have returned! When MacArthur famously said he'd return to the Philippines, did he actually announce it when he did? Evidently so. Well, God bless him for following through. It's tough sometimes, and there are many a day where you wonder why you bother with any of it. But then you consider the virtues of integrity and consistency. I don't know, is consistency a virtue? It must be, I suppose, but only when coupled with goodness. Perhaps it is merely a component of integrity. Oh, I don't know.

I was thinking virtues are things taught -that children are not born with- and then I realized that children can be so consistently selfish and irritating without any prompting -and "consistency" suddenly failed the test. One good thing: the Little Digger has a consistent smile on. He just seems to light up whenever he makes eye contact with another human. He's someone you want to hang with! And for that, I am very grateful.

(I used to think that babies smiled only because they could see the angels standing behind you, but my little boy smiles so much that I now realize there couldn't possibly be that many angels standing behind me. So it must be that gassy breast milk after all.)

Last week was filled with houseguests, Disneyland, Legoland, Alumaland, an Avocado Festival, and an endless succession of periods of dishwashing, or so it seemed. Last Friday I had just about given up on everything -and this before the work weekend! I announced that NEXT WEEK IS ANOTHER WEEK! all Gone With The Wind style, and then yesterday came and I was overwhelmed by the pile. Sometimes you just pine for a nice long commute where you can ease the seat back and catch some radio. Yesterday was one of those days.

Easter was a fine moment. My guava ham glaze did not quite live up to expectations, but the standard house barbecue sauce did the relief work. At one point I was mixing sauce ingredients and I looked out the kitchen window to catch the awesome spectacle of all my nieces and nephews playing baseball in the backyard and I thought how perfect it all was, and how beautiful. The weather was fantastic, and the cooler was full, and everyone seemed happy, and dammit, I should have made the sauce last week so I could be drinking beer outside in the sun and playing baseball with the famiglia!

Lesson learned.

Who knows when the whole family will get together again like that? A few years, maybe. When are folks just going to realize that if you miss a family event, you end up being the subject of conversation? This is why I show up -as a matter of defense. But it was sweet and wonderful and impressive, as big families are. Children are a blessing. The more children, the greater the blessing. At one point, on Easter Eve, there was an extensive discussion on where everyone was going to sleep in our modest suburban abode. We were concerned about Grandma, who didn't exactly have a bed, when I turned to her and said, "You know, this is all your fault: you had all these kids!" She just laughed and took the newest, most comfortable mattress. With six kids and eight grandchildren, she deserved it, I guess. Then we hid the eggs. (And, ahem, that is not a euphemism.)

Here's a few of the folks after the sleepover (there were six others who crashed, too):

After Easter at the Ditchman Compound, Disneyland was somewhat anti-climactic. And this week it's back to normal -with the exception of the hundred degree temps. The heat makes Mrs. Ditchman happy. For that, too, I am grateful.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter from DITCHMAN!

(Spring Break all week.)


Friday, April 10, 2009

It's Easter weekend! That's the Ditchman holiday where an army of our peeps descend on the compound. I will be making two hams.

No, not those peeps, thank the Holy Host, I mean my family -which is my mom and six siblings, including the half of them that are married and have two kids each, like me. And then there's Mrs. Ditchman's spry battalion. Add a small company of friends in there and we'll be goosestepping it all Sunday. Here's hoping for good weather!

So today is clean-the-house day. I assign myself to the Dept. of Flora and Fauna, which plays to my strengths. Responsibilities include mowing the lawn and cleaning the fish tank. Also, I should pick up after the tortoises and brush the cat and look in the pond to see if the new goldfish haven't been ravaged by those menacing herons that have been circling above the cul-de-sac. (No seriously, they're like Pterodactyls. They extend their six foot wingspan and take out all the garden ornaments.) I'd like to get out and get a new patio umbrella and a few flowers today, too, but the fetching Mrs. Ditchman might have conflicting mission assignments for me.

I have the day off, thank the Trinity. I don't know how I'd do it otherwise. I'm spent and exhausted and lay in bed all night last night with a headache, too tired to get up and asprinize myself. Pathetic. Also, I will drain the spa. The spa is overrun by frogs, interestingly. Why they gravitate to that warm, vibrating tub of chemicals in the backyard is completely beyond me. I usually pluck them out and toss them in the pond where they belong. About midair I realize that the temperature change between the two bodies of water is near fifty degrees, and most likely will induce a tiny amphibious heart attack. This probably explains the lack of tadpoles in the pond. Sorry, frogs.

Family is coming from American places far east and far west of here. One set from Hawaii and one set from D.C., and a couple from Vegas baby and a set from beyond the Orange Curtain -so we had better make it a good meal. I'm looking forward to whipping up a couple of ham glazes. Isn't everyone?

Have a light and sweet weekend!

Easter treat: see how peeps are made!

All we are saying, is give peeps a chance...


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Since it's what I do, I'm building yet another aluminum patio cover today -third one this week. This one is also for a customer who lost their house to the fierce fires that swept through back in 2007. (We've done three or four now.) So they rebuilt. It's amazing how an inferno that steals everything from you doesn't just chase you out of the county, but what else are you gonna do?

People are still surprised by the product. Say "aluminum patio cover" and one thinks of that corrugated metal stuff flanking trailer parks and mobile home estates, but these end up looking quite nice, actually. No termites! No rust! And it won't burn!

Which no one ever believes. I was chatting about the product with a concrete sub the other day and I proclaimed, "It won't burn!" and he just shook his head like I was a pathetic, uneducated street huckster. "No, really," I told him, "it doesn't burn." And he told me about his father, who was a Fire Captain, who raised him with the notion everything burns fixed squarely in his head. I tried to explain about the house down the street where I just replaced an aluminum patio cover. The house had burned to the ground -burned everything but the old aluminum patio cover, which was still standing, and holding up the stucco walls. He smiled, shook his head, patted me on the back and walked back to work with a wink and a whisper: "Everything burns, son."

It bugged me.

I guess if you want to argue about it then the melting point of aluminum is 1220.58 degrees Fahrenheit, which is low for a metal, but he let it go and so did I. He knew The Truth and so did I. What was I going to do, fight him on it? There are some people in the world who just won't listen, won't hear a fact, and won't get or admit that they're just plain wrong sometimes even with the evidence staring them down. They're usually teachers and leaders and business owners and people who are used to having to have answers and having to make the heavy decisions. I know the feeling. We go through life thinking we always have something to teach everyone when we should just turn it off for friends, family, and complete strangers who don't care. I'd like to try to live life like I have something to learn from everyone. I'm not sure I'm humble enough to pull it off, but I have this theory that it would actually make me smarter. Wiser. Maybe I'm crazy. Anyway, I'll try not to bug you about it in public. If you want to know what I think, well, it's all right here on this dumb blog, which you are never obligated to click on (and, for that matter, I am never obligated to write, oddly.)

I reserve the right to be wrong and change my mind at any given moment. I believe it's the mature thing to do.

That picture at the top of the nice Spanish Brown aluminum patio cover was taken after the fire. (See how there's nothing through the windows?) I'm telling you, the stuff doesn't burn.

Here's a different angle:

If your house burns down, you still have to rebuild the aluminum cover, however. So I did that for this guy, exactly the way it was before, and which is the way he wanted it. He may still lose his house in another inferno I suppose, but it's better than fanning it on with a large flammable stack of firewood and kindling next to your large stack of everything you own.

Everyone could be right. But we all still have to go back to work.


Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Betty Ford:

Barbara Kingsolver:

Ole Kirk Christiansen, inventor of Legos:

"Bo Duke" (John Schnieder):

Mary Pickford:

Mrs. Ditchman:


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Things that are new around the house:

BABY TEETH. The Little Digger's got two little whitecaps poking through, ready for steak. All theories about whether or not he's been teething are now dismissed. Sleep, anyone?

SECURITY SYSTEM. We've had the thing installed for a few years but a nice young man came by the other day and told us we could get the same service with an upgrade for $5.00 less a month. We will save every $5.00 that is being spent needlessly, so we signed up. Now, with the upgrade, every time someone opens a door or window a female robot voice upstairs announces it. Also, we're currently getting billed from both security agencies.

COUPON FILE. My sister uses a handy little file folder that she puts all her coupons from her world into. When she pulls up to a store, say, Target, she flips to "T" and peruses the Target coupons. We've tried it for a month now, and it seems to work. We keep it in the coupon drawer under piles of coupons.

BOB DOUBLE-JOGGER STROLLER. It's the Cadillac of double strollers, with it's cushy shock absorbers and a little digital speedometer/odometer/thermometer attached to the handlebar. We got it with our sizable REI rebate this year, which we usually use for a vacation, so, no vacations. Just marathon training. The odometer has never really worked and the kids just scream and cry when you put them in it. Just like a vacation.

NEW BACK GARDEN PATH. I finally got around to staining it a reddish terracotta color and it looks swell, though it was a lot more work than may have been worth it. I'm still going to have to tear out a bunch of the rocks to retrofit the irrigation for the grass that's supposed to grow between them. Not really looking forward to it, but then again I am. The Tax Commissioner recently reappraised our house at being worth a hundred grand less. I'm hoping the two aren't connected.

LIGHTBULBS. I went to stock up on light bulbs the other day. We typically use 60 watt incandescents around here but they now only sell 57 watt bulbs to save the environment. This is good news because those compact fluorescents are environmentally unsafe -break one and a puff of mercury dust fills your living room and you have to call in a hazardous materials team to clear a perimeter around your house. The future is looking dim.

BUTTERFLY GARDEN. Plants are popping up! The butterflies have yet to arrive, but we await their glorious homecoming with baited breath and uncontained anticipation. Hoping the flowers come out before the summer water rationing kicks in.

2008 TOYOTA SEQUOIA. Just kidding. (I can dream can't I?)


Monday, April 6, 2009

Got every Ditchman out on the course of the Carlsbad 5000 this weekend! Even the Little Digger, who courageously Bjorned his way to the Junior Carlsbad finish line with Mommy on his back. The big race boasts itself as the premiere 5K event in the world, with its 16 world records. (Yes, there is a 5K world record. It happens locally.) There are over 12,000 runners, most of whom crowd the beer garden in the end. Please note that children and babies are not allowed in the beer garden. So what does everyone do? Park the stroller with the kids on one side of the plastic barrier and stand and drink beer on the other side. It's the Carlsbad way.

The weather was perfect and the teeming throng cheerful. Parking was no serious problem in that so many races are staggered, and if you made it out of there without your car battery going dead and your gas tank accidentally depleted then you probably had a slightly better day than us, though only slightly -we used the wait time to order a tasty Port pizza.

Most impressive was my friend Steve who ran his first official 5K in thirty years. He'd always been a cross-country enthusiast until he endured open-heart surgery years ago, more or less ending his daily runs. The doctors proclaimed his heart "good to go!" eventually, but like so many of us he found himself too busy, too tired, too preoccupied with everything else in life to get back into it.

So he was prodded, and fell headlong into a certain commitment of running a 5K "without stopping" at age 56. I had him on a rigorous training program with hills, distance, and the all-important walk breaks. He took to it good-humored and willingly, though it was clearly a challenge. Sunday morning he completed the Men's Masters event, running all the way to the finish, somewhere in the back of the pack. He was stoked, and the beer tent welcomed him.

It was a big stoke for me to be a part of it, actually, seeing someone fight it out to the finish. The body tries to trick the mind forevermore, and the wisdom of the runner is to figure out when to take the body seriously. I imagine if someone cut open my chest and replaced a few parts on my heart, I might be taking every small pain thereafter as an indicator of imminent, all-out, corporal failure. Steve was an inspiration.

And now the hard part for the guy: going goal-less into that dull, hopeless limbo between events... Do you keep up the training? Do you go farther, faster, higher in spite of it all? You deserve the break, no doubt, but with the glorious respite comes the nagging temptation to preoccupy yourself with being too busy, too tired, too whatever -again- however legitimate. Of course, I was pushing him to go full marathon.

People think that marathons are hard. They are, but that 26.2 miles isn't nearly as hard as the thousand miles you run when training for the thing. And it's not just a thousand miles of running, but a hundred times of begging off other things on the schedule when no one else understands, a hundred times of convincing your spouse how important it is, a hundred times of this-is-more-important-than-that-even-though-I'd-rather-do-that-which-doesn't-involve-pain-and-exhaustion. And then there's the long, hard lesson of learning when your body is telling you the truth, and when it's lying to you to get out of it. No one understands but you, as you battle that infinite derision from everyone at rest, including yourself.

I used to think anyone could do a marathon, but I was wrong: running is not for the proud. It is for the humble. There were over 12,000 runners in the race yesterday. How many losers does that make?

Got a busy week. Making shade.


Saturday, April 4, 2009

Saturday mess:

It's an animal meeting. The lion sleeping under the tree has not been invited because "he's too scary."


Friday, April 3, 2009

There are people who want to be my friend on Facebook, and I have no idea who they are. DENIED. No, wait... maybe they're all kids from camp or something? Or something. I know one person who uses their husband's account and then asked to be my friend, but I've never heard of the guy. Since I knew her years ago, before she got married, it took me a long time to figure this out. Look, if you can't be bothered to have your own Facebook account, I can't be bothered to be friends with a friend of yours so that we can "connect". Aren't we all just barely, loosely, connected by Facebook anyway? It's all one big computerized relational tangent.

And, no, I didn't really DENY them, nor did I IGNORE them. I just let the friend request hang there. If there was a PROVE YOURSELF option, I might be clicking on that repeatedly. There are a few folks who actually changed their first name somewhere in the past twenty years and then asked to be my friend, which was confusing, but I recognized the profile photos. Still, I required them to PROVE THEMSELVES through email and Facebook messaging and such. What else am I gonna do? Just be friends with everyone?

People do. Actually, I enjoy Facebook. It's pretty commitment-free and stress-free and I'm having fun with it, though I admit the novelty is wearing off. Yesterday, Mrs. Ditchman asked me if I got her "poke" and I said no, I haven't been on Facebook in a few days. I asked why she didn't just poke me here, in person, in the living room? So she did. It was nice. She did it lovingly, and with a smile. No Facebook necessary.

Waiting for Facebook: The Movie. I suppose it would be a charming, offbeat romance.

Yesterday, nearly everything went wrong. The first seven things go wrong and you get mad. The second seven things go wrong and you just shake your head and laugh. Seven more and you're questioning God's existence and indulging in nihilism, at which point there is no "wrong" and everything just happens in random sequence, if there is such a thing. Then you get sad and lonely and afraid of death. Then you go back to work.

But I had forgotten my tape measure yesterday, making work a bit frustrating. Back to Square One.

I'm looking forward to my weekend, though! (Hope you are, too).


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Working up the street from this today:

In beautiful Point Loma, home to the western terminus of Interstate 8. The eastern terminus of Interstate 8 is a middle-of-nowhere crossroads just south of Casa Grande, Arizona. There's a Texaco station with a mini-mart there, where I stopped once and bought an audio cassette labeled simply: "Banjo Music". It had a maroon cover, and no musicians were mentioned in the liner notes. I used to play that tape constantly, on the road in my beat-up '81 Honda Civic hatchback, which I drove across the country twice, in both directions. It made for a fitting, upbeat soundtrack. Pieces of the car dangled in the wind, broke off, and tumbled to the shoulder when I played that tape. The angels would laugh, smack their heads.

I lent the tape to my college roommate, or gave it to him, and then I never saw it again. All of life becomes so suddenly crestfallen when the banjo music is turned off, you know? For years afterward I looked through those spinning racks of old audio tapes in every roadside gas station I ever went to and never saw it again. Eventually the audio tapes in all those dusty racks were replaced with CDs, and now everyone has an iPod, and you can find any music in the world in just a few seconds by going online. Some fun is gone, as in, the fun of finding that one album of music that you've been searching everywhere for.

I admit that even today when I see an old rack of audio tapes in a mini-mart, I peruse it for "Banjo Music" -that timeless, classic album, but those racks of cassette tapes are becoming even harder to find now. Funny how they all quietly disappeared, and no one seemed to notice.

The car is long gone, too. Sold it to the Smog Authority, which was paying people to get old polluting cars off the highway. I got $500 for it, and had paid $250 for the car orginally, so I doubled my money. The thing was priceless, however, having showed me my nation.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

UNBELIEVABLE. I am a fantastic horse's ass for being such a doubter. I was all set to do the whole I-told-you-so write-up today when the Woz pulls out the most stunning upset in primetime television since... well... pick anything.

I guess he does have it in him after all. (Must be all that deft Segway training he does on the side.) But to think that he has had the most consistently low scores of any dancer in any season, and then to come out last night and blow everyone away. It was, man... it was nothing but a testament to the comeback human spirit that lies in wait within all of us.

The best part was when he was asked about his successful performance and he whipped out his iPhone to show off the new DWTS app he downloaded, which had every move of every dance in that little quickstepping series of graphics. That was hilarious. "Seriously, I couldn't have done it without the iPhone," he proclaimed, in a masterful bit of blatant unashamed marketing.

The most surprised was Woz's partner, Karina Smirnoff, who had a stunned look on her face during most of the dance, amazed that the computer geek was pulling it off. “I’ve never had so much chemistry with somebody dancing on the floor,” Karina said after the dance. Right. And then, intent on overstating what was already overstated, she added, “I didn’t even see anybody else in the ballroom but you. You’re amazing.”

So, clearly, I am no clairvoyant when it comes to reality-based tv shows disguised as dance competitions. Unfortunately for everyone involved, I'm going to have to keep covering these events until all the Mac addicts in the world stop voting for the guy. Please. I implore thee. Spare us. Spare us all.

Tom Conroy, still reporting from his torture chamber in Gitmo, does the real brave reporting here.