Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Every toilet in the house is unflushed! I guess this is what happens when everyone gets busy around here. Busy! Too busy to flush, even! We doubled the workload the past few weeks, in an attempt to make up for it having been halved in previous seasons, and my truncal strength has increased as a result. Mrs. Ditchman carries these two kids around, thereby improving her own truncal strength, so at the end of the day we sit on the couch and complain about how tired our truncs are. And of course, I am way more tired than she -but don't tell her I said that. That argument is never won. Actually, that argument could be won, by the one of us that gets more accomplished and has a smile on at the end of the day, neither bragging nor complaining about it, but we don't play to win, I guess. Anyway, we're all tired here and none of the toilets are flushed.

It's not for a lack of trying. Or perhaps it is. We're saving water! I just can't bring myself to flushing all those gallons down and out to the Pacific when my three-year-old piddles out a paltry half-ounce so she can be rewarded with free jelly beans. At what point do you give the None Of Us Get Candy For Peeing It's Part of Growing Up lecture? As for the Master Bath, (which I currently loathe entering for its unwavering, incessant ugliness) that toilet never gets flushed because it wakes the baby in the adjacent room. Something about the sound of bodily waste rushing through the pipes at 3AM does not agree with the Little Digger's sleep cycle, evidently.

I did get a hundred out of the million projects done or worked on the other day. I added a thousand but that's my secret to happiness: avoid boredom at all costs. I haven't been bored in twenty years, thank goodness. In the meantime, don't ask me for any favors -we're all booked up here. I've got to update the websites and clean the aquarium and repair those sprinklers and put somethng on the blog and why is that link over on VFTW not working? and plan summer camp and maintain the work tools and get all that aluminum off the driveway and the Sparklett's guy comes on Tuesdays now which screws up SIMPLY EVERYTHING...

And the year is half-over at the end of today.


Monday, June 29, 2009

I'm busy like you. But I have free enough time to type this, and you have free enough time to read it. Life's funny that way.


Friday, June 26, 2009

This has been quite a news week, which is a good thing because it's been quite a work week. I leave the radio on all day, to distract me from the misery, and I don't know what I'd do without it. But at 2:26 yesterday afternoon the news cycle veered off the highway and down a long dark tunnel with no exits. It will be Michael Jackson all day, all weekend. Ooof.

When the Michael Jackson child molestation trials were going on I remember thinking, good Lord, when will this be over? There was so much real news this week, and now whatever really happens in the world for the next few days, we won't hear about it. One middle-eastern country could outright invade another, Pyongyang could send Seoul back to the Stone Age, and George Lucas could announce the pre-production of the third Star War trilogy, but it won't matter. Farrah Fawcett could bolt upright in bed, miraculously revived, and we wouldn't hear about it. You'll probably wake up and hear about it on Wednesday. Maybe Thursday.

The democrats in congress will sneak past the biggest tax hike in American history some time today, while no one is looking. The mullahs in Iran will torture and kill more freedom-loving civilians this weekend, and few will notice. And North Korea will load more nuclear and long-range missile technology onto ships headed for Syria or Somalia or Al Qaedastan, or wherever, and we will all be sitting here glued to the tv waiting for the Michael Jackson autopsy report.

Died while in the company of his "personal physician," don't you know? Does anyone find this odd? It might be odd, except that it's Michael Jackson, whose face is in the dictionary under the entry for "odd". I believe the term "personal physician" is applied to any wealthy person's drug supplier, (so he can get into all the exclusive clubs.) I mean, who goes into sudden cardiac arrest while in the presence of their personal physician? For the record, the guy also happens to be a cardiologist. Watch for an indictment.

Sorry for the cynicism -he was the superstar of our times- but it's hard not to. Mrs. Ditchman, who is currently re-reading that great John Eldredge book, Wild at Heart, pointed out that Michael Jackson is the perfect case study for the antithesis of nearly everything discussed in the book. This man, Jackson, with serious father issues, found himself at the end of his life stripped of all things masculine, and all things mature. He was more Lost Boy than Peter Pan. He was such a talent that it's sad, but he was celebrated for his weirdness, which is pathetic.

On tv last night we saw the King of Pop's body on a gurney being rolled across the helipad. They couldn't get him out the front door of the hospital to go to the coroner, because of all the grieving fans, so they had to take him by helicopter. It was a humorless, ignoble sight, and Mrs. Ditchman commented on all that royal celebrity laying there under that sheet, and that we're all, more or less, headed to the same place.

Reality flatters none but those who bear it out with integrity.

Have a "ma ma se, ma ma sa, ma-ma coo sa, ma ma se, ma ma sa, ma-ma coo sa" weekend!


Thursday, June 25, 2009

I can't keep up with the news! When I left for work yesterday, that sideshow story about the governor coming home from South America was of passing human interest, but a few hours later it was all the current rage in the news and on the talk shows. He was having an affair! Who knew?! So another politician has disgraced himself, his wife, his family, his country. Shocker. They say Washington is just Hollywood without beauty. They may be right.

What I can't get over is how these guys who are so accomplished in their professional lives can't seem to handle the mature, tough challenges of their personal lives -these challenges that so many men across America live up to every single day. Being governor or senator suddenly doesn't sound so hard.

The guy apologized, first to his girlfriend and then, later, pathetically, to his wife and kids, and he will probably bounce back, as politicians do. Why, Barney Frank was running a gay prostitution ring out of his apartment and today he's one of the most powerful congressmen in the House!

What am I doing sitting here opining about it all, when I could be at work taking it all in through the blathering radio? (It's a busy week.)


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I'd been following this story [link altered] with some envy, and evidently the governor was not hiking the Appalachian Trail - he was in Argentina! I imagine if I was the governor of South Carolina, I would do the same thing, and drive the executive staff and security crazy. But, hey man, these legislative sessions can be rough on the soul!

Why do the politicians get all the fun? I could never get away with this in a million years. My wife would kill me. Truth be told, I was a little disappointed to hear he was in Buenos Aires. I liked the thought of the governor out there alone in the woods, fending off bears and Deliverance extras. Crazy republicans.

Not me, though. Blue collar, through and through. If not literally -it's the color of our shirts- then figuratively so. Mrs. Ditchman says we are definitely not blue collar, that we are business owners. Fine. Then why am I schlepping shovels and tools in and out of the truck bed and moving up and down ladders in the sun all day?


UPDATE: Turns out the guy is a pathetic disgrace to his wife, his family, and his country. I had no idea, and shoulda seen it coming. And to think I was giving him the benefit of the doubt.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Butterfly Garden, March 21st:

Butterfly Garden, April 21st:

Butterfly Garden, May 21st:

Butterfly Garden, June 21st:

I still find it nothing short of miraculous, that you put some seeds in the dirt and pretty things just grow out. I wonder if aged farmers, after a lifetime of tilling, planting, harvesting, and tilling, planting, harvesting, ever find it just boring. But then I know people who have zero interest in gardening and they find it all boring. That's people, I guess -let's get on with the miracles already! and I imagine most miracles are lost on those without patience. Still, if I hadn't put those seeds there, I'd be waiting around all summer for wildflowers. I might spy some eventually amongst the weeds, but it wouldn't be nearly as good. No, the best miracles are the ones you have a hand in.

It reminds me of a quote you've probably heard:

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets:

Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.
Begin it now.

The whole quote is often misstated and then misattributed to Goethe, but it actually comes from a guy named W. H. Murray, who was a Scottish mountaineer. That doesn't matter, of course, but I mention it because ordinary Scottish mountaineers don't often get a lot of credit for great thoughts, and also because the quote is never associated with mountain climbing. Here, I apply it to small miracles (if there is such a thing) and the wonders of gardening, but it hardly seems a step beyond Base Camp. (Such is the test and application of a "great thought.")

I admit it was only sightly bold; I put the seeds in the ground, I put a little effort in to turning the soil, I made sure it got some water. And then I just hoped God would happen along and flip the 'Flower' switch.

I doubt I could ever be a real farmer, boldly hoping until my dying days, with all my livelihood, and that of my family's, depending on it. And I suppose there's a missing element, called faith, that plays a part. Otherwise, who knows? Providence might not be so inclined to take the stage.

Still hoping for the butterflies, though.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Father's Day was perfect, since I declared we would not turn down our street on our way home from church, and just keep driving down Old Highway 395. It wasn't my idea exactly, but I was driving. I had a million things to do yesterday. I sloughed them off. I always have a million things to do. (I admit that 990,000 of them are pointless, but that still leaves 10,000 that aren't.)

We went up to Wine Country. Not that Wine Country, mind you, but the surrogate Wine Country we use down here when time and money disallows the other, proper country. We are "Club Members" of one of the wineries locally and it was time to pick up our Spring Shipment, though it is Summer now -and what a perfect summer day it turned out to be! We let our inner compass direct us to the unknown sweet spots of the universe and found a beautiful place, Keyways Winery. How was the wine? Dismal. But this guy was playing music out in the vineyard and they were giving out free Sangria to all the dads, on account of it being Dad's Day. The best evar.

Sangria! That jungle punch of wine makers, the saviour of all Temecula! (IMHO.) The music was great, the weather was perfect, and we laid out a blanket on the grass and picnicked, while the kids ran circles around us. If you had pulled me aside six years ago on my wedding day -interrupting that game of Boccie out on the lawn while all your friends were drinking good brews and sitting in those sweet wooden chairs in the stream- if you had pulled me aside and shown me a picture of yesterday, Father's Day 2009, and revealed to me my future, I would've swollen with joy, proclaimed my triumphant arrival at bliss, and declared that we get on with the ceremony, tout de suite!

We didn't get any pictures. But, trust me, it was awesome, and we intend to return to it all some day and take you. I commented that I wasn't rich enough to have a beautiful winery and vineyard like that place, but that I was at least smart enough to go there and enjoy it, and so we shall.

And now: the week. The past few weeks have been taxing ones for the family, and this week promises more of the same, unfortunately, but at least we got yesterday's blessed respite to remind us what good living is all about. It was a necessary blow-off of all chores, duties, and obligations, and I feel I have twice the energy for it today. Balance, I guess.

Sorry about the BGPR (Butterfly Garden Progress Report). I know you came looking for it today, but I didn't have time to get any good pictures, and, well, since the Butterfly Garden has recently been used as the Ditchman Memorial Grounds, I thought I would wait a bit out of respect for the living, and non-so.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

We had to put Rocky, our cat, down yesterday. "Put him down," which sounds like you have to let go of something you've carried around for so long, and refuse to do anything other than hold him near. It was hard. Mrs. Ditchman and I cried about it, she more than I. She's had him since she was a teenager, long before I came around. All his days, Rocky never let me forget this.

"He's a good cat, isn't he?" the vet asked, and of course he was. I wondered if the vet asked everyone this, or if he actually saw something about Rocky in his dying days that was remarkable, something different in this animal that the doctor rarely sees in all the pets that come through his office. Somehow, I doubt it. No one knows how special your pets are to you, especially people without pets. They think you're crazy for loving that dumb, voiceless creature. But even other people with pets usually don't get your connection with that animal. But my dog, on the other hand, my dog is a special dog...

We outlive our animals for a reason, I suspect, and it is so we can learn something about death and loss before the real significant deaths and losses come later in life, which they will. I thank God for this. Do our dogs and cats go to heaven? You know, of course, that they do. They are innocent and blameless, perfect servants of God's children, and in some ways, nearer to the angels than we. No good god would disallow them their rightful place in Paradise, and I believe God is good. See how your pets love you so? The evidence is right there.

I'm not kidding. I don't want to get too philosophical about it, but Man is not part of this animal world he lives in. Man was created apart from it, above it. But our pets give us a tether to this earth, so that we are not lost in some distant proud orbit. Something like the Grand Canyon reminds us that what God created is beautiful. Our animals remind us that what God created is beautiful and good. Now, if we could only provide those two things for one another. It doesn't exactly come naturally to us, but it does to our pets.

Rocky lived nearly twenty years, which is plenty long, and we watched him grow very old this past year, as if all those years had suddenly caught up with him. You just knew he met the children and thought, my work here is finished. Where before his hours of loud purring were relentless, his purr was no more. And this was when we knew it was time.

We buried him in the backyard yesterday, in that spot where he loved to lay in the sun. We did it when the kids were napping, and tried to do it without falling apart. Later, we sat the Little Ditchman down and explained to her that Rocky died. She had a quick, tiny frown, and it looked to me as if she wanted to avoid the feelings that were coming, but she caught herself and said, "Maybe we can get another cat." Maybe. Some day. Not today.

The house was a bit lonelier this morning, though we're not sure the kids noticed it. And it's sad. It's just sad. Mrs. Ditchman is handling it all with grace, dignity, and aplomb, as I expected she would. I had to bury the feelings, otherwise I would not have been able to handle the literal burying that needed to be done. It's what men do. But if I stopped to think about how every day, just after we married, when I would come home from work and see that beautiful cat sleeping so peacefully on the couch, and the little jump my heart made at the sight of it, every time, at how peaceful and beautiful and perfect he was, just laying there... He was an inspiration. And I'm glad he's not suffering anymore.


Friday, June 19, 2009

The cat still has DIARRHEA. How do I know? Because Mrs. Ditchman literally screamed when she saw the stairs this morning, which were iced with it. Mrs. Ditchman: "In his defense, he was trying to make it to the litter box. The trail goes up." I'd post a picture, but I'd rather that Blogger did not terminate my service at this time. We're going on a week now, with this feline distemper or whathaveyou, and we're beginning to fear the worst. The only thing I've gained from the experience is a lessened desire to own pets (when the kids are plenty) and the knowledge of how to spell DIARRHEA seared into my orthographic memory bank. (You know there's an 'H' in there somewhere, next to all those 'R's, but where exactly does it go?)

It's spelled "DIARRHEA", in case you were wondering, but the Brits spell it with an extra 'O', as in "DIARRHOEA".

Fine. Weird, but fine. I think I'm more annoyed by poor spelling today than ever before, mostly because there's no excuse for it, since the computer does it all for you. I see misspellings on the Associated Press newswire all the time and I think, what's their excuse? Is the news really happening that fast, that they can't pause for a split-second and indulge in pushing the SpellChek button? Then again, the computer never seems to get that wrong-word situation. I've done SpellCheks before with the result of no inaccuracies, whereby I pat myself proudly on the back, only to re-read the blog days later and find that it makes no cents at all. Less annoyed am I by bad grammar, which I indulge in ceaselessly, and yet must annoy you all. (Sorry!) Even worse: sloppy writing. Overused cliches, uninteresting asides, and the thoughtless repetition of dumb phrases one uses when they're too lazy to actually write. I'm talking about me, here, since that last sentence was all direct objects and no verbs. Speaking of diarrhea, I know some days you click on to the blog to see what's up with me, and it's just an arduous chore to read: "And then and then and then and anyway anyway and then and of course, you know?" as my words trail up the stairs like the aforementioned unmentionable. And I begin sentences with conjunctions. One thing I must add: I fully recognize that my use of the colon is no better than my cat's. So, apologies all around. I know reading my work can be punishing, and the double-meaning of the word "sentence" is not lost on this blog.

Thus ends our daily retraction. Or whatever. (Which is my current favorite sentence.)

Spelling Bees seem to me a kind of torture nowadays, in which children are forced to learn something that all modern machines handle in a manner akin to waving away flies. I see those kids rattling off letters and think, Wow, they don't even know what that word means -but they can spell the sh!t out of it! I would like to see the kids define the words and then use them in a sentence, which would be an endeavor with some usefulness. I mean, they should just go for it with "logorrhea" or "intercrural" or "callipygous" but, hey, that's what it takes to impress me. I heard that there are people out there who protest Spelling Bees for exactly this reason, so I googled "spelling bee protest" and got something a bit different:

Yes, they are protesting the spellings of the words, suggesting that there are self-righteous, sanctimonious zealots of all kinds out there. Okay, well, they do have a point, when you think about it. I would join them, actually, but I left my asshat at the "Fire David Letterman" rally. Anyway, (Of course! But then! And so!) feel free to let me know if my wordage leaves your head spinning. You might actually make a difference in someone.

I have so much work to do today, I don't know what excuses me to sit here and avoid it all. But it's hard too right good. It takes effort. So do patio covers.

Have a grate weekend.

Furthermore, it occurs to me that the man who invents the "Rewrite" application for Microsoft Office will reap millions and make the world a better, more interesting place. Unnecessary kerfuffles between divergent cultures will be avoided. Peace will come. He'll win the Nobel prize. I'll get write on it.

Coming Monday: BUTTERFLY GARDEN PROGRESS REPORT! (Stay tuned, but try not to expect much.)



You've used the following unknown words:



Thursday, June 18, 2009

Evidently, some people don't feel the same way about It's a Wonderful Life as I do. Fine, I guess. Or: go ahead and be that way.

Wendell Jamieson wrote a piece in The New York Times last Christmas entitled "Wonderful? Sorry, George, It’s a Pitiful, Dreadful Life" that read:

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a terrifying, asphyxiating story about growing up and relinquishing your dreams, of seeing your father driven to the grave before his time, of living among bitter, small-minded people. It is a story of being trapped, of compromising, of watching others move ahead and away, of becoming so filled with rage that you verbally abuse your children, their teacher and your oppressively perfect wife. It is also a nightmare account of an endless home renovation.

And in his cynical rant, "All Hail Pottersville" on Salon.com, executive editor Gary Kamiya wraps up his paean to Pottersville with an epitaph for middle-America:

We all live in Pottersville now. Bedford Falls is gone. The plucky little Savings and Loan closed down years ago, just like in George's nightmare. Cleaned up, his evil eyebrows removed, armed with a good PR firm, Mr. Potter goes merrily about his business, "consolidating" the George Baileys of the world. To cling to dreams of a bucolic America where the little guy defeats the forces of Big Business and the policeman and the taxi driver and the druggist and the banker all sing Auld Lang Syne together is just to ask for heartbreak and confusion when you turn off the TV and open your front door.

As King Arthur said to the Black Knight, when the Knight opted against joining him at the Round Table, "You make me sad."

Some people feel the need to skewer much-loved things, and still others feel the need to follow the skewerers. I see it every year at Summer Camp. There will be a massive event of a hundred and fifty teenagers indulging in some shameless, unadulterated fun, all the while laughing their heads off, and yet there will always be one teeanger [sic] off to the side, arms folded, probably wearing black, contemptuous of it all. Filled with scorn, he'll get one or two depressed, disaffected others to join him, and they will be the bane of the counselors for the week. Their strategy often works: they get some attention. And sometimes it doesn't, which is when they turn desperate, break the rules, and then get sent home. A couple bad eggs can ruin it for everyone, and it makes me sad to see it. Some leaders prudently advise to let them go, like they're human chaff, for the betterment of the camp, but I always try to keep the sorry lot around. Adolescent breakthroughs are possible, if you're a good enough youth leader.

But people who hate It's a Wonderful Life? There's just no convincing you. You must be miserable and -I've got some bad news- the only ones who really want to join you there are (guess what?) already miserable. You'll be in good company. (Or, at least, just company.)

Jamieson comes around at the end of his article, admitting he gets choked up in the old flick, but Gary "Pottersville rocks!" Kamiya? Who knows. Yesterday his dissenting piece was quoted in the Wikipedia article on the classic film, and today his quote is pulled. Makes one wonder why.


In 1990, 'It's a Wonderful Life' was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in their National Film Registry.

In 2002, Britain's Channel 4 ranked 'It's A Wonderful Life' as the seventh greatest film ever made in their poll, "The 100 Greatest Films."

In 2006, 'It's A Wonderful Life' reached #37 in Channel 4's "100 Greatest Family Films" poll.

'It's A Wonderful Life' currently ranks 30th on the IMDB's top 250.

American Film Institute recognition:
1998 AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies -#11
2002 AFI's 100 Years... 100 Passions -#8
2003 AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains:
George Bailey, hero -#9
Henry F. Potter, villain -#6
2006 AFI's 100 Years... 100 Cheers -#1
2007 AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) - #20
2008 AFI's 10 Top 10 -#3 in the genre of Fantasy


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Since I attack each new day independent of the previous day's torment, and inconsiderate of tomorrow's potent pain (ha!) I have a meager grasp on how I've been doing lately. So I perused the last few weeks' posts for a summation of my general mood and well-being, and it seems I haven't been doing so well lately. Except for that brief interlude where The Winemaker barged in with all his wealth and wisdom, there has been a certain prevailing misery of late. Even the other night, where I was party to a fine meal at a fine restaurant, I over-indulged and eventually paid the price. This blog can't have been fun to read, what with all the fatigue and resultant vomiting and diarrhea and war/famine/plague/pestilence, so I want to apologize. I'll try and cheer up, and blog more about the happily disaffected tortoises and the colorfully emerging butterfly garden.

Thus ends our daily retraction.

Live each day as if it was your last! I'm kidding about that, of course. If you actually lived each day as if it was your last you would blow all your cash and never go to work, and you'd probably sit at home sobbing mournfully, phoning family members to tell them you love them and goodbye forever. But there is something to be said about appreciating this wonderful life, or at least remembering that it is so.

Still, there is an oft-repeated scene in the suburbs, one I'm sure you've caught. It looks like this:


You are getting ready for work, or you're in your pajamas, and you're staring out the window at nothing in particular; the neighbor's sprinklers, the garbage man. You notice that the newspaper got tossed under the car again and the tires on your wife's car are still low of air, and -hey- whose dog crapped on your lawn? You're drinking coffee and you're looking off into space for that brief moment in the morning where you consider what must be done with the day.

Then, a child screams, outside on the sidewalk.

MOTHER: Get in the car!

CHILD: Waaaaah!

MOTHER: Get in the car right now!

CHILD: Waaaaah!

The child continues to cry for no apparent reason. The mother, hurried, and already with her hands full, scoops the child up and puts her in the car. Everyone is exasperated.

Somewhere, a dog, recently relieved, barks.

I've seen it a million times. It used to make me wonder, Man, what's that kid crying about? and Man, that kid sure cries a lot. But now the story is all mine, and I know exactly why that kid is crying, because it's probably my kid. The answers come, it seems, in time, but answers such as these leave me no more enlightened. The kids are crying because they have to get up and get out and live another day. Damn, it's hard sometimes. I'm still crying.

Also seen a million times: It's a Wonderful Life, one of the greatest movies ever made. A foreclosure movie for our times. I watched it when I was a kid, and I still watch it. People criticize the film, saying how sappy and fake and lamely cheerful it all seems, ("Every time you hear a bell ring, an angel is getting its wings!") but that happens to be one of the main things I like about it. The truth is, all that sentimentality is juxtaposed with some real dark, morbid moments (the dad is considering suicide for crying out loud!) One of my favorite scary moments is when the bartender is banging the cash register, making it ring repeatedly, "Hey, get me! I'm giving out wings!" he mocks. The Christmas Eve drunkards all laugh. There is something seriously spooky about that.

Anyway, you know the story. The movie has had such a profound effect on our society that people nowadays actually think everyone was simple and cheerful and polite all the time back in the 40s. I don't believe that's exactly true, otherwise the movie about a guy who wishes he had never been born would never have been made. Well, God bless you George Bailey. We are all you, or wish to be, strange as it sounds.

I grew up in La Canada, California. Oh sure, the town is all multi-million dollar properties now and I can never go home again, but thirty years ago it was still a little place in the Los Angeles suburbs, bordered by mountains and freeways and sheltered just enough from the rest of Southern California that it somehow retained that small town feel. There was a main street and a couple of churches and a couple of schools and everyone knew the cops' and shopkeepers' names. It was a nice place. People were decent and kids walked home from school without the fear of gangs and child molesters. This was in the days before school shootings, the days before video games. Reagan was president, and all I remember about him was his fantastic George Bailey smile.

Why do I mention it? Because the other day on the Internet I stumbled across this:

Which today is this:

It's the intersection of Viro Road and Lamour Drive in La Canada. I used to walk home from high school, crossing that crosswalk and moving down that very road, almost every day. And every day I would pass this house:

Which is really this house:

Close up:

The address is still the same. How many times did I unwittingly walk past that famous movie house? And my house was just on the other side of that center hill, off in the distance, in that first photo. I never knew it: I grew up in "Bailey Park" just outside of Bedford Falls!

Though I admit it felt like "Pottersville" when I was a teenager. The movie was a flop when it came out, wouldn't you guess? Like good wine before it's time. Years later, in that historic lull of the seventies where we were suffering the hangover of the sixties and a bottomed-out economy, and we hadn't yet invented VCRs, the movie was played over and over on television, often at Christmas. We needed it then, 30 years later, and we need it now, 30 years after that. It's a true American classic. Frank Capra told the Wall Street Journal in 1984, "It's the damnedest thing I've ever seen... The film has a life of its own now and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I'm like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I'm proud … but it's the kid who did the work. I didn't even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea."

Capra had originally described the film's theme as "the individual's belief in himself," and that he made it to "combat a modern trend toward atheism." This was in 1946, and, well, he did it. It works. And somehow it's all very real. We need movies like this. I need movies like this. Sure, you're losing the house and you can't keep a job and the kids are all driving you crazy, but it's a wonderful life just the same. Why we so often forget it I'll almost never forgive God for, but at least we have movies like this to remind us.

(I hope you actually stopped and took nine minutes out of your day to appreciate that.)

P.S. Still think the movie is overly-sentimental, pedestrian, simple-minded cheese? Then let's edit out all the happy stuff and see what we're left with. Watch this.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Went out to the finest restaurant in all of Oceanside last night to celebrate the birthday of Great Aunt Barbara. I believe we sampled wonderfully tasty bits of every edible sea creature, washed it down with an odd-looking, other worldly martini, and then had a creamy conglomerate of unspeakable desserts. Awoke this morning with a headache, a screaming baby, and a cat with persistent diarrhea, which, when I smelled its litter box, caused me to throw up the previously mentioned bits of the finest restaurant in all of Oceanside.

So of course I feel terrible today, and deserve no sympathy (none was given.) I took a shower. I think I'll head off to work now, and try and redeem myself. It's all a man can do.


Monday, June 15, 2009

This is the second day I've awoken to the cat having cat diarrhea running down and saturating the Persian fur of his aged, hind legs. It is an epic, demoralizing tail [sic]. Also, he barfed. Then, when he got no response from his owners, he trailed litter all the way downstairs and plopped his defiled self on the family room rug, where he waited patiently for us to wake, come down, and join him. Good morning! he purrs, demurely.

When we do come down he demands breakfast, but receives punishment. We banish him outdoors, which is a real punishment for an indoor longhair. He sits on the back doormat forlornly, like a background extra in a documentary on Turkish prisons. You can't hear him meow through the slider, rather, you just see his little quivering mouth, opening and closing. You begin to feel sorry for him, until you seem him licking off his effluent backside.

Yesterday, I went out after a couple hours, pulled him onto the back lawn and hosed him off with the garden sprayer. It seemed to do the trick, but then he was too wet to allow back inside. The sun was out, so I thought I'd give him another 45 minutes or so. 45 minutes later I saw him through the window, laying in the dirt. He mocked me. He mocked us all.

I was able to find something slightly amusing about it yesterday, but unfortunately today I can't seem to recall what that was. There will be another regrettable hosing later, and then, a shave. After that, I'll have to hose and shave myself. It's the only way to get myself clean from the ricocheting flak of furry feline excreta. What a Monday.

This cat is nearing twenty, I believe, and all this hosing and shaving can't be adding any days to his life. It's amazing he tolerates it at all, but let's be clear: there will be plenty of clawing, biting, and hissing later. I'll need my welding gloves. Monday.

I've already got plenty to do today, and this will be the task that gets in all the way. But I'm feeling better! Thank you for asking. The illness blew swiftly through, like a summer thunderstorm, like the one that's coming tomorrow that will water my dying garden. I'll have to remember to put the cat out early.


Friday, June 12, 2009

It did finally catch up with me, and yesterday during a major performance of our old patio cover obliteration service, I went into all-out sweaty nasal-drip. It's awful, with all that dust. I hopped myself up on acetaminophen, or whatever was handy, and braced myself for the next few days. Last night's sleep, wasn't.

But at least I got most of the major work done and it came on a weekend, so as not to interfere with the family business. I should be all better on Monday, and good to go again. Great! Excellent! Wonderful! Joy of joys. Misery. shame. ...pain.

Today is the day the rabbit ears died, like the old song goes. Everything switches to digital, so we can free up all those UHF frequencies for pirate Mexican broadcasting, or whatever. I am a little concerned that my office tv is analog and will not survive the day, which is a bummer, because I didn't procure one of those government coupons that would get me a discounted converter box. It is currently working, but I never watch the thing as it is up on the wall directly behind me when I sit at my desk. Still, I did go through all that trouble to hook it up, so I want it to work for the sake of pride and show. I don't know where I would put the converter box, if I did have to use it. Anyway, I seem to remember the television packaging reading something like THIS UNIT IS NOT DIGITAL - WILL CEASE TO WORK AFTER FEBRUARY 2009 and I thought, so what? Why, that's years away! Welcome to the future. Nothing works here.

Just means I'll have to go buy a new HD set for the office! I suppose it's all part of the vast socialist conspiracy to pump money back into the economy, or at least Costco. Great! I'm glad I'm doing my part, being a big Costco fan. When I'm going to get around to using that second drum of mayonnaise, I'll never know.

Ugggh, I feel terrible, but at least I don't have to go to the dump today.

The Little Digger got a nice shot of antibiotics the other day and almost immediately began pulling through, though at one point he had to suffer the indignity of having a little baggy tied to his male member so his pee could be collected and analyzed. Mrs. Ditchman reported that it was smelly. We'd had asparagus the night before and it went from the backyard grill, right through her, into the boob, into the Little Digger and out the bottom front side of him and into the baggy. A fascinating epic journey, which will end at some lab somewhere with some lab assistant going, "Ew. Asparagus." All in the name of science.

When I went to the dump yesterday I got to wear the "Carey Kienitz Memorial Gloves," which is always a special treat. Years ago I would often work with the guy, who was the only GLACFAC member who was in my wedding, and somehow I ended up with a pair of cheap work gloves that read KIENITZ on the left hand. Why he felt the need to label his glove is beyond me, but I guess he was misplacing them a lot, because they ended up in my truck. 10 years later, I still use them, and they have reached iconic status. Every time I go to the landfill, I reach into the truck bin and there they are. Always, standing out on that mountain of garbage, beneath the squawking gulls and betwixt the towering earth-movers, I have a quiet moment of silence for the gifted man, who could've made the previous paragraph about the little pee bag much funnier. Then I tell The Story of Carey to whomever is working with me that day. Some laugh, some just raise an eyebrow.

Carey recently deleted me from Facebook, which cut deeply, hurting me to my very soul. He claimed he had to lay low from Facebook for a while, that he had been "hacked, in a way," and that he would re-emerge with a pseudonym sometime in the future. It happens, I guess. One day you're happily connected on Facebook, in touch with all those good old friends and acquaintances, and then the creeping past begins to haunt you on your News Feed and you find you have to go dark like Jack Bauer. Return to the cave, Carey. Absolve yourself of past and future crimes. Be purified.

In the meantime, I have your old work gloves.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

We have this great pediatrician, a tall Asian man with a voice that's always about six decibels higher than everyone else in the room. He is jovial, amiable, always smiling, and as a result you start to feel better from the moment you see him. He surfs before work, which may be his Big Secret. He knows the good parents from the bad ones and doesn't over-diagnose. When he sees a worried look on a mom's face, he tries to talk her down from being overly concerned. He knows Mrs. Ditchman is not one to bring in her children for bandages and Tylenol -and I think he appreciates that- so yesterday when Mrs. Ditchman brought in the Little Digger for a bit of evaluation on the current cold, he took her seriously. The Digger has been crying a lot, she mentioned, and when they arrived the Doc, Baby Whisperer that he is, said, "I don't like the sound of that cry." A few minutes later, Mommy was hauling down to Children's Hospital.

I was building a dumb patio cover at the time, of course, and I got the call while she was on the fly. The baby had a pretty high temperature and a short list of odd, disparate symptoms, so the Doc wanted to get some tests done and rule out "pneumonia" or "meningitis" or some other worrisome thing. Turns out everything was more or less okay, but we're watching the little guy. He's not happy.

Which is the first sign something is wrong. He's normally just a happy person by default, it seems, not like his father. I am something else by default; pensive, guarded, shy, suspicious. I have to work at being happy, but this little guy smiles about as naturally as the sun coming up. It's not fair, but that's life. I have other talents, but smiling has always been a loathsome, embattled chore for me. (I'm getting better!) The past seven months have been special with this cheerful baby around, always happy to see you. It's a course-changer to be forever around someone easily happy like that. It energizes and enthuses you. It articulates the joys of life. But then to have them suddenly stop... well, the world becomes familiarly dim, and it's back to work.

It is not fun for a man to work and worry, when work is hard enough. And yesterday was a long gray day of June gloom. When I got home I was able to pick him up and get the Little Digger to laugh a bit, though it seemed a pained set of chuckles. Still, it was relieving enough for us to see and be buoyed that he was getting better. The world was less dim again.

It's a simple, troubling truth that happy people make the world more happy, and miserable people make the world more miserable -no matter how justified the misery, or how naive the cheer. Given the choice, I'd take the smile of an innocent, ignorant, sickly little kid, over the grim outlook of a jaded and calloused, matter-of-fact adult -however wise, accomplished, and honest he may be.

I'd take it any day of the week.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Remember when I posted about the robot fish? And there was also the robot military dogs? Now: robot snakes. I suppose it was only a matter of time. Call me when they come up with robot ants, designed to infiltrate and subdue colonies of real ants.

Not that we have a problem with ants. Aaron has been good and reliable, for us. Last month's silverfish eradication seems to have been a success, but there are always ants. Aaron takes care of them out back near the garden, but they just return from the neighbor's land in a long black line that stretches from here to beneath the fence to forever and away, all the way back to that distant and yet undiscovered endless tap source deep underground. I imagine it as some weird Middle-Earth technology, coagulating the elements of Subterranea and forever dripping out ANTS, ad infinitum. This machine can never be destroyed. Also, I think the machine is worshipped by many of the ants.

Ants are currently being celebrated in the Smithsonian, although one suspects that they couldn't get rid of them either and just decided to embrace the concept. Same for Monty Python, who dedicated an entire Flying Circus episode to the unstoppable critters. Well , if you can't beat 'em, join 'em! (The ants, I mean.) But sometimes I feel it is the ants who are trying to eliminate us. Join us.

Speaking of insufferable annoyances bent on eliminating us... We called a customer yesterday to happily inform them that their patio cover materials were in and that we would be building it next week. They said, "Oh! That cancellation letter we sent got returned to us! And we sent it certified mail!" -but no friendly call or anything so that we could suspend the manufacturing order. Now we're sitting on thousands of dollars of aluminum material, and pissed about it. We have a signed contract! We could sue, but I don't think we're the suing type. I prefer to shame and embarrass, hence: the name is "Gentry" and they live in Lake Elsinore. Perhaps tomorrow I will post the phone number and address. Perhaps I will sign them up for every junk contractor ad at the next Home Show. Perhaps I will do that for the rest of my life. In any case, their email address is now toast, and we're set back another couple grand. (And here I thought we were getting caught up.) Anyway, when you wrong a family business, you are actually hurting the family. I see no reason to be polite about it. But it happens now and then. We've weathered those seas before, and we'll weather them now.

In the meantime, anyone need a nice 11' x 21' Alumawood patio cover (white, w/mitered endcuts)?

Times are tough, I guess. You can tell things are getting tough when legal contracts are dishonored and ants... something to do with ants... Oh, hell. I was going to tie it all together but everyone is SCREAMING THEIR HEADS OFF AROUND HERE and who can blame them?


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Up with The Concrete Guys this morning! Okay, not really. I'm going to put that off for a coupla hours, since I have to dig/mix/pour all by my lonesome. But we were up with The Crying Sickly Children this morning. Okay, so I didn't exactly get up, per se, rather I was merely awoken. Mrs. Ditchman did all the getting up, managing, and handling. I just lay there, thankful that she is such an attentive, conscientious mother.

So attentive and conscientious, in fact, that she chided me for yesterday's blog post. She doesn't often mention the blog around the house (leaving me wondering constantly about its own significance) so I take it seriously when it comes up. She said that she didn't like me referring to our friend Massimo as The Winemaker. "But he is the winemaker!" I cried. I think she was just annoyed that I had taken our family buddy and turned him into some sort of cultish, messianic figure defined by his vocation. I thought about it for a bit and came to the conclusion that I might be insulted if I was consistently referred to as The Blogger, or The Writer, or The Contractor, or worse: The Aluminum Patio Fabricator, even if it was in a cultish and messianic context. (Although, The Fabricator has a nice superhero ring to it. I think I would find it entertaining and funny if everyone started calling me The Fabricator. Feel free. "Look! In the backyard! It's a builder! It's an inventor! No! It's just a guy making sh!t up! It's... The Fabricator!") So I want to apologize for it: Sorry, Massimo. You will now be referred to only as The Italian Brother.

Thus ends our daily retraction.

[I want to add that I resisted the temptation to refer to Mrs. Ditchman as The Nagger, which had a comical ring to it, but I am wise enough to know that my new nickname as a result would soon be The Sufferer.]

It occurred to me how, interestingly, some vocations just become part of your name, like when you're a priest or a doctor, but become a General Contractor and no one ever calls you "Sir." Then it occurred to me, I wasn't a General Contractor as in "army officer of a very high rank," but rather a General Contractor as in "not specialized or limited in range of subject, application, and activity." And then I got kinda bummed out and wondered what all that extensive licensing was for.

Oh, I know exactly what it was all for: it was so I could go out and dig a bunch of holes today. I would call myself The Digger, but that name is already taken. Poor guy. Currently he is more apt to go by the moniker: The Snot Bearer.


Monday, June 8, 2009

I have a friend who ran a slew of marathons over a period of a couple months at one point. I remember asking him about it, and I think his response was something like: "It was stupid." And at the marathon expo recently I saw that guy who ran 52 marathons in 52 weeks. He was sitting (well-deserved) behind a little table and signing his book. At one point, he got up to get something and he leapt out of his chair like a deranged squirrel and bolted around, totally energized. I watched. I wanted to ask him something, like "What the hell is wrong with you?" but thought against it, thought it might be rude. Anyway, I am not like that man. I am more like the previously mentioned man.

Who was in his twenties when he did it. I'm at the threshold of 40, and it seems a mighty Big Door. I can do it, though. I can run these things, but the recovery period is a long haul of fatigue. With all the work, last week was a tough week. I'm surprised I didn't fall deathly ill from a diminished immune system (though I suppose I still could), and I feel a certain slowness even now, as I lift my arms up to the keyboard. I may benefit from a higher chair. Oh yes, A higher chair is in your future, read the fortune. (Of course, a vague fortune like that could also mean another baby, which would do me in for sure. These double meanings...)

So I didn't make it to the Camp Pendleton Mud Run this weekend, and left Mrs. Ditchman to her own devices. (When did we become the "running" family?) She did well, and phoned me from the beer tent, proudly bragging about how she conquered both wall obstacles without help from any Marines. My hero.

And then yesterday was a Home Show day, dammit. Hard as I tried, I couldn't get out of this one, and I lived through another day of setting-up and tearing-down our display, of avoiding obnoxious questions from potential customers, and of chasing the kids around in the sun, all while wearing my lamentable business polo shirt. I was glad we did it, however, because we are now more likely to have bacon on the table through August. Good. Very good.

And then last night's unexpected guest: The Winemaker! Hark: the herald angels sing! The Winemaker calls at the end of a long work day when you're atop the ladder and looking forward to full, all-out couch submission, and announces through the crackling receiver "I'm in town! Just a few minutes away! How about a drink?!" which is funny, given that he's been judging wine at some competition and tipping the stuff back for the last 48 hours. But only a damn fool turns down a visit from The Winemaker, so we went full throttle into clean house/feed babies mode, locating a second wind somewhere. "He's coming!" "He'll be here any minute!" Apparently, it is like having over the Bishop, and there is a certain amount of suburban purification that must happen before his arrival. Much to the chagrin of my wife, I wedged in a brief shower. (Incidentally, last week I broke the shower fixture. Lacking muscle control on a Thursday night, I ripped the thing clean off with my bare hand. Now we use an old rusty crescent wrench, which was a laugh in the hurried rush last night.) Also, I lit the barbecue. Put on music. Swept the local mess beneath the couch. The kids were screaming, wailing, spitting up. It's been a long, damn week, but I am not a damn fool.

The Winemaker arrives! He enters authoritatively, carrying a slab of tri-tip under one arm, and bottles of wine in the other. We now look swell, normal, composed yet expectant. The kids have calmed down and have engaged "charm" mode. We eventually get them to bath and bed after a fine meal, clear the dishes, and then sit around the big table like the adults that we are. We pour a few more glasses. I ask him how he does it, all the drinking, for work, (which I always ask him,) and he says, "Allow me to put it into terms you may understand. When you go run a marathon, do you just get up one morning and go run 26 miles, from nothing?"

"No," I say. "You train. You pace yourself." And with that, he clinked my glass and toasted me. We continue to talk, laugh, drink. It's been a while, Winemaker... We share The Secrets of the Small Business, like old corporate professionals, but we also talk of parenting. The Winemaker shows us impossibly cute pictures of his kids. At one point I get up to get another drink, but, surprisingly, The Winemaker has to go. I always brace myself for a long night of trying to keep up with The Winemaker, and this night he let us down easy. So we bade him farewell. Mrs. Ditchman went up to bed. I prepped the coffee for the morning. What a weekend. What a week. What a life.

I love The Winemaker. I think had he not arrived unexpected last night I would have fallen asleep on the couch, miserably considering the week past and week to come, but instead it was all forgotten for a few hours as we enjoyed each other's sudden company. He just blew through, intentionally/unintentionally leaving a couple unopened bottles of his wine, pre-release, (though I doubt I am allowed to report this) and as well leaving us all smiles. Anyway, I say again, I love The Winemaker.

And today you hit the ground running, adapting the schedule as it flies at you. Actually, we hit the ground jogging. You can't run forever. You've got to pace yourself. You get older and you get slower, but this all only means you're enjoying it longer.

At least, that's what The Winemaker preaches.


Friday, June 5, 2009

Perusing Google Analytics the other day I noticed that someone in nearby Poway had visited both this blog and my business site, both of which are not linked to one another. I have only half-heartedly tried to keep the two separate, but how could I not blog about the misadventures of atomic element #13? (The light metal simply begs for it!) I don't mention this blog to my customers for the obvious reasons. I mean, hey, it's not like it says in any of the contracts WILL BUILD ALUMINUM PATIO COVER TO DELINEATED SPECS. ALSO: YOU ARE BEING OBSERVED. But some day -I just know it- someone is going to hire me to build them a patio cover solely because they read this blog, and then I will be the one being observed. It will be an unfortunate experience. And then The Great Blog War will ensue.

Yesterday I got a couple standard phone calls from a customer, wondering why the hell I wasn't there at 6AM like a proper contractor. And then it dawned on me: They're going to check to see if I posted to the blog! They're going to know why I'm not there building them an aluminum patio cover! I can just imagine the Angie's List write-up: Contractor does good work, but arrived late. Too busy posting about being late on his blog. Oh, well. It could be worse.

On Monday I built a freestanding cover precariously balanced on three square, paneled columns, in a triangle shape, but with a curved hypotenuse. On Wednesday I built a solid-ceilinged cover with double 3x8 mitered headers resting on two classic round Roman columns, in a thunderstorm. Yesterday I built a cover that had a mere 8 foot projection, but was thirty-seven feet long. There was a pool in the way, and I had to muscle the thirty-seven foot lengths of aluminum up and over the posts with one arm, extended out over the water. Today I am building a smaller cover, but one without posts and without headers, that spans between two buildings. And all of it all by my all lonesome self.

I don't even want to think about next week.

It happens like magic! I show up alone, late in the morning, with a bunch of aluminum, and the customer is standing there at the door, arms folded, and looking over my shoulder wondering where the other workers are. I can see it in their eyes as they look skinny me up and down, Dammit. I made a terrible mistake hiring this guy. And then I smile and say, "Well, I better get started! I'll have it finished at 6:00!" And then they laugh like it was a joke. A particularly unfunny joke, and one at their expense. Clearly, they don't appreciate the humor. (But that's the part that I find funny.)

Oh, but all the hard feelings go away in a few hours when they look out the kitchen window and see The Great Pyramid of Cheops taking shape in their backyard. Wow!

So has everyone, but I've been underestimated all my life. I have always liked it this way, for one reason or another, but I think I'm finally beginning to get sick of it. I guess I'm just looking for people who take you at your word and give you the benefit of the doubt, despite what they think they see through some proud prism of self-satisfied judgement. After forty-odd years of searching, it seems there aren't a lot of people like this. I wish I were one of them.

Moreso, I wish I was just back in college blowing everything off and throwing ping-pong balls into plastic cups.

Have a hooptastic weekend.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Quick question: How come my bank can't remember what language I speak? I put my ATM card in the machine and it says my name and asks the password and remembers the thousands of transactions I have made over the years, computing it all in an instant, and never allowing me to take out more money than I have, or give away more money than I can, but always, before we get down to doing our business, it asks the inevitable question: English or Spanish? I'm always insulted. It's like your best friend asking if you've seen Star Wars. Response: I saw it with you, dumbass! Twice!

I should calm down about it all. Yesterday I got a voicemail from my wife telling me that there was a freakish thunderstorm in the area and that I should not be working with metal high atop a ladder. This was good advice. Since I leave my cel phone in the truck so as not to be disturbed with calls from my wife when I am high atop a ladder, I didn't get the message until I was on my way home. It's funny, because that afternoon I was standing on the notastep on a six-foot ladder holding a nine-foot metal post high above my head (so I could slide it down inside a column, you see) when I heard a kraccckkk! and saw lightning strike a nearby hilltop. I'm not kidding. Then it began to hail. So I narrowly avoided becoming a statistic yesterday, I guess, but then again, sooner or later we're all statistics, aren't we?

Some more newsworthy than others, unfortunately. A local landscaper was struck by lightning near our house here in the suburbs, yesterday. He was merely standing next to the palm tree, which was hit. As described by a fourteen-year-old boy who witnessed the whole God-smiting event, the lightning hit the palm tree and traveled down the trunk of it and then leaped off to blast the landscaper right out of his boots. There was no reason to doubt the stunned kid, as the news video showed the burn scars smoldering on the tree. The kid described it as "the loudest thing I have ever heard in my whole entire life" and "it sounded like an atomic bomb going off". The worker is doing okay. Passersby administered CPR until the paramedics arrived.

Got home, bloodless and breathing, from work yesterday and the Little Ditchman begged me to watch Star Wars, so, yes, we have brainwashed her sufficiently. I always flip around between episodes because I know she likes ewoks and R2D2 but not the stormtroopers or anyone getting their heads or limbs hacked off. Yesterday she said she wanted to see an episode with Annakin and Darth Vader (or "Darf Aider" as she refers to him.) Evidently, she has yet to grasp the subtle relationships and character arcs within the epic. We'll have to work on that.

So I just had to post this. It's brilliant. It's clever. It's creative. It's totally meaningless, and I wish I'd thought of it. Some day I will do a Star Wars mash-up of my own. That will be a day when the stars align and I have free time galore. I'm looking forward to it.

(Hat tip to TDR for emailing it to me.)


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

In that small window of time between a late dinner and passing out from a long day, I endured the unpleasant experience of viewing most of ABC's hearty "television event" Earth 2100. This pathetic and demented waste of entertainment dollars truly deserves my full analysis, but, oh, who cares? (he said with the dispassion of a litterbug.) Just check out the web site yourself, but be forewarned: if this is any indication of what lies in our future, then we are doomed for sure. (I'm speaking of the quality of future television programming, here.)

Earth 2100 follows the story of a baby, "Lucy", born at 9:05PM on June 2, 2009 (ohmygod that's, like, right now! Today! At the beginning of the show!) and then goes through her whole life as the planet around her descends into dystopian chaos as a result of global warming and over-population. It ends with the inevitable Malthusian catastrophe -where complete societal breakdown returns the last few gun-toting survivors to the pastoral dream of subsistence farming. Like in Star Trek: First Contact! Awesome!

The story is interspersed with scientists commenting on the veracity of the plot points (the belching sheep and farting cows have finally gotten the best of us.) I know they were scientists because there were title cards that read their names and then said "SCIENTIST" beneath them. Among the predictions, Lake Mead is an absurd, dry and empty blunder of civilization. (NO!) It was all very fascinating and depressing, and just when you were about to give up on the audacity of hope and go outside to loot and pillage, Bob Woodruff came onscreen again to tell us "But it doesn't have to end this way..." and the last ten minutes of the show were devoted to the glories of wind and solar power, plug-in cars, and matching synthetic jumpsuits.

Not saying that those are bad ideas. (At least, not today.) My neighbor recently hired a general contractor to remodel his house. He doubled the square footage and installed as many rooftop solar panels as he could fit up there. A few weeks ago we were chatting over the fence and he admitted that the solar panels cost him forty thousand dollars. And then he excitedly showed me the electric meter spinning in reverse. When we finished our conversation, he turned on his backyard swim-spa and jumped in, whereby his electric meter abruptly whiplashed in the other direction. Also, his contractor showed up at the end of the job driving a nice, new red Ford F-450. It seemed a hulking, waxed, gas-sucking pig in the face of it.

Why do I mention all this? No good reason. It's just funny to me. In the 60's there was a popular book called The Population Bomb, and it predicted that something like a billion people would starve to death in the '80s. And in the '70s there was the very real fear of "Global Cooling". An Ice Age was imminent. We would all be huddled together sucking ice cubes in tent cities by the next decade (around the time when I graduated from high school.).

But now the earth is warming up and population growth is on the decline (and some say irretrievably so.) I don't know where to start with any of this, except to say that things change. People change. Our adaptive nature and the interweaving of necessity, intellect, and invention make the future wholly unpredictable. All the same, one thing remains consistent: we get lame tv. It can always be counted on.

And hey, if you don't have the time or attention span to view the bitchin' fearmongering "unprecedented global television and internet event," you can read the annotated transcripts of the show on the web site. Or you can play Earth 2100: The Game. You are also invited to submit your own videos of what you think The End will be like. Awesome. Plug in simply everything for it.

I just wish Bob Woodruff had worn a paper-mâché donkey head for the whole show.


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

It's not in any of the marathon books, but one of the most difficult things about running these long distance races is all those aluminum patio covers you have to build in the following week. Does anyone else have this problem? I can't seem to find any supportive, clinical facts on the subject.

Legitimately: I do not have time for this. I would if I was a better manager of my time, and everyone came through problemless on their promises, but NO. Forces of guile and swindle have banded together in opposition of me and my work week. It would help not to have lingering, full-body fatigue and joint pain. It also would help not to have screaming, crying children around when I'm clearly trying to get something IMPORTANT done. Oh well. That which kills me only serves to make me stronger! (Wait- how does it go?)

It could be worse, I could be this guy. Just think about it. One moment, you're living your life, ho-hum, and the next it's your fault all those people died and how dare you deny it. Tomorrow we will discover that that deer I hit that night on the highway was actually the last surviving Bigfoot and all that paint thinner I poured down the drain killed the Loch Ness Monster. I am so sorry.

The Little Ditchman just handed me a Barbie of Swan Lake VHS tape and asked to watch it. I say: "Honey, antiques are not toys." and "Oh, no! We don't have a VCR!" Okay, actually, we do, but... how much fun would it be to hook up a VCR right now?

Can't. Got work. See you kids tomorrow, on my way to work. Love you.


Monday, June 1, 2009

Ran the 2009 San Diego RocknRoll Marathon yesterday. Time: 3:50. Reason: ______.

That bug must still be up my butt. I could call Aaron, our friendly pest control guy, to blow out my colon with undiluted malathion, but I imagine he might charge extra for that service, and it might damage our burgeoning relationship. Anyway, I did it. Three marathons in a month, which is hard to do if you wish to schedule two weeks between each long run. (Months don't often have that many Sundays.)

I didn't do it to do three in a month, however. I did it because I just wanted to know. I actually thought I was in pretty good condition for it, but here's a news flash: there is something called "overtraining". I know because I did it. It affected my time.

Which wasn't half bad, actually, for this lanky, clumsy 39 year-old. And I matched my half-marathon time of 11 years ago, crossing the carpet at nearly exactly 1:40, which would qualify me for the Boston Half-Marathon, if there was one. It was all downhill from there, however, and I don't mean that literally.

Mrs. Ditchman, who is my staunch advocate, says I don't take in enough calories, and that may be part of it. I'm not one for Gu or PowerGel during a run, but I think I've hit a speed wall where if I run any faster than an 8:00/mile, I need to supplement. Perhaps I'm just that skinny. It's part of the theory I'm going with right now. Your thoughts and comments will be accepted and considered.

I was very good about hydrating and carbo-loading last week. I consumed no alcohol and limited myself to one cup of coffee each morning. I had previously instituted some speed work into my training regimen and was impressed by my performance. I ran less last week and tried to sleep well on the Friday before, (because the Saturday night before is always a bad sleep) and I tried to take it easy at work -though work did get in the way. (The books say using the stairmaster is a poor choice for crosstraining, and I was so disappointed to read this.) And race conditions were described as nearly perfect -all overcast, 60 degrees at the start and 70 at the finish- but there was some drizzle, and I was sweating furiously from the starting gun for the first half. (The Honolulu Marathon taught me that humidity can really sap you of energy.)

And then at the half I just slowly fell apart again, like at the OC race four weeks ago. Only this time it wasn't cramping and muscle pain, but rather depleted energy and plain exhaustion. I suppose I went out too hard in the beginning, and it all adds up. Mile 13 is right about when you're feeling great, but then there is a game changer, awoken by that foolish moment where you thought you could run forever. From there it's a slow cruel turning, when the pavement becomes so indifferent to your efforts that you begin to pre-suppose everything. It's not "running" anymore, it's something else: a heavy pushing of the mind and spirit, and a questioning of their governors. You don't know which limb or joint or muscle to trust, or whether you may have been wrong all along. Then there is a Great Reckoning with the endeavor. First-timers are always impressed by this unwelcome rendezvous, but Old-timers are awed by its enduring significance, like a return trip to the Grand Canyon -it's always big, it's eternally poignant, and it's still a long way across. And a long way down.

They say the average human body is made to run 18-22 miles. In some odd scientific calibration you take your body size and structure and figure how many calories are burned in running, and then you figure in the body's ability to store energy in its glycogen reserves, and I understand it adds up to about 18-22 miles, which marathoners refer to as The Wall. That's where the body starts burning fat, which is a painful transition. All of this is what makes a 26.2 mile race such a fantastic event. Train right and you can increase your glycogen reserves, trick your body, and pull off a super-human feat. Of course, there are a thousand more things to worry about -but you'll heal. Evidently, it now takes me more than a couple weeks to heal, so I see that my speed potential will only be added slowly, and in small increments. It runs contrary to the human condition where we want change overnight. We want to lose weight in a week, accomplish this or that in a day, transform our attitudes about something in an instant, but life doesn't work like that. It's a lesson I'm forever learning.

So I'll take the long, slow, focused haul until the next race. There aren't any marathons in the Southern California summer, which is one of the reasons why I decided to go for it yesterday. It was something of an experiment to learn about my capacity, and it was worth it: a $100 lesson on Running and My Body. Otherwise, I would have just wondered about it and trained all summer, not really knowing or fully understanding, until the next race, which is in October, and which I signed up for when I got home yesterday.

I'm not crazy. I just want to see and know, with proper training, discipline, and commitment, what I'm honestly capable of.

For a change.