Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I think that I shall never see,
A stump as lovely as a tree.
But in my attempts to loose it free,
It seems the tree has stumped me.

Rented a stump grinder yesterday because, well, I have stumps, which are a common side effect of chainsaws. The stumper is a helluva thing. A big ugly combustion engine bolted to a spinning metal disc with large toothy claws that will rasp their way past the centre of the earth and all the way to Mongolia, if you don't throw your weight into preventing it. There are no gears, just a choke, throttle, and kill switch. You pull the starter cable and the thing roars to life, grinding whatever it happened to be sitting on, so you have to be sure to lean back on it as you fire it up, with its angry maw hovering over the stump, like a hungry dragon pulling on a leash. I wasn't sure what I was doing.

It frightened the children, and neither could I explain, exactly, why the stumps needed to be ground down, or why, even, the trees had to go in the first place, but it's a Daddy thing. The family watched from the garage as I lowered the angry machine onto the first stump, holding on for dear life, and trying to maintain the upper hand as it made contact. Wood chips, rocks, dirt, twigs, small burrowing critters -everything went flying, ricocheting off of nearby homes and parked cars, and creating a blast zone of about a full square acre. When I looked up, everyone had ran to some hidden bunker.

Actually, I rented the smaller of the two available stump grinders. The bigger one is the nuclear option, they told me, and robotically lowers itself onto the stump and performs the bulk of the devastation on its own. The smaller, cheaper one, they warned, works fine but "takes muscle," and today I am feeling it, from neck to heel. But the stumps are gone, and I did it without breaking any of my, or my neighbor's, windows.

When I came back from returning the beast to the rental place, it looked as if some rogue military unit had shelled my yard during Happy Hour. The house was still standing, but it was surrounded by foot-deep holes where the stumps were, several mounds of earthen debris, and flak and shrapnel extending into the surrounding yards, driveways, sidewalks, and the street. It took longer to sweep up the aftermath than to do the grinding, but it was satisfying to have conquered the stumps.

Some of my neighbors have stumps, where it seems their labors were abandoned just shy of glory. Stumps, like their namesake, can be confounding in their seeming immobility, rooted and anchored into the earth so stubbornly and so firmly that they could sit there for a century -but there's a tool for that. There's a tool for everything, and even a way to unfix the fixed things.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

So I installed Mac OS X Snow Leopard AND HAVE SEEN NO NOTICEABLE DIFFERENCE. It cost me forty dollars. What did I get? Peace of mind? Rounder, fuller periods? Well, I did notice the ON/OFF switch seems to work a little faster. In the past, if you put the computer to sleep, it seemed to take a few minutes to fluff its pillows and toss in the sheets before it could find that sweet spot on the cyber mattress and settle down. Now it just goes, sleep? okay! and is out. 40 bucks.

They tell me that changes have been made to the internal architecture that will enable the computer to more fully utilize the multi-core systems that were integrated years ago, but have not been totally accessible to programmers. I say, hmm. They say it will make things like video rendering and photo manipulation move smoother, faster. Okay, so this appeals to me. So... anything? Umm, no.

Some say, well, it will have to wait now until the programmers update all of their software. Ahem, didn't we just do that? For forty bucks? Whatever. Fine. I can roll. It's a Mac, after all. Similarly, a few weeks ago we took the car in and the mechanic said that we needed a valve adjustment for a few hundred dollars. We said fine, and drove off trying in vain to ascertain any noticeable difference in engine performance. It was like a water-tasting competition.

Still love my Mac, though! And my iPhone, which I adore. Last night I saw an ad for the iTouch, which was immediately followed by an ad for the Microsoft version of essentially the same thing, and I thought how unwise it was for them to run them back-to-back like that, since the Mac ad was obviously the cooler one. I shrugged it off, of course, since I probably would have bought an iCrap even if it didn't come with its own iTP (which would no doubt be proprietary, and at twice the cost.) I'm a card-carrying Mac-cult member, and now that I have all the cables, I can't get out of the temple.

Not that I would want to. Other cults could be worse. Wait... OMSJ. They are. Here's the 6 minutes of indoctrinating proof, if you can endure the ritualistic hell of...

They can't possibly be serious... can they? Watching this, I am thinking the entire time that it is a parody, like it was made by Christopher Guest (Waiting for Guffman, Best In Show, etc.) but no, IT'S REAL. Lileks pointed out:

If Microsoft had been put in charge of marketing sex, the human race would have ended long ago, because no one would be caught dead doing something that uncool... There can’t be an analogous Mac version of this, because Apple would never presume that people might hold a multi-generational social event to upgrade their system software.
It almost looks like it was produced in the 70s, with its weird, retro, Brady Bunch giddiness that hangs in the set atmosphere like some cheap smoke effect. It makes me think that all those ads from the 40s and 50s that today we laugh at as being so ridiculous, were actually laughed at back then for exactly the same reasons. Honestly, it must be so. No one seems to be getting any wiser.

So there will be no Snow Leopard party. There's nothing to see, really, and I'm moving along. But I am waiting for my November edition of MacWorld to arrive. They sent me a heads-up email the other day, which announced, Snow Leopard is here! And we've got 16 pages of coverage, from Jason Snell's definitive review to a guided tour of the new features, performance testing, and a guide to installing the new OS!

Did I just pee my pants or spill my coffee?


Monday, September 28, 2009

Making some changes around here! CHANGE! And the many definitions of the word are not lost on this household. It's a grand, fluid word, change, and brings to mind the hope of newness, fresh beginnings, and clean diapers. Think of change and you consider those spare coins in your right pocket, wondering if that will cover the autumnal landscaping you have in mind. Change! Because, well, you're just sick of looking at it all.

Came downstairs this morning and Mrs. Ditchman was gazing longingly at the bathroom vanity she's had her eye on, on the Internet. Our Master Bath has cried out for change since we moved in 5 years ago, and now the cries have reached indecent volumes. Also indecent: that carpeting, that shower stall, that counter top, that ugly hedge!

The hedge was the easy one, and only set us back the cost of a chainsaw, so I got on it this past week and TOOK HER DOWN, in an all-out assault on the landscape, I did -me, a one man, horticultural army. Neighbors stood, mouths agape. Children approached warily, from all sides, noting how different the cul-de-sac looked without it. I waited for the heady criticism, but none came. (Wise ones, these neighbors, I thought. Never criticize a man's work on the land, especially while he's holding a chainsaw.)

Meanwhile, the backyard appears to be blooming. The lawn seems to appreciate the added sprinklers, and the garden boxes are grateful for my turning the soil in August. They suffer all summer from the heat, and my business with atomic element #13, but the past few years I've been able to manage a humble Fall harvest, and it is satisfying. I admit my pumpkins aren't the biggest in all of Oceanside, as I had hoped, but they aren't too shabby. Just wait until next year.

Watermelon vines are creeping around the garden boxes, too, and they have a nice mottled leafiness to them that I'm not familiar with, never having grown watermelons before. I like them. I like their low-to-the ground, soldiering look. I'm hoping we'll get to eat a few before the mold sets in from these damp, grey mornings we've been having, which are great for running, by the way, but bad for watermeloning.

Work is slowing down, somewhat. There are a few Home and Garden shows on the calendar, and we're angling for new business, but at least I get a chance to catch my breath, hang with the kids, and make a few changes around here. I was getting aluma-burnout there, for a while, but yesterday was a stress-free Sunday that cleared out the lingering ills. After church we had lunch at a brewery, while the kids slept in the stroller, then we hit the Carlsbad chalk painting festival and an Armstrong nursery, dreaming out the landscaping. Made it home just in time to hit the couch for a nap, drifting off while the sounds of The Muppet Show, Season 2 entertained the more wakeful, attentive ones. Gardened a bit at sunset. Had homemade pizza. Got the kids in bed before 8:00, (a minor accomplishment) and sipped wine on the couch during the mindless entertainment of the season premiere of The Amazing Race. The best part of the show? We started watching about 20 minutes into it and got to fast-forward all the commercials through the magic of our new domestic time-travel appliance, the DVR. (This bit of wonder was too long in coming, I say.)

So it was a nice weekend, with simple pleasures. A perfect end to my 40th September.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Man, I flopped out this week on the blog. Significant things befell me all week, and yet most of the significant befalling was reserved for me and this blog. What can I say? I built an aluminum patio cover. It was hot. Mrs. Ditchman had to work and there was all manner of child juggling. I got a few runs in. I was busy. I was bothered. Same old stuff.

Then again... I met with a man about installing solar panels on the patio covers. The Little Ditchman started preschool. The Little Digger took his first steps. We finally signed loan documents on our refinance. I moved the boat to a storage facility. I met a new neighbor, another neighbor had a baby, and another neighbor got shipped out to Guantanamo. I got around to installing the new Mac OS Snow Leopard. We got DVR. And I bought a chainsaw.

Also almost burned the house down yesterday when I found that the attic fan had seized up and nearly started an electrical fire. The circuit breaker did not flip, rather, the upstairs was filled with that sickly, burning scent of a frozen motor, electricity pouring into it with nothing to power up but useless heat, fire, and the ensuing insurance claim. I was on my way out the door, and just happened to notice that odd smell of... danger. Went up in the attic and: SMOKE! I did not panic, I did not curse.

Because earlier that morning I was on my way out of the house when I saw a strange pool of water on the garage floor. Upon inspection, I found water coming out of the ceiling, just a few inches to the right of the hole in the ceiling I had made at the beginning of the summer, when there was a plumbing leak from the upstairs bath. So, before I left, I ripped some of the ceiling out and patched the new leak, from a different section of the upstairs bath. Pretty sure I cursed about that one, but I did not panic. "Count the holes in the ceiling: One, Two. Shoot!" (That was a toddler interpretation of the pain, aping yours truly.)

My new chainsaw failed on me. I was going to return the cheaper-than-the-top-of-the-line model, but then had the sneaking suspicion that it was all my fault. It's possible that I had the gasoline-to-oil mixture at a ratio other than the very clearly delineated manufacturer's specs, or some tensioner screw or other was either over, or under-torqued. And then, when the chainsaw hit a hapless, unsuspecting rock, the thing went suddenly and purposefully dull. Real dull, too -probably wouldn't break the skin at full-throttle. (I didn't test this, given how things were going.) So I taught myself how to sharpen a chainsaw (!) and I've been chainsawing things around here, just to relieve stress. And I appreciate how it's loud enough to not have to listen to neighbors' dopey comments. (Neighbor: "Doing some yardwork? Hot enough for ya?" Me, without making eye contact: RHAAAIRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!)

What can I say? Summer has left us to go do its good work in Australia, Capetown, and Tierra Del Fuego, and now here it's chainsaw weather, and with all the momentum of a new season. The Christmas stuff is on deck at Lowe's, in the aisle just left of the Halloween items. I was going to get some lights, since last year they sold out of my preferred lights a week before Thanksgiving. And in our cul-de-sac there is talk of costumes, and the house mommy is trying to convince the Little Ditchman that she should be "Little Bo Peep" so that her little brother can be a cute little sheep, but I suspect it'll be all Princesses and Dinosaurs. The kids are waking up before the dawn now, with these shortened days. This would invoke a certain amount of ire, if they weren't so gosh-derned cute all the time. Life is a fun, happy blur, that sometimes moves at speeds that blow your hair back, as you try to catch the view on all sides, and keep the car on the road.

But that's not today's metaphor. Like a tree's rings, events in our lives encircle, unforgettably, one another, and at the end, I suppose, you can count those rings and point out the significant moments. (I have a suspicion, for example, that there will be no rings for spontaneously burning out attic fans, Snow Leopard installs, or "that day we got the DVR".) Autumn is here, and the chilly nights and warm holidays are coming. Out come the old pics, family movies, long dinners, and time together with the people you grew up with, and finally appreciate. If you have a loving family, you put a log on the fire and split open that Tree of Life for a time and gaze serenely, nostalgically, at some of those rings. It's chainsaw weather.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Just watched the House season premiere. What's that? How could I watch House when you just know we were busy watching Dancing With The Stars last night? Through the magic of DVR, that millennial fetish cult that so many have been sucked into. Yes, first the iPhone, and now DVR. We are sad. But sad and hip!

House! I hear you asking, "Is there really room on television for another medical drama?" and the answer is NO, there is only room for House. The show is just consistently great, which is an accomplishment in the vast wasteland. Well-written, well-acted, with dialogue that is clever, without having to be drive-in cool. Melodrama? Sure. But melodrama is great if done correctly. And cliches are swell, if they're not over-used and relied upon. Even old ideas are fine if re-presented with new themes. For example, they went all predictably Ken-Kesey tonight, but instead of giving out lobotomies, the doctors were actually coherent, intelligent professionals who improved and helped the patients. What a concept! But what really struck me, again, was how music is such an important part of the show. There's always a song that flatters the moment, or an instrument as character, or someone at least referencing an old tune, and it strikes me as a profound structural device. That through the conflicts of these flawed people, trying to medically diagnose and help others, there's music; that unwavering, unquestionable, all-pervading, mystical healing force of the angels. And, hey, it's good music. The music in House, along with that flawed anti-hero, is the secret coalition that makes the show so watchable, kickstarted with that great track by Massive Attack, (which I will never forget hearing for the first time in a Tower Records in San Juan Capistrano in 2004 and I went straight to the counter to ask what is this? and bought it on the spot.) So the show is still awesome. And Hugh Laurie nails it just about every time.

As for Dancing With the Stars... Tom Delay was every bit as swoontastic as you would expect a fallen House Majority Leader to be. But FYI: it appears I don't always vote Republican. Donny Osmond was way better. (Wait, is he a Republican? No. Mormon.)


Monday, September 21, 2009

The president went on all the news shows on Sunday (well, all but that one on that top-rated cable news channel -the one that rhymes with "pox") to sell his Health Plan, er, Program, or, System, whatever he calls it. Anyway, it's not a tax, though even George Stephanopoulos on ABC seemed to think it was a tax. So sure, was George, that he pulled out the Webster's Dictionary definition of "tax", which President Obama rejected. So the dictionary is wrong. Who knew? Anyway, he seemed to elevate his intent for "change" to a whole new level.

There are few things we can rely on in life and society, but one of them ought to be the dictionary. I love the dictionary, and I refer to it all the time with the little right-click widget I have on my Mac -very handy. People neglect, dismiss, disregard, and even forsake the dictionary, AND THESE PEOPLE SHOULD BE UPBRAIDED! When you consider that Supreme Court justices refer to the dictionary all the time in order to form their high judgements and opinions, the dictionary takes on near Biblical proportions. (And, Lord knows, justices never refer to the Bible for their opinions.)

When I was at USC I roomed in a dorm with a Syrian immigrant, Karim Mohammed Moudarres. He carried the dictionary with him at all times, I guess because he was still learning English. I would come home from class at nights and he'd be sitting there in the kitchenette, slurping down ramen with the dictionary open on the table. I made fun of him doing this for a while, until I realized how dumb I was, and I've been reading the dictionary myself ever since.

I read Webster's. I read it because Noah Webster was a great American who dedicated his life to defining simply everything, and then arranged it all alphabetically. This was no small feat! Before his dictionary was published in 1828, American spelling and grammar was chaotic nonsense. Today we read old manuscripts in museums and think, What morons -they couldn't even spell! It's a wonder those illiterate founders ever pulled it together to build a nation! But the truth is: there was no "correct" spelling back then. You'd sit down to write a letter and just spell it all out the way it sounded. A world with no proper spelling! Think abowt it!

So Noah Webster set out to change all that, and become the bane of schoolchildren, forevermore. Interestingly, Webster's passion for spelling, grammar, and definition reached profound cultural and political heights. Having attended Yale during the revolution, (and serving, at the same time, in the Connecticut Militia) he was a sincere and dedicated patriotic American -one of the first. His work that culminated in The American Dictionary of the English Language was explicitly nationalistic, in that he felt that the American language should be distinct from England, as a form of cultural independence. So he took it upon himself to re-spell words like colour, theatre, plough, musick, centre, favour, honour, programme, traveller, and defence, -and the English have belittled us about it ever since. (Some re-spellings did not catch on, however. He had changed tongue to "tung" and women to "wimmen". Unfortunate losses to language, the both of them.)

Webster spent most of his life on his dictionary, mulling every last word of Shakespeare and the Bible, and in the process learning 26 languages (including Greek, Latin, Hebrew, French, German, Danish, Anglo-Saxon, Welsh, Old Irish, Persian, and seven Asiatic and Assyrian-based languages) and finally compiling over 70,000 entries -many of which he made up himself, and a full 12,000 of these words had never been published in any word compendium before. There were distinctly American things in it, too, like "skunk", "hickory", "squash", and, thankfully, "chowder". He consulted every book in every library in America, and when those were exhausted he went to Europe to look through old lists of words, and explanations of foreign plants, creatures, places, everything. Imagine the scope of a project like that, with no phones, no Internet, no fast transportation or postal system, and no ballpoint pens. In the dark (well, candlelight.)

And then, in January of 1825, Webster wrote,

When I had come to the last word, I was seized with a trembling which made it somewhat difficult to hold my pen steady for writing. The cause seems to have been the thought that I might not then live to finish the work, or the thought that I was so near the end of my labors. But I summoned strength to finish the last word, and then walking about the room a few minutes I recovered.
I couldn't find what word that turned out to be, ("zygote"? "zymurgy" Perhaps it didn't begin with z at all,) but I know the feeling.

His life's work was not without its supporters. Benjamin Franklin liked Webster's ideas about an American dictionary, and wrote:
Our Ideas are so nearly similar, that I make no doubt of our easily agreeing on the plan, and you may depend on the best support I may be able to give it as part of your institute.
And George Washington asked Noah Webster to come to Mount Vernon as a tutor for his grandchildren. Webster (turning him down) replied that:
...books & business will ever be my principal pleasure. I must write. It is a happiness I cannot sacrifice.
He was one of the most prolific writers of his time, penning political essays, newspaper articles, one of the first American histories, and several educational textbooks. James Madison read and admired Webster’s Sketches of American Policy. The ideas Webster set forth in his Sketches are thought to have had some influence on the writing of the Constitution. And when Webster got caught in a web of copyright problems with his popular children's schoolbooks, he proposed a successful and influential copyright bill in the Senate in 1831, which was sponsored by Daniel Webster, his cousin.

So it was a full, and historic, life. He fought for his country as a young man, rallied with Samuel Adams, founded and edited the first newspaper in New York (for Alexander Hamilton), served in the Connecticut House of Representatives, dined with Marquis de Lafayette, and wouldn't take no for answer when his girl turned down his proposal of marriage, writing:
Without you the world is all alike to me; and with you any part will be agreeable...
"The world is all alike to me." These are big words, coming from the author of the master dictionary. She came around. Eventually, their sons would carry on the tradition of his passion for lexicography.

And, it should be added, Noah Webster was a devout Christian. His dictionary contained the greatest number of Biblical definitions given in any reference volume up to that time. He considered education "useless" without the Bible, and in 1833 wrote a "Common Version" of the King James Bible. He had no interest in theologically motivated changes, but rather wanted to do away with some of the archaic language of ye olde English, and correct some small grammatical errors, so that it would altogether be easier to grasp for children, everyone. His only criticized and questionable change was exchanging the word "whore", which he found offensive, to the obviously more appropriate "lewd woman". (I haven't been able to track down if the compelling phrase "lewd wimmen" exists in Webster's Common Version.) And his popular schoolbooks, which covered spelling, grammar, and countless other items, began with this first biblical lesson:
Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor for your body, what ye shall put on; for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of these things...
Ultimately, in the preface to the 1828 edition of the dictionary, Webster wrote:
In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government ought to be instructed... No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.
Claim something like that nowadays and they'll put you in the corner under a dunce cap.

But these stories all seem to end the same: with the genius' entire fortune gone, the home mortgaged, the family in debt, and his life's work more or less unacknowledged. He died on May 28, 1843, a few days after he had completed revising an appendix to the second edition of the original search engine, The American Dictionary of the English Language. Dictionaries evidently did not sell well in the 19th century, and unsold copies of dictionaries were piled in warehouses. A few years after Webster's death, a couple guys called the Merriam brothers happened along and bought everything, including the rights (the rights to the dictionary!) and the rest, as they say, is history. Today, Noah Webster is the authority, and the father, of the American language. It just goes to show that every great artist, every great thinker, every great work, needs a business mind behind it.

Incidentally, The Oxford English Dictionary didn't get around to being published until 1933.

Anyway, it's all true. You can look it up.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Avast and arrr, it's Talk Like a Pirate Day! Again! Has it been a year already? I guess if you talk like a pirate all day, every day, like I do, a year goes by pretty fast. Anyway, it all means HOME SHOW, which is a work weekend.

I set up the new display booth today, down at the harbor. "New" in the sense that the old one was dinged and scratched beyond repair, beyond belief, beyond the scope of marketing control. So I spent all day building a new aluminum patio cover, for which I would not get paid. That's advertising. You toss out the cash and hope for the best.

We got some nice new, square, polyresin columns to show off. And they cost us a pretty penny, too, since the manufacturer, bilge rats that they are, would not fork over for a display piece (so we won't sell them that hard.) I would describe them in more detail, but you can just see for yourself when you come down to the pirate festival. Our display was moved away from the beer garden this year, to a less enchanting site, just a few feet from the Port-A-John. You got it right: you emerge from the plastic boudoir and are greeted with the vision of my pretty wife sitting beneath a perfectly fabricated aluminum castle. Wonderful. This may be the last year we do this show.

Up and running first thing tomorrow morning, ye lubbers! Sunday, too! I've got to get down there and finish painting the columns, since I ran out of time today. Anyway, thar be plenty of grog, as Stone Brewing Co., Breakwater Brewing Co., and Firehouse Brewing Co. are the beer garden sponsors.

Have a fine weekend, me hartys!



Thursday, September 17, 2009

What is it like to have your own home, family business? Let me count the ways.

Everything that goes wrong is your fault. Everything that goes right, must be profitable. If it's not profitable, it went wrong somewhere and you are to blame. You must have a myriad of phones, all with slightly different rings. They can all ring, at any and all hours, every day of the week, and no one will answer them but you. Strangers on the other end will make unreasonable and unexpected demands. At all hours of the day, you are concerned with inventing your product, making your product, and selling your product. That is The Great Triangle of Business. The triangle is the strongest geometric shape, but without one of those three sides, it all crumbles. All of it.

Your house is your office. Your garage carries your inventory. Your car is not just your car, it is your business van. It carries all of your work; your maps, your plans, contracts, flyers, samples, phone chargers, tools. Also, if there's room, a stroller. Yes, you have children, but they are mere distractions, background noise during business calls. A cute, crying, incessant errand that comes between work details.

Every expense is your expense. You buy the pens, the paper, the ink jet cartridges, and you are the one who has to re-stock the supply closet. You are the one who puts the little labels on the files. You are the IT guy. You take out the trash and you clean out the fridge. You make the coffee. No one brings you a cup, and no one cleans it for you when you're done with it, unless your spouse is in a good mood.

Your spouse is your boss, and your employee. Communication with your spouse is necessary, constant. All business meetings include household disputes, utility costs, personal interests, and scheduling around childcare. You must get along with your boss/employee at all costs, otherwise, again, all will crumble. Profitability depends on it. Domestic tranquility depends on it. Your sex life depends on it.

There are no set times to go to work, or come home. Just as there are no real vacations, no weekends. Faxes come in from various banks and marketing firms at 6AM Eastern time and they ring, beep, and print out in the next room, 10 feet from your bed. You get 10 times more junk mail than everyone else. You meet 10 times more people than everyone else. You see the insides of 10 times as many homes as everyone else. You get laid off every week. You have to find a new job every week. You are always 10 weeks away from bankruptcy, 10 weeks away from foreclosure, and 10 coin-flips away from a lawsuit where if you lose, they take everything. You have to buy your own health insurance, and pay full price.

You have to buy your own liability insurance, buy your own disability insurance, and buy your own life insurance. You have to consciously pay into your own retirement plan, and consciously plan out your own taxes. If you have employees, you more or less have to get all those things for them, too. If your printer breaks, you can't use the one in the next cubicle. If the copier breaks, you have to drive down the street to the Kinko's. If your car breaks down, your business comes to a halt. If your kid gets sick, your business comes to a halt. If your spouse is mad at you for something, your business comes to a halt. Save every receipt. The only thing that is not a business expense is your own well-being, but somehow you'll find a way to write that off, too.

Don't lose anything, especially addresses and phone numbers. Be friendly with customers, but don't be friends with them. Never forget the most important thing: that this is a business transaction. The customer is not always right. Sometimes they're just plain crazy with arrogance, and sometimes they're just plain mean, and sometimes you have to walk away holding your breath. If they say they can get something better for less, you tell them to go for it, since you are already offering them good, reliable work at a decent price.

You pray you won't break anything on the job you can't replace. This includes your bones. Without your bones, you are a formless, gelatinous mass. True too, with no tools. If you break a tool, buy a new one immediately without even thinking about the cost.

Have the right answers to every customer's questions. If you don't have the right answer, explain where you will find the right answer and when you will get back to them. Never offer an excuse for anything when a simple apology is almost always sufficient. Have a solution with every phone call, with every meeting. If you can't provide solutions, be prepared to walk away penniless. And step away quickly, or the door will smack you in the ass.

All licenses and bonds in all cities and states in which you do business must be current.

It is your responsibility to know all current, associated, and applicable local, state, and federal laws. The government is at every turn, showing you their palm in either the "halt" formation or the "handout" formation. They are not waiting for a "high five". They don't like you doing things by yourself, on your own, and without their knowing about it. They think they can do it better than you. They can't, but it doesn't matter, even if you vote them out in the next election cycle. You give to Caesar what is Caesar's.

Offer clients your best, but give them what they want, which are oftentimes two things that are diametrically opposed. Aim for perfection, but don't toss your pearls before swine. Work hard and have goals. Not just business goals, but a goal for your life, a goal for the year, the week, the day, and the moment. Concentrate on the moment. But don't spend that moment concentrating on how you are wasting your time going nowhere, as this will doom your business, your family. Be happy. Know that you are not going nowhere, but that you are going home. Know also that your work follows you home, which is different from your house, where your business is. Rise above it all, otherwise your whole family will drown, and your children will resent you for this failure for the rest of your life and theirs. Rise above it all and you will be their hero, which is all that really matters.

You have your own business. The American Dream is real, and your bearing it out is the proof. You are The Man. You make the call, and call the shots. You know how to start, and when to quit. No one calls you into their office to tell you to "get with the program". It's your program. You will never be fired. Your business is your name. You have the self-satisfaction of inventing yourself, making yourself, and selling yourself. It's the hardest thing you've ever done, the best thing you've ever done, and you will do it every day. Since it's who you are, you don't have much of a choice. And if it doesn't work today, tomorrow you'll try something else that will.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I really should change that "Posting M-F" quote down there on the sidebar. Seems I just can't keep up nowadays, what with this new schedule and all. I've been hitting work earlier, which I despise, but there must be something else occupying me. Not sure what it is... Anyway, I'll get around to changing the sidebar one of these days, as my readership drops off.

I had the time to blog last night, actually, but spent that 45 minutes sitting on the couch with the tv on for VS. (Shaq and Michael Phelps. Woopti.) And while that was going I was drinking a beer and I was playing Spore: Origins on my iPhone. Is Spore: Origins a fantastically and impossibly addictive game? No, actually, it's kinda dumb. I just didn't feel like thinking, is all. Admit it, you know the feeling. Whatever, it was Bunco night.

So, I'm just sorry. Not like you were clicking here to find some illuminating philosophy or anything, and I let you down. No, I suspect people just click here out of random curiosity, what's that guy doing today? when they can't think of anywhere else good to click on the WORLD WIDE WEB. The whole world at your fingertips, and you click here. I'm honored.

No, really! I am! Which, is why I'm sorry. I mean, you have the whole world at your fingertips, I should at least have something moderately entertaining to offer. But alas, life's just not that compelling of late. But here's something: a new monster. It's the "Muck Monster" of Florida. (Of course, Florida. Only in Florida.) What is it? Alligator. Manatee, maybe. Who knows. Just goes to show: when we're coming up with new monsters, we're running out of news.

I logged 250 miles on the Tundra today, which explains my lack of blogger zeal. Ugh, that was exhausting, driving through all those counties. I don't really have a Tundra log, but if I did... well, you know, that's a goodly amount of mileage for a Wednesday. No driving tomorrow. That's it for a while.


Monday, September 14, 2009

I am getting the itch to rip everything out of the house that I don't like. This includes certain cabinetry, flooring, random sections of drywall, some clothes, selected computer equipment, and, in some cases, entire rooms. (But not, I promise you, people.) I'm not sure about this itch, but I want to scratch it, and scratch it hard. I will draw blood if that's what it takes to relieve the itch -scratch away until the flesh is torn and the bone ground down. Scratch until it's gone, and the house finally satisfies.

Something tells me that that will never happen, that the itch will nag ad infinitum. Ad nauseum. Ad noendum. Bummer! So I spent some time in the garden on Saturday, well, okay, the yard, ripping stuff out that was bugging me. (Pots with dead plants! Pathetic!) But it is mid-September, and time to switch out to some more hearty, seasonal foliage. I poured out all the old soil from every pot on the property and amended it with mulch and fertilizer, where it sat on the patio ready to grow something on its own, a wayfaring poppy seed on the wind, perhaps -when someone opened the screen door and the kids came out and promptly sat in it.

They're growing, plenty. They communicate with each other now, and it's a wonder to watch. It mostly amounts to the Little Digger playing Godzilla to the Little Ditchman's dollhouse, and the resultant toddler reprimands that ensue, but the little guy seems to laugh it off with a smart, albeit primitive, sense of humor. I was pleased to see this arrive before an actual vocabulary, as it denotes a certain intellectual mystique in a 10-month-old. The jokes run simply, and are the same every time: he puts the back of his hand up to his mouth and smacks it while he makes a noise. It sounds like a dimwitted Apache: bwah-bwah-bwah-bwah-bwah, ha! But I guess you have to be there. Anyway, it makes the big sister laugh hysterically. He's picked up on this, so he goes again: bwah-bwah-bwah-bwah-bwah, followed by more laughter. He pulls it out at random times to make her laugh, and I could watch the exchange all weekend. There's something fantastically reassuring about it. It's something smart, something real. And, for a 10-month-old, it's pretty clever (being so obviously hilarious to a 3-year-old.)

We spent Sunday doing a little winetasting -since we live so close to the premiere winemaking region in all of Southern California! It was nice, actually, and we tasted a goodly number of interesting grapes, fermented in interesting ways. Anything outstanding? Yes; the weather, the company, the Sangria... It was a good Sunday, followed by a long Monday, in which I sufferred a nasty gash to the leg, first thing. It wasn't too bad, and there wasn't much I could do about it. I just stared at the blood dripping down my shin all day, thinking, bwah-bwah-bwah-bwah-bwah.


Friday, September 11, 2009

Man, what a mess I've made of my daily routine! 7:00PM and I'm sitting down to blog a bit, while the kids are getting some dinner, wife in the shower. Me, I got back from a run at about 5:00. This is all wrong. See what happens when all the phones ring at once at 8:00AM?

Messed with me, it did. We have FIVE phones in the house, by the way, if you count the fax machine. Seven, actually, since two of the phones have handsets on opposite floors, and yes, they both ring with every call, dammit. So they all rang at once this morning, freaking everyone just plain OUT and me especially, since the bulk of them were announcing that that delivery we were expecting 30 miles away was arriving at the job site about 4 hours early. And then the second call a half hour later saying, no, it's arriving 4 and a half hours early. So, yes: messed.

But I got through it, guilty the whole time that I have been neglecting the poor blog. And all of you won't stop emailing me, asking if I'm okay -thank you for your concern! I am not under a refrigerator. Anyway, it all amounted to me getting home early and my running running late in the day, for a change. Felt great!

It's 9/11, so I bring in the flag, which I fly all summer, beginning Memorial Day. I don't know why I do this, take it down on 9/12, but I do. I like the flag. I love the country. I love summer. But there's something off to me about running up the colors all year, all the livelong day, at your residence. I don't know. I just don't want it neglected. It gets faded enough as the summer wears on and eventually the neighbors see it like they see the paint on your house. (They don't.)

So it comes down tonight. I'll pull it out for Veteran's Day, Election Day, Thanksgiving, Pearl Harbor Day, Christmas, Presidents Day, and whatever else appropriate thing I can remember. Maybe even Easter, just to drive all the secular progressives on my block nutz. (Did you watch the president's speech the other night? Did you see what it said on the wall behind him in the House of Representatives? Sorry, but this is clearly not a secular nation.) Anyway, I'm feeling ornery. Must be the time of the day. Or the day. Or the wine. (Wineblogger, would be a good blog title, for someone so inclined, it suddenly occurs to me.)

It is 9/11. I watched some news today, just a few minutes worth, and I started to get choked up. It all seems a stunning memory, but like a remembered dream. I fear most of us truly have forgotten, as we promised we never would on 9/12, like some note in our senior yearbook (BFF '88!). They don't show them anymore, but the images are still every bit as shocking, and today play with the addition of a ghostly, eerie sense. (Check out Lileks' video.) I know it sounds crazy, but, we should all thank our troops, George W. Bush, and Dick Cheney, among others, for keeping us safe for the past 8 years. I know many people think of other things when they consider those names. Would you recommend thanking someone else? Or would you call 9/11 a fluke? A lucky shot? So, times have changed. Anyway, who knows what the future brings? If you had told me that night, back on 9/11/01, what I'd be doing 8 years hence, I would have told you to go cram it. (Glad I was wrong.)

Furthermore. If you are standing at the podium in the House of Reps, giving a speech about war or health care or something, with that quote behind you, do you know what you are looking at, on the wall behind all of your country's congressmen? There are other images, but they are in profile. This is the one in the middle, looking directly at you:

Have a blessed weekend!


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

09/09/09! Awesome! Life hasn't been this great since 08/08/08! To celebrate, at 9:09:09 AM this morning I drank 9 cups of coffee and tonight at 9:09:09 PM I am going to pound 9 beers, watch channel 99. According to this article,

[the date 09/09/09] represents the last set of repeating, single-digit dates that we'll see for almost a century (until January 1, 2101), or a millennium (mark your calendars for January 1, 3001), depending on how you want to count it.
Swell. Also, it is the 252nd day of the year. Significant? Yes, when you add 2+5+2 you get -wait for it- 9! Ladies and gentlemen, this can't possibly be a coincidence. The end is near.

Or new iPods! I was hoping for a wow-tastic AppleTV upgrade or revision, but instead it's just a rainbow of iPods with tiny cameras built in. It's nice, but... who needs another thing that plays music and takes pictures? Seems like everything does, nowadays. And I'm a proud owner of an iPhone, which does simply everything. Well... everything short of getting me a beer and pouring it into a frosty mug, handing it to me on the couch, and climbing up behind me to rub my tired shoulders. Nowadays it seems the new better things are merely varied permutations on the old better things.

Today's aluminum patio cover got delayed due to a stucco problem. The general on the job has issues with the inspector, who he mentioned could bite him, of all things. So I returned yesterday's trailer to the equipment rental place and asked to borrow their lawn aerator. They gave it to me for free, which made my day, and I spent the morning aerating the lawn, front and back. The lawn is dying, sadly, so a summer's-end aeration amounts to little more than a yard-size tracheotomy, as it lays there, struggling to breathe in the September heat. What else am I gonna do? Dose it with gypsum, fertilizer and pesticide? Intravenous hydro-therapy under the cover of night? Okay, I'll do it -but only because there's no Living Will for these things clearly delineated in the Sunset Western Garden Guide.

My neighbor is crazy, and I don't care if they know I think it. In the dead heat of summer they hired the other neighbor's gardener and decided to till the ground and plant lawnseed in their backyard (which was an obviously stolen and transplanted plot of barren Mojave.) Fine, but they've got their back sprinklers running ALL NIGHT LONG. I'm not kidding about this. Oh, sure, it's growing and all, but it must be costing them a few grand and the good will of the neighbor on the other side, who's been asking if the SHAKA-SHAKA-SHAKA kept us up all night, too. I'd complain to the authorities about the senseless waste of water, but then... well... then my green envy would be wholly exposed.

Also spent about $999.99 to fix the family SUV today, since at high speeds it felt like the driveshaft was going to drop out of the chassis and roll down the freeway embankment. In Japanese, the word for "nine" is a homophone for the word for "suffering". This all makes sense now, since it's a Toyota.

UPDATE: Patti pointed this out. In the words of Keanu: "Whoa."


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

An excellent Labor Day weekend was had, and thus, the summer ends, as so many summers have at this age. There are another couple of weeks left, of course, and if the public school system kept your kids 24/7, those last two weeks of summer would be duly enjoyed by all the parents in the land, but alas... what a waste.

Still... excellent all the same. Mrs. Ditchman and I connived our unsuspecting relatives to watch our diminutive hellions so we could haul off to a 40th birthday party for an old high school chum of mine, which was altogether oh-so-serendipitous. We didn't really know anyone else at the party, but it was a good excuse for a change of scene after a busy summer, and we're glad we did (at least, I am.) Costume party! All things 60s/70s! She looked fine in something she just pulled out of the closet. I wore my Dharma-issue coveralls. I wasn't sure a fictional background character from a popular tv show set in the 70s would fly, but the host of the party was dressed as Austin Powers, so it was deemed acceptable by default, and a relief. Anyway, it was a great party.

Something odd. I chatted with my old chum's parents for a while, whom I adore and with whom I haven't spoken in years. John's dad asked about my dad and I had to break the news that he had died five years ago. Such terrible, old news. It didn't really make me sad or anything, but it made me feel like the years were beginning to show themselves. I suppose it did for John's dad, too, upon hearing this, but I didn't ask. I changed the subject and wondered aloud if his costume was "new" or if he had just pulled it out of the back of the closet. He smacked me.

There were gaming tables! We all found ourselves suddenly wealthy with thousands in gaming chips to just drop on Blackjack, Craps, Roulette, etc. Hooting and hollering ensued from either side of the makeshift, be-tinseled casino (while mojitos were poured freely and swiftly) and the chips were later cashed in for raffle tickets which won gift certificates to popular coffee franchises and the like. I scored a $25 iTunes card which I blew on iPhone aps before work this morning. Awesome!

So we met some fun folks. Most of them were smiling, because most of them had left the kids somewhere else. I took a look around the party at one point and found that I was surrounded by people who were all about 40, all about 3 kids deep, and all just about as exhausted from the ordinary grind of daily living as I was. But everyone was happy, or at least seemed so. It was highly encouraging, and gave one the sense that the world was, in fact, spinning in the correct direction and at the proper rate. [Here's a word to the miserable: if you can muster it, hide your misery and surround yourself with happy people. Even if you don't know them, it does wonders.] Anyway, John and his wife's friends and family are hilarious. It's one of the reasons why we've been friends for 25 years: we at least admire our ability to surround ourselves with quality folk.

25 years! It's a wonder to be friends with someone for so long. Of all the people in attendance at the birthday, aside from the family I was the one who knew John the longest and, as far as I could tell, had traveled the farthest to be there. I know I wasn't obligated to go to the party (John and I don't connect more than once or twice a year, nowadays) but, given the circumstances of longevity, I chose to attend out of respect for our little institution of lasting friendship. John and I are pretty different, but with some people, just sticking it out for that long transcends enough differences to make it worthwhile. What else is there for us to endure now, besides our prolonged parting and distance? But none of that matters. It's a priceless thing, to feel like it's only been days, instead of months, or even years sometimes, between a rendezvous. It's the magnificent blessing of old friends.

Mrs. Ditchman and I stayed until 1AM or so, after most of the other guests had peeled off. We sat outside in some lawn chairs with a few candles. Someone had bought John an expensive bottle of whiskey, and he got some plastic cups and opened the bottle -without hesitating or even considering that there might be a more deserving moment in some future of his where I probably wouldn't be present. Someone else had given John some fine cigars, and he handed one to me, a light in the other hand. I don't drink whiskey or smoke cigars anymore, at least, not like I used to, but then again, I don't hang with John like I used to. So we laughed about the old times, and bored our shivering wives with the old stories. And it was a fine cigar. I guess, at 40, if you arrive at the point where the retelling of the great stories outnumbers the creation of them, well... it's not a bad thing.

Me and John. Acapulco, c. 1994.


Friday, September 4, 2009

One more pic of good ole' Larry's house in La Canada. Not much can be said about it, as it speaks for itself, eh? Pretty sure it's the same view from a lot of houses in La Canada, La Crescenta, Tujunga, Altadena, et al. Moonscape-ville. Welcome to Tranquility Base.

If I had a helicopter, I would fly over my house and take pictures all the time. Does every pilot do this? Fly over, circle once or twice, and say, "Hey! There's my house!" Funny.

In other news, Lileks used the word ichor in a sentence on his blog the other day. I would never in a million years think to use the word ichor, though I happen to know what it means, and have seen it before. This is why I will never be a professional writer, because words like ichor never appear in my brain at the necessary and appropriate time. No matter how much I write, or how hard I pound the keys, ichor does not manifest in my cerebrum as a utility. Mrs. Ditchman had a bloody nose in the shower the other night, dripping ichor on the linoleum and calling my name. If I had thought of the word myself, it might have been a great little story. Hilarious, even. But I didn't have the words. Writing can be such an ichor-letting enterprise!

As is building aluminum patio covers. Yesterday it was hotter, but the previous day it was more humid. I infinitely prefer the heat to the humidity, but that is a preference that has no bearing or matter on anything in my life. It's not like I'm trying to decide between a vacation to The Grand Canyon or a vacation to Wailua Falls, and in that case humidity would win out, so, hey, what do I know?

Labor Day Weekend! Have a fine one. Don't work, don't have a baby, just take it easy. Why they don't just call it "BBQ Day" is beyond me, but then again, not a lot has been making much sense lately. Anyway, be careful with that fire.

Wailua Falls, Kauai


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Where have I been? Oh, who cares. Work, that's where. WORK. Yesterday was hot and busy, through and through. Got home after the sun went down, and almost sat to blog about it in one big, extended complaint, and then thought the better of it. I mean, who wants to hear about that?

Monday I have no excuse for. I was home for most of the day. I had a bit of time here and there, but I just didn't sit down at the computer. I was just eager to get August over and done with, as it seemed an interminable month, so I waited it out until the first September morning, which was Tuesday. And now? SEPTEMBER! And feeling great.

Here's a few more fire photos to remind you how petty your Wednesday worries are...

La Canada. I believe Larry took this pic with his phone from his helicopter last Friday night. That collection of buildings on the right, there, is JPL -NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It's the #3 Mission Control for spaceflight ops in the country, behind the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the Johnson Space Center in Houston. JPL handles all of the deep space exploration, so the shuttle astronauts are a little less concerned about the La Canada fires than are the robots on Mars.

The dome in the bottom left is my old high school gym, currently an evac center, and my old house is in that cluster of homes on the top left on that hill.

Here's one taken by Mitch a couple days ago, from his backyard...

A DC-10 flying that low over your house would otherwise not be cause for jubilance, but Mitch called it "The Closer" -as it pretty much finished off the flames licking up his hillside.

And finally...

The breathtaking, stunning, God's-eye view of it all, that we see in the paper once a year. Seems understated, since it's been deemed one of the largest wildfires (if not the largest) in California history. If the Santa Ana's were blowing, all that smoke would be going in exactly the opposite direction. So far, only 64 homes have burned down. I say "only" because I'm working around San Diego County and still see empty lots in many neighborhoods, and I vividly remember all the homes that burned down two years ago. All 1500 of them.


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

If you live long enough, eventually you see your old high school turned into an evacuation center for some local disaster or another, as I have this past weekend. I mention the Southland wildfires every year, and was gearing up for it again come October, but the annual conflagrations have lit up the night sky a bit early this season, and without the wind.

No wind! Which is the greatest blessing of all this crisis. One can only imagine the destruction if the Santa Ana's had whipped up. All the same, I was monitoring the wildfire all weekend and it is a grand and sweeping demoralization to see the words "0 percent contained" in print.

La Canada is my old hometown and I've befriended all my old high school classmates on Facebook since leaving the place 20 years ago, so when I clicked on my Facebook newsfeed I just saw a list of people praying and evacuating, and mobile uploads of the burning menace in old friends' backyards. The fire was at one point less than a mile from the house I grew up in, and it made me think I barely made it out of there alive, having grown up all those years just this side of a massive tinder box. Though I do remember a few fires and some controlled burns from my youth, there was never anything like this.

I called one friend last week. He answered his cel and I asked immediately, "Is your house okay?" And he replied "No!" without having to think about it, which was shocking -he was loading stuff into his car as we talked. His place is still okay, as far as I know, but the evacuating is easy compared to the waiting, I imagine. Is everything going to be all right? We'll wait and see, wait and see...

One of my old classmates is Larry, who is a helicopter pilot/sky reporter for the local news agencies. Our senior class president, he still lives just up the street from where I grew up. Larry's been good about posting info and pics on his Facebook wall for all to see. He's a helluva guy; good-humored, not easily excitable, and everybody loves him. Here he is in his backyard the other day, chatting on the phone, catching some pics, calling in air support:

The caption on that last photo reads: My pool guy is gonna be pissed!

Other pics show him smiling with firefighters and being interviewed for the news -all with a margarita in hand. That's Larry. Helluva guy.

The fire is still burning, this way and that. Homes have been lost, lives have been lost, and it's all terrible to watch. Most of my high school classmates have moved out of La Canada, but none of their parents have, of course, so there is great and extensive concern. (Including for my own mom, by the way, but she is totally fine.) Generally speaking it all seems to be keeping at bay, staying just up the hill from the neighborhoods. I keep checking this map, for some perspective, but it doesn't seem to help. You just can't imagine the sheer size of it. And to think of what could have been with a Santa Ana condition, the horror of which would be beyond scale.