Sidetracks: the Metal Season

drill-bits

The strangest items remind you of things now missing from your life. When you come across them, they carry you down byways of memory lane.

I forgot I’d kept a few melted & broken tips of drill bits I used to repair — chop off the bad, regrind new tips. Even after so many years, the damaged tips fascinate me. Speed and feed are terms anyone who works with machines knows, and these tips show one of the things happens when speed and/or feed is badly wrong. With the possible exception of destruct testing, this doesn’t occur without operator error, be it inattentiveness, inexperience, altered consciousness, bad math, or…

Yet there’s an eerie and violent beauty in the textures and color changes. Even today, the force and heat required to cause such metallic distortions still amaze me.

They marked the ending of a defining life season. Though I still enjoy machining as a hobby, it’s not quite the same. The machine shops where these came from passed into history, but the effect they had on me remains.

Warning: Not for the Squeamish

Oooops! happen to everyone.

Sometimes, you don’t see the actual beginning of an event chain. You stumble into a chain-in-progress, and the outcome depends on what you do in your portion of the links.

I took the dogs outside to potty. The girls got down to business immediately, but the boy made a beeline for the truck.  He kept circling it, sniffing, but his huge nose was stuck up in the air rather than scenting at ground level.

Huh. Time to investigate.

A dead rabbit sprawled on the windshield. I’m an attentive driver. I’m pretty sure I would’ve noticed a rabbit splatting the driver’s side windshield like an oversized bug. A pair of disposable gloves later, I solved the mystery. (I’m not squeamish, but this did make me a bit queasy.)

A small feather stuck to partially identifiable viscera. An owl had used the hood of the truck as a dining room and the windshield as the table.

With nowhere to bury it, the sad little corpse was wrapped in a plastic bag, slid into a funeral urn (one of many empty coffee cans), and double-bagged to go in the trash. Somehow (gosh, how did that happen?), it went directly into the bin without making it into a larger trash bag. It fell to the bottom.  It wedged in the interior molding for the trash truck lift arms. It remained there after the disposal company made its rounds.

Over the next week, it ripened in the humid heat of a Midwest summer.

R.I.P.E.N.E.D!

(Maybe leaving the lid off the dogs’ poop scoop bucket would’ve sweetened the localized miasma. Maybe not.)

My hubby (my knight in shining armor whose nose is actually more sensitive than mine) spared me the pry-it-loose-and-bag-it detail.

We come to each other’s rescue from our Oooops! moments.

Our standard We won’t do that again! doesn’t apply to creative, new Oooops!

Frittering Away Bits of Time

A new confession: sometimes I indulge in blatant procrastination. Not major blocks of time, you understand. I don’t have major blocks of free time, but there are little 5-10 minute swatches when I could do something productive but just don’t want to.

I’m not sure whether to be amused or disturbed by one of the ways I fritter away bits of time: those crazy little on-line quizzes.

My choices in each quiz are honest, partly because I don’t like slanting results toward what I hope for, but mostly because I don’t always know what results are available or how they calculate results from my answers.

So…

My hippie name would be Breeze, but my birth name should’ve been Phoenix. My Native American name would be Likes to Play.

Depending on which quiz I take, I’d be a German Shepherd or a Basset Hound if I were canine. If I were equine, a Quarter Horse. (Figures it’d be a working horse, but why couldn’t I be a sleek Thoroughbred or showy Friesian or even a Shire with hooves bigger than dinner plates?). As a lizard, I’m a chameleon, but as a dinosaur, a velociraptor. I’m a shot of whiskey—completely at odds with my claim that I’m aging like fine wine.

In mythological quizzes, I’m a mermaid, a griffon, and Cerebus. (Combined results, maybe a 3-headed lion/eagle hybrid that can swim as well as fly?)

I don’t take many of the tv character quizzes; I don’t watch tv enough to know what most shows are about or who the characters are. Still, the occasional character quiz catches my eye and captures my time.

Among super-heroines, I’m Wonder Woman, but in a Marvel Comics quiz (without gender choice), Hawkeye. To be fair, I took a couple of villain quizzes (we all have a dark side, oui?): Catwoman and Moriarty.

In the Star Wars universe, I’d be Boba Fett, which kind of surprised me—I thought it’d be Chewbacca because of a bit of scruffiness around my edges—and I had to look that one up. I like Star Wars but didn’t remember some of the minor characters. Good excuse to fire up a SW marathon, isn’t it?

For a Peanuts character, I would be Snoopy, and for a Lord of the Rings character, Legolas.
Hmmm. If I merge those two results, would I be an athletic beagle with awesome archery skills or an elf with long floppy (and pointed) ears, WWI goggles, and a Sopwith Camel?

Likes To Play—that one got it right.

A Goal in Mind

Every so often, something catches me off guard and I realize I may have presented a wrong or at least incomplete impression. One dimensional, really.

I rave about how much I lovelovelove lime sherbet–my very favorite!!!–so frequently that folks get the impression I don’t like blueberry frozen yogurt or chocolate/strawberry/vanilla ice cream. Or black walnut. Or pineapple sorbet.

But this isn’t about desserts.

I occasionally give myself a repeat of an old college assignment: list the titles of every book I remember reading cover-to-cover. No cheating by looking at my bookshelves or wandering through the library. The original assignment had a time limit of about a month, but with this most recent repeat, I gave myself a longer period.

I haven’t utilized Goodreads much, but as I look over the massive list that’s grown over the last several months, I think it’s time to organize this list both at Goodreads and here.  Here will be both reviews of books I like for whatever reasons as well list groupings of titles.
(BTW, I don’t take requests for reviews. The ones I post are because I want to, not because someone asked me to do so.)

Anyway, I just think it’s time to share that I like more than just “lime sherbet” in what I read.
And write.

A Little Life, A Little Mystery

This isn’t a eulogy–not really–although it’s about a fur-friend who’s gone now. It’s ruminations and memories about a cat who shared her life with me and my husband for over 17 years.

I love cats but I was never a cat person. I always had more dogs than cats in my life, so it never occurred to me they might not be teachable. To me, cats were a bit like odd, special-needs dogs who simply required extra patience.

Folks at the pound thought the kitten was 7 weeks old, but when I brought her home, she didn’t know how to eat well. The vet guessed closer to 5 weeks. My husband was…not really afraid of cats but wary of them. All those claws as well as teeth. From the beginning, though, Phoebe was incredibly gentle with him. She’d walk across my lap–this is Mom, I pin-dance with joy, with gusto! On my husband’s lap, she sheathed her claws so tightly, she walked on her tiny back pads. Her vocalizing was loud, chatty, sometimes demanding with me, but with him, her purrs and trills were soft and flirty. She won his heart.

The Sit command dogs mastered in a couple of training sessions took Phoebe about 6 weeks of short sessions 2-3 times daily. By the time she was 10 months old, she was reliable with Sit, Off, Spit It Out, Upstairs, Downstairs, and Let’s Go (a version of Heel). Her socialization was as thorough as what I did for show puppies. She went for car rides, and everywhere I took her, I made sure people petted her. She had fun visits to the vet as well as appointments. Throughout the rest of her life, she never stressed, never blew fur from nervousness at the vet office; she was a polite, relaxed patient anyone could handle.

She expressed distaste for any bath at the top of her lungs but held still for the indignity. Teaching her to accept nail trims was like trying to train a ferociously thorny rose bush, but within a year, she enjoyed the procedure, even purring as I worked on her feet. To her, brushing was almost as good as a treat.

She had a feisty streak–what cat doesn’t? More than once, the older hounds sought (with much flinching) rescue from her wrapped around a leg or swinging from an ear. I worried that the younger dog, Miss B (67 pounds, from a bloodline with sharp temperaments), would hurt her until my husband discovered Phoebe chasing that dog up and down the basement stairs and slapping the long houndy snout when Miss B flopped down for a breather. I’m not done playing, dog!
She and Miss B also engaged in bizarre dead mouse soccer, batting & flipping the soggy body through the air to each other. Inventive games between fur-friends.

Phoebe’s first sight of a puppy litter shocked her (They’re Everywhere!), but by the time the puppies were tottering around the whelping box, Phoebe was playing with them. You’d think she would’ve been eaten for messing with the babies, but mama-dog seemed relieved to have a sitter. As the puppies grew, Phoebe taught them manners. She tolerated respectful nosing and slobbery kisses, but play too rough and her quick slap restored instant order. One of the male dogs we kept grew to 102 pounds of muscle; he wilted to the floor when he got out of line and the 11-pound kitty corrected him, holding his nose with the tips of her trimmed claws. Never scratching or puncturing–just holding.

The day she screamed, the dogs haired out at the raw terror in her voice. I bolted downstairs, certain I’d find her crushed under a fallen bookshelf or impaled on some tool in the shop. She stood in classic Halloween black cat arch, hair puffed to triple her size, pupils fully dilated. A wolf spider had fallen in her litterbox. It raced around the box’s perimeter in 8-legged panic. A canning jar capture and trip to the garden later, all was well with two mutually horrified creatures.

Other than arachnophobia, not much rocked her serenity. Oh, except for the time she decided to stroll out the back door. A dozen steps from the door, she looked up and instantly flattened to the sidewalk. The lack of ceiling overhead unnerved her. It didn’t stop her from joining the dogs lined up at the window for the daily neighborhood watch and adding feline commentary to theirs. I don’t like that guy on the bicycle! Me neither! Did you see that woman let her dog poop in our yard? Disgusting! Bad, bad! Oooo–look a rabbit!
I didn’t offer them binoculars.

Although a passionate mouser (with woods behind our backyard, there was a lot of incoming mice to be passionate about), Phoebe developed an odd relationship with a baby squirrel we rescued. By the time we realized Bart couldn’t be released, she’s struck up a friendship. Over the next 8 years, she sat on the stairs, sometimes for hours, and they stared at each other, engaged in long chatty burbles, trills, and chirps, and touched noses. After he quietly passed, she still paused on the same step to stare where his cage had been and trill for a few moments. The tone was questioning rather than chatty, and she continued doing this until her own last days.

Despite what animal experts tell us about feline behavior and intelligence, she didn’t forget Bart, nor did she forget the dogs she outlived. I’d seen many dogs weep tears of sorrow, worry, even joy, but she was the first cat I witnessed doing the same. We learned never to speak their names in her presence.

Seventeen years of relationships and interactions more complex than I thought possible for a housecat: intelligent, ornery, mannered, loving. How much was innate personality? How much was early training? A mystery I’ll never solve but one I treasure as I cherished her.

Hers was a little but full life, well-lived. Her final breath was a purr.

The Peaks of the Citadel

Overcast was the day and bold were our hearts as we ventured forth to climb the outer walls of the citadel to its lofty peaks.

Long it vexed my heart sore as to why I so rarely need water the spathiphyllum in the corner—the lily, though lovely, gave me no peace. Then came a night of torrential rain and a clue to this mystery with the resonant crash of sheetrock down from above.

Our quest, then, was to learn what fell reason there might be for rain to enter and despoil the attic and interior of the great hall. Dismayed we were to find foul rot and storm wrought damage on both shingle and sheath, and we vowed an oath to repair.

“Insurance?” I said, for hope was in my heart that we might contract a craftsman for the labor.

He shook his head. “Not so, for the deductible is so great, we could dine on naught but ramen noodles for a year. No help will come.” Then stout of heart, he made boast. “But we are able and can do this thing which we’ve avowed.”

We sallied forth to the home improvement store and made bargain with the merchant therein. “Silver” was the word there writ upon the package of asphalt shingles though it appeared as pale gray granite to mine eyes. And I glanced with longing at the nail guns exhibited upon the shelves of the tool aisle. And at literature on the magazine rack, and at Christmas decorations on early presentation, though All Hallowed Saints’ Eve was more than twice fortnights away.

O, and I worked the handle of a bench-top drill press on display, for long have I desired this mechanical device.

So, we purchased with many a coin and promissory note the asphalt shingles we needed atop the citadel’s peaks. Thus supplied, we gathered wood and tools and asphalt shingles, and we charged forth to bravely battle effects of weather and time.

“Wait!” I cried upon gaining the roof. “Come no further! It cannot hold the two of us!”

For he was broad of shoulder and mighty of thew. And surely sheath and timber would collapse and cast us both into the great hall, most likely on the television atop its carven plinth just under the risky peak. Or mayhap on the dusty rowing machine I’d moved upstairs from the citadel’s dungeons to fulfill some decade’s New Year resolution to exercise.

“I am small and light of weight. I can wield hammer and caulking gun to affix the sheet and shingles into place. Thou art strong of arm and back and better able than I to carry heavy burdens of lumber and shingles up the ladders we leaned against the citadel.”

And he was mightily pleased at this plan for though he was manly, brave and bold, he was ever wary of heights. “But hold,” he cautioned. “Forget not thy leather gauntlets. For does thee not recall the radical dermabrasion of thy hands during our last repair of the citadel’s peaks?”

“Aye,” I said grimly. “I remember it well, and I thank thee for the remembrance of my gauntlets. I will use them as I climb, but I must remove them to hold the nails and fire the caulking gun. My hands would be too clumsy else and I would dread the task of plucking fallen nails from fallen leaves.”

For chill autumn was heavy upon the year, and neither of us had raked the yard.

“Then tuck thy gauntlets into thy belt or pockets this time so they won’t slide down the citadel’s peak and plummet to the earth.” Stern he was as he said, “T’is unseemly for the Lady of the citadel to snivel so upon breaking her fingernails.”

Through the long afternoon, I wielded hammer and caulk gun. Occasional enticing wafts of grilling haunch and ribs drifted to me from the steakhouse on the highway. My stomach rumbled in yearning, but I steeled myself to the purpose at hand and persevered in our great task.

Anon, I paused to gaze upon the greensward below extending to the chain-link fence and espied a clump of dying ragweed and knots of poison ivy I had not noticed before. I mentioned it when he brought a tankard of hot tea, passing it up to me with nary a spill, but I sipped the savory brew circumspectly for I did not wish to hurry down the ladder in great distress later.

As dusk descended and the first needles of sleet fell from the sky, I came down from the peaks. He stored away the ladders and tools while I wondered in what pantry I’d stored the heating pad. For sore and chilly were bicep and back from hammering while perched on the citadel’s peak. Mayhap, I must embark upon another quest ere the pass of this evenfall to the lair of trousers and skirts, blouses and shirts, and my heart quailed for there were legends, aye, that in closets there dwelt floors.

Yet no mere trepidation of future quest could still my joy. Gazing up at the deed we had done, we embraced in victory, our oath fulfilled.

Then he said, “Behold, I have prepared a gift of multi-purpose cleaner for thy hands,” for they were black and tarred with caulk. Therefore, I went into the citadel’s kitchen to scrub the malodorous substance from my hands.

But, perchance, it seemed intractable and stubborn to remove, and I despaired deeply for I had yet to prepare the evening banquet of grilled cheese and pickles and potato chips (if there be chips still in our stores).

“Out, out, dark blots upon my hands!” I cried as I applied the fibrous pot-scrubber to the labor.

He came to my side and examined my hands. “Let not thy heart be troubled. T’is only freckles.” Peering gravely, yet lovingly, into mine eyes, he pronounced a helpful suggestion. “Next time, wear thy glasses.”

Sentient Appliances

I confess a love/hate relationship with techy stuff.
When it works, fine. Lovely.
When it doesn’t, I want to drop-kick the techy item through the nearest window.

Maybe I’ve read and watched too much science fiction where the tech goes all wrong. One of my early introductions to the dark side of artificial intelligence was Colossus (later made into a 1970s movie). And then HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey. And the gunfighter android from Westworld.

Et cetera.

Anyway, the glitchy side of tech is never far from my mind.

It doesn’t seem to matter how expensive the tech is when real glitches happen. For a few years, I operated a quarter of a million dollar machine that sometimes refused to shut off. Many attempts to troubleshoot and repair the glitch failed. Repair technicians knew it was a sticky relay, but even repeated replacement of the offending part didn’t help. The solution: hit a certain spot on the equipment’s cabinet with your fist and voila! it shut off. Three of my hand-spans from the front and six hand-spans from the top — X marks the spot.

I think about that every time I see the newest technology featured in some appliance (stove, furnace, coffeemaker, or whatever.). Cars can parallel park for you and have computer options, sensors, and cameras so close attention to driving becomes less necessary. Cell phones now act as portable all-purpose computers. The washing machine at my current job has a control panel like a baby rocket from NASA.

In time, they’ll have voices of their own to go along with artificial intelligence. That doesn’t scare me, but the prospect of a balky/glitchy appliance getting argumentative or sassy…

Stove: Oh, you set my burner on medium? Soooo sorry about the crunchy eggs! Heh-heh.

Toaster: Sliced bread again! That’s all I ever see! How about a bagel or English muffin for a change? A little variety here.

Air conditioner: You didn’t like it when it was cold outside, and now you don’t like the heat. I’m not working until you make up your mind.

Mixer: Wheeeeee! When I grow up, I’ll be a Tilt-o-whirl!

Washing machine: Don’t ask me about the water. I felt unbalanced and took a walk. The cat must’ve missed the litterbox.

Stove: No. I don’t feel like heating my burner right now. If you want hot water, talk to the coffee pot.

Refrigerator: You like dairy stuff, right. So I turned 2 gallons of milk into cottage cheese for you. What’s your problem?

Coffeemaker: Get lost. I’m set to brew at 2:45 a.m. and I’m sticking to it. Ask the hot plate.

Fan: I thought you liked clicking. You clipped a card to your bicycle spokes when you were a kid. Wasn’t this a misty nostalgic sound for you? Sheesh! What an ingrate!

Television: Didn’t know I could pixelate audio, didja? The actor said Ba-a-a-a-ad like a shee-e-e-eep. ROF-ROF-ROF-ROFL!

Hot plate: **spark**crackle**sparksparkspark** Gee, that was fun! Like the 4th of July! Turn up the dial!

Oh, if only my hair dryer could talk.

On second thought, I don’t want to know.

Detours into the Past

I keep a hand-written journal.

I love the feel of the paper and the color of whatever pen I carefully select (happen to grab). There’s an intimacy with using them that I don’t find with a computer. I slow down for a little while. Handwriting is necessarily slower than using a keyboard. If the mood strikes, I doodle alongside the writing or within the writing, turning letters or words into flowers, animals, or knotwork. I like the variety of bindings and covers available for blank books.

Once in a while, it’s good to go back through retired journals. Sometimes, it’s for no more reason than to check whether what I’m remembering at the moment is the same as what I wrote when it actually happened, either an incident or bit of dialog. Sometimes, it’s for seeing whether or how much I’ve grown or changed in my thinking, where I might still be stuck and where I’ve moved on.

Because…because on a daily basis, I often don’t have enough time for introspection. The journal enforces as well as records it.

My faith has grown and my confidence has grown. So has my ability to accept that I’m not perfect and won’t be this side of heaven. I’m less of an extrovert than I’d like to be, and there are plenty of areas where I’m not as sensible as I should be by now. My hackles still go spiky at the words It can’t be done. I laugh at myself more easily and more frequently than I could at any decade younger.

On the occasional excursion into past years, transformations and illuminations become apparent.

• Idolatry for my job came crashing down. An injury ended my ability to make a living with the job that was everything to me.
Epitaph: Here lies a toppled god; its fall rocked my world.

• I ranted about my dogs locking me out of the house an hour before I had to get ready for work. Note to self: never, ever step out the door without a key.

• I articulated why I have difficulty getting attached to places. Thirty moves in about a fifteen year span makes for shallow roots.

• My latent tendency to be a smart aleck blossomed. I told my sister an excavation site for a building was an open pit dirt mine. Ten minutes later, she smacked me. 😀

• A coworker said I reminded him of three people: Mother Theresa, Red Skelton, and Attila the Hun. I spent four entries trying to figure that out — three entries less than when another coworker told me I was too weird for words. Guilty as charged.

• I realized I could choose to be content, happy, joyful no matter what circumstances I faced. Oddly, I didn’t note what was happening at the time, what had prompted that entry. But it was a very good choice.

And weaving around and through trials and triumphs, questions and revelations, the condition of my soul or my hangnail, there are snippets of story ideas, characters, and phrases uniquely mine. Themes and motifs dominant in my writing show up clearly with hindsight.

Of course, hindsight is always 20/20.