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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Why i'm excited that i went bald: Part One

Two punks switching the spark plug wires of a '79 Suzuki GS 550 as a prank.
Jesus telling the rich young ruler to go home, sell all he owns and give it to the poor.
Going bald.

What do these things have in common?


The point was made to me that our fears are fundamentally linked to our idols. i fear confrontation, i fear pain, i fear failure because my god is comfort, security and people thinking well of me. When i perform, it is not just for someone else's benefit. i can't even lead worship without serving the god of praise for myself. That's how sick i am, how entwined with the temple prostitutes i have been. i want people to be wowed by me. i want to be significant. i want people to think i'm special. It's why i have to prove i'm right when i argue and it's why, when i argue, i try and use humor to keep it friendly. i learned to be moral because the people i respected valued that and it kept me out of trouble with my folks and a righteous God who demanded it. Heck, it's why i blog.

Well, that's only partially true. i would do this even if no one read it. But that's a different issue. But it's why i check it every day to see if someone left a comment.

When i was a kid, i was not cool. i'm still not cool but i'm a middle aged, white guy going to seed, and a lot of that pressure is off. But back when being cool was cool, i was not. Nor was i able to figure out what made one cool. When i tried to be cool, i failed miserably and actually became more of a laughing stock. Eventually i moved and thought this would help, no one would know my past, i could reinvent myself. It might have, a little, but nature shows through, a dweeb by any other name still reeks of fail. By stroke of grace, i was taken as a disciple of the Keith. The Keith was cool, you could tell because he had to be bussed to a different school much further away because he'd already been kicked out of ours. The Keith didn't care what people thought of him. This, i learned, was the epitome of cool. i began to stop caring what people thought of me too. i grew my hair long. i got an earring. Cuz that's what us guys that didn't care what you thought of us did.

If your irony sensors are going off it's cuz you are well versed in Greek Tragedy. Yes, i cultivated an entire personality around the disdain for what the world held dear and celebrated my freedom from society and what "they" thought. Only, i did care. i cared what the Keith thought and i cultivated an aura of apathy carefully because i realized i gained a certain amount of respect from it. On senior day, when other sophs were being called out of class to be tormented and hazed, i stalked by, bored scowl, pony tail, knee high moccasins and trenchcoat, unmolested. i was not loved, but i was left alone. It was a runners up prize i would accept because secretly i feared i was not lovable anyhow. Not by those i wanted to be loved by. Many other folk who weren't as cool as they wished thought i was kinda cool. My idol devalued the love i of friends i truly did have and caused me to focus on those who would never accept me as one of theirs so i learned to devalue them. i was worthless, my idol made my own friends worthless and my hurt made everyone else worthless.

Cynicism runs strong in my family.

After i graduated i discovered motorcycles. i became obsessed with the idea of becoming not just a motorcyclist, one who rode a bike, but a biker. It had to be a lifestyle, a personality. The black leather, the two foot long mohawk, saddlebags and a horizon became my dream and i wasted days, months, years on it. Really, i have the sketches to prove it.

i used to have an expression, "God likes to kick out crutches." i formed this idea around the concept that God want's me to lean on Him alone. A crutch is anything that i use instead of Him. While essentially accurate, i think, it is a false portrayal of Him and His motives. When Jesus kicked a crutch, the person walked, not fell down. The ten commandments mention pretty early on that God is a jealous God. He won't tolerate that which is rightfully His being given to another. We often portray this as petty. God is this angry guy who gets tic'd off at being dissed. Or he's some kind of megalomaniac who thinks that it's all about Him. What does He think He is? God? i know, right?

But what if He's a husband who isn't too keen on sharing His wife with her abusive lovers? What if He's a father who doesn't sit idle as his kid takes up a violently destructive and dehumanizing drug habit?

The first thing that had to go was the motorcycles. My first one was sabotaged. After that, i could never spend enough to keep it running for long. My second stayed running just long enough for my brother-in-arms Wayward to earn the right to kick off society's training wheels and then it died too. My third bike is another post altogether. Every time i tried to take step one in fulfilling my dream, they died and i became the dangerous image of a two year old's tantrum in a one hundred and sixty pound monkey frame. Eventually i got the message and one by one they all disappeared from my yard.

Around this time i started noting that my once enviously luxurious mane was becoming a partially shucked corn cob. There weren't enough vines clinging to the pumpkin to merit a rake anymore and eventually i did what every self respecting man ought to do at that point, i got out the clippers and finished the job. It felt weird, it felt naked. i was exposed for what i was: a pencil necked dweeb.

When Jesus told the rich young ruler to go home and sell all his possessions, we are told that he went away sorrowful, for he had many possessions. i had given up what God told me to give up, my freedom, my dream, my identity, both metaphorically in getting married, and physically in getting rid of the bikes. i was obeying, and yet, i went away bitter. i wonder, did any of the disciples follow Jesus around with a bad attitude half the time? One that had given up everything to follow Jesus and was feeling like he'd gotten the short end of the deal?

Probably one, Judas. Fortunately for me, God wasn't done with me yet...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The following are excerpts from the Official Debriefing of the Great Pumpkin Blackout

Saturday, Oct 29, 2011, 0900 hours *: It begins snowing.
1200 hrs: the power goes out in Elwood Station. Several attempts to alert Peco are made between now and 1400 hrs. Most result in curse-laden, one-sided conversations with automated answering system.
1400 hrs: an oak tree with ants in its pants gives up its tenuous grip on life and falls on power lines across the street. Peco is alerted.
1900 hrs: neighbor Brian asks to borrow cell phone to call wife because his house has become an indiscriminate conductor of electricity. Scruffy goes to investigate.
1915 hrs: Observing Poltergeist-like effects of rampant electricity Scruffy dials 911.
1917 hrs: Scruffy evacuates Elwood Station. Fire department arrives for the first time. Peco is alerted that situation may be somewhat more serious than a power outage and if they could find the time, there presence at the scene would be appreciated.
2000 hrs: Nala the Pitbull is evacuated from Elwood Station. All three cottages are believed to be empty. Between now and 2200 coffee is drank, jokes are told, firefighters wander back and forth under downed tree and smoking wires and remark at Peco's lack of presence.
22oo hrs: Peco scout pick-up truck arrives on scene to assess situation. Peco realizes that situation may be somewhat more serious than a power outage and if they could find the time, a bucket truck and larger crew's presence would be appreciated. Fire department gets bored cuz nothing is actually on fire yet and goes home.
2300 hrs: Barely buried Verizon cable in yard in front of neighbor Brian's house begins to arc in dramatic, Chinese New Year sort of way. Witnesses stand around and prepare to leap into postures of helplessness if something catches fire. Two fire departments show up to aid in helpless bystanding. It is realized at this time that neighbor Mike is in a somnolent state in the third cottage and probably had to douse an oven fire sometime earlier in the day. He is evacuated.
2310 hrs: Verizon wire realizes that no one really appreciates it's efforts and gives up fireworks display. Firemen resume postures of boredom and tell anecdotes of how close they were to going to bed before this call went out.
0100 Sunday October 30th: Peco bucket truck arrives on scene.
0110 hrs: Peco has wires isolated and shutdown. Crisis is averted six hours after nick of time. Fire department departs again.
0115 hrs: Peco removes electric meter from Elwood Station
0116 hrs: Scruffy Mynxbane is asleep.
2000 hrs: Eagles play Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football. Elwood station settles in to watch dramatic fiasco under generator power.
2100 hrs: Peco arrives to fix wires.
2300 hrs: Eagles surprise everyone by winning. Peco surprises everyone by finishing wires and leaving without restoring meter to Elwood Station.
1300 hrs Monday, October 31st: Peco's automated answering system is alerted that Elwood Station is still without power.
1400 hrs: Asplundh tree company comes and removes remains of tree from phone lines.
1200 hrs Tuesday, November 1st: after several less than satisfying conversations with automated answering system, Scruffy attempts to install meter his own dang self.
1201 hrs: Scruffy realizes power is turned off at street.
1700 hrs: Peco Sub-contractor comes to restore power, discovers lock on transformer. Contact is finally made with real, flesh and blood human being at Peco. Real, flesh and blood human notifies the sub-contractor that they will restore power when they receive permission from Fire Marshall. Sub-contractor wishes Frickens luck and leaves.
1730 hrs: Scruffy leaves voicemail for County Fire Marshall since it is after hours.
0800 hrs Wednesday, November 2nd: Beth at County Fire Marshall's office notifies Scruffy that their office knows not of what Peco speaketh. They have nothing to do with Frickens' fire or Frickens' power. Suggests perhaps local code enforcer was party Peco meant.
0801 hrs: Scruffy calls Township Code Enforcer's office and learns that Code Enforcer has been on vacation for last week. Code Enforcer's office wishes Scruffy luck and suggests trying Police department.
0802 hrs: Scruffy calls Hugelberg Police non-emergency line. Learns that local police know not of what Peco speaketh. Police suggest local fire chief. They wish Scruffy luck and give Scruffy cell phone number of Chief Jim.
0803 hrs: Scruffy leaves message for Chief Jim.
0900 hrs: Chief Jim returns Scruffy's call and notifies him that he knows not of what Peco speaketh. Suggests it may have been under chief on scene. Volunteers to make some calls and call back.
1700 hrs: Scruffy gets bored of waiting and calls Chief Jim, leaves message.
2000 hrs: Chief Jim calls Scruffy back and suggests that he get an independent electrician to check wires and call Peco.
2100 hrs: Scruffy secures Dr. Steve and the Electric Mayhem to inspect his wiring following morning at 0800 hrs.
0715 hrs Thursday, November 3rd: Dr. Steve and Electric Mayhem come and inspect wiring. Call in independent Independent Underwriter.
1130 hrs: Independent Underwriter arrives and quickly okays all wiring. Notifies Scruffy that once he turns in work ticket, Peco should get it in mail twenty-four to forty-eight hours from tomorrow. Scruffy expresses sarcastic elation. Independent Underwriter leaves copy of ticket, wishes Scruffy luck and suggests calling Peco again.
1200 hrs: Scruffy calls Peco and is put on hold.
1230 hrs: Scruffy makes contact with what is initially thought to be real, live person at Peco, explains measures taken to enforce safety, explains efforts made to contact Fire Marshall, explains that Fire Marshall has no jurisdiction in situation. Supposed real, live person at Peco mechanically reads note that says they will restore power when they receive call from Fire Marshall and wishes Scruffy good day.
1240 hrs: Alone in Zeke the pick-up truck, Scruffy marvels at madness of modern society.
1241 hrs: Scruffy calls Beth at Fire Marshall's office again. She suggests that Hugelberg must have local Fire Marshall and forwards Scruffy's call.
1242 hrs: Scruffy is put through to Hugelberg Township building, asks for fire marshall and has call forwarded again.
1243 hrs: Beth at County Fire Marshall answers forwarded call. Scruffy and Beth together marvel at madness of modern society. Beth forwards Scruffy to Fire Marshall Nick.
1244 hrs: Fire Marshall Nick patiently explains to Scruffy in terms and pace designed to educate turnip that he has no jurisdiction in case, that Hugelberg has no fire marshall and suggests Scruffy call local chief, begins looking for chief's number. Scruffy supplies number of Chief Jim. Scruffy thanks Fire Marshall Nick for his time to which Fire Marshall Nick says, "well, I didn't want to just wish you luck and hang up." "Why not?" i ask, "everyone else does."
1250 hrs: Scruffy calls Chief Jim again. Explains whole sad saga in four part harmony and things like that. Chief Jim offers to try and call Peco, possibly just to get rid of Scruffy.
1345 hrs: Bubba, who is out by road in front yard cutting up what's left of original offending oak tree's carcass, calls Scruffy inside house to say that there's a Peco truck out front.
1345...still: Scruffy hunts down Peco guy in neighbor Mike's front yard. Peco guy begins to explain that he cannot turn power on without a call from...without formalities or niceties Scruffy displays work ticket from Independent Underwriter. Peco guy examines ticket and says he'll make some calls.
1400 hrs Thursday, November 2nd, 122 hours after losing power: Power is restored to Elwood Station. There is much rejoicing.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

More than i ever wanted to know about how my coffee pot works.

The electrical distribution system is not a river. Power doesn't just flow one direction along a line and terminate in your Mr. Coffee with the built in clock as a perfectly heated cup of joe. It is a grid. Power can flow any direction on it from any plant that is producing it to any house tapped into the distribution lines. When the lines in front of your house get severed by a seventy-five year old oak with ants in its pants that decides it can't take it anymore one night in a snowstorm, the power doesn't just stop, it finds ways around the break and keeps on flowing through power lines on the next street over trying to get to your Mr. Coffee with the built in clock. If however those severed distribution lines somehow come in contact with something else that will take the power flowing in them, like say...oh, a ground wire that services three little cottages hidden back off the road, the electricity will say, "this way guys! i found a way out!"

You know ground wires, if you've ever wired an outlet or an overhead lamp or installed a ceiling fan, they're the naked wires next to the black and white ones. They have no insulation so they can catch any rascally stray electricity that has escaped your Mr. Coffee with the built-in clock and before it can do something nasty like cause a fire, the ground wire gives it a better place to go. Specifically an eight foot rod staked into the ground just outside your house. Hence, "grounding" wires.

So let's review. Distribution wires. Severed by oak tree with ants in its pants. Naked ground wires and the last little fun fact of electrical distribution... at any time those wires outside your house have 4000 to 46000 Volts of electricity racing through them. In case you don't know, your house was made to have 240 Volts flow into it. None of which, if things are going well, should be in the ground wires.

i and a score of firemen stood in my driveway two Saturdays ago watching as 4000 to 46000 Volts poured into our little neighborhood through the very wires that were supposed to protect it. Whenever i got too close to the middle house, the one on the shortest wire and therefore taking the brunt of the assault my hands would begin to tingle and hurt. There was so much electricity coursing through the ground itself and the four inches of snow piling up on it that it ran up the metal downspout and lit the Christmas lights on my neighbor's gutter. There was nothing to do. You can't pour water on an electrical fire, unless you want to know what the inside of a lightbulb feels like. You can't just cut the wires because the power has to go somewhere and it's more than happy to go into the ground through you. Peco (the power company) had been called but i guess they were busy on this night of falling trees and skidding cars. At one point around eleven o'clock a buried cable in my neighbor's yard had finally had enough and let go in a geyser of sparks that fused the mud around it into glass. i thought it was the beginning of the end and yet it was quite pretty for all that. It eventually quieted back down and darkness reigned again. My eyes played tricks on me as i strained for the tell-tale glimmer and flicker of the first tongues of a flame. How much more could these highly flammable bundles of sticks take?

Around one in the morning, the Cavalry came in their orange rubber overalls and medieval hardhats and queer amish style beards. i can still say "queer" without meaning "gay" right? Well, i will 'cause it's the right word. They assessed the situation, drove back down to the end of the street and within fifteen minutes, the youngest member of their three man team walked along the street, methodically touching the wires with a long fiberglass pole with a thing-a-ma-bob on the end. Obviously doing the new guy job of "here, take this stick and go touch the wires and tell me if they're dead." He didn't light up or fall down dead so i led a team of the firemen back up the driveway and into the house where they didn't take their boots off at the carpet, shined lights on everything and sniffed in a meaningful way and declared everything "okay." i thanked them profusely and when they were gone, i started getting ready for bed... a task only minutes before i thought i may never do in this house again. The last thing i saw before welcoming the sleep of the exhausted was a man in orange rubbers, a medieval hardhat and a queer little beard taking the electric meter off of my house. "Just a precaution," he assured me. That night, he could have said it was because he was a lab mouse bent on world domination and i would have wished him luck and dropped off before clicking the "k."

The significance of that act would become much more clear over the next five days.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

A fricken guide to crisis management: Snowstorms, Tree-falls, Blackouts, Back-feeds and Pit-bulls.

My neighbor had his christmas lights on two days before Halloween. There's a lot of ways one could react to that, disgust, delight, denial. We chose to run around like frickens with our heads cut off and call 911.

It was also snowing that day. Two days before Halloween. You might not like that sort of thing. You might feel it's just wrong. It's far too early for snow. Turns out you would be in good company if you hold that opinion. The Ents don't much care for it either. Y'see, in October, a good many trees still have their leaves. Thick canopies of big, shovel shaped leaves, perfect for catching and holding a sticky, wet snow. As anyone who's ever shoveled early and late snows can attest, that stuff is heavy. There were more disarticulated limbs and trunks scattered around this county last weekend than after a gas explosion at a manikin factory. i actually heard a dead tree snickering at a live one, "welcome to my world, sucker."

One tree that didn't fair too well was a great, red oak at the edge of the road right out in front of Elwood Station. It went down between one and two on Saturday, scythed through the power lines and was caught and held by the phone, tv and internet cables underneath; its body forming a low arch over our road. Side note: apparently our the entertainment industry is far more concerned with you receiving their product than the power companies. We had already lost power an hour or two before and so didn't think much of it other than to remark how dumb the motorists that still drove under it were.

Supposing this outage to be a protracted one, i went and got my folk's generator which i wired directly into my power panel to give us a few lights and keep the fridges and freezer running. Heat was coming from the woodstove on Bubba's side of the station. Dinner came from Vinnie's II pizzeria and we were just settling in for a long winter's evening when there came a frantic knocking at the door.

"Dude,canIborrowaphone,mine'sdeadandIgotasmokesituationinmyhouse,sparksshootingoutofevery outletandmyfrontdoorshockedme!" It was Brian, my next door neighbor. Normally a rather logy fellow. It seemed odd that he would jump the ditch and fight the thorn bushes i'd allowed to grow up between our houses to come see us but that night he seemed particularly energized and when he realized he didn't know his wife's work number he thanked me and ran home. i thought it odd that if a man thought his house was on fire that the first person he wanted to call was his wife so i put some boots on and battled the thorn bushes and hopped the ditch to see what kind of fire wives handle better than fire departments.

That's when i saw the christmas lights. Did i mention our power had been out since midday? It bears repeating, our power had been out since midday. This was seven o'clock at night but there were the christmas lights, glowing faintly on the gutter like something out of Poltergeist. While my neighbor put his kids in his car and started shuttling Rottweiler puppies to them and full grown Rotties yelped and shot out the door like, forgive me, scalded dogs, i followed the sizzling noises to the side of his house where the grounding rod from his power panel was glowing, arcing and smoking. That's when i pushed the panic button.

It might be the second or third time i've called 911. Next time, i gotta remember to take a deep breath first, get the facts in an orderly array in my head and THEN call. Yeah, gotta keep that in mind.

At some point it occurred to me that our two houses were fed off the same pole. So i hopped the ditch and fought the thorn bushes back to Elwood Station. i could hear the hissing-sizzling before i even turned the corner and saw the glow from my own grounding rod. Having already hit my own panic button, hitting it again didn't really do anything satisfactory. So i killed and unplugged the generator, ran upstairs, totally forgetting to take my shoes off before the carpet, and hit my family's panic buttons for them. "GrabsomethingwarmandgetoutofthehouseNOW!!" Totally cool under pressure, that's me.

About this time i remembered Nala. For those who don't know, Elwood Station is a twin so to speak. We live in the new addition and Bubba and the Bubbakins live in the old, original cottage. The Bubbakins were at their mother's. Bubba had gone to help a friend with a tree limb and torso problem so that just left one scared and freaked out pit-bull in the house. Normally she's as sweet and fun loving as the next seventy pound puppy but it was dark, there were men running around her house and pounding on doors and who knows if her senses could pick up the electricity coursing through the ground that night. Have you ever opened up the door to a completely darkened house where you know there's a freaked out pit-bull? i stopped reading Cujo as a kid somewhere in the first chapter, cuz i knew i didn't want to know what that would be like. But there i was, doing just that. With visions of white, shiny teeth and torn flesh i ventured in but she only retreated, growling just enough to let me know not to get too close. She was so scared, i couldn't even coax her out with pizza. Extra sausage and bacon! i know, right? i made several attempts but it was no use. Resolving to just throw wide the doors and let her escape into the night at the first sign of fire, i gave up.

The family was evacuated to the house of friends. Brian had finished de-dogging his own house. Bubba was on his way back to get Nala. Sirens wailed in the night from every direction and a long disused and unhooked dog fence sent plumes of sizzling steam into the snowy night. All that i knew to do had been done. So i stood in my driveway and watched to see if the houses would burn...