Tag Archives: Personal interlude

Personal Interlude: Preparing for Cyber-Conversion

It’s quick and smartaleck to describe the air of North Texas as “a bit too thick to breathe, and a bit too thin to plow,” but it works. Even without Governor Rick Perry’s incessant efforts to give the Environmental Protection Agency the finger every time the EPA tries to improve Dallas’s air quality, our local and immediate atmosphere continues to work its absolute best to kill all life in the area. Dust blown off the Edwards Plateau from West Texas, more dust alternating from either Oklahoma or Central Texas Hill Country, junk blowing in from the Gulf of Mexico, and a whole contingent of fungus and mold spores, pollen from gymnosperm and angiosperm plants, cow belches, and the hydrogen sulfide from the mudflats of the Trinity River in the summer…in case of tornado, just separate off chunks of air with a chainsaw and build a shelter strong enough to withstand a nuke strike.

The practical upshot is that Texas hates me. Three years ago, trying to find a solution to an inability to get restful sleep led to a trip to an allergy clinic, and the initial allergen tests showed me allergic to most of Texas’s life forms. This, of course, makes working anywhere outside of a silicon chip fabrication facility rather problematic, so the immediate solution involved a long series of allergy shots. Considering that I share an aversion to needles with one of my childhood role models, and for much the same reason, going through the regimen demonstrated that I valued a decent night’s sleep much more than I wanted to scream and hyperventilate over a needle barely able to catheterize a mosquito. Three years of shots, and then a re-evaluation: I’m now immune to the various things in the aerosolized manure we cheerfully call “air”. The injections just encouraged previously barely noticeable allergies, though, leading to a whole new line of shots. At the rate I’m going, I may be immune to everything short of hard vacuum and death by fire by February 2061.

Ah, but there was that little issue with being unable to breathe, so it was time to go to a sleep clinic for further evaluation. I’d been to one clinic back in 2010, but never got a reasonable evaluation of my sleep habits: such things happen when the evaluating doctor is too busy trying to refer his customers to buddies offering medically worthless dentifrices and polishing his D magazine “893 Best Doctors Willing To Buy Full-Page Advertising In Our Special Issue” award to give it. This time, though, new doctor, new sleep clinic, and a whole new breakdown on how inefficient respiratory structures conspired against sleep during the summer.

The upshot, after being rigged up with cranial electrodes and heart monitors and watched in my sleep with infrared cameras, was a diagnosis of moderate apnea. Enough apnea that it affected REM sleep, which explained the crippling bouts of depression every summer. (Of course, that could have just been from looking at the thermometer.) Enough apnea that neglecting to treat it would probably lead to heart damage or a possible stroke, and that’s nowhere near as fun as my planned manner of demise. All that remained was to ascertain the best method of treatment.

“Okay, we know the problem,” I told the Czarina one afternoon after the initial test. “All I need is a tracheotomy, and I can both breathe and smoke through the same hole.”

“What are you talking about? You don’t smoke.”

“Hey, Bill Hicks was onto something here. Get me an apple corer, and I’ll take care of it right now. Ker-CHUNK!”

“You are NOT giving yourself a tracheotomy.” See, this is why I can’t win with the Czarina. Most people would sit back, grab some popcorn, and watch the show. She actually fusses about my staying alive and stuff. She obviously married me for the money: my current net worth is $4.81, and that’s if she cashes in the glass Dr. Pepper bottles in the garage for the deposits.

The doctor, who is a joy to hang out with by the way, noted that the ongoing allergy shots were doing quite a bit of good, but proper treatment required being a bit more aggressive. The most extreme required surgery to remove or tighten up pharyngeal tissues in the back of my throat, keeping them from jamming up my windpipe and generally acting like wearing a prom gown to a chainsaw duel. (I offered again to try essential knowledge from my people’s wisest savant, but the Czarina both hid my Dremel tool and changed the lock on the shed, keeping me away from the hedge trimmers. She’s just trying to keep the value on the internal organs she can sell: that part is obvious.) The more reasonable solution, though, involved continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP. Back to the sleep clinic, this time to be tested with a CPAP machine to ascertain the best positive pressure necessary to keep me from choking on my own throat.

Now, when going for any sort of medical treatment, one of my absolute steadfast rules is “consider the opportunities to scare the hell out of your loved ones”. The best part of sitting in a hospital ER with a bad bout of pneumonia is that I can get away with telling her “I’m gonna TRY…not to…come back…”, and any threat of violence just might make things worse. (Of course, that wasn’t helped with an intern who believed me when she asked for symptoms and I said “Other than the zombie bite, I’m fine.”) Covered with electrodes, gauges, wires, a full head harness, and a full facemask, what could make the situation absolutely terrifying? Why, adding goggles and then sending my new selfie to her. I love living in the future.

Sleep Mask

Now, after a decade of marriage, the Czarina is almost used to these sorts of things. None of the obvious comparisons, or even asking if I needed fava beans and a nice Chianti with dinner. She just looked at the photo, looked at me, and said “If you’re going to wear THAT to bed, you’d better expect only to sleep.” And she’s absolutely right. I’m going to have to get out my old Nixon mask to go with it.

Personal interlude

Because of the recent news of the death of Roger Ebert, it’s time to remember him best with the best tribute ever made:

And for those who remember my old film review days, it shouldn’t be any surprise that I connected to the character of Jay Sherman in The Critic a bit more than most. Hence, I’m waiting to repeat the dialogue after 10:15 to famed Australian film critic Robin Pen when he finally meets the Czarina:

All About Strange Writers From The Past

Lewisville High School sign

This year contains a long run of important anniversaries, and a very important one reaches its end this year as well. Thirty years ago last month, at a particularly pretentious high school in North Texas, a particularly pretentious writer started his career. Three decades later, the writer moved to horticulture, and the high school saw demolition.

Front of the old Lewisville High

See that bank of windows above the doorway? That was the view into the classroom shared by both the school newspaper and yearbook staffs, back when both concepts weren’t as quaint as morning milk delivery. Oh, but we had dreams. Heck, some of us even managed to get published outside of high school and college publications, and a few, a very few, actually became noticed for our work.

Newspaper staff room from the side

And as of August 26, this was the last trace of those old days. I was part of that last generation of high school newspaper students before the desktop publishing revolution: I was halfway through my senior year when the Macintosh came out, and we had no clue that this would change everything. Back then, layout was done with pica rulers and rubber cement, with articles manually transcribed from typed or handwritten hard copy. At that point, any guy taking a typing class was either joining the newspaper staff or wanting to meet girls, and computer science classes consisted of thirty students per period jockeying for five minutes on a single Apple II or (horrors) a TI-99a. The wonders of online life? That wasn’t even science fiction: the “cyber” aspects of cyberpunk didn’t come to the fore until William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer came out the year after I graduated, and the emphasis within the genre was on the “punk”. Not that you would have had the chance of finding any of it back then.

Lewisville's cultural center

Well, the old school is gone, but Lewisville’s cultural center remains intact, with lots of new augmentations. Now, as then, the battle between academia and athletics was fiercely discussed, with the community deliberating between recognizing noted alumni and recognizing accomplishments on the football field.

Lewisville High priorities

And Lewisville High’s priorities remain.

Personal interlude

I have good news and bad news concerning the spate of tornadoes ranging through the Dallas area yesterday. The good news is that I didn’t make it, and I’m now doomed to walk the earth and feed on the flesh of the living. The bad news is that since I don’t have any other priorities, the Czarina wants me to mop the kitchen floor. (Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, but right now the cats are shedding their winter coats. Five minutes after I finish mopping, they come strolling in, and visitors compliment us on our new grey felt floor covering. I’d shave them both if I thought it would do any good, as Leiber in particular appears to be part tarantula whenever he’s picked up. One neck scritch, and you can see his outline in shed hair on the carpet.)

Anyway, seriously, we missed the worst of the storms. No baseball-sized hail, no tornado touchdowns, and no panic at the Day Job over which of us would make the best food source if rescue wasn’t coming. Lots and lots of rain, a full two inches’ worth, which made the Sarracenia very happy, but nothing abnormal. Of course, just try defining “abnormal weather” in North Texas if you want a complete semantic nervous breakdown. Considering the climate anomalies over the last two years, anything short of an asteroid strike, and the local meteorologists just shrug. Now it’s time to help everyone else clean up, because while things could have been a lot worse, we still have quite the mess.

EDIT: And to add to the weather-related spectacular, I just realized that I got the Harry Potter scar on my forehead thirty years ago Monday, when I was hit in the head with a sheet of plywood caught in a dust storm coming through the Dallas area. Considering that this would have caught me in the throat had I been standing up, instead of leaning over a pig pen (long story), I had enough fun with weather-related mishaps before I turned 16. Monday was also the 30th anniversary of my first published article, a book review in my high school newspaper, so I can state with authority that disasters and misery tend to come in pairs. And so it goes.

Personal interlude

Ah, it’s always something the week before a big show. Sunday was the Czarina’s turn to get horribly sick a half-hour before a friend’s wedding (in her case, labyrinthitis instead of my nearly-lethal asthma fit), and now there’s the glee of an emergency dentist’s visit to reattach a freshly popped crown. Thankfully, not only do I actually like visits to the dentist, but my dentist is a hoot. And yes, he’s getting a sundew today: he’s as sick of Little Shop of Horrors references as I am, so he’s threatening to feed the next person who starts doing Steve Martin impersonations to the plant. (I’d recommend saving that for the next one who asks “Is it safe?”, but that’s just me.)

In the meantime, I’m slightly disappointed with my previous dentist, even if he was a daylily junkie the likes of which even I couldn’t quite grasp. I mean, the tooth in question had a root canal back a decade ago, so there’s enough room in there for two cyanide capsules or three CIA mind control transmitters. Heck, there’s enough room in there to pack in enough Semtex to turn my head into an aerosol in case I were ever captured by enemy agents and threatened with torture. Either dentists are getting a lot less imaginative than in my youth, or my current dentist saw me coming and figured “Next thing you know, he’ll ask about having all of them replaced with chrome, so he can smile and scare the hell out of Sigourney Weaver.” The worst part of it all is that he’d be right.

I’m living in my own private Tanelorn

Radio silence over the last week, mostly due to having a surfeit of vacation time at the Day Job that needed to be burned off or lost. This meant that, like the protagonist in too many really downbeat novels, I had to face my deepest darkness. Instead of, say, traveling up the Mekong to stop Colonel Kurtz or prevent Tyler Durden from setting off the last bit of Project Mayhem, I went waaaaaaaay deeper. I cleaned out my office.

The basic aspect of sweeping clean the Augean Workspace was relatively painless compared to the sifting. I didn’t realize how many boxes I had that were full of correspondence from the late Eighties and early Nineties, check stubs from companies dead a full 15 years, and holiday cards from people who meant a lot to me half my life ago. That’s not counting newspaper cuttings on subjects that must have had some significance in 1992, but that were completely clue-free today. The local paper recycler loves me, and not just because I’d been dragging around boxes full of obsolete catalogs because “I’ll get around to sorting it one day.” That went double for my once-voluminous magazine collection: when the Czarina and I got married in 2002, I had a full 25 legal boxes full of archived magazines, not counting my separate archive of magazines for which I’ve written. Now, I’m down to two, and one of those is solely a collection of Bonsai Today back issues that are nearly impossible to replace.

Along that line, going through all of that correspondence from my writing days, I’ve made a resolution for 2012. I spent a good four years trying to warn writer and publisher friends about the inevitable implosion of Borders Books, and took nothing but grief for doing so. After about the eighth missive whining about how I was a really negative vibe merchant who was bringing down the entire world for suggesting that Borders employees should get out while they had the chance, I stopped responding “What: like your trousers?” Likewise, going through that two-decade-old mail made me realize that publishing itself, particularly science fiction publishing, hasn’t changed at all since then, other than the names of the big players. You have some new names, and a lot of older names that are now greyer and fatter than they were back then, and a few who became trivia questions about fifteen minutes after their funerals. Because of that, I’m just going to smile and nod concerning publishing in 2012, mostly so I can laugh and point at some of the bigger casualties after the fact. Me, vindictive? Naah. I promise that when I celebrate the demises of several smaller publishers based on their current output, I’ll keep the music down and only pull out the cheap champagne.

On brighter subjects, yesterday marked nine years of marital bliss between myself and the Czarina, and we were promptly informed by a good friend that this was our pottery anniversary. Considering that our day was spent poking through antique stores poring over old pots, planters, and Wardian cases, it fits. Discovering that our next anniversary is “tin” brought forth actual screams from the Czarina, by the way, as I’ve already mentioned that I’m planning to have a party to celebrate the occasion. Costumes for the waitstaff, perhaps?

Anyway, back to the linen mines. Four boxes of old papers remain, and I may actually be finished with cleaning, dusting, sorting, and pitching by next Monday. By Tuesday morning, it’ll be time to get back to gardening preparation, as 2012 is probably going to be as intense in that aspect as 2011. I hope not, but I’m trying to be realistic. In the meantime, get ready for another Joey Box contest: I just sent off Joey and Cheryl’s box for the year (nearly 20 kilos’ worth), and I have a lot of other items that just wait for new homes.

No sleep ’til Halloween

Just a tiny observation, based on a trip to the grocery store this morning. Back eighteen years ago, my friend Joey Shea kept calling and writing to tell me about a new movie coming out from Tim Burton that I simply had to see. I was still licking bus station toilets clean to get the taste of Batman out of my mouth (to this day, Batman, Girl, Interrupted, and Free Enterprise are my faithful reminders of why I’ll sooner put out lit cigarettes in my eyes than return to film criticism), but this being Joey, he’s rarely wrong when it comes to movies. Well, he hyped up Batman when we first met, but if you can’t forgive your friends, who can you forgive?

Naturally, the film in question was The Nightmare Before Christmas. It’s hard to believe today, but that film at the time made lots of heads go explodey, if only because the monsters were the nominal good guys. It definitely made Disney execs at the time go berserk, and the film was the redheaded stepchild of the Disney empire for years. (Even today, I don’t expect to see Sally included with the Disney Princesses, much to the regret of several nieces.)

At the time, I walked out of the theater with only one particular beef about the whole film. Namely, at the end of the film, when Santa fixes the damage caused by Jack Skellington’s addition of Halloween horror to Christmas, you see all of the children given Jack’s special toys welcoming the traditional Christmas replacements. I couldn’t believe that there wasn’t one kid, somewhere, screaming and howling at the top of her lungs as Santa tried to take back the one decent Christmas present she’d ever received. Over the years, as I shared this observation, friends and cohorts agreed, especially since most of us felt the same way. Those of a certain age may remember the parental scoffing and cries of outrage over Kenner putting out an Alien action figure during Christmas 1979, but kids LOVED that stuff. The parental cries over how children would be permanently damaged by playing with “inappropriate” toys were especially funny: we knew those kids, and they could already taste-test specific brands of paste.

One of my regular comments upon seeing the changes in the world since my youth is “I love living in the future.” One of the reasons I say this so often is seeing how readily we as a culture have gone back to the old days of mixing horror and joy in everyday life. For far too many of us, our role models for stable and loving marriages were Gomez and Morticia Addams. Nobody’s bothered by the Monster High toy line as an alternative to Barbie. With far too many friends, I could suggest an evening of watching Clive Barker’s Nightbreed and they’d sniff “I didn’t know you were into documentaries.” I LOVE it.

And what does all of this have to do with gardening? Well, I was one of those kids who would have been demanding that Jack Skellington be allowed to do another Christmas now and then. I’m a bit too old for toys, but plants are a good alternative. I’m thinking it may be time to get more people together who feel the same way, and plan a garden show the likes of which this planet has never seen.

“He who controls the spice controls the universe, y’all.”

Officially, we started autumn nearly two weeks ago. North Texas apparently didn’t get the memo. Oh, we’re no longer skinnydipping in pools of molten concrete, but we’re still in true drought conditions. According to Weather.com, we’re officially registering at 15 percent relative humidity. Yesterday, when the official report was at 23 percent, I measured a whole 9 percent relative humidity next to the Sarracenia growing area. I’ve now given up on trying to grow carnivorous plants, and I’m switching instead to ranching sandworms.

Very seriously, I already have the official position as the Weather Oracle at the Day Job, mostly because I’ve been kindasorta accurate before. Back in April, I was warning everyone that if we didn’t get a lot of rain between then and the middle of June, we were facing one hell of a heatwave. They laughed. I didn’t blame them, seeing as how a weather reporter’s “10-day forecast” makes me see nothing but eighteen shades of red. Now, though, they listen when I tell them I’m worried about this winter. As in “Some say Texas will end in fire, some say in ice.

For people, at least, the current weather is impeccable. The Czarina was a regular vendor at the late Jazz on the Boulevard music festival in Fort Worth during the first half of the Aughts, so we traveled out that way on Saturday night to catch its successor, the Fort Worth Music Festival. The air was the clearest I’d ever seen in Fort Worth in my entire life: no dust, no haze, no water vapor, no burning chemical factories. The moon looked clear enough to pluck right out of the sky, and I fervently wished I’d hung onto my old telescope to take advantage of the spectacular viewing conditions. Normal relative humidity for this time of the year usually ranges between 40 and 60 percent, so the drier air actually made the fest attendees even more mellow and relaxed than usual, and considering that we’re talking about Fort Worth, that’s saying something.

Everywhere else, it was the same story. If people weren’t going out to the park, or to art or music festivals, or to something outdoors, they were cracking open their garages to get some work done on the car while the weather holds. My next-door neighbor was tuning up his Harley, and my best friend was putting more miles on his. As a sudden biological imperative, just about every human in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex decided that it was time to go outside, and for most, that meant anywhere but the mall. The weather practically demanded it.

And that’s what scares me about the rest of the year. I still have very fond memories of the autumn of 1989, which was roughly the same as now as far as temperatures and humidity. My first real autumn-that-never-dies came through that year, and that October really did seem as if it would go on forever. At the time, I was working a night shift manufacturing job for Texas Instruments, so I would stay up until nearly dawn every single night and watch the stars. I was bicycling all through Dallas, so this gave me a perfect opportunity to explore. Even when the first blue norther came through in mid-month and shifted the usual steady wind from south to north, it wasn’t a hard or oppressive wind. True, I was having to water the plants on my back porch a lot more, but I could deal with that.

What I didn’t know at the time, and precious few other people suspected, was that we’d gotten a bit too dry that season. November was chilly, but not viciously so, and I remember Thanksgiving weekend as being just cold enough that when my then-girlfriend accidentally burned a batch of rolls in the open, it was a bit too cold just to open the doors and windows and vent the smoke. Even the early part of December wasn’t nasty.

And then we got what was, at that time, the worst winter storm in our history. Right in time for Christmas, too: officially, we reached a whole one degree Fahrenheit (-17.22 Celsius), which was just unheard of. The snow and ice that came down in the storm didn’t melt off because the ground was too cold, and I arrived at work just in time to be told that the plant was being shut down due to weather. Yeah, folks in Calgary can laugh about this, but it wasn’t just an inconvenience: this was cold enough that anyone skimping on antifreeze had their car radiators melt (or, if they had older vehicles where the hoses weren’t as flexible as they used to be, engine fires). Nobody down here had reason to wrap pipes against the cold, so there went water and sewer lines across the Metroplex. Me, I nearly died from a good wrist-slashing, but that was my fault: since the day was shot, I figured that this would be a perfect time to take care of my then-girlfriend’s birthday present. When picturing this young idiot trying to move a movie poster-sized piece of glass down an ice-covered hill by himself, just label that image “Fools and Horses”.

Now, I’m not saying that we’re going to get another 1989-level freeze. I’m not even going to note that our most extensive precipitation between January and April for the last two years consisted of record snowfalls, and we already had the worst sustained freeze in recorded Texas history this last February. I’ll just be stocking up on weatherstripping for the house, caulking for the greenhouse, wool socks for myself, and insulation for the water pipes in October, while the weather is nice and the supplies are cheap.

Revenge of the Joey Box

While everyone else whimpers and whines about whether the US Post Office can remain solvent, some of us use it. Last month, I sent out several Joey Boxes to interested bystanders. One was eaten by individuals unknown, but the others arrived without incident. Even better, one of the winners, Lisa Holmes, sent one back.

Oh, my. I knew there was a lot going on in Los Angeles and San Diego for those of a dark bent, but I had no idea. Compared to the interesting items Lisa included, I feel that my best efforts to promote Dallas events are a bit like bragging about how we actually have indoor outhouses and dinner that ain’t roadkill. (Considering that most of my high school class reunions end badly when everyone tries to sing the school fight song and forgets the lyrics, that may not be too far from the truth.)

Anyway, among many other goodies (including the program for Re-Animator: the Musical), the package included a postcard for the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in San Pedro, California this weekend. After the ICPS 2012 conference next August, it may be time to make a road trip and keep going until I run out of west. Thank you very much for the package, Lisa, and I can only hope to pay you back. Time to search for gardening conferences out that way, I think.

Personal interlude

For the record, Saturday is the Czarina’s birthday. She’s not expecting a big blowout, and we’re planning to celebrate very quietly. Breakfast out, maybe a movie, and then hiding inside until the big yellow hurty thing in the sky returns to Hell. A typical August for the both of us.

Anyway, she claims that she doesn’t really want anything for her birthday, but I know better. She’s getting two things for her special day, and the first is her very own Fresnel spot lens. Considering that one of the things that Texas has in excess is sun, she’s wanting to conduct experiments in making pendants and castings using her own glass, melting it with her own solar forge. If this works, we’re planning to experiment with making our own helenite from volcanic ash: I gave her a slab of helenite I picked up when I lived in Portland, Oregon, and she’s been itching to make something interesting out of it ever since.

The other item she’s receiving is both unorthodox and extremely orthodox at the same time. Specifically, I’m getting her a Galapagos Toob. For those who don’t have kids, or who aren’t interested in science toys, the company Safari Ltd. offers sets of small plastic figures in a long rectangular tube, usually on a particular theme. Those Toobs range from Jamestown settlers to baby dinosaurs, and the Galapagos Toob contains a set of stereotypical Galapagos Islands fauna. Besides the typical tortoise, it includes two varieties of iguana (land and marine), land crabs, a penguin, a frigatebird, and both red-footed and blue-footed boobies in full challenge display.

Now, the Czarina may think this is odd, but I’m actually engaging in a very old Dallas ritual. I’m just joining a multitude of male residents in this city in buying his wife a pair of fake plastic boobies for her birthday. I just don’t have to worry about these ones rupturing. (And that’s when the elbows struck, Your Honor.)