Saturday, October 20, 2018

The Week Ending Saturday, October 20th, 2018

Sunday

We had an exceptional dinner last night. Grace made a delicious eggplant lasagna out of the eggplant our friends grew. We baked it in a giant stainless steel baking dish that our friend Joy brought here. We had salad from Costco and baked sweet potatoes and leftover wine. It was a terrific hippie repast. For dessert, Veronica had made two coconut custard pies — basically, an egg custard she made with unsweetened canned coconut cream. She flavored the custard with cinnamon and molasses. We found that we were out of sugar, so molasses was the only sweetener, and unfortunately that didn’t quite work — the custard needed just a little more sweetening. But we’re very happy she’s getting the chance to experiment in the kitchen, and learning how to come up with her own recipes. If we make coconut custard pies again, we’ll try making them a little bit differently.

“The Sound of Silence”

After cleaning up, I went down into the basement and did a little bit of singing. I’ve been working on learning the vocal parts to Simon and Garfunkel’s song “The Sound of Silence.” There are only two parts, so it isn’t that challenging to remember the parts, but my voice is quite rusty. I was singing through my Boss RC-30 Loop Station. I would sing Paul Simon’s part, which is the lower part. It’s pretty simple, as he used a lot of repeating notes, only changing pitch a few times. Then I’d try to sing Art Garfunkel’s part, the well-known melody, over the first part. The melody swoops way up and so it requires a pretty wide range to sing… and I don’t have that. I can almost get there if I warm up for a while first, but I’m still really straining at the top end, so I have to try tricks like dropping an octave halfway when I cross a certain threshold pitch. I can also try dropping the key, but I’m not sure there is any key I can sing that melody in.

Today I found a video on YouTube that includes four tracks. I was imagining that maybe this video contains four tracks from the original multi-track tape because the original was a four-track tape, but I’m not sure that is true. In the comments to the video, the poster linked to five WAVE files on Google drive. These match the four tracks in the video, but there is an extra bass track. Was that one of the tracks on the original multi-track tape? Again, I have more questions than answers. Floating around online are stories that say that the multi-tracks may be lost or unusable, and indeed even the earliest-generation monaural or stereophonic masters may be lost or unusable as well. So what is the pedigree of these four (or five) tracks? I have no idea, but they probably didn’t come from anywhere near as close to the original recording session tapes as I’d like.

Anyway, examining the four tracks in that video:

Track One: Drums and Bass

These may have been recorded together along with one of the electric guitar tracks played in the room at the same time, since there’s audible bleed. It’s a very unremarkable rhythm section, as rhythm sections go.

Track Two: Electric Guitar

There’s a track that contains, I believe, three electric guitar parts; the second and third were probably overdubbed onto the first arpeggio track, which is tricky because you can’t undo mistakes. The first few notes of this track has acoustic guitar arpeggio parts, and then it morphs into the electric guitar part.

The arpeggio part is a good part, as far as the composition goes, but I find the performance questionable. The guitar playing the arpeggio is out of tune, noticeably. Then there are two unremarkable parts layered on top of it, and those two parts seem to be even more badly out of tune. The parts blend especially badly at about the 8:10 mark, near the end. But the worst thing about these overdubbed guitar parts, in my opinion, is that in the final mix, they make it sound like the vocals are drifting out of tune. My ear assumes the tuning of the accompaniment is correct and stable, and so tends to assign blame to the singers. It’s only in isolation that I can hear how bad the electric guitar tracks are.

Rick Beato claims that the guitar tracks were meant to sound dissonant, but I’m not sure I buy that. I think the layers of “bluesy” guitar on the track are just gratuitous and doesn’t actually contribute to the song.

Track Three: Art

The third track is Art Garfunkel’s part. There’s a little bleed with acoustic guitar and Paul Simon’s voice, so they may have recorded these tracks in the same room together, or else maybe it was in his headphones and he was singing along with Paul Simon’s track. Garfunkel is right on pitch and his voice really soars here, with a little vibrato and tremolo. It’s beautiful. I’ve heard that he may have overdubbed another pass, but it’s not really clear to me that he did; it doesn’t sound double-tracked, the way double-tracked vocals sound “thickened.”

Track Four: Paul

The fourth track is Paul Simon singing the low part. It’s a decent performance, in that Simon conveys some emotion to match the emotions in Garfunkel’s tracks. There are definitely some technical flaws, though. Simon’s pitch drifts briefly off-key here and there. It’s very noticeable at about 11:52, on the word “sleeping,” and on the phrase “teach you” at about 13:31, and again at about 14:10 on the word “forming.” I’m not actually writing this to criticize Simon; it’s better than I could do without a little auto-tune. He also plays an acoustic guitar guitar on this track — in fact he recorded his vocal while accompanying himself on guitar, which would make it extra-challenging to get a perfect vocal take. I think there’s also a second acoustic guitar part overdubbed, with some higher chord voicings thrown in here and there.

I always find it pretty fascinating to come across these source tracks for songs I have only heard in their final form. Until reading about this song over the last couple of days, I had always thought that it was Paul Simon singing the melody part — after all, his name comes first in “Simon and Garfunkel,” and Art Garfunkel sang the backing track. It’s just the opposite. And in fact Simon used quite a simple and unassuming backing part that lets Garfunkel’s part stand out.

There’s another interesting video that analyzes the harmony, and demonstrates how hard it is to add a third part which doesn’t inadvertently double any of the notes in the existing two parts; it’s hard to avoid this, because Simon’s part is quite atypical as harmony parts go, with its runs of repeated pitches. It doesn’t follow Garfunkel’s part much as that part moves up and down the scale, but tends to land on just a few notes and stay on them for a while. In the video, Aimee Notle speculates on just why Simon used such a “droning” part. She comes up with the generous interpretation that Simon did it this way in order to fade into the background a bit and let Garfunkel shine.

For my part (ha ha), I think there’s a simpler answer. Those repeating “droning” notes would be relatively easy to hit while playing and standing next to someone who was singing a different series of notes. I know that in the church group I played with a number of years ago, I’d sometimes have to play a guitar part while singing harmony, when everyone around me was singing the melody. That can be tricky, and I found it difficult. Of course, I was no Paul Simon and still am not. But in his early twenties, I think the real Paul Simon probably also found it a little difficult. So it’s my theory that he wrote a deliberately simple part that would be relatively easy for him to sing alongside Art Garfunkel, a part that would let him “anchor” his pitch on a few easy-to-find notes, while splitting his concentration so that he could also play a steady accompaniment on guitar.

In my recent reading about the song, I discovered that the song was initially a flop, but the producer Tom Wilson added the drums, bass, and electric guitars without Simon and Garfunkel’s knowledge or consent. That’s pretty stunning. The original was called “The Sounds of Silence” (plural, which makes more sense given the lyric, where the narrator finds the sound of silence in different places). And to me, it simply sounds a lot better without the extra instruments. In that original version, I can hear the harmonies much more clearly, and nothing sounds badly off-key.

Grace was pretty wiped out today and it took her a long time to get moving. The kids made some oatmeal and I made bacon and scrambled eggs and a pot of tea. We ate some of the 100% rye bread from Mother Loaf and it was terrific. It is a very high-fiber bread, and extremely filling, so we didn’t really regret only buying one pound of it.

I have some news, which I don’t think I’ve mentioned here yet: we have a date scheduled for Grace’s C-section. It’s December 14th, a Friday. That means if Grace’s obstetrician doesn’t decide to intervene earlier, due to problems with Grace’s health, or any worrying signs from the baby, that will be the baby’s birthday. But we know from experience that surprises often happen late in pregnancy.

After breakfast, which was more like a very late lunch, there was kitchen cleanup, kids to shove outside to play on this beautiful Fall day, fights to break up, etc. I haven’t gotten much of anything done today.

Sam is Twelve

It’s Sam’s birthday and he’s twelve years old. We will have a birthday dinner tonight, at his request, and a cake designed to his specifications. That’s how we traditionally celebrate birthdays.

I’m not sure we’ll manage to get a podcast recorded and produced tonight. In fact I’m pretty sure we’re going to blow it again. It’s almost 8:30 and Grace just got back from a grocery run, and cooking is just getting underway now. The kitchen is crowded with kids and our housemate and her boyfriend, but I’d better shut this down and go see what I can do to help.

Monday

Well, things went pretty badly last night, to my regret.

Just a few minutes after I wrote the last few words under Sunday’s entry, Grace asked me to come into the kitchen to help her get the cake ready. I found that our housemate was deep-frying chicken wings on the stove and making mashed potatoes for herself, her boyfriend, and her family, while Grace was trying to finish up preparing a three-course meal: greens cooked with a smoked ham hock, sausages, and… mashed potatoes. (Sam had asked for “bangers and mash.”) Everyone was in the kitchen.

She usually cooks before or after we do. But this time she was trying to cook a separate meal, with a dangerous pot of boiling oil on the stove, in the midst of a kitchen already fully occupied; the occupants included several young children who like to grab things on the stove.

Grace did not mind everyone in the kitchen trying to work on things at once, but I lost my cool.

There’s quite a bit of back-story.

I had told our housemate a couple of times that we were planning a birthday dinner for Sam, and that she and her boyfriend and her kids were invited to join us.

Very often, our housemate doesn’t care to eat what we cook, and so makes a separate meal. That’s been an ongoing source of conflict, for several reasons, including the fact that she rarely cleans up after herself. Given that we cook almost all our meals, if someone else messes up the kitchen and promises to clean it up “later,” there’s only really a short “later” before we need to use the kitchen again. So, “cleanup delayed is cleanup denied.” Out of simple necessity, I wind up doing most of the cleanup from those extra meals. That often includes deep-cleaning the oven and stovetop, due to the regular boil-overs and drips and spills that would have been a lot easier to clean up on the fly, before they were burned on.

Very often, she and her boyfriend won’t even clear the dishes from these separate meals, or clean up the food their children spill on the floor while eating these separate meals. So we very often have to do that cleanup too, when we want to eat our own meals.

The time I spend on cleaning up these separate meals is time I don’t have to read my kids a bedtime story, or talk with Grace, or work on a podcast, or do my own reading, or writing. I spend it cleaning up after people who won’t clean up after themselves.

It’s tempting to say or think that I should just leave it until they feel the need clean up — but we’re talking about people whose tolerance for mess seems to have no limit. So I generally give in first, and with her work schedule she was often not even around to ask to clean up after herself.

Sugar

The details are tedious to recount, but it’s become absurd, and Grace and I can no longer make any sense of her food preferences; we have tried our best to accommodate them. The accommodation never goes the other way, if it requires them to inconvenience themselves or stretch themselves in even the slightest way.

One of my triggers yesterday was sugar cereals. Our housemate insists on bringing products like Cap’n Crunch’s Sprinkled Donut Crunch cereal into our home. The existence of this kind of thing in the house is too much of a temptation for a couple of my younger kids, who tend to steal these sugary foods when adults aren’t looking. It’s easy to say “well, that’s the parent’s fault!” But a three-year-old has simply not developed the parts of his brain necessary for exercising self-control. The machinery just isn’t there yet. It ought to be there in a seven-year-old, but it doesn’t always work.

Anyway, she becomes resentful when our three-year-old, or seven-year-old gets into the pantry or the freezer to get at the sugary foods.

Our response to this is to explain that this is why we don’t bring food like this into the house. I’ll bring a dessert for our Friday evening dinners; it is for consumption that evening, so the kids don’t have to restrain themselves for very long. We really don’t want this kind of food in storage, in the house.

Her response is to tell us that we should beat our kids so they will obey us.

So, we couldn’t convince her; the sugar cereals thus became contraband. She’s smuggle that stuff in, and hide items upstairs.

Well — surprise — bright kids are bright enough to find hiding places.

Birthdays

We have made it a point to celebrate her birthday, and her boyfriend’s birthday, and their children’s birthdays — Grace has made several special meals and special cakes for them, for each birthday as it comes up.

But they weren’t planning to share Sam’s birthday dinner with us, because of this degree of food pickiness that, to us, has become worse and worse over time, until at present it is completely incomprehensible. She told us she couldn’t eat sausages — that sausages made her gag. But she had sausages for breakfast. And speaking of breakfast — I made a lot of scrambled eggs and bacon. But she wouldn’t eat them. She wouldn’t eat the bacon, because she wanted to eat her own sausages. Which she then cooked… in the fat from the bacon. She didn’t want to eat the scrambled eggs I made, but I think she then made her own scrambled eggs… by scrambling some more of the same eggs.

The previous night, we had served pre-made mashed potatoes from Costco. They were very tasty. Her boyfriend wouldn’t eat them. He wanted to boil and mash his own serving potatoes, which he did while we were eating. But he doesn’t really know how to cook, so I had to help him cook his separate potatoes, while we were cleaning up, because if I hadn’t intervened, they would have boiled off all the liquid and burned up up on the stove.

So anyway, the night of Sam’s birthday, she was making a pot of mashed potatoes, from the same potatoes that Grace was cooking, to make a pot of mashed potatoes. I can’t understand why. Maybe she likes them without the skins? Maybe she likes them made slightly differently? But for whatever reason she wasn’t willing to work that out with Grace (and we bend over backwards to accommodate requests). She couldn’t work out sharing a pot of mashed potatoes. She had to make her own, at the same time that we were making mashed potatoes. It’s just gotten incomprehensible. We can’t make any sense of it.

She wasn’t planning to sit down and join us to help celebrate Sam’s birthday. She was planning to feed herself, her boyfriend, and her kids in the kitchen, since we wouldn’t let them take food upstairs, while we ate Sam’s birthday dinner and sang happy birthday for him, a few feet away in the family room.

We didn’t actually need her and her boyfriend and kids to eat the fucking sausages. They were welcome to cook something else. But we did expect them to sit down at the table with us and sing “Happy Birthday” for our child, the way we’ve done for both of them and each of their children.

I think that was another trigger for me — seriously? You can’t even sit with us to help celebrate a child’s birthday, as we did for your birthday, and your children’s birthdays?

So Many Reasons

My rant last night was mostly about food, but there was certainly a lot more pent-up resentment in it — resentment over seven months of annoyances and grievances and carelessness and requests ignored and promises broken. This includes the complete trashing of our upstairs bedroom with food — food stored up there, food eaten up there, our dishes and silverware and glasses vanishing upstairs and not reappearing for weeks — after we asked them from day one not to have food in the room, for sanitary reasons.

In this blog I’ve mentioned the smoking, and the trash left in the driveway and yard. There are a lot more things. There’s insisting on throwing trash in our recycling bin, which means it isn’t picked up, which means I have to dump it out in the driveway and sort out the rotting garbage, with clouds of flies buzzing around. We’ve explained how the trash, recycling, and returnables work in Michigan. But they won’t separate out returnables, either — they almost always wind up in the trash or recycling. Which means that people desperately in need of money are literally throwing money away. I guess that’s some kind of pride issue, because they think only the poorest of the poor return bottles? By comparison to them, I am wealthy, but I’m not too proud to return bottles and cans, at least the ones from my own household. I’m not even too proud to dig through the trash to pick out the returnables they won’t bother with. It all helps, and besides, I just hate the thought of putting glass or aluminum into a landfill.

There are more things still, that I just can’t make sense of.

I constantly remind myself that she had a very different background and upbringing than I did. But then I think about it — the years raised by a single mother, living in a trailer, eligible for social security, with my mom trying to get my father to pay child support, and I think that we ought to have quite a bit in common.

I remind myself that she is still pretty young, and I certainly was not always responsible when I was her age. I remind myself of this especially when I suspect she is just nodding along with what we are asking her to do, with no intention of doing it. It’s just ordinary adolescent behavior. That doesn’t mean it isn’t still maddening. I try not to get worked up about things that are “merely” cultural differences. I try not to see them through the racist lenses that my upbringing gave me. It’s a challenge. Where is the line between taking offense at cultural differences, and taking offense at careless indifference towards others? How can I continue to show compassion and solidarity when I’m “triggered?”

I’m constantly second-guessing my reactions, and swallowing my feelings of resentment reflexively as they arise. I’m constantly asking myself “What if I’m just being racist? Or demonstrating a lack of class consciousness?”

The whole point of our family Catholic worker house was not to be a cafeteria, or a kitchen, or an apartment. It was to live in community. Living in community is often uncomfortable. There’s inevitably some friction. But adults work these things out and figure out how to work together in mutual support.

There’s no “mutual” going on here.

We don’t seem to be able to establish what that even is. Their approaches to inter-personal behavior and work and responsibility, and their relationships to the place they are living, just seems so very, very different from ours that we are really having a hard time finding common ground; the common ground that we expected we would develop over the months of living together.

My months of resentment at the way we’ve been fundamentally unable to come to any stable agreements around how to manage food and meals or, well, anything boiled over, and I just lost it until I was screaming at them as loudly as I could, bellowing about how their garbage food is going to give their children diabetes and rotten teeth, raging about how much food they waste, and how they are spending their scarce cash on junk food in the midst of all the healthy food they could possibly eat.

I did not actually tell them they had to leave, but they left.

Aftermath

After that, I finished assembling the cake — a store-bought angel food cake cut in half and filled with a blueberry compote and topped with a grape-flavored frosting, per Sam’s request. (Store-bought cake was the best we could do, unfortunately, given Grace’s energy level, and how late we were doing everything).

We had a an awkward birthday dinner. The mashed potatoes in particular were delicious, but I could barely taste them. We didn’t light candles. We sang, but it seemed like our hearts weren’t in it.

It was never my intention to ruin my sweet, patient, diligent, twelve-year-old boy’s birthday dinner. I feel pretty terrible about that. I guess it wasn’t ruined, exactly, but the mood was pretty muted. And then we spent the next hour or so talking with the kids about what had happened, because there wasn’t anything else anyone could think about.

I’m not sure what happens next. I’m not even sure what they did next. They all left, and they might have driven to her boyfriend’s mother’s house to sleep, but I’m not sure about that. They may have slept in his car, in the driveway, since I think they were there, in the car, when I left yesterday. But I don’t know for sure. Maybe they came back early this morning and were waiting for me to leave for work before they came in the house.

Grace and I were too wired and upset to go to sleep. So after kitchen cleanup, which was finally finished around midnight, I read Benjamin a Clifford book, and read the older boys the second part of the introduction to The Anatomy of Fascism, and we again talked about what the many terms meant. Grace came to bed after a while, but we stayed up talking until — well, I don’t even know what time it was. It was probably after three. It might have been four.

So, not a great night’s sleep. Sam got up about eight and started humming to himself and putting away the dishes. I got into the bathtub about nine. I didn’t leave our driveway until about 10:00. I needed a coffee. I was quite late to work.

Ground Rules and Solidarity

I’m sure there are lessons to learn from this whole experience, but I don’t think Grace and I are quite ready to unpack them all yet. But there are a few things that it seems like we were in agreement on, when we spoke about all this last night:

  • Our ground rules were important to us.
  • Most of our actual ground rules seemed so inherently obvious to us that we left them unspoken.
  • When these were constantly broken, we tended to believe that our guests had broken them only accidentally.
  • Because of this framing, we’d bring them up apologetically.
  • We never set clearly defined consequences for repeatedly breaking the ground rules.

Grace and I are both so different from our guests, in terms of class and culture and education, that we have had a very hard time understanding pretty much anything about their behavior — we anticipated having some difficulty, but it was much greater than we anticipated. Very often, we just found ourselves literally dumbstruck by their behavior, unable to understand or even really process what we were seeing. And we’d just kind of go blank in such circumstances. “Going blank” generally turned into “ignoring it and hoping it would go away.”

As you can no doubt tell, we’re doing a lot of second-guessing our behavior. Well, at least I am. I think for various reasons Grace is better at maintaining a clear sense of limits and maintaining her equanimity when her limits are challenged. I think part of that is due to her experiences with her family of origin. Her family was in many ways more stable and less less marginalized than mine; she had more community, and more role models.

We’ve been trying to err on the side of constant compassion and forgiveness because it’s not lost on us that they are the more economically vulnerable ones here, and they have suffered a lot of traumas already. In fact my whole intent in agreeing to host our housemate and her children was to give her and her children a chance to decompress and enjoy a little stability in a supportive environment. I don’t think that ever actually happened, for reasons that didn’t have a lot to do with what we were offering. She didn’t ever seem to be able to what we were actually offering, which was mutual support.

Solidarity For Never

One idea I keep coming back to is the idea of solidarity, and how it works, and has to work for community to work. We may literally have just not had enough shared cultural background for this ever to work out. To us, it was obvious that since we weren’t charging rent, we were offering community centered around things other than that financial sort of transaction.

I’m really not sure she ever managed to understand that.

I keep coming back to the idea that eating communally must be the center of any kind of communal life, for both practical and spiritual reasons.

Practically, feeding thirteen people out of one refrigerator and one pantry, in a home with one kitchen, simply required planning, even if only to figure out where the food would be stored and how to stay out of each other’s way. Also practically, our meals together would be pretty much the only time we’d talk with our guest and her family; it was the time we had to raise concerns and work out agreements about all manner of things. It was the time to work on understanding each other. We expected to share meals with reasonable regularity, at least dinners.

And, mostly, that didn’t happen.

Spiritually, meals together are for us a sort of unofficial sacrament. Our housemate is a Christian, but raised in some evangelical Protestant communities with… well, let’s just say the everyday theology she was raised with was apparently different than the Episcopalian and Presbyterian theology Grace and I were raised on. And me, I can barely call myself a functioning Christian, but yet I still try to practice my Christian values.

Again, I’m not sure she or her boyfriend ever understood any of what we are trying to do with our family and community on a spiritual level, even as it manifests around something as basic and practical as a daily meal together; it’s not like we were inviting them to sing hymns or attend hours-long prayer vigils.

And… Stress

Another frustrating and sad aspect to all this is that I feel like I might not have let things get to this point, had we not been so constantly driven to distraction and worry by our own financial situation. But as that situation has dragged on and on, and eaten up most of my available credit, we have found ourselves dangerously tight on money. As the one who manages the money every day, most of that stress falls on me.

Under these circumstances, wasted food (which is wasted money), surprise expenses, emergency expenses, surprise messes, and all the other surprises became kind of “of a piece” to me, all potential triggers for the kind of meltdown I had last night.

I have general strategies to avoid the situations that might stress me beyond my ability to manage that result, but they failed me last night. I didn’t want to go in the kitchen to help with everything going on, but I didn’t want to refuse to help Grace, either, especially once she had asked me. I’m here to help her. But things went very wrong. I have to figure out what that is telling me, and what to do about it.

And I have to work with Grace to see if there’s anything more we can do for our guest and her family, to help ease the transition. We had already asked her to find a way to move out as soon as she was able. It was never in our plans to throw anyone out in this manner. Given our failures in communication and mounting frustrations, I don’t actually have much confidence that it really could have gone any other way. Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise; maybe she never really believed that we were getting frustrated with them, at least not enough to do anything about it, until this moment.

To avoid this kind of thing we would have needed to build up that trust and solidarity and community starting on day one, and continue building it, and while we kept trying, we just were unable to get our guests to reciprocate. I’m leaving out the details of a lot of interactions that demonstrated, to me, chronic low-level dishonesty and manipulative behavior. So to me it seems, ultimately, like there really was no solidarity, no “mutual” in “mutual support.” Although early on, it seemed promising.

If we’re to figure out how to avoid disastrous failed attempts at community like this in the future, we’ve got to understand more about how successful Catholic Worker houses function. But I think we’ve also got to try to ensure that the people living with us are willing to work at being in solidarity and community with us, too.

I’m so tired today that I’m dizzy. I haven’t heard any news from home. I got in so late that I won’t get home until about 8:00 this evening.

Stinkbugs are flying around my office today, crawling on my computer screen and my coat and dropping onto my desk. Last fall and winter I was careful not to harm them. This year I’m just throwing them on the floor and stepping on them, stink be damned.

Tuesday

Last night when we got home our guests were there. They didn’t come down all evening, though. I really didn’t want to see them, and the feeling was likely mutual.

I guess we did succeed at achieving something “mutual,” but it sure isn’t support.

I’m still second-guessing myself and asking — did I bring all that poison, distrust, and hostility? But then I remember the constant lying, and tell myself “no.”

Grace has spoken to our guests. They are working on a plan to move out soon.

It’s funny how we actually asked them to leave about six weeks ago, but we haven’t heard about any progress at all towards an actual estimated date, until the day after I blew up at them.

If we have to tiptoe around each other like this until they are finally all moved out, it’s gonna be a real slog for me.

We had steak and salad and got to bed about midnight. I read Benjamin a Little Critter book before bed, but it was getting too late to read a story for the older kids afterwards. I had hoped that we might watch the second episode of Doctor Who, but that didn’t happen; it took us too long to get everything cleaned up. We had to send the kids back down the road with diapers and extra trash, rinse recyclable bottles that were piled up in the laundry room, fold laundry, get a dish load going, hand-wash pots and pans, etc.

The sirloin cap steaks from Costco weren’t as good as they were before. I’m not sure how to account for that. Maybe they weren’t as fresh, since they had been in the refrigerator since Friday. Maybe it just wasn’t as tasty a cut of meat this time. They weren’t as tender as the last ones. We found ourselves wishing for steak sauce.

I wound up leaving my lunch at home again. Maybe I can bring it tomorrow.

There was no news about the proposed rental agreement for our old house yesterday. I’ll ask Grace tonight if she’s heard anything.

I had breakfast at Harvest Moon and got to work at a better time. I didn’t do any reading, but I did work on editing a few more pages of this blog text, from the first quarter.

I’ll make a small Costco run this evening. Maybe we’ll have time to watch Doctor Who.

Wednesday

So, Tuesday night we got through dinner before it was too late, and we managed to watch Doctor Who, although Grace and I were both pretty tired, and so perhaps not at our TV-watching best. I tried to avoid any contact with our housemates. In fact I was feeling myself heading into full-on panic attack territory whenever I saw them — a deeply unpleasant feeling of being unable to catch my breath. Grace and I stayed up talking things out for a while before going to sleep, and that was comforting, and helped.

“The Ghost Monument”

The Doctor and her companions are rescued, extremely improbably, by a spaceship, in what simply must be a reference to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. But in a twist, they are rescued by two spaceships, piloted by two contestants in some kind of competition, and so split up. We never really get a good explanation for why the contestants pick them up. In Hitchhiker’s, it happens because the Infinite Improbability Drive, which passes through every point in the Universe, also tends to do things that are extremely improbable along the way. It’s mentioned that the competitors Angstrom and Epzo have picked up “bonuses,” but it’s never mentioned how or why kidnapping people will give them any kind of bonus in the game. At least, I don’t recall hearing any explanation.

The look and feel of these spaceships are heavily Millennium Falcon-ish. They are quite impressive. But the storytelling is a little less than impressive. None of the characters seem to have suffered any harm at all from their brief exposure to hard vacuum. People don’t literally “explode” when briefly exposed to vacuum, but it’s awfully hard on the body. I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about this before, in the context of the only vacuum-exposure scene I’ve ever found at all convincing — Bowman’s exposure to vacuum in 2001: A Space Odyssey. There’s a very brief nod to some kind of medical procedures, but it isn’t very convincing. Even elsewhere in the Doctor Who continuity, brief exposure to vacuum is shown to have some hard consequences; it blinds the Twelfth Doctor.

There are some decent and funny and entertaining scenes in this show, but none really made me say “wow.” There’s a gag where a cigar saves everyone’s lives, which is pretty funny, but the elements that went into that scene were telegraphed hard in advance, so I wound up knowing exactly how it was going to play out before it happened. It was still pretty funny to have such a Freudian joke in a story about the first female Doctor. At one point the group went running through a corridor in some kind of industrial plant, and I yelled out “Running through corridors! Now it’s finally Doctor Who!”

I think part of the episode’s weakness is that a number of the many plot elements were introduced by “telling,” and never reinforced by “showing.” For example, we’re told that the planet’s water is dangerous because it is filled with flesh-eating micro-organisms. So I was expecting to see this demonstrated at some point, but it never was. When the group repairs the ship, they talk about how they have to align the solar panels, and then we cut to a scene where we hear that they have done it, but we don’t see them doing it. And over the whole course of the story, no one seems to actually become dehydrated, weakened, or even mildly inconvenienced by the supposedly brutal desert planet’s climate.

The episode ends with a touching lesson in coöperation. But later, Grace and I were discussing this scene, and Grace mentioned that it isn’t clear to her why Angstrom decided to help Epzo and share the prize money. I think she has a good point. He wouldn’t have done it for her, and she could really use the whole prize in order to rescue her family members; the original setup suggests that giving up some of her prize money might cost the lives of some of her family members. The ending was touching, but doesn’t really fit very well with the story elements that the script has set up.

The new TARDIS “desktop” (the redesigned interior) does look cool as hell. And I have to admit, we all laughed at the notion that the console now contains a cookie dispenser. Does the TARDIS bake them fresh, though? I mean, wouldn’t time travel play havoc with “best by” dates?

I think I should cosplay the Thirteenth Doctor for Halloween. I’m wondering if I can find the appropriate trench coat, t-shirt, and suspenders.

Viruses

I was a little bit concerned about Grace, because she woke up in the middle of Tuesday night shivering, and seemed a clammy and slightly feverish. I am not concerned about some kind of minor viral infection. I’m concerned about either something like a full-blown influenza that could leave her dehydrated and in trouble, or even an enterovirus, since she’s around kids so often. In the back of my mind is also the strange aerococcus urinae bacterial infection she had at the end of her pregnancy with Benjamin. But she seemed to feel better during the day yesterday, and was not running a fever at all, and her blood pressure was good. So for now I’m going to assume it was probably just a mild viral infection she was fighting.

The Tahoe Breaks Down

Early Wednesday afternoon Grace sent me a text at work, to tell me that her car, the Tahoe, had abruptly broken down in traffic while she was driving Joshua to the library. So we had a complicated situation. I took half a discretionary day and left work early. But my car only has two seats in it, and she needed to get Joshua home in time for a piano lesson. So she had the towtruck driver meet her there, and arranged for his piano teacher to also meet her there to take Joshua back to the house, while she rode with the driver out to Monro Muffler Brake & Service on Washtenaw near Carpenter. I met her there. They were not able to immediately figure out what was wrong with the truck, so we left it.

I had not eaten lunch and neither had Grace, so we went to the Pho House on Washtenaw for noodles, and talked over some of the things we’re trying to get done.

While we were eating, Monro called. The Tahoe needs a fuel pump. With new spark plugs and wires and fuel injector service, that is going to run about $1,400. We were kind of hoping to spend that money on, among other things, getting our gas boiler serviced so we can turn on the heat. But we told them to go ahead. They said it might be done by the end of the day, or Thursday morning. So that seems promising.

We still have not scheduled duct-cleaning at the old house. It’s just one of the things that we’ve put off to the point of nearly forgetting about it, after the contractor we paid never actually completed the work.

The latest furnace contractor who looked over the old furnace told us that it actually seems to be working reasonably well, and he says the heat exchanger is not cracked. A previous contractor told us that it was unsafe to use and could produce carbon monoxide due to its cracked heat exchanger. It seems like perhaps he was just lying to us. This is the kind of thing we have constantly had to contend with, when dealing with contractors in the Saginaw area. We rarely came across any who seemed trustworthy. I’m not going to claim the contractors in Washtenaw County by comparison are all honest and forthright, because we’ve had some bad experiences working with people here, too, but in Saginaw it was pretty much the rule, and here it seems to be the exception.

But that’s good news in a way — we can get the furnaces up and running in the old house without replacing both of them. Replacing the main furnace will be only about $3,000.

I probably could put $2,000 of that on a credit card and pay a thousand of it in cash. Well, I mean I probably could have done that if the car hadn’t broken down this week. I might still be able to do it using my overdraft line of credit. But I think I’m only willing to do that if we have a signed lease agreement, so that I’m pretty sure we’ll start getting some money in, so that I can pay it off quickly.

We haven’t heard back from our realtor who, when last we heard, was looking over the lease agreement with her attorney.

The latest contractor also told us that no, he couldn’t easily remove the old furnaces from the crawlspace. It has to be done by either busting open a very heavy-duty masonry wall, or by cutting up the pieces of the old furnaces in situ in the crawlspace and pulling them out through the rather small door into the crawlspace. (I suppose tearing open the floor from the family room above might also be an option, but that seems even worse). In any case, he told us, he isn’t equipped to do those things.

So — lots of expenses, and lots of things up in the air.

The kids are asking me about Christmas presents. Well — indirectly. They’ve been asking what we’re going to do for Christmas. I’ve been telling them “we’re going to go to Mass.”

After lunch I took Grace to an ultrasound appointment. The baby looks good. They checked Grace’s temperature and blood pressure — both seemed good. In fact, her blood pressure seems lower than it has been in some time. She thinks that her daily celery-and-apple smoothie is helping to stabilize her blood pressure, since it seems more controlled now than it was when she was just taking her medication. She’s not going to make any changes to her medication regimen at this point, but she’s certainly going to stick with the smoothies, on the grounds that they seem to be helping, and almost certainly aren’t hurting.

Grace and I talked things out a little more last night, trying to unpack all that has been happening with our housemate and her boyfriend, and why I blew up. I still did not want to see them, but most of the sense of panic was gone. I listened to her have a conversation with our housemate, in which she talked out her ongoing concerns about how having junk food in the house encourages Pippin, who already has problems managing his food choices, to basically refuse to eat any healthy food at all, skipping meals and starving himself, in the hopes that he will be able to get his hands on sugary junk food. She also mentioned how, when he hasn’t eaten for too long, he gets low blood sugar, and tends to have a full-on screaming meltdown under stress.

I’ve long known that I am prone not to hyperglycemia, in the form of diabetes, but hypoglycemia. My father is prone to this, too. If either of us goes too long without eating, we get shaky — our hands tremble, we feel weak. And we’re also emotionally shaky — prone to overreactions. Basically, we feel like things happening around us are threatening. I think Pippin has inherited this. Grace’s explanation of Pippin’s behavior brought home to me that on Sunday, when I blew up at our housemate and her boyfriend, I had not eaten for about eight hours, and my late breakfast had been a relatively small meal. I realized that my lack of self-care had been a contributing factor: I had not managed my tendency towards hypoglycemia that day, instead spending my time working on cleaning up the kitchen.

I’m not sure exactly how that works, but I think the mechanism is something like this: I don’t eat, and my body gets shaky. The physical symptoms are a lot like the symptoms my body would be showing if I was having some kind of fear response. In terms of my primitive brain, my body is responding much as it would if a saber-toothed cat was trying to get into my cave to eat me.

This fear response primes my brain to start looking for a cause — something it can identify as the problem, to try to figure out how to make me safe again. The lower-level, more primitive parts of the brain are not really all that good at distinguishing causation from correlation. So they latched on to the situation that was bothering me, and has been bothering me for a long time, and somehow turned that into “this thing is an immediate and serious threat and you must take action.”

I get that this is all manner of fucked-up, but this is my best guess at just why I blew up so badly. It helps explain why sometimes minor chronic stressors like this will abruptly become intolerable to me, when failing to manage my blood sugar has made me more vulnerable.

If Grace indeed was fighting off a virus — and I’ve been feeling like I might be fighting off a virus, as well — that could have played a part in making my body feel like it was under threat. And I’m sure the low-level sleep deprivation didn’t help, nor did the loneliness and boredom I’ve been experiencing at work, nor did my usual seasonal affective disorder. Not that any of this really justifies my reaction, but perhaps it can help me understand what triggers this sort of thing and maybe manage these things better.

Thursday

We had a Costco pot pie for dinner last night and managed to get to bed at a reasonable hour. Joshua continued reading George’s Marvelous Medicine out loud. I read a bit more of The Anatomy of Fascism, completing the first chapter and just a bit of the second chapter. The first chapter is terrific. In chapter 2 he starts getting into the real history, and my mind starts to wander a little bit. I need a glossary; he uses a lot of unfamiliar terms. Sometimes I have to read chapters like this several times before I feel like I’ve really understood them.

Grace did not seem feverish last night or this morning. We caught up on sleep and woke up on late. I was slow this morning, deliberately, since I was hoping we’d be able to go pick up the car before I went to work. The shop didn’t call, so we called them. The car wasn’t ready. I had to install one of the fold-up seats in the Element, so that she can use it to drive Joshua and Pippin to choir this afternoon. Her key to my car would not start it, for reasons I don’t quite understand, until we flipped it over and tried again; then it started on the first try. Grace drove me to work. We stopped to get bagels and coffee for me and tea for her, and since we both needed to eat, she just came up to eat with me in the office. I introduced her to three new co-workers who had not yet met her. So I started out the work day very late, which means I’m going to have to stay very late tonight. I don’t have any lunch or dinner food here, so she’s going to bring me something when she is running errands tonight.

Hopefully we’ll be able to pick the car up Friday morning. Friday morning I will have gotten paid, which will make it slightly easier to cover the repair bill — but not that much easier, since most of that paycheck is already committed to next week’s expenses. But it might keep me from taking our checking account below zero and hitting the overdraft line. That’s probably about the best outcome I can hope for next week.

Since moving in February of 2017, we’ve been paying two mortgages every month, along with all the other expenses that go with continuing to own and maintain the old house. This means we’ve been, on average, spending just a little more each month than I take home. We’ve been doing this in the hopes that we will soon be able to get out from under the old house, in a way that won’t destroy my credit rating. But it’s all coming down to the wire. Both of my credit cards are nearly maxed out, and a number of things we’ve been putting off are now becoming urgent. I don’t know exactly how all this is going to play out. We’re still hoping there is some outcome we can get to that winds up with someone living in our magnificent old home, and not just shutting off the water and leaving it to sit vacant through the winter. But there’s honestly not much more we can do.

I’m really hoping that the reason the car isn’t done yet is not because they found a lot more wrong with it. I’m afraid Grace is going to get stranded, unable to start my car. That weird starting problem is something else that needs attention, but I’ve been putting it off because I’ve never been unable to start it after a few tries.

Editing, Editing, Editing

I’m still editing the text of this blog. I’m still working on posts from the first quarter of 2018. In fact, I’ve only just finished a second pass at editing the post from the first week of 2018. At this rate, editing the 2018 posts is going to take a long, long time. I’ve scaled my ambition back a bit; I think I will try to make my first deliverable a book-length manuscript of posts from just the first quarter of 2018. But even that is going to be a lot of work.

I was talking with Grace about this a bit, wondering why I’m doing it. There are some practical reasons: for one thing, I’m figuring out a worfklow that will allow me to turn any of my Markdown content into a book, or at least a book-like manuscript, and that seems valuable. But as for who the audience is for this hypothetical book, or e-book, made from these blog posts — I still can’t answer that.

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio show, Zaphod Beeblebrox implanted a clue in his own brain to help him figure out the mystery of just who actually runs the galaxy. He reminded his future self that he should go find a man named Zarniwoop. Zaphod explains this to the receptionist in the Hitchhiker’s Guide headquarters:

“Sir, can I ask why you want to see Mr. Zarniwoop?”

“Yeah, I told myself I needed to.”

“Come again, sir?”

“I came to myself in a dream and said ‘Go see Zarniwoop.’ Never heard of the cat before, but I seemed very insistent.”

“Oh, Mr. Beeblebrox, sir, you’re so weird, you should be in pictures!”

“Yeah, baby, and you should be in real life.”

Beeblebrox meets up with Marvin, and then completely fails to convince the elevator to go up. He turns to Marvin:

“Marvin, just get this elevator to go up, will you? We’ve got to get to Zarniwoop!”

“Why?”

“I don’t know, but when I find him, he’d better have one hell of a good reason for me wanting to see him!”

So, dear reader, I hope you have at least one good reason to help explain to me why I have written all this.

Friday

Because I got into work very late yesterday, and I didn’t want to take any more discretionary time off than absolutely necessary, I stayed very late last night. Grace came to get me at about a quarter to ten.

I decided that I didn’t really need to eat a late dinner at home, since I wasn’t all that hungry. I ate some cashews, hazelnuts, toasted chick peas, and a few prunes, and drank a couple of glasses of water, and that was good enough.

The kids had done a good job of cleaning up after dinner, so I took them downstairs and let them watch an episode of Ben 10: Alien Force. Benjamin has been asking to see this show for a long time; that, and Castle in the Sky. We keep telling him there is not enough time on a typical week night to watch Castle in the Sky, but Grace told him we had time last night to watch one episode of Ben 10: Alien Force. Of course, the first episode (I think it is called “Ben 10 Returns, Part 1”) is a cliffhanger, so he really, really did not want to stop there.

This morning I was up earlier than usual, so I took a little time to read more of The Ice Schooner. It’s moving along nicely and I am continuing to enjoy it, although I have not quite even reached the halfway point.

Grace told me last night that the car was ready. I had hoped that Grace and I would get out early enough to have breakfast out before picking up the car, but that didn’t really work. So we went to get it, and I paid about $1,500 on my Team One credit card, which has pushed my balance almost to the limit again. I am trying to keep some cash free because I might also have to pay for the total replacement of the main furnace. I’m considering paying for that by writing a check which will overdraw my checking account, hitting our $3,600 overdraft protection by at least $2,000. But it seems like that might at least be possible.

Last night Grace told me about an interaction with our housemate. I’ve mentioned that we wanted to provide a supportive environment for her kids. But for some reason she and her boyfriend refuse almost categorically to allow her girls to play outside in our yard with our kids. We get confusing and contradictory reasons: she doesn’t want them to get their clothes dirty, although her bedroom is right next to a clothes washer and dryer. She’s afraid they’ll get a virus.

Apparently she explained to Grace that her point had been proven, because when one of the girls did go outside for a while, when she came back in, later that evening she was coughing. Grace asked her if she showed any signs of a virus: a runny nose, a fever? No. Grace told her that this is what happens to smokers who exercise — they start to cough. Our housemate thought that was ridiculous, because her daughter isn’t a smoker. Grace reminded her that her daughter is breathing secondhand smoke all the time, and that this isn’t just something people make up — the dangerous effects of secondhand smoke on children, and even adults, are quite real.

I’m not sure she can believe or process that. I’m reminded of the time we told her not to use the downstairs bathroom, because I had a bad enterovirus and had been doing horrible things in the bathroom, and we hadn’t yet had a chance to sanitize it, and enteroviruses are very, very contagious. She either didn’t understand us or didn’t believe us, and so of course she got it too and was then doing equally horrible things in the bathroom at her job. Talking that over with her later, it seemed like she didn’t actually understand what bacteria or viruses were.

So these educational differences that I mentioned are real, and they’re hard for us to even understand or believe.

If you add “home economics” or “meal planning” or “sharing a home, a pantry, a refrigerator, a kitchen, and a dining table” to “secondhand smoke” and “infectious diseases” to a list of “things Grace and I learned from our schooling and our upbringings,” then maybe our housemate’s behavior starts to make a little more sense. At least, that’s the interpretation I’m going to choose to try to believe in, today.

I’ll head to Costco and we’ll have dinner, and maybe we’ll watch “Ben 10 Returns, Part 2” tonight. I really need to start making notes for a podcast episode. I’d like to talk about The Anatomy of Fascism. We again have too much to talk about, but it is not well-organized. That’s not a recipe for a stellar show. We’ll see how the weekend goes. I need to get in touch with the Michigan Department of State, which manages car registrations. We still have not received the sticker and registration for the Tahoe, although I paid for it at the same time I paid for the Element. So it ought to be registered — if Grace is stopped and a police officer looks up the car, it should show up as registered. But we want the sticker and the piece of paper.

I’ve also got to write a bunch of checks, and that’s going to be painful. Most of them are small, but we still have to pay $200 for trash pickup at our old house in Saginaw, since no one else owns it; I’m not sure what will happen if we don’t pay it, but the city might put a lien on the house.

I also checked out the gas bills online. We’re paying a fixed amount, on a budget plan, but our actual bills for the last couple of months have been shockingly high. This means when it comes time to settle up, I’m going to owe them something like an extra thousand dollars. It’s all piling up on me and I’m feeling pretty hopeless about ever getting us to a more secure financial position!

Saturday

I’m writing today’s entry at about 9:20 p.m. We just got back from Chelsea where we ate dinner at Smokehouse 52 BBQ. Today is my seventeenth wedding anniversary! We didn’t start out the day with a clear plan, but we wanted to get out and do something, even feeling broke and worried about money and stressed. We had a huge meal, including burnt ends and deep-fried pickles for appetizers. I had Nashville hot fried chicken, which lived up to its name, making my nose run and my face turn red. I’ve had it before at Zingerman’s Roadhouse. This was at least as good, if not better. In fact all the food was quite good. The kids had a number of different kid’s meals: chicken tenders, smoked ribs, and pulled pork sandwiches. Grace had a salad with roasted butternut squash, pears, cranberries, walnuts, romaine, and pulled pork with a balsamic vinaigrette and also munched on Elanor’s chicken and waffles, and we brought another takeout serving of chicken and waffles home for our housemate. I also had a pint of Defloured N.E.I.P.A. from Witch’s Hat Brewing Co. in South Lyon. N.E.I.P.A. apparently stands for New England India Pale Ale, which, until today, I didn’t know was a thing. It has orange and grapefruit juice in it, and I thought it was pretty good. Maybe the citrus will help keep me healthy as the weather gets cold.

Personally I’ve never really been able to understand chicken and waffles. It seems to be two meals on the same plate. The fried chicken is good, and the waffles are good, but they don’t seem to really complement each other or go together. So… it’s not that I don’t like the parts of the meal. I just don’t understand why they are combined.

Last night I brought home a load of groceries from Costco as usual, and as we usually do on Friday evenings, we had salmon and salad. I tried a cheap white Bordeaux, a 2014 Chateau Ferrande Graves. I think this is a white wine blend. I really didn’t care for this wine much. On the nose, it is quite musty and yeasty, smelling more of grape skins than grapes. The review notes I’ve seen mention “lemon zest” and it does have some strong citrus notes, but not much else. It is just sour and dry. After letting it breathe for a while, I still didn’t notice much in it that I liked. It’s a pretty color, though. I’ll taste it again in a day or two but I’m not expecting to change my mind. I won’t be buying any more bottles of this one to serve at Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. I think it’s just another example of the general problem I always have with the Bordeaux wines that you can get imported into the United States — the good stuff can be incredibly good, but it’s also incredibly expensive. Meanwhile there’s quite a bit of affordable Bordeaux wine available, but the bottles I’ve tried have never been worth drinking.

It was too late to watch a movie and there was a big pile of clean laundry on the bed, so we folded laundry while I read excerpts from The Anatomy of Fascism, and then we got to bed. Grace was feeling exhausted.

Later in the evening our housemate’s youngest child, an eight-month-old, seemed to be having some difficulty with chest congestion and she was concerned about him, so they took him to the Pediatric Emergency Department at St. Joe’s. They noted some congestion but did not think it was very serious. Our housemate was complaining that she and her girls have some sort of a virus. We haven’t seen much of them.

This morning I toasted buttered bagels from Costco and, while Grace ran to Milan to pick up bread from Mother Loaf, made scrambled eggs. The kids had some kind of huge noisy fight before Grace and I were even fully up, so they got KP and had to deep-clean the kitchen and family room. They did that fairly well, so my cleanup work was considerably easier! Grace came back with pan au levain, another small 100% rye loaf, and a couple of bialys. This week’s bialy was made with salami and goat cheese and it was delicious!

It was raining and windy on and off today, and for a while we even had graupel coming down. The temperature kept changing. So we were had-pressed to find a fun outdoor activity for everyone. When it cleared up for a while, we thought we might go for a walk at Rolling Hills Park. But then the weather got bad again. We decided to drive out to our friends’ farm, hoping that the weather would improve. We had an invitation to do some gleaning — to bring home leftover produce. Today was their last CSA pickup. So we went, but we were slow and late at everything today. We didn’t get out there until about 5:00. We filled up the truck with gas and headed out. My musical selection for the drive was Moby’s album Play. Grace and I used to listen to this album a lot; it had come out shortly before we met. Today we were both struck by how much we still enjoy it. It has held up quite well. As we headed West on I-94, we got to see a weird and gorgeous mix of sun and very low clouds in swirling layers as the weather pattern slowly moved through.

They had some leftovers that weren’t picked up for the CSA, and some produce left in the garden. I put Elanor on my back in the backpack baby carrier, but she really hated it, and as soon as I headed out to the garden, the weather got bad again. She did not enjoy being in the carrier in the wind and cold rain, so I took her back inside the barn. We took a bag of hot peppers, a bag of arrugula, and other goodies including three kinds of turnips wqith their greens and some pea shoots. Just a week ago I was marveling at the beautiful rows of rainbow swiss chard, the peppers, and nasturtiums. But earlier this week it got very cold, down into the twenties overnight, and the pepper plants were all wilted, the chard was half-collapsed, and the lovely nasturtiums were compost. What a difference a week makes. The brussels sprouts are still coming along. If things go well there may yet be a nice crop of brussels sprouts. But this has been a strange growing season. I think a lot of our leaves are going to blow off without ever turning colors, although we’ve had a little fall color.

When we left about 6:30, we weren’t quite sure what to do. We were considering having burgers at Culver’s. We were considering just going home and cooking our lamb steaks and roasting some potatoes. But I asked Grace if she could think of anywhere in Chelsea we’d like to eat, and she suggested we try the barbecue place. And we’re glad we did. I have paperwork and bills and writing to work on and more bills and all kinds of things to think about and worry about, but it was great to stop and have a good meal. The kids enjoyed it. The boys are down in the basement watching a few more episodes of Ben 10: Alien Force. It’s now about 10:30 and I just want to read a little bit more of The Ice Schooner and get on to bed with the wonderful woman who has been my wife for seventeen years.

Books, Music, Movies, and TV Mentioned This Week

  • Play by Moby (1999 album)
  • “Ben 10 Returns, Part 1” (Ben 10: Alien Force Season 1 Episode)
  • “The Ghost Monument” (Doctor Who Series 11 Episode)
  • The Anatomy of Fascism by Robert Paxton (in progress)
  • Moderan by David R. Bunch (New York Review Books Classics 2018 edition)
  • George’s Marvelous Medicine by Roald Dahl (bedtime listening; Joshua’s been reading it out loud)
  • The Ice Schooner by Michael Moorcock (in the omnibus volume Traveling to Utopia, Gollancz 2014) (in progress)
  • The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter (in progress)
  • The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien (bedtime reading in progress)
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (in progress)

Ypsilanti, Michigan
The Week Ending Saturday, October 20th, 2018

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Week Ending Saturday, October 13th, 2018

Sunday

Last night we had a chicken and rice dish with carrots, mushrooms, and parsnips, cooked in the Instant Pot. That was quite good and well-received. Along with that we had a big salad with homemade dressing. The dressing consisted of Grace’s homemade mayonnaise, a container of pre-made guacamole, grapeseed oil, white wine vinegar, and a little bit of brown sugar. With the salad we provided some extra toppings: diced hard-boiled eggs, oil-cured olives, diced beets, and blueberries.

After dinner and cleanup I took the kids down into the basement with a bag of Costco popcorn to watch our DVD of Matilda, the 1996 movie. The plot involves a young girl born into a family that doesn’t understand her. She’s gifted and loves to read. The scenes where she discovers her local library are beautiful. The movie is funny in parts, but I found the portrayal of Agatha Trunchbull to be pretty disturbing. The plot, involving a murder mystery, is overly complicated, and the film is overly long. I like the ugly home sets and dated cars and Danny DeVito’s narration is fun. But ultimately the portrayal of several of the characters just seems mean-spirited and a lot of the physical comedy just feels like abuse. So personally I don’t feel like I can recommend it. Grace stayed upstairs for a little peace and quiet and so I can’t ask her what she thought of the movie.

We were ready for bed early but Grace was not. So she and I did not actually get to sleep until about 2:00. I keep trying to stay on a consistent schedule but it falls apart on the weekends.

Since I couldnt’ go to sleep, I read the story “Hotshot” by Peter Watts, in the Reach for Infinity collection. Paging through this anthology, I remember reading most of the stories, but didn’t remember much about that one. Either I didn’t read it or I just didn’t find it memorable. It introduces a couple of the characters that appear in The Freeze-Frame Revolution, particularly Sunday Ahzmundin, the protagonist of both. It follows Ahzmundin as she takes a brief sabbatical from her training for the Eriophora’s gate-seeding mission that will occupy the remainder of her life to plunge into the photosphere of the sun, because the powerful magnetic fields that twist and break there apparently have a deeply strange affect on the human mind — they supposedly allow for the existence of free will, in which neurons fire on their own accord, without deterministically responding to their inputs.

This requires some explanation, but I’m unfortunately really not the guy to provide it. Let’s just say that Watts’ ideas about consciousness don’t come out of nowhere. In Blindsight I followed his arguments pretty well because I was familiar with the “chinese room” and other concepts from the field of artificial intelligence. This stuff on free will is related, but not as familiar to me. And Watts does not provide an elaborate annotated bibliography for The Freeze-Frame Revolution. He probably talks about the antecedents for these stories on his blog. If you want to search for his posts in which he discusses the topics, go wild..

Watts actually makes a lot of his work available for download. You can find the full text of “Hotshot,” in the form of a PDF file, here. In fact you can find the two other stories that are part of the Sunflower Cycle, “Giants” and “The Island.” “The Island” is the story that appeared in The New Space Opera 2. Yesterday I was griping that I didn’t want to have to take apart a whole palette of boxes to dig out that book in order to read the story. It looks like I won’t have to! Here’s the page with links to the stories. I’ll try to get both “Giants” and “The Island” read this week, and write up any thoughts.

This morning I finished reading The Wrecks of Time, the first Moorcock novel in the Traveling to Utopia omnibus. I’ve mentioned before how I found this novel to be “Ballardian.” It gets even more Ballardian. It’s got references to Jung, archetypes, psychodrama, and other elements of sixties thought; there’s even a brief reference to the grail, as well as a crucifixion scene that seems, really, like a pointless provocation. The end seems a bit abrupt and strange, but there are some beautifully odd scenes along the way, including one in which Faustaff comes across a giant “dump” of artifacts carefully piled up from all of human history — but brand new, not relics. This is the scene which is illustrated on the cover of the Arrow 1975 paperback edition of The Rituals of Infinity, where Faustaff winds a clock — although that illustration is not correct, as in the story the subspace earths don’t all appear in the sky until the final chapter.

Anyway, I’d like to be able to recommend this Moorcock novel, but unfortunately I can’t. It wasn’t a complete waste of my time, since it is short and contains some interesting scenes. But while it is evocative in places, and the protagonist seems intriguing, it just doesn’t develop him well enough, or tell an interesting enough story about him, to make it really worthwhile. And the unexamined sexism is off-putting. I’d actually recommend it more to fans of early Ballard, not fans of Moorcock. While it does show the origins of some of his later multiverse ideas, Moorcock never used the setting or the protagonist again, so the time spent getting to know both of them feels a bit wasted.

The next novela in this omnibus volume is called The Ice Schooner. Apparently Moorcock modeled the story of this novel after the Joseph Conrad novel The Rescue. It looks interesting, and I hold out hope that it is more fun than The Wrecks of Time. It also reminds me that I’ve been meaning to write a science-fiction novel called The Escape Pods of the “Glen Carrig”.

Something is Rotten

Something in the basement is developing a sulfurous smell. It’s been growing for a week or so. At first I thought it must be a container of some kind of leaking cleaning supply, like drain cleaner. But it seems to be strongest in my office. I could not identify the smell or where it was coming from, so I asked Grace to go down and sniff around and see if she recognized it or could find the source. Grace thinks it’s coming from the closet in my office that holds the sump.

This may need some professional attention. When the previous owner renovated the basement he made some improvements to the drainage, and apparently removed the sump pump since it didn’t seem to be needed. It seems that something may be needed, although it is odd that this is the first time we’ve noticed it. Just another house thing to worry about. We’ve been planning to put in a radon system as money allows. Unfortunately to get any work done in there I’ll probably have to break down my computers and audio gear and move everything out of the room, which will require a lot of work and likely be disruptive to our podcast production.

Aside from the regular kitchen cleanup — and it already feels like I’ve spent half the weekend cooking and washing dishes — Grace had a bunch of small gardening tasks and errands to work on this afternoon. So it’s already almost 4:30. She and I were supposed to have a money-planning meeting, but I’m not sure that is going to happen; we don’t have a dinner plan yet, and we also want to get a podcast done. So I’m scratching my head a bit wondering how we can get everything done.

Monday

Well, yesterday could have gone better, but at least we got a podcast out. Grace was out for several hours yesterday and so we missed the chance to sit down and plan out spending. She called me and had me put the pot roast on to cook, and it sat in the oven at 300 degrees for three hours, inside a dutch oven. It was quite delicious, although maybe just a bit over-done.

We discovered that Daniel had actually taken the salt-crusted rye loaf we bought the Saturday before last from the cabinet where we keep the bread, and hidden it. Fortunately those crusty breads last a long time without going moldy and it was still perfectly fine. So we ate that with the pot roast, along with a salad and leftover chicken and rice. I made a little beef gravy from the pan drippings, which helped out the pot roast.

It was something like 10:30, after doing a round of kitchen cleanup and leaving some more hand-washing for Veronica, when Grace and I finally went downstairs to record the podcast. I had hoped to write an essay on the Kavanaugh nomination and read that, to at least organize my thoughts before we discussed it. That didn’t happen. Grace and I hadn’t really talked much in advance, so we weren’t entirely on the same page as far as the points we wanted to make. The less we prepare, the longer we tend to run, so this was one of our longer shows. The only part that wasn’t rambling was when Grace read the remarks she had prepared for the Front Porch Republic conference. Once again, given the actual constraints on our time, we had to decide whether to press on and do a show without much preparation, or miss another week. (Do we drive our audience away passively, by not releasing enough shows to keep them interested, or actively, by releasing shows that they don’t like? Hmm…)

We finished recording right at midnight, and it took me about an hour and a half to prepare and upload everything. Once again I am so grateful for the bash scripts I have put together to make this process easier. They help me stay on track and avoid stupid mistakes in the process, even when I’m not very alert.

I wasted a few minutes trying to catch up on Facebook — I spend very little time on Facebook these days. The evening ended on a frustrating note for me because I hoped to come upstairs to find the kids asleep and lights off, so I could go right to sleep myself. But they had apparently fought Grace every step of the way about getting on to bed, and so everyone was awake. We had to set the alarm for 7:00, because Grace needed to get up to take our housemate to an appointment. So she was not going to get enough sleep, and neither was I, and we were both going to be starting the week off with our schedules all out of whack.

I managed to get a little bit more sleep after Grace got up and out the door this morning, but I’m still feeling logy. I had a nice lunch all packed with pot roast and gravy, chicken and rice, and salad, and I was even thinking about taking it out to the car before I left. But then I got distracted — Joshua got up to come and say goodbye — and I forgot all about my lunch. So it’s still in the refrigerator. It should still be edible tomorrow. The salad will probably be a little worse for wear, although it’s the bagged Asian chopped salad, which has a lot of cabbage in it, and the cabbage holds up better than lettuce.

I was running too late this morning to stop for breakfast, or even for a coffee. So I had tea and pop-tarts at the office.

I didn’t get any reading done last night or this morning.

While I was downstairs last night, I opened up the closet in my office and pulled up the cover of the sump in the floor. I feared that it would be full of foul-smelling, moldy water, or something like that. But it seemed completely dry. It also came to me just what the smell in the basement reminds me of. It reminds me of the smell of some sort of spray pesticide that I recall smelling before — RAID canned wasp killer, which is a pyrethroid formula, or a pyrethrin spray that was used by my ex-girlfriend’s landlord long ago when their apartment wall was infested with bees.

We have not used anything like that since moving into the house, and so I’m really wondering where this smell is coming from. Did the previous owner use a pesticide for some kind of infestation in the basement, and the smell is only coming up from the sump now, two years later? I’m baffled.

I didn’t notice much in the way of effects from breathing the fumes while I worked on the podcast in the basement, although it does seem like my throat was a little irritated, and still feels irritated today.

“Giants”

The story “Giants” by Peter Watts can be found online on the Clarkesworld site here. This is a story set in the Sunflower Cycle universe and I found it to be quite good; better than “Hotshot.” It’s about an episode in the long journey of the ship Eriophora. The story makes reference to an uprising on Eriophora. Is it the same group who rebels in The Freeze-Frame Revolution? It’s not entirely clear. We don’t learn the name of the point-of-view character. The character is criticized for being sympathetic to the Chimp. So it sounds like her. But:

Hakim turns to me as the Chimp lowers us toward the storm. “Maybe we should wake them up.”

“Who?”

“Sunday. Ishmael. All of them.”

So — Sunday is in hibernation. But there are eight million stories in the naked city — or, rather, thirty thousand stories around the naked singularity. And the story hints at several points that the point-of-view character may be something quite different than a standard “crewsicle.” In his Reddit “ask me anything” interview, Watts said:

Chronologically, the order is “Hotshot”; “The Freeze-Frame Revolution”; “Giants”; and “The Island”. But each was designed to be understandable whether or not you’ve read any of the others, and Sunday doesn’t even appear in all of them, so go wild.

So I guess it’s time to read “The Island.”

Grace had an appointment for Elanor at the eye doctor this afternoon, and so she brought my lunch, and brought it by my office about 4:00. I am grateful that she is able to help work around my dumb mistakes. Lunch was delicious.

Tonight if we can get through dinner at a reasonable hour, we should be able to watch the season premiere of Doctor Who. I have not read anything about the plot of the first episode, although I did see that the reviews seem to be quite positive.

Tuesday

I went to Costco after work and picked up two rotisserie chickens, more salad, pork medallions, bread rolls, four dozen eggs, and a box of pancake mix. When I got home, Grace was out running an errand, but the kids had gotten the table set and a salad on. So we didn’t have to do much prep before eating — just put the groceries away. Pippin immediately got up on a stool, opened up the high cabinet where I had stashed them, pulled down the bag of bread rolls, opened them up, and ate one. I had bought them specifically so that the kids would eat last week’s sandwich meat for lunches this week, and dinner was on the table. That bought him some immediate consequences.

We started dinner without Grace. Pippin sat at the table, surly, and would not touch the three very small servings of roasted chicken, salad, and rice on his plate. He has recently taken his food pickiness to a whole new level. I’m not sure what to do about him.

Grace finally got home. Her half-hour errand had turned into a two-hour errand when her friend did not show up to meet her as she expected. As soon as she sat down and told Pippin to eat, he ate. Of course it took him another forty minutes to eat six forkfuls of food, and everyone else was done. I’m furious that he will do this for Grace and not for me. I had already told everyone that we were canceling the evening’s planned viewing of the season premier of Doctor Who. But he ate, eventually, and the kids did a pretty good job of cleaning up and getting ready, so we went ahead and watched “The Woman Who Fell to Earth.” We watch TV shows from the iTunes store using my ThinkPad, with an HDMI cable running into our battered, modestly-sized LG display, and the audio output from the display running into my old Yamaha STAGEPAS 300 PA system (with the terribly noisy fan).

“The Woman Who Fell to Earth”

The show was pretty well-received. Overall, I thought the producers did a good job of avoiding a number of obvious pitfalls. Having seen the new Doctor’s clothes, I was concerned that they were going to make her a “manic pixie dream girl,” a “madcap” character, a Mary Poppins type whose job was to entertain and teach everyone with her zany-but-maternal emotional labor. They didn’t really do that. Her outfit makes some sense in the context of a hurried race through a thrift shop’s inventory, and her quest for pockets — lots of pockets — set up in the show.

The ending, with its extended coda, felt a little needlessly slow to me. The lack of opening credits seemed odd. And it seemed odd that the Doctor’s change of gender went almost unremarked. He’s been a man for 55 years (thousands of years, in-universe), and is now suddenly, this time, a woman, with no comment, no explanation, not even lampshading? We’re to believe that the previous streak of 12 men were just due to a dozen consecutive coin tosses that all came out the same way?

The villain interested me more when I thought it was a giant ball of sparking tentacles. But my kids were hiding behind each other (there isn’t a sofa, downstairs), so the monster of the week had its traditional effect, as is only right and proper. Personally I’m always hoping that the aliens will feel more alien.

They’ve set up a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy moment with the ending. Will they really go there? I don’t know. It was interesting to have the TARDIS off-screen for the whole show. It would be an interesting change to make the whole season about the adventures of the Doctor and her new companions as they chase down the TARDIS, which has gone rogue for some reason. Will they do that? I don’t know. But it seems like this season and this Doctor is off to a reasonably good start.

Oh, and I almost forgot — Grace and I both noted that we liked the music in this episode quite a bit.

I need to go to Costco again tonight because last night we discovered that we have no more diapers. Grace had asked Veronica to check, and somehow she just reported that we had plenty, when in fact we had none. Last night we had to dip into the emergency stash we keep in the car for road trips.

This morning someone had again gotten into the bread rolls, leaving two of them sitting out, one with just one bite taken out of it.

The weather’s been strange. Strange seems to be the new normal. Florida is going to be hit by Hurricane Michael. There’s a possibility that Michael will drop a huge amount of rain as it crosses the Carolinas, which have not even fully dried out from Florence. Meanwhile, it’s been in the low eighties here, in the second week of October. That’s not record-breaking for the region, but it feels unusual. The situation in Alaska and Siberia has been record-breaking, though. And there’s a strange situation in Syracuse, New York, where they are breaking records for highest low temperature; Tuesday morning’s low was 70°.

I’m aware of the special IPCC report on Global Warming of 1.5° C. Aware, but I don’t have a lot to say about it; I’ve said a lot about this topic in the past, and I’ve pretty much talked and written myself out on the subject. Although maybe it’s time to take it up again on the podcast.

The “A1.” point in the outline of the “Summary for Policymakers” reads:

A1. Human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0° C of global warming above pre-industrial levels, with a likely range of 0.8° C to 1.2° C. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate. (high confidence)

The only valid questions now are “what are we going to do about this?” We still have options to decarbonize and down-shift and avoid some of the most catastrophic warming, but as Elrond says to Arwen in The Two Towers, “that future is almost gone.”

I heard this morning that our friend Joy was in a bad car accident. Her car was totaled and she was apparently not badly injured, but is in pain with bruised ribs. I know what that feels like and it’s no fun.

Grace has a book club meeting tonight so I’ll be picking up a pot pie at Costco along with the diapers. She says she will be back about 10 p.m.

Wednesday

Things were a bit confused when I got home. I had agreed with Grace that I would pick up a pot pie. But as I looked around Costco and thought about how long it takes to bake a pot pie, I decided instead to bring home packages of pre-cooked ribs and mashed potatoes instead. They also had those great macarons, so I bought a box of those for dessert. I also picked up a couple of bottles of wine. I will buy a bottle or two of wine on each trip for the next few weeks until I’ve got enough.

How much is enough for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s? I don’t know for sure — I’m not really sure how many guests we will have for the meals. I don’t remember how many bottles I bought last year, and apparently I did not put the details in my blog posts. I think I got more than a dozen bottles, and fewer than two dozen. We didn’t finish them all by New Year’s Day, but that just meant we had a few spare bottles to pull out and drink with meals during the winter months, which wasn’t a bad thing. I’ll be picking up a variety — red, white, rosé, dry, sweet, from France, South Africa and other exotic locales — even Michigan.

I was considering bringing home single bottles of wines to taste-test, and then going back to get more of the ones we like. The problem is that as Grace and our housemate are both pregnant. So the only adults available to drink them would be me, and our housemate’s boyfriend, who rarely joins us for meals. So I’d be storing opened half-full or three quarters-full bottles in the refrigerator. We don’t have room for that. It could be fun to invite some friends and have a wine-tasting party to help me pick what to buy for the holidays, but realistically with everything going on, I don’t think we will actually manage to do that. So I’m just going to put my faith in Costco’s wine buyers and take it as a given that all the wines they are selling are good enough to serve at our holiday meals, taste-untasted.

Things were confusing with the trash and recycling. Monday was a Federal holiday, so we thought the trash and recycling wouldn’t be picked up until this morning. That’s why I was baffled when Veronica was rolling the trash bin down to Crane Road yesterday morning instead of evening: that was too late for Tuesday early-morning pickup, but too early for Wednesday early-morning pickup. But it seems like the trash was picked up during the day yesterday.

When I got home, Veronica had put half the pork tenderloins on our stoneware baking pan at her mom’s suggestion. Grace had had the same idea — that it would take too long to heat a pot pie — but she hadn’t coordinated with me. So now we have a shit-ton of ready-to-heat food. We at the salad, one of four packages of mashed potatoes, and the pork medallions. I don’t think the stoneware baking pan was the right thing to use under the broiler. I think I heard it crack. But I didn’t want to contradict Grace’s instructions in front of Veronica.

Our housemate’s girls joined us for dinner but just picked at their food, and since they didn’t finish their (very small) portions of meat or salad, I wouldn’t give them cookies, which made them scream. But their mom told me that they had actually both eaten earlier.

Trying to damp down the screaming, or rather, my response to the screaming, and of trying to organize the meal without Grace around, I had a wee dram of scotch whisky. This actually helped me sleep better than usual, a few hours later, although I did wake up feeling kind of gross.

Our housemate had completely clogged the vacuum cleaner again by sucking up pieces of paper, so after dinner I had to take that apart and clean it out again. I’m always baffled by the way that people think that since a vacuum cleaner can suck up larger things sometimes, that they should use it that way. This includes my own kids.

The oven is crusted with burned-on goo again, and no one will admit to making the mess. I forgot to clean that up, and I forgot to take the stoneware baking pan out of the oven, too, so I hope that no one heats up the oven with that thing still in there. I just have to hope there is not too much of a mess when I get home.

Grace did get home a little bit after ten and she had a good time at her book club, discussing A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. She had eaten, so the portion that I had set aside for her went into the 3-layer stainless steel “tiffin” for me to bring to lunch today.

Grace has forwarded our real estate agent’s rough notes for a lease-to-own agreement to our attorney, who is looking it over. Last night I scanned our latest mortgage statement to send him, too. We’re not sure the numbers are really going to add up. The idea is that our renter would pay us, and we’d continue to pay our mortgage (interest and principal), plus the monthly lump sum that goes into escrow for taxes, and our insurance. But we are eight years into a thirty-year mortgage, and the idea is that after the lease period, the renter would own the house. To make that work, we will need to make additional principal payments each month to accelerate paying off the mortgage. By one online calculator I found, we’d need to pay $375.00 extra each month.

We’ve tried to make clear that we’re willing to pay something out of pocket each month to make this agreement work, and get out of having to pay $965.04 (our current monthly lump sum for mortgage, interest, and escrow) plus energy bills, water bills, etc. Even if this requires that we borrow money to replace two furnaces, which will turn into a monthly payment. But I’m not sure we can make the numbers work out — I’m not sure our renter can afford (or wants to afford) to pay most of what it would actually cost us each month to do this. So I think there’s a good chance it will fall apart and very shortly we’ll be trying to decide on a plan C, after plan A (selling the house) and plan B (leasing the house) have fallen apart.

We had three stories last night: I read The Very Hungry Caterpillar to Benjamin. Joshua read a few more chapters in George’s Marvelous Medicine. And then even though it was late, I really wanted to start reading The Anatomy of Fascism. Most of the kids had gone to bed by this point but Joshua stayed with us and listened. I read the first section of chapter 1, the introduction. It’s slow going, especially since I made an effort to explain to Joshua a lot of the terms, like “dictator,” and “syndaclist,” and provide some background information on what labor unions are.

I said it is slow-going, but it’s also pretty fascinating, and so once we got into it, I could not resist staying up until about 2:00 reading. Paxton is writing about how the early fascists emerged as a reactionary splinter group from leftists. There’s a common right-wing talking point, spouted by people like Dinesh D’souza, about how the Nazis were really leftists and therefore, leftists are Nazis. It’s laughable to a historian, but it gets traction in part because there is some historical truth to it; it seems that the early fascists were leftists, but leftists who decided that nationalism was a higher priority than internationalism. In the process they abandoned what I would call the moral principles of leftist thought — international solidarity, support for the vulnerable, opposition to war, an anti-authoritarian stance — while at the same time promoting some pieces of the leftist agenda, like universal suffrage, an 8-hour work day, confiscatory taxes, etc.

It’s a strange and confusing story, but what is pretty clear is that by the time fascists had gotten into power, what they actually did, as opposed to what they said in their manifestos and propaganda, does not bear much resemblance to the to-do list of the traditional left. And so again while that right-wing attack of leftists as fascist has a grain of historical truth, it doesn’t offer much insight into the fascist agenda; it obscures such insight. Which is precisely why the right uses it so disingenuously.

Anyway, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that I was turned on to this book by Matt Christman of Chapo Trap House. I’ve already thanked him for that episode, “The Monster Fash,” and I will thank him again on Thursday, in person, if I can.

I remembered to bring my lunch!

It looks like Hurricane Michael is going to hit Florida as a category 4 hurricane. At least that’s the latest news I’ve seen.

Thursday

I didn’t wind up writing anything on Thursday at all, so I’m catching up on Friday. Mostly it was just a busy work day and I left early.

Wednesday night we ate some of the ribs we didn’t eat on Tuesday night. When I tried to clean up the stoneware baking pan, I discovered that it had in fact cracked. It was a small crack, but when I washed it up, water must have gotten into it, because it very quickly grew, and then the piece just sort of broke in two. So we really destroyed that thing quickly. Oops. We’ll have to study up on how to use them. Clearly this was not the right way. It might be best to reserve it for cookies. A little quick Googling reveals that we’re not the only people ever to have cracked one of these things.

My father called and left a message, although again as sometimes happens, my phone didn’t actually ring. I called him back. I just brought him up to date about the situation with the house in Saginaw, and how the kids are doing. I told him (and I don’t think I’ve told you yet) that our health insurance is going to cover Sam’s speech therapy. That’s great news. He brought me up to date on what he’s up to, but I’ll leave him and his wife, my stepmother, their privacy. I really have little to no sense of personal privacy at all but I’m trying to remember that not everyone is like me.

Twitter

My Twitter presence has grown a bit, abruptly, and it was kind of startling. There have been some improvements that have made Twitter much more worthwhile for me. First, Twitter on the web has allowed users to get a chronological feed of their follower’s posts again. That feature has screwed up for some time. Wired has an article about it here.

This basically gives me more power to curate my own feed by selecting who I’m following, with fewer tweets stuck in my timeline by algorithms.

And I think this has consequences, because for the first time ever, I’ve had a tweet get some high engagement numbers. Well, high for me, that is. I happened to see a post early enough to make some comments on it, and that post became popular. Therefore, my comments got a lot of “impressions” — that is, views on other people’s timelines. One reply to a post got 17,417 “impressions.” And this led to 116 “engagements” — likes or replies. This was actually quite startling, because I suddenly had a lot of responses: 76 likes, 8 replies, etc. Most of my tweets get no response at all.

In fact, I usually get so little response that I’ve never had a real reason to study my Twitter Analytics before. I didn’t even really know all this information was here. I’ve been on Twitter for a decade. In 2018 there weren’t a lot of features like this.

Oh, and I’ve gotten some new followers out of it.

I don’t know for certain that the feed changes led to this, but it seems plausible.

I still don’t know what I’m doing with Twitter. It is addictive but also constantly makes me feel like I’m wasting my time.

Friday

Last night Grace and I went to see Chapo Trap House do their thing live in Detroit at the Majestic theater.

Just what their live “thing” is, is a bit hard to categorize. It’s sort of like political improv comedy, but as a group. I’m scratching my head a bit. There are some historical precedents. I’m thinking of Will Rogers making jokes about what he had read in that day’s newspapers, and comics like Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks, and also Marc Maron’s run doing “Morning Sedition” on Air America. The group format allows them to riff off each other, and also takes a little of the pressure off the performing situation, for the individuals. It’s still a bit of a high-wire act, though — the whole group can fail to be funny, and be stuck trying to get through a segment or talk about an article that just isn’t working.

And, yeah, that happened, although things picked up in the second half of the show.

I’ll come back to that. First, yesterday I arranged to leave work a little earlier than usual and got on the road about 5:45, having planned to get home about six, so we could leave in time to get a bite to eat and then drive to Detroit.

What actually happened is that I was stuck in traffic for a while: even at 6:00, traffic on I-94 gets bad and slows to a crawl. Grace had a similar problem driving Joshua and Pippin back from their choir practice. So we both got home about ten or fifteen minutes after six. Our sitter was there, but Grace had a hard time getting moving yesterday and she was not ready to leave. So she had to do some washing up and I waited around for another half-hour or so, and we didn’t leave the driveway until almost seven.

We found the Majestic Theater without too much difficulty, although it was a bit confusing because the theater is under construction, the only visible signage refers to the Magic Stick and the attached bowling alley, and the bulk of the building is hidden behind construction barriers. I really don’t know my way around Detroit and didn’t know where to park. Everything was confusing. We found street parking, which appeared to be un-metered, around the block, but we did in fact have to pay at a machine where we punched in our license plate number and fed it a credit card. I’ve never seen a system of signage and parking payment machines quite like this, but it seemed to work all right.

Walking around Woodward is kind of cool — downtown Detroit has streetcars now. Some of the small apartment buildings in the area are quite gorgeous. So this of course got us talking about would have, could have, should have — under what circumstances we might have considered moving to Detroit. The answers were still, basically, “in a different life.” In this life, we were intrigued by the homes in Indian Village, but I was absolutely horrified by the condition of the road infrastructure that would have been part of my daily commute to this job, and at that point we were also deeply in debt, with nothing we could have used to make a down payment on a mortgage, even a modest mortgage. So we didn’t pursue it. And I’m still really glad I don’t have that commute.

The inside of the theater, under construction, is a pretty weird and unfinished place. There was a men’s room attendant, which I have to say I’ve only ever seen in movies. I had no cash, and so unfortunately I did not tip him. (I’m told you’re now supposed to tip a men’s room attendant five dollars for handing you a paper towel to dry your hands — what?)

The doors opened at 8:00 and the tickets did not indicate what time the show would actually start. So we dithered a bit over whether we wanted to leave and go get some food. We had arm-bands and hand-stamps to get back in, but I did not want to lose our seats. We probably needn’t have worried about that. I went out to walk down the block and see what food was available while Grace held our seats. There was a small Chinese place which was crowded, with a line out the door. There was a McDonald’s. I’ve made it the habit of decades never to darken the door of any McDonald’s — it’s such a long-standing habit that I’m not even sure I would have been able to walk through the door. There was a liquor store across the street, but with the construction blocking the sidewalk I would have had to walk some distance to cross at the light. I didn’t want to miss the start of the show. So I decided not to hunt for food any further and went back to the venue.

It turns out there is a restaurant attached to the bowling alley right next door, but I didn’t know that.

The show started with video clips, including the gruesome clip from the original Robocop movie (set in Detroit), in which Emil is drenched in toxic waste and then splattered by a car. There were a couple of other clips during the show; at one point they made it look like QAnon was “hacking” the video feed, with a video clip of computer graphics and a voiceover by James Adomian. That was fun. But most of the show was, basically, “Chapo reads the news,” with the group seated, Will Menaker in the rightmost chair (from the perspective of the audience). The rest of the group on stage were, in right-to-left-order, Virgil Texas, Felix Biederman, Amber A’Lee Frost, and Matt Christman.

In the first half, they meandered a bit, rambling about Detroit, talking about the gruesome news story about Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and legal resident of the United States, allegedly dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, his remains spirited out of the building in diplomatic pouches. That does not seem to have been proven with any evidence yet, but it’s a pretty horrible allegation; in any case, he has not been found, alive or dead, whole or in pieces.

They read a long article about James Kirchik and his failed bid to get onto the Yale Corporation Alumni Fellow ballot. This segment didn’t really work for me; I don’t know who he is and I really don’t care a lot about these folks. There’s some humor to be had from mocking someone like this, but not that much. And it went on and on. At one point some hecklers in the crowd started yelling at the stage. I think they might have been asking the Chapo gang to do the “Yale Alumni” roll call they did in a live show in Hamden, CT, and included in episode 246. But I am not positive about that. I think Felix heard “Yale alumni” and thought that maybe the people doing the yelling were Yale alumni. There was more yelling, the show ground to a halt, and Felix then stood up and sort of… well, to be blunt, he started screaming obscenities at the hecklers.

For a moment it looked possible that the show might come to a premature end then and there. The dark side of my personality found that part was pretty fun, actually — I always like getting to a moment in a live show when it sort of “hangs by a thread” and I’m not sure what is going to happen next. But of course I’m glad that there was not actually a fight; that’s never as much fun in real life as is in movies and TV shows. I think theater security may have escorted the hecklers in question out, but I’m not entirely sure. Anyway, shortly after that Will ended the first half of the show and they ran a pretty funny fake ad for “Chapo Brain Worm Pills.”

In the second half the group got a little more traction with the audience. They talked about an article by Thomas Friedman, a reliable source of laughs for the left, who has been spouting off about how America is actually in the midst of a civil war. So it was fun to hear the gang eviscerate that blowhard for a while.

Overall, it wasn’t a great show, but it had a certain rawness and realness to it that I appreciated.

When the show ended the Chapo folks took a brief break and then came out for a book signing. There was a long line, and Grace and I had to decide what to do next. I actually already own two copies of the book — an “advanced uncorrected proofs — not for sale” copy and a regular hardcover edition. I had planned to bring one of them to the show, but wound up leaving both of them at home. Really, I guess I just didn’t care all that much about getting the book signed. I would have liked to say hello to Matt and thank him for his “Inebriated Past” shows, but I didn’t want to wait an hour to do that.

So instead Grace and I went looking for food, and found people walking back towards the theater with pizza slices in little triangular cardboard boxes, and so discovered that the bowling alley next door has a pizza parlor attached. We ordered a Greek salad for Grace, with chicken, and an order of cheese fries for me. While the waitress tapped out our order on an iPad or something like it, Grace confirmed with her twice that she had ordered chicken on her salad. Then after I ordered my fries, I asked her a third time. Yes, she said. There would be chicken!

The food took a long time to arrive. I think it was over thirty minutes. And when it showed up, Grace’s salad was pretty awful — she had me taste the beets. It was warm and wilted and looked not only unappetizing, but like a food poisoning risk. Oh, and there was no chicken. I repeat, there was no chicken. We made sure there was no chicken.

Knowing that we are typically more likely to get food poisoning from vegetables or a salad in a situation like this — especially lettuce — than from fries or a burger, Grace tasted my fries — they were average but had nothing really wrong with them — and asked the waitress to bring her a plain order of fries instead. Her fries arrived very quickly. I think the waitress was a bit mortified. She still got a tip. She should have double-checked that the order was correct. I think we can hold her responsible for that, but the quality of the food and the speed of prep wasn’t her fault, so we couldn’t really hold that against her. I suppose we shouldn’t have expected much from bowling alley food — but Grace and I fondly remember CUBS’ A. C., a restaurant attached to a bowling alley which had pretty good food, including terrific French onion soup. So I guess we have been spoiled.

Grace drove us home (it’s a bit confusing, and easy to get on the wrong freeway). We got in about 1:00. We paid the sitter. We were not ready to go right to bed. Several kids were awake, and we wanted to digest our food a bit. So we actually got the lights off about 2:15.

It’s actually pretty impractical and expensive for Grace and I to have dates like this, and this is why we don’t do it very often. But it’s always nice to spend time with her. Even seeing a weird and uneven live show involving a long drive and a terrible meal out.

Leasing the House

We’ve had our attorney draft a lease agreement for us to send on to our realtor in Saginaw, who is hoping to rent our house. This is complicated, and we’ll still be on the hook for some big expenses, but — it might be the least bad option. So we’ll see what she thinks of the agreement. If we can’t make this arrangement work, it’s not clear what our “plan C” should be. We have one or two more things to think over, and if none of them are workable at all, it’s probably time to let the bank deal with it.

This evening we’ll get our usual dinner and maybe watch a movie in the basement, if chores are done on time.

Saturday

We got to bed very late on Friday night. I went to Costco after work and got a pretty standard load of groceries including the salmon we usually get for Friday dinner. Everything took forever once I got home, though. The kids were scattered and Grace was feeling too tired to come out and do much. But we finally got dinner together. Our housemate steamed asparagus, and Veronica made a pot of rice and baked the salmon. Since it was taking so long, it occurred to me that I would have enough time to chill a bottle of white wine, so I put one of the bottles I’m considering serving at Thanksgiving into the freezer for a while.

It’s a white wine from South Africa, a Badenhorst Secateurs Chenin Blanc 2017. The bottle has a distinctive label with a hand-printed look. Previous years have gotten high scores from wine magazines, but I didn’t think it was all that special. It’s certainly not a bad wine, but the Chenin Blanc we had during the summer was much better (and unfortunately I’m not sure I wrote down exactly what that was, although I must have taken a picture of the bottle, so I’ll see if I can find it). Anyway, this one was quite a dry white, pale, with flavors that lean towards the mineral side. Its terroir is Swartland which is a dry region, with a lot of shale and granite, where the vineyards are on hillsides. That probably contributes to the minerality, although I would have expected grapes grown in a dry region to yield more concentrated flavors. I can’t really recommend this one, but since it was only a ten-dollar wine it wasn’t a bad value for the money. I think there are much better bottles of Chenin Blanc out there, and probably even better bottles from the region.

We were just too scatter-brained and slow getting cleaned up last night to have a proper bedtime story. Grace and I stayed up way too late on social media.

On Twitter I wound up in a conversation with a guy who claims that he was the heckler at the Chapo Trap House show. The facts are confusing; the Chapo gang released an episode in which they mentioned the incident at the end. They said that security told them that the guy who started shouting was a Yale alumni. The guy who posted on Twitter said he was not a Yale alumni, he was just sick of the Yale alumni story because it wasn’t working. None of us could really hear what he was saying very clearly. I agree with him that it wasn’t going over well. I mentioned that Grace was quite angry that some of them were smoking in the venue; that’s not even legal in Michigan.

I’m still mulling over what I think of the show. It probably was one of the weaker shows on their tour. From the excerpts of other shows they’ve put in the podcast, it seems like some have gone much better. But I’m wondering what the gang thinks about the tour now; was it a good idea? Would they do it again? I think it’s legitimate to ask whether their success with the podcast may have misled them into believing that they could really pull off live shows in front of good-sized live audiences, successfully convincing the audience members that it was worth the drive and twenty-five bucks to hear them do material that had a good chance at being hit-or-miss. Different members of the group seem to have very different levels of comfort and experience with live audiences, and that shows. I think for the most part they are all making a good-faith effort, but that’s no guarantee of success.

We didn’t get up very early. I managed to read a few more chapters of The Ice Schooner by Michael Moorcock. I’m about a third of the way through the book, and so far I’m enjoying it quite a bit. But Moorcock has disappointed me a couple of times with novels that don’t really come together and finish well. So I’m not going to hazard a guess as to what I’ll think of the novel by the time I get to the end.

I made pancakes using the Kodiak Cakes mix from Costco. I tried putting the blueberries in after the pancakes had set on one side. This seemed to work better, although I probably put too many bluerries in each pancake. I like it when they burst from the heat, but I’d wind up flipping them and the pancakes would be finished, but the blueberries hadn’t burst yet. So my blueberry pancake technique still needs a little work. The Kodiak Cakes mix is mostly wheat flour, unlike the Birch Benders mix. The Birch Benders mix tastes good if you burn it a little bit. This mix doesn’t; it gets bitter.

While I was working on pancakes, Grace went down to Milan to pick up bread from Mother Loaf. We were running pretty late, so she just made it. Grace isn’t eating dairy, but she brought me the last bialy. This week’s bialy was stuffed with ricotta, shallots, and capers. It was delicious, although it would have been better right out of the oven. We got pan au levain (that’s just the basic, classic sourdough). They also had a special 100% rye, sold by the pound rather than the loaf, so we got some of that to try.

When we got breakfast cleaned up we drove out to our friends’ farm. Grace wanted to pick up some eggplant, because we had a plan for our friend Susan to come over this evening and make a sort of “eggplant enchilada” thing — rolled-up slices of eggplant stuffed with ricotta cheese and prosciutto, and baked with sauce.

We got there quite late and so we didn’t have much time to spend, but we’re still very glad we went. The kids immediately went feral for a while and played with our friends’ kids. Grace and I had cups of strong black coffee with our friend Bonnie and finally started to feel like we had woken up. Grace went out with Bonnie to pick eggplant, then I went out to explore their garden beds. They are growing amazing peppers — purple sweet peppers, jalapeño, cayenne, and more. They have a huge bed of nasturtium, some gorgeous rainbow chard, and a big crop of brussels sprouts on the way. This has been a poor growing year and things are behind, but if it goes well they will soon have, as Michael put it, “a shitload of brussels sprouts.” So we have that to look forward to. On the drive out, I tried playing the soundtrack to Arrival. That’s hard to listen to in the car; it gets too quiet to hear well. So I switched to U2’s album Achtung Baby.

I’ve been missing this disc for a while, although I had the case. It turns out that in 2018 I still had not ever heard this complete album, although I had heard a couple of singles from the album. It’s one of their better albums. You can hear Eno’s influence, but it is toned down from his work on The Unforgettable Fire, an album which I think has a few great songs but a lot of dull, over-produced, overly atmospheric sections. Achtung Baby is more an album of real songs — songs with a lot of texture in places, filtered vocals and a lot of effects on percussion and guitar, but songs nonetheless. I was joking that the song “Zoo Station” sounded like The Edge was playing inside an oil drum and Bono was singing through a box fan. I also commented that even in 1991 a lot of bands were still essentially reproducing sounds originated by the Beatles; the vocal on “Zoo Station” reminds me of John Lennon’s vocal on “Tomorrow Never knows,” played through a Leslie speaker. This album also has the song “Until the End of the World,” a song I first heard in the movie of the same name. That’s long been a movie that I was fascinated by — it’s an interesting failure of a film. But that’s a topic for another day.

It was a game day today, but we managed to avoid game traffic for the most part. There were planes buzzing around the stadium dragging banner ads — it’s been so long since we’ve seen them that Grace didn’t remember what they were. These are a crazy dangerous way to do advertising.

We saw what we think was the visiting team’s busses, going the other way on I-94, bracketed by a police escort. According to the schedule I just looked up online, the visiting team was the Wisconsin Badgers, although I didn’t even know there was a football team called the Wisconsin Badgers, so please fact-check me if you care to.

I was going to change the light bulb in the bathroom, and I thought that I must have some spare LED bulbs somewhere. But when I tried to find one, I realized that all my spares seem to be the BR30 shape, which is what all our kitchen and basement fixtures use. So I’ll have to go find spares, and now I’ve got a toxic CFL bulb to dispose of. There’s another CFL out in our bedroom. Those things just never lasted as promised; they were a huge con.

It’s after 7 p.m. and getting dark out; our friend canceled, because she became ill and didn’t want to risk giving our children a virus. That’s disappointing but we’re still making eggplant lasagna. I’m going to wind this up and post it. We’ll probably have time to watch something in the basement tonight — maybe another episode or two of Star Trek: The Next Generation, or Bablylon 5. The kids probably want to re-watch the first episode of the new season of Doctor Who. I don’t really feel like I need to watch it again, but I won’t fight them over it. We’ll probably watch the next episode Monday night.

Books, Music, Movies, and TV Mentioned This Week

  • “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” (TV show, Doctor Who series 11)
  • “Giants” by Peter Watts (short story)
  • “Hotshot” by Peter Watts (short story)
  • The Unknown Kerouac: Rare, Unpublished, and Newly Translated Writings by Jack Kerouac (editd by Todd Tiechen) (Library of America)
  • The Anatomy of Fascism by Robert Paxton
  • Moderan by David R. Bunch (New York Review Books Classics 2018 edition)
  • George’s Marvelous Medicine by Roald Dahl (bedtime listening; Joshua’s been reading it out loud)
  • The Wrecks of Time by Michael Moorcock (in the omnibus volume Traveling to Utopia, Gollancz 2014) (finished)
  • The Ice Schooner by Michael Moorcock (in the omnibus volume Traveling to Utopia, Gollancz 2014) (in progress)
  • The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter (in progress)
  • The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien (bedtime reading in progress)
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (in progress)

Ypsilanti, Michigan
The Week Ending Saturday, October 13th, 2018