Friday, December 08, 2017

Last Night I Had A Terrible Dream

No wait, it was real, but still a nightmare

For the first time in weeks I was able to get out of work in time to catch the 6:04 pm from Atlantic Terminal, albeit by racing to a subway, punching, kicking and biting my way onto a train, stampeding down the stairs at risk of life and limb, punching, kicking and biting my way onto an elevator, then doing the same to get off the elevator, vaulting the people-jam at the turnstiles out of the subway and into Atlantic Terminal, running to platform one and jumping on the waiting train. So far nothing out of the ordinary.

The train was one of those blessed with whatever condition causes them to surge from side-to-side presenting a considerable concussion risk to tired commuters in window seats, and before we’d reached Jamaica1 my shoulder was bruised from being smashed against the wall and I was nauseous from the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea re-enactment.

I should mention that we have been enjoying unseasonably warm temperatures (again2) but that this day the temperature had plummeted to suitably wintry levels of killing cold3.

So imagine everyone’s dismay to be told at Farmingdale that the train was being taken out of service because someone had been struck by a train in - wait for it - Brentwood, three stops east of us.

With a resigned sigh I pressed the button on my wireless earbuds to stop the music I was listening to4 and disconnect the bluetooth connection to my phone so I could properly concentrate on the fiasco in progress, pulled the earbuds from my ears and hung them around my neck.

We asked why they couldn’t carry us as far as Deer Park, but the conductor just shrugged and said everyone had to get off the train, which was being sent back west to Bethpage, Hicksville etc.

And imagine the mass consternation when, having lightened the train by removing the only reason for having it in the first place, the bleeping thing raced off east towards Wyandanch, Deer Park etc. I’ve never before heard so many people in unison scream “What the Fbleep!”

At that moment, my phone rang. I answered it but there was no sound. A quick check of the screen was all it took to confirm that Mrs Stevie was calling to yell at me. Saved! I would be saved if I could overcome this idiotic new problem with the phone.

“Hello! Hello!” I screamed into the slab of uncooperative glass. “Are you receiving me, damn and blast it?” I howled, but got no response.

I hung up and called her back. No sooner was the phone answered than the sound went dead again.

“Can you hear me?” I yelled. “Why don’t you answer you incredibly annoying woman! I’ll bet you activated call forwarding again. I wonder where I’m calling this time? Lithuania? Your stone deaf mother? Answer this bloody phone at once or by thunder I won’t be responsible for my actions!”

I was really warming up to the subject of Mrs Stevie’s lack of acumen with respect to smartphone technology when I became aware of an outraged squeaking coming from just below my chin. I suddenly thought of a possible reason I couldn’t hear diddly through my phone, and deciding speed was of the essence killed the bluetooth transmitter in the phone.

“…get my hands on your scrawny neck!” blared from the phone. Mrs Stevie was obviously dealing with some difficult person at work and was unaware her phone was live.

“Never mind that” I said, “come and rescue me from death by freezing. The Bloody Long Island Railroad has collapsed into its own incompetence again. They are turning a squished person into a major production.”

“Oh I’ll come and get you all right” snarled my beloved, obviously put out of sorts by whatever had provoked the threat I had overheard, but the good news was I was no longer at the mercy of the Bloody Long Island Railroad and would not end up another frozen corpse for them to deal with.

And so I pushed and shoved my way off the crowded platform, exchanging epithets and the occasional kicks with my fellow victims of the Bloody Long Island Railroad, and sat on the freezing cold cast iron bench in front of the station to await Mrs Stevie’s rescue.

Periodically some idiot would come on the PA system and tell us that we should take the Montauk branch instead of the Ronkonkoma branch, on account of the Montauk branch trains actually moving people,but this advice was about as much use as a ham sandwich at a Jewish wedding as the Montauk branch is an extension of the Babylon branch which lies several miles from Farmingdale and Farmingdale is singularly unequipped with connecting busses. The cab situation can be summed up as a waste of time too.

None of this mattered because the Montauk branch stays that far from all destinations on the Ronkonkoma branch. Anyone following the absurd directions would be faced with a monumental problem wherever they got off the bloody Montauk train, miles from where their car would be parked.

I admit to being a little apprehensive about Mrs Stevie’s possible overreaction to our little phone misunderstanding, but luckily by the time she fought her way through the traffic caused by the brilliant Bloody Long Island Railroad situation and the rescuers, cabs and uber drivers arriving en masse on a road system designed to handle one horse-drawn cart per hour, Mrs Stevie’s rage was focussed on strangers and the drive back to my car was almost uneventful.

Deciding irony was called for, I bunged From The Earth To The Moon in the DVD player and watched the episode titled Spider, about how a Bethpage-based NY company, whose engineers worked with slide rules and log tables, designed and built a machine in which six men went to the Moon’s surface and came back alive and well. And in this age of a powerful computer in everyone’s pocket, we can’t even get the trains to take us anywhere with reliability.

It’s not the accident I blame them for. It’s the monumental idiocy of throwing off passengers two stops before they had to into killing cold weather. Had they done this at Deer Park everyone would have ben nearer home, which means lower cab fares, and a vast number of people would have been where they intended to be, meaning a reduction in enraged customers. It seems simple cost benefit analysis is beyond the MBAs now “running” the trains.

Today I missed my train, and discovered that my “safety train” isn’t any more, on account of it leaving five minutes later, thus arriving in Jamaica5 after the connecting train to Brooklyn has left, meaning I had a twenty minute timesuck to while away until the next train to Brooklyn arrived6.

Except.

With two minutes to go, the PA drone announced that the train was “being held7”, so I jumped in the next train to Manhattan. I could then take the subway “A” train to Brooklyn and only be an added forty five minutes late to work.

Except.

Having punched, kicked and bitten my way through ominously thick crowds of bewildered commuters the entire length of the "A" train platform, a message came over the PA system concerning the “A” train to Brooklyn. I heard very little of it because the uptown “E” decided to leave the station at the same time, generating the NYC Standard 2000 decibel racket as it did so8. Fortunately, the message was repeated so I was made aware that all Brooklyn bound express trains (an ironic synonym for the “A” trains) were being held because of a disabled train at 125th street - the entire length of Manhattan away.

Cursing a light railway infrastructure that does not permit working trains to go around broken ones, I sprinted down some stairs, through a tunnel and up some more stairs so I could catch the whistle-stop “C” local train, and add another 30 minutes to my never-ending commute.

I got to work at 11:45, an hour and a half late, where life proceeded to suck mightily in every direction I looked9 and nothing worked no matter how hard I tried.

At 7 pm I threw up my hands, slammed the lids of all uncooperative computers and made for the subway, where a “C” train vied with Christmas to see who would arrive in Manhattan first. An 8:15 train from Penn got me to Wyandanch at 9:20 pm.

And so to bed.

  1. Not the good one
  2. Nope, no climate change, nossir
  3. Stevie’s Scale of Temperatures You Care To Notice: Hot Enough To Kill, Too Hot For This Coat, OK, Too Cold For This Jacket, Cold Enough To Kill
  4. Glass Hammer, Perilous
  5. Still not the good one
  6. I normally just sit it out in the Manhattan-bound train, but the subway ride has to work just right or I arrive later than I would had I waited 20 minutes for the Bloody Long Island Railroad train
  7. No idea where, why or for how long of course
  8. While on a visit to Montreal I once almost missed a train that arrived while I was looking the other way because although I was not three feet from the tracks the train was almost silent in operation. American engineers haven’t twigged that you can have your train and hearing too
  9. Mathematicians claim that there are ten directions, but six of them are rolled up so we never see them and one is called time by everyone not a stupid mathematician. I have no doubt that those six directions only mathematicians can see were this day tightly rolled packages of suck

Friday, November 03, 2017

More Annoyance, With Weather

Last week I had a day of such unremitting suckage I simply could not put fingers to keys to report it, but having re-lived the Project SinkingShip Meeting Outrage for my eager reader1 I have girded my loins and hitched my skirts and like that and will tell all in the interests of catharsis.

It started well enough with a trip to the Wyandanch Car Park under a cloudy sky, but when I had walked the hundred yards to the station there was an announcement that "due to *garbled* all trains into and out of Ronkonkoma were canceled until further notice."

My fellow would-be commuters either stared unwittingly into their phones with their earbuds in, oblivious to the cock-up in progress, or were staggering around, clutching their heads and moaning desolately. I looked around to see if any of either group were known to me or were trustworthy-looking enough to risk sharing a ride with, then walked the hundred yards back to the car park and drove the fabulous Steviemobile to a pay-as-you-go car park in Babylon, a mere three hundred yards from the station.

This is my emergency commute solution of choice as at a quarter for an hour the rate is not usurious and I can usually find a space there, unlike the situation pertaining to the next-to-the-station car park, which is always full by the time I get there.

I finally got to work, but the train was of course a local, which on the Babylon line means about 154 stops at stations I've never heard of, so I was at the very end of my "not late for work" window, which meant I'd have to work late that night and commute out of Penn Station.

Work was tedious and very tedious by turns, and when I finally walked out of the office it was looking like rain. I was mildly concerned because I didn't have a raincoat or umbrella with me, just my Wrangler jacket. I remembered not to get the Ronkonkoma train just in the nick of time and boarded an even-more local train back to Babylon (stopping everywhere there was even a hint of a station) and rode back reading a book on my 'phone.

For yes, I have a smart phone now, a rather neat Samsung J3, which I have fitted with the Kindle app and can hence access my library without either my Kindle or my iPad to hand and – you could have knocked me down with a feather – the readability of books on the phone is very good indeed.

My usual Kindle Consumer device is the iPad, but I find it and the keyboard I need to make it even remotely useful as a content creation device makes it rather heavy and awkward to carry around, and to be honest it has never been able to become a replacement for my laptop when it comes to getting life stuff done. If the software can compete with the PC-available stuff I have, the keyboard becomes problematical 2 and I hate that I have to have a cloud-based transfer in order to move anything out to my PC via the web.

So it was that I was paying no attention to the weather's doings as we rattled from Little Point to Wayster Space, on, ever on toward Babylon.

I alighted onto the unlighted platform at Babylon into a deluge like unto that Noah prepared for. I ran first in the opposite direction to the car park in order to find shelter from the rain and a toilet for the Sudden Onset Urgent Need To Wee I suffered due to all the splashing and waterfall noises, then I walked back under the station3 and waited under a bridge for the rain to slacken or (forlorn hope) stop altogether.

After about ten minutes the rain dropped to a light drizzle and I ran across the road, dodging the puddles and fast-flowing streams in search of a working drain, and began the three hundred yard walk past the softball field and fire house to the car park.

At approximately the halfway point, the heavens opened with a vengeance, thunder began crashing and lightning started poking the signals off to the west, around Lindenhurst. I picked up my pace but was resigned to a damn good soaking before I reached the Steviemobile.

The weather spirits, noting my resolute step and resigned attitude, increased the volume and velocity of the rain, to the point that I now was having trouble seeing due to the water sluicing off my glasses. My jeans were beginning to soak through, but my jacket was doing a fine job of stopping the wet getting to the new phone4.

I finally came to the Steviemobile, and I dropped off my wringing-wet backpack at the trunk, slammed the lid and sprinted for the driver's side door.

I've already mentioned the vision issue, right? Because it, along with the total lack of illumination other than the aforementioned lightning was the proximate cause of my not seeing that the car was sitting in a shallow lake of rainwater that had given up looking for a working drain and decided to just hang around until the storm stopped. I say "shallow", but it was actually one-and-a-half sneakers deep, allowing my feet to get into the spirit of things.

By the time I actually got into the car and shut the door on the rain I could not have been wetter had I jumped in the river flowing a few feet beyond the trees in front of the Steviemobile. The sleeves of my jacket had given up the fight and soaked through, though the torso-covering bit was remarkably dry, considering.

I started the engine, the heater and the a/c in that order. Once the air was warm I alternated using the defroster and the passenger-de-damper vents as I drove homewards. The rain got even worse, and Deer Park Avenue was now a series of shallow rapids because even the working drains were full, the pipes leading out to sea not having been cleaned out since the Roanoke colonists set foot in Virginia. It was a surreal experience, which I was not free to enjoy fully as no sooner had I cleared the windshield of fog I started to leak all over the car as various layers of soaked clothing drained. Also: wet feet. Possibly the worst misery of all.

Naturally the rain let up as I turned into my street, and naturally the heavens opened up again with renewed ferocity as soon as I stepped onto my driveway. But things were about to get much worse.

I squelched into he house and Mrs Stevie said "Oh, is it raining?"

"Yes" I said. "I'm going to throw my jeans and jacket in the dryer."

"I'd better empty it then" she riposted and went down into the basement.

I stamped off to undress and sling my clothes in the dryer as planned.

By the time I got down to the laundry room Mrs Stevie was standing before the dryer with "The Look" on her face. And two socks. And some underwear.

I was puzzled by her facial accouterments but in no mood for silliness. I opened the dryer and found it still full of clothes.

"Why haven't you unloaded this yet?" I demanded kneeling down to get a better look.

"You're so eager, you do it" she wittily replied. "You need to do something about the static clong."

"You mean static cling" I snarled sticking my head into the drum to see what was what.

There was a blinding flash, a loud CRACK! as the pile of static-charged clothing discharged a billion volts to my wet nose, my muscles all contracted violently, including the all-important ones in my back and neck, and my head jerked up and met the top of the drum with a loud and resonant CLONG!"

"I know what I mean" said Mrs Stevie, smugly as she left for the comfort of the living room.

  1. Still have one according to Google Stats
  2. a Bluetooth compact keyboard, it has "moods" during which it generates artifacts like double and triple keystrikes and is more trouble than it is worth. When it is in such a mood my own mood can dip south of homicidal very quickly too.
  3. I should explain that the South Shore line from Babylon to Jamaica (not the good one) is raised on concrete piers to a height of perhaps 30 feet. This was done because at one time all the people who mattered - City gents and the board of the LIRR - lived on the South Shore and they got fed up with flooding and people walking on the tracks and all the other stuff that happens to the other branches so they spent a bleeping fortune to lift the trackbed above ground level. Sadly, the branch sufferes from catastrophic signal failures every time there's a thunderstorm because lightning hits the signal masts a lot, but you can't make an omelette without having all the breakers blow out
  4. and voiding out the warranty

Life Keeps Being Annoying

Life suckage has achieved some sort of temporary saturation hereabouts it seems, which is a good thing.

Clueless people still fill the atmosphere of course. Right now II have one sitting across from me on the train. I'm in a four-seater, which means a two-facing-two configuration. My bag is ignorantly taking up the seat next to me which is a social faux pas but I will of course move it if asked. New Yorkers get offended by this behavior (while exhibiting it themselves) because they have the strange belief that they have a constitutional right not to have to speak to people and ask them to do what they want. Same New Yorkers think nothing of sticking their feet up on the seats of course.

But the clueless person in front of me chose to sit exactly opposite me instead of kitty-corner, then stuck her feet diagonally out. At the moment she's combing nits out of her hair with her fingers and flicking them my way. What an asset1. She also has a cough, but since I'm developing a sneeze myself we sort of balance each other out, clue-wise there.

I'm getting a new boss. The old one is now showering me with all the information I asked for each time he made a request for automation (but never got despite repeated asking). Case in point: a baseline restore of a training database. Asked for three years ago ("I do it manually now") and got my immediate response "What scripts do you use and when do you run them?", and then got it two more times that week. Cricket noise until last Wednesday. That Friday, after sending five of the six scripts2 he was amazed by the ease and ellegance of my solution. I can only guess that he was pulling down overtime for doing this stuff by hand after hours.

And yesterday I was pulled into an emergency meeting with my Boss's Boss. "The new C-level guy is telling us that his favorite product can do all the stuff we want from Project SinkingShip with none of the issues we see. He wants to meet. Here's an email he sent with a bunch of his answers to our questions based on what we hate about SinkingShip. I hate it all. Don't agree to anything. He garbles everything he says by misusing our technical terms and jargon. Say little and agree to nothing. NOTHING!"

I took a look at the questions and answers and made a number of observations about how our current solution works. I was argued with. I then went on to talk about what I could extrapolate about how the new thing would be working, which was a method we had rejected for SinkingShip. I was argued with. It should be noted that the person in the room with the most contact with SinkingShip was yours truly, yet I was told off for not understanding how we do the job and made to sit in the uncooperative corner.

Once the meeting with new C-level guy was in progress all my extrapolations on New Product were borne out. The slide he shows us on his hi-tech whiteboard to help explain to my bosses3 even matches the doodle I made for my own reference (none of my "superiors" would so much as look at it during the Shouty Disagreement phase of our own meeting).

Then my bosses start offering the new C-level guy congratulatory comments and announcing a new era of love for the new project. I am told that my lack of participation will be brought up in my yearly review, and I'm castigated for lack of team spirit and enthusiasm for new technology.

Ten minutes after the meeting they are all in denial about what they said to the new C-level guy. I've no doubt they will remember it a week from now as more "inaccurate use of jargon" on his part. As for me, I just want the project to be robust and not be a nightmare to fix when (not if) it all breaks down.

Oh well, at least my train is running late.

  1. Female gender assh*le
  2. the sixth was – and I quote - “an initiative test to see if you can find stuff for yourself”
  3. who react to any suggestion that we use a whiteboard to resolve the to-me obvious differences in internal visualizations of whatever subject is at hand with hand-waving and cries of "we don't need that"

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Hurricanes Cause Change In Plans

So we had planned this vacation in Florida for the summer.

We were supposed to be going at the end of July, at least, that's when our timeshare week is normally scheduled1. However, on the day we were due to be setting out, Hurricane Zelda was just stroking Key West lovingly, and so on the night before I announced that while I was absolutely willing to continue with Operation Hell's Teeth I would only be doing so with two five gallon cans of gas and the chainsaw in the vehicle. I would also have opted for an inflatable dinghy on the roof but we don't have one2 (a rubber boat; we have a roof). We had already laid in a couple of cases of water and over a hundred protein bars "just in case".

Mrs Stevie, who was also undergoing some moments of doubt to judge by her Dark Looks™ and mutterings, took a moment to consider what it would be like to share a Honda Odyssey with such fragrant luggage and proposed abandoning the vacation plans, returning to work the next week and trying for a date later in the year.

I countered by saying that while she was free to do as she pleased, I was fried and six weeks overdue for some quality time away from work and already hanging on by a thread and by damn I was going to have my much-anticipated vacation because if I went back to work without it I would likely kill everyone with my bare hands before the day was out.

The conversation went back and forth in the usual manner until all the loose ornaments of suitable mass were either out of reach or hopelessly smashed, and I proposed that we consider altering our plans as to destination, opting on the spur of the moment for a trip to the Poconos3. In a trice4 she had called the people's timeshare soviet and arranged a transfer of lodgings, handed our mid-way stopover hotel room back to a rather flustered young woman who was apparently giving that same room to a Floridian evacuee as she negotiated the cancellation with Mrs Stevie, and we were good to go.

On Sunday.

So I took Friday and Saturday to do all the stuff that needed doing before we left rather than leaping around at two in the morning trying to do that - time had gotten away from me this month - and we set out for a leisurely two and a half hour drive5 without gas cans, chainsaws, amphibious landing craft and so on.

And had a quite nice time.

The place was a golfing resort, like our usual place is, but had me in stitches. Every green was surrounded by steep downward-pointing hills leading to even steeper roads running downhill. In Florida, you miss the ball and if it stays out of the lake you are basically looking at a short stroll over to it. In this place you missed a putt you could end up needing a car to go find the ball. It was like mini-golf designed by a seriously deranged person.

We nipped out the first day for a two-hour ride back towards NYC so we could visit Philadelphia. Mrs Stevie was sad about not going to see the Stevieling so in an effort to try and make everything a bit better I had suggested we go to a certain Artist where she had bough the hand-made glass earrings - the ones she was wearing on our last trip on the River Valley Rail Road when one of them fell out of her ear and was lost forever.

We found the place, which wasn't as I had understood an artists' market but a sort of artwork-in-progress called The Magic Gardens, located on South St. The work of Isaiah Zagar, it is an enormous mosaic of found items and tile arranged into a stupendous grotto. South St is littered with building that bear Zagar mosaic work, but this one has walls that soar three or four stories high. A bizarre work to be sure, but kind of cool. We couldn't match the earrings but found another pair.

Naturally this couldn't work out well, and Mrs Stevie had us walk ten blocks of South St before she would countenance a stop for what was now a very late lunch, by which time I was so dehydrated my legs had started cramping and my temper went even further South than the titular thoroughfare. The only upside of doing the Pennsylvania thing was that I wouldn't get "Theme Park Legs" and here that daft woman had engineered that eventuality on the first bleeping day. It would take almost the entire week before I could stand for any length of time without pain after that.

After about four days we decided to try and find the Frazetta museum, where many of Frank Frazetta's artworks depicting mighty-thewed barbarians infested with clinging, scantily-clad vixens are preserved6. Turned out it was hiding behind a screen of trees we had driven past literally twice a day. Never knew it was back there. It had an address, but since the road was really just Frank's driveway to his house, newly renamed so the emergency services could find it, it didn't show on the old GPS.

We spent quite a while in a state of artistic appreciation until Mrs Stevie was asked to remove me on a spurious trumped-up charge of “grunting in a lascivious manner in front of the exhibits”. Mrs Stevie also felt my occasional cries of “You don't get many of those to the pound!” were a contributing factor. We debated the point in our usual way, and after my nose had stopped bleeding we moved on.

Speaking of the GPS, it forwent it's usual practice of steering us through New York City, perhaps because we took the George Washington Bridge and so technically were in Manhattan for a very short time, satisfying the demented device's need for a visit. I was suspicious and on tenterhooks every time we went out with the damn thing switched on in case it decided we should visit scenic downtown Scranton, but it never tried to steer us into undesired metropolitan settings once.

Instead, it decided to capitalize on the number of roads best described as "single track unlit abandoned-then-paved roller-coaster trackbed of certain death" by eschewing three lane highways whenever one such death trap offered so much as a three yard as-the-crow-flies distance saving and steering us unerringly into an hours-long nail-biting trip up hill and down even steeper hill especially after dark. I imagine it was bored of all the urban route planning we usually asked it to do and was feeling its inner Shackleton juices flowing.

It did suffer a number of weird problems in one specific stretch of road, a giant Y junction cut through a mountain. Every time we navigated through that junction the vehicle position cursor would suddenly jump into a blank area of screen and wander around for a bit and the distance-to-destination calculation would suddenly add three miles. It was like the Bermuda Triangle, except that it was Y-shaped and in Pennsylvania and on dry land and was actually proven to be a repeatable thing not requiring a drunken captain, dodgy maintenance record and busted navigation instruments to happen. So not much like the Bermuda Triangle now I come to think on it.

Speaking of Y-shaped roads, this area seemed to have more than its share of roads that diverged in a Y, with both legs of the Y retaining the same road name or route number! Yes, you read that right dear reader. If you look at a map7 of the area around East Stroudsburg, Pa you'll see a number of places where three joined roads have the same designation. I commend state route 209 to the reader's attention as of particular note, it having two roads of that designation run side-by-side. I imagine that some time in the past the Pennsylvania State Commission on Sensible Road Names had a massive falling-out with the US Post Office and decided to screw with the mailman.

On the Thursday we went for a long drive east to find the Strasburg Railway and the Pennsylvania Railway Museum (conveniently located about 100 feet apart), which was absolutely great notwithstanding my leg problems. The train ride was about four and a half miles long, about the same as that on the River Valley Rail Road, but without a river to look at. The museum was ace. A huge selection of locomotives and rolling stock to look at, all preserved in a giant shed the size of a soccer field or so. There's more stuff outside too, but it was late and raining so we forwent that and went for dinner at a Dutch Smorgasbord.

If you are ever in the Lancaster area of Pennsylvania you have to try one of these places. The Amish part of the state is littered with them under various names. Some are run by Amish communities, some by Mennonite families, but all have in common that they put on a buffet like you never saw before, both in terms of size and range of available things to eat.

These are typically all-you-can-eat affairs, and so draw the occasional Homer Simpson type of chap determined to get his money's worth and damn the consequences, but the food is out of this world. The vegetables and meat dishes are sourced from the seemingly endless farmlands that surround every town and village and each restaurant will feature specialty dishes unique to that particular place. Ours had a ham ball dish that was delicious and tasted like the tenderest ham in cherry gravy. I found the chicken pot pie to be especially toothsome this time. There must have been 20 different types of pie for dessert in addition to jell-o, ice cream and so forth, all home-made.

Definitely worth the experience.

On Friday we tootled around and swung up to the place where we honeymooned thirty years before, Champagne Towers at Who-The-Hell-Cares. This used to be part of the Caesar's group, and they had four similar resorts in the area. One was designed to appeal to DINKS8 - all sports and you needed an SUV to go from each highlight to the next. Another was family-themed, and had an all-weather ice-rink and stuff for kids to do. Ours was designed specifically for newlyweds. No feature or activity was more than five minutes from the rooms. Should the moment overcome a newly hitched couple there would be no tedious, mood-wrecking need to drive five miles over a peat bog. In a pinch you could sprint the distance should the car be disinclined to start. I found this highly amusing at the time. Still do.

The suites themselves were triumphs of architectural origami. On entering the small living area you had a fireplace in one wall, a giant champagne glass in another and a glass-enclosed area, ours was on the right, with a heart-shaped swimming pool, sauna and massage bed. Up the stairs to a bedroom with a circular bed, turn left for the bathroom and twin sinks on the right. On the left was the two-person shower/steam room, and to the left of that was an alcove that one entered, then stepped down into the balcony jacuzzi overlooking the living room - the bowl of the champagne glass9 when seen from below.

It is all great fun and Mrs Stevie and I enjoyed ourselves in each and every room10 and I don't want to talk about that any more.

On Saturday we ran over to Yardley to see our friends Ralph'n'Cate, who have a gorgeous house in Green Town, Illinois, or what I imagine Green Town looks like when Ray Bradbury talks about it in his stories set in the imaginary late forties/early fifties request-stop community. We love this couple, but hardly ever get to see them together since they have wanderlust and have been thousands of miles away for years, living in Georgia and Florida and I don't know where else since leaving New York with a merry wave and cries of “Good Luck, losers”.

Ralph'n'Cate have recently dropped anchor in the last piece of Ideal American Suburbia. We met the neighbours who were firing up a street barbecue as we were about to strike our tents and fade into the night, and I thought Ralph'n'Cate looked very happy and set, but they were talking about uprooting for France or maybe the UK. Gadabouts (or is it Gadsabout? Gadsabouters? Damn. Or possibly Zut.

Cate drinks coffee, but seems to deal with the side effects better than Mrs Stevie to judge by the lack of cauliflower ears, black eyes and limbs-in-slings showing on Ralph11. Either way, they were gracious hosts and treated us to a fantastic lunch at a very nice restaurant. I was going to treat them but Cate pulled a cunning "just going to wash my hands" runaround ploy on me and struck a deal with the waiters out-of-sight.

This wouldn't work on most people, didn't used to work on me, but after thirty years with Mrs Stevie such absences are excuses for me to flirt with the female staff without getting punched. Indeed, so distractedly good was the meal that when Cate excused herself I turned on the charm with the young woman pouring our iced teas and got roundly punched by Mrs Stevie, who I had forgotten was sitting not two feet away. Mrs Stevie disapproves of young female table servers.

The drive back to the timeshare was used to critique each other's performance at lunch, mostly to my disadvantage since I was too busy snoozing to fully join in the process. Mrs Stevie screamed vile things at me to wake me up, which I told her could lead to heart attacks and was a dangerous distraction when a man is driving. We were about to get into a heated debate on the matter when the GPS announced we should turn right and take the freeway to the Lincoln Tunnel, then went stupid as we drove into The Pennsylvania Y Shape.

On Sunday it was time to go back to New York, so, after an argument just to keep in practice, we did.

  1. We have two at the same "Country Club". One at the end of July and one at the end of January. We bought the July one first, when the Stevieling was on the drawing board, as a hedge against glum vacations. The second was a moment of madness
  2. It is only in the last year I have been able to shrug off the Canadian River Trip enough to even say the word "canoe" without screaming, the story of which I am not yet ready to tell but watch this space.
  3. Where we had honeymooned about thirty years before
  4. Defined as an hour or so
  5. Instead of the usual eight and a half hour hellishness, overnight stopover and seven hour more hellishness
  6. Many such paintings have adorned SF and Fantasy paperbacks and thus became a formative part of my adolescence not to mention the root cause of a muscular development imbalance between my right and left arms in my later teens
  7. Sort of like a GPS but made of cunningly folded paper which doesn't talk and nag you about driving into Manhattan and doesn't need electricity to work
  8. Double Income, No Kids. Keep up!
  9. Technically a perry glass, the sort John Steed used to toast Emma Peel with because everyone knows you drink champagne out of a champagne flute to keep the bubbles in yaddayaddayadda
  10. This was before she became addicted to coffee and shouting about every little thing like it was the end of the world and punching innocent husbands of course
  11. When I idly mentioned those facts on the way home Mrs Stevie said that Ralph never dropped a tree on Cate while she was parking her car or killed the front lawn in a bizarre rotary lawnfeeder accident or tried to run a model steam engine on her antique dining table but I didn't see her point and still don't know what she was getting at

Friday, August 11, 2017

Now That's A Pretty Song

Dominion Road by The Mutton Birds, from their compilation album Flock: The Best of The Mutton Birds.

If you've never heard The Mutton Birds they sound sorta like Deep Blue Something did in the mid 90s, melodically at least. Since the material on this album comes from then and a little later that's not really surprising, convergent evolution being alive and well in the arts. Call it alternate pop.

Lyrically the song is magical, telling a story that is vivid in only two verses and a refrain with a varying line (I dunno what this trick is called. I don't doubt the style has a name), one of a young man, dissolute, who loses everything and then starts rebuilding his life. How all that gets shoehorned into a song three minutes and fifty-five second long without denting it beyond repair is a trick I wish I could emulate.

Better yet, the album is full of songs with poppy tunes containing ambush stories, some of them very dark. The song "White Valiant" scares the snot out of me and after dozens of hearings I'm still not sure what's going to happen.

There's a love song about a beaten-up electric heater that's not creepy at all, no sir, one about the stupid things an American Senator said on the radio that has a Led Zeppelin/Kashmir treatment, one about a guy who leaves home after an argument, goes to his sports equipment shop and waxes lyrical about how hypnotically well-made an AK-47 is in an increasingly strident tone.

There's a magnificent slow-dance/wedding song in which the beautiful chorus was actually intended only as a place-keeper for something else but the songwriter was over-ruled by the drummer, and a driving retread of their cover of "Don't Fear The Reaper" - the original of which runs at the end of the Peter Jackson movie The Frighteners, which I confess was why I sought out the recording in the first place. This one is better.

There's a letter from a love-lorn young guy bemoaning the fact that she lives in Wellington and he ... doesn't. It's poppy and sad and wonderful. How this wasn't a radio-play hit is a mystery.

Flock cost me deep in the purse and I don't regret a single cent. You should give it a listen. At the very least try streaming "Dominion Road", "A Thing Well-Made", "White Valiant", "Wellington", "Queen's English" and "Anchor Me".

The songwriting here is nothing short of masterful, and the instruments are played by experts. Why these guys were not more popular "in the day" is beyond me. Surely not just because they come from New Zealand. I thought we lived in a global economy now.

Go have a listen for yourself.

LIRR Fiasco

So yesterday the commuters attempting to catch the 8:58 am connection at Jamaica for Atlantic Terminal were witness to a particularly egregious example of the Bloody Long Island Railroad letting their inner Buster Keaton out for a walk.

At Jamaica, tracks 3 and 4 are adjacent, but served by different platforms. To get from platform 3 to platform 4 one must run up a flight of stairs, cross a bridge and trot down a flight of stairs, all the time fighting past equally determined and rushed commuters trying to execute the exact mirror image maneuver.

While this is a normal commuting inconvenience for me, for the vast majority of people punching, kicking and biting their way up and down flights of stairs are new to the process, those who have followed the Bloody Long Island Railroad's advice to avoid Penn Station during the interminable Amtrak work needed to stop trains derailing when trying to park to let the passengers on or off. Who could have predicted that decades of infrastructure neglect could result in such chaos1?

The train to Hunterspoint Avenue, one of the suggested "alternatives" to Penn Station is a blocky, double-decker train pulled by a duplex drive2 locomotive. The Atlantic Avenue train is a single-decked EMU train, sometimes of surprising vintage3, like 99% of the trains on the Bloody Long Island Railroad.

The trains had been announced on the PA as arriving on their usual tracks, 3 for the Hunterspoint Avenue train, 4 for the one to Atlantic Terminal. All the nice new destination boards hanging from the platform awnings were saying the same in bright yellow LED writing.

One might have thought this was now a done deal, but as I stood waiting for my train to Atlantic Terminal a large double-decker pulled in and opened its doors. I checked the destination boards. Still showing this train as heading for Brooklyn. But a sneaking suspicion was forming in Mr Brain and instead of pushing, kicking and biting my way to the carriage doors as per usual I hung back and prepared to sprint.

Sure enough, the destination boards suddenly went blank as someone desperately pulled out the plug, killing the nice helpful yellow messages of a commute safely underway.

I sprinted for the stairs and hit the now-empty staircase running. In the dopplering sounds of the station behind me I heard the PA burst into life and announce the Brooklyn train on track 3, and the Hunterspoint Avenue train on track 4, along with a shamefaced “This is a track change for today only”4.

Yep. The Bloody Long Island Railroad had, in a burst of breathtaking incompetence, managed to steer the trains onto exactly the wrong tracks despite having destination boards and announcers saying what should be happening. I guess no-one told the idiots in the signal box.

Experience shows these people aren't the brightest bulbs in the bulb-holding thing at the best of times. Every day the train from Wyandanch pulls up to Jamaica and is blocked by a train that hasn't left for Penn Station yet - this despite the fact it happens every fbleeping day. I have the vision of a signal box staff clutching their heads in bewilderment and screaming "Look out! Here comes another one! It's just like yesterday! For pity's sake! Where are these trains all coming from?"

That vision was augmented yesterday by another in which the train drivers, leaning into the curve they expected to take, were suddenly swung the other way, banging their heads on the side windows of their cabs and screaming "WHAT THE Fbleep!" as they were hijacked by the incompetents tasked with setting the switches5.

I've said it before and will say it again: The Bloody Long Island Railroad couldn't organize a piss-up in a brewery.

  1. Apart from everyone but Amtrack and the Bloody Long Island Railroad of course
  2. As in, diesel but can run on electricity from the third rail if need be
  3. With a "nose" to match courtesy of the chemical toilet
  4. No shirt, Sherlock
  5. UK: Points

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Now That's A Pretty Song

Grand Hotel by Regina Spektor, from the album Remember Us To Life.

I was driving home from my monthly Delta Green RPG manly high-stakes poker game when I heard this on A Prairie Home Companion, an NPR radio show. I was immediately smitten by the Joni Mitchell-like delivery, the entirely un-Joni Mitchell vocal quality, the spare piano treatment and the story hiding inside the lyric, which I've come to realize isn't what I first thought it was.

Public radio and television have steered me toward many artists I'd otherwise have never come across, either directly or indirectly. It was on a late-night bread acquisition mission that I first heard Stan Rogers singing Barrett's Privateers, which caused a bout of collecting and listening itself causing me to discover Archie Fischer (Rogers recorded a shortened and livened-up version of Witch of the Westmorelands provoking me to seek out the original on an album called The Man With A Rhyme - which had the original of The Whale, a song I first heard done by Fairport Convention on Five Seasons).

I discovered Paul Brady's beautiful album Spirits Colliding after watching a Britcom on Channel 21 WLIW, and found out he was with The Johnsons and wrote a favorite of theirs I had on a now long-lost Transatlantic sampler album Continental Trailways Bus.

But enough of lucky finds and odd syncronicities!

Grand Hotel and Remember Us To Life are recommended to Joni Mitchell fans and everyone else too.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Dried Fish

Blimey, where did all these cobwebs and silverfish come from?

As the reader - long-abandoned by the humble scribe - will know both the land of my birth and my adopted homeland went temporarily insane, and in a fit of inattentive wet-baby disposal not seen since the Romans decided that there were a few problems with having a Republic the one stormed off vowing never to have anything to do with those terrible French, Germans, Spaniards and especially the Belgians and Dutch, while the other elected perhaps the one man on the face of the Earth least fitted to run the country.

Britain now faces rebellion in the Cheviots1 for the second time in recent memory, and the press is telling me that stout-hearted Englishpersons are madly signing up to be Dutch, French and even, I hear, Belgian to escape the chaos this bewilderingly daft decision will precipitate. It is notable that the major political figures who were singing the praises of this monumentally stupid move have suddenly found more important things to do with their lives. No doubt merely a coincidence, and not a desperate leap to be in a chair when the music stops.

As it soon will, what with the EC grant money drying up faster than a sub-Saharan waterhole in July.

America is in the unenviable position of wishing that it's political hacks had bolted instead of stepping up and "taking power". Our president seems blissfully unaware of certain things we all assumed were prerequisites of being the Head Cheese, things like how the constitution says that the government must work. He has a habit of telling the world too, then getting upset when people laugh at his ignorance, though to be honest it stopped being funny almost immediately.

Not only that, but once again, a Republican president is making public all the little holes in the laws and procedures that reasonable men before him have simply assumed were good manners and ethics to adhere to, and is busy making himself a yardstick for cronyism and nepotism. Lets Make America Great again like it was 1920.

And infuriatingly, no-one will fix said holes with laws because the man in power at the time never knows when he might need to use one of these loopholes for himself. Disgraceful.

There are many simplistic analyses on why this state of affairs has come about. One that has particular resonance with the public is that it is a reaction to decades of increasingly less self-aware political correctness, and there is some evidence that this might be the case, at least for some. But I think what has happened in both cases is that charismatic demagogues have managed to unify small groups of disaffected people under their banner and get them marching in lockstep.

I know that's what happened in the USA. Those who felt that not being able to tell Polish jokes or make fun of women drivers are supporting The Man with The Tan alongside desperate people whose towns were all-but shut down when the one industry it had closed down or relocated. That latter group I can sympathize with. I've seen first-hand what the innocuously-named "inflection-point" and "paradigm-shift" can do to people, and it's only the youngest who can survive it relatively unscathed as they have the freedom to move with least cost and to retrain in some other means of earning.

What this slow collapse of the country's workforce implies in big, red, shouty caps is that no-one with the power to do so has been laying out any long-term strategy for the country as a whole, nor has that been done at the state level in all too many cases.

This is part of the role of government, and the leaders of the country-spanning industries (we are, after all, an oligarchy with the word "republic" painted on it) but we've had a generation of industry captains and politicos growing up in a relatively benign atmosphere of sixties-era-and-before regulation switch-off. Huge financial gains were made, and lost of course, as the economy, freed from governors that had become onerous, slewed from boom to bust. The same is happening as these same people work to deregulate the clean water industry even as terribly damaging pollution scandals break over the country.

And the worst part is the disconnect between the obvious correlation of the events and the people responsible for sorting it out.

Alan Greenspan professed himself profoundly shocked that his policy of "enlightened self-interest" failed to prevent the recent banking crisis usually labeled "the sub-prime mortgage fiasco", but of course, he was equating the banks themselves as organic entities (which by law they almost are) when all the decision making was done by banking officers - who assuredly were working according to self-interest. Since the "enlightened" bit wasn't actually required, nobody bothered to do it, each assuming someone else would pick up the pieces and mop the floor when it all went to Hellena-Handbasket.

Politicians, particularly those pandering to the rabid right "republican base", like to froth at the mouth and bellow about entitlements, but the sense of entitlement that runs through the three-letter ranks of the banks of the USA could be cut only with an expensive Japanese ceremonial sword swung with malice aforethought™.

Now the energy companies are demanding the relaxing of "onerous" restrictions that prevent them operating freely, while at the same time fending off the lawsuits their corner-cutting already causes. Coal mine collapses, oil-rig disasters, tanker collisions, all come with a hefty taxpayer bill attached. Republican are fond of making funding available to public services dependent on following onerous limitations on how they operate. Why can't the subsidies paid from the taxes to these companies (entitlement, anyone?) be tied to adhering to the law of the land?

Silly me. It's because the politicians making the law are paid-off by have received substantial campaign contributions from those same companies. But no-one is asking: "If we do this now, what do we do in fifty years to clean up the aftermath of all this selfishness?"

Hence the lack of posts; with so much surrealism loose in the world, why bother trying to document small outbreaks of it in this blithering blog?

  1. Very painful I hear, requiring a series of increasingly agonizing injections into the stomach wall2
  2. Now I come to think on it, that might be rabies

Monday, February 13, 2017

More LIRR bleeptery

And the inconvenience and incompetence goes ever on and on

High winds have blown across Long Island all last night and most of today. As a result the incredibly long grade crossing booms deployed by the Bloody Long Island Railroad are snapping off all over the place forcing the crossings to be guarded by police cars and introducing increasing delays and, eventually, cancellations in a desperate attempt to get the timetables to match the way the trains are pretending to run.

Now this isn't the first, or even the eleventy-first time this sort of thing has happened. If you look at Wyandanch (Pearl of the East) grade crossing you can see it has one short boom and one really long one, about fifteen feet or longer. The long one has broken off just about every year, and was "wind proofed" after the second or fifth time with the addition of a metal Y-shaped bracket that the boom lifts into and protects it while it is parked in the upright position. When it is lowered, it uses a small leg to support it that also serves to stabilize it against the wind. This sort of lash-up set-up can be seen at many grade crossings across the island.

Can you see the oversight in the engineering of this elegant solution to the problem of high winds snapping off the booms?

If you answered "the part where the boom is traveling between each of these situations" then give yourself a toasted sausage sandwich with HP sauce. Indeed yes, the winds are free to tear the bejayzus out of the booms as they climb laboriously back into the raised position or lower themselves to place the inch-thick plastic boom between any hurtling cars and the trains, thereby preventing collisions.

So one has to wonder why in the name of bleep the Bloody Long Island Railroad "engineers" haven't come up with anything better in the thirty years I've been looking at the problem.

Either way, as of the time of writing (5:23 pm) there are numerous emails about fallen utility poles, broken crossing gates and whatever. Long idiotic excuses short - cancellations and delays of up to 70 minutes on all my trains tonight.

So far the Bloody Long Island Railroad has managed one day of acceptable performance since I returned from Florida five working days ago.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Back To The Same Old ****

One. bleeping. Day.

That's how long I was back in New York before the LIRR started bleeping me about.

I had spent the last nine days in Florida visiting with the Stevieling and just lazing about1 but eventually was forced to return to Chateau Stevie, life and the LIRR. By Wednesday the LIRR had cost me several hours of my time by cancelling or delaying trains despite the fact that the weather was unseasonably mild and dry

And the reason it took so long for the LIRR to start wasting my time and costing me money? I took the Monday off to recuperate from the drive.

So when I say "one day" it was actually "no working days".

Tuesday was lost to "signal trouble"2 and Wednesday to yet another track blockage caused by a derailed freight train3.

And what do these two problems have in common?

Neither would be mitigated in any way shape or form by adding a wildly expensive second track in the Pinelawn/Wyandanch Single-Track Chicane.

  1. Actually, two of those days were spent driving at each end of the vacation but I was out of New York the whole time so the point stands
  2. And never ask "Why, when the tax payers and commuters of NY bought the LIRR a new set of signal wires less than a decade ago?"
  3. I suspect the bloody freight trains run overloaded gondolas over the light gauge rail (since passenger train derailments are few and far between and these sodding freight trains seem to derail four or five times a year, taking out the route for days on end). Any other railroad would impose ruinous monetary penalties for this sort of thing

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

The Scooter Debacle

The sad tale of Mark's Snapped-In-Two Car Fiasco reminds me of a tale from both our mis-spent youths, when we were callow youths of 16.

It was wintertime, but the weather was wet rather than snowy and the rain had stopped. Mark suggested we go for a ride on his "scoot", a Lambretta scooter stripped down to the bare bones1, and I was up for it.

Naturally, there was a small problem, involving the lack of a full driver's license between the pair of us. I had none, Mark had only a provisional license, what would be called a learner's permit in the USA. This enabled him to ride a motorcycle at 162, but not to carry a pillion passenger. For that he would require a full license.

Not a show-stopper. Mark had a Cunning Plan.

"If we get stopped, I'll tell them I'm Chris". Chris was a mutual friend who had the Magic License required for our journey to be street legal. "You give someone else's name too".

I could see one of us should be the responsible one. "Okay" I said, enthusiastically. After all, if anyone was supposed to be responsible, it should be the driver, right? If he was an irresponsible jerk it wasn't my job to make him straighten up and fly right. Besides, he owned the scooter and I wanted a ride on it.

And so we set out from his house, and blazed out of the suburban crescents onto the main road and thence to the approach lane to St John Backsides school, wherein we spent many a joyless day being educated in subjects soon to be rendered irrelevant by technology. I digress.

About halfway up the lane we were pulled over by a cop in a Panda Car3.

"Remember The Plan" hissed Mark.

"'Ello 'ello 'ello. What's goin' on 'ere then, sonny?" said the officer4. "Which one of you is the qualified driver then?"

"I am, officer" said Mark, while I pointed at him so the officer would be in no doubt as to whom was speaking. It was dark and both Mark and I were wearing dark blue greatcoats that made us look like floating heads on a night like this.

"Let's see your driver's license then, lad" said the Officer, and this was the fulcrum on which Mark's brilliant plan hinged: he could announce that he, as Chris, had "forgotten" his documents and the police would have to allow him three days in which to produce them at a police station. There would be no "feeling of the collar" tonight, and by morning Mark would have explained why Chris had to nip to the local Rozzer House to show his documents in answer to a traffic stop at which he was not present. I was secretly glad it was not I who had that duty, as Chris was easily annoyed and I wasn't that friendly with him.

"Name?" snapped the Officer, poised with pencil over pad of desk summonses.

"Chris!" replied Mark. "My address is 2468 This Very Street."

I let out a small involuntary yelp as I realized the whole plan could come unraveled if the Officer made us walk two hundred feet to Chris's mum's front door, and mentally cursed Mark for not having the wit to steer clear of the street where Chris lived while borrowing his name, but the Officer seemed not to realize what was afoot, nor where the feet in question were.

Mr Brain having been given a sharp dose of adrenaline, then went into overdrive, and a plan for high-jinks of the most amusing stripe formed. I had time to run a quick check and it was perfect. No legal culpability. No way for anyone to actually object. The hard part would be keeping a straight face.

"And your name sonny?" asked the officer interrupting my reverie.

My name is Mark, Officer." I said, and watched with delight as the real Mark's face turned bright red and he did a little mini-jig of extreme annoyance and puffed his cheeks and bugged his eyes in the grimace of not-saying-anything-despite-an-overpowering-desire-to-do-so. "I live at 221b Mark's House Crescent."

"Right lads. Please drive safely and remember to bring your documents with you next time. It is a legal requirement."

"Yes, sir" we chorused, and watched as the Nice Officer climbed into his car and drove into the night.

Mark threw his hands into the air and shouted "Why did you give him my name?"

I naturally threw my own hands into the air and matched his aggrieved tone "You told me to use someone else's name!'

"But I didn't mean mine!"

"Well you never said, and you weren't using it!'

There were a few more rounds of yelling and shouting along these lines until we figured out the neighbours would be calling the police again if we didn't clear threatre tootsweet, so that's what we did.

The memory of the look on Mark's face as I gave "my" name has cheered me up on many occasions when I've been low.

  1. At the time this went down, Lambretta scooters had been out of production for many years and parts were unavailable outside of scrap yards. My scooter-owning friends had reacted to this by stripping the machines down, discarding foot-boards, side panels and front leg guards. They retained only the tubular frame, engine, transmission, sundry brake, electrical and steering components and wheels. The frame was then pained a bright primary colour (blue and red were two popular colours) and the result driven maniacally around the neighbourhood at high speed, pausing only to fall off or crash - sometimes spectacularly. Mark's scoot was bright blue, and had twin megaphone exhausts with home-made sound baffles that were, frankly, not up to the job, and could give motorcycles a run for their money
  2. The arcane rules of the UK licensing at that time were that you could drive a motorcycle as a learner at 16 but you couldn't take your test and acquire the desirable full license until you were 17. You could drive a car as a learner at 17, but you couldn't take the driving test and acquire a full license before you were 18. A learner on a motorcycle of any age was forbidden to carry a pillion passenger at any time. A learner in a car was forbidden not to carry a passenger - a passenger with a full license to drive a car. It was all rather bothersome really, but you couldn't argue with the grown-ups who invented these daft laws. This, along with thair classification as a motorcycle/sidecar combination also explains the otherwise bewildering popularity of the Reliant three-wheeled cars
  3. What they gave the suburban police officers who were not expected to chase anyone driving more than a push-bike, typically a Hillman Imp or some such subcompact vehicle, often a hatchback
  4. Probably misremembered, since non traffic division police typically open with “excuse me sir, is this your vehicle?”, which I believe is a legal trap. It is natural to panic and answer "No!" in order to get some distance between you and whatever it is that is annoying the police officer, but that is exactly what they are trying to get you to do so they can run you in for Borrowing Without Permission

Losing It

This morning a large, blocky, red truck bearing information in blue paint barreled past me. In every way it was reminiscent of a Fire Department Emergency Truck (something I'm sure was by design). One of those pieces of information was a toll-free phone number - 1-800-GOT-BOOM.

The semiotics of the truck's design along with the alphabetized phone number caused a derailing in Mr Brain, and it was about fifteen seconds before I straightened it out sufficiently enough to figure out that this was some sort of rental crane service.

Not an official Fire Department hi-speed response bomb disposal team transport vehicle.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

That Was Christmas, That Was

Ho Ho Ho!
Will This Day Never End?

The house seemed very sad, small and quiet this year with no Stevieling in it.

We barely managed to get the tree up the week before Christmas, and there was a very definite lack of Xmas Atmos about the place. Hell, even this post is almost a week late to press.

This year the annual family congregation at the In-Laws' place was cancelled in favor of doing it on Boxing Day instead, so Xmas Eve was a bit "meh".

Christmas morning we made a Skype connection with the Stevieling and Mr Stevieling the sig-nother. That was nice but not at all the same as having our daughter at home. In the afternoon we departed for the Mrs Steviemom's house for Christmas Dinner, made by Mrs Stevie and served to Mrs Steviemom at home.

Last year I nearly went mad from their insistence on watching Christopher Reeve in Time After Time which the Mrs Steviemom thinks is the best movie ever made and I regard as one step worse than dental surgery on the Voluntary Entertainment Desirability Scale. I had formulated a plan though: This year I provided Mrs Stevie with a copy of Noises Off which is a Christopher Reeve film I actually like. The Mrs Steviemom would have Christopher Reeve to gawk at, I would have a movie I could enjoy. We could actually sit through this one together. What could go wrong?

I'll tell you what.

The Mrs Steviemom decided to invite a guest, that's what.

Now my mother in law has managed to cast off every single person she has been friends with over her entire life over the course of the last couple of years, typically because they are "losing it" (her words). This woman she has cultivated, to the bafflement of the family. The lady was one of the nurses for my father in law last year, but not the one they had the longest.

But over the course of the afternoon it became apparent why the Mrs Steviemom likes her - she echoes back everything the Mrs Steviemon ventures an opinion on, and does so at the top of her not inconsiderable voice. The Mrs Steviemom is bombastic and opinionated, and also extremely hard of hearing. This lady was the perfect conversational foil (in the Mrs Steviemom's view).

My take-away was a little different.

By the second hour my tinitus was going great guns on account of my eardrums being given the sort of workout normally reserved for the deck crew of an aircraft carrier launching fighter jets or those who have to stand outside and push the plunger when the dynamite has been put in all the little holes in the quarry's workface.

The conversation ranged over many topics: Those with whom they were both acquainted who were sick, those who had died, those who had succumbed to Alzheimer's.

The lady was also wetly coughing fit to bust a lung on a regular schedule, each time ending the racking and hacking with a jaunty "I should go to the emergency room". When I offered to run her there she said "Oh no, it isn't that bad and I'm sure I'm well past the stage where I can give it to anyone". Ten minutes would pass and the whole pantomime would be repeated hack-for-hack, word-for-word.

I haven't had so much fun since my leg went septic.

We did a facetime link with my mother, using my iPad and that of my sister who was visiting the nursing home. The Steviemum didn't really "get" how the camera in the iPad worked and so ended up giving us views of the ceiling and the wall behind her a lot of the time. Still, it was nice to be able to have even that little remote contact.

Eventually the day let out a tortured scream and collapsed under the weight of its own suck and we went home.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A Christmas Story

At this time of year I am minded of the fact that when the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve stretches between weekends, British people do the sensible thing and take the week off to make merry.

And so it was a few years ago in 198_, during just such a week, a group of fun-loving pals decided to hold one big party and just move it each day. Much merry-making was done, wassailing and wenching and I don't know what-all else, including an hysterically funny tale at my own expense1 which I'm not going to relate. Not when the tale of Mark's Christmas Car Fiasco is right there waiting to provide a convenient distraction.

It was about three days into the party and we were all waking up on the floor of a spacious terraced house2, making noises about getting a shower and changing clothes and brushing teeth and acquiring more booze for round four. Mark lived about five miles or so across town, in a small village still at that point not part of the sprawl of the city itself, and announced he was going to nip home for a bit. He had turned up, to the general disgust of all, in a white Austin 1100 which he was restoring in order to sell on.

To get there he would drive through one of the older, busier parts of the city, then out into a spacious suburb made up of retirement communities and apartment complexes. At one point he would pass an old people's home set on a high embankment on the "bar" of a traffic-light controlled T junction with a bus stop set opposite the "leg" of the T.

It was a picturesque drive, as such things go, and there were sections in which he would be able to give his car maximum wellie, and glory in the joy of being alive and mobile in Merrie Englande at Christmas, even if it was in an Austin 1100. The road that passed the old people's home was an ideal stretch, apart from the need to cope with the traffic lights and the occasional would-be confused bus passenger wandering around into play. Clearly in the mood to indulge himself in Mercury's Domain he floored the accelerator and rocketed out of the drive into the early afternoon.

A couple of hours passed, by which time we had reconvened for coffee and bullshirt, and we had fallen to wondering where our good friend Mark was. In these days of cell phones and Skype we would simply call or text him and cause an horific traffic accident, but that was not possible in 198_, when the state of the electronic art was the CD. Phones were still tethered to the wall in them days.

Eventually Mark pulled up in his rusty steed outside the house. I say "pulled up" but he actually engaged in a slow speed crash into a frozen pile of snow-covered tarmac set at the roadside where it had been left by some road repair crew the week before. "Eye-eye" we all said internally, for we all knew the signs of the aftermath of one of Mark's "episodes", and a round or two of what would now be called "Tarantino swivel-eye" was indulged in. Shortly after that Mark entered the house and, after a brief stop for a drink, regaled us with the events of his trip that had come close to killing a number of innocent old age pensioners minding their own business at a bus stop.

It seems Mark had left the party house, driving up the driveway and deciding to use the aforementioned pile of frozen, snow-covered tarmac to perform an ad-hoc Dukes of Hazard style jump out of the sheer joy of having woken up from an heroic amount of libation the night before3. The car had performed a satifying leap and he had driven home without incident.

It was on the return leg, as he approached the traffic lights at high speed, observed by a small crowd of disapproving pensioners from the old people's home who were waiting for a bus into town, when events became more interesting in the Chinese sense of the term.

Unknown to our hero, the jump stunt had damaged the car quite badly. The 1100 design has the engine, transmission, brake master cylinder/brake fluid reservoir and front wheels on a sub-frame, a sort of sled, with the rear wheels on a second sub-frame holding up the back of the car. There is no chassis. The strength of the car comes from the body shell itself, what is called in the trade a "monocoque". It is crucial in such designs that the body shell be sound, solid all the way through, owing to the stresses of acceleration and braking.

When the car had crashed to the ground, the rusty floor pan had cracked across most of its width. As Mark had driven home the car had been slowly stretching9. Every time he accelerated, the front subframe had been pulled forward against the weight and inertia of the unpowered back of the car, and the car had gotten a tiny bit longer as the crack got a tiny bit wider (and longer too). The increased sound of the road noise would no doubt have been drowned out by the volume of the Christmas Music belting out of the radio.

On the trip back the car was doing Warp Factor Zoom when the stretching finally reached the point where the hand brake cables - which tethered the handbrake lever on one side of the crack to the cams that pushed on the brake shoes on the other side of the crack - pulled the rear brakes on. The increased drag stretched the car and pulled the brakes on harder, and the rear wheels locked up, to the consternation of the driver. The car, subjected to even more pull from the rear wheels, stretched a bit more and the hydraulic brake pipes, connecting the brake mechanism in the rear of the car to the actuating piston and fluid reserves at the front, decided enough was enough and pulled out of both rear wheel cylinders, disconnecting both rear wheels from the braking system and allowing the brake fluid to squirt out uselessly when the pedal was pushed. Then the brake cables, tensioned beyond their designed capabilities, and the only thing now holding the car in anything approaching its designed length, snapped, releasing the brakes and allowing the car to continue on its way unmolested by Newton's Third Law.

Now even in those days a car's hydraulic system was cross-connected so that the loss of pressure in one pipe would not compromise the ability of the driver to slow and eventually stop his deathtrap on wheels. The brakes on the 1100 were connected so that in the event of a catastrophic wheel cylinder/pipe failure, the opposite wheel and its kitty-corner mate at the other end of the car worked fine, providing (in theory) symmetrical braking and saving the day. Loss of the right rear hydraulic brake and the front left may fail but the left front and right rear will work as the driver madly stamps on the brake pedal10 and optionally screams like a little girl in sheer terror. We've all been there.

But the genius of Mark's situation was that he had engineered events such that both circuits had been torn to shreds simultaneously, something the car designers probably envisioned as only happening after running over a landmine or driving into a combine harvester's thrashy bits, neither of which the car had been engineered to survive, it being targeted at the suburban family rather than the post apocalyptic needs of Mad Max.

The upshot was that Mark's car became a ballistic road meteor just as the lights at the T junction turned red.

Mark's situation was made worse by someone having the nerve to actually pull out and turn left into his path, assuming that the mere presence of the red light on the main route would be reason enough for our hero to stop his vehicle in accordance with the law of the land and the relevant bits of The Highway Code.

Mark thought fast. If he ran the red light he would crash into the car now slowing to a halt in mid-turn so that the driver could wonder why Mark was not reducing speed with the best view. The only option was to drive up the pavement (US: Sidewalk) and up the embankment so as to miss the bus stop and the crowd of tut-tutting, “young people, drive like lunatics, thrashing's too good for 'em” muttering old people standing in and around the little shelter, then rejoin the more acceptable to the eyes of the law route on the other side of the traffic lights.

So that's what he did.

Now when Mark was telling this story he dwelt mostly on how he avoided driving over pensioners and didn't technically shoot the red light since he went around it and how he was really the hero of the day and like that.

His audience, annoyingly for him, focused entirely on what this must have looked like to the said pensioners, who must have seen it as a mad sod, possibly crazed by Christmas Spirit, deciding to simply ignore the red light and damn the consequences. We found this scenario highly entertaining and vamped on the theme for some minutes in humorous old person voices.

Mark was indignant, and then even more so when we stopped laughing long enough to remember that this had happened four and a half miles away, that Mark had continued to drive the remainder of the journey with no brakes whatsoever through a complex and dense part of the town road system, and took him to task for that with much use of unkind and hurtful words and speculation as to what was filling the space between his ears with the consensus being "air".

To this day, when I'm feeling low I cheer myself up by contemplating the exact moment when Mark's seeming mastery of his fate had turned in less than an eyeblink to immanent mortal danger and terror.11

Image of Austin 1100 sourced from http://classics.honestjohn.co.uk/reviews/austin/1100-and-1300/ and believed to be in the public domain.

  1. Involving my running around naked and failing to hide in a wardrobe from enraged people looking for their daughter, on whom I never laid a finger I might add, and I don't want to talk about that any more
  2. Except me, 'cos I brought an air bed c/w bedding, quilt etc so I could kip in style
  3. It was either this night or one after, or possibly one before but definitely in this house that I first heard Japan's Gentlemen Take Polaroids while under the influence of an equally heroic amount of libation which focused my mind wonderfully and caused me to fall in love with the album4
  4. Which, by a curious coincidence is almost exactly how I came to fall in love with the Yes album Fragile5
  5. By an even more curious coincidence while at a party at Mark's parents' house one Christmas about eight years previously6
  6. Though the brain focusing agent in that case was almost certainly Bulmers Special Cellar cider7
  7. Which at another party at Mark's parents' house caused me to vomit copiously into their Gas Miser gas fire8
  8. While it was lit
  9. Or, to be more accurate, bending, but the effect was the same - the front and rear sub-frames were getting further apart
  10. Typically the fault is not discovered until "a situation" is immanent
  11. This is how it usually happens to me. I believe I've mentioned the uncontrolled maximum acceleration into rush hour works traffic throttle failure fiasco of death and the realization that the cross road is in fact a T junction, we are on the leg of the T and the brakes aren't working because the car is currently airborne debacle of doom before.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

A Christmas Carol

It is a little-known slander, completely unsupported by any facts whatsoever, that Bing Crosby once had a flirtation with "flower power" in the early sixties, and for a period of about six months he kept a spacious, under-furnished apartment in "The Haight" where many of the legendary figures of the day could be found lounging on stinking scatter-cushions and spouting the sort of dribble that would mature in the fullness of time into the babble that is New-Age Philosophy.

The central feature of this den of iniquity was an enormous water pipe, custom built out of motorcycle parts and glassware lifted from a selection of the best-equipped university chemistry laboratories. This gigantic water-pipe (amusingly referred to by Cosby in "The Road To Hong-Kong" in one of the musical scenes) had no fewer than two dozen flexible pipes of luxuriant length, enabling a happening of hippies to enjoy their favourite smoking mixture together without the unsanitary sharing of pipe stems. It seems that if you needed a hookah in those days, "The Bingster"'s Place was where it was all at (man).

These gatherings would always devolve into an orgy of a sort most unsavoury to us in these more moral (and disease-infested) times, and Bing's Pad was, predictably, the most popular venue in the entire state of California. Busloads of young, acne-scarred men would descend on the place in the endless quest for a very earnest, stoned and accommodating young lady in a kaftan and little else (usually going by the name "Galadriel" but that is a phenomenon for another tale).

It was at the frenzied Thursday Night jam session and think-in that the virulent red Da-Glo™ knitted pantaloons - so popular for about a month in the summer of '63 - had their genesis, and it is rumoured that the Pet Rock was invented in a marathon brainstorming session fueled by some particularly fine Moroccan Gold. The first Whole Earth Catalog was conceived one Wednesday after the washer on the hot tap in the bathroom broke. Everyone was so badly wasted that instead of fixing the faucet or calling a plumber, they invented a whole new way of buying taps.

The Weight was written at Bing's place, and the great man is believed to have contributed the verse about Crazy Chester although he denied it strenuously and shot the last person who asked him about it.

Of course, these things didn't last. Bing came to his senses (literally by some accounts) after the disastrous failure of "A Night At Bing's", the seminal live triple album, a joint-venture between Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young & Crosby, Steppenwolf and The Grateful Dead. Once the dream died, it died fast and Bing unloaded the apartment and all its fixtures so fast everyone's heads stopped spinning.

Today, the building houses the last of the great "head shops", Haight Miles High, offering modern and antique "scene" materials, clothing, and hairstyling attuned to the modern flowerchild. As the owner, Galadriel, says: "What is the point in filling your hair with flowers if the underlying cut looks like you did it with a weed-whacker? The hair must accent and compliment the floral and crystal inclusions so that the final result is a holistic statement of wellbeing and harmony with the Earth-Mother."

Indeed, her own hair is a cascade of delicate flowers, highlighted with well-shaped amethysts and cairngorms all resting on a most pleasingly feathered coiffure, although she points out that that particular styling is quite expensive and says that she mostly ends up just weaving flowers into the customer's finished haircut. Over the years she has come up with a signature style featuring asymmetric placement of strings of flowers that is attractive, long-lasting and above all cheap. It is extremely popular with the younger hippies.

One can also purchase those eye-blinding knitted pantaloons as Galadriel and her life-partner Catweazle hand-make them to the same patterns, using the same ancient, mandala-encrusted knitting machine that the originals were made on in '62. In point of fact, the only downside to visiting the place is that Catweazle, a British Ex-pat, insists on wearing the damn things. They are available in more colours today since the march of time has brought with it newer, brighter and less cancer-causing dyes, but Catweazle, like many who weren't actually there the first time around, is a traditionalist and wears only the red ones as they are "more authentic". Be warned, wear shades.

Pride of place in the large window display is given over to the Brobdingnagian water-pipe that once graced Bing's apartment, and it is a magnificent sight indeed, worth the visit on its own.

I shall be writing these notes up into a more rounded article for The Fingerlake Morning Examiner under my nom-de-plume "Biro", and plan to headline it: Bing's Bong, Cherry Neon Thighs, Uneven Herbal Hair Stringing.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Uninsipred

Haven't felt much like posting of late.

Stuff's been happening. I just haven't been minded to write about it. A lassitude brought on by ennui and a yearning for both presidential candidates to be sucked down into the seventh ring of hell and stop talking.

Actually, that's not the whole truth. I usually write the blither that turns up here on my train, and lately the trains have been cattle cars (in terms of crowding) and I haven't had room for weeks to open up my laptop.

The 29th Anniversary of Mrs Stevie and I becoming Man and Wife rolled around, and we went for another dinner on the Valley Rail Road, which was nice, but there were a number of minor annoyances throughout the evening that worked to spoil the mood more than a little.

There's a story in that, but I haven't got time to do it justice. Suffice to say the previous outing, on my birthday, was better. We had fun despite that.

I think I'll speak of the Florida trip next. Anything to distract myself from the alternate bouts of depression and terror brought on by the Election Process.

Watch this space

Monday, August 22, 2016

Status Report

Mood: Onshore, gusting westerly with light showers and thunderstorms overnight.

What I'm Listening To Now: High Pitched Whistling, Insults and Complaining.

What I'm Reading: This blog post. What the hell else would I be reading for Azathoth's sake?

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Now That's A Pretty Song

Baby, Now That I've Found You by Alison Krauss, from the album Now That I've Found You: A Collection.

A stripped-down acoustic version of the old Foundations hit1 from '67, I first heard it while traveling along the Beltway one spring evening at a time when I was living in Greenbelt, Maryland during the week and watching my young daughter become a stranger in New York every weekend.

Although the song is about a very creepy response to a girl giving the singer the brush-off, it had a peculiar resonance when I mentally subbed in my daughter's name instead of "baby" in the hook. The chorus fitted the situation I was in with respect to her - I had been initially scared at the idea of being responsible for a child, had been lost in her eyes the minute I had looked into them and had lost my heart completely to the many people she had been in the time since. I was missing her dreadfully and was in a very bad place, as I drove aimlessly around the freeway listening to NPR on the radio to use up otherwise empty hours.

And then this song was played and I was entranced.

The song is robbed of its original ornamentation, stripped back that the words become the center rather than the wall of sound arrangement. Those words are sung so poignantly that it will make you weep if there is an ounce of soul in your ... er ... soul, and the guitar accompaniment is nothing short of genius in its simplicity and beauty.

The rest of the album is pretty good too, but this is the standout track that makes it worth the price of the CD.

  1. A personal favorite at the time

And The Leaving's Gonna Get Me Down

So it's been a while, during which more annoying stuff happened at me; I will speak here of The Florida Relocation Annoyance.

The Stevieling has decamped for Florida, leaving Chateau Stevie an empty husk. When I say "empty", I'm speaking a bit euphemistically since she in fact left the vast majority of her crap behind for us to clean up. So the total Chateau Stevie deductions amount to a suitcase of clothes and a small human being.

This is surprising on many levels, not least because she roped everyone she knew into packing a storage locker full of stuff into a Penske truck. It looked like she had everything she owned in there. First stop after assembling a dozen friends as free labor was the church where she ordered everyone to load two enormous shelving units onto the truck while she did something vitally important somewhere else1.

The shelving units proved to be made of a rare lead/depleted uranium impregnated chipboard, so it was lucky I had assembled the makings of a block and tackle that would enable someone to help drag stuff up the ramp into the truck by trading three times as much time for three times as much pulling power. It took six of us to get each unit on a two-wheel sack-truck2 and wheel it to the truck, but only one person could work the truck while ascending the ramp on account of the narrowness of said ramp. I rigged the block and tackle and one of the other helpers grabbed the rope. I volunteered to be the truck puller and steerer and everyone else decided to argue about how the truck needed to be steered to avoid falling of the said ramp. I needed the advice because I couldn't see the wheels of the truck on account of having a faceful of shelving unit.

It was all very tiresome, and after the second unit had been dragged into the truck and lugged up against the compartment side so it could be secured I had a small moment of white-out vision and falling over, followed by about five minutes of wheezing and death expectation3.

Best I can figure I lost so much sweat in such a short period of time my electrolytes crashed4. It took me about five minutes and a pint of Gatorade before I could walk again.

On the upside I was able to dodge further loading duties as everyone who had witnessed the event was even more shaken than I was. All I had to do was groan a bit and do some more collapsing, shaking and speaking in tongues and they all thought I was about to have a stroke5 and begged me to go home and watch TV.

I did end up buying everyone lunch because by then all the heaving and shoving had resulted in a spot of "too many hunchbacks, not enough scientists" syndrome and everyone was annoyed with each other. Mrs Stevie and The Stevieling hadn't noticed because that is the normal state of affairs about ten minutes after more than one person is awake in Chateau Stevie.

Besides, they are all great kids and adults are supposed to be good to kids of all ages and make sure they get enough to eat.

The day ended with a skirmish of the sort familiar to everyone with a kid, the kind in which each side is trying to make the other crazy6. It starts with everyone tired, grumpy and one side staggering toward his/her bed almost blind with exhaustion.

Mrs Stevie: Do you have your GPS ready to go?

Stevieling: Yes.

Mrs Stevie: Do you have your license?

Stevieling: Yes.

Mrs Stevie: Do you have your registration?

Stevieling: Yes.

Mrs Stevie: Do you have your insurance card?

Stevieling: Yes!

Mrs Stevie: Do you have your EZ-Pass?

Stevieling: YES!

Mrs Stevie (announcing a winning move): I'll thank you to have less of that attitude when you speak to me (twelve minutes of pure annoyance redacted on humane grounds)

And thus was set the stage for fiasco.

A word about The Plan.

The idea was that Mrs Stevie would drive the big yellow truck down to Florida with The Stevieling and her boyfriend taking The Stevieling's car. They had originally been going to rotate driving duties, but we both felt The Stevieling's driving was not up to the challenge of 1700 miles in a three ton truck on Interstate 95 in the high winds of summer.

In order to keep the vehicles in convoy they would need to breeze through the umptytump toll booths on I-95. Mrs Stevie would use her EZ-Pass, a radio-linked toll paying device, and we would get another EZ-Pass for the Stevieling.

We went out one Saturday about three weeks before Operation Stroke Induction and got the device from the AAA. All that remained was for The Stevieling to set it up via the official website and drop some e-funds into it to cover the trip. The last time I saw the device was about an hour after we picked it up, when The Stevieling carried it up to her room in the plastic bag it had been packed in by the AAA person.

That was The Plan.

I announced I was off to bed, and Mrs Stevie - who was going to indulge her usual practice of stomping around the house for another three hours to prevent anyone from getting any sleep prior to a hard day's driving - asked if I wanted to get up to see her and the Stevieling off in the morning. They were going to rise at five. I, of course, answered in the affirmative and went to bed.

At about 4:20 am I was shaken violently out of a sound sleep by Mrs Stevie, wet and naked after her shower. I blearily opened my eyes and screamed. Mrs Stevie used harsh words. I pointed out that I still had forty minutes of sleep owing to me, but she insisted she had said they were leaving at five7 and I had to get up now. I staggered up and into the shower where I slumped against the wall trying desperately to wake up. A few minutes before five I heard the phone ringing, and then Mrs Stevie's voice raised in anger.

The Stevieling couldn't find the EZ-Pass.

As far as I can figure out she never actually took it out of the bag. She had no recollection of ever registering the device on the website either. Solid own-goal by The Stevieling.

She spent 45 minutes looking fruitlessly for it, and a new plan was made in which Mrs Stevie would breeze through each toll and The Stevieling would join the long slow crawl through the "cash only" lane. Fortunately, I had dug out my Motorola two-way radios and insisted that both Mrs Stevie and The Stevieling become conversant enough with their fiendishly over-complex, over-converged controls to find each other on the air in the event there was no cell coverage when one of them got a flat or needed to get gas.

This turned out to be a stroke of genius that saved the day (and the two that followed), though The Stevieling's brilliant Missing EZ-Pass Ploy drove Mrs Stevie to new heights of apoplexy and lent an air of rage to the leaving of New York.

I went to work very tired.

  1. Thus proving that the acorn didn't fall far from the tree
  2. The sort people load beer on
  3. Not hyperbole. I actually thought I was about to croak
  4. The last time a crash of this magnitude was seen it involved an iceberg and a big ship
  5. And who's to say I wasn't. It was scary
  6. My father is a master of the form
  7. Lies