Waiting. Destroying.

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I’m not sure if I cheated or not.

This morning, Michelle challenged me to write for fifteen minutes using the third line of the last song I heard as an inspiration.


The last song I listened to was from the 1967 album ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico‘ and I could find precious little inspiration in the third line of that particular song:

Up to Lexington, 125

which is a street corner in Harlem where Lou Reed bought drugs in the 1960s. While there are undoubtedly tons of stories associated with that buyer, that process and that corner, well, none of them are mine. So I dismissed this prompt and we went out to breakfast. After that we walked to the farmers’ market where I talked to a hippie, got shouted at by a farmer (maybe I’ll tell that story tomorrow) and glared at by a florist. Then we went to the store. Then home. Then a visit to the nice young lady that lives down the street. Then I broke into someone’s garage and stole stuff. Then I played a bunch more VU and websurfed dead physicists, dead (and not-so-dead) musicians and the price of heroin in New York City fifty years ago. (Plus some ‘adult‘ content of course.)

Somewhere in there I had an idea. Not an inspiration, but an idea. There was still no inspiration in the intersection of Lexington and 125th, but it occurred to me that the album came out at a significant (dare I say ‘pivotal’) time.


I did a little research (“I’ll take ‘celebrity deaths’ for 200, Alex.”) that told me that the album came out in March of 1967, barely a month after the death of one of the significant (Dare I say ‘pivotal’ again? It’s a little unfair but his name is often associated with two of the greatest shadows cast over the recent-ish past.) figures of the twentieth century.

I’m pretty sure that entire process took rather longer than fifteen minutes but how much of it counts as ‘writing’? Did I cheat? I have no idea. The fact that I posted this (if indeed I did post this) means that I don’t much care I guess.

Bob Oppenheimer (Apparently his nickname was ‘Opje’, not ‘Bob.’ My bad.) and I have two things in common. (If you don’t count ‘bad haircuts.’ If you do, we have three things in common.)

He was a physicist. Me, too. I mean, he was a much, much better one than me but technically we were members of the same ‘club.’ (Sort of like one of the things I share with Sam Carter.)

He was also a figure that destroyed things. Big things.

Hey, me too.

Except that, again, I’m underachieving. He ushered in science and technology of such potential — not a little of it destructive — that he brought significant change to the entire world. Me? Nothing nearly so grandiose or world-shattering.

I destroy blogs.

I don’t mean to, you understand. I don’t even understand how I do it. I just know that I do. Call it a knack, I guess.

How do I know this? Well, a while back I audited (saying that I ‘took’ it might imply a little more commitment than actually existed) a blogging ‘course’ from Werdpress. One of the assignments (that I sort of did, but in my usual half-assed way) made the claim/point/statement that blogging is a communal kind of thing and since it’s a communal kind of thing, there is value in ‘engaging’ with the community. So we were supposed to get out there and follow five new blogs. As it happens, I actually did what I was told.


One of that group of five is still going strong — a new post once a week or so. The evidence suggests that I didn’t disrupt her life or kill her blog. That’s nice.


Of the remaining four, one of these was by a prolific young lady with a nice writing ‘voice’ and a good sense of humor. I clicked ‘Follow.’

She vanished.

(Not completely, you understand. Just mostly. I think she’s posted once in the last year. So I didn’t kill her. Just her blog. And it may not be dead; it may just be resting.)

And then there was another young lady, somewhat less prolific but with a nice, somewhat self-deprecating verbal style. I liked her blog a lot so, as before, I clicked ‘Follow.’

She vanished too. (Again, not completely — while there were no posts in 2014 there has been one this year so she’s still out there.)

The fourth was another young lady with an impressive sense of the absurd who also apparently took the ‘Weirdness Magnetdisad. ( That second link appears to be intermittent. Suffice it to say that it’s fifteen points; you can buy a lot for fifteen points.) Again, I clicked ‘Follow.’

She didn’t exactly ‘vanish’ but her marriage ended and (understandably) she didn’t write much after that. Oh.

The last blog, well, after I started following her, the writer had significant health problems (not life-ending; after all, I kill blogs, not people) which slowed her down a lot and definitely changed her focus.

So. To recap.

Opje, the physicist (unlike me, a good one) who died the same year as the song I listened to, invented a device of mass destruction. I can’t destroy worlds but the available evidence suggests that I can destroy four out of five blogs simply by reading them.

And I don’t even get a cool quote.



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The other day I told a story about how a Person From Porlock wearing a golf shirt (Apropos to nothing, Google tells me there are five golf courses within twenty-five miles of Porlock. Good to know. I guess.) made me remember a story that I had forgotten. I then used that story to (a) babble aimlessly about ideas and where they come from, thereby boring several a few people to tears and (b) not incidentally, make the PFP (not this one) flee QLAB to the high ground. The joke was on him, though — the neighbor’s house is actually slightly downhill. Or so says the pink phone.

That story wasn’t the only one the PFP (or this one either) made me remember; it was all I needed to make him (nope) make like a tree, though. (I had no idea Porlock was so much better than Schenectady.) So after he (definitely not) left I still had an untold story. Who would I inflict it on tell it to?

Why, you of course.

The other story — the one I told him — was a cautionary tale about how his employer’s technical people weren’t always the earth-bound deities he had been told to tell me they were. Our first visit from one of these paragons wage slaves had proven that.

So, as a matter of fact, did the second. (And the third as it happens.)

Those two visits happened just under a decade later. Ms. Rose and I had decided that we wanted more windows and as a result we had a couple of guys (one of whom habitually wore shorts) come through the door every morning at 7 AM to smash holes in things. When they were creating a room to put the windows in, it became obvious that the telephone lines from the pole in the back yard would have to be moved — instead of coming in through a window on the south wall of the house, they’d have to come in via the east. Simple (dare I say trivial) to understand: move those two (2) wires from there to there. It happened while we were at work. When we came home the wires had been moved, a brand spanking new demarc had been installed and everything worked.


Wrong, actually. It didn’t.

I mean, it was close. (Ish.) One line worked flawlessly. The other, though, didn’t work at all. While .500 is unheard of for a batting average it’s uninspiring for moving two small things a small distance. I think we had seen this inability to count to two before and I wasn’t impressed then. I called The Phone Company.

“Hello? There was a guy at our house today to move two (2) lines. He only moved one of them and disconnected the other one. Nice demarc though. Shiny. Can we get this fixed because, you know, you’re not getting paid until it is.”

They said they’d send someone The Very Next Day. This time I was there waiting for him.

Wonder of wonders, the guy showed up roughly when The Phone Company said he would. Bonus marks for that. He didn’t really understand the problem, though, so I had to explain it to him.

“Hi. We have two phone lines. Well, we’re supposed to have two phone lines but today we only have one. Before yesterday both of them came into the house through that window (imagine me pointing) but because the guy in shorts (pointing again) is going to be building a wall (and again) that won’t work anymore so they (points at the wires) have to move to there (points at other window). The guy yesterday moved both wires but didn’t connect one of them. Since we’re paying for two phone lines we’d kind of like to have both of them.”

He didn’t look happy so I tried again.

And again.

And again. Clearly my strengths do not extend to clarity of exposition.

Eventually, though, he seemed to get it and went to work. It took him a good long while but it seemed (so he said) that what the guy the day before had done was move both wires but then cut one of them at the pole. What he was doing up the pole in the first place I couldn’t begin to guess. But the real question was could this guy fix it?

“Piece of cake.”

He went to work. After twenty or so minutes, multiple trips up the pole and several expeditions to his van, he said he was making progress. But then one of our neighbors came out of her house. Apparently her phone had just stopped working.

I bit back a snide remark about the definition of  ‘progress’ while he looked even unhappier and fled back up his pole. After another ten minutes or so the neighbor confirmed that her phone worked again, which meant that we were back to, not square one exactly, but at least an earlier square, one where the neighbors all had phone service even though we didn’t.

He still didn’t look happy (that seems to happen around me a lot) as he carried his ladder down the street and climbed a pole several lots over. (“That’s odd” said the guy in shorts “the first guy didn’t do that.”) He spent a long time up that pole then came back and climbed up ‘our’ pole again. When he came down he actually looked, if not happy, then a little optimistic.

“I think I’ve reconnected the cut wire. Now all I have to do is run it into the demarc and connect the demarc to your house wiring and it’s done.”

Sounded simple enough but after he spent time frowning owlishly at the grey box on the side of the house and at the wiring in the basement, he was back to looking unhappy.

“Is there a problem?”

“The other guy didn’t wire the demarc properly and I don’t have the hardware to fix it.”


“How long would it take to get the right parts?”

“I’m at the end of my shift so I can’t get it and come back because that would involve overtime and they wouldn’t approve it. Sending someone else would take an absolute minimum of a day. Probably longer.”

Oh again.

“Couldn’t you, you know, wire it straight into the house like it was before all this nonsense started?”

“I’m not supposed to do that. All homes that aren’t demarced are supposed to have one installed.”

“But we have one installed. It’s even being used. Does the rule say that you have to wire all lines through it?”

“I’m not sure what the exact wording is…”

“I won’t tell anyone.” (I guess the fact that I’m telling you now means I lied. In my defense, it was fifteen years ago and we no longer have a line from The Phone Company anyway.)

He wavered. You could tell he just wanted to leave. “Pleeze?”

He gave in, presumably so he could label the job ‘finished.’ He wired it straight into the house, bypassing the grey box entirely. He had the hardware for that.

And you know what? It worked.

So. The expert tech support moved two wires twenty feet. It took two guys almost two hours spread out over two days. They climbed two poles, disconnected two lines (and probably would have stressed out at least two bean counters if anyone had been foolish enough to tell them).

If my person from Porlock comes back, I’ll have to tell him that
story. I bet he wouldn’t appreciate it though.



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There are downsides to being a writer.

So I’ve been told. I mean, I wouldn’t know. I’m a babbler, I’m a scribbler, I’m a self-indulgent noodler. (Can you sing that?)

In other words, not a writer. At least, not a real one. Definitely not one with a capital letter. Despite not having personal experience in this area, there are tons of helpful people on the internet (Helpful people? On the internet? Are you INSANE?) who will tell you the downsides to being one. Some of them talk about the solitude. Some of them talk about the invisibility. Some of them just tell you that it’s too damned hard and you’re no good at it anyway.

Those look like some serious downsides, but are they really?  Take solitude, for example. I don’t mind solitude. I can turn up the music as loud as I want,. There’s never a line when I need to use the bathroom. I don’t have to share the remote. Solitude is cool.

Invisibility? Well, that’s something that affects everyone. Heck, even some of the most famous writers this county has ever produced have to struggle with invisibility (and not just because she’s shorter than you think). To the rest of us ordinary folks who live lives of quiet desperation, invisibility, well, it’s just the way things are.

As for being no good, well, you got me there.

How do I know I’m not a writer? Well, real writers wouldn’t take more than three weeks to produce fifteen hundred (1856 actually) words. And writers tend to get paid from time to time — I don’t, unless the definition of ‘from time to time’ includes ‘once in thirty-five years practically by accident.’ And I’m definitely not a writer because nobody asks me where I get my ideas.

Hm. Ideas.

They come from all over the place, that much I know. Neil Gaiman claims that they come from inside his head, but that’s clearly madness. Harlan Ellison claims that they come from Schenectady. A Famous Canadian Writer has said that sometimes story ideas come to him in dreams. And an Even More Famous English writer sometimes had them come to him in drug-induced stupors.

Of course, one downside of Inspiration — no matter where it comes from — is that it can be dispelled by a person from Porlock. Or maybe the phone company.

A week or so ago I was staring at an empty not-really-an-xterm window and looking for ideas when there was a knock at the door. “A politician” I thought. “This time for sure.

Umm, no. It was a twentysomething guy in a blue golf shirt bearing the logo of The Phone Company. Was I interested in purchasing home phone service? A satellite dish, perhaps? An internet connection?

Well, no. “We already have all of those.”

“But ours is better. The picture quality of our satellite service is unmatched in the industry.”

Hmm. I felt this necessitated a small lecture. So I talked about the differences between analog and digital and that, no matter what he had been told to say, his statement probably wasn’t true. I mean, to a first approximation, one digital TV signal is much like the next. I told him about watching The Alternative Factor on analog cable with both the vertical and horizontal hold nor working. I told him about all kinds of things. I think he started to look uncomfortable when I started discussing Shannon’s theorem.

There was a pause. He regrouped.

“Well, our service is cheaper than our competition.”

I didn’t quite read him the blog post I wrote on this topic, but I certainly delivered a nice (if I do say so myself) précis. I talked about phone services that cost five times what the competition charges, about the nice lady with big hair, about being a bovine. In short, I disagreed with him.

He looked cowed (moo!), perhaps even shaken, but still not beaten. He still had one more card that he’d been told to play.

“Our tech support is second to none. If someone has to visit your home, it will be a talented, highly-trained and experienced expert.”

Ah.  That card. I told him a story.

Once upon a time, this house (I patted the doorframe when I said this) had one phone line. One day we decided to add a second one — in those days some nerdy folks used these things called modems that you’ve probably NEVER EVEN SEEN to work from home, check email, jack into cutting edge virtual reality systems, stuff like that. A second line meant that you could do that and still be reached. Good stuff.

I checked the wiring; it was clear that the house had once had two phone lines because there appeared to be two sets of wiring. To my untalented, untrained and unprofessional eye, it looked doable. So I phoned The Phone Company and they scheduled a visit by a technician. (And by ‘scheduled’ I mean they told me ‘Someone will be there sometime on date X. Probably. Hope you’ve got a spare vacation day handy.’) So I sat at home, used the existing phone line to connect to work and hoped that no one needed to talk to me. Eventually there was a knock at the door. It was a guy with a tool belt.

“I have a work order to install a second phone line.”

Cool. I let him in and showed him around. “The house has phone jacks in these four rooms. I’d like a jack for the second line installed right THERE please. Also one right THERE. That one’s right next to an existing jack so with luck you won’t need to string any new cable.”

He frowned. “Let me see your basement.” I showed him the basement. He looked at the wiring blocks, frowned and reached for his tool belt. He looked confident. After ten minutes or so he said “Let’s go upstairs.” We went to the first floor. He looked at where I wanted the jack, frowned and reached for his tool belt again. After ten minutes or so he said “Done.” We plugged a phone into the new jack. It worked. Score. “Now the second floor.” We went to the second floor. He looked at the existing jack, frowned and… (did you guess?) reached for his tool belt. After ten minutes or so (surprise!) he said “Done.” Yay!

We plugged a phone into the new jack. It worked. Looked good.

Then we plugged a phone into the jack that been there already.

It was dead. Nothing. Nada. Not good. I ran to the other room on the second floor with a phone jack. It wasn’t dead, but it turns out it was connected to the wrong line. H’m. It looked as if, in the process of giving me a jack for the new line, he had disconnected one of the existing second-floor jacks and rewired the other one. Unfortunate.

Back to the first floor. Look in all the closets. Back to the basement. Back to the tool belt.


He looked at me.

“I’m pretty sure you just disconnected everything on the second floor.”

You could tell that he didn’t believe me. “I don’t think so.”

“I’m pretty sure. Humor me, please. Let’s go check.”

We went and checked. Every single jack — old and new — on the second floor was dead. He looked unhappy. Back to the basement.


He looked at me.

“I’m pretty sure you just disconnected the first floor.”

You could tell that he didn’t believe me but he agreed to check and sure enough, every jack on the first floor was dead. He looked even unhappier.


Back to the basement.

After twenty minutes or so (and two more exclamations of ‘Stop’ by me), things were close. The old jacks on the first floor worked. The new jack on the first floor worked. The old jacks on the second floor worked. The new jack on the second floor?  Dead. As a doornail. (And what the hell is a doornail, anyway?) Impossibly, the technician looked even unhappier. He climbed into a closet on the second floor, pulled a panel off the wall and stuck his head through the hole. Time passed.

“Well” he said “it’s not going to work. One of the wires is cut somewhere and I can’t tell where.”

A quick aside: In The Olden Days, home telephone wiring was typically done with quad (four strand) cable. A phone line used two wires; typically the first phone was put on the red and green ones. The other two wires (yellow and black) could be used for a second line (although there were circumstances where this might not be a good idea) or as spares if something broke or otherwise damaged the red or green wires. He had concluded that there was a break in either the yellow or black wires so a second line on the second floor was impossible with the existing wiring.

The Phone Company was willing to redo the wiring at additional cost, of course. But he couldn’t do it — I would have to call and make an appointment. Better find another vacation day.

“Umm, no” I said. “I think we can make this work.” He nodded and looked happy for the first time — he was going to get out of there. No more know-it-alls yelling “Stop” — paradise. He and his tool belt walked to the van with the logo on the side and drove off.

I went back upstairs to clean up — he had left the panel off the wall, for example. I climbed into the closet he had been sitting in and stuck my head through the hole. Right there was a junction box — one cable arrived from the basement and two others snaked off from it to the two rooms on the second floor. Seemed simple enough. The cable from the basement had three wires connected to terminals in the junction box.

Wait, what?

The fourth wire — the black one if I recall correctly — wasn’t connected to a terminal. It wasn’t connected to anything — for some reason it was just wrapped around the junction box.

Whaat? This is what the guy had been staring at when he concluded there was A BREAK IN THE WIRE SOMEWHERE?

I unwrapped the black wire and screwed it onto the black terminal on the junction box. And suddenly everything worked.



So the technician had come to my house, had disconnected existing phone lines AT LEAST FOUR TIMES, didn’t know it until I told him and had interpreted an obviously disconnected wire as being broken.

The conclusion, I told the twentysomething guy in the blue golf shirt, was that I wasn’t sure that I would call The Phone Company’s history of tech support as being uniformly excellent. Certainly nothing to brag about.

The twentysomething guy in the blue golf shirt — my person from Porlock — looked stricken, couldn’t think of anything to say (maybe he was just bored — that happens to me a lot) and went to the next house.

And that’s where I get (some of) my ideas.

Still not a writer, though.


Sparing (5, if you’re keeping score). Being an ill-mannered lout.

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I made Santa cry.

That’s not exactly accurate — it wasn’t Santa and he didn’t cry. Except for those trivial details, I’m telling the complete, unvarnished, unembellished truth.

I guess I should start at the beginning.

Curling is a funny game. (I have, of course, said that before but I think I used the word ‘peculiar’, not ‘funny’.)

It’s also a game with a lot of history, with a startling number of kilts and bagpipes (not exactly as shown), with a host of colourful characters, with volumes of traditions and with an elaborate array of rules, customs and etiquette.

Now, I don’t necessarily concern myself with the myriad rules of etiquette of curling (or anything else for that matter) because I’m a simple guy and that’s just too complicated for me to keep track of. I find it’s usually enough just to keep Wheaton’s Law at the back of my mind and go from there.

Some of ‘Da Roolz’ of curling aren’t complicated enough (or contentious enough, really) to bother breaking, of course: Be on time. Don’t interfere with a player when he’s throwing a rock. Try to exemplify the principles of good sportsmanship.

I do make an effort at all of those but sometimes I fall, um, a wee bit short. For example, I try to be on time except when something comes up or I forget. But when I get there I sit on the floor of the dressing room near the door (there’s no bench space left if you cut things a little close) and delay the early birds trying to leave because they have to step over me. And I don’t leap around and try to distract the opposition when they’re shooting (despite what I was taught by a guy with an MBA) but there’s no prohibition to making their eyes bleed. (Just a little, you understand.) And I believe in sportsmanship (the conventional definition of ‘sportsmanship’ is pretty close to Wheaton’s Law, after all) but I confess that the time I helped a team skunk someone last year I enjoyed it more than I probably should have. (In my defense, it wasn’t just Schadenfreude, it was partly payback — their skip had beaten me pretty badly a couple of weeks earlier.)

What this all means is that I tried to be good when a bunch of kids asked me to spare for them. Really I did. (I’m using the noun ‘spare’ as a verb again. Sorry.)

Early in my curling career (not the right word but I kind of like how ‘career’ implies ‘out of control’) I was told (by an engineer — physicists don’t always listen to engineers) that a good spare “throws two, sweeps six and keeps his mouth shut.” So in this game against an iconic figure of joviality (not really; he had a beard, that’s kind of where the resemblance ended) I started out trying to be a Good Spare. I threw two. I swept six. I kept my mouth shut.

The game went pretty well, all things considered. The team of kids (well, they technically weren’t kids, you understand, just a lot younger than I was and comparatively inexperienced curlers) weren’t expected to do all that well against the more skilled, more experienced, more juggernauty Team Santa Guy With A Beard. But you know what? There’s a reason why you play the games. Because things don’t always go the way you expect.

By which I mean that ‘we’ were winning. Not by a lot, you understand. A little.  It was no runaway. We were ahead by a point. Playing six. With.

Let me explain that. ‘Most’ curling games are eight ‘ends‘ so the sixth end is often pivotal. It’s good to have the last rock (‘with’) in the sixth end because if the other team scores in seven, you’ll have last rock back in the eighth and final end. (That’s good.)

On the other hand, a one-point difference in the score that late in the game often indicates that it’s been a fairly evenly matched game. Which means that it could go either way — anything could happen in the last couple of ends. You’d like to score at least two points with last rock to take a three-point lead to seven but you probably don’t want to yolo — if it doesn’t work out it could give the edge to the other team. And that wouldn’t do.

The opposing skip had two main options — he could try to steal (take points without last rock) in six, seven and eight or he could try to ‘force’ us to take a single point in six, try to take two or more in seven and go all out to score in eight to win the game. I’m pretty sure that’s what he decided to do — he played six to apply some pressure but without going overboard — he wanted to make sure we couldn’t score multiple points. He wanted us to take one (1)
point. It’s a valid strategy.

(I didn’t ask him, you understand. You don’t often see a player ask the opposing skip what his Master Plan is for the remainder of the game. And a generic front-end player? Even less likely. A front ender who happens to be just a spare? Inconceivable. I was just paying attention. I do that sometimes.)

So Santa’s the opposing skip who didn’t look anything like a colourful holiday figure Plan appeared to be working — it looked like we would take one point (or give up some, but taking points is almost always better). I won’t say he had us exactly where he wanted us (he was still losing, after all) but he had to be a little bit happy. ‘My’ skip had realized what was happening too; as he contemplated his last shot he seemed resigned to his (our) single point. It wasn’t a bad thing, but it could have been better. He looked a little glum as he talked the situation over with his third. The other skip looked satisfied.

I was standing out at the hog line (five metres away, more or less), leaning on my broom, resting after some powerful almost but not quite adequate sweeping and keeping my mouth shut like a good spare.  The skip called his shot to take a single point and got ready to head down the ice to throw it.


He had missed something. (I think I mentioned that he wasn’t terribly experienced.)

Oh again.

What’s a barely competent spare to do? Etiquette said I should keep my mouth shut. On the other hand, if I spoke up our odds of winning would probably go up. As a spare, though, I didn’t actually care if we won. But I was playing for the underdogs. And it’s nice when underdogs win. What to do?

A dilemma to be sure.

But them I imagined the reaction of the guy who really didn’t look like a soda pop salesman at all.

That clinched it. I walked forward and pointed.

“Hit that one right there and you’ll take four. Minimum.”

I wasn’t disappointed.


Electioneering. Not.

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So I was sitting in the Green Chair of Thinkitude listening to English musicians sing about English things (sort of) when the doorbell rang.

“That’s odd” I thought. “Who could that be? I’m not really expecting anyone. Perhaps it’s an annoying politician. Maybe I’ll go be rude to him.”

So I left my seat and ran (well, not really) to the door so I could behave badly. Perhaps it would be the mediocre ex-mayor. Or the hideous moustache. It’s not that far from the Green Chair to the front door, but I rehearsed what I was going to say on the way.

I opened the door.

There was no politician. In fact, there was no one at all. There was just a small package.

Of doom.

I was going to go for a walk. Now I’m afraid to.