Trimming (2017)

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I don’t always do what I’m told.

You can ask anyone. Ask Ms. Rose (she’s not here right now but she’s not far) and she’ll tell you how long it takes me to pick up the dirty socks I leave on the living room floor. Ask Sir Rose (she’s not here either but is only three hours thataway) and she’ll tell you, well, all sorts of things. Ask Dr. Brutal (apparently his students called him that; he wasn’t supposed to know). He’ll tell you how I’m supposed to throw the rock AT THE BROOM, DAMMIT but I usually throw it at something only I can see twenty feet off to the right. (Or left — I’m flexible that way.)

I don’t always do what I’m told.

But sometimes I do. Like last Friday.

Various people (like ‘everyone that has walked by the house for at least the last three months’) has been telling me that it really was time to trim the radish. (And no, that’s (still) not a euphemism. ‘The radish’ is a three-and-a-half-meter-tall Taxus (not) in the front yard. Once a year it gets a haircut to keep it looking vaguely like, well, a radish.) Since the weather forecast on Thursday mentioned frost and since it looked like a two-day job I started assembling trimmers, clippers, poles, rubber bands, ladders and motivation. (I’ve been looking for that last one for several months. Some days were too hot. Some were too cold. Too wet. Too dry. Something on TV. No clean socks. And so on.)

The montage of tool-assembling wasn’t too tiring so Thursday also included a once-or-twice-over of the bottom two-thirds of the radish and the filling of several large bags with mostly-green detritus.

I was a little disappointed, though. One of the ‘features’ of the Annual Trimming Of The Radish is that it ALWAYS brings a story with it — someone ALWAYS stops by (usually someone I’ve never spoken to in my life) and provides ‘insightful’ commentary. On Thursday, however, no one stopped. No one said anything. No stories. Nada. Bupkis. “Oh well” I thought, “maybe tomorrow.”

On Friday it was more of the same but without the necessity of disturbing puppet images I could spend more time creating fighting entropy. After about eleventy-zillion years of a not-quite binary search (Math 373 pops up in the damnedest places) for the Ideal Radish I was hot, sweaty, covered in little green bits and above all tired. Was I done? Was it good enough? Could I rationalize quitting? A comfy chair and a cold beverage were looking pretty attractive but there was that little bit near the top that wasn’t quite right…

Just then a couple that I had never seen before walked by, pushing what I’m guessing was their first grandchild in one of those monster strollers that seem all the rage these days. They stopped and cast a (well, really four) critical eye over my feeble attempts at topiary.

Perfect” they said.

Sometimes I do do what I’m told.

 

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Spotting

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rant

I was browsing the web site that will eventually kill me when a suggestion to write something about (of all things) tea materialised in my inbox. What a coincidence — I had a mug of it next to me so how hard could it be? (That mostly rhetorical question was rendered not entirely rhetorical when I discovered several pieces of onion in it. Not exactly your typical breakfast of champions.)

While picking onions from my teeth I decided to look up ‘tea’ on the Website Of Doom — what did it have to say? Lot of things, but it reminded me that Tea Solves Everything.

Like yesterday afternoon — I was enjoying a mug of tea (actually, more of a pail with a handle on it) when I received email from my cell phone carrier. Uh oh — that’s rarely a good thing, even though the subject line said “AWESOME NEW SERVICE.”

Despite the capital letters it wasn’t bad news — they were actually claiming to give me something (for nothing). Neat. (Hard to believe, but neat.) Tell me more.

The email was a little sketchy. It was long on self-congratulation (“We’re giving you something for nothing — aren’t we kewl?”) and short on details (“Details aren’t kewl.”) but there was a link. Not a particularly good link you understand — I would have preferred actual documentation written out in English or something approaching it but they gave me a video instead because apparently Reading Is Too Hard For Their Customers. So I clicked on the link — what did I have to lose? It took a long time. Good thing I had that pail of tea. So I was calm, relaxed and reasonably well hydrated when the link failed.

“The connection has timed out” it said. 35 hours later it’s still saying the same thing. (Apparently you can buy that kind of quality.)

Hm. So they sent me email about an AWESOME NEW SERVICE and the not-really-documentation-at-all that might explain what it was and how to use it doesn’t actually exist. Really? Maybe I should try (shudder) tech support. After all, my pail-with-a-handle was still reasonably full. I decided to try the “Live Chat” option.

Predictably, it didn’t work. At least it didn’t work in the web browser that I was using at the time. This is one of my pet peeves: in my not really humble at all opinion all web services should work in all browsers and if they don’t they should say so. So this failed on two counts — it didn’t work and it didn’t say it didn’t work. Counting the initial link not working they were already up to strike three. In some games you would be out at this point — but not a technology-related one.

So I switched browsers and before long I was ‘talking’ to a nice man who clearly wanted to help but had no idea what my problem was. Apparently I don’t communicate as well as I like to think I do. But eventually he mailed me some actual Documentation. Success.

Well, not so much. Because the documentation was written in HTML (well, what isn’t these days?) and every image failed to load.

Every

Single

One.

(What are we up to, strike 4? Or is it 5 by now?) But in the actual, you know, words I found a hint that led me to something that looked promising. A button. In an app that up until now had no obvious use. I pushed it. Inevitably, it failed.

Interestingly, the error message claimed that it had failed because I wasn’t connected to the carrier’s wireless network. “That’s odd” I thought “the phone claims it is. And you’d think it would know.” I told the nice man at the other end of my chat session what had happened. Did he have any suggestions?

Turns out he did. Because apparently he had been trained in the “have you tried turning it off and on again” school of tech support. And Lo! After being turned on again the phone said it was connected to the same wireless network it had been connected to before but the error message WENT AWAY and I could actually see the thingy that they said they had given me. Apparently I had emptied my pail Just In Time.

So I learned a few things:

Three strikes are for chumps. Or small children. Or something. Just not cell phone carriers.

Turning it off and on again works more often than you’d think.

And I never could have done it without the tea.

 

Fishing

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I understand general relativity; I just don’t understand this.

I didn’t say that. I’ve never said that. I mean, after studying it for a decade or so I probably come closer than some people but I would never, ever claim that I understood it. I’m arrogant but not that arrogant. No, those words were uttered by someone I knew in grad school. It’s been more than thirty years so I don’t remember much about him — just his appearance (a physicist, so bad haircut, distressed (but not fashionably) jeans and a T-shirt with an allegedly humourous saying on it). In particular I don’t remember his area of study (given the quote, possibly astrophysics but I’m far from sure about that) or even his userid name.

I didn’t know him all that well (he was approaching graduation when I was starting and there wasn’t whole lot of ‘generational’ interaction among grad students) but he was the TA (teaching assistant) for a sophomore course in electricity and magnetism — a course I had come uncomfortably close to failing only a few years earlier. I considered myself lucky that I did not TA this course.

Until.

I was sitting in my office one evening recovering from one WAB (being pre-internet, we called it a WADG) and preparing for the next when the phone I had (against all rules) tampered with began to ring. It was another senior (ish) student that I didn’t know all that well.

“Hello?” (I probably didn’t actually say ‘hello’ but it’s the conventional response.)

“Rose? Dude!” (Being pre-Farglik, people didn’t often say ‘Dude’ which is one of the many good things I remember from that era. I’ve inserted it to sort of illustrate the tone of the phone call.) He continued:

“I’m sick as a dog so I’m looking for someone to take my lab tomorrow. It’s actually a tutorial so you wouldn’t have to learn any of the experiments. It’s kinda last minute and I’m a little desperate.” I wondered idly how many people he had tried before getting to me and if I should be flattered or insulted. But this seemed like an opportunity to unload one of my Friday afternoon labs, so…

“Yah, I can do that. What course? What room? What time?”

“Thanks. You’re a life saver. It’s 230 with Dr. H–. Room 4-something at 2:30 — it’s on the schedule in the break room.”

Crap. 230 was the course I had come uncomfortably close to failing. (As an aside, it just occurred to me that doesn’t narrow things down as much as I’d like it to.)

E&M.

I was doomed.

And to make matters worse, it was the same prof that ‘taught’ it to me so he would be acutely aware of my, um, let’s call them ‘shortcomings’. Damn. And it was a tutorial. Labs involve more prep work, it’s true, but they’re a little easier to fake. In a tutorial, you actually have to know the material. Or at least look like you know the material. And I definitely didn’t.

Did I mention I was doomed?

Turns out some parts weren’t as bad I thought. Professor H– treated me with something approaching respect (which was more than a little unexpected and almost certainly undeserved). Some of the tutorial problems I could actually do. For the ones I couldn’t, I figured out who the class brain was and asked him. The other TA was experienced, knowledgeable and congenial (that last one is often hard for a physicist). It wasn’t that bad.

Yeah, right.

About two thirds of the way through the list of ‘suggested questions’ was a Difficult Problem. An extremely difficult problem. A scary difficult problem. I had no idea. The class brain had no idea. The other TA had no idea. I was going to have to ask Dr. H–, at which point he’d write me off as a brain damaged moron and probably ridicule me in front of the entire room. It was time to sing the doom song.

It was at that moment, though, that the other TA went up to Dr. H– and said about that particular problem

I understand general relativity; I just don’t understand this.

Way to take one for the team. Many thanks. I owe you one. Still.

All of this went through my head on a recent Sunday as Ms. Rose and I drove northward towards crows, pigs and guys with flamethrowers. It was the weekend that in Canada semi-officially marks the start of spring — not only can you incinerate pigs but you can plant your annuals and get your white clothes out of storage. It’s kind of a big deal to Canadians after a long winter.

It’s apparently also some sort of Significant Date for people who like to fish. I mean, I don’t know much about fishing but that day it seemed like every second vehicle on the road was bristling with rods and towing a boat. Not only that but every boat launch ramp that we passed looked like a Buy More on Black Friday.

So I learned something. Not exactly a revelation or an epiphany but a discovery. Guess you do learn something every day, even if that something might be small. But then I learned something rather bigger and rather unexpected.

Now I don’t fish. I haven’t fished since that time I flung someone else’s fishing rod out of a canoe forty years ago but I thought I sort of knew how it was done: you climb into a boat with a hook, a string and a tub of annelids and then you let mosquitoes bite you until your sunburn is so painful it drives you indoors. Simple. But speeding toward the Verona boat launch was something that suggested that fishing is rather more complicated an activity than I had suspected.

It was two guys in a pickup. (No surprise yet.) Behind the truck was a boat (ditto) with what looked like several hundred fishing rods in it (double ditto). What was revelatory was what was in the bed of the pickup — a piece of equipment I had never, ever associated with piscatory activities.

Because there (barely held down — you could tell they were in too much of a hurry to secure their load properly) was a trampoline.

A round one. If that matters.

It’s a good thing Ms. Rose was driving because I spent the next several minutes wracking my brain to try and guess how one (or two I suppose) might use a trampoline to catch fish.

I failed.

But then I remembered that TA back in ’82:

I understand general relativity; I just don’t understand this.

Even though you might learn something every day doesn’t mean you’ll understand it.

 

Dirting

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Earth Day is, apparently, tomorrow today. And in that context a nice lady who likes Oxford commas (and who probably has a better relationship with her local fauna than I do) challenged me a bunch of folks to

…share an image that means “earth” to you — whether it’s a panorama of a landscape that takes your breath away, a close-up revealing a detail in nature, or another scene that honors the outdoors, we welcome your takes on the theme!

Well.

A photo challenge. One that’s topical (that’s good) and that’s also open to, um, ‘creative’ interpretation (even better). There’s just one problem — I don’t do photo challenges because I like to think I know my limitations and as a general rule I take pretty crappy pictures.

Except that I just took a couple that are sort of relevant (they have dirt in them and I understand it’s all about the dirt earth) because after removing six bags worth of debris from the rose garden (only another four or five to go) I wanted to document the process. Sort of.

Not exactly as shown.

Right.

Of course, thats not one of the pictures I took. That’s not what it looks like. That’s what it might look like in a month’s time, of course, because that’s what it did look like last May (the 28th if that matters).

This garden screams (no, brags) that despite the efforts of a clumsy, lazy, dimwitted guy (that would be me) it’s alive. This garden shouts “look at me” at passersby. This garden announces in no uncertain terms that summer is just around the corner. (Also, weeding is rather overdue. Lazy, remember?)

Of course, that last one also implies that it’s all downhill: it may scream ‘life’, but it also screams ‘ephemeral.’

And transient.

And fleeting.

But it doesn’t matter, because that’s not a picture I took yesterday. One picture I took yesterday (taken from roughly the same position) is below:

Couple days of sun, couple days of rain and you never know what might make an appearance.

It’s a lot less striking. It still proclaims ‘life’ but is less about plants getting old and having torrid sex than it is about rebirth and awakening and change and cycles

and potential.

And at this point in my life, ‘potential’ strikes a rather large chord. Larger than most.

(Plus it’s all about the dirt. And penguins, I suppose.)

 

Melting

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I am a creature of habit.

That’s really nothing more than a (euphemistic) shorthand for “I’m an extremely boring and pathetic individual” but I like to think it makes me seem just that little bit less boring and pathetic. (Who needs five stages of ANYTHING when you’ve got denial? Denial — one-stop shopping for all your self-delusion needs.)

Pathetic or not, boring or not, certain things do trigger certain responses. Don’t have last rock in the first end?  Throw a tight inturn guard. Writing a story and the plot bogs down? Add ninjas. It’s Saturday morning and you’re hungry? Go to the Insomniac Capriform Cafe and order bacon and eggs.

Ah.

That’s a problem. (One that, surprisingly, denial doesn’t help with.) Not because I’ve ceased being boring and pathetic (I wish), not because I decided I don’t like eggs (not gonna happen) but because we just passed the one year anniversary of the closing of the Insomniac Capriform Cafe. After more than two decades, it’s gone.

A year.

His disapproving gaze kept me from
ripping the door off its hinges.
(Again.)

A year without altercations with a poorly socialized doorman. A year without exploding simiiformes. Twelve months without close encounters with frightening (possibly incomplete) art. Fifty Saturday breakfasts that haven’t been at the Insomniac Capriform Cafe. (That’s not to say they haven’t happened, but we’ve been looking for the Perfect Spot and haven’t yet found it. So there’s no Routine.)

There’s one place with pretty good eggs, darned good home fries and generally friendly staff. Unfortunately it’s frequently too busy to get a table, the coffee is mediocre at best and the art is both unchanging and completely generic. There’s another that has a guy who habitually shows up to watch soccer and root for whoever is playing against Arsenal. And while that does score major quirkiness points, the menu (while excellent) is geared more toward lunch than breakfast. There’s another place with a pretty good menu but it’s kinda busy, kinda chichi and happens to be owned by a giant lizard who looks like Godzilla (but for copyright reasons isn’t). And so on. For fifty-odd weeks.

On a recent-ish Saturday we (Ms. Rose and I) were walking downtown, heading toward yet another completely adequate yet somehow faintly dissatisfying breakfast when we passed by a family — Mom, Dad and their five(ish) year old son. The young gentleman was having an exceptionally, um, vociferous Moment on the sidewalk. As we passed them he shouted (with as much hatred as a five year old can muster, which is quite a lot)

I HATE COFFEE.

Hmm. Apparently I’m not the only one struggling with the concept of breakfast. Maybe I’m not as pathetic as I thought.

Nah.