desert

Puppies

The girls have been all over me like puppies the last few days, and because of it I've been reluctant to tell them I'm going away again for 2 weeks. Neither of them is getting enough sleep, some 3 weeks into the merging of the daughters into one room, because G requests songs all night and P obliges, performs. It's too adorable to stop. At some point I'll have to give them a number of songs to not exceed.
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trying to recall a long walk, notes on a work in progress

Start with the water
Always start with the water; it's the most interesting thing.

Somewhere in the back of the mind is Mr. Trautwein or Mr. Eisenstein
a lecture on Constructive interference, destructive interference and the like
and here at the feet the waves just touch the toes but the sand is wet far behind you.
Two small waves support each other in a yearning for the shore.

A thin film of water flows over you and past you and when the waves retreat
the sand around you, saturated, becomes a mirror and suddenly stars.
You've walked far enough past the lights and down the strand and lost
in your own thoughts you forgot the definition of myriad.

The stars at your feet shimmer as the water soaks into the sand.
You look up and they shimmer still. Never far from the city you
have never seen the sea of stars That must be a planet, Mr Trautwein says,
it's the brightest one. Venus perhaps? which would make that Mercury and
that Jupiter but that one's brighter and wait

My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pickles...
And Then Went Down To The Corner Store And... none of these are planets.
myriad. sea. universe.
For a moment you catch the spinning of the planet out of the corner of your eye
and it nearly knocks you to the sand.
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Postcard

The statue of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens has a group of little mice in a nook at the rear. People leave small folded notes for Peter, and Peter responds on the back in a thick pencil with a playful hand.



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Hello jet lag my old friend

I've beaten my 7am wake-up call by at least 2 hours. It makes sense, I suppose- last weekend I was in Virginia seeing a godson off to boot camp, and in Virginia right now it's nearly lunch time. When the sun comes up over Kawaihae Harbor in a few hours it will do so with the intensity of the summer sun on the desert side of a Pacific island, so I shouldn't be too worried about being awake for the work day.

I didn't travel much the 8 years I was with NASA. A few trips to Langley (and, I found out after I booked my first flight there, not -that- Langley) and a couple of drives to local radar sites and control towers. I worked for some brilliant people and did some brilliant things, but all from a darkened, air conditioned office that they called a lab despite there being few of the accoutrements I would consider necessary for a laboratory.

I traded that for a workshop, attached to a manufacturing floor. At some point in the next week I'll be flying over a harbor in a small plane with an antenna jury-rigged to the exterior, talking to a fleet of robots in the water and testing how much data I can really suck up during a fly-by. It's heady stuff. I'm nervous as all hell. Not because there's a wrong answer, but because I'm the one giving the answer, my first answer to a question posed by my new compatriots. I want it to be a proper answer so they'll ask me more questions and harder ones.

Hello, jet lag, my old friend. I see you've brought some old familiar insecurities with you. Let's sit a while and catch up. It has been a while.
desert

Bucolic suburbia

It's 11am on a Saturday, the first really summer-feeling Saturday since the winter rains. The sun is getting high and the air is easily in the 80s already. J got home from work at 3am and Christian got back from the bars sometime later, so I'm sitting alone on the back porch in my Adirondack chair, feet up on the fire pit I converted from wood to propane a couple of summers ago to warm and light the cool northern California evenings. I'm drinking coffee with cinnamon and listening to bees explore the blossoming orange tree above me and the rose bushes just off to my side.

The yard smells like summer. The grass is dewy still in the shade of the orange and lemon tress but the concrete path around the garden is hot and the sun is baking the potting soil under the tomatoes and pepper plants nearby. There's hardly any breeze, so the smell of the young plants, the grass and the orange blossoms hangs lazily around me. The only sounds in the neighborhood are the bees and a couple of songbirds, and somewhere a couple of houses away the faint sound of a weekend news program on someone's TV comes through their open porch door. Dan Rather, I'd say, if he hadn't passed away earlier this year.

I picked an orange, encouraged by the bees, and turned my thumbs and one fingernail yellow trying to get into it. I got half the peel off and ate the insides like an apple, leaning ungracefully over the arm of my chair so the juice running down my chin would miss the rest of me. This tree is leftover from when suburbia was an orchard, and it produces a hundred or so baseball-sized oranges at a time in 2 or 3 blooms throughout the year. When the blossoms for the next crop appear (and they're littering the grass and walkway under the tree with little white curls now), the last crop is ready for picking and juicing or falling from the branches and tempting the ants, which seems to keep them happy and out of the house.

J emerged in powder blue pyjamas and an old tank top to glower at the bougainvillea and inspect the climbing peas and the impatiens. We put the bougainvillea too close to the fenceline and it doesn't get enough sun; but it gets enough to look alive for a small portion of the summer months. She then retreated from the sunlight to find a coffee. I hear a seagull now, a little too far inland from the San Francisco bay. A couple of the gang of crows who make up our neighborhood toughs, probably chasing off a pigeon as they're wont to do. Doors are opening and closing in the houses nearby and the still air carries percussion from a good distance. A faint horn- the weekend commuter rail to San Francisco going by a mile or two away, carrying families to the Earth Day celebration in the city, most likely. Soon there will be the usual sounds of men working on pet projects in garages, the occasional car going through the neighborhood, people strolling with babies or dogs or on bicycles. It's time to sort out breakfast or brunch or whatever you call it when the morning has passed and you've got no pressing needs but those of basic biology, at least for the better part of a warm and lazy day.
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Honeymooning

My wife (wow, that's going to take some getting used to saying) told me something new this afternoon as we walked back along Rua da Alfandega from tango lessons at the 'Castelo' in Lisbon and a very casual meal with live local (enthusiastic if not professional)'fado' music outdoors at a street cafe. She said "Early on, at the place at Bayview, I remember you sitting on the couch in your boxers and maybe a t-shirt or a wifebeater, eating soup out of the can with a spoon, holding the can with an oven mitt because you heated it directly on the stove. I thought to myself, "this man really needs a woman".

We're in Portugal, done with our cruise and coming home on the 4th of July. Right now we've had too much very bad Portuguese wine and there is a free classical music concert in a park a block away from our seedy city center hotel. We can hear it just fine from our room, but we're wandering out to see it more closely. It has been a very fine voyage; I'll try to post photos and stories over the next week or two.
desert

(from a late dinner at the Empire, a week before my wedding)

8 Days.

A week from now I'll be running around taking care of last minute things, or listening to speeches at the rehearsal dinner. Right now, I"m having a rye Manhattan and some oysters at the Empire Tap Room. The bartender, Dean, has a New York, or maybe Boston accent- he's been in California too long for me to be sure. His Manhattan is good. A little light on the vermouth, but he told me what rye he used and stuck around to make sure I was OK with it.

The girl tells me sometimes I'm not reflective enough. I'm not, much, around people. People generally don't want to know what's in my head when we're out-of-doors and carousing, telling stories or wandering through the world. I use up my reflective time when I'm on my own, that sort of self indulgence is best kept solo I think.

There's a guy in the middle of the bar telling his buddy that his brewer friend told him every Guinness beer is brewed in Ireland, they don't have distributors. That takes me back to London, to The Plough in Northolt, where one of my regulars worked at the Guinness brewery down the street. He couldn't wait to get off shift to come to my bar and order a bottle of Budweiser. "I know they drink that Irish shite everywhere, but give me an American import any day". I never did take him up on his offer of a brewery tour. I wonder if that means, in some sense, it never existed.

There's sand in my oysters. I've been so many places on the water- Waikiki, Sayulita, Melborne, the Keys... even Boston. My first week in Boston I took the Blue Line as far as it would go in the unfashionable direction. I got off at a place called "Wonderland" (why wouldn't you?) where years later Steve would take Elise Mandel to a swing dancing celebration at an old fashioned dance hall. I walked out to the cold empty beach and watched airplanes land at Logan across the bay. I thought, I could live here. Kayak in the morning, take the train to work. Come home and take my shoes off, walk along the beach on my way home, sand in my toes, and watch airplanes landing and taking off all night. I ended up on Powderhouse across from Tufts on the second floor of a house. It overlooked a big sunny, grassy field where the students would play volleyball and soccer and frisbee in the summertime. But every once in a while, I'd take the train to Wonderland after work and walk along the beach curling my toes in the sand.

At the bachelor party (or technically the night before the party, but with the same people), my groomsmen asked if they were here to celebrate, or talk me out of it. To their credit (and to mine for keeping these guys around), they were totally up for either. When I proposed I asked her if she'd keep going on adventures with me, forever. I don't think she really heard the question at the time, but the answer was yes when I asked it again. I think she means it.
She didn't have vagabond days like I did, I don't know if she's the sort that would have wanted them, but I feel if there was some half-convincing reason to run off to New Orleans, or Oxford, or Fashing, she'd wholeheartedly pack up and set off. I wonder if she'd push for the same if she needed a change of scenery. I suppose I'll find out.

(My bartender is from Framingham, MA, and is quite aware the Bruins lost today)

So...yeah. I haven't mentioned much about the last several months here. Work has been inconsistent and frustrating and busy, but it has always been that way. I've traveled a bit, but not enough to ease the wanderlust. On that front, J and I are taking a 2 week trip to Spain 8 days from now, one week of which will be a cruise from Barcelona to Lisbon on a sailing yacht. My family and friends have been generous in many, many ways the last few months, and it looks like this whole crazy wedding thing is going to be brilliant. I wish I could have fit 15 more people on the invitation list, but as much as I tried, we just couldn't do it. There's more to say, but the bar is clearing out and I should take my musing brain on the road and see what's happening outside on an early summer night.
desert

Stream of consciousness theatre, with a bit of spring sunshine

The spring rains subside, the sun inches closer and the days get longer- and a young man's thoughts turn to the same thing every year: Holy crap I got fat and pasty over the winter. I'm actually a bit lighter than usual, but so, so pale.

My flightline run this afternoon was the first in about 2 months- and by the way, that California drought they've been talking about for 5 years is over now. The sun on my face lightened my mood as well. I don't think I've been particularly grumpy, but with the intricacies and persistence of wedding, honeymoon and life? planning; and a sloppy change of projects at work (two groups want me full time, all the time), and the resultant dearth of time for music, reading, and play I've been very... focused.

The planning is going well though- lots and lots of family will be invading northern California in mid June, it looks like we'll have food, music, and rooms for them; a ceremony of some sort, some cocktails and wine, and a bit of dancing. Then we'll run off to southern europe for a bit of a trip on a huge 4-mast sailing yacht. I wonder if they'd let me Slide down the sails like Douglas Fairbanks or if that would just annoy them. There are many more details we'd like to work out, of course- clothing, flowers, what sort of weaponry to arm the bridesmaids and groomsmen with in case things get out of hand- but the really important bits seem to be coming along nicely.

Sleep, meditation and B-vitamins, that was your prescription for focus, wasn't it thewronghands? I've been reading that a lack of sleep spikes dopamine production, so insomnia may be a method of self-medicating (as are adrenaline, gambling, and risky behaviour) when your brain chemicals get out of whack. I've been thinking a bit about this lately watching myself get less and less effective as workloads go up and get less defined. Another friend writes about her daughter who excels when stated goals are laughably small (doubling, tripling, quadrupling the goals) but gets swamped in overthinking and inaction when the goals are of a reasonable size or at all vague. I kind of know what she means- I have really high expectations of myself, but seem to have to explicitly break things down quite a bit more than is becoming or risk getting lost Yak Shaving. Somebody remarked last week as I was telling one story or another, "is there anything you -haven't- done?" to which my instant mental picture was a todo list that I may have to buy a new hard drive to hold if it gets any longer (which means I'd have to back up the old drive which means I'd have to finish finding cover art for a couple of music albums, and learn if VMWare virtual machines can be played in VirtualBox and how you get around Windows registration if you virtualize a drive you want to continue to use in both environments...)

And speaking of yak shaving, I've got to return some books to the store and find some mint to plant because we're going skiing in a couple of weeks. Exit, stage left.
desert

Living Out Loud: Tempting Fate

This is inspired by geniealisa's Living Out Loud project. I've been meaning to write a bit more, and I really enjoy reading the works her prompts inspire.

Have you ever looked back and realized how close you came to not getting where you are now?

In a proper world, where I listened to the wisdom of my elders and paid less attention to the pressure of my peers, I imagine I'd be in a very different place right now. In fact, a far-flung friend who grew up in the same places I did and at the same time is retiring this year after a 20 year career in the service, from which he'll take lifetime salary and medical insurance. He's looking at a question few people my age do: your basic needs and those of your family are hereby taken care of; it'll be 25 years or more before body parts start falling off... what next?

But that's not my story.

I never really figured out what I wanted to do with myself growing up. I took a bunch of tests in high school to try to narrow my options, to no avail. For example, I took this test from the Army called the ASVAB which is supposed to tell you where your strengths and weaknesses lie. I got all the questions right, which the recruiter said meant, 'Well, you can do anything you want'. Not useful. But I'm the son of a military man, and military bases feel like home, so I jumped through a whole bunch of hoops to head for the Air Force Academy. I put 'engineering' on the application because I couldn't be a pilot and that was the next most potentially lucrative thing on the list. My grades weren't stellar but I had a lot of high-powered recommendations, and I made it most of the way through the process before evidence of a previous car accident knocked me pretty far down the list and out of the running. "Are you sure you've never had a concussion, Mr. Smith?" the doctor asked me, looking at an x-ray of my sternum, which I couldn't remember having broken in the way she was pointing out.

I could have waited a year and tried again, or gone to one of the academy prep schools like a good friend and probably gotten in from there, but the social pressure in my school made it almost impossible to take a year off (a 'gap year' as the Aussies call it- I think now this is the best thing a 17 year old can do). Most of my peers were heading to the Ivies, and I felt I had to do -something- interesting to separate myself from the 2 or 3 people in my class who weren't. So I picked a school in Florida that had rolling admission, and a reputation for feeding NASA engineers, and headed that way.

It didn't go well. That's not totally fair, I had a great time, and I left on my own a quarter or so before they asked me to leave, but it certainly wasn't with a degree. Afterwards, I kicked around Maryland for a little bit, but I was swamped and distracted with questions of my own self worth and suddenly shaky trajectory. I felt I had to get some breathing room, while at the same time my folks made it clear that school was important, and wherever I went there was probably a school there they'd help me attend.

I don't remember where the idea came from anymore, but somehow I found a service that offered $180 one-way flights to Europe (as long as you weren't picky about exactly when you left or precisely where you landed). Around the same time, I heard of a drug study at UMMC that paid $1600 if you stayed in it for a full 4 months, testing the rate of absorption of some generic painkiller. It involved a whole lot of needles, but a great big paycheck at the end (in mid-summer, conveniently well before I'd need to face questions of enrollment for the fall). I also picked up a companion who was in a similar mental state and who convinced me he'd be an asset on a one way trip to some un-named European nation, as he spoke German and I spoke Spanish and that covered at least, well, 2 of the countries we knew about.

Naturally, the world decided that wasn't interesting enough. We signed up for the flight service after the study ended, and a couple of weeks later we landed in Paris, a city in which Spanish is nigh on useless and German is actually a negative asset. Particularly on the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the city from the Nazis. In addition, our bank cards had a nasty habit of breaking French ATMs, so we had $200 in traveler's checks between us and no idea when the glitch would be fixed.

Paris, in late summer, is a very expensive place to be. We couldn't read enough French to find a hotel room for less than I had in traveler's checks. A (fluent) friend I was meant to meet didn't show up for several days, but the promise of eventual contact kept us in a tight orbit around the 1st arrondissement. We slept on the steps of the Opera, and on the benches outside the Louvre with a dozen or so homeless-by-happenstance tourists and migrants. We were moved on by police with dogs every morning an hour or so before the paying customers showed up to queue for entrance. We got screwed over, cheated, threatened, and ushered along from a dozen fine establishments and perching spots. We heard from buskers and bums that the place to be was in the south, where there was migrant farm work picking grapes from Perpignan in July to Alsace-Lorraine in September. We were told repeatedly that everything was less expensive and the people were nicer outside of Paris.

We finally met my friend, who had been detained in Bordeaux at the palace she was staying for reasons I cannot remember. She bought us wine and laughed at our stories and said, "bicycle to Avignon, it'll take a week or two and be a grand journey and then you can explore the south a bit and take a flight home". She told us how to live a little more cheaply, and the banks fixed their ATM glitch giving me access to money once more. "Don't buy a bicycle in Paris", she said, "They're much cheaper south of the city".

Fate, I suppose: We took a bus to the south of Paris, after cleaning up in my friend's auberge, and decided to hitchhike a little further before buying our bicycles. We'd hardly stuck out our thumbs when a maniac bounced his little Fiat up on the sidewalk, nearly taking out some kids feeding pigeons, and waved enthusiastically at us. "Where are you going?" and "Are you Americans?" "South", we said, "just south, and yes we are, you could tell?" He was a chef, driving back to a chateau in Fontainebleu after dropping off some catering in the city. He taught us our first French words (Steering wheel, Tree, Ashtray, Cow, Car, Asshole...) and spoke a mile a minute in broken English about travel, adventure, the French, hitchhiking and how to do it properly (never on the freeways, they're not allowed to stop for you) and he dropped us off 50 miles from Paris, about 48 miles further than we expected to get. Also, 10 miles from Nemours, which we had thought would take a week.

"That... was really kind of fun"
"yup"
"We should try that again, and see if it's really that easy"
"maybe we should"
"Besides, bicycles, they're kind of expensive. And it's really hot out"
"yeah."

And less than 15 minutes later we were in what I swear was a Gremlin, riding with a kid in a heavy metal t-shirt who talked about Pink Floyd and why it was better to roll your own cigarettes than buy Gitanes, and how every town in France had a municipal campground where you could pitch a tent for pennies and use their shower in the morning.


That was the start of some vagabond years- around the start of every semester I'd think about America, and college, and 'real life', and weigh it against the field I was picking, the bar I was tending, the ski school I was teaching for, the ridiculousness that was becoming my life... and decide to stay put, or hitchhike to a new country to try something different. As resistant as I was to the idea of a year off between high school and college, my 'semester abroad' lasted 2 1/2 years before I returned to the U.S. to finish a degree. Since then, having "Migrant Farm Worker" on my resume has gotten me in to interviews, and the ensuing conversations have gotten me jobs I was definitely not qualified for before I started. We never did buy those bicycles, and I'll never forget the French words for car, tree, or ashtray.
desert

Canned Haggis is almost as good as the real thing



Dinner last night was mostly leftovers from our Burns Night celebration: fried nips, haggis-on-toast, smoked salmon, lake trout on toast points with cotswold cheese, and finally, shortbread with a rather authentic Masala chai we picked up at the British imports store.

The Burns Night we threw Sunday was really fun, thanks to all the people who came to help celebrate:

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