Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Is there anything real about the fake duck guys?

I got into a minor disagreement with another blogger yesterday over the latest nugget of stupidity to drop from Phil Robertson's lips. Quite a few people are piling on Phil for his suggestion that guys would be smart to find wives who are still quite young, i.e., go dipping into the just-about-to-graduate-from-high-school pool and find women who were still trainable. This is seen by many of Phil's critics as advocating pedophilia.

Given that pedophilia by definition is being sexually attracted to children who have not yet hit puberty, that is, kids under the age of approximately 11, I thought labeling Phil as a pervert was going a step too far. Let's be clear. Phil is no doubt a sexist pig who's stuck in the dark ages when it comes to the role of women in general. However, no one's cause is being served when you resort to unnecessary hyperbole or gross distortions of the facts. When the actual facts are sufficient, why exaggerate? So I found myself in the bizarre position of defending a guy who I personally think is an ass. Phil may be a genius when it comes to marketing over-priced duck calls, but he's an idiot when it comes to giving anyone advice on how to live his or her life. Besides, I naively thought, Phil was merely advocating doing what he did: marry young. I have seen a zillion articles online about Phil giving Miss Kay a diamond ring for their 50th wedding anniversary. The math is simple: if he's 67 now and they've been married 50 years, ergo, he was a teenager himself when he got married. It worked for him; he figures it'll work for everyone.

Turns out I was wrong. I got curious enough about this whole plastic hillbilly clan to do more digging. Turns out that online good ol' Phil has multiple birthdates. One of them has to be real, because he did attend high school and college in Louisiana and there are solid references to that. However, it appears he married Miss Kay in 1966, which would mean that the marriage is only 47 years old, not the 50 as has been hyped. Okay, that means Phil is apparently 4 years older than Miss Kay, not the less than 2 than he initially appeared to be. Still not a pervert -- there were plenty of seniors at my high school in the '60s who dated freshmen. They were treated with a fair amount of scorn by their fellow seniors, e.g., the usual jokes about cradle robbing, but it wasn't too unusual. It's creepy when guys in their 40s hit on women who are just barely legal; it's age-appropriate behavior when the guy and the object of his attention are riding the same school bus.

In any case, based on when he attended LSU, of the multiple birthdates and ages given for Phil, it looks like the 1946 one is correct. But who knows? Depending on the source, Phil is anywhere from 67 to 71. Then again, considering how elusive the duck guys in general have been on providing biographical details about themselves, it's not surprising Phil's life is a tad contradictory. The S.O. and I were speculating that one reason Phil got married when he did was the typical 1960's reason, the one that arrives in diapers a few months after the wedding where the bride's father carries a shotgun. Which brought up the question of just how old is the oldest son, Alan, the minister who did not appear in earlier seasons of Duck Dynasty. Who knows? He's been preaching for over 20 years, and no doubt some serious sleuthing would uncover his age somewhere, but you're probably not going to find it in a quick Google search.

And where has Alan been preaching, inquiring minds want to know? At the church his parents attend, the same one where Phil gets up occasionally to do some lay preaching and run his mouth on the perversions of homosexuality or the proper place of women in the overall scheme of things. That's got to be handy for Phil, having a pet preacher on a leash who's going to agree with whatever bizarre interpretation of Scripture Phil may come up with. It's hard enough for a minister to disagree with prominent members of a congregation to begin with; what are the odds Alan Robertson is ever going to tell the man who's probably underwriting his salary that he's wrong about anything? Is Alan ever going to preach a sermon grounded in Matthew 6:24? Doubtful, especially considering that Alan has joined the ranks of the on camera plastic hillbillies himself, right down to growing the requisite beard. And I wonder if any of the die-hard Bible thumpers realize that when Phil says "I support my church" what he's actually saying is "I made sure my son has a job." Is it still tithing when the tithe stays in the family? Is it charity or simply money laundering to evade taxes when you donate a lot of money to a church a family member runs?

You have to kind of admire the Robertsons. For a family that has supposedly made their life an open book by appearing in a "reality" show, they've managed to keep their family life remarkably private. They've got a fairly large extended family, but only a handful of those family members ever appear in the shows. Eccentric Uncle Si, for example, managed to keep his family so thoroughly out of the picture that the show ran for four seasons without anyone realizing the man was married. Viewers know more about his favorite iced tea glass than they know about Si's actual life.

Of course, now that people are realizing there's a treasure trove lurking on You Tube and elsewhere of Phil Robertson saying dumb stuff, that privacy screen is going to get shredded. As long as the right wing nut jobs persist in defending Phil, he's going to be in the public eye. The more he's in the public eye, the more various journalists and gossip mongers will dig into his life, and the more damage gets done to the Duck Dynasty franchise. More video tapes are going to pop up, Phil is going to start looking more and more like a Cajun version of Warren Jeffs, and A & E is going to start wishing they had pulled the plug when the first clump of shit hit the fan.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

Heard from a friend recently who's considering moving. She's been out West for quite a few years now but is getting burnt out on having to worry about getting burnt out. The last few fire seasons have been stressful. So she's contemplating packing up and relocating to a region where residents don't worry quite so much about going up in flames. She's thinking about the southeastern U.S. so asked for my opinion on Atlanta.

What can I say? For about two weeks every spring the city is gorgeous and almost livable; the rest of the year. . .? Well, I think the fact we moved before I'd even officially retired says something about just how fast I wanted to see it in the rear view mirror.

Fortunately, there's more to the South than Atlanta. I had no desire to linger in Georgia, but I'm reasonably sure some parts of the state are actually livable. Ditto the Carolinas, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and maybe even Florida. I'm sure that if she wants to change from western mountains to eastern ones she can find a decent retirement community. Personally, if I were going to move to someplace vaguely southern, I wouldn't go as far into the Deep South as my friend is apparently contemplating. I'd aim for the Blue Ridge and look in places like Hickory, North Carolina, or Blacksburg, Virginia. But that's me. My friend may not be as keen on college towns as I am.

She also asked a question I could not answer: if I could live anywhere, where it would be? We've traveled too much, seen too many interesting places that we'd be happy to go back to, but when you're limited to just one choice? I don't know. I still miss Omaha. Of course, I also wouldn't mind moving back to the Seattle-Everett area. Or Blacksburg. Or maybe Cape Cod. Or the Twin Cities. Too many choices, not enough lifetimes.

Friday, December 27, 2013

More thoughts on holidays

A Christmas classic:

As a joke, my brother used to hang a pair of panty hose over his fireplace before Christmas. He said all he wanted was for Santa to fill them.

What they say about Santa checking the list twice must be true because every Christmas morning, although Jay's kids' stockings were overflowed,  his poor pantyhose hung sadly empty.

One year I decided to make his dream come true. I put on sunglasses and went in search of an inflatable love doll. They don't sell those things at Wal-Mart. I had to go to an adult bookstore downtown. If you've never been in a X-rated store, don't go. You'll only confuse yourself. I was there an hour saying things like, "What does this do?" "You're kidding me!" "Who would buy that?" Finally, I made it to the inflatable doll section. I wanted to buy a standard, uncomplicated doll that could also substitute as a passenger in my truck so I could use the car pool lane during rush hour.

Finding what I wanted was difficult. Love dolls come in many different models. The top of the line, according to the side of the box, could do things I'd only seen in a book on animal husbandry. I settled for "Lovable Louise." She was at the bottom of the price scale. To call Louise a "doll" took a huge leap of imagination.

On Christmas Eve, with the help of an old bicycle pump, Louise came to life. My sister-in-law was in on the plan and let me in during the wee morning hours. Long after Santa had come and gone, I filled the dangling pantyhose with Louise's pliant legs and bottom. I also ate some cookies and drank what remained of a glass of milk on a nearby tray. I went home, and giggled for a couple of hours.

The next morning my brother called to say that Santa had been to his house and left a present that had made him VERY happy but had left the dog confused. She would bark, start to walk away, then come back and bark some more. We all agreed that Louise should remain in her panty hose so the rest of the family could admire her when they came over for the traditional Christmas dinner.

My grandmother noticed Louise the moment she walked in the door. "What the hell is that?" she asked. My brother quickly explained, "It's a doll." "Who would play with something like that?" Granny snapped. I had several candidates in mind, but kept my mouth shut. "Where are her clothes?" Granny continued. "Boy, that turkey sure smells nice, Gran," Jay said, trying to steer her into the dining room. But Granny was relentless. "Why doesn't she have any teeth?" Again, I could have answered, but why would I? It was Christmas and no one wanted to ride in the back of the ambulance saying,  "Hang on Granny Hang on!"

My grandfather, a delightful old man with poor eyesight, sidled up to me and said, "Hey, who's the naked gal by the fireplace?" I told him she was Jay's friend. A few minutes later I noticed Grandpa by the mantel, talking to Louise. Not just talking, but actually flirting. It was then that we realized this might be Grandpa's last Christmas at home.

The dinner went well. We made the usual small talk about who had died, who  was dying, and who should be killed, when suddenly Louise made a noise that sounded a lot like my father in the bathroom in the morning. Then she lurched from the panty hose, flew around the room twice, and fell in a heap in front of the sofa. The cat screamed. I passed cranberry sauce through my nose, and Grandpa ran across the room, fell to his knees, and began administering mouth to mouth resuscitation. My brother fell back over his chair and wet his pants and Granny threw down her napkin, stomped out of the room, and sat in the car.

It was indeed a Christmas to treasure and remember. Later in my brother's garage, we conducted a thorough examination to decide the cause of Louise's collapse. We discovered that Louise had suffered from a hot ember to the back of her right thigh. Fortunately, thanks to a wonder drug called duct tape, we restored her to perfect health.

Louise went on to star in several bachelor party movies. I think Grandpa  still calls her whenever he can get out of the house.

Note: I tried to find the original source for this story, but had no luck. It probably goes back a decade or two because the first time I saw it it was a paper photocopy, which suggests it's pre-Internet.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Bah, humbug

Read various blog posts today chronicling people's differing responses to Xmas. Personally, it's never been one of my favorite holidays. I tend to describe the experience as "slippers that are too big, a nightgown that's too small, and cologne that causes a rash." It's one of those holidays that's way too loaded with unrealistic expectations: we're all supposed to be the Cleavers and have a wonderful time decorating cookies, throwing tinsel on trees, and hanging out with family. Everyone gets the perfect gift and everyone is happy. Out here in the real world, of course, we're all a lot more like the Griswolds. If something can go wrong, it will. Typically, the woman of the household gets to work herself into exhaustion cooking, cleaning, baking, decorating, and trying to create the perfect holiday mood for the kids; the man of the house gets stressed out over money because the little barracudas have made it clear that the holiday will be a total washout unless they get whatever this year's favorite overpriced and hard to find widget happens to be; and the kids work themselves into a frenzy anticipating a Red Ryder BB gun and then get a pink bunny suit instead. It's not a pretty sight.

As a Marxist, I've had an almost visceral hatred of the Santa Claus bullshit for years, too. There's nothing quite like Santa to make class warfare real. If you're a rich kid, you can be the nastiest little shit on the planet and you're still going to show up at school after Xmas break bragging about Santa bringing you the gold-plated Class A widget; if you're poor, when you're little you worry constantly about being good and it doesn't make a bit of difference. You still get stuck with the 16-crayon box of Family Dollar crayons and a cheap coloring book. What is the real lesson of Santa and the Christmas season? Two things: Adults lie, and life isn't fair. But that's a digression.

I read a lot of advice columns. Most of the year the modern day Miss Lonely Hearts tackle divorce, infidelity, and typical family dysfunctions. When it gets to be November and December, however, all the holiday weirdos come out to play: controlling in-laws, stingy relatives, ungrateful spawn. Columnist Carolyn Hax does an online discussion, the Hootenanny of Holiday Horrors, where people share their pain: the uncle who dropped dead at the dinner table, the fruitcake that broke someone's foot, the druggie brother who decides to start detox the week before the holiday, the Christmas ham that burnt down the house. It's great. You read it and suddenly your own screwed up family is looking pretty damn good. And so was ours this year.

Our family isn't very large so Christmas is always fairly low key. We're not religious so church is almost never on the agenda. When we were in Atlanta, it tended to be just three of us: me, the S.O., and our younger daughter. One year she came to Atlanta, the other years we drove to where she lived in Texas. Since moving back here, we've been to the older daughter's house twice, in 2011 and 2012. This year we drove to Hurley, Wisconsin to have Christmas dinner at our grandson's -- he had been given a humongous ham as a Christmas bonus so decided to host the family dinner this year.

It was a nice afternoon. The weather cooperated for the 100 mile drive and watching the great granddaughter rip into her gifts was entertaining. Of course, so was watching her parents as they realized they could have gotten her ONE gift and she would have been perfectly happy. In fact, they could have gift wrapped an empty box and the child would have played cheerfully with the box. They'll learn -- unfortunately, as kids age, there's an inverse relationship between parents learning to budget and kids' expectations. I can't be overly critical, though, because I, too, gave the toddler multiple presents knowing full well she's still young enough to have absolutely no expectations regarding the holiday. Then again, I'm a grandmother. Spoiling grandchildren and great-grandchildren is part of the job description.

Because we're geezers, the S.O. and decided that our gift to ourselves would be a motel room for the night just in case there was lake effect snow -- we had no desire to be crawling along through whiteout conditions after dark on the way home. Been there, done that along M-28 way too many times when we were younger. As it turned out, the weather was fine, but you never know. We did delay our departure slightly this morning, but only so I could watch what struck me as being a great holiday film: "Alien vs. Predator." I've been to a few family gatherings like that: the different sets of in-laws and relatives who only see each other about once a century and then decide to kill each other on those rare occasions when they do get together. Backstabbing and acid spraying at its finest . . .

We noticed while driving through Hurley that another vacant lot is in the process of sprouting on Silver Street. A supper club that had seen better days managed to burn down last week. This one may have been an honest fire, though, and not caused by insurance. The ruin is still standing. There have been quite a few fires in Hurley where the rubble hadn't stopped smoldering before it was bulldozed (along with the kerosene cans) into oblivion. There have also been fires where the firemen showed up too soon and were sent home because the fire hadn't broken out yet. It's an interesting little town.

After Christmas sales

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Are you an environmentalist, revisited

Photo from Grandcanyontreks.org/orphan.htm
Back when I worked for the National Park Service counting buildings and bushes for the List of Classified Structures/Cultural Landscapes Inventory (LCS/CLI), one of the scariest potential experiences I had came during a training held at Grand Canyon National Park (GRCA). The LCS coordinator for the Rocky Mountain Region, which includes Arizona, planned the exercise as a dual purpose activity: we'd all improve our knowledge of what was important to include in the database and we'd also collect data he could use in updating the LCS records for GRCA. The park had a number of sites that were inadequately documented or not in the database at all. Our group would survey them as part of, among other things, assessing their eligibility for possible inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. One of the sites was an industrial one, the Orphan Mine. 

The Orphan Mine perches quite literally on the edge of the South Rim. It's clearly visible from a favorite overlook on the canyon rim, and the South Rim hiking trail detours around it on the way to Hermit's Rest. When I saw the headframe from the overlook, my immediate reaction was, oh, shit, we're all going to die. Turns out the dropoff from the headframe isn't quite as dramatic as that angle made it appear, but it's still not a place to be if either heights or not-maintained-for-many-years equipment make you nervous. 
Orphan Mine headframe and other mine buildings
Fortunately, a decision was made that we lacked the proper safety gear (e.g., ropes and harnesses, hardhats, radiation exposure badges [the Orphan was a uranium mine]). We opted for assessing a mothballed waste water treatment plant* instead. All we had to worry about there was hanta virus: the rodent dung in one of the buildings must have been several inches deep. Hemorrhagic fever? Or death by falling a long, long way down while bouncing off miscellaneous rocks on the way to the river? I'll take the fever -- at least with it odds are a person will be too delirious to realize she's dying. 

And what, the curious reader may be asking, does this have to do with environmentalism? Not much, except that when people start talking about the pristine wilderness and unspoiled vistas in national parks and other "untouched" areas, most don't recognize that the wilderness isn't as pristine as most people like to believe. The Grand Canyon in particular is often cited for its spectacular unspoiled vistas; how people can not notice a uranium mine sitting next to a popular hiking trail is beyond me. Grand Canyon isn't alone -- many of the large "wildnerness parks" are laced with old mine sites: Isle Royale has copper mines, Buffalo National River has extensive zinc mines, North Cascades has prospector's diggings for various minerals, Wrangell-St. Elias has a humongous Kennecott Copper site, and those just happen to be the first four parks I remembered without having to think very hard. National parks, recreational areas, historic battlefields, and national forests all have former farmsteads and ranches, logging camps, railroad grades, quarries, fisheries, various abandoned industrial plants, ghost towns, and old roads. There are very few places in the lower 48 contiguous states that qualify as truly untrammeled or pristine. 

Almost seventy years ago John Bartlow Martin wrote, "Go into the woods today and when  you think you are in wilderness never seen before by man, you'll fall into a prospector's abandoned  test pit or you will stumble over the brush-grown ties of an old logging railroad. Struggle all day to breast the swamps and rocky hills and you may end up in a thicket concealing a rusty four-hundred pound stove that some forgotten trapper carried into camp piece-by-piece fifty or seventy years before you." Martin was describing Michigan's upper Peninsula when he wrote Call It North Country, but his description could have applied to almost any region in the country. Wander around the open grasslands of the Great Plains where the land looks to be totally empty, and sooner or later you'll find abandoned sod houses, old fence lines, and, predating the Euro-Americans, tipi circles or the remnants of earth lodges left by the Pawnee, Ponca, or Lakotah. Decide to escape from civilization by hiking into the back country in the Cascades or Sierras and you'll stumble across old prospectors' diggings. Go walking in the Vermont woods and you'll find numerous remnant rock walls, cellar holes, and ancient orchards deep in what seems like virgin forest.  

Further, many places we think of now as being unspoiled or never populated were actually created by ejecting the residents. The Yosemite valley, for example, was home to native Americans, sheepherders, and prospectors when the US government decided to designate it as a national park. In what was to be the pattern for every national park created after that, Step One in turning it into a park was to boot the residents out and try to erase their history. The myth would be created that landscapes were pristine, they were purely the result of natural forces (ignoring the fact that the iconic meadows in the Yosemite valley existed in large part because sheep grazing had kept them open), and that the only resources and history that counted were those associated with the natural world, not humanity. In such an idealized natural world, people visit -- they do not live among the trees and scenic vistas nor do they work. The natural world, the "environment," is reified and turned into something we visit when we want a break from the unnatural world of the suburbs or city streets. This is a problem.

Why is it a problem? Because, as I've noted before, it means that way too often "environmentalists" will couch arguments against various developments in terms of aesthetic values or loss of leisure activities (e.g., don't put a pulpmill there; it will look ugly) instead of focusing on real problems: groundwater contamination, air pollution, depletion of an aquifer, etc. Even better, learn a little something about the history of an area before you start talking about pristine wilderness or the untrammeled great outdoors. Don't rave about the virgin forests when you're talking about stands that have been cut over a dozen times in the past century and you can still see the ruts from the skidders. Don't tell me how unspoiled an area is when you're standing on an old iron ore mining waste rock pile and the hiking trails are abandoned railroad grades. In short, do your homework before you get up on your soapbox, not after. 

[*Definitely National Register eligible, incidentally. It was one of the first treatment plants in the United States to treat waste water for reuse; the reclaimed water was used for irrigating the grounds around the hotels and employee housing.]

Some nerd humor

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

My kid really knows me

The UPS truck just delivered a package from the Younger Daughter. It appears she drew my name in the family Xmas gift exchange. I guess there's an actual wrapped present in the box, but she could have stopped with these and I would have been happy.*
A Case calendar and Peeps. Life is good.

Update: Turned out the box was meant for both me and the S.O. -- the wasabi-flavored peanuts hidden a little deeper were a clue. I was blinded by the Peeps. Which now has me wondering. . . just who does have my name and what kind of strange sweater can I expect if it turns out to be one of my sisters?

[*And I know my kid. Right after she read that sentence she started figuratively dope slapping herself and wondering why she didn't just gift wrap the Peeps and call it good.] 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Pulitzer Project: All the King's Men

The last few prize winners I've read had been, to put it kindly, duds. My expectations for All the King's Men were accordingly low. I had somehow forgotten (or never realized) that the author, Robert Penn Warren, is a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner. His other two prizes were for poetry. It shows.

All the King's Men flows despite -- or, more accurately, because of -- all the things the author does wrong. It's loaded with run-on sentences that should make a card carrying member of the grammar police run screaming in horror but instead mesmerize the reader. Where was his editor? How on earth did he get away with constructing paragraphs that fill pages but are essentially one long sentence that just keeps flowing and flowing until you've been sucked in like a fallen magnolia leaf being slowly but surely washed to the Gulf by an autumnal Louisiana rain? It doesn't matter. You've been sucked in, you're as trapped by Penn Warren's words as his protagonist Jack Burden was by politician Willie Stark's charisma.

All the King's Men was heavily influenced by the career of Louisiana politician Huey "Kingfish" Long. Long was a populist who was elected to the governorship of Louisiana in 1928. For generations Louisiana politics had been controlled by big money -- the oil industry, railroads, logging, sugar and cotton plantations. Long went up against them all, courted the votes of the ordinary voters, and managed to shake up the established political machine. After becoming governor, he undertook an ambitious public works program that improved roads throughout the state, constructed public hospitals, and built a new state capitol building. To the man on the street Long was a hero. To the disgruntled political operatives and business interests, of course, he was anathema. He cleaned out one political machine and replaced it with his own.

In 1930, while still serving as Governor, Long ran for and won a U.S. Senate seat from Louisiana. Even after leaving the governorship, however, Long continued to lobby the state legislature and senate to pass bills he believed in. In 1935 Long was in the state capitol building pushing for a redistricting bill. He was shot by the son-in-law of a judge who would have lost his position had the measure passed. Long died in the hospital two days later.

In All the King's Men politician Willie Stark follows a similar career trajectory with just enough differences for Penn Warren to be able to claim that although Long's story may have been an inspiration it wasn't an exact model. Long married a stenographer and had multiple children; Willie Stark marries a school teacher and has only one child. Long was elected twice to a state-wide office before winning the governorship; Stark's first political office is at the county level and doesn't last long. Long was elected to the U.S. Senate and served almost a full term before dying; Stark is gunned down while still serving as Governor.

The story overall is told from the perspective of Jack Burden, a former journalist who is asked by Stark to join his staff as an aide and researcher. Burden had trained as a historian and then worked as a reporter. When Stark wants to find people's secrets, he has Burden do the research. As Stark tells Burden, you never need to make up lies about an opponent because there is always a truth that will be more damaging:
And [Stark] said, 'Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud. There is always something.'  
And he told me to dig it out, dig it up, the dead cat with patches of fur still clinging to the tight, swollen, dove-gray hide. It was the proper job for me, for, as I have said, I was once a student of history. A student of history does not care what he digs out of the ash pile, the midden, the sublunary dung heap, which is the human past. He doesn't care whether it is the dead pussy or the Kohinoor diamond. So it was a proper assignment for me, an excursion into the past.
Everyone has secrets, things that they don't want the world to know. All you have to do is find out what those secrets are. Some secrets can destroy you, some secrets can set you free. The secret in All the King's Men is that even though you begin the novel thinking the story is about Willie Stark and the use and abuse of power, by the time you get to the end you know it's actually Jack Burden's story and the secrets he uncovers about his own life.

All the King's Men was made into a 1949 film starring Broderick Crawford as Willie Stark. I have not seen the film, but based on the synopsis provided by Wikipedia, the plot line of the film deviated considerably from the narrative of the book. It won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress. A 2006 version starring Sean Penn apparently followed the novel much more faithfully but flopped with the critics and the public. It more than broke even at the box office, but not by much. Although a few critics praised it, the overall consensus was that it was "agonizingly dull" and "strangely lifeless." Both are available as DVDs through Netflix; maybe if they show up as streamable movies I'll try watching one or the other.

How would I rate this book? On a scale of 1 to 10, it gets an 11. I loved the wordsmithing, the long, convoluted sentences that rolled on and on, the imagery ("the bone-white road, straight as a string and smooth as glass and glittering and wavering in the heat and humming under the tires like a plucked nerve"), the narrative threads and subplots twisting and coiling and turning back on themselves as one secret unfolded to reveal another. The Willie Stark story line is a straight forward one -- power corrupts and karma's a bitch -- but the structure Penn Warren built around it is remarkably complex.

Next up on the list? Tales of the South Pacific, which I know I've read before but am feeling the urge to re-read. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Adventures in cataloging

I spent yesterday afternoon down at the museum. The backlog of scrambled files is slowly shrinking and I'm making steady progress on cataloging the collections. The hardest part lately is just keeping my hands warm enough to type: now that we're closed for the season, the thermostat is set at 50. It's a tad chilly in the building. I don't bother turning the heat up at all because I'm not there long enough at a time to make it worth it. I started off planning to spend at least 4 hours at a shot when I go in, the logic being that I might as well make the drive down the hill worth it, and it's devolved to more like 2 to 3. End result? The volume of space is large enough that by the time it would actually be warm in the museum, I'm done for the day.

The last time I went, however, I found something in the collection -- several somethings actually -- that could solve my cold hands problem. Now the only question I have is how did these things work? Did people seriously light something that looks like an oversized cigarette lighter and use it to keep their hands warm? Even more intriguing, do they still do it? After I started typing this, I remembered the wonders of Google and, voila, I discovered a company called Sundance (as in Robert Redford's Sundance) still sells them. They have a "Vintage 1962 Pocket Hand Warmer" for a mere $15. It looks very similar to the one pictured. As for the fuel? Apparently it takes ordinary cigarette lighter fuel and will burn for up to 8 hours.

I'm not sure just what the time period was for the ones the museum owns, but they must have been fairly popular because the museum has about half a dozen of them scattered through various displays. There were three in an exhibit that's otherwise all items relating to smoking (matchbooks, cigar boxes, information on the old cigar factory in Baraga, an art nouveau cigarette case that's so tiny it looks like it was meant to hold candy cigarettes instead of real ones) but no instruction booklets. I have a hunch that whoever set up that display didn't recognize them as hand warmers, although you never know. Maybe she did know and just thought they looked cool. I made a note and one of these days I'll do some serious research and figure out when they first hit the market. It's always good to include a little info with an artifact letting visitors know just what the object is, when it was first used, and if/when it went out of fashion or was discontinued. Most people I know now opt for the chemical hand warmers, probably because they're slightly more convenient (Grabbers makes warmers you can stuff in your boots) so there are bound to be more and more museum visitors who will look at the vintage warmers and have no idea what they are.

That same exhibit includes one item that really highlights how attitudes toward smoking have changed: an ash tray from St. Joseph Hospital in Hancock, Michigan. Can anyone imagine a modern hospital paying to have its name embossed on ash trays? An antique dealer told me a couple years ago that ash trays are going to be a hot item as a collectible in a few years because so many people are throwing them away now. I'm dubious, but you never know.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Maybe I'm overthinking things

A couple months ago the S.O. and I bought a used motorhome, a 1989 Rockwood, so we could pursue my fantasy of becoming VIPs (Volunteers in Parks) now that we're both totally retired. Seemed like a simple enough plan: we'd buy a motorhome, we'd do some research and put in some applications, and then we'd hit the road. Except maybe it isn't quite that simple. The date for hitting the road is getting closer and of course I'm starting to obsess.

We're going to be living in that thing for several months at a stretch. Just what exactly do we stock it with? What all do we bring along to amuse ourselves with? Books, dvds, my knitting and quilting stuff, the laptop, . . . the list keeps growing. It has occurred to me that this might be the ideal time to invest in a tablet, something even more portable than the laptop, and that we can always buy e-books and movies, but I'm enough of a traditionalist to want a few real books around. With a hard copy of a book you never have to worry about batteries going dead. On the other hand, having a tablet would mean the S.O. and I would not be competing for the laptop, and that's a serious consideration. We tend to do our wandering around the Intertubes at about the same time of day.

The kitchen area has me mildly confused at the moment, too. Just what do we actually need when it comes to pots and pans and dishes? We're unlikely to be hosting any dinner parties so will the bare minimum (two plates, two cups, two cereal bowls) be sufficient? Depending on where we are, we might not have a whole lot of water so avoiding washing many dishes might be a good idea. . . but I also don't want to be using tons of paper plates and throwaway plastic forks. I wanted to have a real oven, which this Rockwood does have, so does that automatically entail muffin tins and pie pans? How much actual baking will I do when the "kitchen" has about two square feet of counter space? Is there even enough room to roll out a pie crust?

And then there's the clothing question. How many pairs of shoes? What about seasonal stuff -- it's going to be winter when we leave here, but we're heading South so I'll need high water pants and sandals before we're home again. We're going to be stuck relying on laundromats so just how much clothing should we try to cram into the tiny closets and minuscule drawers? Some of the stuff I wear actually requires ironing -- if I bring the iron, does that in turn demand a real ironing board? What about stuff like lawn chairs and a folding table for when we're set up at a campground with the canopy out and the faux patio with its patch of astroturf waiting to be used? I'm already having fears one thing will lead to another, and we won't so much cruise on down the highway as waddle.

Some of those questions would have been answered if we'd acquired the beast a little earlier in the year. We could have done a shakedown cruise of some sort, wandered off to spend a week or two camping here in the U.P. or northern Wisconsin and figured out what was going to work and what wasn't. As it is, when we hit the road in February, we're going to be learning as we go. It could be interesting.

At least one thing I shouldn't have to worry about. The S.O. should have no problems driving the beast, even with our car in tow. He has a CDL and used to drive over-the-road. If he could manage to maneuver a semi with a 53' trailer in to loading docks located in alleys not much wider than the trailer, he's not going to have any problems with this RV.

I know the feeling

I keep hearing the northern lights can be spectacular up here on tundra. I think in our many years of living here off and on, I've seen them maybe once. Whenever I hear a prediction they're going to be really good, it's a given it's going to snow that night.

Of course, the same thing happens every time there's supposed to be a meteor shower. One of my friends who lives out in Nevada always raves about the Perseid meteor shower. Every year I mark the calendar, and every year when I've been living where light pollution isn't an issue it rains.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

I should know better than to read the comments on anything

I wasted a fair amount of time today wading into the stupid on the Intertubes. One of the major news stories and ongoing themes on Facebook and in the blogosphere was the nation-wide fast food workers strike. The stupid, it runs deep. I'm lucky I didn't drown.

There are two major refrains that always run through any discussion of upping wages for the folks doing the scut work for society. The first comes from employers whining that it will mean raising prices and that's going to kill business. Here's a news flash for all you McDonald's/Subway/Burger King franchise owners: if the minimum wage goes up, it doesn't just go up for your store alone -- it goes up for everyone. The playing field is still level.

The second piece of stupidity that gets repeated ad nauseum is that all those people doing the scut work are just too damn lazy or uneducated to look for something better. What the minimum wage burger flippers need to do is get an education and improve themselves. Ditto the underpaid hotel maids and nurse aides and a whole lot of other people who work at the dirty jobs that keep this country running. I want to know what planet those people who spout that line live on -- have they bothered to look at the American economy lately? It's a service economy. Where are jobs being created? In retail and in health care, i.e., sales clerks and home health aides. No one needs a college education to qualify to run a cash register at Dollar General or to help old ladies take showers. Yes, it's great if you can get an education and find work as a software engineer or an investment banker, but there's a limited number of those jobs to go around. The reality is that there are a lot of over-educated people flipping burgers or changing diapers.

On the other hand, the fact that you don't need an advanced degree to make change or help old people bathe doesn't mean you don't deserve to be paid a living wage. Regardless of the job, if you put in a full day's labor, you should receive enough pay to live on. I can remember a time when that wasn't such a hard concept to understand. Apparently those days are long gone.