Friday, May 27, 2016

Death by Paper Cuts

These past... I don't even know, about two months maybe, but let's just stick with the last two weeks. I don't even know how to describe this, because none of it catastrophic -- it's just that there's so much of it that it kind of feels that way.

I'll start with the obvious: I just worked thirty-four hours of overtime this past weekend. That's "overtime", as in "it happened between two forty-hour work weeks". My wife, meanwhile, was out of town giving a paper at an academic conference, which should have been simple except that she discovered at the last minute that the person who was doing her scheduling hadn't booked a hotel room for her. So, you know, panic, chaos, and a certain amount of last-minute adjustment. Fortunately, the boys were able to stay with their grandparents over the weekend; unfortunately, the Beautiful Woman came back into town and retrieved them on Saturday evening, just in time for Firstborn to wake up on Sunday with a 104 degree fever. Pediatrician's diagnosis was "viral infection", but over the course of the week it morphed into a sore throat that turned out to be tonsillitis. Meanwhile, he came back home from school on Thursday morning (almost immediately after I dropped him off) with lice.

So I'm bald again, and we're disinfecting/running laundry/vacuuming all the things. Oh, and yesterday evening Secondborn reported that his tongue felt hairy; the last time we had that, it turned out to be Strep, so we're probably dealing with that again as well.

Plus, yesterday -- during work, mind you -- we bought a car. Or, mostly, my wife bought the car. I just had to test drive it, like it enough to want it, and sign some things. It's a Honda Accord Sport, and it's replacing my old Toyota Camry. This solved two problems: first, the insurance company had totaled out the Camry based on hail damage; also, one of the seat belts in the back seat of the Camry had stopped latching, which is ridiculously inconvenient if, say, you ever need to pick up two boys from elementary school. So I now have a much newer (2014), much nicer car with working seatbelts and a working CD player.

Somewhere in here, owing to that same hail storm, we're due to get the roof replaced on the house. And somewhere in here, I need to figure out how to replace the the little plastic skylights on the shed in the back yard -- they didn't survive the hailstorm either.

Oh, and my boss is out sick, so I'm trying to cover for him as well.

We're almost to the end of school, so we have various events to keep up with on that front, too. And there are probably some other things that I'm overlooking, since we've coped by mostly ignoring anything that isn't an immediate crisis. At this point, we're pretty much just waiting to see what comes at us next.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

No Clouds Gathering Yet...

Part of the reason why I'm dubious about the existence of God, and in particular the very judgemental and punishment-oriented God that forms the centerpiece of a great deal of Fundamentalist and Evangelical theology, is that I have yet to be struck down by lightning for writing things like this.

Admittedly, it's only a very small part, but nevertheless...

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


Y'all, we had lunch in a Farm Fresh Eatery yesterday. It turns out to be a hip little deli in the sort of shopping center where they're far more interested in cramming in as many shops as possible than they are in making sure that there's enough room to park (or space for people to eat inside the restaurants, for that matter). The pricing was maybe a little high -- I wound up paying about $12.50 for a steak sandwich and a drink -- but it was a huge amount of food, so I don't think that was unreasonable.

However, I did run into a couple of funny little things that apparently are a direct result of the "farm fresh" aesthetic.

First, the steak was awfully pink at the center. So much so that for a moment I considered sending it back and advising them to actually cook it, though it was brown enough around the outside to let me know it wasn't raw. My brother tells me that they do that so you know you're getting fresh, quality steak. So, y'know, okay. Odd as hell, but okay.

The second one, though... Let me tell you, these people are hard core when it comes to using fresh, all-natural ingredients. Healthy food matters to these people, and when it comes to what they provide in their restaurant they are not kidding around. Y'all, the salt -- the salt! -- was enthusiastically labelled to make sure we'd know that what we were putting on our food was 100% all-natural sea salt with no preservatives!

No preservatives.

In the salt.

Do you have any idea how much effort -- how much sheer, relentless work and research -- must have gone into finding a source for preservative-free sea salt?

Monday, May 23, 2016

A knock at the door...

This came off a Facebook post back on Friday. The prompt was:

A knock at the door, someone comes in to the female character's office. Who is it?

"Package for you, Ma'am," says the bike courier. "Your friends must have a sense of humor, though. It says it's vitally important that you not open it until you get back to last Wednesday."

"My friends?" She checks the name on brown paper wrapper, but it's definitely addressed to her. "My friends aren't that weird."

"Well, maybe the Doctor needs your help."

She looks at him blankly.

"Doctor Who? TV show?"

"Oh. I've never watched it."

"Hm," says the courier. "Well, maybe you need better friends, then. 'Cause... that's pretty funny."

"Can I just sign your thing so you can go?" she asks, exasperated not so much at the criticism of her friends and her lifestyle, as at the sneaking suspicion that he might be right about her.

"Sure," he says. "Sorry." He hands her the pad, watches her sign it, and then hands her a card. "Hey, do me a favor? If you do find out what it was, text me?"

"...Maybe," she says, but she takes the card and slips it into her purse.

Feel free to add your own answers in the comments.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Music: The Circus At The End Of The World

Abney Park:

I suspect it'll be kind of a theme for this weekend.

No posts tomorrow. Probably not Monday or Tuesday, either.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Dinner Invitation

We got invited to dinner with some friends this past weekend...
...And apparently they're vegetarian. Who knew?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

No Fate Except The Descent

The manhole cover was halfway along a stretch of dark and dirty alley, overlooked by high walls that turned the place into a deep canyon. It was empty, but then he'd expected that. Now, while it was night, he could feel the dark energies ebbing and flowing along the alley. A sensitive human might have dreams or visions in a place like this -- and might wake up screaming -- but even the least sensitive would avoid the place instinctively. During the day, there would be nothing here; it would just be another place.

That thought made Vilisant glance up at the sky. How much longer did he have? It hadn't been that late when he'd approached the woman, but time could do funny things when one was traveling the dark river, as he'd done in trying to escape. He bent down, hooked a finger into the metal hole, and lifted the cover. Looking down into the darkness, he could see metal rungs descending to a large concrete pipe with a trickle of water flowing down the center: an ordinary storm drain. Nodding to himself, he lowered the lid and stood.

He circled the manhole three times, extending his awareness into the darkness he could feel flowing out from it. The world around him grew darker with each circuit, even to his eyes. He was moving below the surface of the world again, this time by minuscule degrees, looking for the point where... There.

He laid a hand on the manhole cover, and this time the steel disk lifted of its own accord, floating eight feet into the air. When he looked down, the smooth concrete walls of the pipe were gone, replaced by rough stone.

Vilisant took one last look around, then stepped off the edge and let himself drop.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Secondborn makes requests

"I need a pistol, a shotgun, a rocket launcher, and a sniper rifle." ~Secondborn, who may have been playing a bit too much Borderlands.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Firstborn, and the Quest for the Lost Essay

So, Firstborn created a situation in his after-school program... and then proceeded to make a bad choice that exacerbated (I'll have to teach him that word) the situation. On the way to pick up Secondborn, I asked him to explain the situation...

Yeah, it went down almost exactly as the counselor described it. So, Firstborn was set to have no videos and no video games this weekend.

After a certain amount of sobbing (read: a good thirty minutes) and two slices of pizza for dinner, I offered him an alternative: he could write me a ten-sentence essay about what went wrong, what he did wrong, and why it was a problem. If he did that, he could watch videos or play video games this weekend. If you're thinking that I really just wanted him to consider the situation and his own behavior, you'd be entirely right.

He wrote the essay. I specified a minimum of ten lines; he wrote eleven. I required that he explain why his behavior had been a problem (up to and including "now I have to write an essay if I want to play video games") and he did. So he's cleared for video games. But I'm still going to print out his brief essay, and hand it off to the counselor at his after-school program when I pick him up tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

My Mother and Polio

There's a reason why I don't get into arguments with anti-vaxxers.

My mother had polio when she was a young child, maybe a year older than Secondborn is now. Prior to that, she'd been a very active little girl -- the fastest runner on her block, she once told me.

Then she came down with polio.

It was during one of the big outbreaks, and for my mother it was a very convincing approximation of the end of the world. She was sent off to Warm Springs, while her sisters were sent to live with other family members and her parents were... otherwise engaged. (I realize I'm being vague here, but I'm trying to give you a feel for just how completely horrible and terrifying this was, without providing specific names and dates.) She stayed there not just for the course of the disease, but for the recovery and rehabilitation period that followed.

It's fair to say that my mother's entire life was shaped by what polio did to her, and by what she refused to let it do to her.

She wound up paralyzed from the waist down. The doctors told her she would never walk again, that she would spend her life in bed or in a wheelchair. She didn't. She got braces to hold her legs straight, and learned to walk with crutches. Have you ever sat down and watched a turtle walk? They don't move quickly, but they're determined and they just keep moving... and as a result they cover a surprising amount of ground. My mother moved like that.

When my father first proposed to her, she told him that he didn't want to marry her. The doctors had told her that polio had strained her heart. She wouldn't live past thirty-five. The doctors had also told her she would never have children. My father, to his credit, said: "I'll take it." If you've ever met him, you'll understand just how him that sort of reply was. If you've ever met my mother, you'll understand why he would think it was worth it.

I was born when she was just into her thirties, and my brother a few years later, and the doctors be damned, I'm sure she thought. Quite frankly, I'm pretty sure that's what she thought for a great deal of her life. She distrusted doctors, aside from the few she knew personally (and with good reason, especially in later years).

What she lacked in mobility she made up in cleverness and planning -- and in some cases, sheer determination. She became a psychologist and family/marriage/personal counselor, using an uncanny ability to see patterns[1] to address not only what people told her, but what they weren't telling her. She plotted strategies and fall-back plans, in the kind of detail that would make most people shake their heads, baffled and unable to follow. All through my youth, right up to the time I left for college, she kept the entire family fed on a grocery budget that never went much above $100 per week.

I've said before, though probably not on the Blog o' Doom here, that my perception of gender roles was a bit unusual. My dad held jobs and made money, but he wasn't always aware enough to realize when things were going bad. (He was, however, always talented enough to move on to something else -- often something completely different.) So my mother was the reliable breadwinner. She was also the organizer, the rule-maker, the consequence-giver. Dad was the nurturer, the encourager, the supporter. (It was only later that I realized just how much strength he carried in his own right.)

Where Mom had character flaws, they were... well, they were her strengths and coping mechanisms when they got carried or pushed too far. She could get set on a plan and be unable to set it aside -- even when it involved other people who wanted to do things another way. She could hit things that triggered those childhood memories -- anything involving hospital visits, to pick an obvious example -- and just sort of panic... and freeze up. She didn't want to go to them; she didn't want to admit that she might need them; she didn't want to talk about them. She could get too clever for her own good.

She was terrified of being trapped in a wheelchair. It sounds very pop-psychology to blame that on her childhood, but the connection is bleakly clear. She didn't want to be reliant on other people, with my father as a general exception. She was especially scared of being reliant on people who didn't know what she was going through. Self-determination was massively important to her, and if you think that didn't shape my life and her role in it then you're delusional. (Though if you knew my mom, you know that.) I think that's why, despite her Catholic upbringing, she never much pushed me about my atheism, or about baptizing the boys, or even about keeping them in church. Yes, she saw patterns, and she knew how that sort of conflict would end; but that wasn't why she relented. She felt, bone-deep, that it had to be my choice.

I wish I could quote you the eulogies given for my mother. One was from one of her oldest and closest friends, the one whose firstborn child came along at almost exactly the same time I did. The other was from her husband, my father. Despite everything I've written here, I feel like both of them captured a general sense of her life better than I've even come close to.

But I know that one of her deepest fears was being weak, being helpless. Posit the wheelchair as the symbol of that, and I won't argue. I know that fear myself. And when I say that this was exactly the way she would have wanted to go, I'm not lying, I'm not telling tales, I'm not obfuscating, I'm not even exaggerating. This was what she wanted: a quick, clean death, before my father, before she deteriorated[2], before she was helpless.

It's a comfort, even if it doesn't sound like one.

The priest offered the image of my mother in Heaven, her body and mobility restored, cavorting and cartwheeling and racing and dancing. It was a comforting image, I suppose, but it's not one that makes me feel better. I take my comfort in knowing that my mother refused to be restricted by her disabilities, and died before polio could finally rob her of her dignity and grace.

[1] I'm not sure how much was innate and how much practice, but I suspect it a talent that she pushed for everything it would give her.

[2] And if you know anything about Post-Polio Syndrome, you know that was coming. It had already started.[3]

[3] That's why I don't argue with anti-vaxxers. I have rational arguments, but I can't be rational about it. I go straight to homicidal.

Cleanse it with fire

Okay, it's late. I don't care.

I'm in a mood to burn shit down.

It's a damned good thing that there are so many people I want to spare.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016


I was going to write a post for this morning. I really was. Then, while I was sitting on the couch, there was this buzzing sound[1] and then everything went dark. When I woke up, it was morning.

Clearly, I was abducted by aliens. That's probably why I still feel tired.

[1] By a curious coincidence, it sounded exactly like our deep-tissue massager.

Monday, May 9, 2016

We'll see how it goes.

We held the service for my mom on Saturday.

I am not well-suited to such occasions. I can understand the appeal, in theory: a community coming together to celebrate a life and mourn its passing, taking comfort each other's company and renewing their bonds. I see it; but it doesn't work that way for me. I just want to take my grief and go sit with it a while in private. And while I deeply appreciate every single condolence I've received, at the same time I really just want people to stop trying to talk to me about this. (I have very definite feelings about ambivalence.) It was worse on Saturday, because everybody wanted to shake hands, or pat my shoulder, or offer hugs, which left me torn between Thank you for trying to comfort me and Just. Stop. Touching. Me. And it seems a bit mean-spirited to complain about people trying to be nice and sympathetic, especially when they're grieving too, but the whole thing just wore me out.

Despite that, it was a lovely ceremony. It took place in the Episcopal church that my parents have been attending since, um, I don't even know. Decades. The priest there is relatively new, but he handled it well; the whole thing was well done, tasteful, respectful. The readings were done by two of my father's siblings and one of my cousins. (My brother and I had both declined the chance to do a reading, and in the event I think that was very much for the better, at least for me.) Eulogies were offered by one of my mom's dearest friends, and by my father. Then Father and some of his music-friends did a pair of hymns, Who Will Sing For Me? and 'Til I'm Too Old To Die Young. The boys were well-behaved, though Secondborn had some trouble sitting still -- but I can't really blame him for that; it was a long ceremony, and he's not feeling well. (No idea if it's the same stuff Firstborn had last week or not, but we're back in "try to keep the fever down at a safe level" mode again. ::sigh:: )

There was a family dinner Friday night, and the Beautiful Woman's parents were kind enough to keep the boys so we could attend. After the service on Saturday, we went back to the house and made some lunch... and I napped in a near-coma for about two hours. After that we gathered ourselves again (including one of my cousins, who was staying with us -- I suppose that could have been an imposition, but instead it was lovely). There was, you see, a second family dinner that was scheduled for Saturday night, this one with an even looser definition of "family" involved.

Our definition of family is pretty loose, anyway. If you stand still long enough, you're probably kith. And there are plenty of people who've been around long enough that they might as well be kin. (It's not their fault. They just didn't run away fast enough.)

And I feel like I ought to add something more, try to tie everything together and make it all make sense. Maybe add some details about the eulogies, about the kind of impressions that Mom left behind her and around her.

I can't. I think I'm doing all right, and then I start thinking about that stuff and I just go to pieces. I haven't written any of the things I'd planned on writing, because to write anything meaningful I have to think about what I'm writing. I'm not sure I can do that to myself.

I'm not sure I can't.

Tomorrow -- today, really -- is Monday, and Monday is good for losing myself in mindless work. That's probably for the best. I have no idea what kind of shape I'm going to be in. We'll see how it goes.

Friday, May 6, 2016

No Fate Save Exhaustion

Sandra felt the car slow, and pressed her foot against the pedal to bring it back up to speed. She was starting to wear down. It wasn't just the lateness of the hour, though that was part of it. It was also reaction, to the arrival of the vampire and everything that had followed. I need coffee, she thought.

The hitchhiker had said that they weren't being pursued. If she believed him, then it should be safe to stop for coffee and gas. It might even be safe to find a place to stop for the night. If she believed him...

...And if she had any choice. She couldn't keep driving forever. But it was only a few hours until dawn, and then it should be safe to sleep. If she didn't close her eyes and drive right off the road in the meantime.

She drew a deep breath, and forced herself to pay attention. They were on an empty stretch of highway, there had to be something up ahead. Worst case, she could pull off to the side, grab the blankets from the back, and they could sleep on the seats. "Honey?" she asked. "How are we doing?"

"I know how to make it into a kitten," answered Samantha. "Don't worry," she added. "I won't do it yet. She won't like riding in the car. And she's happy that I'm wearing her." There was a brief pause, and Sandra glanced in the rearview mirror to see that Samantha had looked up to meet her eyes. "We're safe," she said, reverting to her Big Girl voice. "The vampire took them away with him. The one you stopped for is..." She paused, and for the first time in as long as Sandra could remember, her daughter sounded puzzled. "...Is gone. Either he's dead, or he's somebody else now."

"All right," said Sandra. "I'm going to find a place to stop, somewhere we can sleep."

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Vulture Appears Innocent

So, after receiving a couple of calls from a funeral home, I got them on the phone:

"Thank you for calling Unnamed Funeral Home and Cemetary. Please select from one of the following four options, so that we may better assist you:
If you are calling to report a death, please press 1.
To speak to someone about pre-arrangements or upcoming seminars, please press 2.
To speak to our Rembrandt Florist, please press 3.
For all other inquiries or if you know your party's name or extension, please press 4.
To hear this menu again, please press 5."

The first message (left by a woman's voice) just gave the phone number. That Guy, however, who left the second message, actually specified that I should press Option One and then ask for him.

So, for preliminary evaluation: I received at least two calls from Unnamed Funeral Home. Both are a bit garbled. The first one seems to be addressed to someone I don't know (but might just be garbled), while the second claims to be a courtesy call, mentions the loss of my mother, but appears (in its slightly garbled way) to give the wrong name for her. Also, the second call wants to "guide me in a really positive way" and wants to schedule me to "come out and make some final arrangements". And in addition to leaving the callback number, wants me to select the option for "report a death".

Yeah. No, that doesn't sound deeply sleazy or massively inappropriate at all.

"You call may be monitored for quality or training purposes.

Hold music...

Series of clicks and no more hold music... and now a dial tone.

(Am I going to end up live-blogging this whole thing? Looks like.)

Trying again...

Same message... Same hold music...

Got an operator this time... and (oh hey!) That Guy.

...Who says it might just have been a wrong number. I offered to give him the number he called me on, but he says he can't look it up that way. And the (possibly garbled) name "Betty" from his message didn't seem to mean anything to him. So at this point, either:
1. It's a coincidence. That would be one hell of a coincidence, but stranger things have happened.[1]
2. Unnamed Funeral Home is doing sales cold-calls. If so, their system is massively confused.
3. Unnamed Funeral Home is trying to get in touch with a legitimate client and simply had the wrong number (in which case their system may still be massively confused).

You know what? Let's call That Guy back and ask him.

Okay, That Guy says unequivocally that no, his department does not do sales calls of any form. They are strictly scheduling. And he sounded a little appalled when I told him that I'd just lost my own mother right before receiving his call.

So at this point, I'm going to have to say that this was some weird combination of coincidence and wrong number. I can imagine that a funeral home might be cold-calling the relatives of recently-deceased individuals to drum up business, but I can't imagine that people wouldn't find that offensive and inappropriate -- and after some poking around online, I can't find any accounts of anything even remotely similar.

That being the case, I'm going to go through this entry and the previous one, and soft-scrub all the names involved. I'm not above naming and shaming people who behave inappropriately, but that doesn't seem to be what's going on here. And since people don't read (and often don't read thoroughly) I don't want to be responsible for any false rumors about a business that doesn't seem to have misbehaved.

[1] My mother-in-law once got a wrong number call, which turned out to be from a couple that they had lived next door to for like fifteen years, before they moved several times and lost track of each other completely. So when I say that this level of weird, wild coincidences happen, I'm not kidding.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Vulture Has Landed...

Follow-up Note As Promised: Hard as it is to believe, the whole thing seems to have been some combination of coincidence and wrong number. That being the case, I've gone through and soft-scrubbed names and phone numbers, since the Funeral Home in question apparently doesn't deserve the potential bad press. I'll post about the follow-up call (where I called them back) in the morning.

In the past couple of days, I have received a couple of calls from Unnamed Funeral Home. The calls are coming to my cell phone -- no idea why, as it's a number provided by my workplace and not widely known. I don't think it's anything that comes up if you do a search on my name, so I'm not sure how they would have gotten it. (Unless maybe they called work, and someone there gave it to them?)

I'm transcribing the messages below. They're not entirely clear, so I've put {brackets} around the parts I'm not sure of.

Message 1: "{Hi miss Colleen, this is ???} ...Calling from Unnamed Funeral Home. Just giving a courtesy call, if you could give us a call back at XXX-XXX-XXXX."

Message 2: "Hello, this is That Guy with Unnamed Funeral Home. I was calling to touch base with you and discuss {Betty?} with you. If you'll give me a call back, um, I'm so sorry that you're having to go through this with your mom and we just want to be here for you and help you out and {believe?} you and guide you in a very positive direction. And we also need to get you scheduled to come out and make some final arrangements. My number is XXX-XXX-XXXX. If you'll press Option 1 just ask for That Guy. Thank you so much. Bye-bye."

I'm deeply puzzled (and potentially very angry) about this. I suppose it's possible that one of their customers accidentally put down my number instead of their own, but that would be one hell of a coincidence. I've checked in with my father, and confirmed that:
1. Dad has not heard from Unnamed Funeral Home.
2. Mom has already been cremated.
3. Dad has already settled everything with the place where she was cremated.
4. The place where Mom was cremated was not Unnamed Funeral Home, and to the best of our knowledge was not affiliated in any way with Unnamed Funeral Home.

It sounds like a cold-call, a sales call. It sounds like somebody saw my mother's obituary, did a search on people with the same last name (there aren't that many of us) and called me up hoping to bring in some extra business. It had better not be anything of the kind, but that's what it sounds like.

So I'm going to do some following-up and see what's actually going on here. If it's innocent, I'll edit this post to add a note saying so. If it's not, well... that'll be the next article here on the Blog o' Doom.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Raiders of the Lost Bedroom

So... Secondborn has been playing Lego Indiana Jones. This was enough to convince the boys to watch Raiders of the Lost Ark with me. (In the opening scene with the boulder rolling through the temple, Firstborn said: "That scene has been in everything!" His mother nodded: "And they all took it from here. This is the movie that did it first.") Anyway, having played the Lego game and watched the movie, Secondborn has become... interested in Indiana Jones. So much so that he asked for an Indiana Jones costume for his birthday. The costume, naturally, came with a bull whip. The bullwhip, naturally, was a costume piece. The costume piece, naturally, lasted about two days before Secondborn broke it while trying to swing across a chasm.

Clearly, it was time for Daddy to come to the rescue. So I got online, looked at what was available, and ordered him a new bull whip. This one is leather, and about six feet long, and much stronger than the first one.

I... might have made a mistake.