Category Archives: Just a Day in My Life

On the Air (II)

I have no idea where I am over the United States at this moment, but judging by that huge expanse of white down to my left, I’m guessing that we’re over the Great Salt Flats of Utah. I can see the highway that cuts through it. I’ve driven through that plain, about five or six years ago; it’s one of the loneliest and most desolate places I’ve ever been, save, possibly, for the Badlands in South Dakota. It was a strange experience, as I recall, driving through that area; so few cars, and so few signs of life. The Badlands, for their dryness and desolation, were somehow more full of life than the Flats. I remember spending the night outdoors on top of a mountain in the Badlands, and waking to a magnificent sunrise, which I have not seen the likes of since, and watchind deer play in the distance while my friends and I broke camp and packed everything back up into the truck.

Right now, it’s Saturday morning. I arrived in California on Wednesday night after being in Oregon for just a short week, and so I got to spend an extra day with Jennifer. Now I’m on a flight to Chicago, which I will leave twenty minutes later to catch a plane for Boston. So here I reach another first for me: my first cross-country business trip. I’ve always wanted to see Boston, and I’ve always wanted a job which would let me go there. So here I am. Granted, though, I’ll only be in Boston for four days, and I’ll be booked solid all four days, so I probably won’t get to see much of that city, but I’m hoping that I’ll get to see at least some of it. I had hoped, when I learned that I would be switching planes in Chicago, that I would get a chance to see some of that city as well; but I’ll only be in O’Hare Airport for about twenty minutes, probably desperately searching for the gate that my flight to Boston will be leaving from, so I imagine that all I’ll see of Chicago will be a bunch of people rushing from one gate to another all of them frustrated and impatient, as I’m sure I will be myself.

At the moment, though, things are relatively calm. We’ve been in the air for just over an hour, and probably have another two hours or so to go before arriving in Chicago. The Great Salt Flats — if that’s what they were — are apparently far behind us. When I look out the window now, I have no clue where we are; there is a lot of snow on the mountaintops below, and passing over the clouds reminds me of the way the Tule fog settles into hollows and valleys in central California at this time of year, with the trees and houses sometimes rising above the fog like islands rising from an ocean of mist.

I’m sure this journal entry will be long. I’m certain I’ll add more to it later in this flight, or perhaps on the flight from Chicago to Boston. We shall see.

II: So That Was Chicago

Some vague impressions from Chicago O’Hare Airport, which is all that I saw of that city (and not even very much of that). First, to get from Concourse C to B, you have to pass through what I had had described to me as the "Psychedelic Tunnel": an underground tunnel connecting the two concourses, with multi-colored neon tubes glaring overhead as you walk or take the walkway through the tunnel (I chose a combination, walking on the moving walkway, as I was worried about getting to the next gate on time), music reminiscent of chimes playing overhead — all in all, I was reminded of the concourse leading up to the main ride of Disneyland’s Space Mountain.

After the tunnel, an escalator leading back above-ground. At the top of the escalator, I was kind of surprised to see a little outlet from something called the Field Museum Store; I expect to see gift shops and fast food outlets at airports, of course (and was pleasantly surprised to discover last week that Portland’s airport has a branch of Powell’s Books, which I might even have time to explore before flying back to Sacramento this week), but not a Museum Company Store, or a Field Museum Store, or anything like that. But what surprised me even more was the full-scale replica of the dinosaur skeleton. Naturally, I was rushing through the airport, on the phone with our answering machine in California, so I didn’t get a chance to look closely at the skeleton or identify what kind it was (when I was young, I was, like just about every young boy in America, a dinosaur addict and I still remember many of the species that I built models or drew pictures of when I was ten or twelve years old). I glanced at it quickly, then spotted my gate and pretty much sprinted there to make sure I got there on time.

The last leg of this trip is on board a Boeing 767. Much more comfortable than the 727’s I’m used to on Southwest or the first part of this trip. In fact, this flight is only about half full, so there is no one in the seat next to me, which gives me a welcome chance to actually stretch out a bit and type normally on this computer without scrunching into myself to avoid bruising the arms of the person sitting next to me.

And here’s dinner!

Jennifer’s last experience flying United was apparently not a positive one, but I must admit that this, my first experience flying United, has been pretty positive. The flight has been on-time (early, in fact); this part of the trip is quite comfortable (for coach class, at least), probably because this flight was, oddly enough, undersold; and the food has actually been quite decent. The chicken fettuccini with was great, and the chocolate macaroon that I got for dessert was delicious. Perhaps that chocolate macaroon was what colored Jennifer’s experience; for all of her wonderful qualities and for all of the amazing things she does for me, she is unable to appreciate coconut.

On an entirely different note, I confess that I had no idea that Lake Michigan was so large. As we flew into Chicago, we could see the western shore of the lake, and we couldn’t see the far shore. The kid who was sitting next to me asked if that was the Atlantic Ocean; I told him that it was not, that it was Lake Michigan, but that I, too, was surprised by its size. We also flew over the Mississippi River, and I admit that I was kind of surprised by that as well; but with the River, I was surprised at how narrow it was. Perhaps it was just that one stretch of the river, but I’d always thought that it would be much, much wider.

We’ll be landing in Boston soon, so it’s time to turn off all electronic devices, including this laptop. I may write more from the hotel, or I may wait until tomorrow. Either way, have a good day.

On the Air

I love this laptop computer. I can sit here on this airplane — Southwest Airlines, Greyhound of the Skies — running my laptop on its battery, and write this journal entry. And I love flying, still; especially now that the summer travel season is over and the plane isn’t as insanely crowded as it has been. There is actually an extra seat empty between myself and my co-worker who is flying back to Sacramento with me; it’s almost luxurious, actually, and for the first time since I started this weekly trip to Portland, I feel like I have the room I need to open up my laptop and get some work done while flying.

Not, of course, that what I’m doing at the moment even remotely counts as work.

Traveling is a lot of fun; I really enjoy being up in the air, staying in hotels, "living out of a suitcase"; but I’m certainly glad that I’m only doing this four days a week. There’s nothing in the world to me like the feeling that when this plane lands in just over twenty minutes, Jennifer will be waiting at the airport to pick me up and take me home. There’s a lot of anxiousness — not bad anxiousness, but I’m really excited to see her again, even though I saw her just four days ago.

So I’m enjoying this lifestyle, and this job. It’s frustrating much of the time, and the amount of time I spend working on a daily basis can be annoying — but, all in all, I feel good about this, and about the decision I’ve made.

In a way, I’m facing quite a quandary. I’d like to have a job which involves even more travel; but, at the same time, I want to stay at home with Jennifer. She and I have joked that the two of us could form our own consulting firm so that we could travel together — she could do the back end development, and I could do middleware and UI — but that doesn’t necessarily seem like the wisest plan. I’m not certain how to go about pursuing a career that would increase my travel time without driving me insane, but I’m pretty sure that if I set my mind to it, I could find it. In a sense, I sort of missed the window of opportunity; if I really wanted that kind of job, I should have done it years ago when I was single and not engaged to be married to an incredibly wonderful woman. That, in essence, is my quandary.

The plane is reaching final descent, and it’s time to shut off all electronic devices, so this journal entry is necessarily shorter. I won’t get to upload it until I’m at home and hooked up, and I won’t make any changes to this page (except the necessary linking). This page is entirely on the air. When I fly out to Boston next month, I’m sure the journal entries that are on the air will be much longer.

Until next time.

Two Drips and a Drip

It had been going on for nearly a year, Jennifer told me: the drip in the hall bathroom faucet which had, by the time I started moving in, turned into a steady stream of water. Because the water in the city we live in is so hard, this steady stream had resulted in the basin of the sink becoming encrusted with gritty green hardwater crud. It also provided an alternate source of drinking water for the cats; for some reason, cats seem to prefer toilets or stagnant water in sink to their regular drinking bowls. Then, once they’ve imbibed of the sink, the cats like to come up to their humans and nuzzle them for attention.

So, recently, Jennifer decided that it was time to do something about this leak. To that end, on Sunday afternoon, after we moved four crates of books and some furniture from my house to her house, we stopped at the hardware store and bought a new faucet and some plumber’s putty, and set out to repair her leaky faucet — after another stop by my old house, where I was pretty sure I had a pipe wrench and some other tools that would be useful.

We started with some confusion about where, exactly, the water needed to be turned off at: at the valves under the sink? We tried that, but it didn’t seem to work out. Jennifer made a call to her father, who kindly informed us, with a minimum of patronization, that we should turn the water to the house off at the main valve in front of the house. We fussed a bit with some different pipes until we finally found the main, and shut it off. Then Jennifer crawled underneath the sink and disconnected the pipes to the faucet. At that point, she decided that I needed to take over.

So there I was, on my back, under the sink, in the little cupboard, working a wrench into a strange angle to reach the bolts that were not really meant to be undone by any human being, getting myself splashed by water that was still in the pipes in spite of the main having been shut off, Jennifer laughing the whole while. Okay, yes, it was fun. Jennifer and I joked at each other about how nauseatingly domestic the entire situation was, and how it was good practice for when we move into our house in Dixon. Jennifer even asked me if I was enjoying performing my "husbandly duties".

We fixed the faucet. It stopped leaking, and we turned the water main back on. Jennifer took a butter knife and used it as a chisel to get rid of the hardwater crud that had encrusted the sink. The cats had to revert back to their own water bowls and the occasional open toilet for drinking water. And the annoying leak that had been keeping Jennifer awake at night had finally stopped.

I had never done any sort of home maintenance task quite like that. Having lived in rentals all my life, it has been far too easy for me to simply call up the landlord and say, "Can you replace the roof?" or "The pilot light needs to be lit." But when Jennifer and I move into our custom-made home, there will be no landlord that we will be able to call upon to make these repairs. It will be just the two of us facing those challenges together.

And, honestly, I’m looking forward to those challenges. Jennifer says that if she has faith in anything, it’s in us. I feel exactly the same.

After we finished with the sink, we walked to a nearby restaurant for dinner, still joking about the domesticity of it all. I squeezed her hand as we walked, and teasingly asked her how married she felt at that moment. She squeezed my hand back and replied, "Very. Very married."

Eleven months to go. But who’s counting?

A Dream of Stephen King

Last night, I dreamt that on the flight home from Portland, Oregon to Sacramento, California, I wound up sitting next to Stephen King. Now, I’m not sure why Stephen King would be flying on the Greyhound of the Skies, but hey, it was a dream. Who cares about that sort of detail?

 I am an aspiring writer — okay, granted, I don’t write nearly as much as I used to, but I still churn out something every now and then. I’m not as productive as I was just six months ago, when I was regularly putting out a thousand words a day working on a novel, but I have hopes that I can regain that sort of productivity again soon. In my dream, I remembered that there’s a part of me that wants to be a bestselling horror writer, so sitting next to Stephen King was a great thrill for me. And at the end of the flight, we got off the plane together, went to a coffee shop, and sat and chatted for a long time. I even got to introduce him as a friend when my parents showed up at the same coffee shop.

So Stephen King and I sat and chatted about life, the universe, and everything. Of course, I really wanted to ask questions and get his insights into writing as a career, about what to do when you’re stuck on a novel, about how to track down an agent, about how to cut down on bloated verbiage (okay, so maybe Stephen King isn’t quite the right person to ask for advice on that problem), and so on. But did I get around to it? Nope, of course not.

It’s a good thing that I don’t feel the same way about my writing career as I do about my web development career! While I’m quite content to let various ideas and stories fester in my mind and set down notes and develop them later and turn them into publishable books and stories a few years from now, I have an overwhelming impatience with the state of my development career. I love my job right now, and it’s definitely a step in the right direction (although, as I’ve said before, I would like to learn more programming and PL/SQL). But I can’t shake this feeling that says that this is where I should have been five years ago. If I’d been here five years ago, then today I would be where I want to be now: project management and director of development, or something like that.

I keep reminding myself to have patience. Five years ago I was in a completely different place in my life, and my priorities were completely different. Five years ago I was giving no thought at all to my career, and I just wanted to go to work, punch in, do my thing, punch out, and go home. As long as I was getting the money I needed to survive, I was happy.

At the time, I also had a vague sense that I was interested in Human Resources. And when I actually settled down at got a "Real Job" I ended up doing Human Resources, primarily by pure accident rather than intent on my part. And found that I didn’t really enjoy it. And now I have a new job in a new career which I actively sought out and got on my own, which is something that most people never get a chance to do. And with this new job comes a paycheck which, I recently discovered, is well above the median household income for people my age. But where I want to be is still far in the future; and there’s still a part of me that is angry that I’m not quite there even yet. How absurd is that?

To be honest, none of Stephen King’s books have ever really scared me that badly. I enjoy them because I think, when he’s at his best, he’s good at using horror as a metaphor to explore human emotions. I think that perhaps he could write a really terrifying novel about a demon called Impatience, which causes its victims to, oh, get so insane from impatience and envy that they go nuts and, say, go out and become killer clowns or something.

Or, who knows? Maybe some day I’ll write it myself.

Back in Puddle City

So here I am back in Portland for a second week of work/training. The propoganda says that in Portland is rains all the time, though I have yet to see a drop. Which is good, because I managed, for the second time, to forget to bring any sort of raincoat or jacket. But if it really does rain a lot up here, that explains why this town has the nickname "Puddle City".

I still enjoy flying; I’m told that it will get tiring and wearying, but it hasn’t so far. I sat on the plane up here and did some work outlining the documentation guide, but mostly I stared out the window down at the forests and cities that were underneath the plane. Being able to see Mount Hood, Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helen’s, and so on, from above… seeing an ocean of clouds… it was breathtaking to this landlubber.

It pretty much made up for the two airsick Intel employees who were sitting on the plane next two me, trying to get their marketing reports done while also gulping down Dramamine and trying to hold in their breakfasts.

It was kind of strange arriving here in Portland; the last time I was here to work, I was here with CW1 and CW2. This time, I arrived by myself, though CW1 and CW2 will be arriving tomorrow morning, along with several other bigwigs from the Roseville office. After a productive half hour convincing the hotel that they did, indeed, want to take my credit card, I went into the office here and began to work. I fought with a single page for some time while also continuing to document the directory structure and getting some direction from the production manager.

It’s hard to feel as though I’m really "in the loop" as of yet. I’ve got a good grasp of the product we’re shipping out, and tomorrow I’ll be involved not only in documentation but also in testing the data migration to the new hub. This should be interesting, to say the least. It will give me a good opportunity to learn about the QA and production migration processes.

It’s also kind of weird to be back here after the weekend that I just had; on Thursday night, after arriving in Sacramento and driving away from the airport, I merrily took the wrong turn onto I-5, and started heading south. I drove for nearly 45 minutes before realizing my error, and managed to turn myself around (there are stretches of I-5, even close to civilization, where a turn-off is a hard thing to find) and get back to Davis… and got all the way back home with just about a half-gallon of gasoline in my tank. For all of its faults, my Geo Metro does at least get excellent gas mileage.

Saturday and Sunday were spent with different members of Jennifer’s family; on Saturday we spent the afternoon with her sister and brother-in-law; and on Sunday we went to church with her parents and then, later on, had dinner with them. Jennifer’s family is just as fun as my own family, and I really enjoy spending time with them. And just like with my own family, spending time with them puts me in a good mood for the rest of the day.

So here I am back in Portland; and, in a way, I feel like I’ve never left. I feel like I didn’t get to spend enough time with my friends back in Davis and Sacramento; and I wonder if that feeling will get stronger the longer I do this.

On the whole, though, I’m glad I’m here. I miss Jennifer, I miss my family and Jennifer’s family, and I miss my friends… but I’m glad to be here, feeling productive and knowing that I’ve finally got my career going in a direction where I want it to go.

On an entirely different note, I admit quite freely that I sometimes wonder about the people who read my journal on a regular basis. The tracker I have installed is a wonderful thing: I know now that there are several regular readers from around my home town, which isn’t surprising; but I also have one regular reader from Folsom (I think I know who that is), and a bit of an international audience as well (including the regular from Hong Kong and the regular from Australia). I’d be interested if you could drop me a line.

Be well!

That First Feeling

        One of the other milestones that I’ve reached with this trip is that this is the first time I’ve ever stayed alone in a hotel room. The first time. I’ve been on trips and I’ve been to conferences and so on before, but I’ve always shared a hotel room with at least three other people; when a bunch of us from UC Davis went to Santa Barbara for a computing services conference just last summer, we rented two hotel rooms but we all wound up sleeping in the same room. Of course, we were also all drunk and up to two o’clock in the morning watching reruns of I Love Lucy. And, of course, I’ve gone to science fiction and gaming conventions; and, of course, to sleep by yourself in a hotel room at such a convention is tantamount to blasphemy of some sort.

        So I woke up this morning, fully twenty minutes before my six o’clock wake-up call; and the first feeling I felt at that first moment was panic. "Where am I? How the hell did I get here? Oh my God, I’m in Oregon! I’ll never get to the University in time for work!" And, of course, "Where are the cats? What’s happened to Jennifer?" Hi, Jennifer! I love you!

        Which probably goes to show just how quickly I’m adjusting to this new job.

        I’m finding that the past couple of days have seemed almost surreal to me. Most of that, I’m sure, comes from the culture shock. No, it’s not the shock of going from Davis to Portland (they’re not that different after all, despite how different people may think Davis is from the rest of the world — but then again, perhaps Portland and Davis share some sort of alternate universe); rather, it’s the shock of going from a huge bureaucratic institution — the University — to a tiny little startup. At the University, overtime was severely discouraged, especially since I was an hourly employee (very few departments at the University have the budget to pay out overtime; all of the overtime I did in my last few days at the University were basically volunteer, and I never even tried to claim them); here, as an exempt employee on a salary instead of an hourly wage, overtime is pretty much expected from time to time. It was good for me at the University, where I honestly felt like I was making good progress on a project. Here, though, I’m still learning. I haven’t had much of a chance to produce quite yet.

        "Patience," my new boss advises me; "patience and flexibility. Your job here for the next two months is to learn as much as you can." Today I began seriously exploring the development environment and the directory trees, and began tinkering with the in-house middleware development tool.

        I’m also not entirely certain that I’m fitting in well with the culture here. I am, for example, I seem to be the only one here who isn’t into fast cars. I went to lunch with my boss and the partner integration manager, for example, and listened to them talk Mazda Miatas, GT’s, and so on, and the ones that they owned. The inevitable question came up: "Richard, what kind of car do you drive?" Things got kind of quiet when I replied, "Uh, a 1992 Geo Metro." Though things perked up again a bit when I added, "But I’m thinking about buying a Saturn."

        Yep, it’s a different world for me.

        Oh, okay. I’m exaggerating. This place is actually pretty fun. I miss Jennifer, of course, and I’m a bit homesick, and, of course, overwhelmed… But I believe I’m getting the hang of all this, and I know that within a few weeks, I’ll have this job licked.

        And now, work calls once again. Be well.

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copyright ©2000 by Richard S. Crawford

False Accusations

I owe a debt of gratitude to my friend "Frog" (not her real name, of course), who defended me against vile accusations from a certain someone that I am, in fact, a "nerd". In support of this accusation, Jennifer cited the following facts:

  • I take my laptop computer with me nearly everywhere I go

  • I own a Palm Pilot

  • I work with computers for a living

  • I have a very hard time keeping in touch with friends or family members who do not have Internet connections

  • I like science fiction and fantasy

  • I play role-playing games, even at 30+ years of age

  • My idea of a good time with my fiance is going to Fry’s Electronics, buying a network card for my laptop computer and a router, and setting up her DSL connection so that we can both log in and take advantage of its speed.

  • And, of course, I’m in love with and I’m going to marry a nerd.

In opposition to these facts, Frog countered with:

  • Richard’s got too much style to be a nerd.

Of course, she also followed that up with, "No, Richard is definitely a geek." So perhaps I don’t owe her that big a debt of gratitude after all.

At any rate, I started my new job at an e-Health company today. It’s a forty minute commute from my house to my new workplace, which, so far, is fine with me; and it’s going to be nearly an hour’s commute from the workplace to the new house that Jennifer and I are building in Dixon. It’s probably okay with me so far just because I happen to be listening to Stephen King’s Hearts In Atlantis on tape, and it’s a fascinating book. But when I’m done with that book, we’ll see if that commute is as okay with me as it is toay.

I’m really excited about this new job. While my job title is "Senior Web Developer" (according to my offer letter, the paperwork I filled out, and my new business cards — which I haven’t gotten yet), I was hired pretty much to do HTML and JavaScript coding, and graphics. However, a conversation with my manager made it clear that if I chose to hone my skills in Perl and other middleware products, the company would certainly appreciate that. So far I like the people I’ll be working with, and the product we’re developing has a lot of potential. And, of course, I fly up to Portland tomorrow for the first time tomorrow morning.

Yes, I will have my laptop computer with me. Yes, I will hook the modem up to the dataport in the hotel room, and I will write journal entries from the road. Yes, I will have my laptop at work and will use my brand new network card to hook it into the company’s LAN.

And no, of course this doesn’t make me a nerd.

Odds and Endings

Here I sit, on the last day of employment with the University. I haven’t been in this department for very long, so I know that it’s unrealistic to expect that they’ll throw me a party or give me a going-away present or something like that. When I left my last position, I received a nice gift from the department; but I’ve only been here a month, and while I did my job well while I was here, I didn’t really have much of a chance to get to know anyone at all.

My portion of the product has been successfully completed and transitioned to a consultant who will work on coding another portion of the product for another week until he, too, is moved off to another department and the product becomes someone else’s responsibility yet again. Add to that the server troubles, the data migration troubles, and all of the other problems that the department has been plagued with, it’s not very likely that the product will be ready for roll-out by the time the students need it. Still, miracles happen every day, I suppose.

There’s a part of me which feels bad about leaving this department. I know that if I were staying here, I’d be buried at the moment; after all, it wasn’t unusual, over the past two weeks, for me to put in 12 to 13 hour days constantly hammering away at Cold Fusion, JavaScript, HTML, and SQL, trying to get the thing to work. And it does work. And today it’s on someone else’s desk, and even when I offered to go over the code one last time with the new developer, I was told, "Richard, this is really good code and very well-documented. There’s no need to review it further, I understand it perfectly." And when I quizzed him a bit — "Can you guess what this function here does? Or that query?", he replied, "Oh yes, it does…" and he told me exactly what it does. And why it was a better choice than what he had in mind. While I’m thrilled to think that I might be a decent programmer after all, it’s kind of sad that I’m not being given any last-minute desperation projects. Which means that after three insane weeks of long hours and packed days, there is nothing for me to do here now.

And so here I sit, with ample time to reflect and write.

I hate being bored at work. Particularly here, where there is no one standing over me giving me assignments and asking me for continual updates. I suppose that normally, there would be, but since I’m only here this one last day, no one figures there would be any point. I feel like I’m cheating the University, in spite of the long hours that I’ve put in already.

Ursula K. LeGuin had a good name for this condition. Ethica Puritanica Laboriis, she called it; the need to work, to produce. I don’t normally think of myself as suffering from this condition — in fact, I’m pretty certain that I have a very healthy sense of procrastination and denial, and I’m sure that there are many people, including an ex-girlfriend or two, who would be happy to testify to that. But in this case, just sitting here at my workstation, listening to Switchblade Symphony and writing up this journal entry just feels wrong to me. But, at the same time, there really is literally nothing for me to do here, and that just feels… weird.

My job here did not require me to work as hard as some other people I know; Jennifer’s job works her a lot harder than mine worked me, and I have to admit that I feel a bit guilty about that. I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about, though. As I begin my new job next week at a new company, and as I build up my skills over the next few months, I’m certain I’ll be longing for days like today, when I didn’t have eighteen different projects due right now. But working hard, particularly on something that I enjoy, is good for me. I like it.

But days like today encourage me to think randomly about random things. For example: watching Survivor on television the other night for the first time. I know it’s a cultural phenomenon, but I’ve been trying my best to avoid it, just like I successfully avoided ever watching a single episode of Miami Vice or 90210. But yes, I watched Survivor. In my own defense, I have to say that it was entirely Jennifer’s idea. It was Jennifer who said, "We really ought to watch it at least once in our lives." And so it happened.

It was a strange and somewhat disquieting experience, watching Survivor. Each contestant acts nicely toward all of the other contestants; but they plot against each other behind their backs. In a way, it’s just like human society in microcosm; though I admit that I like to think that people aren’t always plotting against each other. What I’m most intrigued with regarding this show is how the winner will be decided. What happens when there are two or three people left on the island? How will they decide who gets voted off and who stays? I suppose I might have more interest in it if I were one of the ones on the island…

Also on my mind: my car. My car has been making an ominous squeaking noise — Jennifer has called it "a miffed mouse" type of noise — and today I took it to the Geo dealership to have the brakes checked (squeaking noises almost always mean bad brakes to me). Nothing wrong with the brakes. Or the CV joints. Or the axle. The squeak probably comes from the old suspension. Nothing that can be done about it, since the car is getting old, and it’s not an urgent repair job, so it won’t be addressed. I’ll live with the squeak. But in a way, I’m kind of disappointed: I won’t be able to afford the new car I wanted for a few months yet, until I can build up a decent down payment — something I’d rather do on my own without help from anyone else, if possible — so that my monthly payments will be somewhat manageable (a few financial mistakes I made a few years ago still haunt me in the form of higher interest rates). But if my Geo Metro, Spiff, were terminally ill — well, then it would be much easier for me to talk myself into believeing that I can afford the higher monthly payments. As it is, it appears I’m stuck, for the time being, driving this beer can with no air conditioning and a driver’s side window that doesn’t roll down (in the Central Valley, with 100+ degree temperatures, no less!). If nothing else, though, this car really lets me prove my manhood: air conditioning and safe cars are for wimps! Give me a hot (literally hot!) Geo Metro over your wimpy-ass Volvo or Saturn any day. Ha! I laugh in the face of uncomfortable danger…

Still, though… That Saturn SL2 I looked at last weekend really looks awfully appealing… But even with my new job with its 75% pay increase, those are still some distressingly high monthly payments. And leasing a car is just not something I want to do.

And the last thing on my mind today: the theme for the wedding. Yes, Jennifer and I have picked a theme. I’ve listed a few possibilities on the sidebar to this entry; see if you can guess which one is ours? Bearing in mind, of course, that the real theme may not be among the list I’ve presented.

What happened was this: last Saturday I showed up at Jennifer’s parents’ house, after Jennifer had been out and about all day with her mother, looking at patterns and plans. Jennifer came up to me and said, "Honey" — in that tone of voice which I’ve come to associate with impending doom, or at least with an impending strange new idea for the wedding, the same tone of voice she used when she proposed the procession of circus animals — "we’ve found the perfect dress for the bridesmaids and for our mothers." So, she showed me this dress. She and her mother and her sister all burst into laughter when they showed it to me because they all thought it was hideous. I admit, though, that I thought it was pretty attractive. Granted, only three or four women on the planet can wear such a dress, and those three or four women are probably simultaneously anorexic and more silicone than flesh, but it can look good. My mother, upon seeing this picture, affirmed that it would be nice; and since she already had one, in DayGlo orange, she was all set for the ceremony.

Sometimes, there are simply things about your mother that you had no idea at all about. I had no idea my mother had such a dress. Perhaps I’ve just never gone anywhere with her fancy enough for her to wear such a thing.

But now I’ve been presented with actual work to do these last 101 minutes of my tenure with the University. Mappings to validate, DNS changes to make, development files to upload. So this entry needs to be cut short.

Be well. Enjoy life!

Out of Orbit

The sad thing is that this morning I’m actually feeling better.

I’m not really all that certain as to what, exactly, is causing this set of symptoms that I’m currently enjoying. Certainly the heat has something to do with it; Davis has been hitting 100+ temperatures consistently for the past few days, reminding me of that old Twilight Zone episode called "The Midnight Sun", where the earth had somehow gotten knocked out of its orbit and was moving closer and closer to the sun, causing everything to heat up. My body has never really responded all that well to extreme heat; I’m okay up to around 95, but anything above that causes my body to rebel and get sick.

The shoulder impingement also has something to do with it, I’m sure. Back in December 1999 — yes, eight months ago — I must have injured my shoulder somehow, and simply not let it heal. In June it finally started hurting so bad that I took myself to the doctor who pronounced, "Impingement". Basically, my shoulder bones — which are already oddly shaped, apparently — are coming too close together, irritating all of the surrounding tissues and causing a constant pain which feels something like having a vise grip on to the joint itself and squeezing. Hard. Constantly. I started physical therapy to strengthen the muscles in the area and reduce the inflammation, but it didn’t seem to help. The doctor injected cortisone into the joint, and that provided some relief, even though there is still some pain.

The pseudo-migraine isn’t helping either. It’s not really a migraine, I’m told; the pain in my shoulder is causing all of my muscles in my upper back and neck to tighten and this is causing migraine-like symptoms, from sensitivity to bright lights to nausea. Very little of the food that I eat actually has managed to stay in my body lately.

And the insomnia. For some reason I’ve been unable to get more than three or four hours of sleep per night, maximum, for a couple of weeks — normally, even less. Last night I think I slept for an hour. Here I am at work now, not finalizing the report codes that I should be finalizing, wishing for coffee, worried that if I get some it won’t stay down and knowing that coffee tastes really nasty coming up and wondering if I could get an intravenous caffeine hookup.

A planet spinning in space must be a dizzy thing; maintaining constant acceleration to remain at a steady distance from the sun which maintains a steady gravitational pull to keep the planet in place. All the while, the planet rotates on its own axis, at thousands of miles an hour, and if its own gravity did not hold it together, it would fly apart into a million pieces of interstellar dust and tiny rocks.

These feelings of mine right now are a funny thing. I’m barely in touch with the earth. One wrong push and I’ll go flying off into space, losing orbit, falling into the sun…

Here there be Dragons

Because my asthma is a permanent, high-maintenance condition, I’m practically on a first-name basis with the entire pharmacy staff at the local Long’s Drugs. At least once a month I’ll come in; the pharmacist — or one of the staff — will greet me, saying, "Welcome back, Richard! What will it be today, the usual? How about some Serevent, that will really open up those ol’ bronchial tubes like nobody’s business!"

Well, okay, it isn’t quite like that. But sometimes I really feel like it is. When I call up to place a refill on a prescription, the staff member who answers the phone almost always knows my voice, and frequently can guess what medication I need.

Yesterday I went in to pick up some of the usual meds: two inhalers, an antihistamine, a painkiller for my shoulder. One of the staff members who knows me by name — and who also happens to be a part-time bartender at one of my favorite local music venues, The Palms Playhouse — was there as well. She wasn’t actually working at the time; instead she was picking up some medicine for someone else in her family: Rupert, the bearded dragon.

I had never thought that you could pick up some veterinary medications at Long’s Drugs (on the other hand, it’s probably good information to have, since when I marry Jennifer I’ll essentially be marrying her seven cats as well). Of course, I had never really thought of a bearded dragon as an animal that you would take to the veterinarian either; then again, where else would you take it when it got sick?

"Amanda" (not her real name, but I need to call her something) had brought Rupert with her, so I got to look at this creature. He was about fourteen inches long, from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail. I’m guessing fourteen inches; he was in a Tupperware box, and his tail had to bend a little for him to fit into it. He was a mottled dark brownish-green color, with rough skin and sharp, beady eyes. Along his chin were lots of tiny spines, which is why he’s called a "bearded dragon". Looking at this animal, who was waiting with his owner for some antibiotics to help heal up an abscess for which he had just had surgery, my first thought was that he was emaciated and sickly. It turns out that yes, he was a bit thin, but bearded dragons have a tendency to flatten themselves out in order to capture more heat in certain environments.

Don’t you think that it’s amazing that there are such things in this world? It seems like every time I turn around, there’s something curious or strange waiting to be seen, and such things sometimes appear in the strangest places. A pharmacy is not a place I would expect to find a creature called a bearded dragon, any more than a Dungeons and Dragons game was a place where I would expect to meet my soulmate. But this sort of thing happens; strange and wonderful things pop up in unexpected places — and, furthermore, I’m convinced that this sort of thing happens all the time.

I know that when I was a kid, my mom sometimes got frustrated with me when she took my sister and I on walks. While my sister would run on ahead, I would constantly fall behind, caught up in some insect or rock or bug or piece of litter that caught my attention. I think I might have acquired this trait from my grandfather, who would frequently frighten the passengers in his car with his ability to say exactly how many cows were in the field beside the road, but not necessarily what was on the road ahead of him. I like to think that I’m a bit more attentive to the road than that, but I still find myself drawn to the world around me and all of the wonderful things that crawl, ooze, climb, and slime.

"Here There Be Dragons", the old cartographers used to warn, on maps that were necessarily incomplete: "Sail beyond the known boundaries of the world, and you will encounter deadly monsters." But the world around us is always incomplete, isn’t it? Keep your eyes focused on what’s directly ahead, and you’ll miss everything that’s going on beside you, where there are some pretty astounding things from time to time. And dragons aren’t necessarily bad things; dragons can also represent the strange and delightful oddities that populate this world like sprinkles on a cake.

Keep an eye out for that sort of thing. You’ll see exactly what I mean.