Saturday, August 29, 2009

How Hot is It?

"Always remember the first rule of power tactics; power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have."
Saul Alinsky

If the enemy is heat, petrifying, mummifying, melting your eyeballs, triple-digit Fahrenheit heat, then the power to conquer is my air conditioner.

There was a time, in the misty past of my youth, when I scoffed at wussies who needed their air conditioned. I’m talking to you, Gramma. That was when I lived in the swamp that Washington D.C. was built on. Humidity in the high 90s, and it would cool off to a mere double-digit night, when you’d try to fall asleep in a position in which none of your skin touched any other part of your skin. If you so much as moved your elbow into a 45-degree angle, water would drip from the fold in the skin after about 30 seconds. Nighttime was as hot as daytime, just darker. But I was a young teen then, and I was immortal.

That was then. This is now in Southern California, the edges of the Sonoran desert, expanding like bloated roadkill in the sun, into the coastal climate after six years of hard drought. The good news is, there’s virtually no humidity. The bad news is that there’s virtually no humidity, plus I’m not an immortal teen now.

You have to drink about 23 gallons of water a day just to be able to sweat. And sweat – that manages to ooze through your pores – sizzles as it drips down the sides of your face. It’s the same as the way the snot in your nose used to freeze and crackle when you were a kid out sledding down the suburban streets, only different.

So, I managed to get outside today, primarily to take a picture of the thermometer reading 108 in the freaking shade. Then I retreated inside. Perhaps too over-exposed to see, are some drops of water on the thermometer. They are from me wiping the display with water to get a clearer picture, but they make it seem like the thermometer itself is sweating.

There are two climate zones inside. The computer room and adjacent kitchen, where my tomatoes and garlic have been roasting in a 250 oven for just about 4 hours, where I had to close the kitchen window because the breeze blowing in was hotter than the oven-heated ambient air.

Past the closed doors is the living/dining room, cooled by a ginormous room air conditioner that will blow the pollen off a silk plant 20 feet downwind.

So far, we have been spared the winds out of the dry basins to the east of the mountains that separate El Cajon from the Anza Borrego desert in El Centro. Such summer winds often accompany such high temps: the legendary Santa Ana wind that blows from the east, pushing the city’s smog out over the ocean and replacing it with furnace breath on your neck if you venture outside. We have also been spared the back country fires that are raging 100 miles northeast of my house and roaring down the rich canyons leading to Malibu. It’s always a form of entertainment for the masses when movie star houses burn down in metro LA, but still. But still, there’s plenty of regular summer and Native American Summer left to come before the theoretical rainy season begins in November.

The enemy is the hot weather, and huddled here inside my air conditioned cocoon, I hope it doesn’t call my bluff: I don’t have the power to survive on my own out here in the daytime.

Our nights however, are mercifully different from my teenage years. Because there is no coastal cloud cover blowing in from the west, as soon as the sun goes down, the heat rises visibly into the empty sky. If you pick just the right moment to open the windows and doors, reverse the fans to blow in the cooling evening air, you can go outside, water the parched patio, you can moisten the cool evening air the fans are sucking in. Sleeping with the windows open and the fan on is actually a rather pleasant alternative to snuggling under sheets because the bedroom is air-conditioned.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tropes – A Discovery!

"I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [of pornography]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that."
- United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in his decision in Jacobellis v. Ohio.

My big brother in real life told me about this awesome site called TV Tropes that seeks to catalog tropes, as a sort of instruction list to write any work of fiction, drama, television, etc. “We dip into the cauldron of story, whistle up a hearty spoonful and splosh it in front of you to devour to your heart's content.” This is made to order for the wanna-be creative writer without a creative bone in their bodies. Like me. They even have a one-push button for a random trope if I'm too lazy to surf the index.

Here's how they 'splain: “Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members' minds and expectations. On the whole, tropes are not clichés. The word clichéd means "stereotyped and trite". In other words, dull and uninteresting. We are not looking for dull and uninteresting entries.”

Clearly, they’re more interested in quirky and interesting at the expense of trying for Wikipedia or other higher academic standards. This is another plus in my mind because I've always been a sloppy researcher and typing topics into Google isn't terribly productive these days. (Note to self: if Wikipedia is considered a high academic threshold for legitimate research, I'm not alone in my sloppy research style.) Their Main topic index lists categories by genre, by narrative style, media or topics.

Some examples of particular tropes:

Applied Phlebotinum is summarized: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a completely ad-hoc plot device" — David Langford, as a corollary to Arthur C. Clarke's third law


As Long As There Is One Man says:
When you fall, my friend,
Another friend will emerge
From the shadows
To take your place.
— French Resistance Song (partial)
Parodied in The Simpsons, during a standoff between Homer, head of "Springshield", and Fat Tony. Homer: You can kill me, but someone will take my place. And if you kill him, then someone will take his place. And if you kill him... well, that's pretty much the end of it, the town will be yours.

A couple of other topics:

small town boredom
For which examples include: Luke Skywalker in Star Wars; This is a good portion of JJ's backstory on Criminal Minds, and Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters.

Finaly, Olive Garden about which: Maybe we could have dinner! Perhaps the Olive Garden! It's like dining in the private kitchen of a delightful Italian stereotype! Cinnamon J. Scudworth: Clone High

My one complaint? Two actually. Too many of the people on forums have id pics like Japanese animae characters. Also, their main site says, “We are here to recognize tropes and play with them, not to make fun of them.” Ok, I get it about overdosing on irony, but you sound a little teeny bit like Sister Alice Maureen.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Words and Pictures

The words are from Francis Bacon, Friar Bacon His Discovery of the Miracles of Art Nature and Magick. The pictures are from this summer in and around San Diego.

“As for words, they are hatched within, by the thoughts and desires of the mind, sent abroad by heat, Vocale arteries, and motion of the Spirits…”

Or, the words could be conveyed by cell phone. Just be careful you don’t let a pelican grab your cell phone or a lego man might have to try to recover it. Legoland, about 20 minutes north of San Diego, is typically a destination of families with children. Visiting the place with a group of senior is a bit creepy, but creepy has never stopped us before.

“…The places of their generation are in open passages, by which there is a great efflux of such spirits, heat, vapours, virtues, and Species, as are made by the soul and heart. And therefore words may so farre cause alterations by these parts or passages, as their Nature will extend….”

Or, the words could be used to describe new species of food at the county fair - for the soul, heart, and ultimately, the backside. There's no entertainment that cannot be enhanced by combining it with the consumption of unhealthy food.

“…For it's evident, That breathings, yawnings, several resolutions of Spirits and heat come thorow these open passages from the heart and inward parts: Now if these words come from an infirm and evil complexionated body, they are constantly obnoxious…”

Now, I’m not saying cellulite equates with evil complex- ionated bodies, but there have to be some parallels there. It may be a cheap shot to observe fat people these days, but still. I don't expect everyone at the beach to look like they just stepped out of a Pepsi commercial, but there is way too much information about these women in this picture.

“…But if from a pure sound and wholsome constitution, they are very beneficial and comfortable.”

Seriously. If words are from a pure sound and wholsome (sic) constitution, we can benefit as much as the next person. We may not be great readers here in So Cal, but we do like our art. What a perfectly beneficial and comfortable category of book: "coffee table books". Here in So Cal, Thomas Kinkaid is to art, what coffee whitener is to cream.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Pay Attention

“Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you”. - Annie Dillard

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Never Follow A Terrible Gardener on Twitter

"Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks"
- Raymond Chandler, talking about the “murderous summer heat”

I’ve been out of sorts lately. Also out of Cool Ranch Doritos, and energy to work out in the yard. It’s not you. It’s me. It feels like there are little bugs crawling around on the inside of my skull, leaving tiny footprints on the gooey surfaces of the curly pink glial cells. I think this intracranial bug traffic may have somehow re-written some of my short term memories. All I can think of is how lovely my melmac dishes would look in a table-setting for 4 on my new dinette set.

Yet somehow, this feels wrong. I have neither melmac dishes, nor a dinette, and I certainly don’t have four people to entertain. Further, my dishes are made from a space-age polymer extruded from an industrial syringe and stamped with brown roses. Finally, the dining room table is never used for eating family meals. That’s what TV tables are for. The dinning room table’s used to leave things on that you don’t feel like putting away until later, much later.

In a sort of dramatic foreshadowing of my eventual death of pneumonia, Tech Support Guy reports that last night in my sleep my breathing sounded like I was underwater – with burbling and wet snuffling. Charming. While my bronchial compromise has made it harder to perform any task requiring more aerobic stamina than making expresso, it has made it easier for me to sit and think. This is not generally a good tradeoff, since too much thinking often makes me angry about something. The focus of my anger is completely irrelevant. I find myself musing sadly about how, when DFW tried to write sober, he stopped taking his antidepressants and alcohol, and killed himself. Note to self: don’t stop taking medications. Self-medication is the key to the devil’s workshop.

So, what have I been thinking about?

Shall I compare gardening to particle physics experiments conducted in those big cyclotrons like the one in CERN in Switzerland or the slightly smaller one beneath Sanford University? Researchers speed up tiny things inside the merry-go-round tunnel, and then crash them into each other to see whether the universe ends in a tiny pop, or in the alternative, whether a new and more effective mouthwash springs magically into being when the particles collide. Various parts of my garden often have that particle colliding surprise outcome - like Dopey on the steps, musing over the water lilies in the pond below. Nah, probably straining that metaphor beyond its design parameters – catastrophic and destructive testing proves only that my metaphors are a weak as I’ve been.

Sleeping like the dead for 10 hours helps my pulmonary functions to improve. However, dreamless sleep provides no new insights into the dim and shifting shadows lurking at the edges of my awareness. Trying to think straight is like asking my cat to promise not to leave the litter box until the poop disconnects from her butt. This is either one of the warning signs of a psychotic break or my blood sugar is low and I should stop for lunch.

By the time I’m finishing the third bowl of puffed rice, I’ve created this lovely milk and sugar reduction in the bottom of the cereal bowl with the consistency of gritty molasses. Instead of creative or inspired writing, I tackle one of today’s biggest quandaries. I ask myself why I should follow anyone on Twitter.

Upon serious reflection, in order to induce me to follow you on twitter, I’d have to have one of the following reasons:

I find myself on the open sea in a lifeboat with a cannibal and Methodist (and Internet access).
I foolishly stop taking my meds, and find myself alone in a closet one quiet afternoon with a noose and a stool.
I find a dead body in the woods and now I’m lost and trekking across a railroad bridge to get back to civilization, and a train is approaching from behind. Quick – twitter me to run like hell.
My one remaining ambition is to die doing what I love, but can’t for the life of me think of what that might be. Twittering?
I find myself watching 2.5 Men on tv and thinking it’s funny. Twitter to remind me it’s not funny.
I find myself considering self-trepanation to stop the crawling bugs inside my head from leaving sticky footprints in my short term memory.
The best free advice in the world isn’t as good as my mom and her inchoate threats on a bad day. E.g. if you misbehave while I’m out, I swear to god.
You know the difference between allegory and metaphor. You explain in twit.
You neither attempt to talk like a cool urban hipster yo, nor do you succeed.
You promise never to do jello shots at my new ex-friend’s party and proclaim a fatwa on blogging while under the influence of Nyquil.
Somebody twits: It’s quiet outside. Too quiet. Let’s split up and investigate.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Upsetting the Rabbits

No air is sweet that is silent; it is only sweet when full of low currents of under sound—triplets of birds, and murmur and chirp of insects, and deep-toned words of men, and wayward trebles of childhood.
— John Ruskin, Unto This Last (1862).

I’ve had the flu, perhaps even the swine flu. Felt more like a goat than a pig, braying and hacking. And the sound effects don’t stop with coughing. On each inhale, I made a noise like a rusty metal door hinge, and upon each exhale my lungs crackled like cellophane. Yesterday, I spent the day in my recliner, next to the strategically placed vaporizer, sipping that nasty licorice-tasting tea to sooth my throat and watching a marathon of Bridezilla on basic cable.

There is simply nothing like watching Americans behaving badly to each other to sooth a fevered sick mind. Somehow, watching spoiled narcissistic trailer trash with their French-manicured acrylic claws and those knife-thin eyebrows that look like you drew them on with a Sharpie made me feel smug and superior, which was at least some comfort in my time of sickness. Which teaches us, children, that no matter how bad we are, we can take comfort in realizing that there is probably somebody else out there somewhere who is worse.

Watching with me, Tech Support Guy theorized that perhaps it’s only the fat chicks who manage to look so small-minded and so badly raised. Unfortunately, I couldn’t agree with his fat chick theory. I explained that when you have reality TV, you have reality-shaped women. Alas! It came as a complete surprise to him that there are so many fat people out there in America.

My favorite remembered line was the one spoken by the bride-to-be as friends separated her from another drunken guest at her “bachelorette party” the night before the wedding: “Hey, you’re upsetting my rabbits!” who, sure enough, in their wire cages on the floor of the living room, appeared to be agitated by all the profanity-laced hair-pulling goings-on before order was finally restored and the gals made up over Marlboros and Bud Lites.

Meanwhile, while I’ve been hacking up a lung indoors, the weather outside has been amazing, even for paradise. Imagine if you got a weather menu each evening and selected the weather for the following day. Sunny, with temperatures in the mid 70f range, with puffy white clouds skidding around the sky and light breezes blowing the leaves around like they were applauding the weather. And the smells. Unlike a hot dry summer in the desert, there has been marine moisture in the air. I had simply forgotten about how good growing things smell, and how all it takes is a bit of humidity to make those smells of fresh life fill the air. Eucalyptus trees with their menthol always in the background, the foliage of a tomato plant, with its smell that somehow encapsulates every childhood garden memory, the fennel seeds smelling like Italian sausage. Even the mint underfoot everywhere in back smelled somehow fresher and more grateful this morning than I recall.

Although it’s not like I was on my deathbed or anything, I feel that magical second-chance feeling an invalid gets upon returning to the world of the living. The birds are singing sweeter, the air is smelling fresher, the sunshine is glowing softer, and my metaphorical rabbits are all calm and snuggly in their cages.

Friday, August 07, 2009

True Genius v. Truly Stupid

He whose genius appears deepest and truest, excels his fellows in nothing save the knack of expression; he throws out, occasionally, a lucky hint at truths of which every human soul is profoundly, though unutterably, conscious.
Natianiel Hawthorne, Mosses from an Old Manse

As a gift to you, I’m throwing out some profoundly truthful stuff that you might not be conscious of. My allergy report says I’m allergic to psychedelic mushrooms (Amanita muscaria), stale fruitcake, Maybelline Blatantly Bold Brown nail polish (taken internally), monstrous apparitions in the night, and that white cheesy stuff that develops in skin folds of obese, incontinent, hygienically challenged old ladies.

Here we have two stupid birds, perched on the sunflower. The highest one is trying to decide if it’s seeds are ready to harvest. They’re not. He’s patient, which is a sort of shame because if he was impatient and hungry, perhaps he and his buddy would eat the damn pests who are turning the sunflower leaves into worn-out lace antimacassars.

Now, I’ve recently spent time with some stupid people who can charitably be described as suffering from the lack of the knack of expression. Here’s a hint about the best way to deal with stupid people. Slap them. Should you find yourself confronted by somebody who needs to be slapped in the face, or heaven forbid, shot in the face, you should stop, breathe, and count slowly to any two-digit number. Then, if you still think they should be slapped, go ahead and then slap them. Don’t shoot them. It’s not nice and it’s almost certainly not legal. As a retired lawyer, I could probably make a case for self-defense if you shot somebody who was so stupid you were harmed psychically just by conversing with them. But, I’m retired, so I won’t.

Besides, where I live things are a bit different. Here, it’s legal to shoot people who demonstrate an inability to reason and/or who profess to believe in fairies, the intrinsic value of collectibles, the innocence of puppies, and/or who believe too much carbon dioxide in the air can’t be bad because it’s “natural”. Now that I think of it, we should all slap people who reason that antifreeze tastes sweet, so what can be the harm in using it as a martini cocktail mixer. If you are of a non-violent bent and find slapping too confrontational, consider making them an antifreeze martini instead.

Of course, upon consideration, don’t (shoot/serve antifreeze-tinis, or slap stupid strangers); because it’s probably as illegal to poison stupid people as it is to shoot them. See, this is what happens when it’s too hot for me to get outside enough…

Monday, August 03, 2009

Something Like That

“I don’t see why our coffee pot won’t work. They perfected them back in the twentieth century. What’s left to know that we don’t know already?”

“Think of it as being like Newton’s color theory. Everything about color that could be know was known by 1800. And then Land came along with his two-light source and intensity theory, and what had seemed a closed field was busted all over.”

“You mean that there may be things about self-regulating coffee pots that we don’t know. That we just think we know?”

”Something like that.”

- Philip K. Dick, A Maze of Death.

Ok, this has no connection whatever to gardening. But it suggests there may be wisdom in continuing to study garden design, cultural anthropology, connections between fundamentalism and unquestioning blind obedience, and even coffee pot technology. You never know, you might stumble on some new knowledge that will make this world a better place.