Archive for April 2007

On My Way Home

(ad in G Concourse at MSP airport)
See you this weekend!

Sick Transit

I’m off again to Milwaukee today (Sunday). My plane this time was a fashionably late 10:30 am. I shared my shuttle ride to SeaTac with a couple of women who, when the driver asked, “what airline?” smugly said, “Hawaiian Air”. Now, when I answer the same question with “Northwest”, you don’t know, I might be going to Amsterdam, Tokyo or Honolulu - it’s not immediately evident that I’ll be sojourning on the shore of Lake Michigan. But Hawaiian Air is in Seattle for the sole purpose of transporting soggy treehuggers to the land of Aloha and Mahalo, and they’re headed for Maui. In fact, they’ll be staying at the same place in south Kihei that we’ve stayed when we’ve gone there. I did my best to tamp down my bitterness.

I had laid out some reading material for the trip (issues of NYRB, Emma by Jane Austen), but left it all lying on the coffee table in Seattle. So, during the “no electronical devices” portion of the flight, I was reduced to reading Northwest’s inflight magazine and the SkyMall Catalog. I seldom do this despite the amount of time I spend flying and in cozy proximity to them. SkyMall Catalog in particular might be what the puke bag is for. But. I was amazed at some of the things that could be waiting on your doorstop when you arrive home:

  • Remote Controlled Robotic Hammerhead Shark - 23″ long, can range up to 40′ away. Eye sockets have working lights. Also available as a Bull Shark
  • Pop-up Hot Dog Cooker - This thing looks like a Whack-A-Mole game played with male members instead of moles.
  • The Flying Alarm Clock - launches a helicopter-like rotor that sails across the room when it goes off. The alarm won’t stop until you get up, retrieve the missile and place it back on the clock.

I apologize for my derision if any of you are enjoying these products in your homes.

Once aloft, my seatmate plugged in earphones and entertained himself with at least two miniature devices, a Crackberry-like thing with games on it and a Sony video player. I countered by watching two episodes of 30 Rock and the 4/19 episode of The Daily Show on my video iPod. 30 Rock is a show on NBC created by and starring Tina Fey, late of Saturday Night Live, and I’ve gotten hooked on it. It’s witty, sometimes witheringly sarcastic. Also stars Alec Baldwin, who may as well have been an SNL cast member, he’s hosted it so often, and Tracy Morgan from SNL.

The work week beckons.

Interlude

Friday night we met some friends at a wine bar. As we were waiting for a table, we perused the wines offered for sale. I was intrigued by this Washington label:

We resisted this temptation, settled for a Tempranillo and a nice Sangiovese.

Happy Tax Day

Today is the deadline for filing personal income tax returns, and I urge all of you to exercise extreme caution in those areas where CPAs are known to work, and drink (they’re often indistinguishable), because they’ll all be out partying, and it’ll take on the darker aspects of the Teddy Bears’ Picnic. I know this, because for many years I was among their number.

I don’t know if I’ve ever written explicitly about what I “do”, but here’s the short version, in which I omit mention of corpses and other criminal activity. I have an accounting degree, and did a stretch as a tax-and-audit CPA. I was never that hot on the “compliance” part of CPA practice (which, in the 70s, was like 100% of it), so I was pretty much working for the firm of Squarepeg & Roundhole. I had taken a lot of computer science courses along with my accounting, but at the time I was in college, there was no business data processing curriculum, so I didn’t have anything like a minor. I just liked it, and begged whatever courses I could from the engineering department, which led me into some odd stuff like 360 assembler programming.

So when, in the early 80s, our clients started buying IBM PCs and pestering us about how to use Lotus 1-2-3 and do their own accounting on their computers, I got involved as quickly as I could. By the advent of the Tax Reform Act of 1986, I had migrated entirely to accounting systems consulting, which is mainly what I do now, although I also do some “CFO-for-hire” engagements. I’m not a real talented propeller-head techie, nor am I a button-down financial type; I sort of live in the crease between the two, because I know what information financial people want, and I know where to retrieve it.

I don’t really “practice tax” any more, but I have my own stuff - an S Corporation for my business and our personal return - to contend with, and I also prepare my mom’s and my mother-in-law’s. I also do some “meta-tax” preparation for a few of my business clients, wherein I pull together information to send off to a real accountant. So, I don’t approach April 15th as I used to, impersonating a flaming 747 with broken flaps on final approach to an impossibly short runway. But I still have a moderate amount of excitement sprinkling tax fairy dust here and there.

And, some years around this time, if I find myself missing the frisson, the adrenaline-charged sense of mission, the gut-wrenching sense of doom that is tax season in a CPA firm, I’ll call an old co-worker who’s still in the business, usually when I know he’ll be the most strung-out, and impersonate a problematic mutual client that we both had once upon a time. Unlike me, he’s developed the tools and methodology to deal with the demands of the profession:

I once had a managing partner who was a singular individual - a swaggering Texan, profane, unprofessional, misogynistic - but fiercely loyal to the clients and employees he liked. He used to compare the tax season to a creek full of spawning fish - we had to spear as many of them as we could while they were running, because the creek would be empty after April 15th. Another memorable quote from him: he was a little ticked one time when he’d given out a lot of assignments, and he thought we were being lackadaisical about completing them. He called a meeting, and said, “I can pimp these clients ’til the cows come home, but sooner or later you guys are gonna have to line up and start screwin’ ‘em.”

He had a woman partner for awhile who was similarly colorful. I had just come to their firm from another firm that was a lot more, well, anal and hierarchical. For instance, a junior would perform work, then have it reviewed by a senior or manager at the next level. This reviewer would note deficiencies in blue pencil, and pass it back to the junior for reworking, and the junior would note his replies in red pencil. Satisfied, the senior/manager would pass the work to a partner, who would note deficiencies in green pencil, and pass it back to the senior/manager. (Only partners were allowed to own a green pencil). One partner in particular was famous for writing voluminously, spooling out pages of cramped green kvetch. Eventually, all of the noted deficiencies would be corrected, and the client would finally be delivered of his product, along with a sizable bill. One day shortly after going to work in the new firm, I watched this woman partner storm out of her office with a set of workpapers, slam them on the desk of the miscreant who had prepared them, and screech, “You fucked it up, you FIX it!!” No green pencils in that firm.

I called my buddy this year on Friday, April 13th. He said that the Box of the Damned is full this year.

Encounter

We had the opportunity yesterday to meet in person with Robin and Roger from the Dharma Bums blog. We’ve been cyber-acquaintances for a couple of years and, although we live within 25 miles of each other as the crow flies, haven’t had a real chance to cross paths until yesterday.

The occasion for this rendezvous was a shopping trip to Seattle for Robin & Roger. We had agreed to meet for lunch, and at the appointed time Mrs. Perils and I drove up to rescue them from a tile store in North Seattle. We’ve met up with a few online acquaintances, and it’s always interesting to see how closely their online persona matches their in-person ones. Online, Robin & Roger seem politically and ecologically passionate, as well as genuinely nice people that anyone would be eager to meet.

Still, there was that possibility that the package we encountered in the tile store parking lot would include a GMC Tundra, a woman in a fur stole, a bare-chested man adorned with gold chains and a Karl Rove Beanie Baby dangling from the rear-view mirror.

However, none of that proved true. Robin and Roger are, if possible, more delightful in person. We had a convivial lunch at Chinook’s at Fisherman’s Terminal, and the lively conversation seemed a continuation of our online one. At one point, during a pause in some dialog Roger and I were having, I heard Robin and Mrs. Perils pondering the presidential line of succession. I can only guess what regicidal fantasy led them to that point in their conversation.

Fittingly, as we prepared to leave the restaurant, I spied a bald eagle through the window, flying above Robin’s head.

Just Wandering Around

Some visuals from our evening walk Tuesday night.  On Monday, Mrs. Perils, knowing my weakness for Peeps, told me about this wondrous tableau in a yard on the next block.  Peeps were communing, conferring and probably conjugating in various spots around the yard.  Trouble was, it’s been raining earnestly at times since Easter morning.  I can hear Richard Harris singing about all the sweet green icing running down, but, actually, these guys are in remarkable shape.  I think the Easter Bunny needs a visit from PEEPTA.

Click any photo to enlarge

From there, we wandered down to Green Lake to catch the last of the evening sun.  There were veils of rain about in the area, however, and rainbows came and went as we walked.

As we were walking along the lake, we heard disembodied trumpet-playing from somewhere near the lake.  We walked toward it, looking up in the woods and all around, but finally located its source (click below for YouTube movie):

Wish This Was Foma

Well, damn. Paul LaZarro got his shot in today, but I know his victim’s up there on Tralfamadore enjoying Montana Wildhack as I write this.

Farewell, Kurt Vonnegut, you brightened my young adulthood.

Is It A Maiden Voyage If There Aren’t Any Women?

When we’re talking to people and they’re observing the admirable strength-to-weight ratio of Mrs. Perils and our son, they cast a doubtful glance at me and ask, “So, do you rock-climb, too?” To which I reply, “No, I’m a sea kayaker.” The sad fact is, however, that I hadn’t been out in my boat at all this year, until Saturday.

An online group I subscribe to posted a triangular trip, launching at Mukilteo (on Puget Sound north of Seattle), crossing to Clinton on Whidbey Island, south to what I think is called Glendale Landing, then back across to Mukilteo. As rusty as I was, I resolved to drive up there and participate if the weather wasn’t too much of a challenge. One attraction: there had been sightings of grey whales near that passage, stopping in the area to feed during their spring migration north.

I was concerned about being the weakest link and a drag on the group. When I arrived, there was no - absolutely none - wind, and the water was dead flat, so I was comfortable with the idea of separating from the group if I just couldn’t keep up.

Here’s the route we took - counterclockwise from the right - about 7 miles total.
Click any photo to enlarge

Here’s the trip leader, a dear fellow and seasoned paddler from the Boston area, discussing navigation techniques prior to our embarking. We had a mild north-to-south current that would tend to push us off of our bearing if we didn’t correct for it. On a flat sea where you can see your destination clearly, it’s not as big a deal as if you’re dealing with swells or haze that would obscure points on the shore. Not that I know enough about this to avoid a “Life of Pi”-style voyage. I don’t have a compass or a GPS, so I guess I have some shopping, and learning, to do.

And those aren’t some sort of rococo codpieces these guys are sporting - they’re sprayskirts that snap around the rim of the kayak’s cockpit to form a reasonably watertight seal.

That’s a Washington state ferry in the background below. We stayed well south of its cross-Sound lane.

Here we look like a hostile boarding party. We’re waiting for the ferry to dock in Clinton before we cross behind it on our way to a beach and lunch-stop.

Here’s the Life of Pi view of the ferry from the vantage point of “just about to be crushed by its hull and julienned by its propellers”. It’s actually approaching its dock, headed in the opposite direction. It was interesting maneuvering in its propwash, sort of like crossing multiple eddy lines.

We saw nary a spout on the whale-watch front. We found out, however, that a few hours after we hauled out, some greys did scoot through the area, as espied by Janet from Mukilteo Musings as she and her husband ate King Crab Saturday evening.

As it turned out, I had enough in the tank to keep up with the group, which was especially gratifying as we had to pull against a mild current on the last leg of the trip. As placid as it was, you can’t really see the current, you just notice that you’re pulling pretty hard, thinking of calzones and beer at a restaurant just uphill from the launch, but the shore, and those navigation points you’ve triangulated, just aren’t moving very fast, if at all. An average kayaker can sustain about 3 knots (no handicap unless you sneak a trolling motor along), and then you subtract, or add, the current. It’s demoralizing watching moms with strollers breezing by you on shore in one of these situations.

The restaurant in Mukilteo ended up being closed, and that marinara tang I’d been anticipating caused drool to mingle with my tears as we stared at the lit but empty cafe. We ended up stopping at a Greek place on the way out of town, which had a gyro-style calzone, so the day was saved after all.

Advances in Transit Advertising

Either Air America needs to keep closer tabs on its ad agency, or its advertising budget is in serious trouble. I couldn’t see if Al Franken was driving the truck:

Click to enlarge

While The Rest Of You Were Having An April Snow-Day…

Wow, yesterday’s record warmth and soft sunshine caught us completely unawares. When I got home from work, we decided to take a walk down to Gasworks Park, something we hadn’t done in months due to darkness and inclement weather. I had an awful time figuring out what to wear, since my “wardrobe” has been on virtual autopilot since fall - jeans, long-sleeved polypro undershirt, fleece pullover and whatever suitable jacket or shell. I was absolutely paralyzed trying to remember what I used to wear when it was over 70 degrees.

With that settled, we finally got out the door. We encountered a neighbor and his young daughter on the sidewalk, and I just had to get a picture of her getup:

Click any picture to enlarge

The park was buzzing with others who were similarly gobsmacked by the serendipitous weather. People were frenziedly flying kites, doing skateboard tricks, scaling the barbed-wire fence around the rusting hulks of the old gasworks, and just lying around on blankets picnicking or making out.

As we climbed the hill, we someone was flying a largish red kite, making it swoop and dive in big arcs. On the ground, a small dog (we’re thinking it was a Boston Terrier) was frantically chasing the kite, in an apparent attempt to herd it someplace only it could envision:

Here’s an amusing video of the dog in action.

Everyone on that slope of the hill was voicing encouragement.

We pressed on to Fremont in search of libations and sustenance. Near the Adobe complex, we saw this fully-realized bleeding-heart bush. I love these things, they’re just so completely gratuitous and festive:

We tried to get into a favorite Mexican restaurant, but the wait was 40 minutes and their bar was a mob scene, so we decided to try a place we’d been walking past for a couple of years. I knew it was a little pricey, but we it was such a pleasant evening and we were in the mood.

Man, it was just a great decision - all of our dishes were interesting and delicious. We started with a blue cheese scallop dish, hoping that the blue cheese wouldn’t overwhelm the shellfish. It came garnished with some pear-butter sauce and a dollop of pomegranate syrup, all perfectly balanced. My entree was halibut on a bed of oyster mushrooms, and Mrs. Perils’ was risotto with roasted manila clams in the shell. We were glad we had the uphill walk home to balance it off.

As a final “treat”, as we crested the hill on the walk home, we passed a street-level garage that (what else?) was thumping with garage-band music We think they were channeling an unholy alliance of The Kinks and The Ventures.