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Life In The Time of Spiders

It started that August week when it was in the mid-90s and your thoughts were filled with ice cream and sprinkler-jumping and parades and alpenglow at 10 pm.  Then a glistening in the corner of the eye, and a sudden facefull of filament when you turn a corner.  You swear you heard it snapsnapsnap as your bumbling offhandedly destroyed one of nature’s most remarkable edifices, a moment of guilt followed by the notion that you’ve helped evolution favor arachnids with a better sense of urban design and seasonal decency.

Those early August web adopters have outlasted your first offended sense of denial, and they and their silk-spinning brethren have burgeoned into a dewy morning gauntlet to run between the front door and the car.  Fall is now implacably here, in the chill underlying every warm zephyr, in the startling darkness if you dawdle too long after work before heading for the gym, in the fact that bowl matchups are already 80% set.

There’s a vigorous fall schedule of rehearsals and concerts and work projects, and your tribal back-to-school urgency reluctantly craves this renewed bustle of activity just as the weather moderates enough to encourage it. However, the memory of summer still lingers, like that girl at the pool who said, “Hi” and asked your name and you were sure she’d be there tomorrow so you played it cool.  And now the pool is closed, the lifeguard chairs of whistled admonition are empty and silent and the inviting chlorinated depths have given way to canyons of yawning stuccoed dessication.

One more weekend with the Keens, then it’s time to remember how to layer your polypro tops.

Let’s Try This Again

A tsunami of subject matter since my last post has left me increasingly paralyzed, and I’ve stood on the beach pondering how to assimilate it all rather than the sensible thing, running like hell to higher ground.  For those who thought I died there on the beach, I survived, and as I stand here on higher ground, all those events that comprised the wave have receded with the tide of time.  And as I get back into practice, I hope not to use stuff like “tide of time”.

So, instead of trying to assimilate history, I’ll recap the current status quo, and attempt to plunge forward.

What’s not new:

  • Still live at Chez Perils in Seattle, married to Mrs. Perils
  • Still have the same jerk of a boss, working for my accounting/software consulting company, while having to supervise a lazy and mendacious employee.
  •  Still playing my trumpet enthusiastically in the Rainbow City Band
  • Still sea kayaking when I can

What’s new:

  • I’m no longer trekking to Milwaukee once a month due to the effect of the economic downturn on my client.  That presented a certain amount of economic disruption and a large amount of psychological upheaval as the days stretched on uninterrupted by flying and hotels and bad dietary choices on the road.  I’d been operating on that schedule for 11 years.  After a couple months, however, the subliminal stress that I had so artfully sublimated slaked off, and I quit checking my frequent-flyer mileage account every day, quit logging in to Flyertalk every day, put my suitcase into the closet and began to relish the unbroken chain of weekends stretching into the future.
  • I’ve become a Facebook maven, flinging bon mots and Liking and commenting inappropriately, and to an extent participation in that community has supplanted the desire to express myself that blogging used to fulfill.  I’m not unhappy that I participate, nor do I think that it fulfills all the dark predictions that its critics promulgate.  I enjoy the effortless contact across geography and my disparate constituency: kayaking people, band people, blogging people, Ohio State people, book club people, family (they’re people, too, but “family people” kinda clunks).  I find the immediate feedback to posts, comments and even Likes gratifying, and that was something that I always wished I could generate here at Perils.  But I also find that the Facebook model is not conducive to rolling out prose like I enjoy doing here.  And that’s a blessing to the 95% of my Facebook crowd that simply Likes me and only wants me to Like them.

Can’t think of much else that’s New, and I challenged myself to get a post off in under an hour, so that’s it for this post.  Watch this space.

Song in my head

Mrs. Perils and I were sitting here imagining something we’re calling an “existential playlist” when we both thought of this song.  It’s a cover of a Led Zeppelin song, No Quarter, by a local band we used to stalk in the late 90s/early 2000s called Maktub.  It’s 8+ minutes.  Sit back, light something or pour something, and zone out:

Paper Losses

It took me a while to make the connection.  After several instances of being irritated because I couldn’t find a rubber band anywhere, I realized that it was the most significant effect of our cancelling home delivery of the Seattle Times last fall.  We would always carefully remove them from the rolled-up paper and deposit them in the junk drawer in our kitchen.  This particular act of frugality began in the 70s when we took the Seattle P-I, and continued when we reluctantly switched to the Times with the demise of the P-I.  I don’t believe I’ve ever bought rubber bands, and now I’m confronted starkly with the necessity.

I’ve been reading the Times and P-I online exclusively for several years, a circumstance which was probably abetted by my periodic business travels, and seldom handled the dead-tree version even when I was home.

We continued with the Times even after it forced the P-I out of their JOA agreement primarily because my MIL, who was living with us at the time, spent a lot of her morning reading it.  Also, Mrs. Perils preferred the paper version.  And I admit that reading a newspaper online is not the same experience.  It has its advantages: compact, available anywhere, searchable, RSS feeds, free; the major disadvantage is that its visual geography seems more limited.  The “paper” paper has things in the same places every day, available at a glance rather than a click-and-wait.  Two examples that come immediately to mind are sports statistics and comics.  Even though the paper comics have shrunk as my eyes need them bigger, you could still rake your eyes over the page and snag on your favorites fairly quickly; online, you have to click a drop-down menu, select, wait, expand, read, rinse, repeat for every individual comic.  I just don’t bother any more.  And, I have no idea what the baseball standings are, or who is still left in the NBA playoffs.

There are moments when I’m reading online when I feel a little guilty about hastening the unemployment of the earnest ink-stained wretches still toiling away within print journalism’s august perimeter.  I had a pang as well one day when some carriers were going door-to-door pretty much pleading with me to re-subscribe.  I’m not sure what economic model could successfully replace home delivery.  I’ve paid for online subscriptions before (WSJ), and would be open to paying a single fee to read newspapers online, sort of how AOL experimented with corralling content under a single portal in the 90s.  I’d be disappointed in, and would probably resist, having to subscribe to every paper I lit on in pursuit of news.

I also perceive a danger in the dismantling of the journalistic institution.  While we are flooded with a euphoric torrent of information, we as its wary consumer now need to do our own fact-checking, without the professional training to get it right.  On the other hand, we aren’t, as in prior times, being spoon-fed information by what is essentially an embedded member of the local oligarchy reluctant to step on the toes of its advertisers.  And then I’ll read one of the Times’ tortured anti-tax, anti-union editorials and I’ll think, nah, I can buy my own rubber bands.


For nearly eight years, Mrs. Perils’ mother has lived with us.  Back in 2002, my father-in-law, who had suffered some pretty severe dementia for several years and for whom my MIL was the sole care-giver, had just died.  In the weeks that followed, we came to realize that his severe dementia had masked a slight but burgeoning case of her own.  I remember the moment when I got my first inkling.

My in-laws lived in the Ohio town where Mrs. Perils and I grew up, and I would swing through there on business trips to visit my own parents.  I usually tried to set aside an hour or so to pop in on my in-laws.  On a trip shortly after my FIL died, I visited with my MIL, and we had a pleasant chat, as always.  As I recall, during the course of this conversation we dwelt a bit on Charlie and his memory issues, and at some point my MIL was talking and hit an air pocket, something trivial, but more serious than simply trying to find the right word or remembering the name of an author.  For an instant, we exchanged a glance of realization; then we laughed a bit and moved on, and I flew back to Seattle as I always had.

During a later visit by Mrs. Perils’ sister, however, we discovered that things had worsened: my MIL’s mental state had been exacerbated by depression, she’d been eating sporadically and housekeeping had deteriorated to a state where we felt it was dangerous.  Mrs. Perils and her sibs proposed a grand tour, prolonged visits with each of them in Tennessee, Idaho and Seattle, with the unstated intention that she would not be returning to her house.  The wheel stopped in Seattle.  We had the best situation - empty-nesters with no household strife, and Mrs. Perils with enough spare time to tend to the (at that time) minimal care-giving.

Our original intention had been to move her to an assisted living facility whenever we found one to our liking, and we toured a couple.  My MIL has always been a cheery and positive person with a good sense of humor, however, and we were enjoying having her around as a sort of extended holiday.  We tabled the move to assisted living, and life began to take its course.  At one time in the ensuing years, we had 3 generations of us in the house, as our son, then later his girlfriend, bunked out here.

My MIL’s physical and mental state has undergone a gradual, but predictable and manageable, decline over the years (those of you observing me may say the same), until the last 2 - 3 weeks, when things started to lurch and plummet.  We had discussed in the past that there would be a limit to what we would undertake, but really had no idea what that boundary would look like.  We very definitely found it last week, when I was out of town and Mrs. Perils was getting only an hour or two of sleep at night.

Acting on a recommendation of a friend, we viewed an adult living center on Monday, and liked what we saw.  We are fortunate that they had a couple of slots available.  A nurse came to the house to conduct an evaluation Tuesday morning, and we moved my MIL to the facility after dinner that evening.

Mrs. Perils had explained to her several times what we were doing and why, and each time she had accepted the explanation; but then, an hour or so later, she would ask, “where am I going?” or “am I going somewhere”, and the words “we’re taking you to your new home” formed with difficulty, and shimmered in their strangeness.

The afternoon was a stew of emotions as we made preparations.  One was guilt: on my end, for the paltry number of times I actually sat down in the living room and engaged her in conversation, as opposed to flashing through with a quick “hi” or mugging for a cheap laugh; Mrs. Perils, I believe, wondering if she were being too quick to pull this trigger in case the week’s weirdnesses were something temporary.

Another was sadness, especially as we prepared to leave the house: there was her blue duffel bag, which I hadn’t seen since we’d taken her with us to the Oregon coast 4 years ago, packed and by the door; there was our cat, Rico Suave, her almost constant companion at her perch on the living room sofa, whom she was likely seeing for the last time; and there was the slow trip down the stairs off the porch to the sidewalk, which she and Mrs. Perils had taken twice a day for 8 years on their ever-shorter strolls around the neighborhood, also probably for the last time.

And, I have to admit, there was also exhilaration, at freeing Mrs. Perils of the despair of the past week, and of the sudden and unlooked-for prospect of a new stage in our lives.

I look back on the past 8 years and try to assess what we (well, mostly, Mrs. Perils) accomplished.  As Mrs. P has said, elder-care is not like raising a child; instead of a tremulous gift to the future, it is a managed degeneration with only one possible ending.  I like to think we afforded my MIL a quality of life that she would not have had in a long-term care institution: a cavalcade of normal life swirling around her as our friends, our neighbors, our son and his friends came and went.  I’ll count that as an accomplishment. (Click to enlarge)

Slack Tide

Wow, it’s musty in here, like a summer cabin just opened for the season.  Let’s throw the windows open and let some of these soft August zephyrs waft through.  I’ve been busy working, of course, and playing music.  Also screwing around with Facebook’s empty calories instead of attempting more substantial fare here.  Let’s press the “reset” button.

It’s August already, and I’m starting to get that panicky sense again that summer is leaking away like air from a punctured beach ball and I’m rummaging through drawers trying to find an old bicycle patch kit, or at least some duct tape.

I was in Milwaukee week before last and was dismayed reading accounts from my paddling network of expeditions to the San Juan Islands and Canada’s Broken Group, so I sent out a plea for an overnight trip when I got back to town.  Several folks responded, and five of us ended up launching from the town of Shelton, near Olympia, and paddling to Hope Island State Park to camp for a night.

My employment is kind of curious in that I usually don’t get a ton of pressure from a single source, as a corporate employee might, but, because I am working with multiple clients at any point in time, a confluence of relatively minor problems can creep up on me like a sneaker wave, and I’m surprised to find myself stressed when there’s no huge problem.  And each client is thinking, “WTF?  I’m not asking for anything that complicated!”

So it was exhilarating to glide into the placid waters of Hammersley Inlet and let my cares slake away with each rhythmic slap of water against my hull.  By the time we completed our 7-mile ride and beached on the island, I was so relaxed.  Here’s a slideshow from the trip.

We harvested oysters and had them for dinner, assisted each other in sharpening rescue and rolling skills, watched seals showing off and basked in balmy August sunshine.

As we paddled back up Hammersley Inlet to our launch point in Shelton, we dawdled along the southern shore, waiting for the flood tide to give us a little push against the headwind.  To our amazement, we encountered a galaxy of starfish festooned along miles of the shore.  I have a waterproof case for one of my cameras, and I pushed it underwater a couple times to capture spider crabs, sea anemones and starfish cohabiting on logs and rocks:

If you see a guy giving CPR to a beachball here in Seattle, you’ll know that it’s me trying to salvage some more remarkable experiences from this 61st summer of my life.  If I bat it in your direction, as I did with my paddling buddies last weekend, take a second and bat it back.  You might just find yourself enjoying yourself.

Lip Service

So I continue to play in a concert band.  We’re busily rehearsing for a holiday concert on Sunday, 12/20, and the trumpets just have a ton of playing to do.  Stamina could definitely be an issue, so I’ve been practicing at home a little bit longer, and working to extend my comfortable range a bit higher.  The basement spiders should be hibernating now, so I don’t think I’m disturbing their ecosystem.

Another amusing director quote: Anita, the associate director, was rehearsing a piece we’re playing called Three Klezmer Miniatures.  In places there are intricate rhythms that need to be traded back and forth between sections, and the other night we started out a little out of sync.  She stopped the band and said, “If anyone were dancing to you guys, they’d be hurting themselves.”

To get you in the mood, here’s the piece we’ll be starting our concert with (again, not our band):

Just Checking

Ducking in here to see if any pipes have burst during this cold wave.  Since the door was frozen shut, I’m thinking the property manager has neglected it (as have I).

I just looked up my last post.  I’d completely forgotten what I wrote about last.  In retrospect, it looks like my Macbook battery died and never recovered.  Well, it’s still sick, but I’ve been mostly plugged in, so it’s on life support.  Federal death panels may soon intervene, as I’m traveling again Friday.

We had a nice, relaxing time in South Carolina, aided greatly by the Buckeyes’  continued dominance over Michigan.  It’s been so long since they’ve beaten us that I wonder if we should invite counselors to the oyster roast in mufti, to cosset us in the event that we ever lose to them again.

The weather was cool, but mostly sunny.  On Friday, we embarked on a cruise out to Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began when the Union garrison there was forced to surrender it.  It seems the fort’s significance was more symbolic than strategic, though it did help guard the mouth of Charleston harbor.  It seems to have spent most of its existence as rubble.  What you see in the pics below is brickwork in interesting patterns, mostly the result of a rebuild after the Civil War (click to enlarge):

On Saturday, the game was watched, some fish were caught in my brother’s pond, and oysters were finally roasted.  Another pleasant November weekend in the Low Country.

Just Because I Can

I just have to do this.  I’m using the internet for the first time in flight -Delta is offering wifi service on some of its planes, and has a free promotion going.  I’m impressed with  the speed/bandwidth - I really wasn’t expecting much more than dial-up speed.

I’m on my way from Seattle to Atlanta, and then on to Charleston for our annual oyster roast and Ohio State-Michigan gamewatch at my brother’s place, so this is pretty much the All-Buckeye Blog for the rest of the weekend.  The weather in Charleston looks to be high 60s/low 70s, maybe a little rain on Saturday.  Sounds good compared to the conditions we were walking around in last night - high winds and chilly rain driving horizontally at us.

While paging through some photos of my OSU marching band reunion game on the band’s website, I came across this one of me as my row enters the stadium.  I’m the one with sunglasses and the fanny pack laden with my camera.  I’m chagrined to be leaning forward a little too much (click to enlarge):

I’ve got my horn along on this trip, and my youngest brother and I just might find ourselves playing fight songs in our middle brother’s back forty.

OK, my dang Macbook battery is dying after only an hour.  It’s the only thing I dislike about this thing.  Better post this.  More from the Low Country.

Affluence Gives Way To Effluents

“I think we’re on the cusp of a plumbing disaster.”

The voice on the phone wasn’t FEMA (they wouldn’t have been in on the front end); nor was it the Corps of Engineers warning about imminent flooding in the Green River valley;  it was my son and anchor tenant, calling last Sunday morning from my new rental house

Turned out that sewage had backed up into the downstairs shower and was recalcitrant about leaving.  I went right over, and we used a plunger and discussed various middling measures involving Drano and a rented snake, but I knew that the real solution was going to involve more sweeping action.

That this was happening on the very day that our last tenant was moving in was particularly inauspicious; that it was happening on a Sunday seemed downright mean. Amid a small army of people moving enough stuff in that I wondered if our new tenant was downsizing from something the size of the Biltmore estate, I was dialing around unsuccessfully trying to find a plumber who worked on Sunday.  This was also the day I’d selected to bring everyone’s leases over to be signed.  My mention of a “plumbing surcharge” did not immediately elicit chuckles.

Finally, one of the three companies that had promised to get back to me called and said he’d be there within the hour.   Upfront, he said the weekend rate was $225 for the first hour,  $185 for each hour thereafter.  I was thinking that we were in for 4 hours at a minimum, and I was indeed regretting that I hadn’t squeezed every last dollar out of the monthly rents.

Our savior arrived as promised.  We located the main cleanout to the side sewer (since we’d only owned the place for a month, I only had a vague idea where it was), and he went to work, lowering an infrared camera into the murk to try to disclose the problem.  As I had suspected, the culprit was roots pushing into the seams between pipe segments in the side sewer.  I helped our guy heave a 300-lb piece of equipment down the narrow stairs, and he started hacking his way  through the side sewer towards the street.

Upstairs, meanwhile, the moving party had finished unloading the several vehicles they’d arrived in, and begun to actually party, procuring beer and pizza.  This, as it turns out, is a circumstance that is inherently incompatible with plumbing that cannot be used.

Happily, our friend finished his task in an hour and a half, and left me with a thrilling VHS tape of a trip down my side sewer and a bill for $350.  I felt fortunate, both for the size of the bill and that the facilities became operational just as the revelers were reaching their various capacities.  It shot the day, but it gave me an opportunity to show that I was going to be a responsive landlord.