Saturday, July 26, 2008

Laugh, And The World Laughs With You

Every work-a-day morning, for more years than I can remember, I've walked into my building and spotted this box on the lobby wall. It's labeled 'Pre Fire Plan', which has mystified me time and time again. So every work-a-day morning, for more years than I can remember, I've told myself the same little quip.

"Must be filled with oily rags and matches", says I to myself. And then I smile all the way across the lobby, where my coffee will be waiting for me.

Oh sure, I could ask our building maintenance guy, Ray, what the heck that box is all about. And Ray would tell me because we've both been there long enough to be on a first name basis. But then the mystery would be gone, as would my morning smile.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Electrons Roam Freely Now

Last weekend was Week 4 in my forced experiment to see how many consecutive weekends I could traverse Hwy 400 north of Barrie. This weekend, which would have been Week 5, is being spent at home - looking for some normalcy (ya right).

Back to Week 4. It was the final sojourn to Dee's family cottage, with the express purpose of picking up the kids and bringing them home again. I always enjoy these missions of mercy because I know that the kids will be waiting for us on the cottage dock with the ruddy-faced thousand mile stare that says, "I need pizza. I need neon lights. I need a shower without mice for companionship. And I need The Internet".

It's nice to be loved.

The minor goal for the weekend was to help Dee's Dad complete some deck and dock repairs. Even after 20 years as part of Dee's family, I'm still a 'marry-in' and I still feel like I need to be pitching in. The fact that Dee's Dad is shade past 70 years and can out-work me might have something to do with it, too.

With chores done, we left for home on Sunday. Being at the mercy of an available boat driver to take us back to the marina, we inevitably left the cottage a few hours later than I had hoped. While this has been the way of things for two decades, it still puts me in a slightly black mood as I contemplate the drive ahead. As is the custom, our arrival at the marina means that I jump out of the boat, tie off, and head up the hill to bring the van down for loading. Whilst I search for the van, the rest of the crew hauls the luggage from the boat and drags it up the ramp for loading.

This time, there was a hitch. As I brought the van to a stop at the top of the loading ramp, I noticed JediBoy holding on to my embarrassingly old-skool iPod - his arms outstretched with the the unit in one hand and the ear-buds in the other. Odd, I thought. Why would he have my iPod just now? I then noticed Dee's Dad holding my pack with his arm held out in front of him.

In a flash, I knew what had happened. JediBoy had tripped on the ramp and let go of the pack he was carrying. The pack - my pack - landed in the oily marina water. A nearby dock-steward fished it out with a pole, but the pack had been submerged for a solid minute.

The pack - my pack - contained clothes, a book, a magazine, and electronic stuff: my old iPod, my old handheld GPS, and my seriously-needed Palm Tx. In the following few minutes I took whatever measures I could to remove water from everything while projecting an air of calm for all those around me. The clothes would dry, but everything else - books and devices - would not fare so well.

That was a week ago. Today, the book has been replaced (the old one was unreadable) and the iPod seems blissfully unaware that it ever went for a swim. The Palm, however, is battered and near death. I was able to retrieve the important data there (phone numbers, calendar entries, and little notes to myself), but the screen is mostly ruined, the battery charging circuitry is dead, and the wireless support is trashed. As for the GPS - he flickered to life a few times and even worked for a few minutes. Ultimately, he's trash, too.

I've gone through the emotions. Anger gave way to a resolve to fix things. My resolve eventually gave in to acceptance. JediBoy feels terrible about things, of course. So I've had to make a point to let him know he did nothing wrong, and that's sometimes it's okay to be upset about a situation without needing to place blame on anyone.

I've suppressed the need to run out and buy replacements for this stuff. That's all it is - stuff. The GPS was a gift from long ago. The Palm was an impulse eBay purchase. Both were useful while they were alive, but I think I'm going to try going solo for a bit and see what happens.

I feel positively Amish about my new-found freedom - untethered from needing to know exactly where I am, exactly what I should be doing, and exactly where The Internet might be lurking. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a new Disney podcast cued up on my iPod.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Cottage Lit 101

Okay, I'm back. You can tell because I have that healthy tan and hobbled posture that result from spending a week at a cottage doing mostly repair work. The dock needed work, a water pump refused to pump, a deck was losing its stain, a lawnmower sounded like a cat was trapped under its blade - you get the picture. It wasn't a particularly relaxing vacation, but it was a change of scenery and did give my lawn some well-needed time to grow itself beyond reasonable mowing limits.

In amongst the foraging through old coffee cans for decent-looking 5" bolts and swatting at a record-sized squadron of mosquitoes, I did manage to get a few books read.

I finally got around to reading The Yiddish Policeman's Union. I say 'finally' because I'd been avoiding the book on the vague pretense that I might not like it. I don't why I felt that way because I did (mostly) like The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

I have to say, I really liked this book. It took a few pages to grok the decidedly-Jewish dialogue style. After that small hurdle, it was a great read. The alternate-history that back-drops this crime mystery is fully imagined. While essential to the story, Chabon does not beat you over the head with clever minutia about his fictional Sitka, Alaska. The book's other strength is in the characters. They, too, are fully imagined and the story left me wanting to see these people again some time - always the mark of a great read for me.

So I guess I'm recommending this one. After all, it did win a Nebula award.

Okay so here's an embarrassing fact: I had never read the entire Watchmen story before last week. It was one of those things I always meant to do and just never did.

What can I say? I loved it - it's a masterpiece! I'm curious to see how it will translate to film in 2009, and I'm avoiding watching the video diaries over on the film's website. How long can I hold out?

Another fact: I lent the book to my 12 year-old JediBoy. I was concerned that some of the content (you know, sex and violence) is beyond his tender years. This was tempered by the assumption that the story might be too complex for his liking. Well, he devoured the thing inside of 2 days. He said he really the book, but - being who he is - he felt compelled to (seriously) point out that Watchmen does contain a lot of gore and sexual content that might be inappropriate for a 12 year-old. That didn't stop him from reading the book, however, and it did allow me to score points by assuring him I felt he was 'ready' for such a book. All in all, a soft-focus, feel-good moment for both of us.

Our final review - Spanish for Dummies. This represents my token effort to prepare for next month's trek through the mountain jungles of Costa Rica. The book - co-developed by the Berlitz people - is surprisingly well-written. However, the structure of the lessons is a little baffling in that I don't get a sense that I'm building my understanding in stages. I guess I just have to trust that someone knows what they're doing and I'll eventually have some kind of Ah-Ha moment.

Alas, I'm only a quarter way through this book and I seriously doubt that (a) I'll finish it before our trip and (b) I'll be anywhere near mastering the Spanish language.

But, dammit, I'm trying to make an effort here.