Saturday, August 26, 2006
We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Programming To Bring You This Severe Weather Alert.
12:47 pm cdt
It finally stopped raining.
For the last two days I’ve been wondering if I should have purchased flood insurance.
When one hears that an inch of rain, falling over a one-square-mile area, equals 17.38
million gallons of water, one starts digging through one’s pile of bills to find the insurance agent’s phone number. Even if one lives in a second-floor apartment.
Don’t believe me about that 17.38 million gallon number? Check out the
U. S. Geological Survey website at http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/earthrain.html. Go
ahead. No, really, unless you happen to be living at the lowest point of that
one-square-mile area. You can check it out after
you’ve called the movers. I’ll be here treading water when you get back.
Because there is a small town about 55 miles northwest of here, a town that for illustrative purposes we’ll call “Reedsburg”,
that for the last two days has been popping out thunderstorms like a meteorological PEZ dispenser and sending them down the
merry atmosphere straight towards us. And
all they do during their short journey, besides ogling the stewardesses and complaining that they don’t get a bag of peanuts,
is suck up moisture. Of which, being August in Wisconsin,
there is an abundant supply. Then they get to us, and apparently get freaked
out by all the pointy buildings sticking into their sky, and whoosh! they lose
their load, so to speak. And all that lovely water gets dumped onto the roof
of the warehouse where I work.
Now, you’ve never heard rain on the roof until you’ve heard it on the metal, barely-lined-with-insulation roof of a
moderately-sized warehouse. Neil Peart ain’t got nothin’ on the drumming Mother
Nature makes when she’s dumping raindrops the size of cantaloupes on the building where you are trying to concentrate on making
sure the serial numbers of the document feeder and the finisher and the punch unit are all linked to the serial number of
the copy machine base unit. No, a
big, booming rainstorm couldn’t possibly distract one from that riveting task. And I mean booming. These storms have
been coming complete with the requisite blinding flashes of lightning and deafening cracks of thunder. I hear it’s a package deal, and who can resist getting something for free?
Like free car washes courtesy of everyone’s favorite Momma.
But the spin cycle… that I can do without.
You see, this city is a very educated one. Yeah, every so often some of
the students at the University of Plug-Me-With-Quarters-Until-I-Spit-Out-A-Degree come out of their alcohol-induced comas
long enough to learn something. And some of what’s learned has to do with weather. And computers, although I think they might learn that from the Internets.
So all of the weatherdudes and –dudettes in this city have big, fancy computer programs that collect data from a mysterious
power called “Super Dopplar”. They take this radar, have some coffee, and then
they model storms. What they get is a vast improvement from when they had to
model storms with antiquated materials like Play-Doh. These computer programs
allow them to see much more clearly the green parts of the storm and the red parts bumping into each other. And that’s when the prime-time television interruptions begin.
Pretty soon you have 57 channels of green and red swirls, and geeky-looking, wild-eyed guys gesticulating frantically
towards what they call radar indicated tornadoes.
“This means,” they gravely pronounce, “that conditions are right for a tornado to form.”
At this point, someone in the County Dispatch
office who obviously did not have coffee while he was watching radar hits a switch,
and all 97 sirens go off. (Yup. All
of them. There is, apparently, only one switch.)
Now, some of you might think that the folks in the local NWS office are a bit overconcerned. I mean, there’s a difference between “conditions being right for a tornado to form” and “Holy Crap! Did you just see Farmer Jones’ silo go flyin’ over the Mini-Mart?” And although I am not the first person to hit the basement when those sirens start going woo-woo, woo-woo, I do think that the system needs a bit of refining.
Right now, we’ve got four main alert states: Severe Thunderstorm Watches,
Severe Thunderstorm Warnings, Tornado Watches, and Tornado Warnings. Each has
its own cool icon that they can put up in the corner of your television screen so that you can, at a glance, know exactly
what’s going on outside, just in case you haven’t quite figured out how to perform that complicated task called Looking Out
Of A Window.
But the advent of the Radar Indicated Tornado throws a monkey wrench into the works.
We normal people don’t know if this monkey wrench was actually tossed by a real-live monkey, or if it was sucked into
the air by a tornado. So we don’t
know if we should grab our emergency kit and head for the cellar, or dig out our monkey-catching net. The sirens are going off, but what’s really happening?
So I’m proposing a fifth Alert. I’m going to call it a RIT Warning. I even came up with a little icon for the TV screen.
It’s a little computer monitor with the image of a tornado on the screen. And
the woo-woo, woo-woo siren will change to the blip,
blip, blip sound that radar always makes in the movies.
Because I want to know if farm implements are about to come flying through the air, or just geeky-looking weathermen.
Whichever they are, I can guess which direction they came from.
I’m betting Reedsburg.
Saturday, August 19, 2006
Chapter 3; Things start falling apart.
12:40 pm cdt
The longer I work at this new job, the more determined I am to write a novel.
Even though, when I think about it, every story seems to have already been told.
And I’d hate to put forth all that effort just to find out that Susie Whatshername just published the same damn thing
three months ago. And it’s on the best seller list. Or worse, that it only sold ten copies.
As much as I love putting words on paper, there’s a teeny-tiny part of me that at this point always pulls out its megaphone
and starts shouting in my ear in clear and sarcastic tones. It says a lot of
really mean things. Things that my parents used to say. Things my junior-high classmates used to say. Things I thought
I’d overcome, overthrown, grown up and away from.
The Voice started shouting again this week. I hate The Voice, because
I believe what it says, no matter how absurd or hateful or ridiculous it is. The
things The Voice says make me want to find a dark, isolated corner of the planet and hide there forever, away from annoying,
demanding people and constant deadlines and the fact that life is always changing and you can never depend on anything.
You see, The Voice knows everything about me. It knows what I love, what
I hate, and what I fear. And it knows exactly what to say to bring me to my knees. And once it gets going it never, ever, ever
I’m not sure what woke it up this time. Perhaps the ninety-day “review”
my new boss gave me, and his closing observation that I need to have more self-confidence.
It was freaky, sitting there watching his mouth move and The Voice come out.
Because that is what I have been spending the last twenty-five years doing. Little
by little, I have been building an edifice of esteem. A cottage of courage. A little fort of fortitude. Nothing fancy,
no turrets or battlements or ‘gators in the moat, just a safe haven for my soul. And
I thought I’d been doing a pretty good job. I survived the GHMM’s ego trip and
the loss of my last position, in fact sailed through it with what everyone told me was amazing tact and grace, when years
ago an episode like that would have crushed me to the point that I wouldn’t even have the energy to try to escape to that
isolated corner of the planet.
But that comment… from a boss that has known me a total of ninety days. Am
I really that transparent? That easy to figure out? After years of what I thought was progress, are my flaws still that obvious?
And it didn’t help that, the next day, he gave me a look. Now, his face
isn’t the easiest to read, but I thought I knew what I saw. It didn’t exactly
shout. It was more of a mutter; a groan of disappointment and regret. It grumbled Why the %#$@& did I let them talk me into taking
on this %#$@&-ing idiot?
Ten minutes later I was a shaking, sobbing, hopeless wreck. The Voice
was gleefully roaring every doubt and fear in a vicious torrent, drowning out everything around me.
Luckily, I recovered. But not before the news had made its way through
the building grapevine.
The funny thing was people’s reactions. Most people avoided me, but the
warehouse manager didn’t. He thought my boss had yelled at me. Slowly I realized that my co-workers were more upset at him than at me.
I was doing okay. They liked me.
They appreciated how hard I was working. They understood that I wasn’t
perfect and that the job really entailed enough work for two people and that I was doing a hell of a lot better managing the
impossible than the last three people that had been there.
And in the face of that acceptance, The Voice was taken aback. It’s still
stuffed way down deep in my psyche, but the big ol’ sock I stuffed in it is keeping its volume on whisper.
And yeah, it was a hand-knit sock. That I designed myself. A feat the vast majority of the population would find beyond their capabilities, or not to their taste.
So maybe I will write that novel. I’ve already got the main character
pretty well mapped out. I don’t know if she’ll solve crimes or fall in love or
escape from the Indians by riding a pony across the West with a rugged, good-looking cowboy (okay, maybe not the pony), but
I do know she’ll have a succession of really crappy jobs. Because I’m tired of
books with protagonists that don’t have to dash away from a hot clue to avoid being late to their jobs at the pickle-packing
It shouldn’t be too hard of a novel to write.
God knows I’ve lived the research.
Saturday, August 12, 2006
12:44 pm cdt
Okay, Jay, you asked for it.
Today is your birthday. And as much as I’d like to post a reprint of last
year’s blog entry (http://home.earthlink.net/~mouseywerks/mouseyblog/2005.08.01_arch.html#1123884438796) and call it a day, I’d promised you a post full of mooshy lovey sweetness.
But I’m sitting in a library full of the noisiest, rudest people on the planet, wondering when it became politically
incorrect for a librarian to say “shhhh!”, and having a hard time concentrating. So
if this isn’t the most perfect, most romantic, most Martha-Stewart-esque tribute to our love, well, blame Nickelodeon, because
when we were kids and all we had to watch was PBS shows like Sesame Street and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, we knew enough to
shut our traps in certain specific places like the library or church or math class.
If we wanted to yell and roughhouse and carry on like little heathens, we waited until recess.
44 years. Twice twenty-two. In
that nether region where you can’t decide whether to polish off a good meal with a Miller Lite or a Metamucil. It’s easy to feel lost at 44, adrift in the monotony of life, yearning for a new direction but never sure
if you should catch that wind in your sails or not.
The winds are there. But we are so much more aware of the danger. At 22, every wave was an adventure; every new breeze, an opportunity. We didn’t look ahead, we didn’t worry about consequences. We
weren’t so interconnected, so woven into the fabric of life that a sudden tack would tear great, un-repairable rents. We were foam on the sea, floating and glistening in the sun.
But now we have trunks and branches and leaves and deep, complex root systems, and though change sometimes tugs at
our hearts, we measure and contemplate and compromise on the steps we take.
Yet there are times… there are times when we tap in to that energy we had at 22; times when the breeze is in our hair
and we glisten in the sun.
Like yesterday, when we took the day off and spent it together, like we try to do for each other on our birthdays (or
the closest day thereon). It’s the most valuable gift I can think to give you,
this time together. It doesn’t matter what we do or where we go. It’s us, uninterrupted, no demands, no requirements.
The wind took us south, and we ended up by Drums ‘N Moore. And the owner (and former
in Brodt Hell co-worker), Rand, suggested you try out the new electronic drum kit. The one with the funky computerized effects.
And the breeze blew, and the waves swelled, and you played. And when you
hit that “cymbal”, and the really-really-loud-crazy-orchestra sound came blaring out… the look on your face. Like you’d opened the door to let the cat in, and there was a dragon on the doorstep. Or Snakes on a Plane. Or Wombats on a Taxicab. Whatever.
And I think that moment was the best of the day. You may not have been
able to find anything at the bookstore or record store or any other store to buy for yourself (except for the second season
of Emergency! on DVD, which we watched for almost four hours last night, nostalgia for '70s television apparently being a
normal side effect of being in your 40s...), but sometimes a thing can’t fill that empty spot in your heart. But life figures out a way to put a little joy into the monotony. A little surf on a calm sea. A cold, frosty one in a sahara
of never-ending dunes.
I’m just glad I was there to share it with you.
Happy Birthday, Sweetheart.
I love you.
Saturday, August 5, 2006
Six Degrees of Madison, part... whatever
4:51 pm cdt
I always find it amazing that, in this city of a quarter of a million people (okay, technically it’s only 208,000-something
but when you add in Fitchburg and Monona and Maple Bluff and Shorewood Hills, which really ought to be Madison but aren’t
because they have this small-town pride even though they have basically been engulfed by the amoeba that is this city, and
if you look them up on Mapquest their addresses default to Madison anyway, and then throw in Middleton, which used to be a
suburb but has smooshed up so closely against Madison that it makes you want to tell the two to get a room, the total is closer
to 260,000), okay, now where was I? Oh yeah.
We may not be NYC or LA, but we’re not Podunk, either. And I find it amazing
that here in Madison if you talk long enough to someone you’ve just met, you’ll find out you know someone in common, and not
someone famous, either. Just someone.
Like today at Sip ‘N Knit. I was talking to Lorene, who just happens to
live two blocks from me yet I met here clear across town, and I found out that her first cousin is my old kindergarten teacher.
And that, of course, brought back all kinds of memories.
Mrs. Himsel (who has since divorced Mr. Himsel and remarried, so she’s not Mrs. Himsel anymore, even though I will
probably always call her that because I am getting old and set in my ways, or maybe because I forgot to ask Lorene what her
new married name is) was the Best. Kindergarten. Teacher. Ever. She was young,
and pretty, and her class was the most fun a six-year-old could have. We did
projects like painting and macaroni art and making yarn drawings (aha! perhaps that explains the addiction to all things woolly). We sat in rows on the floor and sang our little hearts out while she accompanied us
on the piano. My favorite song was “The Wheels On The Bus” (I think it was the
wipers going “swoosh, swoosh, swoosh” that endeared it to me forever). Some days,
if we got there early, she would have Sesame Street playing on the TV (which was the awesome-est show
on the planet in 1971, at least in the 3- to 7-year-old demographic). We got
treats and milk and got to take a nap on our little foam mats every day. And
we only had to be there for about three and a half hours.
Dang. This is making me wish I were back in kindergarten. Employers of 2006, take note! We want cookies! And Nap Time! And “The Wheels On The Bus”!
On second thought, there was a lot of broccoli and lima beans for dinner and having to go to bed at 7:30 pm and having
to have a parent drive you everywhere, so maybe this back-to-kindergarten thing isn’t the greatest idea after all. I kind of like getting to decide that two slices of raisin toast with butter and a big bowl of Chocolate
Explosion Ice Cream makes up a good dinner. Especially in summer, when boiling
those lima beans would really heat up the kitchen.
But Mrs. Himsel… what a great teacher. She had a corner of the classroom
full of those cheap cardboard building blocks with the brick pattern printed on them, and I used to hide in the window well
and use them to make a wall to barricade myself from the rest of the class. I
wouldn’t let anyone inside my “fortress”. But I wasn’t a complete loner. When Nap Time started, I always bunked down with Kevin and Theresa and the other most
popular kids in the class.
Yep. In kindergarten, I was popular.
I don’t know what happened between then and Junior “Last-to-get-picked-in-Phy.-Ed.” High. Maybe there was some nuclear accident that scrambled the brains of everyone in a ten-mile radius of my
hometown, and I was lucky enough to be off visiting relatives that day.
And I loved going to kindergarten. At the time, all the kids that lived
in town attended in the morning, and the out-of-town kids attended in the afternoon.
That fall I lived in town, but because our family was moving into our new rural home that December Mom and Dad decided
to enroll me in the afternoon session for the whole year. So I was the only kid
walking to school at noon every day. It wasn’t far. I remember there was snow in November, because I would walk along the unshoveled sidewalks and make Big
Bird footprints. I’d place each foot down straight, then lift my toes and pivot
on my heel about thirty degrees, put my foot down again, and repeat it on the other side of the first footprint. To me, it looked like Big Bird from Sesame Street
had been walking down the sidewalk, leaving his giant three-toed footprints behind.
I actually, honestly thought that someone would see those prints and believe that Big Bird had really left them. I was six. I also thought that they took
the bones out of my dead Grandpa’s legs and folded them under his back so he would fit in his coffin. I didn’t realize there was more coffin under the flowers.
And I loved riding the bus home to our new house. That fall it was still
being built, so it was the best playground on the planet. The living room was
this vast expanse of green carpet where I could practice my cartwheels. Over
and over and over I’d go, while Mom unpacked and Dad painted the walls of the rooms that were finished. Eventually they’d pack me and my two baby sisters back into the Rambler and we’d head back to the duplex
we were renting. Life was exciting and new and there was Kindergarten! With Mrs. Himsel!
I may be one in a quarter-million, but she was one in a million.
And there were never any lima beans in her classroom. Just lots of “swoosh,