Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Future Hermit Kingdom

In a world where there is an overabundance of grotesque human jokes the country of North Korea wins the award for excuse-free craziness. Many other countries at least make up some vaguely plausible reasons as to why they oppress their populations, destroy the environment, or periodically look for a rational motive to plunge the world into war. For some its the easy excuse of religion, there's nothing like a few sanctimonious a-holes screaming infidel or blasphemer to get the uneducated masses riled up. Needless, to say I am including all three monotheistic religions in this criticism as well as most, if not all the rest. Another goody is the always trusty ethnic excuse in that some group comes to believe they are privileged in some fashion which means everyone else is slightly sub-human. The final one is the love of money. In this capitalistic age it has come to rival the other two as an excuse to commit all manner of crimes both great and small.

North Korea is immune to all of that, they're crazy and know it. So much that they just sit back in their tiny polluted corner of the world, make demands just like a mentally retarded petulant child, and then watch the rest of semi-civilized humanity fret over whether they will start a war that is almost guaranteed to kill millions. While they were once a Marxist nation, created at the start of the Cold War, I agree with the view that the unfortunate inhabitants of that land now live under some quasi-religious, family controlled cult where reality has no basis in fact.

Yeah, you say, tell me something I don't know. Okay, what I will tell you is that none other than the United States is every so slowly floating down a similar river. Case in point is the newly elected Senator from Arkansas, Tom Cotton.

In a move that suggests he wants to unseat Ted Cruz for the most clueless senator this mental giant goes and pens a letter to Iran saying that no matter what possible agreement you reach with a legitimately elected United States president—as opposed to George Bush—the next person to occupy that office could casually abandon that accord. Adding another dash of dark comedy to Cotton's letter is that forty-seven other senators signed it as well forever ending the idea that politics stops at America's shoreline when it comes to foreign policy. Yes, I remember Nancy Pelosi had an ill-advised meeting with the president of Syria several years ago during Second Bush. But back then there wasn't an Israeli/Republican cheer leading party demanding war with them like they are with Iran. 

All that is seriously deranged behavior but what truly freaked me out was another quote by Cotton. 

North Korea is a huge prison, it is a safe assumption to say that unless a person is somehow connected to the ruling elite there is only an extremely small chance of escape from that nightmare. It is a country where absolutely everything is geared for total war. To have an United States senator openly call for America to base its reason for being on anything even remotely similar to North Korea is the very definition of the word surreal. But yet that is where we stand, conflict has become our byword, not the search for peace or the betterment of our citizens but a perpetual call for war. To be sure, the world is dangerous place and we must stand ready to defend ourselves and our allies but somewhere in the recent past a line was crossed.

Yes, the United States has had the blood of innocents on its hands almost since the founding of the Republic but there was a time when we at least paid lip service to the idea that all wars are at their essence wasteful and monstrous enterprises. Now we writhe almost exclusively in the squalid and stunted glory of how many human beings our laser-guided bombs and trained snipers can kill in a day. At the same time our elites demand yet another war the national infrastructure is falling apart, certain schools are allowed to fail, and poor Americans are told to shut up and just be glad they have a job despite the fact it fails to pay a living wage. Don't know about anyone else but that is starting to sound a lot like North Korea.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Flu Shot Insufficiency

The first inkling that a torturous, virus-induced fog of flu was about to descend upon my existence came last Sunday afternoon. At the time it was a small nagging headache that just refused to completely go away. But the night before we had just “sprung ahead one hour” and the daily high temperatures the week before had oscillated between late-autumn lows and early spring highs making life seriously sucky. I literally went to work one night wearing just a t-shirt and jeans because it was so warm but had to put on a sweatshirt around the house the next morning because some freaky weather front had slipped by sending the temperatures into the low forties. When you also consider the fact that I work night-shift, which is like a suicide bomber on my circadian clock, a small headache seemed insignificant.

That night at work though my condition had worsen to the point that I felt like I had slipped into an alternate universe governed by different laws of physics. Absolutely nothing made any real sense and in truth, I would have called it a wrap and went home had we not received news Sunday evening that one of my wife's uncles had passed away requiring a family trip up to Wilmington, North Carolina later in the week. So I sort of figured I needed to suck it up and go on into work so I wouldn't waste too much vacation time.

Monday and Tuesday there were times I would get better and feel close to human and living in a three-dimensional universe. But in the space of a few hours I would slip back into the Twilight Zone wishing someone would just shoot my sorry ass. It was Wednesday afternoon when the flu-induced fog permanently set in requiring I finally go to the doctor.

Since I am famous for being misunderstood I'll say this as simply as I can, I hate going to the doctor when I am sick. Despite the stupid and ridiculous nature of that statement there are real reasons. The first being that when I do go to the doctor with a cold I always have this nagging feeling that I am making too much of my illness. It's one thing to feel bad, but when I see another patient in the waiting room throwing up their lungs into one of those cheap curved plastic basins it sort of puts my illness into perspective. The second is work related in that when blue collar types like me call in sick their coworkers always have to pick up the slack. It's a spectacular and easy way to become immediately unpopular despite all the company related talk espousing the idea of teamwork. So it says a lot when I decided that no matter the repercussions, I had to see a doctor quickly.

A third general reason why guys don't like to see the doctor is the hassle. There is always paperwork involved, even when you're actually seeing your primary care physician. However, when I called my doctor's office I was told the first available appointment was two weeks away. The way I felt at that moment I wasn't going to last two days. So that left me one option, the local doc-in-a-box, urgent care facility.

After a nerve wracking twenty-minute drive through suburban rush hour traffic I pulled into the parking lot of the nearest doc-in-a-box establishment and walked inside. Thankfully the waiting room was empty so at least I wouldn't have to suffer through the mental angst of wondering who was sicker. But my troubles were just beginning, see since I had never visited that facility the bored receptionist handed me a clipboard with nine pages of information to fill out, many of them double-sided. At that moment I don't think I could have passed a first-grade spelling test and as I looked over the various sheets I saw questions that required some thought and reasoned responses.

Some ungodly time later I handed the clipboard back to the receptionist hoping she didn't look too closely at many of my responses that pretty much amounted to “beats the hell out of me.” Since she was on the phone with her significant other discussing plans for after work I sat back down pondering the demise of customer service and the scarcity of decent reading material in waiting rooms. No, I don't consider an ancient copy of illustrated Bible stories for children all that interesting.

The receptionist finally ended her phone call, but not before a hushed period where there was some whispering and giggling, and asked me for my drivers license and health insurance card. “Your lucky Mr. Johnson,” she said, “there's no other patients and the doctor will be able to see you just as soon as we finish here.”

Oh the joy! I thought while digging through my wallet. The drivers license was easy to find. But panic quickly set in as my health insurance card was nowhere to be found in my wallet. I have a tri-fold wallet and keep all my important cards in the center section. The end sections are for snapshots and important papers. Well, it didn't take long to realize I simply didn't have my insurance card and the receptionist said that unless I wanted to pay upfront there would be no services for me until I found the thing.

“I'll be back.” I said in a mechanical tone after leaning in close. The receptionist complete missed my intended joke having snatched up her cell phone and gone into texting mode totally oblivious to the rest of the world.

When I got back home I went straight to my sock drawer figuring I must have mistakenly pulled the insurance card out at some point and put it with the rest of the cards and stuff I keep there. No such luck, it wasn't there and I was feeling quite perplexed besides feverish and slightly nauseous. It was then I just gave up and laid down on the bed surrounded by a couple of dozen items like canceled credit cards, insurance agreements, and other pieces of junk required by our modern lifestyle.

“Did you look all through your wallet?” My wife asks when she came home.

“Yeah,” I said having a strange feeling her question was somehow loaded.

She then grabs my wallet and takes out the small piece of plastic designed to hold snapshots. Among the old pictures of my kids was my health insurance card. My wife explained that several weeks earlier she went looking for one of our credit cards and after digging through my wallet she put everything back. What she let go unsaid though was that she didn't place everything back where I normally kept such items like insurance cards.

Had I been of sound mind-yeah that doesn't make sense but screw it-I would have said something about how I'm not supposed to go tearing through her pocketbook but I just let the whole thing drop. No I didn't go back to the doc-in-a-box, it would have taken too much energy, I just laid in bed and somehow made it through one more night of work. I had already put in for Thursday night off to go to the funeral for my wife's uncle. I went straight to the doc-in-a-box the next morning after work and promptly spent two hours sitting in the waiting room. At least I wasn't bored, I got the chance to fill out all that paperwork again. The actual visit with the doctor lasted just fifteen minutes where he declared I had the flu and sent me home.

No, I didn't go to the funeral, although a part of me would have liked to float around several of my in-laws spewing flu viruses like a Las Vegas fountain. And yes, earlier in the year I did have the flu shot that was supposed to reduce my risk of catching it in the first place, go figure.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Wandering Toes: Harbison State Forest

Saturday morning brought with it my usual urge to get out of the house. In actuality what that really means is out of town but I didn't have the funds for a road trip. So in a surprising move I decided to check out Harbison State Forest here in Columbia. See, several years back while I was still in the National Guard doing my weekend duty my wife and young son went there once and got more or less lost on the trails. Something I heard about for years afterward whenever my wife wanted to complain about me being away on weekends.

First, if you visit Harbison State Forest the parking fee is fiver dollars. As you approach the gate entering the place you will see a locked metal box and a smaller one connected to it. The larger one is the cash box, but before you push your money through the slot pull out one of the envelopes in the smaller box. Fill out the pertinent information on the outside of the envelope concerning your car and remove the parking pass from the inside. Only then do you place your money inside the envelope and drop it in the lock box. I didn't read the sign listing the instructions and just pushed my five-dollar bill through the locked box slot. No biggie really, not because I went ahead and grabbed an envelope, removed the parking pass, and placed it on my dashboard but because I regularly do something stupid every time I go someplace new.   

I hit the Eagle Trail first, which was classified on the brochure as "Easy." I will not go into the embarrassing details but it kicked my ass. As the picture shows, the trail was hilly and I was surprised how much effort it took. It was pretty chilly yesterday morning and for the first couple of hours I'm sure I had that particular trail all to myself.  

Eagle Trail opened out onto several nice meadows which were very peaceful.

While not my first choice as an escape from the mind numbing confines of suburbia I did thoroughly enjoy walking amongst the trees. Unfortunately, this section of the forest was still close enough to the highway that I occasionally heard the rancid noises of the nearby decaying civilization.  

Due to state budget cuts this is what passes as a bench. No, I'm just kidding, mostly. Certain sections of the forest definitely needed some extensive maintenance. Trail markers and guide posts were few and far between with many of them heavily weathered and barely readable. 

"A fork in the road." I didn't get lost while walking among the several trails I explored but I could easily see how someone could. 

I'll be honest, my biggest compliant was the trail map. During my time in the army I had a better than average ability in land navigation using maps, compasses, and just terrain recognition. This map on the brochure didn't really bear any relation to the actual trails I could see.    

"You are here." Always something good to know. About the best way to navigate was to match up buildings, and in this case a road. With this excursion I have half an idea about exploring other state forests and parks here in South Carolina. With that in mind I might need to buy a handheld GPS.

The one thing the powers-that-be went all out for were the restrooms. It was clean and comfortable and mostly lacking that typical smell associated with port-o-potties. And the real biggie that surprised me was that it had decent toilet paper that didn't feel like sandpaper. So if you have to go in the Harbison State you can go with ease.

All told, I was on the trails for about three and a half hours. Not sure how much I walked but when I finally got back to my car I was ready to go home.

A decent picture of me, which just means I didn't break the camera.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Out of This World Real Estate

Unbeknownst to the majority of Americans a NASA spacecraft named Dawn is even now slowly approaching the dwarf planet Ceres preparing to enter orbit around that mysterious body floating in the void between Mars and Jupiter. This would normally only be important to planetary scientists and civilian space geeks like me since most bodies in the asteroid belt are about as exciting as the average Idaho potato, curiously something they strongly resemble.

Not Ceres, it is the largest body in the asteroid belt, roughly the size of Texas, with a significant portion of its mass consisting of water ice. There are also strong hints that it may harbor a subsurface ocean like the Jovian moon, Europa is thought to possess. For several decades in the ninetieth century, it was actually classified as a planet before some grumpy scientists got together and busted it down to glorified space junk.

Up until a couple of days ago the boys and girls at NASA seemed to be preparing for the usual science nerdfest as the Dawn spacecraft closed in on Ceres, then something fairly weird happened. Two bright spots appeared on the surface centered inside an impact crater. Now, “bright spots” are a relative term since in actuality Ceres is as black as a lump of coal but still the appearance of these two highly reflective areas has sent everyone involved with the project into a tizzy.

More than likely what Dawn spotted is the eruption of some sort of ice volcano, absolutely scientifically cool since that would mean that there is a subsurface ocean of liquid water. That alone would make the astrobiology crowd extremely happy since the general consensus is that where there is liquid water, some form of life could exist. Given Ceres location in the solar system it would be far easier to send another probe to it than try and land on Europa and then somehow penetrate several miles of ice to reach its ocean. The bad news for any possible lifeforms native to Ceres is that circumstances will eventually make it a valuable piece of real estate.

No, I didn't suddenly have a nasty, unplanned acid flashback that caused my brain to phase out from reality. See the asteroid belt has millions of rocks of various sizes floating around waiting for someone to come claim them. Why would anyone want one of these leftover pieces from the formation of the solar system? Because a good number of them are made up of iron, nickel, and other rare and extremely precious metals. John S Lewis,author of Mining the Sky, has done the numbers and says that an asteroid one-kilometer in diameter would have a mass of about two billion tons and consist in part of about 30 million tons of nickel,1.5 million tons of metal cobalt, and 7500 tons of platinum. The platinum alone would be worth about 105 billion dollars. All told the mineral wealth in the asteroid belt could amount up to 100 billion dollars for each person on Earth.

Yes, going into space to claim and then begin processing asteroids for their metals has been problematic for several reasons but just two have been the real show stoppers. The first being that while precious metals are becoming rarer on Earth we haven't quite exhausted every source here. Although, the demand for these metals is growing exponentially with no end in sight. The second reason has to do with a dependable source of water and that is where Ceres comes into play. The water on Ceres could be separated to provide hydrogen and oxygen for fuel for spacecraft for both exploration and the return trip home to Earth. The water on Ceres would also be used in life support systems for any possible base built on the surface and for manned spacecraft.

None of this will happen overnight, currently purposed asteroid mining plans have everything done by robot probes but these are all small scale ventures. It is not hard to foresee a scenario where production is quickly ramped up with humans having to be on-site to oversee operations.

Some have mixed feeling about humans spreading out into the solar system. They have compared us to locust or viruses and you can't really argue with their point. Since the advent of civilization we have just about ruined the planet with our numbers, wars, and pollution. Others like me see the possibility of asteroid mining and other space-borne industrial operations as away to lessen human impact on a gravely injured planet. Whatever the case, unless we blow ourselves up sheer pressure from resource depletion will eventually push someone into space to take advantage of what is just floating around in the void.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Near Total Wipeout--The Permian Exintiction Event

 ...And how it is something we should worry about now.

There is something to be said for those that can live in a state of blissful ignorance. That type of mindset sure makes existence in a world where change that is barely distinguishable from chaos a lot simpler.  It is actually a monumental effort to wake every morning and believe the world is a static place and that your position in it is ordained by God himself. Excuse me if I sound more than a little flippant, it’s just that such an attitude courses through the veins of all true American patriots these days and they generally call such a mindset “American Exceptionalism.” While there are several different facets to American Exceptionalism, the one I want to bring attention to is the idea that our hyper-consumerist lifestyle based of the widespread use of fossil fuels could actually cause the extinction of all life on Earth.  

That is an extreme claim to be sure. But hold on and hear me out if you can set aside your arthritic state of mind for a few minutes. Yes, I’m going to mention that we have been spewing carbon into the atmosphere since the start of the Industrial Revolution due to the burning of various type of fossil fuels but my story actually begins 250 million years ago during the onset of the Permian Mass Extinction.

The “Great Dying”, as some in the scientific community call the Permian Mass Extinction resulted in the death of ninety-five percent of all life on the planet at that time, both terrestrial species and those living in the ocean. For years the natural assumption was that the Great Dying was caused by an asteroid or comet impacting the Earth, however given the size and speed of the resulting global extinction event no crater of sufficient size was ever found to corroborate what was known. There is still a possibility that an extraterrestrial impactor was part of the overall global disaster but another, even greater source was the trigger event.

The Siberian Traps is a large region of volcanic rock that was the site of one of the most massive eruptions in the history of the world and it just happens to span the Permian-Triassic boundary. The event, attributed to a plume of lava rising up from the mantle eventually covered seven million square kilometers, over twice the size of Western Europe, and released untold trillions of tons of carbon dioxide into that prehistoric atmosphere. Yes, the initial result was a global cooling but that came from the dust released from the eruptions. Once the dust settled back on land and the oceans all that carbon dioxide was still in the atmosphere, along with the sheer heat from the still raging volcanic events in the Siberian Traps brought on a massive increase in global temperatures due to the greenhouse effect.

With the death of most plant life, due to the preliminary global cooling from the volcanic dust there was nothing to absorb all that excess carbon dioxide. That was bad, but the worst had not even begun to happen and that was the melting of frozen methane that had been trapped in tundra and at the bottom of the ocean.

Current models suggest all it took was a six-degree increase in global temperature to initiate the massive release of frozen methane. It wasn’t long before a feedback loop was created where the release of methane increased temperatures even more, which in turn thawed out even more of the stuff and that raised temperatures again.

The increased carbon dioxide levels during the onset of the Permian Mass Extinction caused the oceans to acidify, which was bad enough. But things went from bad to worse when the frozen methane at the bottom of the ocean was released further altering the natural chemical makeup of the marine environment. This nightmare was not yet over, methane is a super-greenhouse gas and its release into the atmosphere more than doubled the average global temperature at that time.

Now the usual question from the misguided masses that have their heads stuck up their butts is how does all this really ancient history affect me? I’m glad you asked good sir ore madam.

Globally the burning of fossil fuels has already increased CO2 levels to over 400 parts per million. That is an increase that dwarfs all previous natural events, even that of the Siberian Traps. Many simply do not want to comprehend these facts but there is simply no precedent for what we are doing to the atmosphere. The World Bank itself, in no way a fuzzy, bleeding heart tree hugger group has warned that unless the burning of fossil fuels is curtailed the world will see a five-degree increase in global temperatures. The best data we have strongly suggested that the massive thawing and release of frozen methane can start with a six degree increase. This is where your average American, awash in the belief of his or her own magnificence should take note that there is now evidence that methane thawing and release might have already started. 

Now, with the help of satellite imagery, researchers have located four additional craters--and they believe there may be dozens more in the region. That has them calling for an urgent investigation to protect residents living in the area.
"I am sure that there are more craters on Yamal, we just need to search for them... I suppose there could be 20 to 30 craters more," Prof. Vasily Bogoyavlensky, a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and deputy director of the Moscow-based Oil and Gas Research Institute, told The Siberian Times. "It is important not to scare people, but to understand that it is a very serious problem and we must research this." 

Here is a video that gives much better information: 

Also see:

How global warming could turn Siberia into a giant crater Time Bomb

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Southern Workplace Politics

 (Author's note: This is a true story, Names have been changed or simply gone unsaid. I have added a diagram of an electric motor at the bottom to help show what in the hell I am talking about.)

The conversation in the winding room of the electric motor repair shop I worked had ranged that morning from a discussion on whether the reining country music diva, Shania Twain, was actually too sexy for the Nashville crowd to the possibility that Jesus might not take the saved up to Heaven until after the Antichrist took control of the world. This being the late-90's the assumed Antichrist by those interested in the subject, generally conservative Southerners, was thought to be either Bill Clinton or his wife Hillary.

On the first topic Jenna, the senior winding room worker, who could actually count the thin copper wires going into each slot of the empty stator and talk, believed that yes, Shania showed just a little too much skin in her videos while on the second topic knew for a fact that the Antichrist was the pope. Jenna emphasized her certainty by telling Sammy, the other worker besides myself in the winding room, it was all written down clear as day in the book of Revelations although she never mentioned exactly what chapter or verse.

“But Jenna,” Sammy exclaimed, “doesn't the Bible say the Antichrist would arise from a poor family? My Uncle Travis was a pastor and he always said the Antichrist would come suddenly out of nowhere, that sound an awful lot like Bill Clinton to me.”

Sammy could be best described as a hulking, corn-feed redneck of the highest order whose chief accomplishment in life, besides earning a GED, was that unlike some of his closest friends, he had at that date in his life only spent a total of thirty days in jail. Sammy's best friend hadn't been so lucky, he was in a federal prison doing twenty to life for manslaughter over an incident that occurred when the two were out partying one night. Sammy was a lot of things, a number of them bad, but he was overly friendly and naturally gregarious to a fault and would normally run off at the mouth on every subject, including ones that shouldn't be discussed in mixed company. The fact that he refused to say anything about the night his best friend got in trouble was something immediately noticed by everyone he worked around. The unspoken assumption was that Sammy's best friend had taken the fall because he had three small children.

“See Sammy, it has to be the pope because he has all that money hidden away in the Vatican and Switzerland. Not only that, he has an army of Jesuit priests that will give up their lives the second he commands. When you think about it for a few minutes it makes perfect sense.” Jenna responded in a matter-of-fact manner that was enough to quell any further discussion from Sammy.

All during this discussion, I was the proverbial fly on the wall, mainly because Jenna didn't like me. While being a self-professed expert on all things connected to the Biblical end times, Jenna was in actuality probably the best electric motor technician in the state of South Carolina and ruled the winding room like an insane queen whose authority on any subject should never be questioned.

Electric motors are ubiquitous in industrial processing and manufacturing and like anything else they eventually wear out and break down, sometimes going up in a shower of sparks and smoke. Once that happens electric motors are stripped down and cleaned and then people like Jenna go through the tedious and time-consuming process of rewinding the things. Depending on the size of the motor it can literally take thousands of feet of expensive extremely thin copper wire carefully wrapped into loops, then painstakingly inserted into the empty slots lining the underside of the cylinder-like stator, the main part of an electric motor. One miscount of the proper number of loops, a wire damaged during rebuild, or bad connection and the newly refurbished motor could burn up again during testing before it ever made it back to a factory floor.

Jenna did her job extremely well and took an instant disliking to anyone brought into the winding room she didn't approve of first. And since the shop foreman, not Jenna, wanted to see how I did at rewinding a motor, all her disdain was showering down on me like a spring rain. You couldn't fault Jenna for being particular, she was a divorced, middle-aged woman without any real education who had found a well-paying job and would do anything to protect it.

“Who do you think is the Antichrist, Brian?” Sammy asked me as I struggled to insert a loop of new winding in the stator I was trying to rebuild.

“Beats the hell out of me,” I said, “that stuff is beyond me.” I hoped my neutral answer leaning heavily towards ignorance on the subject would allow me to return to my fly on the wall status. I'll admit that during those years my political opinions leaned to the right but even then I didn't care for those who paraded their religion in public like someone would do a thoroughbred horse or dog. However, my attempt to stay neutral didn't work.

“Well Brian,” Jenna said in a clearly exasperated manner, “someone with a young son really should have an opinion on the subject. Jesus is coming back soon and those who aren't right by him will have to suffer the consequences.”

I didn't appreciate getting dragged into other peoples conversation, especially one dealing with religion, but the only thing for me to do was ignore Jenna's comment as if I hadn't heard a word she said and continue my work. I did glance up a few minutes later and catch her staring at me with a look of utter contempt. But eventually her and Sammy settled upon another subject of discussion and for the most part forgot I was in the room. Namely, which NASCAR racer was the best of his group and who would more than likely take home the championship cup that year.

By the end of that day I was completed the process of inserting all the copper wire loops into the stator and then soldering the connections together. All that was left was dipping the stator into a huge vat of a lacquer-like substance, to protect all the wiring, then placing it inside an industrial-sized oven to dry overnight.

The next morning I pulled my creation out of the oven feeling curiously like the fictional Dr, Frankenstein. In a properly rewound stator all the loops of copper wires should lay down on each other in an organized manner looking like fallen dominoes. The copper wire loops in my stator looked like a bird's nest built by an extremely farsighted crow. So you can imagine my trepidation as the shop foreman ran my stator through a couple of static tests to see if any of the copper wires were undamaged and my connections were strong. Much to surprise of everyone in hearing distance, including myself, all the results were good.

After that I cleaned out the excess lacquer, then slide the rotor into the stator ignoring Sammy's sexual sound effects emphasizing the clear sexual innuendo of that phase of the rebuilding. After I installed the bearings and the end bell covers the moment of truth had arrived, it was time to hook my rebuilt motor to the testing platform and run some electricity through it.

As the electrical leads running from the test stand to my motor were hooked up most of the people in the shop gather to see what might happen. This included Jenna, who is smiling at me much in the same way you would while watching a Willie E. Coyote cartoon right before one of the inventions he built to capture the Roadrunner blew up in his face. It is a smile made up of a mild evil expectation of something bad about to happen offset by the assumption that whatever the outcome the results will be exceedingly funny. Standing beside her are the two guys who work in the warehouse. They are both humorless drones who talk of nothing but their high school football careers until even the most sympathetic person would run away from them in disgust telling the two to get a life. Despite their high school sports predilection and Jenna's own interests being light-years apart they are workplace allies.

The shop foremen unceremoniously applies power to my creation with the anticlimactic result of the motor's shaft spinning up to a little under two-thousand RPM's and continuing with its engineered business oblivious to everything else in the universe. I'm not out of the woods yet, the motor needs to run for about two to three minutes just to make sure there is not some flaw that will manifest itself with a display of smoke and sparks. I have a surreal moment looking at the people around me, some almost holding their breath, waiting to catch some drama in an otherwise boring day.

No such luck, my motor makes the required three minute run without an issue and after the shop foreman kills the power the shaft quietly spins down to a stop. “Paint her up and complete the paperwork Brian, and I'll call the owner and tell him it's ready.” The foreman says before walking off to another task.

About an hour later I walk back into the winding room to do the paperwork. Sammy and Jenna are back at it discussing some new existential philosophical subject.

“I really don't know why you would wash bath towels if you hang them up properly to dry after each use.” Jenna says to Sammy while opening up a bucket filled with copper wire. “It probably has something to do with detergent companies wanting people to wash everything so they with buy more of their stuff.”

“Yeah,” Sammy says, “I'm not sure why my wife freaked out. It sure would save on the laundry bill if we just hung up towels instead of washing them with the other clothes.”

“You're both kidding right?” I say feeling a little cocky while looking straight at Jenna. Who in turn gives me this angry stare. “You don't know that every time you use a towel it grabs a hold of millions of skin cells that your body sheds. Bacteria and fungus eat the skin cells and start to grow on the damp cloth causing them to eventually stink.”

I'll give Jenna credit, she may have believed the pope was the Antichrist and that all things Catholic were based in evil but from the look on her face it was clear that the wheels in her head were clearly turning. You'd have to know an opinionated Southerner to understand that logic and reason have little to no connection what they believe to be true. Once a typical Southerner stakes out an opinion on a subject it is truly doubtful that Jesus Christ himself could change that person's mind.

“Yeah, that makes sense,” she eventually said before going all embarrassingly quiet. Even Sammy registered the change in Jenna's mood and started quietly snickering to himself. Not wanting to press the advantage, I finished my work and got the hell out of there.

My successful audition in rebuilding an electric motor did not get me the promotion to the winding room. My efforts were like a situation comedy pilot episode that the audience found funny but the network honchos didn't pick up for the fall television season. So I returned to the shop floor and continued with tearing down worn out electric motors and diagnosing whether or not it was worth rebuilding, refurnishing, or just trashing them.

About six months later I left that job, and in doing so I lost all contact with everyone there. Years later I did run into Sammy at a local park. After having five kids, Sammy jokingly confided in me, he and his wife eventually figured out that having unprotected sex greatly increases the likelihood of getting pregnant. He also made a truly gratuitous joke about his vasectomy that even now causes me to cringe in pain, just thinking about the procedure.

As we talked, Sammy updated me on the various others who worked at the motor repair shop. Most everyone's situation was the same except for Jenna. It turns out that sometime after I left she meet, fell in love, and eventually married what Sammy described as a really nice guy. The thing that made me laugh so hard I had tears running down my face was the fact that Jenna's new husband is a devoted and strict Catholic. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Resolution Dysfunction

It was last New Year's Eve and I was on the couch watching all the cool people on television frolicking like a bunch of wild and carefree bunnies in heat. Despite a still lingering urge, a vestigial leftover from my younger years akin to the human appendix, to go out and emulate such behavior, I was actually pretty content to stay at home and watch the year of our Lord 2014 die the death it so richly deserved.

While nothing disastrous occurred, it was nonetheless one of those years that was spoiled, like someone suffering from gangrene, from an overabundance of personal disappointments and failed assumptions. I can't overstate my animosity towards 2014. It dragged on like a relative who had come to dinner and stayed even after you had handed them their coat, changed into your pajamas, and even stood in the living room brushing your teeth and looking at your watch as they continued rattle on to your wife about some arcane family history. So you can imagine my delight as some metrosexual dude whose name I can't recall suffering through the cold winds of New York started counting down the seconds until the giant ball dropped.

“Die you sorry bastard!” I screamed as the cherub-faced 2015 rushed in to dance on the bones of the year it had just replaced. In hindsight I really shouldn't have screamed, I startled my sleeping wife who then knocked over her half-empty wine grass. It was red wine, the cheap stuff whose stain will not only never come out of the carpet but probably has now seeped down to the floor like alien blood and will percolate back up and be visible whenever we get around to replacing the threadbare stuff we walk on now.

As the minutes of the new year ticked by a strange sense of optimism began to permeate through my being. It was 2015 dammit, and while the previous year sucked from a thousand separate irritating paper cuts I was going to make 2015 better no matter what it took. So you might be able to guess what I did next, I wrote up a list of New Year Resolutions.

The first was to walk at least three times a week. The next thing on the list was to find the formula for an “idiot proof” gelatin-based concoction I saw on the internet once that would allow me to start vegetable seeds far earlier this year. I already have a plant grow light—don't ask. The no fail seed starter stuff and the industrial strength grow light—again, don't ask-- allowed me to wallow in a newly revived optimism figuring it would be easy to set up an indoor garden. Thirdly I was going to get out more, while the Greater Columbia area is far from a hub of interesting cultural activities that don't include attending one of its many, many mega-churches there had to be something of value I could find. My final item, beside several admittedly bizarre and personal resolutions I'll keep to myself--they involve my wife and a can of whipped cream--revolve around me getting serious about my writing.

While the year is still young things haven't been going so good. In reverse order, after producing a fiction post that was halfway decent whatever creative muse I possess has left me for another guy, or woman. I currently have four short stories sitting on my hard drive that have died on the vine. That in itself is nothing unusual, since I started blogging I've probably sentenced a couple of hundred characters to hard drive purgatory, or even worse, deletion oblivion. I think the main reason my muse abandoned me is that work has become a pain again, while third-shift offers up some real advantages when I come home in the morning all I want to do is vegetate in front of the television.

As for cultural activities, after reviewing the local papers I have rediscovered the reason why I became a homebody. Because of fatherly duties, unavoidable household chores, and job demands there is next to no activities in the area that I would be interested in participating. Plenty of mud bog rallies, numerous hunt and gun clubs, and getting close to Jesus(republican type) but nothing that appealed to my interests. Because I work third-shift every activity that I did have an interest in was usually scheduled too late at night to be practical. Sorry if I'm whining, remember my muse is now living in sin with some other person.

Weirdly, or may not, the “idiot proof” gelatin-based seed starter concoction was an immediate and epic failure. Not only did the seeds not even begin to germinate they just laid in the cloudy jelly-like substance with the stubbornness of a petulant child determined to hold his or her breath until the turned blue. In fact, the seeds did turn blue, which defies everything I had read about the idiot proof gelatin stuff I used or the seeds themselves. Needless to say I fired off a sternly worded email to the person who came up the seed starter gelatin recipe saying that in fact it was not idiot proof and I could prove it!

The one item on my New Years Resolution list that was at least partially successful was my plan of walking three days a week. In actuality I had started walking way back in June and along with cutting nearly all sodas lost twenty to twenty-five pounds. Then disaster hit in November, my birthday, which meant a required cake. After that was Thanksgiving with all the cookies, cakes, donuts, and other assorted foods. Then came Christmas which was more of the same. And given my delicate psychological nature having suffered through 2014 I was vulnerable to their siren call of fatty comfort and sugary oblivion.

Now with this new year the failure to get back with my walking has strictly been a lack of motivation. Plus for the last couple of weeks its just been too damn cold. And yes, I have regained most of the weight I had lost during the summer months. I do have an absolutely brilliant plan to get back into the swing of walking but all things considered I may just fallback and regroup for 2016.