Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A few shots of Riverbanks Zoo

It's been a really busy month with the holidays disrupting both work and home life. But Miss Wiggles and I make it a habit every Sunday to visit Riverbanks Zoo here in Columbia to see the animals. At least they are safely enclosed unable to hurt anyone else. I wish I could say the same about the state legislature.
This fellow is enjoying the morning sun and I guess contemplating Quantum Physics and
Heisenberg uncertainty principle. This is after he ran down from the small hill in the enclosure and rammed the window in front of me then sat down like you see him, picked his nose, and then ate his buggers. That being the case you are probably looking at the future football head coach of the University of South Carolina.

No this is not Dick Cheney despite what the sneer on the face might suggest. I do not like gators and no matter how many years I have come to the zoo first with Spoilboy, who now thinks the zoo is uncool, and now Wiggles I hold my children tightly anytime I get around this gator. Strangely sharks I can handle to a great extent but this fellow and others like him gives me the creeps. While Wally Gator and his cousins might have been endangered a few decades ago down on the coast they have rebounded with a vengeance and in many cases developed a taste for small dogs. Of course with development on the coast stripping huge areas of what was once wetlands and swamps I'd hazard a guess that most of those I call newcomers have no idea of the nature of the environment these fellows once enjoyed around what is now their McMansions so I'll call a few missing dogs an even trade.

Miss Wiggles here is enjoying the company of five lorikeets feeding off the sugar water the zoo sales for them. This is actually parrothead training for Wiggles whose final exam will be a Buffett concert sometime in the future. There is some danger associated with these little fellows. They have a nasty habit of pooping on you if you move the sugar water away too fast. It should please everyone to know Wiggles passed this training with out receiving a special gift from them. I was not as lucky and got hit three times.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Parrothead movie review: I am Legend

There are three fictional things that can play hell with my subconscious causing me to have nightmares as I sleep once those demons prowling around the cobwebs in my head have been rattled. A better adjusted civilized person might avoid rattling those demons. But as I have been told time and time again by many I’m far from being well adjusted and let’s just not go into me being civilized, that subject is just far too messy.

The three fictional demons that I enjoy shaking up from time to time are unique to say the least and honestly many will find them bizarre. While I admit they are comical I know they represent deeper, serious fears about the world but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to play with them from time to time. One of the three is zombies (yes zombies, I’ll just wait for you to stop laughing…) so when a good book or movie comes out involving the undead or deadish I’m quick to make my way to the bookstore or theater so I can catch it. With release of the new Will Smith movie “I am Legend” Friday night I was first in line with my jumbo tub of popcorn and five gallon Coke. First off let me state so the zombie masses won’t be offended, you know political correctness has to be observed, the movie technically has no zombies. But it does have zombie-like sufferers of a genetically altered virus that carries the vampire-like trait of being severely burned by normal sunlight. With that out of the way I’ll get on with the review.

The movie opens with scenes of a New York empty of people. You quickly see the main bridges to Manhattan blown apart and I believe the entrance to a tunnel flooded with a multitude of cars surrounding the entrance mostly submerged in water all facing in the direction out of the city. Further on in the city cars lay abandoned strangely parked like they should and grass is springing up through cracks in the pavement around them. In the distance you catch glimpses of entire buildings wrapped in plastic with the word “quarantined “ written in huge letters across the plastic. Deer are running freely through the streets being hunted by a lioness bringing home the venison in this case for a New York version of Simba and lion cubs that probably are escapees from the Central Park Zoo. We are introduced to the character of Robert Neville as he races through the streets in a bright candy red Mustang hunting the deer. He corners one deer and is taking aim on it with a rifle only to have that lioness come and take the kill first. Such is life in the Big Apple four years after a man-made pandemic may have killed off the entire human race except for the one man who was charged with finding a cure before it spreads through North America as it did the rest of the world.

As Robert Neville goes through the motions of living we are offered flashbacks of what lead up to this situation. One flashback shows an interview with an apparently British genetic researcher which has her describing how she used an engineered virus to treat cancer and how in over ten-thousand test subjects all ten-thousand were cured of the disease. Later we learn that her cure kills most of her patients with a few developing rabies-like symptoms that can infect both by touch and airborne means. Away from the flashbacks Robert spends his days on a strict schedule as soon as the sun rises in the morning with his only companion a young German Shepard. Robert and his dog Sam eat, exercise, look for supplies throughout the city, and at noon wait at a certain dock hoping that someone else hears his pre-recorded radio broadcast in which calls for anyone alive to meet him there. But in the late afternoon Robert and Sam hurry back to their very well fortified house in which he kills the generators, closes the armored shutters, and then they bed down in an old bathtub. As night fully closes in strange monstrous cries can be heard in the streets surround him.

As the movie proceeds we learn that Robert has not given up on finding a cure to the man-made disease that destroyed civilization. And after some promising results on a lab rat he goes out to capture an infected human subject to test his vaccine. The capture of an infected female from a hive hiding in some dark building highly upsets the hive leader which sets out to even the score with Robert. Despite the easy but determined exterior the character of Robert Neville at various points begins to show the darker aspects of someone who has lived alone for four years after the end of the world. The carefully crafted routine that keeps him alive quickly begins to unravel after a tragic loss in about the middle of the movie. His ghosts are numerous and unrelenting even as he continues to pursue a cure for the disease that killed humanity when all seems lost. They soon begin to get the better of him leading to a point where he almost succumbs to the stress and loneliness that he daily faces. As with most action/zombie films the climax has several surprises being introduced and a glimmer of hope at last seen far in the distance but Robert’s time is running out and the infected inhabitants are watching his every move waiting for him to slip up.

Some will come away from this movie unhappy for several reasons. One reason is the semi-religious nature of the insight that points the way to a cure some will say was a copout. The hopeful nature of the movie’s ending is another although my telling you this in no way ruins the movie. For many fans of this science fiction sub-genre both are major sins that usually have all the heroes dying tragic and violent ends. Frankly I walked out of the theater quite satisfied with the hope the movie left ever so slightly burning. For those unaware, and you might be very surprised by how many there are, the world around us is already in a pretty sad state. The evening news many days has all the earmarks of a B-movie disaster flick from the 80’s. From an incompetent sulking president going shill saying World War 3 is around the corner and the bogeyman is under your bed to the occasional news reports of an Ebola or bird flu outbreak someplace in the world and how it may finally be contagious. The educational cable networks regularly broadcast shows listing the numerous ways the world can end from gamma ray bursts that sterilize the entire planet to the ubiquitous asteroid or comet impact that at best sends all of humanity that survives back to the stone age. So I don’t need or want anymore hopeless fictional situations. I had no problem with the “sloppy and simplistic ‘We Are the World’ sentiments” the movie relied on at the end. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and for those not complete cynically about the nature of humanity and what may exist beyond our means to measure and analyze I have to recommend it. I take my little bit of hope anyway I can get it.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Home Owning Apocalypse

It's not the American dream, it's an adventure! At least that is what I tell myself.

I long ago started hating the house we currently live in now. As hates go it’s a small thing brought on by equally small causes but they are well earned. But as with many things the fault rests with me for us buying the place. One of the many requirements to adopting an orphaned Chinese girl was for the baby to have a room all to itself. I guess the reason for this was to insure that the parents receiving a baby had the financial means to care for it. The home Dragonwife and I owned at the time of us starting the adoption process was a nice three bedroom house that we had built right after she and I were married in 1993. That house had a wrap around front porch, a huge extra room where the garage would have been we used as a sun room/den, and a corner lot with a good sized front and backyard. Instead of staying at that house Dragonwife and I reasoned that we needed an extra bedroom for guests, a bigger kitchen to store Dragonwife's odd and varied collection of cooking/torture devices, and with the neighboring school district far better (as compared to what is normally in South Carolina) than the one we lived in then we began fixing up what we had and began looking for a new house.

A few tense and crazy months went by as we fixed up the house getting it ready for being listed. Dragonwife wanted it ready for a spring listing and some of her less admirable traits surfaced as we worked to meet that schedule. My mother-in-law came to help one week with making new curtains and I swear she and I came close to taking out a contract on Dragonwife who seemed to be channeling a combination of Martha Stewart and Hitler's personalities in her demands and expectations. As I wrote earlier one of the requirements for adoption was a room just for the baby. An in-home inspection by the American adoption agency handling our paperwork would be making sure we were meeting all the needed steps. That inspection was tentatively scheduled for the following fall and whether we were moved or not after that inspection we were frozen in whatever house we lived in until we had the baby. Moving before we had the baby would require a new inspection and amended paperwork delaying the date we would get the baby. The last month before the house was listed was a busy one with me, along with my co-workers, working to get the new manufacturing plant I was employed at operational. The manufacturing plant I was working at made fiber optic cable and this was the 2000-2001 time frame right before the telecom bubble popped and Tom Friedman and I each in our own way started finding out that the world was flat. He would go one to write a best seller and I soon would be laid-off but I digress since that is a whole other post.

As we fixed up the house weekends would have Dragonwife, a much younger Spoilboy, and me cruising around looking at the various houses in the area we wanted to be in. Several times we found the perfect house and walked out of it each time hoping that it would still be available when we were ready. Luck, fate, or a seriously demented god would not have it and each was slapped up the very next time we rode by the place but we hoped that when our house was ready a new perfect place would be found. Luck, fate, or god went on to a new more demented trick because our old house was listed on a Wednesday and we had a contract on the house with a buyer two weeks later. It was now a race to find a new house that met all of Dragonwife's needs before the new owner's brought the county sheriff to the door to have us thrown out. Now after work during the week and all weekend Dragonwife would be buzzing neighborhoods with our realtor trying to once again locate a house with the proper color, builder, size, location, style, floor plan, and any number of other factors. Dragonwife had worked herself into a shark-like frenzy shooting down a whole host of homes for the strangest of reasons that made no sense to me. Our realtor, in my opinion, while doing a great job getting our house sold completely failed in guiding Dragonwife to a set of reasonable expectations with all her requirements. One exception during this period was a house that met everything Dragonwife wanted except price. About 12,000 dollars separated the owners of a very pretty yellow two story with bay windows with our highest price we would pay. The house in question had been on the market for several months and Dragonwife and I made our best offer hoping it would be taken. They turned it down flat. A little over a year later we rode by that house again seeing that the occupants were having a yard sale. After stopping we soon learned that they had just bought the house from the very people that turned us down. The previous owner's marriage went from bad to worse and were forced to sale the house for far less than the offer we made. Dragonwife and I that night had many margaritas over that whole misguided affair.

We were down to two weeks before the contract on our old house would close forcing us out into the streets. All possible options boiled down to the restrictions placed on us by the home inspection even though I floated the idea of moving into an apartment while building a house that Dragonwife could deal with in the mean time. As Dragonwife went back out the following weekend to look some little voice in the back of my head told me to keep my mouth shut when she came back later asking me to ride with her and see the three houses she had visited that day. In fairness I have to add that I shot down a couple of houses earlier in the search for not having a fence since at that time we had two dogs and Dragonwife had some elaborate plan about caring for them while we were at work that I just didn't think would work. The three houses she had saw that day all had fences and met most of her demands. The first one she showed me was good except it had a huge drop-off just on the other side of the backyard fence into a kudzu dominated abyss that I could see Spoilboy or the future Miss Wiggles falling into the second watching eyes drifted away. The second was nice but I felt needed far more work than the price they were asking called for but it was the one we should have taken. The third, and the one we bought, looked nice at first but we should have looked just a little harder to see the things that would have had us running away from the place. Its one true beauty was that the front and backyard were nicely landscaped. It a fit of utter stupidity when asked which of the three I liked I tried to joke that the third was the one that "spoke to me". I have yet to live that one down and more than likely never will, even with myself. Dragonwife, who hardly ever listens to me to begin with, made an offer on the house that was accepted far faster than I liked.

Like the Bush administration signs of how much of a disaster the new house would be were there from the beginning. With the buyers of our old house breathing down our necks to get out the sellers of the new house wanted more time before they moved out. They said that the home they were building would not be ready for at least a couple of weeks leaving Dragonwife, Spoilboy, and me conceivably flapping in the wind for at least one week, but some sort of agreement was arranged with the sellers even though I felt their attitudes were in the wrong place. Separate from the adoption home inspection we hired an inspector to check the state of the house we were buying. The expensive inspector provided us with a nicely printed report on the house with only a few minor items to be fixed. One small footnote in the back of the report raised both Dragonwife and my eyebrows. When the inspector went through all the sellers kids was each taking a nap in separate rooms preventing him from checking those rooms. It was then I wished we had added the precondition on a good inspection because if we had I personally would have halted the whole damn sale. Dragonwife, who I expected to raise holy hell, wimped out and said just to live with it. When the sellers moved out we did our final walk through and were stunned to see all the damage that pictures and furniture had hid from us, our realtor, and the inspector who by this time was beginning to think had been paid off by the sellers. The numerous family pictures that literally almost covered the walls hid a galaxy of small and medium holes as pictures were moved and added. Small floor rugs on top of the carpeted floor through out the house had hid the fact that the carpet was real loose and had been installed badly. Carefully placed items in the kitchen hid stains on the flooring in that room. And the couch in the living room had hid a rather large hole in the wall behind it.

After all the schedules of the buyers of the old house, sellers of the money pit we were moving into, and ours were juggled a date to move was set. I know God had a part and a good laugh on this one item since the moving date fell on a National Guard drill weekend for me and no, neither my First Sergeant nor battery commander saw fit to allow me to skip drill that weekend s I could be home for the move. The best I was able to arrange was my First Sergeant grudgingly allowing me to leave one hour early, around 4:00pm that Saturday afternoon but I had to be in formation the regular time Sunday morning. Dragonwife had already hired a moving company along with asking her parents to come up and help with the move as I sat in class after class that Saturday listening to how to apply a field dressing and which aircraft was friend or foe along with other classes because the security of the United States absolutely required my presence. I got home just in time to help transport the dogs over along with the lawn tools and mower. The following days would reveal that when electrical devices were plugged in the outlets had so badly been installed that they were also pushed back into the wall as something was plugged in. Removing the curiously over sized outlet cover would show not a neat rectangle cut into the drywall where the outlet rested but a hole that looked like the builder had just punched a hole in the wall with a hammer were he thought the outlet might go. Outside flood lights were burned out, windows were badly installed, and a whole host of other items were found as we settled in. Home improvements began almost immediately and I'm sure I am the reason this godforsaken area has had an explosive growth in the number of Lowes and later Home Depots.

Gallons of paint for every room, new light fixtures, patched and fixed walls and windows, and secured electrical outlets later (about six months) the house actually began to take shape. Being laid-off in early 2002 along with Wiggles getting home in 2003 put a hold on a lot more improvements. With the diaspora of kids the ages of my mine from the neighborhood we began getting ready to sale the money pit. Just our luck, or maybe God again but what had been a red hot sellers market in our area up and died like Rick Springfield's singing career as the sub-prime meltdown hit. But along the way to this point we wore out two heavy duty garbage disposals, melted down one of the garage door openers for reasons I can't figure out, and suffered three separate lightening strikes on the trees in the yard. Each requiring massive cutting to remove them from view, more evidence that God is enjoying this at my expense. Due to the normal wear and tear of people living in any house I have found that I have had to repaint much of the walls I had already done and am now looking at repainting the living room again. At least the inside is done except for the living room, which I will do, and the upstairs room which we will have someone else tackle. That is if I can keep the gremlins of entropy, my children, from having me go back again and repaint or fix their latest attempt at driving me crazy before the housing market comes back. One thing I know for certain, it’s going to be a close race!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Looking for the temporal post office

Colonel Colonel tagged me with the meme, created by Malach ,to write a letter to myself when I was 13. My response is very late and for that I apologize. Work has been a major pain along with my son and a few friends playing his "Guitar Hero" video game tonight while I try to write. Sweet Jesus I can't believe I actually listened to the crap coming from his Wii. For that reason I'm also going to skip tagging five others for the meme. If I don't go downstairs and get away from one more rendition of "Anarchy in the UK" by the Sex Pistols I will not be responsible for my actions.

Yo, Beach Bum you just turned 13 and your older self from the funky doodle year of 2007 found a great way-back machine on eBay (I’ll explain later) and due to an awesome meme floating around on the blogosphere (Yeah, I’ll explain that one as well) decided to drop you a little heads up on the coming events in your life as the 20th century closes out and the 21st century comes marching in.
First off, you are now living with your grandparents permanently after a really bad incident with your mom’s nut job of a boyfriend. You are pretty far behind in school and will need to really buckle down to catch up. But you will, your English teacher, Mrs. Rogerson will take a real interest in you next year and just go with the flow. You will try and buck the system but she will turn out to be one tough cookie. And you will actually come to like Dickens, Steinbeck, and Twain. Really! And no poetry and you will never get along just accept that your brain ain’t wired for it. Ogden Nash is about the best you will understand.
If you find yourself alone with one of the cute blond girls in your seventh grade class go ahead and try to kiss her. She will tell you in high school that she had a huge crush on you but couldn’t get your attention even though you are just really shy. She ends up married to a judge many years later but don’t blow away the chance for a little fun.
High school will be kind of weird for you. Out of all the groups floating around like the surfers, jocks, nerds, and rednecks you will hang out with all but never really fit in. With one of your uncle’s longboard you will learn how to surf but the other guys will be riding short boards and have some sort of attitude about it. You will play basketball during the freshman and sophomore years but not really enjoy it. While you have the height the other guys run circles around you. You will have caught on in school by this time and fine out that you ain’t that dumb. The nerds will try and draw you into dungeons and dragons but the rule book will be larger than the Georgetown telephone book and take away time from the beach. So when they come with all the D and D stuff and a strange gleam in their eyes, run fast. The rednecks will be the most curious of groups. Most of the people you know in school will be rednecks and you will cut class a few times while smoking some reefer with them but you will turn away because they will be severely raciest and that will just bug the utter shit out of you. Just continue to be the laid back dude and sit next to the first girl you see in your biology 2 class, it will be worth it.
In your senior year you will join the National Guard and do basic training and the Advanced Individual Training at Fort Bliss, Texas. DO NOT go to Juarez, just stay in the barracks or hook up with some of the other guys and go see Red Dawn again. Don’t ask just stay away but you do not want to spend the night in a dumpster as several Mexicans look for you.
After you return home from your training you will spend two years floating around working a job that you will come to hate. At this point while you make up your mind to go active duty in the army the best thing for you to do besides running up and down the road to Myrtle Beach would be for you to at least take some classes at the community college. But do take the lifesaving job at the water park, the chicks there will be awesome.
When you finally decided to go active duty don’t pick Fort Carson, Colorado. You will have the option to go to West Germany, do it. First, you will make it to Colorado in July but by December will have seen enough snow for the rest of your life. And except for precipitating in a REFORGER to Europe for five months and a much shorter trip to Honduras a couple of years later you will stay there your entire active time there. But your youngest brother, Joe Cool, will fly out to ride back home with you. He and you will make a side trip to New Orleans and have one of the best times of your lives. Stay an extra couple of days, the city gets blasted by a hurricane in 2005 and will not be the same.
You finally get to college, at least the local community college, and will earn an Associate Degree in electronics. Grandpop will have passed recently, one of the reasons you left the service, and you will live with Granny as you go to school and work a part-time job. Take some time with her, she is really lonely and needs someone to talk with. You will take her to the beach one time, having a good lounge chair for her to sit in while you surf. She will freak over it because she enjoyed it so much. Do it more than once bonehead.
I’ll go ahead and tell you that in 2007 you have two fantastic kids from a lady you will meet at a Buffett concert. You will not want to do anything that might screw up the timeline and cause them not to be in your life. But in 1991 you will meet a special lady at the movies and think seriously about making a permanent relationship with her. What will change your mind will be a less than mature attitude from her that worries you about how strong her feeling really are about her and you. If you want to change events think hard, she is fun, cute and laid back. The lady you marry is smart, witty, and so intelligent she at first blows you away. After you are married though as soon as you say “I do” it all changes and gets really bad in later years with her being obsessed with ever small detail in life and controlling it.
After jumping from a few too many jobs you will find a job as an electronic technician at a plant making fiber optic cable. You will love what you do, how they treat their employees, and will be told due to projections that see a never ending demand of fiber optic cable will have a chance to move up quickly. Well around 2001 the bottom falls out of the industry and while you will hold on to early 2002 you will get laid off. But here’s the rub, after getting laid off again just three months after you find another job you will fall into the best luck of your life and find a job as an X-ray repair technician. It will not pay anywhere near what you were making but if you have patience and can ward off your wife’s fits over that fact it will pay off in the end. One word of warning when the fiber optic plant calls you back hang up the damn phone. The company you loved changed greatly over the time you were away and you will realize just one week after you return that you made a mistake. And one month later when you call the X-ray repair company you were working for to try and get your job back it will already be filled. If you do go back for the money you better be ready to cowboy up because it will be a miserable time working by yourself during third shift. The saving grace though will be another hospital job that will open in 2005, but the equipment you work on will be different.
In the big year of 2000 the biggest doofus in the world will be “elected” president essentially by five fat guys on the Supreme Court. Grab a good hold on your knickers and be ready for a nightmare of a ride because that bastard will do his best to piss away all the goodwill anyone else in the world feels for the USA. The Texas Doofus, a Jabba the Hut political manager, an ass sucking little weasel of an Attorney General, and a pompous heart diseased, draft dodging, hypocrite from Wyoming will also do their best to take advantage of an attack on the US and sow as much fear and discord in America to gather as much power and privileges they can. The pisser of it all is that Doofus and his team have more or less gotten away with it for now.
All in all in 2007 from where I’m sitting you will feel many things are not perfect with your life. Many of the decisions you made along the way were about as outright stupid as they come. But the best thing you can do is keep close to your family. Do your best to overlook what you see as their faults. Because dude you will have a butt load of your own. Take care of your kids and do your best not to sabotage the tour bus your wife and her fellow attorneys use to attend the annual shyster convention in Myrtle Beach, no matter how much you might be celebrated as a hero.
Oh yeah, eBay and the internet. Screw it, read a book and find out about it on your own.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Dreaming for some rainy days

My in-laws purchased some nice property on a cove on Lake Marion several years ago and built themselves a retirement home to enjoy some quite time out of the crowds and rush of everyday life. Unfortunately, an over abundance of nice sunny days has gone from a blessing to a curse with their cove drying up stranding their and all the neighbors water craft on what is now mud flats. In the distance you may be able to see the white PVC pipe that they and others have had to extend to supply water for their lawn sprinklers until it was banned. As I walked the dried sandy areas I found thousands of tiny fresh water clams that had long since died due to the receding water. I also found very fresh deer tracks in the sand all leading to the puddles further away in the mud. Examining the pier supports you can see where the water level went up to before the drought. I touched a nerve on my father-in-law as I returned inside the house exclaiming how bad the situation looked. A house on mud flats is worth far less than a house still on the water. I'm unsure of how much rain it would take to return the lake back to it's original level but all estimates I have heard would require far more than it looks like we will get anytime soon. I think that was the biggest reason my father-in-law is touchy on the subject.

This looks out in the direction toward the main part of the lake. I was half tempted to try to walk out to where the new drought induced shore line is but got called back by Miss Wiggles who wanted to come and for several reasons at the time that would not have been a good idea. Actually the most disturbing aspect of this drought for me was seeing that land grasses have begun their invasion of the cove. I didn't get any pictures from other locations as we were driving away but these cove residents have it only a little worse off than others in the area but the lake level is still falling. While I'm in no way worried for the richer folks and the disposition of their boats and jet skis others in the area have a far more practical need for the water in this lake. Like Atlanta residents getting their water from a lake, many residents in this area get their tap water from this lake.