Sunday, February 28, 2016

Downtown Chickens

Lauren’s chickens spent yesterday morning in the new music store here in Our Little Town.

Oh they had plenty of company.  There were chickens belonging to some friends of ours too.  And people selling chicken-related items and giving chicken-related advice.  There were also folks there with gardening things, LED lighting displays, and other sorts of objects and literature that you would expect to find in a Sustainability Fair.

But mostly chickens.

Because chickens are cool.  They take leftovers and turn them into high-quality protein.  They are high-quality protein.  And they’re friendly, ridiculous, fascinating creatures.  You should have chickens.  Yes, you should.  You're welcome.

Our Little Town passed a Backyard Hen ordinance last fall, much to our delight.  Despite being involved in this, to the point of Lauren actually speaking at a City Council meeting, we haven’t actually gone through the permitting process ourselves, because a) it’s winter and we really don't want to be building a chicken coop in Wisconsin in February, and b) we actually own more than the permitted four hens, which means we'd still have to keep at least a few of them out at our friend’s barn outside of town.  Moving four hens into town would not actually save me any driving, in other words.  But the option is there and we are glad for it.

So when one of the members of City Council who had been particularly supportive of this ordinance asked us if we could bring chickens to the Sustainability Fair to be held in the newly renovated music store downtown - the kind of retail establishment that had originally been constructed in the late 19th century and was thus full of hardwood floors, tin ceiling tiles, and other lovely architectural features normally too refined for a place where one would keep chickens, even temporarily - what could we do but say yes?

This is why we found ourselves at a terribly early hour on a Saturday taking three six-week-old chickens residing in a bin in our living room, stuffing them (and a fair amount of stuff), bin and all, into my little car, heading out to the barn to capture two of the older chickens, interning them in Milo the Rabbit’s borrowed cage, and then heading into downtown, trailing feathers the entire way.

It was a successful event.

There must have been a few hundred people who wandered by, most of whom were quite taken by the chickens and interested in hosting their own birds – which I suspect was the City Council person’s plan all along.  We were bait, but we were willing bait so that's all to the good.

And Lauren was interviewed on the local-access FM station, which was broadcasting remotely from the event.  The DJ asked me first, but Lauren boldly declared that she would do it and that I, her dad, would be pleased to remain back with the chickens and NOWHERE NEAR this interview.

I believe the word she used on air was “embarrassing.”  Oh well.  That’s a 13-year-old for you.  I took pictures anyway, thus validating her point I suppose.

But she did a nice job with the interview, and we have spread the Chicken Word.

All cluck, “Hallelujah!”

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A Few Observations on the Present Subversion

Article 2, Section 2, of the Federal Constitution of 1787 is fairly clear on the responsibility of the President of the United States when confronted by a vacancy on the Supreme Court.  The relevant clause of that Section reads, “he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for.”

Note, my Constitutional originalists, the use of the imperative verb “shall.”

The President has a mandate from the Constitution to nominate judges.  It is not optional.  It is not something that can be set aside by the petty whims of partisan politics.  It is not something an ideologically rigid and slobberingly fanatical opposition can demand be postponed until some future election can be rigged to return power into their grasping claws.  It is a duty, one imposed by the Founding Fathers.

People who think the Constitution is the greatest invention of humankind and something whose Original Intent should be preserved against all forces of historical change would do well to follow their own advice here.

Not that the modern GOP gives a rat’s ass about the Constitution.  Not really.

Oh, they like to claim that they do.  They talk about it in the hushed and reverent tones that robber barons normally reserve for their bank accounts or televangelists use when describing their Rolex watches or their mistresses.  They want you to think that they can’t even start their day without a tall glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice and a big old helpin’ o’ Constitution with their morning paper.  And there are many sadly uninformed people who fall for it.  But one should always watch what politicians do more than listen to what they say, if one wants to know what those politicians are really like.

There is no evidence whatsoever that the modern GOP leadership has ever actually read, let alone understood, the Constitution of the United States.  There is no evidence that they would value the document if they had.  For them, the document is a big shiny club with which to beat their enemies into submission, and therefore they act as though it says whatever they want it to say.  When you truly believe that truth is measured by strength of belief, reality is expendable.

This, for example, is the same group that brought you the abhorrent and entirely fabricated Unitary Executive Theory, back when they held the executive branch – the one that said any opposition to any whim of the President was treasonous.  Granted, they soft-pedaled that fairly quickly once their white Republican handed over power to a black Democrat, but they’ve never repudiated it and there is no doubt whatsoever that they will rush to enforce it again the next time a white Republican gets appointed to the presidency by the Supreme Court.

Which, of course, brings us back to the matter at hand.

You knew the death of Antonin Scalia would bring out the crazy in American politics.  It’s an election year, Scalia was a polarizing and viciously partisan politician who had given up all pretense of professional jurisprudence more than a decade ago, and in a year where the top three Republican presidential candidates are a bloviating bullshit salesman who can only be acquitted of being a Fascist because he hasn’t got the intellectual consistency or heft to be one, a Canadian grifter whom nobody even in his own party can stand and whose air-tight ideological bubble has more than once led him to do things that handed unnecessary victories to Barack Obama, and a windup toy Senator who makes Sarah Palin look like William Safire, the odds that anything responsible would be coming down the pike from that end of the political spectrum were essentially nil.

But the current publicly stated position of the GOP leadership takes the cut-glass fly swatter.

They have now stated for the record – signed a document and everything – that they will not consider any nominee for Supreme Court proposed by the President.  They will not hold the confirmation hearings that are the Constitutionally-mandated responsibility of the Senate, regardless of who the President nominates.  They will not even speak to the nominee if that person stops by their office for a social visit.  They demand that the President not even send them nominees – that he abandon his Constitutionally-mandated responsibilities as eagerly as they have abandoned theirs.

So the first thing the intelligent reader gets from this is that this is not about the nominees. 

Obama could nominate Ted Cruz for the position, and the Senate will not consider it.  He could resurrect Ronald Reagan, or Abraham Lincoln, or John Marshall.  It would not matter.  This is not about the nominee, or about the judicial system in general or the Supreme Court in particular.  Not really. 

This is about the blind hatred the GOP has for Barack Obama – a hatred that has completely overwhelmed a once-responsible conservative party and turned it into an ideological gong, ceaselessly clanging the same one note of discord.

This is about the flat refusal of the Republican party to accept democracy, to accept that elections matter, to accept that a well-founded republic rests on laws and not the partisan interests of factions. 

They say that Obama is a lame-duck president.  This is interesting, considering he has nearly a year left in office, but it is completely irrelevant.  He is the president.  This is his responsibility.  Those who seek to block him from exercising his Constitutionally-mandated responsibilities are guilty of subversion.

They say that the American people should have a say.  But the American people have already had their say.  Twice.  Barack Obama is the only president in the last three decades who has twice won the majority of the votes cast in a presidential election.  THE ONLY ONE.  He has far more legitimacy than any of the legal midgets in Congress currently working to undermine the proper functioning of the federal government.  The American people have already had their say, and they said that Barack Obama was their choice to nominate Supreme Court justices until January of 2017.

They say that the Democrats have done this before.  This is nonsense.  One Democrat – Charles Shumer – said something similar in 2007, but that was one guy, not the leadership of the party, not every single presidential candidate running for the Democratic nomination in 2008, and not something that was actually crafted as a formal statement of principles.  They say that Democrats refused to confirm some nominees, which is true – but those nominees had hearings, and those nominees were not treated as illegitimate simply because a Republican president had proposed them.  The Republicans in the Senate have every right to deny Obama’s nominees, after he has nominated them and after the Senate has held the appropriate hearings.  To unilaterally declare before any nomination is even made that the president has no right to make such nominations and that they won’t hold those hearings if he does is, indeed, an unprecedented show of contempt for the office of the presidency and the Constitution itself.

During the fight to get marriage equality enforced in Kentucky in 2015 – yet another example of the modern GOP deciding to ignore both law and Constitution when they found both inconvenient to their absolute grip on vulgar power – Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear scolded the power-mad clerk at the center of it.  “When you voluntarily decide to run for office, and you win, and you raise your hand and you take the oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States,” he pointed out, “that oath doesn’t say, ‘I will uphold the parts of the Constitution that I agree with and won’t with the parts I don’t agree with.’”  The Constitution is not a buffet.  You don’t get to pick and choose.  You either respect it all, or you violate your oath and face the legal consequences of your criminal act.

There is a fine-grained irony in the fact that in their refusal to allow a sitting president to nominate a replacement for a Supreme Court justice known, accurately or inaccurately, for his steadfast insistence on preserving the original intent of the Founding Fathers when it came to Constitutional matters, the Republicans have invented out of whole cloth new and hallucinatory interpretations of their Constitutional duties and obligations.

The bottom line is simple.  The Republican Party leadership has crossed yet another line, and it is time that they be treated as the subversive threat to the long-term survival of the American republic that they have demonstrated repeatedly they are.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Don't Spend It All In One Place

The State of Utah owes us $3.

This year I had to get my taxes in early, and by early I mean “before April 13,” which is usually my filing deadline since I like at least a couple of days leeway.  You never know when you’ll get sick or something, so no point waiting until the last minute. 

I don’t usually file earlier than that, because I don’t need to.  There are only two possible outcomes when it comes to filing your taxes.  Either you will owe money – in which case why bother doing that before you have to – or they will owe you money.  People tell me that the latter case is good reason to file on January 1, or whenever the paperwork is available, but we’re academics.  We work on 9-month contracts.  If you do the math, that means we don’t get paid in the summertime, which is when we would need that money.  If you file in April, the check comes sometime in June, and that is right on time as far as I am concerned.

Also, given that the average interest rate for a savings account in the modern US is something like 0.003% (compounded biennially), I’m not worried about sacrificing the interest.

But last year some waste of time, space, and oxygen apparently tried (unsuccessfully, for which we are glad) to hack our tax return.  This is now common enough that the IRS has a form for it.  MERCA!  We got a letter from the IRS explaining the situation, as well as a long list of instructions, PINs, free credit monitoring, tax recommendations, and general advice on how to handle this situation this year, one piece of which was to file as early as practicable so as to pre-empt the next waste of time, space, and oxygen from trying his hand.

Of course, the joke is on the wastes, as the last couple of years we have owed money – as an adjunct professor, paid by the course and guaranteed nothing further than 17 weeks out, my income is erratic and subject to change.  It’s been a busy couple of years for teaching for me, which caught my withholding by surprise, and by the time I got that straightened out last spring one year was in the books and the other was not really salvageable.  So checks get written.  And if the wastes want a share of that I suppose they are welcome to chip in.

We don’t rest in the summer, though.  That’s one of the great myths people have about teachers, that summer is just one long vacation.  Long empty summers are simply not economically feasible, so we look for other work.  I’ve been pretty fortunate with summer classes recently – which has only added to the withholding issue, but that’s a nice problem to have, really – and Kim has administrative things to fall back on. 

And she grades AP exams.

If you’ve ever taken an AP exam you know that at some point you will get a score back, one that with luck will allow you to skip a few classes in college and move on to more interesting, more advanced classes (or just get you out of a requirement, either way).  You’ve never thought about how that happened, is my guess.  I certainly never did.  But the AP folks are actually folks – real people who just happen to spend an intense week in the early summer holed up in a hotel somewhere doing nothing but grading exams.

Academics: do we know how to have fun or what?

Kim has done this a few times, but always in states that had reciprocal tax arrangements with Wisconsin so we didn’t have to file anything with them.  Last year, however: Utah.

This is why I like those tax prep programs they have now.  You enter in the data, pay an exorbitant amount for a second state return, and they do all the math for you.  Of course you can solve problems by throwing money at them.  What else do you think money is for?

We owe the Feds.  We owe Wisconsin.  But Utah owes us, and that is somehow satisfying.

This is the first year I’ve ever e-filed, in large part because it was one of the recommendations that the IRS made in their letter.  It’s a strange process, and a costly one.  I’m hoping it works.  And I still have to mail them their check, so I’m not really saving anything.  But it might keep the wastes at bay, so I’ll try it this once and see.

So now my taxes are in.  The checks will go out tomorrow (no, seriously, they will).  And I will be done with this process for another year.

People get all up in arms about taxes these days, but we are some of the least-taxed people in the industrialized world and our infrastructure reflects that.  I don’t mind paying taxes.  I buy a functioning society with them.  That seems a bargain to me.

Although I’m hoping next year will be less melodramatic.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Keys to It All

I think I now hold the record for the most keys held by someone not actually on the Maintenance staff down at Home Campus.

I’ve had five different offices during my time at Home Campus, and I’ve still got keys to three of them since as an adjunct you never know when you’re going to be asked to go back to one and give up the one you’re in.  One of those three is my new office anyway, a key I just received today after working there for the last fortnight (the wheels of bureaucracy grind slowly when the powers that be keep laying people off and reassigning the ones they keep) and that one also comes with keys to the outer office door and to the room where all the records are kept, so that’s two more keys on top of everything else. 

The only office I had on campus whose key I no longer possess is the one that no longer exists.  It was a converted storage room down by the pedestrian tunnel between two different buildings – there was a big support pole right in the middle of it, in fact, which made seeing students a bit of a Tetris exercise – and it got swallowed up by the Great Renovation of 1999 and converted into a loading dock or some such.  I still look fondly at the space sometimes as I walk by.

The other office whose key I no longer have was actually not on campus, so I never actually had a key to begin with.  This is because it was only an office in the broadest possible sense.  Thanks to the general level of respectability of the adjunct teaching experience I spent an entire year holding office hours at a local Denny’s.  On the plus side, though, the waitresses got to know me and they would often bring me my tea and my slice of pie without me even having to ask.

I’ve also got an electronic fob that gets me into the main buildings on Home Campus, which I count as a key despite the fact that it’s a blobby grey bit of plastic rather than a shiny brass knobbly thing, and a general classroom key that will get me into most of the teaching spaces on campus as well as the mailroom and the copy room, which are kept locked these days because too many things kept walking away otherwise.  I like the fact that the classroom key is labeled “BBC-1,” as it makes me feel rather posh every time I use it.

There’s also my mailbox key.  It’s a squat little brownish thing that mainly exists to remind me that I should check my mail sometime, but I carry it around with me anyway so I’m going to count it.

I turned in my two keys for Not Quite So Far Away Campus in December, when I finished up my semester there (one office key, one main building key), but quickly replaced them with the equivalent keys for Mid-Range Campus this semester, which thus produced no net change in the number of keys.  I’ll turn those keys in sometime in May, and then I’ll be down two.  But for now, they’re mine.

In my Performing Arts role I have another entire ring of keys for the theater area.  These allow me to get into the lighting booth, the costume shop, the dressing room, the scenery shop, and all the other areas that make it possible to put on a show, though my general classroom key will get me into the theater itself.  It’s used as a classroom, after all.  The theater keys I usually keep in a cup in whatever office I occupy and retrieve them on an as-needed basis, since otherwise there are simply too many keys to carry about all at once.

Honestly, it’s not like the TSA doesn’t know I’m at the airport from the moment I hit the parking garage as it is.

There have been other keys that I’ve owned from Home Campus and turned back in.  Admin Building keys.  Dean’s Office keys to another office that no longer exists.  Things like that.

I’m not even counting my personal keys.  House keys.  Car keys.  The key to my parents’ house, which I’ve had for so long that the locksmith’s phone number engraved on it starts with the prefix “MIdway 9…”  I’ve got a forlorn little luggage key to a suitcase that I may or may not still own.  I should probably take off sometime except that it’s the size of my fingernail and it just doesn’t seem worth the effort.  And I’ve got a key to the locks on the rabbit hutch in the back yard that I have because the neighbor kids kept setting the rabbits free.  I should also have a key for the lock on the barn where we keep the chickens, but I lent that one back to the friend who owns the barn so she could make copies and I don’t think she ever gave it back.  I should ask about that, now that I think of it.

I have quite a lump of slag metal in my pocket, in other words. 

Or maybe I’m just happy to see you.

Friday, February 12, 2016

News and Updates

1. It is difficult to get settled into a job when most of the support staff responsible for doing things like issuing contracts, getting keys, getting onto email lists, getting access to servers, and such have either been let go because of the continuing right-wing assault on everything that once made this country great or are so overworked trying to make up for that fact that they don’t really have much time to focus on you.  Fortunately my colleagues have been not only welcoming but also willing to work around many of those problems, and I am becoming one of the team now.  This is a lovely thing.

2. For a winter that has not seen much in the way of snow here in Wisconsin, there sure is a whole lot of ice.

3. Lauren has decided to take up the cello.  I’m not sure where this came from, but Tabitha says that there is a deep need for cellists in the high school orchestras of Our Little Town so Lauren will pretty much be able to write her own ticket once she gets there.  So we rented a cello from the music store downtown and she had her first lesson today.  She seems to enjoy it.

4. There is one chicken in my living room who thinks he is a hawk, but mostly at night.  You turn off the lights and head upstairs to go to bed and from below you hear this shrill SCREEEEEEEE! and suddenly your quiet little house is Denali National Park.

5. If you like black licorice, you can pretty much rest assured that nobody will steal your stash.

6. One of the down sides to having a regular job is that it interferes with your free time.  I had volunteered to be a parent chaperone for Tabitha’s orchestra trip to Chicago today, back when the only thing I had scheduled for this semester was a single course to teach, and then in all the commotion I forgot completely until she reminded me last night.  Fortunately my absence was not a problem for them, but still.  I would have liked to have gone.

7. So it looks like the yahoos of Vanilla ISIS have finally been evicted from their grand subversive caper out at the bird sanctuary in Oregon, not that most people cared by the end.  Why they weren’t nuked from orbit on Day 1 is a very interesting political question and a sad commentary on the popularity of treason these days.  On the one hand, the fact that they were given enough time and space to demonstrate conclusively to a watching world just what absolute stupidity dressed up in false patriotism and stolen valor looks like is probably for the best.  On the other hand, the theft of public resources by a heavily armed band of play-acting wannabe-warriors seems to have garnered a fair amount of support among the more cognitively challenged members of American society, and I worry for the future of the republic.

8. On that note, The Donald seems to be gaining momentum, and my hasn't it been fun watching the GOP panic at their own Frankenstein monster coming to destroy them.  Hey – when you spend decades telling people that government is the enemy, that actual experience in public service is a disqualification from public service, that the rich can get away with anything because they’re rich, that insanity is acceptable when accompanied by enough dollars and emitted by someone with white enough skin, that war is free but social programs can’t be afforded, and that politics is nothing but buzzwords and showmanship and has nothing to do with how actual American citizens live their lives, you shouldn’t be surprised when someone comes along and follows your playbook better than you can and takes all your cookies and then beats you to death with your own limbs.  From Reagan to Newt to W to Palin to this – no wonder those people don’t believe in evolution.

9. And he’s not even the most dangerous candidate running for that party’s nomination.

10. Being able to buy new tires whenever you need to do so is a good way to tell that you’ve done well in life.

11. I seem to be the kiss of death for printers of late.  If you wish hard copies of your documents, you would do well to keep me at some distance for the foreseeable future.  I’m not sure why this is true now, as opposed to any other time, but that’s how it is.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Rocking Appleton

Somewhere out there is a city planner or traffic control engineer who is being tempted into some kind of iniquity.  He (or she, I suppose) is staring intently at this tempting thing or contemplating this tempting action and thinking that the consequences of giving in to this temptation could not possibly be that severe, certainly not severe enough to warrant the kind of restraint that would lead to the temptation being passed by.  It would be worth the price, surely.

But what this planner or engineer does not realize is that the penalty for giving in to such temptation is to spend the rest of eternity driving around Appleton, Wisconsin.  For surely that would be the definition of Hell for any traffic control engineer or city planner.

It certainly came close to being mine.

We spent the weekend up in Appleton at a bonspiel for the girls, and it has to be said that the bonspiel itself was a great deal of fun.  Curling events usually are.  It was well run, the action was compelling, and the food was good.  Can't ask for more than that, really.

Curling, for those of you who haven't tried it, has a lot more going for it than just Norwegian pants.  It’s a very sociable sport, for one thing – there are fairly high standards of sportsmanship on the ice, and you are expected to hang out with the team you just played once the match is over.  And it’s surprisingly engaging, particularly if you know just how hard it is to get a 40lb block of granite to slide a hundred and fifty feet down the ice and stop within six inches of where you want to put it, quite possibly skirting around several other 40lb blocks of granite that were in your way in the process.  You can get lost in a curling match more quickly than you'd imagine.

We got there in plenty of time for a 10:15am draw on Saturday, and the girls’ team gave it their all.

Sometimes this meant a bit more volume than you’d think was necessary on a Saturday morning, but then you’d be wrong.  Curling requires volume.  It helps the rocks move.

They lost their first match – after which there was social time and a nice lunch provided by the curling club there, while Kim and I checked into the hotel – and then won their second one.  Based on the tiebreaker task (appointing one team member to throw a single rock as close as possible to the button – which makes sense if you are a curler – and comparing the distances achieved), they ended up in the 3rd-place game for Sunday in the developmental side of the bonspiel.

Another team from our curling club played in the competitive side, by the way, and did fairly well.  I didn't keep track of them as closely, nobody on that team being a direct blood relative of mine, but I did try to watch when I could.

After the second match there was dinner.  Kim and I decided that we would take the opportunity to forage for ourselves, since the meal served was not something Kim could eat and the girls were quite happy not to have their parents looking over their shoulders for a while.  So we set out.

Imagine, if you will, a mall-sprawl area.  It is filled with shops, many of which are restaurants selling tasty things to eat.  It has frontage roads, theoretically to provide access to those shops, except that they look like driveways even when you’re on them and you can't really find them even if you know to look for driveways.  It has traffic lights, most of which are so closely bunched together that traffic backs up and it is difficult to turn onto roads.  This is because there is an intense amount of traffic in what is clearly the regional shopping center for a four-county radius.  There are also median strips randomly placed here and there that make it impossible to turn left from what seemed like all of the possible left turn options.  The upshot of all of this is that if someone locked you in your car and refused to let you out until you were legally parked in front of your destination it would be entirely possible to starve to death within sight of half a dozen different restaurants.

Welcome to Appleton.

We ended up eating at a restaurant that was maybe a hundred yards from the curling club.  If we had been willing to clamber over the four-foot-high snow drifts (and known ahead of time that we'd end up there), we could have walked there in less than five minutes.  Instead, it took us 25 minutes to drive there.  Granted, some of that was looking at a different restaurant directly across the street from the one we ate in, but still.  It was across the street.  And getting back across the street involved a detour under the highway, through the mall, and into the parking lot of a neighboring hotel, and even that could only be accomplished with GPS help.

Seriously, traffic control engineers and city planners, be good.

Eventually, fully fed and rested, we headed back to the curling club, picked up the girls, and embarked on the half-hour journey to our hotel, a quarter mile from the club as the crow flies.  The team had its own room, while Kim and I shared an adjoining one.  We’d stocked up on snacks at the Weird Food Emporium that afternoon, between matches, and many of them found their way into their room that evening.  We also found ourselves in possession of a bushel of fried cheese curds, none of which would see the morning light.  So it was a good night all around.

We went back to the curling club Sunday morning for the final draw.  They gave it a good run and made some really good shots, but the other team made some even better shots and so our heroes ended up in 4th place overall, which is not bad really.  And they had a great deal of fun, which is more important anyway

We’ve still got a bonspiel or two left in the season.  We’re looking forward to it.

Good curling!

Friday, February 5, 2016

A Long Leap from Lambeau

I’d never actually met a professional football player before tonight.

I’ve been a fan of American football since the Nixon Administration, following my hometown Philadelphia Eagles through their years of futility and occasional competence.  And I’ve become a Packer fan by marriage – they’re a team that seems to know how to build a winner without stooping to the depths of depravity the way some other teams do.  They’re fun to watch.  I cheer for them as long as they’re not playing the Eagles.

And even as it gets harder to watch football every year, as the health implications of large men repeatedly running full-speed into other large men become more and more clear, I still enjoy the game.  At some point this may no longer be true, but for the moment it still is.

We went to a local chili-tasting contest tonight – a fund-raiser for a worthwhile charity.  I like chili.  I like the cause this charity represents.  I like the friends we went with.  It seemed like a pretty good thing to do on a cold Friday night in February.  So we went.

The celebrity guest judge for the chili contest was Leroy Butler, who had been a safety on the Green Bay Packers through the 1990s and won a Super Bowl with them.  He’s the guy who invented the Lambeau Leap – that jumping into the stands at the back of the end zone that it seems everyone now does when they score in Green Bay.  I remember watching him play – he was a remarkably talented player in the position I always thought I’d like to play if I were far more athletically talented than I actually was. 

When we played football when I was a kid I was always in the defensive secondary if I had any choice in the matter.  Some kids wanted to be the quarterback, in charge of the show, and others wanted to be the running back or receiver – the glamour positions, really.  Not me.  Why go to them when they will come to you, I remember thinking, and why get hit when you can be the one doing the hitting?

Just made sense.

We walked over to his table at some point early in the proceedings and got our picture taken with him.  He was very gracious and well-spoken, and he talked with us for a bit while we were with him.  For a man who made his living knocking people down he certainly seemed pleasant enough.

This is us.

The chili tasting went well, by the way.  You pay your entry fee and get an envelope full of tickets and each little bowl of chili you sample costs you a ticket.  You get tickets enough to try them all, and then you vote for your favorites.  There were a couple of good ones, but mostly it made me appreciate my own chili.  Chili is rather personal that way.

At some point the host brought Mr. Butler up to the microphone and invited people to come up and ask him questions, which he would answer.  You could tell that the “how did you come up with the Lambeau Leap?” question was an old favorite, and he had a long and entertaining story to go with it. 

Toward the end I decided to walk up and ask, “When you were playing, who was it that you’d look across the line of scrimmage and say to yourself, ‘Oh, no – not THAT guy’?”  His response was immediate: “Barry Sanders.”  It was, he said, like trying to tackle a bar of soap in a bathtub, and he told a story of watching Sanders run directly at one of his teammates, stop on a dime, pirouette around him, and head off down the field for an 80-yard touchdown.  “Better you standing there than me,” Butler told him, knowing full well how easily it could have been him.

It was a good evening.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Wednesdays With the Appliance Guy

I’ve gotten into a fairly comfortable pattern now with the guy who fixes my appliances.

I am not the guy you want fixing anything more concrete than a paragraph.  While I can bash my way through certain low-level household projects, given time and advice-free space, I generally follow the rule that if I want something done right and quickly, I find someone else.  What can I say?  The material world and I have issues, and there are in fact problems you can solve by throwing money at them.  It is astonishing how many of the problems that fit that bill involve the use of power tools.

So whenever a large durable good decides to be less than durable, I call the Appliance Guy.

One of the joys of living in a small town is that you get to know people, and the Appliance Guy has been a regular visitor over the last few years as our appliances have begun to age noticeably.  He shows up in his truck when he says he will, sets to work, and enjoys a little conversation while he’s at it.  He’s an older guy – well past normal retirement age, in fact – so he could stop if he wanted to do so but he likes what he does.  And he charges reasonable fees.  He’s fixed the dishwasher (twice) and the refrigerator (at least twice), and today was the second time in the last week he’s been here for the range.

We have a gas oven that we got from my parents as a housewarming present when we bought our house twenty years ago because if there is a reason why anyone would want to cook with an electric oven like the one that came with the house I haven’t found it.  It’s a workhorse – you fire it up and it works just fine, most of the time.  I have no idea if they build them like that anymore, but they should.

But recently the main burner on the range has been acting up.

At first it was simply that we no longer had a “medium” setting – it went from high to low without any real transition.  On the one hand this was kind of a problem, since it is nice to have a setting that allows you to cook the insides of something before the outsides catch fire or you grow old and die.  On the other hand, though, this wasn’t that much of a problem, really, since we had three other burners that could do medium and also since most of the things we cook on it follow the basic “bring to a boil [i.e. high] and then simmer [i.e. low]” pattern anyway.

More recently and more seriously, the igniter stopped working.  You could still cook as long as you lit the flame manually, but as a former firefighter I know that is just a 911 call waiting to happen.  If you’re lucky it will be you making that call.  If not, then the neighbors.  This struck us as sub-optimal.

So the Appliance Guy came by last week to see what was the matter.  He diagnosed the igniter problem as actually being something else that was easily replaced and ordered the part for it, and he asked how much the lack of medium bothered us since fixing that would probably cost us as much as a new range just for labor.

Not that much, I said.

Today he came back and fixed the igniter, which now works just fine.  And he discovered that the range is actually much easier to disassemble than he thought, so the vast majority of the labor costs associated with the lack of medium would go away if we wanted to fix that too. 

So he’ll be back next week, when I can be there to let him in.  And then we will have a medium.