Category Archives: Homeownership

Eclipalypse 2017: Oregon is Doomed, Damned, Sure to be Destroyed by Barbarian Hordes

On August 21, 2017, a total eclipse of the sun has been scheduled for the United States. The timing is inconvenient in some ways, pretty nice in others. For us in western Oregon, where the eclipse will make first landfall, there is benefit in that our oft-overcast skies are likeliest to be clear in summer. If the eclipse had been scheduled for January, no one in western Oregon would get excited; the odds of seeing anything but two minutes of darkness would be minimal.

Since we no longer have education to speak of, I suppose I have little choice but to explain what a solar eclipse is. A solar eclipse occurs when the moon (which must necessarily be ‘new’ at this time) gets between Earth and the sun. Since the lunar disc is just a bit larger than the solar disc from our perspective, for about a hundred seconds the spot of totality is plunged into nightfall. As Earth rotates, of course, the current spot of totality rolls eastward. In this case, it will begin off the Oregon coast and pass through southern Idaho, smack across Wyoming and Nebraska and Missouri, then across Tennessee and South Carolina. The totality spot is seventy miles in diameter; the closer you are to its precise center, the better the show. The farther you are from the path, the farther from totality your view will be.

Oregon has a population of four million, and her authorities are in Eclipalypse Panic Mode. They expect a full million people to swarm into the state, mostly in the western part (I live about an hour north of the totality path). To hear them tell it, we are all going to die horribly. Power will fail. Cell phone towers will be overloaded. There are already no places to stay; farmers are renting little pieces of pasture for big money. All roads are to be so gridlocked that you could easily end up running out of gas (which of course will be unavailable) and dying of sunstroke when your A/C goes out while stuck on the I-5 traffic, emergency vehicles completely unable to reach you, the 911 system in collapse. The governor has called out the Oregon National Guard, and I’d bet she’ll summon the State Guard as well. Sensible Oregonians who cannot afford to flee now are committing suicide after a last meal of cruelty-free quinoa salad with a side of suburban guilt. There are quite a few preppers in Oregon, and I’m sure they are all battening down, locking and loading.

I think it’s hilarious, except of course for all the garbage people will throw on the ground (I hope the Oregon State Police catch and prosecute every single litterbug). The traffic may make Portland traffic bearable for once, with so many people drawn an hour south. Yeah, the roads should be busy down toward the totality path, but most people will go away that same day. Would it be smart to fill up one’s car beforehand? I will. Should we prepare to run screaming into the two minutes of misplaced nightfall (beginning around 10:15 AM)? I find the notion amusing. Have you all yet built your sandbag forts? Why not, you fools? We are all going to die, right?

What a fearful society we live in. Ever stop to ask who can profit most from keeping you in constant terror of your fellow humans?

Worth your time, sometime.

I doubt we are all really going to die. But I’ve been through a total eclipse. This is the first one in a long time that passes across the full width of the United States, but it’s not the first one in my lifetime to pass over part of the nation. We had one when and where I was in high school, and based on that experience, I can help prepare you for what it’ll feel like.

  • The occlusion of the sun’s disc takes a couple hours to reach totality, and a couple more for the moon to get completely clear after totality. During the before-and-after, the sun is still pretty bright, but it’s dangerously easier than usual to gaze at. The authorities warning you to be careful of imitation eclipse glasses? Believe them. The problem is that, especially if the disc is just visible through overcast, it’s easy enough to stare at the sun long enough for permanent eye damage. Even when it’s easy to look–most especially when it is–treat it as if this were not an eclipse, taking suitable precautions. It’s not worth going blind over.
  • Because this whole process takes about four hours, a lot of eager beavers will get in position very early, see the full onset of occlusion, and be bored stupid by the time the eclipse is total. See, an eclipse doesn’t have any sudden drama except for the short period of full totality; the rest of it is gradual. Once it’s over, I expect most of their attention spans to be well past exhaustion, and that’s probably when the traffic will really blow. I’d say expect about an hour of pretty slow going after totality, after which it should ease up.
  • No matter where you are in the path–even in a city–you will be amazed how many animals are around you of which you had no idea. As totality approaches, for about half a minute, the daylight will fade very quickly to a dusk. For the animals, this dusk is happening way off schedule, and it rattles the hell out of them. They will all speak up at once, and it’ll amaze you. The sudden nightfall will occur after that, and the animals will truly be freaked. If it’s not overcast, you’ll get a good show in the totality path. We can’t normally see it, but the radiant energy from the sun extends out at least as far as the width of its disc. When totality ends, you get a dusky dawn, then daylight again. With the disc itself covered up, in darkness, you can see the full corona (as we call this radiant energy). I didn’t get to see it due to overcast, but I heard they saw quite a show out at Stonehenge.

And therein lies a tale.

I attended high school at a very small place in south-central Washington. The area is sparsely populated and received minimal overrun from eclipse hunters, which is partly why I think the Eclipalypse Panic is overdone this time. Some thirty miles from where I lived, there stands a tycoon’s full-size concrete conception of what Stonehenge must have looked like before rocks began to fall off one another. Sam Hill built this replica as a World War I memorial, not far from his mansion, and it offers breathtaking overlooks of the Columbia River as well as several other solemn war memorials at which one may pay tribute to locals who lost their lives in American service.

I was raised by a family of religious fanatics whose psychological stranglehold I would not escape until my mid-twenties. When we heard that a bunch of weird hippie pagans were going to go out and have a ritual of some sort at Stonehenge, I accepted the conventional wisdom: they’ll all probably get naked, have an orgy, load up on LSD and likely OD, stare at the sun until they go blind, and not understand what’s wrong with all this, all while clawing their faces off in the throes of bad trips. As we were in the path of totality, we ourselves did not need to travel to Stonehenge or anywhere else. A friend from school came up to our front yard to watch it with me, a good excuse to play hooky for the morning. In our callous teen male manner, intolerant of difference and immune to empathy, we joked how it would serve the doped-up weirdos right. Dumbass hippies.

I did mention, right, that it was a pretty small town?

The eclipse itself was a damp squib, as I mentioned, and we all went about our lives. Now advance the clock a dozen years, give or take, bringing me to the age of perhaps twenty-eight. Not long before, I had broken up with my ex-fiancée (and we all know how that turned out). A few years earlier, I had left Christianity and become a practicing Wiccan. Go ahead and say it, whatever it may be; I have it all coming. I’ll take my due hazing. I was studying Irish with a druid group led by my (then-new acquaintance, today longtime friend) Domi O’Brien. A scholarly lady of legendary hospitality and generosity, Domi hosted (and still hosts) amazing feasts to accompany spiritual events. Her sons have since grown into the wise, compassionate men I expected they would.

At one such event, I met a delightful lady named Cyndie. She was from Oklahoma, with a comforting gentle drawl a bit stronger than my own part-time rural Kansas twang. Her interest in me was obvious if decorous. This adjective is not always the case at pagan events, where there is often a shortage of obviously masculine straight males. There is absolutely zero in Wiccan culture to shame women from taking any initiative they might deem fit. Put another way, any straight, single young man in paganism doesn’t have to take a lot of initiative of his own in the gender relations department. If he’s not a complete jerk or moron, the only reason he’s going to stay by himself is by making an obstinate effort to do so. I wasn’t making an obstinate effort to do so.

Cyndie being a few years my senior, and a somewhat old-fashioned Midwestern daughter, when I mentioned my many times cleaning eave-troughs at the ranch with Grandpa, she saw her opening and played her best card. She told me that her house’s eave-troughs were well past due for a cleaning, but she just could never make time to get up there and do it.

Well, you don’t have to hit me over the head with a mallet. You all know the drill: the man gallantly offers to come over and do the dirty, unpleasant job. After pro forma protests, the woman agrees with thanks. She would not have invited him anywhere near her home if she didn’t feel pretty good about the whole situation, but the only certain thing is that she’ll make up a nice hearty dinner which they will share. Anything else that may occur depends purely upon how they both feel. This has probably been going on since Homo erectus, when demure young Ugha hinted to testosteroney young Gruk that the rocks in her firepit were misaligned, and perhaps he might find time to come over and straighten them up.

The eave-trough job turned out to be much worse than I expected. The ladder was in poor repair and a couple of rungs broke, once nearly dropping me all the way to the ground. It poured, of course, triggering her gallant duty to offer me absolution from the muddy, chilly task. The script called for me to carry the job through at all hazards and discomforts. (This satisfies the woman that the man is stupid enough, or interested enough in her–or both–to put some pain and broken skin into the game.) But before we even got to that part, I got the first shock of my day when I stepped inside her front door.

On her living room wall was a large painting the size of a modern big screen TV. It depicted a crowd of robed backs and mostly hooded heads gathered inside Stonehenge. Above them was a sun in a state of total eclipse, corona splattered about the black central disc.

Captain Obvious was on point, of course: “Oh. That’s the eclipse in 1979 seen from Stonehenge!”

“Yes,” said Cyndie, pointing in sequence. “That’s me, and over there is Isaac Bonewits, and here is Shadowstar Breakwind, and this is Silver Raven Moontime, and…” (Not actual names, those last two. In Wicca, there seems to be a hard and fast rule that everyone must incorporate into one’s pagan name as many of the words ‘star,’ ‘shadow,’ ‘silver,’ ‘raven,’ and ‘wolf’ as one can arrange. Other words are allowed in the name, provided at least one of those five is in use. Otherwise, it’s a foul.)

How much can shift in a dozen years. Before, I had dismissed a bunch of people I’d never met, all based upon inherited prejudices and juvenile arrogance. Now I was not only one of ‘those people,’ I was on a dinner date with one.

Cyndie and I dated for over a year. We weren’t really fated for the long term due to very divergent ideas on life, but it was a good time; she remains the only former flame with whom I keep in some contact. I can still hear that gentle Oklahoma drawl in my mind; she is a considerate, warm, and wise lady who taught me a lot. And I did do a good job on the eave-troughs.

I’d better, or my grandfather might reincarnate and start critiquing me.

Enjoy Eclipalypse 2017, all hundred and twenty seconds of it.

If we all die horribly, please send me an email informing me, so I can decide how to proceed from there.

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Portland Snowpocalypse 2017

In December, Portland received its annual allowance of (what it considers Arctic) winter weather. Portland, the largest metropolitan area in the U.S. state of Oregon, is a hilly city with a very wet climate. For seven months each year, it will rain more days than not. Eastern Oregon is much drier, owing to the Cascade Range’s tendency to absorb most of the eastward moving moisture much of the time.

As Portland reckons things, the annual allowance of (what Kansans would call ‘early December’ and Alaskans would call ‘breakup’) winter weather includes only one session. Once there has been a Winter Episode, no further allowances of (what southern Californians would call ‘the end of all things’) winter weather are tolerated.

Now and then, and in spite of this being one of the more prominent centers of divine feminine worship in various pagan forms, Ma Nature omits Portland’s wishes from Her plans. This year, She did not consult Portland at all. A second winter weather system (what Wyomingites would call ‘May’) moved into the area, dropping temperatures into the teens ºF. In our case, seven inches of snow fell and stuck. Portland limped along for over a week with freezing rain, roads icing up, appointments canceled, mass transit slowed and rerouted, icemelt and snow shovels unavailable, trash uncollected, mail undelivered (that old line about rain and snow is not true) and other expressions of urban chaos.

In short, they have acted about like Los Angeles when the temps drop into the fifties. I won’t justify it, because some of the problem is caused by people’s dumbness, but it’s not all Portland’s fault. Why do seven inches of snow and several days of freezing temperatures lay Portland out flat on its dime-thin-pizza-crust-with-artisanal-vegetables-eating ass?

Topography and geography. The Portland area has a lot of hills, slopes, curved roads, and so on. This is not Boise, laid out like a great big grid. This is not Wichita, where you can probably set a level on the ground and expect it to center its bubble. Even well-prepared locales with sloped terrain have a hard time in winter, and the laws of inertia do not change from, say, Edmonton to Portland. If the road curves, and its surface is slick, and you drive fast enough to overcome your traction, you will slide. Even if you are careful, Portland offers abundant opportunities to overcome your traction.

Trees. Portland has a lot of shade. Shade keeps sunlight (when we get any) from melting snow and ice. Shade is selective, though, and thus there will be stretches of clear, bare, wet or dry pavement interrupted by shady spots that do not thaw. This can sneak up on one.

Ambient moisture. In winter, the Portland area’s humidity tends to exceed 90%. I have lived in climates where that figure was often below 30% in winter. When the air is nearly saturated with water vapor, and surfaces (car exteriors, pavement, mailboxes, eave-troughs) drop below 32º Fahrenheit, water will begin to freeze from the air to those surfaces. In the middle of the cold snap, moisture inside our house was frosting up the metal frames on the insides of our windows. Southerners also experience this freezing-to-surfaces effect, which is one reason Atlanta (for example) comes as unglued as Portland when it gets cold.

Dumb drivers. In the Portland area, drivers are not so much bad as they are very abrupt in their maneuvers. We have a minority of drivers who simply refuse to get in their vehicles when it snows; probably wise. We have another minority who are well equipped for ice and snow, have experience driving in it, and who take to the roads with the respect developed from a life in cold climates. They do fine. A third minority, and rather a large and dangerous one, believes that owning a four-wheel-drive vehicle now makes them Masters of Motoring Space and Time. They are very dangerous, because 4WD is not a solution to most winter driving problems. They tailgate and bully sane drivers. They drive worse than their usual habits. They end up in a lot of ditches, fishtailing onto sidewalks and into medians, and make the work of the police much harder. They’re the worst. The rest are the second worst, because they do not understand the physics and aren’t planning to try. They are nervous, and nervous people tend to make mistakes. They get into situations they can’t get out of. They dig holes in packed snow or ice with their drive wheels, then wonder why the car doesn’t move. They pick the worst places to stop. They change lanes when a person familiar with physics would not do so. They panic. They get stuck and abandon their cars along thoroughfares, freeway shoulders, and so on. My wife and I oscillate between the first and second groups depending on our situation and need, but most of these people scare holy hell out of us.

Not designed for it. Put simply, very little in this area is designed or chosen to handle ice and snow. Roofs in Portland must be very well made to keep out rain, but are not designed expecting the weight of heavy snow. They are very prone to ice damming, which leads to homeowner damning (take my word on that). Heaters and condensate pumps get uncommon workouts in cold weather, and a number will fail the test. Ice accumulation downs power lines, transit cables, tree branches, and entire trees. Portland is designed to drain away a lot of water, but the sudden melting of several inches of snow and ice can overwhelm that drainage system–especially if part of it is still frozen. Urban flooding is a very real concern.

Salt-free diet. Oregon doesn’t like to salt roads. It will do so in certain situations, but one cannot expect the state’s transportation authorities to do so by reflex. Hardware stores in Portland don’t carry tons of snow removal supplies, and all the icemelt and snow shovels will vanish on the first day. If you don’t already have them, tough luck. Oregon will gravel roads, but the Portland area does not have enough equipment to handle them all, and it definitely lacks the snowplows to clear anything but the freeways and arterials. Everyplace else is on its own. Where I live, for example, we faced the possibility of chaining up to get out of our development; once out, we would either need to de-chain or limit our travel to roads where we could drive at chain speeds (definitely under 25 mph) without creating hazards. Had we de-chained, of course, we might have to chain up again in order to travel that last quarter mile. No one graveled our development, much less plowed snow or put down any sort of chemical, nor did any of us imagine that anyone would. No one is deliberately saying “Fuck you, deal with it.” No one is saying anything. That itself is the point. If they were to say anything, it would be “Good luck. We can’t help you.” For those from rougher climates and/or smaller towns, we tend to help ourselves rather than waiting to be saved. For those from foreign countries where it never snows, or for those purely urban persons who think food is materialized at grocery stores, it has to be frightening.

Why don’t they prepare? There is definitely more that Portland could do on a contingency basis. It would be cost-prohibitive to buy and maintain enough anti-winter infrastructure to prevent snowstorms from turning into shitstorms, but there could be more contingency planning. Since locals refuse to contemplate the physics of the matter on their own, a better job could be done with spot reduction in speed limits–and Portland/Beaverton really ought to adore that, because it would be the next great excuse to write a lot of speeding tickets. People could organize volunteer groups to shovel more driveways and sidewalks. Nah; they’d rather go on the news and bitch because the transit authority, or the city, or anyone but them did not drop all its other major concerns and shovel the snow at their light rail stop.

It’s not over when it’s over. When the roads begin to clear in earnest, Portland’s drivers unleash the chained demon within. For agonizing days they have had to restrain their desires to whip around like fighter pilots, tailgate (unless they owned 4X4s, in which case they had lots of fun tailgating smarter people than themselves), make left turns at breathtakingly selfish and stupid times, change their minds at the last minute, and tempt whatever guardian angels still bother with them. Physics have prohibited them, by fearful reason or by fender-crumpling force, from being themselves. Now it’s payback time: they have several days of Bad Driving saved up, and the universe that deprived them of this liberty is going to pay. I suppose the local municipalities, who base no small portion of their revenue streams off extractive law enforcement, rub their gnarled hands in fiduciary delight.

When it melts, it rains. Since it rains a lot here to begin with, Portland has had quite some time to devise means to deal with excess water. Topography helps and hurts: there are lots of downhills, but somewhere there’s a bottom to the hill. Ditches, storm drains, water catchment areas, and more. They do not have every problem solved, but it takes sustained heavy rain to overwhelm the drainage system. If sustained heavy rain happens when we also see five inches of snow melt off roofs and yards and places where it was plowed or shoveled into berms and heaps, the drainage system will become overwhelmed. There will be mudslides; parts of hillsides will give way. Hydroplaning becomes a greater concern than at most other times, which is bad news for the Liberated Fighter Pilots described above because they know only two settings: terrified and terrifying. No more snow and ice? That means it is now safe to do whatever.

What they see around them. You think the mail always gets through, through snow and rain and dead of night? Not here; that’s a myth. It can take a couple of weeks to catch up. They turn on the news and see hundreds of cars just abandoned on the freeways and arterials, some in spots where they will probably be wrecked in place (other people coming to that spot might fare no better even if the path were clear, which it is not). Every news anchor pleads with them to turtle up until it just goes away. At the onset, panicky people stampede to the grocery stores and go full Canadian: milk section wiped oat. It’s hooped eh, even the buttermilk and skim milk. Calm, confidence, and courage are as communicable as panic, uncertainty, and terror. Most human beings are fundamentally compliant and imitative, a dynamic which is the bedrock of civilization. Here, that means a majority will imitate freakout, as they have a bias toward obedience and imitation. It is the contagion of freakout.

Yeah, Portland could do it a lot better. Trouble is, it happens rarely enough that it becomes a bad dream. Amnesia sets in, and other problems come front and center. But if you wonder why a city can feel its knees buckle due to temps in the teens and seven inches of snow, well, there you go.

Sears: an example of why our corporations are dumber than you think

I just finished reading an article about the downfall of the business I grew up knowing as Sears, Roebuck & Company. Management seems not to know how to right the ship. To me it looks like RMS Titanic‘s bridge crew ordering everyone to grab a bucket and start bailing.

As a child, Sears was relevant to me. Sears was one source of catalogs that offered toys and gift ideas I could not find in nearby stores. Later in life, Sears added importance as a source of catalogs that depicted women’s lingerie. Sometimes one could see shadowy areolae, stuff of dreams. The Montgomery, Ward catalog also hooked me in early because Ward’s also sold toys and stuff with football logos. I dismissed the J.C. Penney catalogs until my aging brought them relevance as another source of lingerie photography.

To hear the article’s author tell it (see for yourself if you’d like), Sears’s executives have no idea why no one comes to Sears anymore. If that’s so, they are stupid. The author identifies one reason, which is that every shopping area touched on by Sears is covered better by a specialized competitor. But that’s also true of Wal-Mart. People still find a reason to shop at Wal-Mart (cheapness, or perhaps desire to see the grotesque underside of human nature). Why don’t people find a reason to shop at Sears?

The execs don’t know?

God, this is stupid.

Young businesspeople: if you think your competition is smarter than you are, just remember that those who rise to great power end up running corporations like Sears. They aren’t that smart.

Part of the reason is that the jobs available to young adults have been so crappy, underpaid, and futureless that they don’t have much money to spend, especially if they are trying to pay student loans. Also, or perhaps therefore, those young people aren’t yet buying homes. Despite historically low interest rates, many still can’t and many more prefer not to. Since they have never known exorbitant interest rates, they do not have an experiential apprehension of the hideousness of double-digit interest. The irresistible opportunity to build relatively inexpensive equity toward non-payment of rent one day falls on deaf ears. So does the notion that, for so long as they rent, they will remain at the economic mercy of landowners. They accept this, even in reasonably priced markets. Not all, but more than pure economics explain.

Sears never did mean too much to apartment-dwellers.

Once I became clever enough, then old enough to obtain more interesting depictions of the feminine form than Sears and Ward could publish in a catalog, Sears fell off my radar. I survived high school, attended college, went to work, paid my student loans (the sum total of which were roughly 1/4 of one year’s pay), and lived in one-bedroom apartments. I also had frequent enough opportunities to view the feminine form, live and in person, that I no longer cared whether I received a catalog. I was past toys, at least the kind found in a catalog. I didn’t go “clothes shopping.” If I needed suits, I went to a store that focused on suits. If I needed socks, I sure as hell wasn’t going to battle mall parking and traffic just so I could have the Sears experience.

By itself, my marriage at 34 did not by itself change the equation at all, because we still lived in an apartment. What changed, at 37, was home ownership. I had never before needed a lawn mower, or a really good vacuum cleaner, or a nice tool chest, or to replace a washer and dryer. Sears was different. If you had a problem with your Sears purchase, they had a good return policy, or you could call them and get help figuring it out. This was fantastic. All of a sudden, for a few short years, Sears mattered to me. Before I bought a table saw anywhere else, I had to ask myself what I’d do if I couldn’t figure something out. A garage door opener? With all that fussing and aligning? No other realistic option but Sears. If it didn’t work, I’d be able to get help on the phone.

Because we went to Sears for those sorts of items, we were inside the store. That may seem like a Captain Obvious moment, but marketing professionals don’t seem to grasp it. Because there was a reason to be in a Sears, we shopped for other things. My wife would browse their clothes. We might notice an iced tea maker. While we were there, we might pick up some socks. Tools at Sears had an excellent reputation. Because there was one sovereign reason to shop at Sears, one key factor that brought us to the store, we were customers. Was Sears the cheapest? Probably almost never. Did we care? If we had, we’d have shopped at the human zoo that is Wal-Mart. Anyone focused purely on the lowest price, cheep cheep cheap, is as foolish as my parents were. I grew up with parents who would buy only the very cheapest option at the very cheapest place, which meant that everything we owned was crappy and fell apart. I admit that this is a bias of mine. I came to hate what cheapness meant. As an adult, I intended to own things that didn’t fall to pieces. To me, the price was and is less important than the ability to buy with confidence. As a homeowner, Sears was essential to my world.

Then my Sears vacuum cleaner stopped working.

It had been an expensive vac, we hadn’t used it that heavily, and I wasn’t planning to just chuck it. Over the past few years, I had noticed a general decline in the quality, attitudes, and quantities of Sears sales staff. Now I found out that the tree was not merely barked but girdled. “May I please speak with someone in vacuums?”

“We can tell you where to find the nearest repair center, sir.”

“That’s not what I want. I need help figuring out why this thing isn’t working any more.”

“We don’t offer that any more, sir.”

Oh.

Creative executive stupidity. In the erroneous opinion that the way to compete was cheap cheep cheep cheep megacheap lowest price just give me the best price cheap cheep cheep, they’d hunted down and eradicated the only thing that made their company unique. Instead of doubling down on that and making Sears an even better place to shop, they’d turned it into a Wal-Mart of sorts: one that didn’t sell groceries, but required one to go to a shopping mall. Brilliant.

I can’t even remember the last time I went to Sears to actually buy actual merchandise with actual money. Sears locations are mall anchor stores, complicating my path as I forge ahead for a commercial cattle raid. I pay little attention to the merchandise as I pass. I wouldn’t care if Sears collapsed, as I assume it must.

It was not me that broke up this relationship.

How could this have been avoided?

Sears stores are large enough to contain a Best Buy. Sears should have become Best Buy. It should have used its buying power to make itself the fount of retail technology, selling the TVs and computers inexpensively and offering helpful expertise. If that expertise went on site, it could charge for it. The area where the most people have the most need for someone to explain stuff to them, and the company whose wheelhouse was the ability to help people. Would it break even on the electronics? Probably a wash after paying all the people whose job it is to help Granny program her remote and be patient when she complains, “I can’t get my Explorer to download my browser email, and my hard disk thing keeps popping out, and the foot pedal doesn’t go down, and this keyboard isn’t like the ones we had when I taught typing; what do these F buttons do?” Would it have brought large numbers of new customers into Sears, walking past clothing and coffee makers? I think it would have. Of course, this did not occur. Sears typically had a decent TV selection, plus a computer selection that was an expensive afterthought.

Think on this next time you are tempted to assume that having corporate leaders run the government would be a good idea.

My snow rake

The Portland area gets very little snow. In many winters it will get none, or perhaps a couple of slushy mornings. When this area gets cold enough, we are more likely to see ice–and when Portland ices up, it does the job right. Air saturated with moisture will see its water freeze onto any surface that is below freezing temperature. The roads can develop a quarter inch of solid ice. Forget driving, even if the roads weren’t full of terrified morons. Walking is problematic enough.

To want a snow rake in Portland, one would first need to come from a place where the question of rooftop snow accumulation has been an issue. Wisconsinites, Montanans, Alaskans, Coloradoans, Michiganders…you get the picture. One must then be enormously weather-paranoid, having heard stories of six inches of snow some years back. One must then figure out how it is Portland is supposed to get enough snow that it could endanger a sloped roof (such accumulations would be measured in feet, not inches).

Or one must live in the shade of fourteen mature lodgepole pines.

I love the lodgepoles. I love to sit in my wide-but-shallow backyard, indifferent to the peering of the paranoid nutbag on the other side of the fence, smoking my cigar and watching the squirrels do their Looney Tunes re-enactments. We have plentiful birds, and like the squirrels, they have learned I mean them no harm. When I sit outside, I feel close to the land, even though I’m in the Dullest White Suburb of All Time. (It’s not entirely white. On my walks, I sometimes see Indian children playing with toy cricket bats. While we have a somewhat substantial Hispanic population, we keep up appearances by having mediocre Mexican restaurants. However, this is Oregon. Nearly every place is mostly white.)

Problem: my lodgepoles drop enormous amounts of needles. On my back yard’s ground, I can deal with it; a lawn is impractical, and they help trap the moisture in summer. On my roof, it’s a problem. Needle accumulations allow moss to begin, and hold moisture against the roof.

So why not just get on the roof and use a push broom a few times a year, you may ask? Because I’m scared as hell. I’m not afraid to climb a ladder, but the transition to the roof takes me ten minutes. The transition off the roof is even worse. I can only force myself to do the first by condemning myself to a diagnosis of cowardice if I refuse. The second only happens because I’d rather not stay on the roof forever, and I’m not of an age where jumping is a good idea. Another consideration is that I have a repaired Achilles tendon. The ankle angle required to stand upright on a roof facing upslope is a serious strain on a tendon that is still just a tad shorter than the one that never popped. Wouldn’t it be fun to be up on a roof with a re-ruptured Achilles tendon?

If I must get on a roof, I will. If I need not, I will be happier.

Thus, the snow rake with a broom attachment. It is obvious that I can’t leave a lot of needles up there, or the roof will moss up. (I cut a toilet bowl cleaner bottle just so that I could use it to fling Ridmoss all the way to the roof’s apex.) The moss problem is bad enough in Portland and I’d just as soon not make my version of the problem worse. The paranoid wacko neighbor’s roof would appear bright green from the air, so bad is the moss on the shade side. In Portland, the sensible homeowner simply doesn’t play games with roofing.

The snow rake isn’t a panacea. It comes in segments, and I need all 21′ of them. Its length causes its aluminum to flex enough that I have to be gentle with it, lest it break. The broom gets the bulk of the needles, but not all. I have to move a heavy folding ladder several times in order to pull the highest needles down where I can reach them with a normal plastic rake. While I am at it, I always have to clean the eave-troughs because some of the needles will surely land there. Going up and down the ladder makes my knees feel like they contain broken glass. I get to chuck armloads of muddy needles off a ladder into the yard waste bin.

Still beats hell out of getting on the roof, like I did today. There is an eave-trough higher up, it fills up, and it has to be cleaned now and then; the snow rake can’t help me with that one. After that, I decided that I merited a cigar to settle my nerves. If it hadn’t been about 10:30 AM, I might have added a slug of rum to that indulgence. I suppose my neighbors enjoyed watching my ginger hesitancy. If they found it amusing, I can’t blame them.

But if we ever do get that 3′ deep blizzard, we’ll just see who’s laughing then.

I wish you could watch me change the hot tub water in late fall/early winter

Why? Because you’d laugh the whole time.

If one is going to have a hot tub, and enjoy spar treatments (q.v.), one must commit to maintenance. Once a week that means dunking a test strip, reading the results, dumping some chemicals in, and forgetting about it. But every four months, or sooner if it gets sudsy (or one has gross people over), a full water change is needed.

It’s enough of a pain in the ass in summer, when it’s nice and the trees aren’t dropping a steady hail of pine needles and other tree crap into the uncovered tub. It’s comically tortuous in winter, when someone looking like Gimli the Dwarf in a feed-store hat and swim trunks is doing it. I should have done this last week, when the temp was sunny and sixties, but I couldn’t get off my lazy butt. And just to help remind myself why I should not get slothful, let’s take you through the schadenfreude show you’d have gotten today. Imagine yourself sitting in my adirondack with your choice of drinking and smoking materials, with me performing this for your amusement.

First off: outside in flipflops and trunks. It’s not cold unless you get wet, which; hello, that’s a given. Throw the breaker; hot tub engine minus circulating water equals no good. Pull off the cover.

Now comes the fun and joy. Get out the extension cord (which looks like a mutated Flying Spaghetti Monster and there is that one cord around which everything is hung up, if only you could pull it out, but you have to pull out every other cord first in order to reach it), sump pump, and the most badass addition of my own: a rollable industrial drainage hose that screws onto the sump pump via a fitting. I also had the nearby downspout fitted with a place to stick the hose end. No siphons for me, and no dumping the whole salted-up hundreds of gallonage direction into the water table.

Of course, all the patio furniture is in my way, including you as you sit with your quiet pleasures enjoying my mild but not uncreative blasphemies. Of course, it is impossible to get the sump pump to stay in one place, and its tethered float is designed to become entangled in the electrical cord no matter how one orients it. Then comes rigging the drainage hose, and it’s not as simple as it sounds. When full of water, this hose bends rather than flexes, and we do not want a solid kink, so it must be dragged out to a sort of broad arc before feeding the business end into the downspout. Even then, that end will spasm ba-thump ba-thump as bursts of water surge through it. The only solution with the current hose would require violation of the laws of physics. I am unwilling to become a fugitive from the physics police, so I put up with ba-thumping. Which now begins, as I plug the pump in, walk along the hose troubleshooting kinks and grousing, and prepare for the worst part. At least when I fumble the end of it and soak my legs, it’s with warm tub water.

After I get the old filter and silver nitrate stick out, it’s time for the turkey baster. While the tub still has most of the water, I walk around it using the baster to suck up the sand and grit and crud that I can reach. No matter how hard we try to keep the tub free of dirt, some gets in. Not all of it goes straight to the bottom center. The stuff in the seats, I can get now, so I circulate while sucking up as much of the dirt as possible. As the water level drops, and the clouds begin to threaten, I climb into the tub and start getting all the dirt I couldn’t reach before. My back hurts, and now and then I jostle the sump pump. This creates some minor misalignment that I must remedy before the thing burns up. So there I am, chilled and wet and not having any fun, slurping up grit and squirting it out of the tub. I’m obsessive enough to do a reasonably good job, though my demeanor suggests to you that I am not at peace with the universe. The ba-thumping suggests to me that at least the hose hasn’t come out and drained it all in my yard instead; quiet joys.

Finally, at last, the damn float falls far enough to stop the pump. I shift it around to get as much as the pump will process, then hunker down to get as much of the remaining grit as I can. I remind myself that I like this tub for four months as a result of this activity. Hoist out the pump and hose, picking up the new bits of tree flotsam that have fallen in the past half hour. Close the damn lid; no need for another hour of that stuff. Lift it enough to replace the filter, watching in fascinated disgust at the milky drippage from the old one. No, I’m not throwing it away. I clean these. If you priced them, versus the cost of the horrible cleaning solution, you would clean yours too. But there you sit, smoking something, drinking something, bemused to know that this isn’t close to over yet.

That’s okay. You are not out of smokings or drinkings. Whoever owns the problem must deal with the problem, and I own this problem. I am not by nature a begrudger, nor am I generally envious. You just sit there and enjoy this. I’m managing my First World Suburban Problem.

Now, we’re going to refill the thing. Uncover the faucet (which is wearing its winter cover). Connect the garden hose. Turn it on and first use that water to wash it off, so we don’t do like we did that one time, when we cheerfully stuck the hose covered with ground filth right into our nice fresh clean tub water. Mishandle the hose so that it shoots water all over me, nice and chilly. Say a naughty thing. Shove the hose into the filter, then put a prop in so that the lid can be closed to tree flotsam.

It is now time to start putting most of this crap away. Roll up the drainage hose. Coil the extension cord. The tub will take an hour to fill, so I’m going to take a load off and enjoy a brief interlude of smokings and drinkings with you. I can’t start to treat the tub until the temp reaches 85º F, and I can’t throw the breaker to turn it back on until it is full. Not partly full; fully full. As you tell me about the sillier parts, and I look up at the darkening skies, we hear noises like a horse having bad gas underwater, pressure squeezing air bubbles out of the tub’s circulation system as it should.

One more obsessive check and el tub es el full, as my Spanish-speaking wife might say. Hose out, prop out, throw the breaker upward. Not long after, I hear the startup cycle beginning. Go us. Now comes the gross, hazardous part.

I mentioned the old filter? First I have to hose it out. I set it on the cheap black plastic table, fit the nozzle to the hose, and start blasting it. Four months of accumulated milky residue, at least part of it dead skin, drain away as I hose the filter down. Point-blank range, taking some back-splash. The filter is about the width of a two-liter soda bottle, but longer and cylindrical. I try to hose out each pleat. It appalls me to see just how much crud this thing has caught.

When I can coax out no more residue, now comes the hazardous part. The filter cleaner bottle is covered with warnings: CONTAINS SULFURIC AND HYDROCHLORIC ACID! MIX WITH 4 GAL. WATER AND SOAK FILTER OVERNIGHT. ALWAYS ADD FILTER CLEAN TO WATER, NEVER ADD WATER TO FILTER CLEAN! I remember that from high school chemistry. Since I can frankly do without getting spattered with a couple of different acids, I follow these directions with care; this filter cleaner is evil. I somehow manage to do this without spilling any on myself, remembering to put the bucket where it will live before filling it up, so I don’t have to walk around with acid sloshing out of it.

Hose off the table (calm down; it sits out in the rain all winter, it will be non-gross by spring), cover up the bucket, and it’s a good thing you are running out of smokings and drinkings because I can tell it’s going to start raining in ten minutes max. Thank you for sitting out here to laugh at me.

Later on I’ll come back, run a test strip, dump in some calcium stuff and sanitizers and get a start on lifting the pH, then keep that up until we’re all nice and balanced.

If I’d waited another week, and had to do it in 44º weather with steady rain, it would have been progressively funnier for you (neatly tucked under the house eave with your bad habits) and far, far uglier for me.

We get to do this again in March. In the meantime, spar treatments.

Fun with our old credit union

Because I like our old credit union, I’m not going to name the guy by last name. He is probably embarrassed enough. In short, we left ICCU behind when we left Idaho, but only since they are not set up to do banking or mortgage business in Oregon. If we had disliked ICCU, this letter might have been more sarcastic, but we did like them and enjoyed dealing with them. They are probably the most worthwhile consumer financial institution in Boise. In fact, I liked my banker there well enough to copy him on my reply.

Here are the email and my reply, with some redactions for privacy:

From: J.K. Kelley [mailto:[redacted]]
Sent: Wednesday, October 12, 2016 7:37 AM
To: Chris; Mitch
Subject: Re: ICCU Refinance Opportunity

Hello, Chris, (Mitch, also thought you’d get a laugh out of this; hope you’re doing well, and I miss our conversations–good luck to Harsin and the Broncos; offensive line is the core of the sport)

===

On 10/6/2016 2:49 PM, Chris wrote:

At Idaho Central Credit Union we are looking after your daily balance.

That’s thoughtful of you! If this is true, then you understand that my daily, weekly, monthly, and annual balance at ICCU is zero, and you must have access to my balance at another mortgage bank in a different state, which I find fascinating.

That’s why I have identified you as a potential refinance candidate.

Have you? That’s a surprise! I didn’t know you were in the Portland market.

If you are at all interested in potentially refinancing your current property while interest rates are at all-time lows, please give me a call or shoot me an email to discuss how I can save you money on your monthly mortgage.

I have to respect your persistence, since we closed our ICCU accounts about eighteen months ago. Not with pleasure; simply that we’d moved away and sold the house. We liked ICCU, good outfit, good guys like Mitch. If we still lived in Boise our mortgage and savings would still be at ICCU.

Please answer the following questions and I’ll get right back to you with an estimate on your possible refinance:

  1. What do you roughly owe and what do you think your home is worth?

We owe $$$$K on a house I think would sell for $$$$K. Of course, the drag is that the house is in Beaverton, Oregon. Housing shortage here. We have homeless camps. People like us are making bank renting out a guest room.

2. What type of property do you own and what is the property address?

Residential. It is at Number SW Street, Beaverton. However, before driving over, please call first. It would be very sad-making for you to drive seven hours and find that we are out eating granola or something. [Afterthought. If he is so familiar with our mortgage, how come he doesn’t know the property address?]

3. Are you looking to stick with a 30yr term to keep payments lower or something shorter like a 20yr or 15yr to try and get this paid off quicker?

Now, please think about what you just said. If I wanted to make greater payments on my thirty-year mortgage, I could be doing that. In what universe would I lock myself into that?

4. If you had to guess what do you pay for in home owners insurance per month?

I don’t have to guess. Through the reserve, divided out, I fork over about $$$ per month. I cough up another $$$ per month for earthquake coverage that isn’t worth a damn. You didn’t ask about the property taxes, but they suck. Roughly triple what we paid in Boise.

5. Any idea on where your credit scores stand?

If anything, they have improved since you lent us money before, so I suggest you check your records. It was only three years ago. Should still be xxx+. Please don’t run it again, though, unless we’re looking at a 2% drop in our mortgage rate (that would put us around 1.75%). If you have that in mind, my number is xxx-xxx-xxxx; let’s talk.

I Look forward to working with you,

Chris

Idaho Central Credit Union

[title and other signature data redacted]

Well, that’s good to know.

[misc links, we-love-us, and guidance redacted]

Notice: This e-mail and/or the attachments accompanying it may contain confidential information belonging to Idaho Central Credit Union. The information contained is for the use of the intended recipient. If you have received this e-mail in error, please notify the sender by reply e-mail and destroy all copies of the e-mail and any attachments.

I’m not sure if I received it in error or not. Perhaps you can tell me?

-j

===

My former banker actually replied first, with a laugh. I suspect Chris will be a little red in the face, but no harm done except to his pride.

Things that go bang in the daylight

I sat at my keyboard, doing my work and bothering no one.

Bang.

Some noise from the far side of the house, it seemed. Ho-hum.

Thump.

Neighbors obviously doing something, but it sounds like it’s hitting my house. I got up to inspect the likely direction, and learned only that my rosebushes are overgrown. Back to my office.

Bump.

I snarled an imprecation, got up. Left knee is worse than usual today, hurts even with the brace. I took another look around the same side; all calm.

Bonk.

Wait; that came from inside. I went back in and inspected the dog’s activities. The dog looked up at me without comprehension. He was innocent, and I let him be. Back to the office.

Whump.

Now my eyes narrowed; I spat a curse. It sounded like some kids throwing something at the house. I considered taking a weapon, rejected the idea; let’s not get carried away. But I was going to find out who or what was ruining my concentration, and it was going to stop. While I headed for the back door, there were two more bangs.

Whack.

Yeah, we’ll see, you little bastards.

Thump.

I wonder how my arm is these days. Some of those little green pine cones are pretty hard. If they can throw them, I can throw them back. I step outside, look east, and wait. Fuck you, you little shits, I used to throw a hard fastball that kept batters loose, and I will hurt you.

Blonk.

It’s a green pine cone, fallen from directly above my eave-trough, hitting it with a metallic sound. Okay, so pine cones are falling. I can see from the roof that bunches of needles are also falling.

Splop.

Obviously this is not some kids’ idea of comedy. I relax. Then it occurs to me: I have fourteen mature lodgepole pines. Why is all this stuff falling in this one area? I’m a bit worried about one of my trees; is another one flaky?

Crack. That was a real hard one.

And then I saw movement, a legacy habit from my long-past hunting days. A branch moving, not as if by wind. Nope, a squirrel.

Thump.

“You little shits,” I said, and went back to my office.

I’m fond of them.