Saturday, July 29, 2006

Photo Essay & Reenactment:

If you have a power outage for three days and you have fish you will need to take steps to get the fish air. First you need power. I used this battery

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Which normally lives to power my school bus.
Sad school bus waits for me in a field and none have risen to help her rise….
But rise she shall, and soon!!!!

Anyway, I have this handy little compressor to fix flats. It plugs into your car’s cigarette lighter.

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That means you need a cigarette lighter and a power source to power it (or at least the wiring for one) – note the mail compressor and the female lighter wiring

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So then you need to get the cigarette lighter power by attaching leads to it:

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Now here’s where the project took a left turn. The clips on the leads were too small for the battery posts. Enter the battery charger:

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Clipping the cigarette lighter leads to the charger clips and then hooking those to the battery gives us a flow of power to the compressor:

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Then you just hook the compressor up to the in-line for the tank and voila

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Jes and I have numerous odd correspondences. As an example, it’s odd that we both took a year off between high school and college. I’m perplexed by a newly discovered correspondence. When I first moved back to St. Louis I lived on Delmar in a town house. The owner, Richard, was an elderly man who lived in the east half of the building and I lived in the western side. I liked Richard and did lots of odd jobs, occasional shopping, etc. for him. Near the end, when his health failed, I went to visit him in the hospital a few times. We would watch baseball and talk about his kids and his life.

Richard had owned an antique store in Gaslight Square that had relocated to The Central West End. Jes’ stepfather David grew up working in the movie theater that his father owned in Gaslight Square. I’ve just learned in the last few days that Richard was a good friend of Jes’ stepfather’s father. When Richard’s estate was sold I bought a few things, including some iron patio chairs. It’s possible that David sat in these same chairs when he was a young man. Odd.


Friday, July 28, 2006

I haven’t told you about the fire. When the power came back on the other day I happened to be outside. There was pop and an explosion of sparks as the newly set line into the house blew out the ceramic anchor. The wire hung low into the bushes. The power worked, but obviously some of the repairs that had been done had failed. We had Kathy, the landlord, call Amren and a truck arrived Wednesday evening to fix the problem. I was teaching while this happened and Jes told me the story when I got home.

They began to work on restoring the anchoring and while they were working there was another explosion. This time – I want you to visualize this – the entire electric line from the pole in the alley to the edge of the house erupted in flame several inches in height: red flame atop black lines with smoke billowing and melting wires dripping plastic.

Jes’ camera had a dead battery. She told me that if she’d had film or battery power we could have sold images of the burning wire to both local and/or national newspapers. The Amren crew rushed back to the truck and put the fire out with extinguishers, but not before the burning wire dripped melted wire casing all over the back yard and all over Jes’ motorcycle, which was parked under the line. None of the Amren guys were hurt. The bike is fine. It just needs a good cleaning. The house is fine. No computers were lost in the power surge and fire. We have a new power line to the house and one more dramatic story from the St. Louis storm.


Hard things to admit:

We love the cabin and the land. It’s a part of the whole idyllic rural life fantasy. It’s hard to price intangibles. I think it’s important to note that everyone who has been to the property with us has fallen in love with it – both the land and the house - and they can begin to see possibilities in every direction. I can park my school bus; we can put in a greenhouse; we can develop a bed and breakfast; we can build guest yurts; there can be fields of lavender and forests of fruit tress. But we’re both forced to conclude that while the house is at the edge of our financial possibility, the house plus inevitable massive repairs is beyond us, in both time and money. The house also might be fun at first, but if our long range plans involve further education for both of us then H is not where we need to be dropping anchor in so permanent a way.

There is a listing agent working for the sellers who I have taken to calling the shyster. He has maintained all along that there is another buyer interested in the house with a cash offer. His low counter offer was a play on that bluff. We think that either there is no other offer or that the other offer is significantly lower than the asking price. When we went to town yesterday and looked exclusively at other property we called his bluff. Magically the sellers appeared when the shyster had told us were out of town and could not be reached. They wanted us to meet the shyster at the house so he could show us that many of the repairs suggested by the building inspector were not really necessary. We declined the offer, to further imply that we were off his proverbial hook.

The shyster called again and maintained that they would do no repairs, but that we should come up with a price we could live with and submit a counter to their counter. Well + foundation + septic + AC + electric = at least 30K. The septic does have a tank, but the drain off of that tank is leaking – I saw that for myself with the inspector – and the drain pipe isn’t buried. There is no dispersion field, just a pipe. The shyster claimed that the settings were wrong on the well pump which is why the well appeared to be running out of water when we ran it for an extended period of time. It’s possible. However, re-drilling the well would inevitably be an expense.

The River Card: The bank appraisal came in at ninety thousand, with three thousand in required repairs. They put the land value at ten thousand an acre, which is more than we had anticipated: location, location, location. So the “as-is” appraisal is effectively eighty seven thousand. The bank’s list of repairs necessary to approve the loan is oddly cosmetic and does not match our list of structural concerns. They want the electric repaired upstairs, which is fine, but they also want some closet doors replaced and they want the fake brick fireplace anchored to the cabin walls. We were planning on ripping out both the closet doors and the fake brick so replacing or repairing them would be a waste.

Conclusion: we are going to make a low counter offer. If they decline it we walk away. I’m used to the drive at this point and for the foreseeable future we keep looking and I commute.


Thursday, July 27, 2006

Cuisinart Metaphors or Game theory U.S.A.:

Jes and I are going to H tomorrow afternoon to look at other property. We will also be getting our official bank appraisal for the cabin etc. at some point during the day. Before we signed anything on this current deal we put an appraisal rider on the contract, so that if the bank’s appraiser didn’t value the property at or above our initial asking price offer, then we have an out on the contract. I sat in that Coldwell Banker’s office in Kirkwood at midnight a few weeks ago adding out after out like a neophyte Nolan (alliterative sports reference?).

For those of you (Brad) who are using this as a tutorial, the appraisal rider is a must in supplemental legality for standard contracts that tend to favor the seller; you want as many outs as you can get so that you don’t get stuck with shit property after you learn that it’s shitty. You bid to control the play and Vince Lombardy the field, but you also need a door frame to walk away. See, I can fake it till I make it.

Another piece of advice I might proffer is that even the people who work for you are really working for the middle, and when you’re working for the middle with a novice your best/only asset is speed. I assume you got the baseball reference earlier, but I’m less certain about your proclivity for Persian board games peppered with Buddhist analogies. Sorry, it’s a po mo world and I’m a po mo girl (Madonna filtered through Derrida, or the other way round).

We also have an out over their ridiculous counter bid. Beth is correct about their reaction, though we do still like a number of things about the property. We could have slow played them, suggesting only the repairs we really wanted, but what would be the point? Their fast reaction is both a play strategy to force the hand and logical response to our display of property knowledge. We’ve put some money on the line that we won’t get back, but we did two important things with that cash – we learned about the market and we got an inspector we can trust. The inspector is the more important of these two, though in the scale swing between trust and learning I think it can be a toss up. There’s probably a “beget” in there, were x begets y.

Our best move now is to expand the field. If you’d like to continue thinking of these deals as rounds in a poker game, and honestly they really are no different, then you should think of the official bank appraisal as the river card for this deal – it will make or break the hand. In the panoply of game theory available to us, chess seems a wiser source of strategy, especially where central board territory is concerned. It is our intent to develop at least three lines of influence before we make a move as the center is both integral and overrated. What would the OK Corral have been without both shooters and bullets.


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Their counter offer is to do no repairs and to knock 500 off the sale price....so they've offered to fix the dishwasher essentially but for the well, the spetic, the foundation, the wiring, etc. we're on our own. Right.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Sometimes I just make up recipes that have little relationship to foods I’ve had in the past. Honestly they just sort of occur to me as a nexus of what I have and what I want. I decided tonight that I was in the mood for turkey chili made in my crock pot. I put a pound and a half of ground turkey in the pot on low with a diced white onion and three minced buttons of garlic. Then I added a half a cup of ketchup, a quarter cup of red wine vinegar, a diced tomato, and a seasoning blend made out of paprika, chili powder, garlic powder, cumin, salt and powdered red pepper. I let you know how it turns out tomorrow as I am slow cooking it over night.


I’m feeling just a little overwhelmed and wishing in some ways that I were only teaching two classes this summer instead of three. My student’s last batch of papers has thrown me a bit. Some of the personal stories that they’ve shared about how drugs have affected their communities are just heart wrenching. One student wrote about working in a crematorium and “processing” a five year old boy who had been struck and killed by a car. The driver of the car was his thirteen year old sister. She was high on drugs and had stolen her mother’s car to go get more. She didn’t know that she’d hit anything until much later. A week after the boy’s death my student was “processing” the sister. She had deliberately overdosed; driven to suicide over the guilt from killing her brother. My real estate agent let me know that the school I am going to be teaching at has been raided for methamphetamines. Some of the properties we’ve looked at would need to be tested for methamphetamines (as labs can contaminate the walls) to ensure that they would be livable. America is losing more than one war right now.


I think it's pretty obvious that they aren't going to go for this list - but if they do - or if they knock 30 K off the price - which they also won't do - then I think that the property would be worth it. I can fix a number of these things myself and so they are on the list as negotiating points. The foundation wall and the property grade are the deal breakers.

To use poker analogy, we went big blind on the house and are invested in seeing the flop now that we’ve put our earnest money into the inspection. I should restate that it really is a gorgeous piece of land less than five minutes from my new job with a stable garage that would make a great studio for Jes. The basement is ideal for clay storage. The hill with the open drain is ideal for a septic field. We are poor and the mortgage will be less than we are currently paying in rent – it’s a lot of bang for our small buck. There is nothing comparable for sale in the market and all of the rental property was either tiny or covered in cat pee.

So, we’ll see – we still have a number of outs in the contract. The official appraisal has yet to come back from the bank and that will be telling.


Monday, July 24, 2006

Issues raised by the inspection to be resolved through seller making repairs or crediting appraised cost of repairs by agreed upon contractors against purchase price:

Bring all internal and external electric up to national electric code
standards and install G.F.C.I. in kitchen and bathroom
Document location of septic tank and verify proper functioning of septic system
Burry exposed septic pipe in accordance with standard septic practice
Replace or repair dishwasher
Replace or repair exterior AC by HVAC tech
Replace well pressure tank
Replace well cap
Re-grade land immediately east of the house and install concrete retaining wall
to divert water flow away from the foundation
Repair eastern wall of block foundation in accordance with evaluation
by structural engineer
Reinstall sump pump properly
Install gutters
Repair roll roofing on back as per inspection
Connect exhaust pipe from gas fireplace to chimney
Install chimney cap
Replace half inch main line of plumbing with standard three quarter inch lines
Have all plumbing evaluated for repair as per inspection
Seal all holes in siding
Replace or repair Co2 and fire detectors


For Chris – and other interested parties

As you noted - the chimney is in good shape
The roof is fine – for the most part – except where the additions join the central structure
The cabin portion of the house was built to last and will persist for centuries assuming no one knocks it down
All of the additions suck and should be knocked down
The electric needs to be completely redone – estimated low ball cost 5-6 thousand
The east wall of the foundation needs to be replaced and is probably not structurally sound – to be evaluated by a structural engineer – needs to be replaced by poured concrete and rebar
The driveway needs to be redone on the east side of the house so that water flows away from the foundation rather than into it– the rest of the foundation is ok
The sump pump needs to be reinstalled
The well cap is ancient and the well itself is too shallow – it ran out of water while we were there running it – the toilet also flooded when we turned the water on – I sent the real estate agent back to town for a mop and disinfectant to clean it up
The well and the pseudo septic are sufficiently far apart
There are no plumbing vents
There are no roof vents
The dishwasher doesn’t work
The fireplace works – but the exhaust pipe is not connected to the chimney – easy to fix
The burners work on the stove, but the oven doesn’t – also fixable
The septic system appears to be simply an open drain that has no dispersion field, no tank, and the pipe itself has not been properly buried – the plants are very green there

The land is pretty – everything can be fixed – we can negotiate on all of these points or we could walk/run away… right now we are simply thinking about it and waiting to hear back from the bank on the official appraisal. We are learning a great deal about real estate and it is clear that the listing agent is a #$#^%&^%^&%.


Sunday, July 23, 2006

I was just over at Jen’s blog and she’s written a longish “here’s my day” post that has inspired me to write whatever it is that I am about to write...

The Decameron-esque doldrums of an erstwhile cabin buyer:

Since we’re a national disaster, both in my neighborhood and in the larger St. Louis area, we decided to get out of town yesterday and go to H. I felt a little like Giovanni Boccaccio, fleeing to the Italian countryside to avoid the plague (that’s the Decameron part of my title). When we left town the National Guard was moving through our neighborhood, they were shifting the debris into orderly stacks so as to clear the streets for traffic.

It’s been fun getting to know the neighbors during this little incident, especially these two characters Phyllis and Ed. Phyllis is in high victim mode and most of that anger is directed at Mike, the wealthy rehab owner whose tree fell on my car and took out Phyllis’ power lines. She is also upset with the Guard for putting the debris on her property when they cleared the alley. I like Phyllis, and it’s quite entertaining to hear her string inventive expletives together with random references to Katrina, the values of community and the evils of gentrification. She’s angry and expressive enough for all us. Our landlord Kathy says, “That Phyllis, she’s a pistol.”

I haven’t felt the need to feel other than lucky to have dodged a bullet on my van’s near miss. As I was working to clear the alley of cut logs and other debris Phyllis kept trying to get me to stop. She wanted Mike or the city to clear the mess. I told her I was just grateful to have a job I could do after being relatively – and literally – powerless for two days. Besides, the Ameren guys didn’t have to cut up the tree for us, we didn’t have to help fill their water buckets with gator aid. Nobody has to do anything extra, but then where would we be?

Ed lives on the other side of Phyllis. He has the waddling walk of a man whose hips are going and his face is peeling from a rosacea that reminds one of tropical sunburn. He is a retiree of some local note as he is one of the few people to have worked in all three baseball stadiums. The media and his employers have been using him as a human interest story to provide a sense of continuity in the face of so much change. He’s not to sure about the structural integrity of the new stadium and isn’t afraid to be quoted to that affect, cutting against his pawn status in the grander schemes of the stadium-reset set. He is a good man, both charming and sincere who was on the phone to Jefferson City, the Senior Citizen’s Bureau and the local Alderman in the quest to get our power restored. We came back up relatively quickly and I think Ed might have been part of that. Even if he wasn’t, I’d like to think that he was, because a man like Ed should have some influence.

I had started to write about the travails of our travels yesterday, but other travails prevailed. Our traveling trouble began with the basics of transit. It took awhile for us to get to the highway because most of the signal lights in our part of town are offline. Imagine trying to get around in a major city where every intersection has suddenly become a four way stop. These aren’t country roads such that right-of-way is clear. These are two to three lanes headed in each direction with additional turning lanes in the middle. It adds a few minutes to your commute.

We actually took the trip because we were having a building inspector fine-tooth the property in H. We have a contract on the house and we wanted to be there for the inspection so we could ask questions and be sure we knew where potential problem areas were. Of course there are potential problems everywhere. We knew that going in. Despite the fact that we do really like the place, we are close to walking away from the deal. The sellers will either need to do some major repairs or they will need to drop the price substantially. I’m not sure that they will want to do either, but that’s why they call it a negotiation. All we can do is offer a price that we feel is fair for the hassles that might await us.

Our real enemy is time, in that I start work in nine days. Without a home in H I am looking at a three hour round-trip commute. I also have a final test I need to take for my certification, so there’s a sword of Damocles in the mix. I have these Netflix movies sitting around that I don’t have time to watch. They are a tangible reminder of the wedding planning, certification and home buying to-do tasks that are nibbling on the edges of my sanity. We got the tuxes ordered on Friday and also expanded our registry list so we are making progress. Our menu tasting at Bevo was scheduled for this morning, but they don’t have power. I suppose we could go try cake.

What we’re lacking is a good set of alternative options in H. I might have to go up again this week and find us some fallbacks.


Friday, July 21, 2006

Tree minus limb:

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Limb minus tree:

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Tree plus car:

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Situation plus many men:

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Jes and Karl stack the wood, van lives:

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

I'm on an old laptop at Jes' folks and it's possible that some of the keys will stop working while I type. Amren came by today around four to tell us that yes, they would need to fix our power. Great... we're on a very long list. We weren't able to find a battery powered pump for the fish, as all the pet stores were already sold out by the time we went to look. So instead, we saved our money and made a pump using the battery from my school bus as a power source, the leads on my car battery charger linked to rigged leads made out of an old cigarette lighter housing and a car tire emergency inflation pump. It works great! Those fish have ever had so much air - the tops of the tanks foam when I turn it on. I'll just run it in each tank for a few minutes avery few hours and they'll be fine. That's all for now - our neighborhood is just a wreck - pictures to follow...


Hit by the storm:

Last night I was teaching in a computer lab and a student came up to me, said he was sorry for being late and asked if the building had a storm shelter. That must have been around seven. I went to my office when the kids were on break and watched as the winds bent the trees by the highway. Rumors started filtering in as the class continued. We heared that a section of the airport roof had been torn up was now blocking the highway. Semi trailers had flipped and Bush stadium had even had damage. Some of my students left, responding to calls from family memebers, but most stayed until class ended at 10:30. I checked my voicemail and learned that our place had no power and there was a tree down. I wish I could post pictures from this library computer, but there's no port for my palm.

A massive limb from our neighbor's tree came down in the alley, taking the power lines with it. It fell where Kathy, our landlord, normally parks her car. Luckily she was at work. The tree is resting on the back of my van and has dented it. Had it fallen a foot to the right I would no longer own a working van. When the limb fell it took out the general power lines and actually tore the lines off of our apartment, smashing the flood light and doing other sundry damage. The whole grid for our neighborhood is down right now, but when they get the grid back up we still won't be connected to it.

Jes thinks it might be a few days before we have power. She was there when it happened and is still a little shaken, not from the tree so much as the live wires, and the fire/noise that followed the literal explosion of two transformers near the entrance to the alley. A limb from a different tree fell on those transformers, caught fire, and then they exploded.

We took the milk and such to her mother's house last night and I have the rest of the food in a cooler for now. We didn't have any meat oranything to go bad - a side benefit of being broke. I am headed up to the camping store in a bit to get a battery powered minnow bucket to aerate the fish tanks. My van has had a rough year but I think we'll have to call this more of a near miss. It's not going anywhere anytime soon, but it isn't more than scratched and a little dented. I have to figure that the tree fell behind it and then rolled into it as it tore through the lines. You'll have to call if you want more info as I do not even have a line to be on.

We're fine, the pets are fine, did I mention we're going to have a heat index today of one hundred and fifteen? I'll b keeping myself and the dog cool over at Jes' mom's place. No worries - I could have been much, much worse.


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Harangued by horrendous homophones of home buying:


When you buy a house you have to talk to a number of banks and they are filled with bank people at phone banks. You really have to be able to bank on the bank that you choose, so it’s best to select from a large bank of them. We tried the banks along the bank of the Missouri, but Missouri banks are hard to bank on as the interest they are charging would not be in our best interest, so interestingly we aren’t interested.


Well, we need to know what is going on with the well, so we can see how well the well is working and whether or not we can stay well while drinking the well water.

Also, we need to terminate any termites that might otherwise make our potential home terminal, especially if our home is a terminal, or terminus, for termites. I hope that the termites, if there are any, are tertiary to our territory.

We need to confirm that the septic isn’t septic, because we can add anti-septic to the septic, but that only goes so far and no one wants to get sepsis from a septic septic.

Of course we also need to have the building inspector inspect our buildings so we can see if we need to do any building before we buy the buildings, which is to say that we would build any building that needed to be built into the contract so we’re not buying buildings that need rebuilding. Sure, the seller can always think that we’re gilding the deal with our building rebuilding, but if you’d seen the cellar that the seller is selling you wouldn’t put a ceiling on what the inspector might suggest needs sealing.




Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Eppur si muove


The middle day of my teaching marathon is the worst day. I didn’t have much time over the weekend to grade, so that means from dawn until class time I am correcting papers and then I have to teach for four hours straight. Essentially I work from eight a.m. until eleven p.m. on Tuesday. I drank a pot of coffee while grading earlier and then I got a huge dehydration headache while teaching because coffee is a diuretic and it’s literally one hundred and ten degrees outside with the heat index. Tomorrow it’s supposed to be one hundred and fifteen: shitty. St. Louis is also experiencing rolling brown outs, so my students lost their first few pages of work on an in class essay tonight when our computer lab crashed. Blah – bed.


Chris posted some additional photos here.


Sunday, July 16, 2006

More of the house…

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Stairs to loft:

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My pine tree:

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Father time smashed my out building:
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Back of the house:

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Notary Republics in the Service of Death

My stress ball wake up call from the central nervous system came at five a.m. instead of three a.m. today. Just like MODOT, progress as promised. Odd, I woke up just in time to celebrate an anniversary, my literary and historical notes daily email tells me that, “It was on this day in 1945 that the first atomic bomb was exploded at 5:30 a.m., one hundred and twenty miles south of Albuquerque, New Mexico.”

I’ve actually been to the bomb site in White Sands, New Mexico. I was a photographer for a class called Nuclear Fiction taught by my friend Bob. He had spent the last fifteen years of his life researching the impact of the bomb on our culture and has written a book about the same. Somehow he managed to get us an invitation to see what is generally off limits.

White Sands is still an active missile test site so the national park marker next to the base of what was the detonation tower doesn’t get many visitors. On the drive in, we were pulled over by the military. The road in front of us had been closed. We watched a small smoke plume streak across the sky, felt the impact from a test explosion, and then we were cleared to proceed right through the testing range.

We saw several things that day: the blast site, the farm house where the bomb was assembled, and the EMP trestle. The EMP trestle is an enormous wooden platform with two towers at either end. An atomic explosion is accompanied by an electro magnetic pulse that can knock out a plane’s electrical system, causing it to crash. The EMP trestle was built so that planes could be wheeled out onto it in simulation of flight. Then the planes could be hit with an electromagnetic pulse generated by the two towers.

There is no metal in the mammoth, multi-story platform, not a single nail or bolt, as they could interfere with the tests. Our tour guide told us that at the time they weren’t able to make a plane that could handle the pulse and eventually the trestle was simply abandoned. I really should post my pictures of this. I shot everything in black and white and there’s a cold war feel to all of the images.

I’ve felt connected to the bomb from a young age. My oldest brother Phil is an engineer and physicist. He taught me to read well before kindergarten and the first book I read by myself was The How and Why Book of Nuclear Science. It was a young adults primer on how to be a good scientist when you grow up and it was filled with accounts of the development of the bomb that were more Tom Swift and Nancy Drew than hard science.

This large format book was the sort of publication that Americans made after Sputnik flew over, where it was perceived that the Russians were beating us in math and science so we needed to excite more children about engineering, war and the like. I can recall two things from the book: the first hand account of the flight over Hiroshima and a detailed account of the Chicago underground tennis courts where they’d managed the first chain reaction. There is no fine line between education and propaganda, kindergarten and Joseph Goebbels are both German exports.

There’s a scene in the HBO series Six Feet Under where the Brenda character explains her general nihilism (also German) and self-destructive tendencies in terms of the bomb. She says that she always assumed that nuclear war was not an “if” but a “when”. The sentiment tracks as, “if everything is going to go, does anything matter?” I felt that way for a long time: a sort of dark certainty that while I was smart enough, or well informed enough, to be in on the cosmic joke, I was powerless to stop it.

Mutually assured destruction, either accidental or intended, seemed so inevitable to me that I found the return to more conventional warfare surprising. I shouldn’t say return, as we haven’t really stopped fighting wars for very long, have we? With Russia as the big “other” all our little wars seemed like side pots in international poker. We even pulled a P.T. Barnum by calling them, “Police Actions”. Sans Russia, the side pots have been elevated to all-in Texas hold um pots. Unfortunately, our militarism seems to be making more enemies than it defeats. Hearts and minds are hard hills to hold.

Many of the kids I educate next year will go off to war and some of them won’t come back. I’m really not sure how to follow a sentence like the last one. I have a kid in one of my classes now with the last name Snowden and every time I take attendance I flash back to Yossarian in Catch-22 trying to hold in Snowden’s intestines as the kid slowly dies from the shrapnel wound.

From T.S. Elliot’s The Hollow Men:
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

I’m sitting in my air conditioned office worried about a house deal while many of my peers are in harms way. A man I used to tend bar with, Will, was killed over a year ago by a roadside bomb in Iraq. I wonder sometimes wonder about his new wife and his old best friend, how they are managing with his loss. With a “volunteer” military one has to accept and honor life choices and service with gratitude. There is no reasoning with death.

Extinction of a species has been described by environmentalist Eugene Linden as, “the death of birth.” The only positive I can see in this scenario is that in extinction there are no new generations to repeat the folly of their forbearers. White Sands, for all its kitsch and Americana cache, seems rhetorically to be the converse of the environmentalist’s dictum: it’s the birthplace of a new kind of death. Today is the birthday of that kind of death, as many of the men who served as midwives were themselves slowly consumed by cancers and of course thousands of people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were incinerated soon after the first test. If humans ever manage their own "death of birth" it seems probable that these bombs will be involved.

I’ve been to the delivery room, the New Mexican basin, where the white sand was fused into a kind of green glass called Trinitite by the heat of the blast. I’ve touched the glass and while I used to feel like Brenda, powerless in the face of personal or mass annihilation, I’ve learned that being a witness is doing something. To see and to tell what you’ve seen is perhaps the only hope. Like Gregory Corso in his classic poem Bomb, I sing you A-bomb on this your birth of death. Can I get a witness?


Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Pictures we’ve taken are still on Jes’ laptop, which is now at Chris and Vanessa’s. There has been some clamoring for pictures so I took these off the realtor’s listing page.

The front view of the house:

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A view of one of the side yards – plenty of this sort of thing:

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Cool cabin living room:

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Gas fireplace with fake brick to be modified radically by potential new owners:

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Kitchen as seen from the room that will be (may be?) the new home of my bar:

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Mr. K Builds His Dream Home
The Mississippian Period

There’s a passage in William Gibson’s novel Pattern Recognition where the main character considers a theory about the soul, travel and jet lag. Her thinking follows the line that modern travel is too fast for the “energy body” or soul, which trails behind your physical body and then takes the time that we call “jet lag” to catch up to wherever you’ve landed. You feel disconnected because you’re not all there.

My physical body has been traveling fairly fast these past few weeks and my energy body just caught back up to it at 2:30 in the morning. I sat up in bed, suddenly acutely aware of all that we are trying to do this summer: a wedding, a move, buying our first home, a new job in a small town, and I’m currently teaching two new preps in summer school following supporting Jes through the GAS conference.

The teaching alone is currently taking up an enormous amount of both my time and my energy such that I am now reaching the hidden-reserves stage of sanity and sustainability. We’re working on a lot of change all at once and, while I am normally something of a cool character when it comes to things like this, a slightly overwhelmed feeling has managed to get me out of bed and onto the computer to vent.

I don’t have pictures on this computer of the house that we are trying to buy. They are on Jes’ laptop, currently at her mother’s house, but I’ll get some up in the next few days. It is something of a time capsule as a structure. The living room is literally a log cabin from the mid eighteen hundreds. The rest of the house has been built over, around, and through this original structure. At the university I attended they built a new library by containing the old library in the new, larger structure. This is the same idea.

I like the house quite a bit. What I like more is that it sits on top of a hill on a five acre lot with pear, walnut and cherry trees overlooking the rolling hills just south of the Missouri River. The danger of "setting" as a draw has been well considered in films like The Money Pit and Mr. Blanding Builds His Dream House, and yes I do feel a little like Cary Grant at the moment. If you’re on well water and the power goes out then you are S.O.L. There's a lot that can go wrong, but there's also a lot that can go right.

In my last post I had said that we had bought the house. In truth, we put an offer in on the house and the offer was countered by the seller. We accepted the counter at our original bid, minus one of our provisions. We are now in a phase of timed responses for both parties in which there are multiple conditions to be met and possible “outs” considered. The house is rural and thus has potential issues with the well, the septic, termites, and potential structural issues that we need to assess with the help of an appropriate team of inspectors and assessors.

I found myself wishing earlier tonight for some kind of artistic outlet to vent my compacted emotions. I was standing in Mary’s backyard flipping chicken on the BBQ and draining a Lemp beer, imagining that I had the ability to take brush to canvas and express everything that I don’t have words for. I feel like I’ve been drinking blended margaritas made out of equal parts of joy and fear. See, that’s why I need a paint brush, my metaphors are just bad Jimmy Buffet. Here’s a better one: It’s like Jes and I have been waiting for each other for so long, now that we’re together we’re trying to live a full life all at once. At this rate she’s going to be pregnant before I get the yard mowed (just kidding).

Back when I was growing up on the eastern side of Wisconsin I remember sitting in my third grade class and listening to a lecture on the Mississippi. It was a state history class and the teacher was talking about the western boarder of the state. As she moved on to discuss the symbolism of the badger on the state flag, the Mark Twain mystique of the big river, big enough to separate states, captured my imagination and I remember thinking, “someday I’m going to see that river, I’m going to touch it”.

I recently learned that I have an ancestor who was a steamship captain, running on the river down from St. Paul to St. Louis. I feel like some of that relationship with that water is still in me, it pulls at me. When we moved to St. Louis a few years later the change in my life felt a little tied up with the will and the longing to see this thing that was vaster than anything I had yet experienced, running the length of my civics class America. The cold horizon of Lake Michigan, with the dirty foam and dead fish of mid-seventies pollution didn’t excite me like the deep well and pulse of the arterial river waters, cleaning themselves in fresh rain, melted snow and motion; opposing the Rockies and the Blue Ridge through a winding crevasse that was itself once an ocean, some three hundred and fifty million years in the past.

St. Louis, the city that really formed me, isn’t just a Mississippi town. It’s a two river city, an island city, etched on either side by the southward wash of northern and western waters. It’s a city at the confluence. Just as the Mississippi drew me south, I am now moving from the confluence up the western branch of the rivers to make my home on a high hill just south of the Missouri. Our land-to-be owes both its slope and soil to a former path of the Missouri River. For Jes and I it’s the confluence of our lives, the meeting and the merging of our histories, our friends and our families. There is power in coming together and I need to remember that as obstacles arise in all that we are trying to do we have the power of two rivers to carve the land to our liking, to melt stone, move mountains, and find the path of least resistance into our shared future.

Happy Anniversary Jes. –k-


Friday, July 14, 2006

One of the interesting things about having a blog is looking at the things people type into their search engines in their web wandering. It's like watching conceptual bloats float by your little boat dock in the data stream, except that they aren't exactly drifting. What they have typed has brought them to your page because at some point in the history of your blog you've written something involving their keywords so google has put you on their map.

I thought today's list was sort of funny.

drill down 2 7.41% “kansas city to st. louis” allen ginsberg
drill down 2 7.41% embarrassing stimulation during wrestling match
drill down 2 7.41% killer gourami
drill down 1 3.70% temperature and humidity in taiwan
drill down 1 3.70% diagnose front vibration highway speed jetta
drill down 1 3.70% promotional work for bacardi in milwaukee area
drill down 1 3.70% fay ray massage
drill down 1 3.70% double whirligig pattern in plastic canvas
drill down 1 3.70% if i were a millionare
drill down 1 3.70% bastille day festival soulard
drill down 1 3.70% shanghais diet olive oil
drill down 1 3.70% feng shui shish mouths open and close
drill down 1 3.70% chicken wings recipe bj's brewery
drill down 1 3.70% the secret of golden flower
drill down 1 3.70% i need a washer and dryer pickup to be donated i am in phi
drill down 1 3.70% sebastian, say my name!
drill down 1 3.70% essay,if i were a millionare
drill down 1 3.70% goo crows concert review 2006
drill down 1 3.70% otis woodard
drill down 1 3.70% muddy mettle
drill down 1 3.70% buy boodles gin wisconsin
drill down 1 3.70% spanish casey furniture wisconsin translate or translation or translated or translator jen or jenn
drill down 1 3.70% cut away from myself lyrics
drill down 1 3.70% vanessa wolverine shoes

My statcounter also tracks where people come from, how long they stay at the page, etc. Most people just click through, but some stay.

Also, so come from very far away:

drill down 71 84.52% United States United States
drill down 2 2.38% Canada Canada
drill down 2 2.38% Unknown -
drill down 2 2.38% United Kingdom United Kingdom
drill down 2 2.38% United Arab Emirates United Arab Emirates
drill down 2 2.38% India India
drill down 1 1.19% Taiwan Taiwan
drill down 1 1.19% Poland Poland
drill down 1 1.19% Viet Nam

It's cool to think about the international traffic. It makes the monkey globe graphic at the top of the blog seem a little more apt. It also makes me wish I was saying something a little more important than, "here's what I did today". I suppose there's the Modernist argument that we only get to the universal through the personal, but that's always seemed to me to be more of a rationalization than an effective philosophy of composition.

While I did originally get involved with blogging to work on my writing, I've come to use the blog more as a tool to stay connected to family and friends. The statcounter works for knowing who is in the know about what you've posted. I can look at the ISP addresses and mostly I can tell from familiarity who of my friends has been by to visit. Here's Michell de Seattle:


Referring Link No referring link
Host Name c-24-18-214-125.hsd1.wa.comcast.net
IP Address
Country United States
Region Washington
City Seattle
ISP Comcast Cable Communications
Returning Visits 22
Visit Length Multiple visits spread over more than one day
Browser Firefox 1.5.0
Operating System Windows XP
Resolution 1024x768
Javascript Enabled

I don't pay extra for data storage (I don't pay at all) so my info is limited to the last hundred visitors and only includes information for one week. It also involves some guess work on my part - it took a bit to figure out that BJ's work browser shows up as Plano Texas. There are odd phone company widgets like that occasionally.

If you're a lurker and don't like the idea of being counter-lurked you shouldn't get too flustered. I get at least seventy hits a day from St. Louis and have no real way of sorting out who is who. If we're strangers then I have nothing to base my guess work on and your secret is safe. The same is true for the K-ville hits or any other city that has multiple readers in it.

At the same time, I really don't have that many regular readers outside of St. Louis, so that if I see Chicago on the list, chances are that it's Justin. The Canada hits are probably from Jen or one of Jen's new work friends. The Florida hits are Kelly.

There are a few mysterious readers. The recurring “Land o' Lakes Corporate Headquarters in Minnesota” visitor intrigues me. Hello oh buttery reader. Your enigmatic Indian princess has told no tales of either your sweet cream or salty demeanor.

Well, the time has come for me to go golfing with Brad. See you later world-wide-web; it’s been nice chatting. Oh, Jes and I bought a house this morning. More on that later (it's called a teaser).


Thursday, July 13, 2006

Is John Stuart Mill right? Does quality outweigh quantity? Excessive minds want to know.


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

I am up early to grade papers for the third day in a row. I am making (theoretically) ok money for the summer, but if you’ve ever worked an academic job then you know that the pay dates are off – if you start teaching in August you don’t get paid until September. So my first check for the summer session arrived two weeks ago and it promptly evaporated in a summer sizzle of rent and past due car insurance. My second check comes this week and hopefully more of my monetary minions will survive their fall from grace. Is it better to rule in Karl’s meager bank account or to serve in the vast, oceanic swells of corporate finance?

If I’m generous in my time calculations I can argue that I am making ten dollars an hour, a far cry from that hundred dollars an hour some of the lawyer boys are billing at. It easy to understand why most teachers leave the profession after three years, you have to love it as the other factors don’t add up – at the same time, the willingness of some people to make sacrifices and teach beneath their earning potential has to be a factor in how salaries are determined.

I’m in the disappointment phase of my teaching semester, can you tell? It starts when a significant percentage of the kid’s academic performance just falls apart. They got grade reports two weeks ago and most of them were getting good grades so they think they can slack off. A grades turn to Fs in a hurry when you factor in a few zeros for in-class activities. I think one of the reasons that my initial class sizes were so large is that the powers that be know that a great winnowing will occur.

I wonder what my students will be like in H. this fall. I know the college prep classes will be good, but I wonder about the social climate of the school. I’m used to the no-holds-bared topic freedom at the college level and that is simply not ok in most rural American high schools. I suppose that’s enough procrastination – I need to go spend the next eight hours reading half hearted prose.


Monday, July 10, 2006

Here's a great idea link from Claire in which we drink beer and save the world!!


When you start really planning for the wedding and contacting all of your people you get these fun little surprises. Meet Eric and Tam’s son Kolby.

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Also Milena, of Milena and John, is due any day now with their second son.


Robyn’s sister is really coming through for us. We have three options. There are some rental properties, there are some caretaker properties – where we would live at reduce rent in exchange for doing lots and lots of mowing etc. & there are properties for sale in the 80,000 dollar range – which we could afford. She's making calls today to shop us around. I guess we’ll go up again on Thursday or Friday to see what is what. I think Friday might be better as we could stay over if need be. The next three days will be grading and teaching nonstop at that is my summer scehdule.


Sunday, July 09, 2006

I’m taking a day to chill out. We do a fair amount of going. Yesterday we helped Jes’ mom improve her Feng Shui by picking up these green tinted Foo Dogs at a Chinese statuary import out by the airport.

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We also moved a marble bench for the new Zen garden in the backyard. It took a fork lift to get the three pieces of the bench into the truck and some creative fulcrum work to get it out – we used Jes as a counter balance and slid the heaviest piece out via a press board tilt onto a waiting plush pad. I didn’t get a picture of the bench yet, but here are the dogs. They look like they’ve always been where we put them; I think that’s a good sign.

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Later on Saturday we went to a BBQ at our friend Robyn’s house. She’s had the place for a year now and she, her husband, and son George are still getting settled in. They have a great view of the Mississippi (understatement) as the property sits on a slope above it.

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Robyn’s husband Michael aptly compares the view to the Hudson River School landscapes. In some ways it seems like a bit of a shame that we are moving so soon after the GAS conference as we’ve made lots of new friends locally in the run up to the event.

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It turns out Robyn’s sister is in real estate near where we are moving, so hopefully she’ll have some leads for us on rental property.

I’ve been trying to get my music a little more organized today. I used to take a great deal of pleasure from music and I’ve been missing that. I have a bunch of CDs that people have burned for me (or just left here after parties) that have no labels on them. I’m using my Real Player software to download the album info for the one’s I’m unclear on. I am listening to Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Fairytales right now and wondering who burned it for me. Did you? My first guess would be Vanessa, followed by Ann K. at my old job, followed by Diane P. (also from the H.A.C.). It could be Erica’s I suppose; I still have her Mazzy Star around here someplace. Jack Johnson’s music is generally not bad singer song writer guitar drift. He references The Allegory of The Cave in the first track, so there’s a pleasant intelligence quotient behind his three-cord lyricism. He does fit into the Dave Mathews mold in a way that disappoints a bit. It makes me long for the stylistic experimentation of Simon and Garfunkel.

I’m feeling a little put off by most music for the masses. Friday we got in free to this Goo Goo Dolls and Counting Crows concert so that we could pass out flyers and take donations for Kat’s/ Jes’ workplace. I (we) had exactly zero interest in staying for the show. Their music is fine, it just doesn’t really excite or interest me in the way that really great music should. The bands did the usual insipid banter with the crowd, “hey dudes, it’s Friday, nobody has to work tomorrow, ain’t it great, let’s party”. I sat on the lawn feeling like I was watching a police reenactment – all the details with none of the passion. It was a controlled echo of the “event” concerts of sixties and seventies; pleasantly dull in the way that all habituated and corporatized behavior is. We left before the headliner came on and we went for pizza at Blackthorn.

My sister-in-law Grace is an organist and has her Master’s degree in Organ performance. We were chatting last weekend about changes in church music and she commented that the narrow musical range of most rock music has limited what people are willing and able to sing in many churches. The winnowing of hymns is a canary in the coal mine of taste. I am reminded that Nietzsche warned us that democracy could lead to the celebration of the lowest common denominator. While I am by no means an elitist, I do share his concern about the celebration of mediocrity. The music industry has yet to learn that music that appeals to everyone will ultimately satisfy no one.

I guess I need to be honest with myself and admit that my tastes have turned almost exclusively to Jazz. I crave the complexity and the improvisation. My current favorite is Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker (Diz’N Bird) at Carnegie Hall. In the same way that discovering fresh vegetables woke me up to new worlds of food, cool Jazz has moved me beyond the willingness to tolerate the canned and frozen.

We’re looking for a DJ for the wedding and we are both tempted to book Jeanne Trevor instead. Maybe we should all go see her this Thursday night at Brandt’s. Ah well, speaking of canned and frozen, I have papers to grade.


Friday, July 07, 2006

Busy – that’s me. Tuesday we drove back from Wisconsin. Wednesday I graded two stacks of papers and taught a four hour class. Thursday we went to H-N for the day to look at houses for rent and saw only dives or places way too small for us. I did drop in to the H.S. to pick up my schedule and books for the fall, so the trip wasn’t a total waste.

Thursday night Jes had to teach at Third Degree and I met Beth and her parents at MOBOT for the Chihuly Nights show. Today Jes and I met Beth and family at the zoo and then we ditched out on them to go table for Kat’s non profit at the Goo Goo Dolls/Counting Crows Concert – which we got in free to, but didn’t stay for, as none of us were into either of the bands.

Tomorrow I am helping David install a Zen garden and doing another round of grading – yikes!!!


Wednesday, July 05, 2006

I have mixed feelings about Netflix. Despite their much lauded 60,000 titles they don’t have several movies that I am interested in. They have a policy of delaying service to frequent renters to protect their profit margins. I believe that there are lawsuits pending regarding this practice. We dropped down from three movies at a time to two movies and it took a month to process our request for the change in service.

Two movies at a time does not seem to be ideal as you only have one in route a few days after you return one. However, Netflix does seem to work for renting TV series as it can take you a few days to get through all the episodes on one disk. I have been so busy lately that I both need breaks and don’t have time to take long ones, so episodic TV works better for me than movies as a vegetation exercise.

For the last few weeks I have been watching the first season of Battlestar Galactica and the fifth season of West Wing. Jes and I have the first four seasons of West Wing on DVD so I have seen most of those episodes more than once. This fifth season is the season after Aaron Sorkin was ousted from the show for coming in late and over budget with his episodes. As the creator of the world of West Wing, and the writer behind many of the best episodes, it’s a reasonable assumption that without him at the helm the show would lag in quality. It does, but not to the degree that I expected.

Characters are occasionally doing and saying things that are “out of character”, there is an increased cheesiness factor, and the storytelling is not as tight. Episodes three through five cover a short time period and resolve only one significant plot arc. Jes’ brief analysis is that without Sorkin the show turned more towards traditional soap opera structure. With Sorkin most episodes could be seen as stand alone mini-films. The writing was tight and thrilling. After Sorkin there seems to be more drift among the characters, meanings are more ambiguous and plot developments turn on dollar bills rather than dimes.

As for Battlestar, I’m enjoying it but I wish it were better than it is. I’ve only just finished the third disk, so before a more detailed review I’ll give them a chance to hit a better stride.


Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Just back from Wisconsin...ten a.m. to seven p.m. driving a big truck...

The traffic wasn't bad - I guess it will be tomorrow. We had delays of more than an hour on the way up so we were braced for a longer trip. I have a stack of papers to grade for my night class - which does meet tomorrow night. We had a good time with much family - in particular we had a BBQ with my mom's side of the family. It was really nice to cook for them and have them get to meet Jes. I doubt many of them will make it down for the wedding as most of my mom's siblings are in their late seventies and early eighties. With all of our traveling we've never really lived close to mom's side and I regret that. They are a charming and interesting bunch.

More later....