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Sunday, February 27, 2005

Adding Puppetdude3

I've added Puppetdude3 to my Blog Links. This is in keeping with my policy of linking to blogs that I read regularly for my own convenience (especially when I'm using something other than Firefox and don't have the nifty RSS feed buttons to link with.) Also, it's a fun and interesting blog.

I've been stopping by Puppetdude's place ever since Gareth at Another Chance To See gave him* a mention. One feature of Puppetdude's site are the "5 minute walks", in which he set out from his house, walked five minutes in a given direction, took some photos, and wrote about what he ran into. This works in a place like Dunstable, in England, which was founded in 1132 by Henry I and is simply dripping with history; for Nanticoke the results would have been North = houses, South = houses on edge of forest, East = high school football stadium on edge of forest, West = houses. I've done something similar with my entry on The Ruins, although this is more like a 15 minute walk from my house. (I've also got some great photos from around town from last October that need to be worked into a blog entry.)

So: go visit Puppetdude3, and enjoy!


*I'm assuming Puppetdude is a "him", although Gareth referred to him twice as "her".

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Yellow Brick Road painting and photo

I decided to try my hand at painting from a photograph, something I haven't done since my painting of The Rock of Cashel last year. The photo I chose as my model was one I took last week of an alleyway between two cemeteries, paved in yellow bricks and covered in fresh snow.

This painting took me about a half-hour. It is 5"x7", my preferred canvas size, and is done in acrylics thinned with water. The branches of the trees were created with crumpled plastic wrap dipped in black paint. Several of the trees were cut down or transplanted for this painting. The sky was dabs of Burnt Sienna immediately dabbed over with water and then removed with a paper towel in an attempt to capture the surprisingly pink shade of the sky in the photo. (Like an idiot, I forgot to paint in the sky before painting the trees, so the sky had to be painted around the trees.)


Yellow Brick Road, Nanticoke Posted by Hello


Yellow Brick Road photo Posted by Hello

The fence required a good deal of tweaking, and the dark border of rotted leaves that defines the base of the fence grew a bit to compensate for my typically skewed perspective. In addition to the plastic wrap, this was my first experiment with spatter. I also used some salt on the yellow bricks themselves, though I daubed it off probably before it could have much effect.

As a further technical note, most of the painting was done with a single brush. A larger brush was used for the spatter, but I don't think I used it for any actual paint application.

Yes, it is typically rushed and slapdash, but I think that overall it is not so bad.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Adding two more links

I've added two more links to the sidebar on the right. The first one, despite being marked "NEW!", is a link to my "Another Monkey's Greatest Hits, Volume 1" post from January 30, 2005. I've included it in the upper section, which is where I stick general information about me. As I come up with additional "Greatest Hits" lists I'll also include them here.

The other link is long overdue. As I've mentioned umpteen times before (and tried to summarize in the "Greatest Hits, Volume 1" post) I continue to get several hits a day from people searching for Cathy Baker, Jimmy Riddle, Jackie Phelps, eephin', and other things Hee Haw-related. The best site I've found for information on these things is Risa's Hee Haw Tribute Page. I've included this in my "Blog Links" section, even though it isn't technically a blog. (Risa's blog is accessible from her Rissy's Treasures page, but the blog hasn't been updated in a while as of this writing.) I'm hoping that this link will direct a few folks to a site that actually might have the information they're looking for!

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Ruins

One thing I have found remarkable during my trips to Ireland has been the presence of ruins almost everywhere. Ireland has a long history of builders, stretching back thousands of years to the days of the creation of the great stone circles; you cannot go very far without running into the ruins of a castle, cathedral, abbey, monastery, church, farmhouse, or old stone shack. Nanticoke, on the other hand, was little more than a summertime fishing village used by the Nentego Indians, who left few artifacts, and has been occupied by post-Columbian immigrants for a little more than 200 years.

Still, we have a few things that can pass as ruins, though they're more likely to be referred to as "dilapidated, abandoned, burned-out old buildings that should have been torn down years ago." One of them is the old Duplin Mill, later the MacGregor Shirt Factory, finally known as Skatarama.


Skatarama Posted by Hello

I don't know when this building was built, but I'm going to try to find out. My grandparents met there when my grandfather was a foreman at the Duplin and my grandmother was a line worker. When I was a little boy I always thought of it as a great castle smack in the middle of town. It's a huge building, filling the length of an entire block. It lay fallow for years after its factory days had passed until it was turned into a skating rink in the late 1970's, in the final days of disco.

I learned to skate there, and smashed my knees a lot of times. My cousin broke his arm there. They always had the best arcade games. I probably last skated there sometime in 1981 or 1982.

Back in the fall of 1992 some newlywed friends were visiting from out of town and were looking for something to do. I idly suggested that we go skating, but we never got around to it.

A fire broke out there early one Sunday morning in October of 1992. It spread rapidly, eating up the wooden skating floor and the shag-carpeted walls and the leather skates with their polyurethane wheels. It burned intensely, melting and charring and consuming everything in its path. Remarkably, half of the building survived - there had actually been two businesses situated there, Skatarama and Bowlarama, apparently separated by a good fire wall. Bowlarama re-opened shortly afterwards, but the Skatarama side has remained a rotting hulk for the past twelve and a half years.


Skatarama, again Posted by Hello

This building is one of the milestones on my walks with Haley. We always pass through an alley that runs behind it on the homeward leg of our journey. Last Monday we had just crossed the road away from the ruins when we heard a tremendous slam from within, as though someone had suddenly thrown the lid of a dumpster closed. Then the noise continued - a series of slams and rumbles that went on for several minutes, or so it seemed. I don't know what happened, but it's likely that something collapsed inside and set off a chain of collapses within the structure.

Last Friday, as Haley and I picked our way along the icy sidewalks in front of Skatarama, I noticed something odd hanging from the closed gate of the place. Upon closer inspection I saw it was a red bandanna. Why is it there? Marking gang territory, maybe?


Haley and Red Bandanna Posted by Hello

There was one other bit of "ruins" that we encountered on this trip. In order to get the longer shots of Skatarama I had to cross the street to position myself in front of the cemeteries that face the building. Cemeteries are something else that fascinated me in Ireland, although our own aren't too shabby. But in this case the thing that caught my eye was the patch of yellow-brick road that paves the alley between the two cemeteries.


Yellow Brick Road Posted by Hello

The streets of Nanticoke were once all paved with yellow bricks - at least, those that were paved at all. This short alley is possibly the last remnant of these old roads. The other bricks throughout the city were not removed, but were simply paved over more than 30 years ago, so sometimes deteriorating asphalt will break away to reveal yellow bricks below.

The past may be gone, but the Ruins remain.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Work and weather

Still not what I mean to be writing about, which is a little photographic journey Haley and I took last Friday during the first of my Fridays off. But here's one observation from that day: I think most of the population of this area does not work, or works at night, or has jobs that involve driving around all day. Because any time I take a day off, I find that the streets and shops are just as crowded at 10:00 in the morning or 1:30 in the afternoon on a random weekday as they are on any given weekend. It just makes me want to shout, "Doesn't anybody around here freakin' work?!?"

More weather. Five inches of snow fell overnight, fairly dense, wet, snowball-and-snowman snow. I woke up feeling semi-vigorous and decided to attack the sidewalks with a shovel rather than drag out my snowblower. A half-hour of cheerful exercise later and the sidewalks were clear. I decided to toodle off to the driveway and see if there was any snow to be cleared there - and realized that the snowplows had already been through, creating about a ten foot swath of twelve-inch-high compacted snow on the road in front of my house. So now I had to break out the snowblower anyway. (I had work today, and clearing the snow by hand would have taken way too long. Plus I would have probably died in the process.) So if I had realized the need to use the snowblower in the first place, the half-hour of cheerful exercise on the front sidewalks could have been three minutes. Grumble, grumble.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Interstitial post

Sorry I haven't posted anything lately. Much has been happening. Nothing bad for me; Haley is fine, and we have had several adventures - I've just loaded the pictures onto my PC and am mentally writing the entries.

I have been posting, but it's been in the comments sections of other people's blogs. I'm glad to see that a bunch of other people have posted blog entries lately. It keeps the conversation going.

Weather got weird yesterday. A brief but intense squall created a rush-hour whiteout and surface ice, resulting in a 25-car accident with no major injuries. I spent the evening sweeping and salting the sidewalks in front of my house. Judging by the conditions we encountered on today's walk, I may have been the only one who did.

A great tragedy has befallen a friend, and that's all I'll say about that. But that sort of thing tends to knock the wind out of you for a while.

More soon. Hope all is well with everyone.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Misplaced holiday

The middle of February in Northeastern Pennsylvania is one of the most miserable, least romantic times of the year. The fluffy white snow that covered the landscape in December and January has been reduced to a few isolated piles of pea-sized ice crystals with all the charm of heaps of broken glass. Where the ground is not still frozen solid, it has turned to mud. Crusts of salt residue have formed everywhere, reminding us of the poisonous extremes to which we were willing to resort in our battle against ice a few weeks ago.

Temperatures hover just on the edge of freezing, allowing a mix of snow, sleet, freezing rain, and plain old rain to fall within minutes of each other. And the wind. The wind! I had to struggle with my steering wheel both going to and coming back from work today. Several times a simple lane change nearly became a wind-assisted trip down an embankment, while normally terrifying maneuvers involving tractor-trailers nearly caused me to re-enact the opening scene of The Fast And The Furious as the wind tried to push my tiny Tercel into - and then under - the trailer part.

All this on what is supposed to be a day to celebrate love and romance. Bah, humbug. There are lots of good reasons why Valentine's Day is a crock. Every day should be a celebration of the things expressed on this day. And each of us, if we are lucky enough, carry with us our own personal holidays to celebrate love - birthdays and anniversaries of weddings, first dates, first kisses, first loves.

For me, the most important of these holidays is April 5th, much more appropriately placed at the very start of Spring. Maybe someday I'll tell you why.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Life-Sized Candy Land

My friend Alex (that's Doctor Bertland to you, bucko) is one of the masterminds of the Life-Sized Candy Land event going on this weekend at Hastings College in Nebraska. The entire project is quite bewildering to me, even though he explained it at length over dinner back in November. I suppose this is exactly the sort of thing one should expect from someone with a Ph.D. in Philosophy, specializing in Vico studies! Or maybe not.

In any event, congratulations to Alex and everyone else who worked to pull this off!

Friday, February 11, 2005

Legs

I commented to Sammie how a post that she wrote about the death of her beloved cat Toby has been on my mind a lot lately. She mentioned how in Toby's final days his legs became useless. And that made me realize something.

When we went to Cornell last week, Haley lay on her dog bed that I had placed in the back seat. This is a big fluffy thing from Sam's Club, consisting of a soft fabric cover over a cedar-filled pillow (very similar to the one I photographed Haley laying on at my friends' house this weekend.) This bed is fairly thick and it added several inches to the height of the back seat. So I wasn't surprised that Haley had a hard time getting into the car, and needed assistance getting out.

On our first major walk last Friday, Haley fell. She was jumping up onto a curb after we had crossed a street, and her hind legs slipped out from under her. I was concerned that she was OK, but I didn't think this was that strange, because she was standing on ice when she hopped her front legs up onto the curb. When it happened again at the same place on Tuesday, I thought that maybe her feet had slipped into the spaces on the storm drain in that part of the street.

Haley has showed increasing fatigue with each walk, and seems to want to sniff every fire hydrant, lamppost, utility pole, fencepost, wall, shrub, and random point of terrain more than she used to. I'm wondering if this is her way of calling a break every five to ten feet.

Please know that I do not force her to walk to satisfy my own needs; I present the question "Do you want to go for a walk?" to her each morning before I make my morning ablutions. If she does not want to walk, she will ignore the offer; if she does, she will be waiting outside the bathroom door. Still, I've been becoming concerned that I am overexerting her, so we skipped Wednesday's walk specifically to give her a rest, and we took a much shorter and less strenuous walk today.

As part of our routine when we come home after our walks we enter the house through the back, which has a short flight of steps going up to the an enclosed porch. I always go up first, hold the door open, then call her up the steps so she can go in. This morning at the end of the walk I went up the steps, opened the door, turned to call her in - and she was sitting in a very weird way at the bottom of the steps. It almost seemed that her entire pelvis was curled under her body. She looked like half a dog, or a dog rising out of the concrete patio at the bottom of the steps.

When I came home from work this evening, she barked loudly as I came in through the back door. But she was down in the basement, her usual lair - sitting at the bottom of the steps leading from just inside the back door. Normally she would be standing there, tail wagging, looking up the steps as I entered the house.

So now I'm concerned that the tumor in her chest might not be her most serious or immediate problem. Is there one on her spine, too, that is gradually robbing her of the use of her hind legs? If so, how long until her hind legs fail entirely? And then what the hell do we do?

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Vacations that are not vacations

My company has a policy that any vacation time from a given year can carry over until the end of March of the following year. Of the 20 vacation days I had to play with for 2004, I only used 8 within the calendar year, for my trip to Stone Harbor (see the photos here) and for my between-Christmas-and-New Year's adventure.

One of the remaining 12 vacation days I used last Thursday for the trip to Cornell with Haley.

I had planned to use the remainder of my vacation days on a late-March trip to Ireland. I was a little late in getting around to making the arrangements, and even early last week I was at odds as to whether I should order tickets. Wait to hear what they have to say at Cornell, I thought. Maybe you'll need to make a follow-up trip.

What they had to say was that the tumor in Haley's chest that had first shown up in an x-ray last November - when we were trying to figure out the source of her persistent cough - had doubled in size in the past three months, until now it is roughly the size of her heart. At that rate of growth, the vets stated that the tumor will probably kill her within two to three months.

Two to three months. Eight to twelve weeks, over the course of which she will probably become sicker and sicker, until - one way or another - she dies. How could I skip off to another country for two of those weeks?

But there was still the issue of my remaining vacation days. How best to use them? One day is set aside for a visit to the local vet who referred her to Cornell - not the final visit, but an interim one on March 7. Then there were still ten left. I reasoned that at the end of March the weather would probably be nice enough for the two of us to enjoy together, so I set aside the last week - the last four days of March. The eighth week. Maybe that will be the week that she dies. Maybe that will be the week that we have to put her to sleep.

I then selected days throughout March and February. Every Friday from the 18th of February through the 18th of March - March 25th we already have off as our Easter holiday. All together this will give me six long weekends - one of them four days long - and one slightly lopsided week of vacation time. What sort of shape will Haley be in for each of those weekends? What will the weather be like? Will we be able to enjoy our time together?

It hit me yesterday as I was working on something totally unrelated: In eight to twelve weeks I will very probably be having one of my best friends put to sleep. Someone I have walked hundreds of miles with. Someone I have spent many hours with. Gone.

I have made the decision to try not to mourn her before she is gone, to try to make the best use of what time we have together. We skipped our walk this morning to give her a chance to rest - I noticed that her pace had slowed from last Friday to this Monday and even more by yesterday morning. Perhaps soon I will need to modify our path to make it less strenuous, less hilly. Weather permitting, we will walk again tomorrow morning.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Haley visits the Poconos

For a while I have meant to take Haley down to the Poconos to visit some friends. It's been a few years since she's been down to see them, and since her last visit they've acquired a second dog and a baby. Yesterday seemed like a good day to finally make our trip.

Before we left I took a "portrait shot" of Haley. Her hair has grown in quite a bit since the last picture I posted of her.

Haley , February 5, 2005 Posted by Hello

Haley met her dog friends in their fenced-in yard, where all three of them could roam freely. Here is Haley with the Elkhound Autumn as the two of them stalk through the yard. Haley is still wearing the harness that we traveled down with, which I bought several months ago when I was afraid her cough might have been being caused by pressure on her throat from her leash tugging on her collar.

Haley and Autumn Posted by Hello

After some running around in the yard, we settled in for drinks, dinner, and a movie. Haley made herself at home on an unused dog bed, and my friends' baby soon began to play with the new dog in the house.

Haley and Baby Posted by Hello

Near the end of our visit, Haley returned to the yard to take care of some business. Legolas and Autumn joined her again. Legolas, a Greyhound who bears a striking resemblance to an antlerless deer, wore one of his winter jackets outside. This is not the orange please-don't-shoot-the-dog version, as I think you can tell.

Haley and Legolas Posted by Hello

After a long and fun afternoon and evening, Haley and I made the trip back to Nanticoke. I hope that we will have the chance to visit again a few more times.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Everything dies

I have had dogs in my life for almost my entire life. Chico was allegedly a pure-bred Chihuahua (we think he had more than a little terrier in him) that we got in 1975, when I was seven. My sister named him after the character played by Freddie Prinze* on the TV show Chico and the Man.

Ten years later we found Kitty, a stray "black dog"** mix estimated to be two years old who was wandering the neighborhood, sleeping on people's porches and walking up and down the busiest street in Nanticoke. Chico took a while to warm up to Kitty, who was infinitely patient and infinitely gentle.

In 1991 (April, I think) Chico died at the age of 16 - old enough to drive a car***, I joked. I was deeply saddened by his death, and what made it worse was that I wasn't there to be with him or my family. I was in Delaware, working at a solar cell manufacturing facility, doing penance for having dropped out of graduate school.

I rode my bike back to my apartment and ran into one of the neighborhood urchins. I lived in a housing development, a place of townhouses and cul-de-sacs that looked like what was considered "low-income housing" in Pennsylvania, but everyone assured me that this was high-class - for Delaware, I suppose. The neighborhood was mostly white-trashy, full of families with thirtysomething parents who would walk around barefoot and bare-chested (the men, at least) while swilling beer and working on their cars and boats and ignoring their kids. This resulted in the formation of a street society of children which would have been normal in 1951 but was a little scary in 1991.

One of the street urchins was a four-year-old named Nicole, who regarded me as something of a friendly giant and had once managed to kidnap me and lock me in her yard. (She had grabbed my hand and implored "Come with me! Come with me!" I followed, worried there might be something wrong, and she led me through the open gate of the fence of her yard and then ran back out, slammed it, threw the latch, and said "Now you have to stay!") Another was Tabitha, another four-year-old who would ride her bicycle up and down the sidewalk in front of our townhouses and had a dog named Dog.

Tabitha was there with her bicycle and Dog when I came back from work the day I had heard that Chico died. She knew something was wrong as I played with Dog, and I told her about Chico. I suddenly found myself having a discussion of the concept of death with a four-year-old. "Everything dies," I said at one point. "Dogs, trees, people. It's a part of life."

She thought for a minute, and then she said, "Houses don't die."

I thought about this for a little while, and I said, "Even houses die. They get old and droopy and people stop living in them and then they get torn down. Sometimes they burn down. But, yeah, even houses die."

Everything dies.

We had had Kitty for nine years when my sister found Haley in 1994, living in a drainage ditch and covered with ticks and fleas. Like Kitty, she was about two years old and showed evidence of having once been somebody's pet, and then being abandoned. After getting cleaned up, Haley came to live with us. She and Kitty quickly became friends.

In 1997 Kitty developed a tumor on her side that kept growing and growing. We feared the worst. Her health was not the best; she was by that time about 14 years old, was diabetic, and was prone to seizures and night terrors. Despite all these things, she still looked remarkably young, and this may have been her undoing. The "biopsy" that the vet performed turned out to be less a biopsy and more a total removal of the entire tumor, which had run horizontally along her left side for nearly half her length. This left her with a wound that, despite our best efforts, would not heal. She developed complications and died a little more than three weeks after the surgery. (The biopsy revealed that the tumor was a benign fatty tumor. Had it not been for the biopsy, she might have lived several more years. Because of the biopsy, she went through nearly a month of suffering and died a painful death.)

Haley has been our sole dog these past eight years, sharing the house with four cats (although for a week we had five cats; then the oldest one died, but that's a story for another time.)

Now Haley has developed a tumor which the doctors at Cornell say will probably prove fatal to her in a very short period of time.

I think I'll restart our walking program soon, while we still can. While she's still able. While she's still here.

Everything dies.


*Way back then, who would suspect that Freddie Prinze's namesake son would grow up into a celebrity in his own right?

**I've never been able to pin down exactly what type of dog Kitty was; I don't think she was a particular breed, but rather a common expression of dominant genes from mixed canine parents. The characteristics of the "black dog" tend to be: medium-small build, very streamlined and graceful; short black hair (naturally) with an almost oily gleam to it, with the exception of a small white patch on the chest below the throat; pointed snout and floppy ears; and very high levels of intelligence and empathy. I have seen dogs that look exactly like her in commercials (one in particular was a commercial for bathroom tissue), on the streets, in SPCA ads, and even once on a TV feature story about a man who loved his black dog so much he rechristened his tavern"The Black Dog Inn." His description of his black dog was exact to Kitty in almost every way. Here is a picture of a very similar dog.

***In 1991 sixteen was the legal driving age in Pennsylvania. I have no idea what it is now, or what it is in other states or countries.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Columbia

Why are they showing pictures of Mir?

February 1, 2003 was scheduled to be a big day for me. I had an appointment with the dentist first thing. After that, I would get a haircut. Then I would wash some of the road salt off of my car. Yessir, a big day indeed. But first, some screwing around on the computer.

I don't remember when it was that my mom called me to tell me that ground control had lost contact with Columbia on its re-entry. My first thought was Geez, I forgot that they were landing today. My second thought was about the movie Apollo 13; while I am too young to remember the actual event, I remember the tension captured in that movie when ground control lost contact with the re-entering capsule for a brief period. They'll find them again, I thought. Probably just a misaligned antenna or something.

I went out to see if there was any news about the incident on TV, and I was greeted by familiar-looking pictures. Why are they showing pictures of Mir? I remembered watching the images of the Russian space station Mir being unceremoniously destroyed by intentionally deorbiting it and letting it burn up in the Earth's atmosphere. The great station, at times the second-brightest thing visible in the night sky (after the Moon), broke apart and burned up in several pieces, looking like a collection of meteors flying in formation. It was beautiful and tragic, a sad thing to see, knowing that Mir would never again shine brightly as it trundled across the heavens.

But why are they showing pictures of Mir now? And then I realized: This wasn't Mir. And contact with Columbia wasn't going to be reestablished.

Televisions are ubiquitous in American society. There was one in my dentist's waiting room; I quickly changed the channel from the Saturday morning cartoons to one of the many other stations showing news coverage of the unfolding tragedy. There was one in the barber shop where I went after the visit to the dentist, where I saw the really huge chunks of Columbia that had rained down on a band of states stretching Eastward from Texas.

I came home and felt sick. It had been just over 17 years since the Challenger disaster. The shuttle program was finished. Without the Space Shuttle to run servicing missions, Hubble was finished. The dream of Space - the conquest of Space - was drifting into our storied past, and the future held nothing but the promise of war. People were dead, horribly dead, burned alive, asphyxiated if they were lucky, turned into a swarm of shooting stars falling through the morning sky. We shine like a burning star, falling from the sky...

U2's The Fly wasn't the only song going through my head. The The's Love Is Stronger Than Death came into my mind, and stayed there for a while. I was moved to create an image using the STS-107 official logo - Columbia's final mission - and incorporating lines from the song. I'll share it with you here.


Columbia remembered Posted by Hello

And maybe the words of the song will turn out to be true. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.