Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Sorta Great Wall

This is a repost from June, 2008.

Here's why I'm increasingly down on science: I've heard over and over that most of what we think of as "matter," which laypeople call "stuff," is actually made up of empty space.

Well, that's a lot of, as my dad used to say, "bull-lar."

I don't know what "bull-lar" was, but my dad said that a lot of things were "bull-lar." He'd say what we did, as kids, was "bull-lar." He'd be yelling at us for something, and say something parental, old-school parental, like "You think you can just take a car and race it along and jump it 100 feet off the road? Well you can't! That's a lot of bull-lar!" (It was not 100 feet, though. It was 110, at least.)

Between the frequent use of the phrase "bull-lar" and my dad's habit of holding my younger sister, who was only about two, while he yelled at us, very little 'punishment' actually soaked in because we spent half the time wondering what "bull-lar" was and half the time watching our sister mimic dad as he yelled.

I suppose "bull-lar" was one of those things that parents learn to say when their kids are young because they don't want to swear around their kids and are trying to be good role models. I try to do that, too, which was why a while back when I slipped while installing the stove hood and banged my head hard enough to draw blood, I didn't swear or cuss or yell. I didn't do anything for about 10 minutes except try not to explode, and I did it. I didn't swear at all. I just bled. So I'm a good role model, except that while I try not to swear and I never drink, I also regularly let the Babies! watch, on Youtube while they eat breakfast, a clip of Butters from "South Park" singing What What In The Butt, which I think is hilarious and the Babies think is hilarious, too, and it really helps us get through breakfast a lot easier.

I know, I know. I can hear you now: How can you possibly do that? How can you, of all people, possibly expose your not-even-two-year-old boys to copyright infringement? I feel bad about, it, too. But listen to my side: A family is an economic partnership. Everyone has to pitch in. So some people make sure that the Babies! get fed and some people make sure the Babies! get bathed and some people make sure that the Babies! don't fall out of windows. Those people, in our family, are Sweetie. Other people (me) have them watch South Park clips on Youtube and determine what occupations they will have in the future to make sure they make enough money that Other People (me) don't have to work after they're fifty. (Currently, Plan A is them having a Disney show, since if you are a kid and you appear on Disney TV you are instantly worth a billion dollars, and also, I like "Bunnytown.")

Plus, consider this: if someone in the family is going to take a fall for the rest of us, shouldn't it be the infants? Let's face it; someone has to pirate the South Park clips and illegally download music and make fun of Tom Cruise. If, when the hammer comes down, the Babies! take the fall, then they will receive shorter jail terms and lighter sentences because, well, they're cute. Cuteness is still a defense to most criminal charges, isn't it? I should probably know that.

But I don't know that. I don't know a lot of things because all my memory is taken up with everything "science" has filled my head with, like hokey stories about how everything is mostly empty space, how we are all made of "atoms" and that these are very small and are made up of mostly smaller things like "electrons" and "quarks" and "my paycheck" and that as a result of all this small-osity, things that we think of as solid matter, things that seem good and thick to us -- the table, the old shed, Kris Kristofferson-- are in fact mostly empty space.

Well, I'm not buying it. I'm not buying it because nothing is mostly empty space.

I'm not mostly empty space. I've tried, unsuccessfully, fitting into some of my more favorite t-shirts lately, and I've tried going jogging, and I can assure you that I am far from being made up of mostly empty space. Empty space would have a far far easier time lugging it's empty-space-belly up the hill at the end of empty space's running route, and empty space would not fill up a t-shirt quite so snugly. My own scientific analysis has led me to conclude, at this point, that I am mostly made up of Peanut Butter Cap'n Crunch, which also is not mostly empty space.

Another thing that is not at all empty space was our old shed, which is finally down, and which somehow warped time and space in that the shed, torn down, managed to contain more actual material than it had when it was still standing. I can remember when it was standing, and it was four walls and a roof and some old household furniture inside. I would go inside, sort of. I would actually stand just outside the shed and look in, to see if there was a place to put more junk, in between the older junk and the raccoons, and the shed was full of lots of seemingly empty space, because it wasn't full of stuff and according to "science," things that aren't full of stuff are mostly empty space. I wish "science" had been here to help with the work. But, as usual, "science" never shows up until the work's done and the pizza's being served, when "science" tries to prove that it knows something after all by having your pizza remain superhot for longer than it should so that you burn your mouth even though you waited a really, really long time before eating the pizza.

Tearing down the shed was like battling the hydra; every board we tore out created three more. Every wall that came down left two more. It just kept multiplying and multiplying and we just kept hauling it to the second of two dumpsters using our specialized shed-tearing-down-tools of "old winter gloves" and "a garbage can with wheels."

Using that highly technical equipment, we threw away the entire shed which, when torn down created a pile of rubble that took up two dumpsters. Two. When they redid our roof last year, they only used one. So there was more stuff in that shed than there was in our entire roof on our house.

Of course, the roof of our house did not contain, as I found out the shed did, five live raccoons and one very very dead raccoon. At least I hope it didn't, because if there is that much wildlife in our roof, I'm moving.

There is nothing quite like pulling up an old board and seeing most of a raccoon skull sitting there in front of you, not quite attached to most of a raccoon skeleton. The only thing I could think was where's the rest of it? Is it on me? I still kind of feel that way. That's my most common reaction to nature, as I sit here and think of it: Is it on me? I'm not the outdoorsy type. Put me outdoors for any length of time, and I'll begin to think that the outdoors is on me, and not shake that feeling or the way it makes my skin crawl, until I get back inside, take a shower, and watch Newhart on DVD.
But it's done! The shed is down, and where there used to be a sagging, possibly haunted shed there now stands what looks like empty space but isn't. What it is, is a bare dirt area covered with leaves and bits of grass and the smaller debris that I decided to leave there. Trust me, it's an improvement, even if technically part of that dirt area is still made up of shed parts.

There's still shed parts there because I took The Boy's advice, something I only am ready to do when I've been working in the hot sun all day and am covered with raccoon flakes. We were hauling and hauling and I was trying not to think of what the pieces of animal would do to my lungs and, and we got down to the last two items of stuff to haul: the world's largest collection of cement cinder blocks, and a pile of stuff that included shingles but was, in my imagination, made up mostly of dead animal skin, animal skin that was getting on me.

We looked at that, me and The Boy and The Boy's Friend, who I'll call "Q," and The Boy said the smartest thing he's ever said. He said "Let's just let erosion do its thing." Who says kids don't learn anything these days?

I brushed some raccoon parts off my head and decided we'd do just that. We spread the pile back out and hoped for erosion to work more quickly than most so-called "science."

That left the cement bricks, which as it turned out made up a lot of what appeared to be the empty space under the shed. (They may also make up a lot of the empty space in me, if the doctor's scale is to be believed.) There were more cement bricks under that shed than I could have imagined. If cement bricks were money, we'd be rich. But they're not, so we're just tired.

We decided to not haul the cement bricks, and instead to turn them into The Sorta Great Wall. I began stacking them into a line of bricks along the lot line between our house and Q's house next door. I got permission to do this by asking Q "Do you think your parents would want us to stack those bricks there?" He shrugged and said he'd ask them, and then I began stacking them there before he could do thatbecause people can only tell you "no" if you give them a chance.

The Sorta Great Wall now extends about fifteen feet along the lot line, and about two feet tall, and will hopefully one day be very scenic. Until then, I'm hoping that Robert Frost was a little wrong. "Good fences," Robert Frost probably said, "make good neighbors." I'm hoping that "Crummy fences made up of things you are too lazy to haul to the dumpster" make good neighbors, too. Or least make neighbors not call the zoning committee on you.

That's what I've spent the first three days of my vacation doing: Tearing apart the last of the shed, beginning construction of The Great Wall, and pondering just why science is never right. Because I know now: matter is not made up of 'empty space.' It's made up of cement blocks and raccoon skins, and it's on me.

If you left a comment here (and statistically speaking you didn't) then

Maybe leave it again? Periodically Google weirds out on my comments, probably because I have been attempting to make them pay me the $84 they say they want to pay me but before they pay me the money they want to pay me (they say) I have to log into a program I last logged into in 2010, which might as well have been 1873 for all my memory cares, which means I have to try to recover my password for a Yahoo! email account I no longer use and haven't since 2009, and that has led me to make several phone calls to the only phone number you can find for Google, and at which number the man insists that this is not a Google help number, and gives you an email address to write to. That email address writes back and tells you it is not an email address. Then you call back the number and nobody answers. Then all your search results land you on a page that talks about people who have mysteriously gone missing over the past 13 years.

Long story short: Comments are wonky right now. Here's a picture to help tide you through the mayhem:

It's my new change jar. I call him "Professor Pennybottom."

Monday, June 27, 2016

Book 46: PS I got those Mac & Cheetos they were pretty good

(In case you're wondering how I'm doing on reaching 100 books; I need to be at 50 by June 30 to be on track. I am 1/2 way through four other books -- two audiobooks whose time expired before I finished them are on hold for me -- and have started another one, so I'm kind of on pace? Two of the current books are superlong.)

Faithful Place is the third book in my book club with Sweetie, and (completely unrelated to the fact that she hid the existence of a new snack food from me) I decided last week that I would go ahead and finish the book ahead of our club.

We started our book club last year, deciding we would read a chapter at a time and then talk about it. We picked Tana French's book to read because I'd just come across a review of her 5th book and it sounded good, so we started the Dublin Murder Squad mystery series at book 1, In The Woods.  We read through that one and its follow-up The Likeness and started Faithful Place a LONG time ago.  How our club works is that you read at your own pace but you only read the current chapter and then wait for the other person to catch up before discussing.  I had finished about the fourth chapter maybe 5 months ago? Longer? A while back. Sweetie, though, wasn't as into this book I think or at least not in the mood for it for the past half-year. I wanted to find out what happened, though, so last week I announced that I was going to go ahead and read the rest of the book and discuss it with her whenever she wanted to finish it.

She didn't really protest, but, then, that's the first time I've broken the We'll do this together pact. On other things -- TV shows, mostly-- that we've decided to watch together I've waited for her (or she's waited for me.)(With the exception of Lost, which she and Middle watched ahead of me and then gave away that my favorite character, Charlie, died in one of the episodes.)

Now, she keeps bugging me to tell her if she was right about who the murderer was, and I keep saying I won't tell her. (She's threatening to read it from the back forwards just to find out, which would be interesting to watch.)

(It might, in fact, be interesting to write a mystery from the back forwards, unwinding to each previous stage of the mystery. I wonder if it could be done and still be exciting. Challenge... considered.)

Anyway, Faithful Place is pretty good. I don't ordinarily go in for mysteries very much, because I am bad at solving them. (Pretty much everyone the detective interacts with is a suspect in my mind.)  But mysteries where the main point isn't the mystery can be entertaining, and that's what two of the three Tana French books are like so far.

To back up a bit, because the books all sort of interrelate: In In The Woods (the best one so far) a dead girl is found in a woods that developers are tearing up. Two detectives are assigned to investigate: Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox.  Rob, though, was involved in some sort of near-abduction as a kid right in those woods, and he can't remember what happened. That nearly derails the investigation as Rob slowly goes to pieces trying to figure out what happened to him and his two best friends.

The follow-up, The Likeness, has only Cassie from the first book. She's used by Undercover detective Frank Mackey to investigate a murder among some graduate students, infiltrating the group because she is a dead (pun intended) ringer for the victim; the cover story is that the victim was only seriously wounded and has returned to the home they all share.

Both of those stories are good. Sweetie liked (pun intended) The Likeness less than I did, because she found its premise pretty unbelievable.  In The Woods was fantastic, The Likeness just good.

Faithful Place is in-between. This one stars Frank Mackey, and has him heading back to the poor part of Dublin where he grew up when the corpse of his former girlfriend from his teen years is found in the abandoned house up the street from where he lived.  He and the girl were going to elope, but she never showed up on the planned night, so he left himself and spent the next 20 years thinking she'd run off from him, too.

The mystery isn't much of a mystery; it pretty quickly centers on one of three suspects and although late in the game there's some attempts at making two of the three seem credible there's never very much doubt who did it.  The better part of the book is not only the way Frank has to investigate -- he's not on the case, of course, and is somewhat of a suspect himself -- but how Frank interacts with his family, both the family he left behind in the poor part of town and the ex-wife and 9-year-old daughter he's got in the newer part of his life.  The story manages to show a dirt-poor group of Irish people in a way that makes them sad but not pitiful, and feels like a really great look at what life in Ireland is like for regular people.

There's a part at the end of the book where I thought for a minute it was going to go off the rails. Without spoiling much, I'm going to simply say that authors need to tread carefully when they have kids do stuff that kids don't do. I'm no expert on kids but I've been around 9 year olds and I've never seen one --even a precocious one-- even one raised by a detective -- behave like the 9 year old in this book.  That almost in fact killed the book for me, except that the scene right after the awfully-written 9-year-old scene is so great that it pulled it back. By this point, three books in, I'm willing to let French have a really bad spot of writing. The scene read like it was an attempt to gin up some suspense while also revealing some information, and was hamhanded and overly precious at the same time.

Despite that one flaw, the book is pretty good, and worth reading even if you're not crazy about mysteries.

(And, Sweetie, since I know you read this sometimes, no I'm not going to tell you who did it.)  :P