October 2004


1) The Beach Boys. I used to like the music but I guess I started listening to the words one day and then it was all over. For example, from “Sloop John B.”:

“The forecook he got the fits and took away all my grits
And then he took and ate up all my corn.”

WTF?

The occasional dumb lyric shouldn't count against a rock group too much but the singing and musicianship are really bad too. These days, those guys couldn't get a gig playing a high-school dance. Why are these guys famous?

2) SUVs. These things are big, guzzle gas, and are hard to park because of their size and yet they don't hold as much junk as a pickup because the cargo area is smaller than a pickup's and they don't hold as many people comfortably as a minivan. Plus, they ride like a truck which is to say, rough and bouncy. If you want to drive kids around, you get a minivan which will comfortably hold seven people. If you want to haul junk, you get a pickup with an open cargo box and tie-down points. SUVs are the humpbacked bellringers of the automotive world. For a guy, I can see the penile-enhancement factor of driving something big and trucklike but tons of women drive them too. I don't get it.

3) Windows as the most popular operating system. Since the beginning, we've struggled with Windows. And since the beginning, there have existed better alternatives. The Macintosh was almost crash proof. I've only locked one up on rare occasions and that was years ago. Linux is almost hacker proof, virus proof, and crash proof – and its FREE. And yet, Windows wins. Not only that but Microsoft tells us to change or upgrade and we spend the money to do it – every time.

The following information is highly confidential. Whoever reads this will be tracked down and killed. But the astounding truth of our lives today is that my illustrious son has his first…

girlfriend.

*gasp!*

This has been known to us for several weeks but I've been keeping silent since he's a pretty private kind of guy. But the social landscape changed last night when he invited her over to our house to carve pumpkins with us.

I first became aware of this at about 3:00 yesterday when I got a call from Melissa whose message was more-or-less:

“AAUUUGHHH! I NEED YOU TO PICK UP ANOTHER PUMPKIN ON THE WAY HOME!!!!”

I must say, the boy knows how to push her buttons. Apparently, he told after school which gave her about three hours to prepare one of which was spent in a teacher conference.

For my part, I immediately developed a stomachache and went without delay into the men's room to consider the implications of it all. Very soon, I decided that I was completely insane to be reacting like this – I was placing way too much importance on this thing and I needed to just forget it and get on with work. Easier said than done of course.

So, I stopped by the little pumpkin stand on the way home to pick through their sparse leavings until I found one that was more or less equivalent to the ones we already had in the event that the GF did not bring her own. I was sadly short of cash and so raided a styrofoam cup full of change that I keep in my desk. So, I was shopping for one that both looked OK and that I could afford. The little man was pretty unhelpful I thought – he has been selling pumpkins at this location at 21 cents a pound for YEARS and yet was strangely reluctant to guess at how much this one or that one would cost without weighing it. The one I found was attractive enough but would not stand upright due to a non-flat bottom so I stood it up with a wooden wheel chock. Not very romantic perhaps but functional.

When I got home, Mel was in the bathroom scrubbing like her life depended on it and Evan was in the back parts of the house wielding the vacuum cleaner. He stopped when he saw me and said:

“Just so you know, C is coming over tonight and Mom's kinda freaking out. In case you were wondering why I'm vacuuming your bedroom.”

Needless to say, dinner was hasty and contrived since that special someone was due to arrive just after dinner. Evan seemed unconcerned with the whole affair, which, in retrospect, is a pretty healthy way to view it. Erin was excited – she's very social and this was, by definition, a social occasion. Mel was on pins and needles but put on a very good face. I fell somewhere in the middle.

At 6:30, the ritual began. We spread newspapers all over the kitchen table, placed the pumpkins (with the new one appropriately chocked), and got out the tools. Then we waited. Well, that's not entirely true – Erin forged ahead. Her attitude was that this was our family's pumpkin carving and if the guest missed part of it, well too bad. I had some patterns but both my kids have always pooh-poohed patterns. They are creative types – they always have a mental image of what they want to do and just get right down to it. They don't understand why some people need patterns.

At 6:40, the doorbell rang.

It was her.

I was back in the bedroom playing my guitar to settle my nerves so I missed the grand entrance. Her mother came in with her, probably to check us and our home out. I know that's exactly what I would have done before dropping off my little angel with strangers. In one of those strange coincidences that life brings, her mother is the receptionist at our kid's orthodontist office and so we had seen each other before. I imagine she pulled the files on us too. I know I would have.

The next hour and a half was just about the most fatiguing I've ever experienced. And I didn't actually do anything – I just stood around chatting and trying to be non-embarrasing. I just tried to stand around looking at a catalog of electric guitars. From a completely unbiased and unemotional point of view (which, by the way, I'm totally fabricating here), I figure things went uneventfully. The three of them carved and talked and behaved as if there was nothing unusual going on – which I guess there really wasn't. The GF turns out to be quite the talker and so her and Erin hit it off, chattering on more or less continually. Melissa busied herself with making some banana bread and mentioned later that she did so to give herself something to do.

I was quite impressed by Erin during all this. She turned out to be the prime conversation mover and I believe at this point that she has a future as a talk show host. The real bonding moment came when they both realized that they loved the movie “Grease”. For me, that would have been the low point.

The timing was perfect – just as we were finishing up and putting in the candles, her Dad came to pick her up. I couldn't help but notice that the mom dropped her off and the Dad picked her up. I assume they both wanted to check us out. Well, that's fine – I would have done the same and it speaks well of them. He came in a chatted a bit and then they left and that was that.

Erin, riding the wave of her newfound “Grease” kinship, put “Grease” into the DVD player which forced me to escape to the back parts of the house. I felt downright exhausted as I watched American Chopper. Mel came back there to discuss the matter and she felt much the same way – just tired.

I guess things went fine. Mel and I seem to have gotten all wound up over nothing while Evan acted just like he always does. Erin was excited to have a visitor of any kind but other than that, she didn't ascribe any particular importance to the event.

I don't know if nothing just happened or if we just passed one of those momentous parental milestones. Time will tell, I guess. Evan is probably wondering if it was more trouble than it was worth to bring us parents into it.

Well, that head cold lasted longer than I thought it would. I came home early from work last Thursday and just slept. I slept from about 10:30 am till 4:30 or so and then slept through the night. For me, that's unheard of. I've been moving pretty slowly ever since then too.

Friday, I had a similar thing happen although because of our field work, I had in my 40 hours early on Friday and so just went home. I went to bed then too but pretty much just because it felt good. AAHhhhh… Naps!

But on Thursday, there was a football game that night which I didn't want to miss. It's a strange thing to go to a football game with a headcold/flu and try to sit through it. You have hundreds of screaming people all around you but you pretty much just sit there huddled in your own little world, coughing up lung butter occasionally, and wishing you were in bed. Luckily, the weather was good so I didn't have rain or cold to deal with. Plus, the band put on a pretty good show and I located Evan through the binoculars and so was able to watch him with more clarity than usual.

What with his homework and these band gigs, it's been hard to allocate enough time to carve the annual pumpkins. It can't be tonight either since it's Mel's bunco night and nothing is more sacred to her than bunco night. But it's a big deal to the kids and we'll have to carve out some time. (get it? carve? yuk! yuk!)

Erin is all bent out of shape from my news that I'll have to travel on business to Washington DC; leaving on Halloween. She takes trick-or-treating seriously and even though she's getting older, nothing can stop her from cruising the neighborhood scrounging a sackful of candy. She needed me to come along and help carry the loot but now I can't and Mel will have to step in. I was travelling on Halloween last year too and she tried to get me to promise to never do that again and now I'm glad I didn't promise. It's interesting to travel on halloween though – lot's of people dress up. Last year, lots of airport employees were dressed and even some passengers. Of course, Austin was a college town. It's hard to imagine people in Washington getting fired up about wearing costumes with security being as tight as it is there.

Today had us getting up very early so as to be there at 9:00 since the plane was scheduled to be overhead then. What a pity that we didn't get the word that weather dictated waiting till 11:00. No matter, we came, we set up, and we sat. Sure enough, at 11:00, things started happening and continued until about 2:00. So the work is all done now.

At one point, our radio link went on the fritz so we got signalled of the upcoming flare burns by looking at Dwight through the binoculars. When he stood up in the bed of the pickup, it was time to turn on the system. When he took his hat off and waved it in the air, that was the beginning of the 10 second countdown. Hey, whatever works.

I'd like to write something amusing and post a pic or two of a flare burning (since it's pretty spectacular), but I'm awfully tired and I think standing outside in the cold for three days has brought back a relapse of my cold. I'm feeling a bit feverish now so I'm off to bed.

I felt much better today although I was given some slight ribbing for sleeping my way to and from the site. Perhaps the other guy was just tired of driving but he volunteered so it's his problem. Besides I don't like getting my car off the paved roads outside Billings.

Today, the weather was right for the test and the plane took off which was relayed to us via a ground-based radio. They took quite awhile to get to where we were and when they got there, the 'pyrotechnicians' hadn't even started to load the flares on the poles. Those guys moved as slowly as I've ever seen so they must have been paid by the hour. They took so long that they only fired one round of six before the plane had to return because of low fuel.

We'll try it again tomorrow and we'll continue until they run out of flares.

It was cold up there – at least it was to me. It was cloudy and the wind was blowing steadily. We were up on an instrumentation platform so there was no shelter from it. Some other guys got there before we did and took our spot on the platform which was annoying but we got by. The site's communal dog paid us a visit around lunchtime but quickly lost interest when we were done. We again stopped at the truckstop/Dairy Queen for supplies. It seems like every day somebody forgets something. Yesterday, I forgot just about everything including the GPS thing. Today I did better.

I hope it's warmer tomorrow.

The old job today took us out to the far reaches of rural Oklahoma to a nice flat place where we could do some tests between the ground and the airplane. This place is west of Ponca City and north of Enid. That doesn't narrow it down much but that's the best I can do without a pretty detailed map.

I've not been feeling up to snuff lately and I really wanted to stay home in bed. As it was, one of my coworkers drove and I occupied the back seat and napped the whole 2.5 hour trip. Unfortunately, I was twisted up strangely in the back seat there and ended up with a sore back. Confound that back! I get lazy and forget to exercise for a few weeks and already I've strained it! *grumble* So I limped my way around the site as we familiarized ourselves with the facilities.

The place had a sort of communal dog who just showed up one day apparently. His name was Munchkin and he appeared to be half lab and half dachshund. Very strange looking indeed but he was well behaved. He kept us company too or perhaps he was just hoping for a handout.

The best part of the trip was that we stopped at a Dairy Queen. I haven't eaten at one of those in quite awhile – not since our family vacation to Colorado. For some reason, I've always liked these rural Dairy Queens.

We should be there almost all week – who knows what I'll see? Probably nothing since there isn't anything to see. Except Munchkin the dog of course.

Mel's younger brother was due to visit on Sunday and he was bringing along his girlfriend whom none of us has ever met. She had a family wedding to attend so he came along and we were looking forward to the visit. But before that, the house had to be cleaned.

Oh Boy.

I got off easy with a paintbrush outside touching up some of the bad spots – little places left over from my last effort or painting some replaced wood. The kids though were recruited to clean like crazy. All this for a single guy who lives with a varying number of other guys in batchelor fashion. I don't think he'd notice if the house had no paint on it at all. Still, the place looks good now and I'm really tired. If Erin hadn't had to sing in the choir at church this morning I wouldn't have bothered to get up.

And so the brother and the girlfriend came over and we all had a nice visit. I hope she did too – that was a lot of relatives to descend upon her all at once like that but she seemed to handle it well.

Tired….gotta go sleep.

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